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Posted by: John Brace | 9th February 2016

What links FOI, ICO decision notice FS50591795, audit, a class A drug, barristers and Liverpool City Council?

What links FOI, ICO decision notice FS50591795, audit, a class A drug, barristers and Liverpool City Council?

                                           

There is a form of direct accountability during the audit of local councils when for a short period each year local government electors can inspect information about that financial year such as invoices and contracts.

Here is a legal reference to that right (Audit Commission Act 1998, s.15) which has been a direct form of democratic accountability that in one form or another has been around since Victorian times.

It’s tied in to rights of local government electors to ask questions of the external auditor (which for Wirral Council is Grant Thornton), to make objections to the accounts, to request public interest reports. After all how can you do all that without seeing the information in the first place?

It’s a form of direct democratic accountability.

Unlike making a freedom of information request (time limit of 18.5 hours) there is strictly very little legal limits on what can be requested (well apart from on the insular peninsula at Wirral Council where they have a habit of deliberately shifting the goalposts and coming up with bizarre interpretations of legislation to suit themselves). Last year I made requests under this audit legislation to Wirral Council, Liverpool City Council, Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority, Merseytravel and the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority.

The Liverpool City Council request was connected to an earlier FOI request and there’s been a recent decision notice issued in that matter on the 1st February 2016 which hasn’t been published yet by ICO.

Ironically ICO seemed to have met a stumbling block with Liverpool City Council on that one as they asked me for the information that I’d been refused under FOI (happy to oblige). This implies Liverpool City Council weren’t being entirely cooperative with ICO.

I’ve been sent a paper copy of the decision notice through the post, but it’s not published on ICO’s website yet. The reference is FS50591795. It’s a mercifully short eight pages and requires both Liverpool City Council to issue a fresh response with 35 days of 1st February 2016 (or appeal to the Tribunal) and states that Liverpool City Council breached s.10(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. If anybody wants me to I can scan a copy in and publish it here.

Basically LCC’s arguments are that I’m being unfair to barristers by requesting invoices they’ve submitted to LCC. Because as we all know, the purpose of a self proclaimed "socialist" Council like Liverpool City Council is to stick up for downtrodden, oppressed groups on the margins of society like barristers!

Cllr Paul Brant (left) speaking at a recent public meeting of Liverpool City Council (11th November 2015)

Cllr Paul Brant (left) speaking at a recent public meeting of Liverpool City Council (11th November 2015)

Let’s take the example of one barrister (pictured above on the left), a barrister I might point out who is not the subject of the invoices I requested, but who is in addition to being a barrister, a Labour Liverpool City Council councillor called Cllr Paul Brant. He resigned as a councillor in 2013 (although has since been re-elected) after receiving a police caution for possession of a class A drug. He was also the subject of a The Bar Tribunals & Adjudication Service disciplinary tribunal.

Below are the details.

Defendant Paul Brant (Lincoln’s Inn)

Type of hearing 3 Person Disciplinary Tribunal

Panel members
Mr William Rhodri Davies QC (Chair)
Ms Pamela Mansell
Mr Mark West

Finding and sentence Reprimand.

Section of the code 301(a)(i)/901.7

Status Final
Date Friday 12 September 2014

This Tribunal was held in Private.

Here is a link to the outcome of the Paul Brant disciplinary hearing from which I quote,

"Details of Offence

Paul Brant engaged in conduct which was discreditable to a barrister contrary to paragraph 301(a)(i) of the Code of Conduct in that on a day between the 1st January 2013 and the 21st September 2013 he committed the criminal offence of being in possession of a controlled drug of class A contrary to The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, for which offence on the 20th September 2013 he receive a simple caution."

It would be a conflict of interest for Cllr Paul Brant to do work for Liverpool City Council but according to his Chamber’s website he has been instructed to represent Wirral Council in the past (yes Wirral Leaks I can get trees into a story too!):

Jayne Spencer v Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council (2008); LTL 1/10/2008 (Highway liability claim, tree root in Port Sunlight conservation area causing personal injury – whether breach of duty. Mr Brant appeared successfully at first instance and on appeal).

This is an aside but I do remember one year during the audit, Wirral Council weren’t happy with me requesting the invoices for their legal invoices for these sorts of liability claims. “

However there should be some transparency as to who Liverpool City Council are paying! All Liverpool City Council councillors are responsible for budget matters including Cllr Paul Brant.

One of my arguments rejected by ICO was that there are laws regulating who can give legal advice. You can check whether a barrister has a current practising certificate here.

To give the example of Paul Brant above, it shows he works at Oriel Chambers and was subject to a disciplinary tribunal in September 2014 (the outcome of which is detailed above).

One of my other arguments to the regulator was that Liverpool City Council is under a legal obligation to publish the names of its suppliers for invoices over £500. In fact the guidance they’re required by law to follow specifically states that being self-employed (which is their argument surrounding barristers) doesn’t mean they can keep the suppliers’ name out of the public domain (but Liverpool City Council do).

The page on his Chambers’ website states he is "in a senior position in a large local authority" (meaning Liverpool City Council).

However the above legislation (surrounding rights of inspection, objection etc) during the audit was scrapped by the government. You can’t use it any more to do this after the 2014/15 financial year.

Instead for 2015/16 financial year onwards it’s been completely watered down.

Previously (apart from information about its own staff) local councils during the audit had to get permission from their external auditor if they wanted to withhold from inspection in the category of "personal information" (which was very narrowly defined). This was a safeguard to prevent public bodies abusing their powers.

Bear in mind however that each time the public body contacts their external auditor it increases what they’re charged.

This was a check and balance introduced by the last Labour government.

However this check and balance on misuses of power in local government was repealed (scrapped) by the last Coalition government (Conservative/Lib Dem).

Oh but there’s more!

There’s a rather infamous recent case (well infamous in those familiar with "citizen audit") where a local government elector called Shlomo Dowen requested (during this period each year during the audit) a waste management contract between Nottinghamshire County Council and Veolia ES Nottinghamshire Ltd.

The case reference is [2009] EWHC 2382 (Admin), [2010] PTSR 797, [2010] Env LR 12. Anyway interestingly at that stage a High Court Judge said Mr. Shlomo Dowen should be allowed to inspect and receive a copy of the contract (despite Veolia bringing a judicial review about it).

However Veolia weren’t happy at all by this (in fact if you read through the judgements in both cases you’ll find that even if Mr. Dowen was given the contract they wanted restrictions on him sharing it with other people) and brought an appeal in the Court of Appeal ([2010] EWCA Civ 1214, [2012] PTSR 185, [2010] UKHRR 1317, [2011] Eu LR 172). Veolia claimed that allowing Mr. Dowen to inspect/receive a copy of the contract would infringe that companies’ human rights.

I quote from part of that judgement, “I am not entirely convinced that English common law has always regarded the preservation of confidential information as a fundamental human right”.

Rix LJ, Etherton LJ, Jackson LJ upheld the appeal however.

The irony of all that was that Shlomo Dowen already had access to the information as Veolia’s lawyers did not seek a stay following the earlier judgment.

However the above is why an extra category of "commercial confidentiality" has now been added to s. 26(5) of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014.

Interestingly withholding information on grounds of commercial confidentiality, this is a quote from the legislation,

“(5) Information is protected on the grounds of commercial confidentiality if—

(a) its disclosure would prejudice commercial confidentiality, and

(b) there is no overriding public interest in favour of its disclosure.”

is subject to a public interest test.

However there are other changes on the horizon too. Previously the inspection period was 15 days (3 weeks assuming there are no holidays).

When that inspection period was published in a public notice in at least one newspaper in the area and on the public body’s website.

I only have until the end of the 2015/16 local government financial year to get up to speed on these changes as being the Editor here I’ll have to schedule time for responding to the public notices, arranging appointments to inspect, as well as spare capacity for dealing with the moaning of the public sector (example moan last year being, it’s been 7/8 years since someone did this!).

As Wirral Council was somewhat uncooperative last year over the size of my request (only responding to the 10% of it they didn’t deem to be particularly sensitive), I will be having internal discussions here on avenues that can be explored to either embarrass Wirral Council into legal compliance (by censure (not to say that always works) or take more formal action.

Weirdly some of the politician’s expenses that they refused me under the audit legislation and Cllr Adrian Jones refused to make an appointment for me to see, they released in response to a later FOI request.

Which just goes to show that if you ask for the same information three times from Wirral Council (audit rights, a politician, then FOI), you might finally get it! Obviously by the third time, it starts to get embarrassing and seems like they have something to hide. I really don’t like having to ask three times when once should be enough though!

Anyway what was going to be only a short article about local government, barristers, ICO, FOI and audit is now rather on the long side so I’ll draw this to a close and give you an opportunity to comment.

If you click on any of the buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this article with other people.


Responses

  1. One person thinks I am being too harsh on Cllr Brant. What’s your opinion?

  2. I appreciate the work you are doing holding Wirral Council accountable to the public it purports to serve. There is a great deal of secrecy in government in this country.

    As I was reading this last post I came across something that disturbed me. You mentioned the name “Shlomo”and proceeded to make fun of this name, writing “no I didn’t make that name up”.

    Well that is a Hebrew name, translating to “Solomon” in English. This is not an uncommon name in the Orthodox Jewish community, of which I’m not a member. You could have Googled it.

    Your readers will hopefully be a diverse bunch. Please keep that in mind.

    • Thank you for your comment.

      I am 36 and have never come across the name Shlomo before (other than in this matter). I wrote:

      "There’s a rather infamous recent case (well infamous in those familiar with "citizen audit", well it’s two cases as it was appealed) where a local government elector called Shlomo Dowen (no I didn’t make that name up)"

      I merely stated that I didn’t make the name up, as it was an unusual name I had not come across before and thought that my readers might not have also. I didn’t know the name was Jewish in origin until you pointed that out and my comments weren’t meant to be intended to “make fun of this name” as you put it, but merely pointing out to readers that it was correctly spelt and not a typographical error for a similar name.

      I realise my users are a diverse bunch, yes I could’ve googled the name, however as it was spelt the same way in both court case judgements I did not need to check it for spelling.

      Due to your concern I will edit the “no I didn’t make that name up” bit out. However hopefully you will understand the way I meant it to be read.

    • You’re entitled to your opinion, but I’m not anti-semitic and if you knew me you’d know that.

      As you point out you’re not Jewish, but for some reason you’re finding offence in what I wrote.

      I think you are getting offended on behalf of a group of people that may or may not be offended at all by what I wrote.

      You comment reminds me of the pro-Israel/pro-Palestine arguments that raged throughout the student union in my student days.

      Only yesterday I was talking online with a person in Israel and next time I speak with him I will ask him what he thinks.

  3. G’day Julie

    What do you think of the shameful, disgraceful, lying, cheating, scum bag people at Wirral Borough Clowncil?

    Ooroo

    James

    • G’day John

      I have never heard the name Shames-Rogan before and I didn’t google it either.

      Didn’t make it up either.

      What do you think of the shameful, disgraceful, lying, cheating, scum bag people at Wirral Borough Clowncil?

      Ooroo

      James

      • You’re replying to the wrong thread James, although if Julie is following comments on this story she should receive an email.

      • I’m just waiting for Julie to accuse you of being anti-semitic James, for the word you use to describe a certain person at Wirral Council.

        Maybe we’ll all just have to end up calling a spade a spade!

        • G’day John

          John /dʒɒn/ is a masculine given name in the English language. The name is derived from the Latin Ioannes and Iohannes, which are forms of the Greek name Iōannēs (Ἰωάννης), originally borne by Hellenized Jews transliterating the Hebrew name Yohanan (יוֹחָנָן), “Graced by Yah”, or Yehohanan (יְהוֹחָנָן), “Yahweh is Gracious”. There are numerous forms of the name in different languages; these were formerly often simply translated as “John” in English but are increasingly left in their native forms

          Are you referring to me old mate Sir Git?

          I just like to joke and laugh about them all because they really are a laughing stock. But dangerous.

          Their actions show they have no shame so lets just ave a good laugh at them.

          Ooroo

          James

          • Well don’t tell them I have a Jewish name, that really will confuse them!

            I was watching a TV show this afternoon with my wife. There was a young, ambitious journalist in it.

            A lot of people disliked the young, ambitious journalist because he knew too much, kept on digging and being freelance didn’t do what he was told.

            Course he got into trouble in the end, but anyway, I suppose I should’ve expected some sort of backlash writing a story about one of Wirral Council’s contractors who also happens to be a Liverpool City Council councillor etc etc.

            In answer to your question, I am referring to the other name you have for him, which is supposed to be anti-Semitic (although people rarely complain about your comments these days)!

          • Eventually though they encounter someone like me who doesn’t treat it all as a laughing matter and indeed gets rather cross!

            • G’day John

              How very dare they not get cross at my comments.

              They know “Highbrow” and I were spot on calling AdderleyDadderleyDooLally a liar, my words, and they are all involved in the ongoing cover up of Big ISUS and Working Neighbourhoods and they are all aiding and abetting it.

              The Lockwood asset stripping that Beverley Edwards reported to them is becoming a bigger issue by the day so they should be very very nervous.

              Ooroo

              James

              • There was a time I got cross about the whole BIG/ISUS matter.

                I got cross that they didn’t bother to include the contracts I published in the papers.

                I got cross at how it all was dealt with, I’ll sum up a long special public meeting that I nearly didn’t go to as it was rearranged twice of the A&RM Committee from the perspective of a number of different people, Kevin Adderley and his line manager Graham Burgess (I hope this makes you laugh as it’s partly satire):

                Kevin Adderley defence of, contracts oh dear they’re so complicated! Aren’t they everybody?

                Audience: No they’re not!

                KA: Yes they are! Ooops we lost the signed one for a bit but great we’ve found it! Look I’m waving it around like Neville Chamberlain saying peace in our time!

                Not our money though, may have been mistakes but hey I’m the best thing since sliced bread, not my fault guv’nor, companies go bust all the time…

                Graham Burgess doing his best Tony the Tiger impersonation.
                GB: It’s Grrrreeeaaatt, we gave businesses money and it’s grrrrreeaatt.

                I work here at a wonderful place, but…

                some whistleblowers went on “social media” and wrote

                “Wirral Council is not great” and other stuff even worse!

                This made us all very upset, because some people believed it and it made us very sad, because we think Wirral Council is grrrreeeattt and all the people who work here are wonderful.

                Oh and by the way it’s so grrrreeaat I’ve quit and I’m leaving in two months time so I can say what I like.

                Does that sum it up James? Or do I need to go onto political accountability, but first

                Surjit Tour’s “Shh, everything’s a secret… there are whistleblowers here… no don’t mention that… no please, please not that… no you can’t have the blacked out bits…. no even if you’re a councillor you can’t!”

                Grant Thornton (external auditors): get lots of money to to turn up and have a non-speaking role

                Councillors (apart from Cllr Stuart Kelly): Just get very confused about it all… or say it’s all overblown and whistleblowers making a mountain out of a molehill.

                • G’day John

                  I just happened to be there that night and thought I was at the Wirral Panto.

                  The star villains Gra Gra with his 27 mistakes in 7 seconds, AdderleyDadderleyDoolaly and his his little mate Humpty Dumpty standing up in turn and lying to all and sundry.

                  Liars liars pants and Ugh Boots on fire….well hot anyway.

                  Did anyone see a signature on that contract?

                  Was it even a contract in the liars hand?

                  Grant (give us another £50,000.00) Thornton were there doing their mime act without any actions apart from twiddling a pen and collecting attendance money.

                  And of course the thicker than the chair Chair “Crapapple” thanking us whistleblowers for coming but sod orff.

                  Looks like you are sodding orff Jimbo to the palace and beyond unless your sponsors survive Wirralgate.

                  What a night in Wirral’s evil history.

                  Ooroo

                  Jamres

                  • You see there you go “traducing them on social media” again. 😀

                    I was on the front row, but the pieces of paper that Kevin Adderley had were either too far away for me to see exactly what was on them or my line of sight was blocked between myself and him by other people.

                    The only people who’d be able to answer that question would be the people facing him on the Audit and Risk Management Committee.

                    I do remember that the Chair did get rather cross with Highbrow that night.

                    It was a rather strange meeting really.

                • G’day John

                  I just happened to be there that night and thought I was at the Wirral Panto.

                  The star villains Gra Gra with his 27 mistakes in 7 seconds, AdderleyDadderleyDoolaly and his his little mate Humpty Dumpty standing up in turn and lying to all and sundry.

                  Liars liars pants and Ugh Boots on fire….well hot anyway.

                  Did anyone see a signature on that contract?

                  Was it even a contract in the liars hand?

                  Grant (give us another £50,000.00) Thornton were there doing their mime act without any actions apart from twiddling a pen and collecting attendance money.

                  And of course the thicker than the chair Chair “Crapapple” thanking us whistleblowers for coming but sod orff.

                  Looks like you are sodding orff Jimbo to the palace and beyond unless your sponsors survive Wirralgate.

                  What a night in Wirral’s evil history.

                  Ooroo

                  James

    • I think the people of Wirral and further afield need to pay more attention to what’s going on there.

      The people don’t realise the power they have to influence matters.

      I think also that in their eyes what people at Wirral Council are doing is seen by them as neither shameful, disgraceful or the other things you accuse them of being. Which is part of the problem people don’t realise.

  4. Don’t you realise John. Do you not see. You are being ever so gently and ever so carefully being subjected to a deliberate attack. Nothing to harsh. Just enough to get a reaction, get you to lose your step and grind you down and ultimately get you to back off and stop. They want you to stop!
    Now my old friend, like most highly creative people you have a spot of vulnerability about you and it’s this sensitivity to being called a bigot that’s got to you. Albeit, deep down you know its rubbish and should be ignored, your kinder side demands you explain yourself fully to this lady who’s writing style reveals a bite and a measure of bile that demands that you get yourself upset.
    Ignore the fool who’s authored this piece. The writing style is betrayed by the initial acknowledgement that you are doing a wonderful job but then goes on to bite at you and your innocent reference to an unusual surname that’s no less strange than the anagram of Shames Rogan.
    Ignore the codswallop John and never again allow this faithful, loyal and easily tasked handmaiden who serves the Council elite to hurt and offend you again.

    • I have been attacked so lot over the years dear bobby47 I develop a rather thick skin. 🙂

      I did think it was rather strange to start off with a compliment and then make it into a back handed compliment.

      But you’re right, they probably did just want a reaction. I probably did fall right into that trap. 🙂

      However considering the subject of the piece, I was expecting some sort of reaction…

    • Well my contact in Israel does not regard it as anti-semitic so that’s good enough for me. 🙂

      • G’day John

        Please tell me and Julie your contact is Ali G…………. whoever he is.

        Didn’t google him either.

        Ooroo

        James

        • No my contact in Israel is not Ali G. He has a completely different name, which shall remain private.

          • G’day John

            I thought I should take good advice and I googled Ali G.

            Ali G: ‘I is marrying me Julie’

            Spooky John you got an email from a Julie.

            Ooroo

            James

            • And if you noticed, the “Julie” (that Sacha Baron-Cohen who plays Ali G) has married is an Australian.

              • Spookier still my boy

                I have a new granddaughter on the way in fact due in twenty weeks but sadly cannot afford to go over and her name is…….no no no not Julie

                My babies baby is called Isla.

                Ooroo

                James

  5. G’day John

    Talking of your mate Sir Git can you ask him next time you see him when was the first time he read the Beverley Edwards report.

    When “Highbrow” and I met him with “The Pretend Friend” and their short term hired friendly auditor (that Gra Gra courted and feted at the Improvement Board Public shambles) genius with the alphabet after his name “Rent an Auditor” “The Shyster” could not tell us quickly enough “I haven’t read the report” “I haven’t read the report”.

    “Highbrow” and I laughed our bits off.

    So with the shit about to hit the fan has he gone to dob in the asset strippers 5 YEARS LATER or is the idiotic buffoon still saying he hasn’t read the report, he hasn’t read the report.

    Please John can you check the size of his nose?

    People should have been sacked John over this issue alone and we are not even talking about the £2,000,000.00 of Wirral “Funny” Bizz knock off.

    Ooroo

    James

    I think as we say in Australia I have the trifecta, I think here in the UK all three is called a tricast.

    Shyster /ˈʃaɪstər/ is a slang word for someone who acts in a disreputable, unethical, or unscrupulous way, especially in the practice of law, sometimes also politics or business.

    • In answer to your first question, he’d have had to have read, in order to give a s.36 opinion on it. His opinion on it was communicated to Nigel Hobro on the 26th November 2014 and is in the public domain on the whatdotheyknow website.

      If he had read it prior to Nigel Hobro’s request of the 20th August 2014, wouldn’t it have taken him less than the just over 3 months it took him to give that opinion?

      So I think we should be able to assume that he’s read it without having to ask him.

  6. It’s not bad


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