Fine words – but where Wirral Council’s concerned, they’re always a hostage to fortune

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Here’s a link to a fine Wirral Council document.  ‘Fine’ because its stuffed with nice sounding, positive words – strong, decisive ones.  Only later – much later – to be revealed as shitty, deceitful and hollow.  The abusive council which promised so much… but delivered nothing.

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=18972

It’s the process of bogus, pained self-flagellation / feigned victimhood that workplace bullies lurch towards when caught in the act.  Like rabbits in the headlights, they’re briefly stunned; but not missing a beat, they quickly recover.  Soon they’re up and running again, promising not to be so awful to their staff again in the future.  Their staff – the people they’ve described so many times in the past as ‘our most important asset’.

“Never again”, they will say. “This time….  it’s for real.”

But because they have all the power, they’ll quickly remind you that they’re the ones who are best placed to sort it all out.  They’ll start by making an earnest pledge to the watching public.

“We will stop at nothing in pursuit of the truth.  Lessons will be learned.  We will make the people responsible for this atrocious conduct (i.e. we the councillors / senior officers and our on-message sycophants) fully accountable…. and we are determined to succeed.  We are committed to fixing this organisation, and  moving forward.  We will start by calling for an immediate and robust review of all the relevant policies and procedures.”

This will be their call to ‘action’.  They may even call the whole thing an “Action Plan“.  Because that sounds positive.  Unless like Wirral, you happen to be on Action Plan number 94 for whatever year, with the list of self-generating scandals and fiascos growing ever longer:

  • (to be continued…..)

The experienced council watchers among you are now seeing phrases trotted out such as ‘we need to draw a line under it’ or ‘this council has to move forward’ or ‘that’s historical and happened such a long time ago’.

Here’s a reminder of Councillor Denise Roberts’ amendment from way back when – otherwise known as ‘the ‘series of unfortunate events defence’ – stuffed to the gills with the corrosive language of avoidance – which despite or because of LGA involvement, still epitomises to this day Wirral Council’s inability to take onboard and recognise its own desperate failings.

As the desire to cover up gathers fresh momentum, a public inquiry and / or special measures are desperately needed – to stem the haemorrhaging of £millions more of our money into the burgeoning black hole of Wirral councillors’ and senior officers’ creation.

Now…!

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Was Anna Klonowski’s investigation truly independent? Wirral Council still to reply – 9 months on

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

The above FoI request was placed in May 2012.  Last spring.  Wirral Council acknowledged receipt 7 months later in December.  This winter.  So it’s the customary, not exactly timely response.

It’s pretty much the kind of thing we’ve come to expect when approaching Wirral Council in good faith for public information ~ a  towering and pretty impregnable brick wall of inertia.

You might gain the impression they frankly don’t give a damn.

Link to news that Wirral will be the only council in the land, monitored by the Information Commissioner – starting in January 2013

But at least while they sit in silence, and in breach of the Freedom of Information Act, and we continue to wait for something to happen, we have an opportunity to discuss the issues brought up in this request, one by one.

  • AKA Associates, headed by local government consultant Anna
    Klonowski has a track record of working with Wirral Council, in the
    areas of training of senior officers and councillors, consultation
    on governance, and “independent” investigation. According to press
    reports, and the council website, it appears AKA’s associations
    with the Council as an “independent” consultant are ongoing and
    developing further

That’s right.  This ‘independent’ external investigator had a prior association with Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council, which began five years before AKA were appointed to externally investigate, back in 2006.  It took the form of ‘governance training’ provided to senior officers and councillors.

Despite several written requests – here is a selection from Twitter – I’ve never been provided with any information to allay public concern over the true impartiality or ‘independence’ of the Klonowski inquiry.  The people involved are all public servants, working for you and me, but there are serious, compelling and ongoing questions, raised in the interests of openness, transparency, fairness and democracy, but yet to be answered:

  1. Why was AKA chosen ahead of other qualified individuals and organisations – many without a prior association?
  2. What exactly were the company’s credentials for taking on such a complex and wide-ranging inquiry?
  3. Did Councillor Green’s choice fully comply with the Council’s policy and procedure for the commissioning of external investigations?
  4. With being a former trainer, did AKA stand to gain or lose in any way by the decisions / findings / recommendations reached?
  5. Why did AKA fail to investigate Balls Road Supported Living in the same way West Wirral was looked at? (The AKA “not enough time” excuse was inadequate and may have breached the remit)
  6. Why did AKA stubbornly refuse to minute or dual-tape-record their investigations with participants of the external review despite many requests?  The chance to record a completely accurate version of events was quickly lost forever

Why do these questions need to be answered?  Because AKA do not appear to have declared any prior interest or affiliation when the then leader Jeff Green commissioned them to carry out a review which eventually cost the local taxpayer £250,000.

Also, having a prior connection, that of providing governance training to councillors and senior officers, Anna Klonowski Associates seems to have stood to gain (or lose), dependent on the eventual outcome.  It’s not in the interests of the wider public, to entrust an organisation whose fortunes clearly rode on the outcome they themselves would reach.  In fact, it seems to have been a forseeable and avoidable conflict of interest which could have interfered with the nature of the conclusions eventually arrived at.

AKA found that all 66 councillors were completely blameless – which many existing staff, former staff, and members of the public understandably found astonishing.  The problem for AKA was: if they’d found a number of councillors culpable, it may have interfered with future funding decisions, and put an end to their association with the council; an association that AKA had spent  many years building and nurturing.  With ‘playing safe’, and clearing the decision makers, there was no direct obstacle to AKA continuing to provide their ongoing consultancy services.

I’m not saying this is what actually transpired, and that these were the reasons for the decisions made – but we can’t rule anything out or in – because there has been either silence or a dearth of information.  And to the sceptical, hard-bitten Wirral Council watcher, there was always the potential for ‘shenanigans’ to occur.  And given the council’s proven historical abuse of power, this would not look out of place.

The public can’t be blamed for harbouring serious misgivings – doubts which have never been safely put to bed.

(More to follow…..)

I wonder what’s happening with this?  I haven’t heard a thing

— Wirral In It 2gether (@Wirral_In_It) January 13, 2013

Yet another ‘Action Plan’ – dealing with the fallout from the HESPE fiasco… or not…?

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On 18th October 2012, Wirral Council issued an ‘Action Plan‘ – which sounds good… on the face of it; a determination to roll up their sleeves, get stuck in, bang a few heads together, stand for no nonsense and consign all the proven abuse and failings to the past, where they belong.

However, seasoned watchers of this organisation will be aware that they’ve issued a torrent of ‘Action Plans’ down the years, generally in response to the latest fiasco or PR disaster; the stated purpose usually being to get to grips with the bungling and prevent the organisation from being hauled through the courts as a result.  But the ‘Action Plan’ method doesn’t appear to have effected much change.  It appears to be a case of  ‘onwards and downwards’.  Here’s an Audit and Risk Management Meeting called on 26th November to discuss this latest one:

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents/s50007881/HES%20Action%20Plan%20Report%2018102012%20Cabinet.pdf

Given the serious and repeated lapses in corporate governance, the reluctance to deal correctly with abusers, the tendency to reach for the public cheque book and pay senior people off, to gag them within compromise agreements rather than discipline them, and the general failure to get to grips with making senior officers and councillors truly accountable, the requirement for these ‘Action Plans’ turns up on a very regular basis…. and will keep doing so.  True accountability and the removal of the ever-present rogues would stamp it all out.

The introduction to this one follows the same tired old pattern of using carefully selected keywords in an attempt to take the heat out, and to avoid addressing the issue head on and rattling more alarm bells.  It simply would not do to deploy the same harsh language that was cruelly churned out by an angry local and regional press when a group of public-spirited whistleblowers, who’d been ignored by the council, alerted the district auditor (whose middle name was inertia) to a council contract, riddled to its very core with impropriety and serious failings.

No, where the HESPE (Highway and Engineering Services Procurement Exercise) Contract is concerned….

….it’s reputation management time.

‘Issues and concerns’ was the oh so bland, key phrase settled on this time, and rolled out twice here.

The rather feeble “Issues and concerns that need to be addressed” and “findings and recommendations… to be considered” are the rousing rallying calls to councillors.  So, until the next ‘Action Plan’ comes along, let’s roll our sleeves up, get stuck in and sign it off.  Then pass it on to the next committee, who will be absolutely resolute, totally fearless in their roles and sign it off and pass it on to the…..

…you get the idea.

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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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Wirral #FoI news. Whistleblower ‘accidentally’ identified on Wirral Council Website

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All the old content has been moved across and nothing else has changed.

Thanks for your time, and for following and I’ll see you there soon:

www.wirralinittogether.wordpress.com

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11th July 2012

The following FoI request was placed today, after the identity of a Highways Department whistleblower was ‘accidentally’ made available to the whole world via the Wirral Council Website.

This was in relation to the HESPE contract, awarded to COLAS in 2008 and later found to have been riddled with impropriety.  The Director involved, whose own brother used to work for the winning bidder, was suspended from his job back in March of this year.  He has since been cleared with ‘no case to answer’, courtesy of somebody who spends a lot of time defending senior council officers in trouble, and has also watched several colleagues being either cleared, gagged, paid off or all three since he hung his boots up.

The offending letter was taken down quickly, but too late…. the damage was already done.

The place is in turmoil, and seasoned observers of Wirral Council have interpreted this behaviour as a calculated ‘shot across the bows’ of any existing staff, who may have been considering following in the footsteps of Martin Morton, Andy Campbell and the person involved in this case, Gary Downey (who is one of a group of courageous and as yet unnamed whistleblowers).

As far as Wirral Council are concerned the watchwords are ‘Whistleblower Beware’, given that those prepared to act in the public good seem to have been branded as troublemakers, threatened and hounded out of their jobs, had their identities unfairly revealed or had their personal health and wellbeing put through the mincer.  Compare this if you will to the treatment given to abusive senior officers.  As the anniversary of the Anna Klonowski Report passes, the abusers’ real identities are still jealously guarded, having been replaced by numbers – which cleverly subverts the pesky little process known as ‘Accountability’.

So a big thank you to the LGA ‘Improvement’ Board – whom I assume must have been endorsing the council’s crazed, swivel-eyed, tongue lolling, anti-democratic practices.  More depressing legal news reaches me connected to the behaviour of this woeful bunch.

Watch this space for updates.  The request is currently with Surjit Tour, new boss of Legal who, along with 3 other staff, has taken up the department’s workload since Bill Norman, former Director of Law, was recently paid off.

Here is the FoI request:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/copy_of_letter_published_on_webs#incoming-330708

UPDATE   12th November 2012

As you’ll see, there’s no real urgency attached for them, and it’s taken four months to acknowledge receipt.   Once again, they’re in breach of the Freedom of Information Act.

“Tell us something new” I hear you saying.

UPDATE   29th November 2012

The ICO have been in touch, telling me that they’ve contacted Wirral Council by letter and given them 10 working days from receipt of the letter to either furnish the information or provide a valid reason for not doing so:

PROTECT

29 November 2012

Case Reference Number FS50475062

Dear Mr Cardin

Your information request to Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council

Thank you for your correspondence dated 6 October 2012 in which you complain about Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council’s failure to respond to your information request which is outlined below;

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/copy_of_letter_published_on_webs#outgoing-216044

When considering complaints about delayed or failed responses to information requests our priority is to ensure requesters receive a response as quickly as possible (where one has not been provided) and to monitor any persistent trends which might indicate that a public authority was routinely failing to respond within the statutory 20 working days permitted under section 10 of the Freedom of Information Act.

We monitor complaints where a serious contravention of section 10 is recorded and where persistent contraventions occur we will consider placing a public authority on our monitoring programme (http://www.ico.gov.uk/what_we_cover/promoting_openness/monitoring_compliance.aspx ).

I have written to the public authority to provide them with a copy of your original request, reminding them of their responsibilities and asking them to respond to you within 10 working days of receiving our letter. I enclose a copy of my letter to the public authority for your information. The late response will be recorded and as described will form part of our ongoing activity to consider the performance of public authorities and the Freedom of Information Act in the future.

Should you wish the Information Commissioner to issue a decision notice for your specific complaint we are able to do so, however it is important to note that the Commissioner does not need to serve a decision notice in an individual case in order to use that case as evidence for enforcement action.

If Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council responds and refuses to release the information you have asked for and you are dissatisfied, you may, after exhausting their internal complaints procedure, complain to us again.

I have enclosed a fact sheet explaining more about our complaint handling procedures. At this point the case has been temporarily closed and I would like to thank you for bringing this these concerns to the attention of the Information Commissioner. If you do not receive a response within 10 working days please contact us quoting the reference number on this letter.

If you require any further assistance then please contact me on the number below.

Yours Sincerely

[Officer name redacted]
Case Officer
First Contact
Information Commissioner’s Office

UPDATE   18th January 2013

I gave them plenty of opportunity to respond (6 weeks plus), but nothing’s arrived – so I’ve sent the following to the ICO today:

From: Paul C
Sent: 18 January 2013 09:33
To: ‘casework@ico.gsi.gov.uk’
Subject: RE: ICO Response Re: Information request to Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council[Ref. FS50475062]

Dear [Case office name redacted]

Wirral Council has failed to provide the information connected to this request, despite you writing to them several weeks ago.

In my own experience there have been several persistent contraventions and I thank the ICO for placing this organisation onto the current monitoring programme.

I would now request that you issue a Decision Notice with regard to this request in order to bring them into compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

I look forward to receiving a response from you in good time,

Best regards,

Paul Cardin
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BREAKING: Wirral Council. Costs are in for the Richard Penn ‘investigation’

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BREAKING NEWS – 14th January 2013

Liverpool Echo

The figures are in for the costs of Richard Penn’s long term investigation into previously suspended officers David Green, Ian Coleman, Bill Norman and David Taylor Smith.

The total invoiced is a whopping £47,020.

This breaks down as £28,171 for the bulk of it which involved the complex acrobatics involved in reaching a conclusion that Green had ‘no case to answer’, and £18,849 for neatly avoiding the professed daunting ‘legal complications’ associated with Coleman and Norman.  As for Taylor Smith, he remains a man of mystery.

Councillors and senior officers will no doubt regard… what am I saying ‘regard’?…. will present this as money well spent.  But it’s not their money.  It’s our money.  And I can guarantee that not one member of the local public will agree that a further fifty grand shoveled into a yawning black hole, with absolutely no accountability or reckoning for any of the abuse or impropriety that occurred is ‘money well spent’.

In fact, in an honest, law-abiding, fully mature, grown up and civilised democratic arena, it would be more likely to qualify as malfeasance in public office – but they can all relax, because there’s nobody watching.

The train now departing from platform 1, Hamilton Square, is of the gravy variety….

UPDATE   27th December 2012

It’s official.  The Director who, in league with his assistant Nigel Jenkins, brought bogus “Gross Misconduct” bullying charges against me in 2003 which fell apart, but without any comeback, now has ‘no case to answer’ over allegations of impropriety associated with the letting of a £40 million Highways Maintenance contract back in 2008.

I’d say everybody concerned, whether externally investigating, still working for the council like Nigel Jenkins or Colin Hughes, or recently ££departed like Steve Maddox or Bill Norman or Ian Coleman or David Garry is as pure as the driven snow, and presumably the public will have had £100,000 + of their council tax money and £811,000 in gags and pay offs well spent on this and similar debacles – particularly that hefty 9 months’ chunk of salary channelled “into the coffers” of David Green while he was off work suspended through the summer.

Now move along please…  move along…  nowt to see…  But before you bugger off, here for your perusal is a link to…

An ‘independent’ Report by public servant Richard Penn

I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but what’s worrying about the sections of this report I have read is Richard Penn’s sloppiness – or is it deliberate?  He gives undue prominence to the rabid conjecture and unfettered, unevidenced opinions of senior Wirral managers (all close colleagues of David Green), whilst not bothering to quote at any length from the group of whistleblowers…

….so far, it’s looking like yet another stitch up.  Where the hell will this end up?

More links to news on Richard Penn’s background:

‘Tedious’ LinkedIn stuff

http://www.1in12.com/publications/archive/stories99/January99.htm

Excerpt: “With an annual pay packet of over £100,000, Penn was one of the highest paid Council bosses in the land. He is now tipped to pick up some lucrative part-time work with the Equal Opportunities Commission which is likely to see his retirement income come close to his former full time take-home pay.”

http://www.ncefloodmanagement.com/whos-speaking/richard-penn

Excerpt: “…has acted as a Designated Independent Person (DIP) in a number of local authority statutory officer disciplinary cases”

http://www.scribd.com/doc/50963141/Minutes-of-Council-14th-March

Excerpt: “RESOLVED-(a) That the Council finds that Mr Davies is guilty of misconduct by virtue of:(i) his over aggressive behaviour to staff (he was abrasive,rude and confrontational on frequent occasions); (ii) his lack of judgement in the events of March 2010 in drinking and driving; and (iii) contributing to the failure to maintain the necessary trust and confidence by reason of his aggressive behaviour.  Those voting in favour: 37  Those voting against: 0

http://www.lgcplus.com/lgc-news/kerrier-dc-chief-exec-faces-disciplinary-action-over-leisure-contract-award/1404936.article

Excerpt:  “Richard Penn, an adviser to the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives, said: ‘Mr Cox has consistently rejected the district auditor’s criticism.  ALACE will continue to represent his interests in this matter and defend any action which his employer may decide to take against him.'”

I don’t think much of the Local Government Association’s grasp of appointing the right person for the job….  I wonder if they were right to recommend that Richard Penn, who spends much of his time defending the interests of senior council officers in trouble, is a suitable person to conduct a crucially important investigation into contract impropriety – by a senior council officer in trouble?

Apparently, Mr Penn, before he started defending Local Authority Statutory Officers, was a statutory officer himself – CEO at Knowsley Council ~ between 1980 and 1989.  A little birdy told me a loooong time ago that David Green also used to work at Knowsley Council.  I don’t know if this is true or whether David’s tenure coincided with Richard’s, but I’m checking it out.

If they are workplace colleagues from old it would put an entirely knew slant on this decision, wouldn’t it?

When I arrived at Wirral in Autumn 1996, David Green was in place at the District Labour Organisation (later the ‘Operational Services Division’), based in the Dock Road Depot in Wallasey.  He moved to the newly titled Director of Technical Services position (not ‘Borough Engineer’ note) I think in 2002, when Andrew Rhodes left.

But when did he originally arrive at the Dock Road Depot?  And where did he come from?  Can anybody help with this?

UPDATE   25th December 2012

Happy Christmas to everybody !

Peace on earth and good will to all men.  Particularly to David Green, Director of Technical Services, suspended back in March, but who has torn the wrapping paper from a very special present today.  He has been cleared of any prospective charges and, like so many before him, given a verdict of  ‘no case to answer‘.

Apparently the post of ‘Director of Technical Services’ was deleted from the structure recently and another new management structure has now come to pass.

So, as abusive Wirral Council staggers forward into the New Year, it’s yet another swift kick in the teeth to council tax payers, just to keep them in line, and a timely shot across the bows of any future whistleblowers…  people who may still have the ‘gall’ to raise serious concerns about their broken, basket case of an employer in the near or distant future.

If you are a potential whistleblower, working at Wirral Council and contemplating reporting either criminal conduct, blatant impropriety or serious malpractice – WATCH YOUR BACK !  In July of this year one of the anonymous whistleblowers involved in this case had his identity revealed and posted globally over the internetA n d   n o w   t h i s !

Wirral’s senior public servants,entrusted with preserving good governance post Klonowski, and promoting fairness and probity seem to prefer lurching back into acting as they always have done………..

i.e. With scant regard for integrity and the public good and instead, flying in the face of the fine words trotted out in the newly-robust and newly touchy-feely policies and procedures.

So I was wrong; David Green wasn’t gagged and paid off in a six figure sum like so many others before him.  He is returned to a shiny new as yet unnamed post with what looks like a clean bill of health.  And what of suspended Deputy Director of Finance David Taylor-Smith?  I don’t know, but will it be a similar fate?  No-one seems to know.

The update below this one speaks of a ‘Special’ meeting held last Thursday, at which the final item on the agenda was…

4.  Any Other Urgent Business Approved by the Chair.

I imagine this is where the dark deed may have been done.  It was announced today on BBC Radio Merseyside’s 9:00 AM news.  But that was it.  I waited, phone in hand on Christmas Day (how sad) to record the item on the 10:00 news, but it didn’t arrive.

I imagine a very practised and cynical opportunist, still safely ensconced in their miserable ‘communications’ role at the council, timed this announcement for release to the media, for consumption with our Christmas breakfasts.

It seems “No case to answer” is vying to become the dominant rallying cry for the gang of abusers still wielding the whip hand at woeful Wirral Council (see 7.1).

UPDATE   7th December 2012

A ‘Special’ Employment and Appointments Committee has been called for Thursday 20th December 2012.

This looks interesting because there are two senior officers still suspended: Director David Green (HESPE Contract suspension) and David Taylor Smith (suspended following release of Audit Commission’s report into the HESPE contract disaster).

Given the Council’s hyper-lenient treatment of:

  • Steve Maddox (£157,537)
  • Jim Wilkie (The council will pay more than £95,000 into Mr Wilkie’s pension fundIt is not yet clear if he will also receive three months’ worth of his £132,000 salary in lieu of notice
  • John Webb (£152,339)
  • Bill Norman (£151,416)
  • Ian Coleman (£82,500)
  • Howard Cooper (retired)
  • Rick O’Brien (moved)
  • David Garry (£46,584)
  • Mike Fowler (£109,496)
  • Maura Noone (£111,043)

TOTAL = £811,010

… and Anna Klonowski’s reluctance to lay any blame at the feet of councillors (and her very surprising reluctance to enquire into what happened at supported living accommodation in Balls Road, Birkenhead (“I don’t have the time”))…..

….what can we expect here?

It’s very close to Christmas.  Will Santa turn up with a bulging sack?  Definitely ONE TO WATCH.  Hopefully, pioneering members of the public will be allowed in to film it with their iPhones / Androids.

People who like to see senior abusers being paid off will be relieved to see that the Council Leader is in attendance.  Whilst publicly proclaiming, “We need get to the bottom of this, etc, etc”, if you check his and his colleagues’ histories, they’ve always  invariably voted in favour of allowing officers known to have been abusive, but with their identities concealed in the Klonowski Report, to leave, £weighted down and without too many questions asked.  Here’s the full list of attendees:

Attendee Role Attendance
Councillor Paul Doughty Chair Expected
Councillor George Davies Committee Member Expected
Councillor Phil Davies Committee Member Expected
Councillor Jeff Green Spokesperson Expected
Councillor Mark Johnston Spokesperson Expected
Councillor Adrian Jones Committee Member Expected
Councillor Peter Kearney Committee Member Expected
Councillor Ann McLachlan Committee Member Expected
Councillor Lesley Rennie Committee Member Expected

9th November 2012

I’ve been thinking back to that day in September 2003, when I returned to my work location at Bebington Town Hall for the last time.  I’d tendered my resignation from the Highways Department, and indeed from Wirral Council, and been invited to come in, empty out my desk and return whatever Council property I still had.  I also planned to say “goodbye” to colleagues and co-workers, something not on the official list of requirements.

There was a problem however with visiting the workplace, but not of my making.  During my 5 months’ absence on suspension (a neutral act), unnamed others had been taking the opportunity to generally trash my reputation.  And following an amateurish internal ‘investigation’ and the unsuccessful levelling of trumped up, gross misconduct ‘bullying’ charges, there were likely to be some embarrassed, unhappy individuals knocking about, feeling a bit done down and not wanting to see their vanquisher turning up unannounced.

In support of the fraudulent charges, I’d been told I was ‘out of step with everyone else’ – a default feature of the process of alienation otherwise known as ‘lodging a grievance’ at Wirral Council.  Admittedly, there may have been a grain of truth in this remark.  The everyday racist and disablist ‘banter’ certainly had me responding differently; either reaching for the car keys to get the hell out, or flaring up.

Maybe displaying a streak of independence, compassion or understanding for minorities, and some fire in your belly marks you out to any clique as ‘someone to be eliminated’.  I was later labelled ‘different’ at #QuackCWaC Council (neighbouring authority who ‘removed’ my statutory information querying rights) some time later, after lodging a complaint there.

I’ll concede this much ~ I always got by despite this, functioning and forming friendships, without the need for constant validation from managers and their sycophants, and succeeded in performing my job to a good standard.

Having a strong and supportive family and group of friends, I soon found I could breeze along easily without the shallow ‘support’ of paid up, on message, surplus to requirement drones, bending to the will of their seniors.

Despite the layer upon layer of crap that had been built up and thrown at me, there were still 2 or 3 stronger individuals left in the office *waves* who stayed committed to the facts throughout all this….. and who were astute enough to see through the bullshit.  The rest of the dumb hangers on, whether fully complicit or simply bystanding and keeping shtum, were happy to take the lies as read, not rock the boat and keep their own ambition of keeping out of trouble or climbing the greasy pole steadily on track.

So I arrived in work and parked up, noting that my UNISON shop steward’s car was there in the car park.  Not far away was the flashy number preferred by my line manager – and his manager’s car was there, parked in its numbered space.  A couple more colleagues’ battered jalopies were also in situ.

I strode in, works mobile and security pass in hand, ready to return them and prepared to confront whatever was awaiting me.  My ‘grandparent line manager’ greeted me nervously, looking a bit flushed.  He took my phone and pass and began to explain, as if it were needed, and as if he did this every day, how to empty the contents of my desk, then make myself scarce.

I then walked into an almost totally empty office.  It appeared my visit had  been announced earlier.  Despite all the cars, there was only one person in, who I’d worked with very happily for the last few years.  Of course, I had no idea what she’d been told or how complicit she may have been in my departure – probably not much, being further down the ‘pecking order’.  So this was left to one side and we had a good long friendly chat while I began to tip the contents of my desk drawers into a bin bag.

I did this at a very leisurely pace, expecting people to start drifting back to their work stations.  This was a busy office after all.  But nobody arrived.  So I went a bit slower.

Still…. no-one showed up.  Where had they all gone?   I continued to chat to my former colleague, but after about an hour and a half, I began to muse:  This is a ‘working office’, in the service of the public; there are jobs to do; street lighting columns (lampposts) to erect; old ones to take down…

These street lights wouldn’t look after themselves.  Yet my grandparent line manager (now back safely in his office) seemed happy to allow these public servants to come in, park up and hide somewhere else on site, away from their desks….

And that’s how it stayed.  Nobody turned up.  My grandparent line manager entered the office again and made noises along the lines “X has work to do… she can’t chat all day”.

So I left, and ambled back to the car park, my hypervigilant antennae noting that as soon as the door slammed the all clear was probably sounded and work on the maintenance and installation of Wirrals Street Lighting network kicked in, as normal.

http://www.easyvirtualassistance.co.uk/totwitter1.jpg

2 May 2012

From: Paul Cardin

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

This FoI request was placed on 2nd May 2012, following the suspension of David Green, Director of Technical Services and head of the Highways Department, which occurred on 27th March 2012:

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/9614815.New_shock_rocks_Wirral_Council_as_highways_and_technical_services_director_is_suspended/

Some history

Back in 2003, David Green suspended me, when I was an Assistant Engineer, working for the Highways Department.  I’d been employed within the Street Lighting section at the Council since 1996 and had blown the whistle on long term irregularities attached to the carrying out of night time Street Lighting scouting rounds.

The Council presented my suspension as a ‘neutral act’.  However, very soon, a large recorded delivery envelope thudded onto the doormat.  It turned out there was to be an internal investigation and following this, the council levelled trumped up disciplinary charges, accusing me of a campaign of ‘bullying and harassment’.  Strangely, nothing had been recorded about this behaviour at the time it ‘occurred’ – probably because it hadn’t occurred.  But many months on, it seemed to me now that somebody’s creative juices had been flowing.  This pointed towards collusion between unknown parties, whilst I was safely out of the way.  The charges were poorly-evidenced at best, and magicked from thin air at worst…

My own original allegations regarding impropriety with public money were not acted upon and were quickly forgotten.  I suddenly found myself up to my eyes in refuting these fraudulent charges.  In the months spent away from work, I’d called upon my union, UNISON to help me in my predicament.  I’d provided my UNISON ‘representative’ with a dossier / diary of all the nasty stuff that had been going on in the lead up to my suspension, all carefully recorded with incidents, times, dates and locations.  Some of the detail of this was very unpleasant, even disturbing and I won’t go into that here.

When I handed this evidence across, I took the precaution of numbering the pages and glueing some of them together at the top.  This proved to be one of the the shrewdest moves I’d ever made.

When I turned up unannounced at the UNISON offices in Birkenhead one day to ask why they’d done nothing, the ‘representative’ tried to fob me off with empty excuses.  I then demanded the return of the dossier I’d left in his possession.  Sure enough, the pages were still glued together as I’d left them, several months before.

No-one had bothered to read it.

I decided to join what was then the Transport & General Workers Union (now UNITE) after being invited by the full time North West Regional officer (now sadly no longer with us).  He was a good friend of mine, a man of principle, and I’d known him since my schooldays.  He was disgusted by what the Council had done and was only too willing to offer guidance and support to me as a new member.

In summary, he wiped the floor with them.  When the September hearing arrived, attended by David Green, who was assisted by the then Head of Human Resources (and former UNISON full time officer), my union rep raised some very pointed questions.  He set about blowing the council’s counter-case full of holes, and enabled me to fill in with the facts, shoot it all down in flames, and finish them off.  Ultimately, David Green was forced to withdraw the falsehoods and to find another job for me at the council.  This was made all the more difficult by the fact that my reputation had been savagely trashed from within.

Certain middle managers who knew me, whom I’d worked under and who had until now valued my professional input, had suddenly located their yellow streak, closed ranks and fallen into step behind the spurious bullying accusations brought by their seniors.

Unknown to the council, while suspended, I’d naturally been spending my time busily looking for a job elsewhere – anywhere – to get me away from what I now regarded as something of a ‘hell-hole’.  This succeeded and I was delighted to move to a much better paid position in the private sector.  The timing of this had been exquisite for me – and for my long-suffering but very strong and supportive family!!

The new organisation was fairly local, but a world away from Wirral Council, being a professional and forward looking outfit, with none of the seedy, cloying, sexist / racist undertones, and certainly not steeped in unaddressed cultural backwardness.  In fact it was a very refreshing change.  Here was a modern workplace, where I didn’t need to spend all my time ‘looking over my shoulder’.  My input was encouraged, valued and well-rewarded.

Meanwhile Wirral Council, with its dreamt up allegations now lying in tatters, struggled on, promising to find me a position that didn’t involve a pay cut and further detriment.  While they did this, I took great pleasure in playing my trump card and resigning…… not forgetting to request a sum of back pay for work I’d done on Street Lighting scouting rounds that the council hadn’t paid me for – which didn’t go down too well with David Green.

Although many sister councils have now farmed out this sort of work, Street Lighting scouting rounds continue to this day to be carried out internally by Wirral Council officers.

Well, that’s at least some of my personal history in these affairs.

But to bring readers back up to date with the present…

There have been many twists and turns since David Green (whose brother used to work for COLAS) was suspended.  It started becoming clear that there were very serious and very clear failings within the HESPE contract that was awarded to COLAS back in late 2008.  This time around, there were a number of whistleblowers on the side of the truth, who’d turned to Frank Field after receiving short shrift and a predictable lack of support from inside the Council and then from the Audit Commission, who were consulted in March 2009.

Their allegations were compelling, serious and detailed – but the inertia that greeted them was profound and disturbing.  Frank Field for his part recognised that they were being fobbed off and seemed very appreciative of their contribution.  He was regularly quoted in the press, praising them to high heaven ~ a tactic which made some people, including me, feel very uncomfortable.  The public were not surprised when they very quickly saw Mr Field gushing in the media about the performance of the ‘new’ Labour council (the one that had tried and failed to cover up / minimise learning disabled abuse) and soon, the alarm bells began to ring:

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/9996154.EXCLUSIVE__Highways_whistleblowers_speak_out_following_departure_of_council_s_legal_chief/

The conclusion here is that politicians. simply. cannot. be. trusted.

I’m not going to go into forensic detail regarding the ins and outs of this situation, but it seems that at every turn, the council and its associated public ‘regulatory’ bodies have been found wanting.  Whether it’s Wirral’s so-called Internal Audit (formerly run by David Garry) and their bizarre act of giving “3 stars” (a ringing endorsement in anyone’s book) to the highly-flawed HESPE contract; or the contribution of District Auditor Michael Thomas, producing an initial review which very belatedly (September 2010) found little wrong with the HESPE disaster, before being compelled to ‘look again’, only to find in June 2012 after the imposition of delay upon delay by Wirral Council  that David Green ‘probably broke EU rules’ and much more…  link: http://fraudnews.eu/?p=2091 ;or the Serious Fraud Office turning Frank Field’s request down and failing to investigate the conduct of the contract.

Private Eye, Issue 1326 ~ 2nd Nov 2012

Here, updating us further still, is a clip from the current issue of Private Eye – unlucky for some, page 13 – Rotten Boroughs:

Wirral Council are making a habit of appearing within these pages

#FoI Request ~ Departure of Chief Internal Auditor David Garry from Wirral Council

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www.wirralinittogether.wordpress.com


18th October 2012

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

See also this related blog post

Dear Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council,

On 17th October 2012, it finally became public knowledge that
disgraced Chief Internal Auditor David Garry – who had perversely
and inexplicably given the disgraced HESPE contract 3 stars – had
received permission, to leave his employment with Wirral Council.

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/999130

Above is a link to a news story published today in the
Wirral Globe, which reported this matter, along with the departure
of the suspended Director of Law, Bill Norman. Once again, the
comments beneath the article indicate the strength of feeling
amongst a still outraged public.

The former CEO, Jim Wilkie, who himself is the subject of another
freedom of information request, currently breaching the FOI Act:

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

…admitted to years of learning disabled abuse by the council.
This was followed by the departure of two senior social services
officers in January of this year. It is still not clear whether
these two individuals WERE leaving as a result of their involvement
in abuse AND whether they signed compromise agreements with gagging
clauses. As of today, despite several assurances, Wirral have not
responded to the following FoI request and are many months overdue
and again in breach of the FOI Act:

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

Despite the fine words trotted out in Appendix S2 of the Anna
Klonowski “Refresh and Renew” Supplementary Report, the Wirral
public have still yet to see any sign of accountability or a
reckoning towards the as yet anonymous employees who perpetrated
this sustained abuse against learning disabled people over a period
of several years – which totalled over £700,000 plundered from
their bank accounts.

There were also abuses of power, as found by two independent
investigations – but which remain unpunished, and an admission to
learning disabled abuse here (See 7.1):

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/mgConvert

Please provide all information you have which is connected to the
departure of Mr Garry. This will relate to meetings, hearings,
discussions, reports, and may be stored in the form of recorded
minutes, verbatim and non-verbatim notes, emails, letters, memos,
aide memoirs, documents, whether electronically or manually stored.

Please confirm and provide full details of the existence of any
payments made to Mr Garry in relation to his departure. This will
include precise amounts, the method of payment and the budget from
which the payment was / is to be derived.

Please confirm details of the existence of any “compromise
agreement” or “confidentiality agreement” or “compromise
contract”or “confidentiality contract” agreed and signed by Mr
Garry in relation to this departure or to his involvement in abuse
or malpractice. This will include confirmation and description of
any ‘gagging clauses’ and whether a positive / neutral / negative
reference was provided regarding potential future employment.

In light of the [strangely] recent discovery by Wirral’s NOW
EX-Chief Internal Auditor David Garry that “compromise contracts”
were NOT being recorded but were being arranged behind closed
doors, beyond any councillor scrutiny and beyond view of the
public:

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents

…please describe the exact process that was followed and supply the
documents, reports, aide memoirs, notes, etc. that were created and
recorded as part of the NEW process. Please take a deep breath
before you do this, and ponder your overriding duty to act not out
of self-interest, but fairly and impartially in the unbending
service of us the public.

Please provide the names and addresses of all organisations /
bodies involved in providing legal advice to Mr Garry. Please also
provide details of meetings which occurred including times, dates
and matters discussed.

Please confirm the details of any disciplinary charges either
planned or levelled against Mr Garry in relation to any failures /
malpractice / abuse which may or may not have brought about his
departure from the Council.

If Mr Garry was provided with a “clean bill of health” regarding
his time served at the council, please provide a copy of this /
these document(s).

Please redact documents as you see fit, and remove any personally
sensitive information in accordance with the requirements of the
Data Protection Act.”

Please confirm which meetings have taken place. Presumably there
will have been at least one gathering called to scrutinise the
so-called “compromise contract” that was drawn up and agreed,

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cardin

For further context and background information, see the story of  Nigel Hobro, an accountant of 30 years’ standing, working for Wirralbiz, who blew the whistle on alleged malpractice at Wirral Council, attached to the BIG (Business Investment Grant) Fund:

http://www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/liverpool-news/regional-news/2012/04/12/wirral-council-investigates-new-whistleblowers-claims-99623-30740243/

Mr Hobro has taken his issues to an employment tribunal, which was recently postponed due to a contributor’s illness.  Presumably he will have lodged a case against his former employer WirralBiz for discrimination or for unfair or constructive unfair dismissal ~ which is often what happens to whistleblowers.  The messenger is attacked.

Mr Hobro has also made some revealing remarks in the comments pages of the local media and has been very keen in his blog to get his message out there:

Here’s a WhatDoTheyKnow request, lodged in May this year, but not yet answered by the council five months on.  It is now at appeal with the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The story was continued in the Liverpool Daily Post during the last week of September 2012 on page 9.  However for some reason, there is no web link to the story.

Site Meter

#FoI request ~ Unscrutinised Machinations; Suspended Director of Law Departs Wirral Council

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17th October 2012

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/unscrutinised_machinations_permi/new

See also this related blog post

Dear Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council,

On 17th October 2012, it became public knowledge that suspended
Director of Law, Bill Norman had received
permission, as part of a secret, protected and apparently
unscrutinised process, concealed from public
view, to leave his employment with Wirral Council. According to the
press, this is believed to follow an external investigation stating
that he had “no case to answer” and to involve the granting of a
package approaching £150,000 in public money.

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/999130…

Above is a link to a news story published today in the
Wirral Globe, which reported this matter. Once again, the comments
beneath the article indicate the strength of feeling amongst a
still outraged public.

The former CEO, Jim Wilkie, who himself is the subject of another
freedom of information request, currently breaching the FOI Act:

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

…admitted to years of learning disabled abuse by the council.
This was followed by the departure of two senior social services
officers in January of this year. It is still not clear whether
these two individuals WERE leaving as a result of their involvement
in abuse AND whether they signed compromise agreements with gagging
clauses. As of today, despite several assurances, Wirral have not
responded to the following FoI request and are many months overdue
and again in breach of the FOI Act:

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

Despite the fine words trotted out in Appendix S2 of the Anna
Klonowski “Refresh and Renew” Supplementary Report, the Wirral
public have still yet to see any sign of accountability or a
reckoning towards the as yet anonymous employees who perpetrated
this sustained abuse against learning disabled people over a period
of several years – which totalled over £700,000 plundered from
their bank accounts.

There were also abuses of power, as found by two independent
investigations – but which remain unpunished, and an admission to
learning disabled abuse here (See 7.1):

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/mgConvert

Please provide all information you have which is connected to the
departure of Mr Norman. This will relate to meetings, hearings,
discussions, reports (including the report of Mr Richard Penn, the
external investigator), and may be stored in the form of recorded
minutes, verbatim and non-verbatim notes, emails, letters, memos,
aide memoirs, documents, whether electronically or manually stored.

Please confirm and provide full details of the existence of any
payments made to Mr Norman in relation to his departure. This will
include precise amounts, the method of payment and the budget from
which the payment was / is to be derived.

Please confirm details of the existence of any “compromise
agreement” or “confidentiality agreement” or “compromise
contract”or “confidentiality contract” agreed and signed by Mr
Norman in relation to this departure or to his involvement in
abuse or malpractice. This will include confirmation and
description of any ‘gagging clauses’ and whether a positive /
neutral / negative reference was provided regarding potential
future employment.

In light of the [strangely] recent discovery by Wirral’s NOW
EX-Chief Internal Auditor David Garry that “compromise contracts”
were NOT being recorded but were being arranged behind closed
doors, beyond any councillor scrutiny and beyond view of the
public:

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents

…please describe the exact process that was followed and supply the
documents, reports, aide memoirs, notes, etc. that were created and
recorded as part of the NEW process. Please take a deep breath
before you do this, and ponder your overriding duty to act not out
of self-interest, but fairly and impartially in the unbending
service of us the public.

Please provide the names and addresses of all organisations /
bodies involved in providing legal advice to Mr Norman. Please also
provide details of meetings which occurred including times, dates
and matters discussed.

Please confirm the details of any disciplinary charges either
planned or levelled against Mr Norman in relation to any failures /
malpractice / abuse which may or may not have brought about his
departure from the Council.

If Mr Norman was provided with a “clean bill of health” regarding
his time served at the council, please provide a copy of this /
these document(s).

Please redact documents as you see fit, and remove any personally
sensitive information in accordance with the requirements of the
Data Protection Act.”

Please be mindful that as Mr Norman was the “Director of Law” and
fulfilling that role, and paid / rewarded in line
with that role as part of these as yet secret arrangements, I am
making you aware that case law within this area, combined with the
legitimate and compelling public interest demands a far greater
degree of openness.

As yet, I can find no evidence either in the press or on the
Council website that this departure has received ANY democratic
scrutiny by elected officials. Please confirm which meetings took
place. Presumably there will have been at least one gathering
called to scrutinise the so-called “compromise contract” that was
drawn up and agreed.

Please also confirm whether the July suspension of Mr Norman and
his two colleagues was carried out correctly i.e. it followed to
the letter the guidance laid out within the Local Government Act
2000 and was mindful of the extra protection that is afforded to
Directors of Law and Finance.

If Mr Michael Frater, local gov troubleshooter [now departed] made
an error in suspending the two officers Norman and Coleman, and
this has “blown up in his face” and potentially caused a situation
in which we may find ourselves today i.e. shot in the foot;
compromised; picking up the pieces, and paying off officers who
have had their employment rights breached, then please confirm it
if true, and release all the documents which relate to it,

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cardin

18th October 2012

According to Principal Committees Officer Andrew Mossop, the relevant minutes were added to the website yesterday, almost a whole month after the Employment and Appointments (Compromise Contracts) meeting took place.

This relatively new committee was established in April 2012.  As we all know, mucho concealed machinations will have transpired before then.  Anyway…. drip, drip, drip….

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=656&MId=4224&Ver=4

Pay-offs ~

David Garry’s breakdown

Total to the tax payer: £46,584.

People will wonder, “Why did the Chief Internal Auditor have to go?”  Is it anything to do with the HESPE Highways Contract awarded to COLAS, now lying in tatters?  Can it be related to the lack of audit oversight which was allowed to occur under Mr Garry’s watch?  Can it be connected to the perverse decision to award “3 stars” (whatever that means – sounds like an endorsement to me) to the whole rotten process?  Did David Garry receive a “clean bill of health” within his compromise agreement, intended to reassure any unwitting employers thinking of appointing him in the future, following this fiasco?  We need to know!

Bill Norman’s breakdown

Total to the tax payer: £151,416.

The reason given for the former Director of Law’s departure is “Redundancy/Severance payment”.  Presumably the post of “Director of Law” now lies redundant, obsolete; to be deleted from the staff structure…. or have I got this wrong?  Experience tells us such issues are approached differently on Wirral.  Will the position be given a new, fresher title…. one to key in with the positive spin, with the supporting machinations whipped into a frenzy, as the media machine churns onwards and “moves forward”.

Did anybody ever read and digest the Klonowski Supplementary Report ~ the absurdly titled “Refresh And Renew”, with its fine words promising accountability before the public?  Or does that and the full report sit on a shelf somewhere, unheeded, gathering dust ?

Sharp-eyed readers of the Council minutes will have spotted that the meeting called on 20th September 2012 was just one day prior to the reporting of the external investigator, Richard Penn, on 21st September 2012.  Which reminds us of the release of the two senior DASS oficers the day before the release of the full Klonowski report.  “Manipulation” and “massage” appear to be writ large not just through the minutes produced on the website, but in the actions and the exquisite timing of the actions of Wirral’s “inner ring”.

What kind of an organisation would draw up and present a compromise agreement the day before a crucial investigation finally reports its findings.  What kind of an organisation would allow a suspended employee to leave in the event that the investigation came up with “no case to answer” – which is precisely what transpired.  What the hell is going on here?

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

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man with feet on desk

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.

Wirral Council to be monitored AGAIN for poor performance by Information Commissioner

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Clock over person s eye uid 1460629

‘TIMELINESS’

21st December 2012

As Christmas approaches, it was announced today that Wirral Council are one of only 4 public bodies to face a three month period of ICO monitoring, commencing in January 2013.  They are the only English Council to face the regime this time around.

It’s happened before, but the same staff and councillors appear to have learned very little; unlike the other 18 (count them) councils mentioned at this link – who appear to have upped their game and not re-appeared on the list this time.  Is this second appearance on the ‘naughty list’ another first for Wirral?  Who knows?  But they could begin to make a habit of it, given the convergence of their deep-seated,  unchecked arrogance and the wider climate of cuts.

Having dealt with Wirral Council for some years, the news doesn’t surprise me one bit.  Let me reassure you, they are every bit as bad as this decision to monitor implies – and probably worse.  I won’t trot out all of my dismal experiences here, but here’s a link to some analysis of a few of my own requests, which will be updated in the New Year, but should give you a flavour of the inertia that the public are greeted with by default – and the level of importance this council attaches to the public’s statutory right to Freedom of Information and Data Protection.

In the following article, whoever the Liverpool Echo interviewed from Wirral felt it necessary to blame the public once again by indicating that one citizen is the source of a fifth of all complaints.  And yet again, there’s an inability to acknowledge that they’ve been mired in scandal upon fiasco upon further scandal since well into the last century.

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2012/12/22/mersey-council-under-scrutiny-over-freedom-of-information-failures-100252-32478176/

As I’ve said before, no organisation can grapple with a deep-seated problem such as this until self-awareness fully hits home and it stops going down the easy route of blaming other people for its own desperate, self-inflicted failures.

As far as Freedom of Information is concerned, with the wider climate of cuts and job losses, and with Wirral Council’s tendency to hit out and take potshots at the public who voted them into power, I expect more of the same and for the abusive masters clutching the whip hand to thrash about and sink even deeper into the miserable black hole of their own creation.

Wirral just don’t get it – Freedom of Information report to Councillors- 3rd September 2012

Please see the following link to an article in the Wirral Globe, dated today, 3rd September 2012:

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/9907712.Concerns_over_Freedom_of_Information_workload/?action=success

Then read the following report, written up by Wirral’s “Head of IT Services”.  My first observation is… Why mix in LGO complaints with FoI complaints?  Not very helpful to conflate the two, and a muddying of the water.

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents/s50005983/FOIREPORT.pdf

As far as Freedom of Information goes, much of the emphasis throughout this report seems to fall upon unnamed members of the public, who’ve had the temerity to raise a large number of requests.  There’s a reference to a table titled, “Top Ten Originators of FOI Requests” – a kind of rogues’ gallery, which is worth reproducing here.

Good that they resisted the urge to reproduce citizens’ names publicly in this report.  That would have been both stupid & outrageous.

Originator 1 has made eleven times more requests than Originator 2.  I’d suggest that if, as the data controller, you’re justified in going down the road of blaming a small number of people making a large number of requests – which you certainly are not – then this is your problem person !  1 person making 245.  There’s no need for the rest of the table in fact.

And who exactly decides what is excessive?  Are Originators 8, 9 and 10, (making 7 requests each in a whole year) too much for Wirral Council to cope with?  Do they deserve to be lumped in?  Give us a break !

It’s quite clear that “Originators” 2 thru 10 are merely “padding” – having only made between 22 and 7 requests in the whole year, or a total of 98 and an average of just over 10 (less than one a month) between them.  Can they really be part of a groundswell of unseemly and pernicious FoI requesting breaking out all across Wirral?

As rumour and innuendo seem to have been given free rein, it appears our elected councillors, the intended recipients of this report, are being urged to believe that despite the council doing its utmost, a small number of people (with an axe to grind?) …are making life very difficult for hard-pressed FoI officers.  How can staff cope if the sheer volume of requests prevents them from doing their jobs effectively?

It doesn’t suit the report’s author to bring everything into context and refer to any of the important statutory provisions and protections detailed within the Act.  It seems to have been more convenient for him to invoke an ‘out of control public’, egged on by stories in the newspapers, then juxtapose that alongside carefully selected keywords e.g. vexatious; repeated; obsessive; harassing; causing distress; significant burden; distraction; disruption; annoyance; lacking serious purpose or value.

Neither does Mr Paterson mention the fact that Wirral have dedicated only two staff to the problem ~ one data / info professsional and an admin assistant.  Which kind of sums up the level of importance Wirral have attached to addressing the public’s statutory information and data querying rights.

Sadly, the report’s purpose is to run, headlong, with the tactics of smear.  The heavy hint to councillors is that all of these requests are somehow “vexatious”.  There’s no reference to the fact that a person / requester cannot be vexatious,  because the truth would be inconvenient in this case – and detract from the message.


In addition to the above, the formal ICO description of the “vexatious request” is helpfully given to councillors by the report writer – seemingly intended to “point them in the right direction”.  And despite the report’s clear desire to cast far and wide for blame, rather than look inward, and perhaps put the focus onto the council’s own resources, there are some curious omissions closer to home:

  • The person making 245 requests in the last year has not been challenged for placing vexatious requests – possibly because not one of those requests is repetitious, invalid or frivolous in any way and therefore cannot be refused under the Act.  Well, I can’t think of any other reason not to get tough with “Mr Sheffield” !
  • The Freedom of Information Act 2000 makes absolutely no provision for data controllers to shift the blame across to “requesters who make a large number of requests” in order to mask their own poor performance – which the council will know – but it seems they’d rather gloss over all that and spin some irresponsible nonsense to the wider public (Wirral Globe) & councillors (the report)
  • The Freedom of Information Act 2000 doesn’t place a limit on the number of requests an individual can make to any particular data controller.  Every public body, including Councils, NHS Trusts, the police, has statutory obligations, and is required to meet and resource those accordingly.  Wirral’s information governance appears woefully under-resourced, with practitioners preferring instead to fail, plod on, muddy the water, and stir up a cynical smoke screen
  • The erstwhile head of FoI, and Acting Chief Executive Ian Coleman is currently suspended from work

There’s another angle.  Wirral compares itself to “other local authorities” and claims that it is receiving a “disproportionately higher amount of enquiries compared to those of a similar size”.  The public don’t doubt that at all, but there ARE reasons for this.  There are some rather startling yet unacknowledged facts; in the shape of quite horrendous albatrosses, draped across the shoulders of Wirral Council:

The above list is by no means exhaustive.  Wirral recently let slip the identity of another public-spirited whistleblower. It was published in full view of the world on the council’s website.  Many have interpreted this as a deliberate “shot across the bows” of any principled staff members who may be contemplating blowing the whistle themselves.

There are countless more scandals and fiascos, too numerous to mention.  Predictably, ‘other councils’, similarly sized or not, don’t tend to boast such horrific roll-calls of bullying, historical malpractice, attempted cover up, repeated abuse and suspected impropriety, going back well over a decade, and on into the last century.  Hence, the all too understandable response from the public, a legitimate and compelling desire as concerned citizens (who hand over a great deal of money in council tax): to find out what the hell is going on.

Given the above Council report, which is just the latest addition to the ongoing fiasco, the people of Wirral must be doubtful that those at the top have ever digested and fully understood the AKA report.  With the situation so dire, and with vulnerable people still struggling under this basket case of a Council, self-awareness is all.  Sadly, the top people appear myopic at best, blind at worst to progressive solutions – and are falling into the same old traps all over again.

There’s no perceived commitment to good old-fashioned public service – despite the calling in of an LGA “improvement board” – which has already been seen to omit important issues raised by the local public from the minutes of its public meetings.  I attended an improvement board meeting on 22nd June this year, went before them and lodged a clear and detailed question on accountability for people believed to have been involved in abuse.  These were two former senior officers who dodged any disciplinary sanction, and were then paid off and gagged (total £220,000) within a legal document.  When the minutes arrived, they’d been generalised; homogenised, with all the discomfiting points related to the clear enabling of abuse omitted.

Thank you Wirral.  Job done.  How convenient.  How self-serving; but not very open; not very transparent; not at all accountable, and certainly NOT an “improvement”.

The fact we’ve had no reckoning for past abuses means they’re still locked into complete denial ~ spinning, protecting, shielding and concealing everything within a destructive vacuum – a kind of black hole that consumes all, destroys any light, and succeeds only in “churning out heat and smoke”; the intention being to protect the power, obscure the issues, and pave the way for future speculators to descend into a pit of abuse, knowing they can emerge clean, and loaded down with a stash of easy money to disappear with over the horizon when the time comes.

That’s what happens with proven basket case authorities, blind to accountability.  Chancers and those on the make see an opportunity – and become desperate to join in and raid the public purse – where they know there’s a good chance they’ll get away with it.

Link to total number of Wirral WhatDoTheyKnow FoI requests & number of concerned citizens following this authority

24th November 2012

Word on the street is that Geoff Paterson, author of the above disingenuous and smearing report will be looking for a new job soon.

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