Westminster Council led quango to lie to British Gov and European Commissioner

We’ve never had a case like this before”, said the Office of Government Commerce’s (OGC) Martin Leverington when it was put to him that the Westminster Council led Partnerships in Parking (PiP) quango had lied to them.

The OGC are the Government office that represents the British Government and answers to the EU Commissioners when a complaint reaches the EU. This happened recently when PiP were found to have infringed the EU rules on contract procurement regarding the Verrus Pay-by-Phone Framework Agreement (FA), originally tendered by Westminster Council.

In December 2009 Westminster Council were informed by the OGC that they had indeed violated community law on public procurement. During meetings between Westminster Council officers and the OGC a response was formed explaining what steps PiP would take to try to correct the violations. So serious were the EU’s findings that Westminster Councils very own chief executive officer, Mike More attended the meetings.

That reply drawn up by Westminster Councils Chief Executive Mike More and other officers was so convincing to the EU Commissioners that they believed the story and closed the case.  So euphoric were Westminster City Council officers that they had got away with their deception to the UK Government and the EU Commission they could barely contain themselves and issued a press release claiming they had been cleared of any wrong doing.

Westminster Council’s cabinet member for parking, Councillor Lee Rowley contributed to that same press release.

Nutsville covered the publication of the WCC press release in our last post, however since then WCC have published brief details of the three violations of the community law on public procurement. (download here ). At the end of that document is a copy of the email sent from OGC to WCC advising them of the case being closed and thanking WCC for their help, nothing more than that.

It came as no surprise when Nutsville learnt that WCC’s spin department were especially keen that the website ‘Local Government Lawyer’ published their press release trumpeting the claim to no wrong doing. The reason they were so keen was because, as we mentioned in our last post, WCC were not too pleased with an earlier Local Government Lawyer (LGL) article back in March 2010. A particularly uncomfortable line in the LGL article was “However, when further London boroughs joined PiP and began to use Verrus’ services, a complaint was made that the contract should have been re-tendered.” The LGL article also goes on to explain that WCC’s legal team (headed by Peter Large) helped draft the reply sent on behalf of the British Government back to the EU.

If in doubt cross your fingers and lie

Recent events now record that after receipt of the OGC reply the EU commissioners had decided that Westminster Council and the board members of PiP had seen the errors of their ways and had put things right. What must have been especially influential in the decision process for the EU Commissioners was to be told by Westminster City Council that no real harm was done as they were the only Local Authority (LA) to have ever used the Verrus Pay-by-Phone FA.

Unfortunately for Mike More, Peter Large and the other Westminster Council officers involved in the drafting of the reply to the EU, Nutsville has a reliable source based at the heart of the EU Commission. Through our source we have obtained documents which clearly show that the EU Commissioners were lied to.

Here is a brief extract from one of those documents showing that the EU were told that only Westminster Council were using the Verrus FA:

In a poor attempt at damage limitation Westminster Council officers decided to lie through their teeth.

It’s everyman for himself

The original seven members of PiP were all legally entitled to use the Verrus Pay-by-Phone FA, they were: Westminster Council, City of London, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Islington, Camden and Transport for London.

It must come as quite a shock for the London Borough of Islington to now learn that Westminster Council have on their behalf told the EU Commissioners that they are not using the Verrus Pay-by-Phone LA. Islington seem to think they are! Amazingly, Verrus also thought that Islington were also using the PiP FA, as they say in the opening of the news item saved from their website:

Following a highly successful one year trial in two zones, Islington Council is currently rolling out Verrus’ PayByPhone service to all other zones in the borough on a full contract basis under the PiP (Partners in Parking) framework agreement.“

( view here )

But how could Westminster Council not admit that Islington were using the Verrus FA, when two other later members of PiP ( Enfield and Tower Hamlets ) were also illegally using the same Verrus FA. Perhaps Enfield and Tower Hamlets were tempted by this Verrus letter approved by Westminster Council, offering a trial without any of that fiddly and expensive tendering nonsense. ( view Verrus letter ).

Tower Hamlets also seem to be under the impression they were using the Verrus FA, as this Freedom of Information request question and answer indicates:

Q:    Under what Tower Hamlets tender process was the current pay by phone contract awarded to Verrus UK and if there was no tender process under what criteria and by whom was this contract awarded to Verrus UK?

A:   This service has already been the subject of an OJEU Notice placed by City of Westminster in the form of a framework agreement allowing partners in PiP to participate.  PiP is a consortium that allows the Council negotiate larger volume discounts, encourages us to harmonise our parking services in London where necessary and increase the efficiency made in procurement.  Pay by phone is not new to the Borough and was introduced on the 11th October 2004.

( view FOI here )

The London Borough of Enfield have also been shafted by the good officers of Westminster Council as they too had thought they were utilising the Verrus FA ( View sample Enfield/Verrus invoices ).

Nutsville understands that both Enfield and Tower Hamlets are both very busy filling out forms to obtain a legal pay-by-phone contract now that Westminster and PIP have disintegrated and its every man for himself and too few lifeboats.

Time for the blame game

So whilst Westminster Council officers have consistently denied there had been any wrong doing whilst at the same time being aware of the EU infringement notice, they have now dragged the other PiP members in to their deception. As PiP members will know they are all equally liable for Westminster Councils actions to date.

The PiP board members cannot even claim ignorance of the mess.  As we mentioned in our last post, there have been numerous written approaches to all of the PiP board members explaining the publics concerns.

When Westminster Council officer Alastair Gilchrist told PiP board members not to speak to researcher Graeme Jones, the PiP sheeple obediently obeyed.

After Westminster Councillor and PiP board member Lee Rowley had everything explained to him in person with an offer to save PiP’s blushes he stays silent and we hear nothing from him until he joins in the charade by providing sound bites for the ‘we’ve done nothing wrong’ press release, which has proved false.

The words ‘head in sand’ can be said for most of the approaches to PiP board members. Camden Councillor Sue Vincent for example has become adapt at mastering caller ID, or perhaps she has been on an extremely long period of gardening leave. PiP’s new Chairman City of London Councillor Archie Galloway’s brush off technique was equally quick, replying to one concerned member of the public simply with ‘Happy to come off your list!

PiP board members may have thought it incredulous that the almighty Westminster Council could have got contract procurement so wrong, but the recent well published NSL parking enforcement contract re-let fiasco should have raised questions.

But in these cash strapped times perhaps it was to tempting for these local authorities to save around £200,000 for their own procurement.

Perhaps the main reason most of the PiP board members would not give their own constituents the time of day is given away in Alastair Gilchrist’s rebuttal letter sent to all the PiP members. In it he weaves in the point that these procurement violations have been uncovered by nothing more than bikers. Perhaps he was aware that many of the PiP board members had lost touch with the modern world and would only get as far as some long gone stereotype image of ‘bikers’. Yes a sad testament to the PiP board members to join in with Westminster Councils underestimation of bikers. Nutsville wonders if they would care to ask Cameron and Pickles to reword their published desires on public accountability to say something like this instead:

Cameron “We want to replace the old system of bureaucratic accountability with a new system of democratic accountability — accountability to the people, not the government machine.” “Excluding anyone who chooses to ride a motorcycle and gets near to exposing what really happens to the public’s money”.

The hidden sweetener

Gilchrist

If procurement cost savings and Alastair Gilchrist’s bully boy methods weren’t enough to keep the PiP board members quiet, perhaps getting the tax payers of Westminster to pay for all the call centre charges on behalf of the other London PiP members swung it for them.

At the time of writing Nutsville has not been able to find one invoice from the PiP members using the Verrus FA for their call centre charges. Yet Westminster has plenty to show, and they are huge. Are Westminster residents and businesses paying the call centre fees for every Local Authority Gilchrist can sign up to his nationwide Verrus empire? No wonder our nickname for Partnerships in Parking is Pirates in Parking.

Nutsville wonders if the recent purchase of Verrus by Paypoint is looking quite such a good deal, if their chances of future growth UK wide through PiP is to go up in smoke.

It couldn’t possibly be any worse

Because of Alastair Gilchrist’s attempts to silence any critiques of PiP, Nutsville has learnt that a much more serious complaint has been accepted by the EU Commissioners. But rather than hand everything on a plate to Westminster Council we are not publishing this 407 page complaint just yet. Unlike the last EU complaint this one contains much more serious Article 7 EU violations, covering every contract PiP has used. Well it would be such a shame to leave out a PiP board member, as Mr Cameron likes to say “we’re all in this together”. (EU aceptantce letter)

The following letter has been sent to all PiP board members and other interested parties. Previously, not one of them had the courtesy to even acknowledge the last letter from Mr Jones. With their heads in the sand they probably can’t read it, so we are not expecting any replies soon.

Dear Councillor

On the 26th July 2010 I sent to you (and all PIP Board members) a letter concerning Public procurement violations by WCC / PIP.  To date I have not received the courtesy of an acknowledgement let alone a reply.

In light of recent events, I again wish to bring to your attention those same allegations and for ease of reference I have attached that letter of 26th July 2010 together with Mr Gilchrist’s rebuttal letter of 27th July 2010 which I refer to in this correspondence.

Recently the EU closed their investigation into the Pay By Phone PIP framework agreement. The reason the EU provided was contrary to WCC press release of 8th November (http://nutsville.com/download/Westminster-City-CouncilPressRelease_fingold.htm).

Those reasons confirmed that my allegations were sound insofar as WCC/PIP had clearly violated EU law.

This is endorsed by a EU Commission letter of formal notice (LFN) dated 20th November 2009 where the EU commission stated unequivocally that WCC/PIP had infringed EU law.

Furthermore, WCC/PIP replied to the EU Commission on the 22nd January 2010 admitting to those infringements and I shall detail this later.

Turning now to Mr Gilchrist’s rebuttal letter of the 27th July 2010 which I mentioned at the start of this letter (and which is attached) you will now see that Mr Gilchrist’s first point that ‘..all PIP members had been briefed…’ is clearly incorrect.

I personally spoke to at least six PIP board members including the present chairman and not one had been briefed prior to the PIP Board meeting of 28th July.

I have subsequently been informed that the management committee (of which Mr Gilchrist was the chairman at the time) had been briefed but what was said and to whom (as only a handful of PIP members sent representatives to these meetings) is not documented as the minutes of these meetings have not been made public. Mr Gilchrist must publish the minutes of the meeting when he did indeed brief PIP committee members in the interest of openness an accountability so we can know what was said to whom.

Mr Gilchrist then goes on and states;

“Consequently, it is not for any party other than the EU to categorically state that a breach of EU law has in fact occurred, and as such, the breaches which have been mentioned in Mr Jones’ letter may only be referenced as alleged breaches at this point in time.”

However Mr Gilchrist was aware that WCC had on the 22nd January 2010 formulated with the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) a reply to the EU LFN of 20TH November 2009 and in that reply acknowledged breaches of EU law.

It is plain that Mr Gilchrist did indeed misinform the PIP Board when he went on further to state;

“Nevertheless, as mentioned earlier, until the EU announces a verdict following their investigation, no violation of procurement can be deemed to have occurred, despite Mr Jones’ allegations.”

This is an extraordinary statement when it is now known that Mr Gilchrist was fully aware of the breaches of EU law some six months prior.

Where Mr Gilchrist states

“We therefore stress that his concerns about PiP’s “nationwide expansion” are ill conceived and that regional savings are still at the heart of PiP’s focus.”

Mr Gilchrist and the PIP Board are fully aware of the failed attempt to vote on a supplementary management agreement in the PIP Board meeting of 7th December 2009 which would have allowed any UK authority to join PIP. Even now, this is still an agenda item and has not been formally withdrawn at any subsequent Board meeting or in any formal statement of the PIP Board.

Where Mr Gilchrist states

“With respect to the four PIP framework agreements in place as referenced in Mr Jones’ letter: Pay and Display; Pay by Phone; Debt Recovery Management and Stationery; we can assure the Board that the legal teams of partnering authorities were consulted throughout the procurement process, and the advice was that the contracts satisfied existing procurement legislation at the time. Unfortunately, since then, EU guidelines have changed and may have a retrospective impact on these contracts.”

As I have pointed out to Mr Gilchrist personally a council cannot rely on a defence of EU guidelines from the OGC. A local authority (or partnership of authorities) has a duty to comply with EU law not simply a set of guidelines. You cannot rely on a defence of “they told me so”.

In any event some of the violations that I have made reference to were made after the OGC updated the guidelines in 2008, so even this defence of WCC/PIP actions cannot be relied upon.

One has to question the legal advice that has been sought with respect to these framework agreements and there must be someone who is accountable for bad or feeble legal direction.

Mr Gilchrist goes on to state;

“The remaining points raised in Mr Jones’ letter appear to relate to the mismanagement of PiP by Westminster City Council. This claim is based on the assumption that clear violations of EU law have in fact occurred, which as stated above, has not yet been decided. Although Westminster is the lead authority, decisions are made jointly at quarterly Committee meetings which are open to any PiP member to raise any concerns they may have about the leadership. No such concerns have been raised by any member.”

It should be clearly noted that after three years WCC no longer Chair PIP nor do they Chair the management committee.

Importantly, it is no longer an assumption or an allegation but fact that EU violations have occurred.

Where Mr Gilchrist states

“Where his enquiries have related to existing procurements, it is important to heed legal advice on maintaining confidentiality and terminating communications appropriately. As previously advised by PiP, any and all future communications should be channelled through the standard FOI handling process.”

Mr Gilchrist a public servant is here instructing other public servants to terminate communications with a member of the public. I know you will agree that this is not exactly open and accountable governance.

All I have sought to do is to put you in the picture, so that you, and PIP Board members can come to a more informed judgement in the management of PIP and to bring to your attention the failings by Westminster City Council as the leading authority of this partnership and the legal advice that they have given.

Moving now to the current situation and action I have taken;

WCC/PIP have stated to the EU Commission by way of a letter of the 22nd January 2010 that they realise that only the six original partner authorities are entitled to utilise the PIP Pay By Phone framework agreement. This was because they had procured this contract on behalf of all UK authorities in violation of EU law. Additionally, they have also admitted to procuring this contract for an excessive term also in violation of EU law and have agreed to terminate the contract in January 2012 after four years. This means that they will have to start early in 2011 with a new tendering process. I would urge you to consider the history and participants and not to take part in any new venture of this nature.

It is regretful that not one individual that I sent my letter of 26th July 2010 to has replied or even acknowledged the document, but what is worse is the cavalier and arrogant manner in which I have been treated by WCC.

On this journey through this shameful affair I instigated investigations at the Office Of Fair Trade (OFT), the Department of Communities of Local Government (DCLG) and at the Audit Commission. In August the last of these investigations was completed.

Having exhausted all recourse to UK Governing bodies and including these investigations in my complaint I can inform you that my complaint has been accepted by the EU Commission in a letter dated 25th October 2010.

In that complaint to the EU I have listed violations of EU Public Procurement law with respect to all current and past PIP contracts / framework agreements. In addition, I have included in my complaint several more serious Article 7 violations.

It is important to note that all members who have illegally utilised these contracts have also been brought to the attention of the EU Commission with individual evidence of the illegal procurement.

It has also come to my attention that when WCC/PIP formulated their response to the original EU investigation by letter of 22nd January 2010 that WCC/PIP misinformed the OGC that only WCC had utilised the Pay By Phone framework agreement. That misinformation caused the UK Government to misinform the EU Commission which resulted in having the case closed on unsound information.

When WCC/PIP formulated the UK Governments response in January WCC/PIP were fully aware that Islington Council, Enfield Council and Tower Hamlets Council were all utilising the Pay By Phone framework agreement. Islington council are as an original member allowed to utilise this contract so it is interesting how WCC/PIP did not alude to this. Maybe this was because if they had, then WCC/PIP would have had to admit to Enfield Council and Tower Hamlets Council were also utilising the service as all three had undertaken a trial of it. This is now being brought to the attention of the EU Commission to be added to the every growing list of matters justifiably contained in my complaint.

In view of the seriousness of my findings I would now ask that you consider carefully your council’s membership of this partnership.

I would further call upon you to again put a motion to the forthcoming PIP Board meeting on Monday 6th December 2010 to dissolve the partnership or at the very least for your council to remove itself from this partnership.

Previously I have stated that I stand to be corrected on any of my findings and I continue to hope this will happen. I would further hope that at least one of you will accord me the respect of a reply, or if not that at least the manners to acknowledged receipt.

The final judgement will be made by the EU Commission but your actions now can only stand you in good stead with the EU Commission.

Please contact me if you wish to discuss further.

Kind regards

Graeme Jones

A message from biker Scoop

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1 Comment

Bob O'DellDecember 9th, 2010 at 9:33 pm

We ALL KNOW that Westminster Council lie.
Blatantly.
Through their teeth.
Without shame.

‘Slowley’ Rowley is a chiselling little twat who has no redeeming features other than the ability to share the same height as the diminutive Chalkley. Mealy mouthed, aspiring and weak. His total disregard for style and fashion is only trumped by ‘Johnny Boy’ Glanz.

Barrow is nothing more than a self-centred egotist who craves adoration whilst at the same time claiming benefits for his offspring (despite being a millionaire).

At first blush we could think there was something useful in these sad sack councillors. But, as ever, the truth will be out and that truth is so unpalatable I would be surprised if Nutsville prints it.

Suffice to say Barrow is a power hungry loser whose control of the levers of power is nothing short of dangerous. Rowley is a puppet-like sycophant who quite frankly couldn’t be trusted to run a bath.

In short, if you live in Westminster you should start screaming around………………………………………………now!

Arrrggggggg!!!

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