The Staff Appeals Panel at West Sussex County Council is the final internal place of appeal for any member of staff who is dismissed. It will also hear grievances at their final stage. It is made up of elected county councillors.
UNISON rarely needs to use the staff appeals panel, as we support our members effectively before they are dismissed. But occasionally we do and one such time was in 2017. A member who had been suspended for nearly a year whilst an investigation was incompetently carried out was later dismissed. This was an unfair dismissal in our view and the appeals panel councillors ordered their reinstatement.
This lay councillor point of view is very important and allows for a fair test of the case and process used. It also helps protect the council from poor decision-making which would, with UNISON’s support, end up at employment tribunal and cost the council money.
However, proposals instigated by the WSCC Chief Executive seek to dilute the Councillors’ role within the appeals panel. At first it was proposed to remove all elected councillor input entirely, and have decisions made only by the Executive Leadership Team. UNISON opposed this option from the outset and called for the status quo to remain, Working with the Fire Brigades Union we also provided a detailed critique of the proposals ahead of a meeting of the council’s Governance Committee where they discussed the changes. We do recommend that all members working for WSCC read the paper put together by UNISON and FBU:
The option the Governance Committee agreed should be put to Full Council on 20th July will see the Chief Executive become a voting member of the appeals panel. This will change the dynamic of the panel and give undue influence to the most senior paid officer of the council. It is of huge regret that a panel which worked for the benefit of staff is being changed in this way. UNISON fears that staff will not get the same fair hearing as before, and can see no justification for the changes other than a determination to exert more paid officer control over the process. See the unions’ paper above for more detail on why we think the change means the appeals panel will shift in its operation and stance.
UNISON will report back to members after Full Council on 20th July.