Why did Martin Morton call for three councillors to resign?
Before I go any further I will point out the following. This is with regards to Martin Morton’s statutory complaint of the 9th February 2010 involving Cllr Moira McLaughlin, Cllr Denise Roberts and Cllr Pat Williams. This was superseded by a more detailed complaint on 26th February 2010 which also included former Cllr Ann Bridson. This is about the former complaint, not the latter.
Ultimately the Standards Board for England in August 2011 issued decision notices on the complaint for Cllr Pat Williams, Cllr Moira McLaughlin, Cllr Denise Roberts and former Cllr Ann Bridson. All decision notices stated that no further action should be taken.
In each decision notice Standards for England stated “I would comment that it may be for the Council’s Monitoring Officer and Standards Committee to examine the findings of the investigation into the charging policy when if concludes and then consider the role of individual members.”
However the Anna Klonowski Associates report states on page 52 at 6.8.3/6.8.4 “A separate standards complaint had been submitted to Wirral Council’s Standards Committee in relation to certain Member conduct issues associated with this group and was referred to Standards for England” and “Whilst this matter was being investigated by Standards for England the consultant was specifically instructed by the Council not to prejudice the investigation, therefore matters relating to the conduct of Members in relation to this matter were deemed outside the terms of reference for this review.”
In a letter dated 31st March 2011 from Surjit Tour to Standards for England (reference ST/SfE2010/04) he states on page 2 “Following the May 2010 elections, the new Leader of the Council commissioned an inquiry into, inter alia, the issues raised by Martin Morton concerning the manner in which charges were raised by the Council. The Panel’s Chairperson was of the view, having liaised with members of the Initial Assessment Panel sitting on 8 April 2010, that the circumstances and facts involved in Mr Morton’s complaints, would overlap with those likely to be considered by the inquiry. Accordingly it was considered appropriate to await the outcome of the inquiry given that one of the options available to the Panel, namely to refer the matter for investigation, could potentially conflict with the inquiry.”
However back to what was alleged that councillors had done in Martin Morton’s original complaint. I’ll first deal with question 4 which is basically “Please explain in this section (or on separate sheets) what the member has done that you believe breaches the Code of Conduct.” Below is verbatim what was put in answer to that question.
I contacted Monitoring Officer Bill Norman seeking guidance in relation to this matter on 24th December 2009, having failed to elicit a response I have contacted Standards for England who have advised me to submit this complaint in accordance with Wirral Council procedures.
The full extent of the complicity of the named Councillors in the institutional financial abuse of people with learning disabilities has only recently become apparent following discovery of relevant documentation and by recent declarations of interest at Council meetings (see links below).
The specific details of my complaint are as follows:
Unlawful charges (currently identified at £241K but in reality at least double that sum) that were imposed upon people with learning disabilities at supported living establishments in Bermuda Road, Curlew Way and Edgehill Road and were levied with the full knowledge of the three Councillors identified in this submission.
However it should be noted that although many Councillors are implicated in this case Cllrs Williams I McLaughlin and Roberts are particularly culpable in terms of the Code of Conduct for Members for the following reasons:
An email sent by Jan Johnson on behalf of the director of Social Services on 27th January 2005 on behalf of the Director of Social Services at this time (Kevin Miller) indicates that he has chosen Cllrs McLaughlin, Williams, Roberts and Leslie Thomas to be part of “a members working group meeting to consider charging policy options”.
The minutes of the Charging Policy Consultation group dated 22nd August 2005 (see minutes) firmly establishes that each of the 3 Councillors were aware that the “Special Charging Policy” applied at the 3 properties named above were deemed as “unfair” (and therefore “unlawful”).
None of these Councillors saw fit to suggest that the people who had been unlawfully charged should be reimbursed and accepted that there was “unfairness in the system”* (Mike Fowler – Head of Finance DASS).
*It should be noted that this “unfairness” involved in some cases charges in excess of £100 per week and took place over a number of years. Meanwhile other vulnerable people in the same circumstance paid NOTHING.
That financial abuse took place has been firmly established following the publication of a Public Interest Disclosure Act report by the Audit commission in August 2008 and the unravelling of a cover-up at subsequent meetings of the Audit & Risk Management Committee between September 2008 – November 2009, however the specific substance of this complaint is as follows:
Cllr.Williams (ineptly) chaired a Grievance Appeal Hearing in July 2007 where one of the main issues of my grievance/whistleblowing allegations was the unlawful charges outlined above.
She failed to declare an interest despite her participation in ,the charging policy working group and should NEVER have chaired my Appeal “hearing” .
Her bias at this hearing is evidenced by the following opening exchange (there are partial minutes of this meeting corroborating this exchange):
Cllr W: “What outcome do you want from this hearing?”
Myself: “An external investigation by the Audit Commission” (which is
ironic because I eventually achieved this and was vindicated in ALL
aspects of my complaint)
Cllr W: Mr.Miller do Mr.Morton’s complaints warrant an investigation by
the Audit Commission
Kevin Miller: No they don’t
Cllr W; There, you have your answer Mr.Morton
Colin Hughes ( Wirral Council: Legal Dept) : Well I think we need to hear
the case first ….. ..
Subsequently (and revealingly) Kevin Miller on his last day of employment with Wirral Council on 31 st October 2007 left a “file note” on my personnel file stating thus:
“I can confirm that following the withdrawal of his grievance to members appeal by Mr Martin Morton I offered the Councillors who were on the appeal panel the opportunity of a briefing after the hearing.
At a later dated (sic) I briefed Councillor P M Williams to ensure that any concerns that she and her fellow members may had regarding issues raised by Mr Morton were not ignored. I also took the opportunitY to arrange for Maura Noone, Head of Service, Commissioning, Health and Wellbeing to join us to answer any queries”.
When I requested the same privilege that had been afforded to Mr.Miller and Ms.Noone and that I was given the opportunity to meet with Cllr.Williams and to disabuse her of the notion that there was nothing to be concerned about However this was DENIED to me in a letter dated 7th December 2007.
Cllr Williams recalls the briefing with Mr.Miller and Ms.Noone and states:
“During that briefing I was satisfied that the officers in the Adult Social Services Department had dealt honestly and competently with some very difficult problems ….. “.
As subsequent events have proven Adult Social Services senior management did not demonstrate honesty or competence in this particular case.
However what I did not know at the time was that Cllr.Williams had known about the unlawful charge since 2005 and was therefore was both implicated the institutional financial abuse of vulnerable people.
I therefore maintain that in failing to declare a prejudicial interest Cllr.Williams was complicit with a cover-up of financial mismanagement and gross maladministration.
I would suggest that Cllr.McLaughlin appears to have a friendship which precludes her from undertaking her role with due impartiality.
Wirral Council website records how Cllr.McLaughlin declares an interest at Council meeting 15/12/08 and Cabinet 6/11/08 on the following grounds:
“Prejudicial- due to a friendship with a potentially interested party”
This friendship has ears to preclude her ( as the Cabinet Member) from contributing to any debate relating to the financial abuse of vulnerable people, thereby sidestepping the issue that once again she was aware of the unlawful charges as part of the charging policy review group organised by former director Kevin Miller, whom I am suggesting is the friend to whom Cllr.McLaughlin refers to In her declarations of Interest.
Therefore Cllr.McLaughlin clearly regards her personal friendship to take precedence over her responsibility as Cabinet member to uphold the rights of some of the most vulnerable people in society.
Cllr.Roberts has only recently declared an interest.
She certainly didn’t declare an interest at full Council meeting on November 2nd 2009 where she moved an amendment to deny a full independent investigation into the abuse case with a speech (which she has kindly forwarded) which includes the following statements:
“We are not dealing with hidden wrongdoing and corruption that needs to be rooted out and punished …………… we are dealing ,in short, with a period of intense stress, high staff turnover, chaos and confusion, dating back ten years or more, some of which led to the Department being
placed in Special measures …… This is not to excuse what happened …….. There were clearly significant and serious management failings, which we all recognise ……… There is absolutely no reason to commission yet another Investigation into areas that have already been exhaustively
covered by the Council”.
Needless to say Cllr.Roberts fails to declare her involvement with the charging policy review group and the fact that she knew about the unlawful charges during this speech.
Moreover there has NEVER been an investigation into areas that have already been exhaustively covered by the Council”.
If they had Cllr.Williams, McLaughlin and Cllr.Roberts complicity would have been uncovered.
Cllr.Roberts motives becomes even more questionable when you consider that she has only recently declared an interest (alongside Cllr.McLaughlin at the Health and Well Being Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 19th January 2010) both citing “their friendship with an interested party”.
Consequently I believe that all three of the above Elected Members are in serious breach of ALL the The Ten General Principles outlined in the Code of Conduct for Members.
Additionally I would make specific reference to the general provisions of Wirral Council’s code In relation to:
5. “you must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute”
12c. “you must not seek to improperly to influence a decision about that business”
Cabinet report of 1 December 2005
Social Care Select Committee of 14th Feb 2005-
Select Committee of 18th January 2005 -
Cabinet 24 January 2007
In answer to question 6 “Please indicate the remedy or remedies you are looking for or hoping to
achieve by submitting this complaint.” Mr. Morton put “Consequences that are commensurate with the seriousness of the allegations, This ultimately means only one course of action: resignation.”
Attached to the complaint was the email below, speech of Cllr Roberts (also below) and the notes of the Charging Policy Working Group.
From: Jan Johnson (Social Services)
Sent: 27 January 2005 14:09
To: Moira McLaughlin (Councillor); Patricia Williams (Councillor); Leslie Thomas (Councillor): Denise Roberts (Councillor)
Subject: CHARGING POLICY REVIEW GROUP
Sent by Jan Johnson on behalf of the Director of Social Services
The Director has asked me to arrange a members working group meeting to consider charging policy options (minuted at the last Select Committee). I would be grateful if you could let me know your availability for Tuesday 8th February following the Lib Dem briefing around 6.00 – 6.30 p.m.
PA to Director
Tel: 0151 666 3650
Fax: 0151 666 4747
Denise Robert’s speech
This matter has now been the subject of intensive investigation by the Audit Commission and by the Council’s own Internal Audit.
A number of key reports have been produced and there are further reports for consideration on the Agenda of the Audit and Risk Management Committee tomorrow.
Let’s be quite clear what we are dealing with here, and what we are not dealing with.
- We are not dealing with intentional fraud.
- We are not dealing with decisions taken in malice.
- We are not dealing with decisions taken for personal gain.
- We are not dealing with hidden wrongdoing and corruption that needs to be rooted out and punished.
What we are dealing with, quite frankly, is a mess that needs to be sorted out.
- We are dealing with honest decisions on charging taken at a time when there was no national guidance, which, in hindsight, could have been different.
- We are dealing with decisions which were intended to improve the life of those moving from residential accommodation, where they had little disposable income, to supported living, where they had higher levels of disposable income.
- We are dealing with decisions that, none the less, may have set charges too high, and then failed to review them.
- We are dealing with people trying to do the best job they could, and that best job just not being good enough.
- We are dealing with decisions not taken when the first opportunity to change things presented itself.
- We are dealing with decisions taken, but not fully implemented.
- We are dealing with a lengthy delay from the introduction of national guidelines on charges to their implementation in practice.
- We are dealing, in short, with a period of intense stress, high staff turnover, chaos and confusion, dating back ten years or more, some of which led to the Department being placed in Special Measures.
This is not to excuse what happened. There were clearly significant and serious management failings, which we all recognise.
It is right and proper that these failings should be properly investigated, and we have formally thanked Mr Morton for bringing these to the Council’s attention.
It is also right and proper that every effort is made to ensure these failings cannot happen again, and that procedures are put in place so we can be absolutely sure they won’t happen again.
It is also absolutely right and proper that any individual who may have been overcharged should be compensated for that overcharging.
A recommendation has already been made by the Audit and Risk Management committee to reimburse service users at Bermuda Road, Curlew Way and Edgehill Road, Moreton for overcharging between April 2003 and February 2006 and we welcome that.
A further report is being heard by members of that committee tomorrow night which looks at whether or “not compensation should be paid for the period between 1997 and April 2003.
There is also a detailed report on the agenda from the Director of Social Services setting out the progress made in addressing the failures identified and ensuring they cannot happen again.
There have been allegations made of bullying against the whistleblower and Cabinet has already instructed the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management to initiate an investigation into these allegations and this will be carried out by an outside, independent person.
There is absolutely no reason to commission yet another investigation into areas that have already been exhaustively covered by the Council.
Measures have now been taken to put things right, and further measures have yet to be considered by the Audit and Risk Management Committee.
It’s time now to move forward, and look to the future and to much of the excellent work now being carried out by the Department of Adult Social Services.
Drawing this process out any further will serve no real purpose.
I urge you to support this amendment.
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