THREE of Wirral Council’s most senior officers have been suspended from work.
Acting chief executive and director of finance Ian Coleman, director of law, HR and asset management Bill Norman and deputy director of finance David Taylor-Smith have been told to stay at home.
It follows criticism in an investigation into the authority over its awarding of a £40m highways and engineering services contract in 2008.
The inquiry was carried out in 2011 by local government watchdog the Audit Commission and published earlier this month.
Among criticisms concerning poor corporate govenance, the review found that the director of highways and technical services, David Green, “had probably” broken EU laws over the way the outsourced contract had been handled.
The move means an astonishing FOUR members of the council’s senior officer group are now suspended from work with Mr Green having been told to stay at home pending an inquiry earlier this year.
The council’s chief executive Jim Wilkie took early retirement on June 8 after an extended period of sick leave.
David Armstrong, interim director of children’s services, will assume chief executive responsibilities until an interim chief is in post.
The town hall says “arrangements have been put in place to ensure services will remain unaffected.”
A statement from the council says in order to “properly investigate and address the findings of the report,” three members of staff, who have both statutory and line management responsibilities for corporate governance functions where failings were identified, have been suspended.
It says suspension is a “neutral act” and an investigation will be undertaken to determine whether there is a case to answer.
Leader of Wirral Council Cllr Phil Davies said: “When becoming leader, I made it clear that in order to move the council forward it was necessary to address honestly and openly where failings had occurred in the past.
“That is why I make this announcement today in partnership with my fellow party leaders.
“Together with them, I will ensure that this investigation takes place both robustly and speedily.
“My clear priority is to ensure that the residents of Wirral have a council delivering the excellent services that they both need and deserve.”
Leader of the Conservative group, Cllr Jeff Green, said: “I have made it clear for some time that Wirral Council must be open and transparent and hold people to account where necessary.
“The needs of residents and businesses must be our over-riding priority.
“The culture of the council has damaged their interests and I have always made it clear that it is important for all politicians to work together to deliver real change.
“I will work with Phil Davies to ensure all necessary actions are taken and that together we build a council with a culture and approach to difficult issues that the public can have confidence in.”
Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Tom Harney said: “The improvements we must make to the manner in which Wirral Council operates require the full support and efforts of all political parties and I pledge to be a part of that.
“We will not make progress unless we face up to some of the things that have gone wrong and put in place a new culture and a better way of working together.”
Wallasey Labour Angela Eagle MP said: “The leader of the council is right to have made these suspensions so that a thorough investigation can take place.
“My concern is that my constituents do not suffer as a result and I am seeking assurances council services will not be affected.
“I’ll be in regular contact with the council leadership during this process and I hope they get to the bottom of what has happened quickly.”
Late last year a report by investigating consultant Anna Klonowski also discovered severe failings in Wirral’s corporate governance.
The inquiry was ordered by the then-council leader Cllr Green following revelations in the Wiral Globe by former social services manager turned whistle-blower Martin Morton.
The probe said that in Wirral, practices most other authorities would view as abnormal had become commonplace.
Mr Wilkie said at the time the findings represented “the most serious challenge this authority faces.”
Birkenhead MP Frank Field said: “It’s superb that the new leadership is following through properly the Audit Commission report, and I couldn’t be more pleased with its response.”