Thursday, 31 July 2014

Chief executive resigns following boardroom fallout at housing association giant

Trouble at the top at Affinity Sutton

One of England's biggest housing groups has been thrown into chaos after three months which have seen the departure of the chief executive, the chair and a member of the board from one of its subsidiaries.

The problems at Affinity Sutton culminated this week with the resignation of Paul Eastwood, the chief executive of William Sutton Homes, one of the group members.

His departure follows the ousting of the association's chair Kerry Pollard.The Housing Corporation ordered Affinity Sutton Group to launch an investigation after Mr Pollard complained about its actions (see timeline).

Mr Pollard was forced out after claiming that group chief executive Keith Exford had not followed procedure properly when he carried out an appraisal of William Sutton's chief executive, Paul Eastwood. The group accused Mr Pollard of ‘confrontational' behaviour towards Mr Exford, the investigation report states.

While the investigation exonerated the group's approach, it found that Mr Exford had used ‘extremely forceful, demotic and by his own admission inappropriate language' in a phone call with Mr Eastwood. The report described that conversation as an ‘attack' on the conduct of Mr Pollard, which left Mr Eastwood ‘clearly very distressed and shaken'.

Two William Sutton board members became ‘greatly concerned' for Mr Eastwood's well-being following the call, the report says.William Sutton board member Marianne Hood was ousted from the board this week after she acted as a ‘whistle-blower' to the corporation because of her concerns over Mr Pollard's departure.

The investigation examined whether the board had approved the decision to remove Mr Pollard. In a letter from Mr Exford to the corporation, dated 25 April, he said that ‘the majority of the William Sutton Homes' board have today expressed their support for this prompt and decisive action'.

But minutes of a William Sutton Housing Association board meeting on 27 April, seen by Inside Housing, state that ‘members expressed concern at endorsing or supporting the action taken and agreed they would take a more neutral stance'.In a statement Affinity Sutton said Mr Pollard had been removed as chair of William Sutton Homes board in April following a unanimous resolution of the Affinity Sutton Group board.

‘The final report concluded that the decisions taken by the Affinity Sutton board were reasonable in all the circumstances and none of the allegations investigated were upheld.'Mr Eastwood's decision to leave William Sutton Homes was ‘amicable', the statement said. Mr Exford has apologised for any offence that may have been taken from the language that was used, it added.

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