Employment Tribunal Day 6 of 10: Cross-examination of Surjit Tour (Part 1)
This is a report of an Employment Tribunal hearing I attended, the matter had already been part heard and this was day 6 of 10. As far as I know there are no reporting restrictions. Brief details are below followed by the first part of a report based on my notes.
Venue: Tribunal Room 2, Third Floor, Liverpool Civil and Family Court Hearing Centre, 35 Vernon Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L2 2BX
Case reference: 2400718/16
Appellant: Mrs A. Mountney
Respondent: Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council
Employment Judge: Judge Robinson
Mr AG Barker
Mrs JE Williams
Clerk: Lynne Quilty
Time: 10.00 am
The following is a contemporaneous account of day 6.
EJ Robinson told people present in Tribunal Room 2 to sit down and apologised for the wait. He said that they would carry on with Mr. Mountney (the lay representative for Alison Mountney).
The order of witnesses would be Surjit Tour, Kate Robinson, Joe Blott and Mr. Williams.
EJ Robinson said good morning to Mr. Tour and said that he could say the oath on a bible of his choice. He then asked Mr Tour to read from the yellow card.
Mr Tour read the oath which starts, “I swear by Almighty God that the evidence I will give..”.
EJ Robinson asked him to sit down. He said that he intended to break at 10.45 am, but if Mr Tour needed a break he must tell him. Mr Moore (representing Wirral Council) would introduce the cross-examination.
Mr Moore asked Mr Tour to find the witness statement. He asked Mr Tour his name to which he answered, “Surjit Tour”. He then asked if it was his business address in the witness statement. It was.
The representative for Wirral Council Mr Moore asked Mr Tour if he had read Mr Tour’s witness statement. Mr Tour answered yes.
Mr Moore asked if Mr Tour wanted to make any amendments to his witness statement.
Mr Tour wanted to make some clarifications. The first was in paragraph 101 on page 20. Referring to a reference here it would be “rolled out in phases”, Electoral Services had been passed until the elections in May 2015.
In paragraph 17, the references to public interest reports, there was just one which was about the highways procurement exercise, the other reference was a reference to a call-in of a different decision regarding services.
EJ Robinson said OK and asked if there were other amendments?
Mr Tour answered that a handwritten letter had been provided to him in October, he remembered the date in reference to paragraph 55, to avoid confusion he didn’t remember receiving it.
EJ Robinson said (to Mr Mountney) that although the letter was not discussed he could ask Mr Tour about it to which Mr Mountney replied OK.
Mr Mountney thanked EJ Robinson and said good morning. Starting at the beginning of Mr Tour’s witness statement he referred to Mr Tour starting at Wirral Council in 2009. He asked Mr Tour if Wirral Council was in turmoil at that time?
Mr Tour said that the detail [of the turmoil] had not become apparent until later. Continuing, he said that Cllr Green had commissioned Anna Klonowski to look into whistleblowing concerns of Martin Morton and that the issues that arose needed to be reviewed.
Mr Mountney referred to page 227 and a Cabinet report in November 2013 that summarised the issues. There had been a need to established effective governance. Wirral Council had many whistleblowers and it was clear to those present at that time that there were issues in the way Wirral Council treated whistleblowers with disdain.
Mr Tour said that although there were issues, that Wirral Council was addressing them which was made clear arising from the Anna Klonowski Associates Ltd review relating to Mr Morton.
There had been a Cabinet report in September 2011, which was a supplementary report which set out the issues of governance in the organisation. Wirral Council had worked to address the governance issues and the failings.
Mr Mountney referred to page 281 and asked a question to which Mr Tour answered yes.
Mr Mountney referred to 2.8 and 2.9, the Anna Klonowski Associates report and the culture at Wirral Council about whistleblowing. The culture was one were there was fear of reprisals (against whistleblowers). He asked a question about this. Mr Tour replied that he accepted it.
Mr Mountney said that the concerns whistleblowers had that they felt they were not listened to, treated fairly and that whistleblowers were conscious of reprisal.
Mr Tour said that in the context of the whistleblowing raised by Martin Morton it was spread out, in 2009 he was not told the large issues but it was clear in the report that Anna Klonowski prepared.
Mr Mountney said he was correct. Referring to the Public Interest Disclosure Act reports, he referred to the major issues. Mr Tour said that the public interest report into highways was to do with the procurement arrangements.
Mr Mountney asked that if someone was working for Wirral Council at that time might they be fearful of blowing the whistle or raising a grievance?
Mr Tour said that he recognised that improvements needed to be made, there was a revised whistleblowing policy and a follow-up report.
Mr Mountney asked if most employees were fearful of whistleblowing or raising a grievance?
Mr Tour said that they “would or could be concerned” but referred again to the revised whistleblowing policy and the commissioning of the Anna Klonowski Associates report.
Mr Mountney asked how long it took to resolve Martin Morton’s whistleblowing?
Mr Tour answered that it took a few years to resolve.
Mr Mountney referred to paragraph 14 in reference to the major impact on Mr Tour’s time due to day-to-day issues.
Mr Tour replied that much time was spent on the Improvement Plan and sustaining improvement.
Mr Mountney asked if it was really the case that Mr Tour had dropped one?
Mr Tour admitted it was “challenging”, as there was a “lot to address” and then commented on the “level of work”.
Mr Mountney asked a further question if whistleblowers got the time they deserved?
Mr Tour said it was clear there were conversations with Mrs Mountney and that all staff were communicated to about the improvements. There had been work undertaken. Mr Tour felt that Wirral Council dealt with the issues needed to be dealt with effectively, but there had been demands on time.
Mr Mountney referred to Mr. Tour’s witness statement and that for two to three lives it had been a priority to address the issues which were compounded by two public interest reports. One of the issues had been called in and at the time it was described as a “dysfunctional Council” and a damaging place to those who brought grievances over whistleblowing complaints.
Mr Tour said he was aware of the issues of Martin Morton and other whistleblowers. That they were linked was not something he was sure of. However he said, “it was a challenging time”.
Mr Mountney referred to another public interest disclosure and asked if it was resolved to which Mr Tour said it was still ongoing.
Mr Mountney asked when the second note was made? Mr Tour answered that the public interest report by the Audit Commission was in June 2012 and that it had been prior to this.
Mr Mountney asked if that was before it was published in June 2012. Mr Tour answered 5 years but it was not resolved, but that wasn’t through lack of trying.
Mr Mountney asked how many employees Wirral Borough Council had to which Mr Tour responded four thousand.
Mr Mountney asked if the HR department had eighty staff? Referring to paragraph 23, he asked Mr Tour to clear up a date which had been referred to also in Kate Robinson’s witness statement. He asked if it referred not to February 2012, but December 2011?
Mr Tour answered that he didn’t recall. Mr Mountney again referred to that Mr Tour had told Kate Robinson he could not recall, but this didn’t mean he hadn’t been told?
Mr Tour said that he genuinely didn’t recall. Mr Mountney asked another question to which Mr Tour answered that he didn’t recall. Mr Mountney asked if he [Mr Tour] was told or made aware of Alison Mountney’s whistleblowing? Mr Tour said that he didn’t recall, but that if it had been raised with him that he would have been addressing it. Mr Mountney referred to page 28. Someone asked if he meant paragraph 28 to which Mr Mountney replied yes.
Mr Mountney asked a question about Mr Bradfield to which Mr Tour replied with a comment about Mr Bradfield and part responsibility.
Mr Mountney referred to page 10. EJ Robinson said, “What?” to which Mr Mountney replied 6.10. He referred to the bottom appearing above the reference to poll clerk and other posts and asked if it wasn’t up to Alison Mountney, it was up to Kate Robinson?
Mr Tour referred to promotions. He said that Alison Mountney couldn’t remove where an appointment had been made.
Mr Mountney asked another question about staff to which Mr Tour answered no.
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