Strange happenings in Craigavon…

An intriguing story breaking in Craigavon (try this more detailed story in the Portadown Times, H/T Nevin) and one to keep an eye on. The Belfast Telegraph has seen a leaked report from management consultants Deloitte on the Leisure Services department of the Borough Council. However, Slugger understands that the report is a draft progress report expected to be superceded by a final report and is long on recommendations on various ‘human resource issues’, but very short on the origins of a low level, but highly attritional, conflict around alleged irregularities over recruitment. The story also features a strangely worded death threat aimed at the Chief Executive, which Slugger understands, demanded staff changes be ‘rescinded’. As yet there is no explanation forthcoming over why further work on a presumably expensive report compiled by one of the leading HR experts in the UK has been stalled by the council, pending an informal (but presumably reasonably expensive) review conducted by a QC. Watch this space!From the Executive summary of the report:

Our findings are that the Director of Leisure Services was correct and if anything, he understated the situation. We also find that the issues are not solely because of the absence of a Head of HR, indeed the main problems concern management of people and change within a department and for which the management of the department have responsibility. Organisational restructuring has taken place without clear justification or the cost or savings being identified.

Procedures for obtaining approval for organisation change have not been followed properly. The relationships, morale and motivation are very poor. Stress levels are high, as is fear and mistrust. A culture of raising grievances rather than solving problems has developed. There are sufficient complaints and allegations of bullying and threats of dismissal to warrant further specific and targeted investigation.

The Council is at risk of failures in service delivery because of inadequacies in management and processes. Failure to take action will mean that the council is taking the risk of failing the citizens of Craigavon and its staff and particularly in its duty of care to staff.

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  • Nevin

    Mourne Summit

    THE borough council yesterday decided to appoint an expert to help solve the staff crisis at the Civic Centre.

    The decision was made at a summit meeting in the luxury Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle when seven council members met with two representatives of the staff commission.

    Mayor Robert Smith, Deputy Kenneth Twyble and five party leaders decided to make the move in the light of several grievances lodged at the Civic Centre – three by directors against chief executive Francis Rock and 18 within the leisure services department.

    No expense spared!!

  • Wasters

    They sure like to waste money like the 5 million wasted on the civic centre then the constant yearly closure for a few months of Portadown swimming pool because the people fixing the pool can’t do it right the first time.

  • Nevin

    The SDLP has criticised Craigavon councillors for “keeping secret” a report which found evidence of bullying and unfairness in employment practices.

    Consultants were called into the council after the chief executive was sent a bullet in the post.

    It is reported they found poor staff relations, fear, mistrust and bullying allegations needing more investigation. At a council meeting it was decided to keep the report confidential. But the SDLP voted against that move.

  • not so Civic Centre minded

    The Heaton Report alerts the Council to the fact that “failure to take action will mean that the Council is taking the risk of failing the citizens of Craigavon and its staff, and particularly in its duty of care.”
    It is clear from reading the Heaton report that appointment to certain posts or securing of promotions has not been done on merit and most likely contravenes fair employment legislation. Certainly, it appears that basic criteria relating to knowledge, experience, skills and competencies were overlooked or ignored.

    Among matters commented upon is the appointment of a senior manager where “no internal trawl appears to have been carried out, yet LSC (Leisure Services Committee) was informed this would happen – no other employees, or external candidates had the opportunity to be considered for the post. The correct procedure would have been to advertise the post.”

    In another case where a redundancy was imposed, the Report says “we have seen no evidence that the redundancy of the post of Parks Manager West was reported to Committee or that there was consultation with the trade unions; and there is a question over the consultation process undertaken with the Head of Leisure Operations and whether this complied with good practice and all legal requirements.”

    In a third instance, where a post was upgraded from “officer” to “manager” the report says it was “evident that a new managerial post was being created without proper procedures being followed.” Furthermore, after a review of the job description was carried out, it as “concluded that it would be difficult to justify the additional managerial post.”

    And in a similar instance where there was a change in job title and responsibility (and related pay increase) the Heaton Report is unambiguous -“this would have been without regard to or compliance with the Council’s recruitment and employment policies and employment legislation.”

    When carrying out their investigations, Deloitte state that they consulted widely among management and workers, although two Directors chose not to participate. Feedback from those consultations showed that “The principal concerns and allegations have been:
    1. vacancies have been created by forcing out the incumbent to make way for a favoured employee to be promoted or transferred;
    2. Person specifications have been geared to facilitate applications from internal candidates who did not have the experience or qualifications required by a previous incumbent;
    3. external potential applicants have been advised that positions are already filled to prevent competition from internal applicants;
    4. appointments have been made without following the proper procedure; and
    5. family and friends gave been appointed without proper procedures being followed.”

  • not so Civic Centre minded

    Jobs for the Boys?

    Although they anonymise the various sub-departments within Leisure Services, the Deloitte report states that the following was put to them by council staff members:

    Unit A – a manager has several relatives in the unit and sought to appoint a relative who was a casual employee to a permanent post on a higher grade than the agreed grade;
    Unit B – a manager employs three relatives in the unit;
    Unit C – a manager has two relatives employed in the unit; and
    Unit D – a supervisor has a relative employed”
    In relation to this Deloitte state that “evidence of a high incidence of employing family members when there is a dynamic, diverse and substantial labour market raises doubts (whether or not they are justified) about the fairness of employment practices and processes.” Deloitte recommends that “the potential for managers employing family members in their business units and the potential requirement for redeployment are the subject of a more detailed investigation” and that “there is a review and development of an explicit policy on the employment of family members within a manager’s immediate business unit.”

    The Report singles out one sub-department, deemed Unit X, for special mention where bullying and victimisation of employees appears to have been the order of the day.

    “Unit X – This unit is anonymised because of the very serious nature of the allegations being made. We have been advised by a number of staff in Unit X that they are fearful of their jobs and fearful of participating in this investigation as it may result in bullying and victimisation.

    “They have told us that they have been warned by their manager not to speak to anyone such as other managers, HR officers or their trade union about any matters at the unit. Staff involved regarded this as bullying and have described threats of dismissal being made by the unit manager. We were also given a significant number of examples where its is alleged that health and safety regulations are being repeatedly breached and we wrote separately to the Chief Executive about the risks to the Council when they were brought to our attention. This, taken along with the allegations regarding bullying and potential unfair dismissal statements, are sufficient to require a more detailed and specific investigation into the running of the unit.”

    Deloitte then formally recommend that “an urgent and more detailed investigation is carried out into the management and running of Unit X.”

    Ratepayers receiving Best Value for Money?

    Although the report is primarily focussed on employment practices, it also refers to “managers seeking to operate quite autonomously and without concern for the wider procedures and processes of the Council. These include…splitting purchase orders for a single service or goods, to avoid the threshold for a single purchase order requiring a tender process.”

    In a later section, dealing with all these and other issues, Deloitte make no bones about the cumulative impact – “It is clear from the evidence set out above, and especially in relation to organisation design, that there is a low level of commitment to complying with rules and procedures. This a serious challenge to the Council as a whole as it not only creates significant legal and financial risks, it also counters the standards of integrity and accountability that are expected of public servants…and what is expected of people responsible for public funds and public services.”

    The Leisure Services Department was responsible for spending £12,492,874 out of the Council’s total budget of £25,282,458 in the financial year 2006/07. The revelation that there occasions when proper tender procedures were not followed and, indeed, circumvented, must also give rise for concern.

  • The Raven

    While this is the very worst case I have seen of this in the last ten years, I have some questions to ask, and an observation or two to make.

    Outside of Belfast, councils are quite small organisations (I include Derry in this too), where everybody knows each other, and where Councillors pretty much come and go every day. Are we saying that Councillors couldn’t or didn’t see this happening? I note that there are at least six employees who are working with relatives. Are we saying that when the HR report was brought each month, nobody noticed what was going on?

    Where does Mr Rock stand in all this? Was he fighting against this in his re-structuring, and hence the bullet in the post? Or was he party to this as PART of the re-structuring? If it is the latter I will be very surprised for reasons I won’t go into here.

    This is the third (I think) time we have now read of Local Government Staff Commission being involved in what’s been going on in Councils from an employee perspective. Is it not time now to push ahead with the implementation of RPA, which in some small way MAY go to pushing out not just the deadwood staff, but also the deadwood Councillors too?

    On the “price splitting” issue – this is quite a common practice. Indeed, it will actually SAVE time AND money when undertaken correctly. (remember – every time a Council tenders out work, the advertising costs are picked up by you, the rate payer). It’s NOT suitable for the big £10k+ purchase of services, but for other smaller “bundles” of purchases, it is quite acceptable.

  • Comrade Stalin

    If these allegations are in any way true, this is an outrageous state of affairs. If these allegations were being made of a company within the private sector, there would be full scale legal recriminations. The councils seem to be immune from equivalent attention, either from the law or from the media.

    This all unscores comments made by Newton Emerson on his short piece on Hearts and Minds this week – namely that we need some kind of public sector anti-corruption body with sweeping powers to investigate practices within the public sector, at all levels of regional government. This nonsense is going to have to be stopped.

  • The Raven

    Comrade Stalin: I’m interested to hear where – at local authority level – you are referring to, when you say things like “councils seem to be immune”…and what “nonsense” is going to have to be stopped…?

    You are implying that what has been reported here is endemic? I haven’t seen anything on this level in years, if what is written is true. Also, I think it would be worth your while to ask the Department of Environment auditors how much fraud they’ve uncovered at local government level over the last five years. Just see what answer you get.

    I am not for one second saying that the above behaviour is acceptable…I am just saying, you would need to careful about tarring all with the same brush.

  • Sean Og

    The comments in the draft report are all quite shocking. I have no doubt that there will be moves afoot from within the organisation to suppress the publication of this report. Arlene Foster as the Minister responsible for local Government, should step in and appoint commissioners to run Craigavon and sort out this mess. Heads will have to roll if the organisation is to get back on track and win the confidence of the public.

    The Equality Commission should also be investigating all of these allegations. I find it hard to believe that these practises are still going on in a local authority 35 years after the MacCrory Report. It simply is not acceptable that Employment law is bye passed by a local Council. How long has this being going on?

    The previous Clerk to Craigavon Council is now CEO of the Policing Board and the current Clerk is on “sick” leave. Who is providing leadership to the staff? Who is acting Clerk to the Council?

    Stand the Council down until it’s sorted.

  • mchinadog

    not so civic minded

    Your seem to have very detailed knowledge of this matter surely if you are going to drip feed the allegations it would have been more honest to publish the documents rather than innuendos and perhaps your own slant on the outcome

    The Raven

    I totally agree with you there seems to be some people with their own agenda over this. I am not condoning what has happened at the council but unless all the facts come into the public domain it is hard to judge whether anyone had an agenda or not. Local Government is so highly audited on an annual basis that I find it very difficult to understand how anyone could say that fraud is endemic in Local Government, also employment law is so legally enforceable I cannot understand a Government body leaving itself open to such allegations. There will be people within any organisation that will try to circumvent the systems in place, which happens in all places where you depend on the honesty of employees to be paramount.

    Regarding the slur on local Councillors sometimes information is with held from them and rightly so, Councillors should not be involved in the day to day running of a council unless it has financial implications, that is what CEO, Directors and Managers are paid handsome salaries for doing, so to blame them for something perhaps they knew nothing about is an insult to the integrity of the elected members. While I agree there is some dead wood in local government both at officer and elected member level there are many many dedicated members and officers who go above and beyond the call of duty to give the citizens of their area a first class service please do not tower everyone with the same brush

  • Nevin

    How’s this for irony?

    “06 May 04 Harassment at work – training seminar Craigavon”

    22 Feb 05 Bullying and Harassment at Work Craigavon
    – training seminar” .. equalityni.org

    It seems the training has been, er, too effective.

  • not so Civic Centre minded

    Nevin,
    the seminars MUST be of some value as The Labour Relations Agency and the Equality Commission are due to make yet another joint presentation on Bullying and Harassment at a public seminar on December 4th. It will discuss:
    • Definitions of bullying and harassment
    • Types of bullying and harassment
    • Nature and consequences of bullying and harassment
    • Dealing with incidents of bullying and harassment
    • Legal context

    The location is the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre –owned by Craigavon Council and managed via its Leisure Services Department. It certainly would be an appropriate opportunity for both organisatons to ask for a copy of the Deloitte/Heaton report.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The Raven, mchinadog,

    I intended to refer specifically to the practice of people employing family members, and the apparently reasonably common practice where individuals directing the organizations they are in charge of issue contracts to companies in which they have some kind of personal interest. I think there is a general level of pork-barrel corruption in public life here which needs to be seriously looked at.

  • Nevin

    Has there been no comment from the area’s DUP MP, David Simpson? The DUP/SF ‘alliance’ has a majority on the council so maybe that explains the relative silence from that quarter.

  • wild turkey

    ‘the seminars MUST be of some value as The Labour Relations Agency and the Equality Commission are due to make yet another joint presentation on Bullying and Harassment at a public seminar on December 4th.’

    …hmm a bit off thread, but an interesting FoI query might be ‘Since its inception in October 1999 (a) how many seperate cases have been initiated against the Equality Commission in Fair Employment and Employment Tribunals, (b) what was the outcome of these cases (c) how many formal grievances have been initiated by Commission staff since 1999, (d) how many ‘sick days’ have been taken by Commission staff since 1999, (e) what has been the total cost financially, in terms of settlements and/or the retaining of lawyers and counsel to defend the commission in all actions initiated against it at FE and industrial tribunal and, oh yeah, (f) what has the Commission learned from its experiences and will the wisdom gained be imparted at the 4 December seminar?

  • not so Civic Centre minded

    Raven asked “Are we saying that when the HR report was brought each month, nobody noticed what was going on?”

    Apparently so, as the report says “The absence of a central record of relationships prevents the Council from monitoring practice” and it recommends that “a central record of staff relationships with other employees is established and maintained by the HR Department” and that “staff across council are required to provide information to the HR department on their family relationships with other employees as a matter of urgency – this is a highly sensitive matter and needs to be dealt with accordingly; sound communications will be required so that people do not start to believe that a ‘witch-hunt’ is commencing – working with the trade unions will be an important part of this.”

    By the way, if someone could recommend where the report could be published in its entirety, that could be arranged. I also understand that the trade unions have been attempting to get some of the Sunday papers interested.

    Nevin:all DUP, UUP and SF councillors (twenty in total) voted not to discuss the report

  • Sean Og

    Why would 20 cllrs from DUP, UUP & SF vote not to discuss the report? Heads in sand? See no evil, hear no evil?

  • Nevin

    WT, I’ve just had a quick look at the employment records of CBC and ECNI.

    Craigavon borough is very similar to NI in that the perceived community background ratio for each is close to 55/45.

    In 2002 and 2005 the CBC statistics are 60/40 and 60/40 whereas for ECNI they are 43/57 and 40/60.

  • Nevin

    What file format is the report in? Is it PDF or DOC?

  • not so Civic Centre minded

    The report is in PDF

  • Nevin

    How large is the PDF file?

  • not so Civic Centre minded

    Nevin: 442KB, as you can see, I’m an early riser

  • Risen Belfast
  • Nevin

    UploadingIT.com and Yahoo groups AFAIK provide that sort of storage for PDF files. The files can be private or can be set to public access. Read the preconditions.

  • Nevin

    “éirigí are of the view that a full and open investigation, based upon the information contained in the Heaton Report, should now be undertaken by the Six County Equality Commission.”.

    Just one small problem, RB. As you can see from #18, ECNI has apparently a very poor and deteriorating equality record.

    The lessons of history indicate that the transformation from a capitalist to a socialist system cannot be achieved without the active support and participation of the mass of the people. Campaigns have the potential to empower, politicise and mobilise the people, who alone can provide the dynamic for such a transformation. éirigí

    This sounds a bit like the sort of stuff being turned out by the Connolly socialists of the 50s and 60s that ended in what we now label, ‘The Troubles’. Their grand strategy to create a socialist revolution across the island merely released the usual sectarian (and bloody) confrontation. It seems that éirigí (still) hasn’t learnt the lessons of our history.

  • Comrade Stalin

    rb:

    The lessons of history indicate that the transformation from a capitalist to a socialist system cannot be achieved without the active support and participation of the mass of the people.

    The lessons of history indicate that people promoting the transformation of a capitalist to a socialist system never gave a f**k about getting consent from the people, in most cases banning free elections; and always end up severely curtailing human rights, locking up and torturing those who oppose them, creating widespread unemployment, famine and unrest with the implementation of their daft school-playground ideas, and generally buggering the country for a generation. Thank Christ the Berlin wall came down, so that we could all see the type of utopia future you guys have in store for us.

  • Shore Road Resident

    Well said Comrade.