Scrap sales ‘went on for 30 years’

SOME council workers may have been selling scrap metal from Lancaster council houses and then pocketing the proceeds for up to 30 years, it was claimed this week.

Lancaster City Council has investigated allegations that members of its repairs and maintenance staff have been selling items such as copper cylinders cabling and even storage heaters to Morecambe Metals on White Lund – then keeping the cash for themselves.

It is understood that 10 workers have admitted being involved in the racket, but the council has so far refused to say whether any disciplinary action has been taken or to give any details of the cost to taxpayers.

It has not reported the matter to police.

But a well-placed source has now told the Lancaster Guardian that:

*The practice has been going on for 30 years.

*The racket was uncovered after one employee sold 10 copper cylinders then bought colleagues bottles of whisky with the proceeds.

*Staff gave false names to Morecambe Metals – including those of senior council officials.

*Each employee involved pocketed an average of around £800 a year in recent years – some made as much as £1,700.

*Only six staff out of more than 30 in repairs and maintenance were not involved.

The source said that he believed only one employee had been sacked, with two receiving final warnings.

“I’m outraged at what has been going on,” he said. “Staff gave false names to Morecambe Metals so they knew what they were doing.

“One of them even gave the name of the council director Mark Davies – it’s totally unbelievable.

“This has been happening for 30 years so staff will have netted a substantial amount of money.”

Council chief executive Mark Cullinan wrote to repairs and maintenance staff following last week’s Lancaster Guardian report and posted his letter on the council intranet site. He said the council took allegations seriously and investigated them and he also accused the newspaper of “tittle tattle” and of playing “judge and jury”.

He said that council had not answered 16 questions put to it by the Lancaster Guardian about the matter because “to answer them all in detail would have taken up an inordinate amount of officer time’, adding that ‘the Guardian would have simply picked the bits that fitted their story”.

A Freedom of Information Act request has now been lodged in an effort to get answers.

The source added: “I disagree with Mr Cullinan. This is public money being stuffed into back pockets and I am a taxpayer too. I can’t understand why the police have not been involved.”

In a statement, Mr Cullinan said staff who wished claims to be taken seriously would use the council’s whistleblowing policy. He said the council did not discuss matters relating to individual employees and ensured disciplinary issues remained confidential.

He added: “Residents should be assured that any allegations against the council or its employees are fully investigated and if they are found to be substantiated appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”

Morecambe Metals said it had been unaware of wrongdoing by council staff, but had logged full details of transactions and had co-operated with the council’s inquiry.