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Employment judge slams 'unattractive' HELP-run council

The following was written by someone closely associated with the previous Letchworth Town Council, which lost office after a mendacious and concerted campaign by the HELP group, which now holds 22 of the 24 seats.

THE NEWS is out – and it is good news. Good has triumphed, and justice has prevailed. Six former female community staff of Letchworth Town Council have won their employment tribunal case. 
  This crisis for the council, led by solicitor George Ritchie, will prove an embarrassment not just for them but also for the town.Not only has the case gone against them, but it has revealed the dark, murky and spiteful workings of the HELP group. 
  We understand that all that the six women had originally asked for was that their previous agreements and contracts were honoured, and when this was rejected asked for the help of ACAS.   
  HELP refused. Instead, they told the women to sign a compromise agreement with clauses  that were so unreasonable that the solicitor paid for by HELP advised the staff not to sign it. They would have been gagged while HELP would be free to make any claims they liked. 
  Ritchie and HELP refused to amend it when asked, and instead threatened the staff with costs if they took it to an employment tribunal. In their political opinion the staff were not entitled to anything,  and they  threw the financial and institutional weight of council into supporting that position. A council supporter even heard Cllr Greener say they would fight staff in every  court in the land, regardless of the cost. 
  But the judge at the employment tribunal has said the complete opposite, stating that former councillors carefully considered the position, and the position taken by HELP was extremely 'unattractive'.

  So, the six women, after being threatened and bullied over costs and their request  to go to ACAS flatly rejected, decided that they had had enough. It was no longer about the money, but something far more important:  the principle. They refused to sign, and lost three months pay as a result. 
  These women are clearly people  of great principle and courage. This would not be a surprise to the people who know them, for it was they who organised and put into action the old council's social agenda of helping the homeless, the disabled, the youth and pensioners in the town. 
  They had dedicated their time and efforts in trying to build a stronger community and to make Letchworth a better place. In 2009, they supported and helped the council to win a High Court battle against the Foundation when it tried to stop people discussing how the Foundation was run.   
  HELP’s case and attitude is a chip off the old, bad block. This case would be as much about the right to talk about how HELP had operated, and staff would do so in a fair, independent, unbiased and free court. 
  The full background to the case is that more than a year before HELP's regime took over the council, the staff had been in discussion with the previous elected council over a retention policy.  The judgement says that the old council had been careful to consider what it offered, offered limited amounts, acted for proper purpose and set out a scenario of a reasonable and sensible employer dealing with a difficult situation in a balanced way, mindful of both the interests of staff and the taxpayer. 
  This was neither irrational nor overly generous. The previous council had been concerned about the welfare of its staff, but also balanced the interest of Letchworth ratepayers. They took a considerable amount of advice in reaching the decision, including a meeting with the local-government minister. 
  The Judge cites a previous landmark case where the employer’s position was “unattractive” and said that HELP’s position was even more so.   
  In June 2009, a catastrophe happened when HELP seized control of the council on only 52%  of the vote in most of the seats. A mere 250 votes across the town would have kept the old town council supporters in office. It is reasonable to suggest that the council result could easily have gone the other way. 
  The new council got to work on their vendetta straight away cancelling grants to disabled groups, cancelling funding for the dial-a-ride service, threatening to axe the town's community police woman until they realised the police had a contract and they can’t be bullied. 
  They stopped groups like the Afro-Caribbean society from meeting at the councils offices. After winning the election they even cancelled a fully-paid for trip for pensioners because they disagreed with it. Instead they spent more money writing to people to cancel it. 
  We understand the judgement includes notes about staff been subjected to rude behaviour, them being called ‘parasitic scum’ and abusive behaviour in the office and how the councils website was infected by a pornographic virus. 
  It is clear that the staff showed true resilience and professionalism in dealing with this, but the writing was on the wall for how they would be treated. 
  HELP defend their tactics by saying they were founded to create a non-spending, non-functional council. But far from being a non-spending council, HELP have wasted more than £20,000 on legal fees on this and other issues. 
  They have closed the offices and given away council assets to groups they have had links with. HELP’s efforts weren’t enough to prevent a high court defeat for  the Foundation boss Stuart Kenny or to avoid the town-centre fiasco. 
  All in all, it is a shaming and damning verdict, this is a clear unbiased appraisal from the judge and the outing of their behaviour will place a stain on the characters of the HELP councillors and their supporters.
  The great irony is that if HELP was inspired into action to keep the Foundation from changing, they have failed. There  is now new progressive management at the Foundation.  HELP are now an  isolated  remnant of a bygone era, a failed philosophy of a nasty attitude as shown by this case. 
  We can understand that some people don't want to pay taxes for an additional council in the current climate, but you could have a civic-minded non-spending council that worked in partnership with other groups in the town.
  Now that Kenny has gone, the Foundation has taken a new direction and HELP are clearly an embarrassing reminder of an old era. HELP need to get out of the way and allow something positive to take their place. 
  This whole debacle could have been avoided if they had treated the staff fairly, listened to reason  and gone to ACAS. Instead, the tax-payer of Letchworth now foots the bill for their political vendetta.
  The 22 HELP councillors will have to examine their consciences and decide whether to stay or resign. At the very least, they should personally foot the bill for wasted unnecessary legal costs.
  For us, as well as decrying the actions of HELP, we should also celebrate the victory and courage of these six brave women. They fought for right and principle and the fight against them was not clean, but they persevered when others would have faltered. 
  Despite intimidation and bullying, they have prevailed. We are proud of them.


  1. well done ladies, you did some great trips for us!

  2. We miss you ladies, you helped everyone in Letchworth, we could come into your office and get advice,

  3. congratulation! I thought that battle of the bands that you did was the best

  4. All the family fun days in the town were brilliant, the picnics in the park were so much fun and I bet brought loads of people to the town spending in the shops, which is something that is not happening now. Why did the dopey HELP lot have to interfere, Im so pleased you stuck it out ladies, lets see them wriggle out of this now........

  5. Good on ya ladies!!!! Lets hope HELP are ashamed of themselves

  6. At council in February, George Ritchie urged council to make the women pay back the £10,000 spent on legal fees up to that point. Now that they have lost is he willing to pay the money himself? Or does he expect the ratepayer to pick up the bill?

  7. George Ritchie should certainly pick the bill up. The Tribunal rejected most of his evidence as irrelevant, and heard he got his sums completely wrong, despite his claims in today's Advertiser. HELP Vice Chair Valerie Mantle has already had to apologise publicly and unreservedly for wrongful statements sent to the Comet. Did the Advertiser ask the staff for a comment?

  8. All Tribunals offer ACAS so who refused? Ritchie or the ladies or both? I think we should be told.

  9. The former council staff have issued a statement to the Comet less than an hour after being contacted by Nick Gill, as follows:
    "Staff went to the Tribunal as a last resort. The judgement records we were prepared to compromise but HELP demanded a secret agreement containing what the Tribunal describes as a “clear implication” to impose unreasonable demands. It noted that an independent solicitor (who HELP actually paid for) had given what the Tribunal calls “strong advice” that the clauses were unreasonable.

    HELP refused repeated requests to go to arbitration. HELP also rejected offers from the Employment Service to go to ACAS. In the face of HELP’s unreasonable behaviour, we had no choice but to take our case to court.

    The Tribunal heard claims from HELP Vice Chairman George Ritchie that former councillors were “irrational” and “acting to spite them”. The Tribunal completely dismissed this, recording the very unpleasant conditions that staff worked in. It noted HELP or its supporters ran bogus websites that misled the public, sent staff abusive material, sent emails describing staff as “parasitic scum”, disrupted meetings and were abusive towards staff in the office. The Tribunal heard that pornographic material was sent to the council website, which staff had to deal with.

    The Tribunal found that in those circumstances the actions of the former administration were fully justified, reasonable and considered. It set out its opinion that former councillors took great care to ensure its decisions were legal and reasonable. In addition to the finding that HELP’s actions were unlawful and a breach of contract, the Tribunal also described the position taken by HELP as very unattractive and throughout the case we were repeatedly threatened with costs".


    In answer to the comment in today's Advertiser staff have issed a statement which says

    "We are astonished at Cllr Ritchie's claims in the Advertiser as the the level of redundancy pay was set on the personal recommendation of Cllr Ritchie himeself. This case was a claim for unpaid notice pay.
    When a council decides it will be a "non spending council" it is reasonable to assume that it will discuss what that means with its staff. HELP refused to issue redundancy notices for five months, with Cllr Brian Ellis telling us (in writing) that no decison had been made to make us redundant and decisions would only be made if a "redundancy sitution was found to arise" . They should have told us the truth from the outset. The case stemmed purely from HELP's mismanagement of a difficult situation".

  10. HELP refused repeated requests to go to arbitration. HELP also rejected offers from the Employment Service to go to ACAS.

  11. HELP should now resign from LGCC out of embarassement!!!! what they put those poor ladies through, they should hang their heads in shame

  12. Why should Letchworth taxpayers have to pay, HELP should be made to pay from their own pockets, its their balls up!!!!!


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