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Basildon Council hired lift consultant conman
A CONSULTANT hired by Basildon Council masterminded a fraud that conned London boroughs out of hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Steve Cobby, 52, a consultant overseeing a £1million lift upgrade in Basildon, was the brains behind a plot that saw him and two sub-contractors pocket cash from three councils billed for lift maintenance that never happened.
Basildon Council has paid his firm £168,000 despite being alerted to his past more than two years ago. The council suspended his contract in May this year after new allegations were made.
Nigel Smith, Basildon Labour group leader, said: “It appears the council has been negligent and failed to check someone’s background, even when pointed out.”
The Echo can confirm Mr Cobby was jailed for two years in February 2009 after admitting three counts of conspiracy to commit corruption in connection with lift repair contracts at Newham, Enfield and Westminster City councils.
St Georges, the council’s former housing provider, hired Mr Cobby to oversee lift improvements through his firm Vertical Transportation Solutions in March 2011 – about a year after he was released from prison.
Because the contract value at the time was under £100,000 there was no tender process and he was not asked to disclose convictions.
His responsibilities included procuring maintenance firmLiftec to deliver the £1million upgrade he devised.
St Georges closed in July 2011 and the contract transferred to the council and even though it received a complaint about his past the same month, still no checks were made.
His contract was later extended to nearly £170,000 and is set to expire this December.
Mandy Skeat, Basildon Council’s head of housing, said: “An investigation was not carried out in 2011. We were introduced to Vertical Transportation Solutions by South East Consortium, so contacted them, and they assured us the allegations were unfounded.”
She said: “The council did not undertake criminal records checks on any VTS employee following the transfer. However, the council is neither obliged nor permitted to undertake criminal records checks on every contractor and consultant.
“We subsequently asked Mr Cobby a series of questions, which were not adequately answered. In May, we wrote to him, suspending work with VTS, pending answers.”
Mr Cobby would not comment on his conviction, but told the Echo: “All the work was completed fully and has been fully compliant with the procedures. More than 28 lifts in Basildon have been completed to cost from the procurement.”
Residents of Brooke House claim lifts are slower now than before the so called “improvements”.
One of the biggest jobs for Liftec to carry out during the contract devised by Mr Cobby was to upgrade the two lifts in Grade II listed tower block Brooke House, in Basildon town centre. The work, part of a more than £1million contract with Liftec put together by Mr Cobby for lift work across the borough, ended earlier this year.
It aimed to solve problems with the original lifts, which had seen people, including council staff inspecting them in October 2012, getting stuck and needing the fire service to get them out.
But some residents in the tower block claim they are now slower than the original lifts.
Katie Knight, 22, who lives on the ninth floor, said: “They are quite slow and break down quite a lot, or the doors stick. One of the lifts has a loud creak when the door opens which does not sound good. Last weekend, a man got stuck in the lift and was ringing the emergency button for ages.”
Kimberley Garner, 22, added: “They are slower than the old ones and still break down about twice a month. Last Thursday, one of them was out of service and when this happens it is difficult having to bump the children’s buggy down to the next floor to get the other one.”
Mandy Skeat, Basildon Council’s head of housing, said the standard of the work overseen by Mr Cobby had also been investigated, and found to be up to scratch.
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