The incredible £20,000 report into Dave Green/Colas that Wirral Council wouldn’t release on “data protection” grounds

The incredible £20,000 report into Dave Green/Colas that Wirral Council wouldn’t release on “data protection” grounds

The incredible £20,000 report into Dave Green/Colas that Wirral Council wouldn’t release on “data protection” grounds


Roadworks on the Wirral from 2011
The Colas contract included maintenance of Wirral’s roads

Three and a half months ago I submitted a FOI request for a dozen documents held by Wirral Council that were given to Richard Penn before writing his thirty-nine page report into Dave Green’s involvement in the Colas contract. Over three months later they have replied, providing a copy of the Council’s conflict of interest policy and conflict of interest procedure.

What’s interesting is what’s in the list of ten documents requested that they refused to supply on “data protection” grounds. One of these was a report that cost Wirral Council £20,000 from their then auditor the Audit Commission. It was a twenty-six page Public Interest Disclosure Act report into what happened during the tendering of the multi-million pound Colas contract. Despite Wirral Council’s reluctance to release it in response to my FOI request it was in fact published on their website as it was considered during an Audit and Risk Management Committee meeting that met in September 2010.

Here are some quotes from that report by the Audit Commission that obviously Wirral Council didn’t want to release in response to my Freedom of Information Act request:

“However, the issues raised were genuine concerns and our review did highlight some weaknesses including a lack of clarity about separation of duties, inadequate records and documentation and the need to clarify corporate systems for raising and recording potential conflicts of interest. There were also examples of a lack of proper consideration of or disregard of procedures, for example meeting with potential tenderers during the period between the post tender qualifying stage and tender
submission.” (page 7)

“These weaknesses potentially left the Council and individuals open to external challenge. If there had been external challenge to the contract by an aggrieved bidder, the remedy could have led to substantial damages being paid and loss of reputation by the Council. Going forward, a new EU Remedies Directive applicable to new procurements advertised after 20 December 2009 means that aggrieved bidders now have tougher remedies against public authorities that break procurement rules. The High Court will be able to set aside signed contracts resulting in delays to services, as well as significant and costly litigation and further procurement costs (see Appendix 3 for further detail).” (page 7)

“As noted at paragraph 1, the PIDA concerns were raised with us following an internal PIDA investigation. The Council needs to continually consider the adequacy of its Whistleblowing procedures and how well they are complied with to ensure that individuals have confidence that issues will be fully investigated and lessons learnt.” (page 7)

“Concerns were raised with us that a meeting was held by the Director of Technical Services and another senior officer with one of the tenderers between the post qualifying stage and tender submission.” (page 11)

“However, the meeting was not minuted and so there is no formal record of what was actually discussed. The Director of Technical Services and the other senior officer indicated that the reason for the meeting was to clarify whether tenderers could bid for both the main tender and for the sub-contract work for the in-house tender. Holding this meeting and failing to record it was clearly inappropriate and contrary to procedure and put the Council at risk of non-compliance with procurement regulations and the tenderer at risk of disqualification.” (page 11)

“The invitation to tender clearly specifies the procedure for enquiries from potential tenderers in order for the process to be open and fair for all concerned and to ensure there is no canvassing which would result in disqualification from the tendering exercise” (page 11)

“Concerns were raised with us that the Director of Technical Services had failed to declare a potential conflict of interest regarding a personal friendship with an individual in one of the firms bidding for the contract.” (page 12)

“Our review confirmed that a conflict of interest form was submitted by the Director but this was done retrospectively. We found no evidence of any information being shared as part of this association.” (page 12)

“The Director of Technical Services completed a conflict of interest declaration on 11 November 2008 and submitted it to the Chief Executive to be considered at his next annual Key Issues Exchange (KIE) meeting which was held in November 2008. However, it was following the award of the contract (16 October 2008) and should have been submitted and discussed with the line manager at the start of the tendering process. In addition, as the tenderer was an existing contractor, there should have been existing annual declarations on file. This retrospective declaration has clearly allowed the relationship between the Director and the individual to be viewed with suspicion.” (page 12)

“The Director of Technical Services indicated that the individual in the firm is an acquaintance who is a close friend of his brother who had previously worked for the firm. Although the Director was aware that the individual worked in the firm he judged that there was no conflict to declare. Once he became aware that the individual would be involved in the contract going forward the Director submitted his conflict of interest form in line with his judgement and his interpretation of the Council’s procedures.” (page 12)

“However, Council procedures clearly state that in order to manage conflicts of interest (including any perception of a conflict), employees should complete the form even if there is nothing to declare and return it to their line manager at the KIE and any amendments should be made immediately. During our review we found no evidence of any annual declarations of interest for the Director prior to the one submitted on 11 November 2008 apart from those covering the period when his brother worked for the firm. However, the absence of annual declarations was not unusual in the Council at that time and was raised as an issue in Internal Audit reports during 2008 and a memo dated March 2009.” (page 12)

“The key issue is whether the Director or his line manager should have made the judgement about whether and when a potential conflict should be declared. Our view is that it was the responsibility of the Director to make the line manager aware of his ‘acquaintance’ when the firm first contracted with the Council and this should have been reviewed when the tendering exercise started and the firm received an invitation to tender. The judgement about whether it was a conflict (or a possible perceived conflict) then rests with the line manager and arrangements could have been put in place to ensure that it was appropriately managed and any ‘perceptions’ of conflicts rebuttable.” (page 13)

“As noted above, the absence of annual and updated declarations as well as poor evidencing of review and consideration by line managers was not unusual within the Council. We also found during this review that there were weaknesses in the procedures around the employment of consultants, for example ensuring sign up to confidentiality clauses and completion of conflict of interest forms and supporting consideration (one of the consultants had previously worked for the winning firm).” (page 13)

“The Council needs to continually consider the adequacy of its Whistleblowing procedures and how well they were complied with to ensure that individuals with genuine concerns have confidence that issues will be fully investigated and lessons learnt.” (page 15)

“During the period when the contract was tendered and let any external challenge by aggrieved bidders could have lead to damages being paid.” (page 23)

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A roundup of Wirral Council meetings: Sustainable Communities, Council Excellence and Audit and Risk Management

Roundup of Wirral Council meetings: Sustainable Communities (Biffa and bin collections, flooding, libraries), Council Excellence (overspends, Social Services debt), Audit and Risk Management (HESPE Action Plan, gifts and hospitalities procedures)

In a change to the more detailed format, below are brief write ups of three meetings this week.

Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee 29th January 2013

There was a long presentation by Biffa, followed by questions from councillors. The meeting also discussed recycling, dog fouling enforcement, flytipping (including a recent rise in asbestos flytipping), managing highway structures (bridges, culverts etc), libraries, Wirral Heritage Strategy, food hygiene ratings, no cold calling zones and climate change.

Councillors asked Biffa about the recent missed bin collections and how the new changes (winter tyres and snow shoes) affected collections during the recent cold weather. On food hygiene the Food Standards Agency website was highlighted which shows the star rating for the 1,698 food businesses on the Wirral. A councillor was surprised at the nearly two hundred businesses on Wirral with a one star (which means major improvement necessary) or two star (which means improvement necessary) rating, however most businesses had a rating of four or five stars.

The increased use of volunteers in libraries was discussed and the problem of some households in areas at risking of flooding having problems obtaining insurance was also highlighted.

Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee 30th January 2013

Most of the meeting was a discussion about Wirral Council’s finances including measures to reduce this year’s overspend and how overspends in the past had been paid for by one-off measures that wouldn’t be available in future years. The investigation into Social Services debt was discussed also.

Audit and Risk Management Committee 31st January 2013

The HESPE Action Plan provoked discussion at this meeting. David Armstrong gave a verbal update on it and said that he’d written to all directors and acting directors for an update over the dates in the plan and had received no correspondence to say that they wouldn’t be able to stick to the timescales. The Acting Director of Technical Services had written to him stating there had been no interest from the private sector in consultancy work.

The Action Plan was being monitored by Fiona Johnstone’s department and was going to the Improvement Board and Council Excellence committee as well as being incorporated into Concerto. He assured people of the focus on it and that the actions would be followed through. Cllr Ron Abbey referred to it as a pantomime, saying “Did he or didn’t he?” and asked how much it had cost? Cllr Foulkes said that similar matters were not the remit of their committee, that there’d been two contrary reports, the Audit Commission report and the Penn report. He wanted continuing dialogue with the whistleblowers which he thought was the best way to deal with the matter. Cllr Ron Abbey said he would take that on board. Cllr Foulkes said they needed to find the common ground between the points in the Penn report and the action plan.

Cllr Green welcomed the reassurance, but wanted tests that the actions had been carried out. He said they’d had a range of reports that lessons had been learnt and a culture embedded, so it was useful to have it in writing. He referred to project management problems and who was supposed to be in charge of the Project Board and referred to issues with clarity, responsibility and project management.

Cllr Brighouse said he broadly endorsed the remarks, but the Penn report was ongoing as the recommendations and outcome were still to be resolved and agreed. He said it was appropriate to have some discussion covering the issues and whether there were any governance implications but it was “wrong to pretend there was nothing there”.

The Chair, Cllr Jim Crabtree said there’d be a further report next meeting.

There was also an update given (again by David Armstrong) on proposed changes to the gifts and hospitality/conflicts of interest procedures for officers.

Richard Penn clears Dave Green following whistleblower’s allegations surrounding the Highways and Engineering Services Contract award to Colas

Richard Penn clears Dave Green following whistleblower’s allegations surrounding the Highways and Engineering Services Contract award to Colas

Yesterday I read the thirty-nine page report of Richard Penn about Dave Green and the reasons behind his suspension.

For anyone reading it, it doesn’t make much sense without reading the background documents first, so below is a list of two of the background documents I could find online and a link to the minutes of a meeting from 2010 at which one of the reports was discussed.

Highways and engineering services contract Award and Management (Report in the Public Interest) (Audit Commission) 8/6/12

Procurement follow up of Public Interest Disclosure Act disclosure (Audit Commission) 16/9/2010 and the minutes of the Audit and Risk Management Committee of 28th September 2010 that discussed it

The rest of the documents such as the Council’s Conflict of Interest Policy and Conflict of Interest Policy Procedure don’t seem to be on Wirral Council’s website although I did find the Equality Impact Assessment for the Conflict of Interest Policy which refers to the M15 Conflict of Interest Declaration Form and the annual Key Issues Exchange.

The Equality Impact Assessment from the 8th February 2008 states “following Audit advice employees are continually reminded of their obligations to declare any conflict of interest” which raises the point as to whether this was actually happening in practice.

When Dave Green realised there was a conflict of interest on 20th October 2008 if as an employee he was being “continually reminded of his obligations”, he would have stated this conflict of interest using the M15 form, rather than as stated in the report he “immediately sought advice from Simon Goacher regarding the potential for conflicts of interests” (which delayed the M15 form being submitted for three weeks which meant it was after the whistleblowers made their allegations about him).

Moving to the part of the report that states “Dave Green also commented on what he described as the inaccurate reporting of facts in the local press. The Council has done nothing to correct the incorrect reporting largely generated by the Council publishing and considering the wrong report at the July Council meeting.” and “Dave Green considered that it was absolutely unreasonable for the Council to allow such inaccurate reporting to continue and demonstrated a poor ‘duty of care’ to him as one of its employee.”

Certainly there was something in the Council’s press release in response to the Audit Commission report entitled “Council response to District Auditor’s report” dated 8th June 2012 that someone took exception to it as it’s been removed from Wirral Council’s website and was the press release that this Wirral Globe story was based on.

The part of the Council meeting referring to Dave Green’s suspension was unusually held in private without the press and public present see here, although the public interest report was discussed in public, it seems the Audit Commission report on Wirral Council’s website was replaced with a different version a week after the meeting was held.

Investigation and Disciplinary Committee (21st September 2012) (Wirral Council)

Investigation and Disciplinary Committee
21st September 2012
Time: 9.30pm

Committee Room 3

Investigation and Disciplinary Committee (6/7 present)

Cllr Ann McLachlan, (Chair), Labour
Cllr Adrian Jones, Labour
Cllr Ann McArdle, Labour
Cllr Lesley Rennie, Conservative
Cllr Mike Hornby, Conservative
Cllr Dave Mitchell, Liberal Democrat

Wirral Council Officers
Surjit Tour, Acting Head of Law, HR and Asset Management
Shirley Hudspeth, Committee Services Officer
Chris Hyams, Head of HR & Organisational Development
Tony Williams, Acting Employee Relations Manager
David Armstrong, Deputy Chief Executive?
Unknown officer (male)

In attendance
Cllr Paul Doughty, Labour, Chair of Employment and Appointments Committee
Two members of the public (John Brace, Leonora Brace) (items 1 to 3)

The Chair, Cllr Ann McLachlan (Labour) apologised for starting the meeting late.

1. Declarations of Interest

The Chair, Cllr Ann McLachlan Labour asked for any declarations of interest. None of the six councillors (including the Chair, Cllr McLachlan Labour) made any declarations of interest.

2. Minutes of the meeting held on the 20th August 2012

The minutes of the Investigation & Disciplinary Committee on the 20th August 2012 had been published on Wirral Council’s website.

The Chair, Cllr Ann McLachlan asked if the minutes were agreed?

Cllr Lesley Rennie disputed the minutes and stated they were missing that she had said at the last meeting that she wanted it minuted that she wanted Richard Penn to be invited to the meeting.


She pointed out that this was missing from the minutes.

The Chair, Cllr Ann McLachlan said it was fine as Mr. Penn was “in the building” [see above photo of Richard Penn waiting in lobby, Ground Floor, during agenda item 4 (not the room the meeting was being held in)]. She thanked Cllr Lesley Rennie for pointing this out. There were no more comments on the minutes of the meeting held on the 20th August 2012, so the Chair moved the meeting onto agenda item 3.

3. Exclusion of the Press and Public

The Chair expressed her opinion that the press and public should be excluded from the meeting for agenda item 4. She expected the two members of the public to leave, however a member of the public waited for the Committee to agree with this opinion. The reason she gave was that it related to “staff”.

The two members of the public left.

4.  Statutory Officers Preliminary Investigation – Preliminary Report/Report from the Independent Investigator

The Committee received the reports from Chris Hyams (Proper Officer), Tony Williams (Acting Employee Relations Manager) and Richard Penn (Independent Investigator).

Only Chris Hyams and Tony Williams were present at the start of this item.

The reports were about the suspensions of Bill Norman, Ian Coleman and David Taylor-Smith, following the decision made at the Investigation and Disciplinary Committee meeting of the 20th August 2012 (agenda item 4).


David Green (Director of Technical Services): Unknown outcome
David Taylor-Smith (Deputy Director of Finance): Unknown outcome

Ian Coleman (Acting Chief Executive):
Outcome: request made to Employment and Appointments Committee (3/10/2012) for Early Voluntary Retirement (£82,528.50) effective from 5th October 2012.

Bill Norman (Director of Law, HR and Asset Management): “no case to answer”
Outcome:  “no case to answer” “no further advice appropriate”
Compromise Contract (£155,416) (agreed by Employment and Appointments Subcommittee (Compromise Contracts) of 20th September 2012. Made redundant as of 30th September 2012.