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Wednesday, 23 May 2012

"Pip Ozouf - A Liar? - Surely Not!!!"

Treasury Minister criticised over Police HQ

A report out today raises serious concerns about the Treasury Minister's conduct and decisions, which it says led to the failure to buy Jersey's new Police HQ.

In it, the Comptroller and Auditor General says "there are strong grounds for scepticism" about whether Senator Philip Ozouf's actions were justified.

His argument over the value of Lime Grove House is "unpersuasive".

The Minister is also accused of "bullying and harassment" of States employees.

The CAG raises concerns that Senator Ozouf has been attempting to smear and discredit his review, and says Ozouf also tried to sully the reputation of the former Director of Property Holdings, David Flowers.

In reponse the the CAG's report, Treasury Minister Senator Philip Ozouf said: "Again we've got allegations which have not been properly investigated and it's one side of the story. I am told that it's bullying and harassing to challenge officers to ask them about their decision making, these issues have never been put o me, I've never received a complaint ... and I think it's quite unfair for the CAG to be putting into the public domain one side of a story."

Back in 1999, a review into the Police HQ estate at Rouge Bouillon concluded that the buildings should be replaced, so work began to find the force a new home.

It took ten years to find a suitable site - Lime Grove House - and in 2009 Jersey Property Holdings, the States' property department, began talks with agents.

On 25th March 2010, an offer letter was sent by the Assistant Director of Property Holdings for £8.75 million.

Between February and July the Treasury Minister, his assistant and the acting Chief Executive got involved and Senator Ozouf requested an independent valuation.

Six months later the Acting Chief Executive John Richardson refused to sign off the deal, citing too many uncertainties - and by November Property Holdings were forced out of negotiations by the Treasury Minister.

Thirteen months later a new offer of £8.25 million was accepted, but the vendors refused to sign an exclusivity agreement and while the paperwork was drawn up, another offer was accepted and the States were gazumped.

In today's report, Jersey's government watchdog, the Comptroller and Auditor General, Chris Swinson, said: "I have found no breach by Jersey Property Holdings of the formal procedures of the States."

"The poor quality of relationships between the Director of JPH, the Treasury Minister, the Assistant Minister and the Deputy Chief Executive appears to have interfered with the proper management of business".

The CAG stated the Treasury Minister took bad advice from an informal source about the value of Lime Grove House. He went against professional valuations and therefore against the public's interest. By removing Property Holdings from negotiations, Senator Ozouf took responsibility for the deal, even though he himself was not a property expert.

He said "The Minister decided to ignore advice that Lime Grove should be bought at a particular price and did so on the basis of privately expressed opinions." "Ministers must guard against being swayed by opinions or arguments which seek to protect private interests at the expense of the public interest of the island".

Last year, a Scrutiny Panel looked into the failed purchase of a new Police Station and flagged up questions on the conduct of States business and the way the Treasury Minister dealt with employees. The Panel passed the issue on to the CAG. Senator Sarah Ferguson, Scrutiny Chair, said: "we had concerns and raised questions about the conduct of the ministerial team. It appears that our concerns were well founded. We will be waiting to see what lead the Chief Minister will give once he's considered the report"

Doubts cast on Ozouf’s Lime Grove evidence

Comptroller and Auditor General Chris Swinson
Comptroller and Auditor General Chris Swinson

THE reliability of the Treasury Minister’s evidence during a review into the Lime Grove fiasco has been called into question by the Comptroller and Auditor General Chris Swinson.

In the latest twist in the already controversial saga, Mr Swinson – who yesterday published his report into the States’ failure to buy the Green Street roundabout site for a new police station – has sent a letter to the States’ spending watchdog stating that he does not have confidence in Senator Philip Ozouf’s oral evidence.
And, while it stops short of accusing the Treasury Minister of lying, the letter to the Public Accounts Committee claims that Senator Ozouf denied making certain comments earlier this year, but says that Mr Swinson has records to the contrary.
The letter, which has been passed to the JEP, also refers to warnings received by Mr Swinson early on in his review that the inquiry could be susceptible to political interference.

Chief Minister speaks out over Lime Grove

Jersey's Chief Minister has issued a statement following yesterday's release of the Lime Grove report.

Senator Ian Gorst said it is important all details in the report are properly considered.

He said: “The Comptroller and Auditor General’s report on the proposed acquisition of Lime Grove House for use as a new police headquarters will now be considered by the Council of Ministers and the States Employment Board.
"It is important that a report going into this kind of detail is properly considered by the appropriate bodies before any conclusions can be drawn.

“The report appears to highlight how the structure of our government impacts on the way ministers and senior civil servants work together on corporate initiatives. This is an area I have already committed to address.

“A central part of the States Strategic Plan is the reform of the public sector and the development of a flexible organisation that focuses on serving Jersey effectively and efficiently. Service redesign is a major aspect of this reform programme and it will mean a change in our culture, values and behaviour.”

1 comment:

  1. Senator Philip Ozouf, Pinoccio, or Tom Pepper, take your pick, It has to be all over for the Rear Admiral!!!!