An independent review into governance issues related to the 2017 waste management dispute has been published today (20 December 2018).
Following the conclusion of the waste management dispute in 2017, Birmingham City Council instigated an independent review into whether appropriate and lawful processes were followed in reaching and approving an agreement to end the industrial action, purportedly made on 15 August 2017.
As part of the review, the council sought advice on what key learning could be identified and how it could manage or mitigate against any similar circumstances arising in the future.
The review did not seek to consider operational issues that led to the dispute.
As part of the review it was asked to consider a series of specific issues and amongst the conclusions reached were;
1. Councillor John Clancy (Leader of Birmingham City Council at the time) did not have the authority or power to enter into an agreement as set out in the ACAS statement made on 15 August 2017.
2. At the “informal” meeting of Cabinet on 18 August 2017, the purported ratification of the agreement had no effect as it had no power to make such a decision.
3. The council needs to consider how it commissioned the obtaining of the second legal opinion.
4. The council failed to accept the “norms of decision making” and that day to day governance of how a council ought to be run was, in 2017, missing/distorted.
5. The council needs to consider whether there are grounds for bringing action against a member for both misconduct and misfeasance in public office.
6. Member/officer protocols ought to be reviewed.
7. There may be potential breaches of the Councillor’s Code of Conduct which the council needs to consider.
8. Following the Kerslake report in 2014, issues still remained in 2017 around governance.
Since April 2018, the Council has made a series of improvements to its Corporate Governance plan to address these issues which is monitored monthly by the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
The council has considered the findings of the review and obtained advice from an independent QC on any potential civil or criminal proceedings. They have advised there is no merit in either being pursued.
However, the matter has been referred to the independent chair of the council’s Standards Committee for them to consider and decide if any further action is necessary.
As part of the council’s ongoing commitment to openness and transparency, updates will be provided in due course when available.
Responding to the report, its findings and the next steps, Robert Connelly, Deputy Monitoring Officer for Birmingham City Council, said: “We are absolutely committed to learning from what happened during the summer of 2017 and we have already put a range of measures in place to make our governance and decision making more robust.
“We have already reviewed and revised our elected member induction programme – with the new one rolled out for councillors elected in May 2018. In addition, our member development programme is being improved as part of a four-year plan, and the findings of this independent review will be built into that process.
“We are also committed that Officers themselves learn these lessons and we are looking at how these findings can be built into their development.
“Going forward the council is in a much better place, as both elected members and officers seek to provide the best possible services for citizens – which must always continue to be our overriding collective aim.”
The full review can be downloaded via this link: Waste Service Governance Review
The nine specific issues that were considered in the review were as follows:
1. Did Cllr Clancy have the authority by himself to make the agreement of 15th August with UNITE that was contained in the ACAS press release?
2. Did Cllr Clancy have the prior authority of Cabinet to make that agreement?
3. Did Cabinet have the authority subsequently to ratify that agreement?
4. Were proper governance processes followed in the making of that agreement and in its subsequent ratification?
5. Was there any aspect of the making of the agreement or its ratification that in our view was contrary to good practice?
6. If we were of the view that there was a want of authority or a failure to follow proper governance processes or acts contrary to good practice, what would we advise that the council do to prevent any similar circumstances arising in the future?
7. Were there any other recommendations that we wished to make to the council in respect of further investigations which may be required?
8. Were there any key issues arising from the member/officer protocol in relation to the period of our enquiry and were there any recommendations we would make in relation to member/officer relations?
9. Did we believe that there might be any breaches of the Councillor Code of Conduct including a breach of the Nolan Principles?
27 June 2017 – Cabinet makes a decision (amongst other things) to re-organise the council’s waste management service would include the deletion of 113 Grade 3 “leading hand posts”.
15 August 2017 – statement from ACAS confirming that agreement reached which included the retention of the Grade 3 posts and subsequent suspension of industrial action.
18 August 2017 – an “informal” meeting of Cabinet ratified the agreement announced on 15 August.
24 August 2017 – Cabinet meeting to receive an update on the re-organisation of the Waste Management Service from the Interim Chief Executive and Director of Place.