A culture of “sloppy” record keeping at Perth and Kinross Council prevented auditors from carrying out an investigation into alleged misconduct.
Audit Scotland was asked to probe allegations of an improper relationship between the local authority and its roads maintenance partner, Tayside Contracts.
The council was accused of altering quantities and values of work between initial measurements and final invoices, while the use of sub-contracting work by Tayside Contracts was also questioned.
The probe found no evidence to substantiate the allegations, but in its findings Audit Scotland states its inquiries were hampered by the “poor quality of files” kept by the council.
“Generally, quantities and costs appear to be in line with the documentation provided,” an Audit Scotland spokesman said. “But a lack of an audit trail makes it almost impossible to detect any manipulation of the contracts and, while our testing found no evidence on files to suggest that quantities and values are being manipulated, we are unable to provide any assurance that this has not occurred.”
Members of the authority’s audit committee have been told that a 13-point action plan had been drawn up to make improvements to its file system.
Perth City South councillor Willie Wilson said: “What I am struggling to understand is that when external auditors came in to look at this, they found these issues, but none of that seems to have been evident to the council.
“This is a very serious matter.”
He said that the problems were not discovered, even after a series of similar investigations dating back to June last year.
Council chief executive Bernadette Malone said: “The investigation was looking at whether an appropriate contractor was awarded the correct contract.
“The previous investigations were looking at something quite different.
“All of these investigations to date have not substantiated any of the allegations which have been made.”
She added: “Having said that, there are always areas which can be improved.”
Perth City South councillor Alexander Stewart called for safeguards to ensure there could be no manipulation of council documents.
“We have to acknowledge that there was no manipulation, but they (Audit Scotland) have been unable to provide us with any assurances that that didn’t happen either that worries me.”
Committee convener Barbara Vaughan said: “The important thing to take away here is that there has been no wrongdoing, but there are things, in terms of the way records are being kept, that should have been better and need to be improved.
“We have to keep those things separate, otherwise we could give people the wrong impression about what happened.”
Tayside Contracts managing director Iain Waddle said criticism in Audit Scotland’s report referred to documents kept by the council.