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Merseytravel discuss the Open Golf & free trips over the Silver Jubilee & Mersey Gateway bridges for Halton people

                         

Outside Merseytravel’s headquarters, the (usually busy) main road was closed to traffic and crowds gathered.

Crowds gathered outside Merseytravel headquarters
Crowds outside Merseytravel headquarters

Just across the road from Merseytravel’s headquarters, souvenir programme sellers were selling “official souvenir programmes” for £5 each.


Souvenir programme sellers outside Merseytravel headquarters (25th July 2014)

The world’s media had descended on Liverpool for an event referred to as the “Giants”. However this is not about the giants outside, but instead the giants of Merseyside politics inside Merseytravel’s headquarters that met on Friday afternoon.

Merseytravel meeting of the 25th July 2014
Merseytravel meeting (25th July) Right Cllr Les Rowlands, centre background Cllr Steve Foulkes and Cllr Ron Abbey

If you wish you can read the agenda and reports for this meeting on Merseytravel’s website. Prior to the meeting starting, councillors had a one and a half hour “workshop” followed by a short break.

The Chair (Cllr Liam Robinson) thanked people for attending and apologies were given for Councillor Friel and Cllr Fulham. No declarations of interest were made and the minutes of the AGM were agreed.

Cllr Liam Robinson said, “Steve you just want to make a point?”. Cllr Steve Foulkes replied, “Chair, I don’t know where else on the agenda it would fit, other than possibly the minutes but I think speaking on behalf of all the Wirral Members [councillors] and anyone who’s involved in the Open Golf Championship recently on the Wirral.

I think it needs to be recorded somewhere that the coordinated transport approach from obviously Merseyrail, from Merseytravel, from Stagecoach and all of the people involved in it. Particularly given that we did have some inclement weather and we had a joint you known tee off time when lots of people arrived and left all at once. I think you know, given the circumstances around that I think we need to be recording our thanks as a committee to everyone involved in the organisation and particularly our own staff who were part of the big band structure of the event.

So on behalf of you know people, on behalf of groups that unfortunately I had to attend the golf on most days. *laughter and mock groans of sympathy from other councillors* Unfortunately it was actually you know and I spent lots of my time talking to ordinary people who were getting to and from it, they were highly complimentary about the organisation and there were no issues about performance. I’d like then just record somewhere our thanks to those involved in that event and I’m sure you know subsequent to today’s events as well, someone else will move that, but that’s from the Wirral point of view if that’s ok Chair?”

Cllr Liam Robinson (Chair) replied, “Yeah, that’s excellent. Thanks very much Steve, I think we all sort of warmly applaud that accordingly. OK, item 4, Tony?”

Skipping ahead to what councillors said at the end of the meeting about the Mersey Gateway Bridge project in Halton.

Cllr Liam Robinson (Chair) said, “John, you just indicated?” Cllr John Stockton (Halton) said, “I’m sorry Chair but there’s been some important information that colleagues may be interested in that we’ve just received, myself and [Cllr] Harry [Howard].

We had a visit this afternoon colleagues from the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to Halton. He’s announced that the government’s going to put forward the money to ensure that all Halton residents will not have to pay for any journeys across both the Silver Jubilee Bridge and the new Mersey Gateway. *groans from some and some heckling of “for goodness sake” from one councillor*

OK? *laughter from some councillors at the heckling* So I hope you might be interested in that. *laughter and more heckling including “Will Wirral try?”* Unknown councillor “I think there must be a General Election on”. *laughter*

The Chair Cllr Liam Robinson replied, “You’d never know would you [Cllr] Harry [Howard]? *laughter* OK, well with all those bits of news if I can thank everybody for attending today and wish everybody a happy weekend with the Giants if you’re coming across them at all.”

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After 1 objection, Labour councillor speaks in favour of filming; Planning Inspector Griffiths rules it is allowed

                           

Yesterday marked a first for me as I attended my first planning appeal hearing. It was an informal hearing involving an appeal to a planning application decided by a Wirral Council planning officer just before Christmas last year.

The application was for ten houses in the greenbelt near Storeton Woods, where there are currently stables and a paddock. When the Wirral Council planning officer (the decision was made by Mrs C Parker) made their decision last year to refuse the application, there had been twenty-two people in favour of the application and thirty-five against and you can view the original documentation surrounding the planning application on Wirral Council’s website.

Wirral Council refused the application for three reasons, the first being it was considered to be inappropriate development in the greenbelt, on highway safety grounds and because the applicant didn’t submit enough information to determine the effect on trees covered by a tree preservation order.

Usually planning appeals don’t result in hearings and are just decided on the papers submitted by each side. The hearing was held in Committee Room 2 at Wallasey Town Hall, followed by a site visit after which the planning inspector Paul Griffiths would give his decision.

Almost a year ago, when the controversy over bloggers filming public meetings was at its height, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP issued new guidance about the filming of planning appeal hearings. In fact in the press release that I link to there is a specific mention of Wirral Council’s refusal to allow me film a Planning Committee meeting in July 2013 on “health and safety” grounds as covered by the Liverpool Echo. The guidance issued then was that filming at planning appeal hearings should be allowed and a quote from the press release was “Ministers hope this will open up a previously mysterious and rarely seen side of the planning process.”

So I brought along my video camera and tripod to film the planning appeal hearing. What was interesting was near the start of the hearing there was at the start an objection to my filming of the hearing.

Above is video of an informal planning appeal hearing against a refusal of planning permission by Wirral Council (23rd July 2014)

As those who are regular readers of my blog will know, there have been problems in the past when objections have been made by those present to me filming public meetings (even in the recent past) when such a decision has been in the hands of Wirral Council politicians who haven’t always been on the side of openness and transparency.

I include below a transcript of the part of the meeting where the filming issue was discussed which starts seventeen seconds in to the clip above. For information, Matthews and Goodman Limited were the agents to the planning application that was being appealed and were there at the hearing to represent the appellant (Ms Lin Smith of Woodend Cottage, Marsh Lane, Wirral).

PLANNING INSPECTOR (PAUL GRIFFITHS)
Can I ask if there are any members of the press present?

JOHN BRACE
Behind you.

PLANNING INSPECTOR (PAUL GRIFFITHS)
Right, OK. You’ll need to give me your name and address on a separate piece of paper, if that’s alright? Then you get a copy of the decision directly from the Inspectorate.

JOHN BRACE
I’ve put our names on the attendance sheet, do you want to…

PLANNING INSPECTOR (PAUL GRIFFITHS)
If you just mark it, then on the attendance list, when it comes back I’ll deal with that.

NEIL CULKIN (OF MATTHEWS & GOODMAN LTD)
Sir, can I ask what press they are representing and why because we’ve received an objection from the applicant to filming events today?

PLANNING INSPECTOR (PAUL GRIFFITHS)
Hmm, hmm.

JOHN BRACE
Sorry could you speak up, I didn’t quite hear it?

PLANNING INSPECTOR (PAUL GRIFFITHS)
OK, what newspaper are you here representing?

JOHN BRACE
I don’t represent a newspaper.

PLANNING INSPECTOR (PAUL GRIFFITHS)
Right.

JOHN BRACE
I write a blog about Wirral Council and I also film at Planning Committee meetings.

PLANNING INSPECTOR (PAUL GRIFFITHS)
OK.

NEIL CULKIN (OF MATTHEWS & GOODMAN LTD)
As I said to, through you Sir, as previously indicated the applicant has objected to the events being filmed.

PLANNING INSPECTOR (PAUL GRIFFITHS)
Why is that, is there a particular problem with that?

NEIL CULKIN (OF MATTHEWS & GOODMAN LTD)
Errm, I’m just acting on instructions.

PLANNING INSPECTOR (PAUL GRIFFITHS)
Hmm, OK.

COUNCILLOR JERRY WILLIAMS (WIRRAL COUNCIL)
Could I make a comment?

PLANNING INSPECTOR (PAUL GRIFFITHS)
Well no, I don’t want to get drawn into a debate about whether or not the hearing should be filmed.

COUNCILLOR JERRY WILLIAMS (WIRRAL COUNCIL)
I’m the elected Member for Bebington, sorry I’m the elected Member for Bebington.

PLANNING INSPECTOR (PAUL GRIFFITHS)
OK.

COUNCILLOR JERRY WILLIAMS (WIRRAL COUNCIL)
I want to comment on that.

PLANNING INSPECTOR (PAUL GRIFFITHS)
Well what did you want to say?

COUNCILLOR JERRY WILLIAMS (WIRRAL COUNCIL)
Just to make a comment, this gentleman records Council meetings, he records Council meeting and he comes in. There’s no side to the gentleman, he does a very good job, he records and he comes to all Council meetings to actually witness how the Council operates, so there’s no problem with it whatsoever.

PLANNING INSPECTOR (PAUL GRIFFITHS)
Well I mean, I think from my point of view, as an inspector, we are, we’ve all, generally in the past been left to our discretion, whether we allow events to be filmed or to be recorded in any other way, tape recording or people taking verbatim notes.

We’re under instructions that you know in the interests of openness that we’re not supposed to stop it. So.

NEIL CULKIN (OF MATTHEWS & GOODMAN LTD)
In light of the comments received from Councillor Williams, the applicant has no objection to events being filmed and what goes on.

PLANNING INSPECTOR (PAUL GRIFFITHS)
Well I’m quite content with it, it’s not the first time I’ve been filmed and I’m just glad it’s behind me.

(laughter)

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Incredible first 5 minutes of Wirral Council councillors’ public meeting to discuss BIG & ISUS investigations

                                

Above is video of the entire special meeting of the Audit and Risk Management Committee (Wirral Council) on the 22nd July 2014

Below is a partial transcript of the first five minutes of a special meeting of Audit and Risk Management Committee on 22nd July 2014 to discuss the investigations into the BIG and ISUS programs.

COUNCILLOR JIM CRABTREE (CHAIR)
Good evening everyone, welcome to the Audit and Risk Management Committee. Errm

[Agenda item 1]Members’ Code of Conduct – Declarations of Interest.

Have we got any? No.

[Agenda] Item 2, minutes of the last meeting, are they agreed?

COUNCILLORS
Agreed.

COUNCILLOR JIM CRABTREE (CHAIR)
Thank you.

[Agenda] Item 3, Business Investment Grant (BIG) and the Intensive Startup Scheme (ISUS) Investigation.

There’s been concerns from Members about the lateness and thickness of this item and, if I can given the size of the document and the concern that Members have about the lateness of receiving this, and that along with the written address from Mr Hobro, I’d like to recommend an adjournment of a week and we convene back here next Tuesday. Problem?

COUNCILLOR JOHN HALE (CONSERVATIVE SPOKESPERSON)
I’ve got a problem with that Chair.

COUNCILLOR JIM CRABTREE (CHAIR)
You’re on holiday?

COUNCILLOR JOHN HALE (CONSERVATIVE SPOKESPERSON)
I won’t be back …..

COUNCILLOR JIM CRABTREE (CHAIR)
….?

UNKNOWN COUNCILLOR
I’m on holiday as well Chair.

COUNCILLOR JIM CRABTREE (CHAIR)
Sweet, (can’t be heard). Pardon?

GRAHAM BURGESS (CHIEF EXECUTIVE)
Chair is it alright if I cut in? Chair I was just saying that obviously, we’re entering the holiday season. It’s inevitable that there will be people on holiday throughout the holiday season so obviously I’m concerned both for the Members and Council to get this matter resolved as speedily but as comprehensively as possible.

So clearly, we’d urge you to consider the meeting adjournment, because clearly we feel that this matter for everybody’s interest needs to be considered as quickly as possible to the satisfaction of all the Members though.

COUNCILLOR JIM CRABTREE (CHAIR)
Thanks for that, so I’m going to move that as a recommendation and…

(murmuring by councillors)

COUNCILLOR LEAH FRASER
… point of order, … should … we’re doing…before we do… (turns on microphone) sorry Chair, could I suggest we make it in a fortnight? Normally you would liaise with the spokes of each party and obviously you haven’t spoken to Councillor Hale and it would help. I think he should be here at the next meeting. Thank you.

COUNCILLOR RON ABBEY (VICE-CHAIR)
Fifth of August then Chair.

COUNCILLOR JIM CRABTREE (CHAIR)
Fifth of August.

COUNCILLOR JOHN HALE (CONSERVATIVE SPOKESPERSON)
No, I won’t be back.

COUNCILLOR RON ABBEY (VICE-CHAIR)
Well the problem is you’re going to need to prolong it then and,

COUNCILLOR JIM CRABTREE (CHAIR)
Yeah and there’s certain of the officers that won’t be here on the 5th,

COUNCILLOR RON ABBEY (VICE-CHAIR)
people will not be their deputies?

(multiple councillors talking at once)

COUNCILLOR LEAH FRASER
….. Council.. stepped on…

COUNCILLOR JOHN HALE (CONSERVATIVE SPOKESPERSON)
I’ll be back around the 7th.

COUNCILLOR LEAH FRASER
….

COUNCILLOR PHILLIP BRIGHTMORE
Chair, am I correct in thinking that err if any party has one of their members away so then they can be substituted by a deputy and if indeed if one of those deputies then can’t make it then they can’t be substituted?

COUNCILLOR JOHN HALE (CONSERVATIVE SPOKESPERSON)
We do have deputies, even though we’re charged with finding a substitute spokesperson.

COUNCILLOR PHILLIP BRIGHTMORE
It remains the case you’ve got deputies you can call on.

COUNCILLOR STUART KELLY (LIBERAL DEMOCRAT SPOKESPERSON)
I think the reality is, I think that that would normally be the case but the reality is that from the time that we’ve had it, I dare say amongst the lead Members, the spokespeople, would have made an ??? effort to digest as much of it as we possibly can without any slight meant to any other Members who clearly they will have done that, but certainly the spokespeople would have attempted that.

I mean I think what we probably do need to settle on a date, at which I, John and yourself could be there. Certainly if we push it to the 12th of August then I’m in Butlins (laughing)..err..

COUNCILLOR LEAH FRASER
Who’s the Chair?

COUNCILLOR STUART KELLY (LIBERAL DEMOCRAT SPOKESPERSON)
I mean I’m available up to that date. In moving your recommendation Chair is it your intention that we have a real discussion on what we have in front of us so far?

COUNCILLOR JIM CRABTREE (CHAIR)
No, it’s not really worth breaking up the meeting when we’re halfway through, so it’s not worth having a new discussion tonight. Errm and we could go round all night and come to different dates couldn’t we? Just her and me and then the Monitoring Officer would be away.

COUNCILLOR DAVID ELDERTON
We’re relying on deputies. We’re relying on deputies because for all Members …all Members have problems if they’re not involved at all … basis that… would first, it’s the first time .. Chair… I’m looking for a way forward.

COUNCILLOR JIM CRABTREE (CHAIR)
What time do you leave next Monday John?

COUNCILLOR JOHN HALE (CONSERVATIVE SPOKESPERSON)
Early.

COUNCILLOR DAVID ELDERTON
We can’t be arranging times just to suit John Hale.

COUNCILLOR JIM CRABTREE (CHAIR)
No, no we can’t.

COUNCILLOR DAVID ELDERTON
It’s a service, I can easily update John Hale he comes back.

COUNCILLOR RON ABBEY (VICE-CHAIR)
Now we’re moving into the peak holiday period errm middle of August.

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Liverpool Carnival 12th July 2014

Liverpool Carnival Parade 2014: A number of wheelchair users taking part in the parade

The politics of jealousy: why Wirral’s 66 politicians need to be careful what they say about disability

                         

Above is a photo of a carnival you will probably never get to see in a newspaper as it shows two disabled people in wheelchairs participating in the parade. So why am I showing you this and what relevance does it have?

For years, Wirral Council has got itself into trouble on disability issues. I’ll briefly recap, Martin Morton and the way Adult Social Services treated disabled adults, the proposed closure of Moreton Day Centre and now the proposed closure of Lyndale School.

The thread running through all of those is an extremely dangerous one to tell society. It’s one of withdrawing services for those with a disability or in the case of Martin Morton’s whistleblowing shamefully taking advantage of adults with disabilities as some of them due to the nature of their disability can’t stand up to organisations like Wirral Council without outside help.

So what sort of message does this give out? It’s one of jealousy of the vital services people require because of their disability. It’s one that fuels an increase in disability hate crime (much of which goes unreported). It’s one (that in the case of Lyndale School) thousands signed a petition against it going any further.

Disabled people are a part of society. I was brought up in the 80s and we were taught to be accepting and tolerant. When I was a teenager I went to school with a lad who had epilepsy, he used to routinely have fits and the school called an ambulance due to him knocking himself out. We didn’t treat him any differently though because of his epilepsy! We treated him as a friend.

In adult life I sat on a university committee of staff and students (I was there to represent the views of ~17,000 students). In what to some will seem an extremely ironic twist, the law library wasn’t accessible to wheelchair users as it was on the first floor. Despite our pleas, despite this being unlawful, the Chair of the committee was told that the university wanted to spend the small amount of money for adapting the building on other things. Disabled students weren’t a priority you see, not to senior management who came from a bygone age when people with disabilities didn’t go to university.

However, politicians have to be extremely careful when dealing with sensitive issues involving minorities. There’s a sensational over reporting of benefit fraud cases in the media. Officially more is lost to administrative errors than benefit fraud and the rates of benefit fraud are extremely low. Due to the press coverage this isn’t what some of the public think. Telling the public such boring facts sadly doesn’t tie in with the political line of some irresponsible tabloid sensational journalism.

So going back to Lyndale School. My views on it are well known and on public record. I don’t have any personal connection to the place other than having known its Chair of Governors Tom Harney for many years. The problem for Wirral Council is this though, it has a very chequered history involving disability issues that the public know about through the press. Such issues weren’t caused by one or two people being prejudiced but a culture at Wirral Council that allowed this to operate.

Now I know there are plenty of politicians at Wirral Council that know what happened in the past was wrong and despite what some people may think about politicians I know that many have a highly developed sense of right and wrong and know in their hearts when they’re asked to vote for something they don’t believe in. Yes, I’m being reasonable to politicians for a change.*

*A rare occasion I know.

The change has to start with them though, the rhetoric has got to change, the demonising of the disabled and minorities in society that they know can’t speak back has got to stop. For that they’ve got to look into their hearts. They’ve got to realise the damage their actions, that their words are doing to society at large, they’ve got to have some understanding of the consequences.

The people involved in the Lyndale School campaign are wonderful, pleasant people. Just because I wrote about what was happening I got sent a thank you card! I’ve never received a thank you card for a story I’ve written on this blog before (or since).

No, don’t be silly I’m never expecting a thank you card for writing about politicians but I’m trying to get across that the people involved with Lyndale School are very different to the political class. Unlike how certain politicians are being portrayed I don’t think many of the people involved in Lyndale School have even one ruthless bone in their entire body.

Yet this has been a struggle for them, they have families to care for and children with very complex and life limiting conditions. Many of them should be rewarded, applauded for the unsung work they do every day, unthanked by some politicians who now propose pulling the rug out from under their feet. The work of unpaid carers doing hard work in difficult circumstances saves the taxpayer billions each year.

The issues involving disability, culture, prejudice and stereotyping are extremely complex. They won’t be solved overnight. The law has changed, such legal battles have been won but society itself needs to catch up. My plea to politicians is to show leadership, to realise the sensitivities of these issues and to realise there are times when the politically right thing is to show compassion, humility and be flexible enough to have an open mind on such issues. The days of prejudice and stereotyping by politicians should be confined to the history books as they no longer have a part to play in 21st century society.

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Councillors hear how 13 consignments of fizzy drinks, spearmint, crab and rice all failed port checks

                         

The Isle of Man Ferry was late coming in to dock as in front was the Viking longboat Draken Harald Hårfagre with a broken mast. As the same gate was used to get to the meeting on the dock we had to wait for the Isle of Man foot passengers to collect their luggage and leave first.

As the councillors and ourselves strode across the dock to the meeting room, the Viking longboat pulled up alongside the meeting room on a sight-seeing tour of the Liverpool docks which almost seemed to give out the message to the politicians of behave otherwise we’ll add you to our list of countries to conquer next.

So, what was the meeting, bobbing along on a floating dock over the beautiful River Mersey about? Well just as the beer ad used to be about “refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach” we were reporting on the public meetings other parts of the media don’t reach. In fact I doubt there had been any public along to this public body’s public meetings for a very, very long time. In fact anyone curious enough to read the agenda would’ve been sent to the wrong place as the agenda had “Gate 2″ whereas those going to meeting entered through “Gate 3″ of the Liverpool Cruise Liner Terminal.

Who were this (and pardon the nautical cliché) motley crew of characters?

Mersey Port Health Committee

Mersey Port Health Committee meeting of the 17th July 2014 Councillor Ron Abbey (Chair) points in the direction of the River Mersey. At the far right are Councillor Dave Mitchell and Councillor Gerry Ellis

Well on the Mersey Port Health Committee was my local councillor, who won our award for scowling before the meeting started Councillor Harry Smith. Also were two former Mayors of Wirral, Councillor Gerry Ellis and Councillor Dave Mitchell who were both friendly. As well as these three there was Councillor Ron Abbey (looking rather stylish in sunglasses).

Apologies were first given for councillors missing from the meeting which included various councillors including Cllr John Salter (Wirral Council’s Cllr John Hale was also absent).

The first decision the crew had to make was to chose a captain (sorry Chair) for the next year. The previous Chair Councillor Ron Abbey was nominated, seconded and elected. Another Labour councillor called Jeremy Wolfson was elected as Vice-Chair.

Councillor Ron Abbey decided to give his speech about his time as captain (sorry Chair) over the last twelve months. He said they had had a “varied and very successful year”, that it was a “very friendly committee” but that it was a “Cinderella organisation”.

Cllr Ron Abbey had a new officer to introduce to the assembled throng. Was it a new deck hand? Was it a comedian with the task of making Cllr Harry Smith smile? Sadly the new guy (called Chris) had the rather duller title of team leader for Information Technology.

The Chair continued by saying about the “quality of staff and the work they do on behalf of us”, asked the Committee to endorse his comments and said that these were “most exciting times”.

Due to no microphones and a room the size of a cavern in which sound gets lost, one of the councillors sitting further away (Cllr Gerry Ellis) asked Cllr Ron Abbey to speak up. Cllr Ron Abbey explained that he hadn’t shouted at him as he felt that upset people. Once again this was an error on the agenda which stated “audio equipment provided as standard”.

No declarations of interest were made and the minutes were agreed. So the meeting rolled on to agenda item 5 (Chief Port Health Officer Report on Activities 2013/14).

The Chief Port Health Officer went through the main points of her report, to do with importing foods. They had lost a post which was now vacant but it had been a “very busy year”. There had also been major changes and a redesign of their website.

Chris (the IT guy) talked at length about the changes, so that students could book training courses and so everything could be done a bit quicker as well as updating policies. There had been some teething issues with some applications in the move from Windows XP to Windows 7. He hoped that they’d have a full set of key performance indicators by the September.

The Chief Port Health Officer explained that there had been a 77p reduction in their charges due to EU legislation which was “out of our hands”. Weights of cargo coming through Liverpool docks varied based on consumer demand. They also had a surveillance role at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, as it was not a port approved for the import of food. However the main responsibility at the airport lay with the UK Border Force.

Thirteen consignments of soda (soft drinks) from America had been sampled and found to have excessive levels of benzoic acid. This had been done due to a grant from the Food Standards Agency. In addition to the fizzy drinks failing tests, so had spearmint (pesticide levels), a food supplement (poly aromatic hydrocarbon levels), crab meat (as additional crab species had been found) and basmati rice (that was only 3% basmati rice and 97% other rice).

In addition to this a consignment of chilli powder had been destroyed due to excessive alfatoxin. During the year, 154 consignments had been subject to official checks. There had also been checks done on ship sanitation, water supplies had been sampled and there had been an increase in routine boardings.

Moving to the Wirral, two cockle beds had been declassified and commercial cockling there was now illegal. There had been a report of illegal gathering of mussels, but after investigation and enforcement patrols the activity had ceased.

In order to qualify as an environmental health officers, people needed to do a length BSc (Hons) or a MSc and then do a practical year of training in port health. However they had incorporated the port health side into student’s degrees so that when they qualified they were qualified as both an environmental health officer and port health officer which opened up extra career opportunities.

A port health awareness day had been held in February to promote the work of port health as some external agencies weren’t aware of the work. One hundred and twenty people had turned up to it. It had been a busy year and would be a challenging year ahead, she was happy to answer questions.

Councillor Dave Mitchell referred to it as a “comprehensive report, brilliantly done as always”. He had two questions. In relation to sampling he asked if they had talked with the relevant government department to make it a national rather than local cost?

She explained that it was very difficult but there were provisions. If a sample failed again they could request the importer pays for the cost. Taking the fizzy drinks as an example, if they continued to fail checks then the Food Safety Agency issued guidance and reimbursed their costs.

Councillor Mitchell asked his second question about fish. The answer given was that the importer would have to pay.

The Chair Cllr Ron Abbey referred to the lobbying government so that the activities of the port were funded by central government. Local authorities’ contribution to port health was only small. Another councillor asked about the enforcement of infectious diseases and how this could be effective on short duration flights as the probabilities of symptoms being displayed were small as opposed to a ship?

The officer said that the air regulations were different to shipping in that they placed a responsibility on the airline. A scoping exercise had been done on the countries they say as high risks. For example it was the responsibility of the airline to disinfect its places coming from a country with malaria. This would hopefully minimise the risk.

Another councillor asked if they could increase their charges? Cllr Ron Abbey (Chair) said that they were looking to decrease to make them more competitive but it would be eighteen months before they’d see an impact. Goods consumed locally were still being shipped through Southampton rather than Liverpool. He said it was a “balancing act” which they were monitoring to reduce the burden on local councils to a minimum via the precept. An officer said there was an increase in products coming through the port and the variety.

Councillor Richard Wenstone asked if they would be setting their own key performance indicators or this would be done nationally? The officer answered that they would set their own as there were no national standards key performance indicators. For example the time it took them to process documentation. Other big ports had key performance indicators.

An officer said that theirs were published on their website and in conversations with ship agents certain importers wanted key performance indicators. A logistical benefit of Liverpool was the Liverpool Ship Canal whereas there was more congestion in the ports in the southern part of the country.

Councillor Harry Smith asked about the significant consignments? The officer answered lamb and pork. Another councillor asked about how far ahead the training had been taken up to which the answer was December 2014. The report was noted.

Agenda item 6 was the quarterly report from January to March of 2014. Cllr Gerry Ellis asked about cockling and what was the story? The officer relied that the complaint was of illegal gathering, an officer had conducted surveillance following the complaint but the complainant was unwilling to make a witness statement. As the surveillance hadn’t caught any illegal activity the complaint couldn’t progress.

Councillor Gerry Ellis asked a further question. Cllr Ron Abbey said they couldn’t take further action as the complainant was unwilling and didn’t want to make a witness statement. The officer said that on the surveillance visits they didn’t see illegal gathering of cockles and in the absence of a witness statement they can’t take further action.

Councillor Ron Abbey pointed out they were closed bays and that commercial activity was therefore illegal. Cockling collection however could still go on as long as it was not commercial. They had responsibility for the tidal side and the police had responsibility for further inland. Cllr Gerry Ellis asked if declassified meant closed?

Cllr Ron Abbey said they were closed to commercial cockling as the cockles were too young or there were not enough for commercial cockling. This gave them time to grow again, the cockling beds were worth millions of pounds as commercial cocklers had gathered £90 million of cockles. Cllr Ellis asked another question to which Cllr Ron Abbey replied “closed”.

In response to a further question of Cllr Ellis Cllr Abbey said that there were different categories, but it was a trade thing so they knew if it was declassified it didn’t have a classification. To take (for commercial reasons) from a declassified bed was illegal.

A councillor asked why there was no mention of Peel Holdings in the report? The Chair said that without them Peel couldn’t operate inspection facilities but they had often had to meet with senior management of Peel to sort out issues. He referred to issues raised at the last meeting with Peel about the docks. The officer said that Peel Holdings were the port operator, but that they (port health) had statutory controls over imported food, enforcement of the regulations and health regulations. The port health authority worked together with Peel Holdings in partnership.

A councillor asked about the financial impact. Cllr Ron Abbey said that without the board doing its job and inspection the port would be greatly diminished. So they worked hand in hand with Peel. They wanted to support Peel to bring more goods through the port as it was more money. Bringing more through meant diversifying but as well as delivering they were putting something back through their training. He gave credit to the staff. The report was noted.

The next meeting was agreed to be held at 11.00am on Thursday 16th October 2014 with the venue announced nearer the time.

The Chair announced one item of any other business (referred to earlier involving the vacancy) for which the public (all two of us) were excluded from the rest of the meeting.

We left and found the way out of through gate 3 was locked. I returned and complained but the way out was not unlocked until the councillors had finished their meeting.

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How did 62 Wirral Council councillors vote on Lyndale School?

                                      

This continues from yesterday’s Councillors ask Labour to keep Lyndale School open; Labour defers decision on Lyndale to September Cabinet meeting.

Councillor Jeff Green said that the children attending Lyndale School had complex and profound medical conditions with a significant number being life limiting. In his opinion they had a moral obligation to meet the wishes of the parents to continue their child’s education at Lyndale. He said that the direct schools grant was ring-fenced for education so no savings would be made by closing Lyndale.

He continued by referring to the over ten thousand people that had signed a petition against closure. If Lyndale closed, the children would transfer to other schools which catered for children with very different needs. Cllr Green referred to the review of primary places and the reasons given by officers for closing Kingsway Primary School in Seacombe. The Conservative councillors had voted to keep it open and it had thrived since receiving an outstanding OFSTED inspection. He asked the [Labour] administration to have a change of heart and keep the school open as it was a facility doing an “outstanding job”.

The Mayor (Cllr Steve Foulkes) said it had been remiss of his not to congratulate Cllr Pat Cleary on his maiden speech. He asked Cllr Hayes to give his right to reply.

Cllr Hayes also took the opportunity to congratulate Cllr Cleary on his maiden speech and referred to what Cllr Cleary had said earlier about a previous consultation where the Leader of the Council had expedited a proposal based on an early evaluation of consultation responses. He asked why is it they have to wait till 4th September when the consultation ended on the 25th June? In debating the notice of motion Council was taking a view and making a recommendation which it had done many times on different issues.

He referred to the consultation process and the glowing terms and how it was held out as an example of good practice by both Cllr Phil Davies and Cllr Tony Smith. However questions put by parents to Wirral Council had been answered on the final day of the consultation, so where was the “equality of arms”. He said it was time to end the “misery and pain” and time that the Cabinet made a resolution that Lyndale was to remain open.

A card vote was called for. The first vote was on Labour’s amendment (to defer any decision on the future of Lyndale School to a special meeting of Cabinet in September).

Cllr Ron Abbey (Labour) FOR
Cllr Tom Anderson (Conservative) AGAINST
Cllr Bruce Berry (Conservative) AGAINST
Cllr Chris Blakeley (Conservative) AGAINST
Cllr Eddie Boult (Conservative) AGAINST
Cllr Alan Brighouse (Liberal Democrat) AGAINST
Cllr Philip Brightmore (Labour) FOR
Cllr Chris Carubia (Liberal Democrat) AGAINST
Cllr Pat Cleary (Green) AGAINST
Cllr Jim Crabtree (Labour) FOR
Cllr Matt Daniel (Labour) FOR
Cllr George Davies (Labour) FOR
Cllr Phil Davies (Labour) FOR
Cllr Bill Davies (Labour) FOR
Cllr Paul Doughty (Labour) FOR
Cllr David Elderton (Conservative) AGAINST
Cllr Gerry Ellis (Conservative) AGAINST
Cllr Steve Foulkes (Labour) ABSTAIN
Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat) AGAINST
Cllr Jeff Green (Conservative) AGAINST
Cllr Robert Gregson (Labour) FOR
Cllr Pat Hackett (Labour) FOR
Cllr Paul Hayes (Conservative) AGAINST
Cllr Andrew Hodson (Conservative) AGAINST
Cllr Kathy Hodson (Conservative) AGAINST
Cllr Mike Hornby (Conservative) AGAINST
Cllr Treena Johnson (Labour) FOR
Cllr Adrian Jones (Labour) FOR
Cllr Chris Jones (Labour) FOR
Cllr Stuart Kelly (Liberal Democrat) AGAINST
Cllr Anita Leech (Labour) FOR
Cllr Ann McLachlan (Labour) FOR
Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) FOR
Cllr Dave Mitchell (Liberal Democrat) AGAINST
Cllr Bernie Mooney (Labour) FOR
Cllr Christina Muspratt (Labour) FOR
Cllr Steve Niblock (Labour) FOR
Cllr Tony Norbury (Labour) FOR
Cllr Matthew Patrick (Labour) FOR
Cllr Denise Realey (Labour) FOR
Cllr Louise Reecejones (Labour) FOR
Cllr Lesley Rennie (Conservative) AGAINST
Cllr Les Rowlands (Conservative) AGAINST
Cllr John Salter (Labour) FOR
Cllr Harry Smith (Labour) FOR
Cllr Tony Smith (Labour) FOR
Cllr Tracey Smith (Conservative) AGAINST
Cllr Walter Smith (Labour) FOR
Cllr Chris Spriggs (Labour) FOR
Cllr Jean Stapleton (Labour) FOR
Cllr Mike Sullivan (Labour) FOR
Cllr Adam Sykes (Conservative) AGAINST
Cllr Joe Walsh (Labour) FOR
Cllr Geoffrey Watt (Conservative) AGAINST
Cllr Stuart Whittingham (Labour) FOR
Cllr Irene Williams (Labour) FOR
Cllr Jerry Williams (Labour) FOR
Cllr Pat Williams (Liberal Democrat) AGAINST
Cllr Steve Williams (Conservative) AGAINST
Cllr Janette Williamson (Labour) FOR

The vote was announced as 35 in favour, 26 against with one abstention. There was then a card vote on the motion (as amended by Labour’s amendment).

So the decision made was to defer a decision on Lyndale School to a special meeting of the Cabinet on September 4th.

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REVEALED: Grant Thornton’s previously secret £50,0000 report into how Wirral Council played the regeneration game

                          

If there’s somethin’ strange in your neighborhood
Who ya gonna call (Grant Thornton)
If it’s somethin’ weird and it won’t look good
Who ya gonna call (Grant Thornton)

Yes, my challenge for today is “making accountants sound interesting” (wish me luck)!

So where to start this tale that has about as much twists, turns and complexity as a Dan Brown thriller? Well in order to keep your attention and not send you to sleep I’ll be comparing what happened to far more exciting things (as this blog isn’t called “101 fascinating tales of bean counting”).

Wirral Council paid a company called Enterprise Solutions (NW) Limited approximately a million pounds for work done on a program called ISUS (a program to support businesses). It also paid them for work on another scheme called BIG (a business grants program). However something had gone wrong so Wirral Council sent in a crack team of accountants from Grant Thornton to investigate.

Grant Thornton as Ghostbusters
This blog has no file photo of Grant Thornton’s crack team of accountants, so using perhaps more artistic licence than is necessary this is the blogger’s impression of them (from the film Ghostbusters) (although being accountants they were probably wearing suits instead).

This intrepid team (who were paid ~£50,000 for all this) went to interview the whistleblowers who worked for Enterprise Solutions (NW) Limited to find out what had happened. As Enterprise Solutions (NW) Ltd is an absurdly long name that takes forever to type I will from now on instead be calling them the USS Enterprise instead.

There was trouble on the USS Enterprise and the whistleblowers said (this is a summary of hundreds of page of a report) that the “the engines cannae’ take it anymore”. Money was being fed into the USS Enterprise’s engines from Wirral Council. Its mission was to seek out new businesses and boldly help them (in the form of grants and other assistance). However the whistleblowers knew that thing were going very wrong and detailed the who, what, where, why and when.

The crack team from Grant Thornton heard what the whistleblowers had to say and then tried to investigate what had happened. They even went to the USS Enterprise to investigate further and spent three days there.

However, someone senior on the USS Enterprise heard about this and perhaps frightened that they might find something that would lead to a court-martial prevented Grant Thornton from setting foot on the ship ever again. This was despite the contract between Wirral Council and the USS Enterprise stating that Wirral Council could have access to their “accounts and records” (although there’s a long running controversy as to whether this contract was ever signed). This didn’t however deter (much) the crack team of accountants who then wrote (as best they could) reports on both the BIG and ISUS programs.

These reports went to Wirral Council, who then refused to publish them, giving the reason that they had referred some of the matters in it to the Merseyside Police. They felt that publishing it would prejudice any potential future criminal prosecutions (but there are also others that felt this was an extremely convenient excuse to prevent Wirral Council being embarrassed by what Grant Thornton had discovered).

A long, long time later the Merseyside Police got back in touch with Wirral Council with a letter that can be summed up by we can’t charge or ask the CPS to prosecute people in this matter as the police had been denied access to key evidence they’d need.

So then Wirral Council convened a special meeting of its Audit and Risk Management Committee to discuss the whole matter.

That is it in a nutshell (leaving an awful lot out too). The detailed nature of what the whistleblowers alleged is far beyond a few hundred words I have here to do justice to and I’m sure will be discussed next Tuesday evening at a special meeting of the Audit and Risk Management Committee.

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Councillors ask Labour to keep Lyndale School open; Labour defers decision on Lyndale to September Cabinet meeting

                            

On Monday evening the issue of the future of Lyndale School was debated by Wirral Council councillor for about forty-five minutes. I’m going to try and sum up what was said and decided in a short blog post so inevitably I will be leaving some things out.

The notice of motion by the Conservatives and Labour’s amendment to it is already covered here. The response from the Lyndale parents is here, in addition to that there were a further ninety or so responses to the consultation.

Cllr Paul Hayes (proposing the motion to keep the school open) started by referring to the consultation response by Lyndale parents and the passion and “strength of feeling” he’d observed at a recent consultation meeting (which you can listen to in full). He said he hoped all councillors had received a copy of the consultation response.

The Mayor Cllr Steve Foulkes said that some councillors had received it on the day of the meeting and that he didn’t believe they could be expected to read it in full as they hadn’t had time to digest it.

Cllr Paul Hayes continued by referring to an earlier consultation on Kingsway Primary School and the similarities between the two. He was critical of an officer chairing the Lyndale School closure consultation meeting and said that as well as the majority of people feeling that the officer wasn’t neutral, he also described him as “rude and dismissive”. He described the consultation process as “farcical”.

Cllr Stuart Kelly asked whether Labour’s amendment should be ruled out of order as it was negating the original motion. Labour’s motion deleted all paragraphs in the original motion bar one line. He said surely the same effect could be achieved by voting against the motion?

The Mayor (Cllr Steve Foulkes) said he would allow a legal opinion, but it had been a difficult decision on his part to allow the notice of motion on Lyndale School to be debated. From his point of view he felt that Cllr Stuart Kelly “didn’t have a leg to stand on” with regards to the [Labour] amendment being ruled out of order.

Surjit Tour said that the notice of motion referred it to the Cabinet as the final decision rested with te Cabinet. The amendment also did exactly the same in referring it to a special meeting in September. Therefore in his view the amendment was lawful.

The Mayor said that points of order was not the way he wanted to open the debate and asked the mover of the amendment to speak.

Cllr Phil Davies said that it had been agreed some time ago that they need to have a special Cabinet meeting and that there had been a very detailed consultation exercise, the results of which they had not yet seen. In his view the consultation responses were a “hugely important piece of evidence” which the Cabinet needed to consider before taking a view. To take the clear view expressed in the Conservative notice of motion before the special Cabinet meeting was “premature” as they would be making the decision now in advance of the special meeting. He was also very concerned that if the notice of motion was agreed then they would fall foul of predetermination. He thought it was a shame that Cllr Hayes had said that officers were not neutral.

He continued by referring to his time as Cabinet Member and again referred to the claim that officers were not neutral. Cllr Davies said that the amendment asked that they take no action on the motion tonight but refer it. Again he said that he was worried if they agreed the motion it would have predetermined the outcome before the Cabinet had considered the evidence, but there was no question that Lyndale School provided a “unique and caring environment”. He had visited the school but it was essential he had an open mind and considered all the evidence. He worried that if they made a decision tonight then they would be completely ignoring important evidence that they had not yet seen.

Cllr Andrew Hodson referred to his daughter who had learning difficulties, despite being in her 30s she had a mental age of nine. He considered himself lucky that she had her full health, but that the children at Lyndale had complicated health needs. Although his daughter lived in an establishment she still had her independence in fact [Cllr] George [Davies] had been at the opening.

He referred to the Corporate Plan about protecting vulnerable people and how Lyndale School was an essential service that met people’s complex needs. The staff at Lyndale were geared up to making sure that while receiving an education the children were safe and well cared for. He was perplexed by the decision as the Council would not benefit financially from the closure of Lyndale School so why do it? He finished by making a plea to keep the school open.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist said that the Childrens and Young People Department had told him they had received ninety response and that he had had time to read the documents. He knew that members of the Council had been concerned about the future especially [former] Councillor Tom Harney. He referred to the document received at the weekend and referred to the reference in it to a working party.

Cllr Gilchrist referred to the space that children using wheelchairs need, children with epilepsy, those require oxygen and those who required time consuming feeding. He had attended two of the consultation meetings and concurred with Cllr Paul Hayes’ description. He referred again to the parents’ response to the consultation quoting from it and that it may be September by the time the issue was resolved. He said that the high needs budget for 2013/14 was £31.7 million.

After being given extra time, he referred to the strain on families, the SEN Improvement Test and said that if they wished, councillors on the Cabinet could choose not to vote on this notice of motion (and amendment). The notice of motion was about Council’s view.

Councillor Dave Mitchell said that the way the process worked was that councillors who stood were indicating that they wished to speak in the debate and that if no Labour councillors stood up then councillors who wished to speak should still be allowed to address the Council. Cllr Chris Blakeley said he had no objections.

The Mayor (Cllr Steve Foulkes) said that if that was an early test, that he would decide what goes on, who was asked and which councillor would make a contribution.

Councillor Dave Mitchell said that he’d pick up on the point made by Cllr Paul Hayes at the start. He too had been surprised at the way the presentation had been presented by officers to the parents and that the parents knew what was required and that the parents were the ones who should be listened to. Cllr Mitchell recommended that councillors read every page of the parent’s response to the consultation and absorb every part as it “rips to shreds” the proposal [to close the school] and deals with the real issue which was the children.

Cllr Mitchell continued by saying that it had nothing to do with the schools formula funding as it was all there set by the government and had never been taken away. This was not the case with education funding and the way the funding was divvied out was decided by Cabinet. One of the problems that concerned him with the consultation itself was the way parents had asked questions to officers and had no responses till the last day of the consultation.

Cllr Pat Williams objected to the Mayor refusing to let her speak. She said she was being deprived of her democratic right and that she’d been elected by the people of Oxton to speak.

The Mayor [Cllr Steve Foulkes] changed his mind and agreed to let her speak after all.

Cllr Pat Williams said that during the consultation period it was made abundantly clear that the appropriate place was to let the children remain at Lyndale School. She referred to the petition against closure of nearly 11,000 signatures which demonstrated how much Lyndale School was valued as a unique asset. She like other councillors referred to the parents response to the consultation and wanted the profound and complex needs of the children fairly reflected in the funding.

She had visited the school and was always most impressed by the caring an dedication of the staff and when she was Mayor had had the pleasure of formally opening the sensory garden. The consultation had ended and it was overwhelming apparent that Lyndale School should stay. She asked councillors to take note and resolve that Lyndale was to remain open.

Councillor Pat Cleary (the new Green Party councillor) said that he wanted to make a brief point. He said that Lyndale School doesn’t have to be closed and he appreciated the sincere feelings. He was disappointed as he didn’t understand the Labour councillors not engaging.

One issue he wanted to raise was that 18 months ago there had been a letter from the Leader of the Council during the What Really Matters consultation about whether local elections should only be held once every four years. It had been said that the reason the proposal was being brought forward was that early analysis of the consultation results had shown 91% supporting this change. In that instance a recommendation had been brought forward before the consultation was finished, he wanted to know why the current situation was any different?

Cllr Tony Smith said that he agreed that the uncertainty about Lyndale School must be resolved and had been an ongoing concern for a number of years. The consultation had been undertaken, but reducing numbers of children on the school roll, changes in funding arrangements and questions about the future viability of the school were the reasons behind the consultation. He stressed that the consultation was not about the quality of the education.

He continued by saying that any decision about future provision would be informed by individual needs and make sure people’s requirements were fully met. The government required the [SEN Improvement] test to be undertaken to show that the proposal was as good as or better than the children’s current provision. He said that they would make sure they had an up to date understanding of each child’s needs.

They had undertaken a consultation and there was oversight from the [Wirral] Schools Forum. The original decision had been called in and it was made clear then at the outset that the process should be open and transparent over the twelve week consultation.

Prior to the consultation starting, there had been a meeting with parent governors of Lyndale and throughout the consultation six public meetings. Eighty-five people from the community had turned up to these, with some attending more than one. Wirral Council had commissioned an independent person to consider each of the published options and any new options and consider the application of the government’s [SEN Improvement] test. All councillors had also been invited on an escorted bus tour which included Lyndale School. Twenty-two councillors had taken part in these visits on the 16th/17th June. He made the assurance that all information relevant to the consultation would be made publically available prior to the Cabinet meeting to inform the decision making when the Cabinet would be taking all factors into account such as the needs and welfare of each individual child.

Cllr Jeff Green (seconder to the Conservative motion) reminded people that when Cllr Tony Smith spoke that closure is a preferred option. He reminded people why it was called in and referred to the speeches of Cllrs Hayes, Gilchrist, Mitchell and others (as well as congratulating Cllr Cleary on his maiden speech). He said a maiden speech was normally held in silence but the response from Labour councillors was because he’d beaten them in an election.

Cllr Green said that Lyndale was unique and incredibly special and that that needed to be safeguarded.

Continues at How did 62 Wirral Council councillors vote on Lyndale School?.

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Did officers breach Wirral Council’s constitution when they sent out the eviction notice for Fernbank Farm?

                        

This is the story about what happened behind the scenes when the tenants of Fernbank Farm were sent an eviction notice in the July of 2012. However before this tale starts I need to explain about some of the people involved.

Bill Norman

The person above is Bill Norman. He was the Council’s Director of Law, HR (which stands for human resources) and Asset Management. On the 27th June 2012 he was suspended from work because of how the Colas contract was awarded, however it is important to point out that in September councillors found there was “no case to answer” with regards to wrongdoing on Bill Norman’s part. By this time his post had been made redundant so he signed a compromise contract and left the employment of Wirral Council and got a golden goodbye of £151,416 (comprising of £112,848 termination payment, £28,568 redundancy payment, £5,000 legal costs and £5,000 legal costs direct to Bill Norman). This brings us now to the next person.

Surjit Tour

Surjit Tour is the person on the left of this photo. During the period Bill Norman was suspended, (that is from 27th June 2012 onwards) he was Acting Director of Law, Human Resources and Asset Management.

On Friday 13th July 2012 an eviction notice was signed and so was a letter accompanying the eviction notice. The letter and two copies of each eviction notice were sent out to each tenant with a request that the second copy of the eviction notice was returned to Wirral Council.

The letter used is below and below that page one of the eviction notice (you can click on it for a more high resolution version). I have erased from both documents the home address of the tenant it went to, the name of which tenant it went to and the signature of the tenant from the copy of the eviction notice returned.

Letter accompanying eviction notice
Letter accompanying eviction notice

Eviction notice
Eviction notice (page 1)

Wirral Council has a constitution which determines how decisions are made and whether they’re made by officers or councillors. The detail of this was determined by a very dull bit of Wirral Council’s constitution at the time called Schedule 4: Scheme of Delegation to Officers.

Under section 38 it details the responsibilities of the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management.

“The Director of Law, HR and Asset Management is authorised,
….
In respect of Property Management functions:

(12) Authorise the grant and renewal of leases, tenancies and agreements of land and premises at current market rentals subject (where appropriate) to the receipt of satisfactory references and planning consent and (as appropriate) the termination thereof.

(14) Approve the review of rents reserved by existing leases and tenancy agreements of Council land and property at current market rental levels.

In respect of trading standards, environmental health and related functions and responsibilities:
(46) Subject to paragraph (2) below, take any action under any relevant legislation (and related statutory instruments) including, where relevant (but not limited to), the service of notices
….
Relevant legislation under this paragraph shall include but is not limited to:

Landlord and Tenant Acts 1954, 1985 and 1987″

Now obviously Bill Norman couldn’t authorise the renewal of the lease or approve an increase in rent or agree to an eviction notice being served because he was suspended so he would have hardly been given a look at this before it was sent out!

Section 14 deals with this eventuality (note the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management is one of the officers referred to in paragraph 2):

“In the event of a Chief Officer referred to in paragraph 2 not being available for whatever reason, his/her Deputy (or, where there is no officer designated as such, the next most appropriate senior officer of the department) shall be authorised to implement approved delegated arrangements.”

Now as Acting Head of Law, HR and Asset Management while Bill Norman was suspended, Surjit Tour was deputising for Bill Norman during his suspension. However Surjit Tour’s signature does not appear on the letter or the eviction notice.

Section 3(a) states

“3. (a) Unless otherwise provided for within this scheme every officer listed in paragraph 2, may authorise officers in his/her department/service area to exercise on his/her behalf, functions delegated to him/her. Any decisions taken under this authority shall remain the responsibility of the relevant officer named in paragraph 2 above and must be taken in the name of that officer, who shall
remain accountable and responsible for such decisions.”

However Bill Norman couldn’t authorise officers in his department to exercise functions on his behalf as he was suspended! However the letter went out in his name. Bill Norman’s name was at the top right of the letter and the person signing it had below their name “Director of Law, HR and Asset Management”.

Here’s a comparison between Surjit Tour’s signature (below) and the signature on the eviction notice.

comparison of signature on eviction notice to Surjit Tour's

Here’s the signature used on the letter (again it wasn’t Surjit Tour’s):

letter signature

So to conclude, the letter and eviction notice about the Fernbank Farm lease should’ve both been signed by the Acting Director of Law, HR and Asset Management (but weren’t). Instead they both went out in the name of Bill Norman (who was suspended). Bill Norman can’t have seen the letter and eviction notice before it went out, therefore how could he have authorised the officers that did sign the letter and eviction notice to do this on his behalf? If the signatures had been on someone else’s behalf pp would have been put before the signature to show that they were signing on behalf of someone else. This didn’t happen.

If Surjit Tour agreed to other officers signing the eviction notice and letter on his behalf (instead of signing them himself), then he didn’t have the authority under the constitution to do so as he was only Acting Director of Law, HR and Asset Management.

I think the most likely eventuality is that junior officers, who weren’t authorised under the constitution to make such decisions, signed the letter and eviction notice because Bill Norman was suspended and therefore unavailable. Surjit Tour should’ve been asked to do it, but if he had been asked, then why wouldn’t his signature be on the documentation? Therefore this seems to have been done without his knowledge.

So what are your views on this? Did junior officers sign off on something and make an unconstitutional decision? Is this maladministration? If the decision wasn’t properly made in the first place but Wirral Council went to court and got a possession order, what should happen next? Is this what Wirral Council mean when in a later letter dated 14th March 2014 they state “I do not believe the authority intentionally used the wrong letter in July 2012.”?

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Councillor Leah “answer the question” Fraser asks Cllr Adrian “humane” Jones to quantify compulsory redundancies

                       

I thought I would start my write-up of last night’s Council meeting with a short tale of last night’s Council meeting. This is about the bit where councillors get to ask questions of Cabinet Members and it was Councillor Adrian Jones’ turn.

Conservative councillor Leah Fraser asked him about item 1 on his report. She said that now the date had passed for people to apply for early retirement or voluntary severance had passed, how many compulsory redundancies would there be?

Labour Councillor Adrian Jones replied to Cllr Fraser by reminding her that a previous Conservative administration had made 1,100 staff redundant, to which Cllr Fraser heckled “answer the question”. Then she got told by the Mayor it was not her role to interrogate Cllr Jones to which she replied he’s not answering the question.

Councillor Adrian Jones continued by commenting on what a previous Conservative administration had done and commented on the funding that the government had taken away before moving to other councillor’s questions about the Merseyside Pension Fund and software.

Councillor Leah Fraser was not happy! In fact I’d go so far as to say she looked visibly annoyed. She wanted an answer to her question but how would she get it? So question in hand she got up and strode across the chamber to the Mayor Cllr Foulkes and handed her written question to him. He repeated her question. Cllr Adrian Jones asked him to repeat the question so Cllr Foulkes did and it was asked for a third time.

Cllr Adrian Jones answered that Wirral Council were not making staff redundant but the government was through its cuts and followed up by saying that he felt it was being done on a more “humane basis” that a previous Conservative/Lib Dem administration had done so.

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