Why after 2 years, 9 months and 13 days have Wirral Council U-turned on refusing a FOI request for minutes of the Safeguarding Reference Group?

Why after 2 years, 9 months and 13 days have Wirral Council U-turned on refusing a FOI request for minutes of the Safeguarding Reference Group?

                                                   

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

Before I start this epic tale, I would just like to point out that someone has started a petition demanding an apology from the Labour administration at Wirral Council for their answer at the last Council meeting about information requests and their poor record on FOI requests.

A long time ago (29th March 2013), I made this FOI request for the minutes of meetings that happen behind closed doors (not public meetings) for committees that councillors sit on. Part of this request (part 26) was for minutes of the Safeguarding Reference Group.

I think it is better to provide a chronology at this stage as to how this part of the request went (references are to this part of the request).

29th March 2013 FOI request made.
29th April 2013 Internal review requested due to lack of reply.
30th April 2013 Internal review sent by Wirral Council. Request refused on cost grounds (section 12), but offer made to send minutes of Safeguarding Reference Group.
30th April 2013 Clarification over meaning of request sent/internal review as response on 30th April 2013 was first response.
30th July 2013 Internal review changes reason from cost grounds (section 12) to vexatious or repeated request (section 14).
14th August 2013 Decision appealed to Information Commissioner’s Office.
19th June 2014 Wirral Council amends reason for refusal from vexatious or repeated request (section 14) to cost grounds (section 12).
8th September 2014 ICO issue decision notice FS50509081. Decision notice overturns cost grounds (section 12) reason, finds Wirral Council failed to provide advice and assistance (section 16) and hasn’t responded to request within 20 days (section 10(1)). Wirral Council given 35 days to provide information or different reason.
4th November 2014 FOI request for minutes of Safeguarding Reference Group refused on section 40 (personal data) grounds.
12th November 2014 Internal review of 4th November 2014 decision requested.
30th April 2015 After ICO intervention Wirral Council replies. Wirral Council refuses internal review on section 14 (vexatious or repeated request) grounds.
Unknown date Decision appealed to ICO.
29th July 2015 ICO issued second decision notice (FS50569254). Decision notice overturns section 14 (vexatious or repeated request) reason for all of request except adoption/fostering panel part. Finds Wirral Council have breached section 10 (again).
3rd September 2015 Wirral Council respond to decision notice FS50569254. Minutes of Safeguarding Reference Group now refused on section 36 (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) and section 40 (personal data).
7th September 2015 Decision appealed to Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
11th January 2016 Wirral Council supply minutes of Safeguarding Reference Group held on 19th April 2011.

Wouldn’t it have just been easier (as they made the offer to send the minutes of the Safeguarding Reference Group in April 2013) to supply these minutes then? How much officer time was wasted in refusing six pages of minutes on a committee that 7 councillors sat on and at least 5 senior managers (although one wasn’t present for the meeting).

The sixteen page serious case review about Child A, Child B, Child C & Child D referred to in the minutes dated 6th April 2011 can be found on Wirral Council’s website.

Three of the 7 councillors present are no longer councillors and at least three of the senior managers have either gone into early retirement or left Wirral Council.

There are 4 parts in the six pages of minutes where names have been blacked out. Did it really take 2 years, 9 months and nearly a fortnight to do this?

What was the point in spending over 2 years and 9 months refusing this request? The minutes they’ve supplied refer to a further meeting on the 20th July 2011 so although this is welcome, they may not be the right ones! I requested the minutes of the meeting immediately before my request on the 29th March 2013. Is the implication that the incoming minority Labour administration in 2011 scrapped the Safeguarding Reference Group (which was re-established on the 15th December 2014)? I’m not sure!

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Hoylake RNLI Open Day and the top 7 stories this week

Hoylake RNLI Open Day and the top 7 stories this week

Hoylake RNLI Open Day and the top 7 stories this week

                                    

It’s a Bank Holiday today and although I’ve been down to the Hoylake RNLI Open Day today and taken plenty of photos which is a story on that can wait till tomorrow. Three years ago I wrote about the Area Forum where the beginnings of what is now the Hoylake Lifeboat Museum were discussed, which is one of the buildings that is open as part of the Open Day.

Wirral Council’s interest in the car park next to the Hoylake Lifeboat Museum was as you can read from this story in the Wirral News from 2010 was originally going to be sold off along with where the museum is after a decision by former Cllr Simon Holbrook (who was then Cabinet Member for Corporate Resources) in November 2010. However the decision was “called in” by councillors and reconsidered in December 2010, a letter from Hylgar Properties Limited being one of the factors that led to a changed decision. Despite brief mentions about that call in meeting, here and here on this blog, it seems I never did get round to writing up a detailed account of what happened at that call in meeting back in December 2010, however the minutes of what happened at the call in are on Wirral Council’s website.

As it is a bank holiday today, I will just be writing briefly today about what has been popular on this blog in the last week and taking the rest of the day off. The last week (August is traditionally a quiet month for politics) has seen 551 visitors to this blog viewing 1,247 pages. The top seven stories in order of popularity the last week have been:

1) Why did Wirral Council spend an incredible £1,872 on a London barrister to prevent openness and transparency?

2) The incredible £754,783.18 that Wirral Council councillors cost (plus amounts for the Mayor & Deputy Mayor)

3) Lyndale School Consultation Meeting: Julia Hassall “we’re not having straightforward consultation” (part 10)

4) Planning Committee on 8:5 vote approves plans for Tranmere Rovers training ground to move to Leasowe

5) Bidston Moss Retail Park: Five New Units Under Construction

6) Birkenhead Market Limited Accounts: Is This The Reason Behind Neptune’s Masterplan?

and

7) Government asks councils in England to bid for £16 million of money to tackle fraud

Note the Contact details for 66 Wirral Council councillors (2014) is in joint 7th place but as it is just for information I have not included it in the above list.

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How much evidence does there have to be of wrongdoing at Wirral Council before an apology is given?

How much evidence does there have to be of wrongdoing at Wirral Council before an apology is given?

How much evidence does there have to be of wrongdoing at Wirral Council before an apology is given?

                            

In late May of 2011 Simon Holbrook wrote an email to Councillor Pat Williams (in her capacity as Birkenhead Liberal Democrat Chair) and Councillor Alan Brighouse (in his capacity as Birkenhead Liberal Democrat Secretary) to their Wirral Council email addresses. What that email said (despite having a court order for the email to be produced to me from Deputy District Judge Ireland granted in the Birkenhead County Court the next year) is unknown to me as it was never shared with me.

What I do know was that based on the contents of this email (that was never shared with me), Councillor Pat Williams and former Councillor Ann Bridson proposed and seconded my suspension from the Liberal Democrats at a meeting of the Birkenhead Liberal Democrat Constituency Executive based on its contents in early June 2011. The next day (4th June 2011) I made a subject access request exercising a right I have under s.7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 for “a copy of the complaint made against me by Simon Holbrook”.

The constitution of the Liberal Democrats stated (and still does) state

“7.9 When the grounds cited in the charge are those specified under Article 2.6 (a), (b) or (d), the Disciplinary Procedure may proceed as follows:

(iii) The original complaint, the charge, copies of any written statements obtained and details of the Disciplinary Meeting shall be provided to the person being complained against and to all members of the Disciplinary Meeting not later than four weeks before the date of that meeting. ”

and

7.3 “If the procedure is not completed within that time, then the suspension shall automatically cease unless an extension of time is granted by the English Appeals Panel in accordance with its procedures. The person being complained against shall be notified of the suspension and the reasons for it.”

When it came to the disciplinary meeting fourteen weeks later in early September 2011, the original complaint had not been shared with me within the ten week time limit. The forty day limit to respond to my subject access request had passed. I’d written a further letter giving an extra fourteen days to share with me the original complaint otherwise I would sue, that too had passed.

By the date of the disciplinary meeting I was in the frankly ridiculous situation of having been suspended based on a complaint that had never been shared with me (and which I’d sued both the local party and the party nationally to get a copy of) and basically stated that because of this abuse of process the constitution said that because this mandatory requirement of the constitution hadn’t been followed that the suspension had therefore automatically expired and the disciplinary panel therefore didn’t have the power to reach a decision.

The disciplinary meeting made up of Roy Wood (who later stood against me as the candidate in Bidston & St. James the next year), Anna Blumenthal (the Birkenhead Liberal Democrat President at the time since deceased), Allan Brame, Cllr Mark Clayton and some member from Ellesmere Port I forget the name of didn’t see it that way and decided to punish me by deciding that I wouldn’t be allowed to be a Lib Dem candidate in any public election or hold office within the party for five years. This decision could then be appealed within a month to the English Appeals Panel (which I did).

However the English Appeals Panel told me they couldn’t accept the appeal as I didn’t have the original complaint made against me!

The next year in April 2012 (after an unsuccessful attempt in October 2012 by the Liberal Democrats to switch the two defendants in the case to a former Chief Executive of theirs called Chris Fox) there was a hearing in the Birkenhead County Court in front of Deputy District Judge Ireland. One of the two defendants was Councillor Alan Brighouse on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. Roy Wood also turned up to help him. There was nobody appearing for the other defendant which was Liberal Democrats (the Federal Party) on behalf of Liberal Democrats (that defendant was the Lib Dem headquarters down in London who had also ignored the subject access request).

Deputy District Judge Ireland agreed with me that s.7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 that Councillor Alan Brighouse on behalf of the Birkenhead Liberal Democrats and Liberal Democrats (the Federal Party) on behalf of the Liberal Democrats had failed to comply with my subject access request made the previous year in contravention of s.7 of the Data Protection Act 1998. She granted me a court order ordering the two defendants to comply with the request.

On May 25th 2012, after mentioning to Councillor Alan Brighouse at the local election count on the evening of May 3rd or early morning of May 4th Councillor Alan Brighouse wrote me a letter. A copy of his letter is below with a scan of the original handwritten letter.

31 Grosvenor Road

Oxton

May 25, 2012

Dear John,
Attached is a hard copy of Simon’s initial complaint against you.
As I told you at the election count, I was hoping to find the original e-mail to which it was attached.
I think you are aware that, subsequent to sending the complaint to Pat and myself, Simon modified it, leaving the two items that were eventually considered by the panel.

kind regards,
Alan

letter from Alan Brighouse to John Brace May 2012
Letter from Alan Brighouse to John Brace dated 25 May 2012

So what was Simon Holbrook’s original complaint? My comments are in italics and I link to the relevant documents mentioned.

Appendix – Case against John Brace

1. Smearing of Sitting Councillors

This allegation was withdrawn by him in advance of the disciplinary panel meeting.

In an email to Cllr Gilchrist dated 19 May 2011 at 09:59, John Brace did link the Standards investigation into Cllr Williams’ and Cllr Bridson’s part in the “special charging policy” with that of the recent investigation into the way in which Martin Morton had been treated, despite the fact that these are two totally separate matters.

Cllr Williams and Cllr Bridson are not and were not under investigation with respect to the independent investigation into the alleged bullying of Martin Morton. This investigation, which was instigated by former Cllr Holbrook has now concluded and reported. It never was and never had been a matter for the Standards Board of England.

My email to Cllr Gilchrist dated 19 May 2011 is rather long, however the three sentences referred to here are “Morale in the party is extremely low, the Chair and the Vice-Chair of the local party are currently (according to the Wirral Globe) under investigation on standards grounds following a decision by Wirral Council’s Independent Assessment Panel to refer the matter to Standards for England regarding their roles in the Social Services “special charging policy” and how Martin Morton was treated. This independent report (by now read by councillors but currently exempt) will be published within 2-5 months and will lead to a public discussion of their roles in this saga. Both are likely to be candidates in 2012 and the full reasons how and why they did things will have to be made clear to the public and party in the spirit of openness and accountability if we are to move on.

That email was sent to nine people, seven of whom were councillors. The Wirral Globe article referred to was Town hall blunder: Wrong paperwork sent to local government watchdog inquiry. The Chair of the local party at that time was Cllr Pat Williams and the Vice-Chair former Cllr Ann Bridson. The independent report I was referring to was the Anna Klonowski Associates report published in January 2012. My estimate of it being published between July and October of 2012 was a little optimistic. The key to the individuals mentioned in the Anna Klonowski Associates report shows that “Councillor 1” is Councillor Pat Williams. The decision to commission Anna Klonowski Associates Limited to write her report into “an independent review of the Council’s response to the concerns raised by Mr Martin Morton under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA), in relation to the application of a Special Charging Policy for Adult Social Care service users at Supported Living Units in Wirral between 1997 and 2006” was made solely by Councillor Jeff Green (the leader of the Conservative Group) when he was Leader of the Council in July 2010.

Simon Holbrook probably thought I was referring in my email to the heavily redacted Martin Smith report (of the North West Employers’ Organisation into “Mr Morton’s allegations of bullying, harassment and abuse of power by Council Officers”.

2. Disclosure of Confidential Information

John Brace did disclose on the Wirral Globe website blog, discussions that took place within the Birkenhead Executive Committee. Meetings of the Birkenhead Executive Lib Dems are internal party matters and therefore as such confidential to members of the Liberal Democrats and not for general publication.

These disclosures resulted in a senior Councillor from outside Birkenhead (Phil Gilchrist) being sufficiently concerned to raise the matter with the Constituency Chair (Cllr Williams).

The comments were made on this Wirral Globe article on the Wirral Globe website “Jubilant Labour leader invites Lib Dems to unite”, my comments were comments 5 (which it seems nobody had a problem with), comment 16 (referred to above), comment 17 (which nobody had a problem with), comment 22 (which nobody seemed to have a problem with) and comment 24 (which nobody had a problem with).

This was what Councillor Phil Gilchrist (before I was suspended) put in an email dated 19th May 2011 sent at 6:47 from philgilchrist@wirral.gov.uk to myself Cllr Pat Williams, Cllr Alan Brighouse, Alan Brame, Cllr Kelly, former Cllr Bridson, Roy Wood, Cllr Tom Harney and Cllr Dave Mitchell about it

“Dear John
Thank you for the detailed comments and background.
I had seen the matters referred to on the Globe website during my trawls for information, following the ‘initiative’ announced by Cllr Foulkes.
I mentioned my concerns to Pat as Chair of Birkenhead. It is not my place to comment on internal arrangements in Birkenhead.
My concern is and was that the detailed information supplied to The Globe covered ‘internal workings’ that were being made public. .
I have no information on the matters you referred to, just a desire that we avoid sending out information which has the potential to be used or misused by others.
I do see that you have mentioned taking on board the points raised .
I am grateful that you appreciate that comments can have an impact on the rest of work.
Phil Gilchrist

This was the only allegation upheld by the disciplinary panel. The disciplinary panel met on 6th September 2011 and in a report sent to me on 28th September 2011 said what is below on the matter.

Sanctions
“The panel felt that revocation of membership was too harsh a penalty for a single transgression on a little read “blog”, although it was made clear that Mr. Brace should not publish anything on behalf of the party in future unless properly authorised.

Under English Party Membership Rules 7.10(ii) – that John Brace be barred from any elected office in the party for a period of five years.

Under English Party Membership Rules 7.10(iii) – that John Brace be barred from seeking any elected public office for the party for a period of five years.

This was the unanimous view of the panel.

The Panel expressed their concern about the organisation of Wirral’s selection procedures and felt that the problems should be addressed and resolved.”

In summary then, the disciplinary panel report found that I had been right that candidate selection hadn’t been done according to the party’s constitution and therefore agreed with my version of events but chose to punish me for making it public.

3. Making False Allegations in Public

The matters disclosed in point 2 above questioned the eligibility of Simon Holbrook to have stood as the Lib Dem Candidate in Prenton at the recent local elections. John Brace also questioned the appropriate of Cllr Ann Bridson signing Simon Holbrook’s nomination papers. The allegation is that there was a denial of the democratic process to Birkenhead Party members.

The same blog also contains a statement insulting to all Wirral Lib Dem Councillors which said that when Simon Holbrook says “do something, unfortunately his councillors do it.”

This was withdrawn by Simon Holbrook prior to the disciplinary panel meeting. However as mentioned earlier the disciplinary panel report stated “The Panel expressed their concern about the organisation of Wirral’s selection procedures and felt that the problems should be addressed and resolved.” The second part is a partial quote. The whole quote is “However when Simon Says do something, unfortunately his councillors do it.” which was comment sixteen if you follow that link.

4. Making an Unsubstantiated Allegation of a Complaint

In an email to Cllr Pat Williams dated 19 May 2011 at 00:05, John Brace did allege that former Cllr Simon Holbrook had made a complaint about his conduct, when no such complaint had been made.

In the same email, he made reference to Simon Holbrook’s personal statement that he will not seek elected office in 2012 and concentrate on his professional career and seeks to link that with his own on website blogs with no factual justification.

This allegation was withdrawn by Simon Holbrook prior to the disciplinary meeting.

The email referred to stated “Although I have not been made aware of who is making this complaint, I suspect it is from the former constituency exec member and Prenton candidate Simon Holbrook as that was who my comment mainly related to.”

In other words I didn’t allege he had made a complaint about me I just stated that I suspected he had. At this point I hadn’t been made aware of who was making a complaint to Cllr Pat Williams, but as the complaint was about a comment I’d made about Simon Holbrook I suspected that he was the one who had made the complaint (which is ironic as within a fortnight he went onto make the long complaint that this blog post is about).

The other reference referred to in the email was this “Simon Holbrook (issued by a press release on the Lib Dem website) has stated he will not to stand as a candidate in 2012 and is to concentrate on his Environment Agency. I do not know whether this is connected with my comments made or not. That is his personal choice to make.”

The press release was on the Wirral Lib Dem website and is copied below.

MEDIA RELEASE

Issued by: Simon Holbrook
Date of Issue: May 9th 2011

Statement by Simon Holbrook

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many people, council officers, political friends and foes alike, who I have worked with and who have helped me during my 12 years as a Wirral Councillor.

“I am proud to have served as Councillor for Prenton Ward, and thank the many local residents who have supported me and the Liberal Democrats during this time. I would particularly like to thank those people who have stuck with the Liberal Democrats as we have attempted to do difficult things in difficult times.

“For most of my time, Wirral has been a Council where political parties have had to work together to get things done. As Group Leader, I always sought to apply Liberal Democrat influence in the best interests of Wirral people. The past four years have been particularly challenging as a coalition partner to both the other Parties. I am particularly proud of the fact that, during the past 12 months, we have responded to the most difficult financial conditions ever put onto local government, without making the types of cuts made by other councils, protecting front line services and no compulsory redundancies.

“Whilst I shall remain active in politics locally, I now intend to concentrate on my professional career within the Environment Agency. I will therefore not be seeking election in 2012, but do hope to return to frontline politics at some point in the future.

“I pass on my sincere best wishes to all members of Wirral Council in the difficult task that I know still lies ahead of them.”

The most curious bit about part 4 of the complaint are the dates and the timing. Councillor Alan Brighouse deputised for Councillor Pat Williams at a public meeting of Wirral Council’s Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee on the evening of June 1st 2011. After this meeting finished, he told me in the car park of Wallasey Town Hall that Simon Holbrook had emailed him and Cllr Pat Williams with a compliant about me at some point in the days prior to June 1st 2011. The court order granted by Deputy District Judge Ireland in April 2012 was for this original complaint and email (which had to have been sent prior to June 1st 2011). However part 4 of Simon Holbrook’s complaint refers to something that didn’t happen until the evening of the 3rd June 2011 (which seems impossible). Simon Holbrook writes “In the same email, he made reference to Simon Holbrook’s personal statement that he will not seek elected office in 2012 and concentrate on his professional career and seeks to link that with his own on website blogs with no factual justification.” which is a clear reference to this blog post Birkenhead Liberal Democrat Party Constituency Executive Suspends John Brace and the quote which first appears on it when it was first published on the evening of 3rd June 2011 (it has later had a few revisions) which originally stated “Well, I’ve been suspended from the Liberal Democrat Party following a complaint by Simon Holbrook. I can’t say much more than that (obviously) as contrary to the complaints procedure I haven’t been provided with a copy of the complaint. Having written that, if he is concentrating on his career in the Environment Agency he’s showing a funny way of doing it!”

5. Seeking to Attend a Civic Function without an Invitation

That together with Leonora Brace, John Brace did seek to attend the celebration party following the Mayor Making ceremony despite not having received an invitation to the event. When challenged, John Brace did inappropriately attempt to claim that his possession of a ‘Press Card’ entitled him to attend this invitation only civic function.

Note: John and Leonora Brace did attend part 1 of the Annual Council meeting from the public gallery, which they are entitled to do so.

This allegation was withdrawn by Simon Holbrook prior to the disciplinary panel meeting. It’s untrue and probably so for a number of reasons which I will state here. Part 1 of the Annual Council meeting has been held every year prior to May 2011 for as long as anyone can remember in the Civic Hall at Wallasey Town Hall. There is a gallery above the Civic Hall but in the time period referred to by Simon Holbrook nobody was permitted to be in it as it was classed as “unsafe”. It’s only in more recent years when I’ve been filming the Annual Council meeting that I’ve been in the public gallery in the Civic Hall as Council employees insist I couldn’t film anywhere else as it was a “fire hazard”.

I will state a few things here that also will show that I wouldn’t want to attend a celebration party. I have a diagnosed special dietary requirement (a fact that is probably unknown to Simon Holbrook) called lactose intolerance. I have to follow a gluten-free and dairy free diet. Therefore anything that would be available to eat at a “celebration party” I wouldn’t be able to anyway. In fact I can categorically state that I’ve never gatecrashed a celebration party following part 1 of an Annual Council meeting.

However part 1 of the Annual Council meeting is a public meeting (as pointed out in the complaint), the public have a right in law to be there. I do remember one year someone (probably working for the Mayor’s office) asking me for my invitation on the way in to the Annual Council meeting in the Civic Hall and I pointed out to this person it was a public meeting, that I didn’t need an invitation and had a right in law to be there as it was a public meeting. I was then asked what I was planning to do at the end of the Annual Council meeting to which I answered I would be leaving (which I did). If memory serves me correct about what happened the same person came over to me again once the meeting had finished and people were leaving and asked us again if I were leaving (this happened near the stairs just outside the Round Room). I explained that as my wife has mobility problems I would be helping her down the stairs (she’s claustrophobic when it comes to lifts) and that I was waiting for a sufficient gap in the crowds of people who were milling around in order to do so safely as I was concerned that I didn’t want her to be jostled which would cause her to fall. Quite how this series of events morphed into Simon Holbrook’s spurious, fanciful and totally untrue allegation about what happened I’m not sure.

6. Giving a False Impression of Holding Public Office

In a separate blog John Brace did write -“Although in theory I hold the position of councillor, it’s not with Wirral Council and like the Mayoress of Wirral Mrs Jennings is unelected so am I, as like with the Mayoress it’s to do with who I’m married to.”

This remark appeared in a blog speculating about the future shape of the Council administration. Although its purpose is unclear, it does seek to give credibility to the comments through claiming an association with a public office.

This allegation was withdrawn by Simon Holbrook before the disciplinary panel meeting.

This is the blog post referred to written on 11th May 2011. The whole quote (in context) is

“It’s strange of Cllr. Foulkes and his Labour councillors to pursue a strategy of going after the Lib Dems for five weeks, then be all smiles and wanting our help after Labour have lost control in 2010 and are desperate to get a sniff of power. Admittedly all parties behave like this to varying degrees, the Conservatives saw this coming and have (thankfully) told the public some of the skeletons in the cupboard of the previous Labour administration.

What will happen? It’s up to the ten Wirral Lib Dem councillors to decide. Although some residents think I hold the position of councillor, I do not with Wirral Council. The Mayoress of Wirral Mrs. Jennings is unelected so am I, as like with the Mayoress it’s to do with who I’m married to.”

This was a reference to my wife holding a position on the Council of Elders which governs a reservation where she’s from in Canada. The quote used alleges I am a holder of public office, however if the comment is actually read it shows that although some people may think that, I did not. I am married to Leonora and that is the position she holds.

7. Did Make Allegations in his Blog of Irregularities in the Count

In a blog following the local elections, John Brace claimed that the votes had not been counted properly. He sought to compare the declared result with his own canvass returns to justify his claim that his own votes had not been counted properly. In the same blog, he inappropriately said that a large number of votes in Oxton changed hands on the recount.

This is the blog post referred to. The issues were (as explained in the blog post) to do with errors made at the count. Here’s what I put “No yellow 25s were initially handed out to counters. This was raised by myself as candidate as to why the Lib Dem votes weren’t being counted.”, “The counters soon ran out of 25s so 25s from different parties were used. This meant each candidates’ total was a mixture of colours and instead of using separate trays, one tray was used for Labour, the Conservative and UKIP votes were put in a second tray with the Lib Dem votes hidden from view behind a ballot box.” and “We only have to look at the Oxton recount to see how a large number of votes changed after being recounted.”

This is just a factual account of what happened at the count. The Deputy Returning Officer before he declared the result in Bidston & St. James agreed with me and took some votes off the Labour amount before the result was declared and added them to my total as a compromise as he didn’t want to have to do a recount. The result in Oxton (after a recount) was that Stuart Kelly got 1,918 votes and Matthew Patrick 1,792 (a majority of 126). However the original count of the Oxton votes put Stuart Kelly’s majority as much larger at around two hundred.

8. Making an Unjustified Complaint against a Lib Dem Councillor to the Standards Board of England

John Brace did report Cllr Ann Bridson to the Standards Board over the seating arrangements for members of the public at a meeting of the Health Scrutiny Committee. The complaint was investigated at significant public expenses and was dismissed as unfounded.

The complaint had the potential to be damaging to the reputation of a party colleague, yet at no time did John Brace seek to discuss the matter about which he felt aggrieved with Cllr Bridson, or any other member of the Liberal Democrat Council Group.

Well this is what the disciplinary panel stated in their report “The panel found this not proved.”

Firstly, I have never made a complaint about Councillor Ann Bridson to the Standards Board for England. In fact the law at the time stated only Wirral Council could do that. I did discuss it with Cllr Bridson and Cllr Williams before making the complaint.

However I did make a complaint about former Cllr Bridson to Bill Norman (who was then Monitoring Officer at Wirral Council). This complaint was never referred to the Standards Board for England. The complaint about former Cllr Bridson that was referred to the Standards Board for England was the one made by Martin Morton about her and other councillors. The statement that I didn’t seek to discuss the matter with her before making the complaint is untrue.

From my signed witness statement “21. I did raise with the Chair after the meeting the issues about disability and her Committee had a specific responsibility for these. I did not want the events repeated again at this discussion she said that she was not prepared to listen to arguments from members of the public. 22. I was surprised and shocked by what she said.”

From my wife’s signed witness statement “17. After the meeting they had approached the Chair. She [Leonora Brace] became engaged in conversation with a Councillor close by, while her husband was speaking to the Chair [Ann Bridson] and I did not hear the full conversation. She could hear well enough to know that attitude of the Chair [Ann Bridson] was not good. She [Ann Bridson] was shouting in a loud voice and she [Leonora Brace] heard her [Ann Bridson] say this is “not the time nor the place” for speaking. 18. In Mrs Brace’s creed there is great emphasis put on the need to be polite. The Chair was not being polite.

From Ann Bridson’s signed witness statement “24. John Brace may have approached me at the end of a meeting in the last 7 months, and I may have suggested his enquiry/comment was inappropriate at that time. However really I cannot recall.” and “31. On another issue relating to the course of this complaint and regarding the Liberal Democrat Party, John Brace had emailed the Chair of the Liberal Democrats [Birkenhead] Constituency Committee [Cllr Pat Williams] that he had made a complaint about me under the Council’s standards procedures. The Chair of the [Birkenhead] Constituency Committee had sent that email out to all members of the Executive Committee and at the next meeting when this was made clear to me, I felt obliged to say in front of the Committee that it was not a complaint that related in any sense for example fiddling expenses or an income tax offence.”

The Deputy Monitoring Officer at the time Surjit Tour wrote the covering report about the complaint to the Standards Initial Assessment Panel meeting of 20th December 2010. The detailed report of the ethical standards officer Mr David Swallow was also submitted to the Standards Initial Assessment Panel.

I asked the Chief Executive of Wirral Council Graham Burgess at the public meeting of the Improvement Board in November 2013 a question about how this standards complaint had been handled. A record of the questions and answers of Wirral Council are published on Wirral Council’s website.

My question was:

8. A separate and unrelated complaint about one of the four Councillors referred to above (ref SfE 2010/02) was decided on the 20th December 2010. However the covering report sent to the panel which decided was incorrectly titled “Report of the Monitoring Officer – Case Reference 2010/03″. This report to the panel also omitted that the original complaint referred to an alleged breach of 6(a) of the Code of Conduct. As an apology was given for an administrative error to the complainant referred to in question 5, will an apology for this administrative error be given to the complainants of complaint reference SfE 2010/02 and the subject of the complaint?

The answer of Wirral Council is perhaps typical of what would be termed “spin”. Other people may comment that it goes further than that.

This is the answer “The administrative error was that the number 3 was put into the complaint reference instead of number 2. The complaint, relating to an alleged breach of the Code of Conduct was considered by the Standards Committee Initial Assessment Panel which concluded that no action should be taken as there was no evidence to support the allegations. The minor typographical error had no detrimental impact on the complainant as all of the content was correct and considered, and as the panel found no evidence of wrongdoing it would not be appropriate to issue an apology.”

Firstly it was allegations of breaches of the Code of Conduct not “an alleged breach of the Code of Conduct”. If I remember correctly about what was in the decision notice, the Standards Committee Initial Assessment Panel accepted the recommendations of the ethical standards officer David Swallow. The ethical standards officer stated in his report that the sections of the Code of Conduct alleged to have been broken were

“3. (1) You must treat others with respect.

5. You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or Authority into disrepute.

6. You (a) must not use or attempt to use your position as a Member improperly to confer on or secure for yourself or any other person, an advantage or disadvantage”

However Surjit Tour’s covering report just mentioned the following two:

“5.1 The relevant parts of the Code in relation to this complaint are:

Paragraphs:

3. (1) You must treat others with respect.

5. You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute.”

The Standards Initial Assessment Panel accepted the three recommendations in the ethical standard officer’s report which were:

“10 My Recommendations are that
10.1 The finding that there has been no breach of the Code be accepted;
10.2 No further action be taken in respect of this matter and the case be closed
10.3 As to general issues maybe highlighted by this matter, some consideration be given to the issues raised in this Report as to the facilities made available to those with disabilities in attending meetings of the Committees – eg positioning of the water machine; reservation of seats for those with disabilities.”

The statement by the Chief Executive that “no action should be taken as there was no evidence to support the allegations” is therefore ludicrous as one of the recommendations (10.3) agreed by the Standards Initial Assessment Panel was that consideration should be given to the issues raised in this report.

At the public meeting of the Transformation and Resources Policy and Performance Committee last Monday Councillor Phil Gilchrist complained that he couldn’t hear what was going on because of the noise of the tea/coffee machine and asked for it to be turned off. So recommendation 10.3 was never actually put into action. The Chief Executive’s assertion that “all of the content was correct and considered” is untrue due to Surjit Tour’s admission. As to “no evidence of wrongdoing”, there’s plenty of evidence (see above) but when it comes to allegations of disability discrimination involving Wirral Council, well due to the culture no-one is ever found to be accountable however much evidence there is are they?

P.S. You may well say, well you can’t do this John, what about s. 63 of the Local Government Act 2000 which makes disclosure of the above in relations to a standards complaint a criminal offence? Well as regulation 5(d) of The Localism Act 2011 (Commencement No. 6 and Transitional, Savings and Transitory Provisions) Order 2012 meant that part 5, schedule 25 of the Localism Act 2011 had the force of law from the 1st July 2012. Part 5, schedule 25 of the Localism Act 2011 repeals sections 56A to 67 of the Local Government Act 2000.

This also means (despite the legal advice the Standards Committee has been given in the past) that there is no reason in law why previous reports about standards complaints about other Wirral Council councillors can’t be released to the public.

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Election Expense Simon Holbrook Page 7 Prenton Wirral Council 2011 B Unsolicited material to electors

B Unsolicited material to electors
Item Receipt/ Item/ Name and address Date paid Value £ Amount Notional Disputed
no invoice service of supplier (unless paid £ value £ /unpaid
on invoice/receipt
1 YES PRINTING PRINTING.COM@GUD DESIGN 20 BALLS RD PRENTON CH43 5RI 24/5/11 £151 00 £151 00
2 YES PRINTING PRINTING.COM.@GUD DESIGN 24/5/11 £180.00 £180.00
3 YES PRINTING PRINTING.COM.@GUD DESIGN 24/5/11 £306 £306
4 YES PRINTING WIRRAL ALLIANCE PRINT SERVICES 29, SHREWSBURY ROAD, PRENTON, CH42 2AB 3/6/11 £443.61 £443.61
NO 2 TELLERS PADS FROM. AGENTS STOCK.  £4
NO 4, 100 ENVELOPES FROM AGENTS STOCK  £40
NO 4, 100 ADDRESS LABELS FROM AGENTS STOCK  £5
Sub-totals £1080.61 £1080.61  £49

Election Expense Simon Holbrook page 7 Prenton Wirral Council 2011 B Unsolicited material to electors

Election Expense Simon Holbrook Page 6 Prenton Wirral Council 2011 A Advertising

A Advertising
Item Receipt/ Item/ Name and address of supplier Date paid Value £ Amount Notional Disputed
no invoice service (unless on invoice/receipt) paid £ value £ /unpaid
 NIL
Sub-totals

Election Expense Simon Holbrook page 6 Prenton Wirral Council 2011 A Advertising