Guest blog by Philip Grant
In August 2016, Wembley Matters reported that Cllr. John Warren (as a local elector, not as a councillor) had asked Brent’s Auditor to make a Public Interest report about items of expenditure in the Council’s 2015/16 accounts relating to Cara Davani and the Rosemarie Clarke Employment Tribunal case. LINK I added a comment to that blog, saying that I had also exercised my right to object to those accounts, and I understand that there were four other Brent electors who objected, with five of the six objections relating to Brent’s £157,610 pay-off in June 2015 to its former HR Director, Cara Davani, and related matters.
I know that a number of interested readers may be wondering “what has happened about this?” Until a few days ago, the answer appeared to be “not very much”, but in the past few days I have received a letter from the Auditor at Messrs KPMG, so can now give you an update. The letter was marked “Private and Confidential”, so I will not attach a copy, but as some of the points are already in the public domain, and others are just an outline of procedure, I am happy that I can share the following information with you.
The Auditor wrote on 14 November to formally accept that my objection of 10 August was validly made under section 27 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014. The letter confirmed that I had set out a case which could give grounds for the Auditor to apply to the Court for a declaration that Brent Council made unlawful payments during 2015/16 in respect of:
a) A proportion of the total amount paid by the Council in the out-of-court settlement of the Rosemarie Clarke case, which should have been the personal liability of the second respondent in that case, Cara Davani (the Council’s former HR Director).
b) A proportion of the Council’s legal costs (both external and internal) in the Rosemarie Clarke case which should have been recharged to, and paid by, Cara Davani personally, as a separate respondent in that case.
c) The whole of the £157,610 “compensation for loss of office” paid to Cara Davani, and shown as part of the Senior Employees’ Remuneration to ‘Human Resources Director (to June 2015)’ at Note 30 to the Council’s draft accounts.
d) The whole of any amount paid around June 2015 as an “Exit Package” to Andrew Potts, the Council’s former Principal Lawyer (Employment and Education) or similar title, which is included in the amounts for either ‘compulsory redundancies’ or ‘other departures agreed’ at Note 32 to the Council’s draft accounts.
The Auditor also accepted that, if his enquiries led him to the view that these payments were not unlawful, I had validly requested that he should issue a public interest report in relation to matters a) and c) above.
The Auditor’s letter also set out how his firm’s enquiries would proceed, in respect of my objection (and other valid objections) to Brent’s 2015/16 accounts, saying they would now:
■ ask the Council for their response to the objection;
■ ask the Council for documents relevant to the objection;
■ collect the documents that we think will help me make a decision about the objection;
■ give you and the Council the opportunity to make further comments on the objection;
■ make any further enquiries we consider to be appropriate;
■ if appropriate, tell you and the Council our provisional findings and views; and
■ decide the objection.
The letter concludes by saying:
‘While this marks the start of the formal objection process, we encourage you and the Council to discuss the issues raised to see whether you can come to an agreement. Please also note that you are free to withdraw your objection at any time.’
Readers who have followed this saga will realise that I am unlikely to withdraw my objection without seeing convincing evidence that the payments involved were properly made. I would, however, be willing to discuss these issues with the Chief Executive / Chief Finance Officer of Brent Council, if they are willing to make available (“in confidence”, if necessary) the information and documents needed to ensure that any such discussion could be meaningful.
I am aware that Cllr. Warren has received a similar letter from the Auditor in respect of his objection, but I do not know whether any of the other three local electors who also sent objections to payments made by Brent to, or on behalf of, Cara Davani have also heard from Messrs KPMG. It would make sense if the local residents involved could co-ordinate their dealings with Brent Council (if there are to be discussions). If you are one of those objectors, please contact me (via Martin, if necessary, see email address under “Guest Blogs” in right-hand column), or at least put a comment with your views below. Thank you.
Thanks for this Philip. I have been wondering when some news was going to become available. I had also planned to add my voice as an objector to the auditors but sadly could not get my things together in time. If we did make any kind of sweetener to Andy Potts this makes it even more disgraceful and makes the whole stink much worse. This is particularly so when it is considers what has happened to decent people who have had to suffer the consequences of the failures and inadequacies of past council officers who then did "a runner".
Dear Anonymous at 17:08,
Thank you for your support and encouragement. Andy Potts DID receive a pay-off from Brent, in addition to the £157,610 paid to his partner, Cara Davani. Brent confirmed to me in early August 'that Mr Potts was made redundant following a reorganisation in legal services, and received the council’s standard terms in such situations.'
It is almost certain that his was one of the ten "Exit Package" payments listed in Brent's 2015/16 accounts (apart from the Cara Davani pay-off) in excess of £60,000, and his may have been one of the three highest payments, of between £100k and £150k.
If you, or any other reader (especially if you were employed by the Council at the time), has any information about the reorganisation in Brent's Legal Services department which gave rise to Andy Potts being "made redundant" around June 2015, please let me have the details. You can do this (in confidence) by email - see note at the end of the article above - or as a comment (Anonymous, if necessary) below. Thank you.
Well done Philip and Cllr John Warren.
Has the stink become a stench?
Dear Anonymous at 10:24,
Your comment has reminded me of something that I wrote in an email to a member of Brent's Cabinet TWO YEARS AGO (November 2014).
In referring to Brent's decision to appeal against the Rosemarie Clarke Employment Tribunal judgement, and the actions of Christine Gilbert, Fiona Ledden (then Brent's Legal Director) and Cara Davani, I wrote:
'To put it bluntly, the situation over this appeal stinks. The more that Senior Officers (and Councillors?) at the Civic Centre try to cover it up, the more putrid will be the smell when it becomes public knowledge. There is always a possibility that the facts will remain concealed, but is that a risk you can, or should, take?'
I think that the answer to your question is "Yes", while the answer to my question of November 2014 should have been "No".
Well they can't complain then when the comeuppance happens then can they. What fools!!!
I was there when Andy Potts was 'made redundant' it wasn't done in the normal way whereby the department was restructured with consultation. Some of the senior staff in that department were sent emails asking if they wanted to take redundancy which made us think it was hurriedly done so Potts could get some money to go with Davani. Just saying
Doesn't the smell of putrid sewage become apparent?
Dear Anonymous (20 November at 20:23):
Thank you for this information.
Are you able to give a bit more detail, please, such as who sent the emails asking if senior lawyers wanted to take redundancy, the approximate date they were sent and whether any others in Brent's Legal Services were actually made redundant as a result of this "reorganisation"? Thank you.
I have received a letter from Conrad Hall (Brent's Chief Finance Officer), and understand that he has sent similar letters to the other four local electors who objected to the Council's accounts 'on the matter of the settlement payment to its former HR Director' (as the letter puts it).
He is proposing that the five people should agree to "share" their objections, so that the Council could hold one collective meeting to discuss the issues raised, rather than holding five separate meetings. I have replied to agree that this would be a sensible way forward.
I don't know whether Mr Hall has read my "guest blog" above (I had sent him and Carolyn Downs, Brent's Chief Executive, a link to it two days before he wrote to me), but he has also invited me (and presumably the other objectors) to let him have details, in advance of any meeting, of any documents we may wish to see as part of the process.
He does say, however:
'I should stress at the outset that the Council is not obliged to provide documents, except as laid out in the relevant legislation and regulations. I do not want to be unhelpful, and where reasonably appropriate I will of course provide information, but you must understand that I must at this stage reserve the right not to.'
I have not yet sent in my request for the list of documents I would like to see, in advance of the proposed joint meeting of objectors with Mr Hall. "Anonymous 20 November at 20:23" has already pointed me in the direction of some useful documents to request in respect of the "redundancy payment" to Andy Potts. If he/she or any other present or former Brent employees can suggest any other documents that it would be useful for me to see in relation to objections (a) to (d) in my blog above, I would be grateful if they would add a comment (in reply to this one) during the next two days. Thank you.
On 30 November I sent Conrad Hall (Brent's Chief Finance Officer) a list of the documents (directly relevant to my objection) that I would like to see in advance of a proposed meeting between objectors and himself and Carolyn Downs (Chief Executive).
On 2 December he replied:
'I have previously set out in our correspondence in August of this year that the Council will not disclose to you the documents that you requested at that time. My view on that has not changed.
You sent, on 30 November 2016, a request for sight a substantial number of further documents, as well as repeating some of your earlier requests. I do not anticipate providing these, but I think that when we meet next week that should be a matter that we discuss.'
... and he wrote on 22 November: 'I do not want to be unhelpful ...' !!!
I am still willing to work with Brent Council, along with the four other objectors to its £157k "pay-off" to Cara Davani, to see whether we can resolve at least some of the differences between us, but it will need a change of attitude by Senior Officers at the Civic Centre if anything is to be achieved.
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