Wirral – Where Public Service Went To Die …

Human Nature

This week we were quite happy taking a sentimental journey round the septic isle until Dr Robert diagnosed us with ‘Sandie Shaw Syndrome’ . No , we’re not in the words of the barefoot singer’s Eurovision winner ‘Puppets On A String’ (we leave that to others). As fellow sufferers of the syndrome know  : “There’s Always Something There To Remind Me” and it messes with your head.

So whilst it’s vaguely concerning/amusing/appalling that other local authorities are equally inept and corrupt, let’s be reminded of Wirral Council’s rap sheet courtesy of ‘The Good Doctor’. Although as we replied to our esteemed commentator the sleaze (there is no other word) that lies behind the bare reported facts doesn’t bear thinking about!

WIRRAL COUNCIL… WHERE PUBLIC SERVICE WENT TO DIE…

It is 2011, and Wirral Council is in serious trouble. It is on the brink of Government intervention and has received a damning report1 from consultant Anna Klonowski (AKA Associates). The report paints a graphic picture of Wirral Council’s corrosive and bullying corporate culture, failures in corporate governance, and of Wirral as ‘the insular peninsula’. The Council is vividly described as an inward-looking organisation where the abnormal had become normal. The Council Leader and Chief Executive unreservedly accept the devastating assessment, and all the consultant’s findings.

In April 2012 the ‘window dressing’ started. A politically-expedient decision reportedly taken by Frank Field MP and Eric Pickles (then-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government), established a Local Government Association (LGA) Wirral Council ‘Improvement Board’. Called ‘sector-led improvement’ by the LGA, a review of Wirral Council’s corporate governance was undertaken by an ‘expert’ (peer review) panel. Its role was to identify the embedded detrimental issues and agree a corporate improvement programme.

In November 2013 the ‘Improvement Board’ produced a 63-page draft report congratulating themselves for enabling ‘the fastest turnaround2 in local government history’. Its job deemed complete, Wirral Council was unleashed from supervision.

Once unleashed, Council Leader Phil Davies guaranteed the casting vote on all Council committees. Replacing all opposition-councillor committee Chairs with ruling group councillors was in direct contravention of the Improvement Board agreement. The Council and Cabinet has had no effective political opposition since.

November 2014 saw a presentation given by Cllr Phil Davies and Graham Burgess, who appeared to have moved seamlessly3 in 2013 from Improvement Board member to Wirral Council CEO. The judging panel for this presentation, comprising primarily LGA members, judged for the first and only time, the Local Government Chronicle’s (LGC) ‘Most Improved Council in Great Britain’ award. Never awarded before, never awarded since. Without warning, Mr Burgess, described as a ‘leading light’ of the LGA, ‘retired’ from Wirral Council at the end of 2014.

It was March 2015 when Wirral residents awoke to media headlines announcing “From ‘abnormal to inspirational’ – Wirral wins ‘Most Improved Council in Great Britain’ award4.” In Wirral the question on everyone’s lips… is it April 1st?

A new Wirral CEO5, Eric Robinson, a former social worker from Staffordshire CC, was appointed in April 2015. Cllr Phil Davies stated… “Eric is the ideal appointment to take us forward towards my ambition for Wirral to become an outstanding council.”

In 2012 Wirral Council had agreed with findings that it was an ‘inward-looking organisation’ where ‘the abnormal had become accepted as normal’. In November 2015 it still was, as a very low-key peer review revealed. That was, if you could find it.

Also in November 2015, almost absolute power lay in the hands of the Council Leader when Wirral Council Cabinet agreed constitutional changes6. Coupled with the ruling group en-bloc voting7 and abstention regime, any decision could be bulldozed through. This change effectively negated any political opposition and scrutiny, Ward, community8, or resident9 representation.

Political, individual and council organisational survival were now the priorities. Residents were paid lip-service with endless ‘consultations’, as infrastructure deteriorated10, and public services reduced dramatically.

As local criticism grew, Wirral Council Leader took to ‘reputation management’. Described in the media as ‘cronyism’, in February 2016 Martin Liptrot, a self-proclaimed ‘reputation manager’, was appointed. This elicited headlines such as “Emails give extraordinary insight into Wirral Council’s controversial hiring11 of former Labour spin doctor”.

In September 2016, CEO Eric Robinson described Wirral Council’s ‘improvement journey’ as moving from “from the brink of intervention to the pinnacle12 of local government”. With his background in Children’s Services, was all well at the pinnacle of all pinnacles?

‘Most Improved’ Wirral Council’s Children’s Services were rated ‘Inadequate’ by Ofsted in September 2016. Hidden away was a Serious Case Review into the grooming of teenage girls13 in Wirral Council care over a 5-year period. In a desperate attempt to deflect criticism and accountability, the oft-quoted ‘austerity-hit, cash-strapped’ Leader initially promised £2m additional funding. Then a promise of £10m. Then a promise of £20m, to ‘demonstrate Council commitment’.

With ‘Most Improved’ Wirral Council’s reputation in tatters, Martin Liptrot was then fast-tracked to ‘Investor Development Manager’ with ‘no questions asked’14, and immediately sent to Cannes to attend MIPIM, a ‘property market’, with the Council Leader, Council CEO and others.

…and it goes on…in November 2017 following the 2016 Serious Case Review, two brothers were jailed for a combined 40 years after being convicted of 27 sexual offences against girls as young as 14. The Children’s Services Improvement Board Chair, Eleanor Brazil, resigned15 citing Wirral Council’s “shoddy treatment” of Julia Hassall, the then Director of Children’s Services, and “…some significant corporate issues…”

… and on…Jim Crabtree, a (now ex-) Councillor and Chair of Audit & Risk committee was convicted in January 2017 of making death threats16 towards fellow Councillor Louise Reecejones, regarding an unidentified sum of £19,000. In March 2018 the threatened Councillor resigned to free herself from “the noose”17.

Without Local Government Commissioners’ intervention, ‘Most Improved’ Wirral Council is the graveyard of the 7 ‘Nolan Principles’18 of public life, viz.  Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty & Leadership.

In Wirral you won’t hear the ghosts of the Nolan Principles wailing and roaming the streets at night. They left long ago.

 

Weblinks 1-18

 

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/9263981.Chief_executive_and_political_leader_accept_responsibility_for_council_failures/

https://www.lgcplus.com/home/lgc-awards-2017-the-shortlist/lgc-awards-2016/lgc-awards/lgc-awards-2015/most-improved-council/5083096.article

https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/chief-executive-graham-burgess-wirral-3325136

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/11851526.UPDATED__From__abnormal_to_inspirational____Wirral_wins_Most_Improved_Council_award/

https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/former-social-worker-appointed-wirral-8595400

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/13944494.Sweeping_changes_will_see_Wirral_s_cabinet_councillors_given_extensive_new_powers/

https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/time-for-an-intervention/

https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/wirral-school-parents-fought-tooth-14516957 

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/14601265.Girtrell_Court_closure_row_reignites_with_claims_council__misrepresented__carers/

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/15179685.Who_put_the_lights_out__Call_for_urgent_action_to_repair_Wirral_s_2_200_broken_street_lamps/

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/14306240.Emails_give_extraordinary_insight_into_Wirral_Council_s_controversial_hiring_of_former_Labour_spin_doctor/

https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/the-big-lie-gets-even-bigger/

https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/five-years-shame-how-wirral-13045435

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/15022687.UPDATED__Wirral_Council_agrees_to_create_new___80k_management_job___with_no_questions_asked_/

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/15325055.Leaked_resignation_letter_shows_Wirral_s_child_safeguarding_improvement_board_boss_was__shocked_and_appalled__by_director_s__shoddy__treatment/ 

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/ex-councillor-sent-drunken-death-9612068

https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2018/03/10/lrj-an-unofficial-announcement/

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-7-principles-of-public-life/the-7-principles-of-public-life–2

 

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The Leaky Awards 2017 – the Grand Finale

Fireworks

And so we finally reach the grand finale of the Leaky Awards 2017 and taking our cue from the #TimesUp  contingent at the Golden Globes we’ll be wearing black. The clock may been ticking down for us but may it also do the same on the abuse of power – wherever it takes place and in whatever form.

Times Up

However we’ll spare you the dreary , self-righteous speeches – it’s on with the show and our first award of the evening…….

Campaign of the Year

Winner – Defend Our NHS (Wirral)

The local branch of the DONHS have throughout the year provided us with information about future plans for the NHS  and particularly about Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STP) that should concern us all  , especially as Wirral Council are a key strategic player via the Clinical Commissioning Group.

davies

Runner Up – Wirral Needs

If only for the chant ” Labour Council listen to the people”. Our advice to them after  7 years of banging our head against a brick wall is that they won’t so you’ll  have to make them ! The only way they will be forced to listen is at your local constituency party meetings and in the run up to the local elections this May.  After that it’ll be the same old,same old – personal interest and political ambition taking precedence over the public interest. Don’t say we didn’t tell you!

Wirral Needs

Campaign Fail of the Year

Winner – Wirral Labour ‘Keep Wirral Green’ campaign

alternative-facts-3-013

How Wirral Labour reconciled this campaign with proposals and developments for assaults on the Green Belt at Saughall Massie, Hoylake and Thornton Hough etc; we can only hazard a guess but full marks for the sheer PR chutzpah .

Runner up  – Frank Field/Wirral Globe nurses car parking charges at Arrowe Park Hospital (aka Wirral University Teaching Hospital – WUTH )

Whilst it was undoubtedly a worthy campaign we noted how  WUTH CEO David Allison received the petition from Field, gave some bland assurances and then promptly disappeared in a cloud of controversy.We suspect that any incoming CEO will have their work cut-out just keeping WUTH afloat and car parking charges won’t be a priority . Meanwhile  we note that Field is strangely silent about more wide reaching proposals for car parking charges across Wirral that are set to be introduced by Wirral Council. And once again we have to ask is this the only income generation scheme that Wirral Council can come up with and is it even legal?

 

Allison field

David Allison : Yeah whatevs Frank I don’t need this right now. But love your tank top .

Comeback of the Year

Winner Esther McVey, MP for Tatton

Back from the dead

The former MP for Wirral West returns to high office as Work and Pensions Secretary in this week’s Cabinet reshuffle . Somehow this cat on a hot tin roof always manages to land on her kitten heels . And for all her talk of female empowerment we think that McVey is the quintessential beneficiary of modern day political nepotism , where ambition exceeds talent .  The only contribution of note to the local political scene when she was a Wirral West MP was when she hijacked the Martin Morton whistleblowing case for personal and political advantage at Prime Minister’s Questions (apparently Morton knew nothing about it) . What happened after she raised the issue with David Cameron is a particularly worrying episode but alas we won’t be able to do it justice here. Perhaps one day the full shameful tale will be told. 

Runner Up  Stewart Halliday – the economic migrant/consultant from York who crossed the Pennines escaping infamy to make his fortune on Wirral with his two consultancy stints earning him circa £200K. So will Wirral Council kindly tell us whether he’s still around and what exactly we got for our money?

smug-halliday

This man can do a powerpoint presentation and bullshit at the same time ! Therefore Wirral Council must give him as much money as they can.

Comrades of the Year – Cllr Louise Reecejones (LRJ) and Cllr Steve Foulkes (Foulkesy)

foulkesy-lrj-012

 

Were LRJ and Foulkesy separated at birth? Whilst they share so many characteristics none of them can be found in the Nolan Principles! See for yourself :

LRJ Standards Panel investigation report : The  Panel found the evidence of Cllr Louise Reecejones to be inconsistent,vague and misleading. The Panel did not therefore find Cllr Reecejones to be credible.

Foulkesy Standards Panel investigation report : I found it difficult to get Cllr Foulkes to be precise or detailed . His responses were vague,inclined to be evasive and I found them ‘economical with the truth ‘ and unconvincing. 

Yes, just the kind of low lifes we want making decisions about our lives,eh?

Accessories of the Year  –

Winner – Paula Basnett ,CEO Wirral Chamber of Commerce for those shoes.

Shoes

These understated little numbers were considered suitable daywear to shortlist nominees for yet another awards ceremony and did not in anyway reinforce our perception that Ms Basnett and her organisation are all about flash presentation and very little else.

Runner up All Wirral councillors wielding ‘Show Racism the Red Card’placards as a virtue signalling accessory. But especially the local Labour group who tolerate  racists in their midst. But can anyone spot Deputy Leader Cllr George Davies in the picture?

Screenshot_20171113-164701

Best Picture of Unwanted Copies of Wirral View

Winner 

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Runner Up

wirral-view-twister-010

Whilst appropriately enough both pictures position copies of woeful Wirral View next to their final destination –  a bin – we’d like to think the winner of this category contributed to the dumping (no pun intended) of the original Liverpool -based distributor of Wirral View. Unfortunately a £750,000 3 year print deal with Trinity Mirror means we’re burdened with this lumbering white elephant for the forseeable future. Compare and contrast with Wirral Leaks which has cost council taxpayers of Wirral £0 and we would argue has been more effective in addressing the ‘information deficit’ of local people, particularly when we’ve been providing information that Wirral Council don’t want you to know about!

Wirral’s annual entry in Rotten Boroughs Awards 2017

Winner  Ex- Wirral councillor Jim Crabtree

Crabtree PE 012

Crabtree PE 009

Included in Private Eye’s  Rotten Boroughs 2017 ‘Quotes of the Year’ is this fine example of ‘doublespeak’ from former Wirral Councillor Jim ‘Crabby’ Crabtree. It’s a year to the day that Crabtree pleading guilty to offences under the Communications Act 2003 and it’s frightening to think that his well deserved fall from grace might never have happened if his increasingly appalling conduct hadn’t been reported on Wirral Leaks. As a quote from one of our Labour sources testifies when they raised concerns about Crabtree’s fitness to be a councillor    – “The comment from George Davies was ‘better the devil you know’ while Frank (Field) thinks he’s the best thing since sliced bread” –  the local Labour group were reluctant to rein him in . Furthermore we understand that they failed to address allegations made by a whistleblower about grant monies which Crabtree allegedly should have paid back to Wirral Council.

Leaky awards   Leaky awardsLeaky awards

 

Restricted View

Restricted View 009

After yesterday’ s story about the Standards Panel meeting to be held on 15 June we questioned whether openness and transparency would prevail in the matter of this particular councillor Code of Conduct complaint . And true to (bad) form Wirral Council have today published the laughably named ‘public reports pack’ on their website.

First of all you will see that Agenda Item 4  is what can only be described as Kafkaesque as the press and public are excluded from presumably discussing whether the press and public will be able to attend the rest of the meeting !  I think we all know the answer to that already don’t we boys and girls?

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

Agenda 5 is concerned with an investigation report and its 12 appendices which are allegedly attached. Needless to say they’re not – all we get is pages 45-211 marked either Document is Restricted’ or ‘This page is intentionally left blank ‘ .

We imagine some town hall power abuser (take your pick!) rather enjoyed instructing some lowly , downtrodden clerk to upload every single page marked in this way rather than just state that Wirral Council will not publish the documents before the meeting.

We can imagine this pathetic power trippin’ specimen looking in the mirror of the town hall bogs and fist-pumping as if to say : “That’ll show ’em who’s in charge”. It’s just such a shame the vainglorious vampire wouldn’t be able to see their own reflection!

Question Time

question-everything

Let’s draw a discreet veil over last night’s ‘Question Time’.  All we will say is that if the audience in Wallasey Town Hall is what passes for the politically aware of Wirral it explains an awful lot!

Meanwhile , it’s not like us , but we’ve been a bit ambivalent about the local debate to reduce the number of local councillors. Our take has been that fewer elected members would mean a concentration of power and reduce  opportunities to challenge the powers that be , but then we had to remind ourselves that a) that rarely happens and b) party whips and council procedures can quell all rebellion.

We think that what we ‘d really like is a reduction in the number councillors who think a Nolan Principle is the latest winner of Celebrity Big Brother.

However such discussion is purely academic as councillors decided last month – quelle surprise! – not to suffer , like the rest of us , the consequences of the squeeze on public spending and to retain their numbers.

This decision was trumpeted by Cllr  Foulkesy – of all people! –  at a meeting of Wirral Council’s Labour Cabinet last month.

The conclusion that a reduction from 66 to 44 councillors would lead to the need for ‘full -time councillors’ and would apparently inhibit opportunities for women,ethnic minorities and disabled people to hold public office.  It would also lead to what Foulkesy called ‘a different shade of councillor’ being required as opposed,we presume, to a ‘shady councillor’ like himself. And suddenly we’re sold on the idea !  – in fact let’s go all the way and do away with councillors altogether and all the party political baggage that goes with it . Think about it – wouldn’t it be great to have full time professional public servants who are not compromised by toxic politicking?  So we say less councillors and more council staff ! – we can dream can’t we?

As we’ve been anxious to find out what Cllr Janette ‘Milly Tant’ Williamson called the ‘evidence based analysis’ which led to the decision not to refer the matter to the Local Government Boundary Commission we not only read the Scrutiny Review Panel report but considered a Freedom of Information request made by John H Hutchinson which has been brought to our attention and which reads :

“In his Cabinet report “Number of Councillors Scrutiny Review” November
2016, Cllr Brightmore makes many broad statements the most vague of which
is “significant resources in terms of officer and councillor time” and,
later, to support this statement “significant amount of time and
resources”.

What, please, was the formal and recorded estimate of time and resources
to support these statements?

If no estimate was made, could Council make an estimate to complete this
FoIA request, please?”

The Council can advise that Cllr Brightmore’s statements relate to the
Scrutiny Review Panel’s estimation of the time and resources required for
the Council to prepare a submission document to the Local Government
Boundary Commission for England (the Commission), and to undergo an
electoral review (See page 9 of the report)
[1]http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents…

In reviewing a number of lengthy and detailed submission documents from
other local authorities, the Panel was able to gain an appreciation of the
time and resources likely to be required to compile a submission in
preparation for an electoral review.  Technical guidance from the
Commission, indicating an 18-24 month timescale to complete each stage of
an electoral review also informed the statements. Beyond this, no detailed
assessment or estimation of the time and resources required to make a
submission was undertaken.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/cost_of_reducing_councillor_numb

So it would seem that the  Scrutiny Review Panel Chair and rising Labour star Philip ‘Brightboy’ Brightmore –  who’s previous claim to fame was grassing up former Wirral West MP Esther Mc Vey for using House of Commons stationery and postage for Tory electioneering

https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2013/12/07/wirral-leaks-advent-calendar-7-the-stamp-of-disapproval/

– was talking about an ‘estimation of the time and resources required for the Council to prepare a submission document to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (the Commission)’ .

So it would transpire that the Scrutiny Review Panel have basically made some comparisons with some neighbouring councils and councils with a similar profile and decided they are value for money.

It is significant there are no surveys or consultations undertaken canvassing the views of council taxpayers nor an analysis of how much additional council officer time and resources would be needed if the number of councillors were to be reduced. This was firmly put in the ‘too difficult tray’ by the Panel as follows : ‘The impact of a reduction of councillors on back office and support functions was also acknowledged by the Panel. Whilst this is difficult to quantify, it was agreed that that these functions would have to increase in order to fill the gap left by councillors, so any cost savings identified by reducing councillors would have to take account of any increase in officer workloads.’

Meanwhile Panel chair Brightboy says in the introduction :

‘I believe the findings of this investigation speak broadly for themselves. To speculate further upon those findings here risks undermining the analytical, data-led approach I and others have been careful to maintain.’

Which just about sums up some local councillors view of the local electorate.  It’s a case of : ‘We don’t want your views .We know best – even when we don’t ’cause we don’t have the data !’  

Which is why in the light of such a lack of investigative rigour we say to our readers :  keep on making those Freedom of Information requests and most important of all –  QUESTION EVERYTHING.

 

The Wirralgate Files

The W Files

We’ve had numerous enquiries asking us were the Wirralgate saga is up to because it’s been oh so quiet. So we’ve contacted some trusted and well placed sources to find out where things are at as clearly Wirral Council have absolutely no intention of telling us.

Apparently there are two Wirralgate files held in complete secrecy under lock and key. Firstly and figuratively in the red corner we have the Nick Warren review and in the blue corner we have the Patricia Thynne re-review.

Apparently the latter was to be discussed (behind closed doors) at a meeting of the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee on Monday , 8th February – no laughing at the back ,yes Wirral Council do have such a committee. Not that they meet very often as you can see from the number of postponements and cancellations which tells us much about how local councillors are concerned about standards and oversight of their own conduct.

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/ieListMeetings.aspx?CId=684&Year=0

However in a typical Wirral Council move the meeting has been reconvened nearly  2 months later to 31st MARCH !.

Why so ? I hear you all cry.

There can only be one explanation and that is that it has been moved to ensure that the meeting takes place during purdah. The purdah period typically begins six weeks before the scheduled local elections in May. The time period prevents the councillors using their knowledge of Council business that would be advantageous or disadvantageous to any candidates or parties in the forthcoming election. Where actual advantage to candidates is proven in law this amounts to a breach of Section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986.Ironically its breach carries with it the possibility of actions for abuse of power and misconduct in public office which is what the Wirralgate files are all about!!!!.

So what better way to ensure that councillors keep their gobs shut about what they know!.

Fortunately there are no councillors who work at Leaky Towers so Wirral Council need not rely on us keeping our gobs shut. And please Wirral Council spokesperson don’t piously give us that crap about interfering with due process – you wouldn’t know due process if it bit you on your expensively upholstered backside.The fact is that the most senior politicians and officers have been keeping a lid on this scandal since July 2013 simply because they have the money and power to do so.

What they seem to forget is that it is OUR money and the power WE have invested in them to act in accordance with their professional codes of conduct and The Seven Principles of Public Life (aka The Nolan Principles).

  1. Selflessness
  2. Integrity
  3. Objectivity
  4. Accountability
  5. Openness
  6. Honesty
  7. Leadership

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-7-principles-of-public-life/the-7-principles-of-public-life–2

So far Wirral Council we score you zero out of seven. Although let’s face it they probably think the Nolan Principles mean they need to be in the mood for dancing!.

As for the bogus Nick Warren review – Lord knows where that is up to (or more accurately he doesn’t know because if he did he would tell you!).

https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/time-and-trouble/

For all we know “The Complainers” could have been boxed off by now and the golden opportunity to finally rid Wirral Council of the poison that has made it into such a sick organisation has been exchanged for 30 pieces of silver (or however much Frankenfield has negotiated on their behalf) .

As far as we’re concerned somebody needs to send for Jessica Fletcher as it looks like it’s going to be murder this purdah!.

AngelaLansbury