More questions than answers?
TORY group leader Jeff Green has pressed Wirral's borough solicitor for more information about how and why some people got to see the confidential draft report on the inquiry into the council's library closure plans.
In an email which at least matches borough solicitor Bill Norman's for length, Cllr Green's anger at being excluded from the fact-checking and comments on the draft report is evident.
You can see Cllr Green's email in full, below, but some highlights include:
Asking Bill Norman: "Can you confirm to me in writing that in your judgement the content of the draft report and any associated communication about the conclusions and recommendations have no impact or bearing on the way Council needs to approach policy formation? And played no part in the Council's subsequent decision not to close the 11 libraries?"
Cllr Green also demands to know: "Can you tell me how you became aware that the one officer mentioned in your reply had broken your instruction by circulating the report to their staff, who that was and whether the people you shared the report for fact checking with had your implicit or explicit authority to circulate it more widely, if not what action will be taken?"
He also raises questions about the media management of the decision to abandon the library closures, and adds: "Given the content of your reply and the issues/questions above, I am left with the conclusion that you chose not to involve Lesley [Cllr Lesley Rennie, deputy leader of the Conservative group] or I because you and those Councillors and officers involved in the 'fact checking' exercise were only looking for arguments that would defend the Administration's decision rather than an objective, impartial and honest examination of the facts in order to respond to the Chairman of a Public Enquiry, conducted on behalf of the Secretary of State."
Here's the email:
From: Green, Jeff E. (Councillor)
Sent: 26 October 2009 10:58
To: Norman, Bill D.
Cc: Councillors; Chief Officers; Lester, Jim L.; Degg, Emma J.; Lyon, Rosemary A.; MacLaverty, Paula K.; Pennington, Abigail; Watts, Margaret
Subject: RE: Extraordinary Council - 12 October 2009
Thank you for your 1,919 word reply to my six questions sent to you on the 15th October, unfortunately having had an opportunity to give your response the consideration it deserved it appears to me that a number of my questions have only been partially answered and others remain totally unanswered. I'm afraid it also raises a number of additional questions.
Items that I raised in my questions that remain unclear following your response
Âš Can you tell me exactly what the Council knew and when it knew it regarding the imminent publication of the SoS Decision and who communicated this information to whom and by what means?
Âš Given the length of time it has taken you to reply to my questions can you let me know why you did not check with everyone listed in your previous email whether they had shared the report with anyone? Can you also tell me who you have checked with and whether you are going to check with those you have not yet spoken to?
Âš Can you tell me how you became aware that the one officer mentioned in your reply had broken your instruction by circulating the report to their staff, who that was and whether the people you shared the report for fact checking with had your implicit or explicit authority to circulate it more widely, if not what action will be taken?
Âš Bearing in mind that you still contend that Lesley and I are not allowed to see the report, will you at last give me a complete, honest and final accounting of who has been deemed suitable, by you, the people you gave a copy of the report to or the Labour/Liberal Democrat Administration, to see Sue Charteris's, draft report for fact checking or other purposes?
Âš Noting that if it had not been for the email from Sue Charteris (In my possession which states 'My report has now gone to Bill Norman and to DCMS officials for them to fact check and I have given both parties till'......) Lesley, myself or the residents of Wirral would not have known the Council had received a draft copy for 'fact checking' let alone who was going to check the facts, why did you and the Administration choose to act in the exclusive way you describe?
Âš In your response you state 'Equally, however, all of us who have received copies of the draft Report have been conscious of the exceptional obligation of confidentiality attached to it'. And follow it with 'I do not say this to justify the telling of an untruth: it does not' can you explain why, if you were not seeking to justify officers telling me lies, you chose to include such a comment?
Âš The only seniority I can see Gill has is her capacity as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, therefore can you explain to me why I should not characterise your decision as a political one (i.e. the likely political/public impact the report may have on the coalition if the initial conclusions and recommendations were seen by other Council members or the electorate) as opposed to 'seeking the views' on the facts from 'senior' members of the Cabinet?
Âš (Your comment about Emma's role) is interesting in terms of process but not in terms of the expertise and competence she has that you required. Given you have not sought to address my specific question, I am only left with the conclusion that her role was associated with her job i.e. PR and media management, can you confirm this?
Other Issues arising out of your response:
Âš In Sue Charteris's letter of Monday 27th July, circulated by you, she says she has given you 'two numbered copies of the report'. How many copies of this report have been made or emailed around the Council? Where are the two numbered copies now? Do you consider that you have broken the 'exceptional nature of the obligation of confidentiality' or is it your view this would only have occurred if you had asked Lesley or I to check the facts contained in the report?
Âš In your response you state that Councillors other than members of the Conservative Group have consistently opposed the SAR. Is this completely accurate and true?
Âš You emphasise Council officers duty to use their best endeavours to defend the Council's decision. Do you believe this overrides officers obligations to perform their duties with honesty, integrity, impartiality and objectivity? Where does this leave Council whistle blowers?
Âš Para 7, If you, or anyone you have given one of the two numbered copies of the report to, has made copies or shown the contents to anyone else do you consider that the 'exceptional nature of the obligation of confidentiality' has been broken and what action will be taken?
Âš Para 9 can you inform me if any of the factual, corrections, clarifications and legal arguments were accepted by Sue Charteris? And whether you have been informed if the Council's response, which you tell me Emma made such a major contribution to, led to Sue Charteris informing you of any changes to her conclusions or recommendations?
Âš Para 12 Can you confirm to me in writing that in your judgement the content of the draft report and any associated communication about the conclusions and recommendations have no impact or bearing on the way Council needs to approach policy formation? And played no part in the Council's subsequent decision not to close the 11 libraries?
Âš Para 15 You have retrospectively applied an 'exceptional obligation of confidentiality' to me that you have not previously told me I had. For as you know I have been told of Sue Charteris's broad response to the Council's fact checking exercise and whether this had led to any changes to the recommendations contained in her report. As this information was shared with me in an open discussion is this a proper use of the obligation of confidentiality and has whoever told me this information breached any code?
Âš Para 15 can you tell me when (date and time) and who was told that publication of the Secretary of State's Decision was imminent? Whether the midnight meeting held in the Town Hall related to the imminence of publication and which Officers attended? Can you also tell me, given a Labour/Liberal Democrat press release was issued the following day, what role Emma Degg (the person responsible for the Councils PR/media handling strategy) was expected to perform at the midnight meeting?
Âš Para 16 Why have you not checked with everyone you gave a copy of the report to whether they have shared the draft report or its recommendations with anyone?
Given the content of your reply and the issues/questions above, I am left with the conclusion that you chose not to involve Lesley or I because you and those Councillors and officers involved in the 'fact checking' exercise were only looking for arguments that would defend the Administration's decision rather than an objective, impartial and honest examination of the facts in order to respond to the Chairman of a Public Enquiry, conducted on behalf of the Secretary of State. I have to say that if this is the case I would find it totally unacceptable and I am sure that those members of the Wirral public who had put so much faith in the honesty and integrity of the process will, in my opinion be rightly outraged.
If members of the Labour/Liberal Democrat Administration and Council Officers have dealt with the fact checking process and the two Reports sent to you by the Chairman of an Enquiry, who had generated so much good will and trust, in such a short period of time, with anything less than total, honesty, impartiality and integrity it will be nothing short of a scandal. Please tell me if you disagree?
Leader Wirral Conservative Group
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