A planning application has been decided by officers to approve Planning Application APP/11/0192 which is in relation to 172 Upton Road, Bidston CH43 7QQ.
This is an amendment to a previously approved planning application (APP/11/00207). It alters access between the ground floor, garage and first floor from the previously approved plans.
Well today is N30 (30th November), the only union I’m in (National Union of Journalists) isn’t on strike else how would people hear about what’s going on through the media?
Yet, in a roundabout way the strikes do affect me. As a funeral organist, I can only play at funerals if the dead can be buried. However the cemetery/crematorium run by Wirral Council is closed so nobody can be buried today.
I really don’t mind as there was a funeral yesterday and one tomorrow. The colder it gets the more people die. It’s good to have a day off once in a while so I can deal with pending matters.
What the strikes have done is bring the issue of public sector pension reform to the top of the media agenda. Over two years ago, I asked the then Chair of the Pensions Committee (which controls the Merseyside Pension Fund) what will be the cost of the extra pension contributions to Wirral Council in this financial year (2009/10), due to a drop in Pension Fund Assets?. She gave a comprehensive answer which sadly isn’t in the minutes, but from my recollection she didn’t know what the increased cost to Wirral Council would be ahead of the tri-annual revaluation of the Fund.
In the last two years the answer given seems to be that the increased costs should fall on employers and employees. If you increase pension costs for employees it is in effect a cut in their take home pay. Any public sector worker working earning £21,000 a year or more has already had a pay freeze, so with the cost of living rising, no wonder they are going on strike!
Update: I passed Arrowe Park Hospital and saw a lot of union flags and a picket line there (sadly my camera battery died so no photos). The M53 was very slow between the Moreton Spur and Bidston due to the closure of the Mersey Tunnels. It’s down to one lane as you approach junction 1 as you’re not allowed to go past junction 1 due to either roadworks or the tunnel closure.
Motion on Item 3 Projected Budget
Proposed Cllr Steve Foulkes
Seconded Cllr Phil Davies
Cabinet recognises that, although the projected budget gap is diminishing, considerable work is still required to set a balanced budget in March.
In order to avoid any undue delays as proposals are explored, Cabinet authorises the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council, to undertake any appropriate consultation, in addition to the broader consultation already carried out, as required in order to allow the Council to meet the budgetary challenges it is facing.
The motion was agreed by all councillors on the Cabinet.
Cllr Foulkes then moved the meeting to agenda item 4 (Insurance Fund Budget 2012/2013).
Ian Coleman said for 2012/2013 there was a small impact on costs and savings. The report was agreed.
Cllr Foulkes then moved to agenda item 5 (Annual Children’s Services Assessment 2011) which he described as welcome news. A two-page letter was handed out in relation to this agenda item.
An officer said that David Armstrong sends his apologies as he was with headteachers in Anglesey. The officer said Wirral’s children’s services had performed excellently and were graded four out of a possible four. The report detailed how the assessment had been made as well as their strengths in educational standards and safeguarding. The officer referred to “Howard [Cooper]‘s strong steer” and David’s role as acting director and the activity that was underway referred to in the report.
Cllr Ann McLachlan said it was excellent news, “fantastic” and referred to the letters sent to all staff in the Children and Young People’s Department.
Cllr Steve Foulkes said the debrief should include lessons learnt and a critique. He said he had been there on Friday night and said people had been “working hard” and that it was a “huge National Grid operation”. Cllr Foulkes said they had been lucky the weather had been relatively mild.
He referred to Cllr Jeff Green’s earlier comments about the Serious Fraud Office investigation. Cllr Foulkes referred to an email which referred to a letter being received.
Jim Wilkie said he had emailed all three party leaders (Cllr Foulkes, Cllr Green and Cllr Harney) last Friday [18th November] over a conversation. However Jim Wilkie said the letter had not yet been received. He had intended to speak, but he understood the letter would arrive this week.
Cllr Steve Foulkes said it had been reported that the Serious Fraud Office was investigating. He referred to Frank Field but said it would be “difficult to break a confidence”. In order to discuss it further they would have to go exempt session to seek legal advice.
Cllr Jeff Green expressed the view that he wanted it dealt with sooner.
Ian Coleman introduced report 3 on the Budget Projections for 2012-2015.
He said it was an update, but this would be the last time the Cabinet received the report in this format, as in the next few weeks they should get the provisional local government financial assessment. They were not making provision for price inflation.
Cllr Steve Foulkes said there were still a number of days to go for the budget simulator. He referred also to Neighbourhood Plans. They were waiting to put it together, to give leeway on the issues to be resolved. He read out a proposed resolution of Cabinet on this agenda item.
Dave Green continued by saying that given the scale the response of council officers was “very good indeed” after the “unfortunate accident”. There would still be a formal debrief and lessons learnt. He was happy to talk to councillors, such as the Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee and/or Cabinet. On a nicer note, he said the response of the Emergency Planning Team was excellent and that things went well.
He mentioned a Sue Lang and volunteers who had fed people, they were drafting a letter of thanks to the volunteers. National Grid was paying for the food and costs. He wanted people’s views on the matter to be presented to the Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee so it could be done in public in an open and transparent way. The biggest problem had been the problem of getting into people’s houses to turn off the gas as some had been away. Warrants had to be applied for to the courts which had been a “logistical nightmare”, but there were always lessons to be learnt.
Cllr Steve Foulkes asked Cllr Anne McArdle if she had anything to add?
Cllr Anne McArdle said she thanked the Managing Director and staff at the centre as well as the Department for Adult Social Services. She also said the community had rallied round.
Cllr Steve Foulkes said he wanted to endorse a thank you letter to volunteers. He said the debrief could go to Cabinet or the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. If scrutiny met first, that was fine.
Cllr Steve Foulkes said they would move to the letter about the grant. Cllr George Davies said he was very pleased, that their application for transitional funding of £3 million had been accepted. They had brough in the Chief Executive of the Homes and Community Agency, the four Wirral MPs who had sent a cross-party letter to the Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP. Cllr George Davies was pleased they had received £2.7 million which would allow them to complete all work and to safely purchase the existing properties. Keepmoat and Lovell were the council’s contractors. He said it was good news and he was delighted.
Cllr Steve Foulkes thanked Cllr Tom Harney and Cllr Jeff Green for signing the letter. He said George had used his influence to get his voice heard.
Cllr Steve Foulkes then asked Dave Green for an update on the situation in Leasowe and Moreton.
Dave Green said there had been disruption to the gas supply of 5,500 properties, due to a burst water main on the 11th November in Danger Road (Ed – surely he meant Danger Lane?), Hoylake (Ed – surely he meant Moreton?). The water had got into the gas supply, causing severe disruption. National Grid had sent out eighty to a hundred gas engineers and a plan had sprung into action. As it was on such a scale a Bronze incident room had been set up as well as a Silver incident room in Manchester. Work had involved Wirral Council and the Primary Care Trust, with councillors receiving regular communication.
Chris Hyams continued that they had liaised with their partner agencies and there would be disruption to travel. The Mersey Ferries would close, so would the Mersey Tunnels. However Wirral Council did have a letter that allowed them to bring critical employees only through the Mersey Tunnel, but they would have to keep such travel to a minimum.
She said the buildings plan would be published next week, some employees would have to report to alternative buildings as their usual building would be closed. Only those who signed in would get paid and any absences would be addressed. Guidance had been issued. Sickness on the strike day or during the strike week would have to be confirmed with a GP’s note.
She continued by saying that pay for strikes would be deducted at 1/5th of a week’s pay, with pension contributions altered. This would affect pay paid in the January cycle. There would also be pickets of council buildings, rallies and marches. There would be a rally at Birkenhead Park and Liverpool City Centre.
Chris Hyams said that the Chief Executive had issued a communication to all authority employees with frequently asked questions for employees. There would be communication with the public and press releases on the day before the strike.
Cllr Steve Foulkes said it would be remiss not to have an update. Despite the disruption, he had “massive sympathy” for the people going on strike. At his own workplace they had balloted for strike action as a last resort to get their point heard. He understood it was the law that people had the right not to take part in strike action. It was right to get an update and he said that we “are taking it seriously”.
The minutes of the Cabinet meeting held on the 3rd November 2011 were agreed.
Cllr Steve Foulkes asked for an officer to give an update on the first item of Any Other Business.
Chris Hyams said they had received notification of a twenty-four hour strike on the 30th November due to change to pension arrangements. She reeled off a list of unions including UNISON, GMB, UNITE, NAT, NASUWT and others. She also said a number of trade unions not recognised by Wirral Council were involved too.
They had put in place appropriate arrangements as detailed in the Emergency Plan. All contacts had been asked in or to make themselves available on the day of the strike. She explained one of these employees had strike exemption. There would be Gold level planning at the regional level. A number of criteria meant some employees were given a strike exemption such as services that affect “life and limb”. By Monday 28th November 2011 they would finalise the posts covered. Services such as the Emergency Duty Team & Central Action and Duty Team (Out of Hours) were exempt from the strike, as were staff providing minimum cover at children’s and residential homes.
There were also a number of personal exemptions by the trade unions for example pregnant women or those who’d received notice they would retire in the next twelve months. There would be an impact on schools, some would close, especially as the headteacher’s union had voted for a strike. There was a Department for Education deadline of Friday 24th November. There was an issue about reporting arrangements for those who were not part of a trade union or don’t choose to strike.
Cllr Steve Foulkes (Chair) (Finance and Best Value)
Cllr Chris Meaden (Culture, Tourism and Leisure)
Cllr Harry Smith (Streetscene & Transport Services)
Cllr Ann McLachlan (Children’s Services & Lifelong Learning)
Cllr Anne McArdle (Social Care & Inclusion)
Cllr Jean Stapleton (Community & Customer Engagement)
Cllr Adrian Jones (Corporate Resources)
Cllr Phil Davies (Regeneration & Planning Strategy)
Cllr George Davies (Housing & Community Safety)
Cllr Brian Kenny (Environment)
Cllr Steve Foulkes started the meeting at 6.15pm saying he was going to take three items of Any Other Business first as they were urgent. He was pre-warning people. He wanted a verbal update on the one day strike. Cllr George Davies had an announcement to make on housing funding and he wanted a quick verbal on issues about gas supplies in Leasowe and Moreton East, as well as a further future report on the lessons learnt.
Cllr Jeff Green said there was speculation surrounding the Serious Fraud Office investigation.
Cllr Steve Foulkes said he had not been informed that the situation had changed, although he was aware of some things.
He asked for declarations of interest.
Cllr Phil Davies declared an interest in item 12 as he was a trustee of the Wirral Food bank, however as he was not a Council appointed trustee, he asked Bill Norman for advice as to whether the interest was personal or prejudicial.
Bill Norman replied that in his opinion it was personal, not prejudicial.
Cllr Chris Meaden declared an interest in item 5 (Annual Children’s Services Assessment 2011) because of her daughter’s employment.
The Vice-Chair of the Standards Committee has agreed that the scheduled 30th November meeting of the Standards Committee is to be cancelled because (according to a letter sent out today from Bill Norman to councillors and independent members of the Standards Committee) “there is insufficient business to be transacted, at the current time“.
Also on 30th November 2011 will be the strikes by various public sector unions. Quite how Wirral Council will cope (or whether many services will just cease functioning on 30th November) remains to be seen.