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Posted by: John Brace | 3rd September 2012

Wirral Council Overcharges (again) Department of Law, HR and Asset Management

Interest Declaration: The writer was a candidate in the 2012 elections for the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral.
Interest Declaration: The writer sued the Birkenhead Liberal Democrats in the Birkenhead County Court over an alleged breach of s.7 of the Data Protection Act 1998. Deputy District Judge Ireland found in favour of the author in April 2012 and issued a court order in the author’s favour against the Birkenhead Liberal Democrats.
Interest Declaration: The writer is once again involved with litigation against the Birkenhead Liberal Democrats.

So there I was at work and I got handed 56 pages of election expenses returns from candidates in Birkenhead (cost to where I work was £11.20 (20p*56)).

It turns out though that Wirral Council however loves:

a) to cover things up,
b) doesn’t know what an individual is,
c) to overcharge and
d) has a very vague understanding of the law.

Hmm, doesn’t that all seem familiar? First however, a little bit of history. The Returning Officer for this election was Bill Norman. He got suspended on the 28th June 2012 shortly after the elections, to be replaced as Returning Officer on the 16th July 2012 by Mr. Surjit Tour.

However the day-to-day running of the electoral services is done by staff in the department that Mr. Surjit Tour is the Acting Head of (Department of Law, HR and Asset Management).

Last month I made a request to see various candidates election expenses returns, which include a donations page detailed where the money came from. I went to see them on Friday 31st August), I queried why the names, addresses and status of all donors had been “blacked out” from the copies I was inspecting. When I queried it I was told by an employee (who I won’t embarrass by naming here) that it was the law to do so. So I requested copies anyway.

I queried this “interpretation” with the Electoral Commission and I quote below from their response this afternoon:

“Hi John,

I’ve had a look into this and, although the addresses should be redacted for data protection reasons, the names of the donors should be made available. Paragraph 2.18 on page 6 of our guidance to Returning Officers explains this http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/141985/Part-F-After-the-declaration-of-result-LGEW.pdf

Hope that helps. Let me know if you have any further questions.”

So I read the link, and sure enough on page 6 at 2.18 it states:-

“The addresses of individuals who have made donations to candidates, must by law, be removed from all inspection copies and copies supplied on request.”

Odd, I thought considering this candidate didn’t receive any donations from individuals, but from a political party (which is an unincorporated association not a living, air-breathing person like the individual writing this article). Then I remembered something, this candidate got herself elected, so the information on who donated the £984.33 to her campaign, is already in her published Register of Interests on Wirral Council’s website as Birkenhead Liberal Democrats. So Wirral Council in irony worthy of a Greek tragedy are ironically covering up some information already available on their website!

Sadly this only applies to twenty-two out of the hundred and nine candidates though. Ahh them, the Birkenhead Liberal Democrats, who lost to me in a lawsuit earlier on this year in the Birkenhead County Court. As agreed by all sides in that case (defendant and plantiff alike), they’re an unincorporated association, not an individual, but let’s move on.

Oh well, that’s 20p that Wirral Council owe me back then, plus an apology. However now somebody is going to have to re photocopy (from the originals) the donations pages of 109 candidates and I’ll have to rearrange another appointment to inspect them. Well at least this mistake costs them about £22 in photocopies and perhaps £20 in staff time and on the plus side it’s not as high as the extra £440,000 Wirral Council’s is having to pay back people it overcharged, but I’m hoping the refund of 20 pence won’t take twelve years to process! Perhaps I’d better not tell them I have a disability then. 🙂 Don’t worry Wirral Council I won’t charge you interest.


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