#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?

#FoI request ~ Discovery of Wirral Council’s failure to record compromise agreements

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Face of a man who is covering his eyes uid 1460818

“Let’s close our eyes everyone.  Because then….

….it’s not really happening”

Total numbers for Compromise Agreements (full & final settlements for departing employees)

I lodged a previous request on this subject back in January 2011.  This was one of 345 separate requests made to English councils at the time.  Wirral trailed in 345th…. the very last council to respond, taking 216 working days to provide the following:

2006: 2
2007: 1
2008: 3
2009: 2
2010: 4

The FoI / DP gagging clause had never been used.

I thought, given the Chief Internal Auditor’s recent finding of high priority fundamental risks in this area, and a failure to scrutinise and record anything, not only was I left scratching my head on how they’d provided figures for years 2006 to 2010, but the time had come to try and draw back the veil that’s been cynically pulled across, shine a spotlight into the gloom, and update the public on how many compromise agreements were issued throughout 2011 – a year of great turbulence for the Council.

Compromise agreements are important and sombre legal documents, and often contain “gagging clauses” in order to keep the employee and the issuing body quiet.  They rule out future legal recourse and are associated with the handing over of large sums of public money, aimed at pacifying complainants, whistleblowers (who can’t in law actually be gagged) or those who have been subject to disciplinary allegations or investigations.  In other words ~ they are the lynchpin to an extremely touchy and sensitive area.

Sharp-eyed readers may have spotted in the above report that David Garry, Chief internal auditor, has failed to highlight the subject of  ‘compromise agreements’ in the introduction to the report, whilst making room for and headlining more mundane subjects such as “the overdue audit of Bidston Village Primary School”.

In her report, independent investigator Anna Klonowski has already headlined that such dysfunctional, secretive behaviour, followed by a peculiar brand of selective reporting is all in a day’s work for Wirral Council, ending her 249 pages with, “If positive and constructive change is to occur a clear articulation of ‘this is how we do business in Wirral’ needs to be developed and modelled every day by those in leadership positions throughout the tiers of management.  This will need to be supported by the development of an ability to constructively challenge those who do not adhere to these behaviours.” *waves at Mr Garry*

So, on it goes despite Klonowski.  The habitual kneejerk lurch towards the dysfunctional…. continuing ‘as abnormal’.  The “Wirral Way” of doing things never bodes well for anyone banking on integrity breaking out, or ideals such as openness, transparency, and the free and unhindered flow of information.

Maybe it’s just too early to usher in normality.  And with no accountability in sight, maybe normality is a bridge too far?

Here is the new FoI request, which was lodged today:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/total_annual_figures_for_comprom_347

Please check back for updates.

UPDATE   9th October 2012

Appended to the above FoI request:

Dear Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council,

In relation to the above request, please also supply the figures
for THIS calendar year, 2012, to date. As follows:

Following on from the 2011 END DATE of the previous request….the
annual figures for the total number of current employees or
ex-employees of Wirral Borough Council who have signed compromise
agreements directly related to the resolving of dispute(s) /
grievance(s) / internal and external investigation(s) /
whistleblowing incident(s).

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cardin

UPDATE    30th October 2012

Dear Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of
Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Wirral Metropolitan
Borough Council’s handling of my FOI request ‘Total Annual Figures
for Compromise Agreements, etc.’.

You have failed to respond to this query within the statutory 20
working days allowed. Please ask a senior officer to carry out an
internal review and also provide the person’s name, role and
contact details including phone number. Please also provide a
receipt for my request for review.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is
available on the Internet at this address:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/to…

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cardin

UPDATE   28th November 2012

Dear Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council,

It is now over 20 working days since I requested an internal
review.

As you are again in breach of the Freedom of Information Act, I
will now turn to the Information Commissioner and lodge an appeal /
complaint,

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cardin

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