An open email to Tory Councillor Leah Fraser

To set the scene here, Councillor Fraser posted the following very short item on her blog recently:

Compensation = £107,000

In 2013, Wirral Council paid out £5,166,001 in ‘severance payments’ to departing directors and staff, PLUS a further £107,000 in ‘compensation’ packages.

When the town hall are telling us, almost on a daily basis, that there is no money, perhaps this goes some way to explaining why.  I’ve emailed and requested a breakdown of the amount spent on ’compensation’ packages, which is after all, our money, so I think we’re entitled to know.

Posted in Council | Leave a comment

I commented, asking for some more detail and a link (if she had it) but this comment hasn’t yet been approved.

I reblogged her post to give it a wider airing, and added a copy of my own comment.

Nearly a week later, having had no response, it’s time to ask a couple of pertinent questions.  Here’s an open email, dated today, to Councillor Fraser which has also been copied to her email address.

Dear Councillor Fraser,

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/10829476.More_than_800_Wirral_Council_staff_signed_compromise_agreements/?ref=nt

Please see the above link to an item in the Wirral Globe.

I would never party politicise an issue like this, but readers should be aware that you as a Conservative councillor can’t hope to get to the bottom of this, unless you are also seen to publicly question your own leader on:

  • his involvement in sanctioning at least 834 compromise agreements when he was in power
  • whether he was involved in any more that remain hidden

He did after all sit mute about these LONG AFTER he’d stepped down as council leader.  Only when they’d been exposed by this blog and appeared in the Wirral Globe did he come up with his public statement.

Q.  What does that tell us?

A.  We probably would never have been told about it.

I’d hope that the criticism you’ve outlined in your blog on this issue is not selective and that it cuts across all parties and their proven involvement in what many of us see as squandering public money – to greater or lesser degrees.  The public recognise and abhor this conduct without fear or favour.  We do not approach it with an eye on points scoring or political opportunism.  But do you?

Let’s hope that the Labour party don’t come up with the same excuses as Jeff Green.  Because if they do, then the public interest is not being acknowledged, valued or served, and we as the public are merely reduced to useful pawns in you people’s wasteful posturing and cynical propagandising.

I quote from your post:

“I’ve emailed and requested a breakdown of the amount spent on ’compensation’ packages, which is after all, our money, so I think we’re entitled to know.”

Flowing from this is the question, “Did Councillor Jeff Green, former leader, think we were entitled to know, as he sat on his hands?”

This email is being sent on behalf of my mother who is a Wallasey constituent of yours.  We are both extremely concerned.

Please acknowledge these concerns and reply,

many thanks,

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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8 Responses to An open email to Tory Councillor Leah Fraser

  1. Leah Fraser says:

    Hello Paul

    The above item was posted on my blog on Monday 10 February, since then I have not posted anything further due to illness – I had to cancel all arrangements/appointments for last week and have not written further stories or accessed my blog since that date, which is why I was unaware you had posted a comment.

    There is no link I can direct you to with regard to the information on my blog over this issue, however, I do have an email confirming the facts and figures from the Council. You will also note that I asked for a breakdown of the £107,000 compensation packages for 2013, not the severance payments, I think the public are entitled to know what ‘compensation’ has been paid out.

    This Labour-led administration is continuously telling us on a daily basis that there is no money, so it’s not unreasonable to ask what they have spent our money on this year.

    Leah Fraser

  2. Hello Leah,

    Sorry to learn of the illness and I hope you’re over it now.

    Good luck with your enquiries over this issue. You take a very different stance to me and probably most others over what’s in the public interest. In my book, as part of Wirral Council’s new alleged era of “openness and transparency”, ALL public money needs to be accounted for because, to borrow your own phrase, we’re entitled to know.

    You may happily dig over the issue of £107,000 in compensation, but this figure is dwarfed by the huge amounts of our money paid out over the last few years linked to gags, ‘severance’ money and the purchasing of senior officers’ silence, done to protect those at the top. It goes way over £1 million and continues to mount up even now. Your silence on this issue serves nobody but the abusers of power and those who seek to bamboozle you on a daily basis or walk away with public money beyond scrutiny and no questions asked (e.g. £48,000 to somebody late last year – do you happen to know who did this?).

    If I was a councillor in your position I’d be demanding FULL openness, not just selective areas linked to party advantage, or to “time periods when my party wasn’t in power” – that way lies dishonesty, evasiveness and further unaddressed abuse… and certainly not any form of enlightenment.

    Thanks for your response,

    Paul

  3. Leah (and Paul)

    I applaud your willingness to go on record in this matter. I recently published a parallel expose on my own personal blog, focused on “compensation” in the form of “gagging orders”

    Sunday, 2 February 2014

    I do know Blackpool Council is paying an additional payment now when people accept redundancy.
    That is a great gesture. This is a top-up of severance payments to help soften the blow to those willing to accept it.

    This is not about topping up people’s redundancy payments though. It is about ‘gagging’ or silencing individuals, often referred to as ‘compromise’ agreements. Someone must be churning out a lot of these ‘gagging’ orders!

    NOTE: **I did check that the figures do not include normal redundancy payments – these are payments specifically identified as in FOI I referenced. I think that “gagging” is a most appropriate term to apply.

    The concern here is “Why?” Why are people being paid to be silenced? Unless there is something to keep quiet, why is a ‘compromise’ necessary? If there is something that needs to kept quiet and Blackpool Council issues them, why? Why do they need to pay out TWICE THE AVERAGE £. It is worth a good look at the statistics. its amazing when you start data mining isn’t it?

    This is a real barometer of the state of separations. I personally was offered £15k to effectively go away and forget EVERYTHING I knew about Blackpool Council.

    Everything? See following at COMPROMISE AGREEMENT

    The FOI I go on to quote show numbers of times the orders had been applied as well.

    I picked up information via LocalGov, and therefore my iterations below are open publicly, and in the absence of any concerns about accuracy”

    24/01/2014 LocalGov “Public sector organisations are using taxpayer’s money to cover up their own failures and gag whistleblowers, a committee of MPs has said.”

    http://www.localgov.co.uk/Public-sector-using-staff-pay-offs-to-hide-failings-MPs-warn/35462#comment-1226782610

    This was a response to a conversation I was having that picked up interest:

    http://www.localgov.co.uk/Public-sector-using-staff-pay-offs-to-hide-failings-MPs-warn/35462#comment-1226782610 – you need to look at the site……

    Read more:

    https://wirralinittogether.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/2519/

    Following research carried out by “Wirral In It Together” (link above), I used FOIs to look into Local Authority payments to employees leaving organisations.

    Everyone is aware that on redundancy, staff are paid compensation and this is all legal and correct. What is being questioned here is payments made outside of what is deemed normal payments.

    What are these payments? Read the request sent to Blackpool Council at:
    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/total_annual_figures_for_comprom_25

    Note: The request I made was refused by Blackpool Borough Council, however others had more success. What I did note was that the Council was one of only a very few which stuck to its resistance to provide the information for some other requests as well. It didn’t surprise me.

    Most Councils did respond professionally however.

    FACTS: 345 English Local Authorities paid out a total of £226m over 10 years. Now, I know what you are thinking. Redundancy payments are expensive, BUT AGAIN – THESE ARE NOT REDUNDANCY PAYMENTS. Look at the request carefully……..

    4562 cases of compromise payments were counted

    To clarify what we are talking about here, from the original FOI request from Paul Cardin:

    Please can you exclude compromise agreements drawn up in the following circumstances:

    1. Purely redundancy situations
    2. Purely PILON (payment in lieu of notice) situations
    3. Equal pay claims
    4. TUPE situations
    5. COT3 agreements (where tribunal proceedings may or may not have
    been initiated)

    Blackpool is listed after all that: “Dispute Circumstances”
    Blackpool Borough Council refused to answer the FOI. Reason given : Cost of locating data!!

    Blackpool Council refused to answer this enquiry, but there has since been a separate FOI from where the answer can be gleaned:

    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/gagging_orders_30#incoming-426138

    Payments made totalling £ 992,973.37 since 2007/8 (at best, 7 years, not 10 years as in the previous enquiry by Paul C)

    This means Blackpool Council paid out an average of £141,853.00 a year (and I’m being generous to Blackpool in the figures because its actually 6 years not 7 years – 2014 barely having started)

    National average payout for Council (from ‘Paul C’ FOI request) = £226m / 10 yrs = £22.6m / 345 councils = £65.507.00 per year

    £65.507.00 per year per Council per year.

    Blackpool Council Average = £141,853.00 a year. that is 2.2 times the national average!!!

    Check the numbers. It’s also amazing that most of these payouts have been since 2010.

    Of course I am slightly biased, but the facts speak for themselves.

    If Blackpool’s example was scaled up across England, the total would be: £489,392,850.00

    What a tragic squandering of Public Funds = A HALF BILLION POUNDS GAGGING STRATEGY

    “WITHOUT PREJUDICE COMPROMISE AGREEMENT

    This Agreement dated 2012 is made between Blackpool Borough Council (the “Employer”) of PO Box 11 Town Hall, Blackpool, FY1 1NB and John Rudkin (the “Employee”) of ********************************* in the terms set out below……………

    Here is HOW they wanted to gag me.

    Extract………………..

    13. The Employee agrees that the Employer can deduct outstanding expenses which the Employee has failed to account for in the correct way, from the compensation payment, in the event that no relevant receipts or proofs are received by the Employer on the date the compensation payment becomes payable.
    The Employee agrees that the terms of this Agreement (including in particular the amount of Compensation Payment, the fact that this matter has settled and the fact that money is to be paid to the Employee), and the circumstances of these proceedings shall remain confidential and shall not be divulged to any person by the Employee except to their representative in the course of these proceedings or as required by law or to their immediate family. The Employee further agrees that from the date hereof he will not, whether directly or indirectly, make, publish, use websites, social networks, blogs, or any other form of media or otherwise communicate any remarks or statements whether in writing or otherwise, concerning matters or events during any point of his employment with the Employer or any of their officers, employees or former officers or employees or associated companies. For the purpose of clarity this period of employment covers the dates from 9 June 2003 to 10 July 2011. The Employee will not use, publish, disseminate or share any information whether picture, audio, video or data or any information howsoever obtained or produced while in his capacity as an Employee of the Employer. For the avoidance of doubt the Employee shall remove from his existing website any information relating to his employment at Blackpool Council within a period of 14 days from the date of signing this agreement. The sole exclusion to this requirement being that the Employee may state the dates and capacity of his employment with the Employer. In the event that the Employee shall be in breach of the requirement of confidentiality in this clause or in breach of any other provisions in the clause the sum paid at clause 3 shall become immediately repayable by the Employee to the Employer. This sum will be recoverable by the Employer as a debt and an injunction will also be an additional remedy. Clause 4 of this agreement shall otherwise remain fully in effect and the Employee shall not be entitled to rely upon any breach by him of this Agreement in order to initiate proceedings or any related claims or actions.

    The Employer will only divulge the details of this Agreement to the relevant officers of the authority, and any legal representatives engaged and involved in the negotiation and conclusion of the Agreement. Following conclusion of the Agreement the Employer will keep the Agreement confidential save where it must be disclosed to a statutory body, the Inland Revenue or a Court of Law………………..

    Signed ………………………………………………………………………………….The Employee

    Signed …………………………………………………………………………………..For the Employer

    Signed …………………………………………………………………………………..The Adviser

    EXTRACT end……………….

  4. Thanks for your post John. That compromise agreement could have been drawn up and issued in North Korea, not Blackpool.

    You’ve raised many valid issues, and I’ll spend some time following those links you’ve provided.

    On Wirral, such is the abusive council’s irresistible, inbuilt desire to deceive and muddy the water, they tried to hide the number of compromise agreements they’d issued and declared a total of 11. The “true” figure was a little bit higher… 845.

  5. John Rudkin says:

    That is no surprise to me at all. I fear that FOIs are both a burden to Council, as well as a great leveller for the community, but so often they use them for the wrong reasons. When I was in the Public Sector it was clear that some FOI enquiries were being used to gain commercial insights, some were simply mischief making, and others had a very serious purpose at their initiation. I actually saw a Council, which complained about the “commercial insights” putting strain on its FOI administration on the one hand, utilise Council resources to gain such an advantage for a venture that ended up being launched as a private company, and contracted back to the very same Council.

    Sadly some Public bodies feel the need to play tactical games with the information. Targets are not difficult to meet, but full answers can be a long time being answered. Some simply ignore things until the IC gets involved.
    What the tacticians do not realise is the the result of their actions can actually increase the persistence of applications under FOI because they leave issues undone. This makes more work, increases frustration and delivers an appalling impression for the body concerned.
    Professionalism compromised, these same officials are themselves in part responsible for the lack of support of council. Ultimately, they help (help cause) job losses!

  6. Leah Fraser says:

    Hello Paul

    As I’ve said previously, I believe every penny of taxpayers money should be accounted for and that we’re all entitled to know where it’s being spent. I believe that is a similar stance to most people living in Wirral who pay council tax and has been for a very long time, irrespective of Wirral Council’s new alleged era of ‘openness and transparency’.

    You are not a councillor in my position, however, since I have been elected, I have always demanded full openness from Council officers – I am not being selective merely requesting information in one specific area. Previously, as you know, I requested information in another area and exposed the millions lent by Wirral to other councils at very, very low rates of return.

    Leah Fraser

  7. It would appear that Blackpool CC and the Wirral are using section 14(1) as a GET OUT OF JAIL FREE CARD to hide such matters as discussed on your website Paul.
    I understand the Court of Appeal will release their decision on the infamous Dransfield v ICO vexatious case C3/2013/1855 at the end of this month.

    Make no mistake , if the Court of Appeal uphold this vexatious none sense from Judge Wikeley,Joe Public will be GAGGED for ever. However,I still have two bites at the Cherry , first at the Supreme Court and last of all the ECHR, which is rather worrying because the Registrar at the ECHR,one Mrs Lafferty is worse than Judge NJ (No Justice) Warren the STRIKE OUT specialist (retired) at the FTT.
    Some of the stunts being pulled in the UK is akin to North Korea.
    Happy Easter everyone.

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