Frank Field blames “Too many people making Freedom of Information requests” for Wirral Council’s ongoing failure

17th June 2013

Link to audio:

Frank Field also contributes to the Dispatches programme, aired last Monday night.

Although the news was 3 days old, Tony Snell didn’t question Frank Field about the obscene six figure sum that had been paid to David Green and David Taylor Smith as payment in return for their silence.  These two payments took Wirral through the seemingly much-cherished £1 million barrier in ‘rewards for failure’.  This was surely a burning question if ever there was one.

Transcript of phone conversation between Radio Merseyside’s Tony Snell and Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead, on the subject of “Councils wasting taxpayers’ money”.

Mr Field was interviewed ahead of the forthcoming TV programme, scheduled on Channel Four, today 17th June 2013 at 8 pm.

TS           Right, now, do you know where all your council tax goes?  Well, when you normally get that letter in March or April, it’s all broken down isn’t it?  It’s services like the Police; bin collections, but what about the rest?  Well, Wirral Council is featured in a special Dispatches programme; it’s on Channel Four tonight; about the money that’s wasted by local authorities.  Last year, whistleblowers claimed bosses had mishandled a multi-million pound highways maintenance contract, and Birkenhead MP Frank Field was interviewed as part of that Dispatches programme and joins me on the line this morning.  Mr Field, good morning to you.  Thanks for your time.  You’ve been very much on the whistleblowers’ side on this story haven’t you?

FF           Pfffffft.  Well, I’ve been on the ratepayers’ side.  And also in the interests of Wirral Council.  And the results have been that the whistleblowing information was put to the council.  The council responded totally properly.  It’s led to four of the most senior officers I think leaving the council.  But it does actually raise the question, “Where do the whistleblowers stand within the law?”  And I think that’s then the question that I have to take up in Parliament, which actually can’t be settled locally.

TS           Mmm.  What do you think are the biggest reasons why money is wasted by local councils, particularly now, when everybody including ratepayers are watching pennies?

FF           The actual programme is not about waste; it’s a general thing about how public… authorities, how central government, how local government spends taxpayers’ money

TS           Mm.

FF           That’s separate from placing a contract where the process of placing the contract may not have actually been proper.  That’s what the inquiry was about.  That was a finding.  That’s why officers left, and Wirral have actually seen that through.  Brilliant news.  You know, we’ve got a new leadership in the Wirral now, and nobody can fault them on how they’ve responded once they gained office…  on this particular issue.

TS           Yes.  But ratepayers would, with the mechanics of it aside, ratepayers would still see the result as money being wasted there.

FF           The results actually didn’t come up with that.  They weren’t actually as firm as that.  What ratepayers in Wirral can actually now draw from this is that if…  if anybody in the council is misbehaving, and it’s not picked up in the normal way, w…  and those process…  governance processes are being put in…  place, then the position of whistleblowers will be much strengthened, but not only that, they know that this won’t be hidden.  It won’t be ignored.  But whistleblowers…  allegations would be looked at seriously, and in this case, we had outside expert come and investigate and as I s…  four senior…  the most senior officers left the council.  Now, that’s…  I would have thought a reason for you asking me, “Why did it go well?”  Rather than actually trying to knock the council.

TS           Can I as a ratepayer go and open a big book in the council offices and see exactly where the money I pay to my council goes and what it’s spent on?  Can I do that?

FF           That I’m not sure about.  What you can do is you can make a freedom of information Act…

TS           That’s a lot of faff Frank.

FF           …request.

TS           Yes.  It’s a lot of faff though, isn’t it, really?

FF           Well…  yes, but that’s an interesting point.  You must put those to the leader of the council; that’s not my responsibility.  I’m not trying to duck it but what I am saying is…  another aspect I’ve seen in the last few years…

TS           Mmm.

FF           …of attempts to undermine Wirral Council have been an extraordinary number of freedom of information requests going in.  I mean, way beyond what any other council has got, on the most trivial of issues.

TS           Why do you think that is, Frank?; why do you th… what I’m…  sorry, I’m just conscious of time; why do you think there’s an unusual amount of freedom of information requests going in to Wirral Council as opposed to other councils.

FF           Oh, I think there’s been a campaign going and… I think you might like to talk to some of the other political parties.

TS           Well…  the…

FF           And that they’ve actually…  Well, that they’ve actually…

TS           By who?  Who do you think has put these unusual amount of requests in?

FF           Well, all I know is the numbers that have actually gone in and they’ve not been discouraged.  I mean what one actually needs from a local authority of…  to run well, is obviously to have elections fought properly; disputes within councils fought toughly and so on…  but there is an ethos within the council that at the end of the day, the best interests of the Wirral will be put forward.

TS           Yes.

FF           I do not believe that always exists, and I think the campaign to try and de-stabil…  to overwhelm…  to actually break that section of the council…

TS           Do you think councils…

FF           …is the freedom of information enquiries has been actually led (sic)

TS           And just one final point before I let you go Frank; should local councils be more accountable for how they spend their money, and I’ll take you back to that ‘looking at the books’; if you’re a business person; if your run your own business, the Inland Revenue want to know exactly what’s come into your account and what’s gone out of your account.  Why should councils be different?

FF           Well, I wish that were true about the Inland Revenue; we’ve got accurate…  a whole series now haven’t we?  …of major companies …

TS           Yes, but that’s a side issue isn’t it really?

FF           Well, you say that…  it just shows that the Revenue don’t have those powers.  That we’ve got some of the most major…  firms, companies in this country, who talk up extraordinary profits…

TS           Yes, you’ve…  wandered off…

FF           …almost…

TS           You’ve wandered off the point.

FF           …and pay not tax on it…

TS           Sorry, you’ve just wandered off the point I was trying to make…

FF           No…  no…  no you… no, sorry…

TS           …about councils and we’ve gone onto Google and…

FF           Well…

TS           Starbucks…

FF           No, no.  You have…  it’s you who…  It’s you who also this programme have wandered off the point, and what you said you were actually going to interview me about…  I’m happily trying to respond to you.  I think the proposal you put forward…  how any public body makes it easier to understand how their money is spent is a really worthwhile one to discuss.  What I’m not prepared to do is for people to come up with new ideas which may be workable, which may not be workable, other than at great cost…  and then start condemning people…

TS           Well, no-one’s condemned the council.  I think…

FF           …have actually not done that.

TS           I think it’s a valid…  it’s a valid question; if there’s been allegations of mismanagement of contracts and highway contracts, I think it’s only right that people in Wirral want to know what’s gone on.

FF           And what people in the Wirral can actually know is that their council responded fully and those officers that were involved in it, who’ve been found wanting have left the council employment.

TS           All right.

FF           That’s not to say we don’t…  we don’t want other discussions about knowledge about how public money is spent and I’m sure if you’ve got some clear ideas on that, the leader of Wirral Council will be happy to actually come on and answer them.

TS           Well, I’m sure that maybe one or two more people are going to put freedom of information requests in after our conversation this morning but Frank Field, I’ll leave it there because time has caught up with us and I need to move on to my next guest.  That Dispatches programme is on at 8 o’clock tonight, on Channel Four.

12th August 2013 UPDATE

Did anyone spot how Frank Field pathetically blamed the public for “a campaign to destabilise and undermine Wirral Council’s information governance department”?

https://twitter.com/Wirral_In_It/status/368147916310859776

Here’s what the Information Commissioner’s Office had to say on precisely the same issue.  Rather than chuck out spin and empty bluster, they’ve recognised years of failure and made the council sign an undertaking to improve now or face enforcement action.

This business-like approach, following a period of careful  monitoring appears to blame the perpetrators i.e. the council and doesn’t rely upon some dreamed up, crazed conspiracy theory straight from the pages of a crappy spy novel.

You really must do better Frank Field.  Are you finally losing it?  Your trashy propaganda has been exposed for what it is… spurious, ill-conceived drivel.

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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4 Responses to Frank Field blames “Too many people making Freedom of Information requests” for Wirral Council’s ongoing failure

  1. cyndykit says:

    FOI being used to undermine, overwhelm and destabilise the Council ?? The requests can only do that if the results cause those effects…….would FF prefer a strong, stable secretive Council?

  2. If the council was well-run, transparent and properly resourced it would not have a problem with addressing freedom of information requests. However, despite Frank Field’s lurch to dishonesty and his crazed defending of the indefensible, this council is NONE of those things and it looks like it never will be. Valuable resources continue to be squandered on paying off senior abusers. The figure has now broken through £1 million in rewards for silence.

    …Wirral was the only council to be monitored by the ICO between January and March this year.

    …Wirral is the only council to be monitored more than once by the ICO.

    …Wirral was mentioned by the Information Commissioner as a personal bug-bear of his this year.

    …Wirral has immersed itself in the depths of self-inflicted scandal upon scandal for decades.

    Hence….

    CAUSE AND EFFECT. Wirral council’s record of long-term failure, abuse and incompetence has attracted more FoI requests than any other council of comparable size and demographic make-up in the country. It’s even had more than Birmingham City, the largest city council by population (1.03 million residents), and Kent County, the largest county council (1.4 million residents).

  3. Pingback: Frankly Mr.Frankie | Wirralleaks

  4. This week readers, as a result of the monitoring process undertaken between January and March this year, the ICO forced Wirral Council to sign an undertaking promising to take Freedom of Information seriously and resource the department properly.

    This followed that discover that there had been little improvement in the council’s response times. Link to news article here:

    http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/10603079.Exclusive__Watchdog_orders_Wirral_Council_chief_to_sign__openness_and_transparency__pledge/?action=success

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