Issue - decisions
The Leader of the Council had agreed to consideration of this matter as an item of urgent business.
The Chief Executive presented a report which advised Cabinet of the progress of an Independent Review of Wirral Council’s Response to Claims made by Mr Martin Morton (and others). The Independent Review was commissioned by the former Leader of the Council from AKA (the trading name of Anna Klonowski Associates Ltd.). AKA had prepared a comprehensive draft report, together with a draft Executive Summary report, in relation to those matters. However, AKA’s lawyers had advised that this Report and Executive Summary must not be published until those named in the report had had the opportunity for a right of reply. This right to reply process was underway and the Council’s Monitoring Officer had agreed with this legal advice.
AKA had also produced a Supplemental Report entitled ‘Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council’s Corporate Governance Arrangements: Refresh and Renew’ (‘The Corporate Governance Report’). Therefore the Chief Executive’s paper addressed The Corporate Governance Report which summarised the organisational weaknesses that had allowed the issues raised by Mr Morton to occur; and which the Council had failed to address.
The Chief Executive stated that he regarded the issues highlighted in The Corporate Governance Report as the most significant challenge facing the Council and he would personally lead and drive the corporate changes that were urgently required. Failure to address the issues detailed in The Corporate Governance Report had led to:
(A) A Public Interest Report,
(B) Two reports under the Public Interest Disclosure Act,
(C) A “red flag” raised by the Audit Commission in relation to Adult Social Services Data,
(D) A Care Quality Commission (CQC) Report relating to issues raised by the “red flag”,
(E) Concerns raised by the Council’s external auditors, and
(F) A number of issues raised by the Director of Finance in the Council’s own corporate governance statements.
Consequently, AKA had concluded that “the Council has not yet learned the necessary lessons to enable its corporate governance arrangements to become more robust and fit for purpose.” In the opinion of AKA, the Council remained at risk of some form of external intervention. Despite the Government’s intention to move to a system of self-regulation from April 2012, until the existing legislation was repealed, the Council could be subject to an external corporate governance inspection under Section 10 of the Local Government Act 1999.
AKA had recommended a number of actions. Specifically, AKA recommended that a Cabinet Committee be established to oversee the assessment, design and delivery of improvements in the Council’s corporate governance arrangements. AKA recommended that the Cabinet Committee be supported by the Council’s statutory officers – The Chief Executive, Monitoring Officer (Director of Law, HR and Asset Management) and S151 Officer (Director of Finance) – together with one or more working groups.
The Chief Executive sincerely apologised to anyone who had been affected by the Council’s shortcomings and assured the Cabinet that he would take personal responsibility to ensure that dramatic changes were put in place for improved corporate governance.
The Leader of the Council spoke of the need for fundamental changes within the Council and unreservedly accepted the criticism within the report. He remarked that employees across the Council did deliver some excellent services but he personally apologised to anyone who felt that they had been adversely affected by mistakes or poor corporate governance within the Council.
On a motion by the Leader, seconded by Councillor P Davies, it was –
Resolved – That,
(1) This Cabinet recognises the grave nature of the criticisms contained within this supplementary Corporate Governance report.
(2) It accepts the criticisms unreservedly and the recommendations designed to help this Council move forward and resolve the serious problems facing us.
(3) The Leader agrees to set up a specific Cabinet Committee, in line with the recommendations in the report, which will be tasked with driving forward the changes that need to be made in the way we manage the Council and in the culture of those who work here.
(4) This Committee will consist of five Cabinet members, including the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council and will meet as soon as practicable in October to agree its terms of reference and start planning for the task ahead.
(5) Cabinet agrees to the appointment of an external advisor specifically to support this Committee at a cost of up to £30,000, to be met from balances.
(6) Cabinet further agrees at the appropriate time to bring in councillors and officers from other authorities, through the auspices of the relevant national bodies, to share their knowledge with us in a form of peer review to assist us in creating an excellent Council for the future.
(7) Cabinet asks the Chief Executive to prepare an initial action plan for consideration by this special Cabinet Committee as a basis of addressing the issues within the report.
(8) Cabinet asks the Director of Finance to prepare an initial report for this special Cabinet Committee on ways to strengthen the Council’s Internal Audit team in order to ensure that any warnings they issue are clearly heard and responded to.
(9) Cabinet asks the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management to prepare an initial report for the special Cabinet committee on ways to strengthen Legal and Member services to make sure Councillors receive the correct advice in a timely way and that reports contain all the information required on which to make considered decisions.
(10) Cabinet believes that the issues raised in the independent report are of a nature which should transcend party politics and the Leader will be seeking to discuss with both opposition party leaders opportunities for all three parties to work together to help resolve the issues raised.
(11) Cabinet further instructs the Chief Executive to organise a presentation by AKA to which all Members of the Council will be invited.
(12) Cabinet thanks AKA for the report, and approves payment to AKA. It is currently estimated that this is likely to total £250,000, including external legal costs.