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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Flintshire County Council Cockups

Read  Alison Halford's account below. I take the unusual step of copying it in full. There needs to be more than one copy on the net.

Postscript: This is now the only copy on the net. As a Flintshire ratepayer I question why a director gets paid for doing nothing. Why criticism brings threats of £800,000 payoffs.
Is Flintshire County Council corrupt?

Link Council Capers Alison Halford


A special Audit meeting was held on 22nd January because members had been shocked by findings of Internal Audit review of Housing Maintenance and Repairs (Canton) at the Audit Committee of 16th December 2009.  Sixteen nasty problems were listed and it seemed we needed to ask why were the work force allegedly running the stores and from the faults found, it also seemed that some might be running off with the goods too in unchecked Council vans that staff are allowed to take home.
The “significant” categories ranged from tickets are not authorised, work instruction tickets are not validated nor are weekly routine stock checks conducted. Stocks held in vans, that staff are allowed to take home; are not checked either.
Rumours that Canton had big problems have circulated for years.  Now was the long awaited proof.  What were management doing, we needed to know.  The Housing Supremo and newly appointed deputy were summonsed before this Special Audit Committee to explain what had gone so dreadfully wrong. A simple question of problems of tickets not being validated seemed to floor the Director completely.  Enough time had elapsed to find answers to the expected questions surely?  Waffle but no substance was the verdict from members who had watched the debacle from the back. All were very unimpressed, and there were mutterings about ‘needs to know what she’s talking about and get a grip.’

Was this appearance a “Kodak moment” for this Director? Members of Community & Housing Committee, responsible for scrutinising Canton had fought for months to be kept informed of progress and policy.  We were tired of having very little shared with us and felt that we were superfluous to the Director’s managerial style.   We had been told that things improving.  This scathing catalogue of missing stores and sloppy supervision came as a shock.
A deafening silence had stalked the corridors of County Hall ever since that amazingly inept performance on 22nd January. When after a week of ‘no show’ despite missing several important meetings and several Community and Housing budget meetings, people began to ask about this absence. When I asked why the Director had failed to appear to introduce a financial report, all I got was a black look stare from the Committee officer.  Rumours ran rife but the Chief Executive was not saying.
‘Highly paid people are paid to perform’- kept drumming through my head.  Despite months of patience, some aspects of Housing performance was generally deteriorating.  Time for action!  The report in which I hammered out my long standing and growing concerns, almost wrote itself.  It’s not that I had not been scrupulosity fair, having visited various officers including our Head lawyer and the Chief Executive himself to express my worries.  Nothing was done!
As I needed feedback from other members to ensure I had not wrongly criticised the officer, I despatched an early draft to a chosen trusty few. (One failed my trust).
No one objected and I sent the finished article to our Monitoring Officer on 26th January.   I asked that the first one should be destroyed but the second one needed official attention.
Unbelievably, it was shoot the messenger time with the opening salvo via an email from Head of Legal Services that made no sense at all.  It went from seeking amicable resolution to ‘You have potentially made difficulties for yourself’ and the intervention of the Ombudsman was not ruled out.  Reeling from this bizarre email, I met my Group Leader on 5th February as he reported that things were “quite serious now”!
Message was simple.  Head of Legal Services wanted me to withdraw the report and I was provided with a draft letter which suggested that I write in his words to Sue Lewis and to the Chief Executive.
The meeting spilled over into a Group meeting where I explained that was going on and I was given the warmest support. “If she wants a pay out”, she’ll have to fight for it” was the instant and unanimous response.  I felt very relieved.
When I read the Monitoring Officer’s email passed over by my Leader,  I could not believe what I was being asked to do. The draft report suggested that I “had inappropriately and mistakenly sent to a number of colleagues….I understand that the contents of the report have caused you (Mrs Lewis) distress resulting in arrangements being made for special leave of absence”…I (Me) would like to take this opportunity to sincerely apologise for any distress caused you by publishing my concerns in the way I did.”
I had already been told that my initial report has been copied to both the CE and to Mrs Lewis.  I DID NOT SEND MY REPORT TO THIS OFFICER.  The culprit, (and suspect it is an Executive “she”) did a foolish and hurtful thing.  Whoever leaked this highly critical document must surely consider their position.  To blame me for sending the Director into extended leave was wrong!
The Coalition is drifting, a senior member has admitted as such recently and more drift must surely follow as we are effectively leaderless. Cllr Woolley is too deeply involved with the Ombudsman investigations and writings in his Journal, used to make life difficult for Patrick Heesom and myself will come back to bite him. The manner in which this highly paid Director leaves the Authority is important. I am seeking information on how many other big pay offs have been made to disaffected staff over the years.

We pay huge salaries and we need accountability.  There must be an end to this culture of secrecy that allows ineffective management on some occasions to hide their own failings by buying the organisation/themselves out of trouble. Thankfully, with sufficient committed and determined members willing to override the leadership vacuum we can correct this. Bureaucrats are accountable to the public who pay them and our Council role is to make that accountability real.
There is so much more to tell. How the Local Authority now reacts is very important in financial terms.  A fair and sensible resolution must be found that does not pay out for incompetence.  Those in charge of paid staff must take responsibility for this debacle.  The County’s Whistle Blowing policy offers me no protection as those charged with ensuring justice and fair play prevails are those who seek to bring me down.
No wonder such emphasis has been placed on demanding that I withdrawn/rewrite/apologise for my report about the Director.  Unwittingly, I have cast huge doubts on the strength of the Ombudsman’s case as a hole has been blown in the Corporate Managements’ Team’s unsteady boat.   Whether irreparably holed and thus it will capsize with all hands on board, only time will tell!

Link Susan Lewis

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