Walsh, the vindictive, again

Even though the most wretched councillor I’ve ever come across is no longer a councillor, he left a wee parting gift.

He complained about me to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards before he left with 2 elements to his complaint:

The first was about what happened at the February area committee meeting when a motion put up by Bruce Marshall and seconded by myself was deemed incompetent on the day. Motions are submitted to Governance & Law staff and it’s generally understood that if you hear nothing from them, and the motion appears in the papers, it’s been deemed competent. We heard nothing and it did appear on the papers but on the day of the meeting the governance officer said to the chair, the weak and incompetent Alex MacNaughton, that it was incompetent. Alex, being a feeble fellow and a Walsh devotee, agreed and it was dropped. There were angry words spoken but no wonder. In our view it was clear that Walsh had got at the chair and/or the governance officer. Walsh had, yet again, wielded the undemocratic clout he has had for years, and got away with it.

The second was that I had not declared the funds raised by my crowdfunder, would you believe. I had not done so because I saw no need to. The crowdfunder only partially reimbursed me for the costs incurred in defending myself against the complaint by the 4 officers who cannot abide scrutiny, Messrs Loudon, Sneddon, Milne and Hendry. A crowdfunder was also, by its nature, very public and the councillors and officers knew about it. Hendry knew about it and, as the supposed impartial monitoring officer, you would assume he should say to me that perhaps this might need formal declaration. But no, what he did was say nothing then he fed Walsh with the information that there had been no declaration. One pal feeding the other pal I suggest.

Anyway, the commissioner, Bill Thomson, had the good sense to say he wasn’t acting on Walsh’s complaint. I have written to Bill about this but that I am keeping that to  myself. Bill’s letter to me is at the link below.

It never ends.

letter from bill thomson

Rothesay Joint Campus

I have written before about the appalling mismanagement of this school in the period from around 2010/11 onwards until the then head teacher was removed, at long last.

However, the current chief executive of the council, Cleland Sneddon, was overall in charge of education until he got the heid bummer’s post last year. He has never taken any responsibility for the state of this school and, of course, he has repeated his “it wisnae me miss” nonsense over the recent and appalling Education Scotland report on the education service.

The aftermath of the mismanagement of education continues today and for a flavour of what it did to the parents, have a read at what they gave me during Sneddon’s complaint against me, here. If you read pages 300 and 301 of the case papers at this link, then read what the parents said. One of those parents has fought a long campaign to try and get some closure on the way in which her family were badly affected by the mismanagement of her daughter’s education. Just recently she eventually managed to get the council to agree to a joint statement which can be read at the link below. It has had to be heavily redacted but you will get the gist pretty quickly.

Confidential Joint Statement

The questions about Sneddon won’t go away, not perhaps until he does. In my view he is the biggest problem there is in Argyll & Bute Council and the newly elected councillors would do well to remove him and get in someone properly able to do the job. But I doubt they will.

“Behaviours” Part 4

I have just emailed councillors, senior officers and the press with the following:

This again comes from the case papers relating to the complaint against me by Messrs Loudon, Sneddon, Milne and Hendry. The same preamble given in part 1 applies, ie I have used the word BLANK where the case papers were redacted.

This example refers to either Mr Sneddon (or possibly Mrs Loudon) landing me in it by breaching a confidence but it struck me this morning that the phone call they made to the police was probably made the day after I had given them both a 5 page briefing with my views of the issues in Rothesay Joint Campus. I wonder now if the timing of the call to the police was related to them reading a frank assessment neither of them liked. Who knows, but the breach of trust by Mr Sneddon was the worst I’d ever come across and remains so till this day.

None of this would have become public if they hadn’t made their baseless complaint nor would it have become public if they had used the many offers to try and settle the matter.

 You can make your own minds up about where the failings and poor judgement are here. You might also consider Mr Sneddon’s use of the word “behaviours” about me when you read about his “behaviours”.

 

Example 4

 

This is perhaps the single most serious dent to my trust in senior officers of the council and concerns Mr Sneddon.

As lead councillor for education, I was contacted in Summer 2012 by concerned parents from Rothesay Joint Campus over the manner in which children with learning needs were being treated by the school. The first thing I did was consult Mr Sneddon and BLANK. I think I met with them at least twice over the increasingly serious allegations of poor practice in this school. They were both relying heavily on what they had been told by the then head teacher of the school. When I told them that I planned to meet with the concerned parents, the look that passed between them made me think I had said I was arranging a meeting with Old Nick himself. At that time, I could not understand why.

I did go to meet the parents and I later related what I had been told to Messrs Sneddon and BLANK. I subsequently met another group of parents, this time about a most horrific case of bullying within the school. The allegations made are not repeatable without bringing back very painful memories of what I had been told but suffice to say there was a criminal element to them. The police were subsequently called in to investigate. The pupils being bullied were often those with learning difficulties of one type or another and the bullies were some of the brightest pupils in the school.

I found it hard to believe what I was being told by some of the parents but I was so concerned about the allegations I felt the need to check them out. I walked into the police station in Rothesay one morning and asked to speak to the CID officer who was investigating. She told me that she had to speak off the record and I assured her that I would treat what she said in confidence.

What she said was, in fact, worse than I had heard from the parents. She told me there was a large section of the school round the gym and changing rooms that was, in her words, “out of control and policed by nobody”. She said that any vulnerable child entering this area was at risk of harm.

I immediately reported this to Mr Sneddon without revealing my source. He was having none of it and would not accept what I was saying. Moreover, I then found out that neither he nor Mrs Walker had even attempted to do what I had done, namely speak with the concerned parents or their support group called Achievement Bute. Instead, they relied solely on what the head teacher was telling them, much of which was untrue. This head teacher was, eventually, removed from her post.

It is worth stating here that, subsequently, this school ended up having more judgements against it than any other school in Scotland in recent times. A summary of this can be read at:

http://forargyll.com/?p=97787

The point here, though, is twofold. One is that it appeared to suit Mr Sneddon to downplay what was happening in this school and this has resonance with the way he has treated my concerns about the way the care workers are treated, ie he seems to be of a type that wants to ignore the reality for as long as possible.

The second, though, relates to a breach of trust. He pressed me hard on my concerns about the seriousness of the bullying and eventually I made the mistake of telling him I had got the information from the police but I did not name the officer.  He agreed to my plea not to pass this on but that is exactly what he did, and more or less immediately. He called a very senior police officer who then called me on 12 November 2012 to try and pressure me into taking a different line.

The call was distressing for me and I was being put under pressure solely because Mr Sneddon had landed me in it and, presumably, the officer who had spoken to me too. This severely damaged mutual trust, I am sorry to say. The truth of the seriousness of the bullying is contained in the article at the above link.

I believe I was correct to accept how serious matters were and I also believe Mr Sneddon to have been wrong and unwilling to accept the truth, until it was all too late. Compare and contrast with the care workers please.

I should have completed this statement to the commissioner by saying that I called Mr Sneddon when I got home on the same day as the police officer called me. All I will say is that we had a very difficult conversation.

 

 

“Behaviours” Part 3

I have just sent what follows to all councillors, senior officials and the press:

The same preamble applies as outlined in “Behaviours” Part 1 issued on 17 March, ie all this comes from the case files in the failed complaint against me. Here is part 3 and it’s substantially more serious than parts 1 and 2:

Example 3

This example is also taken from the letter to the Controller of Audit in March 2014 and outlines what appears to be an attempt to “fix” the outcome of 2 items at the council meeting in December 2012. In so doing, council legal staff were also ignoring the advice they had received from their external legal advisers, Brodies. This is provided to demonstrate that 2 of the complainants, Messrs Hendry and Loudon, were behaving in a manner that induced distrust. Mr Reppke is also mentioned in this. As before, the text in blue is taken directly from what was sent to the Controller of Audit.

Some of what follows is fact, some of it theory, but it does require investigation in my view.

1          A member or members of the opposition in late 2012 conspired with senior staff in order to try and thwart the sale of Ardentinny to Actual Reality. (theory) Another view on this might be even more serious, ie there may have been attempt to block this sale in order to pressurise Actual Reality from pursuing any complaint against the council. See point 6 below.

2        This was done by getting senior staff to speak with the then leader of the council prior to the council meeting on 26 November 2012 so that he would agree in advance to what was then agreed at that meeting, see part 2 of my version of events. This was to defer any decision on the sale at the council meeting and to agree to a meeting of the group leaders in order to finalise the sale, again see part 2 of my version of events. Note, please, the comments from Cllr Robb about the lack of democracy in this way of handling things. Note also that the meeting wasn’t minuted etc. [You may wish to note that Mr  Hendry’s November report on the same subject failed to disclose to elected members that he had refused an offer from Actual Reality that would have saved the Council thousands of pounds, see Example 4 below (to follow).]

3        At that meeting, the highly derogatory remark about Actual Reality was made, again see my part 2 of events. The question is this: was this remark made in order to influence those present against selling the property? If not, what was the motive in saying this? Was it personal malice towards the directors of AR for example? Please note that this remark is referred to in paragraph 2 of BLANK’s complaint to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards, a complaint that has not yet been dealt with as I understand matters. The company’s directors heard about this and wrote to me (I was then the Lead Councillor with responsibility for Castle Toward and Ardentinny) and the Leader of the Council objecting in the strongest terms to what had been said.   Councillor McCuish, myself and other senior councillors decided that their protests should be treated as a formal complaint against the Council and, having consulted the Chief Executive of COSLA, took the view that Audit Scotland should be asked to investigate the “complaint” because it concerned the conduct of senior officers (chiefly Mr. Hendry but also Mrs. Loudon) and the then Leader of the Council, Councillor Walsh. You may wish to note that in the last few months, Mrs Loudon is completely denying that there ever was a complaint and much the same has come from the leader and depute leader of the council in what I call a very ill advised letter sent to all elected members of the council in November last year.

4        Without consulting me or Councillor McCuish, the Chief Executive decided at some point in November or December 2012 to seek advice from the Council’s solicitors (Brodies WS) on whether the Council could lawfully sell Ardentinny to Actual Reality until the company’s complaint against the Council had been resolved by the Audit Scotland investigation.   Brodies’ advice, not surprisingly, was that these matters were not connected and, as Mr. Hendry admitted to me in an email dated 24 December “it would be open to the council to conclude the sale”.

5        At its meeting on 20 December, the Council had to consider two reports.   One reported that Actual Reality had met all the conditions set by the ad hoc group for the sale of Ardentinny.   The other contained the Chief Executive’s recommendation, which reflected the view of the Leader of the Council, that Audit Scotland should be asked to investigate Actual Reality’s complaint.   Although by this time officers had Brodies’ advice that these two issues did not need to be linked they were tabled at the Council as linked papers, docketed as items 22a and 22b.   22 (a) concerned the referral to Audit Scotland; 22 (b) dealt with the sale of Ardentinny.    Charles Reppke (the Head of Legal Services) advised members that we must deal with these items in the order in which he had presented them.    He gave no reason for this advice.   He did not inform members that Brodies had been asked for legal advice and that their advice was that the matters were not connected.  There have been other occasions when elected members have been told what the legal advice was but on this occasion we were not even told there had been any. Why?   And why were two items, that Brodie’s had said were separate issues, handed out as the same agenda item and why were we told to deal with them in the order stated?

6        I have no doubt that the way in which Mr. Reppke presented these matters to the Council, the fact that he linked them as two parts of the same numbered item, and that he kept knowledge of Brodies’ advice from the elected members, misled some members into thinking that they ought to consider them as connected matters.   The way in which he submitted the business to elected members allowed Councillor Walsh, seconded by Councillor Mrs. Ellen Morton, to move an amendment to item 22 b which, if passed, would have held up the Council’s decision on the sale of Ardentinny until Audit Scotland had concluded its investigation of Actual Reality’s complaint and the Council had considered Audit Scotland’s response.    If the amendment had passed, the view of the Directors of Actual Reality is that they would have had to withdraw their “complaint” and ask the Council not to seek an investigation by Audit Scotland.   They have explained to me that the Ardentinny negotiations had been extremely protracted, in their view unnecessarily, and that any further significant delay would have created so much uncertainty that there would have been a very serious risk of the company going into liquidation.   Whether Councillors Walsh and Morton understood that the immediate result of their amendment being passed would be that Actual Reality itself would ask for the Audit Scotland investigation to be stopped, is not for me to say.

7        In the event, the amendment was lost by just two votes and then, as you know, Audit Scotland refused to carry out the requested investigation.   However, that does not alter the fact that the way in which Mr. Reppke chose to advise the Council could have had extremely serious consequences for a local business employing about 25 people and may yet have serious consequences for Councillor Walsh, who has been reported to the Ethics Commissioner for failing to disclose to the Council on 20 December that he might have a personal, non-financial interest in the matter of an Audit Scotland investigation.

8        Since the meeting, senior Council officers have resolutely refused to tell me precisely what questions they put to Brodies or to give any explanation of why Mr. Reppke advised members as he did about the order of business.   On 27 December 2012 I asked Mr. Hendry, who is Mr. Reppke’s supervising Executive Director, to give all elected members a summary of Brodies’ advice.   This request was ignored.   Since then both Mr. Hendry and Mr. Reppke have said that they cannot remember why the two matters were linked on the agenda and Mr. Reppke can’t remember who told him that they were to be linked; indeed, he is unable to remember any of the discussions he had about the matter.   Please bear in mind that at the time when I was asking these questions I was the Lead Councillor for Education and so had political responsibility for both Castle Toward and Ardentinny. The former property is also in my ward.

END

What you need to know is that, although all of the text in blue above went to Audit Scotland, they refused to investigate. The Controller of Audit subsequently confirmed to me that the reason they had not investigated was because “he had seen worse“.

“Behaviours” Part 2

The first instalment describing the behaviour of council officers was posted here. This is all material that I provided to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards during the failed complaint by the then 4 most senior council officers. My view was, and remains, that this was a deliberate attempt to shut me up. They hated (and still hate) this blog.

Part 2 of “Behaviours”, the word used pejoratively by Mr Cleland Sneddon about me went out to councillors and the press today, as follows. The preamble to this is the same one as in the first part at this link.

Example 2

I have already stated  that in August 2012, I gave a list of 38 questions to Mrs Loudon relating to what had been happening in Castle Toward, an education property in my ward. The (then) chief executive has consistently refused to reply to any of the questions in that list. The question is why.

Here is an extract from what I gave to Mrs Loudon, raising serious issues about the behaviour of one of the council’s legal staff, a member of staff described later by Mr Hendry as being a “good officer”.  The lack of any reply by Mrs Loudon is most telling. Had she thought for a second that I was out of order for what I had written, surely she would have had something to say about this? Instead, she appears to dodge the issue completely. AR is Actual Reality.

BLANK’s email of 8 August has provoked me to write this. In the last few days, I have rarely seen behaviour of the kind displayed by BLANK. His ability to leave key information out of what he says amounts to an attempt to mislead.

If he is being aided to do this by others then it makes them as culpable as he is. The question is who are these others? There seems to be spin everywhere in what he says and that combined with what to me appears to be an extreme negativity towards AR has produced a situation that is shameful, and I will not be part of that.

The following extract was also in the same list of questions from August 2012. Actual Reality were occupiers of Castle Toward at that point and the paper referred to relates to an attempt by AR to  buy another council property, Ardentinny. The draft paper referred to was written under the direction of, if not by, Mr Hendry. BLANK in the first example will almost certainly have been a co-author. As a new councillor, I was utterly astounded by what I saw as clear and deliberate attempts by officers to mislead elected members.

Why does the draft paper omit any mention of what the AR draft offer describes as “overage provision”, which would provide additional funds to the council in the event AR sold off the 2 houses on the Ardentinny site, the value of which is why AR disagrees with the DV’s valuation. This overage provision seems to me to be material to the AR offer so is this omission not misleading the council?

There will be more to follow on other “behaviours”, some of which are far worse than what’s been told to date.

End of today’s email.

The point of the above is that officers appear to routinely mislead councillors, as certainly happened in this case. Audit Scotland knows all about this but did nothing. It seems that anything goes in Argyll & Bute and that Audit Scotland is too weak and disinterested to act.

 

 

 

Education Inspection Report

Education Scotland today released one of the worst ever inspection reports on an education service. You can read it all at this link:

argyllbuteinea210317

If you want to see the summary assessment only, ie their assessment against the quality criteria, it’s as follows:

inspection summary

Earlier today, the acting executive director covering education issued a quite extraordinary rebuttal of the inspection report to councillors. This was issued before most of them would have read the report. (There will, of course, be many who might never get round to reading it, they are so lazy and disinterested.)  Her rebuttal can be downloaded here: rebuttal

I have raised a number of questions both with Education Scotland and with the acting executive director and I’ll let you see these once I have answers. Meanwhile, Michael Russell MSP has issued a press release on this and it’s reproduced below. More to follow.

Argyll & Bute Education Management savaged in report from Her Majesty’s Inspectors. 4 out of 5 key indicators classed as “weak” 

Commenting on today’s Education Scotland / HMI report on Argyll & Bute Council “s Management  of Education, local MSP Michael Russell said: “This is a deeply worrying and very depressing inspection report.

It is one of the worst ever published about the educational management of a local authority in Scotland.  The collapse in educational management that has been revealed today by Her Majesty’s Inspectors  has  major consequences for staff and pupils.   There are many great teachers in Argyll & Bute and great Head Teachers too but they have been badly let down by their senior management and the extent of that failure is now clear to see.

The hidden cost of these failures  lies in the strain on staff, increased sickness  and absence and great frustration at not having the support they need to do their jobs and serve the young people, and the future, of this wonderful area to their , and their pupils,  full potential.

The two questions that must therefore be addressed with urgency are , firstly, how the situation is to be remedied and secondly how it arose.

As far as the first is concerned it is clear that  Education Scotland must exercise the closest supervision of the Council Education Department from now on and ensure that an improvement plan is brought forward with urgency which  is detailed, well  resourced  and has the active support of the key stakeholders including the staff.  Piecemeal and thoughtless  cutting of education which has been a hallmark of the current Council administration and which is in part to blame needs to stop now.

Obviously leadership and effective management will be a key issue in making sure that any improvement plan works.    However the judgement of the Inspectors is that current leadership at the most senior level is “weak”.    It is therefore at the very least questionable that the current educational key leaders  in the Council’s Senior Management team including the Chief Executive (who was previously the Executive Director of Community Services overseeing Education ) are the right people to take forward the urgent and far reaching  improvements that are needed.

These problems have been made worse by the insistence by the previous Chief Executive and by the current Senior Management team on an excessive and rigidly enforced split between policy and operational management.  That split has diminished effective scrutiny from elected councillors which might have avoided , at least  in part, a situation where four out of the five key educational management indicators in the report are graded as “weak”.

However councillors cannot escape some share of responsibility and in particular those who were , supposedly, overseeing Education in the present Administration including the current Deputy Leader of the Council Ellen Morton,  and the  current Education spokesperson Cllr Rory Colville.  They should be considering their positions as they read this damning report as should the Council Leader, Dick Walsh.   These failures have happened on his  watch.

This report is a wake up call for not just for education but for the entire lack lustre administration of Argyll & Bute Council.   But it is also a clarion call for change  which can – and must –  come at the local elections on the 4th of May.  Today’s inspection report demonstrates that without that change our children, our area and our future will be at grave and growing risk.   “
 

Audit Scotland & Calum McMillan

A number of readers have asked why Audit Scotland has refused to investigate the scandalous waste of money in defending the Calum McMillan case. Remember that in previous posts I said that for an outlay of £50k in cash, this could have been settled in May 2014. Instead, the council has probably spent around £300k of your money on internal staff time and external legal costs. Here is what Audit Scotland said:

On 3 Mar 2017, at 16:12, David McConnell <DMcConnell@audit-scotland.gov.uk> wrote:

the key point at issue is whether  the council should have legally defended the action raised against it by Mr McMillan.  In this I would concur with the view expressed by the council’s Chief Internal Auditor – that the council, and its officers, have a right to defend any case raised against it.  In so doing they would draw upon relevant advice, which is what appears to me to have been done in this case.  Therefore I would not propose to investigate this matter further as part of the external audit process.

I was away for a week’s holiday when this reply came in but Mr McConnell had replied to myself and Michael Russell. Michael replied on 5 March, as follows:

Dear Mr McConnell 

Thank you for copying me into your response to Cllr Breslin and Mr Hendry

I disagree with your  conclusion (above).

I think there are at least five points that need to be considered ,as follows: 

Firstly there is substantial evidence that a negotiated settlement was possible in this case and that therefore the raising of the case was a failure of policy on behalf of the council which either did not try to secure that negotiated settlement or behaved in a way that made that impossible.   

Secondly it is  frequently alleged that there is a policy operated by Council officers to defend all cases no matter the merits and to do so up until the moment at which they are either lost or abandoned.  This policy is explicitly based on blunt use of the financial power of the authority in contrast to the lack of resource available to ordinary citizens who are driven to take actions by , they believe, the Council’s behaviour towards them.   This is contrary to natural justice and is not best practice.     A councillor has indicated that evidence of that policy can be had from a conversation he had with a senior council official about this case and Audit Scotland should investigate.

Thirdly the matter of Rothesay Harbour and the way the issue was handled was central to two sets of serious complaints against Cllr Breslin firstly by senior councillors and then by senior management of the Council.   The fact these these complaints all failed is germane and suggests that the Council  may have been  , at the highest  level ,  very keen to prevent discussion and speculation about the Rothesay harbour issue.  Defending  the case at considerable expense – £145,000 is already admitted to – may have been a manifestation of that same concern.   The public need to know precisely why the Council was so fixated on the matter. 

Fourthly the costs incurred were out of all proportion to the likely cost of a settlement and therefore the decision did not represent best practice or value for money.

Fifthly the “advice” referred to by yourself above has not been made available in full and therefore there has been no transparency about the matter. 

Finally given the many  shortcomings  in operation, accountability and governance  still being demonstrated by Argyll & Bute Council which continue to this day Audit Scotland should be approaching issues arising from complaint about the Council in a much more robust way than is obvious at present.    

I therefore concur with Cllr Breslin’s view that a full investigation is necessary and I am copying in Fraser McKinley so that he is aware of my view. 

When I came back I emailed them to say I agreed with Michael. There has been no reply yet from Audit Scotland: