Rerun Dave Prentis election urge candidates at Unison malpractice hearing

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Dave Prentis, general secretary, Unison Pic Credit: Twitter

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Candidates who fought Dave Prentis for general secretary  of Britain’s second largest union  urged the certification officer yesterday to order a rerun of the election because of malpractices  by his campaign team exposed at a four day hearing.

The call which is also backed by a long standing member Jon Rogers was fiercely opposed by Unison’s lawyers  as a ” disproportionate ” response and even interfering with fundamental human rights by insisting the election should be run again.

The clash over remedies came at the final day of the hearing when all sides were asked to make submissions to the presiding certification officer, judge Mary Stacey, who chaired the hearing.

The case had been bought by his three rival candidates, Heather Wakefield, John Burgess and Roger Bannister. and long standing member Jon Rogers.

One of the central points of the case is that senior Unison officer, Linda Perks, exceeded her role in convening a meeting in union time to plan a campaign to support Dave Prentis which is against union rules. The information came to light after a tape of the meeting was leaked.

Her action, which led to disciplinary proceedings, is not defended by the union. The dispute is whether her action was part of a much wider breach of union rules – which forbid officials from using union time and resources by ” Team Dave ” – amounting widespread malpractice. The union refuses to accept this – the  other candidates  says this is central to their arguments.

There is also the question of whether Dave Prentis knew this was happening – the complainants suggest he did – the union insist he didn’t. Judge Mary Stacey promised she would make a finding of fact on this issue if she can.

Yunus Bakhsh, the lawyer representing Jon Burgess, in his submission , said : ” The tape and the Team Dave emails lifted the lid on what we submit was a quite shocking level of deceit. subterfuge and rule breaching by a group of paid officials who occupied the highest positions in Unison…. These officials had a  total disregard for the rules of the union they felt they could act with impunity in using union resources, funds and property to campaign for Dave Prentis.”

Ms Ijeoma Omambala , barrister for Heather Wakefield, was also highly critical of the role of the Electoral Reform Services, who received a fee of nearly £1 m for supervising the election, in not acting to take up complaints themselves. Instead they left it to Unison to investigate the complaints – when many of the officials who did so were members of  the Team Dave campaign team. She described the ERS’s action as amounting to ” a dereliction of duty.”.

In her submission she says:” Ms Wakefield has sought to challenge unfairness and cronyism when she has encountered it. her efforts and those of her colleague complainants have revealed systematic manipulation of Unison rules, resources and funds on a startling scale.

“The Respondent (Unison) would have the assistant certification officer characterise this dispute as ” a little local difficulty,” regrettably the damage has spread far wider. It encompasses activists, branch officials, regional officials, the union’s senior management team and its President.”

Anthony White, barrister for Unison, while accepting that some enforcement order could be made by the judge, fiercely challenged  whether there was any evidence that there was any widespread malpractice at Unison. In an exchange between the softly spoken judge, he refused  to accept any suggestion that the election should be rerun. He cited that it would cost £1m for Unison members and saying that  it had not materially affected the result which showed overwhelming support for Dave Prentis. He also defended  ERS saying they had provided “a helpful witness” with enormous experience of elections.

He  attacked the other complainants for what he called using ” absolute privilege ”  to make allegations of corruption in Unison. ( This means they cannot be sued for what they said at the hearing).

He also insisted that evidence submitted by Mike Jackson  on previous malpractice at Unison general secretary elections  involving Dave Prentis- which I believe may have only been published in full on this blog – had gone unchallenged because it was ” irrelevant ” to the hearing.

This is challenged in the submission from Heather Wakefield who regarded Mr Jackson’s evidence as an example of past malpractice.

The judge is unlikely to deliver a verdict for a month but when it comes it will be one of the ground breaking rulings that will decide how elections for union general secretaries will be conducted in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the election

Exclusive: How the equality watchdog sacked a disabled army veteran and IRA bomb survivor by email

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Rebecca Hilsenrath: chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and leading the programme of staff cuts Pic credit: Douglas-Scott co.uK

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Donald Trump : You’re fired. Credit Giphy

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Late last year this blog featured the case of  57 year old Markus Caruana,  who works in corporate communications at the Birmingham office of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.To recap

He is a former flute player in the Corps of Drums with the Grenadier Guards.

Markus Caruana was unfortunate enough to have been both at the Guildford pub bombings in 1974 and the Chelsea Barracks bombing in 1981 which seriously injured regimental bandsmen from the Irish Guards.

He escaped unscathed in both instances but saw three of his friends killed in an IRA attack in Crossmaglen in Northern Ireland.

He left the army in 1985 to become a landscape gardener and then took advantage of a Unison sponsored education scheme to learn to read and write.

He had been a school refuser after being bullied and could hardly read or write or read music but was able to play his  flute because he had a natural memory for tunes.

In 2002 he secured a job with the Disability Rights Commission which later became part of the EHRC.

Sadly he lost his 75 per cent of his hearing and got  an incurable muscle wasting disease called Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) which affects the nervous system that supports muscles, often weakening the legs and feet.

The EHRC had enabled him to have a support worker so he could do his job there – but she is also facing redundancy now he has failed to retain his job.

Yesterday he  and five other disabled people was sacked by email by the EHRC and given 24 hours notice to clear his desk. He was one of ten people made compulsorily redundant by emails from executives from the Commission.

The decision led to a furious reaction from one of the main union representing staff,the PCS.

EHRC says the staff will receive pay in lieu of notice (PILON), but workers did not agree to this because it closes off the opportunity to seek redeployment at the commission or elsewhere in the civil service.

In a letter back to EHRC, the union states: “By imposing PILON you are cutting off this option and effectively consigning BME, disabled, women and trade union members to unemployment. There should only be PILON in cases where the individual concerned has agreed to it.”

Commenting on the cases, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It’s absolutely reprehensible that dedicated staff have been sacked and told to clear their desks with a day’s notice.

“That this has happened at the government body charged with upholding human rights and fair treatment in our society is an absolute scandal and we will continue to fight it.”

My own take on it is this. It is quite clear that the head of the EHRC, Rebecca Hilsenrath, is a particularly vindictive person to take action like this – by making it difficult for these people to get other jobs in the civil service.

Her action reminds me a bit of the attitude taken by Donald Trump towards disabled people. I am sure she would make an excellent addition to his staff in Washington though I don’t know whether she would share his locker room talk or not.

I have also written an article for Tribune about the sackings and the future strikes.

Standards at the tax office: A damning indictment from professional people who should know

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HMRC offices. pic credit: gov.uk

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This blog has covered serious complaints about the way Her Majesty’s Customs and  Excise is being managed – the latest being the revelations from the National Audit Office on plans to make 38,000 staff commute for hours to 13 new regional offices and close 170 existing ones.

Some of the strongest complaints have come from the staff and the main union, the Public and Commercial Services Union, which has been highly critical of government cuts. People might say, well, unions would complain, as they have duty to save jobs and how much notice should we take of this.

So it is extremely interesting  that the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, which represents some 147,000 professional people, has produced such a damning survey on what they think about HMRC’s services.

Far from having confidence in the government’s latest tax strategies or services they provide to business and the public, their findings in this year’s services are damning.

To summarise  from their report:

8 in 10 agents think that HMRC service standards have not improved over the past year.

 Half of agents say that services over the past 12 months have not changed.

Nearly a third (32%) think that they have deteriorated.

Nearly a fifth (18%) think that they have improved

The results are fairly consistent over the different taxes.

Agents appear to have similar frustrations with HMRC’s service quality as last year, specifically around ‘getting it right first time’ and getting information they require.

 Just a fifth of agents (20%) trust HMRC to ‘get it right first time’, while over a half do not (55%). Employer payroll is perceived particularly negatively, with two thirds (67%) not seeing HMRC staff in this area getting it right first time.

Similarly, less than a third (29%) of agents find it easy to get information they need from HMRC, while many (41%) do not.

And they are scathing about the government’s plans to digitalise the tax services – part of the plan to close 170 offices – and have 13 regional centres.

Agents’ views on moving to digital

 Only 3 in 10 (29%) of agents are positive about HMRC moving more of its services online.

Over half (53%) of agents are negative about moving services online.

Furthermore, only 15% of agents think that HMRC is supporting the role of tax agents in this move, while over half (54%) do not.

Frankly if I was in charge of HMRC ( and I am glad I am not) I would be rather worried by this survey. Since it came out it appears they have offered some talks about some of the problems,

But they are mainly very complacent. As the report itself notes :

This result is all the more surprising given that HMRC’s own performance statistics to September 2016 show a steadily improving performance in the previous 12 months.

The difference, it suggests  may be explained by a number of factors, including:

“That although HMRC’s telephone service for the public is much improved, for agents the telephone response time is not the real problem. The service standard on the agent dedicated line is already good and usually agents using the line have not had a problem getting through to HMRC.

Agents by their nature deal with clients who have more complicated affairs, and for them the expectations of service quality are different to those of the wider taxpayer population. So, as in previous years, agents again highlighted the problems in ‘getting it right first time’, coupled with the ability to get through to speak to the right person quickly to resolve complex queries. We know that HMRC is working to improve performance in these areas, for example through the ‘once and done’ initiative, and the survey results suggest that HMRC should seek to build on this initiative.

There is also a perception effect: it can take years to change a perception even though standards may have improved in the interim. We believe that HMRC’s own research in earlier years would also appear to point to this effect.”

However all in all this is a pretty resounding vote of no confidence in the tax service from a body  whose members deal with them everyday.

 

Exclusive: Southern Railway contract to be investigated by National Audit Office

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A Southern Railway train: often overcrowded even if it runs. Pic Credit:BBC

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The badly managed and strike prone Southern Railway contract is to be investigated by Parliament’s financial watchdog, the National Audit Office.

After months if not a years of misery for commuters caused by failing services and strike action over safety  the NAO has quietly decided to investigate the Department of Transport’s  handling of the contract alongside another investigation into the modernisation of Thameslink services. Both are major commuter services  into the capital and both are owner by Govia, the country’s biggest privatised train operator.

The decision by the NAO has been quietly slipped out on its website as an update to the Thameslink investigation without an official announcement. Such a move is bound to cause some consternation for transport secretary, Chris Grayling, and his officials.

Publication of the report due this summer will trigger an investigation by MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee where officials will be called to account depending on the NAO’s findings.

Southern is one a series of franchises owned by Govia, a consortium set up by the British  Go Ahead bus company and the French state owned railways, SNCF, whose international arm trades as Keolis.

The NAO investigation comes after the disclosure that Peter Wilkinson , a senior civil servant who is paid £265,000 a year, as director of rail passenger services at the Department for Transport, has been exposed by an investigation in The Guardian for an apparent conflict of interest.

He awarded Govia both contracts but it was revealed that he was, at the time, a
director and the main shareholder of First Class Partnerships, a consultancy which had Govia as a longstanding client.  He has declined to comment about the internal inquiry which is said to have decided that this was a conflict of interest.

Since then Govia’s Southern Railway has been involved in a long dispute with unions over plans to abolish guards on trains. The company has been backed by Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, and unions fear safety is at risk and the plan will be extended to other franchises they run like London Midland.

Southern also decline to provide a comprehensive service to disabled passengers.

The NAO statement on its site announcing the extension said :

“The Department for Transport is sponsoring a £7 billion programme to increase passenger capacity on the Thameslink route through central London. The programme involves the improvement of tracks, signalling and stations, a new fleet of trains and new franchise arrangements for running the passenger service on the Thameslink route.

“Since 2015, train services on the Thameslink Southern Great Northern (TSGN) franchise have been subject to significant disruption, particularly on the Southern services. Alongside our work on the Thameslink Programme, we also plan to report on the Department’s management of the TSGN franchise.”

Rail unions are welcoming the investigation with ASLEF, the train drivers union, keen that such an inquiry will bring transparency to how the contract was monitored by the ministry and also how it was awarded.

Meanwhile  government spin operators have indicated that perhaps the line might be taken back into public ownership if it continues to fail. While this story is officially denied ministers do not like being wrong footed by a detailed National Audit Office investigation and often plan some diversionary tactics when a report is about to be published.

It is question of watch this space. I have also written about this in Tribune.

 

Unison: Former senior official says ” anti democratic practices” used to elect Dave Prentis in three previous contests

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Dave Prentis, general secretary, Unison Pic Credit: Twitter

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This is a statement that has been submitted to the tribunal examining whether Unison broke the rules to ensure that Dave Prentis was re-elected  as general secretary over a year ago.

The statement was not challenged by Unison at the hearing where their lawyers could have cross examined the official, Mike Jackson, who supported Heather Wakefield in the last election. The inference of his claim is that the practice exposed in a leaked tape where officials – who should be neutral – at the Greater London Region meeting discussed how to back ” Team Dave”, the campaigning organisation for Prentis, had happened before.

STATEMENT BY MIKE JACKSON

 FORMERLY UNISON REGIONAL ORGANISER GREATER LONDON REGION 1978 – 2004 AND UNISON DEPUTY HEAD OF HEALTH 2004 – 2011

  1. This statement concerns my role in previous UNISON General Secretary elections during my time as a paid employee and Officer of the union.
  2. In the year 2000 an election was held to elect a new General Secretary of UNISON following the announced retirement of the then incumbent Rodney Bickerstaffe.
  3. Although it was officially stated that full-time officers should play no role in supporting any candidate in this election, a meeting was called by members of the then Regional Management Team (RMT) of UNISON’s Greater London Region where I worked, for all Regional Organisers of which I was one.
  4. The meeting was held at 5pm in the same building (Congress House) although not in a UNISON rented area. It was stated that attendance was voluntary but there was an expectation that all organising staff attend – and almost all did. It was made known that the meeting was to discuss organising to support Dave Prentis’s campaign.
  5. At the meeting the then Deputy Regional Secretary advised us that we should maximise branch nominations for Dave Prentis. An amount of money was suggested that we should each donate to the campaign. We were advised to use non-unison email addresses although no restriction was placed on the use of union phones.
  6. Regular meetings were then held convened by members of the RMT in which we were asked to report back firstly on progress on achieving nominations and later on getting out the vote for Dave Prentis. I personally was responsible for 13 branches at the time and I persuaded all to nominate Dave Prentis. I was told that Dave Prentis was very pleased with my efforts by an RMT member.
  7. During the election itself, we were asked to distribute Dave Prentis’s election material to branches for which we had responsibility. If the branch officers were not ‘reliable’ we were asked to arrange distribution ourselves. This was done during normal working hours and personally distributed thousands of leaflets and placed posters on hospital notice boards.
  8. Although all these activities were said to be voluntary the culture of the Region was that there was an expectation on us as organising staff to deliver support for Dave Prentis. It was said that if any of the other candidates were elected our positions would be insecure as we could be subject to election as officials – this being a policy position put by other candidates from far left groups.
  9. In 2005, Dave Prentis stood again for election. By this time I had recently been promoted to a national position. I was made aware that a national steering group of full time officials had been set up to support Dave Prentis. My then manager attended this group. Although I did not attend she reported back to me on the organisation to get Dave Prentis re-elected. Again an amount of money was suggested as a donation to his campaign which I paid.
  10. In 2010 Dave Prentis again stood for election. This time I was invited to attend a national steering group of full time officials to support Dave Prentis. The meetings were held at 5pm in the building of the National Union of Teachers directly opposite the then UNISON Head Office. The meetings were chaired by the Regional Secretary from UNISON’s Yorkshire and Humberside Region and attended by national officials, representatives of each UNISON Region (usually an RMT member) and Dave Prentis himself.
  11. The discussion focussed on maximising nominations for Dave Prentis from within each region and from national lay member bodies such as Service Group Executives. I had no doubt that the type of activity that I was involved in during 2000 in the Greater London Region was being replicated around the country as full time officials were being mobilised to deliver nominations and votes for Dave Prentis.
  12. Again an amount of money that we should donate to the campaign was suggested which I paid.
  13. In April 2011 I left UNISON’s employment and went to work in the NHS in the East of England on a self employed and part time basis finishing in July 2015 aged 67. During this time I remained a UNISON member and kept in touch with former colleagues.
  14. In 2015 I learned that Dave Prentis was standing again as General Secretary. I was also aware of the reasons for this, primarily that he could not gather enough support for his chosen successor – his wife Liz Snape, Assistant General Secretary.
  15. I decided to support Heather Wakefield for General Secretary whom I had worked with for many years. I made my support known by writing a letter of endorsement that Heather’s campaign which was circulated by her to all UNISON’s Health branches.
  16. What then followed was a letter signed by the Regional Convenor in the Greater London denouncing my involvement as a former full time official and inferring that I was not a UNISON member. I then received an email from a former branch secretary saying that he had been told that I was not a member of UNISON. I assured him I was.
  17. I had no doubt that the Convenor letter and the information that I was not a member had come from a member of the RMT in the Greater London Region as the information would only have been available to the RMT member. I was also ‘trolled’ on twitter anonymously claiming that as a former employee I should not be involved. Information that would only have come from the same source.
  18. When I rang the UNISON help line to enquire why I hadn’t received a ballot paper I was told that membership had been cancelled on the 4th August 2015 despite the fact that I continued to pay subs as a self employed member. I then discovered that my standing order to UNISON had been cancelled from September (not by me).
  19. Although I had retired from my project at NHS HEE I continued to be self employed. In my experience no one ever gets removed from the UNISON membership list this quickly. I have no doubt that I have been subject to ‘dirty tricks’ by a member of the RMT to discredit my support for Heather Wakefield.
  20. I was not at all surprised to listen to the tape of the Greater London Regional Secretary speaking in support of Dave Prentis although surprised that it was in an ‘official’ meeting. I have no doubt that the anti-democratic practices I experienced in 2000, 2005 and 2010 continued in 2015.

24th September 2016

I have left out his personal details and will leave the reader to decide what they think.

The hearing resumes for a day on February 22.

Editor’s Note: To repeat RMT are the initials of the Regional Management Team – not to be confused with the Rail Maritime and Transport union

Unison:A libel threat, a database and a ” cut and paste” email – all to help Dave Prentis win?

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Cliff Williams,Unison assistant general secretary and later head of Team Dave, as a guest speaker at the FDA conference. Pic credit: fda.org.uk

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SPECIAL REPORT FROM THE HEARING BY FREELANCE JOURNALIST ALEX VARLEY WINTER – a colleague of mine at the former Exaro website

The head of Team Dave – Dave Prentis’s election campaign – and a leading official at the union was cross questioned today by  lawyers  over actions taken by officials which are alleged by the three other rival candidates to be a misuse of union resources.
Lawyers representing  candidatesHeather Wakefield, John Burgess and Roger Bannister, and complainant,JonRogers who all allege that the union broke its own rulebook by misusing resources to help Dave Prentis by allowing officials to work on the Team Dave campaign. Union officials are expected to be neutral during elections and only work in their own time to support candidates
 Cliff Williams, Assistant General Secretary of Unison, told the hearing he had flexible working arrangements and ‘Chinese walls’ between his two roles – running the campaign and being an official. Lawyers for the complainants said this was an illusion.
 He was asked why Linda Perks ( the regional official suspended  after  a tape was leaked revealing a meeting of officials had been held in London to discuss Dave Prentis’s  campaign) wasn’t sacked.
It was put to him :”the regional secretary is asking her staff to lie about where they got the leaflets from. There seems to be an instruction to her staff to tell an outright lie.’
 William replied: ‘It looks like that.’
 ‘Is that something that would usually be treated as gross misconduct and summarily dismissable’
During cross questioning Williams had to concede  that union resources were used for the Dave campaign but said this was ‘in error’.
 Asked about a personal email he sent that had a Unison footer on it that looked like a ‘copy paste job’, he said ‘I don’t know how to copy paste’ – which got a guffaw from the public gallery.
Williams said he was not aware of the details of a Dave campaign distribution list using emails of Unison members. Williams said that the Dave database was set up by Lucie Hyndley,  Unison’s Director of Communications.
 He was asked: “there’s a database in existence, you don’t know how but it seems the director of communications was involved in it.”
 Cliff Williams held a campaign meeting in Glasgow Hotel paid for by Unison – he tried to argue in court that this did not count as a breach of rules because it was before election campaigning had started and Dave Prentis wasn’t yet officially a candidate.
Mr Yunus Bakhsh, lawyer for Burgess asked what protection Williams offered to staff to give evidence on alleged misuse of union resources to union  investigator Mr Roger  McKenzie. “You’re telling them please offer yourself to the investigation, … serious allegations, a forensic investigation. Do you think that’d encourage staff to come forward?”
 Williams replied to laughter from the public gallery : “I don’t see why they wouldn’t.”
 At an earlier stage it was revealed that Jon Rogers, another complainant wrote a letter of complaint about the mis-use of Unison resources to Dave Prentis. Lawyers for Prentis then threatened to sue Rogers if he went public.
 Williams was asked: “Were you aware that Mr Prentis issued proceedings against Mr Rogers for libel?”
 Williams: “I saw the two issues as being separate issues.”
 Yunus Bakhsh: “‘I’m going to do you for libel if you repeat the allegations contained in your complaint’ – a threat of libel and a demand for an apology”
-there’s an imbalance of power, Rogers is “a local government worker, (with) a threat of libel from someone in a pedestal position significantly wealthier than him.”
“Did you support the threat of libel?”
 Williams: “I didn’t express a view.”
 The hearing will continue later in the New Year.

Unison election: Now Electoral Reform Services on trial

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Simon Hearn : deputy chief executive of Electoral Reform Services faced tough cross questioning of his role supervising Dave Prentis’s election. Pic credit: ERS

Electoral Reform Services is considered the gold standard in achieving fair and free elections.

Yesterday that image slipped when  deputy chief executive Simon Hearn was cross questioned about his role in supervising the  2015 election of   general secretary Dave Prentis to Britain’s biggest public sector union,Unison. The union paid ERS almost £1m of members money to safeguard fair play.

Simon supervised the first free elections after the fall of Khmer Rouge in Cambodia – see his profile on the ERS website hereYesterday at a hearing in London he was challenged by both JohnBurgess’s legal representative,Yunus Bakhsh, and Heather Wakefield’s barrister,Ms Ijeoma Omambala , for not supervising Unison’s election to  perhaps the same standards.

Both put to him a catalogue of allegations adding up to the point that he seemed to take Unison’s word than properly investigated whether the complaints were valid himself. He vigorously denied this saying he had independently investigated  them and not been swayed by top officials from the union.

All the candidates – Heather Wakefield, John Burgess and Roger Bannister – standing against Dave Prentis – and complainant Jon Rogers have lodged complaints about the way officials are alleged to have misused resources to promote Dave Prentis to retain his job.

But yesterday at the hearing – as well as top union officials being  cross examined – the ERS came in for a lot of criticism.

Among the points raised were:

Why did he not check the  Unison rulebook  after Liane Venner , both  on  ” Team Dave ” campaign for Dave Prentis and the official organising the election, had given him the wrong information  about who could take decisions re the election?

Why had he only investigated nine branches  to check whether there had been breaches of the rules when the union had 953? He said he had investigated more but no longer had the information.

Why hadn’t he followed up the breaches in the Greater London area – where he admitted the union tape had revealed there was a breach of the rules at a meeting to discuss how to promote Dave Prentis to see of there was ” systematic malpractice” elswhere ? He said he hadn’t had enough complaints to do this.

He was also quizzed about the Private Eye article about passing all the complaints to the union without investigating him which the magazine said amounted to ” Team Dave investigating Team Dave.”. He insisted he was just passing the information over to officials, who, in his view, behaved properly, to verify the complaints.

Probably the most damning point was following the inquiry by  Unison official Roger McKenzie into  the breach of union rules at the Greater London meeting which led to the suspension – now lifted – of one official, Linda Perks, when he had been told that more officials were involved.

He suspended his inquiry while the disciplinary inquiry took place but did not appear to have followed up after the result.

The union’s barrister, Mr Antony White QC, did not challenge any of these assertions. He concentrated on getting Mr Hearn to state from his final report on the election’s conclusions to point out that whatever had happened it made no difference to the result – which saw Dave Prentis win comfortably.

An interesting observation – I will refrain from commenting  until the  case is concluded..