• Two accountants dismissed for gross misconduct
  • Tribunal hears that investigation fund they had put through unauthorised pay increases after they had been officially turned down
  • Employment tribunal dismisses whistleblowing claim

A clinical commissioning group sacked two accountants after they were found to have signed off unauthorised pay increases.

In 2016, Greenwich CCG, which had significant governance problems, ordered an investigation into two staff after an interim director realised one had approved a £7,900 pay increase for the other, who had also put an unauthorised pay rise through the system for another employee.

Both staff were dismissed for gross misconduct after an investigation from investigators TIAA.

The south east London CCG employed several interims in 2016 when the increases were investigated. The CCG was the subject of a governance review in the same year.

The issue came to light after one of the dismissed staff, Aderiyike Makinde, brought a claim of whistleblowing and racial discrimination to an employment tribunal after being dismissed in January 2017.

The tribunal judgment, published this month, quoted the TIAA report, which concluded: “There is evidence to show that the subject and their line manager, subject 1, were familiar with the process for seeking an upgrade in salary because they had approached the head of finance and the chief finance officer previously for approval. Then after having the requests rejected the subject and subject 1 took matters into their own hands and in so doing secured a salary increase for the subject and subject 3.”

The employment judge rejected Ms Makinde’s claim that she had been treated differently to other staff who had seen their pay increase after a restructure. The judge said the comparators’ increases had either been properly approved, or, in the case of Bob Franke, who is white British, and who approved Ms Makinde’s pay increase without authorisation, had also resulted in dismissal.

Mr Franke was a senior management accountant reporting to the associate director of finance and line managed Ms Makinde, who was a management accountant.

The tribunal heard Mr Franke’s manager confirmed discussions about pay increases had taken place in October 2014 and February/March 2015. The manager confirmed he had made two previous approaches on behalf of the claimant, both of which had been refused.

The judgment said: “The claimant completed relevant forms to award herself a significant pay rise, failing to get appropriate budgetary approval. She was entirely aware that it was wrong to engineer a pay rise in this way. She entirely caused her dismissal.”

Ms Makinde claimed she made a protected disclosure in April 2016 about an unauthorised payment to an IT contractor. The tribunal heard she raised this with governance director Dianne Jones, who later sat on her disciplinary panel, and no budget existed to pay an uncontractual £30,000 fee to bring the specialist in-house from IT agency Computer Futures.

The tribunal heard that when Ms Makinde raised the issue this led to a “screaming match in the office” between the two.

The tribunal said although it was “questionable” that Ms Jones then sat on Mrs Makinde’s disciplinary panel, “if there was procedural unfairness in this case, the tribunal is sure that if a fair procedure had been adopted, due to the nature of the misconduct, the claimant would have been fairly dismissed in any event”.

HSJ asked Greenwich CCG whether the payment Mrs Makinde complained about was made, and whether proper procedures had been followed. A spokeswoman said this was standard practice and a “reduced introductory fee” of £22,500 had been paid, which was standard practice.

The tribunal rejected the whistleblowing claim, saying this was not the principal reason for the dismissal.

The CCG spokeswoman said: “The CCG has thoroughly reviewed its processes and procedures and as an additional measure we now have in place an automatic alert to the CCG’s executive management team for any pay increase.”

The CCG has recently been clustered with four other south east London CCGs, which will share a single accountable officer.