Council to face tribunal over ‘whistleblowing’ claim

A council is being taken to an employment tribunal by a former senior finance officer claiming she was constructively dismissed after raising concerns over a large outsourcing contract covering ICT and other services.

In October Liz Wilkinson resigned as executive director for finance at Bournemouth City Council after being suspended pending an investigation into her behaviour.

Last week, Wilkinson formally left the council after serving her notice period, and it emerged that she has lodged a claim for constructive dismissal under whistleblowing legislation.

A council statement said: “The claim alleges that she has been unfairly constructively dismissed and subjected to detriment for having made protected disclosures, or having ‘blown the whistle’.”

Wilkinson, who had acted as the statutory section 151 officer responsible for council spending, last week sent an email to all members of the council, saying that prior to her suspension, she had raised worries relating to the contract with supplier Mouchel.

The £150m, 10 year contract was signed in 2010 and covers ICT, benefits, facilities management, finance, human resources and payroll delivery, with other strands covering efficiency and transformation, job creation and shared services.

Wilkinson’s email to councillors said: “I believe I am duty bound to advise you that I was forced to raise serious concerns…regarding the cost, quality, performance and value for money” in relation to the contract.

She added: “Whilst I had had some success over the preceding two years in making a number of significant improvements to the original partnership agreement, by the late spring of 2014, I had reached the conclusion that the council was still likely to be paying as much as one third to one half more than the council would pay (circa £5-7m) if it simply provided the outsourced services itself, despite my best efforts to remedy matters to that point in time.”

Wilkinson said she had been planning a review of the partnership which had been due to start in October.

Bournemouth Council’s chief executive Tony Williams said that the suspension took place after “a complaint from senior officers about Liz Wilkinson’s behaviour and conduct, including allegations of bullying”.

He said the council “rigorously disputes” Wilkinson’s claim she was constructive dismissed and is preparing a “comprehensive response” for presentation at the tribunal.

Williams also defended the council’s management of the Mouchel contract.

He said: “We actively manage the performance of our partnership with Mouchel, and we do not believe there is any substance to Mrs Wilkinson’s allegations.

“To date, the partnership with Mouchel has delivered improved services and over £10million of savings to the council. 

“An internal review of the contract has secured a further £1.1m savings in 15/16. Mouchel are sharing their cost bases with our acting section 151 officer to ensure the council’s financial position is protected.”

Mouchel’s website includes a case study of its work preparing an ICT strategy for Bournemouth.

It said that it had “set the course for strengthening the council’s technology capability through a set of strategic ICT themes, each driving a programme of enabling projects.

“A logical, phased, accelerated and costed road map was then produced, underpinned by detailed business cases.”

A preliminary hearing is set to be heard by an employment tribunal in February.

Colin Marrs

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