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15.03.19

Council offered top job to man hit by ‘very serious allegation’ over payments to dissolved firm

One of the top jobs at Wirral Council was given to a contractor eight days after officials knew he had invoiced them for large sums of money being paid into a dissolved company’s bank account.

The council blunder saw Stewart Halliday appointed as corporate director for economic and housing growth on an interim basis on 24 January, a decision Wirral Council finance chief Shaer Halewood described as an “error.”

Eight days prior to the appointment, officers were made aware that several payments made were made since September 2018 to a firm called Forge House Associates Limited.

Officials discovered that the firm was now dissolved and it was revealed that it was also partly run by Halliday.

As soon as Halewood and assurance director Philip McCourt were made aware of the situation after council officers had raised concerns about “potential financial irregularities,” Halliday was dropped by the council.

But at a council meeting of the audit and risk management committee, members in the authority asked why nobody had realised that “s*** was hitting the fan.”

Committee member Jeff Green said: “Why, if we knew about this on January 16 at a senior level as we're being told in this report, why did the chief executive make the appointment on January 24?

“Don't senior officers talk to each other? Didn't anyone warn the chief executive this was going on? It's either he didn't know and he should have known, or someone hasn't bothered to tell [him] before he made this appointment.”

Councillor Kathy Hodson said “alarm bells” should have been raised in October when there were problems with VAT numbers on invoices.

She said: “This is a very serious allegation because we are now looking at Wirral Council being swarmed by the HMRC, which is what they will do.

 “If there's a senior officer in the council who does not think it's important enough to shove this up the line as quickly as possible, then they really ought not to be in their job.”

Wirral Council said: “Some concerns were raised by council officers about potential financial irregularities regarding how a supplier was being paid.

“These concerns were immediately acted upon, and the contractor has stopped work for the council while further investigations take place. Until those investigations are concluded, no further comment can be made.”

Halliday had been working as a contractor for Wirral Council, tasked with looking into the economic regeneration of the borough before he was put forward to take on the role of corporate director for economic and housing growth on an interim basis.

Halliday also worked at York City Council as a director.

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