Senior Harrogate council employee dismissed over fraud investigation

The result of six internal fraud investigations at Harrogate Borough Council were revealed at a June meeting.
The result of six internal fraud investigations at Harrogate Borough Council were revealed at a June meeting.

A senior employee of Harrogate Borough Council was sacked for "gross misconduct" following an internal investigation into fraud, the result of one of six probes the authority undertook in 2018/2019.

Another employee resigned after an investigation into their conduct was completed, while another was cleared of fraud but resigned after a "competence issue" was identified in their work.

The outcomes of the six investigations were revealed in a report presented to the council's audit and governance committee in June.

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Councillors were told that just two cases of fraud were investigated the year before (2017/2018), with the council's interim audit services manager Alison Johnson saying the increase "should be seen positively (because) more people are becoming aware" of what could constitute fraud.

A Harrogate Borough Council spokesperson stated after the meeting that the authority wouldn't comment on circumstances involving individual employees.

The findings were included in a report detailing the council's compliance with the CIPFA Fraud Code of Practice.

The report also highlighted that the authority, despite having experienced staff who can identify and deal with fraud, doesn't have anyone who holds a professional accreditation related to counter-fraud, which constituted a breach of the code.

To overcome the breach, Harrogate will liaise with northern neighbours Scarborough Borough Council and members of their audit and fraud service, should any instances of fraud arise that need a professional lead.

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The report also stated that an audit of council employees highlighted multiple issues related to fraud awareness which had not yet been rectified, due to a key position tasked with tackling it being vacant for almost a year.

Among the issues including an inconsistent approach to fraud across the council, a lack of awareness of the council’s anti-fraud and corruption strategy, and a failure by the authority to adequately communicate an anti-fraud culture within the organisation.

Ms Johnson said the intention had been to address the issues prior to the latest report, but progress had been halted by the position of audit services manager going "unfilled for almost a year".

Coun Victoria Oldham said it was a "matter of urgency" that the position be filled and the identified issues rectified.

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter