#FoI request ~ Unscrutinised Machinations; Suspended Director of Law Departs Wirral Council

THIS IS AN ALLEGEDLY “VEXATIOUS” REQUEST

17th October 2012

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/unscrutinised_machinations_permi/new

See also this related blog post

Dear Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council,

On 17th October 2012, it became public knowledge that suspended
Director of Law, Bill Norman had received
permission, as part of a secret, protected and apparently
unscrutinised process, concealed from public
view, to leave his employment with Wirral Council. According to the
press, this is believed to follow an external investigation stating
that he had “no case to answer” and to involve the granting of a
package approaching £150,000 in public money.

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/999130…

Above is a link to a news story published today in the
Wirral Globe, which reported this matter. Once again, the comments
beneath the article indicate the strength of feeling amongst a
still outraged public.

The former CEO, Jim Wilkie, who himself is the subject of another
freedom of information request, currently breaching the FOI Act:

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

…admitted to years of learning disabled abuse by the council.
This was followed by the departure of two senior social services
officers in January of this year. It is still not clear whether
these two individuals WERE leaving as a result of their involvement
in abuse AND whether they signed compromise agreements with gagging
clauses. As of today, despite several assurances, Wirral have not
responded to the following FoI request and are many months overdue
and again in breach of the FOI Act:

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

Despite the fine words trotted out in Appendix S2 of the Anna
Klonowski “Refresh and Renew” Supplementary Report, the Wirral
public have still yet to see any sign of accountability or a
reckoning towards the as yet anonymous employees who perpetrated
this sustained abuse against learning disabled people over a period
of several years – which totalled over £700,000 plundered from
their bank accounts.

There were also abuses of power, as found by two independent
investigations – but which remain unpunished, and an admission to
learning disabled abuse here (See 7.1):

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/mgConvert

Please provide all information you have which is connected to the
departure of Mr Norman. This will relate to meetings, hearings,
discussions, reports (including the report of Mr Richard Penn, the
external investigator), and may be stored in the form of recorded
minutes, verbatim and non-verbatim notes, emails, letters, memos,
aide memoirs, documents, whether electronically or manually stored.

Please confirm and provide full details of the existence of any
payments made to Mr Norman in relation to his departure. This will
include precise amounts, the method of payment and the budget from
which the payment was / is to be derived.

Please confirm details of the existence of any “compromise
agreement” or “confidentiality agreement” or “compromise
contract”or “confidentiality contract” agreed and signed by Mr
Norman in relation to this departure or to his involvement in
abuse or malpractice. This will include confirmation and
description of any ‘gagging clauses’ and whether a positive /
neutral / negative reference was provided regarding potential
future employment.

In light of the [strangely] recent discovery by Wirral’s NOW
EX-Chief Internal Auditor David Garry that “compromise contracts”
were NOT being recorded but were being arranged behind closed
doors, beyond any councillor scrutiny and beyond view of the
public:

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents

…please describe the exact process that was followed and supply the
documents, reports, aide memoirs, notes, etc. that were created and
recorded as part of the NEW process. Please take a deep breath
before you do this, and ponder your overriding duty to act not out
of self-interest, but fairly and impartially in the unbending
service of us the public.

Please provide the names and addresses of all organisations /
bodies involved in providing legal advice to Mr Norman. Please also
provide details of meetings which occurred including times, dates
and matters discussed.

Please confirm the details of any disciplinary charges either
planned or levelled against Mr Norman in relation to any failures /
malpractice / abuse which may or may not have brought about his
departure from the Council.

If Mr Norman was provided with a “clean bill of health” regarding
his time served at the council, please provide a copy of this /
these document(s).

Please redact documents as you see fit, and remove any personally
sensitive information in accordance with the requirements of the
Data Protection Act.”

Please be mindful that as Mr Norman was the “Director of Law” and
fulfilling that role, and paid / rewarded in line
with that role as part of these as yet secret arrangements, I am
making you aware that case law within this area, combined with the
legitimate and compelling public interest demands a far greater
degree of openness.

As yet, I can find no evidence either in the press or on the
Council website that this departure has received ANY democratic
scrutiny by elected officials. Please confirm which meetings took
place. Presumably there will have been at least one gathering
called to scrutinise the so-called “compromise contract” that was
drawn up and agreed.

Please also confirm whether the July suspension of Mr Norman and
his two colleagues was carried out correctly i.e. it followed to
the letter the guidance laid out within the Local Government Act
2000 and was mindful of the extra protection that is afforded to
Directors of Law and Finance.

If Mr Michael Frater, local gov troubleshooter [now departed] made
an error in suspending the two officers Norman and Coleman, and
this has “blown up in his face” and potentially caused a situation
in which we may find ourselves today i.e. shot in the foot;
compromised; picking up the pieces, and paying off officers who
have had their employment rights breached, then please confirm it
if true, and release all the documents which relate to it,

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cardin

18th October 2012

According to Principal Committees Officer Andrew Mossop, the relevant minutes were added to the website yesterday, almost a whole month after the Employment and Appointments (Compromise Contracts) meeting took place.

This relatively new committee was established in April 2012.  As we all know, mucho concealed machinations will have transpired before then.  Anyway…. drip, drip, drip….

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=656&MId=4224&Ver=4

Pay-offs ~

David Garry’s ££breakdown

Total to the tax payer: £46,584.

People will wonder, “Why did the Chief Internal Auditor have to go?”  Is it anything to do with the HESPE Highways Contract awarded to COLAS, now lying in tatters?  Can it be related to the lack of audit oversight which was allowed to occur under Mr Garry’s watch?  Can it be connected to the perverse decision to award “3 stars” (whatever that means – sounds like an endorsement to me) to the whole rotten process?  Did David Garry receive a “clean bill of health” within his compromise agreement, intended to reassure any unwitting employers thinking of appointing him in the future, following this fiasco?  We need to know!

Bill Norman’s ££breakdown

Total to the tax payer: £151,416.

The reason given for the former Director of Law’s departure is “Redundancy/Severance payment”.  Presumably the post of “Director of Law” now lies redundant, obsolete; to be deleted from the staff structure…. or have I got this wrong?  Experience tells us such issues are approached differently on Wirral.  Will the position be given a new, fresher title…. one to key in with the positive spin, with the supporting machinations whipped into a frenzy, as the media machine churns onwards and “moves forward”.

Did anybody ever read and digest the Klonowski Supplementary Report ~ the absurdly titled “Refresh And Renew”, with its fine words promising accountability before the public?  Or does that and the full report sit on a shelf somewhere, unheeded, gathering dust ?

Sharp-eyed readers of the Council minutes will have spotted that the meeting called on 20th September 2012 was just one day prior to the reporting of the external investigator, Richard Penn, on 21st September 2012.  Which reminds us of the release of the two senior DASS oficers the day before the release of the full Klonowski report.  “Manipulation” and “massage” appear to be writ large not just through the minutes produced on the website, but in the actions and the exquisite timing of the actions of Wirral’s “inner ring”.

What kind of an organisation would draw up and present a compromise agreement the day before a crucial investigation finally reports its findings.  What kind of an organisation would allow a suspended employee to leave in the event that the investigation came up with “no case to answer” – which is precisely what transpired.  What the hell is going on here?

UPDATE  7th June 2013

Today, the council finally responded to this FoI request.  With a Section 14 refusal.  This is the section of the Act which refers to “Vexatious” requests.  I appealed against this to the ICO on 19th June 2013.

I don’t think Wirral Council are going to be successful with this ploy, given these recent events.

The ICO are currently still looking at my appeal.  I’ll update this thread with the result when it comes in.

UPDATE  20th September 2013

20 September 2013

Case reference number FS50502035

Dear Mr Cardin

Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA)

Your FOI request to Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council dated 17 October 2012 for varied information pertaining to ‘Mr Norman’

Further to our letter of 25 June 2013, I write to inform you that your case has now been allocated to me to investigate. Your complaint concerns the refusal of Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council (“the council”) to respond to a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the FOIA”). This letter will explain how I intend to investigate this matter. It will also provide you with contact details so that you can get in touch with me if you need to.

What happens now

Where possible the Information Commissioner (“the Commissioner”) prefers complaints to be resolved informally and we ask both parties to be open to compromise. With this in mind, I will write to the public authority and ask it to revisit your request. It may wish to reverse or amend its position. If it does, it will contact you again directly about this.

In any event, it must provide us with its full and final arguments in support of its position. Once I receive its arguments, I will consider its reply before either contacting you to discuss the matter further or preparing a decision notice. Further information is available on the Commissioner’s website:

http://www.ico.org.uk/complaints/~/media/documents/library/Freedom_of_Information/Practical_application/how_we_deal_with_complaints_guidance_for_complainants.ashx

The request

On 17 October 2012 you wrote to the council and requested information of the following description:

“Please provide all information you have which is connected to the

departure of Mr Norman. This will relate to meetings, hearings,
discussions, reports (including the report of Mr Richard Penn, the
external investigator), and may be stored in the form of recorded
minutes, verbatim and non-verbatim notes, emails, letters, memos,
aide memoirs, documents, whether electronically or manually stored.

Please confirm and provide full details of the existence of any
payments made to Mr Norman in relation to his departure. This will
include precise amounts, the method of payment and the budget from
which the payment was / is to be derived.

Please confirm details of the existence of any “compromise
agreement” or “confidentiality agreement” or “compromise
contract”or “confidentiality contract” agreed and signed by Mr
Coleman in relation to this departure or to his involvement in
abuse or malpractice. This will include confirmation and
description of any ‘gagging clauses’ and whether a positive /
neutral / negative reference was provided regarding potential
future employment.

In light of the [strangely] recent discovery by Wirral’s NOW
EX-Chief Internal Auditor David Garry that “compromise contracts”
were NOT being recorded but were being arranged behind closed
doors, beyond any councillor scrutiny and beyond view of the
public:

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents

…please describe the exact process that was followed and supply the
documents, reports, aide memoirs, notes, etc. that were created and
recorded as part of the NEW process. Please take a deep breath
before you do this, and ponder your overriding duty to act not out
of self-interest, but fairly and impartially in the unbending
service of us the public.

Please provide the names and addresses of all organisations /
bodies involved in providing legal advice to Mr Norman. Please also
provide details of meetings which occurred including times, dates
and matters discussed.

Please confirm the details of any disciplinary charges either
planned or levelled against Mr Norman in relation to any failures /
malpractice / abuse which may or may not have brought about his
departure from the Council.

If Mr Norman was provided with a “clean bill of health” regarding
his time served at the council, please provide a copy of this /
these document(s).

Please redact documents as you see fit, and remove any personally
sensitive information in accordance with the requirements of the
Data Protection Act.”

Please be mindful that as Mr Norman was the “Director of Law” and
fulfilling that role, and paid / rewarded in line
with that role as part of these as yet secret arrangements, I am
making you aware that case law within this area, combined with the
legitimate and compelling public interest demands a far greater
degree of openness.

As yet, I can find no evidence either in the press or on the
Council website that this departure has received ANY democratic
scrutiny by elected officials. Please confirm which meetings took
place. Presumably there will have been at least one gathering
called to scrutinise the so-called “compromise contract” that was
drawn up and agreed.

Please also confirm whether the July suspension of Mr Norman and
his two colleagues was carried out correctly i.e. it followed to
the letter the guidance laid out within the Local Government Act
2000 and was mindful of the extra protection that is afforded to
Directors of Law and Finance.

If Mr Michael Frater, local gov troubleshooter [now departed] made
an error in suspending the two officers Norman and Coleman, and
this has “blown up in his face” and potentially caused a situation
in which we may find ourselves today i.e. shot in the foot;
compromised; picking up the pieces, and paying off officers who
have had their employment rights breached, then please confirm it
if true, and release all the documents which relate to it”

You requested an internal review on 14 December 2012.

The council responded on 7 June 2013. It refused your request on the basis that it was vexatious under section 14(1) of the FOIA. It advised you of the factors that it had considered in doing this.

The scope of the case

We received your initial complaint on the 19 June 2013.

The focus of my investigation will be to determine whether the council handled your request in accordance with the FOIA. Specifically, I will look at whether the council is entitled to rely on section 14(1) of the FOIA as a basis for refusing your request for information.

Please contact me within the next 10 working days, that is, by 4 October 2013 if there are matters other than these that you believe should be addressed. This will help avoid any unnecessary delay in investigating your complaint. If I do not hear from you by this date, my investigation will focus only upon the matters identified above.

Please note, I have received your comments detailing why the request is not vexatious. If you have any further comments, please provide these to me. For clarity, the ICO guidance on section 14(1) of the FOIA is available here.

You can contact me at casework@ico.org.uk. Please reply directly to this email address without changing any of the details in the subject box. This will ensure that the correspondence is allocated to the correct case.

Yours sincerely

Daniel Perry

Case Officer – Complaints Resolution

Direct Dial: 01625 545 214

UPDATE  3rd January 2014

Half a year has dragged by and we’re now in the year 2014.

The ICO have got summer, autumn, Christmas and New Year out of the way, and sent me the following:

2 January 2014

Dear Mr Cardin

Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA)

Wirral MBC – Case Reference Number FS50502035

I write further to our letter of 20 September 2013 regarding your complaint about how the council dealt with your request for information of 17 October 2012 (which was about the suspension of the ‘Director of Law’).

We wrote to the council asking for information about its refusal of your request under section 14 of the FOIA, which provides an ‘exclusion’ for vexatious requests. The council then advised us on the 14 November 2013 that it had revised its position and provided you with a new response. I understand that in this response it provided some information, but withheld the remainder under section 40(2) – which provides an exemption for personal data.

If the Commissioner were to issue a decision notice to resolve this complaint now, it would be likely to record procedural breaches of sections 10 and 17, which impose time restrictions on a public authority to provide or withhold information. Because the council has revised its position, we could no longer consider the application of section 14.

If you did wish to contest the withholding of personal data under section 40(2), this could be considered in the Commissioner’s decision. However, we would need further time to undertake this, as it represents a new line of investigation.

I would be grateful if you could contact me within the next ten days (by 16 January 2014) and advise me how you would like to proceed. If we do not hear from you within this time I will take steps to close the case informally and record the procedural breaches referred to above. You are welcome to call me to discuss if that is easier, my direct line is given below.

Daniel Perry

Case Officer – Complaints Resolution

Direct Dial: 01625 545 214

As we can see, the vexatious nonsense didn’t work – well it was unlikely to work for Wirral Council – far and away the worst council in the land when it comes to grasping the requirement for openness, transparency and the sharing of public information.

So…  they failed, then lurched back into defensive mode by slamming down a Section 40(2) exemption for ‘personal data’.

I’ve emailed Daniel Perry, told him I’m contesting the council’s engagement of this exemption and asked him to investigate and consider when the Decision Notice is drawn up.  But this may take further time, he tells me…

It’s now 15 months and counting… so I’m past caring about delays.  This is another one of those cases where the council has scooped everything up that’s controversial or potentially harmful to their black as soot reputation, and dumped it behind a locked door labelled: <<SECTION 40(2) ~ DO NOT ENTER>>

My email – short and sweet:

From: Paul C
Sent: 03 January 2014 22:52
To: ‘casework@ico.org.uk’
Subject: RE: ICO Case FS50502035[Ref. FS50502035]

Dear Mr Perry,

I wish to contest the council’s decision to withhold information under Section 40(2) as due to the overwhelming legitimate and compelling public interest, the seniority of the departing individual, and the incorrect application of Section 40(2) it does not apply in this case, nor does the decision carry enough weight to hold water,

Best regards,

Paul Cardin

About Wirral In It Together

Campaigner for open government. Wants senior public servants to be honest and courageous. It IS possible!
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5 Responses to #FoI request ~ Unscrutinised Machinations; Suspended Director of Law Departs Wirral Council

  1. Pingback: #FoI Request ~ Departure of Chief Internal Auditor David Garry from Wirral Council « #FoILed again?

  2. John Brace says:

    Well Cllrs Hodson, Johnston and Meaden decided to hold the compromise contract of D Garry and Bill Norman behind closed doors on the 20th September (agenda item 3), on the recommendation of Chris Hyams/Surjit Tour. I was there for the first three agenda items and would happily have stayed for the rest of the meeting, had the press and public not been excluded. Cllr Chris Meaden was the Chair. However they decided not to pay Bill Norman off until a day later when the I&DC met (again behind closed doors but that was due to a different set of councillors), against chaired by a Labour councillor. So it was Labour that suspended Bill Norman, Labour that offered him a compromise contract and Labour that put in a process that gave him a “clean bill of health”. Bear in mind also Bill Norman would be on full pay while suspensed between June to September (three months or so). Chris Hyams conveniently left off £4,000 of VAT on legal costs on the report too, which makes the total £4k higher than stated.

  3. Pingback: Compromise Agreements ~ Wirral Council’s reckless approach ~ also, how the District Auditor is sitting on his hands « #FoILed again?

  4. Pingback: Abusive Wirral Council slyly blames 10 members of the public for its woeful FoI performance « #FoILed again?

  5. Pingback: It’s all in the language – dealing with the fallout of the HESPE fiasco… or not…? « #FoILed again?

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