The ill-feeling between Somerset County councillor Paul Buchanan and his council’s chief executive, Alan Jones, was further inflamed yesterday when a hearing opened into allegations of bullying.
Mr Buchanan was forced to give up the deputy leadership of the Liberal Democrat-run council when allegations of intimidatory and aggressive behaviour against officers, including Mr Jones, were made against him.
In return he says he was intimidated and bullied by Mr Jones because of his criticism of the controversial SouthWest One contract, a joint venture with IBM, Avon and Somerset police and Taunton Deane Borough Council to make efficiency savings in areas including financial services, IT, estates and human resources.
Yesterday, Mr Buchanan accused Mr Jones of cowardice for not attending an Adjudication Panel for England hearing at the Holiday Inn, Taunton. And former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Chris Clarke claimed there was a “culture of bullying” within the council. Sir Chris offered to give evidence of how Mr Jones had attempted to intimidate him in a letter which he said aimed to end a contract he had to mentor Cllr Buchanan.
A council spokesman said Mr Jones had been advised not to attend the hearing.
The panel ruled that it would not hear Sir Chris’s evidence but would adjourn to a future date so that consideration could be given to calling four senior officers of the council and two senior councillors to give evidence.
Outside the hearing Sir Chris said: “It is disappointing not to get a full result today but there are several points which are extremely supportive of Paul."
A county council spokesman said: “The procurement process for the SouthWest One contract was independently scrutinised by the Audit Commission and found to be one of the best processes ever undertaken for contract tendering by a local authority.”
The council also maintains that Mr Jones’s criticism of Sir Chris’s mentoring style was backed by the local government agency. Sir Chris denies it.
Dozens of allegations against Cllr Buchanan have been investigated by the Standards Board for England which forwarded five to the Adjudication Panel. He has been found to have acted wrongly in one case, for swearing under his breath, and given a censure, the mildest form of rebuke. He says his “victimisation” ended his council career.