Merseytravel’s budget meeting will be held this Thursday 3rd February at 2pm at 24 Hatton Garden, Liverpool, L3 2AN (which is open to the public). Due to the elections last year, instead of being a Labour-Tory (or Tory-Labour) run Merseytravel it is now run by Labour as ten of its eighteen councillors are from the Labour Party.
I was at its budget meeting last year and noted the removal of funding (from future year’s budgets) of the £100,000 that had been there to look into improving the Bidston to Wrexham line. As Neil Scales (Merseytravel’s Chief Executive) told Wirral Council’s Cabinet recently the line is “unloved”.
Another item of interest to Wirral’s resident’s is the proposed changes to tunnel tolls. Officers recommend that the Fast Tag discount continues, but the following rises are proposed:-
Class 1 (mainly cars, 3 wheel vehicles and motorcycles with sidecar) goes from £1.40 to £1.50 (up 10p)
Class 2 (HGVs, vehicles with trailers, two-axle vehicles carrying> 9 people) goes from £2.80 to £3.00 (up 20p)
Class 3 (HGVs with three axles, three-axle passenger carrying vehicles) goes from £4.20 to £4.50 (up 30p)
Class 4 (HGVs with four or more axles) goes from £5.60 to £6.00 (up 40p)
In addition, the meeting is going to consider recommending that a further report on determining whether the existing toll concessions for disabled drivers are “justified and appropriate”. The report on tunnel tolls can be read in full here.
If you feel strongly about these issues, Mersey Tunnel’s User Association has current contact details for the four Wirral councillors that represent Wirral’s interests on Merseytravel (one Lib Dem, two Tory and one Labour) if you would like to get in touch with them prior to the meeting.
Readers may also be interested in a similar story about the tunnel tolls in the Wirral Globe that goes into more details. Further details on how to apply for the Mersey Tunnel’s free travel concession including the application form can be found by following the link.
In the interests of open journalism, I’ll point out that my wife is currently in receipt of a “disabled fast tag” which enables her to take some free trips through Mersey Tunnels each year.
It’s always good to have a good news story about matters in Bidston & St. James. Next Thursday at Wallasey Town Hall Wirral’s Cabinet, made up of Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors will decide whether to spend £1.8 million on Cathcart Street Primary School.
As reported on this blog last year the decision to close nearby Cole Street Primary School will mean some of its pupils will be joining Cathcart Street Primary School.
A detailed Scheme and Estimate Report, picture of what the proposed changes will look like, compared to the current building, existing floor plan and proposed altered floor plan are all available to view by following these links.
If approved next Thursday and agreed by the Planning Committee (or planning officers), work will start in May and (hopefully) be complete by the time of the next school year in September. Due to the closure of nearby St. Laurence’s Primary School, if this scheme is agreed the existing Children’s Centre at St. Laurence’s will be relocated to the Cathcart Primary School site. This scheme includes:-
• Alterations and small extensions to improve the pupil toilet and
• Dry lining the existing internal walls to conceal the exposed brickwork
and block-work and to improve acoustic properties
• Alterations to the internal room layout to provide practical resource areas
adjacent to classrooms and to improve internal circulation.
• Provision of a hygiene room for pupils with disabilities.
• Improved office and reception facilities and a new entrance area.
• Refurbishment of all toilet provision for both pupils and staff.
• Redecoration and new floor finishes throughout.
• Replacement of the existing high level clerestory windows.
• Complete replacement of the roof covering with improved insulation
levels to reduce heat loss.
• A secure external covered play area adjacent to the Foundation
• Replacement boilers and heat emitters.
• Additional classroom ventilation.
• New energy efficient lighting.
• New fire and intruder alarms.
• CCTV security system.
• New fencing throughout to improve the security and appearance of the
In yet another good news story for Cathcart Street, Lib Dem MPs in government have agreed to give schools an extra £430/year for every child on free school meals and those in foster care or who have been adopted. This extra money, which will go directly to schools will mean over £5 million extra money being spent across Wirral helping schools such as Cathcart Street and other schools in Bidston & St. James.
Due to another outbreak of the norovirus, visiting has once again been suspended. This also affects Clatterbridge hospital (with the exception of the Clatterbridge Centre for Oncology).
Dr Katy Kidd, director of infection control said: “Anyone who suspects they may have norovirus, or has been in contact with someone who has it, should not visit local hospitals, GP surgeries or care homes. People should not go back to work until 48 hours after the symptoms have settled to avoid the spread.”
The situation will be reassessed at 5pm, on Monday, January 31.
Cllr Holbrook suggested they use North West Employers. The officer answered that was part of the subscription.
Cllr Green said he had written something down and read out the motion (which wasn’t circulated to the members of the public present).
His motion proposed a subcommittee in the proportion 2:2:1. It was agreed it was not appropriate to share a Chief Executive. The Head of Human Resources would consult with the subcommittee and it would be advertised at a salary of ~£130,000. The subcommittee’s duties would be advertising, job description, timetable/selection and a recommendation to Council. There would be no external consultants, but a local Chief Executive would be used as an external adviser.
Labour said they would agree to the motion if he removed the word local.
Cllr Bridson mentioned something else. She said a shared Chief Executive would’ve let to the furore over a shared MP. The officer said there was a robust performance management process. Cllr Mitchell seconded Cllr Green’s motion. It was agreed the makeup of the committee would be the Labour leader, Labour Deputy Leader, Conservative Leader and Conservative Deputy Leader and Lib Dem Leader.
Cllr Bridson confirmed that that was agreed unanimously. There was no item of non-exempt AOB. The motion to exclude the press and public from the remainder of the meeting was then passed and the press and public left.
The other items on the agenda considered in a closed session were allegations against employees, and early voluntary retirement/voluntary severance requests.
Cllr Davies said he took a slightly different view, but would not push it to a vote. He said if they involving recruitment people that they would have a wide knowledge of the pool of talent. In addition they would have a knowledge of contracts in the private sector and local government.
He said they would benefit from consulting a chief executive or retired chief executive. He said it was the most important appointment that will be made and it is worth the investment. He said it should be based on consensus and this was also essential to go down this route. In an ideal world they would find a breadth of expertise and knowledge that a recruitment consultancy form could bring to the table which would lead to a better appointment.
Cllr McLaughlin asked as a point of info that there didn’t sem much difference in cost between the two forms of advertising and using an external adviser.
An officer answered for clarity that the amount was only for the online section of The Times. A search consultant would be over and above the costs in the report. The cost depended on the advice. Maybe a local Chief Executive could be used. It would depend on availability and choice.
Cllr Davies said he accepted that. He hoped the appointment would be a success. There have been examples elsewhere and he made an assurance that it would be a permanent appointment. He then went on do talk about performance management, delivery and details.
Cllr Green said there was consensus, but he would start from the top. A clear appraisal would be really good and would refresh minds and whether it was necessary or right. There could be tweaking but this is what we expect. Cllr Davies agreed and the discussion moved onto timescale.
Cllr Green said another issue was the use of external consultants to which he had given some though. He didn’t believe they were needed as such over the selection process. However they could provide support with longlisting as well as supporting Chris and the people on the subcommittee. Their expertise and professionalism would be welcome in weeding out dodgy applications from those with a track record of success.
Cllr Holbrook asked for the committee’s views on consultants. He said they didn’t need them with regard to search, but will need support as the application process progresses from longlisting to shortlisting. There would be a mix of internal and external applicants. There was a level of difficulty for staff in giving fair and impartial advice. His view was that HR staff could access independent, impartial support and advice to assist. If it was with consultants it was a better economy. Support was necessary and he said we must make sure we take the necessary steps.
Cllr Green said there was a performance management framework. Prior for the previous Chief Executive wanted to spend more time with his family, a 360 degrees set of proposals had been approved which included performance appraisals for the Chief Executive. This covered expectations and objectives and would be revisited. It was a good idea when going through the appointment to see how we performance manage the Chief Executive and it was good that the document had been approved.
Cllr Holbrook said “but erm, I favour, I favour the permanent appointment”. He then went on to say that they should institute proper proposals for the Chief Executive appraisal system. It had been agreed but not implemented. This piece of work can be done before the new Chief Executive takes up their post. Regarding the framework for removing the Chief Executive they should plan for success. He said just to add he thinks, but he’s not sure that they would have to pay them out if it was a fixed term which can be a very expensive option. He said “Also, erm, the process brings stability and certainty to the management structure.” He added that it was fluid and not on a sustainable basis going forward.
Cllr Davies said it was “important to have consensus”. He was not specifically seeking to creation division. He agreed over the shared Chief Executive issue. This happened to a couple of London Boroughs. Given the geography and the fact we were the 9th largest Metropolitan Borough in the country and 3rd largest in the NW and given the amount of change we needed a dedicated Chief Exec. He said it would be interesting to see how London, especially works. Regarding the type of contract he had no strong views either way. There was a downside to a permanent contract, what happens if it went spectacularly wrong? A fixed term contract gave more opportunity to remove someone.
There were good quality candidates if it was just for a finite period of time. If a permanent contract was suggested his thoughts were if it does go wrong where do that leave us? Reflecting on the salary, a good salary would attract good quality candidates. In the current climate the public wouldn’t understand or support a large salary, he suggested £130,000.
Cllr Green said circa £130,000. Cllr Davies replied by saying there would be room for manuever. He asked about the contract issue.
Cllr Green continued by saying that “where we are, sharing is not the right thing to do”. He had always been fond of sharing a Chief Executive with the PCTs/hospitals. However the health service had its own set of issues. The PCT would collapse but we will work it all through. Wirral was the 9th largest Metropolitan Borough in the country and 3rd largest in the North West. It had a budget of ~£900 million. It had thousands of employees and was big and complicated. It was important it had its own Chief Executive. In terms of fixed term contracts this didn’t work. The management training courses he had been on said bonuses were a ropy concept, which is why they took bonuses out of the system. It was a difficult decision. However it was best that Chief Executives did what was in the public interest rather than for a bonus.
He said the scale of the Chief Exec’s salary was developed at a different time. It had led to the bizarre cycle of inflation of Chief Executive’s pay. It should be £120,000 to £135,000. He said “our staff expect the organisation to tighten its belt”. He suggested £130,000 as ten times the multiplier of the lower paid. He was going for circa £130,000 and advertising a permanent appointment of Wirral’s own Chief Executive.
The officer said that the report was around the appointment of a Chief Executive. Cllr Green said he had asked for it. There were options and issues in three key areas. The committee’s views were sought.
Cllr Green said a selection committee of eight was too big. It had to come back and be ratified or delegated to Chris which was “a bit unfair”. Cllr green suggested convening a subcommittee in the proportion 2:2:1. This would decide on a job description, person specification and the process. This would make a recommendation to the full Council.
Cllr Bridson said she agreed it should be the three Group Leaders. Cllr Green said he thought it should be. Cllr Davies said this was essential.
The officer referred to page 3 and the type of contract options, she also referred to the detail on salary, sharing and asked if they would like to leave the subcommittee to make the decision on contract and salary. Cllr Green said he did ask it to be reviewed. Whether Wirral Council shared a chief executive or had our own. He said we were “entering a time of real change, fast change and organisational issues.” Every authority was doing that. A chief executive in a shared role how would they react if an authority was in real trouble? They would be drawn to the one in trouble which means the other would suffer.