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Posted by: John Brace | 2nd September 2013

A Town Hall Mystery: The Riddle of £32,074.98 spent on legal advice for employee who had already retired

The mysteries of Wirral Council’s legal invoices deepen and leave me scratching my head trying to unlock their puzzles. Two pages are particularly perplexing to me, so maybe one of my readers could help enlighten me with an illuminating comment or two?

First the background, as many readers of this blog will know Jim Wilkie retired as Chief Executive of Wirral Council last year on the 7th June 2012.

The puzzle comes first in the form of this invoice for £28,422.44 from Eversheds for “Advice on governance and employment issues” and “Professional fees in conjunction with advising you on the above matter Period of Invoice 11 June 2012 to 31 July 2012 Your ref: Jim Wilkie”

How could they be advising Jim Wilkie on governance and employment issues as he no longer worked for Wirral Council? He’d retired!

Then as many readers of this blog know, Graham Burgess became Chief Executive/Head of Paid Service of Wirral Council on July 16th starting full-time in the September of that year.

However there’s a further invoice from Eversheds this time for £3,652.54 for the period 4th December to 28th December 2012 for “advice on governance and employment issues” and “Professional fees in connection with advising you on the above matter” again with a reference of “Jim Wilkie”.

Judging by this post on Wirral Leaks which has a copy of the media statement about the suspension of Dave Green ending it would appear as the dates match to be advice provided to Graham Burgess about Dave Green’s suspension and obviously not to Jim Wilkie.

This still leaves the question of who Frances Woodhead of Eversheds thought she was advising on governance and employment issues over the period of the first invoice? Based on the dates it can’t have been Jim Wilkie (as he’d retired days before the period covered by the invoice) and it can’t have been Graham Burgess as he was only made Chief Executive in the last two weeks of the seven week period covered by the invoice). So who was it that needed such expensive advice costing over £28,000?

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Responses

  1. Once again this appears to be another example of financial mismanagement and gross incompetence! did nobody in finance investigate the accuracy of the invoice before any payment was made?

    • The cost centre on the invoice A1300 corresponds to the Department of Law, HR and Asset Management.

  2. I think this is related to the fact that two senior officers highlighted within the Klonowski Report as failing (and known to have been financially abusing learning disabled tenants – Employees 13 and 22) left during Mr Wilkie’s tenure, just before the full version of the report was released. They shared a total of £220,000 in public money – all beneath a cloak of secrecy – AND without the figures being scrutinised by any sitting panel of councillors. The figures took a whole YEAR to arrive through official channels.

    The link to the meeting where this was later referred to is here. See 59 ~ the euphemistically titled “Senior Management Changes”:

    http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=197&MId=3520

    They’re departure is mentioned in passing. Almost as an afterthought. And then it’s onto other business. Let’s draw a line, and move forward into the future…..

    I’d say, whoever legally oversaw this shenanigans at the Department of Law, HR & Asset Management (possibly now working at another Council down south) – allowing the two to leave undisciplined – but if left undone may have threatened the CEO himself – knew it to be extremely dodgy.

    But the person doing it sought to paper over the cracks by using vast piles of public money, not just to pay off Jim Wilkie, but to consult the council’s expensive legal friends on the outside – people who could provide valuable cover… er… advice… in time of crisis – for the right price of course.

    This is “how things work”. The wheels of expedience are greased by cash. Hard, ready cash and lots of it.

    You won’t even see any second rate public sector lawyers on zero hours contracts. Nothing shall stand in the way of hard cash.

    • The dates involved (11th June to 30th July) make me think it was related to the Colas public interest report that Wirral Council received on the 8th June, rather than the Anna Klonowski Associates report. Bill Norman was suspended on the 27th June, so it couldn’t have been advice to him. No, according to this http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/mgAi.aspx?ID=18228 it was Surjit Tour who enlisted the help of Eversheds due to the conflict of interest. That tallies with the cost centre on the invoice being the Department of Law, HR and Asset Management too.

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