Council secret report latest – No action taken over complaints against senior officers

An aerial view of City of York Council's West Offices HQ. 3D image © Google Street View

City leaders have considered a secret investigation into complaints against top council officers – and have decided to take no action against them.

No reason has been given for the decision, taken behind closed doors.

City of York Council leader David Carr, interim deputy leader Andrew Waller and Labour Group leader Janet Looker discussed the report earlier this month.

Prepared by a solicitor, the report investigated the conduct of officers and members at a stormy audit and governance meeting on February 22.

It was commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA) on behalf of the council.

Negative influence

Councillors David Carr, Andrew Waller and Janet Looker

The decision to take no action against the officers was revealed in the minutes going before the next staffing matters & urgency committee.

They date from a meeting between Cllrs Carr, Waller and Looker on December 11.

The minutes report:

Members were advised that, under normal circumstances, such complaints would be dealt with by relevant line managers.

That not being possible in the circumstances outlined to members, the committee were, in effect, responsible for determining the next steps in relation to the cases outlined.

The three committee members “discussed those options and the issues in some detail, including prevailing organisational and cultural matters which they felt had a bearing and negative influence”.

And they resolved that:

  1. no further action be taken and the relevant parties (officers affected and complainants) be informed accordingly
  2. wider cross party discussions be organised with Group Leaders, initially to develop agreed joint approach to improving organisational culture
  3. an appropriate report be produced for circulation to audit & governance committee members in the first instance identifying the issues raised in the report.

Unanswered questions

At the heart of this issue is an earlier report that was very critical of York council officers.

This report revealed serious failings in the council’s procurement processes, which saw a consultant paid nearly £175,000 with virtually no paperwork or monitoring.

At the February A&G committee members voted to make this report public, against the recommendation of council officers.

Officers at the meeting then challenged councillors to explain the way they voted, a move which was “unprecedented” according to one senior member.

Council chief executive Mary Weastell commissioned the report into the conduct of both officers and councillors at that meeting.

Cllr Carr told members at a full council meeting in July that he would publish the report in full. He never has.

Some of the things we still don’t know include:

  • the precise terms of reference of the report
  • the nature of the complaints
  • the grounds for taking no action against officers
  • whether any action will be taken against any councillors
  • whether the audit & governance committee will get to see the report.

The decision to clear the council officers follows on from the fact that no council employee has faced disciplinary action for the serious procurement failings identified in the earlier report.

As we have reported in the past, there is a growing sense that City of York Council is being undermined by a culture of secrecy.

This latest development will do nothing to alter that perception.