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.