Wirral Council’s 4 Week Delay helpline investigation – was it ‘INDEPENDENT’?

UPDATE   8th March 2013

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/10277667.SPECIAL_REPORT__Four_week_care_delay_inquiry_branded_a__whitewash_/

The above link is to an article from today’s Wirral Globe, revealing the late publication of the choreographed Four Week Delay whitewash.  This non-independent and thoroughly insulting report is held at the following location on Wirral’s website:

http://www.wirral.gov.uk/downloads/5564

The whitewash was undertaken by Robert Vickers, a former St Helens Council Social Services senior manager.  It turns out whoever commissioned the report may have chosen the ideal person – possibly in order to carry out to the letter the council’s instructions.  It came as no surprise to me to hear that he has since been rewarded with a contract of employment.  The timing indicates that this may have been a token of the council’s appreciation, and a reward for services rendered.

11th October 2012

Between October 2008 and August 2010 (according to newly released information), Wirral Council’s Department of Adult Social Services imposed a blanket 4 week delay on Community Care Packages.  It appears this measure was brought in to save money – a situation which according to then council leader Jeff Green, was unlawful.

As new applicants came in for assessment, an “obstacle to care” had been put in the way; the system relied upon a senior manager “waiving the delay” in order to allow a service user to secure care services quickly.  However, if the manager decided not to waiver, the delay would kick in by default every time and the person in need of an assessment for care would not be considered for it until the 4 weeks was up.

Former DASS employee and whistleblower Andy Campbell approached the council in 2011, and was greeted by a wall of resistance.  Their inertia caused him to turn to the media, including Community Care magazine.  Within the following article is the opinion of the magazine’s legal expert Ed Mitchell, who states, “The courts will afford a council a reasonable period of time to put a care service in place as they recognise that services cannot be conjured up out of thin air. But a policy of not even beginning the process of securing services until a set period of time has elapsed cannot be considered lawful.”

http://www.communitycare.co.uk/Articles/13/09/2011/117431/whistleblower-says-council-ordered-care-packages-delay.htm

When approached, Interim Director of DASS, Howard Cooper CBE, nearing retirement at the time, lurched immediately onto the back foot.  He referred to “misinterpretation”, “unclear advice to employees” and couched his words very carefully in dubious, non-specific denials.  There wasn’t an admission of guilt, and to this day, despite the death of one Wirral lady, there has never been a statement of regret, let alone a public  apology.

Very soon after ‘the heat began to rise’, the policy was quickly withdrawn.

Have a look at this Freedom of Information request, seeking information on the council’s helpline and the provision of a report, lodged back in May 2012:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/helpline_regarding_illegal_delay

An answer finally arrived after 112 working days on 10th October 2012.  There are two links to the information.  The first, “Leader’s Meeting 27th April 2012” is so heavily obliterated, it now makes very little sense at all:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/116035/response/319894/attach/html/3/20121008155450390.tif.html

The second link is to the report itself:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/116035/response/319894/attach/html/4/foi%20helpline%20report.doc.html

Apart from being very low quality and poorly laid out, the general thrust of the document appears to rely on these events being “all a long time ago” and is buried in the blandest of language.  The words serve to paper over the cracks, and appear to represent a self-imposed clean bill of health for the Council, despite its involvement in what many regard to be highly dangerous activity – the deliberate placing of financial savings ahead of the safety of vulnerable people.   There is no acceptance of any wrongdoing; no reference to illegality; indeed the following excerpt shows the report concluding with a blithe watering down of the controversy; no mention of any deaths, and a tendency towards the tired, but trusty chestnut of  ‘looking forward rather than back’.  In summary, a desire by the curiously unnamed [therefore unrepresentative] “independent reviewer” to conclude matters, and put all this behind them:

See the following link to a Wirral Globe article for the true human cost of the council risking people’s lives in this way:

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/9585095.DELAY_SCANDAL__Wirral_man_s_despair_as_his_mother_died_after_waiting_for_care_package/

Following this revelation, there was lots of fighting talk and “standing for no nonsense” by the Council leader at the time, Jeff Green, but predictably with this tired and broken set up, it seems to have been all for show, with the whole affair apparently ending not in a bang, but a whimper.

There’s been zero accountability for the manager concerned, who had taken it upon himself to sideline care, and to sacrifice empathy and basic humanity in favour of conserving cash.  Rick O’Brien, has been moved elsewhere but has never been openly linked or associated with these events by the council, who have defaulted back to pre-Klonowski “machinations”, opting to shield, deny, minimise, obfuscate, give very little away and to cover up ~ all done in order to stay one step ahead of the legitimate and compelling public interest ~ the centrepiece of which is…. accountability.

Despite the council’s historical litany of on the record fudges and denials, here’s a revealing link to details of a meeting that took place to discuss how the 4 week delay was operating and how cost savings were stacking up – in other words, a “smoking gun”.  This document was later uncovered as part of an FoI request:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/97832/response/260635/attach/html/3/Budget%20Mtg%2023.10.08.doc.html

UPDATE   5th November 2012

The FoI request relating to this  was lodged back in May.  Here we are approaching Christmas and Wirral Council are unable to break out of their old dyed in the wool inability to comply with public Freedom of Information requests.

This one has now been appealed with the Information Commissioner.  The following message was posted up on the WhatDoTheyKnow site on 14th October 2012:

Dear InfoMgr, FinDMT,

I am not satisfied with your response, which is inadequate and once
again is in breach of the FOIA.

You are incorrect and mistaken in offering me a SECOND internal
review, having ignored my first review request, made in July 2012.
It is now my statutory right within the Act to appeal to the ICO
against the information which you eventually got round to
supplying.

The information referred to in the “Leader’s Meeting” link is not
considered and selective, and has been very heavily and incorrectly
obliterated, breaching DPA guidelines. Your actions therefore do
not represent a desire to protect personal privacy and identities
and have encompassed far more, by placing obstacles in the path of
the free and fair flow of information.

You have failed to identify the name and organisation of the
“independent investigator”. Protecting such an individual’s
privacy, if that was your intention, also flies in the face of all
concepts of openness and the legitimate public interest.

I will now be appealing to the Information Commissioner,

Yours sincerely,

Paul Cardin

UPDATE   15th December 2012

The ‘Independent Reviewer’ has since been unmasked as someone named Rob Vickers.  He used to work at St Helens Council as an Assistant Director of Commissioning, but a large number of emails (reproduced below) omits any mention of his council background (perhaps doing so would be unhelpful?), preferring to describe him as some sort of free agent, with no axe to grind, self-employed / a sole-trader.

Whatever his history, whatever his current allegiances, they’re pushing the ‘this person has nothing do with the council’ line.  I can’t seen any investigatory credentials, and the wider public, expecting impartiality, may be concerned that Mr Vickers, an undeclared former council employee, has not been able to supply any information up front to reassure them that he has no prior affiliation with abusive Wirral Council (scroll to 7.1).

So… the abusive council wants us to trust them again, and to believe that without this crucial piece of the jigsaw, Rob Vickers can be regarded as an independent party, i.e. somebody whose impartiality can be relied upon.  Whoever commissioned Rob Vickers seems to be following the cue of Jeff Green and Anna Klonowski before them.  But that’s not good enough.

We were were not born yesterday.  AKA and the then Wirral administration may have preserved their own interests ‘going forward’ (£historical governance training, the £supplementary and £full reports, ongoing £assistance, et al), but this is post-Klonowski, post-Refresh and Renew with a demanding local public who have been promised openness, transparency and everything done above board – not a reactionary lunge back to the bad old days of black holes, uncertainty, inertia, nods and winks – and controversial issues entrusted to shadowy agents of independence, operating under “no trading name”.

Here are the emails:

From: Rowley, Stephen
Sent: 13 December 2012 08:37
To: Paul C
Cc: Hodkinson, Graham R.; Jones, David N. (Social Services QAU)
Subject: RE: FoI request

Dear Paul

I thought I had already replied to your email, I do apologise as that was clearly not the case.

I have spoken to Rob Vickers and he confirmed that his organization had no trading name as he was a sole trader.  He also confirmed that he made no declarations regarding prior associations with Wirral Council. [my emphasis]

I hope this is of use to you.

I would say that I am leaving the employment of Wirral Council next week so if you have any follow up or other DASS related issues please send any emails to Graham Hodkinson copied to David Jones [redacted] in that way your requests will be picked up.

Kind regards

Stephen Rowley
Wirral Council
Department of Adult Social Services
Head of Finance and Performance Branch
Phone [redacted] Mobile [redacted]
E-mail
Visit our website: www.wirral.gov.uk
Five ways to add years to your life:  
Connect · Be Active · Take Notice · Keep Learning · Give 
Protect the environment and save trees – only print out if absolutely necessary


From: Paul C
Sent: 06 December 2012 19:05
To: Rowley, Stephen
Cc: Hodkinson, Graham R.
Subject: FW: FoI request
Importance: High

Stephen,

You have still not responded to this, sent almost a month ago.

I would like a detailed answer, addressing the points if you’d be so kind,

Regards,

Paul Cardin

From: Paul C
Sent: 12 November 2012 22:26
To: ‘Rowley, Stephen’
Cc: ‘Hodkinson, Graham R.’
Subject: RE: FoI request

Stephen,

Do you have the name of his organisation, as requested?  And also, if available, the declarations he will have made before being commissioned, to prove no prior associations with Wirral Council?

Did he in fact make any?

Many thanks,

Paul

From: Rowley, Stephen
Sent: 12 November 2012 16:59
To: Paul C
Cc: Hodkinson, Graham R.
Subject: RE: FoI request

Hello Paul

Sorry for not getting back to you earlier on this issue.

The report author was Robert Vickers, Independent Investigator, who is self employed.

I hope this is off use to you.

Thank you
Stephen Rowley
Wirral Council
Department of Adult Social Services
Head of Finance and Performance Branch
Phone [redacted]
E-mail
Visit our website: www.wirral.gov.uk
Five ways to add years to your life:
Connect · Be Active · Take Notice · Keep Learning · Give
Protect the environment and save trees – only print out if absolutely necessary


From: Paul C
Sent: 11 November 2012 00:04
To: ‘Rowley, Stephen’
Cc: ‘Hodkinson, Graham R.’
Subject: FW: FoI request

Dear Stephen,

Just a reminder about the email below, sent on 1st November, requesting the name and organisation of the independent reviewer / investigator referred to in the response to my FoI request.

I have appealed to the ICO, and this issue is a part of that appeal, but given Mr Hodkinson’s assurance stated below, I’d be very grateful if you could lift the secrecy, address the public interest, and find time to supply the information,

Many thanks,

Paul Cardin

From: Paul C
Sent: 01 November 2012 22:44
To: ‘Rowley, Stephen’
Cc: ‘Hodkinson, Graham R.’
Subject: RE: FoI request

Dear Stephen,

Apologies, I mixed this up with another report and made a mistake in requesting it again.  I DID receive a heavily redacted version of the report in question, which I am not happy with because I believe the council has overstepped the mark and breached DPA requirements, in obliterating a lot more information than could be described as personal and relevant to the Section 40 exemption.  I have appealed to the ICO regarding this.

On a related matter, can I refer you to Mr Hodkinson’s email below, dated 8th October 2012, in which he states he would be ‘happy for me …to have any other information that you want as long as it does not breach the confidentiality of individual vulnerable people or their relatives.’

Here is a link to assist you…

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/helpline_regarding_illegal_delay#outgoing-216036

Please provide the name and organisation of the independent investigator referred to in the response to my FoI request,

Many thanks,

Paul

From: Rowley, Stephen
Sent: 01 November 2012 16:34
To: Paul C
Cc: O’Hare, Tracy J.; Hodkinson, Graham R.; Jones, David N. (Social Services QAU)
Subject: RE: FoI request

Dear Paul

Thank you for your email below; I understand from Graham that there is an issue that has been referred to the Information Commissioner but if there is something other that is still outstanding can you please let me know what it is and I will try to obtain the information for you.

Regards

Stephen Rowley
Wirral Council
Department of Adult Social Services
Head of Finance and Performance Branch
Phone [redacted]
E-mail
Visit our website: www.wirral.gov.uk
Five ways to add years to your life:
Connect · Be Active · Take Notice · Keep Learning · Give
Protect the environment and save trees – only print out if absolutely necessary


From: Paul C
Sent: 30 October 2012 22:55
To: Hodkinson, Graham R.
Cc: O’Hare, Tracy J.; Rowley, Stephen
Subject: FW: FoI request

Dear Graham,

Still nothing heard.  Brave new world now looking uncertain from where I’m standing !

Regards,

Paul

From: Paul C
Sent: 22 October 2012 23:21
To: ‘grahamhodkinson@wirral.gov.uk’
Cc: ‘tracyohare@wirral.gov.uk’; ‘stephenrowley@wirral.gov.uk’
Subject: FW: FoI request

Dear Graham,

I’ve left it a fortnight, but haven’t heard anything regarding this report.

Can I also refer you back to the questions that were asked in my email below?

Regards,

Paul

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Hodkinson, Graham R.
Date: 8 October 2012 14:04
Subject: RE: FoI request
To: Paul C
Cc: “O’Hare, Tracy J.” , “Rowley, Stephen”

Thank you for your request Paul.  I have asked for the matter to be dealt with, I would be happy for you to have a copy of the Investigation Report into this matter and for you to have any other information that you want as long as it does not breach the confidentiality of individual vulnerable people or their relatives.

Regards

Graham Hodkinson

Director of Adult Social Services

Wirral Council

T: [redacted]

E: [redacted]

Please save paper and only print out what is necessary.

Five ways to add years to your life:  

Connect · Be Active · Take Notice · Keep Learning · Give

From: Paul C
Sent: 06 October 2012 09:14

To: Hodkinson, Graham R.
Cc: O’Hare, Tracy J.
Subject: FoI request

Dear Graham,

Further to our meeting of 28th September, please look at the following link to an FoI request dated 8th May 2012.  This asks for FOUR distinct items:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/helpline_regarding_illegal_delay#outgoing-216036

As you will see, I’ve received a Section 22 exemption from your people, quoting a “report” to be published before the end of the year, but nothing further, despite a request for further explanation sent back in early August.  Can you confirm whether the four items of information requested, in their entirety, are in fact held, whether a date has been confirmed for future publication, or whether they are published now on the council’s website?

Could you ask somebody to explain the latest situation; or point me towards them, thereby satisfying the original FoI request?

Many thanks,

Paul

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4 Responses to Wirral Council’s 4 Week Delay helpline investigation – was it ‘INDEPENDENT’?

  1. john hardaker says:

    Wirral council & its officers bring a whole new meaning to the word redacted, i bet they went through numerous black pens & the stationary bill rocketed .We all know what they are trying to hide & they should be ashamed of what has gone on not only in this case but in dozens of others, There is an old saying you can catch a thief but you cant catch a liar.It is a great pity that you cannot get your message out further into the public domain so that the general public can see the corrupt way our council is being run.As far as the local government ombudsman is concerned i have heard nothing so far however when i do i will let you know,
    In the meantime please keep up the fight & don’t let the B++++++S grind you down we need more people like you trying to uncover the wrongdoings in Brighton Street,cheers john hardaker.

  2. Pingback: Analysis of 14 Freedom of Information requests to Wirral Council – verdict is not good… « #FoILed again?

  3. Andy Campbell says:

    Good work here. Sadly this Council is rotten and the rot goes deep. Nothing other than a complete purge will fix it. Alas there is zero political will from Councillors and Council officers act only to preserve the status quo. One of the most shocking aspects for me, was the fact that nobody aside from another brave social worker spoke out, yet they all knew….

    “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.'”

  4. easyvirtualassistance says:

    Thanks for your comments.

    It’s great to know there are many more out there, disgusted by this. Andy, your whistleblowing actions on this were nothing less than heroic. Holding onto the truth in the face of a campaign of denial from above takes real courage.

    This Council, known to have been abusive, appears to be trying to give itself a clean bill of health here. When the scandal broke publicly, there were lots of fine words and tub-thumping from one councillor in particular ~ Jeff Green. Yet his silence now appears to imply satisfaction with yet another whitewash. Well we are NOT about to give up.

    A person lost their life.

    The rot, like you say is still there and I think this could be the next big scandal to engulf them.

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