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Posted by: John Brace | 27th August 2014

A professor, 2 solicitors and 3 councillors discuss alcohol sales at Westbourne Hall & filming of public meetings

A professor, 2 solicitors and 3 councillors discuss alcohol sales at Westbourne Hall & filming of public meetings

                                               

The Licensing Act 2003 subcommittee comprising of Cllr Steve Niblock, Cllr Denise Roberts and Cllr Louise Reecejones supposed to start at 10.00am actually started at 10.20am. Cllr Steve Niblock was chair for the meeting. Quite why meetings of the Licensing Act 2003 subcommittee never start on time is a Town Hall mystery to write about another day, but councillors were there to decide on an application for selling alcohol at Westbourne Hall in Westbourne Road, West Kirby which is now run by Westbourne Hall Community Trust.

Attending the meeting were two trustees from the Westbourne Hall Community Trust whose names were David Wade and Ray Davies. Representing them was a solicitor called Barry Holland. There were also various council officers present to take the minutes, give legal advice or answer questions about the detail of the application.

A local resident, described as a professor who lives near Westbourne Hall was objecting to the application was also present, as was myself and my wife. Normally that would be everyone, but unusually (as there were no objections to this application from Merseyside Police) Sergeant Simon Barrigan (Licensing Sergeant for Wirral) and an unknown police officer accompanying him, sat and observed the meeting in silence.

At the start of the meeting Margaret O’Donnell (Licensing Manager, Wirral Council) informed people present that two residents had contacted Wirral Council officers to say that they couldn’t attend the hearing but had emailed in their views. The solicitor representing the Westbourne Hall Community Trust, Barry Holland said that he had had a chat with the objector to straighten out some issues. The Chair, Cllr Steve Niblock read out what he does at every Licensing Act 2003 Subcommittee about what the purpose of the meeting was.

Margaret O’Donnell raised the issue of filming the meeting by saying, “Just to confirm for those who are present as well, that this particular hearing is being filmed and whether or not you wanted to give people an opportunity to comment on that.” I’ll point out here that when Pt 2 of the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 came into effect on August 6th of this year Wirral Council is not allowed to stop filming at its public meetings. The Chair, Cllr Steve Niblock asked people present if they consented to being filmed and asked people present to confirm their consent.

As I sat there, as I’ve sat there through many discussions about filming at the start of public meetings at Wirral Council, I felt like I was in the film Groundhog Day where the same thing keeps getting said in an endless loop about filming in an effort to try my patience.

Heads were nodding around the room about the filming issue and the professor said in reply, “Well I assume I don’t even have a say in the matter, but as it’s a public meeting, usually I object to that in general but I also approve of the general principle of public meetings, so I think I don’t have any choice but to accept.”

Seemingly with a look of disappointment and a big intake of breath Cllr Steve Niblock as nobody was objecting to the filming of the meeting he asked their legal adviser Ken Abraham for “guidance on this issue”. I will point out at this point that in June, Cllr Niblock totally ignored the guidance that Ken Abraham gave him at a previous Licensing Act 2003 subcommittee meeting which led to the stop filming, that means stop now blog post back in June.

Mr Ken Abraham replied very quietly as he can hardly be heard on the video, “Well legislation has recently been passed in respect of meetings held in the past, held by the local authority which is regulations which are in force as well in relation to that. The guidance that was issued, really doesn’t touch upon the issue of individuals who object to the meeting being filmed. So there may be a pragmatic view really, if an individual did object to recording then that part of the hearing with which they were involved, you could ask for the camera to be switched off and we would have to in making that request, rely on the errm credibility and honesty of the individual filming to ensure the fact that the camera is actually put off and there would be no filming of that part.

Really to object to this filming, it would be a shame et cetera. So, councillor as I said before, Members around the table, you could attempt to do that but that is the rule.”

The professor said he didn’t want to cause any problems, followed by the solicitor for the applicant saying they would not to object to filming as it would be “churlish” as the application was being made on behalf of the community.

Margaret O’Donnell said that the purpose of the hearing was to decide on an application for a premises licence made by Westbourne Hall Community Trust and related to Westbourne Hall, in Westbourne Road, West Kirby. She said that they currently had a premises licence, which also allowed for regulated entertainment. Margaret O’Donnell read out the times they had applied for and that there were representations from residents about the application and one resident was here at the hearing.

The Chair, Cllr Steve Niblock asked the solicitor for the applicants to speak in support of their application. He said that it was not an application for a public house, sporting club or any kind of commercial venture. Westbourne Hall had operated as a community trust, originally run by Wirral Council and people from the area. Mr Davies had been associated with it since the joint panel was formed in 1994, but he had been involved before that dating back to 1991.

He went on to make it clear that it would not be a public house, there would be no stock and the application was to enable the premises to offer to people who rent it such as charities, arts groups, martial arts groups, dance groups and that it was a “genuine community venture”. Mr Holland said that the hall was rented out for wedding receptions and that the hall had had a licence since the inception of the 2003 Licensing Act.

However Westbourne Hall used its full quota of twelve temporary event notices and that there was no objection from any of the responsible authorities to this application. He said that due to the restriction the hall had lost out on potential lets and gave the example of an organisation renting the hall for rehearsals but also wanting to have an annual dance and Christmas party there. At the moment these were going to Heswall or Hoylake.

When the trust had taken over they had put a business plan together as to how they intended to run it, but they lost bookings who had gone elsewhere. He referred to the Hoylake Community Trust had done the same and it was to level the playing field. The community trust was not a commercial venture and he went into the detail as to the times.

Birthday parties for people aged 18-25 would not be permitted and he explained that they had had to make notices available about the application on the premises and in the press. If he had changed the wording of these notices to please the neighbours to explain it was not a commercial facility then it could have been argued that the statutory requirements hadn’t been complied with. He had been involved in a previous application where this had happened.

He asked for the artificial restriction of only twelve temporary event notices a year to be lifted and that the hall didn’t aim to change the relationship with its neighbours but he would happily answer any questions.

Two councillors (Cllr Louise Reecejones and Cllr Steve Niblock) asked similar questions about how they would ensure that the licensing objectives were upheld by organisations renting the hall and selling alcohol?

To be continued…

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Responses

  1. part of the Asset transfer back in 2010, and sustainability depended on increased lettings, WBC would be acting against its own sustainability arguments were it to refuse the licence which it has awarded the other asset transfer candidate , Hoylake community trust.

    • Yes, the “strategic asset review”, a fancy name for a very unpopular policy that had the people marching through the streets, public meetings with hundreds of people and over the libraries element a public inquiry over its legalities.

      However, just as neighbours (makes me think of Mr. Griffiths when I write that) use planning applications to complain about things that are not planning matters, the same seems to apply to licensing meetings where it was about floodlights, Zumba dancing and noise.

      I could understand how I’d not be very happy if there was noisy Zumba dancing next door, I might even invest in a pair of ear plugs or headphones!

      You are right though, the business plans, did Wirralbiz help with them for a fee, depend on that old chestnut “things can only get better” (which was Labour’s 1997 General Election theme).

      • Wirralbiz did indeed assist. Whether Westbourne knew that no contract existed betwixt WBZ and WBc, I know not, Whether they knew they ought to write a contract with WBZ I know not. I know only that WBC paid WBZ without checking the Value for money or the quality of the work done. See response to FOI of mine

        • I doubt that Westbourne Hall Community Trust would have known such things at the time. The services of Wirralbiz would’ve been offered to them by Wirral Council to serve the political policy of transferring the running of places like Westbourne Hall to outside bodies.

          However from what was said at the meeting, the trustees of the Westbourne Hall Community Trust seem to be confident that it’s a going concern (despite the issues the residents raised).

          That’s probably more down to the unpaid work, experience and determination of the trustees though than any reflection on Wirralbiz’s work on a business plan.

          As we move forward to the future, more and more public services are getting outsourced to other organisations. Therefore the contract management/value for money/quality issues need to be robustly monitored and reported up the management chain (to councillors if need be) if things aren’t going to plan.

          If things just bumble along, with corporate governance issues not addressed or dealt with appropriately, there will be more issues on the scale of BIG/ISUS in the years ahead to do with contractors (which let’s face it can be an easy scapegoat when things do go wrong neatly forgetting the fact that in many cases politicians chose that particular contractor in the first place).

          • A matter that I have raised with all councillors , though not having any responses, is that the November 2013 Whistlerblowing policy only invites persons working for subcontractors to make use of the detailed provisions.

            Although the whistleblowing policy extant February 2012 to November 2013 was mis-spelt, had poor grammar and sometimes was unclear, it did have the merit of MANDATORILY including subcontractors into the benefits of the whistle-blowing policy.

            Should an Working Wirral/BIG or ISUs fiasco reappear then what subcontractor’s employee will risk themselves by reporting to WBC when they cannot be certain of protection? This is inviting malpractice by sub-contractors on an epic scale and the November 2013 policy needs to be rewritten , or supplemented with another Public Interest Disclosure policy specific to sub-contractors.

            As it happens the officers picked and chose what elements of the prior whistleblowing policy they afforded James Griffiths and myself. For starters in June 2011 for James and in November 2011, no copy of any policy was offered ourselves, and I received the new one only due to the good graces of Cllr A Jones somertime in summer 2012.

            • Well the changes to the whistleblowing policy came about as a result of the Martin Morton issues, so tended to be focussed on employees of Wirral Council.

              As to “protection” it seems to be based on keeping the anonymity of the whistleblower/s a secret. This is impossible though as from the whistleblowing details one can figure out the few that have access to such information and then repercussions follow in an attempt to shut them up.

              Those that people could talk to, such as the press, MPs etc by the narrow definition of employees/subcontractors wouldn’t be covered by the process you describe. This puts the press in a difficult position, reveal what they know and possibly put the whistleblower/s at risk of reprisals (even if they’re just asking the organisation to respond to allegations) and MPs have more options, such as a debate, but again are constrained in how they go about influencing change.

              If the allegations are true, someone in power will seem threatened and make threats. Then the story becomes about the coverup and the PR fiasco that follows. If you want an example of how not to do PR look at how the golf email from the Chief Exec was handled. Had a libel threat not been made, it wouldn’t have gone high profile and given people the impression Wirral Council is not telling the truth.

              Well these are my thoughts anyway.

  2. As the brilliant idea of scrapping surplus to requirement councillors has come up for discussion, may I nominate Niblock?

    • Words fail me when it comes to Cllr Niblock, however you would have got on well Paul with his late mother who was a self described “thorn in the side” of people like Cllr Foulkes.

      If she were still alive I wonder what she would make of what her son’s been doing these last few years?

      Course the Lib Dems see him as a turncoat who jumped ship to keep being a councillor. What’s funny was after he switched sides (without resigning and asking the public whether they approved) the Labour group escorted him around the Town Hall with councillors either side like bodyguards.

      Course back then, the Cabinet made his mother homeless as the whole area there was demolished on the say so of councillors.

      However I suppose this is starting to veer more into the personal than political.


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