The Key To The Lock

KEYHOLE

Following on from yesterday’s Freedom of Information post which anticipates tomorrow’s Notice of Motion set before Wirral Council we proudly present an in depth analysis of and comment on the wirralbiz case by whistleblower Nigel “Highbrow” Hobro.

This was made possible only by the (forced) release of information held by Wirral Council under the Freedom of Information Act.Readers will be able to reflect on the desperate attempts that the Council went to deny the information by use of delays and attempts at exemptions.Furthermore there is a chance to consider the role of the Council’s external auditors Grant Thornton in this long running saga.Our only comment is that in the financial year 2014/15 Wirral Council paid them £259,000  – you do the math and draw your own conclusions!.

The Key to the Lock is Harbac Limited

What key will open up the locked away truth about the obfuscations and dilatoriness of the investigation of wirralbiz? Why would a near complete audit report on BIG be hidden for 3.5 years and only revealed by compulsion from the Information Commissioner? Why would WBC spend £50,000 on a process of independent audit from September 2012 to March 2013; then a further 4 months for “further research”; then a further year before revealing two reports, those of Grant Thornton and Dave Garry Chief Internal Auditor, but deliberately redacting out all mention of that of the Principal Auditor, who had been Mr Garry’s superior. The Council pleaded s36, interference with its conduct of business and s40 of FOI law, not to reveal names of officials, when it delayed the FOI request that wanted sight of this 370 page report of the Principal Auditor, for one full year.

However when WBC published the 370 pages it was littered with references to B Edwards, or “edwardsb”, D Garry; D Bradbury and some further ten of BIG fund recipients that it had already refused to reveal to another FOI request. Perhaps the s40 protection of names of individuals, was a convenient delaying tactic and no more?

Certainly the chaotic mess that the Council was in during early 2012 ,with the alternatives of Parliamentary Commissioners or the Peer Improvement Board before them ,might have been a great incentive to delay the revelation of what would have been another scandal added to the dung-heap of Social Services, Colas and uncollected rents. The wirralbiz revelations might have tipped them over the edge even with the Edwards report as it stands, with its indications of sloppy work; the failure to check files for quality on a multi-million pound contract; the clear indication that Invest Wirral in three days checking of files spurred by James Griffiths whistle-blowing, found 22 of 44 files with forged signatures and multiple other defects in the remaining 22. Such was their concern that they arrested the contract insofar as it paid for 18 month reviews and all non-ISUS work, referred to as wirralbiz +. They did not stop the visible public Lecture series nor the £500 grants just the backroom work. B. Edwards’ report was thereby enough as it stood to prove malfeasance but WBC rather preferred to let that go and unleash the cheats and incompetents on erdf monies ,just not with WBC, giving them leeway without let or hindrance to obtain two further erdf contracts in 2012. Even WBC knowing of the sins of wirralbiz did not stop WBC from meekly washing them right out of their hair by paying them a further £350,000 in final payments, in December 2011, July and October 2012, no questions asked. All the above indicates a deliberate attempt to move the scandal quietly away from WBC and the responsible officers and park the problem on the door-steps of others.
The Dark Heart of the Matter

But there is one matter which crossed into potential criminality and the condoning of it, with only superficial questions asked, and which is the “dark heart” of the matter.

We all expect that a local authority relying on law to conduct its activities should in all matters seek to uphold the law. Where the council can fine litter-bugs with an on-the-spot £80 fine we in parallel expect it to inform other authorities constituted by law where it has learnt of law-breaking. We do not expect the self-interest of officers within WBC to override this duty in any circumstance, nor do we expect the public authority deliberately to conceal that a criminal action has been condoned at its highest levels.

Rather than pursue all the labrynths and corridors of this scandal through which you have been previously led- perhaps even to obscure the view of this “Dark Heart”- let me take you reader by the hand and let us examine more closely the Lockwood Engineering Ltd/Harbac UK Ltd affair regarding the award of £20,000 towards the purchase of machinery costing £30,650.

Grant Thornton investigated the Lockwood case in November /December 2012 and had at its disposal the work of “our predecessors”. Yet where one of these two predecessors, the Principal Auditor reports at 12.11

“The point is to bring to the attention of the Head of Legal and Member services the possibility that the relationship between Lockwood and Harbac may indicate asset stripping of Lockwood by Harbac” ,

Grant Thornton dodges this issue. The reader may be misled where a forensic department of a national audit firm writes instead absolutely nothing about this major concern but deems it necessary to note the company changed its name soon after incorporation which is very common for new incorporations!. I find it hard to accept that Grant Thornton made no mention of this transfer. It was left to the council to refer to a legitimate transfer in its apologia embedded within Grant Thornton’s BIG Executive summary.

Where an auditor makes no mention of a concern important to the Principal Auditor and where the Council hides a report for 3.5 years because it refers to that concern we may smell a rat. The abrupt termination of the Audit and Risk committee when that afternoon they received my intended speech was a very strange affair indeed for my speech contained an unexpected attack on the officers rather than on wirralbiz. Perhaps they feared I might also leave the beaten track and go on to discuss Lockwood/Harbac.

Reader let us revisit the time of May 2010 when Lockwood Engineering ltd made its BIG application. It had existed for 10 months only and submitted Management Accounts to 30th April 2010 and forecasts from May1 2010 to April 30 2011. The forecasts and the management accounts did not correspond and, when adjusted by myself to correspond , clearly showed that the company would be unable to pay its debts as and when they fell due. When an advisor, Fieldcrest Ltd was paid £1,000 for the work#, and a Chief Accountant for WBC cannot see the obvious, or if they do see it, keep silent, then you have to consider that the BIG process is wide open to partiality and corruption. Likewise neither well-paid individual could sense the unreality of a projected annual turnover of £2m compared to a 10 month turnover of £457.877 in the management accounts. By these silences the Panel was induced to pass the grant.

Ongoing Reviews

The council undertook reviews to ascertain whether the objectives of BIG were met. Council staff visited the Lockwood premises for the purposes both of BIG and for the purpose of the three apprentices started under the WBC apprenticeship scheme funded by Working Wirral. The two directors appear to have fallen out and Mr Harding set up an absolutely new company , Harbac uUk Ltd on 4th October 2010. The grant had already been paid on 27th July 2010 either without any signature of any director, or signed and displaced by a later application.(see below) Mr Harding signed another application form on the 7th October 2010# and became a director of Harbac Uk Limited on the 11th October. I hope you are getting more suspicious than Council officers were at the time. Grant Thornton elide over this as if they had not read the 13th January 2012 report by writing “We assume, therefore, that the BIG application was incorrectly dated”.

We can assume that council officers visiting Lockwood whether for Apprenticeship monitoring or for BIG monitoring were innocently blithe of theses goings on, never discussed the rapidly dwindling fortunes of the company but were content that “outcomes” for apprenticeships and BIG investment could be ticked off. We are entitled likewise to assume the opposite! There may have been a growing panic among the council officers and the misdating of the application for BIG by five months may have been a clumsy error by them to cover up, or indeed even at that date in October 2010 an indication they were legitimizing the transfer of the books, assets and business of Lockwood to Harbac.

What to make of the assertion

“its business and assets had previously been transferred with the approval of KA {Kevin Adderley} to a successor company…There is evidence that KA was aware that the original company had continued in existence following this transfer”
It makes more sense that KA knew of an October 2010 transfer than of a March 2011 transfer which appears more to be a late referral to the Legal department. We have here a muddling of the defence mounted by officers and I support the thesis that an informal knowledge in October 2010 was later covered by procedural rectitude in March 2011 just before the Creditors Voluntary Liquidation was announced in April 2011.

The problem is washed over by the statement by an officer that during an inspection in March 2011 they were suddenly apprised of the transfer and that the director promised to repay the liabilities of Lockwood Engineering Ltd. Did not the offer letter state at paragraph 10

Under the terms of this Grant Agreement you agree to maintain the premises of the Company, or of any successor to the Company in Wirral for a minimum of three years commencing from ·the date of the final grant payment

I explain that the anomaly of the 7th October 2010 dating of an application substituting the May 2010 application form with a replacement one, shows that some council officers were aware of the transfer in October 2010. If I be correct then of what value are the Director’s assertions he would pay off the liabilities of Lockwood Engineering Ltd? The officers have already been misled by the May 2010 financial figures that move from a Balance sheet value per the management accounts of March 2010 of £60,885 positive to a deficit of £218,000 at April 2011.  But the officers are so lenient that they nominally accept that it is a parting of the ways of the two directors, Mr Lockwood and Mr Harwood, that necessitates the movement of the assets. I imagine he told them that despite him personally having no monies left 
The Directors of Lockwood have considered other financing options with their Bank without success and they cannot provide any additional security or collateral. The Directors have already invested heavily in their business during the start up stage and have only taken minimum salary from the business and at this time do not feel that they can offer the personal securities their Bank requires.
That the trading of Harbac UK Limited would be sufficient both to support itself and to pay off the debts of its prior company…a likely story for a group of ingénues but not for an officer experienced over 20 years in Regeneration.
It appears that WBC officers have translated a grant to an entirely new company with no known financial backing-no mention is made that the new director P Backhouse is providing capital and with Mr Harding having no new funds. The concern with business plans, applications and the approval of an independent Panel or a Councillor is cast to the winds. It is easier for the officers to hide the failure from the original Panel than to perform due diligence. The fact that the Legal Department is not immediately informed but has to wait for a further 5 months to be told in March 2011 bespeaks deliberate and guilty concealment. I do not believe that the husk of Lockwood Engineering Ltd, left idle between October 2010 and 21st April 2011 represented anything more than an attempt to cloud over the deed of the deliberate transfer of its order book and assets to Harbac UK Ltd. The Principal Auditor certainly does point to the possibility of asset stripping. By warning the WBC Legal department of this the Principal auditor is indicating that the Legal Department has not informed any regulatory body for the 9 months since it knew of the transfer. The Legal Department has relied on the words in any offer letter referring to “any successor company” with no regard to the claims of the creditors of Lockwood Engineering Ltd.

Referral to a regulatory body

The liquidators, Begbie Traynors, of Liverpool confirmed to me by email that they had had no knowledge of the £30,650 worth of fixed assets funded by BIG. The assets are not mentioned in the April 2011 Statement of Assets and Liabilities nor did they find them in the accounting records. The liquidators of Harbac UK Ltd would only correspond with a creditor or a representative of a creditor.

Begbies Traynor don’t seem ever to have received any correspondence from WBC! By what sophistry this has been omitted I do not understand? Perhaps these assets for which WBC paid in July 2010 were never entered into the ledgers of Lockwood Engineering Limited?

ETHICS

The law is the cornerstone of commercial dealings, the rules of the House if you like. What WBC seem not to have weighed against the three jobs and three apprenticeships created is the loss to other contractors of £91,000# With Harbac uk Ltd liquidation amongst the list of unpaid creditors is £12,772 to WBC Business rates section and £4,972 to a company based in Price Street Birkenhead. WBC officers are not gods and it is not their prerogative to arbiter as to what part of law should or should not be enforced, according to what suits them best.
Conclusion

If I appear to be going on about these matters it is for no reason other than that WBC has dragged out over three years the information that ought to have been available in April 2012. It is myself that has been put upon and obliged to return to matters of many years ago. It is significant that to my knowledge not one person has been disciplined in WBC nor any contractor or director of wirralbiz. If the obfuscators of WBC believe they have done a great PR job well they have all the means at their disposal, endless amounts of public money to fritter away. They have indeed burnt a lot of this fuel. Yet I can write so frankly and without fear of legal action from WBC-some PR job!

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11 thoughts on “The Key To The Lock

  1. As you know I’ve followed and reported on these matters for years.

    I wish to briefly explain what’s supposed to happen from a legal perspective (as it’s been brought up).

    In a Council operating executive arrangements as Wirral Council does through the Leader/Cabinet system the Monitoring Officer (who was Bill Norman for some of this time period then after his suspension in 2012 it became Surjit Tour) has a specific legal duty under the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, s.5A.

    Basically this duty means that if a hypothetical Monitoring Officer of a local council become aware of maladministration, a breach of law, injustice etc then they are under a legal duty to write a report which is sent to all councillors.

    If they don’t do this, it can open them later to accusations of complicity in a cover up because of what they didn’t do. The last Wirral Council councillor I hauled up in front of a judge in the Birkenhead County Court was over a “strict liability” issue, in other words (in an explanation of strict liability) he was sued because of what he didn’t do. I won because I proved he didn’t do what he should have done.

    However even when the evidence is overwhelming for some peculiar reason many Monitoring Officers (and I’ve dealt with a lot in my career), who are usually senior solicitors who seem to have spent a lifetime career in keeping everything a secret prefer to opt for behaving like politicians and instead refuse to do so (usually giving some reason why in the hope it will go away) and therefore contributing to covering it up for various reasons. You’d think it was a sensitive issue of national security the way some Monitoring Officers are so protective of secrets!

    Then because the Monitoring Officer acted in such a cowardly way the problems get worse and worse over years as corrective action doesn’t get taken because those in charge of corporate governance don’t have a clue about what’s really happening. So it morphs into a crisis rather than merely an opportunity for an organisation to change.

    If the external auditor writes a public interest report it has to be considered within a month by a meeting of all councillors.

    So my question would be this.

    The internal audit report was (presumably) sent to Bill Norman who was Monitoring Officer. Why didn’t it trigger him writing a report to all councillors? I mean he had plenty of time to write a report on BIG/ISUS during those long months of suspension before receiving a six-figure payout!

    Even if Bill Norman could claim his suspension stopped him doing this, why didn’t the successor to his post Surjit Tour do so?

    I’ll tell you why briefly. Everyone knows how it’s career suicide to blow the whistle at Wirral Council and how councillors can get very angry behind the scenes with senior managers when they’re told about things going wrong. So naturally fear holds people back from… doing their job?

    So we end up in a world where senior managers would prefer to keep politicians from knowing what’s going in in order to guarantee the sort of job security that’ll result in a long career, glowing references and a chance at early retirement.

    But that’s not the way it’s supposed to work is it? The checks and balances are there but they rely on people being brave enough to do the right thing!

    The problem however is at Wirral Council some councillors don’t even fully grasp what the job descriptions/legal duties are of the senior officers they’re supposed to be holding to account so instead the councillors just sing their praises and say how wonderful they are, whilst the public looks on in amazement!

    However let’s face it at Wirral Council, there is very little personal accountability as unless you’re unlucky enough to cheese me off you’re unlikely to have to explain your actions to a judge are you?

    Basically what I’m trying to get at is that if all the cultural issues that led to issues Martin Morton blew the whistle on had been fixed, the BIG/ISUS saga would’ve merely been a chapter in Wirral Council’s history over maybe a few months instead of dragging on for years..

    • G’day John

      BRAVO BRAVO BRAVO

      About 2,000,000 Bravo’s about the number of quids the idiots at Wirral “Funny” Bizz were allowed to get away with of Wirral Taxpayer money.

      That dump is full of cowards who thrive on the good years.

      Scumbags

      Ooroo

      James

      Bring in the Administration

  2. G’day Lordsly

    So My Hero I now believe the ball is in Ecca’s court.

    Shit, they are not putting an indoor tennis court in are they Leaky?

    If you cannot follow the genius that is John”Tarrantino” Brace and Nigel “Highbrow” Hobro you really shouldn’t be in the job Eccs.

    If you allow the crud at Wirral Borough Council to please themselves over the law, and, which bits then it really is time for the Administration.

    It is now your opportunity to do THE RIGHT THING without the need of going down the inevitable route.

    Oh Lordsville I know how useless Wirral “Funny” Bizz were because I was there but as for the Council it is just beyond belief.

    I was actually there briefly in AdderleyDadderlyDooDah’s office on 5 July 2011 being lied to with “The Chamber Potty” in attendance whilst blowing my whistle.

    And even more bizarre the really really stupid muppets got away with about £2,000,000.00 and he couldn’t even do simple sums or use a computer.

    Maybe we don’t need technology My Wonderful if people can only do their job with it.

    I will never forget My Leader the panic at the “Crabapple! Fudge It and Risk It Mis-Management Committee” when Grant (Haven’t learnt asset stripping 101 yet) Thornton stood up to talk about clowncillor allowances and led by “Ankles” they all literally shat themselves about what was coming.

    So they were all mumbling about giving the doorman a fiver at Xmas and a bottle of wine like naughty little school kids and whilst Wirral “Funny” Bizz were heading off to Portugal aided and abetted by them with enough dosh to keep Lyndale open for quite some time.

    Ooroo

    James

    Ps It can’t be spelt out any easier My Lankyness even “The Raving Tory Loony” was right when he said the worst scandal in his forty years.

    That was before his U turn Exorcist moment at Gra Gra’s farce of a Pubic Meeting into Big, ISUS and Working Neighbourhoods of 8 October 2014 when the sun shone out of the officer’s massive derrieres. Pension him off electorate.

    Luv you more My regent than I believe Ecca will do the right thing.
    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

  3. G’day again Lordsville

    They are busy this morning Fartin Lobsterpot must be trying to earn his wages, a novel idea amongst senior officers.

    In the rubbish paper from over Kev and Stella’s Stinking Stagnant Wirral Waters

    Wirral council chiefs under fire for giving Labour spin doctor a bigger office

    Lordly they must be putting an indoor tennis court in.

    Ooroo

    James

    Or maybe from the local rubbish propaganda sheet

    £150k boost for Wirral Sailing Centre

    Or, are they are moving the marine lake in.

    Luv ya more XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

      • G’day Lordly

        You know why Fartin Lobsterpot, hope that is a correct spelling of his name, got the job as “Phil the Very Deluded Dill’s” turd polisher?

        Dill goes so well with lobster.

        A favourite is lemon DILL butter with LOBSTERPOT TAILS.

        or

        DILL-Lemon-CAPER LOBSTERPOT ROLLS

        Don’t be rude Lordy I know what you are thinking…..

        Ooroo

        James

        They will be dropping lobster pots in the marina at West Kirby next My L. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

      • I’m wondering if Martin Liptrot was the one sitting next to my wife in the public gallery tonight, if so you might see a few shots of his iPad in my video footage. I wonder what it had on the screen.

        He doesn’t go round with a UNISON bag does he?

  4. John a brilliant an speedy contribution. I am not sure whether really I want to chance my arm in playing chess with you. You are wasted in this small plot of land and ought to be operating within the Home Office in Whitehall.

    It is the speed and accuracy of your contributions that so amazes.

    Lord Leaky has it with headlines and satire but you write the leader columns.

    • Well I was a bit tired when I wrote that contribution. My father’s salary (before he retired) was part funded by the Home Office.

      My grandmother once tried to persuade me to become a civil servant. But yes I agree I need to be better at writing headlines. Trouble is I leave them to the end after I’m worn out from writing!

      The problem with playing chess with a person like me, is I can run through a lot of different scenarios in my head rather quickly. I can anticipate what other people’s responses are to these scenarios, which is very useful in a court of law, at public meetings or well in other aspects of life.

      Trouble is I sometimes start speaking at the rate I think which … confuses people.

      That’s partly why I enjoy computers and technology as typing forces me to slightly slow down my thought processes.

      So when I’m typing something I can be thinking of something else at the same time.

      You know the chess players that have a dozen games at the same time?

      When I was younger I used to chat with a dozen friends online at once as that was more my speed of communicating…

      Maybe I’m just unusual…. as I don’t think everyone else is like this.

  5. Knowwatchamean John. I used to receive and translate Morse code at 25 words per minute whilst ploughing through a Force 10 North Sea storm at 30 knots, and all the time thinking about the fight I’d got embroiled in outside an Amsterdam brothel the night before.

    • Knowwatchyamean Boys

      5 July 2011 I had to keep a straight face when I was blowing the whistle to AdderleyDadderlyDooDah and “The Chamber Potty” over Wirral “Funny” Bizz and not cackle in his purple face.

      Him lying and telling me no Big recipient had gone bad when I had a print out from Companies House all about Lockwood Engineering.

      Him sitting, obviously, gagging for a fag with a fag staring up at his “Football Shirt” with his name on the Back ‘L I A R’ and glancing over to The Fields of Anfield Road and wishing his team were half as good.

      He told me all about his brilliant career in audit, obviously never did asset stripping 101.

      His contacts at the cops and HMRC and, no boys, he didn’t tell me about his meetings with Stella.

      After an hour of shit ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

      Ooroo

      James

      Massive admiration and respect for both of you.

      You too Lordy XXXXXXXXXXXX

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