Council leader in whistleblower row survives no-confidence motion
Elgan Hearn, local democracy reporter
A council leader has insisted that he did not see a letter from a whistleblower which explained there were problems with a waste services provider.
This letter in 2017 led to an investigation by Audit Wales and Gwent Police.
It culminated in the publication of a damning report by Audit Wales which probed the relationship between Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council and Silent Valley Waste Services Limited, a company owned and controlled by the authority.
At a volatile and often chaotic meeting of Blaenau Gwent Borough Council yesterday, a motion of no confidence in council leader Cllr Nigel Daniels, signed by all 17 opposition councillors from the Labour and Minority Independent group, was presented.
Those who signed the motion claimed Cllr Daniels withheld vital information from them regarding the investigation at a council meeting in March 2018.
It was then that councillors voted to approve changes in senior management structure – without knowing that allegations had been levelled against one of the officers.
Cllr Daniels said: “One question no one has ever asked me is: did I or have I ever actually had sight of the correspondence regarding the whistleblowing complaint?.
“The answer to which is no, I didn’t; and no, I haven’t.
“The fact that my name was included in a copy circulation list is certainly not proof that I was in receipt of that correspondence.
“The letter was dealt with properly under the appropriate procedure and referred to Audit Wales for investigation.
“Importantly the procedure provides confidentiality and anonymity for any complainant.”
Cllr Daniels explained that if the letter contents had been discussed or shared with him, confidentiality would have been breached and the Code of Conduct for both councillors and officers would have been broken.
Cllr Daniels said: “I was briefed about the complaint by a senior officer with no names or details being shared and told I had to keep it confidential.
“Therefore, the accusation of me hiding details of a police inquiry from councillors is absolutely wrong.”
He added that, at the time of the meeting to discuss the staffing restructure in March 2018, the officer subject to the allegations was not under police investigation – this started four months later.
Cllr Steve Thomas said: “It’s unbelievable that he didn’t see the letter.”
Cllr Thomas pointed out that that in Silent Valley report it was explained that Gwent Police had started preliminary investigations before July 2018.
Blaenau Gwent managing director, Michelle Morris said: “What I have confirmed is that the leader and deputy leader (Cllr Garth Collier at the time) were cc’d in on the bottom of that letter. I can’t attest one way or another if they received the letter.”
She added that after taking legal advice, even though allegations had been made, no action was taken against officers so as not to “pre-empt” the investigations.
Minority Independent group leader who seconded the censure motion, Cllr Phil Edwards said: “I recall the first scrutiny meeting I chaired, and Cllr Daniels asked some questions on it.
“I asked him how he knew so much when the meeting had just taken place, his reply was: ‘nothing goes on in this council without me getting to know about it pretty soon’.
“So, I find it very strange he had no knowledge of this letter.”
Environment portfolio holder Cllr Joanna Wilkins said: “It comes downs to who do you believe at the end of the day.”
“I believe in the information the leader has provided me.”
Following considerable debate, a vote was taken, and the motion was lost with 17 councillors voting for the censure motion and 22 against it.
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