Tuesday, 8 May 2007





Insight into the Henshaw years in Knowsley.

Mon 30 Apr 2007
Posted by admin under: Local News

The impact of David Henshaw on Merseyside is considerable, even if you don’t count yourself as a fan.

Before he took charge of Liverpool he had ruled the roost in nearby Knowsley Council, where life suddenly became easy in this one party fiefdom.

The trail blazing Kirkby Times was the first printed news site to highlight the dubious activities in this council between 1995 – to date; activities that in any other council would certainly have attracted severe sanctions from the government, audit commission, and probably the law enforcement agencies as well.

These included, positions and cash given for votes on land deals, the whip applied on planning applications, non declaration of interests on land deals, Councillors with convictions for burglary and violence holding down senior and sensitive positions. Single Regeneration Poverty Funds ( £35 million pounds ) doled out like confetti to Cllr Keight’s cohorts, this list is not exhaustive, and is only a taste of what went on.

Henshaw with a bag of peanuts

Many have lifted our stories, reassured that our factual reporting is completely accurate.

Gratitude is extended to those very close to events in Knowsley whose contributions allow this further chapter of history to be told.

David Henshaw had arrived in Knowsley Council in late 1989. This had been a bad time for the Council, with the twin problems of a decline in jobs and population.

Before he had time to put his feet under the table the Boundary Commision for England – a body that reviews and determines Council boundaries – announced they were recommending the abolition of Knowsley, with its parts reconciled with their nearest neighbour.

This would have seen Kirkby and Huyton merge into Liverpool, which made sense for the long established social, community, transport and health service links.

The political and financial turmoil in Liverpool was a barrier, which galvanised Henshaw to successfully campaign for the status quo. The rebirth of the Council began, though it was unforeseen it would become entirely based on Huyton.

With a highly professional team of officers the foundations were put into place. We are informed by some of those staff that the political steel was provided by some excellent Councillors. We refrain to mention them by name, but the Councils financial strategy, it health and environmental strategy that they now claim so much credit for, was the driving force of two senior Councillors around 1990-94.

One was from Kirkby ( PF ) the other from Halewood ( TJL ), ex staff say they are the ones who should get the real credit for where the Council are today.

Senior people told us that all the initial top- level meetings with the E.U, Health, Business, and Industrialists, involved Henshaw, his team, and Cllr’s PF. D.L. & M.M.
Henshaw was said to greatly admire their professional image and natural intelligence, handling top executives with natural aplomb.
This was the era the ground was laid for the future success.
It was said Council leader Keight always absented himself from such high level meetings, often preferring to be in his office with the rebel Councillors mixed up in the anti poll tax campaigns of 1989-92.

Henshaw does Kirkby

Around this time – 1990-93 - Henshaw was said to be amenable to others around him. Then a fundamental shift took place, that was to herald a power base never seen before in local government in these parts of the country.

Senior Civil Servants had been perplexed as to why Knowsley Council, which abuts the city of Liverpool , was successful in securing the multi million pound grants that the City Council was unprepared to bid for. Things like Housing, Transport, and Economic regeneration took off in Knowsley, while things stood still in Liverpool.

So something had to give.
Decision making had to be speeded up in Liverpool, as well as a managerial and financial reorganisation.

This anomaly proved a life changing experience for Henshaw. He was quid’s in.

The senior civil servant he had links with was one Jonathan Powell, later to become Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff.

When Blair took charge of Labour in 1994, Henshaw was ordained as a High Priest of New labour, everything else just fell into place.

In 1997 when Labour took power, he dovetailed into every aspect of their sinister and hidden agenda. Nobody or anything was to stand in the way.

Knowsleys new labour Council leader, J Keight, simply enjoyed the ride and a long sweet heart arrangement with Henshaw, that was to later see them both receive honours from Blair, for services rendered !

This created the Henshaw aura of invincibility that is now well documented.

One issue, above all, gives an example of how Henshaw and Keight could manipulate almost any situation to turn fact on its head and spin an untruth.

Around 1994 another man, who was later to gain notoriety, arrived in Knowsley.

Almost from nowhere, Mr David Mc Elhinney popped up to secure a tempory funded post in Marketing (spin ) pushed in by Henshaw.

This was despite the Council having a long list of staff on the ”at risk “ register, and facing possible redundancy.

This situation soon changed.

Mc Elhinney was quickly appointed as an Assistant Director of Leisure Services, a meteoric rise for a man who had only recently been recruited to the Council from a job giving marketing displays at Littlewoods Stores !

It was, in the eyes of senior colleagues, a slap in the face for qualified and professional staff who were overlooked for promotion and put under his watch.

In reality however, he became Henshaws unofficial number two; in control, and without portfolio.

It coincided with increased levels of bullying against staff , together with stress related reasons for higher sickness levels. Issues that were to surface on a similar scale inside Liverpool City Council a few years later.

We now return to McElhinneys role in the awarding of a Council contract – without going out to tender- and his role with others, in receiving overseas travel and hospitality from the firm that were awarded the contract.

Such action, whether approved or not, was once a very serious offence in local government, before new labour came to power.

In 1996 the Tower Hill Community Association, in Kirkby, secured a grant of £43,000 pounds from the old National Lotteries Charities Board ( NLCB ) to provide a new playground for children in the community.

The Association was run by volunteers under the overall management of Knowsley Councils Leisure Services Committee. This brought it under the direct management of Mr Mc Elhinney, and his staff.

The scandal unfolded in Oct 1997, when a local Tower Hill Councillor received a copy of an invoice from a firm called Hags Play Limited, it related to expenditure by the Tower Hill Community Association.

The Councillor acted responsibly and reported the matter to the Councils Director of Finance, and requested an investigation why the invoice should have been sent to him.

The Councillor had also raised the question of Council Officers making an all expenses paid visit to the headquarters of Hags Play Limited in Sweden.

At this stage Henshaw became involved and investigated the Councillor’s concerns.

In a letter dated 19 November 1997, Henshaw stated
“the contract was not put out to competitive tender by the Association”

This was ignoring the fact that the Association was run by volunteers and had specifically asked McElhinney’s staff for assistance with the contract process.

He also identified Mr McElhinney ( Senior Assistant Director of Leisure Services ) and Ms Sarah Atkins, Parks Development Officer as the staff who visited Sweden between 14 –17 June 1997, some four months after the contract was awarded to Hags Play Ltd.

It was later confirmed this hospitality and the other expenses claimed on the trip were not approved by the Councils Director of Finance, and were outside the requirements of the National Conditions of Service for Council Staff.

Henshaw also claimed the Association had awarded the contract to Hags Play Ltd.

He also pre empted an audit investigation to say “ I can confirm that the auditors have not been provided with any other evidence, letters etc, which supports the view that the Association did not agree with the decision at the that time, that Hags Play Ltd be awarded the work.”

The premature intervention by Henshaw was a clear attempt to obfuscate the facts, and pass the buck to people who were not qualified to act in a way he was claiming.

The investigation by his own internal audit staff exposed his letter as a crude attempt to cover up for McElhinney.

In a report to the Councils Audit Committee 25 February 1997, the auditors reported that the Community Associations Treasurer stated categorically that Hags Play was not their choice to do the work.

Alarmingly the auditors report 25/2/97, found “ There are no minutes of the meeting when the decision was made.

The Council Officers ( McElhinney and Atkins ) still insisted to the auditors that the Association had made the decision. The audit report went on to say : the auditors have not been provided with any evidence, letters etc, which support the view that the Association did take the decision itself to award the work to Hags Pay Ltd.

This contradicted Henshaws comments in his letter of 19 Nov 1997, which were exposed as baseless, and highly misleading.

At best this was negligence, and incompetence, on a major scale; or at worst arrogance and greed, which elsewhere would attract disciplinary action against McElhinney and Atkins; and also Henshaw, for obstructing the inquiry.

And if proven, amount to gross misconduct, and instant dismissal.

If we accept the former lets not forget this involved a man ( McElhinney ) who by this time had risen to the level of the Deputy Chief Executive of the Council, despite being unable to provide minutes of a body awarding a five figure Council contract !

If it was the latter, they got off Scot free But as usual in Knowsley the villains are the innocent, and the innocent are the villains.

What we may ask was the role of the Chairman of the Audit Committee in all of this ?
Its Chair at the time was then Council leader Cllr J Keight OBE JP.

He saw no problem with these serious beaches of the financial regulations and standing orders of the Council.
This was not surprising has he was up to his neck in the sale of freeholds to his local Labour club, and should have declared an interest in the Liverpool FC academy development instead of steering it through every stage of the Council, threatening any dissenters by imposing the political whip.

Meanwhile, Mc Elhinney had become his favourite lackey freeing up land for greedy developers without taking the trouble to tell the existing occupiers of the land !

What was the role of the District Auditor. The guardian of the public purse ?

With having an office inside the Council they had to tread very carefully with Henshaw, given his high level contacts within new labour

The malpractice in the awarding of a large contract, glaring procedural failures, unauthorised hospitality, and the unauthorised claiming of expenses in breach of the staff National Conditions of Services; was summed up on an Audit Commission report on one side of an A4 single sheet of paper !

And what happened to the other key players in this scandal ?

Mc Elhinney and Atkins grew in confidence, and carried on uninterrupted in their roles in Knowsley, thanks to the Cllr Keight and Henshaw.

The Councils Director of Finance, whose report torpedoed Henshaws lies and obfuscation, left shortly afterwards, amidst the internal fall out in the Council.
He was a highly professional Chief Officer of great ability, and the utmost integrity.

The local Tower Hill Councillor T.R. who simply did his public duty was bullied and hounded out by Keight and his henchmen.

Henshaw grew tired of the squalid political mess around him and got out.
He sought a bigger challenge, and went to Liverpool, helped by new labours machine.

He quickly installed Mc Elhinney into a highly paid management post on a salary that drew gasps of amazement throughout the City of Liverpool.

The salary of £125,000 pounds a year, was being given to a person and who couldn’t even organise the taking and recording of the minutes of a Community Association.

He was allowed free licence by Henshaw to boss around the whole workforce of the City Council. !

The hopeless Council Leader Mike Storey – in awe of Henshaw – justified the appointment and salary calling people like Mc Elhinney “a super director”!

Try telling that to the committee at the Tower hill Commo, or Knowsley Councils former Director of Finance, the admirable Mr David Fellows.

Corruption, and new labour, in Knowsley, sit comfortably together.

This episode, while not earth shattering in its impact, does however characterise why the guilty and corrupt escape, and the innocent suffer in Knowsley, just has they did in Liverpool. And people like Henshaw always want the final word

The long term effect of no action taken over these matters is hard to envisage.

The failure Cllrs Keight and Round to declare financial and pecuniary interests when they had positions of responsibility in a club, on which they voted on in secret to sell freehold land, is by far the most serious.

The law on this is clear and live, the Councillors code of practice says
“Councillors must not seek to use their official position so as to benefit themselves, their professional or business interests, or others with whom they have personal, family or other ties”

Keight and Round held elected positions in the club that gained a freehold deal on favourable terms.

In 2002 Round, on the back of 12 years as planning boss, became the council leader!

Their immunity from any political or criminal sanctions will make it extremely difficult for the authorities to prosecute similar breaches of the 1972 , and 2000 Local Government Act, in the future.

In interpreting the law, precedence and practice will often apply. Clever lawyers can now reasonably argue the application of immunity in this instance probably renders any legal enactment on the non declaration of interests by Councillors obsolete.

The Labour Party on coming into office in 1997, laid down ground rules for the conduct of their Councillors.
This is an extract from a letter dated 3 July 1997, from a national labour party official – Mr Howard Knight- and sent to the Knowsley Labour Council group.

“The labour party expects and requires the highest standards of integrity and probity from its representatives. When there is an allegation of a failure to uphold these standards, the Party will investigate and take appropriate action”

Bold words that have proved utterly meaningless. Fully aware of the failure to uphold these standards in Knowsley, in October 2002, Mr Blair singled out the Council - who have a stall at the labour party conference each year –saying “This is a great Council”

This dubious accolade from a man whose entire entourage are embroiled in the cash for honours investigation says it all. You simply couldn’t make it up !

We thank the many people who have supplied anecdotal information of this period of time in the recent history of what The Private Eye once called, one of the original rotten boroughs.

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