Frank Field MP
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EXCLUSIVE: MP demands Wirral Council makes same payout to whistleblowers as given to anonymous 'bullied' chief officer


22 October 2014
Wirral Globe AN outcry over a £48,000 compensation payment made a year ago to an unnamed senior Wirral Council officer resurfaced tonight.

The Globe can reveal that Birkenhead MP Frank Field has written to the authority's chief executive demanding a similar sum should be given to a group of whistleblowers - some of whom are now “on the point of bankruptcy."

Mr Field said the group are suffering severe hardship after raising concerns over a multi-million pound outsoucred highways contract.

The controversy centres around a meeting of the full council last October when questions were raised over the payment to the anonymous chief officer, who it was understood had suffered bullying.

The meeting heard Tory group leader Cllr Jeff Green criticise a “veil of secrecy” surrounding the payout. He demanded to know who was the bully - and who was the victim.

At around the same time, Mr Field was battling to reach a financial settlement with the authority for a group of former council employees who had acted under whistleblowing law to voice concerns of alleged “irregularities” in a £40m contract with highways maintenance company Colas.

A year down the line, no agreement to help the whistleblowers has been reached.

Mr Field told the Globe: “The whistleblowing on the Colas contract resulted in an almost clean sweep of senior council officers.

“The debt Wirral owes to those who blew the whistle is considerable.

"And yet they gained no compensation for the damage that has occurred to their careers.

“News reports last year carried information that a senior officer of the council was paid a fraction under £50,000 after allegedly being bullied by an even more senior officer.

"Surely the case of the whistleblowers is more deserving than the case of this officer, who is still in post.

"I have now written to Wirral’s chief executive Graham Burgess suggesting an equivalent compensation payment be made to them.”

Mr Burgess said: “It has been the council’s position for many years that we will not comment on individual cases.

“But if any organisation or individual has a claim against this authority, they should contact us and we will seek legal advice and act accordingly.”

A meeting between the MP and Mr Burgess is scheduled to take place on Friday.

Mr Field said he hopes to "hammer out" an agreement before Mr Burgess retires at the end of December.

A serious problem for the council is that whistleblowing law guarantees anonymity for those involved in exposing what they believe to be dishonest or illegal activity in an organisation.

Yet this protection was removed when the identity of one of the group was revealed in a council committee agenda distributed to all 66 elected members of the authority.

A spokesman for the whistleblowers told the Globe: "Our careers were damaged beyond repair when that happened. We simply could not believe that a council officer had named one of us.

"The impact has deeply affected all areas of our lives. 

"We consider that the £48,000 payment for the anonymous council officer is a shameful waste of public money, especially when it was made against the backdrop of massive spending cuts and staff redundancies."

Shortly after the whistleblow, four chief officers of the council were suspended from work while an investigation was carried out by local government watchdog the Audit Commission.

The commission's report published in October 2012 found EU rules "probably had been broken" by the manner in which the highways contract had been handled.

However, a subsequent inquiry by an outside consultant cleared the authority of any wrongdoing and found there was "no case to answer."

The four later left the council under a management restructure, either through voluntary severance or early retirement.



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