SPECIAL REPORT: Don’t Blame the Council internal investigation

Pictured: (front centre) Director of Environmental services Terry Dunn with members of his management team and frontline workforce on Don't Blame the Council
Pictured: (front centre) Director of Environmental services Terry Dunn with members of his management team and frontline workforce on Don't Blame the Council

COUNCIL bosses were kept in the dark by senior staff in the lead-up to a controversial documentary airing on national TV, an internal investigation has found.

The town hall’s probe into the decision-making behind Don’t Blame the Council has finished after more than six months of interviews and a flurry of staff dismissals and resignations.

Bin men are allowed into the games room after they have finished their work - shown on Don't Blame the Council

Bin men are allowed into the games room after they have finished their work - shown on Don't Blame the Council

Council workers will be informed this week of evidence suggesting their senior management were misled by two department heads on how potentially damaging the content was before it was screened.

The Wigan Observer understands this to refer to Terry Dunn and Chris Dunbar who have been accused of failing in their duty to protect staff and the authority’s reputation.

Mr Dunn, the former director of environment, and Mr Dunbar, former head of public relations, resigned their posts during the course of the inquiry.

The Observer understands Mr Dunbar refutes the findings of the investigation but declined to comment, as did Mr Dunn.

We had a chance to stop this programme and legally challenge it. Sadly those involved did not involve the people who could have helped them, including myself, until it was too late

Donna Hall

Town Hall employees will receive an e-mail this week stating evidence collected as part of the probe suggests the pair failed to inform chief executive Donna Hall and monitoring officer Linda Fisher of the severity of the situation prior to broadcast which “therefore led to a failure to protect the staff involved”.

It is claimed that:

Senior management were not aware of trips to London made by two senior members of staff, believed to be Mr Dunbar and Mr Dunn, to view early edits of the programme until after they occurred;

The pair had discussed involving legal services after viewing the footage but this was never acted upon;

Donna Hall

Donna Hall

Despite expressing concerns about what was to be shown, no attempts were made to involve senior staff for assistance and they reassured colleagues - in the 13 days between the final viewing and the air date - the programme would be beneficial to the council’s reputation despite being “gritty”;

Opportunities to challenge the producers on their interpretation of aspects of the filming agreement regarding protecting the reputation of the council were missed because the pair did not seek legal advice;

No officers, including the pair present at the preview screenings, viewed a final edit of the show - complete with voiceover and incidental music - before it aired.

Evidence gathered by the investigation team, consisting of Ms Fisher and HR director Sonia Halliwell, also shows staff members featured in the documentary expressed concerns about their involvement and inquiries were made about withdrawing personal consent (to their scenes’ being used).

However, they were reassured about how the scenes would come across and the senior managers involved failed to anticipate the severity of the outcome.

Staff also claimed they were “lulled into a false sense of security” by filmmakers and some scenes were engineered for entertainment value.

These are claims the production company hotly contests.

Chief executive Donna Hall said it is time for the entire local authority to move on for the sake of the staff and the borough but stated it had been vital they got to the bottom of what happened.

Ms Hall added she would have been “the first to apologise” if the investigation had found her culpable, confirming she was interviewed as part of the process.

She told the Observer: “We are not perfect but we are not as bad as how we were portrayed.

“Senior members of staff are responsible for delivering the council’s objectives, protecting its reputation and ensuring value for money to taxpayers.

“As such they are expected to demonstrate a high level of personal conduct and integrity by behaving responsibly and putting the organisation, staff and residents before their own personal interests.

“We had a chance to stop this programme and legally challenge it. Sadly those involved did not involve the people who could have helped them, including myself, until it was too late.”

The documentary, which aired in June last year, showed some staff making disparaging comments about council initiatives, fooling about during their breaks and generally displaying a poor work ethic.

Despite this, Ms Fisher and Ms Halliwell said the investigation moved onto the actions of senior staff “within days” as they believed frontline staff had been misrepresented.

Although some workers featured in the show no longer work for the council, this was not directly due to the investigation and no specific disciplinary action has been taken against staff featured, the investigation team added.

But Ms Hall revealed a “comprehensive review” of processes at Wigan’s depot had taken place.

She added: “I would expect someone in a management role to do their job in such a way to not damage our reputation. They have let the organisation down, this could have been stopped. Their actions were about protecting their own reputations, rather than ours.”