FURIOUS councillors have accused bosses of ‘failing’ to act over ongoing concerns about authority credit cards loaded with taxpayers’ money.

This comes after an auditor at Bracknell Forest Council (BFC) rated finance chiefs’ handling of purchase card management as ‘inadequate’.

A report revealed those who hold the cards used them to make £244,000 worth of purchases in the year up to December 2019.

READ MORE: 'Unexplained' death of a man found in a vehicle in Bracknell

Councillors complained this issue has been flagged for a number of years.

David Jones, an independent member of BFC’s audit committee, said: “The council seems to give itself wiggle-room [to fix the issue] but it doesn’t give council taxpayers wriggle-room in terms of what they can do with fixed penalties.”

What are purchase cards?

Purchase cards are mainly handed out to the top bosses at the council on the emergency duty rota as they may need to authorise urgent expenditure.

They are also given to other authority teams and borough school chiefs who purchase goods and services for the council and its residents.

READ MORE: Beautiful moment with dear caught on film

There are 82 purchase cards in use across BFC and information about all cards issued is held and controlled centrally.

All expenditure incurred on purchase cards needs to be checked to make sure it is okay by a manager or senior officer.

What’s the problem?

The report which highlighted the worries around purchase cards suggested four major recommendations were implemented when this issue reared its head in 2018/2019.

Bracknell News:

The recommendations were added in response to:

  • Poor approval processes
  • Weak processes to identify cardholders in schools who have left school employment
  • A lack of receipts and supporting information for transactions
  • Users splitting up purchases so they could get around council-imposed spending limits

BFC’s finance chief Stuart McKellar said that although there have been fewer instances of misuse of the cards in the past year, the main issue was with “record-keeping” rather than spend.

Sally Hendrick, the auditor who wrote the report, said the council was going in the “right direction” when it came to addressing some of the issues within the report, which also included worries about Forestcare, cybersecurity, unspent public health grants and more in addition to the purchase card problem.

What do councillors think about this?

A number of elected members sitting on the audit and governance committee aired their concerns about these issues on Wednesday (June 24) night, including councillor Malcolm Tullet and Michael Gbadebo.

READ MORE: Man suffers bleed to the brain after mass brawl

But it was Councillor Ian Leake who was most outraged by the report.

He said: “I simply cannot understand why it is taking so long to get to grips with something which in any other organisation, would be extremely simple.

“If I, as a councillor, was responsible for doing in my job what this report seems to indicate, I would be hauled before a standards committee and asked to explain myself.

“To the members of the public, it just seems to be as though you can do anything you want so long as there is some bureaucratic answer that encompasses ‘we’re travelling in the right direction’.

Bracknell News:

“I don’t want to travel in the right direction; I want to get to the destination to put it right!”

He later added: “If this happened in any commercial organisation, these issues would be dealt with by some form of disciplinary action.

“The managers of these departments ought to know what is happening, what is causing the problem.

“This is not only a procedural failure, it’s a management failure as well.”

How is the council responding to the purchase card problem?

Stuart McKellar said “it’s not acceptable we continue to have issues around this” following criticism from the committee.

He did also point out BFC is a £500 million organisation dealing with an issue that costs £244,000 a year, but added: “It is a severe annoyance and something we should be doing better at than we are.”

In light of 2018/2019’s recommendations “not addressing” the purchase card issues, as Ms Hendrick put it, a working group featuring BFC’s most high-ranking staff has been set up to sort out the issue.

Mr McKellar also revealed he would take away purchase cards from department bosses where the correct processes where repeatedly not being followed.

BFC’s audit team is also set to carry out spot checks on council teams to make sure rules are being followed.