Sunday 5 February 2017

Fed on a Diet of Porky Pies

News being what it is, this blog normally finds itself raking over past events, but a potentially explosive Employment Tribunal hearing is set to begin in Cardiff tomorrow which threatens to lift the lid on the sordid saga of Carmarthenshire County Council's management of Pembrey Country Park.

The case concerns a claim for unfair dismissal being brought by a whistleblower, Mr Eirian Morris, and it is likely to attract considerable media attention because the allegations of cover-ups of corruption and other criminality involve some of the council's most senior serving and former officers.

We will have to wait for more details to come out, but what is already abundantly clear is that councillors, and especially those on the council's Audit Committee, have been misled and even lied to in a way which can only be described as systematic.

When the Audit Committee was first alerted that all may not have been as it should in the park in a brief report on 22 May 2016, members were told that there had been an investigation into "historic issues", and that work was now underway to tighten up procedures. Not that any criminal behaviour or anything like fraud had taken place. Oh no.

The investigation into those "historic issues" took the form of an internal audit review of allegations made by the whistleblower. The report, which was not made available to members of the Audit Committee, effectively applied a thick coating of whitewash to the allegations and concluded that there was no evidence of fraud, and no basis for any action to be taken against the staff at the centre of the allegations.

The day after the committee met, the manager of the park assaulted Mrs Stephanie Thomas who was running the park cafe and shop, and the case eventually reached court in October of last year, with the manager, Rory Dickinson, admitting the charge. He had been allowed to resign from his post just four days earlier.

The assault arose because Mrs Thomas and her husband had initially decided not to tender for a contract to continue running the shop and cafe because they felt that they had no hope of winning, given what they knew had been going on at the park, and on 23 May 2016, with just one hour and forty minutes to go before the deadline for tenders, Mr Dickinson paid his fateful visit to Mrs Thomas to persuade her to change her mind because the Council was desperate to be able to claim that this had been a competitive tender with more than one bidder.

The result of the behind the scenes moves was to compromise the bid process, although the Council continued to maintain in the face of mounting evidence that it had been "a rigorous application process designed to get the best value and service for the County Council and users of Pembrey Country Park" (Ian Jones, Head of Leisure).

Come July, the Council was forced to change its tune, noting in a statement that, "it is possible that a member of staff involved in the process may have had a personal interest which might be perceived to compromise the impartiality and independence of the process".

Far from being "historic", as members of the Audit Committee were told, things were actually going from bad to worse at the park.

Cneifiwr also understands that the police are intensifying their investigations of the allegations, and that a senior officer has been put onto the case.

This is strangely at odds with categoric assurances given by the council's Director of Resources, Mr Chris Moore, last month that the police had popped in for a "dailogue" and that no further action was being taken.


Stan said...

Curiouser and curiouser. Am I looking forward to reading your next post dealing with the nitty gritty of the employment tribunal. I do hope that no deal is struck between the parties which includes a vow of silence.

Surely the human resources manager of the Council has some serious questions to answer about the Rory Dickenson affair. Why was he allowed to resign just 4 days before pleading guilty to assault? This is just the sort of shifty evasion tactics we are used to seeing with the police when accused of dodgy practice. And is it correct that Dickenson was allowed to continue working before he resigned? Normal HR practice would surely be to suspend the person complained about until a full investigation had taken place.

This whole saga is compulsive reading and my word, Carmarthenshire Council comes over as barely fit for purpose. Keep it coming.

Anonymous said...

Stan 19.20

Happens all the time. As soon as an employee resigns, the Council does not investigate further. The HR Department of the Council are a law unto themselves. They don't follow their own policies, seem to make it up as they go along.

I don't think they can silence the employee, even if a deal is struck because it is in the public interest.

Anonymous said...

I am very disturbed to read about this . Yes councillors especially on the audit committee were kept in the dark i think and it just stinks to high hell . I hope that justice is served to the truths of this case .

Anonymous said...

Why is the Western Mail not covering the Employment Tribunal case?

Anonymous said...

I don't accept that Councillors are kept in the dark. A lot of them know what's going on but they would rather turn a blind eye. Councillors must demand to know the facts.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't someone start a whistleblowing Group/committee in Carmarthenshire? There seem to be plenty of potential members now. Maybe get the support of local MP's and AM's. Surely they wouldn't condone this kind of treatment of whistleblowers when all whistleblowers are doing is highlighting wrongdoing?

Anonymous said...

Couldn't someone start a whistleblowing group/committee in Carmarthenshire? There seem to be plenty of potential members now. Maybe get the support of local MP's and AM's. They must be all appalled by this kind of treatment of whistleblowers because all whistleblowers are doing is exposing wrongdoing.

Anonymous said...

I have read the report in the Herald and it seems the HR department of Carmarthenshire County Council have a lot to answer for again. It's the same name cropping up time and time again. This certainly needs to be investigated with no cover up. County Councillors start using your authority and demand answers.

Anonymous said...

Fair play. Front page news, as well as a double page spread for the Llanelli Herald, and carried on news by both S4C/ BBC and ITV, but not a mention on Mark's own personal comic, The Llanelli Star!
Shame on this once proud newspaper. Reduced to a propaganda mouthpiece for the Kremlin on the hill.

Anonymous said...

Part 2 In The herald out this friday

Anonymous said...

Anon 13.30

Bring it on - can't wait!