Scilly’s Chief Executive, Philip Hygate, Suspended From Post

Council Chief Executive, Philip Hygate, at today’s meeting

The Chief Executive of the Council of the Isles of Scilly has been suspended from his post, pending an investigation.

This follows a four-and-a-half hour meeting yesterday in which the Policy and Resources Committee considered a number of allegations against Philip Hygate.

A statement sent to all Councillor’s said: “Following careful consideration of all available information the Committee agreed that the allegations warranted further investigation by a Designated Independent Person. To facilitate this process the Chief Executive has been suspended from duties with immediate effect. This suspension does not constitute disciplinary action and is a neutral act.”

Earlier, Mr Hygate’s lawyer, Peter Keith-Lucas, had tried to have the meeting stopped, saying his client’s terms and conditions of employment required any disciplinary procedure to go before a panel of members appointed by Full Council.

Mr Keith-Lucas said members of the Policy and Resources Committee where putting themselves at risk of legal action if they continued with the process and Cllrs Ticehurst and Savill both expressed their concern over this.

Adam Barker, Senior Advisor from the Local Government Association, acting on behalf of the Council, said the processes laid out in Mr Hygate’s contract were simply a UK-wide model, that could be altered, and often were, depending on the circumstances. He advised that the meeting could proceed lawfully.

Mr Keith-Lucas questioned the legal advice offered by Mr Barker, stating he was “not a lawyer.”

But committee Chair, Amanda Martin, said the meeting was not a disciplinary procedure, simply a decision on whether to proceed with an investigation, and they had taken extensive legal advice before the meeting.

Mr Hygate leaving the meeting

She added that Scilly was a small community, “rife with unease” and any specially appointed panel could be accused of ‘cherry-picking’ members.

Cllr Richard McCarthy accused Mr Hygate’s lawyer of trying to ‘hijack’ the meeting, adding that he’d had plenty of time beforehand to table any objections.

Cllr Dudley Mumford said this was a, “veiled threat to plant uncertainty in our decision-making process.” He added, “It’s not the first time we’ve had this type of pressure from the establishment.”

But it was Cllr David Pearson who eventually tabled a proposal to move forward with the meeting. He said members, “had urgent issues to resolve and this needed to be done, today, on behalf of both the Council and the Chief Executive.”

Councillors voted by four members to one to proceed with the meeting, with one abstention, at which point the press and public were excluded.

Council Chairman Mike Hicks was advised against participating in discussions because of his family connection to Julie Hicks and left the meeting before the allegations were discussed.

Any investigation that could potentially lead to the dismissal of a local authority chief officer is highly regulated in law. The first stage will be the appointment of an independent person, as yet unidentified, after liaison with the Local Government Association, who will head up an investigation.

Mike Hicks says he doesn’t want that process lasting as long as Bryce’s, which he described as “absolutely shameful,” and says he wants as much of the proceedings to be made public as he can.

He also doesn’t feel the exercise will take divert staff attention from important Council business, praising the “good team” that is working at the Town Hall.

The news of the investigation has been welcomed by citizen group, Heart, who say they want to support members of the community to provide relevant information to facilitate a thorough investigation.

Fran Grottick, their press spokesperson, said the investigation will give everyone a chance to look carefully at what has happened in the past. She said going down this route could seem “quite destructive” but she feels it’s the only way for the community to “heal and move forward.”

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