Above is a picture of the rather splendid council chamber at York Guildhall. The admirable York Mix website tells us that it will be here next week that a group of senior councillors are challenging City of York Council (CYC) leader Cllr David Carr to publish a ‘secret report’.
Regular Wirral Leaks readers will know that our interest is piqued by the fact that we understand the report follows a Local Government Association (LGA) investigation into what Stewart Halliday got up to before he landed a £200K + ‘transformer’ gig at Wirral Council.
What also interests us is the sheer persistence of CYC councillors in pursuing this matter in the public interest. Can you imagine Wirral Council’s equivalent to CYC’s Audit & Governance Committee writing a cross- party letter to the leader of the Council asking for a report to published in the name of openness and transparency?
Indeed if they were doing their jobs properly there’s a particular ‘secret report’ that Wirral Council’s Audit & Risk Management Committee should be asking to be published. The sad fact is that half of this committee don’t even know what report we’re referring to and the other half know exactly what report we are referring to and are choosing to sweep the matter under the Wallasey Town Hall carpet !
With all this Labour Party conference talk of Private Finance Initiative ( PFI) schemes we thought we’d turn our attention to the Local Authority (LA) equivalent of the never-never and and return to an old story concerned with LOBO loans.
For those unfamiliar with the concept -although you might not know you’re paying through the nose for one – a LOBO stands for Lender Option Borrower Option.
The Lender Option means that periodically the lender can impose a new interest rate.
The Borrower Option is to agree to new interest rate or pay loan back in full.
However if the local authority chooses to pay the loan back in full there are punitive ‘break penalties’ which can cost the local authority (and more specifically the council taxpayer) an arm and a leg.
Last night’s Audit & Risk Management Committee confirmed that Wirral Council have taken out a LOBO loan and the reason that the annual accounts have not been fully signed off by external auditor Grant Thornton is that a member of the public has raised an objection to the LOBO loan situation.
Indeed we understand from the excellent Debt Resistance UK website that Wirral Council is one of 46 councils that are subject to such a legal objection (see below). Full details can be read here : LOBO legal objections
LOBO Debt & “Fair (repayment) Value” for financial liabilities at 46 UK Councils where objections were lodged in 2015/16 and 2016/17 financial years.
As you can see Wirral have taken out an eyewatering LOBO loan of £157+ million and it is estimated that they will be paying back £295 + million . The loan repayments represent 10.2% of council tax income and debt per person on Wirral is £924 .
Furthermore latest figures Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) indicate that Wirral is the 13th (unlucky for us) overall highest LA borrower in the UK. No doubt part of that that is to cover pay-offs to council managers, contracts for consultants and salaries for ‘transformers !
We don’t know whether you’ve been playing close attention to forthcoming Council meetings – we have. But before we go into detail we first need to remind everyone of the furore that surrounded the Wirral Council delegation that jetted off to the MIPIM event in Cannes earlier this year in pursuit of international investment.
Appropriately enough the French Riviera has long been known as a ‘sunny place for shady people’ and accordingly we were promised an update from Wirral Council’s wannabe Billionaire Boy’s Club about all the millions,billions and zillions that would be flowing into Wirral, and particularly Birkenhead , as a result of Wirral Council’s ‘offer’ at a planned Cabinet meeting to be held earlier today. Needless to say we were breathless with anticipation at Leaky Towers at the announcement, as with Martin Liptrot’s spin, Eric Robinson’s charisma and Cllr Phil ‘Power Boy Pip’ Davies’ power of persuasion – what could possibly go wrong?
But lo and behold and as you can see – the meeting was cancelled . First of all we thought it could be because of purdah but then we saw that there was a Cabinet meeting arranged for June 5th – which as you know is before the General Election to be held on June 8th . That means that it couldn’t be purdah that caused the meeting to be cancelled. Therefore we can only hope and pray that Pip and his ever growing team of highly paid ‘transformers’ have a special surprise for us all at the re-arranged meeting, as we don’t think we can go through another Wirral Waters and the extended series of false dawns we experienced courtesy of Sam Wa and their special emissary, Stella Shiu.
Having said all that , what we couldn’t find on the Wirral Council website of forthcoming attractions is a Standards Panel which apparently will discuss an investigation report covering 3 complaints against a certain councillor from 3 different complainants.
Once again we have an overwhelming sense of deja vu as Wirral Council’s ruling Labour group desperately attempt to cover up the dark,dark heart at the centre of their administration. Lest we forget it’s almost a year since the last attempted cover up of alleged elected member misconduct :
We need to thank our lucky stars that Wirral Council ‘leader’ ( ha!ha!ha!) Cllr Phil Davies aka Power Boy Pip yesterday authorised a Wirral representative to attend a ‘Transformation’ beano in Manchester today.
Unfortunately that representative was his namesake Cllr Angela Davies.
Although it must be said that whilst ‘Our Ange’ knows all about the ‘public sector transformational journey’, it would appear she didn’t like it much. Whilst working for the NHS she was quite happy to enjoy the transformation of the drug and alcohol services over into the private sector in the guise of ‘Crime Reduction Initiatives/ Change, Grow, Live’ but then it all got a bit messy for the poor lass. And whilst she was quick to criticise her new employer on the QT she soon hotfooted back to secure employment within the NHS when she realised just exactly how they meant to ‘transform’ services.
And so the moral of this story would appear to be that ‘transformation’ is alright for us plebs but not for those with a secure pension plan – and the opportunity to enjoy free lunch and refreshments at the Manchester Hilton!
However our immediate attention was drawn to some of the eyewatering sums involved. Under the circumstances it would seem an obvious choice to assign the post of interim head of transformation to our new found friend Stewart Halliday. However we have reason to believe that ‘Happy Halliday’ may have actually been appointed to the second programme manager post on £181, 471 ! Which would mean that he could have DOUBLED his salary since fleeing City of York Council under a charcoal-coloured cumulonimbus .
Of course our sources may be mistaken and if so we would welcome Wirral Council , in the name of openness and transparency ,to put the correct names in the frames . After all it must surely be in the public interest that we should know where our money is going and who it is going to!
However, there’s more to this fast moving story. Hence the title of this blog post. So, you may be asking yourselves what kind of reference did ‘Happy Halliday’ get from his previous employer? – well , apparently he didn’t get one!
Yes that’s right ,news reaches us that Halliday was provided with a reference from the Chief Executive of Bradford City Council , one Kersten England .
Eh? – well apparently Ms England was CEO of City of York Council before moving on to Bradford City Council in the summer of 2015. So despite there being two subsequent CEOs of CoYC since her departure – the interim, Steve Stewart, and the current incumbent Mary Weastell – both of whom could surely have provided a glowing reference for the wonderful work Halliday did for CoYC, he curiously chose to seek a reference from England, along with a reference from an agency ‘outlining’ two years of Halliday’s employment history.
This wouldn’t be so bad , after all everyone ( including the agency involved), wants to present themselves in the best light when a six figure gig is up for grabs , however we understand that, shamefully, it was Wirral Council who made NO DIRECT APPROACH to CoYC for a reference for Halliday. Which makes us to want to wish that the whole of Wirral Council’s notoriously appalling Human Resources Department management team ,who’s motto seems to be ‘we were only following orders’, gets swallowed up and spat out into the gutter by C(r)apita at the earliest opportunity.
It’s all very reminiscent of the Stella Shiu debacle isn’t it? And look what happened there! It’s like the interweb thingy doesn’t exist for Wirral Council or perhaps there are darker forces at work which ensure that the current administration ‘get their man’ no matter what his credentials.
Might we suggest that whilst this situation may result in big money for Halliday it’s a kick in the holiday money for the long suffering council tax payers of Wirral!
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 PrivateEye 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.
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.”
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.
A compiler of an illustrated dictionary may find a use for this picture of Stewart Halliday next to the word ‘smug’.
A shout out to one of our many Wirral Council watchers who has sent us some news all the way from the charming city of York.
Here we pick out some of the most pertinent points from the following newspaper article published by The York Press ( who are like our own dear Wirral Globe only a little bit posher). Whilst the issues raised read like our back catalogue – serious failings, procedural breaches,cover ups, procurement issues, dodgy contracts, lack of monitoring, culture of fear , leaked reports and how City of York Council are more concerned about reputation management than exposing malpractice. Bear with us , there is a punchline :
The Press revealed yesterday, council bosses have been criticised for paying tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money without proper monitoring, and told to take “robust action” to avoid a repeat of serious failings.
The council refused to publish one of two auditors’ reports, but a copy has now been seen by The Press and adds more detail to the published report.
It alleges that another £150,000 was paid out, and a catalogue of other failures including the council official responsible not getting proper tenders, quotes or contracts for work commissioned, and not drawing up business cases or monitoring the work that was paid for.
According to the report, there was a series of policy breaches, but auditors have made clear there is no evidence of fraud or criminality.
Stewart Halliday, who held senior roles with the council, authorised a raft of payments to communications consultant Stuart Goulden without obtaining quotes
Mr Halliday sent council information to his own personal email address, and the personal email addresses of one serving and one former councillor
Contracts were awarded to other companies Mr Goulden was involved with, as well as to him personally
There was a “lack-of-recognition” in the council that Mr Goulden was being paid so much
Procurement staff and a former chief executive tried to challenge the troublesome contracts, but failed “possibly due to the culture within the area at the time”.
The auditors’ investigation included checking Mr Halliday’s email account after he had left the council, trying to check historic entry logs at the council headquarters, and exploring potential personal links between Mr Halliday and Mr Goulden. None were found.
The auditors said they could see Mr Goulden had carried out the work, but they could not find any evidence Mr Halliday had followed procurement rules by looking for other quotes, drawing up contracts and putting them on the council register, or monitoring the work.
Instead, the report lists ten alleged breaches including no paperwork being retained; no quotes or contracts for the work; one payment in advance of work being carried out; and a lack of contract monitoring.
Furthermore, auditors say they found emails containing council information which had been sent from Mr Halliday’s work account to non-council email addresses, including some information marked “confidential”.
The auditors raised concerns about the potential data protection implications of that.
Mr Halliday was the council’s assistant director for transformation and change in 2014, and had also held the title of head of strategy, partnerships and communications.
Mr Goulden and his company Like No Other worked for the council between 2013 and 2016.
A spokeswoman for City of York Council said: “The report was exempt from publication and our employees identities kept private because it identified individuals by name and this information related specifically to their financial or business affairs. As a responsible employer we have a fundamental duty to protect the privacy of our employees and former employees. We are taking this matter very seriously. An investigation into how this confidential report was released is being conducted and this will involve North Yorkshire Police.
The Press has made efforts to contact Mr Halliday, without success.”
Perhaps The Press could contact a certain Mr Stewart Halliday at Wirral Council – firstname.lastname@example.org
Could this be the same Mr Halliday who is now responsible for Wirral Council’s ‘Transformation Programme’ ?. I think we should be told!
If so Wirral Council were clearly impressed that Halliday can do a powerpoint presentation and utter council-speak at the same time.
Moreover we can almost guarantee he used the word ‘passionate’ if he had an interview. But then again we can’t understand how many of these people get appointed in the first place. Is it a Masonic thing ? Common Purpose? Knights of St Columba? or do they just have to like playing golf and support Everton FC?.
As for this bogus ‘transformation agenda’ it comes to something when even enriched municipal mandarins tell us it’s ‘time to stop the lies ‘. Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy chief executive, Rob Whiteman, and chief executive of the West Midlands Combined Authority, Martin Reeves say that local government should stop lying about its financial problems and give up pretending transformation will solve the massive underfunding it faces.
As far as we’re concerned at Wirral Leaks the ‘transformation agenda’ is nothing more than opportunists setting themselves up to benefit from the demise of public services. The hope being that one day they will get a cushy number sitting on a trustee or management board. Locally one only has to check out the Wirral Chamber of Commerce and Magenta Living . Nationally there are Arm’s Length Organisations (ALO’s) and private enterprises which are awash with local government failures supplementing their engorged pension pots by picking at the corpse of local government.
So remember when you see or hear the word ‘transformation’ – be afraid, be very afraid.