Why Matt Wrack’s ‘It wasn’t me, guv’ plea over hush money deals just won’t wash

REPORTS HAVE REACHED this blog that, at the annual conference of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) last week, general secretary Matt Wrack attempted to distance himself from the ongoing ’hush money’ scandal, which centres on the payment of large sums of members’ money, alongside the issuing of gagging orders, to union employees – including elected national officers – who had made allegations of workplace bullying (including against Wrack himself).

The affair has been covered in the pages of Private Eye magazine and was even recently debated by a select committee of MPs.

Until now, Wrack has remained largely tight-lipped about the scandal. But when it was raised from the rostrum by a delegate on the final day of annual conference, Wrack rose to his feet and responded.

This blog has spoken to a number of individuals who were in attendance at the conference. They all confirmed Wrack’s remarks. One source takes up the story. ‘Wrack’s comments about the issue came on Friday afternoon. During the morning, he had seemed a bit tired and emotional, and he was actually absent from the conference hall for a lengthy period, which didn’t look great and set a few tongues wagging.’

The source went on, ‘But then he returned and, when the “hush money” stuff came up, he basically tried to convince conference that he was innocent of any involvement in it. He said that the negotiations over the pay-offs and NDAs [non-disclosure agreements] were carried out and approved by other senior officials. It was a proper body swerve – almost like he had no more power than the office cleaner and it was all above his pay grade. It didn’t come across very well. It looked shifty – like he was willing to throw other people under the bus to save his own skin.’

If the reports of Wrack’s comments are true – and we have no reason to doubt that they are – then his actions are contemptible. Wrack is the most senior official in the union. Are we really to believe that high-level negotiations over the terms of the departures of a string of employees for whom he was directly responsible – including elected national officers – took place without his knowledge or explicit approval?

The exit agreements involved the payment of substantial sums (a six-figure sum in at least one case). If Wrack knew what was going on, then he is complicit, and his protests to conference are meaningless. If he didn’t know, then he is incompetent. A knave or a fool, as the old saying goes.

Wrack’s remarks to conference are ultimately an exercise in deflection – not dissimilar from the slopey-shoulder defence put forward by Paula Vennells in her recent appearance before the Post Office inquiry. The buck stops with the boss. Always. Imagine, for example, a scenario where senior managers in a fire and rescue service received secret pay-offs using taxpayers’ money after making allegations of bullying against the chief officer, and when that chief is later questioned about the affair, he replies, ‘Well, don’t blame me. I’m only the chief officer. Go and speak to the head of HR.’ If the chief officer didn’t know what was going on, he should resign on the grounds of incompetence. If he did, he should be big enough to take the rap.

In fact, Wrack’s position is even more flaky than that of the hypothetical chief officer because, under the FBU rule book, he is explicitly responsible for all union finances. So there is no possible way he can dodge the blame.

In fact, there is one piece of evidence which proves beyond doubt that Wrack knew full well what was going on. This blog is in possession of the covering letter that accompanied the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) reached with former national officer Paul Woolstenholmes, who received a termination payment of £109,000 after making allegations of bullying against Wrack. The covering letter bears Wrack’s own signature. It is inconceivable, therefore, that he either didn’t know about, or didn’t explicitly approve of, the termination payment and NDA.

The letter, bearing Wrack’s signature, which accompanied the non-disclosure agreement reached with former national officer Paul Woolstenholmes

In the end, bosses should always be answerable for what is done in their organisation’s name and should never seek to shift the blame to their colleagues in an attempt to save their own skin. But that is what Wrack appears to have done.

It says a lot about him and his style of leadership.

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