Wirral Council carries on hiding at least £1,829.65 of taxi expenses by Labour councillors despite Labour promise greater transparency

                                                           

Hackney carriage by Ed g2s

Hackney carriage by Ed g2s

Hackney carriage by ed g2stalkOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The tale of taxi expenses claimed by Wirral Council councillors is rapidly becoming a rather convoluted saga. In case you haven’t been reading this blog I will recap the saga so far. It started with INCREDIBLE: £2,877.35 spent by Wirral Council last year in previously hidden payments on taxis for Labour councillors! This was when I discovered that Labour councillors were using taxis and despite a law stating that the annual totals spent for each councillor for travelling had to be published that these figures weren’t being published.

It led to Row as Wirral Labour councillors rack up nearly £3,000 expense claims for taxis in the Wirral Globe, GRANTY’S INFERNO: Taxi-happy Wirral councillors are taking us all for a ride and a letter defending the use of taxis by councillors. I also wrote a further piece Was there no available public transport when Wirral Council councillors took taxis?

In March I asked the Cabinet Member Councillor Adrian Jones about this. The video of that question and Councillor Adrian Jones’ reply is below (although the link in the previous sentence also has a transcript of the question and answer).

In the last few weeks Wirral Council has published on their website the annual totals for each councillor in two files, called Members Allowances 2014-15 and Mayors Allowances 2014-15.

Here are two quotes from what I asked Councillor Adrian Jones back in March:

JOHN BRACE: For the taxi journeys made by councillors that were not included in the annual published lists for 2013/14 and those made since can you confirm:

…..

(b) what changes will be made so that the expenses for such journeys made in 2014/15 will be included next time the annual lists are published? Thank you. “

COUNCILLOR ADRIAN JONES (CABINET MEMBER FOR SUPPORT SERVICES): The Council has negotiated competitive prices and entered into contracts with a local taxi company to provide transport for Members in accordance with the Members Allowances Scheme. The taxi company submits its invoices and the details of the Members that used the taxis each month directly to the Council for payment. The advantage of this arrangement is that the cost of transport by taxis is always at the negotiated rate and is a more efficient way to manage the service.

Now these costs have not been published on that basis previously, however in future the cost of Member’s taxi journeys undertaken pertinent to these taxi contracts will be published on the Council’s website as soon as practicable after the end of each financial year.

In answer to this Freedom of Information Act request I made that I received a response to in December 2014, the total amount spent on taxis for councillors to that point in December 2014 was £1,829.65. Obviously the figure for the whole year will be larger as the financial year for Wirral Council for 2014/15 finishes on the 31st March 2015.

So I’d estimate the total for the year would be around £2,400. The Members Allowances 2014-15 has a column for car mileage (which is for when councillors claim money for using their own cars to travel to meetings) and not for taxis.

The only other column taxi expenses could fall into is “Re-imbursement of expenses” , which only totals £836.60 and is lower than the part-year figures for taxis of £1,829.65 provided in response to the Freedom of Information request.

I recently asked a person who regularly comments on this blog, what should the media do in response to whistleblowing? The answer I was given was “The right thing by the tax paying public”.

I don’t think there’s much further or anything more I can go with this topic though. Wirral Council is proud of its recent "Most Improved" award. When a Wirral Council employee writes an answer for a Cabinet Member to read out at a public meeting that has a specific promise that something will be changed, but it isn’t there has been a betrayal of trust. Someone has to be accountable and apologise (whether in public or private) for this and Wirral Council has to learn to take its legal obligations seriously.

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Cllr Steve Foulkes on being Mayor “it’s the first time in my life I’ve been genuinely liked as a politician”

                                                   

Annual Meeting of Wirral Council (Part 1) 18th May 2015

Councillor Steve Foulkes giving his outgoing speech as Mayor at the Annual Meeting of Wirral Council (18th May 2015)

Councillor Steve Foulkes giving his outgoing speech as Mayor at the Annual Meeting of Wirral Council (18th May 2015)

It was a return to the traditional venue of the Civic Hall at Wallasey Town Hall for the annual meeting of Wirral Council to elect a Mayor.

Outgoing Mayor Cllr Steve Foulkes started his last speech as Mayor by thanking many people who had helped him during his time as Mayor. Over £32,000 had been raised in support of the charities chosen by him (Stick ‘N’ Step, Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and Wirral Foodbank). He also made an appeal for councillors and employees of Wirral Council to enter the Mayor’s lottery.

Matthew Lewis (Mayoral cadet) receives a certificate from Mayor Steve Foulkes (18th May 2015)

Matthew Lewis (Mayoral cadet) receives a certificate from Mayor Steve Foulkes (18th May 2015)

Matthew Lewis (the Mayoral cadet) was then awarded a certificate by the Mayor (as pictured above).

Mayor Steve Foulkes continued by paying tribute to the Deputy Mayor and Deputy Mayoress. He said that meetings of all councillors had gone well this year as people had been polite to each other and respected each other. Together with the Deputy Mayor they had been to six hundred different engagements. He went on to say “and finally it’s the first time in my life I’ve been genuinely liked as a politician”. Highlights of his year included the Open Golf Championship and WWI commemorations and he referred to Wallasey Town Hall’s history during WWI as a hospital.

Here are two of the jokes he told:

“It’s only recently I heard the tale that we were mentioned in the Arthurian tale Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. You may remember that?

We’re described, the Wirral’s described as a mysterious, forested place inhabited by man and beast that God cannot love. It’s good to see the Wirral PR team still in action in the thirteenth century!”

followed by

“This story is about the river streets. A guy coming home, anyone know the river streets in the north end of Birkenhead? Yeah? A guy’s coming home, he’s a little bit tiddly, he finds a dead body of all things in the street.

So in the old days when we had phone boxes, he goes to the phone box and he rings up. ‘Yes sir, what’s the incident?’ He said, ‘I’ve found a dead body’ ‘Give me your name sir’ ‘Yes I’ll give you my name’ ‘Now we need to know exactly where the dead body is, where is it sir?’ He says ‘I found the dead body in Buccleuch Street’ ‘Well sir, I’m afraid you’re going to have to spell that for us, can you spell Buccleuch Street?’

Phone goes dead, two minutes later the guy comes back puffing and panting. ‘It’s alright la, I’ve dragged the body into Avon Street.'”

Cllr Jeff Green (Conservative Leader) proposed Cllr Les Rowlands as Mayor and gave people a few insights into Cllr Les Rowland’s childhood and career. He said the charities that Cllr Les Rowlands had picked for fundraising during his Mayoral year would be the Clatterbridge Hospitals League of Friends, North West Air Ambulance and the Alzheimer’s Society.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Lib Dem Leader) seconded Cllr Green’s nomination of Cllr Les Rowlands as Mayor.

As there were no other nominations Cllr Steve Foulkes declared Cllr Les Rowlands elected as Mayor. The meeting was then adjourned so that Cllr Les Rowlands could put on the Mayoral robes and return.

To be continued….

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Why am I still waiting over 6 months later for an answer to my question to Councillor Tony Smith?

                                                

Council 15th December 2014 Agenda item 4 Public Question Time John Brace asks a question of Cllr Tony Smith on Lyndale School

Council 15th December 2014 Agenda item 4 Public Question Time John Brace asks a question of Cllr Tony Smith on Lyndale School

The picture above is of myself asking a question of Cllr Tony Smith on the 15th December 2014 last year. Here is my supplementary question to Cllr Tony Smith and Cllr Tony Smith’s reply.

JOHN BRACE: Earlier this year, a further decision about Lyndale School was made by Cabinet on the 16th January. This decision was called in.

The Coordinating Committee couldn’t decide on the call in until Council in February had added two parent governors with voting rights to the Committee.

That was because it was a legal requirement to have at least two parent governors with voting rights on the committee.

Now regulation 7(5) and 7(6) of the Parent Governor Representatives (England) Regulations [2001] state that parent governors representatives cease to be qualified if they fail to attend a meeting for six months and also fail to send an apology.

Now, the Coordinating Committee has met many times over the last six months and I’ve not seen either one of the two parent governors at any public meeting, nor have the minutes reflected that they sent their apologies.

Therefore it seems logical to conclude that it doesn’t have the required two parent governor representatives.

As any decision on the future of Lyndale School could be called in to the Coordinating Committee, how do you propose as Cabinet Member including the voice of parent governors in the current decision and to remedy that situation?

CLLR TONY SMITH: OK, thank you Mr. Brace. I think I will probably have to give you a written report on that development because of the technical nature of the representatives but I will give you a report on the representatives.

On the 23rd March 2015, I reminded Councillor Tony Smith that I hadn’t received a response to this question. I received an email from an employee at Wirral Council on the 27th March 2015 asking for a copy of the supplementary question. I replied with a copy of the supplementary question on the 27th March 2015 but have not had a reply to that email.

The papers for the Annual Council meeting (part 2) which is to be held tomorrow evening state “The Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee currently has four co-optees – there is a statutory requirement to have representatives of the Catholic and Church of England dioceses and of parent governors – who are entitled to vote on education matters. These co-optees should also be appointed to the Coordinating Committee for those occasions when it deals with education matters”.

In a section on the Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee it lists two parent governor representatives:

Mrs H Shoebridge (until 28 October 2015)
Mrs Nicola Smith (until 8 February 2017)

The minutes of the Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee meetings for the last 6 months show:

23/3/15
Mrs Nicola Smith Co-Optee Absent
Mrs H Shoebridge Co-Optee Apologies

2/2/15
Mrs Nicola Smith Co-Optee Absent
Mrs H Shoebridge Co-Optee Apologies

In the six months before my question being asked on the 15th December 2014 (8/7/14, 9/9/14, 3/11/14 and 2/12/14 Mrs H Shoebridge did not attend any of the meetings of the Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee nor do the minutes show that she sent her apologies.

So, as there have been periods of six months when both of the parent governor representatives have not attended any of the meetings of the Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee nor sent their apologies it would seem that both parent governor representatives have ceased to be so.

Regulation 7 means they cease to be qualified to be a parent governor representatives and as Wirral Council is required to have at least two parent governor representatives (see regulation 3), then it should hold an election for the two vacant parent governor representatives.

So isn’t it about time that a councillor queried why elections for the parent governor representative weren’t held after I raised this point back in December 2014 and (more importantly) got officers to commit to holding elections in the near future?

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EXCLUSIVE: 10 more invoices paid by Wirral Council including £3,203.88 for budget setting and £15,667.25 for a special guardianship order

                                                           

Below this are ten invoices paid for by Wirral Council during the 2013/14 financial year. The first is for £15,276.96 from Eversheds for the ever cryptic “governance and employment issues”. As it’s paid for by Wirral Council’s HR department it’ll be for employment issues and the Wirral Council reference is down as “Jim Wilkie”. This in itself is a bit odd as it’s for work done in February 2013, as Jim Wilkie retired on the 7th June 2012.

Next is an invoice from Eversheds, but for £3,203.88 for “Budget setting”. Again this is odd as the Wirral Council reference is down as “Bill Norman” and it is for work done in February 2013. Bill Norman however was made redundant by Wirral Council on the 30th September 2012 (through a compromise contract costing Wirral Council £151,416). So Bill Norman wouldn’t have had anything to do with the setting of the budget in February 2013.

The third and fourth invoices are from Weightmans for £4,976.64 & £4,482. I think this are for legal advice about Birkenhead regeneration connected to the plans that Wirral Council’s Cabinet recently agreed to consult on involving Neptune Developments Limited.

Moving to another regeneration project, the fifth invoice is for £8,133.90 for legal advice around a section 106 agreement connected to the Wirral Waters planning application. I’m puzzled about why this invoice was sent directly to Peel and the confusing VAT which was added to the total amount, then taken off it!

Invoice six is another Weightmans invoice for £1,668 for EU procurement advice. The next invoice is from Eversheds and is for £1,720.68 of employment advice. Eversheds also submitted another invoice for £4,811.74 for advice in March 2013 on “governance and employment issues“. As the HR department paid the invoice I think it can safely be assumed it was for an employment issue.

The ninth invoice from Seatons Solicitors is for work on a special guardianship order and is for £15,667.25. The last invoice for £1,660.80 is from DMM Psychology Limited for a cognitive functioning report and psychological reports (although this is for a quarter of the total amount as its being split four ways).

Wirral Council invoice Eversheds £15276.96 15th March 2013

Wirral Council invoice Eversheds £15276.96 15th March 2013

Wirral Council invoice Eversheds £3203.88 15th March 2013

Wirral Council invoice Eversheds £3203.88 15th March 2013

Wirral Council invoice Weightmans £4976.64 27th Match 2013

Wirral Council invoice Weightmans £4976.64 27th Match 2013

Wirral Council invoice Weightmans £4482 2nd April 2013

Wirral Council invoice Weightmans £4482 2nd April 2013

Wirral Council invoice Eversheds £8133.90 15th April 2013

Wirral Council invoice Eversheds £8133.90 15th April 2013

Wirral Council invoice Weightmans £1668 28th February 2013

Wirral Council invoice Weightmans £1668 28th February 2013

Wirral Council invoice Eversheds £1720.68 5th April 2013

Wirral Council invoice Eversheds £1720.68 5th April 2013

Wirral Council invoice Eversheds £4811.74 8th April 2013

Wirral Council invoice Eversheds £4811.74 8th April 2013

Wirral Council invoice Seatons £15667.65 25th March 2013

Wirral Council invoice Seatons £15667.65 25th March 2013

Wirral Council invoice DMM Psychology Ltd £6643.20 8th May 2013

Wirral Council invoice DMM Psychology Ltd £6643.20 8th May 2013

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Can you find the £883,000 in savings needed to keep Upton & West Kirby fire stations open?

                                                              

Dan Stephens (Chief Fire Officer) answers questions at a public consultation meeting in Saughall Massie to discuss proposals for a new fire station (20th April 2015)

Dan Stephens (Chief Fire Officer) answers questions at a public consultation meeting in Saughall Massie to discuss proposals for a new fire station (20th April 2015)

As the consultation closes in the next few days on the issue of closing West Kirby and Upton fire stations and building a new fire station at Saughall Massie (the consultation closes on the 18th May 2015) I thought it would be useful to publish the list of payments over £500 made by the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service over the past year.

Bear in mind that to keep both stations open, £883,000 in savings (or about £74,000 for each month) would have to be found from the revenue budget. Savings can’t come from the payments under the long-term PFI contract with Balfour Beatty Fire and Rescue NW Ltd for building new fire stations. I’m sure there are other long-term contracts that the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service have that some of the payments over £500 may be for.

Details of the ways in which you can respond to the consultation are in blog post about the consultation about fire stations on the Wirral.

Unlike Merseytravel, the Merseyside Fire and Rescue service publish both PDF files and comma separated values files of this information.

Below are links to the monthly lists of payments over £500 in both PDF and comma separated values file formats.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 April 2014 (PDF file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 April 2014 (CSV file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 May 2014 (PDF file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 May 2014 (CSV file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 June 2014 (PDF file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 June 2014 (CSV file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 July 2014 (PDF file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 July 2014 (CSV file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 August 2014 (PDF file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 August 2014 (CSV file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 September 2014 (PDF file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 September 2014 (CSV file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 October 2014 (PDF file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 October 2014 (CSV file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 November 2014 (PDF file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 November 2014 (CSV file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 December 2014 (PDF file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 December 2014 (CSV file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 January 2015 (PDF file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 January 2015 (CSV file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 February 2015 (PDF file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 February 2015 (CSV file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 March 2015 (PDF file)

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service payments over £500 March 2015 (CSV file)

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