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Former chief executive at council with ‘significant bullying problem’ given senior Norfolk role

PUBLISHED: 11:09 11 October 2020 | UPDATED: 11:09 11 October 2020

Breckland Council. Picture: Ian Burt

Breckland Council. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2013

A former chief executive at an organisation said to have a “significant bullying problem” has been appointed in a senior role at a Norfolk council.

Council leader Sam Chapman-Allen Photo: Breckland CouncilCouncil leader Sam Chapman-Allen Photo: Breckland Council

Breckland Council has appointed Nathan Elvery, ex-chief executive at West Sussex County Council as its interim head of paid service.

Mr Elvery left the council in November last year after a report found “systemic and prolonged failures” across the children’s services department.

He received a £265,000 payout - the equivalent of 16 months’ pay.

The report said the council had a “significant bullying problem” which was “modelled from the top of the organisation”.

Anna Graves, outgoing joint chief executive of Breckland District Council and South Holland District CouncilAnna Graves, outgoing joint chief executive of Breckland District Council and South Holland District Council

The report for the Department for Education (DfE) found: “This culture is perceived to start at the very top of the organisation, politically and managerially.

READ MORE: Breckland Council’s chief executive announces plans to step down

“Behaviours can be summarised as unpredictable, unforgiving and belittling. Key post holders at the top are feared by some.”

However, the report, written by John Coughlan, commissioner for children’s services in West Sussex, stated: “The chief executive wished to stress there have been no complaints or grievances against him personally during this tenure at the county council.”

And when approached for comment, Mr Elvery said: “The commissioner states that no complaints had been raised in relation to the chief executive.”

The head of paid service role is an interim position for six months and will see Mr Elvery split the two-days-a-week role across Breckland and South Holland District Council, in Lincolnshire.

Council leader Sam Chapman-Allen said Mr Elvery was not a replacement for outgoing chief executive Anna Graves and would have “no direct line management responsibility”.

He added that recruitment had been carried out through national agency Penna which headhunted Mr Elvery and a joint appointment panel interviewed the candidate.

READ MORE: Coronavirus ‘baptism of fire’ but council leader sees a brighter future

During a special Breckland full council meeting, held on Thursday, October 8, councillors debated Mr Elvery’s appointment.

Green Party councillor Timothy Birt raised the West Sussex report and said: “The candidate we are considering was CEO of this organisation at the time.

“It is incredibly relevant to what we are looking at. I suggest we delay this meeting until we have had time to look at this properly.”

And Independent councillor Roger Atterwill added: “It would be very poor form to expect us to form an opinion at short notice.”

But council chairman Lynda Turner said there had been “no material objections” from members of the cabinet, while Mike Brindle, Labour councillor added: “My view is he would make an excellent choice for the job of giving advice.”

And Labour member Terry Jermy said: “There’s an element of trust and an assumption that due diligence has been done.”

He asked that a firm end date be included in the motion to approve Mr Elvery’s appointment to the temporary role.

Conservative councillor Bill Borrett said: “I do not like the tone around some of the questions.

“It is not a comfortable place to be in character assassination of an individual acting in good faith.”

READ MORE: Council takes no action against councillor accused of using ‘derogatory’ and ‘demeaning’ language

While Mr Chapman-Allen (Cons) said: “Some very robust questions were asked and the candidate gave some very honest and candid responses and gave confidence to the panel. It was a unanimous decision.”

And Mark Stinson, executive governance manager at the council, said: “We are talking about an individual’s personal information. I appreciate some of that may already be in the public domain but we are still bound by data protection rules.”

Mr Elvery’s appointment was approved, with four abstentions and one vote against.

Speaking after the meeting, a council spokesman said: “Mr Elvery has been appointed to the interim role of strategic advisor and will cover the statutory role of head of paid service.

“His position will be shared by Breckland and our partner, South Holland District Council for two days a week through until the end of March.

“Mr Elvery­ will be providing strategic advice and focusing on project work, rather than delivering business-as-usual services. Following a joint appointment panel, it was felt that Mr Elvery has the skills and experience we need to help both councils move forward.”

When asked what he would be paid, the spokesman said: “It would not be appropriate to disclose commercially sensitive details. We can confirm that this role will be picked up as part of our current budget and will be split between Breckland Council and South Holland councils.”

READ MORE: Councillor faced formal complaint over ‘not being appropriately dressed’ on Zoom call


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