Update on actions taken to address weaknesses in governance following recent investigation into breaches of the Council's Code of Conduct
An update on the wide range of actions taken by South Somerset District Council in the wake of an investigation into breaches of our Code of Conduct has been provided.
A report will be considered by the council’s Audit committee which outlines the response to two independent investigations, the improvements made to date and planned further action in progress to improve governance within Environmental Services.
On 22 April 2021, the Leader of the Council Val Keitch and the former Chief Executive Alex Parmley received a whistleblowing letter containing allegations about the conduct of council officers.
The former Chief Executive commissioned the SWAP Internal Audit Counter Fraud team to conduct a fact-finding investigation into the allegations. As a result of the findings from SWAP, the allegations were further investigated, and on 29 June 2021 in line with the Council’s Disciplinary Process and the Council’s Constitution, an Independent Investigator was asked to conduct a disciplinary investigation into the former Director of Commercial Services and Income Generation.
The SWAP Counter Fraud Team continued investigating activities which related to policies and procedures within the Environmental Services Team, mainly at the Lufton Depot.
A disciplinary process into the allegations against the former Director of Commercial Services and Income Generation followed, resulting in her summary dismissal.
In relation to the focussed investigation into issues in the Environmental Services team, it became apparent that there were several control weaknesses, which if left untreated could put the council at risk. SWAP also identified instances where procedures and controls had been disregarded or bypassed, some of which had negatively impacted the Council. These examples of disregard for Council policy were indicative of wider cultural changes needed within the service area.
Working closely with SWAP and a new multi-disciplinary team within SSDC, many changes have already been implemented that should guard against similar breaches of the Code of Conduct and other SSDC policies, with the objective of also promoting a positive and transparent culture.
Council Leader Val Keitch said: “I wish to place on record my thanks all those who have been involved in this important work to date for their diligence, and I further thank all those who are working so hard to put things right, alongside those who helped bring the matter to light.
“We never want to let our communities down and, as such, it is vital that our Code of Conduct, which sets the standards of behaviour and conduct that South Somerset District Council expects from all of its employees, is followed to the letter. The breaches should not have happened and I am sorry that they happened. As we have clearly demonstrated, this is a Council which will not tolerate breaches of this Code.
“We are taking a range of actions to ensure breaches do not occur again and I am proud of the way we have responded. Similarly, this should not cast a shadow over the hardworking officers of the council who have nothing but our residents’ best interests at heart and serve with passion and dignity.”