Damning report into years of unit’s failings

The late Michael Buckley
The late Michael Buckley
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A MASSIVE scam that cost South Yorkshire’s four councils £7 million could have been stopped years before it finally came to light, it has emerged.

A draft report into the fiasco at South Yorkshire Trading Standards Unit, which rocked Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster councils in 2005, reveals management failings that allowed one man to run up massive debts.

Michael Buckley, who ran the unit in Chapeltown for two decades, was left for years to fiddle accounts, recycle council cash and boost the apparent success of his operation.

Council bosses became aware of the scam only after he died of a heart attack.

They immediately commissioned a report to establish what had gone wrong - but its findings were kept from the public because of the ongoing criminal investigation.

The Serious Fraud Office prosecution ended last February, when three businessmen were sentenced for their roles in propping up the operation.

The four councils intend to publish their ‘finalised’ version of the report this summer - but a copy of the draft version has now been seen.

The report, by local government expert Neil Newton, reveals opportunities where Buckley’s deceit could have been identified years before his death.

“There have been institutional failures, managerial and supervisory failures, and failures in the systems designed to detect accounting irregularities,” the report says.

“Buckley never took holiday and was at the unit most weekends,” he said. “This is on page one of any fraud warning signs handbook.”

He said council officers should have “managed Buckley far more closely than they did” - and highlighted how when one colleague did question Buckley’s performance he was accused of “gossiping”.

“As the years went by Buckley’s claims became more and more divorced from reality. Nevertheless they were accepted as fact at the highest level,” the report adds.

Sheffield Council declined to comment ahead of the report’s official publication.