Friday, 10 July 2015

Philip Grant: Open letter to Brent Council on Equalities

Guest blog by Philip Grant. The Equalities Committee agenda and papers can be found HERE

Open Letter to Equalities Committee, 9 July 2015

Dear Councillors Pavey, Harrison, Kansagra, Tatler and Thomas,

Congratulations on the first meeting of this new committee next Monday, and my best wishes for its efforts to help improve equalities and HR management at Brent Council. I will not be able to attend that meeting in person, so have not asked to speak as a Deputation at it, but there are points which I would like to make in respect of both main items on your agenda. I will set these out below in this open letter, and hope that you will be able to find time to read my views, and take them into account in your discussions.

Item 5 – Equalities and HR review: action plan

Cllr. Pavey is aware of my views on this matter, but I need to set them out for other committee members, and by way of introduction to my second point below. I had hoped to make this point to Scrutiny Committee on 30 April 2015, but was not allowed to present my Deputation there.

The point relates to Section 2 of the draft Action Plan [see page 5 of equalities-hr-review-app2].  This was prepared by Cara Davani, until recently Brent’s Director of HR and Administration, and is entitled ‘Achieving Excellence in Employment Policies’.  

I am deeply concerned at one of the “success criteria” which she proposed. This reads:

‘Number of employment tribunals is low against benchmarked councils (benchmarks TBA) and ET cases are successfully defended.’ 

It is the second part of this that I find most worrying. “Success”, according to Ms Davani, should be measured by successfully defending Employment Tribunal cases. The risk of setting such a “target” is that it might encourage Council staff involved in these cases to fabricate or falsify the evidence that they give.  

You may consider that such a concern is far-fetched, but in the Rosemarie Clarke Employment Tribunal case (which Cllr. Pavey’s review was set up to learn the lessons from), a key factor
in the finding of ‘racial discrimination’ against Brent Council was the decision to continue disciplinary proceedings against Ms Clarke after she had ceased to be a Council employee. In Para. 240 of the judgment in that case it says: 

‘With regards to the decision being taken to pursue disciplinary action against the claimant [Ms Clarke], following the termination of her employment, the respondents [Brent Council and Cara Davani] have been unable to state by whom or when that decision was made.’ 

As there would have been very few Council employees who could have made that decision, and at least some of those were witnesses at the Tribunal, this totally undermined the credibility of the Council’s evidence. It is quite likely that one or more of those witnesses was willing to commit perjury in order to cover up who had made the decision, and why it was made, in an attempt to conceal from the Tribunal facts that would have added to the evidence in support of Ms Clarke’s claim.

I do not believe that this was an isolated case of fabricated or false evidence being used by Brent Council in Employment Tribunal cases. I have heard, from someone close to the former Brent Libraries employee involved, although I do not know the full facts or have evidence 

to support the accusation, that false evidence was given at a Tribunal where Brent was “successful” in defending a claim against it for unfair dismissal. In another case (see my P.S. at the end of this letter for details), Brent had to concede a claim against it for unfair dismissal when it realised that its false evidence would not stand up to close examination by the Tribunal.

I would strongly suggest that the “success criteria” I referred to above should be deleted from the Action Plan. “Success” over Employment Tribunals is having none, and to achieve this I would suggest that the “criteria” should be:  

100% of managers honour in practice the core value set out in Cllr. Pavey’s review:  ‘Every Brent Council employee deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.’

Item 4 – Equalities Framework for Local Government: self assessment report

The narrative report, “Our Journey to Excellent”, included on the agenda web page for your committee meeting only appears to have a front cover, and no indication of who its author is! The body of the report is probably set out in the two other pdf documents, but like much of the public output from Brent Council, it emphasises the positive points and conceals almost everything negative. If the Equalities Committee is to be worthwhile, it needs to acknowledge and deal with these “negatives”, as well as celebrating the “positives”.

My point above about Employment Tribunal cases raised concerns over what was going on in HR management during Cara Davani’s time in at Brent Council (March 2012 to June 2015), and on the employment side of Brent’s legal team (which was until recently lead by Ms Davani’s partner). One of my criticisms of Cllr. Pavey’s review was that its terms of reference did not allow it to consider individual cases, so that it could not draw lessons from the Rosemarie Clarke case, including the detailed findings of fact based on clear evidence that Ms Clarke had been systematically victimised by Ms Davani, as a direct result of Ms Clarke having complained about being bullied and harassed by Ms Davani. 

Section 3.26 of the EFLG self assessment [see page 53 of that document] has as its EFLG criterion:

‘Harassment and bullying at work are dealt with effectively and most staff say that they are treated with dignity and respect. Staff are confident that there are robust procedures in place to address harassment and bullying at work and they trust management to deal with incidents effectively.’

The comments in the final two columns of the self-assessment for this item talk of ‘mini staff surveys’ and ‘staff focus groups’, and of ‘positive feedback’ from such exercises. They do not mention that the Head / Director of HR was herself guilty of such actions, and that despite issuing guidance to Council staff saying that ‘bullying and harassment will not be tolerated’, that she was allowed by Brent’s interim Chief Executive to get away with it!

If all the fine words in the EFLG self assessment and in the Action Plan, and the good work done by many Brent Council employees, are to have any value, then they have to be seen to be respected in practice. The failure by Brent’s Senior Officers to deal properly with Ms Davani’s misconduct (of which it appears that the Rosemarie Clarke case was not an isolated incident), and the attempts by both Senior Officers and some leading councillors to cover up that misconduct, have helped to create an false impression that “everything is rosy” in Brent’s garden. Council staff, and some councillors and local residents, know that the reality is different.

In order to make any real progress towards Brent Council achieving and maintaining the Excellent Standard in the Equalities Framework for Local Government, the Equalities Committee needs to lead by example. It should acknowledge that there have been problems during Cara Davani’s time in charge of HR at Brent, and that the Council needs to address those problems, rather than “sweeping them under the carpet”. It should make clear that its HR and Equalities practice must follow its HR and Equalities policies, and not just pretend that it does. A key player in delivering this, if she is to remain in post, will be the interim Director of HR, Mildred Phillips, who will need to operate a different management style from her predecessor (and, I understand, mentor), and I will copy this letter to her, for her information.

I would suggest that one way in which Brent, through its Equalities Committee, can publicly demonstrate that it acknowledges the problems in its recent past, is to ask for its nomination for the “Race for Opportunity Awards 2015” to be withdrawn. When it was announced recently in an email to Council employees that Brent Council had been named as a finalist in the “Transparency, Monitoring and Action” category for these awards, one is reported to have said: 

'Imagine our faces when we saw this. We were speechless at the Council's barefaced cheek in putting themselves forward.'

Complaints have been made to the awards organisers, Business in the Community, about the nomination, and I am sure that they would be relieved if Brent were to ask for its nomination to be withdrawn. This action would also save the Council the cost of Officers (and members?) attending the Awards Dinner at the London Hilton, Park Lane, on 6 October, an event which could prove embarrassing for the Council at a time when a potentially large award of compensation, damages and costs against the Council for its racial discrimination, victimisation and constructive dismissal of Rosemarie Clarke might well be featured in local (and national?) newspapers.

I believe that things are now moving in the right direction over Equalities and HR at Brent Council, but they have further to go than the impression that certain Council Officers (and its PR machine) have tried to give. By acknowledging the reality of the position, and by taking steps to address the effect that the past three years have had on many employees, and former employees, the Equalities Committee can bring about improvements which will hopefully see the Council reach and maintain the highest standards of the Equalities Framework for Local Government, and do so on a genuine basis. With my best wishes in that endeavour,

Yours sincerely,

Philip Grant.


I mentioned ‘another case’ where Brent had tried to use false evidence to rid itself of an employee. Here are the closing paragraphs of a report which I sent last month to Brent’s Audit and Investigations team, which give details of that case, as well as explaining why I have taken such a close interest in trying to ensure that the misconduct revealed by the Rosemarie Clarke case is properly addressed by Brent Council:-

As I left the Scrutiny Committee meeting on 30 April, I was introduced to a lady and her husband who had come to listen to my Deputation, and to hear how Cara Davani responded to the points I wished to raise about the Rosemarie Clarke case. The lady was a former Brent employee who suffered similar treatment to that in Rosemarie's case. Although she was still recovering from the stress of the experience, and needed her husband's support, she felt that she had to be there to see Ms Davani "face the music" for the way she has run Brent's HR.

Although disappointed that the committee had not been willing to hear what I had hoped to say, she wanted to tell me about her experience, so we went and had a cup of coffee together nearby. She had worked for the Council for many years on the social care side, and had stood up for herself and colleagues by making a grievance complaint when Brent’s HR department sought to impose changes to work schedules which breached the EU working time directive. Soon afterwards she found herself suspended on the grounds of misconduct allegations which were so ridiculous that she thought at first it was a practical joke. However, one of the allegations, though untrue, was a serious one, and was supported by false "evidence" from another employee.

The misconduct investigation was handled, not by a member of Brent's staff, but by a consultant, Shahidul Miah [a close associate of Cara Davani and Christine Gilbert, who has been engaged to carry out a number of HR assignments for the Council since 2012 through his company, Bloomsbury Resourcing Ltd], who she described as 'a nasty little man'. She was found guilty and dismissed, but (like Rosemarie Clarke) felt so aggrieved by her treatment that she put in a claim of unfair dismissal to the Employment Tribunal. After months of worry and stress in preparing her case and waiting for it to be heard, when the case opened at Watford Employment Tribunal Brent's lawyer said, out of the blue, that the Council wished to settle the case. She was paid compensation by Brent Council for her unfair dismissal, but under the terms of the settlement agreement, she could not and did not tell me the amount that she received.

It was clear to me from talking with the couple what a toll this experience had taken on both their lives. I am glad that the Council’s employees will not need to suffer at the hands of Ms Davani after the end of June 2015, although I do not know how many other Employment Tribunal cases from her three years at Brent are still “in the pipeline”. It is the courage in adversity of these victims, as well as my strong sense of what is right (and what at Brent Council has gone wrong, and needs to be changed), which sustains my considerable efforts in matters such as this report.’


mikehineoftownchicago said...

Excellent work as usual, Philip. Though I have very little faith in the inherent rights and wrongs of a situation affecting their modus operandi, 'leaders' at Brent Council may be starting to realise that the public shaming they have received over the last couple of years will be repeated unless improvements are made. Being disliked they can tolerate or even relish; being a laughing stock is something else.

Mike Hine

Nan. said...

A masterly submission as ever, Philip.
The fact that you have put this so cogently to the relevant council Members means that they now have nowhere to hide and absolutely no excuse for saying they did not know /did not understand /the dog ate the papers etc.

Anonymous said...

De dog definitely ate or buried de papers as dey certainly were not red..

Anonymous said...

I finally received a reply from one of the Equalities Committee members (who had been unwell for the past few days), sent 45 minutes before the meeting was due to begin this evening. She told me that she would be bringing up the points I had raised at the meeting, and I hope that she has done so.

Would anyone who was present at the meeting like to give a report on what happened, please?

Philip Grant.

Anonymous said...

Let's hope you get a full report, Phillip, to ensure that the days of manipulation of the puppeteers are over.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if any FOI requests have been sent to Brent Council to find out how many employment tribunal cases were filed against them since CD & her cohorts took over the leadership and what were the outcomes of them?

Anonymous said...

Yes, and do we know if any FOI requests have been sent in to find out how much Brent have paid out in personal injury and negligence claims since CD and Co took over the leadership of the Council? A number of local residents have expressed concern that a young service user sustained a broken foot at the Ade Adepitan Centre last year and the police investigation report was very critical - possibly because it was the second broken bone that the young person is believed to have suffered as a Looked After Child. It wouldn't surprise me if the pseudo powers that were leading the Council didn't share this serious incident and outcome with the Health & Safety Executive as well as Safeguarding Team and elected Councillors. Let's hope the young person was compensated well for the trauma she suffered.

Anonymous said...

Farcical really as it appears that Brent covers up for those they favour, even if they were found to be guilty racistism bullying and harassment by a tribunal and/or cause injury through negligence. It appears anyone who questions things get ignored or bullied. This is why Phillip may never get answers.