How much evidence does there have to be of wrongdoing at Wirral Council before an apology is given?

How much evidence does there have to be of wrongdoing at Wirral Council before an apology is given?

How much evidence does there have to be of wrongdoing at Wirral Council before an apology is given?

                            

In late May of 2011 Simon Holbrook wrote an email to Councillor Pat Williams (in her capacity as Birkenhead Liberal Democrat Chair) and Councillor Alan Brighouse (in his capacity as Birkenhead Liberal Democrat Secretary) to their Wirral Council email addresses. What that email said (despite having a court order for the email to be produced to me from Deputy District Judge Ireland granted in the Birkenhead County Court the next year) is unknown to me as it was never shared with me.

What I do know was that based on the contents of this email (that was never shared with me), Councillor Pat Williams and former Councillor Ann Bridson proposed and seconded my suspension from the Liberal Democrats at a meeting of the Birkenhead Liberal Democrat Constituency Executive based on its contents in early June 2011. The next day (4th June 2011) I made a subject access request exercising a right I have under s.7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 for “a copy of the complaint made against me by Simon Holbrook”.

The constitution of the Liberal Democrats stated (and still does) state

“7.9 When the grounds cited in the charge are those specified under Article 2.6 (a), (b) or (d), the Disciplinary Procedure may proceed as follows:

(iii) The original complaint, the charge, copies of any written statements obtained and details of the Disciplinary Meeting shall be provided to the person being complained against and to all members of the Disciplinary Meeting not later than four weeks before the date of that meeting. ”

and

7.3 “If the procedure is not completed within that time, then the suspension shall automatically cease unless an extension of time is granted by the English Appeals Panel in accordance with its procedures. The person being complained against shall be notified of the suspension and the reasons for it.”

When it came to the disciplinary meeting fourteen weeks later in early September 2011, the original complaint had not been shared with me within the ten week time limit. The forty day limit to respond to my subject access request had passed. I’d written a further letter giving an extra fourteen days to share with me the original complaint otherwise I would sue, that too had passed.

By the date of the disciplinary meeting I was in the frankly ridiculous situation of having been suspended based on a complaint that had never been shared with me (and which I’d sued both the local party and the party nationally to get a copy of) and basically stated that because of this abuse of process the constitution said that because this mandatory requirement of the constitution hadn’t been followed that the suspension had therefore automatically expired and the disciplinary panel therefore didn’t have the power to reach a decision.

The disciplinary meeting made up of Roy Wood (who later stood against me as the candidate in Bidston & St. James the next year), Anna Blumenthal (the Birkenhead Liberal Democrat President at the time since deceased), Allan Brame, Cllr Mark Clayton and some member from Ellesmere Port I forget the name of didn’t see it that way and decided to punish me by deciding that I wouldn’t be allowed to be a Lib Dem candidate in any public election or hold office within the party for five years. This decision could then be appealed within a month to the English Appeals Panel (which I did).

However the English Appeals Panel told me they couldn’t accept the appeal as I didn’t have the original complaint made against me!

The next year in April 2012 (after an unsuccessful attempt in October 2012 by the Liberal Democrats to switch the two defendants in the case to a former Chief Executive of theirs called Chris Fox) there was a hearing in the Birkenhead County Court in front of Deputy District Judge Ireland. One of the two defendants was Councillor Alan Brighouse on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. Roy Wood also turned up to help him. There was nobody appearing for the other defendant which was Liberal Democrats (the Federal Party) on behalf of Liberal Democrats (that defendant was the Lib Dem headquarters down in London who had also ignored the subject access request).

Deputy District Judge Ireland agreed with me that s.7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 that Councillor Alan Brighouse on behalf of the Birkenhead Liberal Democrats and Liberal Democrats (the Federal Party) on behalf of the Liberal Democrats had failed to comply with my subject access request made the previous year in contravention of s.7 of the Data Protection Act 1998. She granted me a court order ordering the two defendants to comply with the request.

On May 25th 2012, after mentioning to Councillor Alan Brighouse at the local election count on the evening of May 3rd or early morning of May 4th Councillor Alan Brighouse wrote me a letter. A copy of his letter is below with a scan of the original handwritten letter.

31 Grosvenor Road

Oxton

May 25, 2012

Dear John,
Attached is a hard copy of Simon’s initial complaint against you.
As I told you at the election count, I was hoping to find the original e-mail to which it was attached.
I think you are aware that, subsequent to sending the complaint to Pat and myself, Simon modified it, leaving the two items that were eventually considered by the panel.

kind regards,
Alan

letter from Alan Brighouse to John Brace May 2012
Letter from Alan Brighouse to John Brace dated 25 May 2012

So what was Simon Holbrook’s original complaint? My comments are in italics and I link to the relevant documents mentioned.

Appendix – Case against John Brace

1. Smearing of Sitting Councillors

This allegation was withdrawn by him in advance of the disciplinary panel meeting.

In an email to Cllr Gilchrist dated 19 May 2011 at 09:59, John Brace did link the Standards investigation into Cllr Williams’ and Cllr Bridson’s part in the “special charging policy” with that of the recent investigation into the way in which Martin Morton had been treated, despite the fact that these are two totally separate matters.

Cllr Williams and Cllr Bridson are not and were not under investigation with respect to the independent investigation into the alleged bullying of Martin Morton. This investigation, which was instigated by former Cllr Holbrook has now concluded and reported. It never was and never had been a matter for the Standards Board of England.

My email to Cllr Gilchrist dated 19 May 2011 is rather long, however the three sentences referred to here are “Morale in the party is extremely low, the Chair and the Vice-Chair of the local party are currently (according to the Wirral Globe) under investigation on standards grounds following a decision by Wirral Council’s Independent Assessment Panel to refer the matter to Standards for England regarding their roles in the Social Services “special charging policy” and how Martin Morton was treated. This independent report (by now read by councillors but currently exempt) will be published within 2-5 months and will lead to a public discussion of their roles in this saga. Both are likely to be candidates in 2012 and the full reasons how and why they did things will have to be made clear to the public and party in the spirit of openness and accountability if we are to move on.

That email was sent to nine people, seven of whom were councillors. The Wirral Globe article referred to was Town hall blunder: Wrong paperwork sent to local government watchdog inquiry. The Chair of the local party at that time was Cllr Pat Williams and the Vice-Chair former Cllr Ann Bridson. The independent report I was referring to was the Anna Klonowski Associates report published in January 2012. My estimate of it being published between July and October of 2012 was a little optimistic. The key to the individuals mentioned in the Anna Klonowski Associates report shows that “Councillor 1” is Councillor Pat Williams. The decision to commission Anna Klonowski Associates Limited to write her report into “an independent review of the Council’s response to the concerns raised by Mr Martin Morton under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA), in relation to the application of a Special Charging Policy for Adult Social Care service users at Supported Living Units in Wirral between 1997 and 2006” was made solely by Councillor Jeff Green (the leader of the Conservative Group) when he was Leader of the Council in July 2010.

Simon Holbrook probably thought I was referring in my email to the heavily redacted Martin Smith report (of the North West Employers’ Organisation into “Mr Morton’s allegations of bullying, harassment and abuse of power by Council Officers”.

2. Disclosure of Confidential Information

John Brace did disclose on the Wirral Globe website blog, discussions that took place within the Birkenhead Executive Committee. Meetings of the Birkenhead Executive Lib Dems are internal party matters and therefore as such confidential to members of the Liberal Democrats and not for general publication.

These disclosures resulted in a senior Councillor from outside Birkenhead (Phil Gilchrist) being sufficiently concerned to raise the matter with the Constituency Chair (Cllr Williams).

The comments were made on this Wirral Globe article on the Wirral Globe website “Jubilant Labour leader invites Lib Dems to unite”, my comments were comments 5 (which it seems nobody had a problem with), comment 16 (referred to above), comment 17 (which nobody had a problem with), comment 22 (which nobody seemed to have a problem with) and comment 24 (which nobody had a problem with).

This was what Councillor Phil Gilchrist (before I was suspended) put in an email dated 19th May 2011 sent at 6:47 from philgilchrist@wirral.gov.uk to myself Cllr Pat Williams, Cllr Alan Brighouse, Alan Brame, Cllr Kelly, former Cllr Bridson, Roy Wood, Cllr Tom Harney and Cllr Dave Mitchell about it

“Dear John
Thank you for the detailed comments and background.
I had seen the matters referred to on the Globe website during my trawls for information, following the ‘initiative’ announced by Cllr Foulkes.
I mentioned my concerns to Pat as Chair of Birkenhead. It is not my place to comment on internal arrangements in Birkenhead.
My concern is and was that the detailed information supplied to The Globe covered ‘internal workings’ that were being made public. .
I have no information on the matters you referred to, just a desire that we avoid sending out information which has the potential to be used or misused by others.
I do see that you have mentioned taking on board the points raised .
I am grateful that you appreciate that comments can have an impact on the rest of work.
Phil Gilchrist

This was the only allegation upheld by the disciplinary panel. The disciplinary panel met on 6th September 2011 and in a report sent to me on 28th September 2011 said what is below on the matter.

Sanctions
“The panel felt that revocation of membership was too harsh a penalty for a single transgression on a little read “blog”, although it was made clear that Mr. Brace should not publish anything on behalf of the party in future unless properly authorised.

Under English Party Membership Rules 7.10(ii) – that John Brace be barred from any elected office in the party for a period of five years.

Under English Party Membership Rules 7.10(iii) – that John Brace be barred from seeking any elected public office for the party for a period of five years.

This was the unanimous view of the panel.

The Panel expressed their concern about the organisation of Wirral’s selection procedures and felt that the problems should be addressed and resolved.”

In summary then, the disciplinary panel report found that I had been right that candidate selection hadn’t been done according to the party’s constitution and therefore agreed with my version of events but chose to punish me for making it public.

3. Making False Allegations in Public

The matters disclosed in point 2 above questioned the eligibility of Simon Holbrook to have stood as the Lib Dem Candidate in Prenton at the recent local elections. John Brace also questioned the appropriate of Cllr Ann Bridson signing Simon Holbrook’s nomination papers. The allegation is that there was a denial of the democratic process to Birkenhead Party members.

The same blog also contains a statement insulting to all Wirral Lib Dem Councillors which said that when Simon Holbrook says “do something, unfortunately his councillors do it.”

This was withdrawn by Simon Holbrook prior to the disciplinary panel meeting. However as mentioned earlier the disciplinary panel report stated “The Panel expressed their concern about the organisation of Wirral’s selection procedures and felt that the problems should be addressed and resolved.” The second part is a partial quote. The whole quote is “However when Simon Says do something, unfortunately his councillors do it.” which was comment sixteen if you follow that link.

4. Making an Unsubstantiated Allegation of a Complaint

In an email to Cllr Pat Williams dated 19 May 2011 at 00:05, John Brace did allege that former Cllr Simon Holbrook had made a complaint about his conduct, when no such complaint had been made.

In the same email, he made reference to Simon Holbrook’s personal statement that he will not seek elected office in 2012 and concentrate on his professional career and seeks to link that with his own on website blogs with no factual justification.

This allegation was withdrawn by Simon Holbrook prior to the disciplinary meeting.

The email referred to stated “Although I have not been made aware of who is making this complaint, I suspect it is from the former constituency exec member and Prenton candidate Simon Holbrook as that was who my comment mainly related to.”

In other words I didn’t allege he had made a complaint about me I just stated that I suspected he had. At this point I hadn’t been made aware of who was making a complaint to Cllr Pat Williams, but as the complaint was about a comment I’d made about Simon Holbrook I suspected that he was the one who had made the complaint (which is ironic as within a fortnight he went onto make the long complaint that this blog post is about).

The other reference referred to in the email was this “Simon Holbrook (issued by a press release on the Lib Dem website) has stated he will not to stand as a candidate in 2012 and is to concentrate on his Environment Agency. I do not know whether this is connected with my comments made or not. That is his personal choice to make.”

The press release was on the Wirral Lib Dem website and is copied below.

MEDIA RELEASE

Issued by: Simon Holbrook
Date of Issue: May 9th 2011

Statement by Simon Holbrook

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many people, council officers, political friends and foes alike, who I have worked with and who have helped me during my 12 years as a Wirral Councillor.

“I am proud to have served as Councillor for Prenton Ward, and thank the many local residents who have supported me and the Liberal Democrats during this time. I would particularly like to thank those people who have stuck with the Liberal Democrats as we have attempted to do difficult things in difficult times.

“For most of my time, Wirral has been a Council where political parties have had to work together to get things done. As Group Leader, I always sought to apply Liberal Democrat influence in the best interests of Wirral people. The past four years have been particularly challenging as a coalition partner to both the other Parties. I am particularly proud of the fact that, during the past 12 months, we have responded to the most difficult financial conditions ever put onto local government, without making the types of cuts made by other councils, protecting front line services and no compulsory redundancies.

“Whilst I shall remain active in politics locally, I now intend to concentrate on my professional career within the Environment Agency. I will therefore not be seeking election in 2012, but do hope to return to frontline politics at some point in the future.

“I pass on my sincere best wishes to all members of Wirral Council in the difficult task that I know still lies ahead of them.”

The most curious bit about part 4 of the complaint are the dates and the timing. Councillor Alan Brighouse deputised for Councillor Pat Williams at a public meeting of Wirral Council’s Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee on the evening of June 1st 2011. After this meeting finished, he told me in the car park of Wallasey Town Hall that Simon Holbrook had emailed him and Cllr Pat Williams with a compliant about me at some point in the days prior to June 1st 2011. The court order granted by Deputy District Judge Ireland in April 2012 was for this original complaint and email (which had to have been sent prior to June 1st 2011). However part 4 of Simon Holbrook’s complaint refers to something that didn’t happen until the evening of the 3rd June 2011 (which seems impossible). Simon Holbrook writes “In the same email, he made reference to Simon Holbrook’s personal statement that he will not seek elected office in 2012 and concentrate on his professional career and seeks to link that with his own on website blogs with no factual justification.” which is a clear reference to this blog post Birkenhead Liberal Democrat Party Constituency Executive Suspends John Brace and the quote which first appears on it when it was first published on the evening of 3rd June 2011 (it has later had a few revisions) which originally stated “Well, I’ve been suspended from the Liberal Democrat Party following a complaint by Simon Holbrook. I can’t say much more than that (obviously) as contrary to the complaints procedure I haven’t been provided with a copy of the complaint. Having written that, if he is concentrating on his career in the Environment Agency he’s showing a funny way of doing it!”

5. Seeking to Attend a Civic Function without an Invitation

That together with Leonora Brace, John Brace did seek to attend the celebration party following the Mayor Making ceremony despite not having received an invitation to the event. When challenged, John Brace did inappropriately attempt to claim that his possession of a ‘Press Card’ entitled him to attend this invitation only civic function.

Note: John and Leonora Brace did attend part 1 of the Annual Council meeting from the public gallery, which they are entitled to do so.

This allegation was withdrawn by Simon Holbrook prior to the disciplinary panel meeting. It’s untrue and probably so for a number of reasons which I will state here. Part 1 of the Annual Council meeting has been held every year prior to May 2011 for as long as anyone can remember in the Civic Hall at Wallasey Town Hall. There is a gallery above the Civic Hall but in the time period referred to by Simon Holbrook nobody was permitted to be in it as it was classed as “unsafe”. It’s only in more recent years when I’ve been filming the Annual Council meeting that I’ve been in the public gallery in the Civic Hall as Council employees insist I couldn’t film anywhere else as it was a “fire hazard”.

I will state a few things here that also will show that I wouldn’t want to attend a celebration party. I have a diagnosed special dietary requirement (a fact that is probably unknown to Simon Holbrook) called lactose intolerance. I have to follow a gluten-free and dairy free diet. Therefore anything that would be available to eat at a “celebration party” I wouldn’t be able to anyway. In fact I can categorically state that I’ve never gatecrashed a celebration party following part 1 of an Annual Council meeting.

However part 1 of the Annual Council meeting is a public meeting (as pointed out in the complaint), the public have a right in law to be there. I do remember one year someone (probably working for the Mayor’s office) asking me for my invitation on the way in to the Annual Council meeting in the Civic Hall and I pointed out to this person it was a public meeting, that I didn’t need an invitation and had a right in law to be there as it was a public meeting. I was then asked what I was planning to do at the end of the Annual Council meeting to which I answered I would be leaving (which I did). If memory serves me correct about what happened the same person came over to me again once the meeting had finished and people were leaving and asked us again if I were leaving (this happened near the stairs just outside the Round Room). I explained that as my wife has mobility problems I would be helping her down the stairs (she’s claustrophobic when it comes to lifts) and that I was waiting for a sufficient gap in the crowds of people who were milling around in order to do so safely as I was concerned that I didn’t want her to be jostled which would cause her to fall. Quite how this series of events morphed into Simon Holbrook’s spurious, fanciful and totally untrue allegation about what happened I’m not sure.

6. Giving a False Impression of Holding Public Office

In a separate blog John Brace did write -“Although in theory I hold the position of councillor, it’s not with Wirral Council and like the Mayoress of Wirral Mrs Jennings is unelected so am I, as like with the Mayoress it’s to do with who I’m married to.”

This remark appeared in a blog speculating about the future shape of the Council administration. Although its purpose is unclear, it does seek to give credibility to the comments through claiming an association with a public office.

This allegation was withdrawn by Simon Holbrook before the disciplinary panel meeting.

This is the blog post referred to written on 11th May 2011. The whole quote (in context) is

“It’s strange of Cllr. Foulkes and his Labour councillors to pursue a strategy of going after the Lib Dems for five weeks, then be all smiles and wanting our help after Labour have lost control in 2010 and are desperate to get a sniff of power. Admittedly all parties behave like this to varying degrees, the Conservatives saw this coming and have (thankfully) told the public some of the skeletons in the cupboard of the previous Labour administration.

What will happen? It’s up to the ten Wirral Lib Dem councillors to decide. Although some residents think I hold the position of councillor, I do not with Wirral Council. The Mayoress of Wirral Mrs. Jennings is unelected so am I, as like with the Mayoress it’s to do with who I’m married to.”

This was a reference to my wife holding a position on the Council of Elders which governs a reservation where she’s from in Canada. The quote used alleges I am a holder of public office, however if the comment is actually read it shows that although some people may think that, I did not. I am married to Leonora and that is the position she holds.

7. Did Make Allegations in his Blog of Irregularities in the Count

In a blog following the local elections, John Brace claimed that the votes had not been counted properly. He sought to compare the declared result with his own canvass returns to justify his claim that his own votes had not been counted properly. In the same blog, he inappropriately said that a large number of votes in Oxton changed hands on the recount.

This is the blog post referred to. The issues were (as explained in the blog post) to do with errors made at the count. Here’s what I put “No yellow 25s were initially handed out to counters. This was raised by myself as candidate as to why the Lib Dem votes weren’t being counted.”, “The counters soon ran out of 25s so 25s from different parties were used. This meant each candidates’ total was a mixture of colours and instead of using separate trays, one tray was used for Labour, the Conservative and UKIP votes were put in a second tray with the Lib Dem votes hidden from view behind a ballot box.” and “We only have to look at the Oxton recount to see how a large number of votes changed after being recounted.”

This is just a factual account of what happened at the count. The Deputy Returning Officer before he declared the result in Bidston & St. James agreed with me and took some votes off the Labour amount before the result was declared and added them to my total as a compromise as he didn’t want to have to do a recount. The result in Oxton (after a recount) was that Stuart Kelly got 1,918 votes and Matthew Patrick 1,792 (a majority of 126). However the original count of the Oxton votes put Stuart Kelly’s majority as much larger at around two hundred.

8. Making an Unjustified Complaint against a Lib Dem Councillor to the Standards Board of England

John Brace did report Cllr Ann Bridson to the Standards Board over the seating arrangements for members of the public at a meeting of the Health Scrutiny Committee. The complaint was investigated at significant public expenses and was dismissed as unfounded.

The complaint had the potential to be damaging to the reputation of a party colleague, yet at no time did John Brace seek to discuss the matter about which he felt aggrieved with Cllr Bridson, or any other member of the Liberal Democrat Council Group.

Well this is what the disciplinary panel stated in their report “The panel found this not proved.”

Firstly, I have never made a complaint about Councillor Ann Bridson to the Standards Board for England. In fact the law at the time stated only Wirral Council could do that. I did discuss it with Cllr Bridson and Cllr Williams before making the complaint.

However I did make a complaint about former Cllr Bridson to Bill Norman (who was then Monitoring Officer at Wirral Council). This complaint was never referred to the Standards Board for England. The complaint about former Cllr Bridson that was referred to the Standards Board for England was the one made by Martin Morton about her and other councillors. The statement that I didn’t seek to discuss the matter with her before making the complaint is untrue.

From my signed witness statement “21. I did raise with the Chair after the meeting the issues about disability and her Committee had a specific responsibility for these. I did not want the events repeated again at this discussion she said that she was not prepared to listen to arguments from members of the public. 22. I was surprised and shocked by what she said.”

From my wife’s signed witness statement “17. After the meeting they had approached the Chair. She [Leonora Brace] became engaged in conversation with a Councillor close by, while her husband was speaking to the Chair [Ann Bridson] and I did not hear the full conversation. She could hear well enough to know that attitude of the Chair [Ann Bridson] was not good. She [Ann Bridson] was shouting in a loud voice and she [Leonora Brace] heard her [Ann Bridson] say this is “not the time nor the place” for speaking. 18. In Mrs Brace’s creed there is great emphasis put on the need to be polite. The Chair was not being polite.

From Ann Bridson’s signed witness statement “24. John Brace may have approached me at the end of a meeting in the last 7 months, and I may have suggested his enquiry/comment was inappropriate at that time. However really I cannot recall.” and “31. On another issue relating to the course of this complaint and regarding the Liberal Democrat Party, John Brace had emailed the Chair of the Liberal Democrats [Birkenhead] Constituency Committee [Cllr Pat Williams] that he had made a complaint about me under the Council’s standards procedures. The Chair of the [Birkenhead] Constituency Committee had sent that email out to all members of the Executive Committee and at the next meeting when this was made clear to me, I felt obliged to say in front of the Committee that it was not a complaint that related in any sense for example fiddling expenses or an income tax offence.”

The Deputy Monitoring Officer at the time Surjit Tour wrote the covering report about the complaint to the Standards Initial Assessment Panel meeting of 20th December 2010. The detailed report of the ethical standards officer Mr David Swallow was also submitted to the Standards Initial Assessment Panel.

I asked the Chief Executive of Wirral Council Graham Burgess at the public meeting of the Improvement Board in November 2013 a question about how this standards complaint had been handled. A record of the questions and answers of Wirral Council are published on Wirral Council’s website.

My question was:

8. A separate and unrelated complaint about one of the four Councillors referred to above (ref SfE 2010/02) was decided on the 20th December 2010. However the covering report sent to the panel which decided was incorrectly titled “Report of the Monitoring Officer – Case Reference 2010/03″. This report to the panel also omitted that the original complaint referred to an alleged breach of 6(a) of the Code of Conduct. As an apology was given for an administrative error to the complainant referred to in question 5, will an apology for this administrative error be given to the complainants of complaint reference SfE 2010/02 and the subject of the complaint?

The answer of Wirral Council is perhaps typical of what would be termed “spin”. Other people may comment that it goes further than that.

This is the answer “The administrative error was that the number 3 was put into the complaint reference instead of number 2. The complaint, relating to an alleged breach of the Code of Conduct was considered by the Standards Committee Initial Assessment Panel which concluded that no action should be taken as there was no evidence to support the allegations. The minor typographical error had no detrimental impact on the complainant as all of the content was correct and considered, and as the panel found no evidence of wrongdoing it would not be appropriate to issue an apology.”

Firstly it was allegations of breaches of the Code of Conduct not “an alleged breach of the Code of Conduct”. If I remember correctly about what was in the decision notice, the Standards Committee Initial Assessment Panel accepted the recommendations of the ethical standards officer David Swallow. The ethical standards officer stated in his report that the sections of the Code of Conduct alleged to have been broken were

“3. (1) You must treat others with respect.

5. You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or Authority into disrepute.

6. You (a) must not use or attempt to use your position as a Member improperly to confer on or secure for yourself or any other person, an advantage or disadvantage”

However Surjit Tour’s covering report just mentioned the following two:

“5.1 The relevant parts of the Code in relation to this complaint are:

Paragraphs:

3. (1) You must treat others with respect.

5. You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute.”

The Standards Initial Assessment Panel accepted the three recommendations in the ethical standard officer’s report which were:

“10 My Recommendations are that
10.1 The finding that there has been no breach of the Code be accepted;
10.2 No further action be taken in respect of this matter and the case be closed
10.3 As to general issues maybe highlighted by this matter, some consideration be given to the issues raised in this Report as to the facilities made available to those with disabilities in attending meetings of the Committees – eg positioning of the water machine; reservation of seats for those with disabilities.”

The statement by the Chief Executive that “no action should be taken as there was no evidence to support the allegations” is therefore ludicrous as one of the recommendations (10.3) agreed by the Standards Initial Assessment Panel was that consideration should be given to the issues raised in this report.

At the public meeting of the Transformation and Resources Policy and Performance Committee last Monday Councillor Phil Gilchrist complained that he couldn’t hear what was going on because of the noise of the tea/coffee machine and asked for it to be turned off. So recommendation 10.3 was never actually put into action. The Chief Executive’s assertion that “all of the content was correct and considered” is untrue due to Surjit Tour’s admission. As to “no evidence of wrongdoing”, there’s plenty of evidence (see above) but when it comes to allegations of disability discrimination involving Wirral Council, well due to the culture no-one is ever found to be accountable however much evidence there is are they?

P.S. You may well say, well you can’t do this John, what about s. 63 of the Local Government Act 2000 which makes disclosure of the above in relations to a standards complaint a criminal offence? Well as regulation 5(d) of The Localism Act 2011 (Commencement No. 6 and Transitional, Savings and Transitory Provisions) Order 2012 meant that part 5, schedule 25 of the Localism Act 2011 had the force of law from the 1st July 2012. Part 5, schedule 25 of the Localism Act 2011 repeals sections 56A to 67 of the Local Government Act 2000.

This also means (despite the legal advice the Standards Committee has been given in the past) that there is no reason in law why previous reports about standards complaints about other Wirral Council councillors can’t be released to the public.

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

Consultation feedback and questions to Improvement Board (15th November 2013)

Consultation feedback and questions to Improvement Board (15th November 2013)

Consultation feedback and questions to Improvement Board (15th November 2013)

                                    

Handed out at last Friday’s Improvement Board meeting were the responses to the consultation received so far, motions passed at the Audit and Risk Management Committee and Coordinating Committee and the questions submitted in advance of the meeting by the members of the public as circulated at the meeting (although some of mine were subtly altered).

I’ve checked the Improvement Board section on Wirral Council’s website at the time of writing, but they haven’t appeared there yet, so here they are instead!

FEEDBACK FROM PARTNERS

Comments on the draft report on behalf of Wirral Community NHS Trust

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this report.

Wirral Community NHS Trust recognises the significant steps forward taken by the Council over the last two years and agrees with the broad conclusions set out. We also recognise the commitment shown by key personnel, officers and members, and the level of improvement activity which has taken place and which is reflected in the report.

Particular phrases from the concluding pages which resonate with this organisation’s experience working with the Authority over the last year include the reference to a stable, well-led and inclusive organisation, where a change in culture has taken place. We agree that there is a stronger sense of strategic direction, planning and performance management. The grip of the financial position is evident, and there is much greater clarity about the individual roles of senior staff in the new structure, and a strong sense of accessibility.

The Authority is engaging well with key partners and taking a proper leadership role, particularly from our respect, in the health and social care economy.

We look forward to continuing to work with the Council and building this relationship. A key challenge for all public sector partners over the coming years will be our ability to work together to manage the impact of the financial constraints under which we all work, and to ensure that actions taken by individual partners to not impact adversely on the challenges faced by other agencies.

Simon Gilby
Chief Executive
Wirral Community NHS Trust

Thank you for a copy of the Wirral Improvement Board Review report.

I think sharing this document with your peers across the Liverpool City Region is an example of the increased transparency and accountability that you, Cllr Davies your Leader, together with Officers and Members are trying to bring to Wirral.

It is clear that Wirral faced a number of significant challenges and it is to your credit that these have been identified, accepted and acted upon in a way that can only be to the benefit of residents in the Wirral.

The priorities identified by the Improvement Board have set out a clear improvement framework for the Council and the actions taken to date are noted. For me, the priority around political and managerial leadership is key – it sets the example for the Council and all it’s staff and members. This leadership is reflected throughout the other priorities and our challenge now is to build on the cultural changes that are beginning to happen at Wirral so that they become the norm for the future.

It is also to its credit that this improvement has been undertaken in a time of significant financial pressure on the Council, as with the other Councils in the Liverpool City Region. Again the development of a longer term budget and financial plan is noted and will clearly help the Council address current and future challenges in respect of financial settlements.

It would appear that the Council has made significant progress in a relatively short period of time and again it is noted that the Improvement Plan recognises it is not the end but clearly there are further steps that need to be taken to build on what has been achieved to date.

On behalf of St. Helens Council, I would like to congratulate the Leader, yourself and the teamwork of the whole Council on getting to where you are now.

Yours sincerely

Carole Hudson
Chief Executive
St. Helen’s Council

Wirral Improvement Board Review

Merseytravel would like to concur with the view expressed in the report which has recently been published that significant progress has been made by Wirral Council in addressing a number of critical issues that had been raised.

Relationships between Merseytravel and Wirral Council are very open and transparent based on trust. We have a joint agreement on the current transport priorities that will best serve the Wirral, in particular looking at enhancing the connectivity between Wirral and North Wales and Cheshire West. This has been done in the spirit of collaboration at a strategic and operational planning level.

We have developed, and will continue to develop an open and trusting relationship with both the political and senior officer leadership at Wirral Council and have worked collaboratively on the development of a Combined Authority scheme which we hope, when fully implemented in 2014 will see a greater level of outward looking, strategic leadership at City Region level with a very progressive set of revised transport arrangements which will have been developed with collaboration by all parties through which Wirral have contributed significantly.

We also recognise the role of the Leader of Wirral has played in the development of securing European funding within the European programme and we hope to continue to maximise this expertise and the new approach to partnership working between all parties but in particular between Merseytravel and Wirral Council.

I trust that this helps.

Yours sincerely,
David Brown
Chief Executive and Director General

Wirral CCG welcomes this report which clearly demonstrates the significant progress the council has made over the last 18 months. We believe the the correct structures, governance and culture is now in place for us to work collaboratively in the future to deliver integrated services for the population of Wirral.

Dr Phil Jennings
Chair
Wirral CCG

“Congrats! Need to keep up the good work!”
Angela Eagle MP

RELEVANT RESOLUTIONS PASSED AT AUDIT AND RISK MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE 14/11/13 WITH THE SUPPORT OF MEMBERS FROM ALL PARTIES

[Ed – Cllr Simon Mountney voted against which isn’t mentioned here]

Moved by Councillors Pat Glasman/Janette Williamson
RESOLVED:
That this Committee welcomes the report of the Improvement Board, which draws attention to the significant progress Wirral has made in the last 20 months.

It recognises that there are still issues which need to be addressed but believes it is clear that Wirral is now an outward looking Authority – open to constructive criticism and willing to address problems when they occur.

We would recommend the sector-led approach to change and development to other authorities who find themselves in difficulty.

We would like to thank the Improvement Board, all staff and Members who have participated in the change process. It now remains for Members to continue to participate in their own development and not become complacent but ensure that change becomes embedded for the future

Moved by Councillors Steve Foulkes/Pat Glasman
RESOLVED:
That the Committee welcomes the response to critical reports in that it puts the Council’s progress in an accessible and available format.

The issues remain complex and what happened was regrettable. We urge that all outstanding matters should be resolved as quickly as possible and that Members be updated periodically.

RELEVANT RESOLUTIONS PASSED AT CO-ORDINATING COMMITTEE ON 13/11/2013
RESOLVED:
That this Committee welcomes the Report. It clearly states the Authority is moving in the right direction.

This Committee pledges to play its full part in continuing the direction of travel.

All Members will be encouraged to engage in the next steps identified within the report.

We must not be complacent as we still need to improve in many areas identified in the report and embed positive changes.

We thank all members of the Improvement Board for their help.

We thank all employees and Members for their efforts in this journey of improvement.

We would recommend the approach adopted by the Local Government Association, in piloting sector led improvement, and would recommend it to others who find themselves in difficulties.

QUESTIONS OR FEEDBACK SUBMITTED BY THE PUBLIC

J YATES

Dear Sir/Madam

I raise an objection to the timing of the Public meeting arranged for Friday 15th 2013 as notified in the Wirral Globe.
I have not received the statutory notice of at least 5 working days and feel I would not be able to attend at such short notice.
I therefore submit that this meeting be re-arranged to incorporate the legally-required term of notice.

JOHN BRACE

The final report of Anna Klonowski Associates Limited was published as part of the Cabinet agenda of the 12th January 2012. Wirral Council also received from Anna Klonowski Associates sixteen appendices (listed below), which apart from appendix G (Standards for England Decision notices) have not been published. If Wirral Council is now “open and transparent” when will the other fourteen appendices be published (except for appendix L)?

A Appendices as Referred to in the Report
B Equality & Human Rights Commission Letter Dated 29 December 2010
C First Improvement Plan
D Care Quality Commission Inspection Report
E Charging Policy for Supported Living Services
F Documents Relating to 27 Balls Road
G Standards for England Decision Notices
H Documents Relating to Reimbursement Claims
I Emails Relating to Supported Living Contracts
J Documents Relating to Service Provider 2
K Documents Relating to Service Provider 3
L Medical Information Relating to Martin Morton (MEDICAL IN CONFIDENCE)
M Documents Relating to Service Provider 4
N Minutes of Adult Protection Strategy Meetings Relating to Service Provider 4
O Documents Relating to the Safeguarding Adults Unit
P Minutes of the DASS Monitoring & Development Sub Group Meeting Held on 11 December 2008
Q Employment Dates for WMBC Employees

On the 14th April 2011 Cabinet resolved that Martin Smith’s report be made public, however all the names (presumably of Wirral Council officers and councillors) contained within the reported were redacted before publication. Is publishing the redacted (rather than full) report complying with the spirit of the earlier Cabinet decision? Will Wirral Council to publish an unredacted version of the Martin Smith report?

Presumably some of the blacked out names in Martin Smith’s report would be the names of councillors. As councillors are accountable to the people of Wirral, how can the people of Wirral hold their elected representatives to account unless the full Martin Smith report is published including the names of councillors in it?

Does the Improvement Board understand that the Wirral public will find it hard to believe that Wirral Council has changed when there are so many unanswered questions surrounding these events due to the lack of transparency and accountability?

The Standards Committee of Monday 4th July 2011 discussed an administrative error that had occurred in dealing with the standards complaint made by Martin Morton made regarding Cllrs Roberts, McLaughlin, Pat Williams and Bridson. He had initially made a complaint about Cllrs Roberts, McLaughlin and Pat Williams, but had replaced this with a more detailed complaint involving Cllrs Roberts, McLaughlin, Pat Williams and Bridson. This second complaint mysteriously vanished from Wirral Council’s files. A public apology was made at the time by the Monitoring Officer to Martin Morton and the councillors who were the subject of the complaint. Did any Wirral councillors have access to the revised complaint prior to its disappearance from Wirral Council’s files if so who were they?

A separate and unrelated complaint about one of the four councillors referred to in question five (ref SfE 2010/02) was decided on the 20th December 2010. However the covering report sent to the panel which decided was incorrectly titled “Report of the Monitoring Officer – Case Reference 2010/03″ . This report to the panel also omitted that the original complaint referred to an alleged breach of 6(a) of the Code of Conduct. As an apology was given for an administrative error to the complainant referred to in question 5, will an apology for this administrative error be given to the complainants of complaint reference SfE 2010/02 and the subject of the complaint?

In the review report it states “it is proposed to strengthen the independent nature of the Audit and Risk Management Committee through the appointment of a majority of external members”. How many independent members of the Audit and Risk Management Committee will be appointed, who will they be appointed by and will the Audit and Risk Management Committee be chaired in future by one of these independent members?

Although Wirral Council is meeting its target of responding to 85% of Freedom of Information Act requests within twenty days during the Information Commissioner Office’s monitoring period, a greater proportion of Freedom of Information Act requests have been turned down. If memory serves me correctly, this has been achieved by dedicating greater human resources to responding to Freedom of Information Act requests. This raises the questions, are these resources temporary and only for the Information Commissioner Office’s monitoring period (and if so how will the current performance be maintained once these resources are withdrawn) and how does refusing a greater proportion of Freedom of Information Act requests tally with the administration’s stated desire to be more “open and transparent”?

The reports into whistleblowing allegations raised about Wirral Council’s BIG (business investment grants) and ISUS (Intensive Startup Support) have both not been published in full despite being received by Wirral Council in the Spring of this year. The Executive Summary to the Grant Thornton report into the BIG scheme was published by Wirral Council on the 15th July (the companies referred to in the Executive Summary were anonymised). If the Executive Summary to the ISUS report follows the same format as the BIG report and has also been anonymised, why has this not been published also?

If the Improvement Board decides that it is safe to withdraw, do they think that the Corporate Governance Committee should be reconstituted to ensure sufficient oversight by councillors of the work identified in the “Next Steps” section?

Are the LGA members of the Improvement Board financially renumerated for their work on the Improvement Board and if so, could amounts (whether exact or approximate) of the total cost to Wirral Council over the lifespan of the Improvement Board?

GREG VOGIATZIS

Dear Improvement Board,
As a member of the public living on Wirral I have reviewed your report in the limited time it has been available and would like to comment and seek response as follows.

Your recommendations include

(a) The need for an Improvement Board in its current form is no longer the best way forward for Wirral.
(b) Instead the Council will need to drive improvement through the future actions suggested in the Next Steps sections of the report.
(c) There should be a review of Wirral’s progress overall at the end of the year end as suggested in para 85, on page 30 of this report

I struggle to grasp why these recommendations are appropriate given the significant number of “next steps” that the report suggests are required.

The review proposed at c) is to take place within a relatively short timescale at which point, given the scope of the report, it would be unlikely to establish genuine progress or provide confidence that strategies and changes have been effectively implemented.

I believe that continued external oversight by the Improvement Board is necessary to ensure that “next steps” and changes are in fact implemented and embedded.

There are a number of areas of concern that lead me to this belief.

At para 71 of the report reference is made to community representatives having been recruited for Constituency Committees which are a key plank of neighbourhood working.

This is untrue – Birkenhead, the largest constituency is yet to recruit community representatives and from my own enquiries do not appear to have a process to do so.

I am advised that the meeting of Birkenhead Constituency Committee arranged for 28 Nov 2013 is intended to address this although no agenda has yet been produced.

This does not inspire confidence that your report is accurate in this area and leaves other areas open to doubt.

At para 99. reference is made that the direction of travel is towards amber. This implies the situation is still RED and undermines your position that external oversight/scrutiny is no longer necessary.

At para 107 reference is made to FOI requests and the 85% target being achieved. This is measured over a very narrow timescale and makes no reference to any challenges to response that may have been received.

Give Wirral’s poor performance in this area surely continued oversight is required to ensure this is consistent and representative of anticipated future performance.

I have concerns that the Neighbourhood working structures are flawed and as these are key to delivery of the “new” ways of working and this calls into doubt the validity and credibility of much of the work the Improvement Board have undertaken.

The (published) Equality Impact Assessment for this does not appear to consider any potential negative impacts for protected groups or consideration of socio economic factors when in fact these clearly exist on the basis of £200,000 being equally split between constituencies regardless of their demographic or socio economic need. There is potential that inequality will be increased in constituencies/areas with more ethnically diverse population or younger/older populations.

Even on a simple budget per head calculation unequal treatment could be perceived as existing.
If my concerns are correct then this is something I would expect the Improvement Board to have noticed and addressed given the weight and emphasis placed on Neighbourhood Working.

NIGEL HOBRO

In your report p53 section 184 you write that you are “the first sector-led improvement approach taken to support a Council facing significant governance issues”. In the potted biographies of Joyce Redfearn it is written:

“She has served on two previous improvement boards for Blaenau Gwent and for Liverpool.”

Question 1.
What happened at Blaenau Gwent and Liverpool. I interpret “sector-led” as being led by a peer group rather like the Police investigating themselves. What was different about Mrs Redfearn’s prior appointments to Boards.

Question 2.
Your report refers to external reports 2010-2012 though by contrast WBC writes a response to critical reports 2010-2013. Given that those reports included two from Grant Thornton in 2013 which showed alarming deficiencies in the award of business start-up grants both in working Neighbourhoods, in BIG and in ISUS, how can you make a statement that the Economy was an “area of excellence” for WBC even under the difficult conditions to which you allude?

This is not a complaint regarding those investigations but a query of on what authority can you print such an assertion faced with knowledge of, certainly published in BIG Abbreviated summary, the deep failures of scrutiny over the process shown by WBC?

JON KING

I have two questions to the Improvement Board:

I would contest that the ‘war’ has been won when so many legacy issues remain outstanding, but to ‘win the peace’ when there has been such a breakdown in trust between the local authority and its residents is it not time for the Local Authority to adopt a corporate charter reflecting the Nolan Principles to embrace the expected standards in public life?

To ‘win the peace’ you have to resolve the grievances and issues resulting from the previous periods of poor performance how can the Council assure the residents that these have been investigated and addressed with the appropriate vigour.

ANONYMOUS (DID NOT WANT TO BE NAMED)

The report states that some council members were less engaged with the improvement training and process than others. Is the public allowed to know which ones these were and can anything be done about the persistence of this negative attitude now that the Improvement Board is planning to reduce its level of involvement?

The ‘What Really Matters’ and other previous questionnaires were hailed as a success and yet there were frequent public complaints regarding the loaded nature of the questions and the lack of information regarding the choices they presented (evidenced by letters to the local press, for example). Were these questionnaires actually designed by a reputable and experienced market research company, and if so, which one?

MARTIN MORTON

The Improvement Board will hear from Martin Morton who has requested time to address the meeting.

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

Standards for England email about missing councillor in Martin Morton complaint

Standards for England email about missing councillor in Martin Morton complaint

Standards for England email about missing councillor in Martin Morton complaint

                                

I realise as this is over two years ago this is probably regarded now as ancient history, but as far as I remember the name of the former councillor that was missing from the complaint of Martin Morton that Wirral Council incorrectly sent to Standards for England has not before been made public. Here’s an email from Standards for England that states who it was and refers to how they initially reached a decision on one councillor because with regards to the information sent by Wirral Council that they “were not provided with evidence to show that the complainant had made a complaint about her”.

from: Lori Holden “Lori.Holden@standardsforengland.gov.uk”
to: “john.brace@gmail.com”
date: 7 July 2011 11:02
subject: RE: complaint referred to Standards Board for England by Metropolitan Borough of Wirral with regards to Cllr Bridson, Cllr Williams, Cllr Roberts and Cllr McLaughlin made by Mr. Morton

Hi John,

Thanks again for you latest email. As previously confirmed, Standards for England received a referral from Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council’s Standards Committee’s Initial Assessment Panel relating to Councillors Moira McLaughlin, Denise Roberts, Pat Williams and Ann Bridson on April 1, 2011.

Standards for England made a decision, in accordance with section 58(2) of the Local Government Act 2000, as amended, that no further action be taken on the allegation in relation to all four councillors based on the information provided to us by the local authority.

However, with regards to Councillor Ann Bridson, we stated that we reached our decision of no further action on the basis that we were not provided with evidence to show that the complainant had made a complaint about her.

In relation to the referral we received on June 14, I have been advised that initial assessment of this complaint is still in progress. I would advise contacting me again by mid-week next week for an update and, if I hear of any developments in the meantime, I will let you know.

Hope this helps.

Kind regards,
Lori

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

Standards Committee (Wirral Council) 18th March 2013 Part 2 Standards Working Group

Standards Committee (Wirral Council) 18th March 2013 Standards Working Group | Members ICT Policy

Continued from Part 1.

Mr. Surjit Tour reminded those present that there was no longer a legal requirement for a Standards Committee and that its terms of reference could be dealt with by another committee.

Cllr Foulkes again referred to the independent members of the Standards Committee.

Cllr Harney said that it was a question of how you carry out its duties and that he agreed with Cllr Foulkes and that they had to be clear and transparent. He said that there had been allegations in the past years that their processes had not always been clear and transparent.

Cllr Tom Harney referred to an agenda item on the Improvement Board put forward by the Chief Executive which was a scheme for a new Council. He said that “they should make sure they have a system that people out there understand”.

Cllr Salter said he agreed with Cllr Foulkes and Cllr Harney, he’d been on the Standards Committee for a couple of years, he’d interviewed the independents and he wanted to keep the Standards Committee as it kept them “clear and transparent”.

Cllr Hale said they weren’t making a decision tonight, but it would go to the next Working Party as they didn’t have the detail before them.

Cllr Abbey wanted the Working Party to put in timescales on actions taken in response to complaints and referred to a previous complaint that had got lost in the system for two and a half years.

Mr. Surjit Tour said that Cllr Abbey was referring to the old system which had been replaced in July and that the new protocol which had picked up the points raised by Cllr Abbey ensured flexibility.

There was more discussion on the matter until Cllr Hale said he had no objection with the Standards Committee continuing until the Working Party had completed further investigations and reported back. This was agreed.

Councillors then agreed the changes to the Members ICT Policy and the meeting finished.

Standards Committee (Wirral Council) 18th March 2013 Part 1 Standards Working Group

Standards Committee (Wirral Council) 18th March 2013

Present:

Mr Brian Cummings
Mr. Chris Jones
Cllr Moira McLaughlin
Cllr Steve Foulkes (deputy for Cllr Denise Roberts)
Cllr John Salter
Cllr Simon Mountney (deputy for Cllr Leah Fraser)
Cllr Mike Hornby (deputy for Cllr Les Rowlands (spokesperson))
Cllr John Hale (deputy for Cllr Chris Blakeley)
Cllr Bill Davies (Chair)
Cllr Tom Harney (spokesperson)

The Chair welcomed and gave apologies for Cllr Denise Roberts, Cllr Chris Blakeley, Cllr Leah Fraser and Cllr Les Rowlands. No declarations of interest were made. Cllr McLaughlin pointed out a correction to the minutes of the meeting held on the 19th November 2012, in the section “Report of the Member Steering Group” a date of 3rd July 2013 should have read 3rd July 2012.

Mr. Tour said that the minutes of the Standards Working Group detailed its discussions of the 4th February 2013, the key item for discussion was the Members ICT Policy. Some amendments had been put forward to the ICT policy.

Cllr Ron Abbey arrived.

Mr. Tour continued that since the new regime for complaints had been brought in on the 1st July 2012 there had only been two complaints made so the new arrangements hadn’t yet been fully tested. However he said the reduction in complaints was an “encouraging sign” but made it difficult to review the new arrangements.

The Standards Working Group had recommended that the three Group Leaders be asked if the Council should continue with a Standards Committee, Mr. Tour had received a response back only from Cllr Jeff Green. A page was circulated detailing which Merseyside authorities had continued with a standards committee and which had not.

The Chair said he’d consulted his leadership, who thought they should have a Standards Committee, even if it only met once a year. He thought the Working Group meeting on the 22nd April should maybe be brought forward.

Cllr Hale said he hadn’t quite catch what was said by Surjit Tour that the response from the party leaders had been. Mr. Tour said that the only written response had been from Cllr Green, who didn’t see the need for a Standards Committee. The Chair said that the response from their Leader had been to retain the Standards Committee, as he (the Chair) thought it was better to have something in place versus nothing.

Cllr Foulkes said, “I tend to try and think about these sort of things, not how we as insiders view things, but how the world outside may view it and certainly there’s no doubt that the Council’s been through a rough time recently in terms of how the way people view it. Time is everything in politics and the way you do things, that whether the signal of we’ll lose the Standards Committee, at this point in our evolution, if we are getting better and at some point we are, then we value being able to say, ‘Well we don’t need a Standards Committee, as we’re that much better that there’ll be less work to do’.”

“However what I do welcome about this Committee is the view of the independent members being on it and to the outside world, one independent view of how we do business and how we conduct ourselves, we may by default like some other councils do for entirely the wrong reasons lose, throw the baby out with the bath water, so my view is that we need to keep the conversation going and we may well as savings have to be made have to rationalise committees…. but I certainly think the Standards Committee should not go.”

Continues at Part 2.

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Advertising

Analytics

Other