Preston council head’s £68,000 payout

Former Guild Hall worker Kerry Welsh has won �68,000 from Preston Council for unfair dismissal
Former Guild Hall worker Kerry Welsh has won �68,000 from Preston Council for unfair dismissal
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A former manager at Preston’s Guild Hall has been awarded a £68,000 payout at a tribunal after being made redundant.

The industrial hearing found that Preston Council denied Kerry Welsh a fair right to appeal after she was made redundant from her post as head of marketing and development. Mrs Welsh was involved in a restructure of the hall in 2011 when she applied for the post of general manager.

A tribunal at Manchester heard Mrs Welsh went to her bosses with allegations against current general manager Chris Haylett, who also applied for the post.

The hearing rejected the claim by Preston Council that Mrs Welsh made the allegations in a ‘cynical attempt’ to remove her competition.

A hearing in October last year found her unfair dismissal claim to be well-founded and this week she was handed the maximum settlement she could be awarded – £68,400.

Speaking after the settlement, Mrs Welsh said: “This has been such a difficult time for me. I now feel like there has been some justice.”

An employment judge has criticised the failure of council bosses to investigate serious allegations made by a manager about her boss before she was made redundant.

Kerry Welsh, who was head of marketing and development at Preston Guild Hall, has been awarded £68,000 at a tribunal after it was heard that Preston Council had denied her a fair right to appeal.

Mrs Welsh was first employed by the council in 2003 and previously worked at Salford Council for six years.

In early 2011, a restructure was announced which included her role being made redundant.

While she was researching for an interview for the general manager role, she said she was told information that led her to have concerns about the actions of her then boss, Chris Haylett.

She took the claims to the council’s chief internal auditor, Gordon Brown. The 
interview process was continued while the claims were 

The council said they carried out a ‘full and proper’ investigation and Mr Haylett was given the job, based on the independent scoring of both candidates.

The council’s auditor found her allegations raised some ‘procedural issues’ and steps would be taken to revise them.

Mrs Welsh, of Heskin, Chorley, later lodged an appeal against her dismissal.

She said the allegations were in contrast to the way she had been treated three years earlier, when she was suspended for three months over an alleged budget overspend and running a jewellery business without authorisation.

She claimed the council had delayed the investigation of her whistleblowing and had ‘hurried through’ the redundancy process to terminate her employment before the investigation had been finished.

Preston Council denied this, saying the redundancy was unconnected to any whistleblowing.

A hearing by the council’s employment sub-committee rejected her appeal.

However, the employment tribunal found the panel, made up of councillors, ‘accepted at face value’ the investigation into the allegations, as well as the management’s stance that her whistleblowing was not relevant to the redundancy decision.

Employment Judge David Franey said: “The appeal panel made no effort prior to its decision to get Mr Brown to review his findings in the light of the claimant’s comments and documentation, even though (assistant head of HR) Ally Brown had anticipated it might do so and had asked him to review matters in anticipation.

“I conclude that the failure to address this core point, despite the existence in the respondent’s documentation of an unrestricted right of appeal, and despite the appeal panel being composed of elected members to whom management are accountable, meant that it was outside the band of reasonable responses to conduct the appeal in this way. This failure deprived the claimant of a fair appeal.”

Mrs Welsh said: “I took genuine concerns and they weren’t listened to. I could have never kept quiet, it’s not in my nature. A lot of this could have been avoided.”

Lorraine Norris, chief executive of Preston Council, said: “The council is disappointed with the decision and is considering its options. The allegations made by Ms Welsh against Mr Haylett were fully investigated by the chief internal auditor, who found that Mr Haylett had no case to answer. The judge was clear that his decision to award damages did not presume any guilt on Mr Haylett’s part. Mr Haylett has worked for the council since 2006.

“He is credited with significantly improving the performance of the Guild Hall.”