All Wirral “independent” investigations are now rendered invalid…

The final outcome of this long running saga:

After wriggling on the hook for many long months, the council was finally forced to admit that it has no external investigations policy or procedure.  

All external investigations previously flagged as “independent”:

Anna Klonowski,

Martin Smith,

Rob Vickers,

Richard Penn, Eugene Sullivan

…are now compromised and rendered invalid.

22nd August 2013

And here’s the director’s final say on the matter:

From: Hodkinson, Graham R.
Sent: 22 August 2013 13:22
To: Paul C
Cc: Burgess, Graham; Corrin, Jane
Subject: RE: External investigations

Thank you for your correspondence. 

I see no value in extending this conversation and further, we clearly have a different point of view.

Regards Graham

Graham Hodkinson

Director of Adult Social Services

Five ways to add years to your life:  

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

Wirral Council

21st August 2013

A couple more emails to update you with:

From: Paul C
Sent: 21 August 2013 23:42
To: ‘Hodkinson, Graham R.’
Cc: ‘Burgess, Graham’; ‘Corrin, Jane’
Subject: RE: External investigations

Dear Mr Hodkinson,

To quote from your email:

“I did however share with you my personal opinion based on the facts, that a very small number of people were demanding what amounted to considerable amounts of information through FOI”.

In my book, this again is ‘blaming the public’.  Your organisation has immersed itself in scandal upon scandal for well over a decade, yet you persist in blaming members of the public for your freedom of information woes – all self-inflicted.  This lack of self-awareness, presumably unhelpfully shared and propagated by your colleagues (and councillors) is becoming the stuff of legend.

Cause and effect dictates that should a council’s governance descend into the “abnormal”, as confirmed by an independent investigation costing £250,000, there are consequences.  In the case of Wirral Council, one of these was a welter of FoI requests going in, many to your own department, to try to find out what the hell was going on.  The failure to address these correctly means they’ll continue or increase.

If you can point me to a piece of ICO correspondence confirming that yes, Wirral’s problems emanate from “a small number of people making a large number of requests” then I’ll listen, and I’ll start attaching more credence to your statements.  But that correspondence doesn’t exist.  The Information Commissioner himself has called this right going back years.  The failings lie with the council.  Your excuses (and Frank Field MP’s crazed, paranoid theories) originate from a tired, broken, basket case culture; the one that brought about:

  • Monitoring by the ICO for poor timeliness
  • Monitoring (again) by the ICO for poor timeliness because the council failed to learn any lessons the first time around
  • The Information Commissioner himself mentioning before a parliamentary committee “I’d like to sort Wirral Council out”
  • A 13 month wait before an answer came in to this request (the reply came in yesterday with absolutely NO apology, much less any vestige of humility) – this is just one example of many
  • An undertaking being levelled by the ICO to make Wirral’s CEO comply with his FoI obligations in the future – the obligations that all other councils in the land are managing to fulfil

As you asked for my constructive suggestions.  Here they are.  (Please feel free to share with your fellow Directors and Heads of Department):

  • When the ICO gives you good, professional advice, please take it
  • When the public exercise their statutory querying rights via the Freedom of Information Act, they are not doing anything unlawful.  Don’t treat them as an inconvenience.  Take them seriously
  • Stop habitually breaching UK law on what seems to be an almost weekly basis; and don’t rest on your laurels because the ICO is too weak to take any enforcement action
  • Realise once and for all that the council’s historically scandalous conduct, and not being correctly resourced to meet the predictable backlash, are the root cause of its ongoing poor FoI performance
  • Realise that members of the public engaging with you democratically should be engaged with by return, corresponded with, valued – and even applauded – not scurrilously branded as scapegoats
  • Resource yourselves correctly, with enough staff to meet a raised, yet genuine and legitimate demand for public information
  • Research your extremely chequered history and learn lessons from where you’ve previously gone wrong – quite straightforward, as your record is peppered with numerous failures and breaches

I hope these comments have added some value for you,

Many thanks,

Paul Cardin

From: Hodkinson, Graham R.
Sent: 21 August 2013 13:13
To: Paul C
Cc: Burgess, Graham; Corrin, Jane
Subject: RE: External investigations

Dear Paul,

I am not sure that extending this conversation adds any value, however for the sake of politeness I will respond.  I did not at any point blame members of the public for the Council’s situation in relation to FOI’s.  I did however share with you my personal opinion based on the facts, that a very small number of people were demanding what amounted to considerable amounts of information through FOI.  This was reflected in the numbers and the frequency of those requests.  The problem with this situation was that the system was overloading and other people with genuine enquiries were not getting heard due to the level of demand from those few.  I politely asked you to consider this situation when asking for information under FOI and I also suggested that I was open to hearing any constructive ideas that you had regarding how we could improve information for the broader public at large, with the aim of increasing transparency and openness. 

I do hope it has been helpful to you for me to re-state this position and perhaps you may re-consider whether you have some constructive ideas that we can use to improve more general communication with the broader population of Wirral. 

Regards     

Graham Hodkinson

Director of Adult Social Services

Five ways to add years to your life:  

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

Wirral Council

19th August 2013

I received an email from Social Services Director Graham Hodkinson today, and responded this evening. Scroll down a bit:

From: Paul C
Sent: 19 August 2013 21:56
To: ‘Hodkinson, Graham R.’
Cc: ‘Burgess, Graham’; ‘janecorrin@wirral.gov.uk’
Subject: RE: External investigations

Dear Mr Hodkinson,

Thanks for your email.  Here’s an excerpt from my last email which is very clear:

“Specifically, please reassure me that it will no longer be yours or the council’s intention to blame members of the public for its own shortcomings.”

I’d appreciate it if you didn’t ‘slam the shutters down’ for no good reason.  With regard to freedom of information, the ICO, in response to pressure from me and others, is painstakingly trying to get some sort of normal behaviour initiated and developing on Wirral.  In a normal authority, your blank, unhelpful response would be met with a stiff rebuke from the CEO.

Dialogue with democratically engaged citizens is an absolute requirement, particularly these days, where the internet and email give us a much better means of staying in contact and developing relationships.

Please join us in the future.  “Abnormal” should now be history,

Regards,

Paul Cardin

From: Hodkinson, Graham R.

Sent: 19 August 2013 12:05
To: Paul C
Cc: Burgess, Graham; Corrin, Jane
Subject: RE: External investigations

Dear Paul

Thank you for your note.  I must say I am at a loss in relation to what you want me to answer.  I note your e mail of 15th may in which you express your opinions in a series of bullet points and your earlier e mail, where you have specifically asked for it not to be dealt with as an FOI request. 

I am sorry if you were expecting a response or an ongoing dialogue with me, however I did not feel that extended dialogue would add any value to the matter, or that there were any specific points that required a response from me.

Regards Graham

Graham Hodkinson

Director of Adult Social Services
Five ways to add years to your life:  

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

Wirral Council

17th August 2013

The quest for Wirral Council’s elusive policies and procedures relating to the commissioning of external investigators continues in earnest…

Scroll down for the initial Freedom of Information request and some history…

From: Paul C
Sent: 17 August 2013 10:29
To: ‘grahamhodkinson@wirral.gov.uk’
Cc: ‘Burgess, Graham’; ‘janecorrin@wirral.gov.uk’
Subject: FW: External investigations

Dear Mr Hodkinson,

In light of the Information Commissioner seeking a signed undertaking from the Wirral CEO Mr Burgess to take his Freedom of Information obligations seriously, please answer the email I sent to you on 15th May 2013 (below).

Specifically, please reassure me that it will no longer be yours or the council’s intention to blame members of the public for its own shortcomings,

Best regards,

Paul Cardin

15th May 2013

From: Paul C
Sent: 15 May 2013 15:01
To: ‘Hodkinson, Graham R.’; ‘Corrin, Jane’
Cc: ‘Burgess, Graham’; ‘InfoMgr, FinDMT’
Subject: RE: External investigations

Hello Graham,

Thank you for your email.  I am making regular contributions, all done in the public interest.  Here’s how……………………..

You as the council are the data controller.  I am a member of the public exercising his statutory right to request information under the Act.

So there are a multitude of unaddressed internal problems here which I have no control over.  Perhaps you can tell me what is preventing your organisation from giving a member of the public a copy of the External Investigations Procedure and Policy?  Is it that the organisation is afraid it will be “banged to rights” on some potentially bogus investigations that were NOT internally cleared as independent?  The council can’t run away from this forever…

Why are you asking a member of the public to come up with the solutions?  This makes no sense to me.  No laws are being breached either by me or this ‘small number of people with intensive information requirements’ you refer to.  We exercise our rights, however you as an organisation are dodging accountability and are regularly in defiance of the law of the land.  To compound it all, your fellow directors’ and councillors’ lack of self-awareness may as well be in banners across the sky…. it’s writ large and simply quite staggering.

If you personally are keen ‘to get accurate and timely information out to the public as a whole’, well it’s not registering at this end.  That eagerness is being lost or diluted somewhere, perhaps inevitably sucked into the black hole centred around the monitoring officer’s legal department?

I have no further suggestions to make I’m afraid, apart from recommending that your organisation ‘looks inward’ and desists from blaming us the public; and that being a slave to ‘business needs’ rather than to public service just won’t cut it.  ‘Somewhere on the road you have all taken a wrong turn – how can you build the right path again’?

Please be reassured that I’m not giving up on trying in my own way to address and expose this basket case of a council.  If every member of the public was like me, I can guarantee the council would be run ragged very quickly and pitifully crying “Mercy… please…”

Best regards,

Paul Cardin

From: Hodkinson, Graham R
Sent: 15 May 2013 14:01
To: Paul C; Corrin, Jane
Cc: Burgess, Graham; InfoMgr, FinDMT
Subject: RE: External investigations

Hello Paul,

Thank you for referring to our earlier conversation.  In some ways it is unrelated to your specific request but you did invite comment.

As I am sure you will recall I was keen to ensure that we get accurate and timely information out to the public as a whole.

I said to you that as a Council we have a lot more to do to improve our information and to ensure that it is as accessible as it can be.  To this end we are due to publish our latest Local Account for adult social care soon and a suite of commissioning related documents setting out where we intend to focus resources to change the care market.  I also suggested that focussing on the intensive information requirements of a very small number of people was a drain on resources and had perhaps contributed to the Council not being able to re-focus those resources on preparing useful information open to all citizens.

Perhaps things are not progressing as well as expected in relation to changing this situation around and I would ask you again whether you feel that you have a contribution that you feel you can make to help improve matters?

Regards

Graham Hodkinson
Director of Adult Social Services
Five ways to add years to your life:  
Connect · Be Active · Take Notice · Keep Learning · Give 
Wirral Council

From: Paul C
Sent: 15 May 2013 10:37
To: Corrin, Jane
Cc: Hodkinson, Graham R.; Burgess, Graham; InfoMgr, FinDMT
Subject: RE: External investigations

Dear Jane Corrin,

Thank you.  Please do NOT take my email below as a request under FoI – because that would be a repeated request, which within the Act, may be refused as a “vexatious” request.

I am therefore not going to go along with this careless suggestion and be placed at risk of being branded ‘obsessive’ again by e.g. your colleague, solicitor Rosemary Lyon.

May I reiterate that I’ve already requested the information here (see email below):

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/consultant_anna_klonowski_declar

…however it’s yet to be furnished after 11 months.  I’ll make the assumption that the info is not within the publication scheme, despite your earlier indication that it was.

I’ll now wait for the above Freedom of Information request to be addressed.

Dear Mr Hodkinson,

Despite our one to one meeting, it’s not progressing very well this is it?

Thanks,

Paul Cardin

From: Corrin, Jane
Sent: 15 May 2013 09:23
To: Paul C
Cc: Hodkinson, Graham R.; Burgess, Graham; InfoMgr, FinDMT
Subject: RE: External investigations

Good Morning,

Thank you for your email below, please see my previous reply which stated “The publication scheme exists to help enquiries find a wealth of information which is published on our web pages; I have copied and pasted the extract below.  If a member of the public is unable to find the information they require on our publication scheme/via our website then they can of course email Informationmanager@wirral.gov.uk

If an enquirer is unable to find the information they require on our publication scheme/web pages, as it seems is the case from reading your email, then a request can be made via information manager.  I will take your email below as a request for information under The Freedom of Information Act 2000.  I have copied in Information Manager’s email address on your behalf.

Your request will be processed and you will receive a reply within 20 working days from today’s date.

Kind Regards
Jane Corrin
Information Manager
Wirral council

14th May 2013

From: Paul C

Sent: 14 May 2013 23:47
To: Corrin, Jane
Cc: Hodkinson, Graham R.; Burgess, Graham
Subject: FW: External investigations

Dear Jane Corrin,

Eventually, I did manage to find the Council Constitution and the Part 4 ‘Procedure Rules’.

But I’m afraid you’re mistaken.  There is no reference to external investigations policy / procedures anywhere within this document.

Please advise whether they DO actually appear within the council’s publication scheme, or whether they DON’T – and furnish them to me as soon as possible.

Social Services Director Graham Hodkinson was good enough to reassure me a long time ago that this method would be a good alternative to making FoI requests.  However, this is an inauspicious start and if this drags out for months (e.g. 11 months so far for this failed FoI request): https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/consultant_anna_klonowski_declar

….I’ll be referring this to the ICO,

Many thanks,

Paul Cardin

From: Paul C [mailto:info@easyvirtualassistance.co.uk]
Sent: 14 May 2013 20:55
To: ‘Corrin, Jane’
Cc: ‘grahamhodkinson@wirral.gov.uk’
Subject: RE: External investigations

Dear Ms Corrin,

Thank you for your response.  I followed the link you provided (Part 4 of the Constitution.), however I was blocked.

Please view the attachment (which was the screen I was greeted with) and endeavour to open up access to your publication scheme.  Please advise me once this is done, or explain why I am not permitted to view the documents,

Kind regards,

Paul Cardin

____________________________________________________________

FoI request lodged on 12th May 2012:

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/consultant_anna_klonowski_declar

From: Paul Cardin

12 May 2012

Dear Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council,

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
developing further.

The public are uncertain as to the true extent and nature of AKA’s
affiliations with the council, the number and totals of financial
transactions, the original starting date, also any unpublished
declarations of association with the council – the kind of thing
that would need to be set out clearly, in detail and made
accessible prior to the commencement of any truly “independent”
investigation.

In the interests of openness and transparency, please provide the
following:

1. Start date of first collaboration between Wirral Council and
Anna Klonowski Associates, or the company she represented at that
time – first invoice raised in July 2008

2. Between the above date and the current date, the total monies
paid by Wirral Council to AKA Associates, or the company she
represented during this period – £377,504

3. A complete list of declarations made by AKA Associates prior to
any “independent” investigation being commissioned and authorised
by the Council and undertaken by AKA Associates, or the company she
represented at that time – not provided

4. Document containing the full remit of the investigation
commissioned and signed off by Council Leader Jeff Green – later
undertaken by AKA Associates – provided

5. Copy of detailed Council policy and procedure pertaining to
“external” or “independent” investigations. This would include a
full explanation of the requirements necessary to ensure that an
investigation would not be at risk of having its integrity
compromised by e.g. “an undeclared prior association with the
commissioning body” – not provided

Please note, I have made a number of reasonable applications for
information over the last two years, many of which have met with
obfuscation, and one with a ‘wall of silence’. See this link:

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

I am still optimistic however that Wirral Council can rescue its
plummeting reputation, where the free flow of information, openness
and transparency are concerned,

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cardin

Link to this

Importantly, copies of the policies and procedures relating to the appointment of external ‘independent’ investigators have not been sent.

Appealed to Information Commissioner on 6th October 2012 at 09:23

FS50475064

Reminder sent on 12th March 2013 to Andrew White, ICO manager:

FS50475064 (2)

Following silence from Andrew White, this second reminder was sent to the ICO on 20th June 2013:

FS50475064 (3)

22nd February 2013

And here’s something I sent to the Information Commissioner himself, Christopher Graham, which was NEVER acknowledged or responded to, despite the serious issues raised e.g. disabled people being abused…

From: Paul C
Sent: 22 February 2013 16:05
To: ‘casework@ico.gsi.gov.uk’
Subject: Wirral Borough Council

FAO Christopher Graham

Dear Sir,

I was interested to see your mention of Wirral Borough Council during the recent House of Commons session before the Justice Committee, and in particular the need to send in a ‘good practice squad’.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmjust/uc962-i/uc96201.htm

My reason in contacting you today is to inform you of a troubling development at this council.  Senior officers, I suspect in league with cabinet member councillors are attempting to ‘bury’ the Anna Klonowski report, and to put to bed any residual risk of accountability that it may carry.  This report found high level failings in the council’s central governance and many more troubling matters, including long term abuse of disabled people, threats from service providers and allegations of rape.  As it stands, this report has not been fully opened up to public view, despite earlier promises, and the identities of most participants remain redacted or codified.

I have my own suspicions that the AKA report was never cleared as fully ‘independent’ and was flawed from the outset – because Anna Klonowski’s company had been providing governance training to Wirral’s councillors and senior officers as early as 2008, and she appeared not to declare a prior interest or affiliation to the person commissioning the investigation – Councillor Jeff Green.  I have a long term FoI request on this subject which has yet to be answered and is now 10 months old:

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

The problem we have now, as part of this process of ‘burial’, is a cack-handed attempt by legal officer                         to engineer shadowy meetings (they can’t be traced on the council’s website) and to prevent the public from gaining access to the information created or discussed at them:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/minutes_of_standards_working_gro#incoming-363192

The following sentence is copied from the remit of the “Standards Working Group” and I believe it to be unlawful:

“Meetings of the Working Group shall be held in private and the
provisions relating to access to Information shall not apply.”

I understand completely if you can’t personally address or respond, but can I request that you take onboard the issues I’ve raised, acknowledge my request and pass it on to a trusted lieutenant for action / response?

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!
This entry was posted in FoI Requests, General and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s