I welcome the Ilchester Park play area in Bidston as mentioned in this Wirral Council press release.
However 200 yards away from Ilchester Park (as the crow flies) and just a few minutes walk away is a play area next to the Gautby Road Community Centre. The land the play area is on is owned by Wirral Council. Most of the time it is kept padlocked.
Cllr McLachlan stated in the Wirral Council press release: “Local children deserve the best play equipment near their homes and these sites are spread across the borough so that everyone can access them.” Cllr McLachlan (along with Cllr Harry Smith and Cllr Jim Crabtree) are all on the Gautby Road Play & Community Centre Joint Management Committee which manages the community centre and adjacent play area.
I agree with Cllr McLachlan and am pleased that local children can now access the play area in Ilchester Park (I’ve seen children already playing here when I’ve been walking to Birkenhead North train station to get a train). However many children live nearer to the play area which is part of (and next to) the Gautby Road Community Centre. Unlike the Ilchester Park play area it is surrounded by railings.
I have heard many reasons why the Gautby Road play area can’t be used from Wirral Council officers. These range from children could slip in the rain, to children need supervising, to concerns about vandalism. All seem to be a reason to keep it locked up and stop children playing there. The problem has been ongoing for some time and has been brought to my attention by a number of residents.
However it would be great if it could be open at least some of the time and the public made aware of when these times are.
There have been a number of searches to this blog (and one email request) for the Anna Klonowski report following media reports of last Thursday’s Cabinet.
Her (first) report is here with a covering report written by Jim Wilkie here.
I haven’t got around to typing up what happened at last Thursday’s Cabinet meeting (yet).
Ian Coleman referred Cllr Brighouse to paragraph 4.5.1 on IT Services. He said that Cabinet had agreed to savings of £500,000 then £400,000 a year which by year 4 comes to £1.7 million. He said that each year the efficiency investment fund was used, mainly for staffing and needed to be replaced. Cllr Alan Brighouse asked a further question. Ian Coleman gave the example of a Director could need three staff costing £100,000. However these three staff costing £100,000 could lead to a £300,000 saving.
Cllr Brighouse asked about Early Voluntary Redundancy (£3 million)? Ian Coleman said till 2017 and referred to 5 years of pension contributions. Cllr Gilchrist pointed out that Early Voluntary Redundancies can be capitalised. Ian Coleman said they had applied for capitalisation of statutory redundancy pay which was used in 2010/2011. Also people were going in 2011/12. In May they had applied for 2011/12, they had applied for £4 million. There had been an outline agreement, with a detailed proposal going to the Department of Communities and Local Government. There would be a report to Cabinet.
Cllr Ron Abbey asked about the Public Works Board. Ian Coleman said the Treasury had increased the interest rate charged by the Public Works Board by 1%. This meant the cost of borrowing went up. There was a substantial amount of money at a reduced rate, but this was for councils which were housing authorities which doesn’t apply to Wirral as it transferred its housing stock.
Cllr Gilchrist said the report was noted.
The committee went to Agenda item 2: Financial Monitoring Statement. Ian Coleman, Director of Finance said this had been brought forward from the Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee on the 15th September.
Cllr Phil Gilchrist said it was for background. The report was noted.
The committee then considered Budget Projections 2012/2015. Cllr Gilchrist said there was “nothing to cheer us up”. He asked about the 2011 Census and how significant it was? Would it come in over the timescale of the Budget? Ian Coleman said he had spoken to the Office of National Statistics in 2001 after the poor response rate on Wirral to make sure it was not repeated. The Office of National Statistics had watched authorities that had problems in 2001. He mentioned the Deputy Director of Finance. The Office of National Statistics had commented on the high response rate and had confirmed it was be available in late 2012. It would therefore affect the 2013 grant settlement.
Cllr Gilchrist expressed his relief.
Cllr Tony Cox asked a question about page 13 (Appendix) specifically the Formula Grant line compared to page 5 (Financial Monitoring Statement 2011/2012 Appendix) and the National Non Domestic Rate line. He asked if the National Non Domestic Rate was part of the Formula Grant.
Cllr Gilchrist said he took it for granted [that it was].
Cllr Alan Brighouse said he was “slightly confused”. He asked if the efficiency investment funding was to be increased by an extra £2 million every year? He was slightly confused as he could not see the £3 million revised pension contribution drop out due to the early voluntary redundancies? He also asked about the £1.7 million IT savings which he would expect to see appearing?
Cllr Brighouse, Vice-Chair said that he had no problems with the £14 million & £25 million issue, however said that what they were “asking the public to do is right”. He talked about what Wirral Council did with the results and its effect on decisions. He said the majority were looking for a bigger reduction, with the average resulting in a -3% Council Tax change. The public were “looking for cuts” and “lower Council Tax”. He asked if council employees had been asked?
Cllr Gilchrist mentioned the Redbridge conversation. Cllr Ron Abbey said, he was not hung up on a like for like comparison between Wirral Council and the London Borough of Redbridge. He said they didn’t know Redbridge’s GDP or catchment area.
Cllr Gilchrist about the report to Cabinet on the 8th December. Ian Coleman replied by saying that was the intention. Cllr John Hale asked when the item was over, would there be copies of how people responded? Cllr John Salter said people could “sit all day putting anything in” and said it was “open to corruption”. Cllr Gilchrist said Cllr Salter’s explanation was “frank”. Cllr James Keeley asked if it was a dangerous exercise, as it implied the only way to balance the Budget was to cut council services? Cllr Ron Abbey said something about the human cost. Cllr Gilchrist said that councillors should address remarks to the Chair. He noted potential drawbacks. He thanked people and looked forward to a more detailed analysis and a report to all councillors. Ian Coleman said “once results are available”. Cllr Phil Gilchrist asked about the Cabinet paper. Ian Coleman said it would be an open report. Cllr Gilchrist thanked Peter Molyneux.
Cllr John Hale asked a question about the consequences used for reduced budgets. He also asked about efficiency savings.
The Chair, Cllr Gilchrist said there was a ninety-three page guide. Cllr Ron Abbey said it was “only a tool” and a “means to an end”. Cllr John Hale said that there would’ve been a different response if efficiency savings had been used. Cllr Gilchrist referred to the Wirral Globe and a query that had been raised about the narrative. He mentioned figures of £35 million, savings of £25 million and £14 million. He asked for the query and the evidence.
Cllr Ron Abbey said it was made up of inflation, service driven costs and was a factual reality. Cllr Gilchrist referred to the London Borough of Redbridge’s results but asked how much the budget simulator costs. The answer given was £1,000 to £,3000. There would be an analysis done by postcode. Cllr Gilchrist referred to one of the 986 responses in Redbridge which was to cut the number of councillors and allowances.
Cllr Ron Abbey said that the evidence to the Independent Remuneration Panel stated that Wirral Council councillors were one of the lowest paid in North West England. He said that not all communities can gain access to computers, so the responses would be biased towards the rich. Cllr Steve Williams asked if there was any verification of postcodes. The answer was that they were not aware of any verification, but this was a YouGov issue.
The Chair, Cllr Phil Gilchrist welcomed those present to the Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee. He asked councillors if they had any declarations of interest.
Cllr Ron Abbey and Cllr Jon Salter declared the same interest in regard to item 7. This was because they are Wirral Council’s representatives on Merseytravel (Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority) which has previously bid for the Pacific Road Theatre and Arts Centre.
The Chair said he was going to vary the order of the agenda, and take item 8 You Choose Budget consultation first. He also pointed out that there were ninety-one pages of explanatory notes.
Peter Molyneux (Chief Accountant – Financial Services) was there to introduce the report.
At this point (6.05pm) the Vice-Chair Cllr Alan Brighouse arrived. Cllr Steve Foulkes (Cabinet Member for Finance & Best Value) also arrived and sat near the door.
Peter Molyneux demonstrated the budget simulator on the display screen. He said they could only raise Council Tax by 3%, if it was above this it would be capped. Consequences of reducing budgets by 10%, 20% and 50% had been entered into the system. The results were available by place and the public could see some information. There had been 1,334 responses so far.
Cllr Gilchrist asked about the timetable and when data was going to emerge. He said it was open until 30th November 2011. Ian Coleman said that there would be a report in December. Cllr Gilchrist asked if there could be an interim report. Ian Coleman said that there would be no report until it was closed down, interim information was available and all information was available.