Burnley Council whistle-blower highlights ‘failings’

Council leader Mark Townsend refutes claims
Council leader Mark Townsend refutes claims
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A disgruntled employee of Burnley Council is threatening to “blow the lid” on management failings at the top of the organisation, which he says has cost the people of the borough.

The anonymous “employee of many years” wrote to the Express and serving councillors in the wake of our story last week which revealed the council was planning to sell off most of its services to private bidders under its Change Programme, which aims to address the £3m. shortfall in government funding over the next two years.

He claimed he wanted to remain anonymous because of “an undeniable culture of fear and bullying at a senior level.”

The damning memorandum was sent the day before Burnley Council’s Executive Committee ratified the Change Programme on Tuesday evening.

Its author wrote: “It is my view, and that of many of my colleagues, that while central government has imposed heavy financial restrictions in Burnley and many northern towns, a series of disastrous and costly projects, together with amateur budgetary control, has left the council in a precarious financial position for which the management team have devolved the consequences to the workforce.”

The criticises several of the council’s big money capital projects including the Weavers’ Triangle regeneration, Manchester Road Railway Station and Oval Shopping Centre which are all claimed to have gone over-budget.

The employee added: “I cannot believe a Labour-run council in Burnley can ever support a policy of making ordinary hard-working people with a belief in the town, redundant or transferred to private industry for profit, while maintaining the jobs and pensions of the senior management who have made a series of costly blunders. Surely, it is inconceivable the whole top-heavy structure of the organisation is not taken into account first.”

But the council’s chief executive, Steve Rumbelow, hit back at the letter and questioned many of the author’s claims.

Mr Rumbelow said: “I do not normally comment on anonymous correspondence but this note requires a brief response.

It is clearly generated by an aggrieved individual and I certainly understand how some of the changes the council is going through can be difficult for staff. In recognition of this, the council has established a comprehensive programme of individual support and training that has been developed in consultation with staff and wider management alike.

“The management team has also undertaken a series of staff briefings, both at a team and council-wide level, to explain the reasons for the changes and the Change Programme.

“As part of that process, staff have been encouraged to share their ideas for other budget savings and any concerns they have with the Change Programme. We will continue with these meetings as we go forward.

“The council is working with staff and trade unions as part of this process, a process which is about reducing our costs to deal with central Government cuts in resources while continuing to deliver quality services to our citizens. The author suggests the note is anonymous due to ‘fear of bullying or intimidation.’ If this is the case, the council has ‘whistle blowing’ procedures in place to protect people from such unacceptable behaviour. Alternatively, I would be happy to talk to the individual concerned.”

Council leader Coun. Mark Townsend said: “The council has been open and transparent with staff over a number of months as plans have been developing for a radical change to the way services are delivered.

“Some staff will see the programme as an opportunity and others will see it as a threat and object accordingly. This is normal for any major organisational change programme and for those who need it support will be provided.

“Staff considerations are uppermost in the council’s thoughts. That is why we have included specific tests for any potential partnering arrangement relating to staff undertakings and future career development.”