Saturday 16 November 2013

Keeping it in the Family

One of the more intriguing discussions which took place at this week's monthly meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council concerned an abortive attempt to appoint a new Technical Services Director, whose portfolio of responsibilities includes refuse collection and roads.

In response to very strongly worded criticism by Peter Hughes Griffiths of the way in which the meeting to appoint a candidate had been handled, the council leader, Kevin Madge, told councillors that uncertainty about a possible future reorganisation of local government was the problem, while the chief executive blamed it on a political split among councillors.

It now seems that the truth was rather different.

There were three candidates on the shortlist, and the final choice was between two of these. One had extensive experience of managing the technical services department of another Welsh council and was a Welsh speaker. The other was a candidate from England with no knowledge of Welsh, although the job description stated that verbal skills in Welsh were essential (albeit with it a little get-out clause stating that the successful applicant would be sent on a course to give them very basic Welsh if they did not meet the criteria).

The Plaid and Labour members initially supported the local candidate. Unsurprisingly, Labour's Calum Higgins was absent from the meeting, although he did manage to send in an apology. It is understood that at one point a senior Labour councillor either proposed or seconded the appointment of the local man.

The senior council officers present preferred the candidate from England, however. They do not have a vote, and are supposed to be there in an advisory capacity, leaving it to elected councillors to decide. Obviously things are rather different in Carmarthenshire, and a fierce rearguard action was mounted to stop the councillors from having their way.

It was at this point that one of the senior Independents stepped in, confirming the description which has often been applied to them as the political wing of the senior officers, with a proposal to re-open the application process.

In the ensuing wrangling, the Labour councillors who had previously backed the local candidate suddenly switched sides, and voted with the Independents.

As some councillors pointed out on Wednesday, this farce cost a lot of money and did a great disservice to the candidates.

Peter Hughes Griffiths also pointed out at the council meeting that a second appointments committee set up to appoint service heads had also been ignored, with officers unilaterally appointing at least one service head recently without bothering to get the approval of elected councillors.

This point was side-stepped at the council meeting, as the chief executive wrung his hands over the politicisation of the appointments process.

Readers with long memories will recall that Carmarthenshire County Council has form when it comes to this sort of thing, and the Director of Education owes his job to the chief executive who initially used special powers to appoint him without referring the decision to councillors.

The hyper-active Head of Law and Administration is also there in an acting capacity only, although her predecessor retired nearly two years ago.


Cibwr said...

I think there is a case for saying that the post of chief executive of the council should be abolished, they clearly have too much power. Their function should be passed to various department heads and the leader of the council should function as the chief executive.

Anonymous said...

This council is controlled by the officers,not councillors. No wonder so few people bother to vote!

caebrwyn said...

The appointment of Head of Children's Services was perhaps what Cllr Hughes Griffiths was referring to. A lengthy recruitment process was carried out last year after the Head of Children's Services left and reappeared next door in Pembrokeshire Council.
The councillors on the committee did not even get to see the three shortlisted replacement candidates as per the agenda. They were advised by the Chief Executive that earlier that day the 'short-listing panel' had decided 'not to proceed with the appointment'. The post would be re-advertised and for meantime an the position would be filled internally as an interim measure.
It is not clear whether the post was re-advertised but after six months, in March of this year, senior officers recommended to the Committee that the current interim head be made permanent.
It appears to me that for a number of years elected members have had very little say in the recruitment of Heads and Directors.

@Cibwr I believe several English councils have abolished the post of Chief Executive in cost cutting drives. It is not a Statutory post required by law, but the post of Head of Paid Service is, and in Carmarthenshire as elsewhere, the Chief Executive has also been made the designated Head of Paid Service.
However, should a council wish to delete the post of Chief Executive they can, they are then able to appoint an existing Director as Head of Paid Service.

Anonymous said...

The decisions these officers make can have devastating consequences on peoples lives and it really is a disgrace.The welsh government and its lack of responsibility contributes greatly to this also and must be held accountable.

Anonymous said...

The decisions of interim staff made permanent have had a devastating effect on employees too!

Anonymous said...

I am also sure that employees are suffering from the decisions made by their superior officers which prevent them fulfilling their duties as they should.It would be interesting to know how many employees are currently off with stress.

Delyth Jenkins said...

That reminds me of another Head of service appointment. Read about this etc on, click on Breaking the silence and read pages 34 - 44 re. Carm c.c.

Delyth Jenkins said...

Above was meant to read, Breaking the Silence Part 2, pages 32-42

Anonymous said...

What is Calum Higgins for?

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @19.00 - easy. Calum Higgins!

Anonymous said...

Good question anon 13:03! And here is another one. How many employees suffering from mental health have left or been pushed?

Delyth, I have said it before and I will say it again, you are a true inspiration to others. You did the right thing!

Before anyone reads this document, please don't let the way Delyth and other wonderful people have been treated put you off whistle blowing. If you witness a child or vulnerable person being abused or suspect fraud or maladministration you owe it to yourself, the victims, colleagues and others to speak up. Sadly, some of the outcomes in this document are extreme but a friend of mine did the right thing and the result is the manager was pushed before she was shoved. Following the results of the investigation and the Manager's resignation my friend and colleagues in the department find there is no longer a fear or blame culture, the sickness and absenteeism has improved and it is a much happier place to work.

For direct access to the document Delyth is referring to copy and paste the link below into a search engine such as google.

Anonymous said...

Which was the better candidate? If the one from England was best for the job then great. Surely that's what matters most, not their native tongue?

Delyth Jenkins said...

Thank you Anon 19.32

I have no regrets about doing the right thing. As I said on Radio Cymru the other morning, I can sleep at night and I would do the same thing again, although I can totally understand why some staff would remain quiet considering the culture I witnessed in the social care department within Carmarthenshire County Council. The only way to improve the care system is to hold officers who fail to account. I wrote to Carwyn Jones, First Minister, earlier on in the year and he assured me that changes were afoot. One of the things suggested for implementation was to include a duty to report in carers contracts. I am afraid they have missed the point In my view, It is not the failure of carers to report, but the failure of Mangers and senior managers to deal with the complaint, and how they use their energies to cover up what's gone on and turn on the person making the complaint, that is the problem. This only serves to protect the guilty.
What is also wrong is the fact that these failed officers and senior officers will all retire on huge pensions. There is something very wrong with the current system which rewards failed officers in this way.

Delyth Jenkins said...

Anon 19.32

With respect, I don't agree with you when you say that some of the outcomes in the document,Breaking the Silence Part 2 are extreme. Quite honestly this is just the tip of the Iceberg. I have heard some terrible accounts of the way whistleblowers have been treated for doing the right thing. The public interest Disclosure Act 1998 has completely failed us as whistleblowers, and until this is scrapped and rewritten, the suffering will continue.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Delyth for the constructive criticism!

I agree with what you are saying in respect of the First Minister and the current system that rewards failed officers. The latter being something that is quite prevalent in the Government arena and large organisations in the private or third sector but thankfully less so in SME's.

I also understand and do appreciate the points you have made in respect of whistleblowers and agree with you 100% that PIDA 1998 has failed the very people it was legislated to protect. Sadly, there are too many whistleblowers who have suffered catastrophic repercussions. In this respect I will coin your phrase and say the amount the public are aware of is "just the tip of the iceberg."

What concerns me is that if we do not balance the extreme cases (e.g. found it hard to find another job) with those that have succeeded in moving on after speaking out and fighting the bullies (I believe you are one of the successful people who secured a good job as a coordinator)the less people will speak out.

Blacklisting is illegal and as you are probably aware several construction workers have won their cases after discovering they were on a blacklist.

A whistleblower is not legally obliged to disclose to prospective employers that they have blown the whistle. If a person who has blown the whistle is offered a job subject to references and the job is withdrawn from them and they suspect it is on account of their former employers reference they can make a SARS request to the organisation that interviewed them to produce a copy of the reference. If the reference is defamatory, inaccurate or false then the former employer is legally liable and should be pursued through the EAT. Google Onu v Akwiwu and Bouabdillah V Commerzbank

Below is just a few examples of employees who like you have been through hell but had the courage to stand by their convictions. These cases send a strong message to organisations that if they victimise whisleblowers then they will suffer the consequences in court and they also lay themselves wide open to adverse publicity.

Thankfully at long last, whistle blowers are starting to be vindicated in the courts and are gaining the recognition they deserve from the public. The worm is starting to turn!

Anonymous said...

In response to anon 21:34, the majority of elected councillors obviously thought that one particular candidate was the best....I'm sure they weren't looking to appoint someone purely on the basis of whether they speak Welsh or not.

My worry is how so-called independent councillors can be relied upon to manipulate any decision on which officers disagree with the elected members.

Delyth Jenkins said...

Anon 00.30

The way forward here I believe is to ensure that Managers and Senior Mangers have a positive attitude to whistleblowing. After all, no organisation is faultless, and when someone raises concerns, these concerns should be dealt promptly in order to safeguard everyone involved.
With one amendment in particular made to the Public Interest Disclosure Act in June this year,
with regards to harassment of whistleblowers, on paper, some of the management structure I worked under would have been dismissed.
It remains to be seen if this would happen in reality.

Jac o' the North, said...

Anon 21:34 (16.11.13) Go on, you know you want to say it - picking the Welsh candidate / not picking the English candidate would be 'racist'.

I'm currently engaged in a debate with a couple who think that increasing council tax on holiday homes would be 'racist' and lead to arson attacks! So it's an accepted tactic. Don't hold back.

Anonymous said...

I am a local authority employee and concur with Delyth Jenkins' assertion; it's the managers who fail to properly investigate whistleblower's complaints.

I reported corrupt practices, but the investigation was a total whitewash and the individual I reported is still in post and still behaving inappropriately.

Like the majority of readers of this blog, as a child I was taught to tell the truth. Do that in Carmarthenshire County Council and you'll be ignored; worse still you'll often be derided and bullied by managers.

I have a family to look after and a mortgage to pay, so I now have to be circumspect. I hope however that one day the truth will be revealed to all those who want to know what has been occurring.

I am clearly not as strong as Delyth Jenkins - there aren't too many jobs in this part of the world and I still have many years before I can retire.

Anonymous said...

Jac o' the North. Not at all. I was simply asking which was the best candidate. The blog focused on nationality and was slanted towards the Welsh candidate. Who cares what the other guy brought to the table, eh? I was saying nationality shouldn't matter and that the best person for the job should get the job.

Delyth Jenkins said...

Anon 18.41

This was my very point to Carwyn Jones, First Minister. Staff should have the confidence to report if something is wrong. It's what happens to their complaints and the way they are treated by Managers and others for raising concerns, this is the problem. Attitudes of Managers and Senior Managers towards dealing with complaints, and their treatment of a complainant needs to change if anything is to improve.
Why are they so reluctant to deal with complaints correctly?
No organisation is faultless, and you would think by carrying out an investigation properly, that would be a credit to them and not to the contrary, unless of course there is another reason for covering it all up! I sympathise with you, Anon 18.41 because I know how hard it is, and this is why the culture needs to change and quickly.

Anonymous said...

Anon 19.32

I have read the document you refer to and I recognise some of the names of the officers. Isn't one of them the former chief executive of Neath RFC who made a sudden exit from the job last week?

Anonymous said...

Why were none of these officers sacked? Shocking!