COUNCILLORS have slammed the obvious mistakes made by council officers which resulted in an £970,000 overspend on Blueschool House.

The Audit and Governance Committee condemned the failure of the officers to follow processes, including failing to tender to more than one contractor.

An audit by South West Audit Partnership revealed that the officers failed to follow normal governance processes and did not report to cabinet that the project could not be delivered to budget.

The audit also revealed that the council’s procurement procedure rules were not followed and there was no project board to oversee the refurbishment.

Cllr Roger Phillips said he was worried about the culture of the council that officers thought they could "get away with it."

He said: "Ultimately I hope lessons will be learned from this. The fact of the matter is we need to regain the confidence of the members that proper process and procedures are followed.

"This is not rocket science. This is done by 400 authorities throughout England and Wales."

The Herefordshire Council building in Blueschool Street in Hereford cost £1.92m to refurbish which was more than double the cost of the original estimate of £950,000 approved by councillors.

Cllr Anthony Powers said: "I personally cannot but assume, particularly in light of an external audit report, that everything that this report itemises is a cultural and systematic failure - both in the finance department and the economy, communities and corporate directorate.

"There are basic elementary failings and mistakes. Things even an absolute outsider or amateur know to be wrong such as failing to tender to more than one contractor.

"As well as questions in relation to officers that this will entail, I think there are questions to be asked here for the role and responsibilities of the cabinet member [Cllr Harry Bramer] and the relationship between the executive and officers."

Cllr John Stone praised Independent councillor, Bob Matthews, and other members who revealed the overspend.

He said: "The overspend, in particular, is absolutely mindblowing considering all of the savings we have had to make in the last couple of years and the impact that has had on our communities."

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Matthews said: "We, the Independents, are confident that if we had not insisted that the matter be thoroughly investigated, like many other issues it would have been filed away in the hope that it would be forgotten."

Cllr Chris Chappell said there is an independent HR investigation taking place. Speaking after the meeting, he said there needs to be a political resignation of either Cllr Bramer, the cabinet member for contracts and assets, or leader of the council, Tony Johnson.

He said: "The council officers are the employees to you, the citizen, and me as the councillor. We employ them on your behalf to do their job that we the councillors want them to do.

"Ultimately the leader, the political leader, is responsible. There is no getting away from it."

He said Cllr Bramer should have kept an eye on the project.

Chief executive, Alistair Neill, told the meeting: "I apologise to you that we are doing a report that highlights problems that fall so far below the standards. It is completely unacceptable that we have behaviours that do not meet the standards we require."

He said he recognises that it does nothing to boost trust in the council but that they fully accept the recommendations made by the report to improve.

There will be a further report made in January of the improvements which have been made, a working group has been set up, and there will be an external investigation.