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Posted by: John Brace | 25th November 2014

Merseytravel's Head of Internal Audit brands some whistleblowing as "Mickey Mouse" & "complete nonsense"

Merseytravel’s Head of Internal Audit brands some whistleblowing as “Mickey Mouse” & “complete nonsense”

                                                                 

ED 26/11/14 15:16 – Following a complaint from Merseytravel received on the 26th November 2014, the word “some” has been added to the headline for the purposes of clarity.

Declaration of Interest: The author of this piece was years ago involved as the Claimant in litigation against Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority (defendant) and Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive (defendant) that started and concluded in 2007 in the Birkenhead County Court. This was after first raising his concerns internally with its former Chief Executive Neil Scales and former Chair of Merseytravel Cllr Dowd. At this stage the matter could have been easily settled for £15 but Merseytravel chose at that stage not to.

Merseytravel’s legal costs in the matter were estimated at £thousands (which Merseytravel paid themselves and would have had to pay whether they won or lost). The increased legal costs of Merseytravel were partly because of what happened as detailed below.

During the case Merseytravel’s barrister (in my opinion a barrister is indeed slight overkill for a £15 claim in the small claims track in the county court, but I know now it’s common practice in the public sector to do this) had to (rather embarrassingly) ask for the permission from both the Claimant (myself) and the Birkenhead County Court to withdraw the first signed witness statement of their expert witness (a Merseytravel employee) after I pointed out a factual inaccuracy in their witness statement (that the witness (a Merseytravel employee) had indeed signed a statement of truth for).

Merseytravel also sought (initially but later changed their mind on that) in 2008 to withhold documents referred to from the Claimant that were referred to in their defence. If I remember correctly a Merseytravel employee stated to me at the time that such documents (which were details of their charging policy for lost Solo and Trio passes) were not for the public.

The final judgement in the case (by agreement by both Merseytravel and myself) was later modified by the Birkenhead County Court due to a factual error made by the Judge who had not taken into account an earlier application in the case and chosen to ignore me pointing this out to him at the time of the hearing.

Although the judge at the final hearing agreed with me that Merseytravel had discriminated against me three times because of a protected characteristic, the court accepted Merseytravel’s reliance on a statutory defence that discrimination on these three times was justified due to a “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” because of decisions by politicians.

The four councillors from Wirral Council at the time on Merseytravel (the Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority) were:

Cllr Ron Abbey (Labour)
former Cllr Denis Knowles (Labour at the time but switched to the Conservatives)

It is perhaps to be noted that as is relevant to how politicians and those in the public sector relate towards protected minorities (and this point here is obviously to do with attitudes towards a different protected minority) that Denis Knowles in 2012 later faced a Wirral Council Standards Hearing Panel hearing based on a complaint of Denis Knowles after a comment he left on Facebook about members of the LGBT community who were members of the Labour Party. He was suspended at the time from the Conservative Party.

former Cllr Jacqueline McKelvie (Conservative)
Cllr Dave Mitchell (Lib Dem)

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A councillor asks a question about Merseytravel's whistleblowing policy at a public meeting of its Audit and Governance SubCommittee 24th November 2014

A councillor asks a question about Merseytravel’s whistleblowing policy at a public meeting of its Audit and Governance SubCommittee 24th November 2014

Cllr Steve Foulkes (Vice-Chair of Merseytravel’s Audit and Governance Sub-Committee (now part of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority)) sent his apologies to a public meeting to discuss Merseytravel’s whistleblowing policy and was not present.

Officers of Merseytravel were asking councillors for their comments on a draft whistleblowing policy which included such priceless paragraphs as:

“10.2 If you do take the matter outside Merseytravel, you should ensure that you do not disclose confidential information acquired during your employment unless it falls within the qualifying criteria for protected disclosures. Premature or inaccurate media exposure or adverse publicity may cause needless reputational damage, impede a proper investigation or cause unnecessary distress to individuals.”

I will translate those two sentences in the draft policy into what my interpretation of the intention behind it is and probably in much clearer English:

“10.2 If you rat on us to the press, not only will we [Merseytravel] start spinning to the press and refer to any damaging press report as “inaccurate”, we’ll go after you (despite what the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 c.23 states as we’re more bothered with our reputation and making sure that we control the flow of information about our organisation to both to the public and politicians.”

The references made during the public meeting itself to a hypothetical whistleblower as “Mickey Mouse” (whether made in jest or not) speaks volumes about cultural attitudes that still persist at Merseytravel.

However bearing in mind my unusually long declaration of interest made at the start of this piece, I had better not let how dysfunctional Merseytravel was in 2007 influence my reporting of it in 2014 as the Merseytravel politicians of 2014 are keen to put its somewhat chequered past behind it.

Merseytravel’s (now part of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s) Audit and Governance Subcommittee public meeting of the 24th November 2014

The whistleblowing item (item 7) starts at 31m 48s into the meeting and can be watched above. The report and draft policy can be read on Merseytravel’s website.

Councillor Fulham at the meeting asked, “Thanks Chair. Errm, I appreciate that on page 48 of the agenda and at 7.4 in the policy, errm it says that this part of the that I’m looking at, I’ve found somewhere I’m looking at says this policy applies even if after investigation, disclosure is found to be incorrect or unfounded and there are statutory protections which the policy acknowledges for people who errm make a protected disclosure, that’s found out too. Well at the end of the process is found out not to be errm founded but it might be a reasonably held disclosure.

But what worries me is on page 46, where it says policy statement, under errm in chapter 4 “we will investigate all genuine and reasonable concerns”, but the way I would approach things, you can’t make an assessment whether it’s genuine or reasonable until you’ve investigated it? So it kind of precludes the investigation. So errm, why is that there?”

Stephanie Donaldson, Merseytravel’s Head of Internal Audit answered “OK, you’re absolutely right in so far as how can you tell that anything’s genuine or legitimate until you investigate it, so realistically everything will be investigated to a point.

However if something was found to be errm you know complete nonsense for want of a better word then that investigation would cease. We wouldn’t pursue investigating something which is you know completely unfounded or false then, but you’re right that there is the legislation requires that as long as it’s in the public interest it should still be investigated and that’s what the changes to the policy would fly at.

I suppose the purpose of that one in the policy statement and I will take some advice through you Chair from legal, is that errm, that if we received a complete nonsense of an allegation and it’s clearly complete nonsense from Mickey Mouse for example that we would not investigate that, there are boundaries aren’t there?

Errm, but you’re absolutely right to say that in a majority of I think all cases, it would be you have to undertake an investigation in order to assess its legitimacy.”

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Responses

  1. G’day John

    Can’t hear the tape very well mate, what did THE “Dunny Chain Wearer” have to say?

    Let me guess?

    We have lessons to learn!

    We have lessons to learn!

    We have lessons to learn!

    Courting and feting.

    Courting and feting.

    Changing the theme slightly John Wirral must employ an outsider for the top job as the above “Phil the Dill” “The Pretend Friend” “The Shyster” “The Football Shirt” “He who can talk for twenty minutes without breathing” “The Whole Kitchen Cabinet” have so many dirty filthy secrets that should not remain buried within.

    “Graham Burge(r with the lot plus super duper car and 7 mistakes http://goo.gl/znBccO in 29 seconds)ss thought he could let a few secrets out and hide some but with his ridiculous Improvement Board and the depth of the shit it was never going to work.

    Only 36 sleeps left Gra Gra and your abject failure will come to and end and the new MAN will have to face all the rubbish you couldn’t manage.

    Ooroo

    James

    Ps What would change John if they employ an insider?

    Or is everything ok?

    • G’day James.

      Unfortunately Merseytravel is next to a busy main road of traffic in Liverpool with floor to ceiling windows. Also they don’t always move their microphones close enough to their mouths for it to work.

      I did record another soundtrack for that meeting, which I haven’t uploaded yet.

      As to Graham Burgess leaving, all they’ve done so far is recommend to Council (next month) what the new guy’s salary is, job description is, interim manaagement arrangements and a timetable for recruitment.

      The Assistant Chief Executive David Armstrong will become Acting Chief Executive when Graham Burgess leaves at the end of the year.

      They’re paying a firm called Penna £15k to help them with the recruitment and are getting help from the LGA.

      You can apply for the job if you want yourself as yes they will be longlisting from internal and external applicants.

  2. It also appears Mr Brace, that the Head of Internal Audit cannot Investigate a Subject, with any great degree of accuracy as she had to back track several times when slightly probing questions were asked and Fraud (Internal or External) would go to be Investigated by her Office. I wonder what the world is coming too?. As for the Job of CEO, I have already disqualified myself from applying, I have still got “Lessons to Learn, Lessons to Learn!!!!!!!”

    • Well if internal audit fails, there’s always external audit. If external audit fails too, well there’s the press. If the press aren’t interested, well it isn’t looked into and gets classed as “Mickey Mouse”, doesn’t it? 😉

      However yes concerns about fraud would tend to go (sometimes) to an Internal Audit team at Merseytravel. Some authorities also have a dedicated counterfraud team too.

      As to the job of CEO, it’s not been advertised yet (and won’t be till next month at the earliest). The recommendations from Monday’s Employment and Appointments Panel (Chief Executive) meeting have yet to be implemented. The meeting on the 24th November 2014 makes a recommendation to the Council meeting on the 8th December 2014 as there’s a proposed change to salary for the post et cetera.

      This means about 2 months into the Chief Executive’s 3 month notice, the post will actually be advertised in the Municipal Journal (Penna are being paid £15,000 to help with this recruitment).

      However as I have pointed out the advertisement (asking for candidates for the job to apply) will not close until 5th January 2015.

      Once Graham Burgess leaves, David Armstrong becomes Acting Chief Executive until a permanent one is appointed. The earliest this could be is the end of February 2015, the latest May 2015 (if the candidate picked has to serve out a period of notice elsewhere for example of three months).

  3. G’day Men

    The only answer has to be to bring in Administration both the half wits that think they are contenders couldn’t lie straight in bed which is outrageous.

    Neither can be open, honest or transparent.

    Women will never get a chance because they can be open, honest and transparent and wouldn’t be allowed in the boys club.

    I have not seen a performance like theirs since I was in the playground in primary school at St Joseph’s on Borough Road. They were caned.

    Ooroo

    James

    Ps I am not going anywhere fellas till justice is done.

    Only 36 sleeps left for the last failure to go.

    • Two things:

      Do you mean St. Josephs Primary School in Woodchurch Road (very near the junction with Borough Road)? ~I went there myself for 5 months many years ago.

      Oh remember Mike Thomas of the Audit Commission (now Grant Thornton)? We heard yesterday at Audit and Risk Management that he’s leaving too after many years.

      It does show how hard up the external auditors since privitisation as they now only send one person to an Audit and Risk Management Committee meeting now rather than the two they used to. Such is the scale of public sector cutbacks I suppose…

    • A1) He audited the Wirral Council accounts, first for the Audit Commission now for Grant Thornton. However individuals are only allowed to do this for a maximum of is it 7 years?
      A2) No idea about Liz Temple-Murray I’m sorry.
      A3) I don’t remember the external auditors saying anything at that meeting (although I may be wrong)
      A4) Don’t hold your breath as an Acting Chief Executive has yet to be agreed by Council next month and if he is, then he doesn’t start until next year (2015).
      A5) You mean the technical college next to the Glenda Jackson theatre? It got sold off, then demolished for housing years ago.

      As to the cinema, that’s not there any more either…

  4. Mr Brace, I would be able to tell them more about Investigation than they will ever know, they only get taught basic’s these days and most of it the people have to learn from a Book, before they go near a Classroom, bring back 1 x 2, 2 x 2, 3 x 2, = 2, 4, 6, etc. I am getting better at Audit as well (Internal or External)

    • Well what I have noticed is essential backoffice functions in local public bodies have been cut back a lot in the past few years.

      Sadly, although politicians meant well by protecting frontline services, services such as Internal Audit are vital to reduce external audit costs.

      So although chopping a few staff from IA may seem like a good idea, it creates higher costs elsewhere for the authority in increased external audit costs (that is a false economy).

      This is part of what worries me when it comes to politician’s desire to cut everything except “frontline” services. Audit is unfortunately seen as a backoffice function.

      With a small team, just say a number of people taking maternity leave, prolonged sickness absence etc can completely put back the internal audit plan. Sadly there is little “slack” in the public sector these days to pick up when employees are not available.

  5. As for the Counter Fraud Team, I will “Reserve Judgement” on that one, until the Aria is Sung.

    • Well last time I checked there was a counter fraud team of two people at Wirral Council. I’m not quite sure what the size of the counter fraud team would be at Merseytravel as I’ve never asked.

  6. G’day again Men

    So the auditor is going, what did he do again?

    I worked with him at the Audit Commission and Lizzie, where is she now?

    Did you film the auditors gob moving at Gra Gra’s farce of 8 October.

    So we will have an Acting Chief Executive so “Highbrow” and I can expect some serious action over Big, ISUS and Working Neighbourhoods?

    If not he will not be fit for purpose either.

    Ooroo

    James

    Ps St Joseph’s when I went there John was on Borough Road just past the tech and cinema on the other side behind some houses. The shell is still there and is some sort of community centre or something.

    • A1) Worked for the Audit Commission, then Grant Thornton in externally auditing Wirral Council’s accounts.

      A2) They breathed in and out, do you actually mean talking?

      A3) Subject to Council approving the recommendation next month, yes. However the Acting Chief Executive won’t start for another month. Even then the resolution of the meeting of 8th October states:

      “(3) Subject to the response of the Department for Communities and Local Government (‘DCLG’), the Chief Executive shall undertake all necessary steps to address any points/issues raised by DCLG and report back to this Committee.

      (4) That the report from the Chief Executive referred to at (3) above (or in a separate report if necessary) shall also include the response of the Council to the Grant Thornton recommendations as set out in their reports into the ISUS and BIG programmes and how they are being and/or have been addressed. ”

      Note Chief Executive, not Acting Chief Executive, so in theory you have to wait until a permanent appointment is made if this is not addressed before the Chief Executive leaves towards the end of this year. The minutes of the 8th October 2014 meeting of the Audit and Risk Management Committee meeting were only agreed on 25th November 2014, so don’t expect any action on them quickly.

      A4) Wirral Metropolitan College and the Glenda Jackson theatre on Borough Road have been demolished and houses put there.

  7. G’day John

    St Joseph’s was between Elmswood Road and Victoria Road behind the houses directly opposite the Carlton Hotel.

    There is still a bit of a shell there.

    Paul O’Grady went there five years after me I have had that conversation with him in London and we had the same favourite teachers. Miss Edwards Miss Dalziel and were both caned by Mr McGregor the Head. I actually played in the football team I doubt “The Football Shirt” ever made a team on merit he is tooooo greeeedy.

    Now Paul would be great to have on the council and could bring his own DOG with him..

    Maybe all councillors/officers should come from my vintage of ex St Josephs kids.

    You could then send all the ring in scumbags from Liverpool, Cheshire and the Valleys packing.

    Ooroo

    James

    Ps There at it again today John being not open, honest and transparent see “Highbrows” FOI’s on What do they know Wirral.

    How do these people sleep at night and do they deal openly, honest and transparent in any part of their miserable existences?

    • This is what they included on the latest FOI response to me (by mistake):

      “Good Morning
      RE: FOI 847173 – John Brace – – Due Friday 28th November 2014
      ** information provided by Pete Molyneux attached. Not for release

      Please may you approve this information for release
      I have included further explanation provided by Pete Molyneux
      Jane, we have run by press would you also suggest we run by Surjit.
      Many thanks”

      In other words my FOI requests get set for approval to the press office and Surjit Tour it seems!

  8. G’day John

    Who will be brazen enough to tell the new auditor how it works Wirral Style.

    It won’t be “The Shyster” he has no cojones.

    It will be the “The Dunny Chain Wearer” with his hand up “Phil the Dill’s back would be my guess.

    The senior officers will have some sleepless nights.

    Gee I hope they send in a clever person like the Big ISUS and Working Neighbourhoods investigator.

    Ooroo

    James

    Ps I worked with Mike and Lizzie and I bet their names have been forgotten already, chocolate teapots.


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