Fringe Box



Letter: Taxpayers Money Could Have Been Saved If HRA Investigation Had Been Conducted Differently

Published on: 19 Mar, 2024
Updated on: 19 Mar, 2024

From: One of the former interim council officers whose contract was terminated in September 2023. Name provided and confirmed.

See other Housing Revenue Account (HRA) investigation articles here.

Six months have passed since the five freelance officers had their contracts terminated and two permanent officers were suspended.

During this period, not one of the dismissed officers has been contacted for questioning. It is important to note that GBC started their investigations in July 2023, meaning they have been looking into this matter for nine months.

Guildford Borough Council has continuously stated that this investigation is complex, however these allegations could have been answered swiftly had GBC engaged in open communication. This would have saved the huge costs associated with this investigation, which are being funded by the taxpayer.

Earlier this month, on March 6, one of the suspended officers was given two months notice, with this decision being made by a member of the executive team. Dismissed and suspended officers are questioning the fairness of this process and the decisions being made by GBC, and believe that any key decisions should be made by impartial, unbiased individuals.

Seemingly ignored was the clear and reasonable evidence presented by the suspended officer to GBC in relation to the allegations. As a result, a case of constructive dismissal is now being prepared.

It is important to note that the allegation of fraud was not one of the reasons this suspended officer was dismissed. No criminal charges of fraud have been brought forward to these two officers, nor have any of them been contacted by the police.

It was only a few weeks ago that GBC announced that Annie Righton – strategic director of Community & Wellbeing (as well as interim CEO) and Ian Doyle – strategic director of Transformation & Governance, “both agreed to step back on a temporary basis from their respective roles to protect the integrity of the investigation”.

Whether Annie Righton and Ian Doyle will also be dismissed, given that they “were senior officers responsible for the relevant service area at the time the contracts were let” remains to be seen.

Five months of the investigation passed before they agreed to “step back”, which creates doubts regarding the integrity of this investigation thus far. It was Annie Righton who dismissed and suspended staff on September 12, 2023 and she was named as the “hearing manager” for the investigation. How was this allowed to have happened, given that she was the director overseeing Housing Services?

Since September 12, in addition to the two strategic directors who have “stepped back”, several key members of staff and the officer executive team are no longer in place, including the previous CEO, the former executive head of Environmental Services and the former executive head of Housing. These were joint appointments so it begs the question, who is now running Guildford and Waverley Councils and making key decisions?

It should also be noted that Annie Righton attempted to prevent suspended and dismissed staff from contacting councillors, as can be seen in a copy of the letter sent to me. Similar letters were sent to the other dismissed and suspended staff. Surely we have a right to speak to our councillors?

GBC’s statement of the obvious: “It is likely that there have been some non-compliance issues within the council’s housing service, which have led to a lack of governance around contract management, people management and financial controls”, shows that the problem was never limited to those at lower levels.  I believe they are the ones least responsible for the situation.

Continuing Health & Safety risks

It is the belief of dismissed and suspended officers that the safety of residents continues to be a high risk, despite claims being made by GBC that compliance works are continuing. It seems that the majority of works have been halted and at no point have any of the dismissed or suspended officers been asked to give a handover to assist in the smooth continuation of essential works (despite offers to do so).

It was only recently stated that GBC stated that Wodehouse Place had been “certified” as safe. I cannot see how this could be correct, given the Fire Risk Assessment actions, which were due to be completed by January 2024, had not been carried out.

Compliance with asbestos, fire, lifts, and electrical regulations is obviously very important and are Health and Safety issues. Non-compliance can be high-risk and should have been self-reported to the HSE and Housing Ombudsman. These serious concerns have been repeatedly highlighted to GBC by the dismissed and suspended officers but appear to have been ignored.

See also: Long Awaited Repairs to GBC Housing Not Expected for Another Six to Nine Months

Editor’s comment: GBC would not confirm that one of the suspended officers has been given notice but we have been told that is correct by more than one source. A GBC spokesperson would only say: “We are not able to comment on ongoing individual employment issues. We remain committed to transparency and will release further information when it is appropriate and permissible to do so.”

It has also been reported that a spokesperson for GBC said: “Wodehouse Place has been subject to a full electrical test by a qualified electrician. The inspection of communal spaces shows these have been certified as safe.”

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