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Posted by: John Brace | 11th February 2014

Incredible: Lyndale School call in causes second constitutional crisis for Wirral Council!

Incredible: Lyndale School call in causes second constitutional crisis for Wirral Council!

                            

Labour's Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) explains at a Wirral Council Cabinet meeting why he thinks the Cabinet should agree to consultation on closure of Lyndale School
Labour’s Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) explaining at a Wirral Council Cabinet meeting why he thinks the Cabinet should agree to consultation on closure of Lyndale School

This is a rather complicated saga, so it’s best to go back to the beginning and have a recap of what’s happened so far in chronological order. Way back on the 16th January despite an emotional plea from a parent, the Labour Cabinet decided to consult on closing Lyndale School. At the same meeting the same Cabinet also decided to agree to change how they divide up funding for pupils at special schools (which has an effect on Lyndale School).

On the 20th January I wrote a blog post headlined “Was the Wirral Council Cabinet decision to consult on closing Lyndale School lawful?” which included two polls. The first poll asked readers if they thought the decision was lawful (so far 92.31% think it wasn’t and 7.69% that it was) as well as a second poll on whether the decision should be called in (75% voted yes, 25% voted no).

The two decisions were then called in by councillors. The decision to consult on closing Lyndale was called in by Cllr Tom Harney, Cllr Phil Gilchrist, Cllr Jeff Green, Cllr Ian Lewis, Cllr Cherry Povall and Cllr Pat Williams. The decision on allocating funding (called proposals for change to school top up payments for students with high needs) was also called in by the same six councillors.

A meeting of the Coordinating Committee was arranged to consider the call in which prompted a blog post titled Is the Lyndale School call in going to the wrong Wirral Council Committee? along with another poll that asked whether it should be decided by the Coordinating Committee or the Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee along with another poll in which 100% voted that it should be decided by the Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee.

I wrote a further blog post on the 4th February headlined The Reasons why Wirral Council’s Lyndale School call in is being delayed. Councillors on the Coordinating Committee met on the 5th February (covered in “When is a call in meeting not a call in meeting? When it’s adjourned…”) and agreed a recommendation to adjourn the call in meeting to the 27th February until after the Council meeting on the 25th so that Council could co-opt the necessary parent governor representatives and Diocesan body representatives onto the Coordinating Committee.

At this point it’s worth pointing out what it states in Wirral Council’s constitution on call ins (it’s at 35 (3)(b) (page 138) if you wish to check this out for yourself) “(b) The relevant Chief Officer and all members will be notified of a call-in immediately and no action will be taken to implement the decision until the call-in procedure has been completed. A decision of the Cabinet, a committee of the Cabinet or individual Cabinet member may be called in only once.”

I’ve added some underlining to emphasise the bit “no action will be taken to implement the decision until the call-in procedure has been completed”.

However agenda item seven for tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting has an agenda item “Schools Budget 2014/15”, which is officer’s recommendation to Cabinet for the schools budget which will then be recommended to Budget Council on the 25th February.

At 4.3.5 of the report to Cabinet it states the following:

4.3.5 High Needs Block

The make up of this block is complex. It is based on the “place plus” system introduced by the DfE [Department for Education] from April 2013 and includes:

  • Special schools (pre and post 16), school bases and independent non-maintained special schools. All receive a base level funding of £10,000 per place following agreement of place numbers with the Education Funding Agency (EFA).
  • Alternative Provision Bases and WASP. This provision is funded at £8,000 per place.
  • Additional funding over and above that provided for places will be paid in the form of “top ups”. These will be provided on a per pupil basis. The top up, or “plus” element of funding, is based on the agreed assessed needs of pupils and is paid by the “commissioner” responsible; this may be Wirral
    Children’s Services, a school or another Local Authority. In 2014/15 it is anticipated that a new banded top up system (with 5 bands) will be introduced and will be used to allocate funding to special schools, resourced based and alternative provision.
  • The costs of all education and training for post 16 specialist and LLDD provision (top ups) to colleges and private providers.
  • The Hospital Schools budget

Compare the above to the report titled Proposals for Changes to School Top Up Payments for Students with High Needs which went to be decided by Cabinet on the 16th January, resulted in Cabinet agreeing the proposals and was then called in (quoted below).

2.2 “with each school receiving an amount of £10,000 per place and an additional top up based on individual pupil needs.”

2.4 “Top Up funding (ie the “Plus” element) reflects the additional support costs in excess of place funding for individual pupils and students and takes into account factors such as the pupils individual needs and facilities / support provided.”

“This is a significant piece of work that has been undertaken with Wirral’s Schools Forum’s SEN Finance Steering Group, the outcome of which has resulted in a banded approach to top ups for:”

“Students in post 16 provision with element three costs; Further Education Colleges, Sixth Forms and Independent Specialist Providers (ISP);

Basically the proposals mean the same (but written with slightly different words). If these recommendations from officers on the Schools Budget for 2014/15 are agreed by Cabinet, it will become recommendations to Budget Council on the 25th February (and recommendations to Council can’t be called in). If that’s the case then the call in decision by the Coordinating Committee on the 27th February on the top up payments for students with high needs becomes a fait accompli as the decision on the Schools Budget for 2014/15 will have been made already by Council on the 25th February.

I pointed this out by email to the Cabinet Member (Cllr Tony Smith), Cllr Phil Davies (who chairs Cabinet meetings), the Chair and spokespersons on the Coordinating Committee, the councillors who called in the decisions, Surjit Tour (Wirral Council’s Monitoring Officer), Graham Burgess (Chief Executive who has a role in the call in process) and Andrew Roberts (the officer who wrote the report to Cabinet) which outlined what had happened and contained the following four questions.

I know there is a reserve Budget meeting set aside for the 4th March. Therefore my questions are:

1) Would it not be better to consider the schools budget on the 4th March as by this time the decisions reached by the call in meeting on the 27th February will be known?

2) Bearing in mind the constitutional requirement that “no action will be taken to implement the decision until the call-in procedure has been completed” can either the Cabinet on Wednesday recommend a schools budget (when an element of that budget being proposed has been called in) or Council on the 25th February decide on a schools budget (for the same reasons) without being accused of making a decision in breach of Wirral’s constitution?

3) If the schools budget is to be decided on the 4th March, will an extra Cabinet meeting be required between the 27th February and the 4th March to consider any recommendations arising from the call in
meeting?

and

4) In order for these decisions to be made according to Wirral Council’s constitution does this require the budget council procedure (agreed by Cabinet on the 16th January) to be altered so that the
schools budget is dealt with as a separate matter to the rest of the Budget?

Thank you for taking the time to read this, I look forward to either hearing a response to these questions at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting or receiving a formal response by email before then.

So far I’ve received responses from two councillors. One just stated “Thank you for the information”, the reply from the other councillor stated that they’d follow up my query with the report author Andrew Roberts.

So what’s really going on? The line written in the report “In 2014/15 it is anticipated that a new banded top up system (with 5 bands) will be introduced and will be used to allocate funding to special schools, resourced based and alternative provision.” makes it sound like the outcome of the call in is being predicted by an officer before it’s even taken place! So what’s really going on? Does anybody really know or is this just the uniquely strange and peculiar way that Wirral Council makes decisions?

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Responses

  1. Complicated and labrynthine but your PLAIN ENGLISH makes it more comprehensible than scripture written in liquid bull-shit by officers.

    You ought to be the Monitoring Officer for WBC!

    • To be honest I can’t think of one Council where the monitoring officer doesn’t have a legal qualification, which would rule me out (the £73k salary would be nice though).

      There were (and I think still are) regulations that made it harder to take disciplinary action against a monitoring officer, head of paid service or chief finance officer (hence the long drawn out process last time Wirral Council’s monitoring officer was suspended). The purpose of these regulations was to enable these key individuals to speak truth to power without fear or favour and to avoid them being pressured to act politically or face the sack.

      I think there was a consultation last year on scrapping them. Whether they will be scrapped or not is anyone’s guess, but they’re supposed to be there to protect those officers giving advice to councillors that the councillors might not want to hear!

    • Oh and since when was anything involving Wirral Council not complicated and labyrinthine? 🙂

  2. […] yesterday’s blog post Surjit Tour emailed councillors (and myself) with his advice. My two replies to his advice are […]

  3. Ԝybornagłębia;-)

    • Sorry I don’t underdtand what you mean? 🙂


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