Where’s Wally?

Denial

Hopefully readers will be pleased to hear that Dr Robert B Smith is still on Wirral Council’s case. This time he’s trying to elicit a response from their CEO Eric ‘Feeble’ Robinson to queries he made via email over 6 months ago. Dr Smith has contacted all 66 councillors in asking whether Stressed Eric’s conduct was a) acceptable or b) unacceptable.

As far as we know the only councillor to respond was Cllr Walter Smith. We’ll leave you to read his email and Dr Smith’s meticulously researched riposte. However we would comment that as far as we’re concerned it’s a case of  ‘Walter by name , Wally by nature’. Indeed Cllr Smith has recently been observed on the campaign trail wearing a red fleece with his name printed on the back. Presumably to help him remember who he is if he get’s lost.  However if we were ever asked the question –  ‘Where’s Wally ?’ we’d have to say  : ‘In denial’……..

Dear Dr Smith,

I presume that there must be a reason for a failure to respond to your request. I suggest that you involve your local councillor. By the way WBC has never been better run than it is today. The officers do a good job, and we councillors have received the award of ‘The Most Improved Council’.

Kind regards,

Walter Smith.

Dear Cllr Walter Smith

It was my intention to circulate all Wirral Councillors with the results of my earlier survey, and reply  to you individually. I only asked for ‘unacceptable’ or ‘acceptable’ as a response. However, given your more expansive response to me, it would seem apposite to circulate my response more broadly.

Firstly, given your response, and the fact that you are a collective employer, why don’t you ask Mr Robinson what is his ‘reason for a failure to respond’? My assessment would be that he is unable to put anything in writing that would not seriously compromise his position.

Shall we take the latest development in the appalling situation regarding the Wirral Safeguarding Board, as a starting point?

The Government’s intervention by installing Eleanor Brazil to endeavour to address the numerous failings, speaks volumes regarding capability. As does Mr Robinson’s claim in the Wirral Globe given his background;

Eric Robinson, chief executive, said: “We have made some changes in terms of social care and I will now work with Julia Hassall”.
“My background is in Children’s Services so I will oversee the work”. (Wirral Globe 20 Sep 2016
)

The press coverage of the sentencing of Brothers Vinothan and Ilavarasan Rajenthiram, jailed for 40 years for grooming and sexual exploitation of vulnerable young girls in Wirral, included the following comment – “Over a five-year campaign Ilavarasan and Vinothan Rajenthiram groomed and sexually abused vulnerable young girls from Wirral, all known to Wirral Council”. That would go back to 2012 and doesn’t support the assertion of your 3rd sentence. Actually, it also blows a considerable hole ‘, in the claims made in your 4th sentence as well as in the credibility of the fantasy ‘The Most Improved Council 2015′ award.

Now, with regard to ‘The Most Improved Council’ award. I have discussed this award, and its credibility with Dr Gill Taylor of the Local Government Association (LGA). You will remember her from the ‘LGA Improvement Board’. I have also corresponded with the Local Government Chronicle (LGC) and Government Ministers. It was actually a Local Government Chronicle Award, one of a range of local government awards given by a local government subscription periodical. This ‘Most Improved’ award was apparently never awarded prior to 2015, and it has never been awarded since – too many burned sponsors fingers, I suspect.

You may remember Graham Burgess? Yes, he who breezed into the ‘Improvement Board’ in 2012/13 as a peer reviewer (at the request of the LGA and Michael Frater). At the time Graham Burgess was CEO of Blackburn & Darwen Council (which incidentally had won the LGC ‘Council of the Year’ award in 2011).

The recruitment of Graham Burgess as ‘interim’ CEO of Wirral Council was an ‘interesting’ process. And as for the permanent position – 8 applications…1 successful interviewee?

Quite like self-proclaimed Labour activist Mr Liptrot and his published email thread to Cllr Phil Davies. Not to mention Mr Liptrot’s numerous conflicts of interest. It was fortunate that Mr Tour felt absolutely compelled to ‘remind him about’ occupying a ‘politically restricted’ post whilst it was reported he had several contracts across Merseyside. With Wirral Council’s plummeting reputation, and no Joe Anderson metro-mayor bandwagon to ride on, it appears that a side-step to promote unattainable investment ‘opportunities’ matches a mythical skillset. So we witness a frenetic appointment ‘crucial’ before the Cannes visit to MIPIM. Expedience which truly stretches credulity.
But back to Graham Burgess.
Wirral Council’s own press release described him as a ‘leading light’ of the LGA. He was also a regular contributor to, and endorser of the LGC. For the 2015 ‘Most Improved’ award, the ‘live panel’ presentation was made by Graham Burgess and Cllr Phil Davies to assessors comprising mainly LGA member Chief Executives. (Doncaster Council, the 2015 award runner-up is an interesting study. Even more so if you add WBC, LGA, SOLACE, ex-WBC staff and very low interest loans into the mix.)

It is a shallow exercise in massaging political egos, and self-promotion for the LGA (and the LGC) to promote the ‘LGA Sector-led Improvement programme’ and the ‘peer review’ mechanism. If you achieve some supposed ‘improvement’, by some supposed ‘measure’ or ‘other’ and provide the tea and biscuits, the LGA will bask in the glory, and parade an individual (in Wirral’s case Cllr Phil Davies) around the country, as a ludicrous example, of a ‘success story’.

It is evident that aspiring to mediocrity underpins the peer review process, and serial under-achievement is the benchmark of ‘improvement’. This is displayed in pyrotechnic fashion in Wirral Council, where documents by both the LGA and Anna Klonowski quote wording proclaiming ‘…in her report, of 2012 Ms Klonowski highlights how at Wirral Council “the abnormal has become the norm”.’

That is 5 years ago. The ‘LGA Improvement Board’ covered the period March 2012 until November 2013 and then, its job done, disbanded. The LGA produced a glossy brochure detailing Wirral’s ‘improvement journey’. The summary introducing the document makes interesting reading and includes this claim.

Eighteen months after Wirral developed and implemented their action plan with the LGA, the Improvement Board that provided advice and oversight of Wirral’s improvement journey reported that sector-led improvement had “transformed” the Council to one that was “stable, well-led, open and far more inclusive.” If you don’t recognise that description, and I certainly don’t, here is the link. http://www.local.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/wirral-councils-sector-le-40f.pdf

An interesting comment in the Liverpool Echo published 8th May 2013 from Cllr Harney at the time of establishing the ‘LGA Improvement Board’ Cllr Harney said the council needs “a great deal more openness and much more rigorous performance management”.
He added: “People, councillors, senior managers and the public, have not been aware of what has been going on.”

One aspect of the withdrawal agreement with the Improvement Board, was that Opposition Councillors would occupy the Chairs of Scrutiny Committees. Is that still the case Cllr Smith? No of course it isn’t. All scrutiny committee chairs were taken by Labour councillors in 2014. That casting vote, as required to achieve the prescribed outcome, is crucial to driving unopposed decision-making, but also negates independent scrutiny, accountability and transparency.

Coupled with other constitutional changes giving sweeping new powers to Cabinet members, and a forthcoming fallow year for elections in 2017, any prescribed outcome is attainable. Add to that heady mix the ruling group en-bloc voting and abstention regimes, and what results? Mythical resident’s surveys aside, and resident ‘information deficit’, party-political voting which mostly ignores constituents’ wishes e.g. Girtrell Court and Lyndale School thrives. As you will know, these deliberate changes effectively create the situation where power rests solely with Cllr Phil Davies. How would you describe that model of administration?

Graham Burgess’ apparently effortless ‘soft-shoe shuffle’ into Wirral’s CEO position preceded the 2015 LGC ‘Award’. The Guardian newspaper published, on 10 Apr 2014, the 3rd in the series ‘Public Service Tango’ – Headlined ‘One leader, one chief executive – and a joint vision for their council’s future’ – a far from enlightening piece by Graham Burgess and Cllr Phil Davies. A good journalist would normally extract a ‘riveting quote’, or an ‘earth-shattering insight’ from the article to draw the reader into this revelatory discourse.

This must be the best available. “Wirral council’s leader and chief executive attend each other’s meetings and welcome ideas from all employees”. An absolutely breath-taking insight you must agree – but does it actually matter? Well yes, and, no.

Actually it doesn’t in this specific case as one learns nothing, but of more interest is this extract from a paragraph beneath the published article.
Phil Davies is leader of Wirral council; Graham Burgess is the council’s chief executive. This collection of articles on the relationship between public managers and politicians is supported by SOLACE and is running on the Guardian Public Leaders Network from March to June 2014.

I know that you will be on the edge of your seat by now, Cllr Smith, but what happens next? You will take solace from what happens next.

The very, very low-key publishing of the November 2015 ‘peer review’ follow-up, of Wirral Council, by the LGA. You may not know the then-Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council, but you should. His name is Mark Rogers – http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/birmingham-city-council-chief-executive-12625426

Mark Rogers was the CEO of Birmingham City Council, a member of the LGA and SOLACE, which if you don’t know is the Society Of Local Authority Chief Executives. It is most likely that Eric Robinson (from neighbouring Staffordshire) and Graham Burgess, and Cllr Phil Davies would know him. Not only was he a member of SOLACE (supporting the Guardian article), but he was its President until October 2016.

Birmingham CEO Mark Rogers (LGA member and SOLACE President) was one of the ‘experts’ who undertook the ‘peer review’ of 2015 which unlike the ‘sector-led improvement journey’, and the farcical ‘Most Improved Council 2015’ award, was unleashed on an unwitting public without fanfare and illustrates regression, not improvement. I would imagine that even Mark Rogers would struggle signing that review off, with his background in children’s social care?

Does that look familiar, given Eric Robinson’s previous employment?
At this point, the question for me is where do I stop ‘joining the dots’?
I have only scratched the surface of the machinations of Wirral Council above, but you will get a flavour of why I have some difficulty taking your response seriously.

Wirral Council ruling administration is in serious trouble, and using great swathes of public money to defend the indefensible, is actually indefensible.

I look forward to receiving your response,
Your sincerely

Dr Robert B Smith FCMI

ps I would be making these observations and comments whatever the political colour of any Council administration conducting itself in this manner.

The Pen(n)is Mightier Than The Sword

The Penn-Name & The Moving Finger
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it
-The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
******************************************
During a lull between between yuletide and New Year celebrations we here at Leaky Towers have been picking the bones not only out of the turkey expertly stuffed by our cook Nigella Knowall but also a report where HESPE whistleblowers appear to have been expertly stuffed by former Bradford and Knowsley Council Chief Executive Richard Penn.
As previously reported on Wirralleaks the “Preliminary investigation into issues raised in the Report in the Public Interest in relation to the role of the Director of Technical Services in the procurement and management of HES contract” was sneaked out last minute on Christmas Eve ( and we understand faithfully reported by Wirral Council’s media friends on Radio Merseyside on Christmas Day).Well the first comment we’d like to make is why such a cumbersome,elongated title for such a simplistic,flimsy report?We can only hope and pray that indeed this is a “preliminary” report because 39 pages of mostly personal opinions presented as evidence and facts hardly seems to do justice to this complex case.
Indeed we’ve dispensed with the title – no ,not those bestowed on her Ladyship and I for services for leakage- but the title of the report and we’ve taken a leaf out of Eldritch’s book and will henceforth be referring to said magnum opus as “Penn’s Pisspoor Report” ( “…and having writ ,moves on” – indeed and no doubt,to another lucrative job).To save you the bother of reading what is described as a “Report for the Chief Executive” we’ll give you the lowdown (and by jove do we mean lowdown) .The report is from one ex-Merseyside Chief Executive to a current Merseyside Chief Executive – who no doubt would have rubbed up against each other ,so to speak,when Mr.Penn was Chief Executive at Knowsley Council and indeed when they were former muckers at Liverpool Council.Of course Dave Green (the aforesaid Director of Technical Services) is found to have “no case to answer” ( which rather reminds us here at Leaky Towers of the findings of another “investigation” at Wirral Council which eventually proved to be somewhat questionable to say the least…….).However, this time the findings are seemingly based on irrefutable fact based evidence such as legal beagle Colin Hughes telling Penn that Green would never get involved in any nastiness involving picking on whistleblowers :  “He (Hughes) said that Dave Green was seen as a man of integrity and fairness– such behavior would not have been in line with this reputation”.
As we must appreciate this statement stands up to close scrutiny because as we know : a) Whistleblowers are always dealt with fairly and with integrity and respect by Wirral Council and b) A Senior Officer in the Legal Department said it – so it must be true!.

It is very dispiriting to see the same old names trawled out (the dearly departed Norman,Coleman,Garry etc;) however we were all intrigued to see the names of two “old friends” appearing out of the Cheshire countryside like the delightful Julie Andrews in The Sound Of Music – ” or as Eldritch commented : ” Oh here we go – the hills are alive with the sound of bullshit”.Ladies and gentlemen I give you Simon Goacher and Steve Maddox ( What ?! – No applause?.Why so?.)  Simon Goacher – former Head of  Legal of Wirral and more recently Cheshire East ( we understand there was a bit of a “falling out” at the latter) and now cosily ensconced at Weightman’s Solicitors in Liverpool and currently their Head of Local Government and doing lots of work for…….er , Wirral Council!!

All we would like to say at this juncture is that we hope all those Conflict of Interest forms have been filled in properly this time Simes old chap! Mr.Maddox – having baled out just before Anna Klonowski could ask him a few pertinent questions about his role in the Social Services scandals – suddenly appears fresh as a daisy to explain himself to fellow former Merseyside Chief Executive Mr.Penn,knowing full well that having the Freedom of the Borough of Wirral,being a Deputy Lieutenant of Merseyside and having a big fat pension to cushion his derriere he’s beyond accountability ( however being out of harms way he’s convenient to pin the blame on).

Indeed there seems to be a lot of blaming of others in the report.Once again faithful beagle Colin Hughes pipes up that  there seemed to be a ” get Dave Green approach” .And who was behind this evil conspiracy to malign the good name of DG ?- take your pick – the “malicious” whistleblowers?, the District Auditor?, the cleaners at Wallasey Town Hall?……….

In his defence Dave Green refers to a District Auditor’s report where “more than 20 examples of blatant bad practice” are identified and yet he seems to be the only one being asked to be held accountable ( which frankly would be a first at Wirral Council) .
Indeed , we can recall Klonowski also refers to a blatant disregard of EU procurement regulations in the Independent Review.But really, as my late mother Lady Justicia once told me when I was a little boy and there was that little “misunderstanding” about that postal order: “Just because everyone else was doing it doesn’t mean you can use that as an excuse….rise above ,dear boy,rise above”.  And what’s more it raises the same old spectre of what the blithering hell Councillors were doing whilst Council Officers were getting away with “blatant bad practice” – scrutiny ,accountability and  consequences be damned!

Now I don’t know if its an excess of marron glaces and madeira but my head is spinning with all this intrigue.I could do with some fresh air to clear my head……….anyone fancy a quick round of golf at Carden Park?

Tally ho, and a Happy New Years Eve to you all,  your Good Lord Wirral-Leaks

Quantum of SOLACE

Last night I was rudely awoken from a postprandial snooze by some startling knockers.

Eldritch ran immediately to the Leaky Towers entrance where he saw a couple of figures running away into the distance. ” Fucking trick or treaters!  -should I get the 12 bore M’lud. I understand that nice Mr.Cameron chap is all in favour of blasting the head off bloody burglars……”

 Lady W, exasperated by the fact that her viewing of the documentary “Downton Abbey” had been interrupted, sternly interjected:

 ”Oh really Earnest, must we have such a commotion!  I think Dear David may have had hardened criminals in mind rather than kiddies asking for sweeties……  “

 “It’s a slippery slope M’am…and I should know.  I started off begging for money outside Leaky Square Station with a tatty Guy Fawkes .Next thing you know I’m in a branch of NatWest wearing a balaclava and brandishing a sawn -off shotgun ….”

 

It was at this point that Miss Snoop espied a mysterious note lying on the parquet.Ever the one for proper decorum Lady W declared: “Eldritch – the silver salver and the tortoiseshell letter opener, if you would be so kind.”

 And so with due ceremony I slipped the note from the envelope and this is what it said:

  Statement from the HESPE Whistleblowers

 The HESPE Whistleblowers have met with Wirral Council to express their serious concerns regarding the investigation procedure.

 Mainly that the independent investigator Mr Richard Penn did not interview them or request any evidence from the Whistleblowers.

 Mr Penn did state that he would need to interview the group regarding the statutory officer involvement etc. However, the Council then decided not to involve the investigator any further with the group.

 We are perplexed how the Council has stated (No case to answer) we have informed Wirral Council that this cherry picking manoeuvre will be exposed.

 

And so it would appear another character is added to the cast of Wirral Council Cluedo.Who could be this mysterious Mr. Penn?

 Quick as a flash Verity is fiddling with her i-thingy and it would appear that Richard Penn works for the organisation SOLACE Enterprises.  Which, to be frank, we all thought sounded like an organisation run by a Bond villain.  However according to their website:

 SOLACE (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers) is the representative body for senior strategic managers working in the public sector.  The Society promotes public sector management excellence and provides professional development for its Members who come from all areas of the public sector.  Whilst the vast majority of its members work in local government it also has members operating in senior positions in health authorities, police and fire authorities and central government.  SOLACE spans all of the UK, having membership in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and England.

   SOLACE Enterprises is wholly owned by the Society and operates, in effect, as a “not for profit” public sector company.  It provides high quality, customer-focused and practical support to local government, the public sector, and the voluntary sector, both in the UK and internationally.

 Which rather makes SOLACE sound like a Corporate Old Boys Network if you ask us.

At which point it might be useful to remind everyone that Michael Frater is also a member of SOLACE.

 We can only assume that Mr.Penn has been attracting the same kind of financial remuneration from Wirral Council, as did Mr.Frater…………. a quantum of SOLACE indeed.