#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?
Site Meter

#FoI Request ~ to Wirral Council. Departure of CEO Jim Wilkie

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7th June 2012

This was the date of departure of Chief Executive Jim Wilkie from Wirral Council.

It occurred a few hours before the release on the 8th June of the long awaited damning District Auditor’s report into the multi-million pound HESPE Highways Contract – which was riddled with impropriety and downright dubious conduct by Senior Officers.

This was similar to the release of the Klonowski Report, where two Senior Employees, Maura Noone and Mike Fowler (Employees 13 and 22 within the report), who had been involved in extremely dubious practice, where the bank accounts of learning disabled people had been emptied of more than £700,000 over several years – as originally reported by whistleblower Martin Morton, were allowed to leave the day before the so-called ‘full’ report was released.

A prominent figure, heavily involved in either allowing these people to return to work (in 2008), and later permitting them to leave their employment without any redress or disciplinary sanction was the Council Leader, Councillor Phil Davies.

He has been seen time and again to preside at meetings which have voted for the outrageous option of bypassing the disciplinary procedures, and providing a clean bill of health, before paying people off with often 6 figure sums and gagging them within compromise agreements.  This tactic protects the abusive senior officers involved, but condones their abuse, rewards it and thereby enables it to occur again in the future.

Most people would view this as downright dangerous, and conduct unbecoming of a council which is statutorily required to advance and protect the welfare of vulnerable and disabled people living within its jurisdiction.  But the stakes here are extremely high.  Very senior council officers are protected from prosecution in this way because the threat of being outed as complicit in the abuse is ‘buried as deep as nuclear waste’.

Only the High Court or a Public Enquiry can prise open a compromise agreement to see what nasties are concealed within it.

Here is the FoI request:

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

Dear Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council,

Today, CEO Jim Wilkie received permission by 7 votes (Labour & Lib
Dem) to 3 votes (Conservative) to leave his employment at the
council via EVR (Early Voluntary Retirement).

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/974093…

Above is a link to a news story published VERY recently in the
Wirral Globe, which reported this matter.

Mr Wilkie himself admitted to years of learning disabled abuse by
the council, and 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:

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

The Wirral public are 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 – as yet 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 Wilkie. This will relate to meetings, hearings,
discussions, and may be stored in the form of recorded minutes,
verbatim and non-verbatim notes, emails, letters, memos, aide
memoirs, whether electronically or manually.

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

Please confirm details of the existence of any “compromise
agreement” or “confidentiality agreement” signed by Mr Wilkie 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.

Please provide the names and addresses of all organisations /
bodies involved in providing legal advice to Mr Wilkie. 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 Wilkie in relation to any failures /
malpractice / abuse which brought about his departure from the
Council.

If Mr Wilkie 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.”

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cardin

6th July 2012 ~ No response received ~ internal review requested below

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 ‘Agreed Departure of
Chief Executive Officer Jim Wilkie on 7th June 2012’.

You have failed to respond to this request. As you are now in
breach of the Act, please ask a qualified individual to perform an
internal review of this request.

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

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cardin

UPDATE   3rd August 2012

Email in from Wirral Council:

Good Morning,

Wirral Borough Council acknowledges your request for information and
further correspondence regards your enquiry and apologies for the delay in
response.  Your request is with the department of Law HR and asset
management and we will respond with any information we can provide as soon
as this information is available.  Thank you for your enquiry.

Kind regards
Tracy O’Hare
Information Management
Wirral Council

UPDATE   5th October 2012

Appealed today with the Information Commissioner.

UPDATE   29th November 2012

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

PROTECT

29 November 2012

Case Reference Number FS50467476

Dear Mr Cardin

Your information request to Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council

Thank you for your correspondence dated, 5 October 2012 in which you complain about Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council’s failure to respond to your information request outlined below:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours Sincerely

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

UPDATE   11th December 2012

Email to ICO, sent tonight:

Case Reference Number FS50467476

Dear [officer name redacted],

I have heard nothing from Wirral Council. I believe the 10 working days that you specified are now up.
I originally lodged this request in June, but have received nothing whatsoever, apart from empty assurances.

I’d be very grateful if you could acknowledged receipt of this email and act upon the situation by taking it to the next stage,

Best regards,

Paul Cardin

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

This site is moving to a new web address.  If you’re a follower, please browse to the new site and register again to continue to receive updates or email notifications.  The old ones will cease to work in around a month’s time, when the old blog is taken down.

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

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

www.wirralinittogether.wordpress.com

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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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.

UPDATED – Analysis of 14 Freedom of Information requests to Wirral Council – verdict is not good…

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I don’t profess to be an expert where Data & Information Governance are concerned.  I have a layman’s self-taught appreciation of FOIA and DPA.  Experts will find fault in the following analysis, but I hope I’ve covered the basics adequately.  As time goes on, I will update the times and insert more context and background information on each request.

14 x FoI requests to Wirral Council – 2011 to present day

The majority of these requests (10) contain multiple breaches of Statutory Law.

1.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/meeting_between_party_leaders_an#outgoing-220406

Summary: Requesting information around important initial meeting held between Anna Klonowski and all Wirral party leaders.

Date of request:     12th Oct 2011

Age of request in working days:      315 and counting

Response within 20 working days: reply on Day 20

Internal review requested:      9th Nov 2011

Working days for internal review to report:     281 and counting (breach of Statutory Law)

Request completed: NO

Note: Amid a background of proven malpractice, bullying and the targetting and disposal of a whistleblower, along with serious failures in governance, the council press office notified the Liverpool Echo to advise them of this meeting.  In response to this FoI request, Wirral described it as “an informal gathering that didn’t require minuting”.  Whereas the Liverpool Echo headline had screamed: “Wirral Council Leadership Hangs in the Balance”.  After 315 woring days, I still await a measured and reasoned response.

I still await an internal review, originally requested over a YEAR ago.

2.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/dass_recent_departure_of_two_sen#comment-30487

Summary: Requesting information around two ex DASS senior officers, gagged, paid off, allowed to leave, but never disciplined.

Date of request:     11th Jan 2012

Age of request in working days:      233

Answered within 20 working days: reply on Day 21 (breach of Statutory Law)

Appealed with ICO:      13th Apr 2012 

Working days for council to respond:     169 (breach of Statutory Law)

Decision notice:     Published

Request completed: FS50438500 – Click to read ICO Decision Notice

Rosemary Lyon requested a 14 day extension.  Surjit Tour requested a 7 day extension.  Both granted.  Both deadlines missed.

I’m currently waiting for the ICO to publish the Decision Notice on this.  It’s been presented to me by the ICO as a “complex” decision.  I regarded it as a pretty straightforward case of failure to discipline officers and the enablement of future abuse.

UPDATE   December 2012

The decision notice is now in.  The ICO appear to regard ‘personal privacy’ as more worthy of its attention than a dangerous threat to the wellbeing of learning disabled people.  But the least said about that the better.  The decision is being appealed to the First Tier (Information Rights) Tribunal.

3.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/senior_officers_requirement_to_d#comment-29981

Summary: Requesting information on Senior Officers’ register of declared interests.

Date of request:     20th Jun 2011

Age of request in working days:      344

Answered within 20 working days: reply on Day 27 (breach of Statutory Law)

Internal review requested:      13th Aug 2011

Working days for council to respond:   Internal Review  not carried out (breach of Statutory Law)

Request completed: NO

Appealed with ICO:     15th July 2012

Decision notice:     Published

ICO reference No.     FS50416628 (Click to read ICO Decision Notice)

Contempt of Court proceedings are potentially about to be issued, depending upon the response I receive to the following email, sent this evening:

From: Paul C
Sent: 04 September 2012 21:15
To: ‘casework@ico.gsi.gov.uk’
Subject: Freedom of information request re: Wirral Council Register of Senior Officers’ interests FS50416628

FAO [Senior Case Officer’s name redacted]

Dear [Senior Case Officer’s name redacted],

Further to the Decision Notice you issued to Wirral Council dated 13th August 2012, 35 calendar days have now expired, but I have not received any contact from Wirral Council specifying to me whether it holds further information which falls within the scope of my request as required by Section 1(1)(a) of the Act.

Neither have I received any further information contingent upon the Council’s consideration of any further information it holds for disclosure to me, the complainant, as required by section 1(1)(b) of the Act.

Neither have I had any indication that the Council has considered any information which it does hold for disclosure bearing in mind the First Tier Tribunal’s decision in the case of Greenwood v ICO (EA/2011/0131 & 0137).

I therefore request that you take this case to the next stage and also update me with the details of any action that you are taking,

Best regards,

Paul Cardin

11th October 2012

After 16 months, Wirral Council has finally and reluctantly provided some information on the declared interests of 26 x Senior Officers.  Given that Wirral are making frequent claims to a newly emerging climate of transparency and openness, I have no idea why it took them so long.  I haven’t yet checked whether the list is complete and includes all of the council’s officers above the pay level of £58,200  (a stipulation made at the Information Tribunal in the case of Greenwood v ICO (EA/2011/0131 & 0137), but will be doing so in the near future.

Here’s a link to the blog post specifically covering this and holding links to all the information that Wirral Council supplied.

The Council have now provided information, however it was provided piecemeal, over several days, in shoddily presented documents, and has not come up to standard.  I have now asked the ICO to consider issuing an Enforcement Notice.

The ICO, true to form, has backed the Council.  However I’m querying why they’ve allowed the Council to claim a Section 40(2) exemption on an obvious conflict of interest – which patently cannot  represent personal data in any shape or form.

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

Summary: Requesting copy of a letter published on Council website “mistakenly” identifying Highways Contract whistleblower.

Date of request:     11th Jul 2012

Age of request in working days:      120 and counting

Answered within 20 working days:      no answer (breach of Statutory Law)

Internal review requested:      11th Aug 2012

Working days for council to respond:     89 (breach of Statutory Law)

Request completed: NO

Appealed with ICO:     6th October 2012

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

Summary: Requesting information on results of a helpline set up following exposure of a hidden, illegal 4 week delay on care packages.

Date of request:     8th May 2012

Age of request in working days:      112

Answered within 20 working days:      reply on Day 66 (breach of Statutory Law)

Internal review requested:      6th July 2012

Working days for council to respond:     112 (breach of Statutory Law)

Request completed: NO (currently considering appeal to ICO)

Appealed with ICO:     Reply received from Wirral Council on 10th October 2012

Please see the following blog post for comment and analysis of the information received:

https://easyvirtualassistance.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/wirral-councils-unlawful-implementation-of-a-4-week-delay-on-social-care-packages/

6.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/agreed_departure_of_chief_execut#comment-29785

Summary: Request for information regarding the departure of CEO Jim Wilkie, again shrouded in secrecy, possibly gagged, paid off.

Date of request:     7th Jun 2012

Age of request in working days:      144 and counting

Answered within 20 working days:      no answer (breach of Statutory Law)

Internal review requested:      6th July 2012

Working days for council to respond:     no answer (breach of Statutory Law)

Request completed: NO

Appealed with ICO:     5th October 2012

7.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/consultant_anna_klonowski_declar#outgoing-210386

Summary: Request for information around Anna Klonowski’s declarations / costs / nature of association with Wirral Council.

Date of request:     12th May 2012

Age of request in working days:      162 and counting

Answered within 20 working days:      no answer (breach of Statutory Law)

Internal review requested:      11th July 2012

Days taken for council to respond:     no answer (breach of Statutory Law)

Request completed: NO

Appealed with ICO:     6th October 2012

8.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/suspension_of_director_david_gre#incoming-286811

Summary:     Requesting information relating to the procedure of suspending a Director and the potential consequences.

Date of request:     2nd May 2012

Age of request in working days:      170 and counting

Answered within 20 working days:      no answer (breach of Statutory Law)

Internal review requested:      4th September 2012

Days taken for council to respond:     no answer (breach of Statutory Law)

Request completed: NO

Appealed with ICO:     6th October 2012

9.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/out_of_hours_monitoring_of_stree#incoming-286806

Summary:     Requesting information on street lighting night-time scouting rounds; areas; frequency; responsible contractor, etc.

Date of request:     5th May 2012

Age of request in working days:      36 (completion time)

Answered within 20 working days:      reply on Day 23 (breach of Statutory Law)

Internal review requested:      N/A

Days taken for council to respond:     N/A

Request completed: YES

Appealed with ICO:     N/A

10.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/request_for_copies_of_correspond_2#outgoing-199397

Summary:     Requesting copies of corresondence between Council & DLA Piper UK LLP – law firm assigned work within AKA report

Date of request:     4th Feb 2012

Age of request in working days:      179 and counting

Answered within 20 working days:      no answer (breach of Statutory Law)

Internal review requested:      6th March 2012

Days taken for council to respond:     no answer (breach of Statutory Law)

Request completed: NO

Appealed with ICO:     21st April 2012

11.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/stephen_maddox_former_chief_exec#comment-26245

Summary:     Requesting information relating to early departure of former CEO Steve Maddox; payments, correspondence, etc.

Date of request:     3rd January 2011

Age of request in working days:      296 (Completion time)

Answered within 20 working days:      reply on Day 31 (breach of Statutory Law)

Internal review requested:      26th April 2011

Days taken for council to respond:     no answer (breach of Statutory Law)

Request completed: YES

Appealed with ICO:     26th July 2011

ICO Reference No.       FS50406724 – Click to read Decision Notice

Ultimately, although this took well over a year, the ICO made the council produce the following report:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/56617/response/256393/attach/html/3/ER.pdf.html

12.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/letters_sent_to_abused_learning#comment-23443

Summary:     Requesting copy of reimbursement letter to abused tenants of three supported living establishments in Moreton, Wirral

Date of request:     29th Oct 2011

Age of request in working days:      18 (completion time)

Answered within 20 working days:      reply on Day 18

Internal review requested:      N/A

Days taken for council to respond:     N/A

Request completed: YES

Appealed with ICO:     N/A

13.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/total_figures_for_referrals_to_p#incoming-206071

Summary:     Requesting information on how many times the Council had been referred to the Press Complaints Commission.

Date of request:     23rd Aug 2011

Age of request in working days:      7 (completion time)

Answered within 20 working days:      reply on Day 7

Internal review requested:      N/A

Days taken for council to respond:     N/A

Request completed: Yes

Appealed with ICO:     N/A

14.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/total_annual_figures_for_comprom_18#comment-19204

Summary: Requesting information on how many compromise agreements / gagging clauses issued by the Council in the last 6 years.

Date of request:     1st Jan 2011

Age of request in working days:      216 (completion time)

Answered within 20 working days:      reply on Day 64 (breach of Statutory Law)

Internal review requested:      31st March 2011

Days taken for council to respond:     40 (breach of Statutory Law)

Request completed: YES

Appealed with ICO:     Yes.  The Council eventually sent the information after a total of 216 working days.

Appealed with ICO:     N/A

The following spreadsheet, covering the above 14 FoI requests is provided to assist the reader in comparing the appalling average response times displayed here with those given in this cynical report, issued by Wirral Council dated 6th September 2012.

The average waiting time on these requests is 26 weeks / six months / half a year.  It seems the awkward and potentially “sensitive” nature of these requests has had an impact.  A subject like “Street Lighting night-time scouting rounds” has been a whole lot easier to deal with than  “pay offs and gags for senior officers, suspected to be involved in learning disabled abuse and disability discrimination”.

Click on the links in Column 1 to view associated press articles.

Subject Date Time Time Completed Links
summary originally Waited Waited
lodged (working (expressed
days) in weeks)
Info around important initial meeting held between Anna Klonowski and all Wirral party leaders. 12/10/2011   248   49   No   1.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/meeting_between_party_leaders_an#outgoing-220406
Info around two ex DASS senior officers, gagged, paid off, allowed to leave, but never disciplined. 11/01/2012   183   36   No   2.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/dass_recent_departure_of_two_sen#comment-30487
Info on Senior Officers’ register of declared interests. 20/06/2011   330   65   No   3.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/senior_officers_requirement_to_d#comment-29981
Copy of letter published on Council website “mistakenly” identifying Highways Contract whistleblower. 11/07/2012   53   10   No   4.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/copy_of_letter_published_on_webs#outgoing-216044
Info on results of helpline set up following exposure of hidden illegal 4 week delay on care packages. 08/05/2012   99   19   No   5.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/helpline_regarding_illegal_delay#outgoing-216036
Info regarding the departure of CEO Jim Wilkie. 07/06/2012   77   15   No   6.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/agreed_departure_of_chief_execut#comment-29785
Info around Anna Klonowski’s declarations / costs / nature of association with Wirral Council. 12/05/2012   95   18   No   7.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/consultant_anna_klonowski_declar#outgoing-210386
Info relating to the procedure of suspending a Director and the potential consequences. 02/05/2012   103   20   No   8.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/suspension_of_director_david_gre#incoming-286811
Info on street lighting night-time scouting rounds; areas; frequency; responsible contractor, etc. 05/05/2012   23   4.6   Yes   9.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/out_of_hours_monitoring_of_stree#incoming-286806
Copies of correspondence between Council & DLA Piper UK LLP – law firm assigned AKA report work. 04/02/2012   165   32   No   10.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/request_for_copies_of_correspond_2#outgoing-199397
Info relating to early departure of former CEO Steve Maddox; payments, correspondence, etc. 03/01/2011   296   59.2   Yes   11.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/stephen_maddox_former_chief_exec#comment-26245
Copy of reimbursement letter to abused tenants of three supported living establishments. 29/10/2011   18   3.6   Yes   12.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/letters_sent_to_abused_learning#comment-23443
Info on how many times the Council had been referred to the Press Complaints Commission. 23/08/2011   7   1.4   Yes   13.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/total_figures_for_referrals_to_p#incoming-206071
Info on how many compromise agreements / gagging clauses issued by the Council in the last 6 years. 01/01/2011   216   43.2   Yes   14.     http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/total_annual_figures_for_comprom_18#comment-19204
           
Average 136 27 5 completed
waiting times days weeks 9 outstanding

UPDATED – Concealing malpractice / enabling abuse with a Compromise Agreement / Gagging Clause

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Gagged prisoner tied up with rope uid 1402469

FoI and Local Authority Gagging Clauses

Some years ago, a council employee, in dispute and soon to lose his job, opted to sign a compromise agreement.  The document and its terms were placed before him, as a ‘full and final settlement’.  All arrangements were funded by the employer; independent legal advice was given, and the solicitor’s signature secured.  All legal requirements had therefore been met.  The employee’s signature on the dotted line would forfeit his right to an Employment Tribunal, along with the option to pursue any existing or future legal claims against the employer.  All appeared to be in order and the employee’s pen hovered.

But an extra clause had been inserted, compelling him to forgo his right to submit any request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 or the Data Protection Act 1998 – from that day forward – and not apparently restricted to this employer.  This very particular “gagging clause”, perhaps in use for the first time, had been devised by the local authority’s legal team.

It was a very difficult decision to make even without this, and much rested upon it.  In addition to the loss of his job and the personal upheaval, there was now an underlying legal poser to wrestle with, “Can I successfully contract out of my FOI / DP information request rights?”

But the deal was soon done, and a promising career was cut short, the pain eased slightly by the payment of a small ‘redundancy’ amount.

Such was the life-changing power in the hands of a consensus of council top brass, brought together for the closing chapter of a bitter and entrenched dispute, spanning almost 3 years.  With a failed raft of trumped up disciplinary charges recently behind them, careful steps were now being taken to save face and reach agreement.  Confidentiality shrouded everything.  The employee, a family man with young children, knew he wouldn’t be welcomed back.  Blowing the whistle had lost him his livelihood.  He’d faced a stark choice: sign here, and accept what’s on offer, or sign there, fortnightly at the job centre.  Concede, or take your chances at an employment tribunal in the New Year, where the outcome will be a lot less certain.

And come January, once the situation had calmed and the adrenalin levels had dropped, another question came to the forefront – “What would the legal consequences be of an approach to the council for information?”

This was where the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) first went onto the record:

“If your former employer refused to deal with your requests they would be likely to be in breach of the above legislation……. However if you exercise your information request rights there may be consequences such as legal action for breach of contract. Whether the clause you mention is a fair contract term would depend on the particular circumstances involved and the nature of the agreement you signed.”

The special gagging clause in use here had provided a unique twist, pressing the ICO into declaring an unusual, double-edged stance.

I decided to conduct some ‘WhatDoTheyKnow’ research into this, which began when snow covered the ground.  I approached 345 English councils, requesting annual totals for compromise agreements and FOI / DP related gagging clauses – drawn up in circumstances of dispute, grievance or whistle-blowing.  I discovered a rising trend with time, and to date, have unearthed 4,410 agreements, equating to an average of 15 per council over the last 6 years.  As for the clauses, unlike the January 2011 snow, they were extremely thin on the ground.  Where they do exist, they’re a ‘fail-safe’, used to supplement the one in general use – which follows a more established path: to deter signatories from discussing their workplace woes at career end and beyond.  There is always a threat of “clawback” – whereby an employee breach would involve the employer suing for the return of the full amount received in settlement.  In a victory for one-sidedness however, the penalty for a post agreement employer breach remains elusive, possibly mythical.  The only parties generally permitted to know about the existence and wording of such agreements are the employee’s direct family, professional advisers, and the tax people.

There is at least one agreement however, where the gagging clause in use pushes the bounds of confidentiality to a startling extreme.

Back in November 2008, a social worker (let’s call him Mr X) blew the whistle on his council employer.  After being let down by the Audit Commission and CSCI (later the Care Quality Commission), he turned to the press.  His gagging clause was specific and cost the council £500.  They also handed over £44,500, and sought to prevent him from discussing with ANY third party, an entire range of whistle-blowing concerns.  The detail of these was shameful: financial abuse of disabled tenants – amounting to the unlawful deduction of £700,000+ from many of the council’s most vulnerable residents over several years; an ongoing refusal by senior managers to acknowledge that the practice was unlawful and should cease, and a campaign of bullying and abuse of power.   The council’s behaviour towards its own tenants (four of whom have since died) has since been ruled as disability discrimination by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.  An apology was also issued to Mr X for proven management bullying and abuse of power.  Worryingly, if he had ‘stayed bullied’, and not breached the gagging clause by going to the press, the public would never have known of the scandal; of the council’s failure to act; its lurch to secrecy; the public money squandered, and the protection and concealment that was gained by drafting a compromise agreement.  The public interest would have been so neatly circumvented.

Upon signing such an agreement, from the employee’s perspective, an onerous double layer of security descends.  They are told on the one hand, that they cannot take a specified action, and on the other, that they cannot reveal the existence of the agreement itself.  The effect: a hidden pact, funded by public money, draws a veil over the placing of a dubious gag, and potentially, details of the most deplorable behaviour.

It’s neat, it’s effective, and it’s going on everywhere.  But how many information governance or legal professionals in the public sector would regard such an approach reasonable, lawful, enforceable, or morally justified?  Is the levelling of the FOI / DP gag ultra vires?  Does the tactic sit well with publicly-funded bodies, amid their ongoing claims to openness and transparency?  Or is it an impulsive lunge towards institutionalised reputation management, done to conceal at all costs, and to make damn sure the employer emerges unscathed, with whatever’s hidden never seeing the light of day?  In the Mr X case, was there a collective sigh of relief as the ink dried on the paper, and as foul conduct and a multitude of publicly-funded sins were swept under the carpet?  A recent review undertaken by an independent consultant found the council involving itself in learning disabled abuse over a protracted period.

Central Government, the unions and most regulators regard compromise agreements and gagging clauses as justified, through the need to cut legal costs, avoid tribunals, and conserve public funds.  The process is often dressed up as ‘supporting employees’.  With free legal advice on tap, how can employees claim ignorance of the process and its consequences?  They can walk away with a financial settlement for their troubles, and ‘grasp the opportunity for a fresh start’.

But this can be at extreme personal cost.  Mr X had his life turned upside down, and was hospitalised due to the stress he had been placed under.  Not surprisingly, he holds a different view, “Compromise agreements should only be used in business sensitive cases.  They should never be used to suppress issues in the public interest.  They are consistently used as a reputation management tool and are an abuse of power.”  In Mr X’s case, the gag had a thoroughly chilling effect.  Such was the employer’s fear of exposure, the perfectly reasonable step of seeking legal advice would have breached Mr X’s agreement.

In June 2011, under threat of litigation led by Hugh Tomlinson QC, the council which had ‘opted out’ of its FOI / DP obligations backed down and withdrew the gagging clause, restoring the ex-employee’s rights.  The monitoring officer responsible for the ‘ban’ has moved, perhaps where he belongs, into the private sector.

Mr X’s ongoing battle with his council adversary and former employer has now moved to the ‘accountability’ stage.  A long awaited 250 page report, drawn up by the independent consultant and costing £1,000 per page has now been placed in the public arena, albeit anonymised to protect those potentially culpable.  However, the council, displaying a rather loose grasp on the true meaning of ‘accountability’, was not prepared to discipline two senior Social Services officers found to be at fault.  Instead, despite acknowledging years of learning disabled abuse, the council pre-empted the report’s release by allowing the two to depart their posts quietly and by ‘mutual consent’, probably under compromise agreements, probably “paid off” and potentially in receipt of positive or neutral work references to furnish to any future employers.

These two officers received an equal share of £220,000 of public money.  Many people believe this was paid to buy their silence, keep them ‘on side’ and prevent them from dropping very senior personnel into hot water.

Paul Cardin

http://www.easyvirtualassistance.wordpress.com

Twitter: @eVirtual_Assist

1st October 2012

Link: Damning Internal Auditors’ report on Metropolitan Borough of Wirral’s approach to “Compromise Agreements”.

Within this post, there are some striking similarities to the content of the above article.

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OUT NOW – on ICO website – ‘Personal Privacy’ trumps the wellbeing of Wirral’s learning disabled citizens

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UPDATE   24th January 2013

My appeal is now registered with HM Courts & Tribunals Service under case number EA/2012/0264

UPDATE   23rd December 2012

An appeal has been lodged today with the First Tier Tribunal.  More updates will follow in the New Year

UPDATE   3rd December 2012

Four months on, the ICO Decision Notice which began its painful journey towards me back in August, finally landed on the doormat.  As expected, it was a bit of a kick in the teeth –  for anyone who’s vulnerable, a disabled person, and living on Wirral.  To sum it up in a sentence, it effectively found that the public interest was served through two officers not being held to account, receiving six figure sums in return for their silence, and being allowed to move on.

Just to update everybody, the two officers referred to, rather than being disciplined, were paid off a total of more than £220,000 in public money, and were allowed to leave the council in January 2012, the day before the release of the ‘full’ Anna Klonowski report.  They were both gagged, and seem to have received what looks like a ‘clean bill of health’.

So, when you’re a prime mover at the heart of abuse towards learning disabled people, the consequences of which was their bank accounts being stripped of a total of £700,000+ and you work for Wirral Council, you have very little to fear, knowing you can move on, avoid sanction, and potentially feel free to abuse again, with your pockets stuffed with public cash.
It seems you also have nothing to fear from the Information Commissioner’s Office who, unlike investigator Anna Klonowski, have bizzarely summed up the very calculated and lengthy abuse which saw whistleblower Martin Morton being bullied and driven from his job, as ‘mistakes and errors’.
Is the law itself wrong here?  Or is this decision to place ‘personal privacy’ above the wellbeing of disabled people just incidental to the day to day work of career bureaucrats, who seem to have no inkling into how their decisions affect the lives of our most vulnerable people?
All UK Councils do after all have a statutory duty to protect vulnerable people within their jurisdiction.  What happened to that?  How on earth did those people become the targets of over a decade of abuse – from the very body entrusted with protecting them?  Are we witnessing the deliberate covering up of Misconduct in Public Office?  I will be appealing to the First Tier Tribunal.
The Decision Notice below is a legal document.  Please read on….
2 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - cover page
2 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page12 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page22 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page32 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page42 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page52 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page62 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page72 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page82 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page42 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page92 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page92 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page102 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page112 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page102 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page122 12 12 - noone and fowler - FS50438500 - page13

hands grabbing money uid 1342954

BREAKING ~ 2nd November 2012

Wirral Council have finally confirmed the size of the pay offs to Mike Fowler and Maura Noone, who left the Council under gagging clauses, within compromise agreements in January 2012:

Good Morning,
With regard to your complaint with the ICO, please find below the information the Council can disclose to you; this relates to the 2 payments made by the Council.
There was a total payment made in each case which was severance pay + notice + 3 months pay.
Head of Support Services   Finance Department
109,496.45 which compromised:
74,276.52 (Severance)
16,881.93 (equivalent of 12 weeks notice)
18,338.00 (3 months salary)


Assistant Director, Head of Wellbeing DASS
111, 042.95 which compromosed
75,823.95 (Severance)
16,881 (equivalent of 12 weeks notice)
18,338 (3 months salary)


The Council remains of the opinion that other information requested is exempt from disclosure under Section 40(2) of the FOIA as it contains Personal Data.  The council considers that it would be unfair on the individuals concerned to disclose this personal data and therefore would be in breach of the 1st principle of the DPA 1998.
I have copied the ICO into this response. Kind Regards
Jane Corrin
Information Manager
Wirral Council

TOTAL = £220,539.40 

Please read to the end of this post.  A very dangerous situation is developing on Wirral.

The following is an FoI request I placed with Wirral Council back in January 2012:

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

It’s been attracting so many hits lately, if you type into Google the two word phrase “Officers Departure”, it comes out top.

The background to the request is a very controversial and rather sad one.  Wirral Council has now been exposed as an abusive and failing organisation and its current Chief Executive Jim Wilkie (Departed Wirral on 7th June 2012) even had to admit publicly that this was the case – after a whistleblower, former Wirral social worker Martin Morton, blew the whistle on outrageous conduct by senior Department of Adult Social Services staff.  This involved in part, the taking of £500,000 over a period of up to 9 years from the bank accounts of 16 learning disabled tenants of Council Supported Living accommodation in the Moreton area of Wirral.  Reportedly, five of the recipients of this financial abuse have since died.  Martin Morton had been trying for years to have the unlawful process stopped, but to no avail.  He quickly became the target of intense bullying and alleged mobbing, before being forced from his job.  There were also suspicions of a similar unlawful process applied to council tenants in Balls Road, Birkenhead, and beyond – now confirmed as the total “reimbursed” rises to £700,000.  Jim Wilkie’s admission is buried inside the following document.  See clause 7.1:

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=21125

Two independent investigations followed; the first into bullying and abuse of power, carried out by Martin Smith of North West Employers), and the second, far more wide ranging, looking into corporate governance, the way the Council had set up and monitored Social Services’ contracts within its own jurisdiction, and much more, within a broad remit.  It seems that neither of these investigations were documented adequately and that interviews were not tape recorded or minuted.  Due to this apparent sloppiness, which I’m led to believe was hard fought for by the CIPD accredited investigators, convenient “escape hatches” may subsequently appear for the investigators and the investigated to clamber out of as and when required.  AKA Associates no longer have any ties to Wirral Council.  The reason for this remains unknown.  Link to Anna Klonowski Associates report:

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BxrkIjRDgrB-OGE5YzZiNWItMjQ4Yy00NDU2LTk1NDAtMTQxYmRhN2FjODhh/edit?pli=1

The findings of the AKA report will not be explored here, suffice to say they uncovered serious failings in Corporate Governance and outrageous, abusive conduct by senior officers of the council (Employees 13 and 22) and some of the appointed care contractors.  The public have yet to see a fully open and unredacted copy of the report, revealing names.  Despite hollow assurances of a new found “openness and transparency”, only a limited number of officer, councillor, contractor and advisory bodies’ names have been made viewable within it.

Many months on, the Wirral public are also patiently waiting for some semblance of accountability.  It would normally follow that a discovery of proven abuse, carried out over a period approaching a decade, and which has been thoroughly investigated – with many of the perpetrators exposed – would be acted on.  However, it seems things are done differently on Wirral, and they may not be prepared to carry the process through to any form of public reckoning or accountability.  There seems to be little desire to satisfy the growing public need for action against the abusers.  The detailed findings of the 250 page report seem to be clear and conclusive, but many of the names still remain coded to hide the real IDs, and there’s no willingness as yet to follow through on previous promises to discipline the guilty, clear out the abusers and start afresh.

So, accountability-wise, nothing much has happened, save the issuing of strings of empty words, and the calling in of LGA / SOLACE colleagues at massive expense, to ‘put things right’.  As time drags on, and fine words are trotted out in place of action, the Wirral public are becoming concerned that:

1. They’re being taken for fools

2. Those in power are not going to risk letting go of it without a fight. (Remember, this council has been found to have abused its power repeatedly over many years.)

The above FoI request aims to get under the skin of the reasoning for the council doing what they did.  Here’s what they did:

1. Suspended two senior officers named by the whistleblower in 2008.

2. Investigated them under two nom de plumes; “Employee A” and “Employee B” (See this link to an excellent and very comprehensive website):

http://blowingthewhistleonareallyrottenborou.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/%22Employee%20A%22

3. Exonerated one, sent a letter to the other, before reinstating both.  The recently new in post Council Leader, Phil Davies chaired the meeting which allowed this at the time, back in 2008.

4. Suspended the same two officers again in 2011 following the release of the supplementary AKA report.

5. In January 2012, came to an agreement with both of them, allowing them to leave by “mutual consent” the day before the full AKA report was released to the waiting public.

When things came to a head the second time around, absolutely no disciplinary process appeared to be followed by those with the power to level gross misconduct charges.  Instead they deviated from the norm and pursued what appeared to be a fully choreographed “kid glove” approach, allowing the pair to leave, paying them an as yet unknown amount of public money (UPDATE: the total shared between the two was £220,000), perhaps with a “clean bill of health”, all wrapped up in a compromise agreement, potentially with a “gagging clause”.  This clause will almost certainly specifically disallow the signatories (including potentially the issuing body) from talking about any of the circumstances which led to the officers’ departure and the issuing of the agreement, beyond a close knit circle including legal advisers, unions, the tax people and members of the signatories’ immediate family.

The wider effect of this is that any and all references to learning disabled abuse as regards these two are very effectively concealed and put to bed; right here – inside a legal document.  The legitimate and compelling public interest into the council’s hidden workings (and the decisions made) which ended in learning disabled abuse, becomes frustrated and stifled.  It’s a perfect example of a “democratic deficit” – an obstacle to openness and transparency, and a means of sidelining any chance of justice – no more, no less.

How on earth did this situation come about?  And what are the consequences?  Worryingly for everybody on Wirral who has a vulnerable relative or friend, this abusive Council happens to be the very organisation entrusted with stamping out hate crime and disability abuse.  Incidents of hate crime within the UK are on the increase, and the issue is currently more prominent in the British media and psyche, and often  flares up in areas where the responsible authorities are known to be weak or abusive.

Perhaps one has to approach this from a different angle and ask, “If the two officers weren’t directly involved in proven disabled abuse, why were they hurried out of their jobs just one day before the full version of a damning independent report was to be issued?”

Those with the power to time the issuing of the report, and to time the disposal of “Employee A” and “Employee B”… are the same people.  They work(ed) at the very top; and are found and known to have abused power in the past.  But who can step in and do something?

Although this could very easily have been predicted, it’s now become clear that one of the dismissed employees doesn’t want to rest on his laurels and go into early retirement.   Strong suspicions continue that he will have been handed a tidy sum of public money.  But he is now setting out a “well-stocked stall” on the “LinkedIn” website, hoping perhaps to pick up a senior role at another public organisation e.g. another council; a health trust; a private care provider…

Wirral Council continue to drag their feet with the above FoI request and there’s no end in sight.  The Information Commissioner has been made aware of the dangers; Tim Kelsey, now formerly the Cabinet Office Transparency and Open Data Czar knows the dangers – these people and organisations have been informed.

I hope to hear from them soon, before it’s potentially too late……..

UPDATE    4th June 2012

Council Chief Executive Jim Wilkie has applied for early retirement.  See the following item from the Wirral Globe:

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/9740932.Wirral_Council_chief_asks_for_early_retirement/

It appears Mr Wilkie may be the next person to bail out.  His application is being rushed through with what looks like indecent haste, and he will most likely be allowed to go, with many benefits, and without facing accountability for his part in allowing the above dangerous situation to come about.  The Employment & Appointments committee will consider his application in just 3 days’ time.

We still cannot see who did what within the Anna Klonowski report because it remains redacted, with the important identifying details protected and hidden from public view.  It’s possible that the Chief Executive too will leave under the cover of a compromise agreement with a “gagging clause” – a legal document which will draw a veil over any malpractice.  This document will represent a “full and final settlement”.

We only have three days (until 7th June) to alert somebody with the power to step in and prevent this happening.  On 3rd June, the following updated message was sent to the DCLG; Grant Shapps; Francis Maude; Baroness Hanham and Tim Kelsey (Transparency & Open Data Guru):

Dear Sir,

There is a dangerous situation developing in my borough, which has been created by the failure of a council to apply disciplinary sanctions and make senior officers fully accountable following learning disabled abuse, and an ensuing failure to release vital information around this in the legitimate public interest, and in the interests of transparency.

One of two senior officers who left this council through “mutual consent”, potentially paid off, and almost certainly under a compromise agreement with a ‘gagging clause’ is now looking for work on the LinkedIn website.

(Link removed to protect person’s privacy)

Although the council’s CEO has admitted to learning disabled abuse; see 7.1:

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=21125

…there has been zero accountability to follow.  Moreover, it looks as though the above two departing officers have been rewarded and had their activities effectively concealed.

I tried to notify the Council’s Monitoring Officer on 17th May 2012 of this danger, but without success.  I have very briefly notified Tim Kelsey at @tkelsey1 of this on Twitter on 17th May 2012.  A consultant, name of Michael Frater, is currently being paid £1,200 per day to sort this place out following the Anna Klonowski report, however the public have no idea what he is doing, what’s been achieved and whether he has the power to prevent those who should be held accountable from departing and being pensioned off,

best regards,

Paul Cardin

PS The Chief Executive, who I believe is responsible for the above situation coming about has applied to leave the council and his application is due to be heard on 7th June. I believe urgent intervention is required to prevent this happening.  See here: http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents/s50004413/EVR%20Report.pdf

UPDATE   10th June 2012

Mr Wilkie was granted permission to leave on 7th June 2012, just hours before the release of a damning Audit Commission report into the conduct of  Wirral’s £multimillion highways contract.  In quite hideous fashion, and apparently in complete defiance of the compelling public interest, one of the individuals who voted to allow the Council’s most senior officer to leave was the new council leader, Phil Davies.  He had recently been making promising public pronouncements about “getting to the bottom of all this”, however in this case, it seems actions speak louder than words.

Link to Freedom of Information request asking about circumstances of Chief Executive’s departure:

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

Despite early notifications of this situation to those in power, no full response has yet been received from Tim Kelsey, Grant Shapps, Baroness Hanham, Francis Maude, or any person in central government with the ability to “call in” the decision and ask some searching questions.

Link to the blog of John Brace, local campaigner, with further details:

http://johnbrace.com/2012/06/07/employment-and-appointments-committee-wirral-council-762012-item-12-early-retirement-request-jim-wilkie-chief-executive/

UPDATE 29th June 2012

Wirral Council suspends three senior officers:

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2012/06/29/exclusive-wirral-council-suspend-three-senior-officers-including-acting-chief-executive-100252-31287051/

The three are:

Bill Norman     Director of Law

Ian Coleman    Director of Finance (Acting Council CEO)

David Taylor-Smith     Former Deputy Director of Finance

UPDATE   3rd July 2012

Response in from the office of Grant Shapps MP.  Typically of central government, and officialdom in general, the letter answers a point not asked in the first place, and glosses over the crux of the letter – the threat of disabled abuse.  It opts to minimise and describes the issues as “accountability… transparency… pay and workforce… human resource” matters, and not “threat of disabled abuse”.

UPDATE   12th July 2012

A disappointing response has been received from a senior case officer at the Information Commissioner’s Office.  The personal privacy of two ex-employees, widely believed to have been actively and cynically involved in protracted learning disabled abuse, which is known to have involved the unlawful deduction of £500,000 from Supported Living tenants’ bank accounts over a period of up to 9 years, has been placed above the welfare of disabled and vulnerable people in the north west.

Here is the response in full (My working notes are in blue):

“12th July 2012
Case Reference Number FS50438500
Dear Mr Cardin
I am writing to you concerning 2 complaints which you have made to the Information Commissioner regarding Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council.
FS50416628 – Your request for information on the records of senior officer’s personal interests which are held by the council
FS50438500 – Your request for information on two senior council officers Council who left their posts by mutual consent following the findings of the AKA report
Both of these cases have now been allocated to me to investigate.
As regards FS50416628 I have written a decision notice which is currently with the signatory for consideration.
As regards FS50438500 I note from the wdtk website that the council has now responded to your request, albeit by repeating its initial response to you of February 2012. (In February 2012, the Council stated that it was an ‘exceptionally complex’ request and that Section 40(2) may apply to my request but they had not yet reached a decision on whether an exemption would apply.  They then requested additional time.  It is therefore erroneous to place on record that the Council “repeated a previous response”.  This appears to have been plucked from the air and has the unfortunate effect of mistakenly adding credence to the council’s response where the is actually very little or none.)
Having looked at this request I have to say that I do not believe that you will be able to obtain this information from the council. If your assumptions are correct then the information relates to potential disciplinary matters. (In part, the request asked for “details of any disciplinary charges either planned or levelled against the two officers”.  I never requested closer details of disciplinary mattersThe ICO are therefore mistakenly or deliberately misrepresenting some of the true purpose of the original request).  At the least it relates to employment matters relating to the two individuals, and how it came about that they left their positions with the council. This is, for the most part, a private matter between the council and the individuals’ concerned. I will explain further.
I have noted that concerns have been raised about the possibility of compromise agreements being paid out by the council.  (Compromise agreements are not ‘paid out’.  They are issued.  However, public money was paid out by the Council to the two departing officers.  The compromise agreements used here, through the use of a “gagging clause” serve to conceal the amount of  public money that was paid, which was most likely very large and which evades the public interest.  This very issue goes to the heart of the request.  The legitimate and compelling public interest demands that Wirral Council adhere to their public proclamations which promise a new, enlightened approach, based around openness and transparency.  Sadly, the recurring preference for “concealment at all costs” continues to fly in the face of that.)  You have also suggested that the timing of the individuals’ departure has left questions about their reasons for leaving their posts and whether this relates to the Anna Klonowski Report findings. (The two officers departed the day before the full version of the AKA Report was finally released.  Any competent person would conclude that once they were no longer employed by the council, they could escape any sanction suggested or resulting from the content of the AKA report.  Over six months on, the general public still don’t know who did what; who the abusers are.  Also, given that the now ex-Chief Executive who authorised these departures left the council himself the day before a highly-critical Auditor’s Report on a Highways Contract (finding that a director had probably broken EU contract rules) was released.  One can reach a safe conclusion that the timing of such departures is not coincidental.) I note that questions surrounding their departure have also been asked in the media.
You have said to the council that you are happy for it to anonymise the information before disclosing it to you. (I said that way back in January, over six months ago.)  It seems likely however that a motivated individual could obtain that information by various means should they decide to do so (Which only became apparent later (the Council decided to sit tight, hold onto the information and allow events to overtake them) – the names gradually crept out long after the request was placed). My initial research also suggests that it is fairly widely assumed who the two individuals are and that these assumptions are available on the internet. (They are now, but they weren’t in January, when I first asked the question.  “Late on parade”, the ICO only decided to investigate this last week, and the Senior Officer who did the investigating told me on the phone he had only spent a paltry 5 days on it.I also note your further comment to the council that one of the individuals concerned has now advertised on “Linked in”. Clearly therefore you already know, or have assumed who this person is, and so any redaction of identity alone would not be sufficient to anonymise the information (presuming that your assumption is correct). (This is a very recent development.  I asked in January.  But I am not the issue.  I know who it is, but the public do not, and did not in January.  If and when the Council responds, the information becomes global, when everybody gets to know.  Wirral decided to prevent this from happening.Given this I do not believe that the council can anonymise the information by merely redacting the names or the job roles of the individuals concerned. (Not now they can’t, but they could have if they’d obeyed the law and provided the information at the time, or else given a reason why they weren’t providing it.)
This means that the information would be personal data for the purposes of the Data Protection Act 1998 and that the data protection principles would apply to the disclosure which you are asking the council to make. (The amount of public money they received is a compelling matter for the public interest.  Private Eye suggest that the amount is in the region of £200,000, although I don’t know how accurate this is or where the information originated.  Jim Wilkie, the last Chief Executive’s pay off figures were released.  The CEO before him, Steve Maddox, received £157,000, which only became apparent following a grinding, intensive year long battle to gain access to the information.  (UPDATE: See the ICO Highlights for the Year 2012 – NORTH WEST)Judging by this particular case, it appears lessons have not been learned.)
Where personal data is under consideration the first data protection principle requires that the disclosure of the information is ‘fair and lawful’. In general this relates to whether the individual would expect information about them to be disclosed. In the case of a disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act this would be an expectation that information about them might be disclosed to ‘any member of the public’. This is because a disclosure under the Act is considered to be global rather than just to the applicant. When making this decision the Commissioner can consider whether any of the other circumstances of the case would make a disclosure of the information fair.
The Commissioner therefore needs to consider whether the individuals would expect that detailed information about the circumstances which led them to leaving their positions within the council would be disclosed to any member of the public. If that is not the case I must consider whether the circumstances of the case would make that fair in any event. (Can it be “fair” to protect e.g. the amount of public money two people widely thought to be abusers have received, whilst knowing that this protection is likely to result in placing a large number of vulnerable/disabled people into danger?)
The first thing to consider is that, in general, employers are under an implied duty of confidence to keep personal information on their personnel confidential. Assuming that your presumptions are correct, this information may relate to the individuals disciplinary history or records. The First-tier Tribunal has provided strong guidance in relation to the disclosure of employees’ disciplinary files. (I never asked for disciplinary files!!) In many cases in the past they have found that it would be unfair to disclose such information. For instance I would draw your attention to the Tribunals decision in Waugh v ICO & Doncaster College (EA/2008/0038) available at
http://www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/DB…(EA-2008-0038)%20Decision%2029-12-08.pdf
Similarly, in Lord Dunboyne v IC (EA/2011/0261 & EA/2011/0303) the Tribunal stated that:
“The Tribunal has – and will continue to – recognise the strong expectation of staff members that disciplinary matters are personal and to be kept private.” (As I did NOT ask for information on disciplinary matters or closer details, but merely “details of any disciplinary charges either planned or levelled against the two officers” – the above link is completely irrelevant to this case.  It is a false, “straw man” distraction and does not relate to my request.  The council website shows that two officers, (Employee A and Employee B) known to be these two, went through a disciplinary process in 2008 and were ultimately reinstated by a board which was chaired by the current Council Leader, Phil Davies.  There is no information on the council website to show that they went through any subsequent disciplinary process in the lead up to the release of the full AKA report in early January 2012.)
This is of course working to an assumption which you raised that their reasons for leaving relate directly to the findings in the Anna Klonowski Report. That is not a proven fact however and you recognise this within your request for information. The alternative is that the individuals left for entirely other, unrelated reasons.   If that is the case there appears to be a lesser argument for the employees’ expectations of privacy to be overridden. A disclosure of the information under those circumstances would therefore be even less likely to be ‘fair’.
Presuming that your assumption is correct, the wider issues surrounding this case can be taken into account in balancing whether a disclosure of the information would be fair. In some circumstances the legitimate interests of the public (Clearly present and growing fears about the likelihood of forseeable and avoidable disabled abuse actually coming to pass due to the authorities’ inaction would be a case in point) in having access to particular information can make a disclosure fair in spite of an individual’s general expectations that that information would not be disclosed. The arguments for this do need to be strong however due to the strong counter arguments supporting the privacy of the individuals. (I don’t think they trump the threat of abuse though do they?)  I actually asked for the following…..

1. all information you have which is connected to the
departure of the above two senior members of staff. This will
relate to meetings, hearings, discussions, and may be stored in the
form of recorded minutes, verbatim and non-verbatim notes, emails,
letters, memos, aide memoirs, whether electronically or manually.

2. details of the existence of any payments
made to the two members of staff in relation to their departure,
collectively or individually. This will include precise amounts,
the method of payment and the budget from which the payment was
derived.

3. details of the existence of any “compromise
agreements” signed by the two members of staff. This will include
confirmation of any ‘gagging clauses’ and whether a positive /
neutral / negative reference was provided regarding potential
future employment.

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

5. details of any disciplinary charges either
planned or levelled against the two officers in relation to the
failures which brought about their departure from the Council.

6. If either or both of the two officers were provided with a “clean
bill of health” regarding their time served at the council, please
provide a copy of this / these document(s).
It is suggested that these individuals are relatively senior council officers. This can also be taken into account in the balance. In essence, where a senior officer is concerned they should have a greater expectation that a disclosure of information about their actions may be necessary in order for the authority to be transparent and accountable to the public. This extends to any severance payments that the council made to them given that this would be paid from public funds. These are not of themselves overriding factors however and the decision still needs to be balanced and based upon all of the circumstances of the case.
However I must also bear in mind that the information that you requested does not specifically relate to the council’s actions or inactions which led to the Anna Klonowski report findings. You have asked for detailed information about the individuals leaving their posts. The information therefore relates more to the private lives of those individuals rather than to the council’s accountability. (My italics)

(I believe this last statement to be a direct kick in the teeth to the whole concept of public accountability – what hope does ‘the public good’ have with these as regulators???)
…Details of the council’s response and the actions it has taken following the report would attract a much stronger public interest argument towards disclosure. The release of the Anna Klonowski report has to some extent already opened the council’s actions to scrutiny, (nobody knows who did what.  The AKA Report remains redacted with no identifying names ascribed to the commission of the foul behaviour described within.  Wirral Council’s preference, whilst owning and controlling the report, is to continue concealing identifying names.  Officers & Councillors therefore continue to remain beyond the reach of effective scrutiny.however there is a public interest in the disclosure of the actions it has taken in response to that report (This is an extremely vague statement.  There has been no recognisable accountability to date; just gags; pay offs; more concealment, and even the broadcasting of another whistleblower’s name on the council websiteSome further senior officer suspensions are qualified as “neutral acts”.) so that the public can be reassured that this will not occur again. (What will not occur again?) The issue is where this impinges on personal privacy.
Although the council needs to be transparent and accountable for its actions, it also needs to comply with its legal obligations as regards the privacy of the individuals concerned. The information you have asked for goes to the heart of the individuals’ personnel matters with their employer. (The two officers appear to have been protected, gagged and paid off.  The problem with this is that Wirral Council may have enabled potential disabled abuse in the future, which was both forseeable and avoidable.  Nobody has yet been made accountable for abuse which has actually been admitted in writing and the person at the helm of the Council who allowed all this to occur has now left, leaving a “ticking time bomb” as a leaving present.) In effect, your request was widely drawn and encompasses the entire personnel process which led to the individuals’ leaving their posts at the council. As a result, any disclosure would be much more intrusive into the private lives of the individuals concerned. (What about the “ticking time bomb”?  What about the large, undisclosed amount of public money, apparently handed over as a reward in return for up to nine years of learning disabled abuse?)
I note your argument that one of the individuals concerned now appears to be advertising on Linked In’ however this not an issue which we are able to consider as relevant to the disclosure of the information that you have asked for in this case.
Balancing the above, I do not believe that a strong enough case can be made for the disclosure of the information to be ‘fair’ to the individuals concerned. In the terms of the Data Protection Act, the legitimate interests of the public in having access to that information do not override the fact that a disclosure would be an unwarranted intrusion into their private lives and affairs. (What about the “ticking time bomb”, the vulnerable/disabled people under threat?)
I realise that you will be disappointed that you are not able to obtain all of the information which you have asked for. Whilst I accept that if your analysis is correct there are certainly legitimate public interest arguments for some information to be disclosed, there are however also very strong arguments for information relating to an individual’s performance, personal privacy and their personal, private dealings with their employer which counterbalance, and override these interests in this case. (An employer in the care sector may take on one of these senior people unwittingly, and vulnerable / disabled people, expecting their welfare and wellbeing to be looked out for, may come under threat of abuse – far more serious than the privacy / private dealings justifications listed here, which pale by comparison)
Having said this, there may be a stronger case for the council to disclose any severance payments which it has made. The Accounts and Audit (Amendment No. 2) (England) Regulations 2009 require local authorities to publish severance payments for staff earning over £50,000, and in respect of those earning over £150,000, to publish both the amount and the name of the individual. I have therefore written to the council and asked it to let me know whether it is obliged by these regulations to publish any amounts paid to the individuals as severance payments, and if so, when it intends to make this information available. I will write to you again regarding this once I have received the council’s response.
Yours sincerely
[name of public servant removed]

Senior Case Officer

I placed a phone call with the above Senior Case Officer yesterday morning, during which he justified the ICO stance, claiming that his remit did not allow him to place the welfare of vulnerable and disabled people above that of the personal privacy and private dealings of these two ex- employees.

I told him I knew these two employees were employed by the Adult Social Services Department of a council which has independently been found to have abused power and has itself admitted to committing learning disabled abuseRather than provide accountability or some sort of reckoning, it has gagged and paid off suspected abusers and has independently been found to have engaged in the bullying of staff, including whistleblower Martin Morton.  Mr Morton was deliberately isolated in the workplace, allegedly mobbed and became the recipient of a calculated attempt to assassinate his character in a secret report, drawn up by senior officers.  Martin Morton’s health was severely damaged as a result of what most people would regard as behaviour verging on the criminal.

All this occurred despite the employer’s declared statutory duty of care for its employees’ health, laid out in the Health & Safety at Work Act.  Following this, in order to conceal the sordid details the council drew up the most draconian of compromise agreements, which included a £500 gagging clause designed to prevent Mr Morton from taking independent legal advice – a statutory human right, “set in stone” which cannot be taken away.  It also attempted to subvert article 43j within the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which provides whistleblowers with statutory protection.

A depressing by-product of the ICO erecting another obstacle to justice is that it provides much-needed succour to Wirral Council and to those potentially abusive senior members of staff still in office and still bent on evading accountability Despite the LGA Improvement Board’s welcome involvement, and “troubleshooter” Michael Frater’s extension until October 2012, the unaddressed failures can be laid at the door of the Council’s reluctance to openly identify the abusers and link them to the disgraceful malpractice discovered and described, but yet to be identified within the AKA report.  The suspension of three senior officers, and their “banishment from the workplace” may provide a ray of hope, as it’s possible their presence may have been creating obstacles beyond which accountability, co-operation and the public interest could not travel.

This weak and disappointing ICO approach, laid out by the Senior Case Officer above, seems particularly cold-hearted, with its blinkered failure to recognise or acknowledge the threat of disabled abuse, and its unwillingness to apply any pressure onto the council.  The ICO’s bureaucrats are effectively endorsing Wirral Council’s  “straight onto auto-pilot”, power abusing tactics of cover up; minimisation; denial; gagging; pay offs; obfuscation, with their dismissive, kneejerk trashing of the legitimate public interest.

Also effectively endorsed are the “information and data” failures, in the shape of Wirral Council’s entrenched and ongoing disregard for statutory law, in the shape of its historic reluctance to comply with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

The senior officer at the helm of Freedom of Information for Wirral is Ian Coleman (Director of Finance, now departed in controversial circumstances…. via “the Wirral Way”).  Here is a link to more details regarding the “Statutory Investigation Process” and a preliminary investigation currently being mounted into the three Statutory Officers at the top of the council – all suspended (two of the three are now in the clear and have left…..)

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents/s50005267/Statutory%20Investigation%20Process%20Report.pdf

UPDATE 27th July 2012

I appear to have been fobbed off by the Department run by Paul Burstow MP.  They’ve assured me that the LGA Improvement Board are there to address any issues (Nothing specific, you’ll notice, such as the threat of disabled abuse that I warned them about).  As for the LGA Improvement Board, I’m still waiting for Michael Frater to get in touch and reassure me that he is actually doing anything at all about the imminent threat of disabled abuse.  So, lots of talk, no action.  All commitments to the need for “safeguarding” have been completely trashed by Wirral Council, the Information Commissioner’s Office, now followed closely by central government:

From: DoNotReply@dh.gsi.gov.uk [mailto:DoNotReply@dh.gsi.gov.uk]
Sent: 27 July 2012 12:24
To: [Mr P Cardin]
Subject: Response to your Query : – Ref:DE00000712327 – Reply to your email to Paul Burstow

Our ref: DE00000712327

Dear Mr Cardin,
 
Thank you for your correspondence of 5 July to Paul Burstow about adult social services in Wirral Council.  I have been asked to reply.

Safeguarding people in vulnerable situations from all forms of abuse is a key priority for this government.  The Department is aware of the issues you raise and the investigations which have taken place locally.  Paul Burstow met with the local MP Esther McVey to discuss this matter in March.

I understand that Wirral Council has taken a range of steps in response the report prepared by Anna Klonowski.  The Council has said that new safeguarding procedures have been devised and implemented that focus on partnership working and quality.

The internal Improvement Board established in response to the Klonowski report, with the support of the Local Government Association, will monitor progress against the council’s improvement plan.  The appointment of a social care challenge director has also raised the level of internal scrutiny and challenge.

Strengthened internal governance is bolstered by external challenge and scrutiny.  The agreed peer review of adult social care has now taken place.  Timing of the corporate governance review is still subject to active consideration by the council, and is likely to take place in September.

Paul Burstow will continue to take a close interest in progress at Wirral Council.  He is currently satisfied that progress is being made, and that the right mechanisms are in place both nationally and locally to ensure that this progress is maintained.

I hope this reply is helpful.

Yours sincerely,
 
Peter Wozniak
Ministerial Correspondence and Public Enquiries
Department of Health

UPDATE   31st July 2012

Email to Angela Eagle, MP for Wallasey, Wirral:

From: Paul C
Sent: 31 July 2012 00:41
To: ‘eaglea@parliament.uk’
Cc: ‘michaelfrater@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘m-thomas@audit-commission.gov.uk’; ‘grant.shapps@communities.gsi.gov.uk’
Subject: Threat of disabled abuse

Dear Angela Eagle,

There is an ongoing threat of disabled abuse developing in the North West of England, possibly on Wirral.  All the details are here on my blog:

http://wirralinittogether.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/departure-of-two-senior-officers-and-now-a-chief-executive-officer-from-wirral-council/

This situation was both foreseeable and avoidable, yet Wirral Council went ahead and did it anyway.  I have contacted Michael Frater, the LGA ‘troubleshooter’, who is yet to acknowledge the threat.  I have also contacted Mike Thomas, District Auditor, who is looking into it, but only from an auditor’s point of view.

I asked a question at 22nd June meeting of the LGA Improvement Board meeting, and made all the officials present aware of the danger.  The minutes have now been released for this meeting, but the details of my question are NOT recorded, which I find very frustrating:

http://www.wirral.gov.uk/downloads/4431

Contact has been made with Central Government in the shape of Grant Shapps and Paul Burstow.  Also Tim Kelsey, ex Cabinet Office transparency guru, who has since moved onto an NHS role.  None of these officials has been able to address the problem and Shapps and Burstow have passed me back to the jurisdiction of the Council, who cannot in my opinion be trusted to take the required action.

A freedom of information request was placed with Wirral Council back in January 2012, which was not acted upon until very recently (breaching the FOI Act).  The council are refusing to release the information and as you can see, the Information Commissioner’s Office are frankly useless:

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

I would now like to call upon you to raise the issue of potential disabled abuse, due to the council’s failure to discipline its officers, in Parliament and sound the alarm bells for this on my behalf,

Yours sincerely,

Paul Cardin

UPDATE   1st August 2012

Email received from Michael Frater today:

Frater, Michael michaelfrater@wirral.gov.uk

13:59 (1 hour ago)

to grant.shapps, eaglea, me, m-thomas

Dear Mr Cardin

I write to advise you that the issue you raise is one of a number of what I term ‘unresolved issues from the past’ that I have arranged to discuss with the new Chief Executive and the Acting Director of Law next week.

Yours sincerely

Michael Frater

….Note: The new Chief Executive is Graham Burgess.  See following link to the Liverpool Daily Post:

http://www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/liverpool-news/politics/politics-news/2012/07/20/the-big-interview-wirral-will-improve-i-promise-vows-new-chief-executive-graham-burgess-99623-31422641/

UPDATE   12th August 2012

As Wirral Council haven’t denied it, and the Information Commissioner has acknowledged that their identities are now in the public domain, it is safe to conclude that the two senior officers who were paid off with a very large and undeclared sum in public money, then allowed to depart Wirral Council under a compromise agreement and “gagging clause” the day before publication of the full Anna Klonowski report are:

Mike Fowler (Employee 13 in AKA Report)

Maura Noone (Employee 22 in AKA Report) (The Council in its reply corrected requester Pete Sheffield’s typo (Moira) , and helpfully gave the correct spelling)

Fowler is still looking for further work on the LinkedIn website.  But if he discloses to his employers any of the circumstances which led to his departure from Wirral (unlikely), this could be a breach of a gagging clause within his compromise agreement.  His former employer would then be free to take him to court to seek to recover a proportion of the public money that was paid to secure his departure.

16th August 2012 ~ Angela Eagle is yet to respond to my email of 31st July 2012 (see above), despite the compelling and urgent nature of its contents.


UPDATE   16th August 2012

Tim Kelsey, former Cabinet Office transparency guru and someone who initially appeared to display a keen interest in doing something about this has now decided to unfollow me on Twitter.  I’ll assume that threats of learning disabled abuse are no longer a priority, and something he no longer wishes to be updated on.

As for Wirral Tories, I think I can live with their decision, although their claim to be “listening to our communities” seems questionable.

UPDATE   27th August 2012

An exchange of tweets with Lib Dem care Minister Paul Burstow MP:

https://twitter.com/PaulBurstow/status/240113431590608897

Ironic & insulting: http://yfrog.com/odj87evj

UPDATE    24th August 2012

Angela Eagle has been in touch:

Letter to David Armstrong, Acting Chief Executive of Wirral Council:

Letter to Mike Smith, Chair of the Disability Committee of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission – most relevant letter with regard to the subject of Disability Discrimination:

(As of 14th November 2012, three months on, these letters have not been answered)

UPDATE   31st August 2012

Email received from Senior Case Officer at Information Commissioner’s Office:

From: <casework@ico.gsi.gov.uk>
Date: 30 August 2012 08:23
Subject: re your freedom of information complaint about Wirral Council[Ref. FS50438500]
To: Paul Cardin

PROTECT

30th August 2012

Case Reference Number FS50438500

Dear Mr Cardin

Thank you for your email. I have been waiting for a copy of the withheld information from Wirral Council. I received a response on 21 August 2012 and am therefore currently drafting a decision notice on your complaint.

I hope that this is helpful to you.

Yours sincerely

[Name removed]
Senior Case Officer

UPDATE   15th September 2012

Time drags on.  A couple of emails I’ve sent:

From: Paul C
Sent: 06 September 2012 00:09
To: ‘casework@ico.gsi.gov.uk’
Subject: Departure of two Senior Officers from Wirral Council FS50438500

FAO [name redacted]

Dear Mr [name redacted],

Please advise on progress with the Decision Notice you are drafting for this case.  It’s been well over two weeks since I received the email below,

Best regards,

Paul Cardin

From: Paul C
Sent: 15 September 2012 23:46
To: ‘casework@ico.gsi.gov.uk’
Subject: FW: Departure of two Senior Officers from Wirral Council FS50438500

FAO [name redacted]

Dear Mr [name redacted],

As requested over a week ago, but without response, please advise on the progress with the Decision Notice you are drafting for this case.  It’s been well over three weeks since I received the email below, which itself wasn’t sent until 9 days after you’d received notification from Wirral.  We’re now approaching the month mark.

Can I remind you that this is an urgent situation, where should either of the individuals, who weren’t disciplined, be re-employed elsewhere, vulnerable and disabled people may once again be put at risk?

To answer your original point, it has not been helpful at all, given the urgency, that you are not updating me and taking so long,

Regards,

Paul Cardin

Public servant and senior officer [name redacted]’s phone is switching to “answerphone” immediately, without ringing…. and has done for the last 2 days.

UPDATE   20th September 2012

Email received yesterday from ICO officer dealing with this:

PROTECT

19th September 2012

Case Reference Number FS50438500

Dear Mr Cardin

Thank you for your emails regarding your complaint about Wirral Council. I’m sorry I missed your call today.

As an update, I have just completed the draft of your decision notice today.  From this point the notice will go into a validation process which can sometimes take a number of weeks.  Notices can sometimes be issued faster than this however it is dependent upon the workload of the signatory, the complexity of the notice and whether the notice needs to go through a review by the Commissioner’s policy department.  It is therefore possible that the notice will be issued shortly however I am not able to specifically confirm that that will be the case.

I’m sorry that you have not received the notice earlier than this however decision notices are legal documents and therefore require careful thought and analysis. They can therefore take some time to complete as we need to be sure that we are fully aware of all the facts and that we apply the law carefully to those facts.

As regards the response to your earlier emails we try to respond to all requests for updates on complaints within 14 days.  I hope that this is helpful to you.

Yours sincerely

[Officer name redacted]

Senior Case Officer

UPDATE   11th October 2012

PROTECT

11th October 2012

Case Reference Number FS50438500

Dear Mr Cardin
 
I am writing concerning your freedom of information complaint about Wirral Council relating to a number of senior officers who left the council by mutual consent.  
 
As an update on your complaint, I have recently written to the council asking it to clarify one aspect of its arguments further. I am therefore waiting for a response from the council before the notice can be assigned to a signatory. 

I hope that this is helpful to you. 
 
Yours sincerely
 
[Officer name redacted]
Senior Case Officer

UPDATE   15th October 2012

PROTECT

15th October 2012

Case Reference Number FS50416628 and FS50438500 [THIS MATTER]

Dear Mr Cardin
 
Thank you for your emails. 
 
We confirm that based upon the evidence we have seen the council has complied with the decision notice.
 
As regards your question concerning FS50438500 [THIS MATTER], I wrote the council on 2 October 2012 and have asked for it to respond by 17 October 2012.  
 
I hope that this is helpful to you.
 
Yours sincerely
 
[Officer name redacted]
Senior Case Officer

28th October 2012

Nothing heard from Angela Eagle with regard to the two letters she kindly sent to David Armstrong and Mike Smith back in August (see the top of this blog post).  It’s now two months.  Where is the urgency?

I’ve sent the following email to her:

From: Paul C
Sent: 28 October 2012 00:42
To: ‘eaglea@parliament.uk’
Cc: ‘grahamburgess’; ‘Tour, Surjit’
Subject: Your letters to David Armstong (Wirral) and Mike Smith (EHRC) – Threat of disabled abuse

Dear Angela Eagle,

Threat of Disabled Abuse

Over two months ago, you wrote on my behalf to Interim CEO of the Council David Armstrong and also to Chair of Disabilities Committee of the Equality and Human Rights Commission Mike Smith.

I have not heard anything from you since then.  Presumably the two correspondents will have been in touch by now, and I would be very grateful to be updated on what they’ve said.  I’d appreciate it if you could check your records and see whether they’ve responded.  Whether they have or haven’t, can you get back to me with an update?

Internally at the Council, the new CEO Graham Burgess has officially made Monitoring Officer Surjit Tour the contact point for this important issue.  However, due to lack of any correspondence from Mr Tour over many weeks, I’m forming the strong impression that despite a clear and present danger of further disabled abuse, addressing this threat is not high on the list of priorities for this council,

Many thanks in advance,

Paul Cardin

BREAKING ~ 2nd November 2012

Wirral Council have finally confirmed the size of the pay offs to Mike Fowler and Maura Noone, who left the Council under gagging clauses, within compromise agreements in January 2012:

Good Morning,

With regard to your complaint with the ICO, please find below the
information the Council can disclose to you; this relates to the 2
payments made by the Council.

There was a total payment made in each case which was severance pay +
notice + 3 months pay.

Head of Support Services   Finance Department

109,496.45 which compromised:

74,276.52 (Severance)

16,881.93 (equivalent of 12 weeks notice)

18,338.00 (3 months salary)

Assistant Director, Head of Wellbeing DASS

111, 042.95 which compromosed

75,823.95 (Severance)

16,881 (equivalent of 12 weeks notice)

18,338 (3 months salary)

The Council remains of the opinion that other information requested is
exempt from disclosure under Section 40(2) of the FOIA as it contains
Personal Data.  The council considers that it would be unfair on the
individuals concerned to disclose this personal data and therefore would
be in breach of the 1st principle of the DPA 1998.

I have copied the ICO into this response.

Kind Regards

Jane Corrin

Information Manager

Wirral Council

UPDATE   14th November 2012

Latest email follow up to Angela Eagle, who, since she sent the above letters to Mike Smith of the EHRC (breaking news on him here) and Graham Burgess’ temporary predecessor David Armstrong at Wirral Council, has gone silent.

Dear Angela Eagle,

Threat of Disabled Abuse

Over two months ago, you wrote on my behalf to Interim CEO of the Council David Armstrong and also to Chair of Disabilities Committee of the Equality and Human Rights Commission Mike Smith.

I have not heard anything from you since then.  Presumably the two correspondents will have been in touch by now, and I would be very grateful to be updated on what they’ve said.  I’d appreciate it if you could check your records and see whether they’ve responded.  Whether they have or haven’t, can you get back to me with an update?

Internally at the Council, the new CEO Graham Burgess has officially made Monitoring Officer Surjit Tour the contact point for this important issue.  However, due to lack of any correspondence from Mr Tour over many weeks, I’m forming the strong impression that despite a clear and present danger of further disabled abuse, addressing this threat is not high on the list of priorities for this council,

Many thanks in advance,

Paul Cardin

As a reminder, here are the issues Angela Eagle raised in each letter which remain unanswered, months on….

Letter to David Armstong

  1. Whether the council intends to continue to redact information within the Klonowski report
  2. Whether there is a need for more transparency about what has taken place
  3. Whether you and your successor would advise me ‘regarding the issues raised by my constituent’

Letter to Mike Smith (EHRC)

  1. Any observations you may have to make on:
  • Vulnerable people remaining at risk
  • Discrimination towards vulnerable residents with disabilities
  • The potential threat of further abuse
  • Following my representations to the EHRC, the issue of disability discrimination being included in the [AKA] inquiry

23rd November 2012

Response in from the ICO regarding the ‘Departure of Two Senior Officers’ aspect – the original FoI request numbered FS50438500:

PROTECT

23rd November 2012

Case Reference Number FS50438500

Dear Mr Cardin
 
Thank you for your emails. 
 
The decision notice for case FS50438500 is currently awaiting allocation to a signatory [my annotation – the officer began drafting this decision notice in late August, almost 3 months ago]. As you know, after completing the first draft of the notice I went back to the council to check on the legal aspects of some of the arguments it had submitted. As a result the council has recently disclosed details of the severance payments made to the individuals to you. I am sorry for this delay however the notice needed to take into account the councils response regarding the requirements of The Accounts and Audit (England) Regulations 2011. 
 
As regards the councils response to decision notice FS50416628 [Register of Senior Officers Interests] I have been in correspondence with the council regarding the disclosures it has made and am currently considering its response. 
 
I hope that this is helpful to you. 
 
Yours sincerely

[Officer name redacted]
Senior Case Officer

UPDATE   6th December 2012

Email received from former Acting Chief Executive David Armstrong:

From: Lloyd, Tina A. On Behalf Of Armstrong, David
Sent: 06 December 2012 15:11
To: Paul C
Cc: Tour, Surjit; angela.eagle.mp@parliament.uk
Subject: RE: Disability Discrimination

Dear Mr Cardin

Thank you for your emails.

My understanding is that the new Chief Executive wrote to you in October advising that there would be a single point of contact with the council, Surjit Tour, the Acting Director of Law in order to provide a focused point of communication on the matters you are raising with the council.

Prior to ceasing to be the Acting Chief Executive on September 3rd and reverting to my base position in the Children and Young people’s Department I tried to deal with the outstanding matters from my period in the Acting Chief Executive post.  I can only advise you to raise outstanding matters with Surjit as requested by the Chief Executive.  I will also speak further with Surjit on this matter.

I felt that the new Chief Executive’s email was very clear re future contact.  If you felt it needed additional confirmation of the position from me and I did not provide that, then I apologise.

In respect of the matters raised, I feel that only Surjit can answer the question from yourself and Angela Eagle, MP re the redaction of some names in the AkA report,.  I was present when this matter was discussed at council and my recollection is that some changes were made to redacted material following consideration of the report.

In respect of your allegation re council staff, current or former being a threat to people with disabilities and represent a threat to their safety, Angela Eagle MP asked you to share the evidence you had with her and the Police.  In your reply of the 25th August you said you would need some time to gather evidence together.  I am not in a position to know whether this has happened but it does seem to be the logical next step in relation to the situation as you set it out in your emails.

[My comment: There may be gangsters involved – Currently, I do not feel in a position to jeopardise mine and my family’s personal safety by approaching the police]

I will discuss the matter further with Surjit Tour and am sharing this reply with him and Angela Eagle, MP.

Tina Lloyd on behalf of

David Armstrong

Deputy Director CYPD and

Assistant Chief Executive

Wirral Council

Visit our website: www.wirral.gov.uk

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#FoI request 003/11 ~ Suffolk County Council – Departure of former Chief Executive Andrea Hill – Matters arising

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www.wirralinittogether.wordpress.com

Departure of former Chief Executive Andrea Hill – Matters arising

Following the above FoI request (003/11) I lodged on 4th July 2011, an answer arrived on 9th August.  Andy Bloxham of The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday evening on the history surrounding this and the vast amount of public money handed over to secure the release of the controversial former chief.  The grand total is a staggering £347,768.  This is not far off the £405,000 that was paid during her tenure in a 4 month period this year, when 13 presumably unhappy staff left the authority, signing compromise agreements.

Andrea Hill is a great believer in these agreements, so much so she signed one herself.  See former felon Glenn Mulcaire, News International, and witness the power in 21st century Britain for these agreements to safely draw a legal veil across a sweeping gamut of potential criminal conduct, malpractice, malfeasance in public office, morally bankrupt behaviour, bullying, harassment, victimisation and so on.  I believe there will be gagging / penalty clauses drawn up into the Andrea Hill agreement, but she is not willing to reveal them – her consent to disclosure was not provided.

Still, I imagine a collective and shuddering sigh of relief will have been released, not only by embarrassed, shame-faced councillors and rejoicing senior colleagues, but by browbeaten junior council staff, and the beleagured Suffolk public.

It will be fascinating to see where (and if) Andrea turns up next, given the recent scandal-prone track record.  The former chief’s propensity for courting controversy, flirting with disaster and lavishing public money on photo-sessions and lifestyle coaches may not easily attract or win over the hearts and minds of future employers.

Suffolk Council appear tight-lipped, and have refused to reveal the information requested in question 2 below, quoting Section 40 (Personal Information) and Section 42 (Legal Professional Privilege) exemptions:

1. Did Andrea Hill sign a compromise agreement (confidentiality agreement) in full and final settlement of her employment contract at the council? (Answer: Yes)
2. If the answer to q1. is in the affirmative, details of any and all gagging clauses and penalty clauses contained within this agreement

The reply states, “… consent to disclosure was not provided.  Further, the nature and content of the information were key factors in contributing to the argument in favour of withholding the information.”  No public interest test is required under a Section 40 exemption.

As for Section 42, the exemption is qualified and does carry a public interest test.  The Council states, “there will need to be strong public interest in disclosure to offset the inevitable strong public interest in favour of the exemption.” (!)

Given the huge level of interest in this case, whipped up by the behaviour of the Chief Executive herself, the suicide of a close senior colleague, the circumstances surrounding the appointment of Wragge & Co. Solicitors to investigate, and by the apparent inability of the council to stem the flow of haemorrhaging public funds, there appears to be a VERY strong interest in full disclosure here – not just locally, but nationally.

Try as I might though, I can’t personally detect any evidence of the council’s quoted “strong public interest in favour of the exemption” – can you?!

Please check back here for updates on the internal review I’ve requested, which is currently underway.


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