Why did Wirral Council spend £8,497,964.68 on agency staff last year?

Why did Wirral Council spend £8,497,964.68 on agency staff last year?

Why did Wirral Council spend £8,497,964.68 on agency staff last year?

                                                   

Matrix SCM invoice Wirral Council IN15346 £174,926.02
Matrix SCM invoice Wirral Council IN15346 £174,926.02

Above is one of the many weekly invoices Wirral Council received from Matrix SCM Limited for agency staff last year. Wirral Council spent £8,497,964.68 on agency staff with Matrix SCM Ltd last year.

Each invoice has an accompanying spreadsheet that shows how the total amounts on the invoice are calculated. The spreadsheets have a column titled units, which either represent hours or days for agency staff supplied.
Continue reading “Why did Wirral Council spend £8,497,964.68 on agency staff last year?”

Would you like to see 4 invoices (totalling £24,239.39) for pre construction work on the Saughall Massie fire station project?

Would you like to see 4 invoices (totalling £24,239.39) for pre construction work on the Saughall Massie fire station project?

Would you like to see 4 invoices (totalling £24,239.39) for pre construction work on the Saughall Massie fire station project?

                                               

This continues from an earlier post headlined Would you like to see 2 invoices (totalling £153,250.61) for pre construction work on the Saughall Massie fire station project?

Below are 4 invoices Wates Construction Limited to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service for work to do with the Saughall Massie pre-construction agreement. I requested these invoices as part of the 2016-17 audit and they arrived through the post today.

The invoices spell it as Saughall Massey rather than Saughall Massie. The invoices are dated March 2016 (for £4,696.99), April 2016 (for £4,547.96), May 2016 (for £12,086.83) and August 2016 (for £2,907.61). Total spending was £24,239.39 (all amounts in this paragraph include VAT).

I also received a copy of the pre-construction service agreement between Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and Wates Construction Ltd. As it’s around 45 pages long I don’t have the time just now to scan it in or publish it today.

However, the contract is based on JCT’s Pre-Construction Services Agreement (General Contractor) (PCSA) 2011 contract with some modifications from the original template.

The contract is also with Todd & Ledson LLP. I haven’t requested invoices for the 2016-17 financial year relating to Todd & Ledson LLP and the Saughall Massie project as there is only one that could relate to this for £2,500 dated 25.4.16 (although it is possible this invoice relates to completely different work as it is just described as services).

Wates Construction Ltd invoice March 2016 Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service resized
Wates Construction Ltd invoice March 2016 Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service resized
Wates Construction Ltd invoice April 2016 Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service resized
Wates Construction Ltd invoice April 2016 Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service resized
Wates Construction Ltd invoice May 2016 Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service resized
Wates Construction Ltd invoice May 2016 Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service resized
Wates Construction Ltd invoice August 2016 Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service resized
Wates Construction Ltd invoice August 2016 Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service resized

I wrote up about the site visit connected to this planning application yesterday.

Wirral Council’s Planning Committee will be deciding on the revised planning application (APP/17/00306) at a public meeting starting at 6.00 pm on Thursday 20th July 2017 in the Civic Hall, Wallasey Town Hall, Brighton Street, Seacombe, CH44 8ED.

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Why does this invoice for the Holiday Inn, York come to more than the £1,155.19 Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service paid for it in January 2016?

Why does this invoice for the Holiday Inn, York come to more than the £1,155.19 Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service paid for it in January 2016?

Why does this invoice for the Holiday Inn, York come to more than the £1,155.19 Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service paid for it in January 2016?

                                                    

Declaration of interest: The author of this piece is the Appellant in a First-Tier Tribunal case in which Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority is the Second Respondent (EA/2016/0054).

Below is an invoice unearthed during my citizen’s audit of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service. It appears to be for three not specified people in “Team Merseyside” at the Holiday Inn in York from the 27th December 2015 to the 1st January 2016.

It’s the first page of a multi page invoice from the Holiday Inn York. Sadly Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority failed to provide the rest of the invoice as requested within the 30 working day deadline.

The payment is listed as £1,155.19 made on the 1st January 2016 to the Holiday Inn York. This amount doesn’t include VAT.

However the total on page one of the invoice comes to £1,638.48.

Even if you add the VAT to the amount paid at a rate of 20%, £1,155.19 * 120% only comes to £1,386.23p so it doesn’t make much sense to me.

However it’s possible although a dinner was included in the £80 a night price, that the room charges for bar food, room charges for rest food and a room charge for rest beverage were paid out of a different budget or by someone else. Or possibly some sort of discount was applied on the second missing page! Certainly the second page of the invoice would clear a lot of this up!

I could ask Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority to provide the missing page or pages but they’ve already been quite cross at me (after charging me £40 for copies) at how much officer time is involved in finding an invoice for the inspection and how they couldn’t charge me for the inspection etc etc.

After all there are only have three hundred or so administrative staff working at Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service. Which when you consider all they have to do such as employee payroll, invoices, day-to-day admin it probably isn’t enough staff when you consider my request for invoices during the 30 day inspection period seemed to take at least between around nine and a dozen staff at Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service to deal with (maybe the costs they refer to are their own unique way of doing things?)

I won’t bother their auditors Grant Thornton with these sorts of trifling anomalies as their response is usually just we don’t know, ask Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service!

As their press office appear to be under instructions not to give out quotes on behalf of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service to me I haven’t asked them for a quote either before publishing as it seems to be a futile exercise.

Holiday Inn York invoice Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service 1st January 2016 resized
Holiday Inn York invoice Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service 1st January 2016 resized

Holiday Inn York
Tadcaster Road
York, YO24 1QF
United Kingdom
Tel: +44(0)8719429085
Fax: +44(O)1904702804
mailto:reservations@hiyorkhotel.co.uk

(Holiday Inn logo)
Holiday Inn

Team Merseyside
Gb
ELLESMERE PORT LITTL
ch66 4py

Bill 2016000024
Date 01/01/2016
Room 037 Twin Room Non
Arrival 27/12/2015
Departure 01/01/2016
CRS Confirmation 61146719

Holiday Inn, York

Date Description Supplement Qty. Price Amount
27/12 Accommodation Dinner Brea 033 Merseyside, Team 1 80.00 80.00
27/12 Accommodation Dinner Brea 1 80.00 80.00
27/12 Accommodation Dinner Brea 214 Merseyside, Team 1 80.00 80.00
28/12 Accommodation Dinner Brea 033 Merseyside, Team 1 80.00 80.00
28/12 Accommodation Dinner Brea 1 80.00 80.00
28/12 Accommodation Dinner Brea 214 Merseyside, Team 1 80.00 80.00
28/12 Dinner Food Incl inc -1 36.00 -36.00
28/12 Room Charge Bar Food Check:2015051345 1 47.25 47.25
29/12 Accommodation Dinner Brea 033 Merseyside, Team 1 80.00 80.00
29/12 Accommodation Dinner Brea 1 80.00 80.00
29/12 Accommodation Dinner Brea 214 Merseyside, Team 1 80.00 80.00
29/12 Dinner Food Incl inc -1 36.00 -36.00
29/12 Room Charge Bar Food Check:2015051765 1 64.70 64.70
30/12 Accommodation Dinner Brea 033 Merseyside, Team 1 80.00 80.00
30/12 Accommodation Dinner Brea 1 80.00 80.00
30/12 Accommodation Dinner Brea 214 Merseyside, Team 1 80.00 80.00
30/12 Dinner Food Incl inc 033 Merseyside, Team -1 27.10 -27.10
30/12 Dinner Food Incl inc -1 36.00 -36.00
30/12 Room Charge Rest Food Check:2015051959 1 21.90 21.90
30/12 Room Charge Rest Food Check:2015051962 033 Mers 1 19.15 19.15
30/12 Room Charge Rest Food Check:2015052009 1 5.95 5.95
30/12 Room Charge Rest Food Check:2015052011 033 Mers 1 7.95 7.95
30/12 Room Charge Bar Food Check:2015051893 1 62.08 62.08
31/12 Accommodation Dinner Brea 033 Merseyside, Team 1 80.00 80.00
31/12 Accommodation Dinner Brea 1 80.00 80.00
31/12 Accommodation Dinner Brea 214 Merseyside, Team 1 80.00 80.00
31/12 Room Charge Rest Food Check:2015052073 1 85.70 85.70
31/12 Room Charge Rest Food Check:2015052173 1 108.80 108.80
31/12 Room Charge Rest Beverage Check:2015052073 1 15.00 15.00

This hotel is owned and operated by Kew Green Hotels (York) Limited under license from IHG Hotels.
Registered Office 2nd Floor, Dome Building, The Quadrant, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 1DT
Company Registration 9096181, VAT Number 798600878


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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.

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In response to a FOI request Wirral Council pulls a rabbit out of a hat and the invoice mysteriously disappears!

In response to a FOI request Wirral Council pulls a rabbit out of a hat and the invoice mysteriously disappears!

                                                                 

John Booth with white rabbit
John Booth with white rabbit

Above is a picture of a magician with the famous white rabbit out of a magician’s hat trick. First the hat is empty, then the magician makes the white rabbit appear out of nowhere.

Wirral Council seem to be wanting to pull a similar magic trick when it comes to this FOI request. Let’s just recap what Wirral Council have stated so far.

On the 21st April 2015 Wirral Council refused this FOI request for the fees notes (note plural) on the basis of legal professional privilege (you can read the full text of that refusal here).

On the 11th June 2015 Wirral Council at internal review refused this FOI request for the fees notes (note plural) on the basis of commercial interests (you can read the full text of that refusal here). At internal review Wirral Council stated "The original responder considered the contents of the fees notes".

On the 27th October the Information Commissioner’s Office issued decision notice FS50585536 which required Wirral Council to produce the fees notes within 35 days.

On the 24th November Wirral Council produced one of the two which you can read about in Why did Wirral Council spend £48,384 on a London-based barrister in benefits battle with landlord?

However yesterday Wirral Council decided to show us all a magic trick.

The fee note for the £2,700 invoice, which they have been claiming for the past nearly nine months has been carefully considered by its officers when refusing this request (twice) has conveniently and somewhat mysteriously vanished.

Yes like the reverse trick of the white rabbit appearing out of nowhere and just when it would be contempt of court not to produce it, it vanishes!

Of course the observant among you will have long witnessed the "magic and miracles" that goes on at Wirral Council by its employees.

ED: 1/12/15 9:49 Just for clarity, here is the invoice this refers to which quite clearly states "See fee note attached for description of work".

I will finish with this clip of Sir Humphrey Appleby from Yes, Prime Minister. Wirral Council’s responses to FOI requests will be discussed by councillors on Thursday evening, in response to this Lib Dem motion.

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