The BDA has responded to news of the resignation of board member Tony Kilcoyne. The development follows a full investigation that examined allegations made by him concerning bullying and the culture of the BDA. The group tasked with this had concluded unanimously that these complaints could not be upheld.
The BDA has expressed its disappointment in Tony's decision, underlining both the robust process and outcomes of the investigation into Tony's concerns, and his unwillingness to pursue options set out to him to resolve extant conflicts of interest. Tony's Board colleagues do not accept the account of events he has set out in various social media fora.
As allegations were made against the BDA's Board – the Principal Executive Committee - and senior management, the investigation of them was passed to the UK Council, which has oversight over the PEC on behalf of members. The UK Council in turn instructed the Scrutiny Committee, consisting of four UK Council members, operating entirely independent of the PEC to take matters forward.
The Scrutiny Committee took forward an investigation into allegations of inappropriate behaviour at the PEC, based on evidence from 34 witnesses. Respondents were asked for their perceptions of claims of 'gas-lighting', bullying and a toxic culture at the BDA.
This investigation was supported by Professor Callum Youngson who sat alongside the members of the Scrutiny Committee as an independent observer. Professor Youngson is Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at Liverpool University and an honorary Consultant in Restorative Dentistry. He has previously served as Chair of the Dental Schools Council and as a member of the Medical Schools Council. He currently sits on the Medical Protection Society Board. As an Undergraduate Dean Callum has significant experience in undertaking interpersonal investigations.
Having examined the evidence and having sought to determine an outcome 'on the balance of probabilities' as per the model in employment tribunals, the committee has concluded that Tony Kilycoyne's complaints could not be upheld. The committee has also concluded it "cannot reasonably identify behaviours that would necessitate whistleblowing."
The report has made specific recommendations to both the PEC and to Tony Kilcoyne. The PEC was asked to develop a system of annual appraisals to provide individual members with the opportunity to raise concerns they may have regarding the behaviour of other PEC members, alongside a substantive 'service agreement' to be signed by all PEC members giving them a legal standing more closely aligned to other Non-Executive Directors, and to review of conflicts of interest policies to determine if the guidance provided to individuals is clear and the management of conflicts is consistent. The PEC had accepted these recommendations in full.
Tony Kilcoyne was recommended by the report to exhaust internal complaints processes before raising issues externally, and to seek personal resolution with relevant PEC colleagues. He had done neither of these things prior to resigning and putting his complaints in the public domain.
As the BDA's Board of Directors, the PEC has a duty to seek to manage conflicts of interest. It was attempting to do this prior to Tony's first resignation and has again been seeking to agree an approach to managing the conflict since his re-election. Tony's PEC colleagues dispute his claim that this is a minor issue or that they have approached its management disproportionately. The expert legal advice provided to the Board has supported their view and approach. The PEC had set out options that would remove the potential conflicts of interest, relying on legal advice during this process. Up until his resignation, Tony had chosen not to take these options forward. Consequently, his engagement with PEC activities had been limited to ensure that the conflict could continue to be managed whilst ensuring that Tony could discharge his fiduciary responsibilities.
British Dental Association Chair Eddie Crouch said:
"We took Tony's concerns about his treatment very seriously. Our UK Council has overseen a thorough investigation, with senior independent input.
"On the basis of the evidence received the scrutiny committee has concluded unanimously that it has not found evidence to support Tony's complaints.
"As a trade union and professional body we have a responsibility to manage any potential conflicts of interest on our board. Options were set out to Tony that, with his full agreement, could have achieved that.
"Unfortunately, Tony did not recognise or resolve these conflicts. It is disappointing that he has chosen this route when others were open to him, but this remains a robust process with robust outcomes, underpinned by expert legal advice in which we have every confidence."
Tony has also commented on possible changes to the BDA's Articles of Association at this year's AGM. Piecemeal changes to the BDA's Articles of Association over the years have resulted in a document that appears disjointed, with topics difficult to find, and presentation issues that are unhelpful.
The proposed Articles that will be published shortly and presented at the 2021 AGM incorporate a significant reorganisation of the content to provide for a much more accessible document, and for this reason it is proposed that they are adopted in their entirety in place of the existing Articles.
In addition to the tidying up process, there are also some more substantive changes being proposed. One of those is to make provision, with the addition of a new Article 46, for the removal of a member of the Principal Executive Committee (PEC). Members of the PEC are the Directors of the Association, and it is usual for Articles of Association to provide for the removal of Directors, especially where the performance of their statutory duties are called into question.
Other organisations that are special register bodies like the BDA already have an equivalent provision. This has been a significant omission from the BDA's Articles to date. The draft new Article requires the PEC to undertake reasonable investigations into behaviour, and to consult the United Kingdom Council, before any decision is made.