“Bust up at Top”: the context speaks volumes.

From a correspondent:

The combined roles of Chief Executive Officer, Head of paid services (Human Resources in corporate speak)with that of electoral “Returning Officer”, places a lot of power in one pair of hands. 

Let us review some recent history of leadership in EDDC.

The EDDC Chief Executive has been hauled in front of a Commons Committee in 2014; corporate management severely admonished by an Information Tribunal Judge in 2015; and auditors, in 2016, found weaknesses in accounting for S106 payments. All this raises questions about the oversight and accountability of senior management at EDDC. 

In 2014 Mark Williams was called to the Commons Committee to explain how 6,000 (typo corrected Owl) voters came to be missing from the electoral roll. 

Judge Kennedy, in his Decision Notice of May 2015  on the Information Tribunal concerning EDDC’s refusal to release five documents related to the Knowle move, concluded that EDDC had: “displayed discourtesy and unhelpfulness” throughout. 

Specific criticism included: “Correspondence on behalf of the Council, rather than ensuring the Tribunal was assisted in its function, was at times discourteous and unhelpful including the statement that we had the most legible copies possible. A statement, which was clearly inaccurate…” 

(During the Tribunal hearing the then deputy Chief Executive, Richard Cohen, also made the extraordinary admission that he had not given an original version of a document to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee but an “amended” one.)

A freedom of information (FOI) request in 2016 concerning S106 arrangements and payments between 2014 and 2016 (as Cranbrook development was underway), revealed EDDC held no information on whether there had been any breach of obligation on the part of developers or how much money was owed, possibly going back much earlier. 

In a subsequent formal complaint to the newly appointed external auditors, KPMG found, after sampling cases over just one year, rather than any forensic analysis over many, that there had been a quarter of a million pounds understatement in the past year’s accounts. KPMG concluded: Given the weaknesses identified in the Council’s controls, it is possible that understatements of a similar scale or even larger could be apparent at any point in time.”

Then there are examples of how thin-skinned and dismissive Mark Williams can be in dealing with members of the public. However irritating members of the public may be, it is surely inexcusable for a senior public servant to behave in such a way. Using this tone, the Chief Executive does not come across as  impartial. Many of us have had similar experiences when trying to make a complaint. 

Where are the checks and balances on this power?

A job description was revealed through a 2014 FOI request. Compared to other local authorities it is a bit thin. The key point is that nowhere does it specify who the CEO is personally accountable to.  A recent online search for a more up to date job description proved fruitless. 

These historic events are disturbing, demonstrating an executive making significant mistakes and seemingly impervious to criticism. It is in this context that the Tories lost control in 2019 and “New Guard” took over in 2020.

Where does the buck stop? How do you hold the CEO to account?

2 thoughts on ““Bust up at Top”: the context speaks volumes.

  1. It’s a remarkable achievement on Me Williams’ part that within 8 months of the commencement of his however cordial triangular relationship with the “Independent” leader Cllr Ingham and the Conservative Chairman Cllr Hughes he had managed to complete two strategic enquiries and through redundancies remove two of the very leadership group of officers that Cllr Ingham had been claiming in June that Cllr Arnott would have dismissed if he had become leader. Verbally to me and in a closed email group to which he had added me in error.
    Though Cllr Arnott had always been clear that he would seek a full review which would include any information such officers could give.
    The article is inaccurate about dates. The Democratic Alliance was formed in March 2020, when some disaffected members of the Ingham administration joined with minority groups to form the largest group on the council, but did not take over until May, by due process at a zoom meeting which took place over two days due to “technical difficulties” and audible foul abuse from at least one conservative member.
    This means we cannot form an opinion about the significance of any delays.
    The information about the cost allocation is available on the council’s website, as is the identity of the redundant post. I am surprised that a role connected with transformation was deemed surplus to requirements because to my mind the current administration are still trying to achieve this.
    I wonder if this role was connected with Cllr Millar being prevented from carrying out his related role during the Ingham administration.
    In 2019 it was concluded that Mr Williams did not require a deputy chief executive, so Mr Cohen was made redundant. No doubt both Mr Cohen and the other surplus senior officer received significant payments tied to non disclosure agreements.
    Perhaps something of this nature was lacking in the agreement brokered by Cllr Arnott with the officers union and the LGA. Although they lacked the authority to make the decision why did the person who had that authority decline to ratify an agreement that otherwise suited all parties? Was non disclosure missing?
    The allocation voted also states that the enquiry should go back to the root cause “at least” to January 2020, but there is no mention in the article of any of the related difficulties during the Ingham administration or before or of what conversations Mr Williams might have had with other groups or leaders between 18th March 2020 and his first conversation with Mr Arnott as leader or with any of the leaders between the election in May 2019 and the annual meeting one month later.
    There is also a suggestion that Mr Williams and others were unaware of the lack of trust owing to his symbiotic relationship with the conservatives for years and well evidenced.
    Who on earth would have misled investigators so outrageously about this?

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  2. As someone who has been publicly abused by the EDDC CEO Mark Williams, I can personally attest to his disrespectful and dismissive attitude to members of the public such as myself.

    And as I have commented elsewhere, the above allegations may be serious but they pale into insignificance with at least two other extremely serious allegations I have heard neither of which as far as I know were ever investigated by Devon & Cornwall Police.

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