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Lengthy probe disrupted council waste service

A council’s waste service suffered disruption during an excessively long probe into allegations of impropriety, senior officers have said.

Flintshire County Council investigated allegations about its waste service that led to four officers being suspended. The results were reported to councillors in July, but have only now been published with redacted sections so it is unclear which officers were disciplined.

Allegations arose after Flintshire in 2010 took back AD Waste in-house. It had been set up in 1991 as a commercially independent waste services provider by the former Alyn & Deeside Borough Council. It continued when Flintshire absorbed the council in 1996.

A Flintshire report said that allegations made by whistleblowers in 2012 included failure to disclose a pecuniary interest, providing business for friends, engaging contractors not on the council’s select list and officers’ abuse of positions to further private interests. Police were called in but found the council lacked evidence to substantiate criminality.

The report noted that Flintshire’s disciplinary policy required only evidence to the balance of probability.

A separate report on the investigation process from chief officer (governance) Gareth Owens and chief officer (transport and streetscene) Steve Jones said the waste operation had been reviewed after being brought in-house, but this overlapped with the suspensions and investigation.

“The reviews of both the waste collection service and a wider staffing review commenced in 2011 and was completed in 2012,” they wrote. “The investigation took place during that period which meant the service undergoing fundamental change without a number of key employees.”

This meant temporary staff were drafted in and inexperienced officers upgraded into posts previously occupied by the four suspended staff.

“While it is obviously necessary to carry out a full investigation into the allegations, the scale of time taken to finally conclude both the investigation and subsequent disciplinary action had a significant impact on the service,” they wrote.

The two chief officers concluded: “It is important that if this situation is encountered again, the impact on the service is regularly considered, and that disciplinary processes are commenced when it is clear that sufficient evidence is available even if this is before the conclusion of the audit investigation.”

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