What’s in the 370 page whistleblowing report on Wirral Council’s grants to businesses?

What’s in the 370 page whistleblowing report on Wirral Council’s grants to businesses?

What’s in the 370 page whistleblowing report on Wirral Council’s grants to businesses?

 

ICO Information Commissioner's Office logo
ICO Information Commissioner’s Office logo

The BIG/ISUS whistleblowing issues have been already covered in extensive detail by this blog over the past few years. However the latest twist in this story was yesterday’s release of a 370 page 2012 internal audit report into the matter following ICO decision notice FS50559883.

Wirral Council have finally released an internal audit report dated 13th January 2012 that went to Bill Norman (then Monitoring Officer/Director of Law, HR and Asset Management at Wirral Council). Those with long memories will remember that Bill Norman was suspended later that year over the Colas matter, then in September 2012 councillors agreed he should receive £146k plus £5k legal expenses to leave.

Back to the BIG/ISUS matters and let’s just quickly recap the blog posts I’ve written on the many aspects of this matter as they provide some background. I’m sure there are one or two I may have left out (I remember I republished some of my earlier blog posts which contained the agreements for BIG/ISUS in the lead up to the special meeting of the Audit and Risk Management Committee last October).

So that’s a brief summary of developments so far? So what does the new information reveal? It’s a report by an auditor at Wirral Council which details the allegations the two whistleblowers made, the investigations into those allegations and the auditor’s opinion as to whether the whistleblowers were correct or not.

The executive summary runs from pages 9-16 and details the allegations made by the two whistleblowers and whether what was inspected during the investigation substantiated or refuted these claims. Pages 17-20 go through each of the allegations in detail as well as whether each allegation is correct or not and the implications that follow. Pages 21-45 are the main report which at the end contain 14 recommendations. Had some of these recommendations been implemented in 2012, some of the unanswered questions surrounding this matter would have been dealt with much earlier, such as the transfer of assets from Lockwood to Harbac.

At the special meeting of the Audit and Risk Management Committee in October 2014, councillors, officers and those speaking at the public meeting were warned not to refer to names of companies, yet the release of this 2012 audit report only removes the names of Wirral Council employees (and former employees). These matters are now out in the open (which should’ve happened before the Audit and Risk Management Committee met last year). Had this 2012 internal audit report been made available to councillors before that meeting the discussion may have been very different.

However it only came to light because of a FOI (Freedom of Information) request made by one of the whistleblowers and even then only after the Information Commissioner’s Office intervened with a decision notice. Certainly the whistleblowers must both feel vindicated by the conclusions reached in this detailed 2012 internal audit report.

The Liberal Democrat Group of councillors on Wirral Council plus the Green Party Councillor Pat Cleary have tabled the following Notice of Motion for the next Council meeting on the 12th October 2015 on the subject of FOI requests. It reads as follows:

OPEN GOVERNMENT ?

This Council recognises that the Information Commissioner’s Office, as the independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest and to promote openness by public bodies, upheld 13 complaints against Wirral Council in the past year.

Of the 18 notices issued between 29 September 2014 and 24 August 2015, the majority (72%) of complaints were upheld.

Council believes that this is a matter for concern, requiring an explanation to its Members.

Council requests that lessons should be learned and applied from these decisions and questions whether Officers have been excessively cautious or defensive in their interpretation of the legislation.

Council, therefore, requests that the legislation is approached with greater regard to the ‘public interest test’ so that the risk of further reputational damage to Wirral can be reduced.

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ICO requires Wirral Council to supply internal audit report within 35 days

ICO requires Wirral Council to supply internal audit report within 35 days

ICO requires Wirral Council to supply internal audit report within 35 days

                                                  

ICO Information Commissioner's Office logo
ICO Information Commissioner’s Office logo

The Information Commissioner’s Office (which I will refer to as ICO) have issued a decision notice about a Freedom of Information Act request made by Nigel Hobro to Wirral Council. The unique number for this decision notice is FS50559883. It’s not yet on ICO’s website but should be in the near future. ED: Updated 04/09/2015 I looked on ICO’s website and it has been published since this article was written and decision notice FS50559883 can be viewed on ICO’s website.

The Freedom of Information Act request is for an “incomplete internal audit investigation report” and was originally made on the 20th August 2014.

As you can read on the whatdotheyknow.com website Surjit Tour (Monitoring Officer) of Wirral Council refused this request on the 26th November 2014 and at internal review it was refused by Eric Robinson (Chief Executive) on the 4th June 2015.

The reasons given by both Surjit Tour and Eric Robinson for not supplying the information requested (both times an apology was given for taking too long to reach a decision) were two-fold:

  • section 36(2)(c) Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs
  • section 40(2) Personal information

The decision notice shows that ICO disagrees with the first of those reasons (section 36(2)(c)), but agrees with the second reason for part of the information (section 40(2)).

Interestingly the Information Commissioner’s Office agreed with Wirral Council that applying section 36(2)(c) was reasonable but disagreed with the public interest test element.

ICO requires Wirral Council to take the action below within 35 calendar days of the date of the decision notice dated the 24th August 2015. This is assuming that Wirral Council do not appeal the decision:

    "Disclose the withheld information with redactions made under section 40(2) for the names of individuals within the report"

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