Judges have condemned a Scarborough Council investigation into allegations of corruption and abuses of position within the authority as a “whitewash.”
The damning verdict came as a former council employee won an unfair dismissal claim against Town Hall bosses who failed him when he blew the whistle on his managers.
Leader Cllr Derek Bastiman now faces calls for an independent inquiry into the allegations after he suggested to a councillor that the council can investigate the issues itself.
Employee Ben Marriott, 65, told his bosses in 2014 that council employees were allegedly having work done on their houses by approved council contractors at favourable rates in exchange for tax-payer funded contracts down the road.
At an employment tribunal in Hull three judges led by Humphrey Forrest ruled the council had failed its employee, effectively leaving him with no choice but to resign from his job at Dean Road Depot, and savaged the authority’s handling of the investigation into his complaints.
The damning judgement states:
• Council chief executive Jim Dillon “ignored” emails from Mr Marriott giving examples of alleged corruption
• Councillors were “seriously mislead” when asked to dismiss an appeal from Mr Marriott due to “lack of evidence”
• The council’s report was a “whitewash”
• Investigators feared asking tough questions in case they “upset” colleagues.
Now the pressure is on the council to carry out a full independent investigation into Mr Marriott’s allegations.
Mr Marriott raised concerns to his manager in October 2014 after he says he became aware of bosses having work carried out at their homes for free or at a reduced price in exchange for securing council contacts down the line.
An investigation was launched by the council’s head of HR, Elaine Blades, and head of Audit and Internal Fraud, Allison Johnson.
This report found there was no evidence to support Mr Marriott’s claims, but did say some procedures needed to be tightened up. In their judgement Judge Forrest, alongside judges
Williamson and Richards, called this report a “whitewash”.
The judges wrote that Mr Marriott had named an individual who had had his garage rebuilt and rewired by one of the council’s contractors. He was questioned by Ms Blades but not about his garage.
Under council rules employees have to declare if work on their property is carried out by one of the authority’s contractors.
The judgement goes on to say: “Several employees questioned accepted that they’d had work done by council contractors.
“The allegation was that it had been done as a favour, at a reduced price. None of them were questioned about the price they had paid for the work done; about whether a market price had been paid, for example.
None were questioned about how often they had used contractors, or the overall value of the work they had done, or over the time period. Miss Blades explained she believed she was not allowed to ask such questions.”
It added: “One of the employees questioned stated that one of the managers had a fuse box fitted for free. The manager was not asked about that.”
It goes on: “We find the report can best be described as a whitewash.
“We do not say that the cover up was applied deliberately, or as part of some wider cover up, but it is indicative of investigators who do not like to enquire too far for fear of disrupting working relationships and teamwork, for fear of upsetting colleagues.”
The judges’ added that due to the failings of the report it is impossible for the council to say either way if there was any corruption.
When his grievance was dismissed, Mr Marriott appealed to councillors and another report was prepared which urged them to dismiss his complaint.
The judges found this report was “seriously misleading” and did not give councillors “the correct picture”.
The judges also heard a manager who admitted he had despatched a driver and van from their normal council work to send them on 60-mile round trip at council expense to collect a rabbit hutch that he had bought on eBay had not been sanctioned.
The judges also saved some of their ire for the council’s top man, chief executive Jim Dillon. Mr Dillon was emailed by Mr Marriott about his concerns in June 2015 and listing some of the allegations.
In the words of the judges “his letter was simply ignored.”
Mr Dillon told The Scarborough News: “The council has asked the tribunal to reconsider some elements of how the judgment was reached. Our request has been accepted and we await the outcome, which we expect to receive at the review hearing in December. As the case is ongoing, we are unable to comment further at this time.”