Friday 19 December 2014

The Governance working group - Cats and Pigeons

Ten days or so ago I emailed the acting head of law and Monitoring Officer Linda Rees Jones asking for details of the membership of the working group set up to consider the 38 recommendations of the WLGA governance review.
I also asked her when the minutes of the first meeting, held on December 9th, would be published.

The WLGA review of the dire state of governance, ie how the council is run, was required further to the publication of the Wales Audit Office reports concerning the pension payments and the libel indemnity scandals relating directly to the Chief Executive, Mark James.

The constitution has, over recent years, been deliberately engineered to form a barrier to democracy.

The damning WLGA report was published at the beginning of November; WLGA Report - The toxic culture recognised

Here's Ms Rees Jones response to my email received today;

"Members of the group;

Plaid (4): Cllr. Emlyn Dole; Cllr. David Jenkins; Cllr. Tyssul Evans; Cllr. Hazel Evans.

Labour (3): Cllr. Kevin Madge; Cllr. Derek Cundy; Cllr. Terry Davies (chair)

Independent (3): Cllr. Pam Palmer; Cllr. Mair Stephens; Cllr. Hugh Richards.

All were present at the first meeting except for Cllr. Hugh Richards, who tendered his apologies.

The officers at the meeting were the Chief Executive, myself, Robert Edgecombe, Elid Morris, and Gaynor Morgan. The first meeting started working on an Action Plan for taking the recommendations forward.

Notes of Working Group meetings are not published because their recommendations will in due course be published when they're referred to the appropriate body eg County Council, but I will ask the members at their next meeting whether they are prepared to release them."

I have a few comments;

1. The very people identified as part of that toxic culture are involved in this committee. Those responsible for the unlawful actions which prompted the review are now in a position to steer the group how they wish.
I am talking about the chief executive of course, along with his trusty aide Linda Rees Jones. Mr James treated the whole WLGA exercise with utter contempt.
Add Kevin Madge and Pam Palmer to the mix and all that's missing from this unholy alliance is Meryl Gravell.
There shouldn't have been any Executive Board members on the group at all.

Perhaps the chief executive, at least, will have left the authority before long. As for the internal legal advice, the lay member of the Audit Committee Sir David Lewis described it as 'cavalier at best and incompetent at worst.

2. It is not a politically balanced group. The Independents are a group and act as such, whipped by Pam Palmer. Cllr Palmer referred to the WLGA report as a 'distraction'. Kevin Madge was equally lukewarm.

To put it simply the ruling administration can outvote the opposition..hardly balanced.

Yet again there are no unaffiliated independents in the group, of which there are two. Cllr Caiach and Cllr John Jenkins. They should have been invited to sit on the group.

3. The Plaid group have a grasp of what needs to be done and I expect one of the Labour members has a pretty good idea too.
The least said about the Independent contingent the better. One of them didn't even turn up. .
As for Cllr Terry Davies in the Chair, his contributions in council and planning meetings seem to be confined to hurrying everyone up to end debate and go to a vote. Or lunch maybe.

4. The minutes, or 'notes' of this particular working group should be published as a matter of course. No one needs to 'ask' anyone. Whatever conclusions they come to, it is essential that we see how they were reached.
In fact the meetings should be webcast but I'm not even going to bother mentioning that.

The WLGA found that a change of culture was necessary and in my view that is not possible without the wholesale removal of the prime suspects named in point 1, so far only one of them is thinking of going. To involve them in this review is disturbing.

However, the Wales Audit Office have said they will be monitoring progress, and so will a couple of bloggers.


Anonymous said...

I believe, by the makeup of this working group, there is no intention of allowing the actions of the council officers to be delved into too deeply.

Earlier this year I asked to have a meeting with Linda Rees Jones and the Chief Executive to discuss the way the council officers failed to follow policies in place to make sure the vulnerable are protected and the interests of service users and the public are safeguarded by investigating disclosures of whistleblowers. By also not following the Statutory Social Services Complaints Procedure the council officers were able to avoid looking into the flawed handling of both the POVA and the whistleblowers and their disclosures of late 2009 and 2010.

More whistleblowing took place in 2011 which as far as I can tell has not been accepted as such but was used as evidence against a whistleblower as evidence of inappropriate behaviour by her continuing to complain. Though Linda Rees Jones had advised the whistleblowers complaint against the handling of POVA should be investigated the officers did not follow her advice. Knowing this both she and the Chief Executive refused to meet with me using the excuse that an employment tribunal(ET) judgement cleared them of wrongdoing. This excuse is spurious as an ET does not look into disclosures or how they were handled neither do they look at how policies are followed(at least they did not take into account any of those matters in regard to my claim of unfair dismissal under PIDA). I lost my claim but am still continuing to whistleblow regarding the actions of the Council officials from late 2009 regarding our disclosures. This whistleblowing has now escalated to include the way the Chief Executive and the Chair of the Standards Committee has failed to follow the Whistleblowing policy, my communication with them that our disclosures were not handled properly has been ignored.

No doubt complainants are not treated properly and policies are not followed in regard to their concerns. This working group is not in place to sort out the way wrongdoing is covered up or to improve openness and transparency it is just a pretence, a smoke screen.

I have watched some of the County Council Meeting of 10/12/14 and if you watch Paul Stait the Chair of the Standards Committee speak at 01:58:55 you will be led to believe that the whistleblowing policy is being followed perfectly. Even though I had communicated with him earlier in the year and told him of proof that this was not the case he points to a report by the WAO as proof of his statement. Last year I had contacted the WAO who would not get involved though might have had I won my ET. The WAO seem to just have read the the very good Whistleblowing policy and taken for granted it was being followed.

I know there are many other problems with this council besides the ones I have discussed but this is what I have evidence of which no one wants to look at so have taken to making comments on this blog and Y Cneifiwr. I realise I am like a broken record but having spoken up about wrongdoing proper action should have been followed and ever since I have been trying to have someone look into the matter to no avail so far.

Jennifer Brown (Whistleblower)

Anonymous said...

I agree with what you say and am pleased you managed to obtain an answer as to the make up of the group tasked with constructing an action plan to take the WLGA peer review recommendations forward.

I would have liked the group to first look into the actions of officers and members who have caused so much distrust of the council by complainants and whistleblowers.

As a whistleblower I have witnessed what happens when complaints and disclosures are made against wrongdoing. Officers will not follow the very good policies and procedures in place if to do so would mean the Authority could be caused embarrassment and its reputation suffer. Three of the people named, the chief executive, Linda Rees Jones and Cllr Hugh Richards have all been guilty of not following policies and procedures or ignoring the fact that this has been taking place when apprised of this fact.

Before constructing an action plan to take forward the recommendations of the WLGA the group need to look into the actual misconduct by officers and no doubt some of the members in causing wrongdoing to go unchallenged for so long.

If any members named in the group have evidence of what has been taking place they will be in no position to look into the matter. To have officers looking over their shoulders and controlling every move they make noone will dare ask uncomfortable questions.

You are also right the makeup of the group is a farce as any matter not liked by the officers and executive will easily get overruled and no one outside the group will know what has gone on. Secrecy and cover up will continue unabated.

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

Sian Caiach said...

It is very disappointing that at least half of the Councillors on this group are pretty well implicated in the mess which has produced this situation.
I'm not hopeful that much change will come of it but always please to be pleasantly surprised!

Anonymous said...

Happy Christmas and thank you for everything you are doing fir us resudents of Sir Gar. Diolch yn fawr iawn.