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Wirral Council reveals it identified £1,256,823 of fraud and £409,311 of “irregularity” in the last year

                                        

One of the advantages to the new transparency regime imposed on Wirral Council by national government regulations is that they’re being forced to publish more information about their activities by the deadline of 31st December 2014.

For example the information below is on their fraud investigating efforts. As I’m obliged to do so under the terms of the licence I will state “This contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.”

Here are the statistics published about Wirral Council for fraud in 2013/14 on the data.gov.uk website. My comments are added in italics.

Number of occasions powers under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud (Power to Require Information)(England) Regulations 2014, or similar powers used 2.

The regulations explicitly referred to came into effect until 6th April 2014, therefore couldn’t have actually been used at all by Wirral Council in the 13/14 financial year. Looking at the new regulations it’s about requesting information from such as banks on people suspected of housing fraud.

Total number (absolute and full-time equivalent) of employees undertaking investigations and prosecutions of fraud 7

Total number (absolute and full-time equivalent) of professionally accredited counter fraud specialists 7

Not quite sure whether these are a total of 14 employees or the same 7 in both categories.

Amount spent by the authority on the investigation and prosecution of fraud £159,000

Probably a combination of employee time, legal costs and external costs

Number of fraud cases investigated 507

So split between 7 FT employees, that’s an average of 72 each a year or 26 hours per a case.

Total number of occasions on which fraud was identified 71

Well I’d expect this number to be less than 507.

Total number of occasions on which irregularity was identified 436

In other words in every fraud case investigated where fraud wasn’t found, it was put down as irregularity.

Total monetary value of the fraud that was detected £1,256,823

Well I expected it would be something, but £1.2 million in a year (compared to the size of Wirral Council’s budget and financial transactions isn’t too bad I suppose. So each fraud was on average for an amount of £17,701, but cost on average £2,239 per identified fraud case to investigate.

Total monetary value of the irregularity that was detected £409,311

I still don’t fully understand what irregularity means but there you go! Maybe someone can leave a comment and explain that!

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8 Labour councillors on Wirral Council vote to close Lyndale School from 31st August 2016

                                                 

Yesterday (17th December 2014) Wirral Council’s Cabinet decided to close Lyndale School in Eastham on 31st August 2016. You can watch video of how the decision was reached in the above video, the item on Lyndale School starts at 50 seconds into the meeting. Two of the Cabinet (Cllr Stuart Whittingham and Cllr Chris Meaden) were absent at the Cabinet meeting when it was made.

The councillor who proposed closure of the Lyndale School was Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services). This was seconded by Cllr Ann McLachlan (Cabinet Member for Governance, Commissioning and Improvement).

The vote was as follows:

In favour of closing the Lyndale School from 31/8/16

Cllr Phil Davies (Labour, Birkenhead & Tranmere)

Cabinet 17th December 2014 vote on Lyndale School L to R Shirley Hudsepth Surjit Tour Cllr Phil Davies Graham Burgess

Cabinet 17th December 2014 vote on Lyndale School L to R Shirley Hudsepth Surjit Tour Cllr Phil Davies Graham Burgess

Cllr Ann McLachlan (Labour, Bidston & St James) * Note Seconder of motion
Cllr George Davies (Labour, Claughton)
Cllr Tony Smith (Labour, Upton) * Note Proposer of motion

Cabinet 17th December 2014 vote on Lyndale School closure L to R Cllr Tony Smith Cllr George Davies Cllr Ann McLachlan

Cabinet 17th December 2014 vote on Lyndale School closure L to R Cllr Tony Smith Cllr George Davies Cllr Ann McLachlan

Cllr Adrian Jones (Labour, Seacombe)
Cllr Chris Jones (Labour, Seacombe)
Cllr Pat Hackett (Labour, New Brighton)
Cllr Bernie Mooney (Labour, Liscard)

Cabinet 17th December 2014 vote on Lyndale School closure L to R Cllr Bernie Mooney Cllr Pat Hackett Cllr Chris Jones Cllr Adrian Jones

Cabinet 17th December 2014 vote on Lyndale School closure L to R Cllr Bernie Mooney Cllr Pat Hackett Cllr Chris Jones Cllr Adrian Jones

Total 8

Voting Against closing the Lyndale School from 31/8/16

Total 0

Abstentions

Total 0

Therefore with eight votes for, none against and no abstentions, the motion was agreed.

It is possible that at some future point six (or more) councillors will request a call in of this decision. However the Coordinating Committee would decide such a call in and is now short of the two parent governor representatives required to hear a call in on such a matter, you can read this blog post about the questions I asked of Cllr Tony Smith earlier in the week about that.

The Coordinating Committee has 9 Labour councillors, 5 Conservative councillors, 1 Lib Dem, 2 parent governor representatives (although both positions are now vacant) as well as a representative of the Catholic Diocese. It should also have a representative from the Anglican Diocese of Shrewsbury, however the Anglicans have (to my knowledge) not chosen someone yet. That’s a committee of 19 people. However three positions are vacant.

Those associated with the Lyndale School will probably be asking their legal advisers to send a Letter before Claim in this format to Wirral Council’s Cabinet and Wirral Council’s legal department in the near future. Once Wirral Council has received such a letter, they usually have 14 days to respond to such a letter. If the response is not to the proposed Claimant/s’s satisfaction it is highly likely that a case will be filed promptly with the Administrative Court (part of the Royal Courts of Justice) requesting permission for judicial review of the decision to close the school.

If decision on permission for judicial review was granted by a High Court Judge, then it would proceed to a hearing. A decision on permission (if the case was filed in January 2015) would be expected within around three months. If permission is given, a decision on this matter by the court would be expected to be decided within a year (that is if the case if filed in January 2015 by around January 2016 or possibly sooner but certainly before 31st August 2016).

Two newspapers that cover the Wirral area have also written pieces about this decision which you may be interested in reading:

Heartbreak for parents as Wirral Council’s cabinet vote unanimously to close Lyndale (Wirral Globe) by Emma Rigby

Wirral council under fire after rubber-stamping decision to shut Lyndale special school (Liverpool Echo) by Liam Murphy

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How did Councillor Tony Smith answer 2 questions about the Cabinet decision on closure of Lyndale School?

                                            

Council (Wirral Council) 15th December 2014

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

In light of the fact that Wirral Council’s Cabinet meets tonight to make a decision about Lyndale School (amongst other matters), I thought this transcript of the public question time that includes two questions I asked Cllr Tony Smith about the upcoming decision on Lyndale School at the public meeting of Council on Monday 15th December might be of interest to some people. It starts at 31:46 in the video above.

The first question is a written question from Mr John Brace to Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) submitted on the 4th December 2014. The second is one Cllr Tony Smith doesn’t get advance warning of until he heard it on Monday evening.

JOHN BRACE: Wirral Council recently had a four-week consultation on the closure of the Lyndale School in Eastham and there will be a special Cabinet meeting later this month on the 17th December 2014.

Can you please answer:

(a) how many responses were received by Wirral Council to the latest four-week consultation on closure of the Lyndale School,
(b) whether the text of the responses to the latest four-week consultation will be published in full (rather than a summary in a Cabinet report) and if so when,
(c) whether all Cabinet Members making a decision on the 17th December 2014 will in advance of making a decision at the meeting of the 17th December 2014 have read all the written consultation responses to the four week consultation on closure prior to making their decision on the 17th December 2014

and

(d) whether all Cabinet Members making a decision on the 17th December 2014 will in advance of making a decision at the meeting of the 17th December 2014 have read the statutory guidance for decision makers on this matter issued earlier this year by the government which is available online?

Thank you.

CLLR TONY SMITH: Thank you Mr. Brace, thank you Mr Brace.

Errm, right on question a, errm in accordance with statutory guidance there was a four-week consultation period and during that time any person could make comments or objections to the proposal to close the school, to close the school and there are twenty-one representations received.

Six from the Lyndale School, one from Stanley School and fourteen others who were mainly Members, twenty were received by email and one letter was received.

So question b, errm an acknowledgement has been given to all those who made representations. The whole set of redacted copies of the representations has been provided as appendix 4 to the Cabinet report and a full set of unredacted copies has been provided to members of the Cabinet prior to their meeting on the 17th December to inform the decision-making. The unredacted copies have been sent to Cabinet Members on a disc.

Err question c, all, as I said earlier, every Member of the Cabinet have received a disc, which contains copies of the representations, that are unredacted and which will be read prior to their meeting on the 17th December and the question d, yes is the answer.

The full guidance produced by the Department for Education, in December, or the Department for Education in 2014 called School Organisation for Maintained Schools: Guidance for proposals and decision makers has been provided at appendix 3 of the Cabinet report. The Cabinet, as the decision-maker, will have regard to the factors it will need to take into account and this is outlined in paragraph 4 onwards in the Cabinet report.

JOHN BRACE: Thank you.

MAYOR OF WIRRAL: OK, err we normally ask if you if you want a supplementary question? Have you got one? OK?

JOHN BRACE: Thank you Councillor Tony Smith for answering my first question. I do have a supplementary.

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 errm I will probably have to give you a written report on that regarding the detail of your question. I’ll give you a written report.

JOHN BRACE: OK, thank you.

MAYOR OF WIRRAL: OK, thank you Mr. Brace. That was the only public question that we had to deal with. I’m moving on to item 5, which is Leader’s, Executive Member’s and Chair’s reports.

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Royal visit today changes time of Mersey Fire Authority meeting & leads to bungle on filming petition

                                                                 

Despite being the lead signatory on this petition which is on the agenda of today’s Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority meeting I won’t be able to go to the meeting today to speak for five minutes on the petition and see what is said about it.

Usually meetings of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority start at 1.00pm and this had been down originally scheduled as starting at that time. However because a member of the Royal Family is coming to open the building today, the time of this meeting starting was changed in the very recent past at some point to 11.00am. Unfortunately the letter (see below) inviting me to the meeting didn’t mention the changed time (or indeed the time the meeting was supposed to start at all) and despite this being mentioned at least once at a recent public meeting of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority neither of us changed the original time was starting in our diary (1.00pm) when we got back or received formal notification of the changed time!

letter from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority about filming petition received 6th December 2014

letter from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority about filming petition received 6th December 2014

So I only realised the meeting was starting at 11.00am at around 11.00am this morning when I looked at MFRA’s website and was about to leave (for a meeting I thought started at 1.00pm) leaving no time to get there at all as by the time I get there it will be finished! So apologies to the petition signatories in that I won’t be able to speak for five minutes at today’s meeting or film it as originally planned!

So below is what I would have said if I had indeed been been more organised over the time of the meeting starting and got my five minutes to speak. As you can see here meetings of the Authority are normally at 1.00pm! Apologies for missing the altered time of the meeting, changed because a member of royalty is officially opening the building today.

“The petition (and accompanying letter) should be in people’s agenda packs at agenda item 3 (pages 7-8). In addition to the two on the paper petition included there, there are a further seven signatories on an online version of the same petition, however the lead signatory signed both versions making a total of eight individuals.

On the 18th November 2014 Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority published on its website as a library item a seven page document titled MFRA Meeting Reporting Protocol and Procedure. This didn’t formally go on the agenda of a public meeting of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority to be agreed but was published as a library item.

The issue of filming meetings was discussed at a meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee on the 23rd September 2014 (agenda item 6 The Openness in Local Government Regulations 2014). The minutes of that meeting state “The committee were advised that a report will be submitted to a future Authority meeting to approve amendments to the Authority’s Constitution following the impact of the Regulations.”, however there has not been a report to either the Authority meeting on October 2nd 2014 or today’s meeting to approve amending the constitution, which is what this petition calls for in asking for standing order 19.4 to be deleted.

Standing order 19.4 requires permission from the committee concerned before the public meeting can be recorded. As outlined in the government’s guide titled “Open and accountable local government A guide for the press and public on attending and reporting meetings of local government” the new regulations about filming apply to fire and rescue authorities in England such as Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority.

Regulation 4 of the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014, which came into effect in August of this year changed the legislation. “Principal council in England” in the legislation also refers to fire and rescue authorities in England. The legislation was changed to state “(7A) While a meeting of a principal council in England is open to the public, any person attending is to be permitted to report on the meeting.”, “(7C) A person attending a meeting of a principal council in England for the purpose of reporting on the meeting must, so far as practicable, be afforded reasonable facilities for doing so.” and “(7E) Any person who attends a meeting of a principal council in England for the purpose of reporting on the meeting may use any communication method, including the internet, to publish, post or otherwise share the results of the person’s reporting activities.
” with reporting implicitly referred to as “filming, photographing or making an audio recording of proceedings at a meeting”.

Other public bodies on Merseyside that had existing standing orders in their constitution about filming such as Liverpool City Council and the Merseyside Police and Crime Panel changed either their constitution or rules of procedure after the new regulations came into effect back in August. The issue about the public making objections in the current MFRA Meeting Reporting Protocol and Procedure to meetings being filmed also needs to be changed, as it misleads chairs and others into thinking they still have the power to stop filming at a public meeting. They don’t have any legal power to stop people filming a public meeting of this body because of these new regulations. Therefore both the constitution needs to be changed and the existing MFRA Meeting Reporting Protocol and Procedure and I call upon councillors and officers to do so to bring both the constitution and the MFRA Meeting Reporting Protocol and Procedure up to date and in line with the new regulations. I look forward to hearing about your proposals for a way forward on this issue. “

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Over 3,000 people sign 2 petitions against Wirral Council cuts generally and to West Kirby Marine Lake

                                               

There are two large petitions on the agenda of tonight’s Council meeting, which means each petition organiser has up to fifteen minutes to speak. The first petition of 4,042 signatures (combined across an e-petition and paper petition) is from Sue Kellett of UNISON and is titled “Save Our Services”, the front page of which can be viewed here. It’s basically an anti cuts petition.

The second petition of 3,546 signatures by Mr M Shipley is asking to remove the budget option to save money at West Kirby Marine Lake.

West Kirby Library one of the four central libraries that won't be affected by changes to opening hours

West Kirby Library one of the four central libraries that won’t be affected by changes to opening hours

Also on the budget options, the Lib Dems (see pages 3/4 of the supplementary agenda) seem to be upset at the prospect of opening hours at some Wirral libraries being reduced.

On the subject of libraries, below is some information on Wirral libraries recently given to this blog:

Wirral Community Libraries Baby Bounce and Rhyme

Wirral Community Libraries Baby Bounce and Rhyme

Wirral Community Libraries Storytime visits

Wirral Community Libraries Storytime visits

Groups at Community Libraries Page 1 of 3

Groups at Community Libraries Page 1 of 3

Groups at Community Libraries Page 2 of 3

Groups at Community Libraries Page 2 of 3

Groups at Community Libraries Page 3 of 3

Groups at Community Libraries Page 3 of 3

Community Libraries Number of PCs for public use May 2013

Community Libraries Number of PCs for public use May 2013

Community Libraries ICT Log Ins April 2014 to October 2014

Community Libraries ICT Log Ins April 2014 to October 2014

Wirral Community Libraries Summer Reading Challenge individual branch figures 2014 & 2013

Wirral Community Libraries Summer Reading Challenge individual branch figures 2014 & 2013

Wirral Community Libraries books issued and renewed August 2013 to August 2014

Wirral Community Libraries books issued and renewed August 2013 to August 2014

Wirral Community Libraries Borrowers monthly August 2013 to August 2014

Wirral Community Libraries Borrowers monthly August 2013 to August 2014

Wirral Community Libraries Total number of visitors monthly August 2013 to August 2014

Wirral Community Libraries Total number of visitors monthly August 2013 to August 2014

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 7

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 7

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 8

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 8

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 9

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 9

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 10

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 10

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 11

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 11

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 12

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 12

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 13

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 13

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 14

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 14

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 15

Panel Community Libraries budget option Wirral Council page 15

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Will Wirral Council’s Cabinet decide to close Lyndale School on the 31st August 2016?

                                                                

Councillor Tony Smith at the Special Cabinet Meeting of 4th September 2014 to discuss Lyndale School L to R Cllr Stuart Whittingham, Cllr Tony Smith, Cllr Bernie Mooney, Lyndzay Roberts

Councillor Tony Smith at the Special Cabinet Meeting of 4th September 2014 to discuss Lyndale School L to R Cllr Stuart Whittingham, Cllr Tony Smith, Cllr Bernie Mooney, Lyndzay Roberts

One of the things I’ve mulled over the past few days are the papers published for the special Cabinet meeting on Thursday 17th December. Due to the volume of paperwork to do with this item, this small piece can’t do justice to the matter so I suggest you read the paperwork for that agenda item on Wirral Council’s website in full.

Sadly for Tranmere Rover’s fans (issues to do with the training ground are agenda item 4) it is agenda item 3 (Report Detailing the Outcome of the Representation Period about the Proposed Closure of The Lyndale School) and its six appendices that is the subject of this piece.

The whole matter is also connected to this Freedom of Information Act request I made on the 20th November 2014 for the consultation responses (refused yesterday on s.21 grounds as redacted consultation responses (99 A4 pages of them) were published as part of the Cabinet papers here).

I will probably request an internal review of the Freedom of Information Act request later today as Wirral Council (due to the redactions) have not supplied me with the consultation responses as much information is missing and they haven’t given a reason under the Freedom of Information Act legislation as to why.

I also have put in a request for a question to Cllr Tony Smith at next Monday’s Council meeting (to which I’ll get a supplementary question), the question (that I emailed in on the 4th December 2014) is this:

This is my question for the Council meeting on the 15th December 2014 to Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services).

——————————————————————————————————-
Wirral Council recently had a four-week consultation on the closure of the Lyndale School in Eastham and there will be a special Cabinet meeting later this month on the 17th December 2014.

Can you please answer:

(a) how many responses were received by Wirral Council to the latest four-week consultation on closure of the Lyndale School,
(b) whether the text of the responses to the latest four-week consultation will be published in full (rather than a summary in a Cabinet report) and if so when,
(c) whether all Cabinet Members making a decision on the 17th December 2014 will in advance of making a decision at the meeting of the 17th December 2014 have read all the written consultation responses to the four-week consultation on closure prior to making their decision on the 17th December 2014

and

(d) whether all Cabinet Members making a decision on the 17th December 2014 will in advance of making a decision at the meeting of the 17th December 2014 have read the statutory guidance for decision makers on this matter issued earlier this year by the government which is available online?

——————————————————————————————————-

Obviously parts (a) and (b) have been answered by the Cabinet papers being published. Hopefully in answer to (c) he will give the answer that he and the other Cabinet Members will find the time between now and the Cabinet meeting on Thursday evening to read the 99 pages of consultation responses and in answer to (d) the 76 pages of statutory guidance.

The current recommendation from officers is that the school is not closed on the 31st December 2015, but is closed on the 31st August 2016 instead.

There are many matters I could write here about the decision to be made, however I will make these points. If I remember correctly Wirral Council’s constitution in Article 13 (principles of decision-making) specifically Article 13.2 states that when reaching decisions councillors (bear in mind Council here also means decisions made by Wirral Council’s Cabinet) that:

“All decisions of the Council will be made in accordance with the following principles:

(a) proportionality (i.e. the action must be proportionate to the desired outcome);
(b) due consultation and the consideration of professional advice from officers;
(c) respect for human rights;
(d) a presumption in favour of openness;
(e) clarity of aims and desired outcomes; and
(f) Wednesbury reasonableness (i.e. the decision must not be so unreasonable that no reasonable Council could have reached it, having taken into account all relevant considerations, and having ignored irrelevant considerations). “

Some interesting points I wish to make here, only the professional advice from officers needs to be considered. If officers are for example giving amateurish (not professional) advice or have flat out got things wrong it doesn’t need to be factored into the decision.

The consultation responses have been redacted heavily but the advice of officers hasn’t.

What are the clear aims of closing down the Lyndale School (on whatever date)?

Bearing in mind they have a legal duty, that is they must pay regard to the statutory guidance at all stages of the decision-making process on closing the school (for example at the earlier Cabinet meetings, the Council meeting, the Coordinating Committee meetings) as the statutory guidance (published in January 2014 and presumably there was earlier guidance before this) hasn’t been included on the agenda until now can that actually be proved for the earlier decisions that led to this?

Have all the human rights considerations been properly considered? There are matters beyond what I’ve written here that I may bring up in my supplementary question on Monday evening.

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7 Wirral Council councillors, 1 appointment to be longlisted & an HR consultant from Penna PLC; what could possibly go wrong?

                                                 

Employment and Appointments Panel (Head of Specialist Services) Wirral Council 10th December 2014 Chris Hyams explains the purpose of the meeting

Employment and Appointments Panel (Head of Specialist Services) Wirral Council 10th December 2014 Chris Hyams explains the purpose of the meeting

What I’m writing today is an insight into how Wirral Council rushes decisions, it doesn’t seem to follow proper decision-making processes, gets itself in a pickle and how it can bungle even something simple like deciding on a long list based on applications for a senior post at Wirral Council.

First you need to know a bit of background to this story. The current postholder with the title of Head of Specialist Services Emma Taylor (which is in the Families and Wellbeing Directorate) gave Wirral Council her three months notice two and half months ago and leaves at the end of this year. Due to her being one of the senior managers at Wirral Council it is politicians (not officers) that choose her replacement.

On 27th October 2014 the Employment and Appointments Committee (made up of Wirral Council councillors) met, decided on a panel to decide of 4 Labour councillors, 2 Conservative councillors and 1 Lib Dem councillor, the job description/person specification, terms of reference of the panel, to appoint Penna PLC as recruitment consultants (who get paid £15,000 for this recruitment) and also on the process and timescales.

The job was then advertised, applications were sought (which went to Penna PLC) and the closing date for applications was 5th December 2014. Below is a screenshot of the page on Penna’s website for it (currently here but as applications have closed this link may not work for long):

screenshot Lead Wirral website taken on 11th December 2014 Wirral Council Head of Specialist Services timetable

screenshot Lead Wirral website taken on 11th December 2014 Wirral Council Head of Specialist Services timetable

As you can see the closing date for applications for this post (which went to David Slatter of Penna PLC shown in the above video) is 5th December 2014.

On the 2nd December 2014 (before applications for the post had even closed), the agenda for the Employment and Appointments Panel (Head of Specialist Services) was published.

Items 3/4 on the original agenda stated:

“3. Exempt Information – Exclusion of Members of the Public

The public may be excluded from the meeting during consideration of the following items of business on the grounds that they involve the likely disclosure of exempt information.

RECOMMENDATION – That in accordance with section 100A (4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the public be excluded from the meeting during consideration of the following items of business, on the grounds that they involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined by the relevant paragraphs of Part 1 of Schedule 12A (as amended) to that Act. The public interest test has been applied and favours exclusion.

4. Appointment of Head of Specialist Services, Families and Wellbeing Department

To consider the applications for this post. “

Interestingly between the agenda for this meeting being published and the version of the agenda we got handed out just before the public meeting started (late), agenda item 4 had been changed to add (Applications enclosed) (see below).

Employment and Appointments Panel (Head of Specialist Services) 10th December 2014 agenda

Employment and Appointments Panel (Head of Specialist Services) 10th December 2014 agenda

Now this is the weird aspect of this, the agenda published on 2nd December stated the public interest test had been applied (by a Wirral Council officer) stating no reason why the public were to be excluded, based on applications that were yet to be supplied by Penna until after the closing date of the 5th December.

Applications were circulated to those on the panel, I saw this with my own eyes being done in person on the evening before shortly before the Cabinet meeting on the 9th December 2014.

However a different bit of the Local Government Act 1972, s.100B (4) and (5) required the applications for item 4 to be circulated five clear days before the meeting (which obviously didn’t happen).

The law is quite clear that even for items where they are planning to exclude the press and public that this has to happen otherwise the item can’t be taken unless “by reason of special circumstances, which shall be specified in the minutes, the chairman of the meeting is of the opinion that the item should be considered at the meeting as a matter of urgency.” and I didn’t see that happen during the first three items.

The meeting itself started five minutes late as Cllr Tony Smith was late and was over by about half an hour later.

The other point I would like to raise is this? If the public and press were excluded, why was David Slatter of Penna PLC (who is neither a Wirral Council employee nor councillor) allowed to stay in the room? Shouldn’t he have left and why didn’t the Chair ask him to when we left?

However it often happens at Wirral Council meetings that the Chair assumes anyone sitting round the table the committee is sitting on is an employee or councillor. For example recently the Pensions Committee excluded the press and public from part of a meeting. We left, but their auditor from Grant Thornton stayed despite falling into the category of press/public just because they were sitting around the table, therefore it was assumed they could be there.

I’ve seen the same happen at many other Wirral Council public meetings too that go into private session. There are members of the public present but they stay and the meeting carries on despite them being excluded from the meeting. Maybe chairs don’t understand what exclusion of the public means?

Politicians (especially those chairing meetings) can’t have it both ways. If the committee agrees to exclude the public then public and press (not councillors and officers) have to all leave. Otherwise it makes a complete mockery of the law and brings Wirral Council’s decision-making into further disrepute!

Do chairs of public meetings at Wirral Council actually understand what they’re deciding? Are the legal advisers advising the committees aware of the laws about public meetings or do they (mainly) just only offer an opinion if asked for the sake of their careers and not “rocking the boat” with politicians who could get them suspended?

Or is the real answer that Wirral Council has outsourced even part of its HR function to the private sector so much that it couldn’t actually function without having the private sector present during private parts of public meetings when the private sector seemingly have no actual legal right to be there? Am I wrong to expect fairness in Wirral Council’s decision-making?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this and will be interested to read the minutes of yesterday’s meeting when they are published too.

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Cabinet (Wirral Council) 8th December 2014 Background Shirley Hudspeth, Surjit Tour, Cllr Phil Davies & Graham Burgess foreground trade union representative Agenda item 4 Council Budget Consultation Findings

Cabinet (Wirral Council) 8th December 2014 Background Shirley Hudspeth, Surjit Tour, Cllr Phil Davies & Graham Burgess foreground trade union representative Agenda item 4 Council Budget Consultation Findings

Cabinet (Wirral Council) 8th December 2014 Background Shirley Hudspeth, Surjit Tour, Cllr Phil Davies & Graham Burgess foreground trade union representative Agenda item 4 Council Budget Consultation Findings

Cllr Phil Davies agrees to £2.4 million of cuts for 2015-16 in 10 areas of Wirral Council expenditure

                                                   

Future Council Wirral logo

Future Council Wirral logo

                                                   

The Cabinet meeting on 8th December was well attended for the item on the recent “Future Council” budget consultation. £4 million of cuts were consulted on, of which £2.5 million would need to be chosen.

However minutes before that item was decided, Cabinet approved an ten-year extension to Biffa’s contract. This extended the contract from 2017 to 2027, which meant Cabinet then only had to find £2.4 million of cuts. This was because Biffa had offered a £500,000 reduction in 2015-16 in what they charge for services under the contract in return for the ten-year extension and changes to the contract. Yes, before anybody points it out I realise that £2.5 million – £500,000 = £2 million, not £2.4 million. As to what the other £400,000 saved on the Biffa contract will be used towards I’m unsure (maybe it’ll go towards the projected overspend this year)!

So what have the Labour Cabinet decided to cut? For the detail on what each of these budget options refers to you can read this blog post written at the start of the Future Council consultation that details what each budget options means. The West Kirby Marine Lake budget option has changed from transferring it to the private sector to an alternative budget option for it involving better marketing/increased income. These are each of the budget proposals they accepted in full, which as the Cabinet has to refer budget recommendations to Council to decide won’t be implemented yet.

Budget Options accepted in full
Council Tax Over 70s Discount £600,000
Allotments, Bowling and Football £35,000
Parking at Fort Perch Rock £25,000
Commemorations and Memorials £100,000
Litter and Dog Fouling Enforcement £70,000
All Age Disability Service £600,000
West Kirby Marine Lake £25,000
Girtrell Court £385,000

Total: £1.84 million

Budget Options accepted in part
Community Libraries £190,000 (originally £411,000)
Preventative Maintenance £370,000 (originally £570,000)

Total: £560,000

Grand Total: £2.4 million

Here’s what they chose not to cut in full (I’m leaving out the two options below of community libraries and preventative maintenance where partial savings were agreed as they are already mentioned above):

Budget options not chosen – these savings will not be made in 2015-16
Parking in Countryside Parks £50,000
Public Conveniences £140,000
Cold Calling Zones £80,000
Roadside Grit Bins £55,000
School Crossing Patrols £90,000
Pest Control £65,000
Youth and Play £450,000

Total: £930,000

+ part of savings from community libraries (£221,000) and
+ part of savings from Preventative Maintenance (£200,000)

Total: £1.351 million

So how does this compare to a prediction I made before this decision was made last night as to what would be cut?

Well I was correct on most of what the Cabinet chose. However I had to make my total reach £2.5 million as that was what was consulted on rather than the £2.4 million decided last night. The majority of the cuts (Over 70s Council Tax discount, Girtrell Court and All Age Disability Service which total about £1.5 million) I was right on.

The rest I was mainly right on with part of the error caused by having to make it total £2.5 million. However it’s still up to Council to debate them before a final decision is made. However with a Labour majority on Wirral Council it looks almost certain that Cllr Phil Davies will get his budget options approved.

Oh and in slightly related news, Cllr Phil Davies also confirmed his intention to not raise Council Tax in 2015-16 too and accept a Council Tax Freeze Grant (which is part of the reason why some of these cuts have to be made). You can answer why you think Cllr Phil Davies, with Cabinet responsibility for the budget who is up for election in May 2015 doesn’t want to put Council Tax up in 2015-16 in the comments if you wish.

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Marvin the Martian returns to discuss 2 local political issues: the Greasby Fire Station saga and the King Street buildings collapse

                                                  

Marvin the Martian from Disney's Looney Tunes

Marvin the Martian from Disney’s Looney Tunes

The below is a fictional interview with Marvin the Martian about two issues Greasby Fire Station and the King Street building collapse. Marvin the Martian is trademarked to Warner Brothers Entertainment. Our legal team point out their trademark doesn’t actually cover its use on blogs but in case they try to argue this blog is an “entertainment service”, it isn’t, so no laughing! Yes I mean it, not even a smile! We also point out it’s not an infringing use of class 9 of this trademark as that refers to its use on goods rather than virtually.

We rely on s.30 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and class this as “fair dealing” due to the acknowledgement above. As the The Copyright and Rights in Performances (Quotation and Parody) Regulations 2014 have come into force earlier this year, we’ll rely on this too and the new section 30A on parody.

JOHN BRACE: Thanks once again for agreeing to be interviewed about Greasby & the proposed fire station as well as the King Street building collapse. We couldn’t get straight answers on these issues out of anyone else.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: You’re welcome. I live on Mars, but having read your press reports on this I’m confused. Perhaps you could help just briefly explain to your readers what’s happened so far in Greasby?

JOHN BRACE: Well Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority decided to consult on closing two fire stations at West Kirby and Upton and building a new one, their preferred site was Greasby.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: OK, I’ve got that bit. So who owned the Greasby site?

JOHN BRACE: Wirral Council own it.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So it’s just a cleared site, with nothing on it and has been declared surplus to requirements?

JOHN BRACE: No, it’s got a library and community centre on it already as well as some green space.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: And there are four Wirral Council councillors on the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority?

JOHN BRACE: Yes.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: And the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service stated Wirral Council offered them a lease of the site (subject to planning permission/outcome of their consultation)?

JOHN BRACE: Yes.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: But Wirral Council stated that they didn’t offer the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service (or Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority) the site to build a fire station on (subject to planning permission and the outcome of the consultation)?

JOHN BRACE: Yes.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Ahh so Greasby fire station is like Schrödinger’s cat, it was both offered and not offered to the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service/Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority at the same time?

JOHN BRACE: According to MFRS/MFRA & Wirral Council yes.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So did someone actually open the box and see if the “cat” was dead or alive?

JOHN BRACE: Some councillors tried to at last night’s Council meeting. The box was opened and it was (from last night’s meeting) a policy decision was formally made not to offer the Greasby site to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service/Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So before that was the Greasby fire station dead or alive?

JOHN BRACE: Like the mysteries of quantum physics the answer to that depends on who you ask and when.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Ahhh, it makes no sense at all!

JOHN BRACE: This is Wirral Council. It’s not meant to make sense.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So let’s move on to something the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service were involved in, the aftermath of the buildings collapsing in King Street one evening. Who were then owned by?

JOHN BRACE: Wirral Council.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: OK, so why did they fall down?

JOHN BRACE: The “official” version is after they checked the rubble, is that there had been a bodged repair before Wirral Council bought them.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So did Wirral Council have a survey done before they bought these properties?

JOHN BRACE: Who knows?

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So did Wirral Council have a survey done after they bought them?

JOHN BRACE: Well once they collapsed and the rubble was surveyed yes.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: No, I mean after they bought them but before they collapsed!?

JOHN BRACE: Oh again, who knows? Although the collapse is being spun as a positive.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Why?

JOHN BRACE: Well as the buildings were in such a bad state of repair, they’d probably have had to be pulled down or expensively repaired. As they collapsed on their own it saves Wirral Council on some of the costs of demolition or repairs!

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Your Wirral Council politicians are just as keen to put a positive gloss on disasters as our Martian ones are!!!

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Labour and Conservative councillors both say no to Greasby Fire Station plans

                                                

In an update to a previous story about the changes to filming public meetings of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority, I have received a formal response from Mersey Fire and Rescue Authority about my petition on the subject.

The letter is included below. The gist of it is I can present my petition at the public meeting on the 16th December 2014. I’ve decided to present it myself and not through one of the councillors, considering that at least one of the Wirral Council councillors on the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority is well-known for his anti-public meeting filming views.

letter from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority about filming petition received 6th December 2014

letter from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority about filming petition received 6th December 2014

I also get up to five minutes to state how many people signed the paper and e-petition, what the petition is about and “further supporting remarks”. I’ve decided to not opt for the “deputation” option which would have allowed councillors (including Cllr Steve Niblock if he is present) to ask questions of me.

Whereas I could probably talk on the subject of filming public meetings for more than five minutes, this is certainly a positive step on the road to getting things changed and having a say at a public meeting on the issue thanks to the many who have signed the paper and e-petition so far and the many more who watch the videos I’ve recorded since September of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority meetings.

Moving to more local matters, tonight’s Council meeting has unusually two notices of motion on fire related matters.

The Labour motion “Government’s Fire and Rescue Service Cuts” is down to be debated tonight, I’m not sure what’s happening to the Conservative motion “No Fire Station in the Centre of Greasby” as nothing is now next to it on the agenda published on Wirral Council’s website. This is what each notice of motion states:

2. NO FIRE STATION IN THE CENTRE OF GREASBY
Proposed by Councillor Tom Anderson
Seconded by Councillor Wendy Clements

Council acknowledges the overwhelming public opposition to a fire station on the site of Greasby Library.

Council notes that this concern relates to the specific site, not to the policy of merging of fire stations.

Council impresses upon Cabinet:
(1) not to gift, sell, lease the land concerned at the centre of Greasby, because of the value it has for the community; and
(2) to ask officers to work co-operatively with Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service in identifying and facilitating a more suitable site for operational purposes and to maintain the amenity of the local people.

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3. GOVERNMENT’S FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICE CUTS

Proposed by Councillor Phil Davies
Seconded by Councillor Adrian Jones

Council welcomes the announcement by the Leader of the Council to withdraw the Council-owned land in the centre of Greasby from consideration for a new fire station.

Given the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s obligation to maximise the protection of lives, and of property, it is inevitable that the location of Fire Stations may, from time to time, conflict with local preferences particularly where such structures may detract from the established scenic value of the MFRA’s preferred locations.

The Government’s devastating and unfair cuts to MFRA’s budget have resulted in the unavoidable need to cut the number of Fire Stations in Wirral. The Fire and Rescue Authority’s preferred location of a single Fire Station on a site in the centre of Greasby was based on its assessment of life saving response times. However, this would result in the loss of a much loved local green space.

The Council is asked to continue to work with the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority to identify an alternative site in the greater Greasby area.

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