The management and the internal relationships of the Argyll & Bute Alcohol and Drugs Partnership [ADP] remain deeply troubled and unsustainable.
There is what could be described as a state of open warfare between the ADP officials and their third sector partners – but this is a war where the power in conflict is entirely one-sided.
The open warfare referred to above centres on issues and formal complains about abuses of procedure and improper procurement processes serially raised by third sector partners. The complainants are effectively being victimised in a form of cultural pogrom.
There appears to be a part-strategic and part-vindictive focus on obliterating the third sector providers of services to addicts. This could not be more shortsighted or more damaging to Argyll & Bute ADP’s ability to guarantee into the future – as well as today – the delivery of the support to addicts for which the Scottish Government provides the funds.
The Third Sector Forum which represents all of the third sector groups contributing to these services, is being sidelined and disrespected. The third sector service providers are being starved of funding for the work they do, seeing some close down and those still operating losing staff. When a modest amount of funding is randomly made available, the third sector groups’ proposals are put through tortuous procedural hoops the ADP does not trouble to apply to its some of its officers’ much greater spending decisions – several of which are undefended by any evidence of need and are eminently questionable.
Where this is a case of corporate bullying, what is horrific about the current situation is that routine individual bullying behaviours have now become elevated to a high degree – and are being targeted on elected members as well as ADP third sector partners. This is the default modus operandi, and is in widespread evidence.
Information is routinely withheld from partners who have a right to have it. Minutes are routinely published beyond time for their genuine consideration at not one but two successive meetings – by which time there is a backlog of issues, leaving many matters unchecked. Minutes are, on evidence, routinely manipulated as necessary to suggest that approval has been given on occasion where the specific proposal had been resisted as improper.
Misrepresentation of fact is standard fare to validate manipulation and abuses of procedures. Matters are said to have been agreed at group meetings where they have never been raised and where there are no minutes to support such assertions.
ADP officers routinely act beyond their authority. For example, funding given for specific identified services has been directed to other purposes – which have not been properly scrutinised by the relevant ADP groups. This has led to three of the five areas through which services to addicts are delivered in Argyll & Bute being seriously underfunded for a particularly vulnerable social group – young people.
Corporate bullying of third sector partners remains the familiar modus operandi of the Argyll and Bute ADP. This has now developed additional characteristics of considerable concern.
For Argyll has had several reports of the ADP Coordinator – its most senior officer – perpetually undermining one third sector member of the ADP by ritual open ridicule – ‘rolling her eyes and tut-tutting’ every time this person speaks at a meeting. Some present at such meetings verified this behaviour for us.
The third sector manager in question eventually took the matter up directly with the ADP Coordinator – who apologised and said that she had let herself down in this behaviour. That response though, appears to have been a transient one, since the behaviours concerned were reinstated virtually at the next meeting.
Further, the male Chair of the ADP’s Delivery Group and of its Resource Group, has upgraded the default bullying behaviour by several degrees. He has developed a habit of repeated and aggressive phone calls outside office hours – which has made some recipients of this treatment develop a fear response to the sound of the phone.
We have it on good authority that this man has targeted this same behaviour on an elected councillor who was left similarly shaken by it.
This particular ADP official has also taken his bullying to physical levels.
In one instance he grabbed the arm of a female third sector service provider and repeatedly demanded an immediate response to an email he had sent earlier that day. At the same meeting, when the third sector person concerned was leaving early to get back to her office for an appointment, this official positioned himself at the door and, as she passed, caught and tugged her coat to arrest her progress – and again demanded an answer she was unable to give until she got back to her office.
This sort of behaviour is wholly unacceptable in any circumstances – but in a public servant employed in a service of the sensitivity of the treatment of vulnerable addicts and extended both to colleagues and elected members, this conduct is professionally intolerable and, in our view, is a sacking offence.
We understand that there are two outstanding formal complaints of bullying by this official.
Acting beyond authority
The ADP Coordinator and the Chair of its Delivery and of its Resource Groups are NHS employees. The male in question, the junior of the two, is also a senior NHS Health Improvement Officer. He seems to be markedly underemployed in that capacity, given the extent of the responsibilities he seems to take upon himself within the ADP.
There is a degree to which he appears to cover the duties of the Coordinator, the author of the bullying behaviours mentioned first above; who seems unable to deal with the demands of her job and to be in need of her subordinate’s unofficial assistance.
These two are currently pushing through the appointment of a Development Worker – to share what is described [but never detailed] as ‘a growing workload’. No one we consulted could point to any source of a marked increase in workloads. The heart of the problem would appear to be inability. Thee are solutions to that other than hiring more staff and diverting even more funding from the core purpose for which it is given – recovery services to addicts.
The proposal or a ‘Development Worker’ first emerged at a recent meeting of the Executive Group where it was mentioned that the ADP Coordinator was struggling with her work, bringing a suggestion that some of any potential underspend should be directed at some help for her. A senior member of Accounts Department staff then underlined the imperative for such a proposal to be properly discussed at a Resource Group meeting.
In practice, this proposal was put to a recent Resource Group meeting, given to members later than agenda papers are required to be circulated – and unaccompanied by any evidence of need for the appointment, a sine qua non for spending proposals. This was pointed out but overridden.
On the recommendation of the Chair and with no evidence of need; no substantial information, formal or informal, on the responsibilities of the proposed Development Worker; nor any of the usual scoring by group members of spending proposals, the meeting saw fit to approve the proposal.
Additionally, in a serious financial matter detailed below, at a meeting of the Resource Group, the Chair of the Delivery Group and of the Resource Group introduced, on his own authority, a method of paying third sector service providers a very modest total sum in two instalments, making it virtually impossible for them to try to secure match funding for such very small amounts.
An elected member present challenged this proposed procedure. at which point the official in question – again on his own and questionable assumed authority – simply refused to consider this, saying: ‘No’.
When the elected member’s position was backed up by a supporting challenge from a senior manager in the Accounts Department, who said that it was much more efficient for finance to pay the small total sum in one tranche, the official – again on his own assumed authority – repeated: ‘No. That’s not going to happen’.
This is arrogant and abruptly rude to people more competent to raise the objections they did than is this Chair competent to dismiss them.
This is a cowboy outfit way beyond control.
Excluding third sector partners and their representative body from key participation
The ADP has decided to appoint an ‘independent’ chair, who appears to have been selected but whose identity has not yet been made known.
This was not a decision made collectively by the partnership, which one would hope would be the case in an organisation bearing such an identity. It was presented as a fait accompli by the current Chair, at the end of a meeting and in a rushed manner which suggested that the purpose was simply to have the decision minuted.
A then ADP employee present said – apparently with some force – that if there were to be an ‘independent’ chair for the ADP, that person would have to be completely independent and someone who had no previous contact of any sort with the ADP. A third sector service provider present suggested that a very suitable candidate would be Bill Brackenridge. Mr Brackenridge is Chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. He had previously been commissioned by the ADP to investigate complaints raised by third sector members; with his consequent report admirable for its rigorous objectivity, independent intellect, application of given criteria, all round fairness and balanced conclusions.
At this point, both the ADP Coordinator and her colleague, the Chair of the Delivery and Resource Groups allegedly said ‘No’, forcefully, adding that ‘Bill Brackenridge will never do another piece of work for the ADP’. This would seem to have been provoked by the fact that Mr Brackenridge had found that the ADP’s internal structures were not fit for purpose – which is manifestly correct; and that, had his investigation been contained within a different frame, his conclusions might have been different.
When it was known that interviews for this post of independent Chair of the ADP had actually already taken place, a challenge was issued on the fact that no member of the Third Sector Forum – a component part of the partnership – had been invited to be on the interviewing panel.
The response was that there had indeed been third sector representation on that panel – from: ‘the Third Sector Interface.’
Having studied the quite chaotic structure of the ADP in some detail, we were confused by this, never before having come across such an element of an already over-cumbersome organisation.
It emerges that ‘The Third Sector Interface’ is not an element of the ADP’s organisational structure at all but the new self-given name for the former Argyll Voluntary Action group.
This group has no formal position in the ADP – yet a representative of it was invited to be a member of the panel interviewing candidates for the position of independent Chair of the ADP in its entirety – where the Third Sector Forum – a long standing member of the partnership, was excluded.
This is yet more evidence of discriminatory treatment by ADP officials of their third sector partners. It is indefensible within any partnership worthy of the name. It is offensive. It is deeply divisive in an organisation whose ability to cohere remains undeveloped and of no apparent value to its own Executive Group.
‘Disappearing’ third sector partners
The ADP annual report – which has to be approved and sent to the Scottish Government, the ADP’s funder – was discussed at the recent Executive Group.
A third sector member of the Group noticed a deficiency in it contents and asked why no information about third sector service providers was in the report , which was, after all, an annual report and not a three monthly one. The timescale matters because because the report covers 2014-15, with Addaction contracted controversially as sole service provider for Argyll and Bute commencing work from around 5th January 2015.
The third sector providers therefore had had the Service Level Agreements covering their own services in the field terminated as from 1st January 2015. However, the chaotic circumstances around the unnecessarily fast tracked arrival of Addaction led to the ADP – at the last minute – having to ask the third sector providers to continue their services for another month – to February 2015.
The ADP Coordinator’s defence on the incomplete coverage of the annual report was that she had no information on the third sector groups; that she had asked for it; and that they had not submitted it. This is alleged to be utterly incorrect. The only information the third sector groups had apparently been asked to provide was as part of a ‘service mapping’ exercise – to which they had all responded. They had also routinely completed quarterly returns to the council. Any simple [and verified] audit trail should be capable of proving where the right and wrong of this lies.
The ADP Coordinator has form in ignoring the organisation’s third sector partners and in choosing to remain in ignorance of what they do. In three complaints by a third sector service provider, one was that the ADP Coodinator displayed a lack of awareness of providers and services in Argyll and Bute and failed to visit or communicate with them. In a February 2015 response, the CEO of NHS Highland, the ADP Coordinator’s employer body, recognised this deficiency, apologised for it – but excused the Coordinator on the grounds that she had only been in the job for six month and had promised to repair her lack of knowledge of the work of the ADP’s of third sector partners.
In the event, the ADP Coordinator is reported to have made no attempt to get to know or support the third sector.
This ‘annual report’ matter underlines in particular two embedded habits of this failing body:
- to lie;
- strategically to be as pejorative as possible of the third sector service providers whom they have long mistreated and whom they wish to ‘disappear’ in favour of a single – also third sector – provider offering a much more limited service – and dangerously so.
Addaction do not provide out of hours emergency cover, nor will they cover the crucial crisis period for all vulnerable people of Christmas to Hogmanay.
In this last issue, many local service providers have staff trained in the injection of Naloxone – the counter to overdosing which is only effective if it is administered to the casualty within a specific time. The vulnerable – the lonely, the depressed and the addicted, often all three – are likely to feel at their lowest at night and in that awful sink hole of Christmas to Hogmanay when the world goes to ground. Argyll has been recorded as having the second highest number of annual suicides in Scotland – a continuing feature of remote places.
Redirecting funding given for a specific purpose
The ADP’s established practice has been to allocate any annual underspend or non-recurring funding to Young People’s Addiction Services in Argyll and Bute. This was supposed to happen last year, 2014-15.
This funding has traditionally been bid for by the third sector service providers.
When the bids went in from these groups last year, the proposals from Cowal, Kintyre and Oban were poorly scored by the Resource Group and received nothing. Coincidentally [?], Kintyre and Oban could be described, from the ADP’s perspective, as the awkward squad.
£97,500 was shared between:
- the Mid Argyll Youth Development Group;
- Route 81 in Garelochhead near Helensburgh;
- the LADS project in Bute;
- and around £50k of it given for work long in progress in a Kintyre school by a local third sector service provider and stolen – as a new ‘pilot’ – by a headteacher from Bute who had to be removed from her post for failing to protect vulnerable pupils from serial abuse from staff and fellow pupils. This person was quite wrongly retained in employment by the council; and later – staggeringly inappropriately – repositioned into this ADP associated role – focused on vulnerable young people.
The non-funded groups then lodged complaints. The funding awarded to the other groups was mothballed, pending an investigation of the complaints by the external consultant mentioned above, Bill Brackenridge. He did not uphold the complaints although he recorded that the complainants were undermined by their lack of bureaucratic skill in knowing how best to categorise and frame complaints.
This then saw £97,500 of the total underspend of £155,000 carried forward from last year reallocated this year to the original third sector groups named above. This was done without regard to the fact that the Brackenridge report had found wanting the governance of the process from which these allocations had originally been made.
This left £57,500 of the underspend in hand. £30k of this was then allocated, at £10k each, to the three unfunded area providers from last year, who were required to submit new proposals; with one at least [Oban] subjected to new and extreme scrutinies that ADP officers, on additional recent evidence, do not trouble to apply to their own spending proposals. [These £10k allocations are those referred to at the start of this article, which the Chair of the Delivery and Resource Groups, on his own authority, decided – against the advice of an elected member and a senior Accounts officer, to split into two £5k tranches, requiring the overkill of an effective approved resubmission to secure the second modest tranche.]
The dispensations noted above left £27,500 from the 2014-15 underspend, which last year had been confirmed for distribution to Young People’s Addiction Services. What happened was that budget headings were confusingly misleading and when third sector members complained about this, a genuine description emerged as to where officers destined this money to go – not to Young People’s Services but to pay for the commissioning of a Needs Analysis for which no needs assessment has been presented.
The long and the short of this situation is that a unilateral officer-dictated and not a partnership decision has been taken to redirect funding intended for Young People’s Addiction Services to a bureaucratic purpose for which no need has been demonstrated – in a context where Argyll has had a high rate of young suicides.
The ADP may yet be properly investigated
Word on the ground from a variety of sources indicates that the local SNP are within striking distance of achieving their plan to retake control of Argyll & Bute Council. This is the control they so wantonly squandered in 2012-13 when their party priorities certainly did not include an honourable delivery of the responsibilities the trusting Argyll electorate had given them in the 2012 Scottish Council Elections.
While For Argyll is firmly opposed to the lack of probity in this premature repossession, should it take place it offers the chance of having the ADP”s antics rigorously investigated.
SNP councillors and the local SNP MSP, Michael Russell, have been stoutly supportive of the much abused third sector partners in the ADP; and angered by the serial improprieties, incompetences and straightforward breaches of due procedure by the ADP management.
If they do manoeuvre to lead Argyll & Bute Council at as early a stage as possible, they are bound at least to pursue the vigorous investigation of the ADP that Audit Scotland flatly refused to undertake.
If a council administration – rather than an opposition – has evidenced concerns about the propriety of procurements carried out by officers and that administration calls in Audit Scotland to investigate, it is hard to see where the audit commission could find the wriggle room to avoid doing so.