< The Grievance Report

3 Recommendations

When considering what recommendations should be made to address the issues raised under this Grievance the Panel were mindful of the fact that Mrs Cooper had made it clear that:

  1. She was not interested in re-instatement in her role as Bookkeeper to the Parish Council.
  2. That as far as an apology was concerned ‘… that ship had already sailed’.

Even if these options were considered by the Panel as worthy of consideration there was no point in discussing them as they had already been discounted by Mrs Cooper. Despite this, the fact that Mrs Cooper had felt compelled to resign her posts at both the Parish Council and with the Hub at considerable financial cost to herself is an indication of the cumulative impact that these events had had on her life. It was noted that Mrs Cooper had no expectation of personal gain from this very stressful experience and that her chief motivation was to achieve the following objectives:

  1. That her complaints should be validated and acknowledged.
  2. That by taking this action that she could help prevent any other employee having to undergo a similar experience.
  3. That by raising the awareness of Councillors and others to this problem any such behaviour in future would be recognised more quickly and dealt with in an appropriate manner.
  4. That by challenging Mr Tulloch she might cause him to reflect on how his conduct had impacted on the people around him.

Given their limited powers the Panel felt that the best way to proceed was to make a series of recommendations to the Parish Council in the hope that this would help them to discharge their legal ‘Duty of Care’ under the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. This requires the employer to ensure that there is a safe working environment which includes protection against harassment and unreasonable working conditions.

The Panel were also appalled at evidence received on some aspects of how the Parish Council was run. They have therefore also included some recommendations to the Parish Council in the hope that the Council can in future work effectively together for the benefit of the Village of Melbourn.

Recommendations

  1. Councillors should be aware that the Clerk is not a secretary to the Council but is the Chief Executive Officer. They are not empowered to ask the Clerk directly to undertake any duties on their behalf. All such requests should be made via a ‘Line Manager’ who can then have some oversight with regard to the Clerk’s work load by helping her to prioritise what needs to be done. The Panel notes that it remains the Clerk’s responsibility to run the Parish affairs, the role of the ‘Line Manager’ will be advisory only.
  2. The Council should immediately appoint such a ‘Line Manger’ for the Parish Clerk. This person should not be the Chairman irrespective of who is elected to that office. This means that in the event of any complaint the Clerk has the ability to refer the matter either to the Chairman or to her ‘Line Manager’ which will better enable the Council to deal with most concerns ‘in house’.
  3. The Panel were told by many of the witnesses both verbally and in writing that there are factional groups within the Council, which causes tensions. The Panel do not feel competent to advise on how this can be addressed because it was not their remit to investigate this issue. It is hoped however that following the May elections the Council will reflect on how they can best address such matters through careful consideration of who they elect to senior positions and whether they need to review the working of the Council to ensure that decisions are taken openly and democratically.
  4. In the light of the above the Panel suggest that, before appointing a ’Line Manager’ for the Clerk, her views should be taken into consideration. This could be done by the Chair of the HR committee.
  5. The exception to Recommendation 1 above is the meeting between the Clerk and the Chairman of the Council regarding discussions over the content of items for the agenda of Council meetings. It should be noted that the agenda is the statutory responsibility of the Clerk and no one on the Council has the right to veto items or insist on the inclusion of any particular topic. Should it be felt that the Clerk has acted unreasonably in the exercise of this duty then three Councillors can convene an extra-ordinary meeting to address any perceived irregularity.
  6. The positions of Chairman of the Parish Council and the Chairman of the Finance and General Purposes Committee should not be held by the same person as this invests too much authority into the hands of one individual. Unless this policy is implemented any issues relating to accountability will be more difficult to address.
  7. At the time of writing this report the Panel were advised that although there had been a meeting to discuss the Clerk’s contract this had still not been finalised. I t is a statutory duty for an employee to be given a contract of employment within three months of the commencement of employment. The Council is already in breach of this legal requirement and this should be rectified as a matter of urgency.
  8. At the time of writing the Clerk has no job description. Without this crucial document neither the Council nor the employee has a clear understanding of what role the Clerk should be expected to fulfil. N ALC has both a model Contract and Job Description which could be easily adapted to meet the Council’s requirements and REDACTED of CAPALC would be willing to advise on these issues.
  9. Melbourn Parish Council has one of the largest parish precepts in Cambridgeshire. This reflects the number of a ctivities for which it is responsible. Despite this it has only had a part-time Clerk since January 1st 2016. This person is required to undertake the duties of Parish Clerk, Assistant Clerk, Responsible Financial Officer and Proper Officer. In addition she has been tasked with learning how to operate the payroll system and to transfer last year’s accounts onto the Edge system while converting them from ‘payments and receipts’ to ‘accruals’. These expectations are clearly unrealistic and need to be addressed urgently. The Panel recognises that the Clerk at the time of her appointment requested that the Council should not take on a new Assistant Clerk while she was learning her new role as she did not want the added burden of training the new incumbent along with her other duties. While this sentiment is understandable this has exacerbated the difficulty she has faced. The Panel recommend that the Parish Council take immediately steps to appoint an experienced assistant clerk on a short term basis to alleviate the Clerk’s work load until the appointment of a permanent replacement. This person can then be delegated to undertake specified d uties t o e nable t he C lerk to concentrate on her main role. The Panel also recommend that the Clerk be able to buy in all the financial help she needs to c omplete the requirements f or the Year End; and subsequently until she has received the requisite training.
  10. After undertaking further investigations to establish the validity or otherwise of the complaints the Panel were disturbed to receive yet more evidence of Cllr Tulloch’s mistreatment of staff as well as corroboration of the original complaints. In the circumstances the Panel recommends that the Council instruct Cllr Tulloch to have no further interaction with any of the Council’s employees. This is to protect him from further allegations as well as ensuring the safety and welfare of the staff. Should he fail to comply with this decision then the Council should pass a vote of censure on Cllr Tulloch.
  11. Given the close relationship between the Council and the Hub, the Panel recommend that the Council should share these concerns with the Chairman of the Hub to enable him to take action to safeguard employees located at the Hub. In particular Staff should be encouraged to report harassment immediately irrespective of the person involved.
  12. Both the Hub and the Council should arrange for employees to be given training to identify unacceptable behaviour and to give them confidence to report any matters of concern.
  13. The Panel recommend that whoever is appointed Chairman at the Council’s Annual Meeting should, as soon as possible after appointment, attend a CAPALC training session for Chairmen.
  14. The Panel recommend that all those appointed to chair a committee of the Council should, as soon as possible after appointment, attend a CAPALC training session (either a general session or one specifically for Chairmen).
  15. The Panel were disappointed to learn that Cllr Crosby has also been mentioned in the context of inappropriate behaviour towards staff which is a concern that Council members should be made aware of.
  16. It appears that the Clerk finds it difficult to close the office in order to concentrate on matters that require her undivided concentration. It is therefore recommended that the Council allocate a set period of time each week at a specified time when the office will be closed and the telephone switched off to give the Clerk quality time to undertake urgent tasks.
  17. At present the Clerk finds it difficult to work from home because access to the Council’s WiFi is so slow owing to the heavy usage at the Hub. The Panel recommend that the Council explore the possibility of getting another connection exclusively for the Parish Clerk to obviate this problem.
  18. < The Grievance Report