‘Lamentable’ failures led to £14m fraud at trading standards service

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A REPORT into how £14 million of debts were run up by the defunct South Yorkshire Trading Standards Unit has finally been published, blaming ‘lamentable’ failures by councils to scrutinise its work.

Sheffield Council has released the document which explains how general manager Mike Buckley mismanaged the unit for years without being detected.

The report identifies shortcomings among all four local authorities in South Yorkshire - Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster, as well as Sheffield.

However, author Neil Newton said his investigation into the now defunct South Yorkshire trading standards unit is out of date and his findings have been “overtaken by events” since it was first written in 2006.

Mr Newton describes the joint committee’s governance of the unit as ‘somewhat lamentable by modern standards’.

He concludes all four local authorities, who are still debating how the debt should be settled, were responsible for not identifying problems.

Buckley transformed the unit into what appeared to be a world-class business, offering highly specialised services to business customers and apparently making a profit,

But after his death in 2005, it emerged the unit had huge debts.

Buckley had managed to deceive his managers at Sheffield Council, auditors, trading standards officials at all four councils and councillors on a ‘joint committee’ which oversaw the unit’s work for around a decade.

Mr Newton said: “There is no doubt Sheffield Council must be held responsible, as the lead authority, for the financial and personnel management process issues, but the responsibilities for general management direction could fall to the whole of the joint committee.”

A Sheffield Council spokesman said: “While we accept the review and note the conclusions, this case is historical and practices and procedures have moved on since then.”

Publication of the Newton Report was held up while three businessmen who traded with Buckley were prosecuted for their involvement but they pleaded guilty in 2010. The report was only released after a ruling by the Information Commissioner.