Highways – The Long and Winding Road

Spot the difference.

About Wirral 001

In…

Highways etc 004

…and out! It’s a sign of the times!

You wouldn’t know it but today is one of the most significant days in Wirral Council history.

Ten years after the Highways Department was controversially outsourced to Colas (and subsequently BAM Nuttall) , the people that attend to streetlights , fill potholes and commission contracts for roadworks and related services once again, and even more controversially, become employees of Wirral Council. So it’s a case of out with the old and er, in with the old.

However there has been no fanfare for such a momentous event – just a discreet removal of the BAM Nuttall signs at the Highways depot and it’s business unusual.

The highly significant decision to return the Highways Department multi-million pound contract in-house was  made in November 2017 by council leader Cllr Phil ‘Power Boy Pip’ Davies using his ‘special delegated powers’ . Isn’t curious that in the intervening 11 months that Pip didn’t /couldn’t/wouldn’t order a re-tendering exercise and instead took the unprecedented step of returning a department to the control of Wirral Council. It must be gratifying to make a knotty problem go away with the wave of a magic wand mustn’t it? Especially when there has been a woeful lack of proper scrutiny or thorough probing on this highly dubious move by other Wirral councillors.

Shall we now expect more outsourced public services to be returned in- house? The failing care homes? Waste management? Will the control room staff get their jobs back? Will Wirral Council become less reliant on external consultants and recruit competent  managers with a commitment to public services? – Breath-holding is not advised.

Which all makes us wonder what made the long and winding road that led to the return of highways department to Wirral Council such an exceptional case?

Wirral Leaks readers might know the answer to that question and it has very little to do with value for money, the public interest or due diligence…

WIRRALGATETAPE

An Unsound Decision

Mural 2 029

Did the powers that be (and shouldn’t be) at Wirral Council think that the week would pass without Wirral Leaks commenting on one of the most shameful days in Wirral Council’s history? Yes – just think about that evaluation for a moment. The occasion we are referring to is the latest meeting of the Audit & Risk Management Committee held on July 23rd . It is a date that should go down in Wirral Council infamy. And let’s face it considering their recent rap sheet that’s quite a feat!

Once again we have to thank our old friend John Brace for recording this ignominious occasion (we’ll stick with our old friend rather than link to the council’s own webcast if you don’t mind). We could only watch the first reel as we have a particularly weak gag reflex. However we anticipate that His Lordship will have much more to say on the matter when he returns from his golden slumbers.

 

Watch in complete contempt as Mark Smith – Strategic Commissioner for Environment (£93,783 p.a.) squirms in his own obsequiousness during Agenda item 3 trying to explain (very belatedly) how the highways contract is coming back ‘in house’ and in full Uriah Heep mode thanking Cllr Jeff Green for his ‘pertinent ‘ questions (yeah -right!).

We advise that from here on in you press the mute button to watch this farrago. Not only so you don’t have to hear the honking voice of Tory hypocrite Green . Instead watch the body language as in yet another spectacular failure of proper scrutiny we see furtive glances, the uncomfortable shuffling, the skirting round the issues, and the pity in the eyes of the councillors as they look at Smith in the knowledge that’s he’s the ‘poor’ sap having to front this duplicitous bullshit. Note particularly the repeated placing of hands over the mouths of most of the committee members (and particularly the representatives of external auditors Grant Thornton – £200K + p a. and counting ) which acts as a telling, involuntary gag. Note the crossed arms of Shaer Halewood (Director of Finance and Investments £104,642 p.a.) and the look on her face as if to say  : “What have I let myself in for?” and the inane grin of Chief Internal Auditor Mark Niblock (we don’t know what salary he’s on but whatever it is – it is far,far too much.) 

Whilst there were some mealymouthed  criticisms of the current highways maintenance contract holders BAM Nuttall made by elected members ,the fact is that the 25 staff who currently (mis) manage the filling of potholes and the replacement of streetlights and therefore responsible for the pisspoor performance will be the same staff welcomed back into the Wirral Council fold…..and BAM Nuttall will still potentially be able to tender for the £multi-million services that this motley crew won’t be undertaking!

So it’s a lose-lose situation all round for Wirral Council taxpayers as a result of this complicity and collusion with corruption (other c words are available).

Thankfully Assistant Chief Executive David Armstrong (£116,268 p.a.) was on hand to arrogantly explain that some of  those returning to Wirral Council previously worked for Wirral Council then Colas then BAM Nuttall. You don’t say! – and no -one , absolutely no-one, raised the issue as to whether those returning included those who actively participated in a smear campaign against Cllr Jeff Green and have been holding some leading local politicians by the short and curlies because they have the means to bring down the Council leadership courtesy of a covert recording  or whether the report into their treatment from nearly a decade ago and completed in October 2015 played any part in negotiations or why it took ten months to cobble together an explanation as to why Wirral council’leader’  Cllr Phil ‘Power Boy Pip’ Davies suddenly decided under his ‘special powers’ to bring highway maintenance back in house. Not a peep!

There wasn’t  even an explanation from Philip McCourt (Director : Governance and Assurance – are you having a laugh?) who, might we suggest, could’ve intervened to explain something along the lines of : ” I don’t know what Surjit Tour was doing agreeing that we could just pay them off and try and justify it with some bogus report supposedly written by one of Frank Field’s mates. Care to help me out with that one Mr Armstrong ? No thought not – but then you were at that meeting  when Frank tried to ,ahem , ‘compromise’ former CEO Graham Burgess about his , ahem, compromising positions weren’t you so,yes, you’re best keeping your head down and pretending like the rest of us that it’s all legit,whilst I try and clear up your mess and explain that as soon as we handed over any ‘compensation’ money to people who had no legal claim for ‘compensation’ we were all implicated so the best we could do was negotiate to give them what they wanted a decade ago if they buried the recording…”

Turn the sound back on and you can almost hear an audible sigh of  ” We just might have gotten away with that one…” as Mark Smith scuttles off and it’s on to the next agenda item. Meanwhile there’s the distant sound of a streetwise quartet sitting in a Birkenhead karaoke bar raucously singing along to the chorus of ‘Just What I’ve Always Wanted’

‘To be in charge of highways maintenance …..just what I’ve always wanted…’

 

 

Highways : Against the Flow of Traffic

Flow of Traffic

We raised the issue (and our eyebrows) at the proposal to bring the highways contract back under Wirral Council control as part of our Wirral Leaks Weekly Dispatch #2

This particular story concerned a meeting of the Audit and Risk Management Committee (ARMC) where Cllr Jeff ‘Kindred’ Green wanted reassurance that the decision to bring the highways contract back in house wasn’t “written on the back of a fagpacket” . We also noted that :

Incidental dark comedic value is to be had from the ever oleaginous senior officer David Armstrong who promises a short report and ingratiating interm Monitoring officer Philip McCourt who says that the commissioning of highways contract is a ‘live project’ and that the report would be a ‘ partial measure’ – ain’t that the truth!

Needless to say council officers showed their usual contempt for opposition councillors by failing to produce a written report for yesterday’s ARMC follow up meeting. There were also no shows from McCourt and ARMC chair Cllr Adrian Jones . Consequently Deputy Chief Executive Armstrong was allowed by stand-in chair Cllr Angela Davies to hand the hot potato over to poor sap Mark Smith (Strategic Commissioner for Environment) to deliver a verbal report – all the better to hinder proper scrutiny when nothing is written down and there’s no report in the public domain for ‘ a particular website’ to pick (pot)holes. It was enough to give us an attack of the verbals.

As you can see from the John Brace footage of last night’s meeting Smith gives a tortuous explanation of ‘options appraisals’ and how the decision was reached. Although we have to say that as he’s on £90,532 p.a. our sympathy for his squirming is somewhat limited.

However the information that was eventually dragged out of Smith was most illuminating (and probably explains the lack of a written report) . It was revealed  that the current holders of the highways contract BAM Nuttall get £6 million p.a. from Wirral Council . Smith described it as an ‘unusual scenario’ that BAM Nuttall chose not to take advantage of a contract extension to which they were entitled. BAM Nuttall currently spend £5 million is spent on sub-contractors and £1 million on what Armstrong described as 28/29  ‘operatives’ . It is these ‘operatives’ who will be TUPE* transferred back to Wirral Council (if they wish) – and the sub-contracting from the private sector will continue.

* Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment ) Regulations.

We begrudgingly give him his due on this one (because he’s had a shadowy part in this shady story) but Cllr Green whipped out his calculator trying to deconstruct the £1 million cost of 28/29 operatives -which he calculated to be about £700,000 . Labour councillor Christina Muspratt attempted to explain the missing £300,000 as ‘on costs’ However it was eventually wheedled out of Smith that ‘operatives’ included both managers and back room staff (approximately half operational and half management) so it wasn’t just staff filling potholes and replacing streetlights.

Armstrong and Smith were particularly twitchy on the issue of TUPE transfers with the former interrupting through the chair to advise Cllr Muspratt  that there was a list of staff who were eligible and who can “TUPE if they wish”  to either BAM Nuttall or Wirral Council . Smith went on to say that ” it wouldn’t be appropriate to go into any further detail in this forum”

However might we suggest there remain pertinent questions that need to be asked :  a) are the managers subject to TUPE some of the same Direct Labour Organisation (DLO) managers from Wirral Council who failed to win the highways contract during a tendering exercise in 2008 and who’s contracts of employment  were TUPE transferred to Colas and then presumably BAM Nuttall in 2014 and who have been in dispute with Wirral Council for a decade ? b) did this ongoing dispute influence or play any part in the decision (under delegated powers) to return the highways contract to Wirral Council control and c) has this dispute been resolved – and if so – how? 

Whilst , like some of the councillors at ARMC  , we welcome the return of highways to Wirral Council control , we seem to be rather more enquiring as to the reasons why – especially when such a decision goes ‘against the flow of traffic’ when it comes to outsourcing council services.

Wirral Leaks Weekly Dispatch #2

Spot the deliberate mistake ! After this week’s prolific output a further Wirral Leaks post may seem like too much of a bad thing . It’s barely a month into 2018 and we’ve already had to concede that the announcement of our retirement was somewhat premature. But then as Wilde said : “To be premature is to be perfect” !

The thought of our departure to foreign shores has obviously stirred many Wirralians into action as we’ve been sent stories simply too good to pass up on (and what’s even better – where much of the work has already been done) .What’s more we have already noticed that campaigning for the May 2018 local elections has already started in earnest. But perhaps more than anything that explains our renewed impetus is further shocking information which has come our way and which needs exposing . Furthermore we guarantee the mainstream media will not touch it – but we’re keeping our powder dry on that one for now. However we’re left shaking our head in disbelief at the claims that are being made (and more importantly the damning evidence to back it up) . Meanwhile with the agreement with Her Ladyship  and support from Eldritch and Verity let’s all together plough on into oblivion ……….

Holiday Hypocrisy

Whilst we’re grateful that someone sent us the John Brace video posting of this week’s Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Transport Committee meeting we faced a dilemma as we didn’t know who’s face deserved a slap more as they gazed over to Brace to make sure he captured their reactions to Cllr Steve Foulkes’ contribution to the Mersey tunnel toll debate – Cllr Jerry ‘The Mouse’ Williams , Cllr Ron ‘ Rude’ Abbey or Foulkesy himself . Truth be told (an alien concept for some of the parties concerned) but it was no contest really – Foulkesy every time .

Watch in disgust from 12 :00 as Foulkesy turns to our beloved Mr Brace , tries to take the moral high ground and resorts to his non existent ‘conscience’ .Whilst professing to respect Tory Cllr Les Rowlands he then proceeds to slag him off for planning a holiday to coincide with this particular meeting. Now we might know his political allegiances but we don’t profess to know Cllr Rowland’s personal proclivities but we’d like to think his holiday won’t result in allegations of  racist abuse.Just sayin’

Sorrento Shame : Holidaymakers claim they faced ‘racist abuse’ from ex – Wirral Mayoress

Self Serve 

We understand that internal vacancies at Wirral Council are accessed by ‘Self Serve’. You really couldn’t make this shit up! Why do they bother with such bureaucratic machinations when it would appear that cronyism/nepotism/favouritism is still the main route to promotion we can only hazard a guess. Unfortunately we can’t report on this particular aspect further as it would appear that another feature of Wirral Council’s modus operandi – the culture of fear – is still very much in operation.

Road to Hell

If the Merseytravel Committee video was infuriating the John Brace footage of the Audit and Risk Management Committee sent us into paroxysms of rage and fury. Witness how the utterly pathetic ex- Tory leader and Foulkesy’s ‘kindred’ Cllr Jeff Green meekly raises the issue of bringing the £multi-million highways contract back in house like Uriah Heep with a serious Woodbines habit. The Nigel Farage sound-a-like says something along the lines of : ” Bein’ ever so ‘umble . Can we have a bit of case study. I’m not ‘solutioneering’ (!) I just want to know that the decision to bring the highways contract back in house wasn’t written on the ‘back of  a fagpacket’, if you would so please, kind sir”.

Observe and despair from 8:25

Why so coy Cllr Green ? You know that the decision was made behind closed doors using Cllr Phil ‘Power Boy Pip’ Davies’ special ‘delegated powers’ and with Frank Field’s personal approval. They obviously want to minimise suspicion about unlawful compensation pay-offs to the Wirralgate complainants – so what’s the next best thing ? A token bung and then a cosy job for life for keeping their gobs shut.  But then you knew that didn’t you Cllr Green ?- shame you didn’t have the balls to say it. Incidental dark comedic value is to be had from the ever oleaginous senior officer David Armstrong who promises a short report and ingratiating interim Monitoring Officer Philip McCourt who says that the commissioning of highways contract is a ‘live project’ and that report would be a ‘ partial measure’ – ain’t that the truth ! Then suddenly  Cllr Ron ‘Rude’ Abbey has a “Don’t Mention The War” moment and can’t help himself saying something completely bogus about discussing TUPE ( Transfer of Undertakings – Protection of Employment) regulations . Which ,is of course, as ARMC and us know is what this is all about : ” Listen guys, we can’t give you a massive pay out you wanted without raising serious questions so we’ll give you the next best thing and you can be responsible for Wirral’s highways . Let’s face it you can’t do a worse job than Colas / BAM Nuttall ” 

As this image and comment proves :

image1 (4)

Dear Wirraleaks,

The attached photo shows a stretch of Mere Farm Road which was “repaired” by the Wirral Council contractors 6 months ago.

They clearly did such a magnificent and cost effective job that it needs much more repairing now.

When will they learn that doing a decent job first time round is more cost effective or do they just love throwing public money away to private sector mates ????

In response all we can say is  – buy cheap, pay twice!

All Wrapped Up

In the case of this particular Freedom of Information request all we can say is have Wirralgate tape, pay through the nose.

Full details :Wrap around FOI

Screenshot_20180130-101108

All wrapped in cosily in a symbiotic security blanket. Snug as a mug with a bug (that’s a reference to the Wirralgate recording obvs)

Patience is a Virtue 

Dear Mr Robinson

I received this assurance from you on 19th December 2016

On 19 December 2016 at 11:42, Robinson, Eric <ericrobinson@wirral.gov.uk> wrote:

Dear Dr Smith

Thank you for your email below.Officers are considering the matters you have raised in your emails and I will respond to you fully in January.

Regards

Eric Robinson

Chief Executive

Wirral Council

Tel : 0151 691 8589

Email : ericrobinson@wirral.gov.uk

You did not specify ‘responding to me fully’, by January 2017. 

However January 2018 has now passed, and I can only surmise that your ‘Officers’ have been completely occupied with Wirral Council’s 2016/2017 ongoing catalogue of disasters.

For your convenience, I attach a reply I sent to Cllr Walter Smith, who contacted me in May 2017 as you hadn’t, with his view of the ‘Most Improved Wirral Council’ (the absolute definition of an oxymoron given the events of 2016/2017)

Patience is a virtue. I look forward to receiving your ‘full response’ as assured.

Yours sincerely

Dr Robert B Smith FCMI

Eric ‘Feeble’ Robinson is increasingly making Howard Hughes seem outgoing and gregarious. A local government patsy drowning in a mire of his own incompetence and other people’s corruption.  Hey, Stressed Eric! – you really should have spoken to your predecessor before you took up post. Oh – but wait a minute your political paymasters didn’t allow it did they? Protecting themselves and setting you up to fail as you didn’t know what you were letting yourself in for. Oh but you know now don’t you? And you chose the side of the people who pay your obscene salary. We sincerely hope and pray that one day you will regret that choice. In fact we’re working on it day and night – you may have noticed.

Meet the Talent

Without any fanfare – we wonder why? – Dave Fergus is the man who has taken over running Wirral Evolutions from Chris Beyga the disgraced former Managing Director of this arms-length Wirral Council experiment that went horribly wrong mainly because Beyga (aka Rosa Klebb) thought she was running her own personal fiefdom.

Meet the Talent

You will note from his profile above (can somebody please provide a translation of local government BS? ) that there is absolutely no mention of disability rights. Just the person you want running a service where apparently the thick as mince managers think that somehow they’re doing a favour to the people who actually pay their wages. We’re wondering whether we’ll  get a comment on this latest appointment from Wirral Evolutions ‘ Independent’ Chair and professional disability rights ‘champion’ Carey Bamber or ‘Non -Executive Director’ Cllr Phil ‘Power Boy’ Pip’ Davies? We’re not holding our breath.

Crime Report

We note that this week Mayor Joe Anderson was taken in for questioning ‘under caution’ by Merseyside Police in relation to the fraud probe concerning Liverpool City Council CEO Ged Fitzgerald and others . Power Boy Pip, Stressed Eric and others will no doubt be observing developments with interest – as will we !

Proceed with caution

Holiday Hypocrisy Part 2

And finally we understand that someone is taking a particular interest in Wirral Leaks from their undeserved winter break in the Dominican Republic. Answers on a postcard please…….

 

WHAM ! BAM ! – Thank You Scam ?!

Bam

And so 9 years after outsourcing highways maintenance Wirral Council has suddenly -BAM! – out of the blue announced that it is to bring this area of council responsibility back ‘in house’.

Council leader Phil Davies thanked BAM Nuttall for their work but said this was the right decision for the council tax payers of Wirral.

He continued: “Wirral Council has to ensure every pound spent is wisely invested and we get the best value for our residents.This decision is the right decision at the right moment – the contract with BAM Nuttall was coming to an end and we believe we can deliver this service more effectively by taking direct control.”

Highways U-Turn

Note our emphasis on the words the right decision at the right moment. Care to explain more about that assertion Power Boy Pip? No we thought not!

We have to admit we didn’t see this one coming down the road – but then desperate times at Wirral Council call for desperate measures.  Whilst this U-turn decision may seem to fly in the face of Wirral Council’s transformation agenda , which largely consists of outsourcing as many public services as they can , for those of us with an understanding of what’s been going on behind closed doors lately and the startling developments that council insiders (and some outsiders!) have been letting on to us it all makes perfectly perverse sense. Let us explain why.

Cast your minds back to the heady days of 2008 when Wirral Council outsourced their highly lucrative highways contract out to Colas in preference to the in house Direct Labour Organisation (DLO).  Some aggrieved DLO staff , having had their employment contracts transferred to Colas , then cried foul  when it came to the tendering arrangements and ‘whistleblew’. Despite numerous subsequent investigations we don’t think it’s ever been properly explained as to what actually went on. All we do know is that it all went nuclear and the fall out is being felt within Wirral Council to this day. Colas eventually walked away from the contract and it was transferred to BAM Nuttall in 2014.

Now it seems we’ve gone right round the roundabout and highways maintenance services will be returned in-house to Wirral Council in October 2018.  All of which wants us to ask some pertinent questions as to why this is ‘the right decision’ and ‘the right moment’. The right decision for whom? How is are councillors Davies and Whittingham evidencing that this is in the best interest of council taxpayers? – that’ll be a first! and why now all of a sudden ? Will BAM Nuttall highways maintenance staff be transferred back to Wirral Council ? and if so will that include the DLO staff and particularly any of the ‘whistleblowers’ who we understand are still seeking compensation – for what exactly we’re not quite sure – from Wirral Council?

It seems to us that after a decade of dispute that would certainly get Wirral Council and , particularly some councillors, out of a deep, deep pothole they’ve dug for themselves now wouldn’t it?! #Wirralgate

The BIG Issue

Bank of Money

We understand that Dictionary.com have just decreed that ‘complicit’ is the word of 2017. Therefore it is most appropriate that we  publish whistleblower Nigel ‘Highbrow’ Hobro’s audit of the BIG fund. A definitive account (thus far) of auditing failures written by someone who believes in public accountability and protecting the public purse about people who profit from the lack of both. 

THE BIG FUND Audit

Voluntarily and, for no pay, I have performed an audit of the BIG fund. Although I was one of two whistle-blowers I am going to trace what I would have done had I been in receipt of the data as a Council Internal Auditor.

I imagine that the Peer Improvement Board take Councillor Davies at his word, that WBC is open to learning from other councils. They arrange that a Bolton Borough Internal auditor job- swaps for a short period to bring objectivity to an investigation that, as per Cllr Philip Davies “was not fit for purpose” when performed by WBC’s own Internal Audit Service. Clearly it was not fit for purpose as both Beverley Edwards’ 350 page report, and David Garry’s 33 page report were riddled with partisanship, the main drive being to exculpate their colleagues. I am not shown their reports, let me imagine, just the gist of them lacking independence. As an internal auditor I very much welcome the freedom of not being obligated by ties of colleagueship and passage of years with any of the WBC staff I will be engaging with.

On receipt of allegations from two qualified and mature employees of a subcontractor working on a council project, I would have commenced by performing a type of SWOT analysis-Strengths Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This SWOT analysis was demanded of every application for council funds whether BIG or Intensive Start Up Scheme (ISUS).

Pictorially the matrix is represented below. I would outline in words why such fractions were given.

What are the risks to the whistle-blower’s livelihood if he be lying-100%; and if he be truthful given the hoops he must go through at an Industrial tribunal, well very significant. Thereby I have analysed his risk to livelihood, irrespective of his truth or otherwise, as being 80%

If the whistle-blower is correct then what profit might he make? The answer is very small, if any, as the Council does not pay any bounty to a whistle-blower.

If the whistle-blower be correct what threat is there to a council officer? Given the unions within the council, given the dissemination of responsibility within the council, there is little threat to any individual council officer. This operates to enhance the possibility of lying by council officers as the penalty is much mollified by group responsibility, lack of punishment and the council’s desire to keep gross error from public view. In this case already some councillors and the press’ reportage has unmasked WBC Internal audit as “unfit for purpose”.

Examination of the history of the Martin Morton case and the Colas whistle-blowers gives a trust rating very high to the whistle-blower and correspondingly low to the officers.

first chart

My preliminary conclusion therefore is that I give credence to the whistle-blower. I examine his claims with a view to progressing further, anticipating systemic failure.

I ask for a contract with wirralbiz for the BIG fund work on which they might be paid up to £1,500 per case. All six of the files examined by the whistle-blower were prepared by wirralbiz.

Since it is clear that the files were concealed from him for a long time I presume they were a random sample. His access was to them was swiftly closed down after pressure from Invest Wirral. He has shown me emails to that effect.

I ask for a full list of BIG recipients notated as to wirralbiz prepared, and as to those independently prepared.

The contract for services re BIG is unsigned! which increases the factor of systemic risk.

There are 49 recipients of which 25 were prepared by wirralbiz.

Having received the arguments of the whistle-blower on the six files he examined I retrace carefully his logic.

Lockwood Engineering Ltd –    Evidence of a criminal offence of phoenixing the company assets into Harbac UK ltd. The transfer of £30,000 worth of equipment part funded by the council, with the Head of Regeneration’s consent, raises dramatically the risk of officers being deceitful.

Prima facie the whistle-blower is correct in that the liquidation of the company could have been predicted as high risk if very significant liabilities had been included within the cashflow given to the council.

M L Engineering Ltd  –    conclusive evidence of fraudulent representation by either the Fieldcrest ltd or by the business itself. If the latter, the contractor of wirralbiz is at the very least guilty of gross negligence. Negligence  is compounded because a prior claim already had been dismissed with the claimant presenting as a sole trader, but now presenting as a limited company.

I chose the above two as the whistle-blower had made claims thereon which imperilled himself, and, his having been proven correct,  requires me to compile a new SWOT. This incorporates the fact of the skimpy and unsigned contract which must have governed up to a maximum of £500,000 of Working Neighbourhoods money, and of the criminality involved in the first two wirralbiz files. I have learnt from the whistle-blowers that Invest Wirral dismissed out of hand their allegations between May and July 2011. Invest Wirral simply cited that chief accountants in WBC had been involved and could not possibly be wrong. Having read the first two files this  rings alarm bells as it took the first whistle-blower to demand an interview with Kevin Adderley for these allegations even to reach internal audit.

chart the second

I justify this analysis based on   1. The risk the whistle-blower has taken to point to criminal activity

  1. The detection of two out of six random files containing criminal behaviour not detected ,or even perhaps sanctioned by council officers, must lead me to suspect systemic failure.

Actions: read through remaining four of the whistle-blower’s files to see if more error does exist which may raise the probability of systemic error.

Company 3       The cashflow is extremely optimistic. The company’s solvency depends upon a loan owed it by a group company with no assets, a figure of over £1m pounds!                  

Company 4          The company does start out with £60,000 net deficit. There is an allegation of connexions between Mrs Basnett and the wife of the claimant director. The claim was dismissed by the whistle-blower but then resurrected despite his advice based on the BIG fund rules that claimants be solvent. Why?

Company 5          The company already has received a BIG grant so the second should have been examined more closely. The publication does have an intimate connexion with Egerton House, owned by WBC, and does not concern itself with exporting out of the Wirral and thereby the project was and remains disallowable under the rules of BIG  

Company 6       The sole trader is a director of a company that is insolvent. Prima facie this does present an equivocation vis- a- vis the solvency rules of BIG.

Review of the above files renders a percentage of error of 100% whereby I can conclude that the wirralbiz files are highly likely to contain a very significant error ratio since 6 out of 25 files randomly chosen are wrong in one way or another. That represents 25% of the wirralbiz files which in a random sample is highly significant.

Time taken 15 hours.

I must now consider the outline of the system which previously had been marked by David Garry, WBC Internal Auditor, as more than satisfactory. How did the errors in wirralbiz’s files pass muster with the WBC accountants and the independent panel?

I will commence by researching from the list any of the independently prepared BIG successful claimants who may have gone into liquidation. I locate two as below:

New Gaming Concept limited    – into liquidation  18/03/2010 and fully dissolved  25/06/2011

Corrin Kenny ltd  – entry into liquidation 22/03/2012

I ask for the files to discover that New Gaming Concept ltd’s claim had been tagged by the Chief Accountant to as invalid unless it could find £45,000 to cover its needs for the summer of 2010. The file shows a quick exchange of emails between Invest Wirral and Brendan Ludden, the director,in February 2010, where an unsigned claim form was provided as guarantee that North West Development Agency (NWDA) would provide more funds. Highly unsatisfactory and proved by events less than a month later to be unsound. The company filed for winding-up in March 2010.

The reason for the claim was to remove from Liverpool to Birkenhead so it was not a Wirral company when it claimed!

The company was heavily geared and the Liquidator’s statement shows a loss of public money in excess of £800,000.

I email a member of the Independent Panel as to what they saw at each meeting? He confirms no accounts were shown to them just a synopsis by a WBC accountant and the business plan itself.

I conclude that the Independent Panel whether they be from Federation of Small Business or some othe small business group, are to some degree operating in the dark.

Corrin Kenny Ltd- the file showed that the council had only sight of published accounts up to 31 March 2010 which were more than 8 months old. This was in contravention to the BIG requirement to produce management accounts of no less than 6 months old. Review of Companies House records highlighted that the accounts were unreliable as the comparative figures in the March 2010 accounts do not agree with the accounts filed with Companies House for March 2009.

Secondly, the project links communities within Wirral but does not export services outside of Wirral which in effect invalidates the claim. I note that the claimant address on the application is at Egerton House where Invest Wirral is located yet its stated offices on the internet are Innovation House, Bromborough. There may be a connection between the claimant and Insiders within Regeneration department as the application is full of buzz words relating to recent council schemes, going so far as to quote the previous CEO.

Within 10 months and, as I am performing this audit in August 2012, the company entered compulsory liquidation by petition of the Inland Revenue.

I note that of the two Budgets prepared independently of wirralbiz that I have reviewed, the New Gaming application does present a balanced cashflow, a Profit and Loss and Balance Sheet. The template adopted by wirralbiz, that used  in over half the successful applications does not incorporate Projected Balance sheets. The latter omission suggests the wirralbiz template is that used in the Intensive Start Up scheme, designed for start- ups without a history of trading , and not appropriate to existing and substantial businesses.

Time taken 5 hours.

Conclusion: I must extend my sample from 8% of the non-wirralbiz files. I will choose those that prima facie seem to break the rules of BIG.

I will restate my risk matrix after reading the following files:

Aspire Trust Ltd and Aspire Creative Enterprises Ltd

Quite properly the Chief Accountant, Bob Neeld expresses a reserve shared by the independent panel that the Aspire Trust Ltd is a charity which ab initio is excluded from BIG. It is Invest Wirral that advocates for the company and, on the basis of a prior application by Merseycare ltd, granted even though it was a charity, the Panel agree to consider a revamped application by a “trading arm” , and separate company ,to Aspire Trust ltd.

Aspire Creative Enterprises Ltd

The budgets are prepared using the Fieldcrest Ltd (i.e. wirralbiz) template which does not make a balancing document. Despite the turnover exceeding VAT limits no VAT is calculated in Year 1 nor in Year 2, but no-one from the council  identified this error. The charity having planned a turnover exceeding vat limits is obliged by VAT rules to register for VAT.

No-one flexed the projections for a worst case scenario, a fault common to all the wirralbiz files and likely to be so with independently prepared files. Bob Neeld simply states he cannot comment on a new business income flows. However in contradiction the Panel is told that although BIG fund excludes new businesses with less than one year’s trading, somehow this is evited by the Aspire Trust ltd, as opposed to Aspire Creative Enterprises Limited, having operated for some 10 years?

The projections do not explain why in a digital hub Cost of sales is 50% of sales? This is not a retail but a service based enterprise so what are Cost of Sales? No-one appears to have asked? Did the Panel see the Projections or just the synopsis?

The business projections appear to be wildly optimistic and I checked what Invest Wirral were given as monitoring accounts. The turnover for one year was just in excess of £3,000, a far cry from the £100,000+ projected.

The statement given to the Panel via Bob Neeld was that “the cash indicates that without the grant there would be cash deficits for the first four months”.

I created two Budgets one including the VAT required and one without, and in neither case did the cashflow require the full £15,000 grant. With VAT as per the projections the company needed £5,500, and without Vat just under £10,000. Bob Neeld would have better served had he recreated the cashflow, balanced it with Profit and Loss and with Projected Balance sheet before ever making a glib statement as above. It took me 40 minutes which given £15,000 was being given to a start-up and a quasi- charity, the case certainly deserved.

Alternately he might have stated that a start-up achieving a Profit of 0ver £20,000 in Year 1 without VAT ,and £12,000 with VAT, was improbable. Either way his short email to Invest Wirral appears to be rather in the manner of Pontius Pilate.

Total time 2 hours.

I have now to restate my probability of systemic failure before I examine LEC lights, or decide if indeed need to do so.

I estimate the risk to be above 90%. I have spent 22 hours, and commuted for 5 days from the Bolton Metropolitan borough. The charge to WBC to date is one week of my salary some £1,250 with a mark up of 100% for travel time and costs, that is £2,500.
Conclusions:

There is a grave risk for this project that wirralbiz files some 25 of 49, represent very poor value for money.

There was always a systemic risk in the diagram of procedures viz

Two at least of these claims involved fraud

No signed contract with wirralbiz can be located

Chief accountants when advancing caveats against projects are over-ruled presumably by the occlusion of their opinions and deprival of the historic accounts to the Independent Panel.

There appears to be a rush to hand the money out even though the Chief Accountant has told me funds could be carried over almost indefinitely, year to year

Other factors troubling myself include the probability of a cover-up:-

The dismissal of a qualified accountant, one of the whistle-blowers later, was because “Nothing would get past him” quote from Invest Wirral to Wirralbiz yet he dismissed just his first two claims , one from a start-up-ineligible- and one from a company with a £60,000 deficit.

The officers have claimed to me that he was a disaffected employee of wirralbiz yet I understand he was only made redundant 11 months after he made his allegations.

The second whistle-blower claims Kevin Adderley lied to him regarding liquidations in the BIG scheme. Generally he was lying because New Concept Gaming ltd and Lockwood Engineering Ltd had both  gone into liquidation before the interview whereas he claimed no BIG fund recipient had gone bust.. The officers have used sophistry to cover his statement and subsequent statements. They have claimed “going bust” is on completion of the liquidation, which usually takes 12 months, but this represents a turning upside down of common sense.

A further troubling observation is that, however cursory councillors’ approvals may be, a significant number of grants {20} were given without seeking the consent of councillors and on the say-so merely of Kevin Adderley and/or the Chief Executive. This provides a motive to cover up.

Recommendations

The internal auditors who presided over the enquiry have both left the employ of WBC.

The Chief Executive also has resigned.

For the above no sanction may be applied.

I recommend that Invest Wirral be advised of their failings and caution be applied in running such schemes as BIG ever again.

Kevin Adderley as a senior public official ought to receive some disciplinary proceeding.

The two files M L Engineering ltd and Lockwood Engineering ltd should be referred to the Police and communication should be opened with the on-going Liquidators as to the fate of the £30,000 worth of equipment funded by BIG which I suspect was transferred prior to Liquidation to Harbac without any payment being given.

The contract with Fieldcrest ltd, now employed by Invest Wirral should be suspended whilst the Police consider the allegations with regard to M L Engineering Ltd.

The failings I have seen would never have been located without the whistle-blowers who clearly have been resisted and not rewarded. Clearly the WBC should out of common morality thank them publicly and as soon as possible. Government auditors have told local government that 80% of serious failings are discovered by whistle-blowing and only 20% by systems. WBC needs to encourage whistle-blowers and not block them.

I will return to perform the Intensive Start Up Scheme which I have learnt from Government Internal Audit agency is currently being investigated, including Wirral’s ISUS, from a serious complaint from a Supplier to the scheme in addition the allegations of the two whistle-blowers. When I commence a week of ISUS investigation I will bring to it a clear appreciation of the value I attach to the allegations and considerable caution in dealing with the local government officers.

 

WIRRALGATE! – The Road Makers on the Make ?

road-makers-012

For those with their finger on the ‘record’ button the streets of Wirral are lined with gold.

We’ve never been able to settle on a collective name for the four men of mystery at the centre of the Wirralgate saga. Various reports and articles have referred to them as ‘The Group’, ‘The Complainants’ and  The Colas/HESPE/Highways ‘whistleblowers’. However their elusive nature and their absence from the Thynne investigations suggests to us they have a slippery quality – a bit like phlegm.

Similarly does anyone know what their gripe with Wirral Council was ever about?. We know they were a bit peeved about not getting a contract to mend the roads and replace the bulbs in the streetlights and they claimed there  was some jiggerypokery about how the contract was awarded to Colas . Something to do with EU contract regulations being flouted – like that’s something new with Wirral Council!. For example their dodgy arrangement with Wirral Mind springs to,er, mind. Nothing was ever done about that one for a start.

For a group of people who prize their anonymity it is surprising they were quite happy at one time to appear on the Channel 4 Despatches programme. However we understand they were so unconvincing they were replaced by the man who has championed their cause  – Birkenhead MP Frank Field who in his inimitable style stabbed his protegees in the back by claiming that Wirral was a small place and if a council officer bumped into a contractor during a tender process , well that was to be expected, now all move along  there’s nothing to see here.

Inexplicably Frankenfield was to later take claims of alleged nefarious wrongdoing to Merseyside Police and the the Serious Fraud Office – unsurprisingly neither were interested.  An Audit Commission report was, as ever with auditors , inconclusive and there was also an independent investigation into claims undertaken by external investigator Richard Penn whose “no case to answer” conclusion may be open to question but again nothing was ever proved.

Nevertheless our “heroes” , the men who Frankenfield claimed the people of Wirral owed so much (£192,000 to be precise) , have continued to pursue a compensation claim against Wirral Council. Other than briefly naming one of them  years ago on the Wirral Council website no-one has ever been able to tell us what exactly why they think they deserve compensation.

The best that Frankenfield could come up with was the vague notion as to whether they’d been treated “fairly” and then completely “unfairly” got his old mucker Nick Warren to undertake an inquiry!. Let’s face it if there was a bespoke inquiry every time people from  Wirral claimed to be hard done by the council there’d be a long and winding road between the two town halls and we’d be here ’til kingdom come.

But then when we consider that one of the main protagonists in the Wirralgate scandal is Frankenfield’s political agent Cllr George Davies it might explain why St. Frank has too much to lose and isn’t prepared to play Pompeia on this one.

Strangely the infamous recording where Cllr George Davies tries to secure what The Group/Complainants etc; themselves called a “Smear Deal”  is not in the Terms of Reference for that inquiry. You’d think if the Group/Complainants etc; were so keen to expose wrongdoing and wanting to make Wirral Council better for all of us you’d have thought the first thing they would have done would be to publicly release the tapes , especially when Cllr George Davies reneged on the arrangement to “sort them out”. The “Smear Deal” being reliant on them providing a signed copy of an old letter they’d sent to former council head of law Bill Norman . It would appear that not only did they hand over the document they then started touting the recording of Cllr George Davies left right and centre. Talk about wanting your tape and playing it too!. It’s no wonder it’s reported in the first Thynne investigation report that they received threats that if they produced the tape the “Smear Deal” was off.

Road Makers 009.JPG

We can’t help thinking that if the Warren inquiry was legit it should have been a pre- condition that if an inquiry took place then the recordings – and we understand there’s a number of them – should have been handed over . Then there could be no accusations , including from council leader Phil “Power Boy Pip” Davies , that a recorded telephone conversation was being used to extort money from Wirral Council.

Davies - Thynne 1 008

As it stands the only sensible conclusion is that the tapes are indeed a sordid means to a seedy end . Although it needs to be said that this is a situation which was created and dictated by a group of corrupt politicians and not by The Group etc; themselves. Having said that , ordinarily we’d support anyone taking on Wirral Council but these guys seemed to have played fast and loose with politicians, the press , us , other whistleblowers – anyone who could help progress their dubious claim for compensation.

Why we feel particularly let down here at Leaky Towers is that we have always understood that the Wirralgate scandal  was a once in a lifetime opportunity to expose the dark heart of Wirral Council and to hold accountable those who’d abused their power for many years whilst all the while destroying people’s lives and careers in the name of self enrichment and self-aggrandizement. This small cabal of  conniving, lying , scheming politicians should have been thrown out of office years ago.

Sadly it would seem that because of the road makers on the make politics on Wirral will remain forever in the gutter.

 

 

More Suspensions At WBC

FULL STORY HERE Via Wirral Globe

“It follows criticism in an investigation into the authority over the award of a £40m highways and engineering services contract in 2008.

The inquiry was carried out by the Audit Commission and found the director of highways and technical services, David Green, “had probably” broken EU laws over the way the contract had been handled.

The move means FOUR of the council’s most senior officers are now suspended from work with Mr Green having been told to stay at home pending an inquiry earlier this year.

This comes on top of a myriad of Council scandals, including many in WBC’s deeply dysfunctional Department Of Social Services, of which we may have more on next week. “ 

Have a good weekend.  Lord Wirral-Leaks and I will pour a largeSchadenfreude on the rocks’ when the hour becomes decent, and sit back and enjoy the publicly funded fireworks.

The WBC Golf Set

We wouldn’t be so bold or foolish as to suggest WBC would EVER be as unprofessional as to conduct it’s business on the golf course. In fact this photo from the Corporate Golf Wank Off in 2006 suggests that would NEVER happen, EVER.

Control yourselves, this much testosterone, dodgy knitwear, ill-advised “slacks” and coquettishly unbuttoned polo shirts could tear the very fabric of space and time asunder !