UPDATED: Cheques, lies and video tape. Wirral Council incapable of apologising…

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10th November 2012

This first Freedom of Information request, placed with Wirral Council’s Information Governance section is looking for costs and further information around the reputed ordering and supply of a turquoise and green range of plush office furniture, reputedly amounting to £30,000 and ordered from a company called Jenkinsons Office Supplies.  In addition to this, rather than employing elbow grease in the traditional way, a new Town Hall machination, in the shape of a dishwasher was also placed on order, and presumably by now, this will be plumbed in and churning away.

FoI request here: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/new_furniture_equipment_for_offi

The second request is related to the “What Really Matters” consultation, recently undertaken by the council.  As part of this strategy, a top local creative design company, Mills Media, which numbers amongst its clients: Newsquest (publishers of the Wirral Globe); Cammel Laird; Shell; Muller, and the local police, was commissioned to create a top quality video (duration 13 minutes).

Here is a link to excerpts from the Wirral Council video, produced under the title “What Really Matters” and starring CEO Graham Burgess and Council Leader Phil Davies.

FoI request here: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/marketing_advertising_agency_wor

Mills Media were also on hand in November 2010 to cover this ‘momentous occasion’.

To finish on a positive, here are some words of comfort from Wirral Council’s new CEO Graham Burgess:

We therefore need to spend less on ourselves in order to help mitigate the impact of the cuts on our most vulnerable residents……

UPDATE   13th December 2012

Yesterday, the Wirral Globe picked up on the Mills Media FoI request and ran a story under the headline “Slasher Movie: Wirral Council Spends £5,700 on ‘cuts’ video” – to bring the Wirral public’s attention to the thousands that were spent on a professional video “starring Wirral Council’s political leader and its Chief Executive”:

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/10104361.UPDATED__Slasher_movie__Wirral_Council_spends___5_700_on__cuts__video/?ref=mc

I’ve managed to locate these shorter videos on the Council’s website (none of which feature Councillor Phil Davies):

Families and Wellbeing video (06:11)

[excerpt: “The Council has a duty to protect its most vulnerable adults, children and families”]

Transformation and Resources video (06:31)

[excerpt: “The Council is also proposing to reduce what is spent on marketing, through things like advertising…”]

Regeneration and Environment video (06:07)

[excerpt: “…First thing you told us was to spend less on ourselves…to do everything possible to reduce the impact of spending cuts…”]

I’m not sure what happened to the original 13 minute video, but the link from the Mills Media web page has never worked.  Maybe the Chief Executive’s introductory section and the three separate areas added up to 13 minutes originally?

UPDATE   18th December 2012

Here, we have proof that if you keep the pressure up on Wirral Council, eventually they will do something amazingly stupid.

They were found to have lied in response to this Freedom of Information request re: Mills Media and the “What Really Matters” video(s).

Here’s a link to an article in the Wirral Globe website

Somebody at the council decided to massage the figures regarding exactly how much was spent on video(s) made at Mills Media.  In response to my request which asked for everything across all departments for this financial year, they sent back an answer of £5,722.  Which misrepresented the true cost and was out by approximately £7,500 !

They were caught out lying, but refused to apologise and even roped in a learning disabled person to publicly back them up – which to me seems desperately cruel, low and devious of them.

Councillor Blakeley has reported this deception to the Information Commissioner and asked the Council to apologise to the Wirral public.

I expect to see a public apology soon – for lying – and hopefully for what they did to Ms Carter, and it will be reproduced on these pages.

UPDATE   21st December 2012

It looks like Chief Executive Mr Burgess is not capable of climbing down and accepting that his staff lied.  Instead of an apology, it’s yet another two finger salute from the Council to the local public:

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/10123040.No_public_apology_for_misleading_statement/?action=success

…in other news, Wirral have earned a gong from satirical magazine Private Eye – the prestigious golden bung award AND they’ve been forced to reveal a £5 million black hole in their accounts, as reported in the Wirral Globe.

But given this tendency to ‘mis-speak’, how do we know it isn’t £50 million?

UPDATE   7th January 2013

Still no apology.  More on this from our friends at Wirral Leaks:

http://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/vexed-sighs-and-videotape/

and…

http://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/sorry-seems-to-be-the-hardest-word/

Opinion of Senior Counsel, Hugh Tomlinson QC, on Freedom of Information “ban” by Cheshire West and Chester Council –

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Silhouette of scale

Following Cheshire West & Chester Council’s hideously misconceived “ban” on my statutory FoI and personal Data Protection querying rights, the time has come to release the opinion of Senior Counsel Hugh Tomlinson QC, who has granted his permission.

This “ban” lasted for 20 months, between October 2009 (my leaving date) and June 2011 – original www.whatdotheyknow.com request here – It took an instruction to possibly the country’s most senior privacy lawyer for the council to realise its behaviour was ultra vires and it had gotten too big for its little boots.

The “ban” flew in the face of the council’s own internal Freedom of Information and Data Protection policies (and certainly every other council’s policies up and down the country).  These are always phrased to embrace accessibility, to promote openness and transparency and to speak up for the free and uninterrupted flow of information.  However, the Council’s most senior Data Protection person on site, who understandably had a large hand in drafting Council policy, admitted to me that he was “never consulted” over this defensive and retrograde step.

Neither was this “ban” democratically scrutinised by elected councillors – possibly because there was a danger elected officials may have taken their role seriously and “raised a red flag” upon spotting the folly of it all.

So it became the private, back-office, unscrutinised work of the monitoring officer, Simon Goacher, and his “team” – as trotted out in an email, heavy on the “flannel”, from Councillor Alan McKie, chair of the Staffing Committee.  Despite the council’s lofty public claims to “democratic accountability”, when a “ban” on freedom of information and data protection became a necessity, the legitimate and compelling public interest never really got a look in.

The council have now claimed, in response to a subsequent FoI request of mine that no information is held” on this subject.

With that, the obvious question arises, “Why on earth did they feel the need to do it in the first place?

And now, into the mix comes Hugh Tomlinson QC’s opinion, which gives clarity, and makes an important distinction between historical and future requests.  For me, the key statement is made in paragraph 5:

Opinion of Counsel

The Council failed to give any assistance by clarifying the meaning of the clause, preferring instead to cave in enigmatically.

With the prospect of serious litigation being mounted, the council declared they “did not accept the provisions within the agreement were unlawful”, but it was all a long time ago, and they were now “happy to confirm that [I] was not prohibited from making requests under the [FoI and DP Acts]”.

I’ve interpreted this as the Council running away, taking their little ball with them, and turning back to shout, “We were right all along anyway….”

My reading of counsel’s opinion is:

If an employer proposes a compromise agreement with an FoI / DP gagging clause which seeks to prevent an employee or ex-employee from making FoI / DP requests of this employer, specifically related to the historical circumstances which have led to an employee’s departure, that is OK.

If an employer proposes a compromise agreement with an FoI / DP gagging clause which seeks to prevent an employee or ex-employee from making FoI / DP requests of this employer (or any other employer) in the future that is not OK.

The fact that the agreement is signed in the presence of independent legal advice appears to have some bearing on the former, but not the latterwhich appears to maintain that contract law trumps statutory rights.

But I am NOT a lawyer.  Any comments on this subject are most welcome…

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