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Posted by: John Brace | 29th November 2013

Standards Committee agreed to changes to Wirral Council’s constitution in narrow 5:4 vote

Standards Committee agreed to changes to Wirral Council’s constitution in narrow 5:4 vote

                         

The transcript below is from part of Wirral Council’s Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee which met on Tuesday 26th November (item 4 Revisions to the Council’s Constitution). The vote on this item was five votes (Cllr Bill Davies, Cllr Ron Abbey, Cllr Denise Roberts and Cllr John Salter) in favour of approving the recommendations at 13.1 and 13.2 in the report and there were four votes against (Cllr Chris Blakeley, Cllr Leah Fraser, Cllr Peter Kearney). You can watch the meeting using this playlist (this item starts at 3m 38s into the meeting).

Cllr Leah Fraser said, “Excuse me Chair, before we proceed any further, I actually have spoken to Graham Burgess and apparently if there are any issues that are contentious that we’re not agreeing with to do with the changes to the constitution, then they’ll be referred for consultation. So what I’d like to move is that because there’s so much and the consultation is starting in January, which is only a month away, that we put all this into the consultation.”

Cllr Chris Blakeley replied, “Seconded Chair.”

Cllr Bill Davies (Chair) said, “OK”.

Cllr Ron Abbey said, “Chair, just on that point, as far as I am aware, these refer to arrangements by the Council to carry out its duties between now and January, which is now… you can shake your head Cllr Blakeley, I didn’t shake my head at”

Cllr Bill Davies (Chair) said, “Listen! Listen! I’m going to tell you now, this Standards Committee, I am not, I’m telling you now, right from the start, any cross chitchat out of the way. Continue Cllr Abbey now.”

Cllr Ron Abbey said, “I set out to say what I wanted to say, if it’s right or wrong I’m asking for this particular point to address this.. but I am led to believe whether it’s true or not, I’m not sure whether the Head of Law will be able to advise me whether I’m correct or not. These are interim measures which allow us to operate the Council in its proper format till January when full consultation will be taken on the constitution going forward. If I’m uncorrect then I’ll stand corrected, that’s why …response.. if I’m not then fine I’ll take … my place.”

Cllr Bill Davies (Chair) said, “OK. Surjit, do you want to give some advice for other people?”

Surjit Tour replied, “Chair, if it assist… just to provide that clarity it may help. The report essentially sets out two schedules. Schedule one which refers to amendments that this committee I believe can deal with and indeed it can move as part of its powers delegated to it through the power to make minor amendments to the Council’s constitution. Schedule two however outlines in more detail changes which the report it’s to be recommended that this committee recommends that Council approves because of the nature of those changes.

So in terms of the little point that’s been raised by the councillor. Councillor, the position is that they’re not interim changes that would be made at this committee. If approved the changes in schedule one, they would be changes that would be permanent to the Council’s constitution until changed by Council or this committee in the future whereas schedule two changes as proposed would require Council’s approval before those changes would take effect. Then again, they could be subsequently changed there also if Council so chose to do so.”

Cllr Bill Davies (Chair) said, “OK. Thank you, Councillor Blakeley.”

Cllr Chris Blakeley said, “Thank you Chairman, I had a conversation with the Chief Executive .. this evening and had a conversation with the Head of Law earlier this afternoon. The Chief Executive made it very clear to me that if there were any contentious issues and any disagreement then they should be referred to the full consultation. I suggested last night that the Chief Executive spoke to the Head of Law and remove the items that were contentious and allow the other ones that weren’t in contention to go through. That clearly hasn’t happened and that’s why we are moving the whole report be deferred to consultation. A very strange thing happened last night, the Chief Executive agreed with me. That’s the first time since he’s been in post.”

Cllr Bill Davies (Chair) said, “OK, now I’ve got Cllr McLaughlin, you want to comment briefly, Cllr McLaughlin?”

Cllr Moira McLaughlin said, “Very briefly, it’s just a comment. A significant number of amendments doesn’t actually mean that they are either anything more than minor or that they are contentious and I agree that there are a significant number, but that doesn’t in itself make them contentious. The other thing is that as far as I understood, these have been approved by the party leaders as the well, … that was my understanding that this has been approved by the party leaders and certainly I was only suggesting that we move ahead to facilitate the smooth running of the Council and to continue …..”

Cllr Bill Davies (Chair) said, “OK, …”

Surjit Tour said, “Chair, if I can also clarify, I’ve also spoken to the Chief Executive this afternoon about these matters. The Chief Executive’s view is that if, it’s a matter obviously for this committee, if they are matters which the committee is minded to unanimously agree on these proposals then I think the committee would want to refer those the wider review and have those debated obviously. If Members feel that it is, if whether certainly if Members require further debate or discussion, my view is that there would be no particular issue with regards to that being an appropriate course of action either for this committee. Clearly where there’s unanimous changes or the changes are relatively minor in detail then I almost think that they could be dealt with a recommendation to Council to approval, but where there are matters which require further debate and discussion, then the Chief Executive’s view was that subjecting those particular proposals to the wider review that’s going to be taken in due course.”

Cllr Bill Davies (Chair) said, “Councillor Harney.”

Cllr Tom Harney said, “Right, thank you Chair. I have one or two things to say, first of all I’m declaring my interest, I haven’t spoken to Mr. Burgess today, this week or even this month and I’m sure how he comes into all this. He seems to be able to read minds of Members and what the Members are going to be minded to do, maybe that’s a reflection of the whole of this constitution we have, I don’t know.

I would like to say some papers and some comments and I’m sorry if I offend anybody but there we are. That is life. I’ve got these papers here, I’ve got this paper here which was put on the table today. There is no coherence as far as I can see, I am not happy to be given this. This is a Standards Committee, I’m totally unhappy with it. I can’t even find schedule one, maybe it’s my eyesight, maybe it’s my age, I don’t know but I can’t find it, it must be somewhere and we’re being asked to agree amendments, some of them it seems may be minor and so on but there has been no steer as to what on earth it’s all about, apart from the fact it seems to have been discussed by the party leaders, who presumably have some new role in this Council which is not really defined by the constitution although I think it’s referred to. Well when we’re …. is it of importance? I do think that since this is a Standards Committee, we should have things done meticulously and sensibly.

The reality is and I will accept this having been a councillor for a number of years and that is that our record on adhering to or having a sensible set of standing orders which are actually adhered to is dismal in this Council over many, many years. …. keep on suspending standing orders and I’m afraid that I remember our previous Head of Legal Services who came along trying to get us to change and was shouted down basically almost. He was certainly outvoted.

He said ‘This is all wrong.’ and we said, ‘No, we do it this way, this is Wirral.’ So I do accept and I do think it’s important that we get our constitution right and our standing orders and so on right and we adhere to that, but we can only do that if we as a Council start to put ourselves thoroughly understand what the issues are and I’m not happy that.

I mean I know some things may be urgent and I will accept that and I’d like to be told what and why briefly preferably, I don’t think spending half an hour on it and then I would like the suggestion that we vote and then I suggest we go home and I do not think that from my point of view, and I’m quite willing to accept that everybody else is thoroughly dissatisfied and I’m not and I don’t know how I can vote without any of that and I just root through these and we have a rather what’s the word bad tempered discussion at the end of the day because we lose patience with each other, after all it’s not our job to write paperwork for the committee.”

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