Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Whistleblowing out west...and beyond


Anyone who watched last night's BBC Week in Week out programme will have been appalled by the way Pembrokeshire Council not only utterly failed to protect vulnerable children from a predatory youth worker but also it's treatment of whistleblowers who persistently raised the alarm. Pembrokeshire councillor and blogger Mike Stoddart has the story here and the programme is available on iPlayer for a few more days.

Many are wondering how on earth Pembrokeshire chief executive, Bryn Parry-Jones, is still in his job. This is not the first time Pembrokeshire has let down its most vulnerable residents and I mentioned the previous trail of destruction back in 2011.

Many will be reminded of the case of Delyth Jenkins in Carmarthenshire who, after witnessing an assault on a vulnerable lady in a council run day centre by a member of staff, was treated appallingly by the senior management of the council when she raised her concerns.

No one is suggesting that whistleblowing is an easy area to manage, and great care, diligence and professional understanding is vital for both accuser and alleged perpetrator during any investigation. But the message which comes out of Pembrokeshire, and, from the people who have contacted me, in Carmarthenshire as well, is that whistleblowing policies are not worth the paper they're written on when there exists such a culture of bullying and intimidation towards anyone who dares raise their head above the parapet.
Pembrokeshire, back in 2011, was accused of being more concerned about the reputation of the council, and of course, those in charge, than the welfare of vulnerable children.

It is enormously difficult for employees to raise concerns when they are very well aware that the consequences could mean not only a deliberate smear campaign against them both personally, and in the workplace, but dismissal from their job. Council employees who have contacted me over the years have done so in desperation, and in confidence, more often than not actually frightened of repercussions for their families and livelihoods.

As a footnote, one particular anecdote, in the form of a document received some time ago, struck something of a chord; one of the reasons it did so, perhaps, was because it was a sworn statement, an Affidavit witnessed by a solicitor.
It contains allegations concerning events at a council in the north of England way back in the 1990s.

During a management restructuring process it became evident that a senior director had his sights on the dismissal of a particular junior officer.
The junior officer took the matter to a tribunal and part of his case was that he'd never been given the proper employment documentation in the first place. The sworn statement alleged that the senior director, on the day before the tribunal took place, instructed an administrator, under threat of dismissal, to write up the documentation, backdate it by several months and after making a copy to file, destroy the original. According to the sworn statement, the director then gave evidence, under oath, at the tribunal that the document was genuine.

Both the administrator, and the line manager, who had passed on the instructions from the senior director, were deeply troubled by what they were being ordered to do, and consequently, were both eventually squeezed out of their jobs.

Unfortunately it appears that this culture, which goes to the very heart of accountability, in our councils, and elsewhere is as endemic now as it ever was.

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The Western Telegraph has more Bryn Parry-Jones news this morning, with further news on the tax avoidance pension scandal shared, you will remember, with the chief executive over the border in Carmarthenshire. At an EGM in May, Pembrokeshire councillors resolved to write to Parry-Jones and the other unnamed Pembrokeshire official involved, inviting them to repay the cash.

The response, from Bryn Parry Jones will be discussed at a full council meeting tomorrow (webcast here). The contents of the letter though, with typical west Wales transparency, is scheduled to be heard in private. The Western Telegraph has, apparently, acquired  a copy of the letter, written by a consultant on behalf of Parry-Jones. Unsurprisingly he is flatly refusing to repay the money but what is surprising is that he has been transferring the cash to his wife

Update 17th July; Pembrokeshire Council did discuss the matter in private and it went to a vote - he's going to be allowed to keep the loot. The vote, apparently was recorded and I'm sure the Pembrokeshire bloggers will have more details soon.

Other than calls in the press from Jonathan Edwards MP, Carmarthenshire Councillors have not asked Mark James to repay his tax avoidance pension cash or the libel indemnity money, both of which were unlawful, or illegal, much the same thing in my view. Anyway, Kevin Madge wouldn't dream of asking him something so impertinent....

6 comments:

Redhead said...

And auditing is in trouble:
http://www.wao.gov.uk/system/files/publications/Annual_Report_2014_ENG.pdf

Sentinel said...

I don’t find it at all uncommon that whistleblowers are treated badly. I won’t divulge the ins and outs of the information I disclosed to senior managers when I worked for the local authority, but basically I revealed information that a line manager had broken the law on a procedural issue and had also given himself false qualification on his curriculum vitae. I only reported this person following repeated harassment from him.

The investigation was undertaken by a less than tenacious investigator – I doubt he had ever had training to investigate and he had a less than enquiring mind. He nevertheless substantiated the fact the the line manager hadn’t got the qualification he had put on his C.V. However the transgressor was merely asked to remove the letters after his name – signifying he was a member of a specific institute – on his business card and letterhead. No other sanction was taken against this fraud.

The investigating officer couldn’t substantiate the breach of procedural regulations had been breached, as he said he didn’t understand the law. He advised me that this part of the enquiry would be undertaken by a senior manager who was supposed to have some understanding of the legislation involved. In the event however, no investigation ever took place into this aspect of my complaint.

In the meantime I got all sorts of flak from my management team and was made to feel very uncomfortable for the rest of the time I worked for the County Council.

As I left the local authority, I was aware that a colleague reported a manager for theft and or fraud. I saw the evidence myself and it was pretty substantial, yet the investigation was a whitewash. The Local Authority’s Internal Auditors said they couldn’t find any evidence – well all I can say is, they didn’t look too hard. It was there for all to see in black and white. In my view the matter should have been reported straight to the police.

All this hardly motivates employees to report irregularities to their senior managers. It would be better if Local Authorities had a properly trained Internal Affairs Department to deal with complaints.

Anonymous said...

Strange how the perpetrators are supported and the innocent are victimised.

Redhead said...

Yeah!!!
http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=19256:council-decides-against-challenge-to-report-from-watchdog-on-libel-indemnity&catid=59&Itemid=27

Redhead said...

"It would be better if Local Authorities had a properly trained Internal Affairs Department" - in our dreams.

It DOES have a so-called properly trained EXTERNAL affairs people - external auditors and police. If they don't work (and they don't) there is no chance an internal one will.

Endemic corruption in public institutions is now so firmly established I think we can safely say that we cannot criticise third-world countries for theirs.

Now that the profit motive (for shareholders, not the public) is entrenched there is no hooe that whistleblowing will be encouragec or tolerated.

caebrwyn said...

Thank you your comments.

Here's a direct link to @Redhead's 19.34 posting; Council decides against challenge to report from watchdog on libel indemnity

'Local Government Lawyer' has published numerous articles relating to all this, from the perspective of a local government lawyer of course.