A ROW has erupted at Penketh Parish Council amid accusations of a ‘shocking’ use of taxpayers’ money.

Independent Cllr Andy Heaver says there has been a ‘gross mis-expenditure’ of public funds by the parish council, which is linked to Penketh Baths.

But the parish council chair says he firmly believes the parish council has acted lawfully, adding just because there is a difference of opinion does not mean the policy or action of others is wrong.

Cllr Heaver says the site, on Honiton Way, has an ageing and inadequate filtration system which needs attention.

He said: “However, despite being warned by our auditors about poor procedures, some councillors have voted to spend £31,459.

“The councillors concerned will hide behind the fact that a specification was provided.

“I pointed out that unfortunately it falls woefully short on details such as no volume of water given so no filtration capacity. No request for energy efficiency, guarantee or installation date.

“Regulations state that there must be three quotes. Seven quotes were received, but two were from the same company and three others were unacceptable due to the poor specification. The suppliers were guessing what we needed.

“Hence, only two quotes were presented to the council and with a disclaimer that the management wouldn’t take any blame.”

Cllr Heaver says, despite repeated warnings that the quotation process wasn’t sound, a vote was taken earlier this month.

“I chose to not take part in the debate as I had done my best to warn councillors and didn’t want to be culpable in the decision-making process,” he said.

Cllr Heaver also says in the last auditor’s report it was stated absolutely clearly that ‘a cost/quality scoring matrix should be applied to contract quotations/tenders to evidence that due diligence has been applied in the process’.

He said: “Amusingly (or not) our responsible financial officer (the clerk) said she couldn’t find a template for the matrix online.

“A matrix is so simple you don’t need a template and this showed that neither she nor the managers knew what one was.

“Several councillors demonstrated that they knew this process well but sadly were not asked for help.

“Despite all this, the councillors that voted were advised by one member that all correct procedures were followed. This was the blind leading the blind.

“This is the taxpayers’ money. Shocking.”

But parish council chair Cllr Ray McKay, Labour, has responded to the comments.

He also took the opportunity to highlight that the parish council is currently made up of 11 elected councillors.

He said: “We as a council, group and employer have a duty of care and protection for our members of staff and we are also bound by our code of conduct, section seven, ‘respect for others’.

“I’m utterly appalled that Cllr Heaver can denigrate and ridicule our clerk, an employee, in such a disrespectful manner.

“It is unacceptable and says more about Cllr Heaver than it does about the clerk.”

Cllr McKay also highlighted the steps taken by the council, which culminated in a vote for approval of tender number three at its meeting earlier this month.

Step one included a ‘comprehensive’ specification being sent to the Contracts Finder website, which highlighted the need to refurbish the plantroom at Penketh Pool, along with an expiry date.

Step two included all registered suppliers, who indicated an interest to submit a tender, being invited to a site visit.

This was to assess the perimeters of the plantroom, the layout of the existing equipment and to foresee any future installation problems.

It was also an opportunity for the pool management to assess the expertise, experience and capability of the visiting engineers to complete the project.

After the site visits, the parish council received seven tenders and, after the expiry date, all of the tenders were opened by the clerk in presence of the chair.

Upon instructions of the chair, all sensitive information such as names and addresses was redacted and the tenders were then sent to all councillors for evaluation.

Advice from the pool management, which was also sent to facilitate the selection process, stated tenders number three and seven could be considered appropriate.

In relation to step four, Cllr McKay said: “The auditor said a costing matrix could be applied which in my case (along with I believe some other councillors) I created my own matrix.

“Accordingly, a vote was called and tender No 3 approved by a majority decision.

“There is no matrix in the financial regulations and according to the auditor there should not be.”

He added: “Cllr Heaver needs to accept that the respect given to his opinions should be reciprocal and because there is a difference of opinion does not mean the policy or action of the other person is wrong.

“I firmly believe that we, Penketh Parish Council, have acted lawfully and within the guidelines of our financial regulations and the auditor’s instructions.

“In the final analysis the arbiter can only be the auditor and not Cllr Heaver.”