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Clancy ‘misled the people of Birmingham’ and faces calls to resign

Clancy ‘misled the people of Birmingham’ and faces calls to resign

🕔03.Sep 2017

John Clancy, leader of Birmingham city council, has been accused of misleading the people of Birmingham and could face efforts to be ousted from office this week, writes Kevin Johnson.

The central charge is that he acted outside of his legal powers as leader of the council and beyond the authority given to him by the Cabinet in making an agreement with trades unions, which he then stated was “no deal.”

Furthermore, he directly intervened in the case of a Unite the union representative employed in waste management services who had been suspended from work following complaints from fellow workers.

This was referred to in the Cabinet report of 24 August when it stated: “A further ‘red line’ has been introduced by Unite in relation to an employee disciplinary matter.” Council sources indicate that since the suspension was such an issue for Unite, the leader felt it necessary to resolve and move the negotiations forward.

As part of the “agreement in principle” reached between Cllr Clancy and Howard Beckett, the assistant general secretary of Unite, the leader of the council agreed that the interim suspension of the union representative would be lifted and complaint handling would transfer to Acas.

Chamberlain Files understands the leader of the council was formally advised not to reach such an agreement. He also, we understand, asked the Interim Chief Executive to implement the return of the union representative and it is alleged she refused. However, we do not have sufficient corroboration at this stage to be able to verify these claims.

Cllr Clancy took the highly unusual step of informing the acting depot manager where the union representative was based that he would be returning to work as a direct consequence of the terms agreed with Unite. It is not clear if the Interim Chief Executive, or the council’s official Monitoring Officer, issued the leader with a note to advise him he had acted ultra vires, ie. beyond his legal powers.

Cllr Clancy also confirmed in writing to Unite’s Howard Beckett (seen by the Chamberlain Files) that investigations and charges relating to the union representative had been concluded with no further charges to follow and that the allegations would be referred to Acas.

It is believed that permission from the original complainants was not sought or received.

A council leader writing to a manager about staffing issues and giving an instruction is certainly unusual. However, a council leader deciding to directly intervene and lead in an industrial dispute is rare.

The fundamental aspects of an agreement on reforming waste management services have been ready, including the move to a five day working week, for a while say some Labour insiders. It had also been also agreed, in broad terms, that negotiations around adding to the responsibilities of the Leading Hands would be appropriate. This accords with the line in the Acas statement which points to “aligning with Total Place principles.”

There is currently no basis for an equal pay claim by other employees of the council if Grade 3 Leading Hands are retained in waste management services, it is argued by those involved on the union side.

Lawyers for both the council and unions agreed that was the position when they last met on 7 July.

It is unlikely that Unite, or particularly other unions with both more members and in particular female members, would ignore a learned view from the council that the basis for such a claim might exist for their thousands of female members.

Chamberlain Files understands that no evidence of a basis for possible equal pay claims has yet been shared with union officials. They have asked for both the advice and the instructions given to legal counsel on which to form an opinion.

There is concern that the question given to the lawyer on which to form an opinion was constructed in such a way and without relevant context in order to arrive at a pre-conceived outcome. For example, it is not known if the QC was asked about the Grade 3 roles on the assumption safety supervision was removed and it did not include additional responsibilities.

The unions have not seen the results of any job comparison scoring exercise that might present a case for a Grade 2 worker elsewhere in the council to believe they have the same level of responsibility as a Grade 3 worker in waste management when new arrangements are in place.

The unions have shared their legal advice with the council (seen by the Chamberlain Files) on its assertion that a basis for equal pay claims would arise from the agreement reached at Acas. Given the Acas brokered agreement specifically stated that the Grade 3 roles would be maintained and developed, the legal opinion given to the unions in unequivocal in stating that no such basis would exist.

Senior council officers had agreed, around the middle of last week, for their legal teams to meet to discuss the issues before Stella Manzie sensationally informed the unions that redundancy notices were to be issued on Thursday evening. It is understood lawyers might meet at Acas early this week.

The unions described the move as an “inflammatory act of bad faith” and a “provocative act”.

There is also alarm that the council leader cancelled the scheduled meeting of the Cabinet last Friday.

There are allegations that the meeting did not proceed so that formal notices, indicating the leader or the leader and Cabinet were operating ultra vires – beyond their powers or would be in contravention of their legal and financial responsibilities – would not be issued. If such a so called ‘Section 5’ notice (relating to the Local Government and Housing Act 1989) were to be issued, the legal and financial reasons would need to be made public.

The Cabinet report of 24 August asked for a decision to progress the next stages of its re-organisation of waste management services, “including issuing the redundancy notices to the 106 employees (in 113 posts) currently designated as Grade 3 Leading Hands.”

The terms of the Acas brokered agreement between the council and the unions specifically stated “there are no redundancy steps in place.”

Cllr Clancy’s public comments at the end of last week indicated there was “no deal”. He accused Unite of misleading its members.

As evidenced by yesterday’s statement from Acas and emails sent by Cllr Clancy, there was clearly an agreement in principle.

Such agreements in industrial disputes are not reached and publicly communicated without those involved having the necessary powers and internal authority to make such deals.

Cllr Clancy’s position rests on further legal and financial advice becoming available after his negotiations with Unite which would have meant the council would set an illegal budget and that there would be a basis for very large equal play claims from other council employees.

Chamberlain Files has been given different views on whether all necessary advice was available prior to the leader of the council negotiating with Unite.

One Cabinet member told Chamberlain Files that they had “seen the advice and had been aware of it for some time.”

The allegation is that Cllr Clancy therefore acted outside of his legal powers and the negotiating position agreed by Cabinet in reaching the “agreement in principle.”

Furthermore, and perhaps even more significantly, the leader of the council is accused of misleading the people of Birmingham in saying there was “no deal.”

Chamberlain Files has spoken to one Cabinet member who confidentially confirmed that they believe Cllr Clancy had acted beyond his formal powers and the authority given to him by Cabinet.

Jon Hunt, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, issued a statement last night:

John Clancy’s position is now untenable.

He has lost all authority and credibility as leader of the council. ACAS clearly believes that “agreement” and “deal” are the same thing. To make repeated public statements that there was “no deal” on August 16th – even if it was an untenable deal – has served the city badly.

An apology would have been the right thing to do.

Sadly the bin strike has revealed a gaping hole at the heart of the leadership of the city council, just at the time when it most needs effective leadership.

John Clancy arrived as city leader as a breath of fresh air with some important new ideas. He should now do the honourable thing and step down.

Cllr Clancy’s position will come under further scrutiny tomorrow. He faces a political Cabinet in the afternoon and a Labour group meeting in the evening. Chamberlain Files understands there have been two attempts to bring forward a motion of no confidence in the Labour group leader. Councillor Clancy has promised councillors “the facts.”

Meanwhile, residents are still waiting for all their bins to be emptied…

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