On 18th October 2012, Wirral Council issued an ‘Action Plan‘ – which sounds good… on the face of it; a determination to roll up their sleeves, get stuck in, bang a few heads together, stand for no nonsense and consign all the proven abuse and failings to the past, where they belong.
However, seasoned watchers of this organisation will be aware that they’ve issued a torrent of ‘Action Plans’ down the years, generally in response to the latest fiasco or PR disaster; the stated purpose usually being to get to grips with the bungling and prevent the organisation from being hauled through the courts as a result. But the ‘Action Plan’ method doesn’t appear to have effected much change. It appears to be a case of ‘onwards and downwards’. Here’s an Audit and Risk Management Meeting called on 26th November to discuss this latest one:
Given the serious and repeated lapses in corporate governance, the reluctance to deal correctly with abusers, the tendency to reach for the public cheque book and pay senior people off, to gag them within compromise agreements rather than discipline them, and the general failure to get to grips with making senior officers and councillors truly accountable, the requirement for these ‘Action Plans’ turns up on a very regular basis…. and will keep doing so. True accountability and the removal of the ever-present rogues would stamp it all out.
The introduction to this one follows the same tired old pattern of using carefully selected keywords in an attempt to take the heat out, and to avoid addressing the issue head on and rattling more alarm bells. It simply would not do to deploy the same harsh language that was cruelly churned out by an angry local and regional press when a group of public-spirited whistleblowers, who’d been ignored by the council, alerted the district auditor (whose middle name was inertia) to a council contract, riddled to its very core with impropriety and serious failings.
No, where the HESPE (Highway and Engineering Services Procurement Exercise) Contract is concerned….
….it’s reputation management time.
‘Issues and concerns’ was the oh so bland, key phrase settled on this time, and rolled out twice here.
- No talk whatsoever of the family relationship between the awarding Director and a former employee of winning company Colas (they were brothers)
- No allusion to Wirral Internal Audit’s award of three stars (sounds like an endorsement in anyone’s book) for a contract riddled throughout with very basic but fundamentally costly and dangerous errors.
- No mention that the Director concerned, was suspended in March of this year, and remains suspended (Christmas 2012 UPDATE: he’s now been cleared with ‘no case to answer’), along with the Deputy Director of Finance but with no public statement yet on the progress of the investigation – which we’re told is being carried out – or has it now finished? We don’t know – it’s pretty much ‘out of public view’ and being given a very low profile
- No reference to the millions of pounds in public money squandered hand over fist due to serious accounting ‘errors’ – none of it picked up by the departed Chief Internal ‘Auditor’, David Garry (who left unpunished, with kid glove treatment and the customary big pay off totalling £46,584)
- No hint that Ian Coleman, the Finance Director (Acting Chief Executive) was also suspended, before being disposed of, clutching a fat wodge of public cash totalling £82,000, with a clean bill of health, and without having to face any disciplinary charges
- No talk of Bill Norman, former Director of Law, suspended with great fanfare, ‘investigated’, then strangely cleared and similarly paid off with £151,416 in public money. Nor any mention that Bill Norman enjoyed a similar bonanza in his last post with Torbay Council
- Nothing about how the council basically ignored / would not co-operate with the whistleblowers when they initially tried to bring their watertight case internally through the council’s not fit for purpose whistleblowing procedure
The rather feeble “Issues and concerns that need to be addressed” and “findings and recommendations… to be considered” are the rousing rallying calls to councillors. So, until the next ‘Action Plan’ comes along, let’s roll our sleeves up, get stuck in and sign it off. Then pass it on to the next committee, who will be absolutely resolute, totally fearless in their roles and sign it off and pass it on to the…..
…you get the idea.