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.
Update Friday afternoon: Andrea Hill to remain on leave until at least June while further investigations are carried out. Statement said that some matters had been resolved but others further inquiries. Following an FoI request the committee has also asked the investigation to look at some of Ms Hill’s expenses claims (BBC).
A statement about the future of Andrea Hill is expected later today after a meeting of the county council’s Dismissals Appeals Committee. Ms Hill, the council chief executive, has been on extended leave for a month while and inquiry into allegations about staff relations in the legal department.
A preliminary report from solicitors Wragge and Co who have been conducting an external investigation will be presented to the committee and council leader Mark Bee, who was chosen after the resignation of Jeremy Pembroke.
The subject of the inquiry has been a whistleblowing allegation made after two senior executives resigned and the death by suspected suicide of David White. Mr White had been given additional responsibility as interim monitoring officer (one of the key local government posts) after the sudden resignation of Eric Whitfield, the monitoring officer, and another official, Graham Dixon, the director of resource management at the end of March.
Police have been investigating Mr White’s death before the resumption of an inquest into his death.
According to the county council website the Dismissals Appeals Committee “meets as required to deal with appeals by Council employees under the Council’s disciplinary and grievance procedures”. The press and public will be excluded from today’s meeting as is normal when discussing such matters. However, there has been no suggestion that the meeting will involve an appeal: BBC Radio Suffolk is reporting that a report from the meeting will go to Mark Bee who has announced the end of the New Strategic Direction policy of which Ms Hill was the architect.
The committee has five members, four Conservative and one Liberal Democrat.
The relvant agenda item for the meeting is:
To Consider a Report by the Strategic HR Manager (Reward and Performance)
(The report relating to this Agenda item has been withheld from public circulation and deposit pursuant to Section 100(A) of the Local Government Act 1972 on the grounds that the meeting is likely not to be open to the public when this item is considered).
The ditching of Suffolk’s New Strategic Direction last week by the new county council leader, Mark Bee, raises the question of whether BT has gained too much influence in local government.
One BT director, Max Wide, has played a central role in developing the Suffolk plan and another controversial and derided scheme to change the face of a local authority, Barnet’s easyCouncil scheme.
In both cases Wide, Director of Strategic Development at BT Government, was seconded to the councils as Director of Organisational Change.
In the words of Suffolk’s chief executive Andrea Hill when he was appointed last year, his job was to “develop a hard-nosed programme to implement the New Strategic Direction”. According to some sources he played a important part in developing the policy.
Two years earlier he had joined Barnet where the then Chief Executive, Leo Boland, welcomed Wide, saying he would help the council respond to changes. The change policy there gained the easyCouncil name because it was said to be similar to the easyJet business model.
Wide’s role at both Suffolk and Barnet is said to have been “pivotal”. He has also helped up to 60 authorities “deliver change programmes”.
Earlier this year Wide was a member of the panel which chose the Local Government Chronicle’s (LGC) 50 most influential people in local government, including himself at number 28.
The citation said: “Max Wide is best known for his pivotal involvement in two of the country’s most high profile council transformation programmes: so-called easyBarnet and Suffolk’s divestment strategy.”
Andrea Hill was at number five and Nick Walkley, now Barnet’s chief executive, at 18.
Wide’s selection was welcomed by Chris Ainslie, vice president BT Local, Regional and Devolved Government, who wrote on the LGC blog that “Max has spent 20 years at London Boroughs and has worked with 60 authorities to deliver change programmes.”
The similarity of the Barnet and Suffolk schemes was alluded to by Mark Bee last week when he told the East Anglian Daily Times: “The days of the council being a ‘light’ council, being an ‘easy’ council approach which I think underpins the New Strategic Direction, are over.”
BT embarked on a systematic marketing programme in 2002 to win the hearts and minds of the top people not only in local government, but in central government, the police, the NHS, the military and other public sector bodies.
Vital Vision takes such people to events at top American universities. A BT public sector brochure describes the programme as bringing together “a unique mix of senior Government decision-makers, BT research partners and leading academic institutions, including Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford and MIT. The objective is to explore current business thinking and look at how it can best be applied to Government. This process is enhanced by the quality of the participants and the genuinely stimulating, interactive environment they create together.”
A rather different story emerges from a document put together to support the Vital Vision team’s application for a BT internal marketing award (it got a commendation).
This document has the title: “Vital Vision. Creative thinking in the marketing approach and customer proposition.”
It says: “The programme supports BT Government’s long-term activities in building ‘relationships that count’ within the inner circle of senior civil servants – a circle many competitors find difficult to penetrate. The programme provides a platform for BTG’s sales activities with the largest contract opportunities across the UK.”
One of those large contracts was the Suffolk Consumer Services Direct 10-year deal worth £300m (since risen to more than £400m) which was awarded to BT by the County Council in 2004.
The following year Mike More, then the Suffolk Chief Executive (now with Westminster council and joint 19th in the LGC list), took part in the Vital Vision programme when he was targeted for a “mobile office” contract worth £50,000 to BT.
The 44 people taking part that year represented “organisations with a total opportunity value of £1.7bn”.
Andrew Foster, Director of Human Resources at the Department of Health, was being offered a £3m contract by a part of BT that helps organisations “change the way they work through the effective exploitation of technology”.
Norfolk council’s chief executive was being targeted for a £50,000 “mobile workforce” product while the county’s chief constable, Andy Hayman, who moved to the Met police that year, was being pursued for an outsourcing contract.
Business opportunities for BT, taken from a customer relations management database, are listed against each of the the participants.
When the kind of people “who will shape the views of others” are invited on to the Vital Vision programme, they are inducted by a personal in-depth interview where BT “determine the key issues with which they are grappling….
“We also explore the individual’s personality profile, learning profile and emotional intelligence to help us to determine the best method of delivery.”
The programme provides “a platform for BTG’s sales activities with the largest contract opportunities across the UK”.
The Vital Visionaries are invited to two week-long visits to top US universities where they attend sessions on such topics as “Leadership in the public sector”, “Competing on the edge: strategy and cultural chaos”, and “Engaging the citizen”.
The first visit is to Boston for MIT and Harvard and starts with a cruise and dinner. The second is to San Francisco where the events are at Stanford and Berkley. Again the programme looks tough but there is light relief with a trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train.
After a year on the programme, BT organises reunions to maintain contact.
The BT marketing document says: “Given the Public Sector rules on acceptance of hospitality and the reputation and benefits of the programme, clients pay their own flights and accommodation costs.” Suffolk’s chief constable, Simon Ash, claimed £2,750 expenses for attending the sessions in 2008.
But Andrea Hill was able to say in the staff newsletter in April this year: “So what about the two trips to America with BT, have they compromised my judgement? In 2008 I did go to both Boston and San Francisco, as part of a training programme sponsored by BT. So did 30 other public sector Chief Executives. So too did my predecessor a few years before me ,and so too have 4 other council Chief Executives or Chief Constables from Suffolk. Not a penny of my trip was funded by taxpayers – not the course, or flights, or hotels, or mileage, or meals, or even a cup of coffee.” (Source 4)
She does not actually say who paid her travel expenses but the implication is that BT made an exception from its rule in her case.
Vital Vision has also, according to the marketing document, “spawned ‘Envision’, aimed at one specific client to help them to implement their far reaching change management initiatives”.
That was written in 2005. But the placing of BT executives in change management jobs has continued with the secondment of Max Wide to Barnet and Suffolk councils.
An inquest into the death of David White, a senior legal officer at Suffolk County Council who was found dead in Butley Woods last month, has been opened and adjourned “pending police and partnership agency inquiries”, Suffolk Police said today.
This morning the Daily Mail specifically linked Mr White’s death with Andrea Hill’s leave of absence from the council in a headline reading: “£218,000 town hall chief is told to stay at home in ‘staff suicide probe’.’
There is little new in the Daily Mail story which is generally what has already been said in many newspapers and local government publications except for the explicit link and reference to an inquest.
The Mail said Andrea Hill, chief executive of Suffolk County Council, was “told to stay at home on full pay while an inquiry looks into the death of David White, the acting head of the Tory-run authority’s legal department”.
An independent inquiry has been set up by the council (“partnership agency”) to investigate complaints about the treatment of staff in the legal department made in an anonymous letter after Mr White’s death. No detailed information about the inquiry, who is carrying it out, the terms of reference or how long it will take, has been issued by the council.
Mr White had been given additional responsibility as interim monitoring officer (one of the key local government posts) after the sudden resignation of Eric Whitfield and another official, Graham Dixon, the director of resource management at the end of March.
These resignations were quickly followed by that of Jeremy Pembroke, leader of the council.
A few days later, on April 4, the body of Mr White was found in Butley Woods, near Woodbridge (Evening Star). In an email to staff Ms Hill said the police had confirmed a sudden death without suspicious circumstances, believe to be suicide.
Ms Hill was was expected to return to work last week after a holiday but was asked to remain at home on extended leave.
Suffolk Police today confirmed to Wordblog that an inquest had been opened and adjourned to a date to be fixed, pending inquiries. The spokesman said they did not know when the inquest would be held but a press release would be issued when the date was fixed.
Police inquiries are normal in deaths where suicide is suspected. The inquest into Mr White’s death would be expected to examine whether personal or work issues contributed to his death.
A little more information about Andrea Hill’s extended leave from her work as Suffolk County Council’s chief executive seeped out this afternoon. A council spokesman said:
The Chief Executive has been asked by the council to take additional leave so that preliminary investigations can be made into anonymous whistleblowing complaints received by the council.
Andrea Hill has agreed to remain away from work so that the review can be carried out independently.
This statement is carried on the Evening Star website this afternoon but it appears to have been too late for the printed edition.
It relates to a letter sent to the council chairman and others after the resignations of two senior managers and the sudden death of a third, about morale and work pressure in the legal department (see earlier post).
An independent inquiry into the allegations was ordered last month and although there have been widespread suggestions of a connection between this matter and Ms Hill’s extra leave, this is the first time an explicit connection has been made publicly. Details of who is to conduct the inquiry and the terms of reference have not been revealed: more to seep out in the coming days.
The Local Government Chronicle today has a story headed Andrea Hill’s leave ‘linked to morale’. The first ten words are: “Suffolk CC chief on extended leave as sources cite staff issues…”
The linking of the “morale” issue and Andrea Hill’s leave of absence from her job as chief executive of Suffolk County Council is not at all surprising and has been widely hinted at.
I can’t tell you any more about the LGC story because it is a subscription journal. I guess that some readers of Wordblog have access and might like to share anything new with us.
A story published on the Daily Telegraph website this morning quotes a source as saying: “A number of issues concerning her personal style with staff were raised before she went away .”
It continues to say the source denied her leave bore any relation to the rethink on one of her most controversial policies in her absence.
That is in accord with what I have heard.
Friday 5pm. LGC now has an updated story that is not behind the pay wall.
(This post has been added to since first publication)
Andrea Hill, Suffolk County Council’s controversial chief executive, is on extended leave for “personal reasons”. This evening a council statement confirmed the leave had been agreed by Jane Storey, the acting leader of the council.
Radio Suffolk was reporting that Mary Orton, of the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives, said the extended leave was at the request of the council. Ms Hill was keen to return to work but had been under a lot of stress according to the union.
This evening the Guardian says:
The chief executive of Suffolk county council may be forced to resign her position after the council’s U-turn over outsourcing all of its services and becoming a “virtual council”.
Ms Hill began a planned holiday on April 18, the same day as the Conservative group chose Mark Bee as the leader-elect, following the resignation of Jeremy Pembroke. He immediately promised a review of policies and excluded the term New Strategic Direction which originated with Ms Hill.
Cllr Pembroke’s resignation followed immediately after those of two officials, Graham Dixon, director of resource management, and Eric Whitfield, the monitoring officer. The following week the interim head of legal services, David White, who had taken on extra responsibilities, was found dead in Butley Woods. An inquest is yet to be held.
After an anonymous letter was sent to several councillors, including the council Chairman Eddy Alcock, raising concerns about the welfare of staff in the legal department. Cllr Storey confirmed that an external enquiry would be held. No furher announcment has been made and it is unclear whether it is completed or underway, or who is carrying it out.
Yesterday the Guardian reported the “inquiry was begun into morale at the council’s legal department after an anonymous whistleblowing letter, sent to councillors, and believed to be from an employee, alleged staff there had been put under ‘unbearable pressure’. The letter refers to ‘the poisonous atmosphere that exists at present’ in the council.”
In mid April the Municipal Journal speculated that Ms Hill could come under pressure to leave the council although a council spokesman denied that she was under pressure to leave.
Ms Hill wrote a 1,850 word message in the council’s Inside SCC newsletter last month which was seen by many as suggeting that she was under stress.
The Evening Star reported on speculation earlier today.
An item on Wordblog written a month ago and headed Andrea Hill was warned about the sensitivity of her spending has been receiving an unusually high number of hits in the past 48 hours.
Post history: Edited shortly after writing to correct date of start of Ms Hill’s holiday.
Suffolk’s New Strategic Direction is grinding to a halt, according to Patrick Butler, the Guardian’s cuts blogger. After a revolt by Tory county councillors the policy is in “tatters” but he says the jury is still out on whether changes amount to a U-turn or a “pause” in the NHS reforms sense.
Butler has one fact I had entirely missed — the choice of Andrea Hill as the the fifth most influential person in local government by the Local Government Chronicle last month. This is the citation:
Suffolk CC’s chief is driving one of local government’s most radical experiments on the Big Society concept with its vision of becoming a ‘commissioning council’. Suffolk has resolved to “withdraw as much as possible from its role as a service provider”.
Opponents have tried to label this as merely conventional outsourcing, but at the heart of Ms Hill’s vision is a council that signs service delivery contracts with mutuals led by its current staff and with voluntary sectors bodies.
Only a few of Suffolk CC’s services are expected to go to the private sector.
Such an upheaval has inevitably created enemies, and Ms Hill has shown fortitude and spirit in taking them on and putting across her case, not least in the face of a hostile media campaign that focused on her pay and even the price of her clothes.
Ms Hill is one of local government’s characters. She is an outspoken figure who attracts a lot of attention – both favourable and not.
This was controversial last year, but now, interestingly, other councils are beginning to consider the idea and run with it – albeit without Ms Hill’s high-profile panache.
As the year progresses, and Suffolk’s plans are realised, all eyes will be on Ms Hill as the sector seeks to learn from her valuable experience.
How things change in a month. I can’t imagine that final paragraph being written with such confidence now.
The six judges included Max Wilde, director of strategic development at BT Government. One of the factors in the current state of Suffolk CC is controversy over management of the huge Customer Services Direct joint-venture contract with BT.
The MJ (Municipal Journal), a leading local government magazine reports that “senior local government sources” have suggested that Suffolk County Council chief executive Andrea Hill could come under pressure to leave after the new political leader is installed.
The MJ examines the situation following the recent resignations of Jeremy Pembroke, leader of the council, Graham Dixon, the director of resources, and Eric Whitfield, the monitoring officer.
A spokesman for the council denied to the magazine that moves were afoot to replace the chief executive.
Ms Hill herself told the journal:
It’s not my intention to leave Suffolk CC. I’m working hard to deliver the best public services to the people of Suffolk. In due course, a new leader will be elected and I look forward to working with them to achieve that objective.
Mary Orton, leader of the senior council officials union, the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives, said they would support Ms Hill if she came under pressure to move on.
The East Anglian Daily Times carried a report based on the MU story.
Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, has told the Commons that Andrea Hill, chief executive of Suffolk Count Council, was detracting from Suffolk’s reputation by refusing to take a pay cut.
He was answering a question from David Ruffley, the Conservative member for Bury St Edmunds, about representations he had recieved on local government pay. In reply to a suplementary question, Mr Pickles said:
Chief executives’ pay has got completely out of kilter. There are now 800 local government employees in the top 1% of all earners according to Will Hutton’s figures. With regard to the chief executive of Suffolk, that county does many fine things and is an exemplar authority in many ways, but the chief executive’s refusal to take a pay cut has meant that she has detracted from Suffolk’s many fine achievements.
The full Commons exchange is on Mr Ruffley’s website. It is interesting that Mr Pickles chose to quote from Will Hutton’s report which Ms Hill also used in her message of justification in the latest edition of Inside SCC.