A former top Unison official slammed by a judge selected to be a new Labour councillor for one of London’s deprived wards

Linda Perks at a Unison protest. pic credit Flickr

Linda Perks at a Unison protest. Pic credit: Flickr

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

Most of the rows about Labour candidates being selected in London  for May’s local government elections have centred around the rise of Momentum and challenges to established Labour leaders in Haringey and Newham.

But while all this is going on quietly a new kid on the block has emerged unnoticed in the London borough of Greenwich. She was the sole person criticised by a part time judge in a hearing over the election of Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, Britain’s largest public service union last year.

Linda Perks, the former London regional secretary, was castigated by part time judge Mary Stacey during as certification officer hearing which followed complaints about rule breaking from other candidates who challenged Dave Prentis for the job.

The judge upheld a complaint against Linda Perks,  for flagrant breaches of union rules – after reading a transcript and listening to a secret tape of a meeting held at the TUC’s Congress House, where, it is said, 50 officials were urged to break campaigning rules to ensure the re-election of Dave Prentis. The code name for the campaign was ” Special Chocolate Biscuits”.

After listening to the tape the judge ruled :“ Ms Perks tone is not just confident and swaggering in so openly breaking the rules but chilling in its brazenness and demonstration of unchecked power”.

She blatantly had known she was breaking union rules by getting officials to organise support for Dave Prentis during work time which was against union rules. The judge notes that it almost looked that for 3 or 4 days officials would do little else but campaign for Mr Prentis.

Linda Perks was suspended by the president of the union. But the judge said:

“The subsequent leisurely disciplinary proceedings of Ms Perks and outcome do not inspire confidence or serve as a deterrent for future overzealous officers. Some might think the move to National Secretary in Head Office on unspecified strategic projects retaining all pay and benefits represents reward rather than punishment, though she has endured the imposition of a final written warning.”

Since then Linda Perks has retired from the union and was given a huge farewell party attended by Dave Prentis who tweeted ” Absolutely packed house to thank Linda Perks, one of our longest serving regional secretaries. We will all miss her”.

Now the Labour selection body has selected her as one of three candidates to represent Charlton- one of the poorer wards in the borough. There is a full report by a local journalist and blogger, Darryl Chamberlain on his 853.com blog. He quotes an email  from her saying:“My union work has also enabled me to develop a good understanding of how councils work and how decisions are taken.”

The ward she is representing is one of the poorest in the borough. Its faded grandeur has led it to put on the ” at risk register” by Historic England as reported here. It has a low level of  home ownership and high levels of council housing and housing association and higher levels of unemployment.

Linda Perks declined to reply to a request for a comment about her selection. Her contribution to local affairs – should she be elected for this safe ward where Labour romped home in 2014.  – remains to be seen.

 

 

 

Blog in 2017: The Grenfell tragedy has resurrected the madness of fire privatisation

Grenfell_Tower_fire_morning

Grenfell Tower: The next morning Pic credit: Wikipedia

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

This year my small news site received an extraordinary boost from a five year old post which appeared to have been regenerated by the Grenfell fire tragedy.

The Grenfell disaster showed the bravery of the London fire brigade in tackling such a grim scenario. Heroism and extreme tragedy side by side.

The post that got revived in the wake of the fire was the almost unbelievable story of how an Old Etonian baronet living in a semi in Wellingborough, Northants had got his hands on the management of London’s entire fire engine fleet for £2. It is probably still the most egregious act of privatisation in this country. He of course had to hand it back after a few weeks as he couldn’t run it.

sir aubrey brocklebank

Sir Aubrey Brocklebank: Sacked by the London Fire Brigade; Picture courtesy Daily Telegraph

The public authority had been powerless when the dodgy private company they gave the contract to maintain the fire engine fleet- Assetco London – handed over  London’s fire service to the baronet as the directors realising the game was up and fled the scene.

The good news here – though it has never been reported  by mainstream media-  is the authorities in their own slow way are ensuring the perpetrators get their just deserts.

Grant Thornton , the auditors for Assetco, have been fined  £3.5m (reduced to £2.275m  after they co-operated with the Financial Reporting Council) and found guilty of no fewer than 12 cases of professional misconduct.  The details are in this blog.

assetco_3417t

Assetco’s John Shannon stands astride two London fire engines

Robert Napper, the individual accountant  responsible for auditing Assetco was fined £200,000, reduced to £130,000 after  he co-operated  with the inquiry. He had already retired but I traced him to an Oxfordshire village enjoying his expensive wines. 

Now Assetco directors John Shannon, Raymond ” Frank ” Flynn and Matthew Boyle are to face a disciplinary tribunal by the Financial Reporting Council on January 15. The statement is here.

The press release reads: 

“The Formal Complaint contains multiple allegations against each of Mr Shannon, Mr Flynn and Mr Boyle. The Formal Complaint includes allegations they acted dishonestly or recklessly; that they breached the fundamental principles of integrity and objectivity in the manner in which they prepared the financial statements; and that their conduct fell significantly short of the standards reasonably to be expected of members of Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI). The complaint covers a wide range of issues which pervaded AssetCo plc’s financial statements.

Some idea of what was going on has already been covered on this blog. Don’t hold your breath that the London Evening Standard will cover the story.

The original blog attracted over 2,500 hits when it was published. This year it topped my ratings with over 14,700 hits – showing that readers are interested in such issues.

Altogether over five years it has received some 20,000 hits.

The other stories have been posted on both my blog and byline.com – so the figures on my blog will be a small proportion of the number of hits on the stories.

The second highest hit from readers tells the heroic story of a London Midland train driver whose quick reaction in nine seconds prevented a commuter disaster near Watford. It  came out in an accident report and had over 5170 hits and can be read here.

ConservativesTwo stories about the plight of the Conservative Party also rated highly. A story revealing that membership of the Conservative Party had plummeted to 100,000 attracted nearly 5000 hits and one on changes to the Tory Party constitution attracted well over 1700 hits. The two blogs are here and here and on Byline here and here.

The real block to enormous boundary changes in Parliamentary constituencies is the DUP and this blog  and byline.com disclosed this last July. The links are here and here. 

On my site it got 2600 hits – mainstream media have finally followed it up last week but put the blame on Jeremy Corbyn instead.

Also popular was a blog on how secret influencers are bankrolling right wing  think tanks by the organisation Transparify . This attracted over 2400 hits on my site and the links are here and here.

dave-prentis-pic-credit-twitter

Dave Prentis, general secretary, Unison Pic Credit: Twitter

The attempt to force Unison to rerun the election for the general secretary Dave Prentis also attracted a lot of readers. Again the public hearings by the Certification Officer received no coverage in mainstream media except the Morning Star. All the blogs received over 1000 hits – the largest being  over 1850 hits for a blog publishing the statement of a former union official who accused the union of ” anti Democratic practices”. The link is here and here. 

The issue is not quite over as a judge is due to hear the opponent’s case again  for an appeal on February 8.

Three other issues made the top slots – the  bonus payments to top DWP civil servants who set up the hated Universal Credit payments which I also wrote up for the Sunday Mirror; the scandal of 3.3 million pensioners who will have to wait years for the state pension and the prospect of two Tory Lord Chancellors facing legal action for institutional racism over the appointment of judges and tribunal members.

All this has to show that there is a  public appetite for investigative journalism and the mainstream media are increasingly ignoring important stories by sticking to a narrow agenda. Much more to come in 2018.

 

 

 

 

Unison’s Special Chocolate Biscuits Scandal: An insight into murky behaviour at the top of Britain’s biggest public sector union

y

dave-prentis-pic-credit-twitter

Dave Prentis, general secretary, Unison Pic Credit: Twitter

1200px-McVitie's_chocolate_digestive_biscuit

A chocolate biscuit; Pic Credit: Wikipedia

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

Britain’s biggest public sector union last month escaped the embarrassment of having to rerun an election for its well known general secretary, Dave Prentis despite a judge deciding that one leading official ” flagrantly ” broke union rules to get him re-elected.

The union had faced a barrage of complaints from  three rival  candidates to Prentis – Heather Wakefield, John Burgess, and Roger Bannister  – and a long standing party member, Jon Rogers at a hearing at the end of last year before an assistant certification officer and part time judge, Mary Stacy.

She rejected demands for a rerun of the election, criticism that the Electoral Reform Services who had a £1 m fee to supervise the election  were not independent, and also threw out a complaint against Liz Snape, Dave Prentis’s long term partner,  that she had broken rules by campaigning for him in union time,

But the judge upheld a complaint against Linda Perks, now a national secretary and previously London’s regional secretary, for flagrant breaches of union rules – after reading a transcript and listening to a secret tape of a meeting held at the TUC’s Congress House, where, it is said, 50 officials were urged to break campaigning rules to ensure the re-election of Dave Prentis. The code name for the campaign was ” Special Chocolate Biscuits”.

The judge ruled out taking enforcement proceedings to force another election only because she was satisfied that Dave Prentis did not know that Linda Perks had taken such actions and because she thought he would still have won despite electoral irregularities in the campaign.

The election took place in a febrile atmosphere just after Ed Miliband’s resignation as Labour party leader and when Jeremy Corbyn was mounting his successful bid for party leader.

Mr Prentis who had won overwhelming support in previous election  but was facing a much tougher challenge with a leading union official, Heather Wakefield, standing against him alongside two other candidates.

The judge, said some of the criticism of Heather Wakefield by Prentis supporters amounted to “demonization” and she also criticised the failure of the union to apologise to Jon Rogers for threatening him with a libel action when he complained of electoral malpractice.

But she reserved her most damning criticism for Linda Perks and the way the union later handled disciplinary proceedings against her  and its failure to investigate other people who were involved.

After listening to the tape the judge ruled :“ Ms Perks tone is not just confident and swaggering in so openly breaking the rules but chilling in its brazenness and demonstration of unchecked power”.

She blatantly had known she was breaking union rules by getting officials to organise support for Dave Prentis during work time which was against union rules. The judge notes that it almost looked that for 3 or 4 days officials would do little else but campaign for Mr Prentis.

Linda Perks was suspended by the president of the union. But the judge says:

“The subsequent leisurely disciplinary proceedings of Ms Perks and outcome do not inspire confidence or serve as a deterrent for future overzealous officers. Some might think the move to National Secretary in Head Office on unspecified strategic projects retaining all pay and benefits represents reward rather than punishment, though she has endured the imposition of a final written warning.”

The judge is asking the union to review its procedures and set up a police for whistleblowers – which the union does not have – despite relying on whistleblowers from other public bodies to provide it with information.

” Work is also required to restore trust amongst its Greater London members following the activities of the regional secretary and the RMT ( Regional Management Team ) which have done so much damage to the Union’s reputation both internally and externally.”

The union’s response is this :

“UNISON welcomes the assistant certification officer’s decision to uphold the result of the 2015 general secretary election and reject the call from the complainants that there should be a re-run. The union’s development and organisation committee will be now be considering the ACO’s comments.”

It strikes me that though the union escaped an election rerun for such an important post – that it does need to put its house in order. Unions play an important part in a democracy in exposing appalling conditions and treatment of workers in  this country and abroad. They must be seen to be squeaky clean in the way they run their  affairs or their own reputations will be damaged. They can’t fight causes  against rogue employers  if the break their own rules or try to fix election results.

I have also written about this in Tribune magazine.

 

 

 

Rerun Dave Prentis election urge candidates at Unison malpractice hearing

dave-prentis-pic-credit-twitter

Dave Prentis, general secretary, Unison Pic Credit: Twitter

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

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

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

dave-prentis-pic-credit-twitter

Dave Prentis, general secretary, Unison Pic Credit: Twitter

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

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?

cliff_williams_2

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

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

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

simon-hearn

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..