SERIOUS failings at Bournemouth Council led to staff being paid inflated salaries without proper contracts in place, auditors have discovered.

An investigation into the council’s control of consultants and self-employed staff highlighted three cases where there was “no evidence” the council had properly assessed the employment status of individual workers.

The audit report states there are only two types of staff – a council-employed worker paid via payroll system or a consultant appointed in accordance with EU tendering rules.

But in one case at Bournemouth council, a high-ranking executive director was being paid both as a council employee and as a consultant at the same time.

In another case, a sheltered housing manager was paid more than £150,000 through his own company, despite the fact his contract appeared to expire on March 31, 2008.

And in the final example, an interim senior accountant was paid by invoice but had tax and national insurance deducted by the council because his details were on the payroll system.

He was paid a salary that was 71 per cent higher than if he were employed by Bournemouth council.

The report criticises the council for not having a centrally co-ordinated system controlling the employment of consultants or self-employed staff.

It also says there is no evidence that an EU-compliant tender process was undertaken for consultants that were paid more than £156,000 and that this could potentially breach EU Procurement Law.

It concludes: “The overall impression gained at the conclusion of the Audit was that there is a fundamental lack of control, which exposes the council to major risk. Immediate remedial action is necessary.”

Cllr Roger West, a member of the audit and governance panel, is furious the audit report was not included in councillors’ papers but was only available to read online.

He learned that auditors first prepared a report on this issue in July 2010.

He said: “I think it’s scandalous that this report has been hidden from elected members since, it would appear, July 2010.

“This is not the open and democratic society that I thought we were all striving to attain. What’s even more important is that this report shows the council has been placed at high risk.”

Liz Wilkinson, the council's new executive director for finance, said the council took auditors’ recommendations very seriously and she was working to address concerns that had been raised in the most recent report and in the one from 2010, which has only just been brought to her attention.

“Her findings, recommendations and actions taken to date will be reported back to the audit and governance committee in September.

“Whilst it is reasonable to expect an organisation the size of the council to use consultants for specialist support on rare occasions for short to medium term projects, it is vital that effective governance is in place regarding the procurement and terms of engagement of such support.”