Walsall Council – ‘a range of failings’ led to compensation payout
The District Auditor for Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council has today issued a public interest report on the circumstances which led to the Council making a compensation payment of over £600,000 to a former employee, Mr Peter Francis.
Mr Francis made claims at an Employment Tribunal that he had been unfairly dismissed, suffered disability discrimination and had also suffered as a result of having ‘whistle-blown’ about failings in the way Neighbourhood Renewal Funding was used by the Council. The Council reached an out-of-court settlement with Mr Francis in May 2006.
The District Auditor, John Gregory, concluded that a range of failings had contributed to the two key aspects of the case, which were that:
- The Council failed to consider whether or not the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act applied to Mr Francis, and in turn did not therefore consider making the ‘reasonable adjustments’ to his employment that the Act requires
- The Council did not respond to the formal grievances made by Mr Francis about the way he was being treated, even though there is a statutory requirement to do so.
He also highlights a number of other deficiencies, including:
- Staffing difficulties within the Council’s legal team which meant that the Council was less able to reduce the impact of the mistakes that had been made
- The way in which an investigation of Mr Francis’s conduct was set up and reported
- How a temporary transfer of Mr Francis to another Council department was handled.
Mr Gregory said:
“The Council’s usual arrangements for managing its staff and complying with legal requirements clearly did not work in this case. This was in the main not because these arrangements were poor, but because they were not followed.”
In the report, the District Auditor draws attention to the fact that the events of this case took place at a time when the Council was going through a period of rapid improvement after being put under Government supervision. His findings on this case, whilst very serious for all concerned, do not indicate widespread failings in the Council’s governance, which was improving throughout this period.
Notes to editors
- The Audit Commission is an independent body responsible for ensuring that public money is spent economically, efficiently and effectively, to achieve high-quality local services for the public. Our remit covers around 11,000 bodies in England, which between them spend more than £180 billion of public money each year. Our work covers local government, health, housing, community safety and fire and rescue services.
- As an independent watchdog, we provide important information on the quality of public services. As a driving force for improvement in those services, we provide practical recommendations and spread best practice. As an independent auditor, we ensure that public services are good value for money and that public money is properly spent.
- External audit is an essential element in the process of accountability for public money and makes an important contribution to the stewardship of public resources and the corporate governance of public services.
- Audit in the public sector is underpinned by three fundamental principles: Auditors are appointed independently from the bodies being audited; The scope of auditors’ work is extended to cover not only the audit of financial statements but also value for money and the conduct of public business; and Auditors may report aspects of their work widely to the public and other key stakeholders.
- The duties and powers of auditors appointed by the Audit Commission are set out in the Audit Commission Act 1998 and the Commission’s statutory Code of Audit Practice. Under the Code of Audit Practice, appointed auditors are also required to comply with the current professional standards issued by the independent Auditing Practices Board.
- Under Section 8 of the Audit Commission Act 1998, the appointed auditor is required to consider whether to issue a report in the public interest, on any significant matter coming to his or her notice in the course of an audit, to bring it to the notice of the audited body and the public.
- Appointed auditors act quite separately from the Commission and in meeting their statutory responsibilities are required to exercise their professional judgement independently of both the Commission and the audited body.
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