Thursday, 21 July 2016

Brent Council and the Cara Davani “pay-off” – questions that still need to be answered


I commented on Martin’s 11 July blog about Labour abstentions on Tory Davani motion”  LINK , that I might need to write a guest blog for what I would like to say, as a “comment” did not allow enough space. This is that guest blog:-

I was not at the Council meeting on 11 July, but I have watched the debate on the “Webcast” page of the Council’s website. The first thing it clarifies is that Brent Council was misleading us when it stated in June 2015 that Cara Davani was leaving ‘to take a career break.’ From the statements made in the debate by Cllr. McLennan, and particularly by Cllr. Colwill, it now appears that Ms Davani was made redundant, and that, it is claimed, the £157k she received was Brent’s “normal” redundancy pay-off of one year’s salary plus a further three months in lieu of notice.

However, if this was a redundancy, it was not a “normal” one. It was not the result of a staff restructuring, where her post had been done away with, like the two senior management reorganisations she brought in during her time in charge of Brent’s HR (with large redundancy pay-offs to the Assistant Chief Executive and Legal Director, among others, at the end of 2014, and to a whole raft of senior officers in March 2013). So (1) what was the reason for Cara Davani being made redundant, who decided that she should be made redundant, and why then, in June 2015?
  
 Had she become too much of an embarrassment to Brent Council, or was it part of an “exit strategy” she had worked out herself with her close associate and then interim Chief Executive, Christine Gilbert, before the newly appointed Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs, took over?

Cllr. McLennan, in response to Cllr. Warren’s motion, argued that Brent had to make this pay-off on the basis of external legal advice, and that if it had not done so, Cara Davani could have claimed against the Council for constructive dismissal. I welcome the news that Cllr. Warren has apparently made an FoI request for this legal advice to be made public LINK . If that legal advice was only sought around June 2015, it might have been correct, but only because Brent had failed to take timely disciplinary action against Ms Davani, in September 2014, for her misconduct in the Rosemarie Clarke case.

I have written a great deal about that case, and this article would be far too long if I went into the details again now, but I will refer to some earlier blogs, and provide links to them for anyone who wishes to follow up the points I will make. On 21 September 2014 I wrote jointly to Christine Gilbert and Fiona Ledden (then Brent’s Legal Director), referring to the Tribunal’s judgement, and to comments made by “Wembley Matters” readers on blogs about it LINK, before saying:

‘… I believe that the most important matter, before you consider your own futures, is that you must insist on the immediate resignation of Cara Davani (if she has not already left Brent's employment permanently). Any thoughts of wasting further money (including my own Council Tax payments) on an appeal in this matter should be dropped, as the Tribunal has made the findings of fact which make this such a damning judgement of Brent's actions against this employee, and no legal arguments can undo those findings.’

On the same day I wrote a similar email to Cllr. Muhammed Butt, with copy to my Fryent Ward councillors, saying: 

‘What should you do, on Monday morning if it has not already been done before? If Ms Davani has not already resigned or been suspended, you should ensure that the Chief Executive, or the person deputising for her if she is not available, speaks to Ms Davani and insists on her immediate resignation, in the light of the findings of the Tribunal about her actions. While this would treat her misconduct more leniently than she has treated that alleged of others, it would allow her to go immediately, but with payment from Brent for her period of notice, and at least show that the Council is taking the judgement seriously. If Ms Davani refuses to resign, formal misconduct proceedings (including her suspension) would be required, with care being taken that the correct procedures are properly carried out (unlike in Ms Clarke's case).’



As we now know, no disciplinary action was taken then, and I believe there would have been no grounds on which Ms Davani could have claimed “constructive dismissal” if it had been. So (2) why was no disciplinary action taken against Cara Davani in September 2014, when there was clear evidence and findings of fact in the Employment Tribunal judgement to show gross misconduct by her, and who decided that no such action should be taken?



In opposing the motion at Full Council, Cllr. McLennan used Cllr. Pavey’s HR Review and press statements made by the Council that it would not tolerate the sort of behaviour shown by the Rosemarie Clarke case to support her views. Between November 2014 and September 2015 I made a number of attempts to get issues arising from this Employment Tribunal case “on the agenda” at meetings of Scrutiny Committee and Full Council, so that councillors could discuss them openly.



One example was a deputation that I had asked to present to Scrutiny Committee in April 2015, when it was considering the report on Cllr Pavey’s Review, and the draft action plan arising from it. What I hoped to say, so that committee members could question the interim Chief Executive and HR Director (who were present to speak on the report) about it if they wished to, included the following:

·      that the Review was set up to ensure that lessons were learned from the Rosemarie Clarke case;

·      that Cllr. Pavey could not consider that case, as his terms of reference would not allow him to; and,

·      as a result, the Review ignored an important lesson which should have been learned:

‘that even the best HR policies and practices are of little use if they are ignored by the officers who are supposed to follow them.’ 

After referring to guidance issued by Brent’s HR Director, that ‘bullying and harassment will not be tolerated’, and evidence from the Tribunal’s judgement of misconduct by Ms Davani and a total failure by Christine Gilbert to follow Brent’s HR procedures when dismissing a grievance raised by Ms Clarke, my deputation asked:

‘If the Senior Officers responsible for such findings ignore Brent’s HR policies, what example is that setting to the Council’s other staff? The Action Plan is totally undermined, because why should managers bother to put the policies into practice, when those at the top ignore them and get away with it? Even if disciplinary action was taken against more junior staff for policy breaches, they could argue at any hearing that it would be unfair to penalise them, when no action was taken against Brent’s Director of HR for far worse misconduct.’

Scrutiny Committee would not allow me to present that deputation LINK . I think the presence of Cllr. Butt, sitting beside Cara Davani opposite the committee members, may have intimidated them into reaching that decision, but the official reason was advice from the Chief Legal Officer that I should not be allowed to refer to the Rosemarie Clarke case in speaking to the committee, as it ‘had not been fully concluded’.

Although that case was still not fully concluded, Cllr. Muhammed Butt was allowed to issue a statement about it at the end of July 2015. It claimed that he was giving the facts of the Rosemarie Clarke judgement, because of ‘untruths’ that had been written about it, but I responded to him LINK  pointing out that HE was the person trying to misrepresent the Tribunal’s findings. This was another example of him seeking to “protect” Cara Davani, and I invited him to respond to these charges, which he has always tried to ignore LINK . So I ask the Council Leader again (3) why was Cllr. Butt “protecting” Cara Davani and Christine Gilbert when he had known about their misconduct in the Rosemarie Clarke case since at least September 2014?

Although we now know, a year later, that Brent paid Cara Davani £157,610, we still do not know the answer to a second point which I tried to raise when rumours of a pay-off emerged in June 2015 LINK . Cara Davani was a separately named respondent in the Employment Tribunal case, and would have been personally liable to pay some of the compensation, damages and costs which the Tribunal was due to award to Rosemarie Clarke. So my final question, to Brent Council, is (4) whether the out-of-court settlement made to settle Rosemarie Clarke's Employment Tribunal claim in September 2015 included any contribution from Ms Davani, or whether Brent Council paid the full amount including any compensation, damages and costs which the Tribunal could have awarded against Ms Davani personally?

I will send a copy of this guest blog to Cllr. Muhammed Butt, Leader of Brent Council, and the Council’s Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs. I will also copy it to the three councillors who spoke in the debate on the motion at Full Council, the Deputy Leader, Margaret McLennan, and the Leaders of the two Conservative groups, John Warren and Reg Colwill. I hope that they will, together, realise that the questions I have highlighted above do still need to be answered, openly and honestly, so that Brent can finally put the Rosemarie Clarke case behind it, and that they, or one of Cllr. Butt or Ms Downs on the Council’s behalf, will issue a public statement answering those questions.

Philip Grant.

5 comments:

  1. Great work, Philip. Keep at it!

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  2. Oh gods and goddesses...

    No time to read all Philip's (conscientious) post but (i) the idea of Scrutiny Committee members being 'intimidated' is risible. Need removing and replacing now, if true; (ii) £157k is a lotta lolly, and suggest Ms D - who runs a remunerative doggy business, I believe - donate it to a homeless charity in Brent. Surely she can't be comfortable with receiving around 6x the average wage under such circumstances.

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  3. Alison Hopkins23 July 2016 at 22:19

    NORMAL? Who for! Not the ordinary workers made redundant by Brent. They don't get a year plus three months.

    She was on a fixed term contract, like many others, so that if she went, she still got paid. And there would have been a compromise agreement too.

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  4. FOR INFORMATION: This is the text of the email I sent on 23 July (with copy to all of Brent's elected councillors) to ensure that they were aware of my guest blog above:-

    Dear Councillors Butt, McLennan, Warren and Colwill, and Ms Downs,

    I am writing to you as the Leader and the Chief Executive of Brent Council, and as the speakers in the Full Council debate on 11 July 2016 in respect of the motion about the pay-off to the Council’s former Director of HR, Cara Davani. I am copying this to the other elected members of the Council, so that they can be aware of what is going on, if they wish to.

    I would refer you to, and attach, a copy of a guest blog article which was published on the “Wembley Matters” site on 21 July. You can find the article at: [LINK to this blog] if you wish to comment on it, or to read comments which others have made.

    The motion from the Brent Conservative Group (“What a waste of money”) was lost on a vote mainly along party political lines. However, this is not a party political matter, but one of wider public concern, and deserves to be dealt with on that basis. The public disquiet about Brent’s handling of this case will not be resolved by the Council’s continual efforts to “sweep it under the carpet”.

    As my article points out, the argument put forward in the debate by the Deputy Leader, that the payment of £157k was made because of external legal advice, and that Ms Davani could have successfully claimed for constructive dismissal, is clearly not the whole truth. I can accept that Cllr. McLennan did not intend to mislead her fellow councillors, and the public, but while that legal advice might have been correct in June 2015, there would have been no grounds for a claim of constructive dismissal if proper disciplinary action had been taken against Ms Davani in September 2014. There were clear findings of fact in the Tribunal judgement about her gross misconduct against Rosemarie Clarke.

    It is sad that I have had to take the role of “Jiminy Cricket” *, and become the Council’s self-appointed conscience, but someone had to speak out against the apparent abuse of power and mis-use of Council funds by senior officials at Brent arising from the Rosemarie Clarke Employment Tribunal case and its aftermath. The case, and subsequent attempts to cover-up aspects of it, have undermined trust in Brent Council, and you, as “Leaders”, need to take action.

    In the article, I have raised questions on four issues (set out in bold type) which the Council still needs to answer. I would call on all of you, in the interests of Brent, to ensure that those questions are answered, publicly and honestly. The Chief Executive should be in a position to issue a statement on points 1, 2 and 4, although Cllr. Butt will have to provide his personal reasons in reply to point 3. I look forward to your positive response, ‘so that Brent can finally put the Rosemarie Clarke case behind it’. Thank you.

    Philip Grant
    (Fryent Ward resident, and not a member or supporter of any political party)

    * A character in the Walt Disney cartoon film “Pinocchio”, which I remember from my childhood.

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  5. UPDATE:

    Brent's Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs, did send a reply, giving "answers" to the four questions. It can be seen in a 30 July blog item at:
    http://wembleymatters.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/brent-council-and-cara-davani-at-last.html

    Philip.

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