Kath Harmeston claimed there was a lack of procurement controls at the Co-op © PA Images
Kath Harmeston claimed there was a lack of procurement controls at the Co-op © PA Images

Former Co-op procurement boss loses appeal

Kath Harmeston, former procurement director at the Co-operative Group, has failed to have the judgment of an employment tribunal overturned at appeal.

Harmeston had appealed after an employment tribunal ruled last year that she had not been unfairly dismissed. The tribunal however did find that expenses payments due to her had been delayed because of whistleblowing disclosures she had made about corporate governance and probity.

She had claimed non-compliance with procurement policies at the organisation was running at 70% and attempted to claim £5.2m in damages from the Co-op for unfair dismissal.

Harmeston, who was previously employed by Royal Mail, worked for the Co-op between April 2014 and September 2015 on a base salary of £300,000 per year. In the original judgment the tribunal said against the background of a financial crisis in 2013, £952m was spent by the Co-op on goods not for resale and consultancy spending amounted to £100m. Harmeston’s role as procurement director was created as an attempt to control this spending.

The original tribunal ruled that Harmeston’s whistleblowing was not the main reason for her dismissal. The key factor had been a breakdown in trust over Harmeston’s appointment of a consulting firm, first at Royal Mail and then at the Co-op, which had itself been the subject of whistleblowing claims.

The tribunal’s decision was upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Harmeston said afterwards: “This lengthy dispute has taken its toll on me both emotionally and financially. 

“Even though I understood that blowing the whistle in a large corporation would be very challenging on many levels, I still believe it was the principled thing to do.

“The case connects with wider public issues on the improvement of corporate governance, which is currently under government review. 

“I do not regret undertaking the process of litigation to defend my name. I can now look forward to the future. I am passionate about continuing my career and providing the highest level of professional business and procurement counsel to leading companies.”

A Co-op spokesman said: “We are just pleased that the appeal hearing upheld the decision of the original tribunal.”

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