There was once a rather politicised public servant who foolishly decided to put down on the record the fact that some news events create 'good days to bury bad news'. A somewhat tasteless sentiment, but one which is nevertheless sometimes true enough for all that.
This last weekend has seen the public's interest taken up very much with Royal matters, meaning that smaller stories, even if reported, have not necessarily gained such attention as they ordinarily would. Nevertheless, a story in the Waltham Forest Guardian about a local 'charity', one of the tame entities our Labour-controlled council uses to syphon taxpayer's money into the less than adequately scrutinised milieu of the local 'voluntary' sector has managed to evade the total obscurity which I suspect our local council's spin doctors (and others, apparently) had hoped for it.
The story is a familiar one. The council has been channelling funds to a badly run outfit, masquerading as a 'charity', but which, in effect, is nothing more than its creature. This entity has managed to consistently fail to keep within its budgets. The first reports appeared that a mere £1,621,728 has been overspent over a five-year period. However, as NT commented in the WFG, the 2006 accounts showed that the difference between income and expenditure in FY 2005 was already minus £823,726. Adding this to the £1,621,728, indicated that the cumulative loss over six years is £2,445,454.
As to the question of how such losses are sustainable, NT also points out that in 2003 O-Regen was handed an endowment of £4.5 m, together with the freehold of most of its significant properties.
The charity nevertheless has tried to tell the Charity Commission that its budgetary failings are due to the 'recession'. (In January 2010 they made a return claiming 'the charity is still in good health mainly due to the strength of its commercial assets but it has been a difficult year financially due to the length of the economic recession which has led to a fall in income from donors and cutbacks in staff hours. In spite of this, the charity is still making strenuous efforts to reduce its cost base and generate new income streams to maintain its financial health.')
Why they considered it reasonable to claim to be in a state of 'financial health' after, at that stage, at least four straight years of overspending their budget I do not know. They then went right on overspending last year. It seems to most observers to be a given that councillors supposed to provide adequate oversight of this entity have failed the public, as, apparently, have those employees supposed to be running the place professionally and within the financial limts required of them.
So far, so Waltham Forest. Accountability in this borough is often poor, problems get ignored, identified problems fester or are hushed up, good money gets thrown after bad. Meetings are held and backs are slapped. Words are muttered in corridors out of sight of the public and postures are taken in public view. Someone or other benefits, nevertheless, but the public is never told who or why. Readers here will know the sort of thing.
Recent accounts submitted to the Charity Commission in January this year say they spent £1.875 million while receiving a income of £1.3 million. As in the previous half decade, the rest of the money apparently grew on a tree. It will no doubt have ended up in someone's well-connected pockets while the public, whose tree it was, will see other projects axed elsewhere in the borough and/or the cost added to the massive public debts they will be paying the interest on for generations to come.
The entity concerned, exulting in the ridiculous moniker of 'O-Regen' runs the 'Epicentre' and 'Click Centre' in Leytonstone, the 'Score' centre in Leyton and a training college called 'O-Regen College' at Webbs Industrial Estate in Blackhorse Lane in Walthamstow. What good these expenditures and activities, which some 31 people are employed to get up to on taxpayers' behalves, is anybody's guess at the moment. They run a website, which has plenty of corporate nonsense and vagueness of job titling on it, but little by way of hard facts. The CEO is called Julian Martin. He gets the word 'vision' into the first sentence of his personal blurb and then goes on about his role in the future tense, which I take to mean that actual achievements are thin on the ground. Allegedly responsible for the financial performance of the organisation and 'working closely with the CEO and Senior Managers to provide financial management', is a Mr Razvan Syyed.
At the Truth Will Out blog, there is some evenhanded fingerpointing going on at the Chair of the Trustees of O-Regen. This is a councillor called Matt Davis. He is head of the local Tories, a group of allegedly politically organised people who I have long puzzled about for their near total uselessness when it comes to properly holding the Labour administration to account for their chilling incompetance and toleration of waste and graft.
If this scandalous situation at O-Regen is a skeleton in a political cupboard - as it potentially appears it could be, we may have here a tiny insight into the local Tories' abilities, or lack of them, as protectors of the public purse. It certainly sheds interesting light on their supine approach to what many of us vainly expect would be the normal duty of an opposition to hold the administration properly to account.
(Updated 3 May 2011)