The Welsh Government has launched a review of the arrangements for dealing with alleged misconduct of senior officers within local government in Wales.
In a written statement Julie James, Minister for Housing and Local Government, said it was important the arrangements were reviewed periodically to ensure they remain fit for purpose.
The current arrangements are set out in the Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (Wales) Regulations 2006 as amended. Local authorities in Wales can include further provision for misconduct investigations in their standing orders.
Ms James said: “Events in Caerphilly County Borough Council, during the past six years have led to fresh calls for a review of these arrangements, with local citizens and both local and national media raising a number of concerns about the impact of the protracted process.
“Both I and the First Minister committed to undertake a review of the Wales wide arrangements - for dealing with alleged misconduct of senior officers - once the Designated Independent Person concluded her work at Caerphilly and the Council had considered her report. This process has now been concluded and it is now timely for this review to be undertaken.”
Commenting on the proposed review, Ms James said: “It will be important to consider the arrangements in place across the UK and to consider the impact of any changes made. For example in 2015 the arrangements for dealing with alleged misconduct of senior officers in local government in England changed. The mandatory requirement for a Designated Independent Person (DIP) to be appointed was removed and decisions about alleged misconduct are now taken by full council, who must consider any advice, views or recommendations from an independent panel, the conclusions of any investigation into the proposed dismissal, and any representations from the officer concerned.”
She said she had asked 11KBW’s Peter Oldham QC, supported by junior counsel, to undertake a rapid review of these arrangements which will include:
- a comparison of the arrangements in Wales with those in other parts of the UK and consideration of whether changes should be recommended for Wales;
- the extent to which the current arrangements achieve the right balance between protecting officers from summary dismissal - for being the bearers of unwelcome political news - and the speed with which processes are conducted and concluded;
- to identify improvements/alternatives - if any - to the current system which maintains the dual purpose of the current arrangements.
Ms James said she expected the review to be concluded early next year and that any recommendation for change would be accompanied by a robust justification.
“While it is appropriate for the review to draw from situations dealt with through the current arrangements, I want to be clear it will focus on the wider arrangements and how they operate. It will not be a re-investigation of any specific case in Wales or elsewhere in the UK,” she insisted.
Last week Caerphilly Council’s chief executive Anthony O’Sullivan was sacked after six years’ suspension on full pay. He has since threatened to take the authority to an employment tribunal.
The background to his suspension was two decisions of the council in September 2012 in relation to pay structures for 20 senior managers and the buy-out of annual leave and essential user car allowances
It was claimed that at a meeting in September 2012, O'Sullivan, his deputy Nigel Barnett and head of legal services Daniel Perkins authorised a 20% pay rise for senior officers, while most other staff had a pay freeze.
Criminal charges against the trio were dropped in 2015. In late 2017 Barnett and Perkins agreed payouts worth £300,000 between them.