Wirral Council’s 4 Week Delay helpline investigation – was it ‘INDEPENDENT’?

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Between October 2008 and August 2010 (according to newly released information), Wirral Council’s Department of Adult Social Services imposed a blanket 4 week delay on Community Care Packages.  It appears this measure was brought in to save money – a situation which according to then council leader Jeff Green, was unlawful.

As new applicants came in for assessment, an “obstacle to care” had been put in the way; the system relied upon a senior manager “waiving the delay” in order to allow a service user to secure care services quickly.  However, if the manager decided not to waiver, the delay would kick in by default every time and the person in need of an assessment for care would not be considered for it until the 4 weeks was up.

Former DASS employee and whistleblower Andy Campbell approached the council in 2011, and was greeted by a wall of resistance.  Their inertia caused him to turn to the media, including Community Care magazine.  Within the following article is the opinion of the magazine’s legal expert Ed Mitchell, who states, “The courts will afford a council a reasonable period of time to put a care service in place as they recognise that services cannot be conjured up out of thin air. But a policy of not even beginning the process of securing services until a set period of time has elapsed cannot be considered lawful.”

http://www.communitycare.co.uk/Articles/13/09/2011/117431/whistleblower-says-council-ordered-care-packages-delay.htm

When approached, Interim Director of DASS, Howard Cooper CBE, nearing retirement at the time, lurched immediately onto the back foot.  He referred to “misinterpretation”, “unclear advice to employees” and couched his words very carefully in dubious, non-specific denials.  There wasn’t an admission of guilt, and to this day, despite the death of one Wirral lady, there has never been a statement of regret, let alone a public  apology.

Very soon after ‘the heat began to rise’, the policy was quickly withdrawn.

Have a look at this Freedom of Information request, seeking information on the council’s helpline and the provision of a report, lodged back in May 2012:

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

An answer finally arrived after 112 working days on 10th October 2012.  There are two links to the information.  The first, “Leader’s Meeting 27th April 2012” is so heavily obliterated, it now makes very little sense at all:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/116035/response/319894/attach/html/3/20121008155450390.tif.html

The second link is to the report itself:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/116035/response/319894/attach/html/4/foi%20helpline%20report.doc.html

Apart from being very low quality and poorly laid out, the general thrust of the document appears to rely on these events being “all a long time ago” and is buried in the blandest of language.  The words serve to paper over the cracks, and appear to represent a self-imposed clean bill of health for the Council, despite its involvement in what many regard to be highly dangerous activity – the deliberate placing of financial savings ahead of the safety of vulnerable people.   There is no acceptance of any wrongdoing; no reference to illegality; indeed the following excerpt shows the report concluding with a blithe watering down of the controversy; no mention of any deaths, and a tendency towards the tired, but trusty chestnut of  ‘looking forward rather than back’.  In summary, a desire by the curiously unnamed [therefore unrepresentative] “independent reviewer” to conclude matters, and put all this behind them:

See the following link to a Wirral Globe article for the true human cost of the council risking people’s lives in this way:

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/9585095.DELAY_SCANDAL__Wirral_man_s_despair_as_his_mother_died_after_waiting_for_care_package/

Following this revelation, there was lots of fighting talk and “standing for no nonsense” by the Council leader at the time, Jeff Green, but predictably with this tired and broken set up, it seems to have been all for show, with the whole affair apparently ending not in a bang, but a whimper.

There’s been zero accountability for the manager concerned, who had taken it upon himself to sideline care, and to sacrifice empathy and basic humanity in favour of conserving cash.  Rick O’Brien, has been moved elsewhere but has never been openly linked or associated with these events by the council, who have defaulted back to pre-Klonowski “machinations”, opting to shield, deny, minimise, obfuscate, give very little away and to cover up ~ all done in order to stay one step ahead of the legitimate and compelling public interest ~ the centrepiece of which is…. accountability.

Despite the council’s historical litany of on the record fudges and denials, here’s a revealing link to details of a meeting that took place to discuss how the 4 week delay was operating and how cost savings were stacking up – in other words, a “smoking gun”.  This document was later uncovered as part of an FoI request:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/97832/response/260635/attach/html/3/Budget%20Mtg%2023.10.08.doc.html

UPDATE   5th November 2012

The FoI request relating to this  was lodged back in May.  Here we are approaching Christmas and Wirral Council are unable to break out of their old dyed in the wool inability to comply with public Freedom of Information requests.

This one has now been appealed with the Information Commissioner.  The following message was posted up on the WhatDoTheyKnow site on 14th October 2012:

Dear InfoMgr, FinDMT,

I am not satisfied with your response, which is inadequate and once
again is in breach of the FOIA.

You are incorrect and mistaken in offering me a SECOND internal
review, having ignored my first review request, made in July 2012.
It is now my statutory right within the Act to appeal to the ICO
against the information which you eventually got round to
supplying.

The information referred to in the “Leader’s Meeting” link is not
considered and selective, and has been very heavily and incorrectly
obliterated, breaching DPA guidelines. Your actions therefore do
not represent a desire to protect personal privacy and identities
and have encompassed far more, by placing obstacles in the path of
the free and fair flow of information.

You have failed to identify the name and organisation of the
“independent investigator”. Protecting such an individual’s
privacy, if that was your intention, also flies in the face of all
concepts of openness and the legitimate public interest.

I will now be appealing to the Information Commissioner,

Yours sincerely,

Paul Cardin

UPDATE   15th December 2012

The ‘Independent Reviewer’ has since been unmasked as someone named Rob Vickers.  He used to work at St Helens Council as an Assistant Director of Commissioning, but a large number of emails (reproduced below) omits any mention of his council background (perhaps doing so would be unhelpful?), preferring to describe him as some sort of free agent, with no axe to grind, self-employed / a sole-trader.

Whatever his history, whatever his current allegiances, they’re pushing the ‘this person has nothing do with the council’ line.  I can’t seen any investigatory credentials, and the wider public, expecting impartiality, may be concerned that Mr Vickers, an undeclared former council employee, has not been able to supply any information up front to reassure them that he has no prior affiliation with abusive Wirral Council (scroll to 7.1).

So… the abusive council wants us to trust them again, and to believe that without this crucial piece of the jigsaw, Rob Vickers can be regarded as an independent party, i.e. somebody whose impartiality can be relied upon.  Whoever commissioned Rob Vickers seems to be following the cue of Jeff Green and Anna Klonowski before them.  But that’s not good enough.

We were were not born yesterday.  AKA and the then Wirral administration may have preserved their own interests ‘going forward’ (£historical governance training, the £supplementary and £full reports, ongoing £assistance, et al), but this is post-Klonowski, post-Refresh and Renew with a demanding local public who have been promised openness, transparency and everything done above board – not a reactionary lunge back to the bad old days of black holes, uncertainty, inertia, nods and winks – and controversial issues entrusted to shadowy agents of independence, operating under “no trading name”.

Here are the emails:

From: Rowley, Stephen
Sent: 13 December 2012 08:37
To: Paul C
Cc: Hodkinson, Graham R.; Jones, David N. (Social Services QAU)
Subject: RE: FoI request

Dear Paul

I thought I had already replied to your email, I do apologise as that was clearly not the case.

I have spoken to Rob Vickers and he confirmed that his organization had no trading name as he was a sole trader.  He also confirmed that he made no declarations regarding prior associations with Wirral Council. [my emphasis]

I hope this is of use to you.

I would say that I am leaving the employment of Wirral Council next week so if you have any follow up or other DASS related issues please send any emails to Graham Hodkinson copied to David Jones [redacted] in that way your requests will be picked up.

Kind regards

Stephen Rowley
Wirral Council
Department of Adult Social Services
Head of Finance and Performance Branch
Phone [redacted] Mobile [redacted]
E-mail
Visit our website: www.wirral.gov.uk
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From: Paul C
Sent: 06 December 2012 19:05
To: Rowley, Stephen
Cc: Hodkinson, Graham R.
Subject: FW: FoI request
Importance: High

Stephen,

You have still not responded to this, sent almost a month ago.

I would like a detailed answer, addressing the points if you’d be so kind,

Regards,

Paul Cardin

From: Paul C
Sent: 12 November 2012 22:26
To: ‘Rowley, Stephen’
Cc: ‘Hodkinson, Graham R.’
Subject: RE: FoI request

Stephen,

Do you have the name of his organisation, as requested?  And also, if available, the declarations he will have made before being commissioned, to prove no prior associations with Wirral Council?

Did he in fact make any?

Many thanks,

Paul

From: Rowley, Stephen
Sent: 12 November 2012 16:59
To: Paul C
Cc: Hodkinson, Graham R.
Subject: RE: FoI request

Hello Paul

Sorry for not getting back to you earlier on this issue.

The report author was Robert Vickers, Independent Investigator, who is self employed.

I hope this is off use to you.

Thank you
Stephen Rowley
Wirral Council
Department of Adult Social Services
Head of Finance and Performance Branch
Phone [redacted]
E-mail
Visit our website: www.wirral.gov.uk
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From: Paul C
Sent: 11 November 2012 00:04
To: ‘Rowley, Stephen’
Cc: ‘Hodkinson, Graham R.’
Subject: FW: FoI request

Dear Stephen,

Just a reminder about the email below, sent on 1st November, requesting the name and organisation of the independent reviewer / investigator referred to in the response to my FoI request.

I have appealed to the ICO, and this issue is a part of that appeal, but given Mr Hodkinson’s assurance stated below, I’d be very grateful if you could lift the secrecy, address the public interest, and find time to supply the information,

Many thanks,

Paul Cardin

From: Paul C
Sent: 01 November 2012 22:44
To: ‘Rowley, Stephen’
Cc: ‘Hodkinson, Graham R.’
Subject: RE: FoI request

Dear Stephen,

Apologies, I mixed this up with another report and made a mistake in requesting it again.  I DID receive a heavily redacted version of the report in question, which I am not happy with because I believe the council has overstepped the mark and breached DPA requirements, in obliterating a lot more information than could be described as personal and relevant to the Section 40 exemption.  I have appealed to the ICO regarding this.

On a related matter, can I refer you to Mr Hodkinson’s email below, dated 8th October 2012, in which he states he would be ‘happy for me …to have any other information that you want as long as it does not breach the confidentiality of individual vulnerable people or their relatives.’

Here is a link to assist you…

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/helpline_regarding_illegal_delay#outgoing-216036

Please provide the name and organisation of the independent investigator referred to in the response to my FoI request,

Many thanks,

Paul

From: Rowley, Stephen
Sent: 01 November 2012 16:34
To: Paul C
Cc: O’Hare, Tracy J.; Hodkinson, Graham R.; Jones, David N. (Social Services QAU)
Subject: RE: FoI request

Dear Paul

Thank you for your email below; I understand from Graham that there is an issue that has been referred to the Information Commissioner but if there is something other that is still outstanding can you please let me know what it is and I will try to obtain the information for you.

Regards

Stephen Rowley
Wirral Council
Department of Adult Social Services
Head of Finance and Performance Branch
Phone [redacted]
E-mail
Visit our website: www.wirral.gov.uk
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Protect the environment and save trees – only print out if absolutely necessary


From: Paul C
Sent: 30 October 2012 22:55
To: Hodkinson, Graham R.
Cc: O’Hare, Tracy J.; Rowley, Stephen
Subject: FW: FoI request

Dear Graham,

Still nothing heard.  Brave new world now looking uncertain from where I’m standing !

Regards,

Paul

From: Paul C
Sent: 22 October 2012 23:21
To: ‘grahamhodkinson@wirral.gov.uk’
Cc: ‘tracyohare@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘stephenrowley@wirral.gov.uk’
Subject: FW: FoI request

Dear Graham,

I’ve left it a fortnight, but haven’t heard anything regarding this report.

Can I also refer you back to the questions that were asked in my email below?

Regards,

Paul

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Hodkinson, Graham R.
Date: 8 October 2012 14:04
Subject: RE: FoI request
To: Paul C
Cc: “O’Hare, Tracy J.” , “Rowley, Stephen”

Thank you for your request Paul.  I have asked for the matter to be dealt with, I would be happy for you to have a copy of the Investigation Report into this matter and for you to have any other information that you want as long as it does not breach the confidentiality of individual vulnerable people or their relatives.

Regards

Graham Hodkinson

Director of Adult Social Services

Wirral Council

T: [redacted]

E: [redacted]

Please save paper and only print out what is necessary.

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From: Paul C
Sent: 06 October 2012 09:14

To: Hodkinson, Graham R.
Cc: O’Hare, Tracy J.
Subject: FoI request

Dear Graham,

Further to our meeting of 28th September, please look at the following link to an FoI request dated 8th May 2012.  This asks for FOUR distinct items:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/helpline_regarding_illegal_delay#outgoing-216036

As you will see, I’ve received a Section 22 exemption from your people, quoting a “report” to be published before the end of the year, but nothing further, despite a request for further explanation sent back in early August.  Can you confirm whether the four items of information requested, in their entirety, are in fact held, whether a date has been confirmed for future publication, or whether they are published now on the council’s website?

Could you ask somebody to explain the latest situation; or point me towards them, thereby satisfying the original FoI request?

Many thanks,

Paul

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

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‘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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