No consequences for AVOW? Update on lack of developments since August.

Background

The Tribunal handed down its damning judgment on AVOW verbally at the last day of the hearing just over a year ago – on 14 March 2011. Three people representing AVOW were present: Chief Officer John Gallanders, employment legal adviser Sky Bibi and a man I did not know. In spite of just hearing the Judge rule that AVOW’s governance was seriously failing, with both the Chief Officer and the Trustees responsible for these failings, and that there was worrying evidence that these failings had not been addressed by the time of the hearing, AVOW went on to take over the management of another failing organisation: Plas Madoc Communities First. I believe it is now attempting to gain control of the successor to Communities First (Communities Next?) in some parts of Wrexham.

The written reasons for the Tribunal’s findings were handed down in August 2011, following which I sent copies to the regulatory bodies responsible for funding AVOW or overseeing its activities. These included Wrexham County Borough Council, The Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, the Welsh Government, Wales Council for Voluntary Action, the Charity Commission.

Seven months later, I am still waiting to hear how these bodies are responding to the situation which, as I see it, is that the same discredited Chief Officer and Trustees are running the show at AVOW with no indication and certainly nothing said in public (nor, as far as I can ascertain, to AVOW’s membership) that anything has changed. At first, no one would make any comment on the grounds that AVOW might appeal against the ruling. When that deadline had passed and, at the eleventh hour, AVOW announced it would not appeal, the bodies continued their studied silences, claiming in some cases that they now could not do anything until they had seen the results of an internal investigation AVOW was conducting. This despite the fact that AVOW would not reveal the terms of reference of its investigation, a decision backed up by the Charity Commission Wales that resisted a Freedom of Information request for this, even though it had been quoted in the press as being fully satisfied with these (secret) terms of reference. AVOW also refused to say how long the investigation would take nor whether its findings would be made public. So much for transparency! So much for accountability!

The latest responses

I reproduce here the latest correspondence with the various bodies.

Wrexham County Borough Council

By an amazing coincidence, AVOW’s latest reply to the council just happened to arrive on exactly the date that I sent this reminder email…

2 March 2012

Dear Mr Isted

It is now over three months since you wrote to me regarding AVOW and the Wrexham Charter of Belonging.

You wrote as follows: “I have written to AVOW regarding your complaint, asking them to advise me on what actions they are taking to address any concerns raised under the Charter. I will contact you again when I have received and considered AVOW’s response.”

Please will you update me on the position?

Yours sincerely

Genny Bove
cc Mark Isherwood and Aled Roberts, AMs.

Lawrence Isted’s reply:

5 March 2012

Dear Ms Bove

I have written to AVOW on a number of occasions asking them to update me on progress. Their latest reply on 2nd March indicates that the AVOW Board will receive final reports on the matter on 8th March and that they will then be able to draft a considered response to the Council. As promised, I will write to you when I have received and considered their reply.

Regards,

Lawrence Isted,
Head of Community Wellbeing and Development, Wrexham County Borough Council
(01978 292500)

I also met with my councillor Simon Meyers and councillor/AM Aled Roberts in a constituency walkabout last week. Simon told me that he had got ‘not very far’ in finding out what the council’s response to AVOW was. Unfortunately, he had neglected to tell me this. Aled said that he was not aware of any action whatsoever by council officers in relation to AVOW. This despite Celia Hart telling me back in November that I had ‘no idea’ how hard everyone in the council was working ‘behind the scenes’ on my behalf. See also this page and associated links. I have asked Aled to make enquiries to discover what these completely opaque and secret actions, that concerned me but that no one has seen fit to inform me of, might have been. Equalities Manager Celia Hart is, interestingly, the special guest speaker at AVOW’s next general meeting on 27 March.

My Assembly Member Ken Skates

My email:

2 March 2012

Dear Ken

It is now nearly five months since you wrote to me (see below) regarding AVOW and the Employment Tribunal.

As you probably know, AVOW did not appeal the findings but set up an internal inquiry to look at the issues raised.

I trust that AVOW has furnished you with a copy of its inquiry findings. If not, I would be grateful if you could pursue the matter.

Once you are appraised of the situation, please can you let me know what AVOW’s response was and whether you judge it to be sufficient?

Many thanks

Genny Bove

cc Mark Isherwood and Aled Roberts, AMs

The previous email from Ken Skates:

Dear Genny,

Many thanks for your response, which was comprehensive and very informative.

I hope we will know very soon whether an appeal is being lodged. I think we need to wait for AVOW’s response, before judging whether their response is sufficient.

Best wishes, Ken

Reply this time:

7 March 2012

Dear Genny,

Many thanks for your message. I will ask AVOW for the report this week.

Best wishes, Ken

Welsh Government

My email:

2 March 2012

Dear Mr Pugh

I refer to your email below.

It is now over four months since you wrote and I do not seem to have received any update as outlined in your correspondence, although I was informed by Carl Sargeant that AVOW was conducting an Inquiry and that the WG was waiting for the outcome of this. Beyond that, I have no idea what’s happening.

Please will you update me on the situation? I am aware that AVOW conducted an internal investigation led by an external chair into the matter, but as far as I am aware it has not made public its findings or any action taken as a result of these findings.

I have also made requests of the Welsh Government to tell me the date when it was made aware by AVOW of the Tribunal ruling against it. This is important as the take-over of the management of the failing Plas Madoc Communities First by AVOW, led by Chief Officer John Gallanders, was happening just after John Gallanders and AVOW’s legal advisers had sat in the Employment Tribunal and heard the Judge deliver the Tribunal panel’s damning ruling of his actions, the actions (or rather inactions) of AVOW Trustees and the serious failings in governance of AVOW. Clearly it was inappropriate for AVOW, led by the same Chief Officer and Trustees, to go ahead and take over another failing organisation knowing that its own governance had been so roundly condemned by the Tribunal.

My question has not been answered and I am now repeating it. Please can you tell me on what date the Welsh Government was made aware of the Employment Tribunal claim against AVOW and the outcome of the Tribunal?

Much of the Tribunal’s ruling can be found here and elsewhere on the same blog. The full written reasons for the judgment have previously been sent to the WG.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Genevieve Bove

cc Mark Isherwood and Aled Roberts AMs

Here is the email I was referring to in the message above (and note the disclaimer at the bottom!):

Ms. Bove.

Thank you for your correspondence regarding the recent Employment Tribunal ruling against the Association of Voluntary Organisations in Wrexham (AVOW).

Following the Board of Trustees decision not to appeal the Tribunal findings and decisions, the Welsh Government has written to the Chair of the Board of Trustees of AVOW seeking confirmation of the action taken to remedy the issues identified in the Tribunal Board’s report.

Once received, I will write to update you further.

Anthony J Pugh
Third Sector Unit Uned Trydydd Sector
Communities Division Yr Is-adran Gymunedau
Department for Local Government and Communities Adran dros Llywodraeth Leol a Chymunedau
Welsh Government Llywodraeth Cymru
Tel / Ffon: 0300 062 8274

Any of the statements or comments made above should be regarded as personal and not necessarily those of the Welsh Assembly Government, any constituent part or connected body.

This is the only response (a read receipt) I have had to my email of 2 March, sent almost three weeks ago.

Your message

To: Pugh, Anthony (LGC – Communities)
Cc: Isherwood, Mark (Assembly Member); Roberts, Aled (Assembly Member)
Subject: Re: Gross misconduct at AVOW
Sent: Fri, 2 Mar 2012 18:00:55 -0000

was read on Mon, 5 Mar 2012 08:41:54

Charity Commission (Wales)

Email to Harry Iles:

2 March 2012

Dear Harry

I am aware that the Charity Commission Wales was awaiting the findings of the internal inquiry conducted by AVOW after the decision not to appeal the employment tribunal findings in the case Bove v AVOW and that you made statements that were released into the public domain about the commission’s satisfaction with AVOW’s proposals for this inquiry, although the detail of the proposals themselves were not made public.

Please can you let me know:
What were the inquiry’s findings?
What is the Charity Commission Wales’ response to these findings?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Genny Bove

cc Mark Isherwood and Aled Roberts, AMs

Harry Iles’ response:

9 March 2012

Dear Ms Bove

ASSOCIATION OF VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS IN WREXHAM – 1043989

Thank you for your e-mail.

I was provided with an update by the charity in January.

They explained they have been actively considering all aspects of the judgement and anticipated a report which will be considered by the executive at its March meeting.

I will contact you again when I have received this. I will also send a copy of my response to Mark Isherwood AM who has expressed an interest in the case.

Yours sincerely

Harry Iles
tel/ffôn: 01633 225505

Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA)

To Chief Executive Graham Benfield:

2 March 2012

Dear Graham

It is now nearly five months since you wrote to me [email below] regarding the internal inquiry AVOW set up following its decision not to appeal the findings of the Employment Tribunal.

Has AVOW reported its inquiry findings to WCVA? If so, what were the findings and what action, if any, has WCVA decided to take?

Yours sincerely

Genny Bove

cc Mark Isherwood and Aled Roberts AMs

Previous email from Graham Benfield:

Dear Genny

Thank you for your email. We now understand that AVOW will not be appealing against the decision of the Tribunal and that the trustees have set up an internal enquiry with an independent Chair. Once this enquiry is completed and reported its findings WCVA will consider what action to take.

Kind regards

Graham

And the latest reply:

Dear Genny

I am waiting for confirmation from AVOW’s Chair as to whether the internal inquiry has now been completed. I will contact you once we’ve received the report and considered what action to take.

Kind regards

Graham

Graham Benfield OBE
Chief Executive/Prif Weithredwr
Tel/ffon 029 20431 734

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB)

2 March 2012

Dear Linda

Thank you for passing on the letter from Mary Burrows back in October (attached).

Mary wrote:

“We are advised that the WCVA are addressing these matters directly with AVOW and we shall be seeking assurance from this work in relation to the very significant points made in your letter.”

As WCVA has yet to respond to me regarding the matters it has addressed with AVOW following the internal inquiry AVOW conducted after the decision not to appeal the tribunal findings, please can you confirm what assurances WCVA has provided to BCUHB in relation to AVOW?

Is the BCUHB satisfied with these assurances?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Genny Bove

cc. Mark Isherwood and Aled Roberts, AMs

To date I have received no acknowledgement nor reply to this email.

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