39 ICO decision notices, 2 monitoring periods & a scrutiny review, is Wirral Council response to FOI requests better?

                                    

On Thursday I wrote about the Transformation and Resource’s Policy and Performance Committee’s Scrutiny Review on Freedom of Information.

Scrutiny reviews are not held in public. It could be argued that scrutiny review panels are subcommittees of their parent committee, therefore as a subcommittee they should meet in public. Although Wirral Council’s constitution states that citizens have the right to “participate in the Council’s question time and contribute to investigations by the Policy and Performance committees”, this scrutiny review was just officers and councillors meeting behind closed doors and there is no mention of anyone else being involved such as councillors actually talking to people who make Freedom of Information requests to Wirral Council.

Councillors seem to just be relying on information from Wirral Council employees (which then appears in their final report. The report mentions the monitoring action undertaken by the Information Commissioner’s Office between January and March of 2013 and July to September of the same year.

The way things are written in the report are a little misleading too, for example “The scrutiny review was conducted to ensure Wirral Council is moving in the right direction to manage Freedom of Information in compliance with the Information Commissioner’s Office.” Wirral Council have legal requirements to comply with the Freedom of Information legislation, whereas this sentence implies that Wirral Council just have to persuade the Information Commissioner’s Office that they’re improving and everything will be ok.

Recommendation one renames what used to be called the Freedom of Information departmental leads as “Freedom of Information Champions”. It also means that each champion will have a deputy and receive training and hopes this will be done by December 2014. Maybe the training is to try to speed up requests by the “Freedom of Information Champions” not having to ask Wirral Council’s legal department so much whether exemptions apply. However with so many exemptions and existing cases which determine the interpretation of how these exemptions should be applied (as well as guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office as to how exemptions should be applied) I still think that “Freedom of Information Champions” will be asking Wirral Council’s legal department for advice in the future.

Recommendation two (Freedom of Information Champions access to the customer relationship management software) should also include their deputies too if it’s going to be effective. If a request is made to Streetscene by email then an automatic email is sent out allocating a case number. I really don’t understand why this couldn’t be the case with Freedom of Information requests made via email and why they have to be entered manually which leads into recommendation three. If this is already being done for Streetscene requests why does they need a “technical solution identified” and “proper business case developed”? I have no problem with Wirral Council using case management software for freedom of information requests as it would save staff time.

Recommendation four refers to Freedom of Information performance information supplied to the Chief Executive’s Strategy Group. Rather ironically Surjit Tour deems minutes of the Chief Executive’s Strategy Group to be exempt from Freedom of Information requests under s.36 (prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs) yet the scrutiny review “identified specific improvements to the performance information presented to” “the Chief Executive’s Strategy Group”.

Recommendation five states that the percentage of Freedom of Information requests responded to within twenty days (broken down at department and directorate level too) should be included in the information going to the Chief Executive’s Strategy Group.

Recommendation six is interesting as it suggests “identifying emerging themes and trends” of all Freedom of Information requests received by Wirral Council and publishing this information as well as including it in the Council’s publication scheme. It refers to other bodies publishing Freedom of Information requests. Wirral Council could go further than this and publish (with the requester’s details removed) its responses to Freedom of Information requests. This forms part of recommendation seven (but only for commonly asked requests). Problems with the search function on Wirral Council’s website leading to Freedom of Information requests for information that is already published is referred to. Recommendation eight recommends that the search function should be improved.

This particular paragraph in the report (page eleven) states what was known already, that Wirral Council involves its press department over some Freedom of Information requests.

“The Panel was interested in how departments dealt with disclosing information that could be deemed sensitive or damaging. Officers explained that if any exemptions to information being disclosed were to be applied, as defined by the Freedom of Information Act, these could be made by departments. Advice from either the Information and Central Services Manager or the Head of Legal and Democratic Services is available if required. The Council has a legal duty to disclose information and reputational damage does not enter into the equation. There is a quality assurance process by Legal and Member Services and, where appropriate, Press and Public Relations.”

However the following areas of Freedom of Information requests are either only referred to briefly or not at all. The only reference to internal reviews is “The hours and respective costs for Legal Services also includes: The additional time and resources expended by solicitors dealing with internal reviews”. No mention is made over the fact that there have been freedom of information requests made to Wirral Council where the requester has submitted an internal review request and even years later has not received a response! Although the Information Commissioner’s Office suggests (if memory serves me correctly) a maximum time of forty days for internal reviews, there is no specific time limit for internal reviews specified in the legislation and in the past Wirral Council has taken full advantage of it by effectively ignoring internal review requests for requests it doesn’t wish to be answered or appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Once Wirral Council has completed an internal review, the requester can appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office. The past four years have seen the Information Commissioner’s Office issue thirty nine decision notices about Freedom of Information requests made to Wirral Council. Most appeals are upheld. Here’s a brief summary of each decision notice.

Decision notice FS50141012 3/3/08 Wirral Council claimed a s.43 (commercial interests) exemption, then a s.22 (information intended for future publication) exemption. The Information Commissioner’s Office disagreed with both (complaint upheld).

Decision notice FS50234468 18/5/10 Wirral Council claimed a s.14 (vexatious) exemption. The Information Commissioner considered that Wirral Council should’ve considered the request under the Environmental Information Regulations and therefore breached Regulation 14(3) by not providing an adequate refusal notice.

Decision notice FER0262449 22/11/10 The Information Commissioner’s Office found Wirral Council had failed to comply with regulation 5(1), 5(2) and 6(1).

Decision notice FS50398901 21/11/11 Wirral Council claimed a s.12 (Exemption where cost of compliance exceeds appropriate limit) exemption. The information was later supplied to the requester after the Information Commissioner’s Office was involved. The Information Commissioner’s Office said that Wirral Council breached s. 10 by not supplying the information within twenty working days.

Decision notice FS50414910 15/11/11 Wirral Council failed to provide a response to a request within the required twenty working days. The Information Commissioner’s Office required Wirral Council to respond to the request.

Decision notice FS50414911 15/11/11 Once again Wirral Council failed to provide a response to a request within the required twenty working days. The Information Commissioner’s Office required Wirral Council to respond to the request.

Decision notice FS50414915 15/11/11 Wirral Council didn’t provide a response to a request within the required twenty working days. The Information Commissioner’s Office required Wirral Council to respond to the request.

Decision notice FS50414916 15/11/11 A response to a request was not provided by Wirral Council within the required twenty working days. The Information Commissioner’s Office required Wirral Council to respond to the request.

Decision notice FS50406724 15/2/12 Wirral Council claimed a s. 40 (personal information) exemption. The Information Commissioner’s Office disagreed that a s.40 exemption applied and required Wirral Council to provide the information to the requester.

Decision notice FER0422498 8/5/12 Wirral Council claimed they didn’t have to release the information because of exemptions under Regulations 12(4)(d) and 12(5)(b). The Information Commissioner’s Office agreed that this applied to some of the information, but decided that the public interest in disclosure outweighed the exemptions claimed under Regulations 12(4)(d) and 12(4)(e) and therefore required Wirral Council to release some of the information. Information Tribunal appeal EA/2012/0117 was allowed.

Decision notice FS50416628 13/8/12 The Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that Wirral Council had breached s.1(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act. It required Wirral Council to disclose the information and reminded Wirral Council of Greenwood v ICO (EA/2011/0131 & 0137).

Decision notice FS50428877 30/8/12 Wirral Council relied on a s.36(2)(b)(i) and s.36(2)(b)(ii) (prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs) exemption. Once the Information Commissioner’s Office was involved Wirral Council also claimed an exemption under s.40 (personal information). The Information Commissioner’s Office agreed that some information would fall under a s.40 exemption, however disagreed that either a s.36 or s.40 exemption applied to the rest of the information. The Information Commissioner’s Office found that Wirral Council had breached 1(1)(a) and 10(1) of the Freedom of Information Act and required Wirral Council to supply the information it didn’t agree was covered by the s.40 exemption.

Decision notice FS50435531 16/8/12 The requester made various requests to Wirral Council to which it failed to respond to within twenty working days. The Information Commissioner’s Office required Wirral Council to respond to the requests.

Decision notice FS50440547 16/8/12 Various requests were made that were not answered by Wirral Council. The Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that this breached s.10(1) and required Wirral Council to answer the requests.

Decision notice FS50440548 16/8/12 The Information Commissioner’s Office required Wirral Council to answer the requests made by the requester as they had not done so within the twenty working days.

Decision notice FS50440553 16/8/12 Wirral Council failed to respond to various requests within the twenty day time limit. The Information Commissioner’s Office saw this as a breach of s.10(1) and required Wirral Council to respond to the requests.

Decision notice FS50440555 14/8/12 Wirral Council stated it didn’t hold the information requested. During the course of the investigation Wirral Council provided the requester with the names of staff requested. However as this information was recalled from memory it fell outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. Therefore the Information Commissioner’s Office agreed with Wirral Council’s view that it did not hold the information requested.

Decision notice FS50445302 10/10/12 Wirral Council did not provide a response to the Freedom of Information Act request or a refusal notice. The Information Commissioner’s Office required it to either respond to the request or provide a refusal notice to the requester.

Decision notice FS50430602 22/11/12 Wirral Council stated that it did not hold the information requested. The Information Commissioner’s decision was that on the balance of probabilities it did not.

Decision notice FS50438500 29/11/12 Wirral Council refused a request claiming a s.40 (personal data) exemption applied. It later disclosed information on the severance payments to two individuals. The Information Commissioner agreed with Wirral Council that a s.40 exemption applied, however ruled that Wirral Council had breached 10(1) of the Freedom of Information Act by taking longer than twenty days to respond and a further breach of 10(1) by taking longer than twenty days to disclose the information on severance payments. Information Tribunal appeal number EA/2012/0264 was dismissed.

Decision notice FS50468400 30/4/13 Wirral Council relied on a s.40 (personal data) exemption. Once the Information Commissioner’s Office was involved, Wirral Council stated that the information was publicly available. The Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that Wirral Council had breached s.1(1)(a), s.1(1)(b) and s.10(1) of the Freedom of Information Act and upheld the complaint.

Decision notice FS50468862 23/5/13 The Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that Wirral Council had breached s.10(1) of the Freedom of Information Act and required Wirral Council to respond to the request.

Decision notice FS50470254 4/6/13 The Information Commissioner’s Office disagreed with Wirral Council’s interpretation that a s.40 (personal data) exemption applied to information which contained names of its employees. It found that Wirral Council was in breach of s.10 of the Freedom of Information Act. The Information Commissioner’s Office required Wirral Council to release the information requested by the requester that it didn’t agree that the s.40 exemption applied to.

Decision notice FER0488228 5/8/13 The requester requested an independent viability assessment report in relation to a planning application for a site on Ingleborough Road, Birkenhead. Wirral Council released some information from the report but relied on an exemption in Regulation 12(5)(e) in the Environmental Information Regulations over the rest of the information. The Information Commissioner’s Office agreed with Wirral Council’s application of the exemption in Regulation 12(5)(e), but ruled that Wirral Council had breached regulations 5(2) and 11(4).

Decision notice FS50475685 15/8/13 Wirral Council refused a request relying on an exemption under s.40 (personal data). The Information Commissioner’s Office agreed with Wirral Council’s use of the exemption but ruled that Wirral Council had breached s. 10(1) by not providing a response within twenty days.

Decision notice FS50485049 8/8/13 The Commissioner’s decision was that, on the balance of probabilities, Wirral Borough Council did not hold the requested information so the complaint was not upheld.

Decision notice FS50482286 9/9/13 Wirral Council refused a request relying on exemptions in s.32 (court records, etc) and s.40 (personal information). Once the Information Commissioner’s Office was involved Wirral Council decided not to rely on s.32 (court records, etc) and released the document with the names redacted. The Information Commissioner ruled that Wirral Council had breached s.10(1) by not providing a response within twenty days.

Decision notice FS50512385 26/9/13 The Information Commissioner found that Wirral Council had breached s. 10(1) by not providing a response and required Wirral Council to provide a response.

Decision notice FS50474741 3/10/13 Wirral Council refused a request relying on exemptions in s.41 (information provided in confidence) and s.42 (legal professional privilege). During the Commissioner’s investigation Wirral Council dropped its reliance on s.42 (legal professional privilege). The Commissioner’s decided that Wirral was not entitled to rely on section 41 in relation to some of the information, as it was not provided by another party and had not provided sufficient justification for the application of section 41 to the remainder of the information. It required Wirral Council to disclose the requested information.

Decision notice FS50478733 30/10/13 In response to a request Wirral Council linked to some information in the public domain but claimed a s.40 (personal information) exemption applied to the rest. During the course of the Commissioner’s investigation it released a further three documents to the complainant. The Information Commissioner ruled that Wirral Council had breached s.10(1) as its response to the complainant had taken longer than twenty days.

Decision notice FS50491264 8/10/13 Wirral Council relied on s.14 (vexatious or repeated requests) to refuse a request. The Information Commissioner disagreed that a s.14 exemption applied to the requested information and that Wirral Council had breached s.10(1) of the Freedom of Information Act. The Information Commissioner’s Office required Wirral Council to issue a fresh response without relying on a s.14 (vexatious or repeated request) exemption.

Decision notice FS50496446 17/10/13 The Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that Wirral Council had breached s.10(1) by not providing a response within twenty working days.

Decision notice FS50501894 18/12/13 Wirral Council refused a request using a s.40 exemption (personal information). The Information Commissioner decided that s.40 wasn’t engaged and therefore couldn’t be used to withhold the information. It ruled that Wirral Council issued a refusal notice outside of the twenty days breaching s.17(1). It required Wirral Council to provide the information.

Decision notice FS50489913 13/1/14 Wirral Council stated that it did not hold information in response to a request. The Commissioner’s decision was that the Council is likely to hold relevant information so had therefore breached sections 1 and 10 of the Freedom of Information Act. Wirral Council was required to issue a fresh response to the complainant.

Decision notice FS50496910 15/1/14 Wirral Council refused a request relying on an exemption in s.40 (personal information). During the Commissioner’s investigation, Wirral Council provided some of the information requested. The Commissioner agreed that Wirral Council had correctly applied the s.40 exemption to the rest of the information but that Wirral Council had breached s.10(1) by not providing the information it did provide within twenty days of the original request.

Case FS50506771 11/2/14 Wirral Council refused a request stating that a s.40 (personal information) exemption applied. The Information Commissioner’s Office agreed but ruled that Wirral Council had issued a refusal notice outside the twenty day period breaching s. 10(1).

Case FS50506844 11/2/14 Wirral Council stated that information requested was not held. The Information Commissioner’s Office agreed but ruled that Wirral Council had provided a response outside the twenty day period breaching s. 10(1).

Decision notice FS50502536 19/3/14 Wirral Council claimed that in response to a request that exemptions under s.40 (personal information) and s. 42 (legal professional privilege) applied. The Information Commissioner’s Office agreed that Wirral Council had correctly applied the s.40 exemption, however as its response was outside the twenty day limit ruled it had breached s.10(1).

Decision notice FS50506802 26/3/14 Wirral Council had not provided a response to a request within twenty working days. The Information Commissioner’s Office found that Wirral Council had breached s. 10(1) of the Freedom of Information Act.

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EXCLUSIVE: Councillor Phil Davies agrees to pay extra £113,189 to Hoylake Golf Resort consultants based on secret report

                     

Yesterday Councillor Phil Davies agreed that consultants on the Hoylake Golf Resort project would be paid an extra £113,189 based on a report in the name of Kevin Adderley, the Strategic Director for Regeneration and Environment. David Ball, Wirral Council’s Head of Regeneration (davidball@wirral.gov.uk/0151 691 8395) had a role in preparing the report.

The report on which Councillor Phil Davies made his decision has not been made available to the public on grounds that it has “commercial sensitive information”. However the surprising decision would seem to not to comply with The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012. The decision is a key decision however:

  • A document detailing that they wish to make a key decision was not published 28 clear days by Wirral Council before making the decision (see Regulation 9 (Publicity in connection with key decisions).
  • A notice was not published five days before the decision detailing agreement of the chair of the relevant policy and performance committee that it was an urgent decision and could not be reasonably deferred (see Regulation 10 (General Exception).
  • A notice wasn’t published claiming special urgency and detailing agreement of either the chair of the relevant policy and performance committee, Mayor or Deputy Mayor that it was urgent and couldn’t be reasonably deferred (see Regulation 11 (Cases of special urgency).
  • It’s a legal requirement that an annual report (see Regulation 19) is brought by the Leader to a meeting of all Wirral Council councillors about decisions where a case of special urgency is used since the last report. Despite this being a legal requirement since the 10th September 2012, to my recollection no such report has ever been brought to a Council meeting.

Councillor Phil Davies’s decision could still be called in by councillors as a call-in deadline of 24th April 2014 has not yet passed. The reason for the urgency was given as “to allow the OJEU Competitive Dialogue process to be finalised and a preferred developer for the Hoylake Golf Resort project to be selected and announced prior to the Open Golf Championship at Royal Liverpool in July 2014.” At least one Conservative councillor has previously asked at a public meeting about when the public will be consulted on Wirral Council’s Hoylake Golf Resort plans.

UPDATED: The extra £113,189 paid to David Langdon (AECOM) is in addition to £123,823 already agreed by Cabinet last year who also agreed to £55,000 of legal advice from Pinsent Masons LLP.
A report on Wirral Council’s website from last year details what the Hoylake Golf Resort is about.

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EXCLUSIVE: Wirral Council only receives 50% of the resale price for its thousands of old computers

                            

On Monday I asked a question at the Transformation and Resources Policy and Performance Committee. Wirral Council had at the start of this month has 3,780 computers running Windows XP. It’s planning to spend £2.5 million on new computers to replace the old computers so that Windows 7 can be installed.

My question was firstly whether Wirral Council was getting anything for these thousands of old computers (the estimate given was that 90% would need to be replaced whereas the other 10% could run Windows 7) and a technical question about SCC plc who Wirral Council is paying to help them install the new computers.

The answer surprised me and is below (which the councillors on the Transformation and Resources Policy and Performance Committee have been copied into).

=======================================================================================================

From: “Sankey, Steve”
Date: Thu, 17 Apr 2014 12:33:53 +0100
Subject: Transformation and Resources Policy and Performance Committee – Unanswered question about what happens to the old computers

Dear Mr Brace

Thank you for your questions regarding what happens to the old computers, when we move to new computers running Windows 7.

I can confirm that the Council has a contract with a company called SITR, which handles the secure disposal of IT equipment. The company picks up the old computers and securely removes all data in compliance with agreed standards and directives (eg Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive WEEE). It issues the Council with a certificate confirming we comply with UK government standards of disposal.

The company recycles/sells the computers on the open market. The Council does not pay for the collection of the equipment, and receives 50% of any resale value when the equipment is resold.

Finally you enquired about the framework agreement we have used to procure SCC services. I can confirm that the process for the appointment of SCC was via the Crown Commercial Service (formerly Government Procurement Service) Framework – RM720 – Sprint II.

Yours truly,

Steve

Steve Sankey

Wirral Council
Treasury Building, Cleveland Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH41 6BU
Tel: 0151 666 3029
E-mail: stevesankey@wirral.gov.uk
Visit our website: www.wirral.gov.uk

=======================================================================================================

So let me just get this straight. Wirral Council is only getting 50% of the resale cost of thousands of old computers, but it’s currently consulting on closing Lyndale School over a projected shortfall of £120,000 a year from 2015/16 onwards.

Here are some ballpark figures on the sale of the computers.

Wirral Council estimate that 90% of the machines will need replacing. 90% * 3,780 = 3,402 machines.

An estimate of £100 each for each unit (computer, monitor and keyboard) that SITR sell £100 * 3,402 machines = £340,200.

Amount that Wirral Council gets £170,000, amount that SITR gets £170,000. £170,000 is enough to keep Lyndale School open for a further year, if Wirral Council were to do this themselves. If Wirral Council were to do it in house instead and we take off from that £340,000 amount the costs of two full time staff (£50,000) to securely wipe the hard drives before they’re resold and do the certificates they say are required (assuming each person can wipe seven hard drives a day with enough time left to organise selling the rest) it’s a considerable sum of money! So what do you think?

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Councillor Adam Sykes wants Wirral Council to “be a guiding light for freedom of information for other councils”

                        

Video of Wirral Council’s Transformation and Resources Policy and Performance meeting of the 14th April 2014. The item on the Freedom of Information Scrutiny Review starts at 1:53

The covering report for this item and the final report of the scrutiny review can be downloaded from Wirral Council’s website.

Below is a transcript of this item as it didn’t attract much discussion.

COUNCILLOR STUART WITTINGHAM
This is the final report, despite having draft as an imprint. I’m sure that when, if this evening agrees, this report goes to Cabinet the draft will be removed. I’d like to invite Adam if you want to introduce this item.

COUNCILLOR ADAM SYKES
Thank you Chair. Building on what’s on page twenty-seven in my opening statement basically we took upon this review as the Council had been under monitoring action from the Information Commissioner and had already improved its result on FOI to over 85%.

We didn’t want to merely reach the baseline, we wanted to exceed this figure and be a guiding light for FOI for other councils. So taking on various strands of the whole process, how actually it goes through the system to how we can improve items coming in, how they’re managed once they’re here and also how we can reduce the number of requests in the first place because obviously the actual costs of these FOI requests are quite significant.

It’s quite shocking actually well when you see how much we’ve spent on a weekly basis on FOI requests that could be better spent elsewhere in the Council. So, I don’t know whether I need to go into much more detail as the recommendations are all in the pack. Obviously we’re happy taking any questions, I’m sure the other members of the group are.

I’d just like to conclude by thanking the officers for their time in the you know producing the report, Jane Corrin, Surjit and also support from the scrutiny officer Mike and it was really very helpful and an interesting review to be part of.

COUNCILLOR STUART WITTINGHAM (CHAIR)
Thank you very much. Christina, do you have anything to add?

COUNCILLOR CHRISTINA MUSPRATT
Just apologies for being late.

COUNCILLOR STUART WITTINGHAM (CHAIR)
OK, I’d like to thank Adam and thanks to the officers for this overview and scrutiny review and thank both yourself and Christina for what I really think is a …

COUNCILLOR ANDREW HODSON (CONSERVATIVE SPOKESPERSON)
I was going to say members of the committee were told by the effective leader of yourself, Christina and Adam of all the work you’ve put in on this, but obviously if you wasn’t aware of … so very good.

COUNCILLOR STUART WITTINGHAM (CHAIR)
Yes, thank you. Right, Phil?

COUNCILLOR PHIL GILCHRIST (LIBERAL DEMOCRAT SPOKESPERSON)
Could I say that I welcome the sort of crisp and concise way that the report was written and the recommendations but might I asking while Mr. Blott’s beaming at the moment, through you Chair, whether we can perhaps have a bit of advice on what can be done with the search facility on the website. The work the committee sought was to try and reduce requests that could be answered in any other way and clearly when I try and find things searching it always says “are you sure you’ve spelt it right?” which is about the only guidance the website gives us.

I wondered if officers rather perhaps than note the use and power of that, whilst we were noting perhaps they could give advice on how it could be progressed elsewhere and what sort of timescale.

JOE BLOTT (STRATEGIC DIRECTOR FOR TRANSFORMATION AND RESOURCES)
Yeah, thank you Chair. Thanks very much indeed, I think a couple of comments on that. Certainly in terms of a response to the particular question from Councillor Gilchrist. Yeah, certainly as part of our overarching improvements to public access and our customer channels, anything we can do to improve, that that possibility will do so. In terms of timeliness of that, we are looking, we have launched the intranet as we know at the turn of this year, so that’s been reviewed and we are about to embark on a change to the internet access points as well. So I think your point’s well made.

It’s well timed and everything within a very short space of time we’ll be able to improve on that I think and anything we can do to improve the search arrangements in terms of behind our ICT program build we’ll certainly do that. Perhaps we could, if I can, if we note that as part of a minute item which we pick up in June to see where our business is up to.

COUNCILLOR STUART WITTINGHAM (CHAIR)
Any other comments?

JOE BLOTT (STRATEGIC DIRECTOR FOR TRANSFORMATION AND RESOURCES)
Thanks Chair, just if I may. They’re contained within the report anyway but I think it really does strike me as a really positive approach for the policy and performance committees to drill down into such matters and I think that from an officer perspective, to receive the balanced report is really encouraging. I think more than anything else it demonstrates progress that we had taken. I think it demonstrates progress that we were taking in advance of the ICO’s intervention, nevertheless quite clearly we were duty bound to follow that and I think it is important to see both in terms of context which I think is helpful on page nineteen in terms of the numbers of requests we get, but in terms of page eighteen in terms of how we responded to those requests but I guess as the report sets out it’s really important that this is a journey that we’re on here and we haven’t reached our end game yet.

The end game is the consistency of response times to the FOI requests that links heavily into Councillor Gilchrist’s point that the more information we can provide upfront, then hopefully less number of FOIs we’ll have to deal with which equally comes back to the Chair’s comments around the costs of FOI enquiries which are extremely high and I was quite sure in the briefing that we can use the resources to greater effect in terms of impact on service users and our residents.

So certainly from an officer perspective regarding the report, happy to again as an officer to accept all the recommendations and ensure they will see due progress over the coming months.

COUNCILLOR STUART WITTINGHAM (CHAIR)
Thank you Joe, Surjit do you have anything to add?

SURJIT TOUR
No.

COUNCILLOR STUART WITTINGHAM (CHAIR)
OK, anyone else got any further comments or questions? OK, I’ll move onto the recommendations. 4.1 agreed? It’s on page ten. 4.1 the Committee is asked to note the contents of the report. Agreed?

COUNCILLORS
Agreed.

COUNCILLOR STUART WITTINGHAM (CHAIR)
OK, at 4.2 we’re requested to consider whether or not we wish to refer the report to Cabinet. I suggest that we do, is that agreed?

COUNCILLORS
Agreed.

COUNCILLOR STUART WITTINGHAM (CHAIR)
Thank you.

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Planning Committee approves planning application for houses in Irby by seven votes to five

                        

Video of Wirral Council’s Planning Committee meeting of the 16th April 2014

The Planning Committee meeting started as usual with her usual spiel about who were sitting around the tables (which considering that everyone had name plates seems a little unnecessary). She said that to her left was the solicitor (Rosemary Lyons) to “make sure everything is done legally” and that the officers (of which there were four) to her left where there to “guide us through our decisions and make sure everything is done appropriately with planning legislation”.

If the Chair thinks the role of the officers to her left is to make sure that decisions about planning applications are made according to planning legislation, then what’s the purpose of having a solicitor too? When every other committee at Wirral Council manages to cope with one legal adviser why does the Planning Committee need five to advise it on such matters?

She then went on to recap the rules on speaking for petitioners and applicants. The only change to usual is that she said, “A ward councillor can come forward and talk upon any item in their ward and they can speak for longer than five minutes but everybody only gets a chance to address the Planning Committee once.”

Until recently ward councillors were under the impression they could address the Planning Committee at any time when a planning application concerning their ward was being discussed. The Code of conduct for Planning Committee meetings and Wirral Council’s constitution have nothing in them about ward councillors talking at Planning Committee meetings. Certainly in the recent past at least one councillor thought they could speak at any time but the Chair told them they couldn’t. The only reference in the constitution to councillors and Planning Committees is that ward councillors can decide that they want a planning application to be decided by the Planning Committee rather than by officers.

The constitution states that any councillor can decide that a planning application is decided by the Planning Committee. The fact this isn’t limited to councillors in the ward the planning application relates to has been misused in the past. With fictional names I’ll give an example.

Mrs Smith is standing as the Labour candidate in Puddleton (a made up ward that doesn’t exist on the Wirral). Unfortunately for Mrs Smith Puddleton has three councillors from a different political party who know she is the Labour candidate in Puddleton. Mrs Smith spots a planning application that she thinks she can get a large petition of residents against it and gain votes of local residents affected by it. As the lead petitioner she will also get to speak against it for five minutes, if a councillor takes it out of officer’s hands and makes sure it is decided by the Planning Committee.

Unfortunately for Mrs Smith it’s over a minor matter and wouldn’t usually be decided by the Planning Committee. The planning officer wants to approve the planning application. Mrs Smith asks a Labour councillor (who doesn’t represent Puddleton) to make sure that it will be decided by the Planning Committee, therefore ensuring it is decided nearer the election and that there will be more media coverage of Mrs Smith’s campaign. The Labour councillor makes sure that this happens, thus making the residents think that Mrs Smith is influential and when the application is turned down a better choice than the existing councillor (also a candidate) which didn’t want it to be decided by the Planning Committee as he/she knew it was part of a party political ploy by Mrs. Smith to gain votes from local residents.

However, going back to the Planning Committee. The minutes of the meeting held on the 20th March 2014 were agreed. Nobody declared any interests and no requests for site visits were made.

The first planning application to be decided was OUT/14/00094: 38 Thurstaston Road, Irby, CH61 0HF: Outline planning application to create 2 No. new residential properties. A Wirral Council officer said that there had been seven letters of objection detailing various issues which she listed. Despite the objections officers felt it was compliant with national and local planning policies and recommended it for approval subject to conditions.

Councillor Wendy Clements said that had Tony Cox not resigned as a councillor that he would’ve attended the Planning Committee meeting and detailed the concerns of local residents. She talked about trees, British standards and asked planning officers about a tree survey.

Matthew Davies replied that there had been a tree survey with the application and it had also been assessed by the Council’s arboricultural officer. He pointed out that some of the trees mentioned by Cllr Wendy Clements were not part of the planning application and that they couldn’t impose conditions on trees outside of the boundary. He said that if trees were damaged outside of the boundary it was a civil matter.

Councillor Wendy Clements said that that was difficult to understand as the existing standard referred to trees on or adjacent to the site. She referred to appearance and amenity issues but accepted that whether it was unacceptable harm was a matter of opinion, but she felt that the way officers had written the report it implied that some harm would result. Cllr Clements passed around photos to show the effect on light on neighbouring properties. She referred to policy HS4 and how the scale of what was proposed fitted into the surrounding area.

Councillor Elderton asked to see the plan, but he pointed out that as it was an outline planning application that the position of the houses was only indicative at this stage. He thought different positions of the houses would be more suitable but stated that it couldn’t be turned down based on the indicative positions as they were only indicative. He asked officers for advice as he was not happy with the proposed development.

Matthew Davies said that as it was an outline planning application that all matters would be reserved and that the plan was only for indicative purposes. He said that if the application was approved then Wirral Council would have significant control over the scale, site, appearance and where the properties were sited.

Councillor Wendy Clements moved refusal on the basis that it would result in a development that was cramped, overdeveloped and that the two dwelling would cause a detrimental change to the area contrary to the guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework and policy HS4 of the Unitary Development Plan.

Councillor Steve Foulkes said that he felt three was feasible on the plot, he asked what the average plot size was for surrounding properties? Matthew Davies replied that the officers felt it was possible to have three dwellings on the plot. Although plot sizes were similar on one site of the application site, they were different to what was proposed on another. Therefore in his opinion it was up to councillors to make a judgement as to whether three could be accommodated taking into account the detail that would be decided at the reserved matters stage.

Councillor Geoffrey Watt seconded Councillor Wendy Clements motion for refusal.

For refusal: Councillor Wendy Clements (proposer), Councillor Geoffrey Watt (seconder), Councillor Simon Mountney, Councillor Eddie Boult, Councillor David Elderton and Councillor Philip Brightmore (6)
Against refusal: Councillor Stuart Kelly, Councillor Bernie Mooney, Councillor Denise Realey, Councillor Steve Foulkes, Councillor Joe Walsh, Councillor Irene Williams (6)

The motion for refusal was 6 votes to 6. The Chair didn’t say how she used her casting vote. However she deemed the motion for refusal to be lost.

There was then a vote on the officer’s recommendation for approval. This was proposed by Cllr Denise Realey and seconded by Councillor Steve Foulkes.

For approval: Councillor Stuart Kelly, Councillor Bernie Mooney, Councillor Denise Realey, Councillor Steve Foulkes, Councillor Joe Walsh, Councillor Irene Williams and Councillor Philip Brightmore (7)
Against approval: Councillor Wendy Clements (proposer), Councillor Geoffrey Watt (seconder), Councillor Simon Mountney, Councillor Eddie Boult and Councillor David Elderton (5)

The motion for approval was won by 7 votes to 5 so the application was approved.

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What happened between Wirral Council and the Education Funding Agency over the minimum funding guarantee?

                         

I’ve received a fuller response from the Education Funding Agency over my Freedom of Information request to the EFA about communications between themselves and Wirral Council over an application for exemption for the minimum funding guarantee (which was later withdrawn). Following the internal review the emails were now include who they were sent from and to and the dates as well as the emails about what happened after and Wirral Council’s withdrawl of their application for an exemption from the minimum funding guarantee requirements.

I see even a civil servant in the Department of Education expressed a similar sort of frustration (but in very a very diplomatic way) to that that the parents of children at Lyndale School had in dealing with Wirral Council officers. Gavin Monument (a civil servant who’s the School Funding Policy Adviser at the Education Funding Agency which is part of the Department of Education) states in an email to a Wirral Council officer dated 17th February 2014 “For some reason we are really struggling to understand your approach at this end and we do want to make sure we get it right when it gets sent to the Minister.”

As the issue of the minimum funding guarantee is connected to the issue of Lyndale School’s future that is currently being consulted on, I’m including the email exchanges below. Some of the statements made in these emails seem to directly contradict what was stated during public meetings by some Wirral Council officers on this matter.

=======================================================================================================

From: Roberts, Andrew D. [mailto:andrewroberts@wirral.gov.uk]
Sent: 03 January 2014 15:31
To: HOWKINS, Keith [keith.howkins@education.gsi.gov.uk]
Cc: FUNDING, ReformTeam [reformteam.funding@education.gsi.gov.uk]
Subject: RE: 237: Wirral 344 Special SchoFUNDING, ReformTeam ols exemption request

Hello Keith
Thanks for comments. I hadn’t picked up the change in grant conditions, or that protected rates apply only to Special Schools or Special Academies.
Option 3 is a calculation comparing each top-up band at a school with the rate used in 2013-14 (less 1.5%). I think from your comments below this no longer applies.
Option 2 compares the average amount that would be paid to a school using the new top ups and existing pupil data, with the amount that has been paid in 2013-14 (less 1.5%).

Option 1 – No MFG was supported by 4 out of 11 Special Schools
Kilgarth
Foxfield
Elleray Park
Orrets Meadow
Option 2 Average MFG was supported by 2 Special Schools
Claremount
Stanley

Regards
Andrew

=======================================================================================================
From: keith.howkins@education.gsi.gov.uk [mailto:keith.howkins@education.gsi.gov.uk]
Sent: 30 December 2013 15:24
To: Roberts, Andrew D. [mailto:andrewroberts@wirral.gov.uk]
Cc: FUNDING, ReformTeam [reformteam.funding@education.gsi.gov.uk]
Subject: RE: 237: Wirral 344 Special Schools exemption request

Andrew – thanks for sending this through.

Could you explain more about the difference between options 2 and 3 please, and send through details on which option each special school supported?

We appreciate that there was some confusion over the exact wording of the protection requirements. What we said originally about these applying to each top-up rate was incorrect; the correct wording is what you have quoted below and applies to the overall budget if the number and overall type of places remained the same. I’m not sure if this changes anything you have sent.

As a point of information, the protection arrangements in the conditions of grant only apply to special schools and academies. There is no protection requirement for special units or AP, so you do not need any approval for proposals in relation to these.

Keith

Keith Howkins

Team Leader, Funding Reform Team

Maintained Schools Division

Education Funding Agency

Department for Education

2 St Paul’s Place

Sheffield. S1 2FJ

=======================================================================================================
From: Roberts, Andrew D. [mailto:andrewroberts@wirral.gov.uk]
Sent: 12 December 2013 12:35
To: FUNDING, ReformTeam [mailto:reformteam.funding@education.gsi.gov.uk]
Subject: 237: Wirral 344 Special Schools exemption request

This letter is requesting exemption from the requirement for an SEN MFG included within the 2014 – 2015 DSG additional conditions of grant. Paragraph g “In deciding on top up funding rates for the pupils it will place in special schools …. and the total number and type of places received the same in the 2 financial years the school or Academy budget would receive by no more than 1.5% in cash between 2013 – 2014 and 2014 – 2015.”

Over the past 12 months a Schools Forum SEN finance group has met to develop proposals for high needs funding and particularly to agree a banded approach for specialist SEN provision.

A banded system (with 5 bands) was developed taking account of a number of issues:

· The need for stability
· The fluctuation arising from part year places and the need to have places available.
· To take account of the increasing demands and population with social communication needs and to recognise the resource intensive nature of provision for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties.

These 5 bands have also been applied to SEN resourced base provision in mainstream schools and academies. The bands used take account of the same needs identified within Wirral’s 11 special schools and in addition gives an equivalent level of funding for each child.

Changes of this nature will result in movement of resources and a number of schools will as a result receive more funding and others will receive less. However proposals include a contingency fund to financially support any specialist provision that may experience financial difficulties.

The SEN top up proposals were subject to a full consultation with all schools and providers in Wirral, commencing on 3rd July and closing on 18th October. The consultation papers included an illustration for each school of the funding a school might receive using current numbers and numbers at capacity, compared with the level of funding provided in 2013 – 2014. In addition there has been a series of meetings with schools to discuss the changes suggested.

24 responses were received including 10 out of 11 special schools and 6 out of 14 school SEN resource bases. Overall the responses were supportive and in favour of the local authority’s proposals.

Since the consultation was launched schools were asked a supplementary question about views on seeking an exemption from the requirement for an SEN MFG. This approach has been adopted because the MFG will not work with the new top up bands. Without capping the MFG costs an additional £800,000 which would be unaffordable, whilst capping would defer the introduction of the new top-up structure.

Schools were asked for their preferences based on a table illustrating:

No MFG (7)
An Average MFG (phased over 3 years) (5)
A full MFG (0)
The responses are shown in brackets above.

This issue was discussed at the Schools Forum meeting on 13th November 2013. The recommendation from the forum was “That Forum supports an application to the EFA for an exemption from the requirement to use an MFG (Option 1) on Top Ups for 2014 – 2015, and failing that Forum request the EFA agree the use of an average MFG (Option 2)”

A number of papers are attached to this e-mail including:

School Forum Agenda from 13 November 2013:
- Element 3 Top up funding arrangements for pupils with high needs (SEN) and for pupils attending Alternative Provision. (This report includes the consultation paper and letter to schools about the MFG)
- An extract from the Schools Forum minutes

Please let me know if you would like further details.

I look forward to hearing from you

Yours sincerely

Andrew Roberts
Senior Manager – School Funding & Resources
Children and Young People’s Department
Wirral Council
Tel: 0151 666 4249
Fax: 0151 666 4338
andrewroberts@wirral.gov.uk

Visit our website: www.wirral.gov.uk

=======================================================================================================
From: Roberts, Andrew D. [mailto:andrewroberts@wirral.gov.uk]
Sent: 14 March 2014 10:52
To: MONUMENT, Gavin [mailto:gavin.mounment@education.gsi.gov.uk]
Subject: RE: Wirral 344 Special Schools exemption request- additional information

Hello Gavin
Further to our meting I am writing to confirm the withdrawal of Wirral’s application for an MFG exemption for High Needs. The clarification provided by the EFA indicates the additional cost for Maintained Special Schools be be in the region of £80,000, which is affordable within the High Needs Budget. It is the intention to make the same offer available to Resourced Base provision in Primary, Secondary schools and academies, although this may be for one year only.
Thanks you for your advice.
Regards
Andrew

=======================================================================================================
From: gavin.mounment@education.gsi.gov.uk [mailto:gavin.mounment@education.gsi.gov.uk]
Sent: 17 February 2014 14:09
To: Roberts, Andrew D. [mailto:andrewroberts@wirral.gov.uk]
Subject: RE: Wirral 344 Special Schools exemption request- additional information

Hi Andrew,

Sorry for the delay in coming back to you on this. I thought Keith had ruled out your original option 3 – which compared each top-up band at a school with the rate used in 13-14 – as the conditions of grant confirmed the protection applies to the overall budget level. So I thought we were down to options 1 and 2

For some reason we are really struggling to understand your approach at this end and we do want to make sure we get it right when it gets sent to the Minister. I’m due to be over in the North West later in the week and I’m wondering if the simplest solution would be to pop across for a chat and see if we can clear this up face-to-face rather than via e-mail. It probably won’t take very long to do and be less frustrating to you guys who have worked all this through whilst I’ve got a mental block on it. Would this sound a good idea? I can do Wednesday afternoon or any time on Thursday if this would work for you.

Thanks

Gavin.

Gavin Monument
School Funding Policy Adviser
Maintained Schools Division

Mowden Hall
Staindrop Road
Darlington
Tel: 01325 735842
Mob: 07824 895783

www.education.gov.uk

=======================================================================================================
From: Roberts, Andrew D. [mailto:andrewroberts@wirral.gov.uk]
Sent: 20 January 2014 13:05
To: MONUMENT, Gavin [mailto:gavin.mounment@education.gsi.gov.uk]
Subject: RE: Wirral 344 Special Schools exemption request- additional information

Hello Gavin
Keith indicated that Option 1 is not correct – the MFG applies to the overall budget (ie I think this means average values and Option 2).Similarly the calculation is only required for Special Schools not Resourced Bases (so is a lesser requirement)The request is for no MFG, but if we need to have one then it should be Option 2.
Is there any idea on timescales?
Thanks
Andrew
=======================================================================================================
From: gavin.mounment@education.gsi.gov.uk [mailto:gavin.mounment@education.gsi.gov.uk]
Sent: 14 January 2014 11:29
To: Roberts, Andrew D.
Subject: RE: Wirral 344 Special Schools exemption request- additional information

Thanks Andrew,

That’s been really helpful as I’ve been able to track through the calculations for the options. Can I check my understanding though, just to make sure we’ve captured your request correctly.

Your preference is to run with option 1, which uses the banding system for the schools, but creates a much larger MFG requirement. So, you are requesting an MFG exclusion to be able to move straight to the new banding system. If this is not approved you would move to option 2, which uses an average rate for each school as this creates a much lower MFG requirement. Are you also asking for an MFG exclusion for option 2, or will you run with this option including the MFG impact?

Many thanks

Gavin.

Gavin Monument
School Funding Policy Adviser
Maintained Schools Division

Mowden Hall
Staindrop Road
Darlington
Tel: 01325 735842
Mob: 07824 895783

www.education.gov.uk

=======================================================================================================
From: Roberts, Andrew D. [mailto:andrewroberts@wirral.gov.uk]
Sent: 08 January 2014 17:59
To: FUNDING, ReformTeam [mailto:reformteam.funding@education.gsi.gov.uk]
Cc: MONUMENT, Gavin [mailto:gavin.mounment@education.gsi.gov.uk]
Subject: Wirral 344 Special Schools exemption request- additional information

Hello Gavin
The attached is a summary of the MFG calculation. The end column shows the MFG for each school. The average band rate shown is a weighted band average for each school which is then compared with the MFG rate.
Pupil numbers used are:
Elleray and Stanley 90
Lyndale 25
Observatory 45

Andrew Roberts
Senior Manager – School Funding & Resources
Children and Young People’s Department
Wirral Council
Tel: 0151 666 4249
Fax: 0151 666 4338
andrewroberts@wirral.gov.uk

Visit our website: www.wirral.gov.uk

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Posted by: John Brace | April 16, 2014

10 weeks left in Lyndale School closure consultation


10 weeks left in Lyndale School closure consultation

                       

front of thank you card from Lyndale staff and children
Front of thank you card from Lyndale staff and children (you can click on the image for a higher quality version)

inside of thank you card from Lyndale staff and children
(you can click on the image for a higher quality version)

As you can see above, Leonora and I received a thank you card fortnight ago from the Lyndale staff and children (the scanned images probably don’t do it justice). So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Lyndale staff and children for the thank you card.

In the three and half years since starting this blog I think it’s the first thank you card that Leonora and I have received and came completely out of the blue so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Lyndale staff and children for creating it and sending it.

The consultation on closing Lyndale School started on April 2nd. The consultation document can be downloaded here, as well as the Cabinet report. The link from Wirral Council’s consultation page to the Coordinating Committee report doesn’t work. However it can be read on this blog at pages five to six of this document. Hopefully Wirral Council will fix the link! There is also a feedback form and Wirral Council has more detail about the consultation on closing Lyndale School on this page and this page on their website.

Video of the original Cabinet decision of the 16th January is below (the item starts in the first video at 1:53). Video of the Coordinating Committee meeting of the 27th February is below that. This blog has also published transcripts of the Lyndale School item at the Cabinet meeting and a partial transcript of the Coordinating Committee meeting. The transcript of the Lyndale item at the Cabinet meeting can be found at How did the Lyndale School closure consultation begin?. The Coordinating Committee item on Lyndale School last for about three and a half hours. The first transcript of it is at What did officers say at the Lyndale School call in? “we had a problem the rules mattered more than the children”, followed by What did officers say about Lyndale School in reply to “how much money you would expect to get if you sold that land?”. During the consultation period I hope to have the time to type up some more transcripts of the Coordinating Committee meeting.

Wirral Council Cabinet meeting of 16th January 2014 at which the decision to consult on closing Lyndale School was made

Wirral Council Coordinating Committee meeting of 27th February 2014 at which the Cabinet decision to consult on closing Lyndale School was reviewed

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ICO rules Wirral Council breached Data Protection Act over blunders and insists on further undertaking

                      

Wirral Council are in trouble with the Information Commissioner’s Office again over yet another set of blunders. This time they sent “sensitive personal information” to the wrong address (multiple times) which in one case included details of a criminal offence. The mistakes happened in February and again in April of this year.

The Information Commissioner’s Office is also aware of three previous disclosure incidents reported to them over the past sixteen months. Prior to this period there was the incident where Wirral Council accidentally published a whistleblower’s name on their website.

When the Information Commissioner’s Office investigated, they found that Wirral council had “no mandatory data protection training in place for staff and did not have adequate checks in place to make sure records were being sent to the correct address”.

Information Commissioner’s Office Head of Enforcement, Stephen Eckersley, said:

“While human error was a factor in each of these cases, the council should have done more to keep the information secure. Social workers routinely handle sensitive information and Wirral Borough Council failed to ensure their staff received adequate training on how to keep people’s information secure.

“We are pleased that the council has now made its data protection training mandatory for all staff following these incidents and has agreed to take further action to address the underlying problems that led to these mistakes. This includes ensuring that all staff complete the data protection training by the end of June and adequate checks are in place to make sure sensitive records are being sent to the right address.”

Wirral Council’s Chief Executive Graham Burgess has had to sign an undertaking that Wirral Council will change and do better in the future. Last year Wirral Council had to sign a similar undertaking after their poor performance with Freedom of Information Act requests following concerns raised by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Joe Blott, Wirral’s Strategic Director of Transformation and Resources, said “We take these matters very seriously. As soon as we discovered the errors, we self-referred to the ICO and took immediate steps to discover what went wrong, and make sure we do what is necessary to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

We have taken on board the ICO’s concerns, and have improved our data protection compliance. This has included training for staff with access to confidential and sensitive data, and a re-iteration of how we can and should endeavour to keep confidential information safe.”

Original sources:
ICO Press release 15th April 2014 “Merseyside council agrees to improve practices after social service records sent to the wrong address”
Wirral Council press release 15th April 2014 Council commits to improve data protection following Information Commissioner’s ruling

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23 Wirral councillors to be elected after Tony Cox resigns; Graham Burgess fires starting gun in local election race

                                

On Monday Wirral Council’s Returning Officer started the election process by publishing the Notice of Election (a copy of it is below). Each ward in Wirral will be electing one councillor, except voters in Greasby, Franky & Irby ward who will be electing two councillors and therefore have two votes in the upcoming local elections.

The reason for this is that Tony Cox has resigned. As Tony Cox was less than two years through a four year term of office you may wonder why? The reason is that he’s been picked as the Conservative candidate for the General Election in Newcastle-under-Lyme and he felt that he couldn’t put his full energies into that without resigning as a councillor for Greasby, Frankby & Irby ward. The two Conservative candidates in Greasby, Frankby & Irby ward this year will be Councillor Wendy Clements and Tom Anderson. Tom Anderson was previously a councillor in Upton ward from 2008 to 2012 (with the lowest majority I remember in recent years of only four votes).

The full notice of election is below.

METROPOLITAN BOROUGH OF WIRRAL

ELECTION OF COUNCILLORS

NOTICE OF ELECTION

For the Wards listed below

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN THAT:

1. Elections are to be held for COUNCILLORS of the under mentioned Wards.

2. The number of COUNCILLORS to be elected is as shown in the Table hereunder:

Name of ward No. of COUNCILLORS to be elected Name of ward No. of COUNCILLORS to be elected
BEBINGTON 1 LISCARD 1
BIDSTON & ST JAMES 1 MORETON WEST & SAUGHALL MASSIE 1
BIRKENHEAD & TRANMERE 1 NEW BRIGHTON 1
BROMBOROUGH 1 OXTON 1
CLATTERBRIDGE 1 PENSBY & THINGWALL 1
CLAUGHTON 1 PRENTON 1
EASTHAM 1 ROCK FERRY 1
GREASBY, FRANKBY & IRBY 2 SEACOMBE 1
HESWALL 1 UPTON 1
HOYLAKE & MEOLS 1 WALLASEY 1
LEASOWE & MORETON EAST 1 WEST KIRBY & THURSTATON 1

                    
3. Nomination papers must be delivered to the Electoral Services Office, Ground Floor, Town Hall, Wallasey, during normal office hours, from Tuesday, 15th April 2014 to Thursday, 17th April 2014 and during normal office hours, from Tuesday, 22nd April 2014 to 4pm on Thursday, 24th April 2014. Forms of nomination papers may also be obtained at that place, during those times.

4. If the Elections are contested, the poll will take place on Thursday, 22nd MAY 2014.

5. Applications to be included in the register of electors must reach the Electoral Registration Officer at the Town Hall, Wallasey by Tuesday, 6th May 2014, if they are to be effective for the election.

6. Applications, amendments or cancellations of postal votes and changes to proxy voting arrangements, must reach the Electoral Registration Officer at the Town Hall, Wallasey by 5pm on Wednesday, 7th May 2014, if they are to be effective for this election.

7. All new applications to vote by proxy (except those applied for on relevant emergency grounds) must reach the Electoral Registration Officer at the Town Hall, Wallasey by 5pm on Wednesday, 14th May 2014, if they are to be effective for the election.

8. All applications to vote by proxy on relevant emergency grounds (disability occurring after 5pm on Wednesday, 14th May 2014; grounds relating to applicant’s occupation, service or employment where the applicant became aware of those grounds after 5pm on Wednesday, 14th May 2014; or detention under civil powers as a mental health patient) must reach the Electoral Registration Officer at the Town Hall, Wallasey by 5pm on Thursday, 22nd May 2014, if they are to be effective for the election.

DATED: Monday, 14th April
2014

Graham Burgess

LOCAL RETURNING OFFICER

Printed and Published by the Local Returning Officer, Town Hall, Wallasey, Wirral, CH44 8ED

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Surjit Tour tells Wirral Council’s councillors that they have to accept filming at their public meetings

                         

Birkenhead Constituency Committee (10th April 2014) Birkenhead Town Hall
Left to Right Surjit Tour (Head of Legal and Member Services), Councillor George Davies, Rt Hon Frank Field MP (Chair), Dawn Tolcher (Birkenhead Constituency Manager)

In an update to the blog post headlined Does Pickles think that Wirral Council’s £22,500 newspaper plan “pours taxpayers’ money down the drain”?, something seems to have happened “behind the scenes” as Surjit Tour had this to say to councillors on the subject at last night’s Transformation and Resources Policy and Performance Committee on an item about the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 (the bit he says about Wirral Council’s compliance with the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity is the relevant part):

“Thank you Chair, just very briefly taking you through this particular report. It’s a report that’s already been considered by the Audit and Risk Management Committee on the 14th March and the report seeks to summarise the key provisions of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014.

On the 13th August of 2010 the government announced its intention if you recall to abolish the Audit Commission and replace it with a decentralised process and arrangements with regard to the audit of public bodies. This Act seeks to set out the necessary framework in relation to the audit arrangements and I’ll turn your attention if I may to page fifty-seven of the report and that provides an explanatory note in terms of the key features of the current and new arrangements that are being introduced.

Paragraph 2.1 sets out and highlights features of the new arrangements and notably the abolition of the Audit Commission and with a view to arrangements being put in place. Under the new arrangements public bodies will be required to appoint an external, independent auditor on the advice of an independent audit panel. The audit panel which the Council must have in place and each local authority is required to have that audit panel in place to discharge their responsibilities, the appointment of an auditor. Various other… may be deferred on that particular panel by the Secretary of State.

The make up of that particular panel it talks about in the report of the recommended changes in the explanatory forward. The actual amend to the legislative framework with regards to council tax referendums and the revised measures to ensure local authorities’ compliance with the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity.

The Act also then introduces greater transparency and openness to meetings of Council meetings in particular by allowing local residents to film, tweet, blog and access the information in relation to decision-making in those committees. So it goes further than just the filming and the arrangements that we currently have.

We also then have arrangements and changes with regards to any local audit, taking account value for money elements which needs to be also factored in and we have a transfer of responsibilities of setting a new code of audit practice going now to the National Audit Office as part of these arrangements. So you see that in a bit more detail in paragraph three some of those provisions there in more detail.

In terms of our current arrangements, there are outsourcing arrangements in place and as you know we have Grant Thornton who is the external auditor for Council and that arrangement continues until 2017 at which point arrangements will be put in place for the appointment of a new local auditor and this is where the new local auditor panel will be engaged in the procurement of that particular body.

There will be a series of approved, accredited firms that will be able to do that and they will be made subject to assessment and criteria by the Financial Reporting Council and relevant professional accountancy bodies who are regulated in the provision of local government services.

In terms of the panel itself, details of its make up are set out in paragraph six of the explanatory note and this is where we need to have a panel which would consist of a majority of independent members and it would be chaired by an independent member. Now our Audit and Risk Management Committee can act as the Council’s auditor panel under the act if so required and if we need to appoint individuals then there’ll be a process that’ll need to be gone through.

You’ll recall that the Audit and Risk Management Committee, in fact it happened last year, indicated that it wished to be a majority of members of the Audit and Risk Management Committee to be independent and there will, arrangements are in hand to make those necessary arrangements. However the Secretary of State is still yet to publish regulations in relation to this particular Act, particularly the criteria and it needs to be expanded on what appears in the Act itself. So the draft regulations are not complete in terms of what the criteria will be for the appointment of independent members and as such a decision has been taken to await the Act or indeed those final regulations to ensure that any appointment that is made is compliant with those regulations.”

The Chair said, “Thanks Surjit, any questions, comments? Pat?”

Cllr Patricia Glasman said, “Paragraph 2.1.5 access information relating to the decisions made in those meetings, I wonder if you could just expand a little bit on that specifically the Pensions Committee we have attachments which are not available to the public. It’s business meetings and I just wondered was there any change to really the way those are treated?”

Surjit Tour replied, “No, there’s no, those changes with regards to information at committees considering the exempt schedules, the schedules before them so those provisions remain unchanged. This is very much the ability to report in open session at committee meetings, individuals being able to not only film, but to tweet, blog information in real-time and as decisions are made.”

The Chair said, “If there’s no further questions, can we agree the recommendations on page fifty-five, 11.1 agreed?”

The Committee agreed the following recommendation:

That the Committee notes the Report and Appendix 1 concerning the changes being introduced by the Audit and Accountability Act 2014 and its implications.

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