We were reminded this week of an article we’d posted a year ago.At the same time we were also pointed in the direction of a significant development relating to the article :
We wrote last year : “There was a collective scratching of heads and dropping of jaws at Leaky Towers when we read highly concerning local press reports about the appointment of a retired judge to undertake “an informal review ” of an infamous and seemingly neverending Wirral Council whistleblowing case. We at Leaky Towers shall henceforth be calling this review “The Warren Commission” – a title which conspiracy theorists will no doubt appreciate.
We consider that Wirral Council’s press release and subsequent statements given to the media by local politicians about this review are highly dubious, open to serious question and much closer scrutiny.”
As we all know this “informal review” was opportunistically cobbled together by Birkenhead MP Frank Field in the Wirral Council Chief Executive void after Graham Burgess’s “retirement” and Eric Robinson’s “appointment” .The void in this case being the highly paid pushover David Armstrong.
However our old whistleblowing friend Martin Morton has a particular interest in this case and was having none of it. He made a particularly incisive Freedom of Information (FOI) request about what the review was all about and how it came about. Wirral Council have since sought to frustrate his request at every turn. Although Morton must be blue in the face by now at least he’s not red in the face like Wirral Council CEO Eric “Feeble ” Robinson.Indeed we believe this has been Stressed Eric’s first encounter with Juggernaut Morton and let’s face it there was only going to be one person coming out of that collision unscathed.
We know that Stressed Eric was instrumental in thwarting Morton as apparently the Chief Executive is the only person qualified at Wirral Council to be able to apply a Section 36 exemption and prevent the disclosure of information that had been requested .This was an attempt to prevent Morton or indeed anyone from accessing the Terms of Reference for the highly dubious review undertaken by former tribunal judge and close friend of prominent local politicians – Nick Warren.
However the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) have now issued a Decision Notice in Morton’s favour.The Decision Notice is a salutary lesson to the likes of Welsh windbag Cllr Adrian Jones.It has been reported that Jones recently “scolded” local nose disease John Brace by publicly accusing him of wasting public money for asking for information that he shouldn’t have to ask for in the first place!.
How about the fake “whistleblowing gatekeeper” hanging his head in shame and consider the amount of public money Wirral Council wastes covering up malpractice and misconduct and much more besides!.
The Decision Notice is revealing in itself as Wirral Council try all kinds of exemptions to try and keep a lid on this not very subtle attempt at a cover up .However we gasped at the sheer chutzpah of Stressed Eric claiming that disclosing the Terms of Reference for the Frankenfield commissioned Warren stitch -up job , sorry “review” would inhibit-
“the free and frank provision of advice, or the free and frank exchange of views for the purpose of deliberation or would be likely otherwise to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs.”
We all know that what Wirral Council do NOT want in this particular case is anything free and frank. The only Frank aspect to this case is the man himself and his plot to keep his favourite recording artists sweet certainly won’t be free! .As for the effective conduct of public affairs ( no we’re not talking about those public affairs which proved to be very costly to Wirral Council !) – we’d like to know how they can talk about the effective conduct of public affairs when what they’re covering up is the MISCONDUCT of public affairs!!!.
However the upshot of it all is that the ICO quite rightly came to the conclusion that the information requested should be disclosed and have upheld Morton’s appeal and published their Decision on their website:
Upon viewing the withheld information, it is the terms of reference provided to the individual appointed to carry out the inquiry from the Council. The Commissioner does not consider that disclosure of this particular information would result in the prejudice claimed based upon the arguments provided. It is the terms upon which the Council engaged Nick Warren to carry out the inquiry. It does not relate to the provision of advice or the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation, it is the Council instructing the terms of reference under which the inquiry should be carried out. Furthermore, the Commissioner considers that the qualified person has taken irrelevant arguments into account when reaching the opinion in this case, for example, in its submissions to the Commissioner, the Council said that “It is clear to the qualified person that such discussions would have been inhibited had those senior officers not believed that those discussions would be kept confidential.” There are no ‘discussions’ contained within the withheld information, it is the terms of reference on which the inquirer was engaged. The Commissioner does not therefore consider that the opinion of the qualified person is a reasonable one as it is does not appear to be based upon the specific information which is being withheld.
Even more illuminating is the original FOI request made by Morton which is freely available on the WhatDoTheyKnow website . We’ve added our comments to his questions and Wirral Council’s answers :
Dear Mr. Morton,
The Council has been in touch with the ICO and given our position in
relation to this enquiry. Please see Council’s response to your ICO
complaint below. You asked questions listed a to g and these are listed
below, along with our responses.
a) The terms of reference for the above inquiry
Response – The Chief Executive who is the qualified person in relation to
a review when Section 36 has been applied to a request, has considered
this part of your enquiry and seeks to rely on Section 36 to withhold
these terms of reference. The Chief Executive considers that 36 (2) (b)
(i) and (ii) are engaged and has relied on this exemption because it is
his reasonable view that it is appropriate in this case. He believes that
disclosure would inhibit-
(i) the free and frank provision of advice, or
(ii) the free and frank exchange of views for the purpose of deliberation.
In coming to this decision, he has had regard to the guidance issued by
(Information Commissioners) Office ” Prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs”,version 2.
The original response given when relying on this exemption has been
carefully considered and the Chief Executive believes it was correct to
apply this exemption. If the information requested were disclosed then
the conduct of discussions by senior officers of the Council concerning
issues of appropriate gravity would be fundamentally undermined.
It is clear to the Chief Executive that such discussions would have been
inhibited had those senior officers not believed that those discussions
would be kept confidential. The prospect of disclosure of this
information would lead to a less candid exchange of views and ideas. The
Council still contests that the likelihood of prejudice is significant and
weighty. Inhibiting the provision of advice and the free and frank
exchange of views, may impair the quality of decision making of the
Council and have a ‘chilling effect’ Paragraph 49 of the guidance states
“If the issue in question is still live, arguments about a chilling effect
on those ongoing discussions are likely to be most convincing”.
It is also still relevant to have regard to the sensitivity of the
information in question and the Council wishes to have the exemption
contained in Section 36 (b) (i) and (ii) engaged, having regard to the
issues still being live and of a sensitive nature.
The Council did originally consider the test under s.2(2)(b),of FOIA,
namely that “in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in
maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the
information”. The Chief Executive has revisited this, weighed the factors
and continues to hold the view that the Public interest factors against
maintaining the exemption are:-
Public interest in the promotion of transparency and accountability in
relation to the activities of public authorities
Public interest factors for maintaining the exemption are:-
Reduction of the ‘chilling effect’ when matters of particular sensitivity
are being discussed
Reduces the likelihood of inhibition of future discussion in respect of
issues, which are still live and of a sensitive nature.
Therefore the Council stands by its original view that the public interest
in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing
Wirral Leaks says : So now we know (as if we didn’t know already) where Stressed Eric stands on public interest !.He’s not interested in the public! As for ” chilling effect” on decision making etc;. Who are they trying to kid?.This is a group of powerful political figures and highly paid public officials digging a hole for themselves and now they want to be able to dig themselves out of it using public money and don’t want members of the public peering into the hole whilst they go about their dirty business !.
Thankfully ICO saw fit to see through all this – although we await to see whether Wirral Council will squander yet more public money appealing this decision.
b) Details of financial/contractual arrangements between Wirral Council
and Nicholas/Nick Warren which relate to directly to this inquiry
(including any provisions for external legal advice)
Response – There has been no remuneration paid to Mr. Warren, but please
note the review has not yet been completed.
Wirral Leaks says : Hang on! didn’t Frankenfield have a self-righteous hissyfit claiming that Warren’s review/inquiry/stitch-up had been completed in April 2015.He was complaining to Wirral Globe in July 2015:
“I am deeply troubled by this delay.It is almost ten weeks since the report was completed and filed, and we are clearly getting nowhere.”
A further six months have now passed and still no deal appears to have been struck – has Frankenfield’s grand plan become unstuck?
c) The specific legal provisions under Local Government Act 1972 s101 by
which Mr. Warren is potentially able to make decisions about compensation
payments by Wirral Council to whistleblowers (according to Frank Field Mr.
Warren’s “findings will be binding on
Response – Mr Warren has not been given any decision making powers by the
Council in respect of awarding or making any compensation payments. Any
decision to pay compensation would be a matter for the Council. For the
avoidance of doubt, no decision has been made on whether any compensation
should be paid. The Council has therefore no recorded information to
supply in respect of this question.
Wirral Leaks says : So are you saying Frankenfield WAS talking bollocks about Warren’s findings being binding on both parties and nobody at Wirral Council’s Legal Department sought to correct him?.
d) the specific legal provisions under Local Government Act s101 by which
Frank Field MP can “demand” payments be made to
whistleblowers by Wirral Council
Response – There are no specific legal provisions under which Frank Field
MP can “demand” payments to be made to whistleblowers by Wirral
Council. The Council has therefore no recorded information to supply in
respect of this question.
Wirral Leaks says: So once again did it not occur to someone to have a quiet word with Frankenfield , put him in his place tell him ” sorry to have to tell you but you can’t “demand” payments be paid to anyone because you’re not actually the Leader of Wirral Council or even an elected member”.Although it probably didn’t occur to anyone to tell him this because we all know Frankenfield IS and always has been the de facto Leader of Wirral Council anyway!.
e) The specific legal provisions under Local Government Act s101 by which
Frank Field MP can appoint/recommend Nick Warren to undertake this inquiry
Response – There are no specific legal provisions under which Frank Field
MP can appoint an individual to undertake an inquiry on behalf of the
Council. Frank Field MP is entitled to recommend an individual to
undertake an inquiry but the decision to appoint Nick Warren was made by
Wirral Leaks says : Oh and he happened to recommend one of his oldest friends and long standing supporters .No conflict of interest there at all is there!?.Talking of which……
f) Any declarations relating to the inquiry made by Mr.Warren/Mr. Field
relating to prior affiliation (publicly acknowledged by both Mr. Field and
Council leader Phil Davies) and/or conflict of interest
Response – Nick Warren has been known to Frank Field MP for many years and
Councillor Phil Davies knows of Nick Warren. There is no known conflict
of interest and nor has any conflict of interest been brought to Council’s
attention by Mr. Warren or Mr Field.
Wirral Leaks says : “There is no known conflict of interest…” ???.Oh come on this whole arrangement is a sham.Warren was intended to be is a safe pair of hands and the means to legitimise payments to people with incriminating recordings involving Labour politicians and particularly Frankenfield’s political agent.Simple as that.
g) How the findings of the inquiry are to be publicly reported
Response – Given the nature of the inquiry and the issues being considered
there are a number of factors to bear in mind before a decision is made to
publish in full or a redacted version. Issues being considered include
whether there has been any wrong doing by current or ex-employees and the
Council needs to balance all competing issues before a decision is taken
regarding publication. At this point in time the report has not been
finalised and consideration may need to be given to such issues as a right
of reply, before a final decision can be taken on publication, whether
whole or in part.
Wirral Leaks says : Looks like to us that Wirral council are pre-empting any findings and looking for reasons NOT to publish the report.It’s the usual story of the public paying for a report that they’re not allowed to read ! .
And Wirral Council wonder why members of the public end up making FOI requests!……