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Posted by: John Brace | 8th October 2014

What does an election year, Cllr Phil Davies, the Schools PFI contract, Lyndale School and the Wirral Schools Forum have in common?

What does an election year, Cllr Phil Davies, the Schools PFI contract and Lyndale School have in common?

                                                 

Councillor Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) at the Special Cabinet Meeting of 4th September 2014 to discuss Lyndale School L to R Cllr Stuart Whittingham, Cllr Tony Smith, Cllr Bernie Mooney and Lyndzay Roberts

Councillor Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) at the Special Cabinet Meeting of 4th September 2014 to discuss Lyndale School which was reviewed by the Coordinating Committee on 2nd October 2014 L to R Cllr Stuart Whittingham, Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services), Cllr Bernie Mooney and Lyndzay Roberts

Added at 8/10 12:04 In response to a reader comment about this article, I am at the start of this adding a declaration of interest, in that my wife Leonora has the liability for Council Tax at the property we both reside. Council Tax is mentioned in this article. However it is already public knowledge that we both reside on the Wirral.

Earlier this year on the 16th June 2014 I made a FOI (Freedom of Information Act) request to Wirral Council for the PFI (private finance initiative) contract Wirral Council has for various schools (eight secondary, one primary and two City Learning Centres). That request was turned down on 9th July 2014 with the Council claiming section 43 (commercial interests) applied to the information. I requested an internal review of that decision on 9th July 2014 and am still waiting three months later for the result of that internal review!

In August 2014, as part of the 2013/14 audit using a right I have under s.15 of the Audit Commission Act 1998, I also requested a copy of the Schools PFI contract.

The next month (September 2014) I was asked to come and collect a paper copy of the contract from a Wirral Council building in Hamilton Square, Birkenhead, which it later turns out is incomplete and missing at least a few hundred pages (which I suppose is to be expected when you’re dealing with Wirral Council)!

One of the duller sides of journalism and blogging is the amount of reading you have to do to write properly about the topics you’re writing articles on. An alternative route is to just use a lot of quotes from experts. After all when I write about matters, people leave comments and sometimes ask follow-up questions in the comments or by email so I try and familiarise myself with the topic I’m writing about first so this can be easily done. This contract runs to 2031, costs ~£12 million a year and is with a company called Wirral School Services Limited (and others).

The day before yesterday I ploughed through the rest of the Schools PFI contract Wirral Council has with Wirral Schools Services Limited (at least the bit of it I have and isn’t missing). Some of the is haven’t been dotted and the ts crossed on the pages I have and there is a large chunk of it that is missing there are some bits I am unsure of. I’ve asked for the rest but how long that will take I’m not sure!

The contract has many boring details that even I find dull to read that I hope even you dear reader would not really find particularly interesting, such as details about school boilers, how many square metres rooms are in various schools on the Wirral & what colours the hot and cold water pipes are (although knowing my luck I’ll end up with a comment from an interested heating engineer telling me how much they’d love to read a detailed article about the building maintenance side of schools).

The Schools PFI contract also has the level of detail of the full names, NI numbers, dates of birth and other details of various employees employed to work at these schools such as cleaners and other staff. Wirral Council also runs the multi-£billion Merseyside Pension Fund, so there is an admission agreement with Merseyside Pension Fund to do with pension rights. There are pages and pages of details about staff as part of an admission agreement with Merseyside Pension Fund. I will however not be publishing such detailed information on living people as it would be a goldmine for ID fraudsters and the height of irresponsible journalism to publish dates of birth, NI numbers and names for large numbers of people!

In order to explain, I need to first write a summary about what this Schools PFI contract is about. This is based mainly on the index.

Part of it is a series of leases to Wirral Council for nine schools and other type of educational premises called city learning centres covered by the contract. At the end of the contract (2031 or earlier if the contract is terminated or modified) ownership of the schools and City Learning Centres reverts back to Wirral Council. Part of the contract is also for services provided at the schools and City Learning Centres such as school meals, caretaking, repairs to the buildings et cetera. Some information on this goes to the schools themselves, some to Wirral Council. There is also a joint liaison committee set up with people from Wirral Council and the contractor.

There are also variations within the contract to account for differences between the schools, for example from memory* (*the caveat is I don’t always remember things correctly and haven’t double checked this against the contract again) I think Leasowe Primary School uses a slightly different system for school meals to the other secondary schools.

Some of the contract also relates to transitional provisions from the previous supplier Jarvis. This applied really in the early stages of the contract.

It’s all very long and very complicated and unless you have an interest in the area or are involved with Wirral Council, one of the nine schools (which are Leasowe Primary, Bebington High, University Academy of Birkenhead (formerly called Park High), South Wirral High, Weatherhead High, Hilbre High, Prenton High, Wallasey High and Wirral Grammar Girls) or two City Learning Centres (Wallasey City Learning Centre and Hilbre City Learning Centre) involved or the contractors in some way it’s probably not very interesting to you. It also interestingly falls into the set of contracts that Wirral Council will be legally required to publish at some future stage in the coming weeks.

The contract is so long and heavy (even with the missing pages) that I had to familiarise myself with our manual handling procedures just to figure out how to lift it up (and am grateful to myself that I didn’t drop it on my foot).

The first section marked “Private and confidential” is an agreement between Wirral Borough Council [1] and Wirral Schools Services Limited [2] dated 9/9/2004 and is called “Deed of Amendment and Restatement relating to Wirral Schools PFI project”. Addleshaw Goddard (a law firm) are mentioned at the bottom which are I presume are the law firm that drafted it. This section is 10 pages. This was when it was renegotiated in 2004.

So Section 1 – “Deed of Amendment and Restatement relating to Wirral Schools PFI project” 9/9/2004 10 pages

Then there’s section two, which is a “CONFORMED COPY” of a project agreement dated 27/3/2001 between Wirral Borough Council and Wirral Schools Services Limited which was amended and restated pursuant to the “Deed of Amendment and Restatement” (I’ve just mentioned) dated 9/9/2004. Rowe & Maw or 20 Black Friars Lane, London are at the bottom of the title page, their ref is 617/343/476/27909.1. Rowe & Maw were a legal firm based in London, they then became Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw in 2002 and in 2007 shortened their name to Mayer Brown. Apparently now they are the 22nd largest law firm in the world.

Section 2 – “Project Agreement amended and restated pursuant to a Deed of Amendment and Restatement dates 9/9/2014” dated 27/3/2001 198 pages

Schedule 1 (Volume 1 of the schedules) between Wirral Borough Council and Wirral School Services Limited is mainly series of headleases and underleases for various schools:

Pt 1 Bebington Headlease (16 pages and refers to Land Registry title MS435412)
Pt 2 Hilbre Headlease (16 pages and refers to Land Registry title MS435411)
Pt 3 Park High Headlease (15 pages and refers to Land Registry title MS435414)
Pt 4 Prenton High Headlease (8 pages) * note the copy I have been given is partially incomplete as this is missing pg 9 and schedules 1-4
Pt 5 South Wirral High Headlease (15 pages and refers to Land Registry MS435824)
Pt 6 Wallasey Headlease * missing
Pt 7 “Not used”
Pt 8 Weatherhead Headlease * missing
Pt 9 Wirral Girls Headlease * missing
Pt 10 Bebington Underlease * missing
Pt 11 Hilbre Underlease * missing
Pt 12 Park High Underlease * missing
Pt 13 Prenton High Underlease * missing
Pt 14 South Wirral High Underlease * missing
Pt 15 Wallasey Underlease * missing
Pt 16 “Not used”
Pt 17 Weatherhead Underlease * missing
Pt 18 Wirral Girls Underlease * missing
Pt 19 Plans * missing

This comes to only 55 pages supplied out of an estimated 280 which is hardly a way for a Council to comply with its requirements under the audit legislation is it!? Hopefully they treat Grant Thornton (their external auditors better than this)!

Schedule 2 and 3 following it are then completely missing. I wonder at times if Wirral Council can’t do something simple like actually making a copy of a contract for the purposes of the 2013/14 audit without messing it up, what else are they getting wrong (are they deliberately trying to hide something)?

These are:

Schedule 2 Financial Matters * completely missing all parts 1-8
Part 1 Lenders Direct Agreement * missing
Part 2 The Council’s Design and Building Contract Direct Agreement * missing
Part 3 The Council’s Support Services Management Direct Agreement * missing
Part 4 Design and Building Contract Performance Guarantee * missing
Part 5 Support Services Management Agreement Performance Guarantee * missing
Part 6 Initial Senior Funding Agreements * missing
Part 7 Other Initial Funding Agreements * missing
Part 8 Rules for Refinancing * missing

Schedule 3 Works * completely missing parts 1-10 and appendices
Part 1 Design Development Procedure * missing
Part 2 Prohibited Materials * missing
Part 3 Schedule of Key Dates * missing
Part 4 Outline Design Documents * missing
Part 5 The Completion Standards * missing
Part 6 Decant Programme Methodology * missing
Appendix 1 Decant Programme: Park High * missing
Appendix 2 Decant: Further Obligations * missing
Part 7 Handback Requirements * missing
Part 8 Project Programme * missing
Part 9 Construction Site Rules * missing
Part 10 Handback Survey * missing

Schedule 4 between Wirral Borough Council and Wirral School Services Limited is to do with Payments and is split into:

Cover pages (2)
Part 1 Definitions (11 pages, definitions from “Agreed Market Testing Proposal” to “Zone Drawings)
Part 2 Services Contract Payment (5 pages)
Part 3 Performance Deduction Look-up Table (1 page)
Part 4 Table of Service Units per School (1 page) GSUs for each school totalling 28,047 GSUs
Part 5 Monitoring (7 pages)
Part 6 Utility Services (5 pages)
Part 7 Third Party Use (4 pages) dealing with issues such as vending machines
Part 7A Catering (6 pages)
Part 8 Value for Money Testing (12 pages)
Appendix 1 Form of Performance and Payment Report (45 pages) These are examples of the payment reports that go to each school either from Jarvis Workspace FM or Wirral Schools Services Limited.

Schedule 5 is the Accommodation Services Output Specifications (82 pages long)

Schedule 6 is the Support Services Output Specifications
Part 1 Building and Asset Management Output Specifications (12 pages)
Part 2 Support Services Requirements and Performance Tables (59 pages)
Part 3 Service Level Agreements (such as control of pests) (141 pages)
Part 4 Service Level Agreements Alteration Procedure (4 pages)

Schedule 7 Reports and Records
Part 1 Reports (3 pages)
Part 2 Records (2 pages)

Schedule 8 Variations
Variation Notice (1 page)

Schedule 9 Insurance (2 pages)
Part 1 The Part 1 Insurance Period (10 pages) deals with construction all risks, business interruption insurance & public liability insurance
Part 2 The Part 2 Insurance Period (8 pages) deals with property all risks insurance, business interruption insurance & public liability insurance
Appendix 1 Endorsements (4 pages)
Appendix 2 Broker’s Letter of Undertaking (4 pages)
Appendix 3 Business Interruption Insurance – the Authority’s Obligations as Insurer (4 pages)
Appendix 4 Schedule of Insured Parties (2 pages)

Schedule 10 Liaison Committee (4 pages)

Schedule 11 Compensation on Termination
Part 1 Definitions (6 pages)
Part 2 Project Co Default (6 pages)
Part 3 Authority Default (2 pages)
Part 4 Notice by the Authority (8 pages)
Part 5 Fore Majeure, Uninsurability and Planning Challenge (1 page)
Part 6 Corrupt Gifts (1 page)

Schedule 12 Dispute Resolution Wirral Borough Council & Wirral School Services Limited
Cover pages (2 pages)
Dispute Resolution (9 pages)

Schedule 13 Senior Representatives (1 page)

Schedule 14 Compensation Events (2 pages)

Schedule 15 Methodology for Asbestos (2 pages)
Appendix 1 MB Wirral Policy (16 pages)
Appendix 2 Asbestos Survey Risk Assessment (6 pages)

Schedule 16 Liquidated Damages (2 pages)

Schedule 17 Quality Systems
Part 1 Design and Build Period Quality System (24 pages)
Part 2 Operational Period Quality System
Appendix 1 A Quality Policy (1 page)
Appendix 2 B Certificate of Approval (2 pages)
Appendix 3 C Proposed QA Implementation Plan (1 page)
Appendix 4 D Contact Directory (1 page)
Appendix 5 E Local Procedures (1 page)

Schedule 18 Employees
Part 1 Employee Information (6 pages)
Part 2 Terms and Conditions of Employment (1 page)

Schedule 19 Admission Agreements and Bonds
Part 1 Jarvis Workspace FM Limited (Wirral Borough Council and Jarvis Workspace FM Limited and Wirral Schools Services Limited) Merseyside Pension Fund Admission Agreement with Transferee Admission Body (15 pages)
Part 2 Compass Group PLC
(Wirral Borough Council and Compass Group PLC and ??? ) MPF Admission Agreement with Transferee Admission Body (12 pages)
(Wirral Borough Council and Compass Group PLC and ???) Agreement for a bond and indemnity in respect of sums due under an admission agreement arising from the premature termination of a best value arrangement (8 pages)
Part 3 MTL Commercial Limited (22 pages)

Part 3 is an admission agreement to the Merseyside Pension Fund between Wirral Borough Council, MTL Commercial Limited and Merseyside Pension Fund from 2001. This also relates to an unfilled in guarantor (which I will have to assume is Compass Group PLC), MTL Commercial Limited and Wirral Borough Council as well as a bond and indemnity. This admission agreement also relates to Jarvis Workspace FM Limited. This is one of the schedules which includes pages and pages and pages of staff surnames (organised alphabetically by staff surname), initials for staff names, NI (National Insurance) numbers, post titles, pension and birth dates et cetera. However on the copy I was supplied with much has been left incomplete such as the date the agreement was agreed in 2001, the office address of MTL Commercial Limited and much other detail is missing too such as director and secretary signatures.

The end of schedule 19 is an agreement between Wirral Borough Council and MTL Commercial Ltd and ???? which is titled “Agreement for a bond and indemnity in respect of sums due under an admission agreement arising from the premature termination of a best value arrangement”. This too is incomplete and unsigned.

Schedule 19 – Admission agreement (Merseyside Pension Fund/ Wirral Borough Council/MTL Commercial Limited) – 22 pages

Schedule 20 is a one page staff security protocol which details the information staff have to provide on any criminal matters and also references they have to provide before getting a job. There is also information detailed here that they have to provide to their employer during their employment if things change.

Schedule 21 is “operational site rules” – 19 pages long

Schedule 22 is a “draft transitional services agreement” which is an agreement for the supply of transitional services between Wirral Borough Council and Jarvis Workspace FM Limited which is 145 pages long

Schedule 23 is about the City Learning Centre (8 pages long)

Schedule 24 is the “non moveable equipment schedule of rates” (5 pages)

***

As the contract is so long, has been supplied incomplete and falls within the category that Wirral Council should be publishing within a matter of weeks, I won’t be scanning in the whole contract and publishing it! If there are any sections you would like me to publish though (that aren’t in the missing sections) please leave a comment or send me an email.

It is going to be discussed at the Wirral Schools Forum meeting tonight as the Wirral Schools Forum is being asked to make £2.3 million of in year savings to pay for it (which is in addition to the £600,000 of savings made earlier this year to pay for PFI), see report of Julia Hassall (Director of Children’s Services) here and an appendix showing its effect (if agreed) on the 2014-15 Schools Budget.

Just to make it clear the amount paid under the PFI contract isn’t going up by £2.5 million a year as it’s pegged to increases based on RPI.

The ratio between December 2013 RPI and December 2012 RPI was an increase of 2.674%.

There is then an “efficiency factor” of 10% built into the contract.

So, 90% * 2.674% = 2.4066%

So the yearly increase this year in PFI costs is in the region of ~£289,000 . Next year’s increase will be known when the RPI data for December 2014 is published.

So why ask is the Wirral Schools Forum being asked to make £2.3 million of cuts in year (2014-15), in addition to the £600,000 of cuts earlier this year for the Schools PFI contract then and what is this actually going to fund instead?

Well last year there was a 0% rise in the Council Tax (after a budget was prepared a few months before showing a 2% rise). Yes a freeze on Council Tax means Wirral Council got a grant which equates to a 1% rise. I presume for the financial year 2015/16 based on statements previously made by Cllr Phil Davies that senior officers at Wirral Council are also planning for a 0% rise for 2015/16 (although we’ll all find that out for sure over the next few months at a Council meeting as plans are sometimes subject to change).

It’s also interesting to note that Cllr Phil Davies (who is the Cabinet Member for Finance/Leader of the Council) four year term of office comes to an end in May 2014 so this is an “election year” for him (presuming he wishes to stand again which by all the recent press articles about Cllr Phil Davies related to Birkenhead & Tranmere means it is likely that Labour have picked him as the candidate for this area already). What better way for Cllr Phil Davies to get himself elected by telling the voters of Birkenhead and Tranmere that he has frozen their Council Tax (helpfully leaving out in leaflets to the voters in Birkenhead and Tranmere the inconvenient facts that this will come at the expense of cuts made this year (pending Wirral Schools Forum approval) to the money spent on pupils with a disability, statements, support for Special Educational Needs, maintenance of school buildings, axing funding for the School Sports Coordinator & use of swimming baths (although this two last items may be funded in future by schools directly themselves through the traded services) and other in year cuts to the Schools Budget)? Oh and also another inconvenient truth that thanks to cuts made by his Cabinet to Council Tax support many in Birkenhead & Tranmere are now having to pay 22% of their Council Tax bill whereas previously they had to pay nothing as 100% of their bill was covered by Council Tax Benefit?

After all, if Cllr Phil Davies is challenged between now and the elections in May about why he is making all these cuts by presumably the Conservatives, Lib Dems or Green Party, he based on past experience of his answers to this very question will probably blame the need to make any cuts to Wirral Council’s budget on the Coalition (Tory and Lib Dem) government, which of course absolves himself of any responsibility for these “difficult decisions”. This is of course is conveniently leaving out the fact that:

a) Wirral Council decides itself whether it wants to freeze Council Tax, rise it or decrease it each year. There is a majority Labour administration in charge of Wirral Council since 2012 so they make these decisions on the budget, Labour decided the 2013/14 budget, the 2014/15 budget and will decide the 2015/16 budget. If Labour want a Council Tax rise over x%* (a figure set by the government each year which was set last year at 2%) they have to win a referendum of the people and
b) that these are all locally made decisions over how the money is spent and that he’s the Cabinet Member for Finance (therefore he is the politician with democratic accountability to the public (and other politicians) for tax and spending decisions).

Of course there are some that would also say that these plans have come from senior officers at Wirral Council, not the Cabinet Member himself and will ask well is it a case of the officer tail wagging the Labour dog instead of the other way round? However senior officers at Wirral Council and politicians do surprise, surprise work together! These large in year changes to the agreed budget do also show as Cllr Stuart Kelly (Lib Dem audit spokesperson) quite recently pointed out at a recent public meeting that in his opinion this year’s (14/15) budget isn’t stable if changes are being made in year!

In fact at this point a £3 million overspend is predicted by the end of the year! I’m also curious as to why the date of the next Council meeting has been shifted from the 13th October 2014 to 20th October 2014. I’m sure it can’t be just because I tabled a question and they need an extra week to answer! If anyone knows the answer to that mystery please leave a comment?

Here’s an interesting question that stems from all this though. Despite the flim flam and contradictory statements over Lyndale School, is the price of Cllr Phil Davies getting reelected in May 2015 in Birkenhead & Tranmere the closure of Lyndale School (in Eastham) or is he just “rubber stamping” plans of senior officers?

After all the closure of Lyndale School currently pencilled in for January 2016 (if agreed by Cabinet later this year) won’t actually happen until after the May 2015 elections have taken place.

Can the many Labour councillors on Wirral Council seriously sleep at night knowing all this or are some behind closed doors expressing their disquiet about how this has played out in private meetings (especially the ones facing the electorate in May 2015)? Are Labour councillors worried that being directly involved in a decision about Lyndale (whether Cabinet or call in) will either affect their ability to be reselected by their fellow party members or indeed their future election prospects when they face the public at election time? Does this also explain why so many Labour deputies were sent to the Coordinating Committee meeting about Lyndale School last week? It’s all very mysterious isn’t it as one can only guess at what happens behind closed doors!?

I know the Cabinet decision to consult on axing Children’s Centres (currently on hold due to Conservative councillors calling it in) isn’t going down well with some Labour Party members (to put it mildly). That decision (made in the last few weeks by Cabinet) “called in” by Conservative councillors (Councillor Paul Hayes seems to be fast becoming the “call in councillor” and is going to be reviewed at a special meeting of the Coordinating Committee on the 15th October 2014 starting at 5.00pm (you can read the papers for that decision here).

Will Labour councillors decide that enough is enough when it comes to children’s centres, or will they agree with the Labour Cabinet and agree to start a consultation on closing them?

We’ll just have to wait and see! Please leave a comment on the above as I am interested to read your views!

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Responses

  1. Might want to take a leaf out of this (hand) book

    http://handbook.reuters.com/?title=Freedom_from_bias

    • Are you referring to me or Cllr Phil Davies?

      This blog isn’t Reuters, I have a personal view on Lyndale School and Wirral Council and this blog is one way I can use to express that.

      On the political bit of what you link to I partially agree, I’ve been critical (over the years) of Labour, Conservative, Lib Dems and the Green Party. Just look at what I’ve written earlier on this blog for examples of that.

      I’ll point out at this point I was a member of the Liberal Democrat Party until January 2012 when I left. I’m now not a member of any particular political party.

      This does however (on Lyndale School) boil down to an equal opportunities issue. The politics of this is vital to be reported.

      I have my own views on that, so do other people. Some people disagree with me, but that’s life in the political arena. That doesn’t mean I should self-censor myself from criticism of politicians merely to appear unbiased according to Reuters rules!

      From a practical perspective everyone has their biases, whether writer of an article, subeditor or editor! Even the publication can have a commercial bias towards the interests of its advertisers!

      So yes, I agree with the principles however to give one example:

      a) should I not have revealed the fact that Wirral Council valued Lyndale School at nearly £2.7 million, weeks after a key meeting there and months before starting the process of deciding whether to close it?

      Personally I can see and have heard both sides and sit through a lot of public meetings. However I am even handed in my criticism of political parties.

      To give one example of this, I sued a whole political party and one of its politicians had to spend two hours to a deputy judge why they hadn’t done what they should.

      I have criticised the Conservative Party over things that they have done… and reported on decisions the Green Party has made too.

      In what way do you think I’m biased?

      • My mistake….I seem to recall that you described yourself as a journalist… must’ve imagined it.

        • I am a journalist, yes I am. It seems things were much easier in the days I wrote about video games and not politics.

          The rules for each publication are different. I’ll explain:

          (a) We don’t follow the Reuters rules here because we’re not a newswire service

          (b) there are internal rules, but as far as I can see I’m not breaking any of them by writing this piece

          (c) if you want to make a specific complaint and be specific about what it is you think I’ve done wrong, please do so either here or by email and I’ll have it looked into and a response provided

          (d) As editor of this blog, copy that I write for it goes through a process of being proofread before publication and fact checking which improves quality. There’s no internal rule here that says I’m not allowed to write this piece.

          P.S. I will point out you are leaving semi-anonymous comments under the name of a fictional character, whereas that is allowed, if you want to take this further you may have to reveal who you are. 🙂

          • Um….no I don’t 🙂

            Sorry John, but I just find the content of your blog incompatible with your claims of being a journalist. Whilst there are many and varied codes of ethics for journalists, they tend to share common principles. …objectivity….impartiality.

            Principles which, let’s be honest, are not visible in your blog

            • That’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it.

              Let’s look at the dictionary definition of a journalist eh?

              Source: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/journalist?s=t

              noun
              1. a person who practices the occupation or profession of journalism.
              2. a person who keeps a journal, diary, or other record of daily events.

              This blog would fall under both categories. However you are implying I am not a journalist because on this particular article you imply (or outright state) that I am not being objective or impartial.

              The article you are referring to is about 3,000 words long (yes I could go back and count it).

              Therefore it needs to be read as a whole, as there are parts that balance other parts out.

              Notice when reading the whole article I mention both Cllr Phil Davies (a Labour politician) and Cllr Paul Hayes (a Conservative politician).

              As to a code of ethics, well different people here have different codes of ethics that apply to them as for example one person is part of a trade union that has it’s own Code of Conduct.

              However, although it doesn’t actually apply to me, let’s take the NUJ Code of Conduct as a better example than Reuters.

              If you can explain which of those twelve rules this article is breaking I’d be interested.

              I’d specifically draw your attention to the balance that needs to be struck under rule 1, rule 2 and rule 9.

              Your comments seem to be based on rule 4, that is the article you refer to contains a mix of fact and opinion (as do many articles I write). Just like yourself I’m entitled to a political opinion and to be honest with you I don’t usually express it that often purely because of the issues you raise.

              This case (and I might repeat again the NUJ rules don’t apply to me personally) is important enough from the public interest side and impossible to write in the way you suggest for such considerations to meet the balancing act in favour of publication. It’s very subjective though as I’m sure you can agree!

              You may also point out that there may be other unstated reasons I’m biased that are not stated in the article. If these were relevant to the subject referred to I would state these.

              I’m not personally liable for Council Tax, but my wife is (I will happily add that fact to the article if you wish). Neither of us live in Birkenhead & Tranmere. Does that help you with the objectivity/impartiality issue or was it wider political bias you were referring to?

              Just to make this abundantly clear, I don’t have any children at Lyndale School, I don’t work for Lyndale School, I don’t work for Wirral Council et cetera, et cetera. However one doesn’t have to declare a bunch of interests that don’t apply!

              I suggest you read more of the blog and you’ll find I am as objective and impartial as is humanly possible to do so. Whatever I write someone will dispute whether that is the case though as it’s a purely subjective test!!!

              • Sorry John, whilst I admire and respect your dedication and commitment to the blog you maintain, I simply cannot reconcile your claims of impartiality.

                Just look at the facetious ‘asides’ in your most recent entry – How can you possibly claim that you are being as objective/impartial ‘as humanly possible’ when you include comments like that?

                • Thank you for your compliment.

                  Because this is a difficult job to do, yes I do have a sense of humour which is again entirely subjective. 🙂

                  Sometime humour is the best way of diffusing a difficult situation.

                  I have modified the article to include the declaration of interest which hadn’t occurred to me at the time of writing. I apologise for that and it has been rectified.

                  However I will point out the following:

                  (a) the failure to provide a contract to an “interested person” in response to an audit is a failure of Wirral Council’s legal obligations under the Audit Commission Act 1998

                  (b) ultimately politicians (of whatever stripe) are accountable to the public for what that organisation does (or doesn’t do)

                  (c) my article could be interpreted (which I think is the point you’re making) as an attack on the Labour administration at Wirral Council and supportive of Conservative opposition councillors’ effort on children’s centres. However to me, the fact that X is a politician of X party is a known fact. That’s not actually in dispute, I think what you’re referring to is the way and overall tone in the way I’ve written this information (perhaps coloured somewhat by the rigmarole I’ve had to go through to get just part of that Schools PFI contract). I might point out (unstated in that article) in that Cllr Phil Davies’ portfolio also covers corporate governance. However that’s just life!

                  (d) I have not censored or edited your comments (which I could do) and we’re both (within reason) entitled to freedom of speech

                  I will repeat I am being as objective/impartial as I can be from my perspective bearing in mind the facts on which this is based. Other people could write a different piece based on the same facts that was supportive of the Labour administration and critical of Conservative efforts to hold them to account.

                  One that last point, I will state at this point that there is more that could be done by the three opposition parties (Conservative, Lib Dem and Green) on Wirral Council to hold the Labour administration to account which hasn’t been done. That’s my opinion though and you can accuse me of being impartial or not objective if you like! 🙂

            • I have updated the article with extra declaration of interest in respect of my wife’s liability for Council Tax. Are you happy now that that has improved objectivity and impartiality or at least mitigated it?

  2. Hi John, as you now I have followed your blog for several years now & always
    found your journalistic skills and impartial views both enlightening & even handed & I can only assume that “Joe Friday” who will not reveal their true identity must’ belong to either of the various political parties with an axe to
    grind or one of Wirral’s disgruntled officers whichever if they haven’t the B***s
    to admit who they are you should just take what is said with a large pinch of salt.
    As you know I have always put my true identity in my responses & am not afraid for people to know what I personally think, never mind the detractors keep up your excellent views & never mind the unnamed rabble.

    • Thanks for those kind comments Jonathan. “Joe Friday” or Detective Sergeant Joe Friday is a fictional detective in the LAPD in a TV series called Dragnet (that was on radio/TV in the 1940s/50s/60s and is probably repeated today).

      I have my suspicions as to who it is behind the Joe Friday nom de plume, but I don’t like to delve too much into the identity of people who wish to remain anonymous or leave comments under a pseudonym as there can sometimes be good reasons to do so (for example whistleblowing and the fear of reprisals).

      I do take what they wrote with a pinch of salt, however this is in addition to some other events of the past week which suggest it’s part of a wider attempt to distract me and Leonora for purpose or purposes unknown. Maybe I touched a raw nerve somewhere or just did my job too well? Oh well, c’est la vie!

    • Yawn…

      Hardaker, you pretty much prove my point. I’ve seen your FYI requests and your comments on the globe – You’ll jump on any ‘council-bashing’ bandwagon going. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll take your remarks about the even- handedness of John’s blog ‘with a pinch of salt’

      John B – I’m disappointed that you’re indulging Hardakers conspiracy theories. Your speculation as to my motivations for commenting and the origin of my name are so far off the mark, its untrue.

      It’s fascinating to see that anyone who doesn’t share the view of Wirral Council in the same way as the Cardins and the Hardakers etc. are automatically branded as ‘Council Officers’

      My grievances with Wirral Council are a sight more tangible than an awful lot of the vocal commentators out there. However I hold the view that this constant indiscriminate woefully-subjective criticism of the council essentially undermines the credibility of those with legitimate grievances

      • Well I have legitimate grievances with Wirral Council, however as I have a personal interest in those, unless there’s a wider public interest (such as the same thing affects thousands of others) it would be hardly fair to use my blog to persue personal interests (which naturally I’d have to declare).

        This blog isn’t read by enough people to have the sort of effect on Wirral Council’s day to day operations that you suggest. That would be more the sphere of say newspapers, radio or TV.

        I might also point out that it is unlawful for local councils to advertise on TV or radio. However, I have concerns about Wirral Council, as do others which can cause people stress. You may be completely unrelated to current events and unlike Mr Hardaker I didn’t think you are a Wirral Council employee.

        Wirral Council deals with a lot of issues badly, but you can’t always extrapolate from individual cases or personal experience up to wider political issues. Sometimes an unfortunate sequence of events happen and that’s just life!

      • P.S. What are the origins of your name or is Joe Friday your real name?

        If I have the wrong Joe Friday I apologise. 🙂

        • No, Joe Friday isn’t my real name. I use a nom de guerre to minimise my Internet footprint. 2000AD is a clue to the origins of my ‘name’!

          • You’re obviously more familiar with 2000AD than I!


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