CPO Kath Harmeston Takes the Co-op to Employment Tribunal

Goodness gracious me! The Newcastle Chronicle reports that Kath Harmeston, who was a very high profile and successful CPO at the Royal Mail for some five years, is claiming damages from the Co-op, for whom she worked briefly as CPO in 2014.

"Kath Harmeston was hired to slash spending at the supermarkets-to-funeral homes side of the company. But she is now claiming more than £5m in damages for unfair dismissal. The 50-year-old took the role of group procurement director in April 2014 after being headhunted from a top job at the Royal Mail.

But she was sacked in September 2014 and placed on gardening leave. Ms Harmeston, who is from Cramlington but now lives in London, claims she was fired after alerting bosses about corporate malpractice, governance issues and breaches of fiduciary duty".

I don't think I knew she was from the North-east actually.  Allan Leighton, Chair of The Co-op, (an old colleague of mine from Mars days), says they will defend the action because she was fairly dismissed as "she acted in a manner which was not in keeping with the importance and seniority of her role, nor the values and principles of The Co-op.”  Harsh words, Allan.

I don't know Harmeston well, but from my few dealings with her she doesn't strike me as someone who would do anything (for instance) that would conflict with the CIPS ethical code. Indeed, she served recently as a Trustee (Board member) for the Institute, and her reputation is as a tough but very well respected procurement leader. She is advising the MOD's Defence Equipment and Supply organisation now - you also would think they would have done some due diligence on the Co-op experience before taking her on.

Equally, Fabienne Lesbros took that Co-op CPO job recently as we reported here and I find it hard to believe that she would have taken it if there were skeletons in the Co-op's cupboard. She is a very smart woman - surely she would have asked questions about Harmeston's brief tenure? Just to add more intrigue, Lesbros now fills a CIPS trustee role too although Harmeston's tenure has finished.

Anyway, the employment tribunal starts in Manchester on January 7th and we will follow it with great interest.

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