Wednesday 28 June 2017

Brent Council and Cara Davani – when (if ever) will we really know what happened?

Brent and Kilburn Times June 30th 2016

Guest blog by Philip Grant

Cara Davani – didn’t she leave Brent Council two years ago? And it was a year ago that the Council finally admitted that she had been given a “pay-off” (of £157,610). Surely the enquiry into this must have been sorted out by now? I’m afraid not.

When I last gave an update about “progress” on the investigation of objections to Brent’s 2015/16 accounts LINK we had been told by the Auditor that he anticipated sharing material documents with the objectors by the end of June. When the agenda for Brent’s Audit Advisory Committee meeting on 26 June appeared on the Council’s website,  KPMG’s “External Audit Progress Report” said that they expected to share the documents, and other material, ‘in July’.

As the Auditor had agreed to share those material documents (which he received from the Council in mid-December) with the objectors, and we had been expecting to get them early in 2017, I asked to speak about this item on the agenda for Monday evening’s meeting, and the committee Chair (David Ewart, an independent member) agreed in advance that I could. I hope that Martin will be able to attach the text of what I said to this blog, so that you can read it in full if you wish to. There were two points that I wished to raise with the committee, and the Chair asked me to deal with them separately. 

The first was the objectors’ disappointment with the lack of progress in KPMG’s enquiries, and our concern that the investigation process might have been changed, without explanation. We were originally told that we would have the chance to make further comments before the Auditor reached any ‘provisional findings and views’. The latest progress report spoke of sharing ‘our provisional view and material documents’ at the same time. I asked the committee to invite the Auditor to clarify the position, and to encourage him to provide a timetable for the remaining steps in his investigation, through to his final decision on the objections.

The Auditor, Andrew Sayers, did not seem to accept that there was any real change from what his predecessor had set out in November 2016. He thought that knowing what his provisional views were would help us and the Council when he shares those views and material documents with us. He still wants any further comments from us, and assured the meeting that his provisional views will be open to change in the light of any further comments and evidence he receives. On how long it was taking, his response seemed to be that he had to do his job properly [I would agree that he should, but does it really need to take so long?]. 

The Auditor seemed to suggest that the material would be shared in about six weeks (so August, rather than July?), but said the timetable after that would depend on what further comments he receives and what further investigations he may need to make, so he could give no indication of when his final decision might be published.

There were murmurings from the committee over how long his investigation was taking, and what it would cost (Mr Sayers did not know how much it had cost so far, but he would write with a figure that could be passed on to committee members). Cllr. Davidson, in particular, was concerned over the costs, and appeared to suggest that KPMG could be carrying out unnecessary work, just to increase their fees.

My second point, asked the committee to recommend that Council Officers consent to Mr Sayers sharing the legal advice with us "in strict confidence". The papers around that advice comprise very ‘material documents’, as they provide the only evidence in support of Brent’s decision to make the payment to Ms Davani.

The Chair asked Brent's Chief Legal Officer, Debra Norman, to address them. She told the committee, effectively, that "Legal Privilege" was a fundamental principle that should never be breached. She did not appear to consider whether, in the particular circumstances of this investigation, refusal by the Council to allow the objectors access to the documents, in strict confidence, might appear to be unfair.

The Chair asked Mr Sayers whether the lack of consent from the Council was "impeding" his investigation, and the Auditor said that it was not, although it might mean that he had to take legal advice himself over whether to disclose certain documents to the objectors. I am not sure whether committee members realised that this would mean additional costs to the Council for the investigation.

I was allowed a brief reply, but like Mr Sayers, I had to say that I could not disclose the full nature of the allegations in the objection, but that they did involve matters which were 'contrary to law', and that this was more than a possible query over whether a QC's advice was correct.

There was no real discussion or vote on what action the committee should take over my second point. It was almost like a shrug of the shoulders to say "well, we can't go against the advice of the Chief Legal Officer".

I was probably naïve to think that the Audit Advisory Committee might, just might, be persuaded to recommend that the legal advice, which the Council claims as justification for the £157,610 “pay-off” to Cara Davani, could be shared with the objectors. But at least I tried to move things forward towards getting this long-running matter resolved, and the minutes of last Monday evening’s meeting will hopefully record the main points of what was said.

So, Wembley Matters readers, and the rest of Brent’s citizens, will have to carry on waiting for details of why the payment was made, if that is found to be different from the Council version(s), to be officially revealed. You can be sure, however, that the five local electors who objected to Brent’s 2015/16 accounts will do their best to see that the truth comes out, eventually.

Philip Grant.


Martin Francis said...

Anon has sent in this comment: Well done Philip and fellow objectors! It is crucial that Brent Council Tax payers know exactly how and why the extortionate sum of £157,610 was paid to former HR director, Cara Davani, a relatively new Council employee, who should have been subject to disciplinary proceedings and dismissed forthwith for bringing the Council into disrepute after she was found guilty by Watford Tribunal for victimising Rosemarie Clarke, a co HR worker, nine months earlier.

Anonymous said...

Careful, Philip, she'll be offering you a complimentary stay at her current hobby, Satis Hotel, Norfolk. This from Trip Advisor's website:
'half the lighting wasn’t working and the Manager said he couldn’t sort it as it was Bank Holiday – he got rather defensive. When one of the party spoke to the chef about this total lack of room maintenance she was cut down and told "it's not my problem I am just the chef".However, later when she asked him if there was any Management around he then said that he was Management. She then replied "you told me you were a chef"? He then replied “well I am Management as well.” Unfortunately the new owner comes over as inhospitable and uninterested in her guests – clearly not bothered whether they come back or not. They did very well out of us but she never smiled and almost hid away. A very strange place indeed.'
From faulty HR ability to Fawlty bloody Towers, eh? And I wonder who that chef/manager could be........

Mike Hine

Unknown said...

Since when was it ok to be crap at your job, bully and victimise employees and get then get sacked and get paid. This is outrageous and complete and utter bullshit. I and so many other residents want our money back. This never happens in the real world of private companies, you get sacked end of.

Anonymous said...

pissed off does not cover it.

Philip Grant said...

Dear Jaine (and anonymous x2),

It is because what happened WAS outrageous, and that Brent has tried to cover it up, AND that it may well have been an unlawful use of Council funds, that five local electors are challenging the Council's accounts on this point.

Why did Brent's then interim Chief Executive NOT take disciplinary action against Cara Davani in September 2014, when there were public calls for such obvious action after the Employment Tribunal exposed her gross misconduct against Rosemarie Clarke?

And why, if the interim Chief Executive did not think there were grounds for disciplinary action, did she seek legal advice, eight months later, on whether the Council had grounds to conduct a fair dismissal of Ms Davani?

They were told that they did not have good grounds to sack her, and they DID NOT sack her. So why did the interim Chief Executive still hand her a massive payout when Ms Davani apparently threatened to resign anyway?

There are contradictions and inconsistencies over the various versions of events that have come out about Cara Davani leaving the Council's employment. The first story (June 2015) was that she was taking a career break (with no mention of any leaving payment)!

At the first Full Council meeting (July 2016) after Brent finally disclosed that a payout had been made, the Deputy Leader (replying to a motion from Cllr. Warren, calling for an enquiry into it) even suggested that the £157k was a normal redundancy payment!

I think that I now have a pretty good idea of what went on, and why, but whether the objectors will have sufficient evidence to prove it to the Auditor (who is investigating our objections to the 2015/16 accounts) remains to be seen.

I would like to see the Council get its money back, but am not sure that there is much chance of that. I hope that, at least, those behind this (alleged) wrongdoing will be exposed, and held to account.


Anonymous said...

an exposed butt?

Philip Grant said...

Dear Anonymous (30 June at 19:07),

'You might think that, but I could not possibly comment.'

[At least, not publicly, at this stage of the Auditor's investigation.]

Philip (with acknowledgement to Francis Urquhart / Michael Dobbs for the quotation.)

Anonymous said...

I have been contemplating for weeks whether to write something on one of these articles, I am a former employee of Cara Davani, I used to work at her 'hotel' Satis House...all I will say is it's an absolute disgrace to the hospitality business and the only way that hotel will ever thrive is if her and the poor excuse for a 'chef/manager/handyman' own up to the fact they're corrupt and leave. I had the unfortunate situation of having to resign from the business because, like poor Rosemary Clarke, she bullied me and so did her chef, leaving me no choice but to leave. I have not even been given my final pay or my P45 as I am legally required to have from her and although I have tried to get these things, I was met with a barrage of abuse from Cara herself, but obviously judging by the comments made and the type of person she is, it was to be expected. I feel sorry for former employees who left before me and received the same awful treatment, she has no idea what she's doing, her hotel is in liquidation and it's only a matter of time before her past catches up with her. It is now painfully obvious why she had to relocate - she is clearly and quite rightly unemployable the other side of the M25.

Philip Grant said...

Dear Anonymous (13 November at 22:17),

Thank you for sharing your personal experience of working for Cara Davani with us. I would like to offer some advice, which may be useful in the situation Ms Davani has put you in to.

If "Satis House" is in liquidation, or any other situation where an insolvency practitioner has been appointed to take control of the business, I would suggest that you should write to the Liquidator / Receiver / Administrator giving brief details of your claim for unpaid wages, and asking the insolvency practitioner (as the current legal representative of the Satis House business) to provide you with the P45 which was not supplied by Ms Davani (despite her legal obligation to do so).

Best wishes for the future.


Philip Grant said...

So the Davani/Potts company running Satis House (Winburn Ltd) went into Liquidation in April 2017, leaving nearly £70k of unpaid creditors (including £38k unpaid PAYE and VAT). But what do we find on TripAdvisor?

'Reviewed 16 September 2017 (one out of five marks given):
Oh dear......
Poor poor poor Service, room, staff With the attitude of owner....there is no hope of this business being a success. Shame.'

'Cara D, Owner at Satis House, responded to this review 22 September 2017:
No idea who this is or indeed if this is a genuine post. If you have something of value to say your feedback would be welcome but as stated it is meaningless to myself or any sensible reader.'

Same old, same old!