AN EXTRAORDINARY row has engulfed Wirral Council over its response to a Freedom of Information request which has resulted in a politician accusing the authority of “lying and misleading the public.”

Councillor Chris Blakeley has sent a report to the powerful Information Commission asking it to conduct a full investigation.

The furore centres on the costs of a video commissioned by the council as part of its “What Really Matters” budget cuts consultation questionnaire.

Last week, in response to a Freedom of Information request from Wirral resident Paul Cardin, the council claimed the total cost of the filming project was £5,722.

Their written reply stated: “The video consisted of the chief executive and leader of the council explaining the process, which was followed by a number of staff explaining the context of each question within the questionnaire, along with instructions as to how the questionnaire could be completed.

“The expenditure for this video was in the amount of £5,722.

In addition Wirral Council can confirm no other funding was spent on contracts such as this.

“The contract was for this project only and does not cover further work outside of this consultation.”

But it has since emerged that in fact this was not the full story.

Inquiries by Cllr Blakeley and the Wirral Globe have prompted a new response from the authority today revealing the sum quoted was less than half of the total cost of the project for which a further THREE videos were made.

A statement this afternoon from an unnamed “council spokesperson” said: “The video relating to the first stage of the consultation was filmed in September and was used to improve the accessibility of the first questionnaire, cost the council £5,722.

“The council developed a further three videos for the second stage of the consultation project, which provided further explanation and context for more than 70 budget options which are currently out for consultation.

“These videos are currently available on the council website and cost a further £7,440 to produce.

“The council makes no apology for making these and other investments to make sure that our vulnerable residents are more able to get involved and contribute to a consultation process which may have a direct impact on the services they use and rely on.”

Councillor Blakeley stormed: "To say 'Wirral Council can confirm no other funding was spent on contracts such as this' is a lie.

"It is absolutely misleading and, as we can now see, totally untrue.

"And to then say they 'make no apology' for spending a further £7,440 than they admitted - with the same company on the same project - is an outrage.

"I thought we were supposed to have turned a corner as far as transparency and openness is concerned?

"But this is indicative of the secretive manner in which Wirral Council still goes about its business.

"They might 'make no apologies' for it, but I am demanding that in fact they must immediately issue an urgent apology to the people of Wirral.

"The most worrying thing is, if they're prepared to mislead and dissemble over something like this, what else might they be hiding from us?

“It’s not actually about the money. It’s about honesty. Why do we have to drag this information out of our officers?”

Councillor Blakeley added: “I am sending a full report to the Information Commissioner as I believe it warrants an external investigation into what went on.

"I also want them to look at the council’s subsequent ‘we make no apology’ statement issued to the Wirral Globe.”

That statement also quoted a Jenny Carter, who, the council said: “herself has learning disabilities and helped found an advocacy group to help other people with learning disabilities." 

She was quoted as saying: “I have been working with the council to try and make sure information that is given to people with learning disabilities is clear, in plain English and as easy to understand as possible.

“This video was very helpful to us and the people we work with and we were very pleased that the council decided to invest funding in making sure people with learning disabilities were more able to take part in this consultation.

“I have been running workshops in day centres, helping people to complete the questionnaire and instead of having to explain each question one by one I was able to just show people the video which explained every question really well and it was very helpful to encourage and enable people with learning disabilities to get involved.”