Warren Bradley, leader of Liverpool City Council, has been found not guilty of breaking ethical standards by the Standards Board for England. Bradley had been accused of bullying by former Culture Company boss Jason Harborow and was alleged to have conspired against Harborow with Liverpool Deputy Mayor and councillor Mike Storey and a former Culture Company employee.
Previously Storey had been found guilty of breaching the Members Code of Conduct by disclosing information about Harborow’s health to the Echo’s Joe Riley, and received a slap on the wrist.
In clearing Bradley, the ethics officer said only that he had been ‘unwise and possibly’ naive and revealing an ‘lack of good judgement’.
Aside from some fairly low-level nonsense about rude emails, the nub of the matter is a meeting between Bradley, Mike Storey and Lee Forde – who was at the time suing the council – at Bradley’s house. Forde had formerly been the events manager for the Matthew Street festival.
Theories abound on exactly what the three discussed at this meeting, but Bradley claims they simply discussed the reasons behind the collapse of the Mathew Street festival and a related report.
The Standards Officer, quite remarkably, says that ‘conflicting accounts’ made it impossible to establish exactly what was discussed. The obvious implication is that three different stories were presented as to exactly what went on at the meeting.
The background behind all of this is a long-standing power-struggle between Storey and Harborow that led to both attempting to sabotage each other’s pet projects, the results of which were the eventual collapse of the Mathew Street festival.
At that point Bradley waded in with a number of emails to council Chief Exec Colin Hilton apparently demanding Harborow’s removal, having taken a lot of flack for the festival’s cancellation. Some time afterwards is the mysterious meeting between Bradley, Storey and Forde.
Frankly, the whole affair has been exposed as petty and deeply childish, more Carry on Cleo than I Claudius. While it’s all rather pathetic, and casts the council in an even worse light than previously, it would arguably not be a significant problem if it weren’t for the fact that Liverpool received a damning audit at the end of 2008 and its council is rife with bullying.
In that context the fact that some small-fry empire-building is getting in the way of running the city is inexcusable, regardless of Bradley’s qualified clearing.
Liverpool Daily Post’s blog, Dale Street Blues, has the whole report from the ethical standards reports, but there are some of the more interesting excerpts below.
In sending the email the ethical standards officer did not consider that Councillor Bradley was being deliberately malicious or insulting, but was genuinely concerned, along with others, about the festival’s sudden cancellation. The ethical standards officer did not consider that Councillor Bradley failed to treat Jason Harborow with respect.The ethical standards officer took the view that, as council leader, Councillor Bradley would have been expected to comment on the festival’s cancellation and that it was not unreasonable of him to hold the Culture Company to account.It was not the ethical standards officer’s role to judge whether Councillor Bradley’s opinion on the Mathew Street report was valid, although she did consider that Councillor Bradley had been given specific legal advice in relation to talking about Jason Harborow and that his comments were therefore unwise.On 18 November Councillor Bradley met Councillor Mike Storey and Lee Forde at his home. The ethical standards officer considered that Councillor Bradley arranged the meeting to discuss the perceived failings of the Mathew Street report and to give Lee Forde the opportunity to present Councillor Bradley with any evidence he might have in relation to it. Councillor Bradley has recognised that his meeting with Lee Forde was unwise and possibly naïve. The ethical standards officer considered this to be particularly so as Lee Forde was in the process of taking out an unfair dismissal case against the council. However, conflicting accounts of the meeting made it impossible for the ethical standards officer to conclude exactly what was discussed.The ethical standards officer considered that during the period under investigation, Councillor Bradley’s conduct occasionally suggested lack of good judgement, and that it contributed to Jason Harborow feeling undermined in his role.
• There’s plenty of muck-raking blogs about Liverpool city council and satellite characters around. While I make no claims for their veracity, the most entertaining is this one.