Sunday 5 February 2017

The Pembrey scandal: An Employment Tribunal - updated

Update, see post 9th March - Judgement - Unfair dismissal 

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Update 10th February; Report in the Carmarthenshire Herald

With the Employment Tribunal expected to conclude today (Friday) the Herald has provided a detailed report on the main events, up until the time it went to print. The article is not yet online.

What appears to have emerged over the past few days is, to quote the Herald; '...that a key consideration of Carmarthenshire County Council's officers concerned in Pembrey and the serious and serial malpractice at the Park was to preserve the council's reputation at all costs and conceal the extent of the bad news'. The failure to involve the police, the treatment of whistleblower Eirian Morris and the bland assurances given to councillors suggests this was indeed the case.

Here are some of the key points, though I would urge those interested to read the full article in the Herald;

In response to questions as to why the council (key witnesses were Helen Pugh the Audit and Risk manager and Head of Leisure, Ian Jones) failed to involve the police, it was claimed that the unfolding scenario before them was so chaotic they were unable to formulate a complaint. This was despite potentially criminal acts in that very scenario.

A disciplinary hearing in early October which could have resulted in the dismissal of the Country Park manager Mr Dickinson, who had already received a final warning, was 'postponed'. He was then allowed to resign immediately prior to pleading guilty to the assault of the catering franchise holder.

As Mr Dickinson's line manager, Ian Jones came under questioning as to the extent of his knowledge and any alleged involvement in the removal of Mr Morris. Mr Jones denies involvement.

Despite Mr Morris making allegations against Mr Dickinson, and at least one against Mr Jones, Mr Jones remained as Mr Morris's line manager throughout the council's investigation. A 2014 email from Mr Jones to the then Director, and deputy chief executive, Dave Gilbert states that both he and Mr Dickinson were unconcerned about the allegations against them. This confirms that Mr Gilbert was aware of the allegations.

Despite being in line for a new management post, the interview was postponed. Mr Morris found himself instead being made redundant following his whistleblowing disclosures. Mr Morris then noticed that a post similar to his own was being advertised six weeks later. Mr Jones stated that the postponement of Mr Morris's interview was down to advice from the Council's HR and Legal department.

Part of Mr Morris's case is that a restructuring exercise was used to create a bogus redundancy procedure. In evidence a recording was played between Mr Dickinson and a third party which appears to confirm this (see Herald article from June 2016). Mr Jones admitted that the source of Mr Dickinson's information with regard to restructuring must have been from himself but although he admitted to discussing Mr Morris's redundancy with Mr Dickinson, he didn't know why Mr Dickinson stated, in so many words, that the restructuring was rigged to remove Mr Morris.

Mr Morris also alleges that following his disclosures he was subject to pressure and harassment as manager of the ski centre. Mr Jones claimed that this was due to 'audit issues' which had been flagged up. Who flagged them up is not clear. However, as the Herald points out, Mr Jones told the Council's Audit Committee only last month that there were no audit issues at the ski centre.

The panel asked whether any attempt was made to get Mr Dickinson to attend the hearing but were told that he was no longer an employee and had resigned. Personally I find this a little odd as during the libel case the chief executive dragged the former Head of Legal out of nearly two years of retirement to give evidence on his behalf.

Under cross-examination it was put to Mr Morris that he had no evidence of wrongdoing and that his disclosures were anecdotal. Whatever the case, it was these disclosures which led to the uncovering of mismanagement and misconduct at the park. The real issue is what those council officers chose to do about it, or not do, as the case may be.

The hearing continues.


There's an interesting Employment Tribunal due to take place over the next few days (starts 6th Feb) concerning Carmarthenshire County Council. The claim is being brought by a former leisure manager at Pembrey Country Park, Mr Eirian Morris, against the council for unfair dismissal, and detrimental treatment. He blew the whistle over historic, and not so historic, 'issues' at the Park.

The case put forward is for unfair dismissal and that the complainant  "Suffered a detriment and/or dismissal due to exercising rights under the Public Interest Disclosure Act"

In other words, he blew the whistle and paid the price, County Hall style.

The case, which is being held in Cardiff, is, I understand, open to the press and public.

The background is well documented and began with allegations and rumour of severe management problems at both Pembrey and the Millenium Coastal Park over the past few years. However, nothing emerged until early last year when a brief, but damning summary (and only the summary) of an internal audit report, commissioned following the retirement of the previous Director, appeared on a committee agenda.

Amongst the findings were, to use plain English rather than councilspeak; money and assets going missing, failure to follow almost any proper procedure, health and safety issues and conflicts of interest.

Rather than report matters to the police or the Wales Audit Office as requested by some councillors (not, however by leader Emlyn Dole who thought the suggestion was impertinent...) the sordid affair was kept in house and the usual whitewash began.

One councillor, Bill Thomas (Lab), has consistently called for a forensic audit and has been less than convinced by the usual 'lessons learned' flannel updates to the committee, which he says, has been duped by officers over the past financial chaos. The amount of money which has gone walkabout is not known, but it's not chickenfeed.

Despite the council claiming there was no evidence of fraud or theft, the audit report stated that "It was not possible to place an assurance that all income due has been collected, recorded, banked, monitored and accurately reflected in the Authority’s accounts." rather suggests to me that it was exactly that, fraud. 

Essentially, the internal audit was a means to keep the lid on a far wider scandal and control the release of information.

Far from reporting all this to the police, the chief executive reported me to the police for my reference to lumpy carpets in county hall.

The scandal deepened when details emerged over the March 2016 park catering tender, which was later abandoned when it became clear that it had been somewhat 'compromised'. The council's Countryside and Coast manager Rory Dickinson, who was in charge of the tender, was allowed to resign just a few days before pleading guilty in October to the common assault of the incumbent contract holder for catering services, Ms Stephanie Thomas.

All in all its been a very sordid affair, and smells distinctly like a long and tortuous cover-up by senior officers, further amplified when recorded conversations, reported in the Herald, revealed a senior official pleading "for f****s sake don't go to the police."

Documents were eventually passed to the police by Nia Griffith MP and we wait to see what comes of that.
It is also understood that further legal action might be on its way against the council, possibly relating to the tender, and other unspecified claims as it now appears that other employees lost their jobs via underhand tactics.

This whole business has been kept well under wraps by County Hall, as best they could, and enquiring councillors fed the usual lies, spin and half-truths, but the big question remains that given the length of time over which this serious fiasco rumbled along, exactly how far up the pecking order had the knowledge of the scandal reached, and when?
And this case also brings into question, yet again, the council's treatment of whistleblowers.

Whether or not the council will make a last ditch attempt to settle, or if not, whether further details will emerge and the whistleblower will get justice, remains to be seen, but as with this case, my case, and many others, the least we can hope for is that the uneven floor covering at County Hall may eventually even out, though this will only happen once the Sicilian cartel have finally moved on.

Currently, the claim by this council that it has turned a corner and is on course to be the most transparent and wholesome council in Wales remains a massive standing joke.


Elderly Neil. said...

This could be the start of something BIG !!!!!!!!!!!

Patricia B said...

The culture of this 'cicilian cartel 'is of deceit, lies and whatever it takes to cover up dodgy deals. We were expendable as have been other whistleblowers. Ruthlessness is no stranger to me, it's what I've been on the receiving end of along with a prolonged smear campaign. Retired Head of Planning E. Bowen and indeed retired Enforcement Manager B. Canning would more than qualify in how to coach younger officers in this art. If B. Canning had not been given 'privilege' when being interviewed by the Ombudsman I could have sued forlibel. Let's hope the truth comes out.

Unknown said...

"I admire your courage and tenacity in the face of our Carmarthenshire County Council and it's CEO determination to silence you and your blog. They have done their best stamp out your right of freedom of speech/opinion and our right know what our very toxic LA is up to. I also admire the way Mr Eirian Morris has stood his ground and understand fully the frustration he must have had with this Council's culture of cover up and its failure to follow the Whistleblowing Policy and no doubt a very biased Disciplinary Investigation as to his conduct (being as he is an unwanted whistleblower). I wish him luck at the ET and hope he has good representation and an unbiased Judge and Panel. Having worked for it I have witnessed the way coercion is used to avoid wrongdoing coming to light. Officers involved in investigation and disciplinary hearing are chosen by others with a conflict of interest as to the outcome. At first they may not realise they are being manipulated and when they do it would take a very brave person to stand up and speak out; they would suffer, no doubt the same fate as the whistleblower they are investigating/judging. They cannot be impartial as they know the preferred outcome that has to be achieved. This I deduced from internal emails and documents asked for under the Data Protection Act. Public Bodies such as CCC put reputation before everything. It does not believe it should be held accountable for its maladministration or its officers' Misconduct in Public Office; so truth & openness goes out the window. Diligent officers are forced to acquiesce and accept that this is the culture endorsed from above or leave before, like so many, they too become embroiled. Cllr scrutiny is none existent in matters which are of the public interest such as abuse and cover up. Cllrs should start reading the Herald, your blog and Cneifiwr's blog then they may start questioning the actions of the Executive, CEO & senior Officers. We can but live in hope. I hope you can keep us avid readers of your blog up to date with Eirian's ET. If you are reading this Eirian may I say "Good on ya for not turning a blind eye and for speaking out in the Public Interest" we need more officers such as you who believe the public's interest should come first not the need to support the culture of cover up permeating down from the leadership of this Council.

Anonymous said...

I was ousted of my job and lost my career because if it.. i know stuggle to make a livin. because i questioned the systems...

i wonder if i have a case ?

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 11 29 Certainly take advice.

Unknown said...

Anon 11:29 If you have legal cover with house insurance or can obtain advice from union, if a member, that might help as employers know employees rarely have the wherewithal to take them on for unfair dismissal. If your dismissal was because you questioned actions taking place that were not following proper procedure then you could be classed as a whistleblower, supposedly, protected under the Public Information Disclosure Act (PIDA). Even though you have left if you were to continue raising your concerns PIDA should protect you as a whistleblower. (It did not protect me but my union were also trying to silence me and my concerns too). Their actions when "supporting" me at disciplinary and for the ET were not intended to succeed in safeguarding my post or later to win my claim against unfair dismissal. PIDA is flawed as it does not consider the details of the disclosure the employee made or whether the employer acted to protect the public interest when told of wrongdoing. It appears to protect wrongdoing employers more than the employee who raises concerns or the public/service users who's rights and interests have been harmed. I wonder how Eirian's claim is progressing. I would have liked to attend but I have family commitments (my dad is 90)so I am a little tied.

Anonymous said...

I worked for Carmarthenshire County Council for ten years and took early retirement when I was 63. I imagine they were glad to see the back of me as I routinely blew the whistle on pitiful and corrupt management.

First there was the bullying junior manager who put a qualification on his curriculum vitae, that he actually didn't have. I only found out when I tried to get the same qualification and contacted the institute that made the awards. I realised the junior manager didn't fit the criteria. Unusually the institute actually told me he didn't have the qualification. Why was it unusual? I thought the Data Protection Act would have prevented the release of the information.

After periods of sustained bullying by the manager involved, I reported the bogus qualification. The matter was 'investigated' by a less than tenacious administrative manager from the same department. He substantiated my allegation, but no sanction was given to the culprit. He was merely instructed to remove the annotation, showing he had the qualification, from his business card and letterhead. He remained in post and the insidious bullying just continued, albeit I was posted to another office in another town.

The same manager set up covert cameras without the requisite authority from a senior manager, in accordance with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Again this was reported to senior managers, but they took no action against the wrongdoer.

Towards the end of my time with the local authority one of my colleagues discovered evidence that showed another manager was misappropriating equipment for his personal use, from local suppliers, using local authority order forms. The colleague concerned notified senior management and they confronted the manager involved. Unfortunately they dealt with the matter inappropriately so that the offender could cover his tracks. I then discovered documentary evidence to prove that the manager had been acquiring items of designer clothing that couldn't be possibly used by the local authority. The documents were seized by me and handed to another manager and the matter was referred to the administrative manager who'd investigated the false C.V. incident. You know the one, Sherlock Holmes. He allegedly passed the evidence to the auditors and after several months they reported they could find nothing untoward.

I recall other incidents where officers let members of the public down, by not fulfilling their responsibilities. There would be inquiries into what had happened, but invariably it was all hushed up.

Ineptitude and corruption is endemic in Carmarthenshire County Council. The problem is those involved seem to be made of Teflon.

If there was a way of reporting these matters now, without harming others, believe me I would. If I did I may be putting other people's livelihoods in jeopardy and that is something I won't do.

Anonymous said...

Fraud and deceit endemic in CCC

Anonymous said...

Anon 20.31

This is horrendous and totally unacceptable. If the Council actually dealt with the culprits appropriately, it would deter others from doing the same, but it seems the Council want to avoid any bad publicity.

Investigations are pointless because the culprits are confident of the outcome and seem to be protected no matter what, unless it's someone the Council wants to get rid of.

Patricia B said...

This council should be in 'special measures' not least because we have councillors who DO NOT have any control over the running of the council, a complaints system that is corrupt, and a planning department who have no scruples. Senior officers lied for years to give 'favour' to my neighbour to the 'disfavour ' of us, destroyed my life and affected the well being of my family. My valid complaints were covered up by Mark James when I was on the council's gagging policy, but the truth always emerges in the end, it is disgraceful that it takes this long

Anonymous said...

How do they get away with it? Is there no Body out there to ensure the Council acts according to policies?

Anonymous said...

This culture only continues to flourish because councillors do nothing. As the saying goes, and it's so true.

caebrwyn said...

Anon 06:18
I agree, the vast majority of councillors see no need to rock the boat, or the Titanic in Carmarthenshire council's case. The problem is also with the way information is presented to councillors, and the reports to the Audit Committee regarding Pembrey are a good example.
Officers'reports to councillors can be fine pieces of propaganda themselves and not simply factual, impartial documents. It take a particularly diligent councillor, and one prepared to stand up to the threats and intimidation from senior officials, to cut through the spin and ask questions. Cllrs Sian Caiach and Bill Thomas consistently question what they are given.
Another good example was the report recommending the unlawful libel indemnity which failed, deliberately, to reflect the actual legal advice given. A further report, in 2014, interpreted a letter from Welsh Government as backing the council's stance over indemnities - the letter, which fortunately was available, did nothing of the sort. This is misleading and deliberate misinterpretation. In these examples (any many more) the reports are written and/or approved by the Monitoring Officer, Linda Rees Jones, and the chief executive Mark James.

Dell2000 said...

Anyone know what came of the tribunal? Result?

caebrwyn said...

The outcome of the tribunal is not yet known, judgement was reserved.