The news that the homes of David McElhinney, Phil Halsall and one other have been raided by Lancashire Police in connection with their enquiry into One Call Lancashire tells me that Liverpool Council needs to be far more open about its role in this affair. I am making no allegations about what is the ongoing police enquiry. Only time will tell us what, if anything that they found. What I am talking about is what I perceive to be a very open and honest approach by Labour controlled Lancashire County Council and an obfuscatory and laggardly approach by Labour controlled Liverpool. Liverpool’s behaviour as evidenced by the forensic study reported on last week by independent think tank – Exurbe – is to tell as little as possible as late as possible.
The story in so far as I can gather it is that in 2011 Liverpool agreed to share time of David McElhinney and other staff in the establishment of a second BT joint venture One Call Lancashire Ltd. There is no problem with this in principle. It could save money for both councils in a variety of ways and in particular lead to greater efficiencies. Indeed it might have done so. 2011 is an important point. Labour is trying to shy away from responsibility in this matter by claiming that the original agreement as established by the Liberal Democrats. True but at that time there was only LDL. How any member of staff seconded to the JV spent their time was irrelevant as all the work at that time was in or for Liverpool and its council.
The real problem is that no-one seems to know who agreed what, for what and when. Lancashire thought that they had a time and cost sharing agreement in place and have acted on it. Liverpool say there was no agreement. I am unsure how they released staff already seconded to one joint venture to a second joint venture unless there was at least a verbal agreement in place. Liverpool now seem to be saying that although David Mc is an employee of Liverpool they do not know how much work he did for us and how much for Lancashire during the three period of this quasi secondment thingy.
The matter was exacerbated when Labour took control of the County from the Tories last year and they stepped up their questioning of the One Call Lancashire scenario. At that point it appears that two payments were made to David Mc which their Director of Finance knew nothing about. The payments were mind bogglingly high and it is not clear from the report whether they were given to David Mc direct or to BT for his services.
I strongly suspect that everything that has happened is legal. But whether it is moral or justifiable to council taxpayers in Liverpool and Lancashire is another question.
The matter has been compounded in Liverpool by an insistence that how their employees’ time in Lancashire was spent and what he did was none of their business but solely Lancashire’s. When the Echo put in FOI requests they were told one thing by Liverpool – particularly that they had not been asked to help an enquiry by Lancashire. However papers revealed by Lancashire suggested that Liverpool officers knew by the time they replied to an FOI that there was an enquiry because they had already responded to Lancashire.
Liverpool then said they had told the Echo that they had no enquiries because the papers from Lancashire had been sent securely and in confidential terms. The requests and replies were sent by ordinary council e-mail systems and were not marked confidential in any way. It seems strange that Lancashire can release its own papers but that Liverpool refuses to because Lancashire would not like it!
Now it is possible that some of what I am saying is incorrect –so let me apologise in advance. But if someone with my access and experience cannot peer through the multi veils of this issue what hope does one of the long suffering taxpayers of Liverpool or Lancashire of so doing.
That is why today I asked the Chief Executive of Liverpool to work with the staff and politicians of both councils to examine in public what actually happened in the agreements or lack thereof between the two councils and the two BT subsidiaries.
What has happened must be flushed out. Large sums of public money have been spent. The only way to solve the deadlock between the two councils both politically and managerially is a cold, hard forensic and independent review of what happened either by a QC or senior external auditor. Let’s get on with it.