Sanction Distinction

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LRJ and Foulkesy – same actions, different sanctions

And so another Labour councillor from Wirral Council is found to be unworthy of holding public office as a damning Standards Panel ‘Decision Notice’ is published. Wirral Leaks readers will know that Cllr Louise Reecejones (LRJ)  is no stranger to these pages . This time she appears to be the perpetrator rather than the victim of malicious acts.

The Standards Panel , after considering an Investigators Report, “found the actions of  Cllr Reecejones were designed to threaten,intimidate,underine and cause difficulties at work “ for one of the complainants Tamsin Coates . The Standards Panel also noted that LRJ  took a similar approach to the second complainant , Jessica Smyth, where she had made a complaint to the organisation where Ms Jessica Smyth volunteered . Both Ms Coates and Ms Smyth had previously raised legitimate concerns with Wirral Council’s Internal Audit and Merseyside Police. Although no charges were brought against LRJ  because of ‘insufficient evidence’ the complainants were found to be justified in raising their concerns.

LRJ 015

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents/s50042506/Standards%20Panel%2015%20June%202017%20Decsion%20Notice.pdf

Furthermore the Standards Panel found all the complainants  to be credible ( there were more from the Overchurch Residents Association) and yet LRJ was found to be ‘inconsistent, vague and misleading’   –   we know what they’re trying to say there don’t we boys and girls? Of particular interest to us was this quote from the Decision Notice :

LRJ 018

However it was when we read the ‘Sanctions’ section that apoplexy rapidly set in.

There are 5 sanctions in all  : i ) a formal warning letter from Wirral Council’s Monitoring Officer  Surjit Tour (!) ii) LJR must provide a written apology to all complainants iii)  Labour leader Cllr Phil Davies to consider whether party disciplinary action be taken against LRJ and whether she should be removed from all outside bodies to which she has been appointed iv) Tour will be arranging ‘training’ for LRJ which she must attend v) The Panel’s decision to be considered further by the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee.

These sanctions stand in stark contrast to the mild rebuke that was imposed on Cllr Steve Foulkes last year. Foulkesy got away with an apology to  Tory leader Cllr Jeff Green who wasn’t even the complainant! Foulkesy had lied to Wirral Council, lied to the investigator (necessitating a further investigation costing  Wirral Council taxpayers £17K) and continues to lie about what he and Cllr George Davies had been up to – to this very day.

If we were LRJ we’d be asking some serious questions as to why Foulkesy wasn’t given similar sanctions. Especially in relation to a proven liar being able to represent Wirral Council on outside bodies.If anything he is even more unworthy of public office than LRJ – and it would appear that’s really saying something!

But then again we did advise LRJ she was on a hiding to nothing a long time ago . She’s not and never has been part of  the ‘Inner Ring’ . Unlike Standards  Panel  member Cllr Moira McLaughlin who must have enjoyed sticking the knife in someone who played a part in bringing down disgraced former Labour councillor Jim Crabtree – who was , very much, part of the ‘Inner Ring’ .

https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/suspension-suspense/

We have never claimed that all Labour councillors are dishonest,incompetent or corrupt but we have consistently called out the cabal that are. Ultimately  we believe it is this ‘Inner Ring’ which has consistently brought Wirral Council into disrepute and until these people are removed from public office the people of Wirral will continue to be poorly served.

Although currently marked ‘Strictly Private and Confidential ‘ the full ‘Investigators Report’ can be found here

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents/g6133/Public%20reports%20pack%2015th-Jun-2017%2017.00%20Standards%20Panel.pdf?T=10

 

 

Dirty Work

Norman PE 009.JPG

Once again we have the opportunity to report on the travels and travails of Wirral Council’s former Head of Law Bill Norman. The reason we take such an interest in this particular ‘public servant’ is because, for us, he is something of a town hall totem. Symbolising  everything that is wrong with the local government gravy train. Serenely sailing from Torbay to Wirral to Hereford and now to Cheshire East Council (CEC), Norman has picked up a sizeable cheque at each port of call whilst leaving waves of controversy in his wake.

Norman Wisdom

Now we hear that ‘concerns’ have been raised about  his conduct in his latest role as Head of Legal Services and Montoring Officer at CEC  as we learn that a special committee has recently considered potential disciplinary matters concerning CEO Mike Suarez, Monitoring Officer Bill Norman and Chief Finance Officer Peter Bates.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-39495102

According to a further reports in the latest edition of Private Eye Norman has been caught up in the scandal which they dubbed ‘Physiogate’ which has startling similarities to our very own ongoing ‘Wirralgate’ scandal – of which Norman was an early casualty . Indeed he is apparently keen to explain to anyone who’ll listen that he was ‘stabbed in the back’ by Wirral Council leader Cllr Phil ‘Power Boy Pip’ Davies. However we’re sure the £146k he received (+ £10k legal fees) must’ve eased the pain somewhat.

Private Eye had exposed that valuable contracts had been awarded to CoreFit a firm owned by one Amanda Morris. Morris just happened to be the ‘close friend’ and the personal physio of CEC leader Mike Jones . However these contracts somehow bypassed usual tendering processes – oops! – and  consequently ‘Physiogate’ led to the resignation of Cllr Jones in 2015. The disciplinary hearing mentioned above summoned Norman to give evidence but it is not clear as to whether he faced disciplinary measures. However we do know that CEC CEO Suarez has been suspended.

According to Private Eye Norman could be implicated in ‘Physiogate’ because of his alleged treatment of CEC’s Head of Internal Audit, Andrew North. Apparently North had reported his concerns about the CoreFit contract to Suarez and Norman . Needless to say in true local authority fashion the person wanting to do things properly was treated as the villain of the piece consequently wanted to bring a grievance against Suarez and Norman.

Private Eye understands that Norman approached the CEC Head of Communications Beverley Walkden to ‘dig the dirt’ on North  – like you do. Usually in these cases senior managers close ranks but miraculously in this case  ,Walkden refused and , yes you guessed it, was suspended. Even more predictably North went off sick , left CEC in February 2017 and now claims to have been ‘bullied’ and forced out of CEC.  So far, so familiar – there is even a missing audio recording of the disciplinary committee meeting (more parallels with Wirralgate!).

So it would seem that the ‘dig the dirt’ tactic is a favourite approach of senior council officers when faced with a pesky employee who won’t play the corporate game, have served their purpose or they just want shut of. We’re wondering whether it was a trick that Norman picked it up at Wirral Council or it was part of his legacy that he left behind? We say this as we are reliably informed that two acting very senior officers at Wirral Council went digging for dirt from staff in an infamous case from 2015 .The dirt concerned allegations of sexual impropriety involving a now departed senior council officer . So far, so sordid. However, for us , what is even more sleazy is that the approach came with the  inducement that it would be beneficial to staff member’s careers if they dished the dirt. Nice work if you can get it and you can get it if you have absolutely no morals,ethics or integrity. What did we say in yesterday’s post about Wallasey Town Hall being a cesspit?

Somehow in this crazy , mixed up world of local government we are led to believe that the people doing such ‘dirty work’ should be valued and paid silly money . To add insult to injury these are the same people who value themselves so much that think they’re better than the ‘little people’ who pay them the silly money!

We’re here to remind them that they’re not.

Digging in the dirt.jpg

DOLLAR-BILL

Frequently Asked Questions

what da faq
A student journalist called ‘Charlie’ has been in touch . Apparently he’s writing a public affairs story for an assignment and has asked us some pertinent questions . We thought it would be a useful exercise to share his questions and our answers with readers and critics alike as it will save us a lot of time explaining what we do and why we do it :
1. Why did you start your blog? And what are you hoping to achieve?
Astonishingly we’ve just realised the blog started in November 2010. So you could say we’re heading for our ‘Seven Year Snitch’ !  Wirral Leaks started as tool to give an alternative voice to town hall spin – often using satire to expose Wirral Council corruption . Our ‘Contact Us’ page reads: ‘Hello Citizens! If you have news, grievances or proof of bullying, incompetence, cover ups and malpractice share it in confidence HERE wirralleaks@gmail.com & one of our operatives will get back to you.’
This sums it up. Where else can people go? 
What are we hoping to achieve ? – the downfall of western civilisation or failing that waking up the apathetic electorate of Wirral! We think it is fair to say that many significant Wirral Council public interest stories might never have been fully exposed or quickly forgotten about if we hadn’t existed. There are too many to list here but our readers will have their particular favourites. 750 posts and an ever increasing readership suggests a continuing need for this type of blog.   
2. How much attention does your blog have? What impact does it have?
It all depends whether you’re talking about blog stats (read them for yourself) or attention that is actively sought. We have Facebook and Twitter links but we don’t whore ourselves out on social media – it’s madness out there!
It’s fair to say we only seek approval of our mates and who we consider those to be our (superior) peers. We’ve been referenced in Private Eye as an ‘excellent local blog’  – high praise indeed! and local freebie Wirral Globe newspaper who’ve described us as ‘caustic’, ‘mischievous’ and only today (19/4/17) in Granty’s Inferno as ‘guardian of the free press’ . Guilty as charged on all three counts!   
Although there’s a concerted effort by the powers that be not to give us any recognition we’ve been mentioned in legal proceedings,council meetings and independent investigations. We have been contacted by representatives of ALL local political parties and recently were surprisingly given the endorsement of a senior local political figure (more on that at a later date). Having said all that we’re probably not the ones to ask when it comes to impact – you’re best asking targets of our stories who contact us (usually after a few scoops too many ) . There’s public impact and personal impact. There’s also our impact on the reputations of those in power and the decisions they make.This is incalculable.  
3. What would you say are the main issues with the council?
Where to begin?
The two words that we receive get most often to describe Wirral Council are ‘ shambles’ and ‘cesspit’ . So we’ll go with that description – shambolic cesspit.
Wirral Council was described in an independent review in 2012 as a place where the ‘abnormal is normal’. Despite their desperate pleas that ‘lessons have been learned’ nothing has changed . All of the slugs that were around then have slithered their way back and acquired yet more slime along the way.
4. Where would you say the council should focus their spending? 
It’s not for us to say where Wirral Council should focus their spending. Councillors get elected to do that – unfortunately their IQ doesn’t seem to equate with those making the real decisions as they are too easily duped by senior council officers who just want to get through Monday to Friday with the least minimum effort. Doing things properly or in the public interest doesn’t come into it!   
However what we will say is that we do know where they shouldn’t spend it on serial failures or paying off incompetent,corrupt council officers – INSERT NAME HERE.  
5. What was your take on the council bringing out the ‘Wirral View’ paper?
We were trying to keep this clean but FFS have you read the wretched thing? And have you read our repeated ripostes? When you read that a damning report about how Wirral Council’s Children Services and their assorted partner agencies have repeatedly let our vulnerable children down is reported that Wirral Council is investing £10 million in Children’s Services you know the true intent of this sinister publication.
The fact that Wirral Council are actively seeking advertising suggests they want to put the local press out of business. The question is – what are they going to do about blogs like us? 

Happy Halliday

 

Happy Halliday

Spookily, we were about to follow up our story about one of Wirral Council’s new ‘transformation’ gurus , Stewart Halliday,  when we were sent the above story from Private Eye with exactly the same title that this ‘excellent local blog’ was about to run with ( great minds etc;). We say ‘one of’ as we understand there have been two new highly paid ‘interim transformation ‘ council appointments to push through the further dismantling  of public services.

Astonishingly it has been suggested to us that ‘Happy Halliday’ could be in line for a significant  increase on the estimated £90K salary that he received at City of York Council despite leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.Talk about rewarding failure!

We’ve already reported on his previous involvement in a series of irregularities at City of York Council involving procurement and contract procedures and the use of consultants.  Among the allegations made against Halliday were that he failed to get proper tenders, quotes or contracts for £174K worth of work that he commissioned and he didn’t draw up business cases or monitor the work that was paid for.

Wirral Council – Where Transformation Means More Of The Same

Halliday had previously also been implicated in criticism that City of York Council had not been very good at publishing its data according to a report compiled by Spend Network, which forms part of the Spend Small campaign by the Centre for Entrepreneurs :.

“They ( City of York Council) are bad at publishing data that we could use to analyse what they are doing. It’s obvious they don’t think anyone is going to run the data against an algorithm. They have got dirty data, and manage it in a poor way. It’s not very helpful for people to use the data, and not helpful for people to read it as a human, it’s very hard to interpret.”

http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/11463826.Council_criticised_over____dirty_data________report/

And so with Wirral Council pleading poverty at every turn and imposing a 4.99% rise in Council Tax it doesn’t sit well with us that they are potentially appointing two further people on six figure ‘interim’ contracts,one of whom at least , has a chequered past. This of course hasn’t prevented Halliday securing a big cheque future at the rogue’s paradise that is Wirral Council. As we know all too well Halliday follows a trail of local government garbage who have cleaned up at our expense.Who can forget Rob Vickers – the social care consultant who was paid £180K for 18 months ‘work’ which essentially involved helping to cover up two Department of Adult Social Services (DASS) scandals (‘the 4 week delay’ disgrace and, a thus far unreported, further unlawful overcharging of vulnerable people). And there have been plenty of others just like him, jumping on and off the endless money-go-round that is the Wirral Council consultant carousel.

We can only predict that one day we will look back and reflect that these were the darkest days in the history of public services – not just in terms of public finance, but in respect of the calibre of people who are running them and/or running them down.

 

smug-halliday

A compiler of an illustrated dictionary may find a use for this picture of Stewart Halliday next to the word ‘smug’.

 

Critical Condition

Wirral logocritical-condition

 

As you must know by now we are (and have been) fierce critics of Wirral Council and their uncritical friends ( Local Government Association , Frank Field etc;) for some time.

However it is reassuring that some parts of Wirral’s mainstream media (i.e. Wirral Globe ), local bloggers and our regular correspondents not only have the gift of critical thinking they now have the means by which to express their thoughts.

Unfortunately those means of communication were not around when the power bases were formed which we believe are responsible for the critical condition that Wirral now finds itself in.

So here we find one of our valued Wirral Leaks correspondents Dr Robert B Smith giving us a brief introduction as to how we think we got to where we are and why we all need to challenge the ‘alternative facts’ peddled by the powers that be . As the redoubtable Dr Smith tells us , there’s a book to be written here – especially about missing monies. If he’s looking for a title might we suggest ‘ The Neverending Story’! – Wirral Leaks readers are invited to offer alternatives.

WIRRAL – a Critical Mass of attractions

WIRRAL COUNCIL – a Critical Mess of afflictions

As a recipient of one of then-Cllr Jim (Jumbo) Crabtree’s strident early morning emails at 2.35am, the Wirral Leaks piece reported in Private Eye regarding the exposure of his death threats to Cllr LRJ, prompted me to put a few thoughts together about Wirral Council and councillors.

To understand Wirral’s problems, and there are many, is to understand its history.

To understand Wirral Council’s problems, and there are many, is to understand its history.

Wirral Council should serve its residents, businesses and visitors, but has insidiously created the ‘insular peninsula’. Wirral Council is a stricken organisation, nationally acknowledged as an organisation where abnormal behaviour is so deeply embedded it is accepted as ‘normal’; and the organisation is in terminal decline. Wirral councillors, and chief officers now occupy a self-created netherworld. This is almost beyond comprehension in many ways as, unlike Chief and Senior officers, councillors do live in Wirral with the consequences of their actions, and presumably are friends and neighbours with Wirral residents, businesses and visitors. Maybe that defines peninsularity…or possibly vested interests?

And this is the critical factor that almost entirely divorces Wirral Council from the public it is supposed to serve. The concept of public service for the upper echelons of Wirral Council, both politicians and managers is a distant memory. Self-serving organisational protection is in full-flow, after gaining momentum over the last 15 years or so.

Wirral Council’s finances have been in free-fall since the early 1990s, although no-one in Wirral Council will admit it – but the evidence is all around in the media and archives. Gradually diminishing services, cloaked in desperate efforts to create an illusion of visionary leadership, is not actually about services. It is actually about survival of the organisation and those that significantly benefit from being part of it. That does not include Wirral’s residents, businesses and visitors.

Wirral Council’s self-perception, and its perception of Wirral (‘The Leisure Peninsula’), have led it until fairly recently to vehemently oppose any links to, or association with, Liverpool. This has changed more recently as a matter of necessity due to a now imposed concept, not at all understood by Wirral Council, of a city-region and its interdependences.

Strategic thinkers amongst senior officers are long gone. Over the years political self-interest and party-political power struggles of whatever political persuasion, have taken their toll, at the expense of a great many staff, and those Wirral Council is supposed to serve.

‘That was then, and this is now’. 7 words that embrace a few decades of disastrous planning, and financial management. If in fact there was any planning at all. Wirral residents, businesses and visitors are paying handsomely now, for what happened then. It is interesting to see which councillors were around then, and which are still around now.

When, in the late 1990s, a councillor states “this year’s budget is in a mess, but never mind. The Director of Finance will pull something out of the hat, he always does”. When successive years of budget cuts follow, it doesn’t take an Einstein to know there will be trouble ahead. Chase the regeneration grants…over £500,000,000 spent in Birkenhead by 2008…Wirral Council just walks away and allocates no additional revenue to maintain or run the new facilities. Just take a look around.

Wirral Council owes around £500,000,000 to private banks as a result of borrowing £137,000,000 from private banks between 2001 and 2008. No-one in Wirral Council appears to know where any of that money was allocated. Maybe no-one could find the hat any longer?

Parking charges…again. Another bankrupt idea from an almost bankrupt Council you may think? The Wirral Council mantra “We need to raise additional income.” “We’re having our grants cut again!” “We are the victims in this!”

Are they? And that is the key – the Council see themselves as ‘the victims in this’. It is actually Wirral residents, businesses, and visitors who are the victims.

Parking charges just keep creeping back in. It cost the Council in 2014/15 £119,000 to enforce parking penalties. So the good citizens of the borough are paying for the privilege of penalising parking offenders. However, a separate income line from the same year is ‘the full amount of Pay & Display parking income receipts banked by Wirral Council, £1,689,267’ – taken again from the good citizens of the borough.

Freedom of Information requests – one of which was asked about parking charges. How many requests are refused? There is a procedure called ‘the public interest test’. However, in Wirral it does not exist. What does exist is ‘the Council interest test’. Which is why so many refused Freedom of Information requests are overturned by the Information Commissioners Office.

From start to finish this is a very expensive process. If a request is overturned, then surely the ‘public interest test’ was ignored. How much public money is wasted by Wirral Council, defending the obviously indefensible? A ‘successful’ Freedom of Information request confirms that no records are kept…which appears to indicate there is a bottomless pit of money when the Council wants it to frustrate enquirers by refusing legitimate requests.

Then again £2,000,000 can also be magically produced when the Safeguarding Board isn’t up to the job, and £237,960 per year (with little sign of private sector income to offset the cost) public money to finance the ‘Wirral View’ of Wirral (seen through Wirral Council’s rose-tinted specs). They can’t be read at luncheon clubs now the minimal funding has been axed, can they?

Which brings me back to now. And the legacy of ‘that was then’. Only one of numerous examples…What price is being paid to service a debt of £500,000,000 owed to private banks by Wirral Council? At an average of 6% pa, around £8,000,000 per year (this is not the total of council borrowing by the way) with the final payments being made in 2078. Tell your kids and grandkids if you are in your 20s now – Wirral Council mortgaged all our futures just to save political skins.

What price is being paid by Wirral’s Council Tax and other tax payers? The price of political failure over decades. But the rewards to politicians and some senior officers have been significant. There are not many paid jobs where the serially inept are rewarded with such significant sums of money for continuous failure.

Do any occupants of positions in the upper echelons of Wirral Council management just ‘leave’ without an additional ‘package’ of some kind– if not, why not?

 

Pie In The Sky

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Miraculously Private Eye magazine recently covered a story about Wirral Council that did not feature in Rotten Boroughs!

This story was instead in “Nooks and Corners” which records the magazine’s concerns about Britain’s architectural heritage.The case in point here being a pair of  semi-detached Victorian mansions ,54-56 Park Road South,Birkenhead.

Private Eye reports :

” This had been used as the ESWA Sports & Social Club …until it closed in 2012. The following year the houses were bought by a developer .Soon after they were burgled,and 24 hours later they went on fire,the fire services suspecting arson. The shell of the two houses now stands open to the sky and surrounded by hoardings. The plan,apparently is to convert the structure into apartments,but so often in the Wirral a fire is followed by demolition….In London, the house would be graced with a blue plaque and cherished. But poor Birkenhead is different”

Poor Birkenhead is indeed different – not only is the continuing drive to turn the surrounding area into “Flatland”  with a high density of apartments housing a transient population (see also planning applications in the close vicinity for more apartments on the plot of the now closed Cole Street School and part conversion of the Queens Hotel) but the dereliction and decay elsewhere in Birkenhead continues unabated.

Following our “Talking Crap” story

https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2014/08/08/talking-crap/

a concerned Birkenhead resident has been in touch with more crap for Birkenhead Constituency Committee to consider. The resident has long had concerns about the continuing deterioration of wasteland at the corner of Oxton Road and the appropriately named Balls Road (East) and have sent us the following pictures (although they advise that the pictures do not do justice to the swarms of flies and bluebottles):

wasteland%20008 wasteland%20010 wasteland%20012 wasteland%20014 wasteland%20020

Our source asks us how do we think the Birkenhead Constituency Committee and Wirral Council would respond to this appalling site/sight?

Unfortunately we suspect it would go something like this:

“We are proud to announce an exciting new development with our partners Steal Holdups International and mysterious foreign investor Pho Ni. We have carried out extensive consultation with the local population – ignored their concerns and decided that what’s best for them is to convert the site to 21st century state of the art “community hub” including all the up-to-date amenities that the local populace needs – a nail bar/tanning salon, a bookies, bingo, a chippy and a needle exchange.

We welcome that the futuristic artist’s impression have drawn interest from the local community and in the modern tradition of giving such iconic buildings a nickname such as “The Shard” or  “The Gherkin”  we understand the scheme has been named  by local people as ” Pie In The Sky”

We spoke to local resident who told us : ” It was quite handy for dumping stuff and taking the dog for a quick dump.Yeah you could say it was a dumping ground.But lets face it love , it’s all me arse isn’it?….there’s about as much chance of this happening as Wirral Council being an open,transparent ,fully functioning ,ethical and efficient organisation”