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Posted by: John Brace | 21st December 2010

Seacome Labour, full Council, Cllr Harry Smith, scrutiny, gifts register

Below is a copy of an email to Adrian Jones. He is welcome to comment here as are people of any party political leaning.

Dear Cllr Adrian Jones,

Leonora told me about the comments on your blog in response to a story “Whatever happened to Scrutiny?” about the last full meeting of Council.

I will make the following response which I am making public and copying on my blog, feel free to write about this email as you wish as I don’t class it as confidential. I would welcome any debate on the issues in it and if you wish to feel comments please do so.

Leonora and I both welcome the opportunity that public question time brings to involve members of the public (whoever they may support) in the political process. The public have no right of audience at any other meeting of Wirral Council and it is the public are who Wirral Council (and its councillors) are answerable to.

Our local Labour councillors (check Wirral Council’s constitution) are there to represent all their residents’ views, whether they voted for them, didn’t vote for them or didn’t vote at all. Any party political affiliations of residents should be irrelevant.

Whereas a commenter on our blog (and your councillors) brought up I was a member of the Liberal Democrat Party, one of the other members of the public asking questions was a former Labour councillor. However we don’t make a “song and dance” about it like some Labour councillors do. It seems to only matter to the Labour Party as to which political party a person may be associated with if it’s not Labour. Quite why your party is so tribal I haven’t quite figured out yet.

You know as well as I Cllr Jones that majority decisions can only be made by Wirral councillors with the support of two or more political parties.

Labour were offered the chance in May after the elections to carry on a joint administration with the Liberal Democrats and have a role in decisions. Your party (and Labour councillors) chose to go into opposition and get out of any difficult decisions to be made in the interests of Wirral residents.

We welcome the opportunity for our local councillor to tell councillors and members of the public present that Lib Dem Focuses have recently been delivered to an area they haven’t. Our deliverers after about 10,000 were delivered that they ran out just before getting to Beechwood.

It provides us with great amusement in Cllr Harry Smith making party political points and getting things wrong. It also increases our standing with some Lib Dem councillors.

This however is part of the nature of democracy that elected representatives come in for criticism. I would however be as critical of Cllr. Smith if he were a Tory, Lib Dem, Green or member of another political party as I believe the public deserve the truth.

We are sure the Borough Solicitor Bill Norman will enjoy reading the latest Focus and if Cllr Harry Smith know needs any extra copies to hand out any of his friends in Beechwood (who haven’t received them yet contrary to what he said) we are happy to give him any spares we have.

There’s no “favouritism” involved.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t Cllr Harry Smith been selected by the Bidston & St. James branch of the Labour Party as the official Labour Party candidate for Bidston & St. James ward in the May 2011 elections? If he isn’t I apologise.

My question was originally tabled, not to a councillor but to Brian Cummings, the independent (although he’s a former Tory councillor) Chair of the Standards Committee. Then it got changed (not by me) first to Cllr. Blakeley, Cllr Rowlands finally Cllr Ian Lewis.

Your fellow Labour councillors (hence why all the interruptions and heckling?) must have a problem with the public knowing who gives gifts (of £25) or more to local councillors and the gifts register being public. Do some Labour councillors have deep, dark secrets they wish to hide? As Cllr. Blakeley pointed out the heckling and interruptions have already brought Wirral Council into disrepute.

I however believe in openness and transparency. This is a personal belief, not a political one as sometime Lib Dem councillors have taken a view the other way.

I believe also in freedom of speech and with the greatest respect point out that any councillor can also table a question (and supplementary) as your fellow Labour councillors did.

You (along with your fellow councillors) if you five or more of you felt so passionately about tuition fees could’ve called for a special meeting of the full council but chose not to. We had one last year about library provision on the Wirral if you remember? Your councillors chose not to ask questions on the subject (other than why were the question/s disallowed).

Instead nearly the whole meeting was spent debating a Labour objection. The fact a 5-minute adjournment becomes twenty minute is the kind of thing to irk the public too.

The truth of the matter is that it was a Labour government in 2003 that introduced tuition fees. It was a Labour government that came up with the target of 50% of school leavers going to university (which naturally increased costs and university places). It was also a Labour government that came up with the toothless OFFA (the Office for Fair Access) which did next to nothing to force universities to make bursaries available to students from less well-off backgrounds.

Members of the public whose questions are censored can quite easily seek judicial review of the decision or ask the Mayor/Borough solicitor to state reasons why and if overturned ask them at a future meetiing. There is a whole complaints process that they can go through. They could even ask a Labour councillor to take up the case!

Leonora and the other member of the public would’ve quite happily asked a supplementary, however decisions regarding tuition fees are not made by Wirral Council so had we done so it would’ve not been answered anyway!

Your leader, Cllr Steve Foulkes mentioned an agreement a year ago that no candidates use public question time. I asked for a copy of such an agreement, but none was provided.

However in order to make this abundantly clear, I am still not a candidate. I have not been chosen by any party body to be a candidate. I have not publically declared myself to be a candidate. Your councillors have incorrectly in the past described me as such and I corrected them.

In fact by the time the May elections (or by the time the Lib Dems will pick a candidate) short of making a decision in the future to be a candidate, I’m not even on the list of candidates that the Lib Dem party can currently chose from for the Wirral Council election!

Yes the way Wirral Council is run needs to be reformed and open to more scrutiny, hopefully the publication of the gifts register will be a start!


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