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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(More to follow…..)

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

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

UPDATE – Wirral Councillors NOW REGISTERED with the ICO – but are YOU paying…?

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Back in early October, following the publishing of my email address without permission on a group of Wirral Councillors’ website, I decided to make enquiries and find out how many of our then 66 councillors were registered as ‘data controllers’ with the Information Commissioner’s Office.

This is a legal, statutory requirement where councillors are acting on behalf of constituents and storing their personal information electronically on home computers.

Within the ICO website, there’s a handy name checker where you can type in a name, address, etc. and discover whether an individual or company is actually registered.  I did this for the Wirral 66 and discovered that….  none of them were registered.

So I gave them all fair warning, advising them that they may have been in breach statutory law.  It was possible that not all of them needed to register, but highly unlikely that all 66 didn’t.

Since then, two have sadly died, however I waited a further month, but of the remaining 64, only 2 have registered.

So I’ve now sent a second email, advising them that as a member of the public, not wanting to see constituents’ personal data being manipulated illegally, I see it as my duty to inform the ICO, who will hopefully be taking steps to put the situation right.

Here are both emails:

Email One

From: Paul C
Sent: 10 October 2012 21:38
To: ‘ronabbey@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘chrisblakeley@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘eddieboult@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘alanbrighouse@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘wendyclements@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘tonycox@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘jimcrabtree@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘georgedavies@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘phildavies@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘billdavies@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘darrendodd@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘pauldoughty@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘davidelderton@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘gerryellis@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘stevefoulkes@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘leahfraser@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘philgilchrist@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘patriciaglasman@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘jeffgreen@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘robertgregson@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘pathackett@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘johnhale@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘tomharney@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘paulhayes@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘sylviahodrien@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘andrewhodson@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘mikehornby@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘peterjohnson@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘markjohnston@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘adrianjones@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘chrisjones@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘peterkearney@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘stuartkelly@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘briankenny@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘anitaleech@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘annemcardle@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘donmccubbin@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘annmclachlan@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘moiramclaughlin@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘chrismeaden@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘davemitchell@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘berniemooney@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘simonmountney@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘christinamuspratt@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘steveniblock@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘tonynorbury@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘cherrypovall@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘deniserealey@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘lesleyrennie@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘deniseroberts@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘lesrowlands@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘johnsalter@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘harrysmith@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘tonysmith@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘waltersmith@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘jeanstapleton@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘michaelsullivan@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘adamsykes@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘joewalsh@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘geoffreywatt@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘stuartwhittingham@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘irenewilliams@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘jerrywilliams@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘patwilliams@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘stevewilliams@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘janettewilliamson@wirral.gov.uk’
Subject: Registering with the Information Commissioner’s Office as a data controller

Dear Councillor(s),

After checking, I note with some concern that none of Wirral’s 66 councillors appear to be registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office as Data Controllers.  This seems unusual given that a number of you are likely to have personal details e.g. residents’ names and addresses / email addresses stored on your computers at home, and are likely to have represented these residents either individually or collectively in some way, shape or form.

Here is a helpful message from Jane Corrin, the Council’s Information Manager, explaining some of the background to this issue:

Good Afternoon,

Thank you for your email below.

Advice from the Office of the Information Commissioner for Local Councils is that each individual councillor needs to review and consider if they need to notify with the ICO; depending how they process Personal Data.  This advice is detailed at the link below, which I trust you find useful.

http://www.ico.gov.uk/Global/Search.aspx?collection=ico&keywords=councillors

A short summary is also below, which explains how some processing will be covered by the Council’s Notification and Councillors do not need to register; although circumstances may arise when Councillors must notify individually, at a cost of £35 a year.

“In determining whether they need to notify, councillors need to consider the role in which they are processing personal information. If doing so as a member of the council or as a representative of a major political party, councillors will not normally be required to notify with the ICO. However, when carrying out their role as a representative of the residents in a ward or an independent councillor who is not affiliated to any political party a councillor may need to notify.”

Kind Regards

Jane Corrin

Information Manager

Wirral council

Simon Entwistle, Director of Operations at the ICO, said:

“Most councillors have regular access to the personal information of the residents they represent. Like all organisations who handle people’s information, it is of paramount importance that they take their responsibilities under the Data Protection Act seriously.

“We will be writing to councillors with advice on whether they need to notify with the ICO. Those who fail to notify with us when required may face enforcement action.”

Please take time to follow this link, which will enable you to very quickly and honestly assess your own position in order to determine whether any of your own activities should be registered.  This may help to protect the data security and privacy of any residents whose information you may be storing:

http://www.ico.gov.uk/notify/self/question1.html

Please note that any qualifying failure to notify with the ICO may result in a £5,000 fine, or an unlimited Crown Court fine.

More helpful information here:  http://www.ico.gov.uk/~/media/documents/pressreleases/2011/councillors_dp_compliance_news_release_20110125.ashx

As a Wirral resident, given the Council’s less than adequate performance on Freedom of Information in particular, I am concerned that a degree of sloppiness may have been allowed to creep into the important areas of data protection and security.  For this reason, I will be checking with the ICO in a month’s time to see what progress has been made,

Kind regards,

Paul Cardin

Email Two

12th November 2012

Dear Councillors,

I’ve re-checked with the Information Commissioner’s Office and it appears that despite the email I sent to you all a month ago (below), only one of you appears to have decided to ‘go legal’ and register with the ICO as a data controller.

Individually, there may be perfectly valid reasons for this, but 63 councillors lawfully not registered seems highly unlikely, given that many of you deal on a day to day basis with constituents’ personal data and information – and may have that personal data and information stored on your home computers for the purposes of e.g. carrying out casework on behalf of individual constituents.

I’ll now take this on to the next stage and report the situation to the ICO, who I’m sure will be grateful to receive the heads up.  Given the background on Wirral of years of disabled abuse; disability discrimination; impropriety; hideously misconceived legal crusades; failed standards complaints; blaming the public for the Council’s own inadequacies in data and information management; suspensions, followed by vindication; pay offs; gags; nobody made accountable, and layer upon layer of cover up, they may not be surprised.  But there’s one thing for sure….

I’ll be surprised if the ICO agree with Councillor Crabtree’s sentiments, and declare it…… quote… ‘a load of tosh’,

Best regards,

Paul Cardin

ps. Please accept my apology here and now if you have registered and the ICO has not yet updated its records to reflect this

I attached a read receipt to these messages and a number of councillors sent the receipt back “not read” i.e. the message itself was deleted without being read.

Since this email was sent, one further councillor has registered with the ICO.

I’ve now sent an email to the ICO, with a list of the 62 councillors not registered, asking them to advise:

18th November 2012

Dear ICO Notification Department,

I have sent the attached emails to all Wirral Councillors regarding non-notification as data controllers with the ICO.  Wirral currently has an LGA “Improvement Board” in place following a number of serious scandals which were played out over a number of years.  The council has also had a loose grasp on the importance of Freedom of Information and has been subject to the ICO’s ‘special measures’ following poor performance.  My own experiences are not good and I have placed requests which have taken over a year to address.

When I sent the 1st email in early October, there were 66 councillors in total, none of whom were registered.  Since then, two councillors have sadly died.  I sent the 2nd email a month later after allowing them ample time to take action (if they felt it was necessary), however only two are now registered, making 2 from a total of 64.  It seems likely to me that many of them will be active in representing constituents, will possess personal details in electronic format, will potentially be in breach of the Data Protection Act and are required to register.

I have checked against your own website records and I am therefore notifying you of the failure of the following 62 councillors to comply and to register:

  1. Ron Abbey
  2. Chris Blakeley
  3. Eddie Boult
  4. Alan Brighouse
  5. Wendy Clements
  6. Tony Cox
  7. Jim Crabtree
  8. George Davies
  9. Phil Davies
  10. Bill Davies
  11. Darren Dodd
  12. Paul Doughty
  13. David Elderton
  14. Gerry Ellis
  15. Steve Foulkes
  16. Leah Fraser
  17. Phil Gilchrist
  18. Patricia Glasman
  19. Jeff Green
  20. Robert Gregson
  21. Pat Hackett
  22. John Hale
  23. Tom Harney
  24. Paul Hayes
  25. Sylvia Hodrien
  26. Andrew Hodson
  27. Mike Hornby
  28. Mark Johnston
  29. Adrian Jones
  30. Chris Jones
  31. Stuart Kelly
  32. Brian Kenny
  33. Anita Leech
  34. Don McCubbin
  35. Ann McLachlan
  36. Moira McLaughlin
  37. Chris Meaden
  38. Dave Mitchell
  39. Bernie Mooney
  40. Simon Mountney
  41. Christina Muspratt
  42. Steve Niblock
  43. Tony Norbury
  44. Cherry Povall
  45. Denise Realey
  46. Lesley Rennie
  47. Denise Roberts
  48. Les Rowlands
  49. John Salter
  50. Harry Smith
  51. Tony Smith
  52. Walter Smith
  53. Jean Stapleton
  54. Adam Sykes
  55. Joe Walsh
  56. Geoffrey Watt
  57. Stuart Whittingham
  58. Irene Williams
  59. Jerry Williams
  60. Pat Williams
  61. Steve Williams
  62. Janette Williamson

The two now registered councillors are Peter Kearney and Michael Sullivan.  Party leaders are Phil Davies, Jeff Green and Tom Harney.

I would appreciate it very much if you could acknowledge receipt of this email, advise me what’s now required and advise me what action you will be taking,

Best regards,

Paul Cardin

21st November 2012

No response in from the ICO yet.

26th November 2012

Still no response in from the ICO.

28th November 2012

Just spoke to a very helpful person from the ICO’s ‘Non-Compliance’ Department, who assured me that Wirral Council’s leader, Phil Davies, has been in touch and that hopefully soon, a cheque will be on the way to pay for all non-compliant councillors.

I should add that this cheque will cover 62 people, and they will not be paying out of their own pockets.  This will include and benefit the elected member (identity available on request) who told me in an email it was “A load of tosh“.

The Wirral public will be digging deep (£2,170) to cover not just themselves, but any errant councillor playing fast and loose with their sensitive personal information.

See here and here.

Watch here for further information and correspondence.

UPDATE   21st January 2013

Email in from a lead case officer at the ICO:

—– Forwarded message —–
From: [Lead Case Officer’s email address redacted]
To: Paul Cardin
Subject: Non-registration of 62 Wirral Councillors – FAO [Lead Case Officer’s name redacted]
Date: Mon, Jan 21, 2013 16:28

Dear Mr Cardin,

My apologies for not being able to reply sooner, I have been on leave and today is my first day back in the Office since Christmas.

I have been in communications with the Legal Services team at Wirral Council since you raised the matter of their councillors being un-registered.

On the 21 December 2012 we received 62 application forms for the individual councillors together with 1 cheque from the council to cover the 62 lots of £35 registration fees. I have no idea if the council will be re-imbursed by the individual councillors or whether the council is in fact paying for the registrations of their councillors.

If I remember rightly, a set of application forms was posted out in the name of Phil Davies and the legal services team then used that application form for the template for the rest of the councillors, obviously changing the data controller name each time to that of the respective councillor and a different registration number was created by us for each councillor when the forms were processed.

The forms were processed by our Notification Department on the 24th December 2012 and all of the councillors are registered at the same address (the Wirral Borough Council Offices address) so if you are wanting to do a search of the councillors registrations if you go onto our website and onto the public register page and put in the post code CH44 8ED then you should be able to see the list of the councillors that are now registered.

There was a covering letter with the application forms as I think they are waiting on 1 more application form but I think that is because of an upcoming election for a vacant seat? Perhaps I have got that wrong but I do recall there being a valid reason for the omission.

Hope this helps, like I say I am only just getting back into the swing of things and some of my recollections are a bit vague!!

Kind regards,

[Lead Case Officer’s name redacted]

Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF.

T. [redacted] F. [redacted] www.ico.gov.uk

From: Paul C
Sent: 18 January 2013 09:26
To: Notification@
Subject: FW: Non-registration of 62 Wirral Councillors – FAO [Lead Case Officer’s name redacted]

FAO [Lead Case Officer’s name redacted]

Dear [Lead Case Officer’s name redacted]

Please forward copies of the information we discussed last year: documentation to show that Councillor Phil Davies placed a ‘bulk order’ for 60+ Wirral Councillors’ data controller registrations.

I realise that you are currently on leave, but would be grateful if you could act on this request shortly after returning.

I hope you had a good break,

Regards,

Paul Cardin

The officer hasn’t forwarded what I asked for yet – copies of documentation in the form of correspondence / a ‘bulk order’ for 60+ councillors, but I’ll be chasing him up on it.  Hopefully I won’t have to place an FoI request…. and wait.

____________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second link is to the report itself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE   5th November 2012

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

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

Dear InfoMgr, FinDMT,

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

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

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

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

I will now be appealing to the Information Commissioner,

Yours sincerely,

Paul Cardin

UPDATE   15th December 2012

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

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

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

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

Here are the emails:

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

Dear Paul

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

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

I hope this is of use to you.

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

Kind regards

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

Stephen,

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

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

Regards,

Paul Cardin

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

Stephen,

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

Did he in fact make any?

Many thanks,

Paul

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

Hello Paul

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

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

I hope this is off use to you.

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

Dear Stephen,

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

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

Many thanks,

Paul Cardin

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

Dear Stephen,

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

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

Here is a link to assist you…

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

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

Many thanks,

Paul

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

Dear Paul

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

Regards

Stephen Rowley
Wirral Council
Department of Adult Social Services
Head of Finance and Performance Branch
Phone [redacted]
E-mail
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From: Paul C
Sent: 30 October 2012 22:55
To: Hodkinson, Graham R.
Cc: O’Hare, Tracy J.; Rowley, Stephen
Subject: FW: FoI request

Dear Graham,

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

Regards,

Paul

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

Dear Graham,

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

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

Regards,

Paul

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

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

Regards

Graham Hodkinson

Director of Adult Social Services

Wirral Council

T: [redacted]

E: [redacted]

Please save paper and only print out what is necessary.

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

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

Dear Graham,

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

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

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

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

Many thanks,

Paul

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Is this ‘death by bureaucracy’? Exposing Disability Discrimination at Wirral Council

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Two years ago, back in 2010, I approached my MP, Angela Eagle, with concerns that there had been systematic disability discrimination at Wirral Council.  She contacted the Equality and Human Rights Commission in order to pass on these concerns.  In December of that year, she received the following letter in response:

As is spelled out clearly in the letter, Mike Smith found that there had been Disability Discrimination committed by Wirral Council.  This discrimination was financial and it had occurred for a period of up to 9 years, despite whistleblower Martin Morton informing his seniors early on that it was going on and that it was wrongIn return for his good faith, public-spirited actions, he was bullied, allegedly mobbed and forced from his job.

In the West Wirral case, there were 16 learning disabled residents affected, who over the period in question, had approximately £500,000 deliberately and unlawfully taken directly from their bank accounts.  When referring to these issues, the council, the media and various “watchdogs” consistently use the word “overcharging”.  However this word is inappropriate, unhelpful and simply keys in with the desire by those still in power to minimise, deflect and dilute the seriousness of what happened.

Following the exposure of this discrimination, the council put in place a “retrospective charging policy” (in itself legally dubious) which was supposed to ensure that the affected tenants, five of whom have since died (their estates), would receive a proportionate share of £243,000.  Here is the original FoI request asking for a copy of the form that was sent to tenants for them to claim back the unlawfully deducted sums.  However the alarm was quickly raised that these sums were to be treated as “windfalls” by the Department for Work & Pensions, and would adversely impact on tenants’ existing benefits.

It’s now uncertain how much of this money has in fact been reclaimed or whether the tenants were made to suffer twice through no fault of their own.  I’m currently planning to contact LGA troubleshooter Michael Frater and / or Wirral’s new CEO Graham Burgess in order to discover the actual amount reclaimed.  If this isn’t successful, I’ll make another FoI request through the www.whatdotheyknow.com website.

Wirral Council’s Director of Law, Bill Norman, mentioned in the above letter – and since suspended from his job, before departing the organisation with a large pay off – believed that there had not been any disability discrimination:

…but Mike Smith disagreed with Wirral’s (now former) Director of Law, and requested that the issue be passed to Anna Klonowski Associates – the external investigator who had been commissioned to carry out an independent enquiry by one time council leader Jeff Green.  AKA in turn, commissioned a large law firm, DLA Piper UK LLP, to carry out the disability discrimination element of her investigations.  The full version of the Klonowski report was published in early January 2012.  It found that there was no disability discrimination.  Link to section on disability discrimination here:

AKA Discrimination issues

However, this issue is not dead, because the opinion of Mike Smith of the EHRC cannot be written off or sidelined in this way.  This sort of question is a regular consideration for him, is straightforward in this case, and does not allow for motive and intent.  He stated quite categorically that disabled people had been overcharged (and therefore had been discriminated against).

I believe on a clear reading of the above letter that Mr Smith established there was disability discrimination and went on to recommended that it was passed to the AKA enquiry to enable them to:

A. Assess how far it extended

B. Assess the impact it may have had

C. Assess how it could be addressed

But DLA Piper UK LLP somehow got hold of the wrong end of the stick, were badly instructed or completely misunderstood the contents of the Mike Smith EHRC letter, opting instead to pass a judgment on the “existence or otherwise” of disability discrimination, rather than establishing the true extent of proven discrimination, rooting it out and dealing with it.

The fact that Director of Law Bill Norman, who with then CEO Jim Wilkie visited the offices of the EHRC on 13th July 2011, was later suspended from his role casts further doubt upon the safety of the DLA Piper conclusion of “no disability discrimination”.

Councillor Simon Mountney had attempted to present copies of the above EHRC letter for consideration by the Council’s Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee when it sat on 18th January 2011.  However this was blocked by the chair, Moira McLaughlin for the reason that she hadn’t been advised about it before the start of the meeting.  Upon taking advice from a solicitor seated next to her, and reading the contents of the letter, she was heard to say to the room in general, “You don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers  do you?”  This was a reference to the following news article, which had appeared in The Wirral Globe that week:

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/8788691.Watchdog_accuses_Wirral_Council_of_discrimination_against_disabled_people/

I am hopeful that since the LGA have set up an “Improvement Board”, which is reportedly aiming to discover where it all went wrong, and to turn around the performance of this failed council, there may be a chance to:

A. Re-establish and re-invigorate Mike Smith’s original finding of disability discrimination

B. Dispense with the bizarre DLA Piper UK conclusion

C. Progress towards making the real perpetrators accountable

I made a serious and comprehensive standards complaint against Councillor Moira McLaughlin some time ago, but by the time these issues came up for consideration, she had become Mayor and the complaint was unsuccessful.  Here is a copy of the decision:

The now suspended Director of Law, Bill Norman played a leading role in this failed complaint.  Since his status and former position has come under question, I will consider applying to resubmit this complaint.  There is currently an anticipation of a number of separate serious charges being brought against him (now departed from the council) and his suspended colleagues, Ian Coleman (now departed from the council), David Taylor-Smith and David Green.  This will be in response to their potential involvement in massive failings in corporate governance, accompanied by huge losses of public revenue.

I placed an FoI request with Wirral Council in February 2012 asking for copies of all correspondence between DLA Piper UK LLP and Wirral Council, but it’s followed an identical path to that of numerous other requests, and has been added to a lengthening list of requests that are quite simply not being addressed or acknowledged.  These now have an average response time of over 6 months:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/request_for_copies_of_correspond#outgoing-193727

Here is a link to an associated Freedom of Information request made to Wirral Council, regarding law firm DLA Piper, which requests 8 separate and relevant pieces of information, but which has also run long overdue:

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

The man previously in charge of Freedom of Information at Wirral Council is the now departed Acting Chief Executive Ian Coleman.

UPDATE   2nd August 2012

I recently sent an email to Wirral’s Director of Adult Social Services Graham Hodkinson to request figures for how many of the financially abused tenants of the three Moreton Supported Living establishments had received what was termed “reimbursement”.  Originally, approximately £500,000 was unlawfully taken, however only about half of this was returned due to the imposition of what many people regarded as a legally dubious “retrospective charging policy”.

Here are the figures, supplied this afternoon.  At this stage, it’s uncertain whether the tenants were ‘clobbered’ again by having their benefits reduced due to receipt of a so-called “windfall” (most people would regard this as outrageous, as the money was taken unlawfully in the first place – and why on earth should people be made to suffer twice through no fault of their own?)

I’ve thanked Mr Hodkinson’s staff for providing this information, and have asked for further information to clarify whether the recipients’ benefits were adversely affected.  I’ve been told that the information is held, and it is being prepared for publication in a report to the Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee in September, which will be made accessible on the Council website.

UPDATE   24th August 2012

Angela Eagle has been in touch today by letter:

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:

In addition to the above ongoing threat of abuse, caused by the council’s concealment of identities within the AKA report, and its reluctance to discipline its own officers, in his letter dated 29th December 2010 (see above), Mike Smith of the Equality and Human Rights Commission asserted that there had been disability discrimination committed by Wirral Council when for a period of many years they unlawfully debited sums from the bank accounts of 16 tenants living in supported accommodation in Moreton, Wirral.

This conclusion was in my opinion inescapable.  Mr Smith then asked Anna Klonowski Associates to “identify whether there are other issues or systemic problems that need to be addressed.”

However, for whatever reason, Anna Klonowski may have been forgetful, negligent or may have instructed DLA Piper Solicitors incorrectly.  How is this even possible, given the subject matter?  They appear to have addressed this matter with entirely the wrong purpose; that of finessing a position where Mike Smith’s verdict of disability discrimination could be refuted – which ultimately, it was.

Within the AKA Report, DLA Piper Solicitors duly arrived at the opposite conclusion to Mike Smith.  Wirral Council have now breached Statutory Law in not responding to give a reason why they are not supplying copies of the correspondence that passed between DLA Piper Solicitors and themselves.

I am now hopeful that Mr Smith will re-read his original letter to Angela Eagle MP, and digest the relevant appendix to the AKA report, along with compelling evidence I am planning to supply, before reasserting his original finding – that there was disability discrimination committed by Wirral Council – and not just in Angela Eagle’s constituency.  It also occurred in a number of other Wirral Supported Living establishments.

I still await Wirral Council’s response to the DLA Piper freedom of information request, which was lodged back on 4th February 2012:

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

In it, I requested copies of all correspondence between Wirral Council and DLA Piper UK LLP Solicitors, but the Council have been dragging their feet for an awfully long time now.  I have been forced to appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office once again.  I do wish the penny would drop, and Wirral Council would realise that their blanket refusals are only putting off the inevitable.

Smearing 10 members of the Wirral public in order to mask your own poor performance (which the council have now done in this report) won’t wash with the ICO.

UPDATE   30th August 2012

Email trail forwarded to Joyce Redfearn, chair of Wirral Council’s ‘Improvement Board’.  She passed this on in turn to the Acting Chief Executive at the time, David Armstrong – who failed to respond

From: Joyce Redfearn

Sent: 30 August 2012 15:07

To: Paul C

Cc: David Armstrong; Graham Burgess

Subject: Re: Disability Discrimination
Dear Mr Cardin
I am acknowledging receipt of your email as you requested.
The issue you raise is one to which Wirral Council should respond . Mr Frater has now left the Council so I am forwarding your email to the acting Chief Executive Mr David Armstrong who will ensure that your email receives appropriate attention.
Best wishes
Joyce Redfearn


On 27 Aug 2012, at 22:20, Paul C wrote:
Dear Ms Redfearn,
There’s an important issue covered in the emails below; that of Wirral Council’s historical disability discrimination, carried out deliberately over several years – raised with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission some time ago, and with Mr Frater last month.
However, despite being “remunerated” a reported £1,200 per day, he has failed to acknowledge the original email, nor the reminder sent recently. I’d appreciate it if you could acknowledge receipt of this one with me, and then discuss and action the matters raised with Mr Frater, possibly during the Improvement Board sessions which you are privileged to chair. You may wish to remind him that the issue has now been taken up again with my local MP Angela Eagle, in part due to his ongoing failure.
I was told today that Paul Burstow MP, the minister concerned, is writing to me this week to update me on the related issue of an ongoing threat of abuse to vulnerable people – on Wirral and further afield, created and enabled by Wirral Council’s quite calculated failure to safeguard their wellbeing,
Best regards and thank you in advance,
Paul Cardin


From: Paul C

Sent: 23 August 2012 14:26

To: ‘michaelfrater@wirral.gov.uk’

Cc: ‘graham.burgess@blackburn.gov.uk’; ‘Green, Jeff E. (Councillor)’; ‘phildavies’; ‘eaglea@parliament.uk’

Subject: FW: Disability Discrimination
Dear Mr Frater,
We are approaching a month since I sent the email below, but I haven’t received a response.
When you have the opportunity, I would very much appreciate an acknowledgment and response,
Many thanks,
Paul Cardin


From: Paul C

Sent: 26 July 2012 23:36

To: ‘michaelfrater@wirral.gov.uk’ Cc: ‘Anna Klonowski’; ‘grahamburgess@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘Green, Jeff E. (Councillor)’; ‘phildavies’ Subject: Disability Discrimination
Dear Mr Frater,
Back in 2010, I visited one of Angela Eagle MP’s surgeries and raised the subject of Wirral Council’s unlawful charging policy. This was something that I regarded as systematic disability discrimination.
This discrimination had been committed both prior to and since Social Services’ senior staff ignored the detailed submissions of a whistleblower (Martin Morton), who had told them it was wrong and unlawful. But the Adult Social Services Department continued to deduct payments from the bank accounts of 16 learning disabled residents of three supported living accommodations in Moreton, Wirral. It is believed this unlawful charging occurred for a period of up to 9 years, perhaps longer. As you will be aware, Mr Morton, in return for his public-spirited actions was forced out of his job, and I believe he is now unemployed.
Quite apart from the proven bullying and alleged mobbing of Mr Morton, I viewed the taking of this money from vulnerable people as disability discrimination, as did Mike Smith, the Chair of the Disability Committee of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. In addressing Angela Eagle’s initial query, Mike Smith had written to her on 29th December 2010, confirming this and I attach his letter for you to read.
Within the letter, Mike Smith states that this was disability discrimination, because he disagrees with Bill Norman’s opinion on it. He goes on “…Mr Cardin’s concerns should be included in the inquiry (Anna Klonowski inquiry), in order to identify whether there are other issues or systemic problems that need to be addressed.”
In other words, disability discrimination was “a given” – and the inquiry should now focus on looking for other issues or problems needing to be addressed.
However, whether through breakdown of communication, malpractice or incompetence, the law firm assuming the “disability discrimination role”, DLA Piper UK LLP (see pp. 240 to 249 of AKA report), did not address Mike Smith’s concerns at all. They were either instructed, or took it upon themselves to adopt a much narrower remit, determining whether or not there HAD BEEN disability discrimination throughout a number of different time periods, eventually deciding overall that there hadn’t. Which flew in the face of Mike Smith’s opinion and failed to address his stated requirements.
Prior to this letter, the now suspended Director of Law Bill Norman had reached his own conclusion, in Mike Smith’s opinion wrongly, that there hadn’t been disability discrimination. I am concerned that a reasonable assumption by any third party would consider this arrangement to be suspect, given that Mike Smith’s concerns weren’t addressed, and that large amounts of public money in the form of solicitors’ fees were involved.
As I’m sure you will appreciate, unaddressed disability discrimination is an extremely urgent, serious and compelling subject, and I would be very grateful if you could acknowledge receipt of this email and then make enquiries of Anna Klonowski, Bill Norman, Surjit Tour and any other officers who may have been in a position to allow sloppiness or malpractice to creep in where it should not be permitted to,
Best regards,
Paul Cardin
<AngelaEagle1.pdf><AngelaEagle2.pdf><AngelaEagle2a.pdf>

<<<<<<<<<<18th November 2012 Annotation: David Armstrong has NEVER responded, to this or any other email I’ve sent with the subject line “Disability Discrimination>>>>>>>>>

UPDATE   25th September 2012

This afternoon, I rang The Information Commissioner’s Office for an update on the above freedom of information request.  I was told that the case was escalated in July 2012, but the team dealing with such cases are currently dealing with those escalated in May 2012.

So, given this rate of progress, in another two months’ time, my case will be dealt with.  Not exactly heartening is it, given the subject matter?

I will ring the senior ICO manager in an attempt to get him to promote it and have it dealt with quicker.  This is unaddressed disability discrimination after all.

UPDATE    26th September 2012

Email to Complaints manager, Information Commissioner’s Office

Case FS50445302
FAO [Manager’s name redacted]
Dear [Manager’s name redacted],
I spoke with your colleague [investigating officer name redacted] yesterday regarding this case.  It is another one in which Wirral Council, through unexplained delays, appear to have breached Statutory Law.
The case relates directly to disability discrimination and to the finding of Mike Smith of the Equality and Human Rights Commission that the Council discriminated against at least 16 learning disabled people across an 11 year period, the result of which was £700,000 plus being unlawfully debited from their bank accounts in charges.  This finding was reached in early 2011.
The independent Anna Klonowski reported in January of this year, finding that there was no disability discrimination – however, in my opinion, it was not within the remit of the law firm DLA Piper UK LLP, the firm assigned to this area of work, to arrive at this conclusion.  I complained to my own MP, Angela Eagle originally in late 2010 about disability discrimination and I am hoping to have Mike Smith’s finding verified in order that the council can be made legally liable to recompense the recipients of what was calculated discrimination.
I am aware that the ICO complaints department is extremely busy and under-resourced, but in order to bring a decision about as soon as possible, expediency in aiming to access the important correspondence between the council and the law firm is crucial, and I would be very grateful if you could use your power as complaints manager to advance the case and have it dealt with more quickly.
If you need to discuss this issue my mobile phone contact number is [contact number redacted]
yours sincerely,
Paul Cardin
UPDATE   4th October 2012
Good news.  I’ve had an email from a senior case officer at the ICO:

PROTECT

 4 October 2012

 Case Reference Number FS50445302

 Dear Mr Cardin

Further to our letter of 9 July 2012, I write to inform you that your case has now been allocated to me to investigate and to inform you of how I intend to resolve the matter.

It is clear that Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council have failed to provide a response to your request despite the ICO’s intervention in June 2012. I therefore intend to issue a decision notice requiring Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council to provide you with an adequate response in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

I hope to issue the decision notice within the next 2 weeks. 

I trust this is satisfactory.

Yours sincerely

[Name redacted]
Senior Case Officer

It’s not the required outcome, at least not yet…. but it’s another Decision Notice (which is a legal document) to add to the ever-growing pile.  This is likely to shine the spotlight onto Wirral Council’s methods, and is potentially another nail in the coffin of the disability discrimination, perpetrated for over a decade by this council.
UPDATE 10th October 2012
The decision notice FS50445302 was received today and is reproduced below:

This Decision Notice is now up on the ICO website, and can be linked to here:

http://www.ico.gov.uk/~/media/documents/decisionnotices/2012/fs_50445302.ashx

I noticed today that Wirral has received 17 Decision Notices so far.  For comparison purposes, Birmingham City Council – the largest UK Local Authority – has received only 10.  Kent County Council, another biggie, has received only 6.  This would seem to indicate Wirral are getting something wrong.

Another telling area is that of “complaints”.  An appeal can form 1 complaint, or if more complex be broken down into a number of separate ones.  Wirral’s 17 Decision notices make up a total of 38 complaints.  36 of these have been upheld or partially upheld on behalf of the complainant.
Turning to the subject matter, once again Wirral haven’t responded since February this year, and are in breach of Statutory Law, having failed to meet their obligations under the Act.
I suspect they will eventually plead legal privilege on this. (Did you know that data controllers are allowed to change their reasoning for withholding information as the process pans out?  That’s right.  If the first, second or third excuse doesn’t fit the bill, let’s try a fourth)….. is it any wonder the process can become SO painful and drawn out for requesters?  The chances are Wirral will soon end up back under the Information Commissioner’s own particular version of  ‘special measures’, having learned nothing since the last time this happened.
They now have until 14th November 2012 to provide the information or issue a valid refusal notice under Section 17(1).
UPDATE   14th November 2012
Nothing in yet.  Tomorrow, I’ll pick this up again and take it on to the next stage with the ICO.
UPDATE   9th November 2012
the following link contains some rather disturbing news about the Disability Committee of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and Mike Smith’s future as chair:
UPDATE   18th November 2012
Second emailed reminder sent this morning to David Armstrong, former Interim Chief Executive.  He was contacted in August on my behalf by Angela Eagle MP, but has never responded:
From: Paul C

Sent: 18 November 2012 09:54
To: ‘davidarmstrong@wirral.gov.uk’
Cc: ‘grahamburgess@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘joyceredfearn@gmail.com’; ‘eaglea@parliament.uk’; ‘Tour, Surjit’
Subject: RE: Disability Discrimination

Dear Mr Armstrong,

Have you responded yet to my local MP’s urgent letter, dated 23rd August 2012, sent to you months ago?

This ongoing lack of response doesn’t bode well and is not in keeping with your role / responsibilities as a senior public servant.  Please check again the subject matter of this email.  Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council are entrusted with important obligations where the welfare of vulnerable and disabled people are concerned.  However, all the evidence taken together seems to point to them being near the ‘bottom of the pile’ where the council’s priorities are concerned.

I look forward to hearing from you this coming week,

Best regards,

Paul Cardin

From: Paul C
Sent: 22 September 2012 23:25
To: ‘davidarmstrong@wirral.gov.uk’
Cc: ‘grahamburgess@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘joyceredfearn@gmail.com’; ‘eaglea@parliament.uk’
Subject: Disability Discrimination

Dear Mr Armstrong,

I still await some acknowledgment or response to the issue that was raised with you recently in a letter from Angela Eagle and also in an email from Joyce Redfearn (both attached).  If the matter has been passed onto somebody else, please advise who,

best regards,

Paul Cardin

UPDATE   19th November 2012
Email in today from the ICO:

PROTECT

19 November 2012

Case Reference Number FS50445302

Dear Mr Cardin

I am writing in response to your email of 15.11.12.

I have called the council today to enquire why it has not yet complied with the decision notice dated 16.10.12. This will be looked into by the council and it will get back to me later today or tomorrow.

The Commissioner has discretion as to how to deal with public authorities who have not complied with a decision notice and whether to deal with such a failure as contempt of court pursuant to section 54 of the FOIA. Once I have heard back from the council I will contact you again to inform you how ICO intends to deal with this matter.

Yours sincerely
[officer name redacted]
Senior Case Officer
____________________________________________________________________

This refers to the FoI request FS50445302 (asking for correspondence between Wirral Council and solicitors’ firm DLA Piper.  This one is now 9 months old and the process of extracting responses and answers has become slow and painful.

Recently, the Council finally did come up with a Section 41 Exemption (Protecting the confidentiality of information belonging to a ‘person’ (DLA Piper)).
However, I believe this exemption to be inappropriate and unsatisfactory – and also not engaged as regards correspondence which the Council has generated (which is simply not covered by a Section 41 exemption).
The Council’s attempt to engage Section 41 is detailed here:

Link to this

My response was as follows:

From: Paul Cardin

23 November 2012

Dear Lyon, Rosemary A.,

Firstly, please provide all correspondence generated by yourself
(under the terms of the original request).

I don’t believe the information that the council generated with
regard to this can be covered by a Section 41 Exemption. Having
already travelled as far as the Information Commissioner’s Office
and received a legal document in the form of a ‘Decision Notice’
instructing you to act, I look forward to receiving this forthwith,
without any need to internally review or put any further obstacles
in the way (I don’t think the FOI Act permits an internal review
AFTER a decision notice has been sent.)

Secondly, as for the information generated by DLA Piper UK LLP, I
believe there is an overriding public interest attached to the
release of the information.

• Wirral Council has a statutory duty to protect its vulnerable
people – for the good of society. It has quite deliberately failed
in this through unlawfully taking at least £700,000 from the bank
accounts of many disabled Wirral people over a period of many
years. When informed in great detail about this internally by
Martin Morton, the council failed to stop it, bullied him out of
his job, and carried on doing it – see the findings of the Martin
Smith and Anna Klonowski Independent reports. The Equalities and
Human Rights Commission found that this amounted to disability
discrimination – the very subject matter of this request

• As a result of this disability discrimination, vulnerable members
of the public have had their wellbeing adversely affected. Flowing
directly from this, their ability to defend themselves against the
threat of abuse has been severely diminished, because their
confidence in their statutory protector – the local council (who
now deny them access to information) – has been so badly damaged.
The council itself has been forced to admit to abuse of learning
disabled tenants

• Despite this admission, there has been no reckoning or
accountability yet for any of the councillors or senior public
servants directly involved in these scandals – indeed currently,
there is a drive (originating with the Council’s legal head) to
keep the names within the investigation reports hidden. The public
are still waiting for ‘right to be done’ – for the good of society.
But whilst they wait, there have been pay offs and there have been
gagging clauses, used to stop former employees talking, concealed
within compromise agreements. And there have been six figure sums
paid to silence people who were found by independent investigations
to have been connected to abusive behaviour towards vulnerable and
disabled members of society

• Given the history of failed governance, which has also spread
into other council departments, vulnerable people and their carers
now need to be able to seek redress and rebuild their confidence in
the body which is entrusted with looking out for their welfare.
They can do this by gaining access to information and to areas that
appear to have been deliberately closed off through confidentiality
– the written exchanges between the council and the law firms whose
services are continuing to be purchased with large amounts of
public money. Confidentiality is a factor; I don’t deny this; but I
believe it is dwarfed by the urgent need for transparency, for the
legitimate and compelling public interest to be satisfied, and
ultimately for the good of society

• I don’t believe in this case that confidentiality can be a
justified obstacle to openness and transparency and the good of
society. There are now some very compelling questions that need to
be asked of the law firm DLA Piper. Such as, how they arrived at a
finding that there was no disability discrimination? How did the
EHRC suggestion that disability discrimination, once confirmed, and
investigated to see where it occurred, and how far it spread –
become completely subverted – and changed to a remit which failed
to acknowledge and recognise the EHRC finding, and looked simply
for whether disability discrimination had occurred or not – only to
find that it “hadn’t occurred”?

• On Wirral, where so much suffering has been caused over such a
long period of time (10 years plus). I don’t believe that grave
matters such as systematic abuse and disability discrimination, and
the correspondence surrounding this, can be blocked through a
Section 41 exemption on the grounds of ‘confidentiality’. The good
of society is paramount and needs to be served in this case

I will be contacting the Information Commissioner’s Office for
further advice,

Yours sincerely,

Paul Cardin

UPDATE   25th November 2012

Updating email sent to the ICO this morning:

From: Paul C [mailto:info@easyvirtualassistance.co.uk]
Sent: 25 November 2012 07:30
To: ‘casework@ico.gsi.gov.uk’
Subject: FW: Response to email of 15.11.12[Ref. FS50445302]

Dear Deborah Clark,

Thank you for your email of 19th November 2012.

On 22nd November 2012 I received a response from Rosemary Lyon, a solicitor at Wirral Council, who informed me that the council was relying upon a Section 41 Exemption within the FOIA.  Whilst I regard Confidentiality as an important factor, given the circumstances, I do not accept this as adequate justification to continue withholding the information in this case.

In accordance with ICO Awareness Guidance 2, I also believe Wirral Council is incorrect in applying Section 41 to information generated by the council itself.

 

“The exemption does not cover information which the public authority has generated itself, although it may cover documents (or parts of documents) generated by the public authority if these contain confidential information provided by a third party.”

The ICO Advice note clearly disallows the blanket withholding of this information.  Section 41 is therefore not engaged with regard to the majority of the content of this correspondence.  I would now like you to enforce my subsequent request and require Wirral Council to publicly disclose their own generated correspondence in accordance with ICO Awareness Guidance 2.

As for the correspondence generated by DLA Piper, I have advised Wirral Council that I am not happy with their response and that I plan to return to the ICO for advice.  I have set out my reasoning in a reply which is reproduced on the WhatDoTheyKnow website at the following link.  This reasoning is also provided to the ICO in order to help you further my case for disclosure:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/request_for_copies_of_correspond#outgoing-193727

In light of the ongoing controversy surrounding two independent investigations which found bullying; abuse of power; abuse of disabled people; serious failures in corporate governance, but no accountability for those involved – followed by the subsequent attempted suppression of information, my justification for disclosure of this correspondence is set out in the terms:

“The need for Confidentiality v The Public Good”.

Disability discrimination by Wirral Council (who have a statutory obligation to protect the welfare of disabled people) was originally found by Mike Smith, Chair of the Disabilities Committee of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission in December 2010, and has been taken up on my behalf by my representative in Parliament, Angela Eagle MP.

I look forward to receiving your advice on this matter in the near future,

Best regards,

Paul Cardin

UPDATE   26th November 2012

An answer has arrived and its not good news!  This looks like ‘back to square one’.  Is this what’s known as death by bureaucracy?

PROTECT

26 November 2012

Case Reference Number FS50445302

Dear Mr Cardin

Further to your email of 25 November 2012, as the council has now responded to your request but applied an exemption to withhold the information, a new case will be set up to deal with the complaint and you will be contacted by our First Contact department in due course.

Yours sincerely

[Officer name redacted]
Senior Case Officer
_____________________________________________________

I recently received a response from James Baldwin, who appears to be Angela Eagle’s parliamentary assistant.  He sent me a letter he’d received that day from Vivienne Stone of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Here is the letter:

29 11 12 - Vivienne Stone EHRC page 129 11 12 - Vivienne Stone EHRC page 2

29 11 12 - Vivienne Stone EHRC page 3

What’s really perplexing about this letter is in the underlined section above, Vivienne Stone appears to be denying the contents of Mike Smith’s original letter, sent in late December 2010 (see the top of this post).  Mike Smith’s letter never advised Wirral to appoint anybody to ‘look for disability discrimination’.  It had already been found.  We also can’t satisfy ourselves on what transpired between Sheila Kumar, Jim Wilkie and Bill Norman on 13th July 2011.  Are there any minutes for this meeting?  Was Mike Smith’s opinion ignored or overriden?

There is no absence of detailed information – because Mike Smith received enough information in 2010 to confirm that there had been years of disability discrimination towards learning disabled Supported Living tenants.

It was then a case of Anna Klonowski going away, investigating and seeing how this had impacted and how far it extended.

Chief Executive Jim Wilkie was later forced to leave the council.  Bill Norman was later suspended, along with three of his colleagues and, although ultimately he had ‘no case to answer’, I believe that from this point, his historical opinion that there was ‘no disability discrimination’ became tarnished.

It is time to reaffirm Mike Smith’s original findings,  and act upon over a decade of disability discrimination, carried out by Wirral Council, a body which has a statutory obligation to protect the welfare and interests of its own disabled people.

UPDATE   6th December 2012

David Armstrong replied today to the letter that Angela Eagle sent him on my behalf back in August.  Remember August?  No, thought not.

My comments are in black.

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.  (But did the new Chief Executive write to Angela Eagle, to acknowledge the original letter? If not, why not?)

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.  (Why didn’t you advise both Angela Eagle and me of this course of action back in August?) 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. (Thank you.)

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. (Surjit Tour has not made any attempt to answer this point.  It is preventing those complicit in abuse / disability discrimination from being identified.  Do I have to send all my emails again or being met with a wall of silence, somehow fathom their whereabouts and exactly whose in-tray they may be sitting in?)

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. (It has happened.  I am waiting for Angela Eagle to respond and have been since September.  So much for ‘urgency’.)

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

UPDATE   13th January 2012

Reminder to the ICO:

From: Paul C [mailto:info@easyvirtualassistance.co.uk]
Sent: 13 January 2013 22:52
To: ‘casework@ico.gsi.gov.uk’
Subject: RE: Application of exemption[Ref. FS50445302]

Dear [Senior officer name redacted],

I have not been contacted in a very long time by your ‘First Contact Department’.

Please can you re-acquaint yourself with the issues and respond, with advice on what is happening?

Many thanks,

Paul Cardin

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