Saturday, 29 November 2014

Will the Pavey review of HR win the confidence of staff?

In this week's Kilburn Times,  Brent Green  Party candidates for the forthcoming general election reiterate the Party's call for an independent inquiry into Brent Council, This would not only cover the human resources issues, including working conditions,  but also the appointment of a permanent Chief Executive and  the restructing of the senior managment team. We felt that an independent investigation was the only way to gain the confidemnce of staff and wanted to involve residents, associations,  voluntary organisations, teneants; groups and trade unions.

Philip Grant in this Guest Blog gives his personal assessment of the  more limited internal review being conducted by Michael Pavey:

Councillor Pavey’s Review of Brent’s HR and Equalities practices and procedures

Anyone who has been following the story of the Rosemarie Clarke Employment Tribunal case will be aware that when Brent Council announced on 26 September that they would be appealing against the judgement, they also said there would be a review. The Council said that its Deputy Leader, Cllr. Michael Pavey, would ‘take stock of our [Employment] policies and practice’, ‘to ensure that we learn lessons from this case’. 

I did wonder at the time whether this was just a PR smokescreen, to draw attention away from Brent’s unfair and unreasonable decision to appeal. However, I have recently exchanged some emails with Cllr. Pavey which leave me a little more optimistic, and (with his permission) I would like to share some of the correspondence with you.

After I was prevented from speaking as a Deputation at the Scrutiny Committee meeting on 3 November, where I would have requested that the decision to appeal should be scrutinised, I wrote to Cllr. Pavey setting out the reasons and evidence showing why the Employment Tribunal appeal should be dropped. I suggested that his review could be used as a way for the appeal decision to be revoked, allowing the Council to “save face” in doing so. I was disappointed by his reply:

‘I understand your position but have to emphasise that the terms of reference for my review do not include considering the decision to appeal, or indeed considering any individual HR cases. The review is into the policies and practices of the Council. I will be leading the review in a considered and (constructively) challenging way, but we won't be going outside our terms of reference.’
At least Cllr. Pavey’s approach to his review seemed genuine, so I sent him an email with a link to a document:

‘… which I think that you, and those assisting with the process, should consider as part of your review. It is a guest blog which was posted on the "Wembley Matters" site in September, from an anonymous Brent employee who speaks up for some of the good things Cara Davani is said to have done for the Council, but concludes 'we now need to move forward with a different supportive, conciliatory and team-building culture' :

I believe that the reason this item, and a number of the comments on it (some almost certainly from other Council employees), were posted anonymously may well be a fear of "reprisals" from Brent's Director of HR, but I hope you and your team will not discount the relevant information which they provide for your review just because the people providing it have chosen to protect their identities.’

I also set out a concern which had struck me as soon as I heard about the review:

‘The other point I would make for your review is 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. Although your review will not be looking at individual cases, it is clear from the evidence in the Rosemarie Clarke Employment Tribunal judgement that … [four named individuals] all failed to follow the Council's HR procedures. That is what lead to the judgement that Ms Clarke had been constructively dismissed. Senior Officers are meant to lead by example, and if they are allowed to ignore Brent's HR policies and practices, just because they have taken a personal dislike to a particular employee, or as a matter of course when it suits them, no recommendations that are made as a result of your review will bring about any change for the better.’

Unlike some other leading Councillors and Officers, Cllr. Pavey did not shy away from answering an email which contained some challenging points. His recent reply to me included the following comments, as well as sending me a copy of the Terms of Reference (“TOR”) for his review (see below)

‘On the terms of reference of my review, these were published on the Council intranet weeks ago and I’ve attached a copy. We didn’t do a press release as I’m keen for this to be a serious piece of work detached from any political grandstanding, but we wanted the TOR to be fully accessible to Council employees. 
I agree with you that there is a risk that “fear of reprisals” will lead to a reticence on behalf of Officers to come forward. I have committed that there will be a system for Officers to make anonymous submissions. We’re still fine-tuning the details of this so it hasn’t been announced yet, but I am certainly cognisant of the fears you raise. 
I also agree with your point about policies only being as good as their implementation. You will see that the TOR specifically refer to “practices” as well as “procedures.” ’

I hope that Brent Council employees will take the opportunity to honestly set out any genuine concerns and ideas for improvement which they have to Cllr. Pavey, even if they feel that they need to do so anonymously. With that input, and if Cllr. Pavey lives up to his comments to me, then his review of Brent’s HR and equalities practices and procedures will come up with some worthwhile recommendations, and learn some lessons from the Rosemarie Clarke case. Whether his Cabinet colleagues and Senior Officers will support him in making any proposed improvements a reality will remain to be seen, but I wish him the best of luck in his efforts.

In the light of the recent employment tribunal, Councillor Pavey will undertake an internal review of the Council's HR and equalities practice and procedures to secure improvement.
This will entail:
        -  surveying a comprehensive suite of policies to identify those which need detailed consideration 

            -  reviewing those which need detailed consideration 

            -  reviewing staff knowledge, understanding and practice 

            -  reviewing progress towards the Gold standard in Investors in People 

      -  reviewing progress towards the Excellence Standard in the Equality Framework for 
Local Government 

            -  ensuring that diversity underpins all aspects of the review, including BAME 
Methods will include: 

            -  analysis and scrutiny of written reports and documentation 

            -  discussion with staff 

            -  discussion with Members 

            -  advice from external experts 

            -  use of staff focus groups 

            -  best practice comparison with other local authorities. 
A report will be produced by the end of December 2014 with an emphasis on recommendations that will improve practice. An action plan for improvement will be produced by officers by the end of January, 2015. Councillor Pavey will be supported by dedicated resources which will provide high level administrative and analytical support.
Note from Martin: I expect this article to get a number of comments. Your comment is more likely to be published if  it sticks to the Guidelines you can see in the side panel.


Anonymous said...

We are having to contemplate putting our belief and faith in Michael Pavey. A world in which we could all trust everyone, whether we knew anything about them or not, would be wonderful.
In this case, however, we do know something about the person in question. Michael Pavey is closely associated with, and has made no attempt to distance himself from, Cllr Butt. Cllr Butt is closely associated with, and has made no attempt to distance himself from, Cara Davani and Christine Gilbert. Those two have been found guilty of racial discrimination, constructive dismissal and workplace bullying. The judge did not suggest or recommend that high-ranking Brent council members should look into or review whether these things had occurred, he actually categorically judged that they HAD occurred.
Butt did not appoint Michael Pavey (nor did Pavey volunteer) to carry out a ‘review’ when the accusations of racial discrimination, constructive dismissal and workplace bullying (by a respected and established manager) first arose, but only when they were found guilty in a court of law and needed to attempt to ‘manage’ or defuse the shitstorm which unsurprisingly followed the verdict.
Given the absolute absence of any sign of good faith from Pavey in his actions so far in this matter, why should we put any faith or belief in him or his review unless and until, in advance of the review, he demonstrates good faith and credibility by renouncing the actions of Cara Davani and Christine Gilbert as they have been established by the judge in a court of law?

We trust Rosemarie Clarke.
We trust the judge who vindicated her.
When those found guilty in a court of law find it in themselves to admit their culpability and thereby demonstrate an honest intention to learn from whatever a review might produce, then, and only then, should we trust them.

Mike Hine

Anonymous said...

I fully agree with Mike Hine. I also feel for the hard work put in by previous leaders Ann John and Paul Lorber who, in their different ways supported by Gareth Daniel re-built Brent Council's 1980's reputation from a basket-case Authority to one whose services met very high standards, whose senior staff were highly respected (i.e. those BELOW the Senior Management Team), exemplified by the Head of the Registrars who combined (and still does) the ability to be a real expert in his field (recognised by the Home Office) and a thoroughly good man. AND the Council providing very good services with high levels of resident satisfaction. He (I am not sure if I can name the Head of Registrars on here) is pretty well the last man standing amidst a sea of mediocrity, racism, bullying, and intimidation by those whose names have been frequently repeated for the wrong reasons on here.

I know nothing about Michael Pavey, but even if he was not so close to the guilty parties, his would be a poisoned chalice from day one of his review. To promise a report by the end of December and an 'action plan' by the end of January does not bode for the thorough investigation needed or the residents and employees still living in / and or working in Brent.

For one I await the outcome with interest in a two month period that will also set out the Council's plans for the next round of £50m+ cuts with more to come in 2016.

Heaven help us, the blind leading the blind, lead by racists and politicians so far out of their depth that you couldn't make it up.

Anonymous said...

Was Pavey lead for Education when Copland Davies secret agreement signed ?

If so he might not be as innocent as he claims!

The Borough needs someone who is not part of the incumbent parties so that this matter is not covered up.

Anonymous said...

I'm very interested in Pavey's remark ' I have committed that there will be a system for Officers to make anonymous submissions.' This is something some of us staff have been talking about, staff do not trust any of their electronic blogs or surveys as it can all be traced back. Staff will only speak up if it cannot be traced back to individuals, having comment boxes, which will be only be opened by someone trustworthy, where staff can drop their comments is one of the few ways by which I would contribute. Honestly I have no faith in Pavey, or anyone in Butt's little circle, so I still think it will be a whitewash.

Anonymous said...

Could this be taken back to Cllr Pavey, Philip? It seems to be a pretty clear setting out of what staff will require in terms of secure anonymity if they are to trust Pavey's 'systems for anonymous submissions' ?
'staff do not trust any of their electronic blogs or surveys as it can all be traced back. Staff will only speak up if it cannot be traced back to individuals, having comment boxes, which will be only be opened by someone trustworthy, where staff can drop their comments is one of the few ways by which I would contribute'
Obviously, those putting themselves in potential jeopardy should determine what is acceptable for their security, not those inviting them to endanger themselves.

Anonymous said...

Surely Pavey must first call for an immediate stop to the appeal and accept the original findings of the tribunal.

This should be first step in restoring any kind of faith in his authority over Brent Civil Servants who have become their own judge and jury.

Anonymous said...

I believe in Cllr Pavey's impartiality as much as I believe in Father Christmas. Apologies to all the children out there!

Philip Grant said...

Thank you for your constructive suggestion as to how anonymous submissions can be dealt with in practice. I have forwarded the comment to Cllr. Pavey, and invited him to reply to it.

Anonymous said...

Further to Anonymous (30 November, 13:23) and my initial reply above, I have heard back from Cllr. Pavey that he has taken the point about staff being sure of their anonymity on board.

Details of how staff can submit their views to him anonymously will be included in an update on his Review, which will be issued to all staff via the Council's intranet next week. If you are a Brent Council employee, and have any comments on present HR or equalities policy or practice and how they could be improved, I suggest that you put them on paper over the next few days, ready to submit.