The Lowdown From Highbrow

Face it 1

Now we’ve never professed to fully understand the BIG/ISUS/Working Neighbourhoods whistleblowing case.

However knowing what whistleblowers Nigel “Highbrow” Hobro and James Griffiths  were up against when dealing with Wirral Council we felt our role was not to understand the finer points of forensic accounting but to provide the whistleblowers with an outlet for their justifiable frustration and a platform to make their case.

We firmly believe that the public interest demands that dissenting voices should be heard and not crushed beneath the “bureaucratic machinations” in which Wirral Council still seem to excel.

We make no apologies if those dissenting voices are sometimes too coarse and discordant for the delicate sensibilities of those safely cosseted by huge salaries and positions of power.

Therefore we’d like to thank Nigel Hobro for acting in the public interest and sending us his considered response to the forced release this week of a long withheld report which we’ve printed below. It appears that , as ever with these kind of cases , the devil is in the appendices.

https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/ghost-story/

For those who struggle with the technicalities we’d just ask that you consider the human interest stories that lie behind the cold hard facts – the careers destroyed,the businesses ruined and the appalling waste of public money.It still seems there are still a few people left who want things done PROPERLY but who are thwarted by those whose face fits but who won’t face the truth and DO THE RIGHT THING.

Dear Lord Leaky,

With great reluctance,- I have work to do, tennis to play in this fine weather and a superb Joseph Conrad short story to read- I have taken up my pen again to write of matters BIG and ISUS. Fear not I will try not to wear out the patience of your readers who look for amusement and biting satire within your blog.

I will not re-run all the arguments about what was criminal and what was not but look at it “holistically” to borrow a phrase from the Principal Auditor’s report of January 2012.

Wirral Council’s Surjit Tour and successive CEO’s have gone to an awful amount of trouble firstly to conceal the existence of the above report, and finally not to release its contents. The papers for the July 2014 meeting had redacted an entire paragraph j from the “Timmins” report into the inadequacy-“not fit for purpose”- Garry audit report which raised eyebrows and comments even at that ill-fated and broken up meeting. In the three month interim I appealed to the Information Commissioner who obliged the council to remove most of the redactions in the paper bundle for the October reconvened meeting. Paragraph j read

“There is on file a previous, and much more detailed, draft report REDACTED  which includes numerous evidential appendices……However ,for the avoidance of doubt, I would not consider that this report could be released into the public domain and has, in any case, been superseded”

Logic would demand to know how it can have been superseded by a 33 page Garry report “not fit for purpose” what with it containing the very things Mr Garry has not got i.e. “numerous evidential appendices”!. The January 2012 report was very detailed and it was a little more than a DRAFT for it was deemed fit to send to the Head of Law. It had been prepared by the person who had been, before departing the Authority in January 2012, the direct superior to Mr Garry! Indeed that report indicates that it was passed over to Mr Garry to complete only insofar as to receive the M L Engineering and Installation Ltd from Mr Hobro, which in fact was passed over days before.

A reasonable reader would wonder what would induce WBC to spend a further £50,000 on (auditors) Grant Thornton where half the fee would be to re-work the near complete BIG report of January 2012. Perhaps to find a good time, and much delayed, to release bad news. With hindsight we know that Cllr Davies’ press release on receipt of Grant Thornton’s report in March 2013 has a double-edged meaning. He refers to the “known failures of Internal audit” whereas we read the January 2012 report all 370 pages thereof, fully indexed and with supporting evidence, and applaud the preparer of it. We do boo Mr Garry’s lamentable attempt to cover up for his masters.

Somehow Mr Tour had deemed it proper to refer to the Police and yet permit Mr  Garry to procrastinate on a report for a full eight months. Mr Garry left his investigations on ISUS during that long interval with a telephone call to wirralbiz!

What of the sense of the DRAFT report of January 2012 among its many, many pages?

Nowhere to be found is a suggestion that either Mr Griffiths or myself were acting in the public interest but plenty of comment is made upon “Vendetta” against the BIG contractor Mr Paul Davies of Fieldcrest Ltd, that I was “having a go” at Mr Davies. The reader should understand the acronym “WB” meaning Whistleblower, was only given just before the November 2011 meeting with the PA and with Mr D Garry at the finance building. Mr Norman, then Head of Law, deliberated on whether we were motivated by personal and not public interest and needed to accept our pure motivations before the interview could commence!. The Timmins review of September 2012 was certainly correct to allude to this bias. It does not refer to the result of Mr Norman’s decision, that we were in a contractual relationship with WBC based on their published whistleblower policy for direct employees and subcontractors alike. The policy promised regular updates on progress and expedition in pursuing the policy. Neither took place.

Can we forgive the detectable bias towards defending colleagues discernible, for example, in the Lockwood Engineering Ltd case? The Principal Auditor {PA} accepts the Chief Accountant’s defence that in one month it is possible that there was a profit of £105,000! PA says that my comments re disappearance of £36,043 VAT creditor; appearance of  additional £49k debtors, disappearance of £16k creditors and all whilst the bank account increases, over just one month, are speculative! The PA never asks why the Chief accountant did not note these extraordinary movements between the Balance Sheet of the Management accounts at March 2010 and the Balance sheet used in the cashflow from 1st May 2010, or why a company capable of making £105,000 profit in one month should need a BIG grant.

THE PA does refer to the acting Head of Law, Mr Tour, the movement of assets from Lockwood to Harbac without any apparent payment (confirmed by myself by reference to the Liquidator) as being worthy of referral to external regulators. I discovered this in 2013 and referred it to Mr Tour and Mr Burgess who played dumb, then promised to investigate and come back to me, but never ever did. The penalty for perjury on a schedule of assets and liabilities to a liquidator can be a stiff prison sentence and yet our Council seems to have turned a blind eye to this so as not to let on that a BIG recipient went into liquidation 5 months after receiving public money in a supposedly “robust” process  (see cabinet notes). The press releases and Mr Burgess at the Audit and Risk Management Committee hearing 8th October 2014 refer not to the 5 months but to the much ,much longer period covering the liquidation process, that is to justify themselves by reporting that Lockwood went bust more than 17 months after receiving public money.

We do importantly learn that the financial forecasts were never submitted to the Independent Panel who had to rely on the written application and generally a 1-2 page appraisal from the Chief Accountant. In one case of the five cases that the PA reviews, the appraisal was not written by the Chief Accountant but by regeneration department itself. To Grant Thornton a panel member later expresses that he would have rejected applications had he seen the financials. The PA never records whether she approached panel members with the financial data nor any of their comments. The above is not the robust procedure asked for in the Cabinet’s outline. The Panel members appear in the light of “patsies” to lay a portion of responsibility upon or to claim that they were experts, so there!

We now know that in January 2012 Surjit Tour was aware that a Service Level Agreement had been written without consultation with the WBC legal or HR department and used without safeguards as to being signed by wirralbiz, or as to the quality expected of the work, or even as to outline the responsibilities and qualifications expected of advisors. Invest Wirral was indeed a satrapy in itself paying only nominal homage to its ultimate Emperor. The Invest Wirral officer who received the telephone call from M. Raworth outlining my objections to the BIG files felt herself satrap enough to dismiss me saying “It was approved by our Chief Accountant” and so another three months elapsed until James Griffiths upped the ante himself.

But I have promised not to stray into details and I check myself. Let me record that a process that allows one man to write a two page synopsis for a Panel to decide upon can whether deliberately or by simple omission fail to point out significant issues. In one case privately he confesses that giving public money to one applicant is a “leap of faith” but this does not reach the two page synopsis. Against all good practice no second review by a competent person ever occurs until voluntarily I perform due diligence in April 2011, having been denied access to the files until then.

The process was indeed a failure. BIG was a gimmick for £1.6m over two years would never have made an impact on the economy of Wirral unless it was done expertly and that was unattainable.

ISUS

Does it not seem strange that the PA records the results of details of Invest Wirral examination of wirralbiz files, which abound with delicate rephrasings for FORGED signatures and yet Mr Garry was permitted to drag on his meandering investigation with no sense of urgency? It seems that having seen a steaming turd the lady officers have recoiled in horror and asked of A4e-yes that paragon of virtue-to say it is not so. The PA speaks with Matthew Slack A4e’s  Head of Audit who fesses up re the dragonfly nature of their examination and she notes that no checks were made on the quality of files by Diane Bradbury of WBC or any WBC officer yet her observations do not rock the perceived impregnability of A4e’s audit that nothing is wrong. It took Grant Thornton to shatter that comfortable illusion and a further 29 months before we could read it in published reports.

The PA records she has asked for the ISUS/Working Neighbourhood contracts but does not record whether she received them so we are unaware whether Mr Adderley had as yet produced the excuse that it had been mislaid. She never references the all-important CRM database and makes no effort one month after the closure of ISUS to secure it, quite unlike myself who secured the internal wirralbiz database as evidence of their malpractice ( only accepted as evidence after Grant Thornton had reported). The CRM database in a say it is not so development, disappeared for a very long period indeed!

No alarm bells are loudly sounded that wirralbiz refuses access to its staff for interviews and indeed even to look at files after the ISUS contract terminates (16th December 2014). The PA visits for two hours on 14th December and then the portcullis is closed. If I had been WBC then I would have gone not to the defunct North West Development Agency (NWDA) but to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), the ultimate disbursers of European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) money. When I contacted the DCLG in 2012 they did not seem to have heard from WBC. Only in February 2013 did Mr Burgess write a letter threatening wirralbiz with legal costs should they not permit Grant Thornton entry and access to the files. A year is a long time in not threatening legal action unless you did not want again to see and smell the steaming turd. DCLG had every right by contract to examine the files for up to 25 years after closure of the contract and they did gain access in late 2014 there being nothing wirralbiz could do legally to prevent them (notwithstanding a break-in during 2013 where files may have been claimed to have been taken or put into disarray. Claimed!!).

Just one last thing for which I am grateful to the learned Mr Brace. He posits that the exemption defence used by WBC in the FOI case, that it would prejudice their internal audit function, might be due to the length of time expended in redacting out names from the 370 pages. It could not be used as a defence on cost limits as redactions are not included in the FOI costs exemption. They would never have tried it on because that would have been to admit the quantity of the documents they possessed which astonished myself for a DRAFT report. Scrutiny of the screenshot shows that the H: drive contained much of the information retrieved from directories on the “H:\finance\intaudit\fraud\restored_ from _26_07_14\big-isus2\ wirralbiz” suggesting that the exculpatory comment in the Timmins review that an internal desktop review would cost up to £10,000 might be exaggerated, and simply to buy more time. Cllr  Adrian Jones was told the papers were scattered to the four winds, hardly the actions of an internal auditor more those of a madman or maybe a dissembler.

Read the above whistleblower of the future and think twice.

“Typhoon” calls which makes for better reading.

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4 thoughts on “The Lowdown From Highbrow

  1. A typhoon is brewing from the Harbac /Lockwood quarter and it is speculation but…?

    I cannot think of any rational explanation as to why this detailed report was not finished and presented by March 2012, none at all.

    So what if the Principal auditor’s point about asset stripping on page 12 et alia was the reason?

    Have not many peccadilloed, tried to cover it up and dug a deeper and deeper hole?

    A civil servant heads up Regeneration , covets more, but his department has blown it by passing £20,000 of public money to a company that goes bust in months. Way out? Why not transfer it to a successor company, it was the clients suggestion and then no-one will know. Then a whistleblower a month later refers to Lockwood stating his reworked cashflow shows Lockwood will go bust(it does unbeknown to the whistleblower till late May)..panic. Diane Bradbury simply rejects allegations without investigation. Breathing space. James Griffiths ups the ante by directly confronting said civil servant who blurts out “no BIG company has ever gone bust”. Now the matter is out of civil servants control as it goes to Principal auditor who includes recommendation that WBC consider referring Lockwood/Harbac possibility of asset stripping to regulators. Conveniently Principal auditor retires on health grounds. No-one must see this report!! A peccadillo has become deadly serious and career threatening so someone writes that this PA’s report has been superseded by a 33 page piece of junk! Get Grant Thornton in as that will take months and insist that any BIG completion wait on ISUS to be complete cos that, with wirralbiz refusing access, will take ages. When Grant Thornton reports available delay for further research , that is another 4 months. Hobro asks direct question at Full council meeting so dammit let Executive summary be published. A river of time is flooding between the peccadillo and the discovery of it and still we can redact out any reference to a 370 page report. We can get i one year further delay and then quote exemptions. Alarm and alack the Information Commissioner insists..in the interim tender for voluntary severance.

    Game over.

    any other suggestions for the crazy series of baffling events that did occur?

    If this surmise is right then think of the expense , havoc, waste of time and the escape of wirralbiz directors from prosecution . all to prevent one peccadillo from being discovered.

  2. Well done Nigel & James having gone through the 370 pages it appears that the so called professionals gave reasons why not to allow the funding and in the closing paragraphs rubber stamped the funds took their fees & as far as I can see they do not know the meaning of due diligence in approving the grants. As far a lockwood/harbac are concerned what was done was criminal & what did WBC do to recover the £20k nothing. It appears that thanks to both your efforts this can of worms has been brought into the public domain and the extent of the huge cover up by council officials and the companies administering the funds.
    I know it is no consolation that both of you lost your jobs for telling the truth and exposing the wrong doing but you can both hold your heads up high as honest decent human beings

  3. G’day My Lord

    “Highbrow” tennis, Joseph Conrad book and all before lunch.

    I’d say

    GAME

    SET

    AND

    MATCH

    You lying rotten conniving cheating barstards.

    Ooroo

    James

    Ps Oh Fartin Lobsterpot good luck with shining that turd, those turds.

    Luv you Lordly for your support, good humour and knowing right from wrong.
    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

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