Council chief dubbed “Victor Meldrew with a Kalashnikov”

April 22, 2009 at 12:13 pm 1 comment

By Lawrence Dunhill

The few who stayed late at the Commons last night heard what a Conservative MP called “the strange case of Councillor Paul Buchanan”.

Ian Liddell-Grainger, Conservative member for Bridgwater, urged that public officers should be subject to a model code of conduct after he likened the behaviour of Alan Jones, the chief executive of Somerset County Council, to “Victor Meldrew with a Kalashnikov.”

The House heard what Mr Liddell-Grainger stressed was a “true story”, and one of “deliberate deceit and victimisation,” that has all but destroyed Paul Buchanan’s political ambitions.

On 4 April 2007 Mr Jones composed a six-page letter of complaint about Paul Buchanan and sent it to the Standards Board for England.

Mr Liddell-Grainger described it as a “bizarre piece of writing.”

He said: “Paul Buchanan is accused of secretiveness, undermining staff, aggression, threatening behaviour, rudeness, intimidation, anger, disrespect, fraud, sexism, racism, homophobia, and abuse of his office as an elected councillor.

“There is barely concealed hatred of the man in every sentence. It is the ultimate hatchet job.”

A full-blown inquiry was launched into the conduct of Paul Buchanan, the former deputy leader of Somerset county council, and Mr Liddell-Grainger detailed the process:

“The board went about its task relentlessly for two years…Lawyers came and went, and it dragged on. Heaven only knows what it cost—and the result?

“Eventually, 16 of the original complaints were rejected completely and four others were referred to a higher court—the Adjudication Panel. That meant more delay and more uncertainty for Paul Buchanan.

“The panel, with a bench of barristers in tow, finally met in Somerset over recent weeks and and threw out three more complaints. One tiny charge was upheld – Paul Buchanan had been heard swearing under his breath.

“He was deemed to have been a little careless and ticked off with a censure—the mildest possible sanction. That is mad. Frankly, after two years in limbo, my language would have been extremely fruity and very loud indeed.”

Mr Liddell-Grainger insisted it was not possible that Mr Jones had made an innocent mistake because the charges were too specific, and they were backed up with too much detail and personal bile.

“So,” he asked. “Why on earth did Jones want to get Buchanan? And, what had Buchanan got on Jones? I am sorry if it sounds conspiratorial, but there is a big hint of conspiracy in all this.”

The Tory MP revealed how Alan Jones had confided in Paul Buchanan about allegations of harassment against him made by Jenny Hastings, a colleague with whom he had allegedly conducted an affair.

Mr Liddell-Grainger said: “Perhaps he wanted to curry favour with the man most likely to be the next leader of the county council…Jones pleaded with Buchanan to help. Buchanan rightly told Jones that he could not. Big mistake: Alan Jones has a long memory and, as we will see, bears grudges.

“Jenny Hastings was threatening an industrial tribunal—a very public way of exposing the antics of her erstwhile lover. Behind closed doors and with the help of ACAS, a deal was sealed to buy off Ms Hastings. It cost £140,000 of taxpayers’ money—slightly less than Alan Jones’s annual salary.

“Somerset county council thought that it had got everyone involved to sign a confidentiality agreement, but it carelessly left at least one person off the list, which is why I know how much she was paid.

Mr Liddell Grainger described how life “limped on” at the council and Buchanan and Jones got involved with Southwest One, a joint venture between Somerset county council, Avon and Somerset police and IBM.

He said: “In a peculiar fashion, Jones and Buchanan looked like peas in a pod. Jones was the go-getting chief executive, albeit with a weakness for women; Buchanan was business-savvy and energetic. What a team!

“Paul Buchanan was involved in assessing the merits of the commercial bidders back in 2006. There were three rivals: Capita, British Telecom, for which Alan Jones got a consultancy in Somerset; and IBM.”

Mr Liddell-Grainger continued: “With millions at stake, such companies spend hundreds of thousands of pounds polishing their bids. They twitch if anyone speaks out of turn because there is so much at stake.

“On 12 February 2007, Paul Buchanan went to London to meet IBM representatives. My sources in the industry tell me that IBM was badly rattled.

“It had heard rumours that Alan Jones had been singing the praises of BT during a late-night drinking session at a conference of chief executives. I forgot to mention that Mr. Jones likes to unwind with a glass in his hand—but this time, unfortunately for him, he was overheard. Paul Buchanan, to his credit, had to pour oil on IBM’s troubled waters; otherwise, the whole project would have gone belly up.

“Within a day or two of that meeting, Jones’s attitude changed completely; it was the trigger that launched the campaign to destroy Buchanan. Jones sent a letter to Councillor Cathy Bakewell, the leader of Somerset county council, about Buchanan’s behaviour and persuaded his four most senior directors to sign it. Then Bakewell came to talk to the management board—that is, Jones and his four toady directors. She promised to “deal with Buchanan.

“The Standards Board rejected the first batch of Jones’s complaints because they were plainly ridiculous—so Jones started complaining about its decision. Jones was obsessed with his vendetta. Buchanan hit back with a letter to the council citing incidents of drunkenness, womanising and bullying by Jones. He could not take them up with the Standards Board, because there is no mechanism to do so.

“Jones cross-volleyed with yet more complaints, this time claiming that Buchanan was bullying him by complaining about his behaviour. You could not make it up. It is a plot full of bureaucracy, bonking and a chief executive who has gone totally bonkers.

Mr Liddell Grainger said that although Paul Buchanan was acquitted his party will not have him as a council candidate in Somerset:

“He has been stitched up and, I am afraid, let down. The Liberal Democrats emerge from this sordid affair as weak-willed, mealy-mouthed and yellow—that is their party colour, after all.”

Sadiq Khan, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, responded to the Mr Liddell-Grainger’s speech by stressing that he could not comment on the specific case but that he supported the movement for standards committees to investigate allegations against local authority officials.

He added: “We recently held a consultation on whether there should be a model code of conduct for local authority officials, just as there is one for local authority members.

“We are currently considering the more than 1,000 responses to the consultation that we have received. The consultation included proposals to transport some aspects of the members’ code to senior officials. The code will form part of an employee’s terms and conditions of employment and could be used in any disciplinary procedures.”

Mr Liddell-Grainger expressed his concern that these moves would come too late for Paul Buchanan and asked for a time-scale.

Mr Khan concluded: “I think it is important to have political consensus in this area. I do not wish to make cheap political points, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that his party is committed to abolishing the Standards Board, so the idea of having a parallel system for senior officials would obviously not work if the Standards Board regime were abolished.”

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. mrred  |  April 23, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Love this blog I’ll be back when I have more time.

    Reply

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