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

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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.

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#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 ~ Secret agreement allowing suspended Ian Coleman to leave Wirral Council

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5th October 2012

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

Dear Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council,

On 3rd October 2012, former Acting Chief Executive; former Finance
Director, and suspended senior officer Ian Coleman received
permission, as part of a protected process, concealed from public
view, to leave his employment with Wirral Council.  According to the
press, this is believed to involve the granting of an early
retirement package worth £82,000.

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/996522…

Above is a link to a news story published the next day in the
Wirral Globe, which reported this matter.  The comments beneath the
article also indicate the strength of feeling amongst an 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…

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.

There were also abuses of power, as found by two independent
investigations – but which remain unpunished. 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 Coleman.  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 details of the existence of any payments
made to Mr Coleman in relation to his departure.  This will indicate
which position / role he was fulfilling and the total amount(s) of
final salary pension monies released attached to that role.  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 Coleman 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 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 Coleman. 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 Coleman in relation to any failures
/ malpractice / abuse which may or may not have brought about his
departure from the Council.

If Mr Coleman 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 if Mr Coleman was the “Acting Chief
Executive” and fulfilling that role, and paid / rewarded in line
with that role as part of this secret agreement, 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,

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cardin

6th October 2012

This is probably covered by the above, but just to be certain, I’ve added the following:

Dear Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council,

Further to the publicised £82,000 figure, please include the total
amounts of any additional severance payments, the existence of
which may not have been referred to within the publicity material
released by Wirral Council.

Indeed this figure may be calculated subsequent to 3rd October
2012. Please look for it, and if found, supply it.

Given the ongoing climate of ongoing scandal on Wirral, the public
interest is building very quickly on this important case, and I
believe it will need to be satisfied with early answers,

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cardin

Response in from FoI section at Wirral:

From: InfoMgr, FinDMT
Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council
2 November 2012

Good Morning

Thank you for your request below, Wirral Council can confirm there were no
additional payments.  Please see link where the report has been published
on our web site.

[1]http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/ieListDoc…

Thank you for your enquiry, kind regards

Kind regards

Tracy O’Hare

Information Management

Wirral Council

And then, three days later:

From: InfoMgr, FinDMT
Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council
5 November 2012

Good Morning

Thank you for your request below, Wirral Council can confirm this is
information held with a view to publication at a future date and considers
this information exempt from disclosure under section 22 FOIA 2000 as
information that the authority is intending to publish at a future date

You have the right under Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000
to ask for an internal review of the refusal of the information
requested.  Please would you direct any request for an internal review to
Mr Michael Rowan, Legal and Member Services, Department of Law, HR and
Asset Management, Town Hall, Brighton Street, Wallasey, CH44 8ED
You do also have the right to complain to the information Commissioner, if
you are dissatisfied with the outcome of any internal review, whose office
is situated at:

Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire SK9 5AF
Tel: 08456 30 60 60 or 01625 54 57 45
Fax: 01625 524510  www.ico.gov.uk <[1]http://www.ico.gov.uk/>

Thank you for your enquiry, kind regards

Tracy O’Hare
Information Management
Wirral Council

My response:

From: Paul Cardin
5 November 2012

Dear InfoMgr, FinDMT,

I have requested a diverse range of information and now seek some
further clarification.

In order for me to proceed, please re-read my original request and
respond more precisely on the nature of the information which you
have a settled intention to publish to the general public in the
future.

OR… confirm the following:

o Apart from the existence of ‘additional payments’, which was
previously dealt with, the authority is engaging a Section 22
exemption on the remaining full range of diverse information which
I have requested.

Once I have your response, which I hope arrives this week, I will
consider whether to request an internal review or not,

Yours sincerely,

Paul Cardin

I am asking the council to list the information which it is going to publish.  I asked for a varied spread of info.  They’d come back and told me there weren’t any additional payments, so is it now going to publish everything else I asked for at a later date?  Does the Section 22 exemption used here cover everything else?  If not, then the exemption is NOT engaged and will fail.

UPDATE   6th December 2012

As they hadn’t responded, I prodded them as follows:

From: Paul Cardin
6 December 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 ‘Secret Agreement
allowing suspended Acting CEO to depart Wirral Council’.

You appear to have ignored my email, sent on 5th November, which
read as follows:

From: Paul Cardin

5 November 2012

Dear InfoMgr, FinDMT,

I have requested a diverse range of information and now seek some
further clarification.

In order for me to proceed, please re-read my original request and
respond more precisely on the nature of the information which you
have a settled intention to publish to the general public in the
future.

OR… confirm the following:

o Apart from the existence of ‘additional payments’, which was
previously dealt with, the authority is engaging a Section 22
exemption on the remaining full range of diverse information which
I have requested.

Once I have your response, which I hope arrives this week, I will
consider whether to request an internal review or not,

Yours sincerely,

I gave you the opportunity to clarify, but my reply DID NOT arrive
that week and I am still waiting for a response.

Please take the above into account and carry out the internal
review according to the FOIA i.e. within 20 working days, or within
40 working days if there are exceptional circumstances,

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

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cardin

They responded today, failed to clarify, as requested and referred me back to their response of 5th November, ignoring my request for an internal review.  I rang them up and told them they were in breach of the law if they failed to acknowledge it and didn’t act on it within 20 working days (40 working days in exceptional circumstances).

So they sent the following:

From: InfoMgr, FinDMT
Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council
6 December 2012

Good Afternoon

Wirral Council acknowledges your request for an internal review; this has
been passed to the department of Law HR and asset management.

Thank you for your correspondence, kind regards.

Tracy O’Hare

Information Management

Wirral Council

And so, ushered in is the next period of silence.  How long it lasts is anybody’s guess.

As far as publication of the information goes, ‘at a future date’ is the assurance.

See you next year?
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#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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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.