6 month freedom of information battle almost over as government releases correspondence on Wirral View (Wirral Council’s controversial newspaper)

6 month freedom of information battle almost over as government releases correspondence on Wirral View (Wirral Council’s controversial newspaper)

6 month freedom of information battle almost over as government releases correspondence on Wirral View (Wirral Council’s controversial newspaper)


Cllr Jeff Green (Conservative Leader) on the right speaking at the Extraordinary Meeting of Wirral Council to discuss Girtrell Court 4th April 2016
Cllr Jeff Green (right) (Conservative Leader) 4th April 2016 who has been lobbying the Conservative government about Wirral Council’s Wirral View publication

This story has been a 6 month freedom of information battle involving myself, the regulator ICO and the Department of Communities and Local Government involving correspondence between councillors on Wirral Council and MPs involving the controversial Wirral View publication published by Wirral Council.

Just for clarity, Wirral View is opposed by Conservative councillors, Liberal Democrat councillors and the Wirral Globe.

The ruling Labour Group on Wirral Council however supports the spending of taxpayers’ money on the project. Although it has to be pointed out that they have recently performed a U-turn and axed the issue that was scheduled to go out during the election period.

There have been repeated calls from the Labour Group on Wirral Council for the Conservative councillors to lobby the Conservative government. Although ironically they appear opposed to this sort of lobbying and have gone as far as to refer to this lobbying at at least one public meeting as inciting the government to take legal action against Wirral Council.

A series of recent decision notices issued by the regulator ICO (FS50646655, FS50646730, FS50651166) have dealt with information requests made to Wirral Council for copies of the legal advice they received on this matter.

Here are details of what has been released today. I will point out that some of the factual accuracy of what is in some of this correspondence is disputed.

However as editor I feel it is important that the voting public see what goes on “behind the scenes” on a politically sensitive issue in the lead up to a series of elections related to it (Claughton byelection, general election and Mayoral election).

An earlier name for the project was Wirral Today and its referred to that name in the email chain rather than Wirral View.

Document 1 – Wirral 1.pdf
Letter from Marcus Jones MP to Cllr Phil Davies (undated)
Metadata: created 28/6/16 modified 20/12/16

Document 2 – Wirral 2.pdf
Letter from Marcus Jones MP to Cllr Phillip Davies
(undated) but stamped 05 DEC 2016
Metadata: created 5/12/16 modified 20/12/16

Document 3 – Wirral 3.pdf
Letter from Cllr Phillip L Davies to Marcus Jones MP dated 28th July 2016
Metadata: created 1/8/16 modified 20/12/16

Document 4 – Wirral 4.pdf
Letter from Cllr Jeff Green to the Rt. Hon. Sajid Javid MP dated 1/8/16
Metadata: created 1/8/16 modified 20/12/16

Document 5 – Wirral 5.pdf
Letter from Marcus Jones MP to Cllr Jeff Green stamped 23 AUG 2016
Metadata: created 23/8/16 modified 20/12/16

Document 6 – Wirral 6.pdf
Letter (sent by email) from Marcus Jones MP to Cllr Jeff Green stamped 20 OCT 2016
Metadata: created 20/10/16 modified 20/12/16

Document 7 – Wirral 7 R.pdf
Letter from Cllr Jeff Green to Marcus Jones MP dated 4/11/2016 stamped 07 NOV 2016
Metadata: created modified

Redactions (note numbering is from top to bottom)

Page 1
Block 1 –
Block 2 –

Page 2
Block 3 –
Block 4 –
Block 5 –

Document 8 – Wirral 8.pdf
Letter from Marcus Jones MP to Cllr Jeff Green stamped 06 DEC 2016
Metadata Created 20/12/16 Modified 20/12/16

Document 9 – Wirral 9.pdf
Letter from Cllr Phil Davies to Marcus Jones MP dated 28th July 2016
Metadata Created 1/8/16 Modified 20/12/16

Note: this appears to be a redacted version of document 3.

Document 9a- Wirral 9a.pdf
Emails (various dates)

There have also been reported problems with distribution to Wirral residents of the first five editions of Wirral View (October 2016, November 2016, December 2016, January 2017 and February 2017).

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Extraordinary meeting of Wirral Council called to discuss Girtrell Court

Extraordinary meeting of Wirral Council called to discuss Girtrell Court


Cllr Chris Blakeley explaining his notice of motion on Girtrell Court to Wirral Council councillors at a public meeting 14th March 2016
Cllr Chris Blakeley talking about Girtrell Court at the Council meeting held on the 14th March 2016

Edited 24th March 2016 to add quote from Cllr Chris Blakeley.

Edited 4th April 2016 to include a link to the Labour and Lib Dem amendments.

An extraordinary meeting of all Wirral Council councillors about Girtrell Court (requested by Cllrs Chris Blakeley, Bruce Berry, Leah Fraser, Paul Hayes, Lesley Rennie and Steve Williams) is scheduled to take place starting at 6.00pm on Monday 4th April 2016. The meeting will take place in the Council Chamber at Wallasey Town Hall, Brighton Street, Seacombe, CH44 8ED.

The request for the meeting relates to an article in the Wirral Globe and statements that Cllr Chris Jones made a few days before that article was published at the Council meeting on the 14th March 2016.

A copy of the Notice of Motion proposed by twenty Conservative councillors is reproduced below (I’ve linked the bit about the Wirral Globe article to the article in question).


Proposed by Councillor Chris Blakeley
Seconded by Councillor Bruce Berry

1. Council recalls that, at the Council meeting on the 14th March, 2016, the Leader of the Council and the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Public Health gave assurances that there was no timetable for closure of Girtrell Court.

2. Council noted this included a promise that Girtrell Court would remain open until such time as acceptable and alternative respite provision could be provided for users of Girtrell Court and that the Cabinet Member stated that no decision on Girtrell Court would be made until all the statutory ‘one to one’ consultations had
been completed.

3. Council is therefore deeply puzzled and disappointed that 48 hours later, in the Wirral Globe online version, the Cabinet Member announced that Girtrell Court will close at the end of August.

4. Council resolves that any budgetary decision about Girtrell Court is made in the public arena by Council as required by the Constitution of Wirral Borough Council.

Signed by:


Tom Anderson
Bruce Berry
David Burgess-Joyce
Chris Blakeley
Eddie Boult
Wendy Clements
David Elderton
Gerry Ellis
Leah Fraser
Jeff Green
John Hale
Paul Hayes
Andrew Hodson
Kathy Hodson
Cherry Povall
Lesley Rennie
Tracey Pilgrim
Adam Sykes
Geoffrey Watt
Steve Williams

In response to the meeting being arranged, Cllr. Chris Blakeley wrote, “In the last 14 days, we have been told, ‘yeah, but no, but maybe’ by the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health over the future of Girtrell Court.

At the same time, the Leader of the Council pledged to be open and transparent only to then delegate the decision to the Cabinet Member and Director, out of public view and with no reference to the rest of his Cabinet.

This whole sorry saga has proved to be traumatic to the staff and families; it has appalled the trade unions and ward councillors in Saughall Massie. I believe the Cabinet Member should now make it clear what, if anything, she has decided and on what evidence. Neither I, nor the families, believe the repeated claims about ‘extending choice’ – it is, in truth, about closing services.”

Both Labour and the Lib Dems have tabled amendments to the notice of motion above. The Labour amendment deletes paragraphs 3 and 4, criticises the Conservatives for calling a Council meeting about it and repeats their long running position about choice.

The Lib Dem amendment calls for the consultation findings to be shared with councillors and for greater scrutiny by councillors of any re-provision of care.

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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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What did Cllr Phil Davies’ PR adviser have to say about the LCRCA devolution campaign?

What did Cllr Phil Davies’ PR adviser have to say about the LCRCA devolution campaign?

What did Cllr Phil Davies’ PR adviser have to say about the LCRCA devolution campaign?


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Liverpool City Region Combined Authority meeting of the 21st September 2015 Part 1 of 2 (devolution and Transport for the North)

Ben O'Brien of Kenyon Fraser Ltd (a PR company) speaking at the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority meeting on the 21st September 2015
Ben O’Brien of Kenyon Fraser Ltd (a PR company) speaking at the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority meeting on the 21st September 2015

Declaration of Interest – the author wishes to declare an interest in that Google (named in the piece below) has an existing contract with the author for advertising revenue from Youtube videos.

Unusually a Chief Executive of a local PR company called Kenyon Fraser Limited spoke at the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority meeting on its agenda item on devolution. Below is the exchange between Cllr Phil Davies and Ben O’Brien of Kenyon Fraser, then I go into more detail about the existing contracts that this PR company Kenyon Fraser has with Merseytravel/Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.

The Chair Cllr Phil Davies said at the end of a presentation by Ged Fitzgerald (Chief Executive, Liverpool City Council) on devolution, "With the Combined Authority being advised by Kenyon Fraser [Ltd] on this. Ben O’Brien from Kenyon Fraser has come here today, so just with your permission, I’d just like to give Ben a couple of minutes to talk about plans around public engagement, stakeholder involvement etc so Ben, do you want to just say a few words about that please? Thank you."

Ben O’Brien from PR company Kenyon Fraser said, "Chair, very briefly, as has been outlined in the presentation I think things are developing quickly and our role is to take that forward Chair.

I’m Chief Executive of Kenyon Fraser, my name’s Ben O’Brien, we’re a Liverpool based communications consultancy.

We’re very pleased to have been appointed to support taking the work forward and we’re linking in with colleagues in Knowsley in the Secretariat role in order to facilitate that.

And really given the timescales and the tasks in hand to provide additional resources to be able to do that work to a high standard in the timescales that are required of us.

So in short our role is to produce communications resources to support that better engagement with the public, with key stakeholder groups including the business community and other stakeholder groups relevant to the key policy proposal areas that are being taken forward at this time and in advance of the CSR [Comprehensive Spending Review] in the first instance.

So we’re here to provide additional resources, we’re pulling together our plans to support doing that at a city region level and at a borough level, as we’ll be required by the work that officers are undertaking at this stage and we want to take that work forward from here on in as it takes shape.

So thank you for inviting us along to introduce ourselves in the first instance."

Kenyon Fraser have a number of contracts with Merseytravel.

The first called the "Agreement for Consultancy Services relating to High Speed Rail for Liverpool Campaign development and delivery" is a contract dated 16th September 2014 for £99,500 for the work detailed below (prices have been blacked out by Merseytravel as apparently they are "commercially sensitive") .

Merseytravel Kenyon Fraser Limited contract Agreement for Consultancy Services relating to High Speed Rail for Liverpool Campaign development and delivery schedule of rates thumbnail
Merseytravel Kenyon Fraser Limited contract Agreement for Consultancy Services relating to High Speed Rail for Liverpool Campaign development and delivery schedule of rates thumbnail

For those wondering what the taxpayer got for £99,500 (or find it hard to read the image above) that was the work of the Chief Executive, a named Account Director (name was removed by Merseytravel), Account Managers/Designers/Web Designers/PRs and similar & engagement staff. The services of these people are charged on an undisclosed daily rate.

The Cost Summary Schedule detailed work in the following areas:

  • Campaign Strategy and planning, political engagement up to launch
  • Design and build website inc one year hosting
  • PR & Media Relations inc pre launch activity, copy, video, photography, staff attendance
  • Branding and core materials – design and production
  • Public launch, engagement activity to 12th August
  • Ongoing PR and media relations activity including Liverpool Echo partnership, copy, photography, social media
  • Political engagement activity including copy, packs, events, liaison
  • Events programme – business, opinion former and stakeholder engagement, all supporting activity
  • Public engagement activity across all Local Authority areas post launch period, petition support, public events

Total £99,500 of public money spent on a campaign, which hasn’t resulted in persuading the government to extend HS2 to Liverpool.

There is also an “Agreement for Communication Support” that Kenyon Fraser Limited have (or had) with the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive dated 12th December 2013. The brief for that one is simple and is:

  • To provide media support as and when required pending recruitment to the vacant posts within the Corporate Communications Team
  • To roll out support for the Stakeholder Engagement Plan
  • To provide specialist development and training support

Oh but there’s more than that! This company also has the "Framework Agreement for Consultancy Services for the Design of Travel Marketing Literature Commencing 1 January 2014 until 31 December 2015". This one is for bus posters, Google PPC advertising, Facebook advertising, other online activities, as well as quarter pages ads in the Liverpool Daily Post (although as this paper ceased publication in December 2013 I’m curious about why it’s in the contract), Southport & Formby Champion, Bootle, Crosby & Maghull Champion and Wirral Globe, advertising on the back of buses, bus stop advertising, employee engagement and PR activity such as "Mersey Summer Time", web page work, leaflets, in-car air fresheners, Meal for 2 incentives, engagement and PR activity.

It looks like this contract was extended in 2014 to 2017 and renamed "Consultancy Services Agreement for the Provision of Design Services for Travel Marketing Literature October 2013 to September 2017".

However there’s more, Kenyon Fraser Limited have a 35 page contract dated 20th May this year called the "Merseytravel Consultancy Services Framework Agreement 2015-2019 For Consultancy Services (Various Lots)" which is for PR, campaign & engagement.

I could start publishing Kenyon Fraser invoices to Merseytravel, but this is already starting to sound more like an advert for them than a serious piece of journalism. You can find one of the Kenyon Fraser invoices for £29,160 in this earlier story headlined Why did Merseytravel spend £2,775 on a “Parliamentary Reception”?

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People power leads to Wirral Council U-turn on sale of Rock Ferry High School woodlands

People power leads to Wirral Council U-turn on sale of Rock Ferry High School woodlands

People power leads to Wirral Council U-turn on sale of Rock Ferry High School woodlands


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Wirral Council’s Cabinet meeting of the 10th September 2015. The item on Rock Ferry High School starts at 17 minutes and 16 seconds

Cabinet discusses the future of Rock Ferry High School 10th September 2015 L to R Cllr Chris Meaden Cllr Pat Hackett Cllr Adrian Jones
Cabinet discusses the future of Rock Ferry High School 10th September 2015 L to R Cllr Chris Meaden Cllr Pat Hackett Cllr Adrian Jones

The issue of what happens to the former Rock Ferry High School site was on Wirral Council’s Cabinet agenda for a decision at last Thursday’s meeting.

Included with the reports for the meeting were details of the public meetings held. In case anyone has forgotten, one of the public meetings sparked a series of bizarre stories in the Liverpool Echo about what happened in the lead up to the 2015 General Election. The story continues with a Wirral Globe article and a Green Party investigation clearing its members of what Frank Field accused them of doing (which is that exceptional case of a party sticking by and believing its own members and not throwing them to the wolves when an influential member of another political party complains).

Maybe the Green Party aren’t like other political parties who take a "guilty until proven innocent (and we the party will decide upon what prove innocent means)" approach and grill the party member when a complaint happens. No I’m not referring to the recent suspensions of councillors in the Wirral Labour Group… but my own personal experience of the Lib Dems taking seriously a party political complaint about me from former Labour Cllr Harry Smith (sent to both me and the party with a Wirral Council "With compliments slip").

In essence his complaint was that when he was Vice-Chair of the Pensions Committee (the Pensions Committee manages the Merseyside Pension Fund worth £billions which has over a hundred thousand people either pensioners or employees part of it) I put in a leaflet to people in the Bidston & St James ward that he didn’t go to a meeting that reported the Merseyside Pension Fund had dropped by hundreds of millions of pounds.

His complaint was that he decided to go on holiday instead (he didn’t send a deputy to the meeting) and that my leaflet wasn’t unfair personally to him because it led to people going to his surgery and asking him questions (because and I mean this with a lot of dripping sarcasm of course, obviously the last thing a local councillor is paid a generous allowance of thousands of pounds a year for is to actually have to deal with the public and see what I write below for why the Labour Group of 2015 takes a different view on representing the public to Harry Smith). Therefore former Cllr Harry Smith (around the time of a one week suspension as a councillor for not apologising properly for bullying) wanted disciplinary action taken against me by the Lib Dem Party for telling the Bidston & St James residents the truth.

Ultimately the Lib Dem Party (who then were always very keen to curry favour with other political parties) gave him and his fellow Labour party members their way in 2011 but the Lib Dems (under a lot of pressure to get rid of me) did it so badly, the Birkenhead County Court ruled one of the Lib Dem councillors, the local Birkenhead party and indeed the whole Lib Dem Party had broken the law in doing so.

Thus proving that politicians are terrible at realising that there are legal limits on what they should or shouldn’t do. As many will know, the political class have an arrogant view at times that rules and laws apply to everyone but them! The MP expenses scandal showed that.

However to be fair (and hopefully as balanced as I can be) to the Lib Dem Party, their view is that an unlawful decision still stands and court orders should be flouted (and then the Lib Dem Party wonders why it lost 49 MPs at the recent General Election?)

As former Cllr Harry Smith didn’t get his way over that complaint he tried to stop filming of a public meeting of Pensions Committee meeting stopped, telling others on the Pensions Committee it I was because I was a member of a political party (at the time a lie as I wasn’t a member of the Lib Dems then, due no doubt in part to his complaints and moaning about me "blotting my copybook" as one party member put it). A rather young fellow Labour councillor had the gall to tell him such a point was irrelevant which really got him going, however I am digressing into stories from yesteryear. It was suggested to me recently that I should be more positive (however remembering how former Cllr Harry Smith used to be is enough to spoil anyone’s good mood)!

Returning to the Cabinet meeting, Cllr Adrian Jones explained that Rock Ferry High School had closed in 2011. He outlined the process that had to be followed if the Rock Ferry High School and the playing fields were to be used for a different purpose and that this required government approval from the Minister. He summarised the efforts so far on finding an alternative educational use for the buildings which unfortunately had not panned out.

The costs (business rates and security) of managing the vacant site were costing Wirral Council money. The original intention had been for Wirral Council to sell the buildings and playing fields. However following public consultation and "opposition" to disposal of the site, a compromise position had been found or as Cllr Adrian Jones put it, “However, we are a listening Council and following extensive public consultation it was evidenced that there was a very significant amount of opposition to that proposal.”

He went on to say that this option would produce a reduced capital receipt to Wirral Council, but this would allow the Residents’ Association to bring forward proposals for the playing fields and woodland.

Cllr Adrian Jones proposed the following recommendation.

"It is recommended that:

17.1 Cabinet approves the submission of the application to the Secretary of State for Education for the disposal and change of use of the former Rock Ferry High School.

17.2 Approve the mixed use option for the site as outlined in 6.4

17.2 Approve officers to progress development proposals to site (area A) for residential development in accordance with local planning requirements

17.3 Work with the newly formed Rock Ferry Residents Association to bring forward proposals for the management of the site (areas B and C)"

For the purposes of information 6.4 (which recommendation 17.2) of the report refers to states:

6.4 Take account of local views and develop a mixed use option for the site

(i) area (A) i.e. the main school site, development for housing

(ii) areas (B) and (C) the former playing field site could be considered for community asset transfer for continued sport use and open space. This is of particular interest to the residents in the area and plans for the management and development of the area are being considered. Football clubs in the area have expressed an interest and there are opportunities for obtaining grant funding. This area was previously designated as school playing fields and the only community use was through lettings agreed with the school, general community access was not endorsed.

Areas B and C are detailed in the report. Areas B and C are playing fields and area A covers the buildings and part of the playing fields.

Councillor Chris Meaden pointed out that it was in her ward and referred to "slightly heated meetings" that she had attended and that they’d listened to the residents, changed the recommendations so that the woodland was kept and the sports field. She thanks the residents of Rock Ferry and that "we hope we’ve proved ourselves to you"

Cllr Meaden went on to thank Jeannette Royle (Senior Manager, Asset Management), David Armstrong (Assistant Chief Executive) and David Ball (Head of Regeneration) for attending the meetings and she wanted to thank them for their support and their efforts in listening to residents.

The recommendation were agreed by Cabinet.

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