The Blind Leading The Blindfolded

blind_followers

We are grateful, once again , for the following submission from another of our regular followers and contributors , Mr Nigel ‘Highbrow’ Hobro.

Hobro brings his forensic eye to Wirral Council’s  failings in relation to funding which they were responsible for administering. What Hobro dissects may be esoteric to some but the failings he identifies will be familiar to Wirral Leaks readers – a failure of due diligence , a failure of openness and transparency , a failure of accountability and , damn it, a failure to do things ‘properly’ – and all in the name of reputation management (and no doubt other base motives) . We invite you to open your eyes before they take us all over the precipice:

The public are blinded as to the workings within Wirral Borough Council as the corporation seeks to keep its failings from open view. The issue regarding ISUS and BIG seems hackneyed except if one considers that the revelations have deliberately been kept in deep-freeze by the Council Leader and by top officers. They are as new as the date of release of data, usually forced by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) under threat of contempt of court. Certainly I asked for the names of companies in receipt of BIG funding that were liquidated as early as 2013, to be refused, even though liquidated companies have no protection under the Data Protection Act. The latter was conclusively attested to in summer last year with a ruling from the ICO, and most surely had been known all along by the Council’s monitoring Officer, Mr Surjit Tour.

Those who have been blind seem reluctant to accept criticism from the illuminati despite thin vows of transparency and of accountability. When Grant Thornton reported on the multi-fold failings in the BIG process vis -a -vis 6 files nevertheless despite a disclaimer from Grant Thornton of the Councils italicized statement, the Council claimed no wrong-doing and pointed out that only Lockwood Engineering had gone bust. On forced release of the Executive Summary re BIG in July 2013 the Leader of the Council issued a press release stating the success of the program and that of all Big fund recipients (sic) only one had gone bust. Yet time and erosion of the whitewash reveal that in fact two companies further had entered into liquidation with connexions to the Leader even at that early date. The council chief executive blatantly lied on 8th October 2014 saying only three were bust whereas the true total was eleven by then. I am not sure that Braille can distinguish between entering liquidation and finally being liquidated though these blinders did insist on a difference that to all intents and purposes is valueless. When the sexton prepares the grave there are very few lazarus’ indeed.

I do claim that the BIG process was so flawed in its arrangements that it opened a clear vista for fraud. Due diligence would not involve a coach and blinkered horses being driven through the benevolent intentions of the grants.

Last week I received data re Corrin Kenny Limited a company that received £13,250 of BIG money sometime soon after 4th May 2011 when Councillor Andrew Hodgson approved the award. The file given me contained no accounts later than 31st March 2010 which represents a poor basis indeed for processing future projections.

The friar Pacioli who invented double entry intended that all debits and credits equate to zero otherwise his system collapses applying to historic and equally to projected accounts. Due diligence compelled me to reconstruct from the entries in the projections an opening Balance Sheet. It proved impossible to do leaving a creditor of £7,000 which clearly had not been run through the projected cash flow. Surely any business applying for £20,000 of free money should at the very least offer up a clear set of projections, and any civil servant intending to give out public money should expect a clear Business Plan budget. Without the budget being sound the reins of the coach are fraying.
BLIND, Wilfully blind or just complaisant officers?

The officer who produced a short page of recommendations for the “Independent Panel” to consider was a Mr Stone of the Regeneration Department. He did not look for a balanced model ( in Cashflows that do not balance as to Cash flow, Profit and Loss and Balance Sheet one can always find errors that invalidate the proposal) and did not remark on the £26,600 cost that was not included in the Total for Cost of Sales. This was plain as a pikestaff for any but the purblind. I imagine therefore that Mr Stone did not attempt to analyse the formulae within the Excel model-I did, unpaid!, and with my having to reconstitute the Excel from a Adobe Acrobat file. I observed with my clear vision that, to check the validity of the assumptions, I would need to recreate the file. If I had been paid it would have been 2 hours of WBC time . Mr Stone may have had the benefit of the original Excel file in which case half an hours work would have sufficed. They have eyes to see but do not wish to see!

Mr Stone or Gemma Henry had access to a reporting suite from Companies House. They might have discovered that the Company Secretary whose name headed the application was involved already with seven companies of which three at that contemporaneous time were entered into the London Gazette to be dissolved. This was not a chequered flag to go ahead with the grant but a chequered past to prompt more questions.

I checked the full accounts for March 2010 and noted from a minds eye memory going back 6 years that the requirement to produce accounts not less than 6 months old had not been enforced, or perhaps in April 2011 the officers did not see that accounts to 31st March 2010 were more than a year old. I noted as a kestrel hovering at several hundred feet the balance of Other Debtors at £52,989 and wondered if Ms Gemma Henry quartered in Invest Wirral’s offices in Egerton House asked of Mr Kenny, giving his address as Egerton House, of what that was composed. Could it be an illegal Directors Current account because it most definitely was not a Trade Debtor, and if it were that, then what business has WBC advancing money to a company that was already sitting on an unrecognised liability of up to £30,000 of PAYE/NI? I began to see into the future (see below.)

COACH AND HORSES

Then to the Minutes of the Meeting at 9:30am of 21st April 2011 (with next meeting at foot of page for 27th May 2010(sic)) attended by the blind Invest Wirral who blind-folded the independents from Business Link and from the Federation of Small Business by, per Grant Thornton, giving them no accounts, and just the précis by Mr Stone, Finance Manager. The précis ran to just 320 words which recommended that only £20,000 would do the job. After a discussion “in great detail” all voted save one independent to award the grant. Dissension was met by the compromise of awarding just £13,250 even though Mr Stone had written only £20,000 would do. Blind, blind, blind or perhaps the diligence drivers ( an 18th century coach) whipping through what they could for an individual close indeed to the Regeneration Manager, Mr Kevin Adderley.

All seemed unconcerned that the award would be the same contravention of rules as was the award – that never should have been given per Grant Thornton-to The Edge magazine of Lets Go Publishing ltd. Both sought to advertise in the Wirral just as had Thinklocal and indeed Wirral View in direct competition with non-funded newspapers. The blindfolded independents would not know only the wilfully blind officers knew.

THAT WHICH WAS VISIBLE TO THE DISCERNING EYE THEN AND CAME TO PASS

Hindsight reveals that far from Corrin Kenny having £93,266 reserves in March 2012, by July 2013 the Liquidator reported a deficiency of (£75,000 ) which for four years he has been trying to recoup from the director who had had an overdrawn current account (see above and £52,000).

HM Tax Inspectorate began calling in its debt in March 2012 .The officers did not see at March 2010 that the debt to Taxes had been £40,481. The did nt see the warnings from the filings at Companies House where the figures quoted as prior year balance sheet in the 31st March 2010 accounts were different from the 2009 Balance sheet as filed. It is the business of Local Authorities to ensure before parting with our taxes that the grantees have paid their dues and observe laws and regulations and not to encourage tax defaulters! The debt to the Revenue finally was recognised as being £70,646 and the Liquidator (see above) noted the debt owed by the director to the company. To this date the Liquidation is open five years later as the Revenue seek to enforce the debt. So the ‘diligence’ reached the river and unloaded £13,250 of tax-payers money to sail down the Swanee to the accompaniment of the blind harmonica players from the Council.

OBFUSCATION AFTER THE EVENT

What we can see is that Mr P Davies Councillor was not anxious that these details be released on Corrin Kenny Ltd since he did accompany Mr B Kenny on trade missions to the Isle of Man and, though I have not seen the photograph, allegedly to Reno. I guess the sad story of New Concept Gaming Ltd, some £845,000 of public money including some BIG, going down the same river was another musical score that the blind players did not want you to read. Of “all BIG recipients” these two were certainly in liquidation when Mr P Davies issued his press release in July 2013.

SOURCES
The sources for my article are Companies House, data which is now free and at the time would only have cost Invest Wirral a maximum of £5 to see; and What do they know.com at https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/corrin_kenny_ltd_big_fund_award?nocache=incoming-948560#incoming-948560

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OH NO IT’S THE ICO (Revisited)

 ico-1
Just to update you on a story that we published in autumn concerning a breach of data protection by Wirral Council.
The story clearly upset someone who goes by the pseudonym of R.Sole . Well we presume it’s a pseudonym  , either that or they were an unwanted child. The only thing we haven’t printed from their email to Leaky Towers is who they addressed their delightful missive to – because  a) they’re out of order and b)  way off  target.
It was interesting to see your recent story regarding noise logs being “dumped” in the street by Council officials.
You really do embellish the truth don’t you!!  It is quite obvious that they weren’t dumped, dickhead.  This was obviously a genuine mistake by a Council officer who either dropped them by accident or had them stolen.
I admit that he or she was very careless but to say that they were deliberately dumped is ludicrous.
Get your facts straight before you publish.  You fucking idiot.
Regards
R. Sole

Dear R. Sole

We didn’t say the documents were “deliberately dumped”.
You say dropped , we say dumped. However they ended up on the pavement it’s still a breach of the Data Protection Act
What we’re left wondering is why you choose to provide such positive feedback on a Saturday night  7 weeks after we published the story ? 
You also ask us to get our facts straight (by the way it wasn’t just information about noise logs). Do you know more about the incident than our source ?- if so would you care to share that information so we can set the record straight?
Thankfully we are able to go back to our original source who provides us with an update on the story  having received a more polite response from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) than we did from R.Sole.
It is interesting to note that the ICO tell us that Wirral Borough Council ‘self reported’ the breach of the Data Protection Act. Was this before or after we’d reported the matter on Wirral Leaks ?  No prizes for guessing !
Nevertheless we’ll be checking out the ICO website to see what action – if any- they publicly (rather than publically) choose to take .  Needless to say censure by the ICO is very much a case of deja vu when it comes to Wirral Council :
 https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/oh-no-its-the-ico/

Dear Sir/Madam

Thank you for your email of 14 October 2016 concerning papers you found belonging to Wirral Borough Council relating to noise complaints.
 
We want to know how organisations are doing when they are handling information rights issues. We also want to improve the way they deal with the personal information they are responsible for. Reporting your concerns to us will help us do that.
 
Our role is not to investigate or adjudicate on individual concerns but we will consider whether there is an opportunity to improve the practice of the organisations we regulate. We do this by taking an overview of all concerns that are raised about an organisation with a view to improving their compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998.
 
I can confirm that Wirral Borough Council has self-reported this matter to us and we are investigating this incident. As part of our investigation we will take steps to ensure that the council has addressed all foreseeable weaknesses in its organisational and technical controls, with a view to reducing the potential for a recurrence.
 
Although I cannot confirm what action, if any, we will take, in common with all such cases I can advise that there are four options available to us:
 
 We may issue advice. This may take the form of a letter, or an undertaking. The latter is a publically available document signed by both the ICO and the organisation to which it is issued;

  • We may mandate the steps required to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence by way of a formal Enforcement Notice;
  • In the most serious cases, we may issue a Civil Monetary Penalty. This acts as a deterrent against future incidents;
  • Finally, we may offer an audit or advisory visit. These allow the ICO to review specific areas of a data controller’s compliance and to make tailored recommendations for improvement.

 
Further details of all our regulatory powers can be found in our Regulatory Action Policy, which can be found on our website.
 
The above steps are not mutually exclusive and in common with all such cases we will use a combination of our powers to ensure that both the incident and any improvements required are appropriately addressed. 
 
At this stage we are unable to confirm what the outcome of that investigation will be. We will not write to you again in this matter but any formal regulatory action will be published on the ICO’s website.
 
I hope this information is helpful. Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.
 

Legal Personality of the Year

surjit-legal-personality

“Where can I buy a personality and can I get it on expenses?”

We continue with the heroic struggle of the BIG/ISUS/Working Neighbourhoods whistleblowers as they attempt to bludgeon Wirral Council into submission when it comes to revealing the truth and holding people to account. Hey ! guys  you could have saved yourselves a lot of “time and trouble” if you’d recorded a top ranking and well connected councillor being racist and reckless . Just sayin’……….
The latest revelation has come at the intervention of the Information Commissioners Office  (ICO) .Whistleblower Nigel “Highbrow” Hobro  tells us : ” Even the ICO expresses his inquietude re : the withholding of company names that had gone bust.”
Never mind “inquietude” the ICO ruling falls just short of  stating : ” WTF are Wirral Council playing at?…..” :
“The first thing to say here is that the Commissioner has seen the
withheld information a list of companies who received grants
and she has discovered that a certain number were in fact no longer trading
at the time of the request. A search of Companies House has shown that
certain companies were in liquidation or had been otherwise dissolved.
Clearly for these companies there can be no detriment as the companies
no longer exist. Moreover, a company that is dissolved has no legal
personality so there is no way any claim for breach of confidence would
be actionable. There is no conceivable way the section 41 exemption
could be applied to withhold the names of the companies who are no
longer trading. Indeed it is worrying that the Council has sought to
withhold the names of these companies as it should have been obvious
that the exemption would not be engaged in such circumstances. The
Commissioner would expect the Council to be aware if companies it had
given financial support to were no longer trading and so it would seem
unlikely that the Council were simply unaware that some companies
were no longer trading………
This leads the Commissioner to conclude that the Council has
applied the exemption in a blanket fashion without properly considering what
the consequences of disclosure might be. In light of this the Commissioner has also decided that the Council has failed to demonstrate what the consequences of disclosure might be. “
Oops!
Nigel reminds us that it was 2 years ago that rather worringly he had to remind Wirral Council’s Head of Law  :
“Surjit bust companies have no legal personality…you should know that Surjit!!”

You can see the full  cringeworthy Tour/Hobro exchange at between 14 and 15 mins of this John Brace video . You can also see that it wasn’t a bad dream and that astonishingly  Jim “Crabby” Crabtree once chaired the Audit & Risk Management Committee!.

This ICO Decision Notice  also reinforces our impression that Tour rocks up every Monday at Wallasey Town Hall and thinks to himself  : ” What FOI exemption shall I use this week ?”  whether it applies or not. Oh he’s definitely a legal “personality” is our Surjit!

no-hidden-wrongdoing

” Dear boy – just repeat after me  : ‘no hidden wrongdoing’ and you’ll be fine. I’ve been getting away with that line for years . If in doubt go for denial .”

All pics  and video courtesy of John Brace.

 

Environmentally Friendly

environmentally-friendly

We received some friendly if surprising correspondence from Wirral Council last week. We say this as we know we are anathema to the powers that be , especially when we hear reports that it is a ‘sackable offence’ for Wirral Council staff to to be seen in any way to be endorsing Wirral Leaks.

So we’d like to thank Colin Clayton  – Senior Manager Environmental Health & Trading Standards for contacting  us regarding the Environmental Disaster article we published last week https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2016/09/13/environmental-disaster/

Mr Clayton has clearly been given special dispensation to get in touch with us directly and we think that such a senior figure having to do so accurately reflects the seriousness of the concerns we raised. Indeed we were able to ascertain that Mr Clayton is so distinguished by the fact that the letters after his name would attract a great Scrabble score.

We share our correspondence in the spirit of openness and transparency and express how grateful we are not to see that ‘LGC  Most Improved Council 2015’  imprint at the end of the email.

We may not have been able to give Mr Clayton the answer he wanted but unfortunately this is also true of many people who try and get documents and information from Wirral Council.

Dear sirs

I write with reference to the article appearing on your site relating to the work of Environmental Health and various documents provided to you in connection with the same.

As you correctly recognised and stated, the documents contain personal information relating to residents who have reported complaints to Environmental Health. I would be grateful if you would return all the documents provided to you. The Council is willing to arrange personal collection of the documents or reimburse you for the costs of secure courier delivery of the document to me at the address below.

Our initial enquiries seem to indicate this was a simple mistake on behalf of one of our officers, albeit an admittedly serious one. The Council is investigating the incident fully to ensure all necessary steps are taken to avoid such an error being made again in the future.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Colin

Colin Clayton Bsc (Hons) Bsc (Hons) Ndip MBA MCIEH
Senior Manager Environmental Health & Trading Standards
Regeneration & Environment Directorate

 

 

Dear Colin

Thank you for your email correspondence dated 15 September.
We understand that you are requesting to return the documents that featured in our “Environmental Disaster” article.
Whilst we would welcome a visit to Leaky Towers from a Wirral Council officer to collect the documents we need to clarify that we are only in possession of scanned and redacted copies of these documents. They contain no personal information of any Wirral resident who has made a complaint to the Regeneration & Environmental Directorate. The original documents remain with our source – who shall of course remain anonymous. However we have forwarded your correspondence to them. We have also advised that they contact the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) about this matter because as you confirm there has been a serious data protection breach.
We do this in the hope that an appropriate sanction is made against Wirral Council and they are fined by the ICO for their “simple mistake”. It seems only just to us that a Directorate which commissions Kingdom Security Ltd to issue Fixed Penalty Notices for littering etc; and where no discretion or leniency is shown towards ‘offenders’ should face the same consequences.
Sincerely , Julian

     

EXCLUSIVE: A Frank Discussion

Frank's In A Mess

Is Frank finally beginning to realise that Wirralgate isn’t going away and that defending the indefensible could be his downfall?

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 :

https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2015/01/12/the-godfather/

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.

https://ico.org.uk/media/action-weve-taken/decision-notices/2015/1560409/fs_50590454.pdf

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 :

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/nick_warren_investigation_terms#outgoing-461140

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
the information.

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.”

 http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/13380011.Storm_as_MP_accuses_council_chiefs_of__abusing_power__over_Wirral_whistleblower_inquiry_delay/

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
both parties”)

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 Council.

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!…… 

Not the End

 

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!

We Second That Notice Of Motion

Notice

We made reference to the subject of this post last month when we commented :

“Although the ruling Labour group are the focus of much of our criticism we are avowedly apolitical here at Leaky Towers.So what we find strange is the sudden interest in opposition parties in actually “opposing” the ruling Labour group. We also hear that there is an interesting development involving the 5 remaining Lib Dem councillors and the 1 Green councillor getting together to raise some important issues about Freedom of Information requests – more details as we get them.”    

https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2015/09/

Well we are grateful that we waited until the Lib Dem/Green Notice of Motion , which we had previously heard about , was included in the agenda for next week’s full meeting of Wirral Council.We are also grateful for the article published on the Wirral Globe website which also covers the Notice of Motion as it gives the opportunity to comment further on the obfuscation and misinformation which Wirral Council officers seem to specialise in and which sends the cry of  “WHAT THE HELL IS UP WITH THESE PEOPLE? ringing round Leaky Towers.    

Firstly , here’s the Notice of Motion :

OPEN GOVERNMENT ? This Council recognises that the Information Commissioner’s Office, as the independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest and to promote openness by public bodies, upheld 13 complaints against Wirral Council in the past year. Of the 18 notices issued between 29 September 2014 and 24 August 2015, the majority (72%) of complaints were upheld. Council believes that this is a matter for concern, requiring an explanation to its Members. Council requests that lessons should be learned and applied from these decisions and questions whether Officers have been excessively cautious or defensive in their interpretation of the legislation. Council, therefore, requests that the legislation is approached with greater regard to the ‘public interest test’ so that the risk of further reputational damage to Wirral can be reduced.

Meanwhile here’s Super Director Joe Blott’s ridiculous response to Cllr Phil Gilchrist’s reasoning behind the Notice of Motion in the Globe :

“We would have to take issue with the information supplied here, which states that between September 2014, and August 2015, 72% of complaints to the ICO were upheld.The summary of information on the ICO website about Wirral covers the period from February 2012 and January 2015, when the council received 3,975 FoI requests.Of these, the ICO upheld 42 complaints, representing 1.1% of all requests received.We consistently achieve upwards of an 85% response rate to FoIs received, which is the ICO performance target.It currently stands at 96% for July and 95% for August.By far the most common upheld complaint is that the response was not issued within the statutory time period and we are appointing to enable us to improve our response times.”

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/13837041.Call_for_more__openness_and_transparency__in_Wirral_Council_after_national_data_watchdog_s_ruling/

Can someone remind us again how much we pay this less than Super Director to come up with this nonsense?.What does it say in his Super Duper Director job description  – a) publicly defend the indefensible b) er,that’s it?.

Sounds like Blotto has asked some underling to cut and paste some random stats off the ICO website to get the Globe off his case.Can we advise Joe Blotto that he goes back and actually reads the Notice of Motion and what Cllr Phil “Gonads” Gilchrist is actually saying.

In fact – don’t worry we’ll break it down for you Blotto and don’t worry no consultancy fee is required!.Basically, Gilchrist and co are saying that 15 out of 18 complaints made in the last year to the ICO were upheld.Blotto “takes issue” with this information by blithely ignoring the point and getting some underling to get some random stats of the ICO website which bear no relation to the Notice of Motion.The only relevant point that Blotto makes is  – “By far the most common upheld complaint is that the response was not issued within the statutory time period “

So nothing to worry about – Wirral Council is just acting unlawfully.Well that’s alright then!.What Blotto fails to mention is the “statutory time period”  of 20 working days has sometimes been exceeded by months.

As a final point Blotto then grasps more stats out of the air and says Wirral Council’s response times to FOI requests have improved.Yes , we sigh with exasperation  , but what is the point of responding within 20 days by refusing the information and then a member of the public has to resort to making a complaint to the ICO and the waste of public money merry go round starts all over again?

The Notice of Motion politely asks whether Wirral Council are being “excessively cautious or defensive” when it comes to FOI requests .The words we’d choose to describe their stance would be “secretive” and “obstructive”.Indeed we’re aware of some cases currently sitting in the ICO in-tray that are nothing to do with being cautious/defensive and everything to do with concealing unlawful activity.

A more accurate  description of Wirral Council’s approach to FOI requests can be found in a ICO Decision Notice sent this month to local FOI campaigner Paul Cardin :

WirralICO

Can we look forward to Liptrot & Blott putting some spin on this one :

“We take issue with this deeply flawed Decision Notice – failed,inadequate ,failure and disappointing are obviously typographical errors and we will be writing to the ICO in the strongest possible terms to ,er complain about this complaint.More importantly can we distract you by telling you about Wirral Council’s 20/20 Vision plan thing because that’s so much more interesting and truly indicative of direction of travel that Wirral Council is taking.It’s SHINY,it’s NEW,it’s just BLOODY MARVELLOUS  and Wirral Council cabinet members have been told that every time they make a public statement they must mention the plan and be relentlessly positive. Cllr. Adrian ” Windbag” Jones letter published this week in the Wirral Globe shows how it should be done – Ok he may not know the difference between “scalding” and “scathing” (unless he was referring to the fact that Wirral Council were in hot water) but ,bless him at least he tries to convince himself if no-one else that everything is nwydd.Meanwhile did you know that banging your head against a wall uses 150 calories an hour? ( true fact)”

Ghost Story

FOI

“Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that’s what.”

Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

In trying to maintain it’s increasingly ridiculous Most Improved Council in The World Ever! tag Wirral Council is seeking to kick quite a few compromising Freedom of Information requests into the long grass.However there was one request from August 2014 which seemed destined to be resolved today with the release of a damning report relating to a long-running whistleblowing saga.

No – not that  whistleblowing saga – this particular ghost story doesn’t have the benefit of either Frankenfield’s patronage or an incriminating taped conversation to help find an amicable – if unethical ,immoral and probably illegal – resolution.

No –  this is the long-running BIG etc ; whistleblowing saga and the attempt by the whistleblower Nigel “Highbrow” Hobro to have an internal audit report which he believes holds the key to unravelling a cover up of serious financial mismanagement to finally be disclosed. Unsurprisingly Wirral Council believe the report “should not be in the public domain”.

For those thinking of embarking on the process of trying to get information out of Wirral Council might first be advised to read the tortuous history of this particular Freedom of Information request :

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/original_big_report#outgoing-449549

You will see here that Wirral Council – having resisted every attempt to drag them kicking and screaming into the  promised land of openness and transparency by yelling
” EXEMPTION !”  at every opportunity were forced to bring in the big guns or at least some highly paid barrister writing on behalf of Wirral Council CEO Eric Feeble to try and kick this FOI request into touch (or more accurately out of reach).
The convoluted excuse for refusing disclosure this time was because :  “the  disclosure would prejudice the public authority’s ability to offer an effective public service or to meet its wider objectives or purposes due to the disruption caused by the disclosure or the diversion of resources in managing the impact of disclosure.”
Huh?.Sounds to us like legalese for “can’t be arsed”
However the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) were having none of it and stepped in and gave Wirral Council 35 days to disclose the report.
The 35 days were up today and needless to say Wirral seem to have ignored the ICO ruling.
We now await to see whether Wirral Council will either belatedly release the report or continue to be secretive and obstructive and spend yet more public money on legal fees challenging the ICO decision notice.
Meanwhile it would seem to us that the the corridors of power at Wallasey Town Hall will continue to be haunted by the ghosts of unfinished business……
Postscript – and what do you know the report suddenly appears on What Do They Know website after office hours on the last day before the ICO could take action to force the Council to release the report !.We await expert analysis of the findings – that’s if there isn’t too many redactions!.