4 Unanswered Questions about our Chief Executive

LpoolTH

Liverpool Council is not the model of transparency and good governance that I think it should be!!

For the past few weeks I have been trying, with limited success, to get a response to a number of questions that I think the taxpayers of Liverpool are entitled to know about the way that our Chief Executive is being treated and why he is being treated differently than any other member of staff.

The 4 questions (which encompass a number of other questions) are:

  1. I want an assurance that no money is being for any legal assistance or advice from any source within the council for anything to do with the past employment of Mr Fitzgerald.
  2. I want to see all instructions to and invoices from Eversheds.
  3. I want to see all Counsel’s advice regarding the current employment of Mr Fitzgerald and his treatment in relations to his arrest and subsequent bailing.
  4. I want to know why the Council is treating Mr Fitzgerald one way and all other staff another.

You will see from the full letter which is appended that no other council in the Liverpool City Region behaves like Liverpool Council does and no other council anywhere in the Country as far as I have been able to find out.

In addition to these questions there are three more questions which I am sure strike you as much as they strike me:

  1. Why am I only getting partial answers to questions?
  2. Why is the Council taking so long to reply?
  3. Why haven’t arrangements been made for me to see documents which I am entitled to see as an elected member of the Council?

If you read the letter you will also see that I am being assisted by council staff from outside Liverpool at a very senior level who are appalled at the way Liverpool is behaving and the way that this will, inevitably, drag down the whole of our sector. It will be obvious to all that I am not clever enough to think up these questions by myself!!

I have asked several times for the Improvement and Development Agency to undertake a review of our corporate governance. This would involve experts from the sector coming in at no cost to Liverpool to examine the way we do things. Of course that suggestion has never been taken up by Liverpool Council

Let me make clear to you and the wider population of Liverpool that I will not give up asking these questions. What is happening in these regards is just a small part of the Stalinist centralisation of control within our Council. I should not have to keep reminding the controlling group that the Council and the City belong to the people and are answerable to the people and not a small cabal of politicians and developers whose opinions seem more important than anyone else’s’

My letter to a senior council officer:

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE,

16, Dovedale Road,

Liverpool L18 1DW

Richardkemp68@yahoo.co.uk

                                                           07885 626913

Xxxxxxxx  Xxxxxxxxxxxx,

XXXX XXXXXXXXX,

By E-Mail

19th June 2017

Dear XXXX  XXXXXXXX,

Re:       Ged Fitzgerald

You will no doubt recall that I have e-mailed you on several occasions  asking a very specific series of questions about the way we are treating Mr Fitzgerald the Chief Executive both in relationship to his previous employment with Rotheram Council and his being arrested and bailed on matters relating to LDL and OCL Ltd.

You will recall that in that in my first substantive e-mail I asked whether the council was making any payments in regard to previous the employment of Mr Fitzgerald in Rotheram.

In response to your reply to this I asked the following question:

“I am, as you know, a bear of little brain. Is the summary of all your responses that we are not paying any solicitor/counsel anywhere to work on issues relating to prior employment of Mr Fitzgerald and never have done?

Your response was, “Mr Fitzgerald has not had the benefit of the City Council indemnity for legal fees for any matters relating to prior employment”

As this only partially answered my question I responded with a question written by another local authority solicitor from a major authority:

“I understand that in relation to an investigation being undertaken by external solicitors on behalf of Rotherham Council which includes the time Mr Fitzgerald was Chief Executive there, Liverpool City Council may have instructed external lawyers to act either on its behalf or Mr Fitzgerald’s behalf. I believe that firm is Eversheds. Please confirm whether they or any other lawyer is instructed, on whose behalf, since when, and what payments have been made by the council in respect of any such advice. If indeed lawyers are instructed, please confirm who is instructing them and with what powers /authority.” 

You will further recall that on 7th. June you e-mailed me saying that you had to divert your activity to General Election work, which I accepted, but that you would respond to the above and other questions after the election.

I also asked, which I understand that I am entitled to do under audit rules, to see the instructions for solicitors or counsel and solicitors in this regard and copies of the invoices which pertain to the employment of Eversheds in this area of work

You will note that I e-mailed you again on 15th June saying that I was expecting a reply. I have yet to get an answer from you on these and the issues which I now raise again below.

I now turn to the current situation regarding Mr Fitzgerald who has today been further bailed without charge until almost the end of August. This will mean, if the same conditions apply to his employment with us as pertain today, that we will pay £50,000 to Mr Fitzgerald to do nothing!

In my e-mails to you I pointed out that I am advised by other local government solicitors that the payment of salary to Mr Fitzgerald is ultra vires unless he has been suspended without prejudice according to his contract. We simply have no power under section 112 of the Local Government Act 1972 to make payments to staff for not working. They point out that a small length of time might be acceptable. We might, for example, grant extra paid compassionate leave for a short period of time in the case of death or family difficulty, but three months is not a short time!

I have asked to see the advice that you received from counsel in this matter. I have yet to see this advice as you have made no arrangements for me to do so. In particular I now wish to know what advice the Council has received about the time span in which a sympathetic employer must move to a fully contractual situation with staff to avoid being ultra vires.

I would also like to deal with the question of the way that we deal with all our staff. Whilst it is absolutely true that all citizens are treated equally before the law it must also be true that all employees are treated equally by the council.

The Mayor told us in full Council that the Council had received advice that even if we had suspended without prejudice, that act in itself was prejudicial. That is, of course a nonsense. According to information from the HR staff of the Council Liverpool has suspended 58 members of staff since 2009 of which 3 were suspended in relation to police action. Of these 58, 36 returned to work and 22 did not. Again according to our HR staff no other employee has been allowed to voluntarily relinquish work and still get paid for it.

On enquiring to the other 5 councils in the Liverpool City Region all of them use the practice of suspending without prejudice where necessary to protect both the council concerned and the member of staff. In enquiries further afield I have yet to find a council or other public or private sector body which does not do likewise.

Does the opinion of counsel indicate why the Chief Executive should be treated differently than any other member of staff? If not would you please give your justification for doing this?

So could I summarise?

  1. I want an assurance that no money is being for any legal assistance or advice from any source within the council for anything to do with the past employment of Mr Fitzgerald as in the detailed question above.
  2. I want to see all instructions to and invoices from Eversheds.
  3. I want to see all Counsel’s advice regarding the current employment of Mr Fitzgerald and his treatment in relations to his arrest and subsequent bailing.
  4. I want to know why the Council is treating Mr Fitzgerald one way and all other staff another.

I think have been very patient in the time that I have been waiting for a response to you regarding these issues and look forward to receiving an early reply.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE

AT LAST A RESPONSE FROM THE COUNCIL WHICH BASICALLY SAYS THAT IT CANNOT GIVE ME A RESPONSE!!!!

1. The City Council has had cause to seek advice from Eversheds on an issue relating to the Chief Executives previous employment at Rotherham. The employment of Eversheds to deal with this issue was authorised by both the Monitoring Officer and the s151 Officer. The advice sought by the City Council was pertinent to the position of the City Council and not the Chief Executive personally.

2. Instructions to Eversheds were given initially in a meeting and subsequent instructions followed in a telephone conference call. No final invoice has been issued by Eversheds as we are in discussion about level of fees.

3 and 4. Counsel has not advised as to the issues you set out at 3 and 4 . External solicitors advised orally at a meeting and that Advice is to be confirmed in writing. The external lawyer advising has been away for a short period  so the written Advice has not yet been received. Once the written Advice is to hand , any disclosure of that Advice will be subject to the Access to Information Rules in accordance with legislation and the City Councils own Constitution

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. UK representative on UCLG Finance Committee, Executive Bureau and World Council. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperon on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and three grandchildren.
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