‘Scapegoat’ fired over NCP deal claims unfair dismissal

A SENIOR officer exposed Worthing Borough Council to potential losses of £1.5million after signing a flawed contract with parking firm NCP, a tribunal heard.

Cliff Harrison
Cliff Harrison

Former executive head of technical services Cliff Harrison was dismissed for gross misconduct in November after failing to spot shortcomings in a car parking contract in 2009.

The contract, negotiated to trial reduced car parking prices in Worthing town centre for 12 months, did not contain three vital conditions and led to legal proceedings.

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Mr Harrison claimed unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal at Southampton Magistrates’ Court on Friday, insisting he had been made a ‘scapegoat’.

Giving evidence, senior officer John Mitchell, who dismissed Mr Harrison, told the court: “He was the officer negotiating with NCP regarding the contract, he was the officer who failed to provide a report to the cabinet, he was the officer who failed to share timely instructions to officers and continued to be the single point of contact with NCP.

“He was the officer who appears to have made unauthorised offers to NCP and failed to brief cabinet members properly. No other officer had that amount of responsibility.”

The contract was set up due to increasing complaints from motorists about the price of parking in the town centre.

The conditions would have ensured the trial ran for a fixed amount of time, was limited to the town centre multi-storeys and set an agreed upper cap for how much the council would compensation NCP for lost revenue.

NCP lodged legal proceedings and settled in February for an undisclosed sum.

Witness statements submitted to the tribunal detailed how investigating officer Andrew Gardiner estimated the council was exposed to potential losses of up to £1.5million, although the final settlement is understood to be less.

The council claim Mr Harrison was aware of the issue as early as May 2011, failing to notify colleagues until months later and then made counter offers to NCP – allegations he refutes.

Representing Mr Harrison, Alasdair Henderson said: “By then, the council were looking for a scapegoat for an embarrassing mistake.

“A new chief executive had just taken over and the council needed to have somebody’s head rolling.

“Mr Harrison had just finished with the Splash Point project and it was a good time to get rid of him.”

Mr Mitchell replied: “No, I don’t believe that. It was a proper investigation.”

For the full story, see the Herald, out Thursday, July 31.