29 November 2011 Press Release: Welsh Government and AVOW

Campaigners calling for transparency and accountability at AVOW (Association of Voluntary Organisations in Wrexham) and in the Welsh Government handed out leaflets today outside the General Meeting of AVOW at its offices in Egerton Street, Wrexham. Copy of leaflet here.

Concerns centre around two main issues:

(1) AVOW TAKE-OVER OF THE MANAGEMENT OF PLAS MADOC COMMUNITIES FIRST PROJECT

It is now clear that John Gallanders, Chief Officer at AVOW, was involved in negotiations which led to the take-over by AVOW of the management of the failing Plas Madoc Communities First project and that these negotiations took place after the handing down of the verbal Employment Tribunal Judgment in the case of Bove v AVOW, in which his conduct as Chief Officer as well as the conduct of the Trustees of AVOW were severely criticised and found to be lacking in several key respects. In other words, John Gallanders continued to lead AVOW through the take-over of an organisation with failing governance knowing full well that his own organisation’s governance had been found to be seriously failing.

See also this post.

Despite a number of requests both to AVOW and the Welsh Government, neither has yet answered the question of whether and when AVOW made the WG aware of the Tribunal outcome and its findings.

AVOW has also failed to respond to AM Mark Isherwood’s request for an answer to the allegation made by ex-trustee Nick Colbourne and openly reported in the press that AVOW board members were ‘parachuted in’ to AVOW to get the Plas Madoc vote through the Trustee board.

(2) THE INTERNAL REVIEW SET UP BY AVOW TO LOOK AT THE EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAL’S FINDINGS IN THE CASE OF BOVE V AVOW

There are a number of issues in connection with the Review of the Tribunal’s findings set up by AVOW once it had decided not to appeal against the judgment.

The panel at AVOW undertaking the review, consisting of two trustees and an ‘independent chair’ has, at the time of writing, yet to respond to AM Mark Isherwood on a number of points he raised weeks ago including:

* whether the panel will interview Ms Bove as part of its investigation ‘given that her story is central to the Inquiry.’ No approach has yet been made to Ms Bove by the panel (or by anyone else) regarding the review.
* whether the panel will ‘see the full documentation from the tribunal case, rather than just the findings – i.e. agreed bundle, including the bundle of papers AVOW allegedly objected to being used but which was allowed, and all witness statements.’

[words in italics are quotes from Mark Isherwood’s queries raised with AVOW]

The documents AVOW objected to and tried unsuccessfully to suppress include emails sent by Mr Gallanders to AVOW’s employment advisers. These revealed Mr Gallanders’ wrongdoing and exposed his real intentions, for example trying to avoid Ms Bove transferring to AVOW, using a request for medical evidence to be ‘awkward’ towards Ms Bove and requesting an enhanced CRB check not to protect vulnerable people but as ‘a long shot’ that something would come back on it.

See also this post.

AVOW’s witness statements also attracted particular criticism in the judgment (quote from Tribunal judgment below).

The full terms of reference of the review have not been made public. A freedom of information request to the Charity Commission for Wales resulted in other correspondence being released but not the letter from AVOW of 20 September 2011, stating in detail the steps it planned to take to deal with the issues raised by the Tribunal. This is somewhat perverse, since AVOW itself released to the press in full the Charity Commission’s response to its 20 September letter, as quoted in this report and in an article in the Wrexham Leader on 5 October 2011.

Link to FoI request and follow-up here.

The public is being asked to accept the Charity Commission’s support and satisfaction with the measures proposed, without knowing what those measures are!

Nor will AVOW confirm that the panel’s report will be made public, this despite the fact that the regulatory and overseeing bodies appear to be holding back on any action in respect of AVOW pending the report. There is not even a confirmed deadline for the report to be produced although, in AVOW’s winter 2011 newsletter, a brief article about the Tribunal – the first time it has been formally mentioned to members – states that ‘it is hoped that it will be reporting to the AVOW board before the end of the year.’

EXTRACT FROM TRIBUNAL'S JUDGMENT ON MATTER OF WITNESS STATEMENTS

The prolixity of the claimant’s witness statement was, however, as nothing compared to the brevity of the statements supplied on behalf of the respondent. They were singularly unhelpful. None exceeded four short sentences in length; most did not exceed two. None were ready by the directed date for exchange (10 January 2011); indeed, one of the respondent’s principal witnesses, its chair of trustees at the time, told us he had no idea that the claimant had even brought Tribunal proceedings until 17 January 2011. The respondent’s statements were limited to an assertion that certain minutes of meetings were true and accurate, accompanied by a request that we look at specific pages of the bundle but with no attempt to provide a factual context or commentary. They told us almost nothing about the position of the respondent’s witnesses on the matters in dispute. They barely complied with the letter, let alone the spirit, of the requirement to disclose evidence in chief by the provision of statements.

Genny Bove, who brought the employment tribunal case against AVOW, said:

The public has a right to be concerned when neither AVOW nor the Welsh Government will answer important questions about the circumstances surrounding AVOW’s take-over of the management of Plas Madoc Communities First. We need transparency, not cover-up.

As for the internal review AVOW is conducting, there are questions about whether an organisation which has found to be so comprehensively failing in its governance is in any position to investigate itself. Irrespective of this, however, there are many unanswered questions about the way the review is being carried out, not least why the Panel has made no effort, two months into the process, to contact me as part of its investigations. That Mark Isherwood’s questions have gone unanswered just demonstrates that it is business as usual at AVOW, by which I mean that the lessons of the tribunal have not been learnt, and that is very bad news both for AVOW’s members and for the wider public.

END

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