Everyone within Liverpool Council needs to know why the Council has acted in the way that it did for 7 years in the case of Mr Fitzgerald. The people of Liverpool have paid out a lot of money they deserve to know the truth.
Last month the Echo revealed that there was to be a special council meeting to dismiss Ged Fitzgerald. I knew about this but the three Group Leaders were told this in confidence and it was left to a Labour member to break it.
This morning I asked a series of questions about the whole affair which focus not on what Fitzgerald may or may not have done (and here we must remember that he has not yet been charged with anything let alone convicted) but on what the Council did. In a previous blog I raised a number of questions which flowed from the High Court Ruling where Fitzgerald was seeking a judicial review.
Now we do not have to bother about Mr Fitzgerald but can look at the whole story of what has happened here since 2011 when it is clear that the Council has at best been incompetent and bungling in the way that it has dealt with a series of issues flowing from the police activity around LDL and OCL and the subsequent four arrests.
You will have seen some of these questions in an earlier blog but there are additional ones which I have looked at following discussions with my own legal advisers.
Frankly, I am not expecting a quick response but this is what I said to our legal department this morning:
“The release of the High Court Judgement has raised a series of questions regarding Liverpool Council which I believe now need answering. Some of these I have raised in my blog others I now put to you as a result of discussions with my own legal advisers which I was unable to pursue during the hectic period of the election.
Despite the delay I am sure that you will appreciate that these questions should be answered in advance of the presumed special council next week.
Firstly, the Council, particularly the Mayor, has maintained all along that this was a Lancashire matter which had nothing to do with Liverpool. This was always a farcical position. Two of the people arrested were employees of the Council at the time. Our council officious were raided. Our equipment was seized by the Police and it is clear from the evidence contained in the judgement that other staff, still employed by the Council, were involved in wiping or destroying evidence.
So, Question One is, “Why did the Mayor and Senior Officers maintain for so long that this was nothing to do with them?
As part of the request for the search warrants the Lancashire Police claimed, “The suppression of formal advice from Alison Foster QC to the effect that appointing McElhinney as Interim Chief Executive of Liverpool City Council would be unlawful. No trace of that document was found within the Legal Department of Liverpool City Council and it had to be obtained from Ms Foster herself”. I don’t know why the appointment was considered to be unlawful but I do know that in similar circumstances other Councils have had a full interview procedure and an appointment made by full council as they would for a permanent appointment. I assume that this is the case here.
I have long had doubts about that interim appointment because in many ways it set up the circumstances in which McElhinney’s long time friend was appointed Chief Executive over the heads of three outstanding women candidates. There can be no doubt that this information as suppressed and that legal departments do not lose important letters. So, Question Two is, “who suppressed the information and who knew about the suppression”. Question Three is, “How much was Mr McElhinney involved in the Fitzgerald appointment. Did he, or any other officer, declare at any stage a long term friendship with Fitzgerald.
We then turn to another interesting point on which I tried to get information from Fitzgerald at the time, How much did McElhinney earn? This is what was said in the search warrant request, “The Hellard letters. Sept 2013 to Sept 2014. Application Form paras. 35 to 44. Lancashire believed that McElhinney’s salary at OCL was £40,000 pa (paras 14, 18). In fact, he was being paid considerably more. Gill Kilpatrick (Lancashire) enquired of Rebecca Hellard (Liverpool) concerning his salary and highlighted concerns about his bonuses. In reply to those enquiries Hellard deferred to Fitzgerald (her boss) and in turn he referred her to McElhinney to give the substance of the replies. Fitzgerald reviewed the draft replies before they were sent. As a result, Hellard was misled into providing answers which were ‘uncooperative, vague and dishonest’ (para 42)”.
This is of vital importance because when it comes to deciding packages by which people leave the council reference is made to their current salaries and pension payments. I asked Fitzgerald on numerous occasions how much McElhinney was being paid. We should have known because he remained throughout a seconded member of staff of the Council. I specifically raised the point on a number of occasions at the time of McElhinney’s departure and challenged Fitzgerald repeatedly about how a pension and pay off calculation had been made. I never received an answer. This raises Question Four and Five, “Why was the Director of Resources who also has the legal position of 151 officer not acting independently? Did the 151 officer seek appropriate legal advice from the Council’s Legal Department?”
I now turn to the last substantive piece of evidence relating to the Council the deletion of information from Council equipment. In applying for the warrant Lancashire Police said, “On 12th February 2014, McElhinney was invited by the police to be formally interviewed under caution. On 17th of that month, seven laptops, including Mr McElhinney’s were sent to the internal IT department to be returned to factory settings, thereby irretrievably deleting all the data on them. Similarly, on 18th February 2014, six iPads and iPhones including ones used by McElhinney were also ‘wiped”.
Questions Six, Seven and Eight are obvious, “Was any advice sought within the Council as to the legality of the deletion of information either by McElhinney or the staff ordered to do the deleting? Which staff members actually carried out the instructions?” Has any disciplinary action been taken involving those staff?
The ninth question that needs answering relates to the Mayor of Liverpool. It is simply, “What did the Mayor know about what was happening with the senior officers who reported to him and with which he worked every day?”
The tenth, eleventh and twelfth and thirteenth questions relates to why Mr Fitzgerald was treated differently from any other employee by being allowed to stay off work on full pay on the grounds that, ‘to suspend someone without prejudice is itself a prejudicial act’. I would like to see the full legal opinion from this and would if it came from Frances Carleton. My question on this is, “if that is really the Council position why was Simon McEnemy suspended without prejudice after the Mayor had announced that it was a prejudicial act?”. It in turn leads to further questions, “has the Council now formally abandoned its use of ‘suspension without prejudice? Where was this policy change formally made? What has it been replaced with?
My hirteenth Question relate to timing. The interviews by North West Employers were conducted in October last year and presumably the report was written fairly shortly afterwards. Why did it take until April to present the report to the relevant committee for action?
Lastly, I must ask a question about whether or not the Council has learned from this. We have now working for us Tony Reeves. He has left his former employers, set up his own Company and has been given an extension of his contract with us. I have not met Mr Reeves; I have seen no report which ostensibly comes from Mr Reeves. I have yet to see the person who has the title of Head of the Paid Service at any meeting or seen any report originating from her. I do see, however, that Mr Reeves is a key respondent for the work being undertaken in connection with the Peer Review which is taking place next month. So, my last question is, “In practice is Mr Reeves the de facto Chief Executive and if not what is he doing?
As I intimated in my opening we really do need this information prior to the Council meeting and I look forward to receiving it without delay.
Cllr Richard Kemp CBE,
Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats