Hotel stays now part of Andrea Hill investigation

It is not surprising that Suffolk County Council is being very careful with the Andrea Hill inquiry following the Shoesmith judgment by the Appeal Court last month.

The judges ruled that the sacking of Sharon Shoesmith from her job as Haringey’s children’s services director, after the death of Baby Peter was  “procedurally unfair” (BBC).

After the meeting of the council’s disciplinary committee yesterday, it was announced that Andrea Hill, the chief executive would remain on  mutually agreed leave at least until June 24.

The committee received a report from solicitors Wragge and Co who were asked to investigate allegations, made by an anonymous whistleblower, about the treatment of staff in the legal department.

After the meeting a statement was issued saying that some matters had been resolved but others required further investigation. It also said that “as a result of FOI requests into expense claims by Andrea Hill the committee has asked the investigation team to review those claims”.

The East Anglian Daily Times says today this relates an FoI request it made which revealed the council had paid for Ms Hill to stay at Milsom’s Kesgrave Hall on two nights before early meetings and a night at the Brudenell in Aldeburgh.

When details were revealed of these stays and another at a hotel in Sandbanks at £205 a night during a conference in Bournemouth, while senior councillors stayed in a much cheaper hotel, they appeared to show ill-judgment. But they did not look like serious disciplinary matters.

The Daily Mail also says the hotel stays are the focus of the expenses investigation.

The Daily Telegraph is alone in saying Ms Hill was, “cleared of accusations about her management style, amid claims of bullying and intimidation”.

Intriguingly, LocalGov.co.uk, the online site of the Municipal Journal, referring to the whistleblowing says:

The letter, seen by The MJ, makes a number of serious allegations against more than one senior member of staff at Suffolk.

Whatever path the council is following, there appears to be wide political backing for it. The EADT quotes opposition leader Kathy Pollard, saying:

Obviously the public want a resolution to this but the council is going to have to go through all the procedures and make sure it dots all the Is and crosses all the Ts. People are going to have to be patient.

But the council has to do this properly otherwise it will cost them an awful lot more money.

I don’t think it [extending the scope of the investigation] has muddied the waters, it’s another line of inquiry that the council is pursuing. It’s right to do that.

Blogger James Hargrave wonders if it now the time to reach a deal by which Ms Hill would leave the council. He writes that while it would cost money it would seem an appropriate way for her to go.

But, as Kathy Pollard’s comment says, as well as ensuring the procedure is absolutely correct, they are anxious to avoid a large pay out.

Any settlement would be expensive and politically extremely unpopular. I can see the headlines pointing out how many school crossing patrols and libraries it would have paid for.

I suspect the council is hoping that Ms Hill will review the whistleblower’s allegations and the matters surrounding her expenses and decide to write a resignation letter before it all becomes much more public.

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