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Council kicks-out cherished chief lawyer

Alarm and dismay as temporary chief exec suspends potential rival.

Report and photograph: Paul Janik

Slough Council effectively sacked its chief lawyer amid a vicious internal power struggle.

On Tuesday 28 February 2017, Amardip Healy was booted-out by acting chief executive Roger Parkin with the agreement of council Leader Sohail Munawar.

Last June's inspirational dream of vastly improving the poisonous atmosphere within the back-stabbing council and liberating the good staff from many years of decay, corruption and the culture of appallingly bad service has turned into the usual nightmare.

Background

Fear, bullying and intimidation is back is its usual home, Slough Unitary Authority to give Slough's failing council its proper title.

Amardip Healy, currently with 27 years solicitor experience, joined the council in December 2011 as Head of Legal. For four years previously, under the disastrous Ruth Bagley reign, the council never had a permanent chief lawyer.

At the council, Mrs Healy was regarded as a person with integrity, scruples and high professional standards.

In early 2016 having accepted new employment elsewhere, Mrs Healy was serving-out her notice period.

In June 2016, when councillors voted for Cllr Sohail Munawar to replace the ghastly and negligent Cllr Rob Anderson as chief councillor, also known as the Leader of the Council, behind the scenes changes started to happen.

Meanwhile, Mrs Bagley was activity trying to sack Director of Customer Services Roger Parkin (whom she appointed). Some thought he lacked the necessary skills to be a council director, although he is widely acknowledged as a friendly and talkative character knowledgeable about Slough.

Determined to protect his position and salary, Mr Parkin teamed-up with Mrs Healy to oust Mrs Bagley.

This lead to new council Leader Sohail Munawar authorising Mrs Bagley's suspension in July 2016 for gross misconduct. After about 10 days, Mrs Bagley became officially "off sick with stress", despite her brother exclusively telling the Slough Times there was nothing wrong with her.

The Slough Times imagines many people would welcome a long holiday from work while enjoying a generous £186,000 annual salary package as Mrs Bagley did.

Realising they were about to lose Mrs Healy's dependable expertise, repeated promises of a pay-rise made Mrs Healy relinquish her escape to a more normal working environment. Cllr Munawar desperately wanted Mrs Healy to professionally manage the escalating Bagley crisis which was beyond the abilities of his buddy light-weight Mr Parkin.

Council sources assert a year later the promised pay-rise remains unpaid.

Scrupulously keen to ensure the Bagley disciplinary procedure was conducted fairly and lawfully, Mrs Healy used the services of an outside investigator to document the numerous, internal and external, complaints against Mrs Bagley - although not every Bagley critic was asked to give evidence.

With Mrs Bagley out-of-the-way, Mr Parkin lusted after her chief executive's job despite Tracy Luck being a de facto substitute. Especially as Council Tax payers funded Mrs Luck's annual subscriptions to the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE). Just as they unknowing paid Mrs Bagley's subscriptions too.

Many people, inside and outside the council, rejoiced in Mrs Bagley's suspension. Only a few, including the Slough Times, knew she would never return.

New in the job for just six weeks and inexperienced in managing council staff, chief councillor Sohail Munawar foolishly appointed Mr Parkin as temporary chief executive even though evidence existed Mr Parkin was unsuitable for that grave and important responsibility. Retrospectively Cllr Munawar should have appointed an external person as a temporary chief executive while the Bagley case proceeded.

Mr Parkin, liking the view from his new office windows, on the first floor of the southern end of the west wing of St Martin's Place, also liked the prestige of being the boss.

Considered opinions thought Mrs Healy would have been a superior and more competent chief executive even on a temporary basis.

Determined to become the permanent chief executive, despite his inability to robustly and effectively manage the council's affairs (more in a separate article), Mr Parkin fell-out with Mrs Healy. It is thought Mr Parkin considered Mrs Healy a realistic rival for his job.

The first public signs of a dispute between the pair was evidenced at the council's 29 November 2016 general meeting. Mr Parkin was seeking formal approval by a majority of councillors:-

  1. That Amardip Healy, Head of Legal Services, be appointed as the Council's Monitoring Officer with effect from 30th November 2016.
  2. That Article 12 of the Council's Constitution be amended accordingly.
  3. That Linda Walker be thanked for her services and assistance in dealing with Monitoring Officer matters.

Unexpectedly and at the last moment, Mr Parkin withdrew that item without explanation. It was number 8 on the published agenda. A copy is available from slough.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/s44654/Appointment%20of%20Monitoring%20Officer.pdf and from Slough Times if the council's copy vanishes.

Mr Parkin has joined-up with solicitor Linda Walker. Mrs Walker is the person who wrote, what the Slough Times thinks was a disgusting letter, to Cllrs Munawar and Hussain after they had been chosen by Labour councillors to be the Leader and Deputy leader of the council's Labour Group, shortly before both assumed the awesome responsibility of becoming the council's Leader and Deputy Leader.

The Slough Times understands Mrs Walker has never apologised for her questionable behaviour and is said to have claimed she was acting under instructions from Ruth Bagley.

Mrs Walker was appointed on a temporary basis by Ruth Bagley at a daily cost of £990, according to the council's finance experts. Mrs Walker worked closely with Mrs Bagley and appears to have a good working relationship with council press officer Kate Pratt whom is alleged to detest Mrs Healy.

The Slough Times understands Mrs Pratt made a formal complaint to Linda Walker after Mrs Healy urged Mrs Pratt to behave reasonably and thus avoid exposing the council to High Court litigation.

The current situation

A source close to Mrs Healy asserts Mrs Healy is determined to vigorously contest the "unfair" and "unjustified" suspension.

However a council source commented exclusively to the Slough Times Mrs Healy has demanded a substantial pay-off. The council source added: Who does she think she is? I doubt she will get a large Ruth Bagley pay-off.

The Slough Times finds Mrs Healy's departure depressing especially as she is, in our opinion, a good quality staff member of whom the council have so few. Chucking out the good while retaining the slovenly crap is bad for the council and detrimental to the public at large.

Update 25 April 2017

Disappointed council sources alleged the bad old days of pre-June 2016 have returned. They cite senior management's slap-dash indifference to outstanding serious and important matters.

Keen to test the council's widely claimed accountability and transparency, the Slough Times has emailed acting chief executive 55 years-old Roger Parkin and the current Leader of the Council (effectively the chief councillor), and slightly younger and taller, 47 years-old Sohail Munawar asking:-

  1. Why is Mrs Amardip Healy still suspended ?
  2. If Mrs Healy was allegedly so bad that it justified Mr Parkin together with Mrs Linda Walker, and supported by Cllr Munawar, immediately suspending her - why two months later has Mrs Healy not been sacked for her alleged crimes ?
  3. What exactly were Mrs Healy's alleged serious crimes ?
  4. What is the full extent of the involvement of temporary solicitor Linda Walker of Linda Walker Consultancy Limited, Sunderland, County Durham, in the puzzling Healy scandal ?
  5. Can Messrs Parkin & Munawar assure Slough Times readers there is no racial prejudice against Mrs Healy because of her ethnic origin and skin colour ?
  6. Can they assure Slough Times readers Mrs Healy was not suspended because of her known opinion the council should be run to the highest standards of decorum, honesty, service and professionalism ?

[SOLA 012101]

We shall publish their replies.

It is a waste of tax payers' money to keep Mrs Healy at home, on full pay, doing nothing when there is so much outstanding work at the council Mrs Healy could usefully be doing.

A suspicion remains that Mrs Healy is the non-white victim of a desperate struggle for the chief executive's job.

In situations like this, it is reasonable to expect the chief councillor to do what is best for the council, the people of Slough and the businesses in Slough. However there is no evidence, so far, that Mrs Healy's abrupt and unpleasant suspension was wise, fair or even necessary.

Having good aspirations for a better Slough is not a crime, in the Slough Times honest opinion. Improvement is what this failing and declining borough so desperately needs.