BIRKENHEAD MP Frank Field has asked the Serious Fraud Office to investigate allegations of "serious irregularities" at Wirral Council.

The UK investigation agency was called in by Mr Field following allegations made to him by a group of council staff.

Mr Field alerted the SFO following a town hall meeting with senior officers of the authority during which he discussed concerns about the circumstances surrounding the council’s handling of a multi-million pound highways maintenance contract.

Mr Field has not published any evidence on which he relies and no findings have been made, but the MP said he thinks there may be grounds to investigate the claims from five council employees.

Mr Field told the Globe: "The seriousness of their claims was such that I immediately sought a meeting with the most senior officers of the council.

"I spent the whole of an afternoon with them and, following this, I decided to refer the issue to the Serious Fraud Office.

"There are two questions I have asked them to consider.

"The first is, had malpractice occurred in the signing of this contract?

"The second is, were council officers open and above board with the councillors who had to make the decision to proceed with the contract?"

The council says it knows nothing of any involvement of the SFO.

The Globe has spoken to the council staff making the claims.

They confirm that the allegations relate to the council’s conduct of the tender process and not the company which later signed the contract.

A council spokeswoman said: "The council has not heard from the Serious Fraud Office regarding any investigation.

"Clearly, if or when we do, we will co-operate fully with any enquiries."

An SFO spokesman said: "We can confirm that we have received the allegations and are in the process of considering whether we should be looking into them."

Wirral Council recently has been rocked by the scandal surrounding social services whistle-blower Martin Morton's treatment and recently received a damning report on its ethics and culture.

The report followed a £250,000, six-month investigation by independent consultants who found a "corrosive and insular" culture had all-but overwhelmed the authority, saying it puts its own bureaucratic machinations before the needs and rights of Wirral people.

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