WALTER CONXITE reports on more disturbing news involving “dishonest” conduct around the private business of Croydon Council’s most senior official
The co-director of a private company that was run with Croydon Council’s new chief executive, Nathan Elvery, has been found guilty of financial misconduct and bringing the accountancy profession into disrepute after she admitted to forging her business partner’s signatures on the company accounts.
Elvery established Sundragon Associates Ltd in August 2009, even though he was Croydon Council’s full-time deputy CEO and executive director in charge of the borough’s finances at the same time. He formed the private company together with Tracie Evans, who was then the director of finance at Barking and Dagenham. There were no other directors in the business. Sundragon was wound-up in April 2012.
The disciplinary hearing of CIPFA, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, which reported last month, described Evans’ actions in signing the accounts in her business partner’s name as “dishonest”. Elvery gave evidence to the disciplinary panel, claiming no knowledge of the forgeries, something which Evans denied. CIPFA gave Evans a “severe reprimand”.
Last year, when Inside Croydon investigated Elvery’s involvement in his Sundragon private business while a full-time employee at Croydon, he threatened legal action against this website in an unsuccessful effort to gag us.
The council also broke the law over information requests and at first deliberately withheld information about their senior executive’s involvement in his moonlighting activities.
Although Sundragon was set-up to offer consultancy services to local authorities over the use of IT systems, Elvery has always claimed that there was never any conflict of interest with his day job at Croydon. He has also said that he never gained any financial benefits from the company, which in its first year’s trading had a £50,000 turnover.
Last month, Elvery was made full-time chief executive of Croydon Council, a job which was never advertised.
Just days before, at a disciplinary meeting of CIPFA, Elvery’s one-time business partner admitted to forging her co-director’s signature on formal accounts lodged with Companies House. CIPFA published its report on the hearing last month.
CIPFA is the professional body for accountants and others responsible for managing public money in the public sector.
According to CIPFA’s report of the hearing, the offences involved the handling of Sundragon Associates’ company accounts for 2010, in a period from October 2011 through to January 2012.
This suggests that throughout this whole period, the company’s co-founder Elvery was unaware that he had not signed off on his company accounts, nor that there was someone else doing so for him.
It also suggests that Elvery and Evans never discussed the matter of accounting for the company finances through that period, even though it is known that the pair were also working together on a public-funded IT project for London Councils, called “Project Athena”.
Although Evans had Elvery’s mobile phone number, according to her evidence, she never once discussed this matter with him in that 18-month period. “Ms Evans was unable to explain why she did not ask him to sign off the accounts,” the CIPFA report notes.
Perhaps intended to reassure the disciplinary panel, Evans – who is now working as the chief operating officer at Haringey – told the disciplinary hearing that, “… she would never forge signatures in a professional working environment, holding senior public office”. That must be a huge relief to all concerned.
The official CIPFA report of the hearing states:
“Ms Evans admitted the majority of the facts in the case. She stated that she had become frustrated by Sundragon’s accountant whom she said had failed to present accurate accounts for the year ended 31 August 2010 in that they were incorrectly made out for the year ended 31 July 2010. These accounts had not been accepted by Companies House. This led Ms Evans to file amended accounts herself in Oct/Nov 2011 (which were made out to the year ended 31 August 2010 but still contained references to the year ended 31 July 2010) and further amended accounts in November 2011 (for the period 10 to 31 August 2009, the year ended 31 August 2010 and the year ended 31 August 2011). These accounts were then resubmitted by Ms Evans to Companies House in an amended form in January 2012. All of the accounts filed by Ms Evans herself were signed by Ms Evans using the name and purported signature of her co-director without her co-director’s knowledge.
“Ms Evans had her co-director’s mobile telephone details and would have been available to speak to him for at least part of the relevant time if she had chosen to contact him. Ms Evans was unable to explain why she did not ask him to sign off the accounts.
“She indicated that she just wanted the whole issue of Sundragon Associates closed as the company was no longer required and she was busy with other things in her life. Out of expediency she signed the accounts herself. She felt under pressure from Companies House deadlines and wanted to avoid any fine. She admitted that her signing the accounts in her co-director’s name was misleading (although it transpired that only one signature was required) but thought that this would not be questioned by Companies House as the figures were small, were accurate and no one had gained or lost anything as a result of her actions. She admitted that she would never forge signatures in a professional working environment, holding senior public office.
“Although denied by Ms Evans, the Committee found that she did not have her co- director’s consent to sign his name (his having given evidence to this effect to the Committee) and that her actions were dishonest and liable to mislead in that she had intended that Companies House should rely on the accounts having been signed by two directors which she knew to be false.”
Evans was found guilty of being in breach of CIPFA’s standard of professional practice on ethics “in that she failed to act in accordance with the Fundamental Principle of Integrity”, and “… she was guilty of misconduct in that by her actions she had brought discredit on herself, the Institute and the profession of accountancy”.
Nathan Elvery is paid £180,000 a year as salary by Croydon Council, and next May will be in charge of the management of all the polling booths, security and count of the votes for the borough’s three constituencies at the General Election.
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Coming to Croydon
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