Independent inquiry needed over Wolverton Station as millions wasted

Explosive new claims say officers were put under “pressure” to progress with a flawed station scheme that has cost council tax payers millions.  

Milton Keynes Labour leader Cllr Peter Marland has renewed calls for an independent external inquiry to be launched into the £2m overspend on Wolverton station, after new evidence suggested undue pressure was placed on Council staff to progress with the fatally flawed project.

In April this year an internal Audit Report highlighted serious failings within the project had meant that the project had run hopelessly over budget. The main finding of the report was that the decision to start the project in April 2011 and accept a defective tender was rushed and that had undermined the whole project. The project then suffered from poor management. However the report failed to indicate why the decision in 2011 was rushed.

Cllr Marland has been doggedly looking for answers for two years into delays and overspends, originally forcing an audit investigation. When the Audit Report was released Cllr Marland had called for an independent report as his party have raised concerns that the previous Liberal Democrat administration and then Lib Dem councillor for Wolverton may have inappropriately placed pressure on council officers to undertake the work in a rush to boost their chances in the 2011 Wolverton election, which the Lib Dems subsequently lost.

At the April meeting of the Audit Committee, Lib Dem Chair, Ric Brackenbury, refused calls for an independent inquiry and the investigation team stated that evidence could not be found regarding any correspondence between senior officers and the then Cabinet. It was also noted that the council officers involved had left the Council and had not inputted into the report.

However now those ex-officers have returned with devastating new evidence. A claim by one simply states “was pressure exerted on officers to get on with the project against their better judgement? Yes.”

Another previous high ranking employee indicates other that other costly errors such as Secklow Gate and Station Square may also have been due to this reason.

Both officers also state their anger that they had not been approached to give evidence in the original internal inquiry and indicate the correspondence that the internal investigation previously failed to find must have existed.

With such explosive claims Cllr Marland now feels there is no option but to bring in external investigators and have a full inquiry.

Cllr Marland stated: “Wolverton station was a project doomed from the start to run over time and over budget. When I asked why I was at first ignored, then patronised and only when the disaster couldn’t get much bigger, some sort action was taken.”

The total bill for this failure to the MK taxpayer has been somewhere in the region of £2m more than it could have been, and for a long time residents have been asking why?

Cllr Marland continued, “I was clear after the original report that serious questions had been overlooked and that there was a faint smell of whitewash as anyone blamed for a failing had conveniently left the council. We were told then that we’d got to the bottom of this and that was all we could do. I couldn’t accept that, too many questions remain.”

He added, “Now we find that key players in the project, and those who shouldered most blame in the report, were not even asked to comment! Yet when they are, they have made some pretty serious allegations. One states that undue pressure was most certainly applied to officers.”

“The other indicated that previous errors such as Secklow Gate and Station Square may have also faced similar pressures. What was happening in MK Council and are these issues still onging? Questions I’ve been asking for years.

Cllr Marland concluded,

“It has always been a suspicion that the taxpayers in MK had been asked to foot the bill for a failed Lib Dem election propaganda exercise and that bad management ran to the top of a moribund political administration. It is an allegation that needs to be looked at with some urgency. It is clear our internal investigation didn’t turn over every stone it needed to. The question now shifts to if we will ever get an answer to why £2m was wasted. Let’s have that independent inquiry now to get to the bottom of it. It’s finally time for answers to questions I’ve been asking for two years.”

“was pressure exerted on officers to get on with the project against their better judgement? Yes.”

Source: Email from ex-officer