On 11-15 January 2010 the Disciplinary Committee of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (“CIPFA”) heard allegations against Mr Alexander McCrorie of East Lothian Council (“the Council”).
Mr Alexander McCrorie appealed against the determination of the Disciplinary Committee which appeal was heard by the CIPFA’s Appeal Committee on 6-7 September 2010.
Mr McCrorie attended both the Disciplinary and Appeal Committee hearings and was represented by an Advocate throughout.
In November 2006 Mr Lindsay, then Chief Executive of the Council, reached an agreement with the then Leader of the Council that he might retire early and that such a proposal should be brought forward as part of the Leader’s budget proposals.
The proposal was contained in a document that Mr McCrorie had some involvement in drafting.
At a Special Meeting of the Council in February 2007, the Council considered a report (hereinafter referred to as the February 2007 Report) which was ostensibly about the achievement of efficiencies for the Council by merging two departments. In fact the February 2007 Report contained precise and detailed arrangements for Mr Lindsay’s early retirement on the grounds of redundancy and the appointment of a new Chief Executive – an appointment to be made from a restricted pool of internal candidates including Mr McCrorie. The February 2007 Report contained little or no other detail.
It was inappropriate in the context of the Special Council meeting called for the setting of the Annual Budget to table a report that had detailed consideration of Mr Lindsay’s proposed early retirement and redundancy. The February 2007 Report did not in any event contain appropriate financial advice and guidance to the Council for its decision on restructuring and Mr Lindsay’s redundancy – matters for which Mr McCrorie was responsible as the Council’s Director of Finance.
Mr McCrorie also did not properly consider the nature and extent of the conflict of interest that existed in that he stood to gain from the merger of the two departments under his Directorship and had the potential to benefit from the arrangements for recruitment of a new Chief Executive from a restricted number of internal candidates - including himself.
Mr McCrorie’s involvement in the drafting of the February 2007 Report demonstrated a lack of clear thinking about the right way to exercise his responsibilities to the Council to ensure it had full and complete advice whilst acknowledging his personal interest. He did not adequately distance his personal involvement nor exercise appropriate controls to ensure that everything that should have been done was done.
BREACH OF PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS
Mr McCrorie had acted in breach of CIPFA’s Standard of Professional Practice on Ethics which requires Members to maintain objectivity in that the steps he took in relation to his awareness of his conflict of interest were wholly inadequate and his judgement was compromised by his conflict of interest.
In addition Mr McCrorie had breached CIPFA’s Standard of Professional Practice on Ethics in that his professional judgement, in allowing an inappropriate and unreliable report to come before the Council, had been influenced by the elected members of the Council. He was unduly influenced by political requirements and did not give sufficient weight to his duties as s95 Chief Financial Officer.
Mr McCrorie’s actions were a breach of CIPFA’s Standard of Professional Practice on Ethics in that he had failedto avoid any action which may bring discredit to the profession. His failing to take all reasonable steps in the preparation of the February 2007 Report led to the intervention of Audit Scotland and the publication of a Public Interest Report. In addition, he allowed the Council to embark on a course of conduct that could have led, without the intervention of Audit Scotland, to an ultra vires payment of £149,000 to Mr Lindsay.
By his actions Mr McCrorie was found to be in breach of CIPFA Bye-laws 23(b) - in that he had breached one or more of CIPFA’s guides to conduct, principles or rules, 23(c) - in that he had conducted himself in such a way as to prejudicially affect the status, reputation or welfare of the Institute, and 23(d) (i) – in that his actions had brought discredit upon himself, his employer, the Institute and the profession.
SANCTIONS AND RELEVANT CONSIDERATIONS
At his appeal hearing the Appeal Committee, with the substantive agreement of both parties, narrowed the factual findings against Mr McCrorie and thus reduced the level of his culpability.
In light of this the Appeal Committee re-considered the issue of sanction and imposed a reprimand (in place of the severe reprimand issued by the Disciplinary Committee).
In reaching this decision the Appeal Committee took into account the following factors (considered by the Disciplinary Committee): supportive letters from the current Leader of the Council; Mr McCrorie’s actions in undoing the harm the February 2007 Report had caused and his compliance with the decision to reverse his appointment as Chief Executive; that this was a one off incident; that Mr McCrorie was caught up in a matter of which he was not the prime instigator, and that his primary fault was one of omission. The Appeal Committee also took into account Mr McCrorie’s statement to it that, on reflection, “if trapped in the same situation again it is accepted that it would behove him, with hindsight, to get external advice and his failure to do so was a matter of regret”.
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