A new lurch towards secrecy. Klonowski Report buried over Christmas?

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UPDATE   3rd January 2013

The minutes are there.  They were there before Christmas, but I never had the chance to update.

Here is a link

I’ve been right through them and there is one mention of the mysterious ‘Standards Working Group’ meeting ~ the body that the officers I’d spoken to had never heard of.  Here’s the excerpt – all very vague – nothing specific at all.  Why is the meeting being called?  It doesn’t say.  [My emphasis]:

“Members gave consideration to a proposal that one of the Independent Persons be
invited to attend each meeting of the Standards Working Group. It was noted that
the next meeting of the Working Group was scheduled for 4pm on Monday, 10
December 2012 in Committee Room 2 of the Town Hall, Wallasey. The Committee
agreed that it wished to be as transparent as possible and that the proposal was an
appropriate way forward.”

There is no mention whatsoever on the Wirral.gov.uk website of a ‘Standards Working Group’ At least not in the places where you’d expect them to be, despite them wishing to be as ‘transparent as possible’.  A good start would be to tell us the public that you actually EXIST….

So it seems the public are once again plunged into the dark about what may be happening with the redacted Klonowski report – the one that has quite deliberately failed to reveal the names of abusers at Wirral Council, but has succeeded in blocking the legitimate and compelling public interest for almost a whole year.

This failure has been the shifting sands upon which have been built some pretty disgraceful, dangerous, self-serving, unwritten policies:

  • The issuing of a stack of compromise agreements (full and final settlements) which were never counted, recorded or properly scrutinised by any internal democratic processes
  • The gagging and paying off of senior officers widely regarded to have been involved in the protracted high level abuse of learning disabled people and the bullying and targeting of at least one whistleblower
  • The enabling of future abuse by top level managers, protecting senior officers widely regarded to have been involved in the protracted high level abuse of learning disabled people and the bullying and targetting of at least one whistleblower
  • The payment of a ‘reward’ to failed public servants.  A running total estimated to be between £810,000 and £1 million in public money.  (See this story which perversely overlooked Wirral Council.  Even the Daily Mail is right sometimes)

Will this report finally have the names revealed, in order to satisfy the growing public interest?

Or will it be buried as deep as nuclear waste?  Has it been buried as deep as nuclear waste… over Christmas?  While we were all looking the other way?

Wirral Council are now gaining a deservedly black as soot reputation for serial and deliberate manipulation of the public record, and given the failure to record in these minutes the date and purpose of the ‘standards working group’ which was to deal with this issue, I now fear the worst…

Is there a councillor reading this who can enlighten us, the people, the ones who voted him/her into office as a public servant?

FURTHER UPDATE   3rd January 2013

I’ve found something at last….

…..entitled Standards Working Group – Terms of Reference.  It all looks rather self-serving, and a practised and cynical exercise in deceitful doublespeak.  Machiavelli would be fiercely proud of it.  But what would you expect with abusive Wirral Council – the only council in the land to be monitored by the Information Commissioner for poor timeliness?  Honesty?  Openness?  Transparency?  You’re having a laugh….

Telling excerpt from the document:

Meetings of the Working Group shall be held in private and the provisions relating to
Access to Information shall not apply.

So… a committee which apparently agreed it wished to be as transparent as possible, by inviting a so-called ‘independent’ member, is to convene in secret.

The Klonowski report, costing the local public £250,000 and now possibly kicked into the long grass,  has had many of its recommendations ignored.

AKA Services are free to re-board the gravy train, and full steam ahead to the next basket case council, conduct the next unrecorded, unminuted investigation, potentially have it all ignored and collect a bloated cheque for services rendered.

Here on Wirral, in the wake of this ‘damning’ report, an admission to the long term abuse of learning disabled people, no disciplinary charges for anybody and 66 councillors granted a clean bill of health, the only areas refreshed and renewed appear to be the lies, the delays, the cover ups, the blaming of the public, the naming of a whistleblower, and the infamous, self-serving machinations…

UPDATE   16th January 2013

On 14th January, the public were illegally ushered out of a public Pensions Meeting, breaching the 1960 Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960, Section 1 (4) (c):

“while the meeting is open to the public, the body shall not have power to exclude members of the public from the meeting and duly accredited representatives of newspapers attending for the purpose of reporting the proceedings for those newspapers shall, so far as practicable, be afforded reasonable facilities for taking their report and, unless the meeting is held in premises not belonging to the body or not on the telephone, for telephoning the report at their own expense.”

So, they’re still flexing their muscles and making up their own rules as they go along.  As the anniversary of the publication of the ‘damning’ (which cost us £250,000 but never actually damned anybody) Klonowski Report passes, the bullies seem to be regaining the upper hand.

More here: Link to John Brace Blog

Wirral Standards Committee Meeting held on 19th November 2012

Despite clear internal guidance…… Wirral Council wrongly attempted to use an “Equality Impact Assessment” to help councillors…

The following is the internal document in question, dated 9th November 2012.  The document is headed “Proposal for Officer Options for Savings” – very vague – looks like a deliberate misrepresentation and a world away from the actual contents, which are deeply unsettling.  This was first looked at at a Standards Committee Meeting on 19th November 2012:

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents/s50007853/EIA%20-Disclosure%20of%20Confidential%20Reports%20under%20the%20Previous%20Ethical%20Framework.pdf

Page 1

Proposal for Officer Options for Savings –

Equality Impact Assessment Template

(Oct 2012)

Section 1:

Your details

EIA lead Officer: Shirley Hudspeth

Email address:shirleyhudspeth@wirral.gov.uk

Head of Section: Stephen Gerrard

Chief Officer: Surjit Tour

Department: Law, HR and Asset Management

Date: 9 November 2012

Section 2:

What Council proposal is being assessed?

DISCLOSURE OF INVESTIGATION REPORTS UNDER THE ETHICAL FRAMEWORK

(PRIOR TO 1 JULY 2012)


Page 2

Section 2b:

Will this EIA be submitted to a Cabinet or Overview & Scrutiny Committee?

Standards Committee on 19 November 2012

http://www.wirral.gov.uk/my-services/community-and-living/equality-diversity-cohesion/equality-impact-assessments/eias-010/law-hr-asset-management [broken link]

If ‘yes’ please state which meeting and what date

……………………………………………………………

Please add hyperlink to where your EIA is/will be published on the Council’s

website Law, HR & Asset Management

……………………………………………………………

Section 3:

Does the proposal have the potential to affect…… (please tick relevant boxes)

Services

The workforce

Communities

x

Other (please state eg: Partners, Private Sector, Voluntary & Community Sector)

If you have ticked one or more of above, please go to section 4.

None (please stop here and email this form to your Chief Officer who needs to

email it to equalitywatch@wirral.gov.uk for publishing)


Page 3

Section 4:

Could the proposal have a positive or negative impact on any of the protected groups (race, gender, disability, gender reassignment, age, pregnancy and maternity, religion and belief, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership)? (Note from Ed: ‘Does anybody see ‘Wirral Councillors’ mentioned in these protected groups?)

You may also want to consider socio-economic status of individuals.

Please list in the table below and include actions required to mitigate any potential negative impact.

Which group(s) of people could be affected

Potential positive or negative impact

Action required to mitigate any potential negative impact

Lead person

Timescale

Resource implications

All

Negative Impact – Details could be disclosed that relate to complainants and Councillors.

The investigation reports relate to historical issues and matters that could give rise to

adverse affects upon the individuals referred to in the reports

Standards Committee can decide not to disclose the reports thereby ensuring no

information is provided in the public domain. The status quo would continue.

Acting Director of Law, HR and Asset

Management

3 months

To be determined


Page 4

Section 4a:

Where and how will the above actions be monitored?

Through the committee arrangements of the Council.

Section 4b:

If you think there is no negative impact, what is your reasoning behind this? N/A

Section 5:

What research / data / information have you used in support of this process?

The report was requested at the last meeting of the Standards Committee.

Relevant legislation and legal duties upon the Council have been considered.

Section 6:

Are you intending to carry out any consultation with regard to this Council proposal?

No – not at this time however if a final decision is to be taken, consultation with

Members and those potential affected would be undertaken.

If ‘yes’ please continue to section 8.

If ‘no’ please state your reason(s) why:

(please stop here and email this form to your Chief Officer who needs to email it to

equalitywatch@wirral.gov.uk for publishing)

Section 7:

How will consultation take place and by when?

Before you complete your consultation, please email your preliminary EIA to

equalitywatch@wirral.gov.uk via your Chief Officer in order for the Council to ensure it is

meeting it’s legal requirements. The EIA will be published with a note saying we are awaiting outcomes from a consultation exercise.


Page 5

Once you have completed your consultation, please review your actions in section 5. Then email this form to your Chief Officer who needs to email it to equalitywatch@wirral.gov.uk for re-publishing.

Section 8:

Have you remembered to:

a)

Add appropriate departmental hyperlink to where your EIA is/will be

published (section 2b)

b) Include any potential positive impacts as well as negative impacts? (section 5)

c) Send this EIA to equalitywatch@wirral.gov.uk via your Chief Officer?

d) Review section 6 once consultation has taken place and sent your completed

EIA to equalitywatch@wirral.gov.uk via your Chief Officer for re-publishing?

<<<Document ends>>>

So, the clear aim of this, coupled with this, seems to be to conceal and protect the identities of individuals (e.g. officers, councillors, service providers) – known but withheld for a long time by Bill Norman, his successor Surjit Tour and others in the loop, but still concealed from public view in the published versions of both the Klonowski (failure of governance) and Smith (Bullying and abuse of power) reports…. and others.

It’s also deeply disturbing how ‘Wirral Councillors’ have somehow been crowbarred in as a ‘protected group’, alongside race, gender, disability, maternity, religious groupings.  How dare they?

It’s stated in a quite brazen way that there will be no consultation, and that a committee (populated by councillors and / or colleagues who stand threatened by having their names revealed) will have the final say after (maybe) consulting ‘members’ and ‘those affected’.  And we all know what decision will be reached by this committee, don’t we, even without waiting for the council committee system to go through the motions.

I tried to ring Shirley Hudspeth, this document’s author, in an attempt to find out.  She wasn’t available, neither was Surjit Tour, but the person taking the call said she’d call me back as soon as she knew what decision had been made by the Standards Committee.  She did come back, telling me that the matter has been referred to the Standards Working Group.  I can find no reference to such a group in the council’s list of committees, so the water is muddied still further.

22nd November

I spoke to Shirley Hudspeth today, who confirmed that the list of protected groups mentioned above was exhaustive.  I asked why then had councillors been included in it.  She couldn’t answer this, advising me that once the minutes for the Standards Committee of 19th November had been issued, the public could discover which ‘Standards Working Group’ (comprising 1:1:1 across the parties) will be sitting and on what date.  With regard to EIAs (Equality Impact Assessments), she asked me to ring Jacqui Cross who is the Council’s Equalities Officer.

Jacqui Cross confirmed to me that the primary purpose of EIAs  was to aim to cater for the impact that savings decisions would make on the protected groups.  She agreed with me that councillors may individually be included, but ‘councillors’ per se, grouped together within independent reports, should not have been included in this way and that any statement relating to investigations and the suppression of existing information had no place in an Equality Impact Assessment.  She is going to look at this and I will hopefully be able to set up a useful dialogue here, with the intention of putting some serious questions to the Council’s senior law officer – who is the driving force behind this accompanying document.

As the public are aware, there has been absolutely no accountability or reckoning for the long term abusers of disabled people or the people who bullied whistleblowers at Wirral Council, whether they be councillors, senior officers or service providers.  This could be why councillors and senior officers feel able to flex their muscles again.  Thinking they’ve got away with it, it’s quite possible they’re once again infused by arrogance, feeling impregnable in their positions and wanting to make sure by burying this one as deep as nuclear waste.
There’s an opportunity here for the council to finally, at long last, act in the public good and make widely available these names in the interests of openness and accountability.  Let’s face it, the public interest in revealing the names of the protected parties outweighs the public interest in continuing to conceal them.  Angela Eagle wrote an urgent letter to the Interim Head of the Council David Armstrong in August of this year.  This specifically asks whether the council is going to continue to protect the identities of people found to have been involved with abuse towards learning disabled people.  The letter remains unanswered.

But under a non-specific guise of protecting complainants’ and councillors’ wellbeing (?) ….

“…matters that could give rise to adverse affects (sic) upon the individuals referred to in the reports…”

…. we may be prevented from seeing a final reckoning for those involved in abuse.  Exactly what are these ‘adverse affects’ (sic)?

Nothing seems to have changed.  It still seems to be the abusers and their protectors who are calling the shots.

Anna Klonowski’s machinations are still in full flow, churning away, and being replenished and nourished anew.

Could the need to conceal public servants up to their necks in abuse and other hidden agendas be why they are currently seeking to ban filming?

UPDATE   27th November 2012

It was a good job I rang the council last week, because it seems it was all a mistake.  They should never have used the Equality Impact Assessment form for an issue that involved Wirral Councillors.  I got the impression it would have been highly embarrassing for them if councillors had benefitted from this error.

Jacqui Cross has reassured me that Shirley Hudspeth will be putting the situation right and removing the offending document from the council website.

However, given the historical tendency at Wirral for abuse, malpractice and cover up, people might say this was deliberately done – the use of equality legislation as a kind of trojan horse, deployed to usher in more secrecy AND protection….. for councillors.

UPDATE 30th November 2012

Shirley Hudspeth has now had the embarrassing item removed from the council’s website.

Screen shot here:

30 11 12 - embarrassing item removed from wirral website

UPDATE   14th December 2012

The public are still waiting for the minutes for the 19th November Standards Committee Meeting to arrive.

Until they do arrive, we won’t know where or when the correct ‘standards working group’ meeting will be held that will aim to finally do away with any chance of accountability resulting from the £250,000 Anna Klonowski full report.

It’s been a long time now, but will it happen this side of Christmas?

Has the meeting already happened?  With Wirral Council, we just don’t know, because it really is all up in the air….

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UPDATED ~ Compromise Agreements ~ Wirral Council’s reckless approach ~ also, how the District Auditor is sitting on his hands

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Compromise Agreements ~ 19th September 2012

Today, within a much larger list of items, a detailed Internal Auditor’s report was presented to a meeting of councillors at Wirral Council (The Audit and Risk Management Committee).  If you’d blinked, you may have missed it.  Here it is:

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents/s50006042/Internal%20Audit%20Update%20Report.pdf

The local media hasn’t picked up on this item yet, and local papers went for the following subject instead, which looks more “tasty” and was brought before councillors at the SAME meeting [oh dear]:

http://www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/liverpool-news/regional-news/2012/09/24/damning-report-prompts-wirral-council-review-into-gifts-and-hospitality-99623-31895671/

The subject I’ve decided to go with gives a worrying insight into a key area, one which very often touches upon scandal, controversy and malpractice.  It’s a crucial and sensitive process, but one which wasn’t being recorded correctly or receiving proper scrutiny and oversight.

Compromise agreements are “full and final settlements” issued by employers to departing staff.  They’re often hastily arranged when there’s a dispute, a whistleblowing incident, a serious complaint or an internal or external investigation.  Their use is growing UK wide and they are now becoming common even in redundancy and equal pay claims.  They often contain gagging clauses which prevent both the employee AND the issuing body from talking about the circumstances of the departure.  Some commentators have described these clauses as potential breaches of Article 10 – the right to freedom of expression – under the Human Rights Act.

The general assumption is there may have been a lot of staff departing from Wirral, but the public don’t know how many have left and how many have been issued with these agreements by the council; not in 2011 at least.  Furthermore, how many of these have had their silence bought?  If the Council are keeping figures, they’re not telling us.  They’re not “putting it out there”.

Perhaps now would be a good time to update this Freedom of Information request, lodged in early January 2011 ~ where Wirral was the very last to report of the 345 English councils approached for their historical six year figures on compromise agreements.

Due to the courageous and public-spirited actions of a growing number of whistleblowers exposing malpractice, Wirral Council has found itself mired in scandal going back many years.  It has staggered through several internal and external investigations, usually resulting in the departure of key staff – but the shadowy nature of the blood letting and the refusal to permit official oversight is now giving even greater cause for concern.  We are currently on our 5th Chief Executive within two years, having lost among others Steve Maddox and Jim Wilkie.

Wirral Council was never renowned for being open and transparent in the way it operates.  Rather, it is earning a reputation for minimising the impact of these fiascos in both factual and monetary terms, before lurching into cover up mode.  A desire to “manage its reputation” has become the overriding primary impulse.

Here, the Chief Internal Auditor, David Garry, (now EX-Chief Internal Auditor) has awarded Wirral’s “system” for compromise agreements just one star (the lowest level of assurance).  The relevant section of the report, highlighted in stark red within the document, begins:

“1. The system, process and procedure for all Compromise Agreements (whether above or below the threshold for referral to the Sub-Committee of the Employment & Appointments Committee), should be documented.”  (My emphasis)

He has also classified Wirral’s compromise agreements process as:

“An area within a wider list of items of a high priority nature where a fundamental risk has been identified that might affect the ability of a specific service area to achieve its key objectives.”

I’ve made the safe assumption that the Wirral approach to compromise agreements would not have been “fit for purpose” prior to the audit period covered here (1st June to 31st August 2012).  However, I’d go further than Mr Garry and state that the sloppy approach adopted will have allowed gross misconduct to go unpunished and malpractice to carry on unchecked.

Another point, perhaps for another blog post is: why has it taken so long for Mr Garry to uncover this state of affairs?  One would have thought there were audit mechanisms already in place, doing their business, that would have “red-flagged” it by now…………?

Among the staff to eventually receive compromise agreements were two key senior members of the Department of Adult Social Services, the erstwhile Employee A and Employee B, cleared of all allegations in 2008.

These two officers, although named by whistleblower Martin Morton and identified as key players within the Anna Klonowski Report (Employees 13 and 22), and widely thought to have been involved in years of learning disabled abuse, were potentially gagged, potentially paid off and allowed to depart, reportedly “by mutual consent” the day before the release of the full Klonowski Report in January 2012.

Former CEO Jim Wilkie is another potential candidate thought to have been eased out, or eased himself out, through a dodgy, unscrutinised, unrecorded legal document, drawn up virtually behind closed doors.

Since I posted this, rather than face the expected disciplinary process, Director of Law Bill Norman has again secured a six figure sum, securing so-called “redundancy”.  Press article here: Wirral News

To discover now that Wirral’s already tarnished public servants have buried themselves in a process found by internal auditors to have been suspect is in many ways not surprising.  But to discover that beneath the veil, and out of sight of prying eyes, a very large amount of public money will have been willingly handed over “no questions asked” in order to secure their silence, and to potentially protect the reputation of senior staff and the reputation of the council itself… is disturbing.

Above all though, the shameless enablement of further disabled abuse, done in our name, which could break out elsewhere in the future is disturbing, highly irresponsible and simply outrageous.

The danger has been cranked up further now as one of the senior employees, potentially given a “clean bill of health” by Wirral Council, is currently advertising his / her wares on the LinkedIn website; looking to pick up their next senior role in the care sector.

Mr Garry doesn’t busy himself with the failure to discipline those responsible for abuse, or the concealment of this abuse within legal documents, or the squandering of public money used in pay offs, or the shadow created over the future welfare of vulnerable and disabled people – they seem to be matters either beyond his audit, or of no concern to him – and concludes simply that there is a:

“3.2 Potential failure of the Audit and Risk Management Committee to comply with
best professional practice and thereby not function in an efficient and effective
manner.”

A related link: Concealing malpractice / enabling abuse with a Compromise Agreement / Gagging Clause


To follow: An emailed update from District Auditor Mike Thomas, and my response…..

Email received on 27th September 2012

Background.  Back in May 2012, I raised with District Auditor Mike Thomas the subject of the two former DASS senior officers who were gagged inside a compromise agreement, paid off a large sum in public money and NOT disciplined for their involvement in what looked like many years of abuse.  A very unhappy consequence of this arrangement was that further abuse was enabled by not “marking the cards” of the offending employees.  One of them is now looking for a senior job in the care sector elsewhere.

From: Mike Thomas [mailto:m-thomas@audit-commission.gov.uk]
Sent: 27 September 2012 15:51
To: ‘Paul C’
Cc: Liz Temple-Murray
Subject: Wirral MBC

Dear Mr Cardin

Thank you for your recent emails. I can confirm that I have now had a response to my information request to the Council regarding the issues within your emails that fall within my remit.

As I stated in a previous email any information I request from the Council is requested solely for the purposes of me carrying out my responsibilities as the Council ‘s District Auditor and for no other purpose. Section 49 of the Audit Commission Act 1998 places restrictions on disclosure by me of information I obtain in the course of my audit. Please also note that in my capacity as an auditor appointed by the Audit Commission I am not a ‘public authority’ for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act.

My responsibilities as set out in the Audit Commission Act 1998, in broad terms, are as follows:

Firstly, to audit the financial statements and to give an opinion as to whether they give a true and fair view of the Council’s position during the year subject to audit, and

Secondly, to form a conclusion as to whether or not the Council has adequate arrangements in place to achieve value for money, the value for money conclusion.

In my Annual Governance report to the Council presented to the Audit and Risk Management Committee on Wednesday 19th September I stated that I intended issuing an unqualified opinion of the financial statements and an adverse conclusion on the Council’s arrangements for securing value for money. One of the issues that contributed to my proposed adverse conclusion was inadequate arrangements for dealing with compromise agreements as highlighted in an Internal Audit report which provided the lowest level of assurance – one star ‘limited assurance’.  My enquiries indicated that the inadequacies in arrangements highlighted by Internal Audit were evident in respect of a number of compromise agreements entered into by the Council during 2011/12. Whilst I have found no evidence of unlawfulness there was a clear need for the Council to improve its arrangements regarding compromise agreements.

The Council has acknowledged weaknesses in arrangements in this area: the Acting Director of Finance flagged them in his presentation to the Committee.  The Council responded to the criticisms by putting in place revised arrangements including a sub-committee of the Employment and Appointments specifically to consider proposed compromise agreements.  Given the changes the Council has made I am not proposing to take any further action with regard to this matter as part of my audit of the Council’s accounts for the year ended 31 March 2012.

Please be aware that Grant Thornton LLP were appointed as the Council’s auditors for 2012/13 with effect from 1 September 2012. I will make them aware of the issues raised.

The wider concerns you raise about ‘abuse’ are outside my remit and I note your various emails to the Chief Executive and the local Members of Parliament regarding your concerns.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Thomas

District Auditor

*********************************************************************
My response:
From: Paul C
Sent: 30 September 2012 09:06
To: ‘Mike Thomas’
Cc: ‘eaglea@parliament.uk’; ‘grant.shapps@communities.gsi.gov.uk’; ‘grahamburgess@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘davidarmstrong@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘l-temple-murray@audit-commission.gov.uk’
Subject: RE: Wirral MBC

Dear Mr Thomas,

Thank you for your response.

Firstly, does the extraordinary length of time that the council took to respond (four months) give you any cause for concern?   I’ve failed to pick up on any after reading your reply.

Secondly, I’m concerned that you may have “strung me along” for all this time, only to tell me ultimately that “abuse is outside your remit”.  You appear to have ‘washed your hands’ of the abuse, without offering any suggestion on whose remit you may believe it to be.

But thirdly, and my biggest concern is in the area of compromise agreements.  My specific complaint related to two of these in particular, regarding two senior DASS officers, which seem to have been drawn up hastily, without oversight, with the circumstances apparently not recorded – the finding of Wirral’s own internal Chief of Audit.  You are vague about which agreements in particular have lacked scrutiny, but it appears abuse has been concealed, further enabled and possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds in public money may have been handed to two senior officers who featured prominently as Employees 13 and 22 within the AKA report.  These officers’ behaviour was such that their imminent departure from office (a learning disabled abusive office) became a requirement – but due to complete lack of oversight and the council’s concerted efforts not to have its procedures in this area properly vetted, recorded, scrutinised and sanctioned, nobody knows what went on – it was all done out of sight and out of mind – even the Audit and Risk Management Committee appears to have been kept in the dark on the closer details.

This will be the ‘tip of the iceberg’.  There may have been a hidden compromise agreement issued to former Chief Executive Jim Wilkie.  Following request lodged in June 2012.  Not answered:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/agreed_departure_of_chief_execut

Moreover there are no figures for how many have been issued in total.  Where is the accountability for this public body?  I have copied in my MP to keep her informed on continued abject failure at her local council, and to highlight to her your response:

“The Council has acknowledged weaknesses in arrangements in this area: the Acting Director of Finance flagged them in his presentation to the Committee. The Council responded to the criticisms by putting in place revised arrangements including a sub-committee of the Employment and Appointments specifically to consider proposed compromise agreements. Given the changes the Council has made I am not proposing to take any further action with regard to this matter as part of my audit of the Council’s accounts for the year ended 31 March 2012.”

Do you see how inadequate your failure to take stronger action on this matter is?  Given the Chief Internal Auditor’s issuing of the lowest level of assurance for “compromise agreements” in his June to August quarterly audit report, and the discovery of another black hole in Wirral Council’s probity, you appear to have missed an opportunity to act properly and to order a further investigation into how disciplinary sanctions were circumvented, the legitimate and compelling public interest was sidelined, possible future learning disabled abuse was enabled, people were gagged, and large sums in public money were squandered.

Your failure to act and your acceptance of what may prove to be hollow assurances could possibly have given this broken council carte blanche to persist with its dreadful behaviour.  It may now have free rein to squander further huge sums of public money hand over fist, or to continue concealing and enabling disabled abuse within its legal documents in the future.  The danger remains, as you’ll see from this current link:

[link removed to protect data subject]

Yours sincerely,

Paul Cardin

UPDATE   1st October 2012

I’ve lodged an FoI request asking for Wirral’s figures for the number of compromise agreements issued in year 2011:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/total_annual_figures_for_comprom_347#comment-31617

UPDATE   9th October 2012

…no response to the above email yet from Mike Thomas, District Auditor.

UPDATE   16th October 2012

…no response to the above email yet from Mike Thomas, District Auditor.

UPDATE   23rd October 2012

…no response to the above email yet from Mike Thomas, District Auditor.  I have now given up on receiving anything from this particular public servant.

UPDATE   20th November 2012

Three further employees (anonymous ones) have left under compromise agreements, which are a type of full and final settlement which prevents employees from bringing (most) future legal claims against their former employer.  I suspect these will have included one or more gagging clauses  because, although the council is still in partial lockdown over these sensitive issues, the agreements appear to have been drawn up in dispute circumstances.

It’s progress.

In the past, an obscuring veil was drawn across such matters, and it was all done out of sight, beyond the view of the public or even of elected members.  The issuing of these agreements would have rung alarm bells and drawn unwanted attention – so, despite public proclamations from whichever council leader was in place of  “a new drive towards openness and transparency”, the process wasn’t monitored, recorded or democratically scrutinised in any way ~ and the public interest was stifled and sidelined.

So hooray.  The public have only had to fork out a total of £96,917.  I strongly suspect that this expenditure could have been avoided if matters had been dealt with in a more mature way, rather than going all heavy and dysfunctional on the disputing individual and treating them as ‘a problem which needed to be eliminated’.

Note the inferior sums on offer for ‘lesser’ individuals – whom I imagine were not movers and shakers, nor holding fast like limpets to the crumbling pillars supporting the dysfunctional upper tier of the council’s management.