Balls Rd Reimbursement

Martin Morton made this Freedom of Information request to Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was partially successful.

Dear Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council,

I was really pleased to read in a recent Cabinet Report dated 16/7/12 that disabled people who were unlawfully charged at Balls Rd, which I originally raised concerns about in 2004, were to be reimbursed.
However Balls Rd is a very curious component of my whistleblowing case (and which was not covered by the AKA report).
Therefore once again I wish to provide some context as to exactly why and what I am requesting.
It also gives a further flavour of the kind of "machinations" that somehow don't get covered in reports,and what I've been up against for over a decade now.

I maintain that Balls Rd was a smokescreen raised at Audit & Risk Management Committee(ARMC) in November 2008 by former DASS senior management to distract from the West Wirral unlawful charging debacle and having served it’s purpose was quietly left to be forgotten about and was not picked up subsequently at ARMC.

When I was compelled to raise the matter 15 months later at full Council on 15th February 2010 the hostility shown towards me was palpable.So much so that ARMC Chair Paula Southwood wrote to me :
" I just wanted to drop you a quick note to thank you for taking time and trouble to come into Council on Monday to ask your question.I imagine that it took a lot of courage ,for which you have my respect,particularly given the disrespectful behaviour of a number of my colleagues towards you.
Also ,I really appreciate you raising the Balls Rd matter once again.It probably won't surprise you to know that I heard nothing at all about it,or about the apparently imminent contact on the matter,until Monday's council.I would suspect that your question had been key in moving the matter forward"

Cllr.Moira McLaughlin deigned not to provide a verbal response to my question at this meeting. However she did send a written response dated 22 February 2010:

“At the Audit and Risk Management Committee meeting on 3rd Nov.2009,the Director of Adult Social Services (John Webb) stated that, at a previous meeting in Nov 2008,confusion had arisen about charges at Balls Road and he gave an assurance that an investigation would be carried out to clarify why that had happened, and when that investigation was completed he would write to the Chair and chair of Overview and scrutiny and Party Leaders to explain the nature of the charging anomalies.

I was briefed by the Director in advance of 15th Feb,that the Departmental investigation had taken some weeks to complete,but that it had now been completed and Internal Audit were reviewing the findings prior to letters going in accordance with the assurance given on 3rd Nov 2009.I am told that final sign off from Internal Audit will take place very shortly and that the letters are ready to go out when that has happened"

Needless to say I later discovered that Internal Audit found nothing untoward at Balls Rd and that my claims were unfounded and no reimbursements were to be made.
I continued to dispute these findings and despite my insisting that the matter should be addressed properly in the AKA report,it simply was not.

I have tried in vain to find where on the Wirral Council website the DASS investigation,Internal Audit's review of findings or copies of letters referred to Councillor McLoughlin's letter are.

I would therefore be most grateful if you could
a) provide the weblinks to relevant Committees where the original DASS Balls Rd investigation and Internal Audit's review of findings from 2010 were reported
b)copies of letters sent by the above named DASS Director to the Chair (ARMC?) and Chair of Overview and Scrutiny Committee
c)letters to Party Leaders to explain the nature of the "charging anomalies" and
d)weblink or copy of recent 2012 Balls Rd investigation which appears to overturn the findings of the original investigation from 2010.

Yours faithfully,

Martin Morton

ScarletPimpernel left an annotation ()

Balls Road is very close to where Paula Southwood lived and in the ward she represented (Oxton). Internal Audit seem to produce internal reports that don't appear on public agendas (apart from in passing) as they're usually about something that is highly embarrassing to someone senior (whether officer or councillor or both). Also Internal Audit can get stymied by departments stonewalling them. If I remember correctly Internal Audit also had major staffing issues over the past few years due to a variety of reasons which meant some planned audits weren't completed. Whether Balls Road was one of them I don't know.

Martin Morton left an annotation ()

Believe me your wasting your time finding excuses for Internal Audit with me.

ScarletPimpernel left an annotation ()

It's not an excuse, just a statement of facts.

Internal Audit just seem to write reports (which go to be read by an officer), if the department involved refuses to cooperate in a meaningful way or gives contradictory answers, what can they do?

The Audit Commission is a little better, but external audit by the Audit Commission has been ignored for so many years, I wonder how Mike Thomas manages not to get frustrated.

Basically the checks and balances supposed to be there will only work under very limited circumstances. The scale of the overcharging to the disabled wasn't large enough to ring alarm bells in the right places (or if they did ring they were ignored).

Martin Morton left an annotation ()

If the "Statement of Facts" is based on the flim-flam in the AKA report you're way off the mark.
This isn't the forum - read the book.

ScarletPimpernel left an annotation ()

No the statement of facts is not based on the AKA report, but facts AKA Ltd didn't know, have access to and if had been known she'd have written things differently.

The AKA report wasn't factually accurate in parts anyway. Plus a whole bunch of it was supressed from the public as there were elections on the horizon.

No that "statement of facts" was based on publically made statements of the Chief Internal Auditor, Audit Commission and others if I remember correctly before the AKA report was decided upon by Cllr Green. You're right though this isn't really the forum and I look forward to reading your book.

ScarletPimpernel left an annotation ()

However I will say this, which hopefully will help. Before the reports that are publically published on the Council's website, they go on the Council's intranet. There's a process whereby they're edited by senior management from the original report before publication. Therefore the report you see in the agenda pack sometimes bears little reality to the original once it's gone through at times rather heavy handed editing to save face. You are right that a lot is left out, because once a report does get published in public it leads to all kinds of problems for the department or service involved, report author, head of service, Chief Officer etc. Therefore the public just get a sanitised version of the truth.

Martin Morton left an annotation ()

....and sometimes they don't even get the truth let alone a "sanitized" version.Oh I know how it works - I had my name removed from the bottom of one Committee report because it was not the version I wrote and what was contained in the report was ultra vires.I still have the email.
Went out in somebody else's name who had nothing to do with the report but were quite prepared to field difficult questions from Councillors in the hope of promotion.
Needless to say the report went through on a nod and a wink and no awkward questions were asked,Councillors blithely unaware that what they were agreeing to was illegal.
I think its what's known in Council-speak as "poor Corporate Governance".I prefer "omnishambles".

ScarletPimpernel left an annotation ()

Ahh yes, here are the two versions:-

The one for public consumptions/PR/spin:

"Councillors spend many hours each week, reading reports, taking difficult decisions and working hard on behalf of the public who elected them."

The actual version:-
The councillor on the Committee had something better to do so they sent a Deputy. Said Deputy didn't read the reports but relied on that political group's research assistant to brief them on anything they should know (if they're lucky). The spokesperson also sent a Deputy because they had an important social engagement/was on holiday/had a family "crisis"/had a whingy resident that was more interesting then spending 3 hours in a Committee Room.

The meeting had been going for 2 1/2 hours, most of the councillors on the Committee being football fans wanted to be home in time for the match/for dinner/their other half/kids etc. So the report author was asked to be about as brief as half a sentence, wasn't asked any questions and the recommendations were agreed, so everyone could go home and get some sleep!

Oh and by the way, with most of these decisions taking part in the evening the people taking them were tired. In addition to it, some had drunk a lot of alcohol before arriving. Councillors do have a legal adviser there, but what's the point in a legal adviser if they're not used, or even worse not familiar with the area of law, policy or budget they're asked a question on?

"I think its what's known in Council-speak as "poor Corporate Governance".I prefer "omnishambles"."

Err what do you think keeps us in the media in work? In some areas there are signs of improvement at Wirral Council though!

As to the promotion bit, well as you know promotions are officially on merit, but any above a certain SCP have to be approved by councillors on the E&A Committee.

Martin Morton left an annotation ()

Neat encapsulation of some of the issues Captain (Scarlet).
I was probably a bit mad to think this would be a "quick-win".

ScarletPimpernel left an annotation ()

The system of political decision making at Wirral Council distributes power, but a vocal minority can drag the process out or derail it completely.

The stages followed are outlined from the hypothetical Wirral Council's playbook of how to play party politics below:-

1) "Shooting the messenger"
2) Scapegoat the messenger.
3) Try and pay the messenger off to keep quiet, stall for time.
3a) If anyone asks questions about whether steps 1-3 were fair, call them a traitor and go back to step 1 and make an example of them.
4) Shift the goalposts and have a "limited hangout" in the hope it'll quieten things down. Tell the press it's "all sorted out now".
5) If the whole things ends up on North West Tonight, start taking it seriously.
6) Realise you got rid of the wrong person and ask middle management to walk the plank (and keep their mouths shut). Offer whistleblower job back.
7) Remove Leader of Council.

ELECTIONS STOP PLAY

8) Early Retire Chief Executive.
9) Suspend Chief Officers.
10) Enter spin cycle, take your pick of excuses:-
A) former employees,
B) the weather,
C) a previous administration,
D) other political parties,

but don't mention names of the councillors involved. Hire new Chief Officers. Try and avoid expensive lawsuits where possible.

Dear Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council's handling of my FOI request 'Balls Rd Reimbursement'.

It is disappointing that I have to do this.I thought it was quid pro quo.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ba...

Yours faithfully,

Martin Morton

Paul Cardin left an annotation ()

Here is a link to an article, setting out what I feel is the background and true motivation behind Wirral Council's very poor response times.

Notably, there are just 2 people dedicated to Freedom of Information and Data at this council (one professional and one admin assistant) - which says it all really.

http://easyvirtualassistance.wordpress.c...

Corrin, Jane, Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council

1 Attachment

Good Afternoon,
Thank you for your enquiry below. May I take this opportunity to apologise to you for the timeframe which has elapsed between your enquiry and today. Please see our reply below and the attachment which I hope is still useful to you.

Kind regards
Jane Corrin
Information Manager
Wallasey Town Hall
Brighton Street
Wallasey
Wirral
CH44 8ED

[Wirral Borough Council request email]

This information supplied to you is copyrighted and continues to be protected by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. You are free to use it for your own purposes, including any non commercial research you are doing and for the purposes of news reporting. Any other reuse, for example commercial publication, would require our specific permission, may involve licensing and the application of a charge

a) A report on the Charging Arrangements for Supported Living, Wirral 1997 - 2003 was presented by the Director of Adult Social Services to Audit & Risk Management Committee on 3 November 2009. Section 4 of the report referred specifically to the investigation into charges at Balls Road. The Director identified that once the investigation was concluded he would write to members to explain the position and if any action was required he would 'report appropriately to Cabinet'. The findings by Internal Audit were that payments had been made in accordance with tenancy agreements and this was confirmed in a letter to Members. As it was deemed there was no further action the findings were not reported to Committee or Cabinet.

b) A copy of the letter sent by the Director to Members is attached.

c) The recent review of charges at Balls Road has identified an 'overcharge' by 13 tenants of £30,000. We have been unable to establish the rationale for the charge of £35 per resident per week. The accounts show that an appropriate charge for tenants for utility costs only, based on actual costs, would have been £10 per week. A reconciliation was undertaken for each tenant taking into account the weekly charge, rent and assessed contribution and payments received from the tenant and Housing Benefits. The reconciliation assumed a charge of £10 per week rather than £35 to establish the 'overcharge' position.

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Dear Corrin, Jane,

Thanks for the partial response.
There is no response to part d)of my request and c)is not documentation which led to this (deeply flawed) response.I requested copies of documents pertaining to the review.
I am concerned that financial abuse of tenants of Balls Rd (and indeed) other parts of Birkenhead Area is still being deliberately concealed.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Morton

Dear Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council's handling of my FOI request 'Balls Rd Reimbursement'.

I am still awaiting information.Specifically in relation to section d) of original request.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ba...

Yours faithfully,

Martin Morton

InfoMgr, FinDMT, Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council

1 Attachment

Good Morning,

In response to your request for an internal review; please see the
attachment as our response and I apologise for the delay there has been in
replying to you.

Kind regards

Jane Corrin

Information Manager

 

[1][Wirral Borough Council request email]

 

This information supplied to you is copyrighted and continues to be
protected by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.   You are free
to use it for your own purposes, including any non commercial research you
are doing and for the purposes of news reporting. Any other reuse, for
example commercial publication, would require our specific permission, may
involve licensing and the application of a charge.

   

 

 

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References

Visible links
1. mailto:[Wirral Borough Council request email]

Dear Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council,
Not for the first time the link in a response is either incorrect or not working.

I am specifically referencing the link to part d) of my request and the following link:

http://wir06metrognome.admin.ad.wirral.g...

Can you please forward a link that will enable me to access the document.

Yours faithfully,

Martin Morton

Corrin, Jane, Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council

2 Attachments

 Good Afternoon,

Apologies that you were sent an internal rather than external link.  I
have attached the documents in question to this email.

 

Kind Regards

Jane Corrin

Information Manager

Wirral Council

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Dear Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council's handling of my FOI request 'Balls Rd Reimbursement'.

Thank you for forwarding the information which I already have.
However can I please bring to your attention it is not what I originally requested.
I am requesting the investigation report that led to the following recommendations in the Committee report you have forwarded which are as follows:

• Balls Road
Of 22 tenants 9 would be classed as “undercharged”; the
remaining 13 as “overchanged”. The total reimbursement
amounts to £30,000
• North Road
All 9 tenants are classed as “overcharged” to a total
reimbursement amounting to £90,000

As I have previously stated the issue of unlawful charging at Balls Rd was not reported in AKA report and I was informed in writing by Cllr McLaughlin in 2010 that there were no issues relating to "overcharging" at Balls Rd.

I am seeking reassurance that the INTERNAL investigation which subsequently took place had sufficient rigour to support recommendations and overturn Cllr.McLaughlin's assertions.

I am hoping that this will circumvent me having to pursue this matter further as there are outstanding concerns as to how this matter was or was not addressed by Wirral Council.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ba...

Yours faithfully,

Martin Morton

Corrin, Jane, Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council

Good Afternoon,
With regard to your request for an additional Internal Review. The
Council has already undertaken 2 internal reviews on your behalf for
this enquiry. The first because the Council had not responded to your
enquiry; which we then answered on 7 February 2013. The 2nd Internal
Review was requested on 28 March 2013 and answered on 22 April 2013.

It would be inappropriate for the Council to undertake a 3rd Internal
Review, therefore your next course of action, if you remain dissatisfied
with our previous Internal Reviews is to contact the Information
Commissioner.

Please see details below:-
Information Commissioner's Office,
Wycliffe House,
Water Lane,
Wilmslow,
Cheshire SK9 5AF
www.ico.gov.uk
Tel -0303 123 113

Kind Regards
Jane Corrin
Information Manager
Wirral Council

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Dear Corrin, Jane,

I don't understand why you seem to be getting vexed with me.
Despite your claim to have done so you simply have not fully answered my request and now you seem to be suggesting I go to the ICO to compel you to disclose information which you seem unwilling or unable to comply with.
This appears to me to be a waste of everybody's time.
Can I just have the report which led to the recommendations in the Committee Report which you have previously sent to me (and which I did not request).

As I have stated before it is the public interest and the interest of vulnerable people that the latter are reimbursed the money to which they are legally entitled.

I wish to seek reassurance that the sums reimbursed are accurate and appropriate.I contend that it would be unreasonable,unfair and unlawful to withold this information and there is no justification for doing so.
Yours sincerely,

Martin Morton

Corrin, Jane, Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council

Good Afternoon,
Thank you for your further email below. My previous reply to you, also
below, is the correct advice on the next steps you should take, if you
remain dissatisfied with the replies to your 2 Internal Reviews.

You need to contact the ICO on this matter and then the Council will
take advice from them as to what action, if any, we need to take.

Please see details below:-
Information Commissioner's Office,
Wycliffe House,
Water Lane,
Wilmslow,
Cheshire SK9 5AF
www.ico.gov.uk
Tel -0303 123 113

Kind Regards
Jane Corrin
Information Manager
Wirral Council

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