I feel obliged to write about the complete omnishambles that public meetings at Wirral Council are becoming. If it was a one-off I wouldn’t mind, but this isn’t the first time something similar has happened and points to a worrying officer culture developing at Wirral Council. Wirral Council officers at last night’s public meeting were given instructions from above in keeping the hordes* out of last night’s public meeting of the Council.
*Hordes refers to both the press & public (that is someone who is not a current Wirral Council councillor or officer). I was tempted considering the thought processes of senior officers to use the word pleb instead of horde.
I hope whoever is reading this understands that I write about this first because it affected a large number of the press and public and shows how Wirral Council treat people (that is fellow human beings with rights!*) in a depersonalised way similar to cattle. Whether the “orders from above” came from councillor or officer or both just shows how people are treated by Wirral Council and needs to be put in the public domain.
*A list of human rights is provided in the ground floor lobby on the wall, although you’d need X-ray eyes to read it as its mostly obscured by a potted plant.
A little bit of background first, the Council meeting just before Christmas traditionally tends to be one where the Mayor organises something involving children performing. Just picking one from past Council meetings at random (2009, when Cllr Hodson was Mayor) there was a girl singing in Chinese. This happened during the public meeting (which last night was supposed to be) during Mayor’s Communications and made it more enjoyable for those present.
Prior to the meeting starting the Mayor (or someone from the Mayor’s office) had invited children from nearby St Georges Primary School, Wallasey to sing Christmas carols. Accompanying the children were about twenty-five parents and grandparents who’d come along to hear them sing. They’d been asked to turn up to the Town Hall well in advance of the meeting so the children could get the tour of the Town Hall. Whilst this was happening the parents and grandparents were ushered up to the public gallery.
Myself and Leonora (my wife) also went up at this point, partly as she was getting a reaction to a cleaning product used incorrectly on the hard floor in the lobby as she didn’t have her mask.
Prior to going up to the public gallery I was asked by a Wirral Council officer (and agreed) not to film the children singing, as a courtesy I said yes (this is partly due to commercial reasons). The last time I agreed to such a request was the Youth Parliament public meeting of the 9th October 2012.
The first warning sign came when happily sitting in the public gallery at about 6.15pm a Wirral Council officer came up to the row behind me and asked me (and Leonora) to leave on the basis the public meeting was a “private meeting”. I told him what I thought of it (basically it isn’t) and the guy told me not to “shoot the messenger”. After all (and this is me reading between the lines) when you’re one of the thousands of Wirral Council officers that’s been issued with an “at risk of redundancy” letter you’re unlikely to refuse an instruction from your line manager (or indeed senior management) when you’ve got a family to support and management will decide who gets made redundant. This is why it is very rare at Wirral for a officer to refuse a request of a councillor or management.
So we were both escorted from the public gallery to the Round Room, where hundreds of people were being “kettled”** by a number of Wirral Council officers in high vis jackets in the Round Room and Civic Hall to prevent them being at the public meeting. Sadly this resulted in my wife having a transient ischaemic attack (mini-stroke) due to further exposure to the chemical. Wirral Council officers were quoted as being “too busy” to offer any first aid.
** see earlier comment on human rights
For more on this night you can read Liam Murphy’s piece in the Liverpool Echo or Stephanie’s piece in the Wirral Globe. BBC Radio Merseyside was also there to cover the protest.