In a change to the more detailed format, below are brief write ups of three meetings this week.
Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee 29th January 2013
There was a long presentation by Biffa, followed by questions from councillors. The meeting also discussed recycling, dog fouling enforcement, flytipping (including a recent rise in asbestos flytipping), managing highway structures (bridges, culverts etc), libraries, Wirral Heritage Strategy, food hygiene ratings, no cold calling zones and climate change.
Councillors asked Biffa about the recent missed bin collections and how the new changes (winter tyres and snow shoes) affected collections during the recent cold weather. On food hygiene the Food Standards Agency website was highlighted which shows the star rating for the 1,698 food businesses on the Wirral. A councillor was surprised at the nearly two hundred businesses on Wirral with a one star (which means major improvement necessary) or two star (which means improvement necessary) rating, however most businesses had a rating of four or five stars.
The increased use of volunteers in libraries was discussed and the problem of some households in areas at risking of flooding having problems obtaining insurance was also highlighted.
Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee 30th January 2013
Most of the meeting was a discussion about Wirral Council’s finances including measures to reduce this year’s overspend and how overspends in the past had been paid for by one-off measures that wouldn’t be available in future years. The investigation into Social Services debt was discussed also.
Audit and Risk Management Committee 31st January 2013
The HESPE Action Plan provoked discussion at this meeting. David Armstrong gave a verbal update on it and said that he’d written to all directors and acting directors for an update over the dates in the plan and had received no correspondence to say that they wouldn’t be able to stick to the timescales. The Acting Director of Technical Services had written to him stating there had been no interest from the private sector in consultancy work.
The Action Plan was being monitored by Fiona Johnstone’s department and was going to the Improvement Board and Council Excellence committee as well as being incorporated into Concerto. He assured people of the focus on it and that the actions would be followed through. Cllr Ron Abbey referred to it as a pantomime, saying “Did he or didn’t he?” and asked how much it had cost? Cllr Foulkes said that similar matters were not the remit of their committee, that there’d been two contrary reports, the Audit Commission report and the Penn report. He wanted continuing dialogue with the whistleblowers which he thought was the best way to deal with the matter. Cllr Ron Abbey said he would take that on board. Cllr Foulkes said they needed to find the common ground between the points in the Penn report and the action plan.
Cllr Green welcomed the reassurance, but wanted tests that the actions had been carried out. He said they’d had a range of reports that lessons had been learnt and a culture embedded, so it was useful to have it in writing. He referred to project management problems and who was supposed to be in charge of the Project Board and referred to issues with clarity, responsibility and project management.
Cllr Brighouse said he broadly endorsed the remarks, but the Penn report was ongoing as the recommendations and outcome were still to be resolved and agreed. He said it was appropriate to have some discussion covering the issues and whether there were any governance implications but it was “wrong to pretend there was nothing there”.
The Chair, Cllr Jim Crabtree said there’d be a further report next meeting.
There was also an update given (again by David Armstrong) on proposed changes to the gifts and hospitality/conflicts of interest procedures for officers.