Did Wirral Council’s Pensions Committee really approve the accounts of the £6.9 billion Merseyside Pension Fund?
Below is a copy of my statutory objection to the approval of the accounts of the Merseyside Pension Fund (a £6.9 billion pension fund that form part of Wirral Council’s accounts) which go to Wirral Council and its auditors Grant Thornton.
It’s rather dull and technical, but in the interests of openness and transparency I am publishing it below. It relates to yesterday’s meeting of the Pensions Committee that can be viewed below. I was so cheesed off I made two spelling mistakes in the email (a corrected version is below).
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!
Wirral Council’s Pension Committee public meeting of the 15th September 2015 Part 1 of 2 (Merseyside Pension Fund)
I reckon receiving this email will probably be about as welcome at Wirral Council as someone breaking wind in an open plan office. However such is life! The press are independent for a reason!
Subject: Statutory objection to Pensions Committee approval of Merseyside Pension Fund Accounts for 2014/15
CC: Pat Philips
CC: Colin Hughes
CC: Surjit Tour
CC: Peter Wallach
CC: Joe Blott
CC: Tom Sault
CC: Cllr Paul Doughty
CC: Cllr Ann McLachlan
CC: Cllr George Davies
CC: Cllr Treena Johnson (email address unknown)
CC: Cllr Adrian Jones
CC: Cllr Brian Kenny
CC: Cllr Geoffrey Watt
CC: Cllr Kathy Hodson
CC: Cllr Cherry Povall
CC: Cllr Pat Cleary
CC: Cllr Anita Leech
CC: Cllr Nick Crofts (Liverpool City Council)
CC: Cllr John Fulham (St Helens Council)
CC: Cllr William Weightman (Knowsley Council)
CC: Paulette Lappin (Sefton Council)
CC: Cllr Jim Crabtree
CC: Cllr Ron Abbey
CC: Cllr Chris Blakeley
CC: Cllr Angela Davies
CC: Cllr David Elderton
CC: Cllr Phil Gilchrist
CC: Cllr John Hale
CC: Cllr Matthew Patrick
CC: Fiona Blatcher
CC: Heather Green
CC: Chris Blakemore
I am a local government elector in the Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council area and make this statutory objection to the Pensions Committee approval of the the Merseyside Pension Fund Accounts for 2014/15 (see Audit Commission Act 1998, s.16).
For the purposes of clarity to the auditor this is a statutory objection to a matter not in relation to a matter covered by Audit Commission Act 1998, s.17-18 but Audit Commission Act 1998, s.8.
As required I am sending a copy of this objection to the auditor, those I have contact details for on Wirral Council’s Pensions Committee (I do not have an email address for Cllr Treena Johnson), Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee and those tasked with corporate governance at Wirral Council such as the Monitoring Officer Mr. Tour, the Head of Pensions Peter Wallach, the Strategic Director for Transformation and Resources Joe Blott and Tom Sault the Acting 151 Officer as well as other relevant people.
I do not have contact details for some on the Pensions Committee. I am sending this to the officer who took the minutes of the Pensions Committee meeting on the 14th September 2015 in the hope that it can be forwarded to those I do not have contact details for (the non-councillor members and Cllr Treena Johnson).
As this is a rather technical objection, I provide below a summary of the key points.
However I first need to declare an interest. I have a close family relative who is currently paid a pension by Merseyside Pension Fund, therefore a close interest in the corporate governance of the Fund being done properly.
On the 14th September 2015, I and three other members of the public (two of whom were employed by Grant Thornton and are Wirral Council’s auditors) attended a public meeting of Wirral Council’s Pensions Committee.
This meeting was filmed by myself and published shortly after, see
One of the functions of the Pensions Committee as detailed in Wirral Council’s constitution is to approve the statement of accounts and financial statements of the Merseyside Pension Fund and recommend these to the Audit and Risk Management Committee.
This is because the Merseyside Pension Fund forms part of Wirral Council’s accounts. There is a statutory deadline to approve the statement of accounts for the 2014/15 financial year by the 30th September 2015.
As mentioned at the Pensions Committee itself by one of the councillors this Fund is valued at ~£6.9 billion.
Item 4 and 5 on the agenda of that meeting were the pension fund accounts 2014/15 and draft annual report.
As the Pensions Committee is a public meeting of a local authority, legislation that governs public meetings applies to it. The statement of accounts formed part of a document known as the “Report & Accounts 2014/15” which was given to those on the Pensions Committee present on the afternoon of the meeting itself.
Please note the reference below to principal council, by virtue of Local Government Act 1972, s.100E also apply to committees and sub-committees of a principal council. The Pensions Committee is a committee of a principal council.
Local Government Act 1972, s.100B(4), is quite clear on the procedure that should be followed in the case of agenda items that are not open to inspection by members of the public five clear days before the meeting.
(4) An item of business may not be considered at a meeting of a principal council unless either—
(a) a copy of the agenda including the item (or a copy of the item) is open to inspection by members of the public in pursuance of subsection (1) above for at least [five clear days] before the meeting or, where the meeting is convened at shorter notice, from the time the meeting is convened; or
(b) by reason of special circumstances, which shall be specified in the minutes, the chairman of the meeting is of the opinion that the item should be considered at the meeting as a matter of urgency.
It is clear that the Report & Accounts 2014/15 for the Merseyside Pension Fund did not fall under the description in s. 100B (4)(a) and therefore the procedure in 100B(4)(b) applies. The Chairman of the Pensions Committee Cllr Paul Doughty did not specify at the meeting itself his opinion that the item should be considered as a matter of urgency, nor would the reasons for this be specified in the minutes.
This is an important corporate governance safeguard written into legislation.
Firstly, if the documents are not made available to the public five clear days before the meeting, the public and press cannot scrutinise them. Secondly (as was mentioned at the meeting itself) at least one councillor expressed the view that half an hour was insufficient to scrutinise a highly technical 46 page document.
This is not a one off occurrence. Officers in previous years have frankly played these games of brinkmanship with accounts routinely handed to those tasked with corporate governance to approve on the evening of the meeting itself. The safeguard above in s.100(4)(b) above, details a procedure to be followed if the matter is urgent.
Therefore my objection is that because of what I have detailed above, the Pensions Committee did not approve the statement of accounts for the Merseyside Pension Fund because:
(a) the report was late and
(b) it is clear from the legislation that a procedural step was missed making the decision ultra vires.
I am however not an unreasonable person and suggest the following course of corrective action. If this is followed I will happily withdraw my objection.
i) That the Pensions Committee holds a further meeting between now and 30th September 2015.
ii) The Audit and Risk Management Committee recommendation is altered (agenda item 12 meeting of the 22nd September 2015) to be conditional on the meeting outlined in i) and the same for any Cabinet meeting that has to approve the same item
iii) That at this special meeting it considers the items referred to in this objection in a way that is not open to legal challenge or perceived to be ultra vires and that the information for this meeting is published on Wirral Council’s website five clear days before the meeting.
As Wirral Council’s auditors Grant Thornton will no doubt make clear, the matter that forms this objections needs to be resolved before the accounts are signed off. I look forward to reading and hearing responses to this objection.
However as this is a perceived serious corporate governance failing, I am making this objection public.
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