I am sorry I missed the Industrial Tribunal relating to Nick Kavanagh last week as I was out of the City. It seems to have descended into a farce given the reported comments of Kavanagh and our much un-missed former Mayor, Joe Anderson.
Mr Kavanagh was arrested at the Cunard Building by Merseyside Police as part of the force’s Operation Aloft in December 2019. He was subsequently suspended from his chief officer job and was eventually dismissed in March 2021 following a council disciplinary hearing. He has not been charged with any offence and denies wrongdoing.
I just want to set a few things straight. Now that the Appeal has been concluded, although we do not know the result yet I can now confirm that everything that everything that took place did so by the book. The Disciplinary panel, which was booked to last for three days, lasted for 6 days and concluded on a Sunday after 51 hours of formal sessions. It was excellently chaired by Cllr Wendy Simon who was at that stage the acting mayor.
Mr Kavanagh was there for everything except the last day when the Committee came to its conclusions which were, with one exception unanimous. He had a full hearing which was also attended by his Union Rep, from Unite unsurprisingly, who joined us every day by Zoom from Spain. How much did this defence and the case mounted in the Tribunal cost Unite the Union? Who knows but I am sure that every Unite member was delighted to contribute to the defence of this highly paid officer.
He and his representative asked questions of almost every witness but, if I recall correctly, only introduced one statement and three witnesses himself. One of these was Joe Anderson. He made it clear that he had read the dossier which the Committee had seen which was surprising as it is normal practice not to give such evidence to people who have been either named in the report or appearing as a witness. Anderson was both! How did he get the report? I wonder!
We had 850 pages of evidence which I read twice as I am sure did most of the Committee. I do not need to tell you all that much about the evidence because much of it came out in the Best Value Inspection Report from Max Caller.
This report, which Anderson was trying to claim was illegal at one stage, laid out the problems in the regeneration department with chilling clarity:
- Improper procedures
- Waste of Money
- Inappropriate contacts with a small group of developers
- Failure to collect money
- Land purchases without proper approval
- Failure to get best value for assets which were disposed of
- Failure to report delegated decisions to the Council
- Reporting some decisions and actions two years after they were made
- Bullying (we received direct evidence of this from some strong and determined women)
- Inability to properly procure projects. The Lime Street/Strand debacle alone cost taxpayers £19.5 million
- Blackburne House, the Women’s centre, shafted in favour of a developer
- Procurement of a contract for the Mayor’s son which was grossly overpriced and for which the son appeared to be highly unqualified.
I could go on, but all this is on the record. Of the £135 million lost, wasted or not claimed during the Joe Anderson era about £120 million can be attributed to the Regeneration Department whilst Kavanagh led it. Some of those problems still exist today.
At the hearing it appears that Kavanagh and his team complained about what the Chief Executive may have passed to the Police. This is how the Echo reported the exchange:
On the final day of the hearing, Mr Kavanagh and his legal team accused Mr Reeves of ‘feeding the police’ with information about him.
Robert Fazakerley, representing Mr Kavanagh, asked his client about a report which the council commissioned into a number of controversial developments including New Chinatown. Developers North Point Global were behind the scheme.
Mr Fazakerley told the hearing that the report was sent by the council to the police. Mr Fazakerley added that he was not sure which specific police force or department the report was sent to.
Mr Fazakerley said: “Who were the police interested in, you or North Point Global? Mr Kavanagh said: “But I don’t believe the police were in any way all over me. I think Reeves was feeding the police with the report.”
So, what does Mr Kavanagh think the Chief Executive of the Council should have done? When there is prima facie evidence of corruption of course he must send it to the Police. Mr Reeves had an internal audit report done which he rightly sent to the Police when he saw it. This led to the Police interventions and the arrests of eleven people, although none of them have been charged.
But the disciplinary hearing did not look at anything which related to potential criminal activity. That would always be outside our remit, certainly at that stage, in a case which involved senior Police and CPS staff from London backing up the local force and CPS staff.
It was simply no business of ours to enquire why Mr Kavanagh apparently had £6,000 of cash in his home when it was raided by the Police. That is not necessarily illegal, but it is peculiar. Most of us keep a fraction of that in the house especially in this time of credit and debit cards.
During the hearing Joe Anderson appeared to try and throw his former lovey-dovey Deputy Mayor, Ann O’Byrne under a bus. It was clearly a disgraceful and flawed process led by Cllr O’Byrne 7 long years ago which has led to that site remaining empty and the Council losing £100,000 in legal fees trying to rectify it as well as £000s in Council tax and the cost of keeping the site safe and secure. Joe made clear that it he did not think it was his fault by Cllr O’Byrne’s. Mind you Joe never thinks that anything that has gone wrong is his fault!!
We will know in a few weeks what the tribunal thinks who of a man who was summarily dismissed on five counts and given final written warnings on two more. Of more interest might be what the Police and CPS make of all this. Rumours abound as to when this will come to a head, but indications are that Operation Aloft will surface about Christmas time one way or another.
In the meantime, I will defend the process which led to Mr Kavanagh’s dismissal and the role I played. Whether it was his incompetence or for other reasons his tenure at the Council cost taxpayers a lot of money. The Council paid him for 16 months after he was arrested, and the Council was right to say, “enough is enough”.