Merseytravel’s Head of Internal Audit brands some whistleblowing as “Mickey Mouse” & “complete nonsense”
ED 26/11/14 15:16 – Following a complaint from Merseytravel received on the 26th November 2014, the word “some” has been added to the headline for the purposes of clarity.
Declaration of Interest: The author of this piece was years ago involved as the Claimant in litigation against Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority (defendant) and Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive (defendant) that started and concluded in 2007 in the Birkenhead County Court. This was after first raising his concerns internally with its former Chief Executive Neil Scales and former Chair of Merseytravel Cllr Dowd. At this stage the matter could have been easily settled for £15 but Merseytravel chose at that stage not to.
Merseytravel’s legal costs in the matter were estimated at £thousands (which Merseytravel paid themselves and would have had to pay whether they won or lost). The increased legal costs of Merseytravel were partly because of what happened as detailed below.
During the case Merseytravel’s barrister (in my opinion a barrister is indeed slight overkill for a £15 claim in the small claims track in the county court, but I know now it’s common practice in the public sector to do this) had to (rather embarrassingly) ask for the permission from both the Claimant (myself) and the Birkenhead County Court to withdraw the first signed witness statement of their expert witness (a Merseytravel employee) after I pointed out a factual inaccuracy in their witness statement (that the witness (a Merseytravel employee) had indeed signed a statement of truth for).
Merseytravel also sought (initially but later changed their mind on that) in 2008 to withhold documents referred to from the Claimant that were referred to in their defence. If I remember correctly a Merseytravel employee stated to me at the time that such documents (which were details of their charging policy for lost Solo and Trio passes) were not for the public.
The final judgement in the case (by agreement by both Merseytravel and myself) was later modified by the Birkenhead County Court due to a factual error made by the Judge who had not taken into account an earlier application in the case and chosen to ignore me pointing this out to him at the time of the hearing.
Although the judge at the final hearing agreed with me that Merseytravel had discriminated against me three times because of a protected characteristic, the court accepted Merseytrave’s reliance on a statutory defence that discrimination on these three times was justified due to a “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” because of decisions by politicians.
The four councillors from Wirral Council at the time on Merseytravel (the Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority) were:
Cllr Ron Abbey (Labour)
former Cllr Denis Knowles (Labour at the time but switched to the Conservatives)
It is perhaps to be noted that as is relevant to how politicians and those in the public sector relate towards protected minorities (and this point here is obviously to do with attitudes towards a different protected minority) that Denis Knowles in 2012 later faced a Wirral Council Standards Hearing Panel hearing based on a complaint of Denis Knowles after a comment he left on Facebook about members of the LGBT community who were members of the Labour Party. He was suspended at the time from the Conservative Party.
former Cllr Jacqueline McKelvie (Conservative)
Cllr Dave Mitchell (Lib Dem)
Cllr Steve Foulkes (Vice-Chair of Merseytravel’s Audit and Governance Sub-Committee) now part of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority sent his apologies to a public meeting to discuss Merseytravel’s whistleblowing policy and was not present.
Officers of Merseytravel were asking councillors for their comments on a draft whistleblowing policy which included such priceless paragraphs as:
“10.2 If you do take the matter outside Merseytravel, you should ensure that you do not disclose confidential information acquired during your employment unless it falls within the qualifying criteria for protected disclosures. Premature or inaccurate media exposure or adverse publicity may cause needless reputational damage, impede a proper investigation or cause unnecessary distress to individuals.”
I will translate those two sentences in the draft policy into what my interpretation of the intention behind it is and probably in much clearer English:
“10.2 If you rat on us to the press, not only will we [Merseytravel] start spinning to the press and refer to any damaging press report as “inaccurate”, we’ll go after you (despite what the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 c.23 states as we’re more bothered with our reputation and making sure that we control the flow of information about our organisation to both to the public and politicians.”
The references made during the public meeting itself to a hypothetical whistleblower as “Mickey Mouse” (whether made in jest or not) speaks volumes about cultural attitudes that still persist at Merseytravel.
However bearing in mind my unusually long declaration of interest made at the start of this piece, I had better not let how dysfunctional Merseytravel was in 2007 influence my reporting of it in 2014 as the Merseytravel politicians of 2014 are keen to put its somewhat chequered past behind it.
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Merseytravel’s (now part of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s) Audit and Governance Subcommittee public meeting of the 24th November 2014
The whistleblowing item (item 7) starts at 31m 48s into the meeting and can be watched above. The report and draft policy can be read on Merseytravel’s website.
Councillor Fulham at the meeting asked, “Thanks Chair. Errm, I appreciate that on page 48 of the agenda and at 7.4 in the policy, errm it says that this part of the that I’m looking at, I’ve found somewhere I’m looking at says this policy applies even if after investigation, disclosure is found to be incorrect or unfounded and there are statutory protections which the policy acknowledges for people who errm make a protected disclosure, that’s found out too. Well at the end of the process is found out not to be errm founded but it might be a reasonably held disclosure.
But what worries me is on page 46, where it says policy statement, under errm in chapter 4 “we will investigate all genuine and reasonable concerns”, but the way I would approach things, you can’t make an assessment whether it’s genuine or reasonable until you’ve investigated it? So it kind of precludes the investigation. So errm, why is that there?”
Stephanie Donaldson, Merseytravel’s Head of Internal Audit answered “OK, you’re absolutely right in so far as how can you tell that anything’s genuine or legitimate until you investigate it, so realistically everything will be investigated to a point.
However if something was found to be errm you know complete nonsense for want of a better word then that investigation would cease. We wouldn’t pursue investigating something which is you know completely unfounded or false then, but you’re right that there is the legislation requires that as long as it’s in the public interest it should still be investigated and that’s what the changes to the policy would fly at.
I suppose the purpose of that one in the policy statement and I will take some advice through you Chair from legal, is that errm, that if we received a complete nonsense of an allegation and it’s clearly complete nonsense from Mickey Mouse for example that we would not investigate that, there are boundaries aren’t there?
Errm, but you’re absolutely right to say that in a majority of I think all cases, it would be you have to undertake an investigation in order to assess its legitimacy.”
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