The above FoI request was placed in May 2012. Two springs ago. Wirral Council acknowledged receipt 7 months later in December 2012. The winter before last. So it’s the customary, not exactly timely response.
It’s pretty much the kind of thing we’ve come to expect when approaching Wirral Council in good faith for public information ~ a towering and pretty impregnable brick wall of inertia.
You might gain the impression they frankly don’t give a damn.
But at least while they sit in silence, and in breach of the Freedom of Information Act, and we continue to wait for something to happen, we have an opportunity to discuss the issues brought up in this request, one by one.
- AKA Associates, headed by local government consultant Anna
Klonowski has a track record of working with Wirral Council, in the
areas of training of senior officers and councillors, consultation
on governance, and “independent” investigation. According to press
reports, and the council website, it appears AKA’s associations
with the Council as an “independent” consultant are ongoing and
That’s right. This ‘independent’ external investigator had a prior association with Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council, which began five years before AKA were appointed to externally investigate, back in 2006. It took the form of ‘governance training’ provided to senior officers and councillors.
Despite several written requests – here is a selection from Twitter – I’ve never been provided with any information to allay public concern over the true impartiality or ‘independence’ of the Klonowski inquiry. The people involved are all public servants, working for you and me, but there are serious, compelling and ongoing questions, raised in the interests of openness, transparency, fairness and democracy, but yet to be answered:
- Why was AKA chosen ahead of other qualified individuals and organisations – many without a prior association?
- What exactly were the company’s credentials for taking on such a complex and wide-ranging inquiry?
- Did Councillor Green’s choice fully comply with the Council’s policy and procedure for the commissioning of external investigations?
- With being a former trainer, did AKA stand to gain or lose in any way by the decisions / findings / recommendations reached?
- Why did AKA fail to investigate Balls Road Supported Living in the same way West Wirral was looked at? (The AKA “not enough time” excuse was inadequate and may have breached the remit)
- Why did AKA stubbornly refuse to minute or dual-tape-record their investigations with participants of the external review despite many requests? The chance to record a completely accurate version of events was quickly lost forever
Why do these questions need to be answered? Because AKA do not appear to have declared any prior interest or affiliation when the then leader Jeff Green commissioned them to carry out a review which eventually cost the local taxpayer £377,000+
Also, having a prior connection, that of providing governance training to councillors and senior officers, Anna Klonowski Associates seems to have stood to gain (or lose), dependent on the eventual outcome. It’s not in the interests of the wider public, to entrust an organisation whose fortunes clearly rode on the outcome they themselves would reach. In fact, it seems to have been a forseeable and avoidable conflict of interest which could have interfered with the nature of the conclusions eventually arrived at.
AKA found that all 66 councillors were completely blameless – which many existing staff, former staff, and members of the public understandably found astonishing. The problem for AKA was: if they’d found a number of councillors culpable, it may have interfered with future funding decisions, and put an end to their association with the council; an association that AKA had spent many years building and nurturing. With ‘playing safe’, and clearing the decision makers, there was no direct obstacle to AKA continuing to provide their ongoing consultancy services.
I’m not saying this is what actually transpired, and that these were the reasons for the decisions made – but we can’t rule anything out or in – because there has been either silence or a dearth of information. And to the sceptical, hard-bitten Wirral Council watcher, there was always the potential for ‘shenanigans’ to occur. And given the council’s proven historical abuse of power, this would not look out of place.
The public can’t be blamed for harbouring serious misgivings – doubts which have never been safely put to bed.
(More to follow…..)
— Wirral In It 2gether (@Wirral_In_It) January 13, 2013
UPDATE 2nd February 2013 – there’s been no answer to the above tweet from public servant Esther McVey MP
UPDATE Esther McVey MP has now blocked me on Twitter