Why did 2 Wirral Council councillors take taxi journeys costing £83.60 each time?

Why did 2 Wirral Council councillors take taxi journeys costing £83.60 each time?

Why did 2 Wirral Council councillors take taxi journeys costing £83.60 each time?


Wirral Council Cabinet meeting at Birkenhead Town Hall Thursday 12th March 2015 Left to right Surjit Tour, Cllr Phil Davies and Joe Blott
Wirral Council Cabinet meeting at Birkenhead Town Hall Thursday 12th March 2015 Left to right Surjit Tour, Cllr Phil Davies and Joe Blott

This year, during the 30 day inspection period I requested the Eye Cab Limited invoices for the contract for taxis for councillors.

An option in the Eye Cab Limited Passenger Transport Contract to extend it for a further year was taken up by the Council which meant it ran to the 31st August 2017.

Wirral Satellite Cars (who have recently merged with Argyle Taxis to become Argyle Satellite) won the the contract to supply taxi journeys to councillors which started on the 1st September 2017. Major parts of the new contract have also been redacted on grounds of commercial confidentiality.

The Eye Cab Limited invoices supplied cover March 2016, April 2016, May 2016, June 2016, July 2016 and August 2016. Apologies if the text can be a little hard to read, but these were how they were supplied by Wirral Council.

These are for taxi journeys by Cllr Moira McLaughlin, former Cllr Steve Niblock, Cllr Tony Norbury, Cllr Irene Williams, Cllr Warren Ward, Cllr Stuart Whittingham, Cllr Phil Davies and Cllr George Davies.

Wirral Council has decided to redact from these invoices, the name of the Wirral Council employee that these invoices went to and the mobile telephone number for Eye Cab limited. Some of the start points and end points of these taxi journeys have also been redacted by Wirral Council who deem it to be unfair processing of personal data for the public to know the home addresses of councillors!

One matter that does stand out are two taxi journeys made on the 5th July 2016 and the 7th July 2016 costing £83.60 each (as Wirral Council received an invoice each time for a 70 mile round trip rather than just the mileage between points A and B). Both journeys are shown on the invoice as being related to Cllr Phil Davies and both relate to taxi journeys to Manchester Airport.

Wirral Council have pointed out that Cllr Phil Davies shared the taxi journey with the Deputy Leader of the Council Cllr George Davies and the purpose of it was travel to and from the LGA Conference held in Bournemouth between the 5th and 7th of July 2016.

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How much did taxis cost for councillors at Wirral Council through a contract with Eye Cab Limited between September 2014 and March 2015?

How much did taxis cost for councillors at Wirral Council through a contract with Eye Cab Limited between September 2014 and March 2015?

How much did taxis cost for councillors at Wirral Council through a contract with Eye Cab Limited between September 2014 and March 2015?


Eye Cab Ltd taxi invoice Wirral Council October 2014
Eye Cab Ltd taxi invoice Wirral Council October 2014

During the 2014/15 audit I requested the contract between Wirral Council and Eye Cab Limited for LOT 4 (councillors taxis) called the Passenger Transport Contract. This is what the contract states about the invoices (pages 22 to 23):

2.3.8 Invoicing

Invoices should be submitted once a month for all journeys undertaken by Councillors for official business only. There will be no payment in advance for journeys. The invoice should contain the following information

  • Journey collection and arrival destinations

  • Date and time of journey

  • Name of the Councillor ordering the journey
Invoices will be paid at the price agreed between Wirral Council and the Contractor at the time of award of contract. If an overcharge is identified on an invoice a credit note will be required from the Contractor or a deduction for the amount owed clearly identified on the following invoice.

Invoices should be forwarded to:-

Carl Thompson
Legal and Member Services
Wallasey Town Hall
Brighton Street
CH44 8ED

However when I made a Freedom of Information request for the invoices for September 2014, October 2014, November 2014, December 2014, January 2015, February 2015 and March 2015, this was the response I got.

The invoices supplied don’t contain the times of journeys, or the journey collection or arrival destinations!

Wirral Council have also tried to black things out on these invoices (incompetently I might add with an image mask) because they class them as personal data.

All the underlying images of the invoices are still there as they’re using an image mask (that is the file contains two images that of the underlying invoice and over the top a further image used as a mask to black certain bits out).

Let’s start with the junior officer name at Wirral Council they blacked out which is Thompson, Carl S. [carlthompson@wirral.gov.uk].

Here’s the mobile phone number from this invoice: 0798 944 6652. I might point out that Eye Cab Limited publish this mobile phone number on their Facebook group page anyway.

Below are the totals by councillor for each invoice. The below are just journeys through this contract. It is possible for councillors to pay for taxi journeys themselves, then claim the money back from Wirral Council, in which case those figures would not be included below.

Invoice dated 27th September 2014 (LOT4/2)

Councillor Total Amount

Pat Hackett £5.20
Ron Abbey £43.40
Steve Niblock £9.40
Moira McLaughlin £42.80
Irene Williams £8.00

Invoice dated 4th October 2014 (LOT4/2)

Councillor Total Amount

Ron Abbey £56.60
Moira McLaughlin £16.00
Bill Davies £6.60

Invoice dated 4th October 2014 (LOT4/3)

Councillor Total Amount

Ron Abbey £34.00
Moira McLaughlin £31.00

Invoice dated 11th October 2014 (LOT4/5)

Councillor Total Amount

Moira McLaughlin £26.80
Ron Abbey £71.60
Bill Davies £6.60

Invoice dated 18th October 2014 (LOT4/6)

Councillor Total Amount

Moira McLaughlin £26.80
Pat Hackett £5.20
Ron Abbey £51.00

Invoice dated 24th October 2014 (LOT4/7)

Councillor Total Amount

Ron Abbey £76.00
Moira McLaughlin £31.50
Bill Davies £6.60
Muspratt £10.80
Pat Hackett £5.20

Invoice dated 31st October 2014 (LOT4/8)

Councillor Total Amount

Pat Hackett £5.20
Moira McLaughlin £18.80
Ron Abbey £71.00 *for two journeys includes waiting time of 5 minutes (£1) and 10 minutes (£2)

Invoice dated 8th November 2014 (LOT4/9)

Councillor Total Amount

Pat Hackett £15.60
Muspratt £12.20
Moira McLaughlin £33.40
Bill Davies £6.60
Niblock/Davies £10.80
Irene Williams £8.00
Ron Abbey £51.00

Invoice dated 15th November 2014 (LOT4/10)

Councillor Total Amount

Irene Williams £17.40
Pat Hackett £19.40
Steve Niblock £28.20
Bill Davies (down on invoice as W J Davies) £13.20
Moira McLaughlin £9.40

Invoice dated 22nd November 2014 (LOT4/11)

Councillor Total Amount

Steve Niblock (down on invoice as S. Niblock) £28.20
Moira McLaughlin £40.40
Bill Davies (down on invoice as W J Davies) £6.60
Irene Williams (down on invoice as I. Williams) £8.00
Muspratt (down on invoice as C. Muspratt) £12.20
Pat Hackett (down on invoice as P. Hackett) £11.80

Invoice dated 29th November 2014 (LOT4/12)

Councillor Total Amount

Moira McLaughlin £18.80

Invoice dated 6th December 2014 (LOT4/13)

Councillor Total Amount

Moira McLaughlin £9.40
Steve Niblock (down on invoice as Steve Nibkock) £37.60

Invoice dated 13th December 2014 (LOT4/14)

Councillor Total Amount

Steve Niblock (down on invoice as Steve Nibkock) £49.80
Moira McLaughlin (down on invoice as Moira McGlaughlin) £18.80
Bill Davies £13.20
Muspratt (down on invoice as Clr Muspratt) £12.20
Taxi Share £12.20

Invoice dated 20th December 2014 (LOT4/15)

Councillor Total Amount

Steve Niblock (down on invoice as Steve Nibkock) £59.20
Muspratt (down on invoice as Clr Muspratt) £12.20
Denise Realey (down on invoice as Denise Reaty) £8.00
Pat Hackett £11.80
Moira McLaughlin (down on invoice as Moira McGlaughlin) £10.80
Irene Williams £8.00

Invoice dated 10th January 2015 (LOT4/16)

Councillor Total Amount

Pat Hackett (down on invoice as P. Hackett) £11.80
Moira McLaughlin £79.40
Bill Davies £16.00

Invoice dated 17th January 2015 (LOT4/17)

Councillor Total Amount

Pat Hackett (down on invoice as P.Hackett) £9.40
Moira McLaughlin £28.20

Invoice dated 24th January 2015 (LOT4/18)

Councillor Total Amount

Irene Williams £8.00
Bill Davies £6.60
Moira McLaughlin £9.40
Niblock/Davies £12.20

Invoice dated 31st January 2015 (LOT4/19)

Councillor Total Amount

Steve Niblock £10.80
Bill Davies £6.60
Moira McLaughlin £28.20

Invoice dated 7th February 2015 (LOT4/20)

Councillor Total Amount

Steve Niblock £31.00
Moira McLaughlin £73.80
Williams/Muspratt £12.20
Irene Williams £9.40

Invoice dated 14th February 2015 (LOT4/21)

Councillor Total Amount

Moira McLaughlin £9.40
Steve Niblock £9.40

Invoice dated 21st February 2015 (LOT4/22)

Councillor Total Amount

Bill Davies £19.80
Irene Williams £8.00
Moira McLaughlin £9.40
Davies/McLaughlin £10.80

Invoice dated 28th February 2015 (LOT4/23)>

Councillor Total Amount

Moira McLaughlin £18.80
Bill Davies £18.40

Invoice dated 7th March 2015 (LOT4/24)

Councillor Total Amount

Moira McLaughlin £59.20

Invoice dated 21st March 2015 (LOT4/25)

Councillor Total Amount

Moira McLaughlin £28.20
Bill Davies £13.20
Irene Williams £8.00
Niblock/Davies £12.20

Grand totals (September 2014 to March 2015)

Cllr Pat Hackett £5.20 + £5.20 + £5.20 + £5.20 + £15.60 + £19.40 + £11.80 + £11.80 = £79.40

Cllr Ron Abbey £43.40 + £56.60 + £34.00 + £71.60 + £51.00 + £76.00 + £71.00 + £51.00 = £454.60

Cllr Steve Niblock (figures for Niblock/Davies not included here) £9.40 + £28.20 + £28.20 + £37.60 + £49.80 + £59.20 + £10.80 + £31.00 + £9.40 = £263.60

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (figures for Davies/McLaughlin not included here) £42.80 + £16.00 + £31.00 + £26.80 + £26.80 + £31.50 + £18.80 + £33.40 + £9.40 + £40.40 + £18.80 + £9.40 + £18.80 + £10.80 + £79.40 + £28.20 + £9.40 + £28.20 + £73.80 + £9.40 + £9.40 + £18.80 + £59.20 + £28.20 = £678.70

Cllr Irene Williams £8.00 + £8.00 + £17.40 + £8.00 + £8.00 + £8.00 + £9.40 + £8.00 + £8.00 = £82.80

Cllr Bill Davies £6.60 + £6.60 + £6.60 + £6.60 + £13.20 + £6.60 + £13.20 + £16.00 + £6.60 + £6.60 + £19.80 + £18.40 + £13.20 = £140.00

Cllr Muspratt (does not include Williams/Muspratt) £10.80 + £12.20 + £12.20 + £12.20 + £12.20 = £59.60

Cllrs Niblock/Davies (note not included in Cllr Steve Niblock’s amounts above and there are three councillors with the surname Davies) £10.80 + £12.20 = £23.00

Taxi Share £12.20

Cllr Denise Realey £8.00

Cllrs Williams/Muspratt (note not included in Cllr Muspratt’s amounts above and there are three councillors with the surname Williams) £12.20

Cllrs Davies/McLaughlin (note not included in Cllr McLaughlin’s amounts above and there are three councillors with the surname Davies) £10.80

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How much a mile do taxis for Wirral’s councillors cost (between &#1a63;1.33 and £6.40/mile)?

How much a mile do taxis for Wirral’s councillors cost (between £1.33 and £6.40/mile)?

How much a mile do taxis for Wirral’s councillors cost (between £1.33 and £6.40/mile)?

Last year I published the £multi-million contract Wirral Council has called the Passenger Transport Contract which covers transport for children with special educational needs/disability, children in care and vulnerable adults (to places like school and day centres) (Lot 1), ad hoc journeys for these categories of people (Lot 2), the "Maxi Taxi" scheme (taxis for people to work) (Lot 3) and of course that most interesting category of all taxis for councillors (Lot 4).

From the answer Cllr Adrian Jones gave recently (this blog post details the aspects of the request that relate to an underspend on the modern equivalent of the Poor Laws), I think it is fair to summarise that his answer states that providing me with a 44 A4 page contract about a £multi-million contract such as this, is a great drain on Wirral Council’s resources (bear in mind this is an organisation that has a revenue budget of hundreds of millions of pounds a year plus a capital budget of a similar size). Just the annual invoices to their external auditors Grant Thornton comes to a six-figure sum! Personally I’d prefer Wirral Council to routinely publish such information (but they don’t). Maybe if all such contracts that Wirral Council has for millions of pounds were published the public would know what they were getting for their money?

He pointed out at a public meeting to me last month that it takes a long time to black out " personal information" on such contracts. Out of those 44 pages I published, as only one telephone number is blacked out on page 39, I am truly glad that Wirral Council is saving the public from knowing the phone number of a local taxi company (that I’m pretty sure will be in the phone book anyway!)

It’s a contract estimated at £4.1 million (no that’s not all on taxis for councillors).

Of course, as regular readers of this blog will know, despite the information on councillors’ expenses being open to inspection at "all reasonable times" actually getting information out of Wirral Council on councillors’ expenses is a bit like a dentist asking a patient do they want their teeth out!? I asked (again) and the answer from Cllr Adrian Jones was that I should be "patient".

I gather that "all reasonable times" by Wirral Council’s interpretation of the legislation is at some point between to be poetic "when hell freezes over" or the councillor (or former councillor) to whom the expenses relate is dead.

From a public relations perspective I would say that the drip, drip, drip of information on councillors’ expenses at Wirral Council and repeated attempts to block information is probably far more embarrassing (to all councillors including the ones that don’t claim any expenses) than actually releasing the information in the first place! Has their new PR adviser heard of the Streisand Effect! This FOI request (which will be the third time of asking for this information so I must have a lot of patience) is one I hope will be answered. However dear reader I presume this request will be either refused or ignored (despite the Court of Appeal judgement [2015] EWCA Civ 388, [2015] 1 WLR 2879, [2015] WLR 2, [2015] WLR(D) 194 referred to being extremely clear that such information has to be released). As there is for want of a better term "political resistance" at Wirral Council to the release of expenses information, I am beginning to think an ICO decision notice (which will take an answer to this FOI request past the May 2016 elections) may be what it takes. Who knows? Please leave a comment if you know more than me.

However moving on to oversight and scrutiny. I have conducted some oversight and scrutiny on my original publication of the contract and realised that there was a schedule containing rates that I didn’t include when I published the original contract. That table can be found below. This table is how much that Wirral Council is charged by Eye Cab Limited for taxis for councillors.

Here is an easy read version of Councillors Pricing Schedule LOT 4.

You can see the original below (linked to a more high-resolution version). Personally I feel this web version and the PDF file I’ve created above are far easier to read (especially for those with visual issues like myself it can be zoomed in without loss of resolution). However don’t get me started on Wirral Council’s track record towards people with disabilities. I hate to think how much I’d be moaned at if I asked for large print versions of documents and how much of a drain I’d be regarded on resources then!

Councillors Pricing Schedule LOT 4


 1 Mile = 1609.344 Metres


Mile Cost



 First 805 metres (half mile)

First mile





 Remaining 805 metres



 Additional mile @1609 metres





 Additional mile @1609 metres





 Additional mile @1609 metres





 Additional mile @1609 metres





 Waiting time (if applicable)

Per Minute Cost


  Additional Information or Charges:
  All vehicles are Hackney Carriages 5/7 seat vehicles and have been quoted accordingly, any tolls will be charged extra at the appropriate return rate.

Passenger Transport Contract Councillors Pricing Schedule Lot 4 thumbnail
Passenger Transport Contract Councillors Pricing Schedule Lot 4

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A farce at Wirral Council’s public question time (Act 2, Scene 1) Is Wirral Council “open and transparent”?

A farce at Wirral Council’s public question time (Act 2, Scene 1) Is Wirral Council “open and transparent”?

A farce at Wirral Council’s public question time (Act 2, Scene 1) Is Wirral Council “open and transparent”?


A question on councillors expenses to Cllr Adrian Jones Wirral Council 14th December 2015
A question on councillors expenses to Cllr Adrian Jones Wirral Council 14th December 2015

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Wirral Council’s Public Question Time 14th December 2015

Before I write about the question I asked of Councillor Adrian Jones at public question time, I am going to explain some of the legal background, what’s happened so far and why there are echoes of the extreme lengths that the former Speaker of the House of Commons Michael Martin went to over MPs’ expenses.

There are a number of different laws (and a bit of history) here that apply to this, so I am going to start by explaining my understanding of them and explain why Cllr Adrian Jones has unfortunately fallen into the trap of believing things officers tell him and also getting bamboozled by some of the legal jargon. Here is a link to a transcript of a previous answer he gave.

I’m a local government elector here on the Wirral (basically that means I get to vote in elections to Wirral Council).

Each year, during the audit there is a period of about three weeks when local government electors have a legal right to inspect and receive free copies of accounts to be audited and copies of all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts relating to them.

Wirral Council can remove any details of employees, but has to seek the external auditor’s permission (in this case Grant Thornton) to remove anything else.

This is detailed in this piece of legislation Audit Commission Act 1998, s.15.

Once the inspection period ends, there is then a period when questions can be asked of the auditor followed by a period when formal objections can be raised or requests for a public interest report.

In case Wirral Council thinks I’m picking on it, this year I made requests to Merseytravel (part of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority), Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority (also called Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority), Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and Liverpool City Council.

Each of those other bodies managed to respond and provide the information for inspection more or less within the inspection period.

Two of these authorities (Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority) provided some of what I requested in electronic format.

For example this one contract that MFRA (Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority) has that comes to over 11,000 A4 pages I could’ve requested in paper format, but didn’t as I was quite happy to receive it on one DVD as opposed to three large boxes of paperwork. The £1.2 billion contract that Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority provided is over 800 pages long.

Wirral Council however decided that providing me with what I’d estimate at 10% of what I asked for was reasonable. It’s not!

These other public bodies I refer to are much smaller (in terms of staff and budget) than Wirral Council, yet by being flexible saved to give the example as outlined above the internal costs of copying a contract of over 11,000 pages in length. Had I requested such a contract from Wirral Council I would still be waiting as they would insist on supplying it in paper format!

So getting back to what I did request. I requested the 44 page contract that Wirral Council has for providing taxi services to councillors, the Highway Services Contract with BAM Nuttall (you can read the first 83 pages here) Wirral Council spend roughly £5 to £6 million a year on this and the contract variations to the Biffa contract (I’m still waiting for the latter).

In addition to this I requested various invoices and to inspect the councillors’ expenses (I haven’t seen any of the latter and received about one in ten of the former).

To give an example of some of the invoices I requested, it answered the details of Wirral Council spending ~£7.2 million on agency staff/consultants as opposed to hiring to these positions. It showed that in one case Wirral Council made a senior member of staff redundant, then hired agency staff (at a vastly increased cost) to do their job. You can view some of the invoices relating to that here.

There are other categories of public expenditure that I requested from Wirral Council that are in the public’s interest to know about too.

Indeed, Wirral Council’s Cabinet itself has referred to this blog in its decision making. The accompanying report to the decision refers to the lease for the New Brighton Marine Point development at 2.5 which was published on this blog.

By reversing this decision Wirral Council saved ’thousands in the costs of perhaps adding an extra hour to the next Highways and Traffic Representation Panel public meeting, the cost of it then going on the agenda of the next Regeneration and Environment Policy and Performance Committee public meeting and the cost of a Cabinet Member finally making a decision (along with the associated costs of officers trying to persuade objectors to drop their objections).

I might point out that as I put this information in the public domain had Cabinet reversed their decision at an earlier stage the costs of consultation on the proposed traffic regulation order (an expensive public notice in the local newspaper etc) would have been saved too.

However going back to councillors’ expenses. As I have not seen any councillors’ expenses for 2014/15, my question to Cllr Adrian Jones must be classed as a request to exercise this legal right (The Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003, regulation 15 to inspect such documents.

I do not like having to ask twice! Cllr Adrian Jones as far as I remember in his answer stated that these amounts were included in the annually published list both in answer to my question this week and earlier this year.

I would suspect that councillors’ use of taxis would be broadly comparable from year to year. So let’s test Cllr Adrian Jones’ assertion.

In response to this FOI request the taxi bill in 13/14 was ~£3k and Cllr Adrian Jones confirmed in answer to my question that for the 14/15 financial year the total cost was roughly the same.

Here are three councillors that got taxis in 13/14 and the costs:

Cllr Moira McLaughlin £755.30
Cllr Pat Hackett £700
Cllr Steve Niblock £493.90

Had anyone of those stopped getting taxis at Wirral Council’s expense the total amount for 14/15 would’ve dropped dramatically.

Yet here are the relevant amounts from the 2014/15 published list:

Cllr Moira McLaughlin £NIL
Cllr Pat Hackett £NIL
Cllr Steve Niblock £NIL

If these three councillors had all decided to give up getting taxis and the £NIL amounts were correct (the latter point Cllr Adrian Jones states in answer to my question) then the total amount would drop by ~£2k (the combined total of all three). However it hasn’t!

You can see the full exchange between myself and Cllr Adrian Jones below.

Cllr Ron Abbey (who is a member of Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee) makes the point before Cllr Adrian Jones that it is implied that this is unlawful and isn’t that terrible to imply such a thing?

If Wirral Council is as strongly suspected from what is outlined above publishing incorrect figures, then it is breaching breach of The Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003, Regulation 15(3).

Clearly as clearly outlined above, had Wirral Council not flouted a number of its other legal responsibilities I would be able to answer that question and Wirral Council’s cultural attitudes towards its legal responsibilities continue to have the effect of interfering with the freedom of the press and triggering the Streisand effect.

Councillor Adrian Jones makes the point that councillors are trusted not to misuse the public purse paying for their taxis.

Below is a claim form (as I’m being seasonal) from one of Cllr Adrian Jones’ party colleagues, a Councillor Peter Brennan (a councillor at Liverpool City Council) who claimed from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority (and was paid for) £5.64 for car mileage expenses to and from a carol concert at St Nicholas’ Church. In the grand scheme of things you may point out that £5.64 doesn’t matter and at least he didn’t get a taxi! However it’s the cumulative cost to the public purse of these matters and the excessive secrecy at Wirral Council that is leading to suspicion as to why despite Cllr Adrian Jones’ claims about openness and transparency that at Wirral Council they are being anything but on this politically sensitive topic!

Cllr Peter Brennan car mileage claim November 2014 to February 2015 page 1 of 2 thumbnail
Cllr Peter Brennan car mileage claim November 2014 to February 2015 page 1 of 2 thumbnail

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EXCLUSIVE: Wirral Council continues its multi year battle to keep the 320,000+ Wirral people and press completely in the dark on councillors’ expense claims but in an exclusive you can now read 44 pages of the taxi contract for councillors

EXCLUSIVE: Wirral Council continues its multi year battle to keep the 320,000+ Wirral people and press completely in the dark on councillors’ expense claims but in an exclusive you can now read 44 pages of the taxi contract for councillors

EXCLUSIVE: Wirral Council continues its multi year battle to keep the 320,000+ Wirral people and press completely in the dark on councillors’ expense claims but in an exclusive you can now read 44 pages of the taxi contract for councillors


Updated: 16:56 7th October 2015: 3 minutes after this blog post was published Wirral Council got in touch about my request under the The Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015. Wirral Council asked for more time to reach a decision (which seems to be on line one page one of their big book of responses. 😉

However I have written back (and carbon copied in Surjit Tour) explaining that Regulation 5(5) excludes such documents because in order to access them I had to prove a legal interest (in this case being a local government elector for the Wirral area) during the 2014/15 audit.

I have made a request for the information Wirral Council are required to provide because of regulation 16(7)(a) and 16(7)(b).

This does mean that as this matter has been resolved, I will be publishing more information unearthed during the audit in the future, such as the Bam Nuttall contract.

Those who pay close attention to this blog will realise I haven’t published anything on this blog for a week. Apologies for that and here is an explanation. For some of that time I wasn’t well and the combination of nights of disrupted sleep due to dogs barking outside/helicopters/extremely noisy weather*(*take your pick as that’s just one night) resulted in severe lack of sleep that made me feel so ill that the last thing I wanted to do is write (and believe me I have to feel very ill not to want to write).

The closest I can describe it to is like suffering from something like jet lag from sleep deprivation (which didn’t help me get better as quickly as I should and had the opposite effect). So apologies if I have either been slow (or not responding at all) to emails and comments. I just haven’t been particularly up to the art of stringing together words into real sentences as typing and actually using my joints to type just made the pain worse. So if I’ve written any emails to you over the past week or so where I seem unusually cranky or cheesed off hopefully this explains why.

However I was better yesterday but was busy doing writing of a different sort, which forms part of what I’m going to write about today.

This blog post is a new chapter in a long running saga about taxis, Wirral Council and secret expenses system. However the story has got far wider than that.

First, before I get into fourth gear of what is a story that seems to now have more interesting angles than the Watergate affair and as this blog is read in many countries around the world I need to explain.

For reasons far too complex to go into here, Wirral Council tends to go in for similar types of high political drama that surrounded the Watergate affair, except people very, very rarely resign (resigning being a once in a blue moon event at Wirral Council that tends to really take people by surprise). This was summed up by the attitude of the former Improvement Board at a public meeting who I will paraphrase here, no one is ever held personally accountable and you mustn’t name names (as if you name names that’s blaming people)! My own personal political philosophy is there are always matters people are personally accountable for, but organisational failings of checks and balances and abuses of power have more serious outcomes for society as a whole than people (or even groups of people) behaving badly. However I digress and I need to briefly summarise the story so far as this is starting to have echoes of the MP expenses scandal. In fact not just echoes but marked similarities.

Wirral Council (official long name the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral) has sixty-six councillors (for foreign readers unfamiliar with the word councillor it’s a form of politician). Nearly every year the people who get to vote on the Wirral (Wirral’s population was estimated at 320,295 in mid-2013 according to the Office for National Statistics) get to choose a candidate. The candidate with the most votes (and I’ll leave out a long argument as to why the First Past the Post system that is used for this is unfair and the merits of STV [single transferable vote] for another day) becomes a politician called a councillor. The person who is elected (unless it’s in a by-election) is then elected and called a councillor generally for a four-year term of office.

During their term of office they receive allowances, but there is also an expenses system too. Under our "democracy" (although technically the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy) politicians such as councillors are answerable to the people.

Many politicians stand for re-election (there are no term limits for being a councillor so for some people it can become a "job for life" (however as councillors on Wirral Council are not employees and not MPs (Members of Parliament) they don’t get a gold-plated pension)) so if you’ve been a bad sort of politician and stand for re election (or if you’re a good politician but are very bad at actually communicating this to the public and/or your political party does bad things) you’ll lose your seat. This is the greatest form of accountability to the public.

During their term of office (on top of their generous allowances) councillors can claim expenses (or have expenses paid on their behalf) under a set of rules written into Wirral Council’s constitution called the Members Allowance Scheme (pages 329-338) of Wirral Council’s constitution. Members in local government jargon means councillors.

A law called The Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003, SI 2003/1021 (later amended by the The Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2003, SI 2003/1692 and The Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2004 places various legal responsibilities on Wirral Council.

Wirral Council are legally required to keep a record of all payments made under the scheme (whether to councillors themselves or to third parties). These records are required to be "be available, at all reasonable times, for inspection and at no charge" to any local government elector for the Wirral area.

However the right to copies of such information is wider than that as under the regulations "any person" can request copies.

This is a bit of a laugh really, as it takes Wirral Council months merely to assemble such information on councillors (therefore strictly speaking the information isn’t available at all reasonable times for inspection breaching one of the regulations).

I am however taking about a thousand words so far and slightly digressing from the points I wanted to make (which wasn’t just about local government record keeping).

Another part of the regulations requires an annual list to be published by Wirral Council for each councillor for the total of allowances & expenses claimed by each councillor for the previous financial year. This way the public can see what councillors are personally receiving (or is being paid on their behalf to third parties) in relation to their duties. Some councillors chose to claim no expenses at all.

However it probably requires a certain amount of forensic accountancy to prove that the expenses lists as published by Wirral Council have been incorrect and they have been for many years.

I am now going to refer to why this happened and what Wirral Council needs to do to correct this and why despite it being pointed out to them they probably won’t bother as to Wirral Council getting things right seems to be too much effort and too expensive as the politicians decide on an annual revenue budget of hundreds of millions of pounds a year and large amounts of capital expenditure too.

At the moment the published expenses lists are only part of the story. Based on looking at a similar situation at Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority, what the public are actually told about is probably only approximately 50% (or half for those who don’t understand percentages) of what is actually claimed in expenses.

It has become a party political issue which is illustrated by this quote from the Leader of Wirral Council Cllr Phil Davies in this Wirral Globe article earlier this year. Again members is referring to councillors (our members refers to the councillors who are part of the ruling Labour Group on Wirral Council).

Asked why only Labour councillors appeared on the list, Cllr Davies said: “The reality is that quite a lot of our members don’t have cars, so they need to use taxis to get to council meetings. If they had cars then they would be making a claim on council expenses for their car allowance, but they don’t. There are more Labour councillors who don’t have a car than those from other parties. These are legitimate claims within the budget of the council for elected members to allow them to do their jobs. Quite often taxis are the only form of transport they can use to get to their meetings.”

Apart from this having echoes of militant Labour delivering redundancy notices to all Liverpool City Council staff by taxi, basically this is a councillor (Leader of the Labour Group) somewhat begrudingly explaining about a secret expenses system for claiming taxis that the public and the press are presumably deliberately kept in the dark about. Wirral Council has known about this corporate governance matter about councillors expenses but despite claiming it would fix it has refused to do so. These figures for taxis (which come to £thousands) don’t appear in the annually published lists) and as detailed in the Wirral Globe article (based in part on my earlier story on the matter) that are used exclusively by one political party (Labour) are according to Cllr Phil Davies justified.

Cllr Phil Davies wears many hats, one as Leader of the Labour Group of councillors, one as Leader of Wirral Council (with the Cabinet portfolio for finance and corporate governance) and a third as a local councillor. The quote referred to above makes Cllr Phil Davies sound like a union rep for the other Labour councillors trying to keep hold of an expensive perk for his fellow politicians.

This has parallels with the approach by Michael Martin MP when he was Speaker of the House of Commons over the MP’s expenses scandal. Michael Martin MP saw himself as a representative of his fellow politicians and eventually had to resign because of the fallout over MP expenses when a national newspaper (in an example of chequebook journalism) bought and published the information. This ultimately led to a lot of embarrassment and prison sentences for some politicians (but ultimately reform of the system) whereas councillors at Wirral Council don’t even get the bare legal minimum of scrutiny of their expenses due to poor corporate governance (which is a matter that the person with democratic acccountability to the public is Cllr Phil Davies).

He compares Labour councillors’ use of taxis to a car mileage allowance used by other councillors. However the latter appears in the annual lists, but Labour’s use of taxis doesn’t. In order for the people to know what’s going on and compare one to the other they have to both appear.

I hope this doesn’t come across to people as an attack on Labour politicians or Labour Party, it’s not. If this was being done by Conservative, Lib Dem, Green Party or other sorts of politicians I would be writing this same sort of blog post.

However it reminds me of an email exchange I had before the General Election with a Labour Party member. They told me that they couldn’t campaign against their own party on an issue (I think it may have been about Lyndale School or possibly some other controversial issue) as instead their efforts were better put into getting Labour elected nationally into government in 2015.

Their view was once elected a Labour government in 2015 would have power and therefore be able to solve the policy problem. It was a stark example of how political parties may have individuals that care about policies, but ultimately as a group the Labour Party wasn’t interested in campaigning for something popular with the public (therefore winning votes and support) which may have ultimately led to them winning the 2015 General Election. This point was pointed out to them many times in the lead up to the election by the press and others.

Instead the Labour Party decided to pursue a strategy of ignoring public opinion, brazenly going for power at all costs, then got confused when the Conservatives got a majority and Labour lost seats.

I will point out that when I was a former member of the Lib Dems, there was a controversial joint Labour/Lib Dem policy decision to close half of Wirral’s libraries. I expressed my views against this in Lib Dem party meetings, stubborn councillors decided play brinkmanship, there was a public inquiry and the whole thing descended into farce and fiasco with a lot of people losing face over the whole matter. I even got ticked off by Sue Charteris as I unfortunately turned up about fifteen minutes late to the public inquiry (which was being filmed) and was told off for having the temerity to discreetly take a photo of what was going on (an omen of the later long running battles over filming public meetings).

At no point do I remember telling anyone within or outside the Lib Dem party (I decided to leave the Lib Dems in January 2012 and indeed sued the entire Liberal Democrat party for breaking the law, had my day in court and won), sorry I personally believe half of Wirral’s libraries shouldn’t close, but I refuse to campaign against the combined Labour & Lib Dem Parties as it’s important that I instead put my efforts into making sure the Lib Dems became the sole party of national government in 2015.

I think if I had made such claims fellow party members would’ve asked me if I was being sarcastic or not thinking straight. My position on the disastrous policy was well known, my views were dismissed partly because of my youth (one party member referred to me as a "baby" during a party meeting) although I doubt the full story about what happened internally within the Lib Dem Party over its politicians setting an unlawful budget will ever be told. The problem with that coalition is the buck could always be passed to Labour just as two halves of the recent 2010-2015 Coalition government could do with each other. The Lib Dem Party has always made it clear to me that they don’t care about the reputational consequences of its politicians or employees breaking the law. As obeying the "rule of law" is a part of democracy it makes me wonder how they have the gall to truthfully call themselves the Liberal Democrats.

However I am going off track in an explanation of the terrible policy failings of party politics and the errors of judgement of politicians (who seem to have a blind spot when it comes to abuses of power) that make unpopular decisions that are not only unlawful but not supported by their own political party either.

This article is going to be about the nuts and bolts of the Passenger Transport Contract issue though.

Last year, Wirral Council agreed to a one-year Passenger Transport Contract worth about £4.1 million. It’s possibly worth more than this as there’s an option in the contract for a one year extension. However I’m not sure if the £4.1 million figure relates to the one or two years of the contract.

This contract is with a company called Eyecab Limited based in Upton (Upton makes a lot of geographical sense for a taxi company to base itself as it’s in the middle of the Wirral).

The contract is divided up into four parts called lots. I’d better describe what each lot is about.


This lot is for transporting children with special educational needs and/or disability from home to school and school to home. It also covers transport for children in care. Children in care is a term that those involved in social work might be more familiar as looked after children. If you’re still not familiar with the term looked after children it refers to for example (but not exclusively) to those in foster care for whom Wirral Council is their "parent". It also covers transport for vulnerable adults to day centres.


Lot two is for ad hoc travel for children with special educational needs and/or disability, vulnerable adults and children in care by taxi, people carrier or hackney carriage (black cab).


The third lot is for journeys by taxi to work and training for Wirral residents (where journeys start or end in East Wirral) known as the "Maxi Taxi". This is to "support individuals travelling to locations not served by traditional public transport and too far or too unsafe to cycle to."

On that latter point, in my younger days I classed a 16 mile cycle ride as not too far and for many years regularly used to cycle a 7 mile round trip to work and back. I’m presuming the "too unsafe" comments are in relation to the rise in people killed and seriously injured on Wirral’s roads since that time. However as you can take the bike on a Merseyrail train (and most areas of Merseyside are within one mile of a train station). It is possible to use bike, train, bike as I did for many years as a university student and for work travelling all over Merseyside as the trains run from very early in the morning to very late in the evening.


I’ll just quote the official description for this lot. "This contract is for ad hoc journeys by taxi to allow Wirral Councillors to travel to various venues across Wirral.
This contract will allow Wirral Councillors to travel around Wirral on official Council business. The times will vary and may include evenings and weekends.

Much as I would happily write about the millions spent by Wirral Council on lots 1-3, effectively lot 4 is the focus of this piece.

During the audit I requested the contract with Eyecab Limited. I did this as I’m a local government elector for the Wirral area using Audit Commission Act 1998, s.15. I will add here that this is the last year I can do this as that right has now been repealed by the previous Tory/Lib Dem government.

It’s been replaced with a much more watered down right which has the following two major changes (amongst others).

(a) the safeguard of the independent auditor deciding what is personal information (not relating to officers) rather than the body itself and whether this can or can’t be redacted from information supplied has been removed,

(b) showing perhaps a Tory philosophy that will no doubt fill my Labour-leaning readers with glee as another example of government pandering to the sorts of commercial interests that make large donations to the Conservative Party, an extra category of withholding information on grounds of "commercial confidentiality" has been added.

I will point out that Wirral Council has withheld some information from the contract supplied to me. The phone number for Eyecab Limited is such a secret that presumably Wirral Council got permission from its auditors to withhold it.

When the phone number for Eyecab Limited is in the Yellow Pages as 0151 201 0000 (therefore hardly confidential after all please leave a comment if you ever heard of a taxi company that deliberately keeps its phone number a secret?), I do wonder why Wirral Council just make work for themselves (and me) in blacking such information out.

Other information that has been withheld has been pricing information and routes.

On the subject of Wirral Council and its well paid auditor Grant Thornton, when I complained to Grant Thornton about one of contacts to blow the whistle to (Ian Coleman on page 36) having received early retirement from Wirral Council two years before this contract even started, I got an email back stating that contracts weren’t to do with the accounts, therefore weren’t the auditors’ responsibility.

Auditors it seems such as Grant Thornton don’t know what they’re doing (maybe Wirral Council could ask for a refund of their fee when they get things wrong) so they just seem to spout nonsense like this in an attempt to fob people off.

As nobody is ever personally accountable in local government I will spare the particular auditor’s blushes by merely quoting from the email and my reply without naming names. It shows however that some auditors in my opinion are about as much use as a chocolate fireguard (a general point aimed at the entire accounting profession rather than this particular auditor).

I think the term is fobbing off as from other bloggers I know that auditors up and down the country are trying to evade their responsibilities in law by giving this sort of reply to local government electors. The likes of Cllr Ron Abbey (who I recently heard being critical of local government electors exercising their rights with auditors at a Merseytravel meeting because of the cost) would probably not approve of me teaching an auditor they’re wrong as the cost of this (in the form of increased external audit costs) is falling on the taxpayer (whereas sadly my advice and grumpiness is not something I can charge them for).

"Dear Mr Brace

I have now had an opportunity consider the contents of your email to me of 6 September 2015.

I understand from your email that you have exercised your rights under the Audit Commission Act to inspect certain documents associated with Wirral Council’s accounts for 2014/15, including a Passenger Transport Contract with a specific contractor named in your email. You highlight that page 36 of the contract identifies the individuals who should be written to in the event of a whistleblowing complaint. The second of these names is the former Director of Finance who left the council 2012. You have asked us to explain why someone who ‘was not an employee of Wirral Council at the time the Passenger Transport Contract was put out to tender (or when the contract was agreed) … was he included as a whistleblowing contact in the contract?’

I have carefully considered this matter and I am not sure this is a valid question that it is appropriate for us to answer. As you highlight the power to question the auditor is set in section 15(2) of the Audit Commission Act 1998. Although interested persons can ask questions of the auditor, the questions must be about items in the Council’s account. It seems to me that your question is not about an item of account and therefore we are not in a position to respond to your question. It seems to me that your question is more appropriately addressed to the Council.

In summary, I would suggest that you contact the Council with your specific request for information.

It is currently our intention to close the audit of the Council’s 2014/15 accounts by 30 September 2015.

I hope that is helpful in clarifying the position.

Yours sincerely"

I however have learnt the art of being concise in emails and played this game of re educating the external auditor in the trump suit of 3 High Court Judges. Here is one of my replies (which meant the auditor had to change their mind).

Dear all,

I would also like to point out that a Court of Appeal case established beyond a doubt that contracts are part of the accounts. See [2010] EWCA Civ 1214 .

So as three High Court Judges seem to agree with my interpretation, I would ask you to reconsider..


John Brace

As you would probably say in tennis, game, set and match to me (not that I’m competing with an auditor, it’s just well whether deliberately or by accident they don’t really seem to know what they’re actually doing or the legal framework within which they operate properly but what’s new eh?).

However if I wanted to blow the whistle on the contract about taxis for councillors (and there are many reasons why one should), the contract suggests I blow the whistle to a person who was granted early retirement by Wirral Council in 2012.

Bear in mind this contract isn’t just about councillors and their taxi journeys. It’s also about children with disabilities & vulnerable adults. It is possible a family member might have cause for concern that they wish to raise. If so they could be directed to a person who doesn’t even work for Wirral Council.

Back however to lot 4 and taxis for councillors. As a reward for having to read through nearly 3,000 words of my ranting about poor corporate governance, I have a reward for you dear reader but I want to first explain the price at which publication of this contract comes.

First I had to request it during the audit. Wirral Council exceeded the time limits set down in law for giving it to me so I had to wait a bit longer. I then had to travel for a meeting at a Wirral Council building just off Hamilton Square to inspect it and pick up a copy.

It comes to 43 pages (even after the information has been removed I referred to earlier). I then had to scan these pages in one at a time (because that’s the way my A3 scanner works). I made a request to Wirral Council under The Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015 to publish it.

Despite this request being made some time ago, I have not received a response back from Wirral Council. As my communications to Wirral Council often seem to disappear into if I was being charitable what must be a black hole operating in one of its departments that sucks up my emails, I’m having to use my editorial discretion to use the part of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998, s.30 that deals with criticism, review and news reporting. I’m also covered bythe Data Protection Act 1998, s.34 in that its been made available to the public (myself) therefore isn’t subject to the non-disclosure provisions of the data protection legislation.

The way I have digitised this contract was by taking the 73 image files, putting them in OpenOffice Writer one at a time and creating a PDF file. However this file (as each page is an image) comes to 124 megabytes. As Wirral Council raided a reserve for high speed internet access some time ago, not only would this use up a lot of space but peoples’ internet speeds would mean it would take a long time to download.

I therefore spent one work day (yesterday) initially typing up the contract only using images for those that needed it (a MaxiTaxi logo and some signatures). This is very boring and time consuming work, but part way through I found a way to speed things up dramatically by putting the multi-page pdf file through FreeOCR.

The problem was as you can see from my earlier post about page 36 is that the pages given to me by Wirral Council were in a very poor state with many artifacts (a technical term for blemishes on the page). The artifacts cause massive problems for OCR as OCR software can try and guess what they are (for example a full stop).

Passenger Transport Contract Wirral Council page 36 of 40 thumbnail compressed
Passenger Transport Contract Wirral Council page 36 of 40 thumbnail compressed

The versions of the contract I finally ended up with are far easier to read than the version provided to me by Wirral Council. For those with disabilities, the text can now be magnified without just blowing up the blemishes too. The file sizes of the new files (and I’m providing it in multiple versions because I’m trying to be helpful) are massively smaller.

I have not included the Wirral Council logos and replaced these with (Wirral Council logo). As you can see from the image above it’s the five Ws logo with WIRRAL in bold letters. The typographical errors in the contract (such as the many instances of Disclosure and Baring (rather than Barring) Service), missing full stops etc I’ve left in and not corrected. I hope people appreciate the work put into producing it and I realise it has probably been hard work reading through over 3,000 words to reach this point.

A bit like Schrödinger’s cat, although I requested this contract and the what must be about ~6 monthly invoices that relate to it during the audit, I can only at this point in time observe one (the contract).

Wirral Council are still stalling me on inspecting and receiving copies of the monthly invoices for councillors journeys by taxis. Anyone would think that Wirral Council hasn’t quite got the staff to deal with the sort of investigative journalism I tend to be good at. However as the taxi contract is used solely by the ruling Labour Group councillors I can see how it would be in no officers’ interests to actually comply with the legal deadline for this as no doubt I would publish them which would cause politicians to be embarrassed. Wirral Council are &improving& their website, the legal notice they’re required to publish on their website with the deadline on has also vanished at the time of writing.

Certainly I await to see what other corporate governance horrors Wirral Council get up to and will (hopefully) keep readers of this blog advised of what’s happening. In the meantime at the end are the pages of contract information.

This does raise a lot of questions but I will just concentrate on one which seems to demolish one of the reasons given for this contract. When Councillor Adrian Jones read out an answer to me prepared for him by officers at a public meeting as reported previously he stated, "The Council has negotiated competitive prices and entered into contracts with a local taxi company to provide transport for Members in accordance with the Members Allowances Scheme. The taxi company submits its invoices and the details of the Members that used the taxis each month directly to the Council for payment. The advantage of this arrangement is that the cost of transport by taxis is always at the negotiated rate and is a more efficient way to manage the service."

It does raise an interesting point though as the pricing information for councillors’ journeys by taxi are included. In the method statement that Eyecab Limited completed when bidding for lot 4 (councillors’ taxi journeys) Eyecab Limited stated on page 34 of 40 "Eye Cab is an all Hackney taxi firm vehicles range from five passenger seats to seven passenger seats at present we operate approximately twenty seven vehicles this number is increasing on a regular basis."

When I heard Cllr Jones’ answer about "competitive prices" anyone hearing it would think that it was stating that taxis through this contract are better value for money (in terms of the actual cost of the taxi ride) than a councillor paying for it themselves, then claiming the money back.

However having read the contract and that I know now that Eyecab Limited is an all hackney carriage company, I’m puzzled. That’s because the prices at which all hackney carriages on Wirral charge is set by Wirral Council. Therefore for the same journey surely all hackney carriages would charge the same amount and it wouldn’t be cheaper doing it through a contract. When you factor in the costs of putting this contract out to tender (yes I realise lot 4 is part of a wider contract however potential contractors had to bid on each lot separately), the costs of procurement will outweigh any efficiency saving from just having to pay a monthly invoice rather than when councillors claim on an ad hoc basis.

A small saving does occur because Wirral Council isn’t actually doing it legally and including these amounts in the annual lists but by small saving I’m talking about an employee cost time of maybe £50-£60.

However by not doing it that way it increases costs elsewhere at Wirral Council, for example the cost of processing FOI requests, providing me with a redacted copy of the contract during the audit, providing me (hopefully eventually) with the underlying invoices etc and of course the expensive cost in senior officer time (probably an employee on ~£80 an hour) in having to answer questions posed by me to Councillor Adrian Jones at a public meeting.

The point I will finish on is that Wirral Council doing things the right way and legal way saves money in the long run in the communications you get from people trying to persuade Wirral Council just to do things the right way.

However officers across local government (in fact some have even said this to my face) see this sort of press scrutiny as a drain on "scarce resources".

In other words, the kind of major embarrassing politically sensitive fiascos (politicians’ expenses just being the tip of an absolutely massive corporate governance iceberg) I write about on my blog probably cause no end of awkward questions behind the scenes from politicians to those on high 5 figure and 6 figure salaries as to why things aren’t right.

I’m sure some people paid by the taxpayer well above my pay grade don’t always see the sort of journalism as a good thing for their future career prospects. I’m pointing out things to the world that if the checks and balances that these employees are supposed to be were working properly would be spotted internally and corrected.

Some bureaucrats (while stating they welcome accountability) I’m sure don’t really feel it’s right that they should be under a legal requirement to hand over embarrassing information to me, that’ll then form stories that politicians will read (or in the case of video watch) and use to hold the bureaucrats to account.

It’s the way I’ve been trained though and the independence of the press is something that this country should value.

Please note, although I proofread the contract before publishing due to the poor quality of the original pages at times the OCR program has misidentified one character incorrectly such as the postcode CH44 8ED, the OCR program has outputted as CH44 BED (page 23 of 40). The other errors (typographical such as baring for barring & punctuation such as missing full stops) were made in the original document.

Passenger Transport Contract Eyecab Limited Wirral Council complete (Word document version) 331 kilobytes

Passenger Transport Contract Eyecab Limited Wirral Council complete (OpenOffice ODF Text Document) 72 kilobytes

Passenger Transport Contract Eyecab Limited Wirral Council complete (Adobe Acrobat pdf version) 257 kilobytes

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