Last year, during a brief period of Conservative leadership, Wirral Council commissioned an independent report into the scandalous way the Council behaved towards a whistle blower, Martin Morton, who pointed out that vulnerable residents were being overcharged.
In short, the evidence confirms the consultant’s conclusion that, over a considerable period of time, this council has been consistently unable to get a grip of a range of inter-related issues. This indicates that Wirral MBC’s corporate governance arrangements were, and probably remain, inadequate.
The consequence of this inward, insular focus is that over time, residents and service users’ needs and rights have become submerged beneath an increasingly complex set of bureaucratic machinations. These have gripped different parts of the Council, diverting both attention and resources. Despite this, the organisation is still struggling to resolve the problems.
These machinations have had a corrosive impact on the basic levels of trust that need to exist between a council, its members, staff, residents and users.
Maintaining an appropriate level of trust sits at the heart of the relationship between government (at every level) and its citizens. Trust is damaged when services fail. But trust is lost when the openness, honesty and indeed, motives of the organisation and individuals charged with resolving problems come into question. This is what has happened at Wirral MBC. As the organisation has struggled to generate accurate information, not responded to complaints, failed to properly execute agreed decisions, people have suspected conspiracies rather than maladministration. Rebuilding this trust is crucial to underpinning the Council’s way forward.
In January 2010, the Labour council leader, Cllr Steve Foulkes, made the astonishing claim that the Council's response to Mr Morton showed that complaints or grievances "were properly investigated." It could scarecly have shown the opposite more starkly.
What should be done now? There needs to be accountability, consequences. Heads should roll although the report doesn't directly call for it.
But it does say:
A pertinent example of a council that took ownership of its own corporate governance renewal following service failure is Surrey County Council. During 2008 Surrey County Council found itself on the receiving end of two very negative reviews by Ofsted and CSCI (now CQC) in relation to Children’s Services and Adult Services respectively. Two immediate consequences were that a number of senior and very senior staff left the County Council and restructuring to transform the authority’s leadership,
culture and governance was pursued.