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Posted by: John Brace | 10th March 2017

Why did Wirral Council councillors vote for a just over 4.5% council tax rise?

Why did Wirral Council councillors vote for a just over 4.5% council tax rise?

                               

Wirral Council (Budget) 6th March 2017 Part 1 of 5

Wirral Council (Budget) 6th March 2017 Part 2 of 5

Wirral Council (Budget) 6th March 2017 Part 3 of 5

Wirral Council (Budget) 6th March 2017 Part 4 of 5

Wirral Council (Budget) 6th March 2017 Part 4 of 5

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (right) (Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group of councillors on Wirral Council) speaking at the Budget meeting of Wirral Council (6th March 2017)

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (right) (Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group of councillors on Wirral Council) speaking at the Budget meeting of Wirral Council (6th March 2017)

It’s been misreported in the press that both Wirral Council and Liverpool City Council agreed a 4.99% council tax rise.

I’ll explain why the reporting on this has been wrong. Although both Wirral Council and Liverpool City Council agreed to increase their share of council tax by the maximum without triggering a referendum, it seems that once again the world has forgotten that there are additional elements added on to the council tax bill for fire and police.

The Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Merseyside/Merseyside Police and Crime Panel can’t increase their share of the council tax by more than 1.99% without triggering a referendum.

So the good news is that the council tax rise is (at least for Wirral) actually around 4.5% not 4.99%. However leaving aside this silver lining, both councils decided not to have a referendum.

The Wirral Council meeting (despite the usual passionate speeches) on Monday evening, following a special meeting about car parking charges, started with very large petitions (at least one had around 10,000 signatures) about the car parking issue.

Normally a petition of this size would trigger a mini-debate at Council and a chance for the lead petitioner to speak, but petitions about traffic regulation orders are excluded from this by Wirral Council’s petition scheme.

Cllr Phil Davies (the Labour Leader of Wirral Council) repeated his claims that Wirral Council’s problems are caused by the Tory government who in his view were playing party politics.

In a surprising display of cognitive dissonance Cllr Phil Davies said he was in favour of protecting Wirral’s greenbelt. However (at least from my interpretation of what he said) he’s also in favour of building a fire station and a golf resort on the greenbelt.

Most people would find this policy position somewhat confusing, he claimed that although Wirral decided on planning permission that the Tory government are forcing their hand.

However control of whether fire stations are closed or proposed to be built on the Wirral remains local, with the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority (which out of 18 councillors has 16 Labour councillors).

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority have a £450,000 underspend (see this report here) which Labour councillors decided to put in a reserve to recruit more firefighters.

It’s also well known that there was plenty of lobbying behind the scenes and meetings between Wirral Council councillors and those involved with the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority. I know this because I’ve seen the paperwork as some politicians can be tracked by their expenses claims.

However, moving swiftly on, Cllr Phil Davies is pleased with the Hive Youth Zone in his ward (coincidentally the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority effectively gave Wirral Council the land at below its commercial valuation of £250,000-£325,000, in fact effectively Wirral Council received the land for just the costs of transferring it to their ownership. I might point out it’s also in Cllr Phil Davies’ ward of Birkenhead and Tranmere.

Of course, I’m not saying that his support for a fire station at Saughall Massie is in anyway connected to this, despite the suggestion made by the former Deputy Chief Executive of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service (but never agreed to by Wirral Council) that Wirral Council swop the land at Birkenhead for the land they wanted at Greasby (now Saughall Massie).

Moving on, Cllr Phil Davies has found £millions to tackle the issues in the OFSTED inspection. The issue of the apprentice levy also was raised in connection with the Schools Budget.

Cllr Tony Smith (Labour Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) (who refused to resign following calls from councillors to do so last year after the OFSTED inspection) went into detail about the Schools Budget.

Somewhat missing from his speech (although referred to in the paperwork), is how Wirral Council are left with rising PFI costs, as money for education is diverted to private sector profits and who was the Cabinet Member for Education at the time Wirral Council entered into this contract? Well Cllr Phil Davies of course!

However, Cllr Tony Smith did refer to “huge financial pressures”, even if in Wirral’s case some of these are entirely self-inflicted!

Cllr Jeff Green (Leader of the Conservative Group) spoke to what the Conservatives supported in Labour’s proposed budget and referred to a list of highly paid posts that are detailed in this Wirral Globe article, that the Conservatives wanted to axe.

He disagreed with the way Labour ran Wirral Council in what he perceived to be not in an open and transparent manner. The running theme through his speech was that the Conservatives believed that what Wirral Council spent money on should be lawful (an example given was the Wirral View newspaper which the Conservative councillors have been putting pressure on the Tory government to act over (in fact I’ve reported the DCLG to the regulator ICO as even my FOI request about it is being brushed off) and based on the peoples’ priorities.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat Leader), said that out of a revenue budget of £266 million that councillors were only arguing about £2-3 million.

I’ll point out that this £266 million figure, doesn’t include the £252 million “schools budget” referred to later in Cllr Gilchrist’s speech (which is based on a grant Wirral Council receive directly from the government for education).

Cllr Gilchrist referred to Brexit, social care, agency staff, car parking, the golf resort, issues his colleague Cllr Kelly had raised about the apprenticeship levy (in respect of the Schools Budget), the capital receipt for the disposal of Acre Lane, highways and of course the Williamson Art Gallery in Oxton.

The Mayor then opened the debate to other speakers.

Cllr Paul Stuart (Labour) elected 10 months ago made his maiden speech which said how terrible the Tories and Lib Dems were and how wonderful Labour was.

Cllr Chris Blakeley (Conservative) thanked Cllr Paul Stuart for his speech, but criticised the Labour administration for what he perceived to be a broken promise on Girtrell Court, a new “tax” on people using the parks.

He also stood up for the greenbelt, in respect of a fire station at Saughall Massie and the proposed golf resort.

Cllr Warren Ward (Labour) gave his maiden speech in part on LGBT issues and as a young person he explained how young people on Wirral were suffering due to the economic situation on Wirral. He asked people to put party politics aside as councillors had a responsibility to those they represented.

Ending he said, “ And in conclusion Mr Mayor, I’d like to dedicate my first speech as a councillor in this Chamber to those within the LGBT community. For the past hundred plus years, have fought for equality to allow a gay, 19 year old man like me, to be elected to public office, to be in power and to have a voice. Thank you very much.”

Cllr Gerry Ellis (Conservative) congratulated the previous councillors who had made maiden speeches.

In what was a humourous and entertaining speech, Cllr Gerry Ellis explained (to applause from the public gallery) why he had changed his mind about the Hoylake Golf Resort project.

Ten (although he was reminded by Cllr David Elderton fourteen) years ago he and his councillors were told that “all the costs of it would be borne by the developer because that’s what the developer would do” and described this as “wonderful”.

He said that Wirral Council couldn’t afford a golf resort, that it was not an appropriate place as it was flooded. Cllr Ellis instead suggested using the land for a wetland wildlife reserve.

Referring to (what I presume is the Martin Mere reserve) in Lancashire he said they received 200,000 visitors a year. He said that visitors to the golf resort wouldn’t visit Hoylake, he pointed out that the land earmarked for the golf resort was already flooded which was handy for making it into a wetland.

Cllr Stuart Kelly (Liberal Democrat) spoke about the apprentice levy and how it felt it wasn’t right that schools in his ward were treated differently regarding it.

Cllr Tony Jones (Labour) made his maiden speech which was about how the ruling Labour administration would both defend frontline staff.

Cllr Ian Lewis (Conservative) referred to his fellow Conservative councillors and criticised the Labour administration for finding managing to find money when it suited them, but closing down Lyndale School, Girtrell Court and voting (apart from the Labour Chair) in favour of a fire station at Saughall Massie.

Cllr Adam Sykes (Conservative) urged the administration to regenerate brownfield sites, increase tourism, withdraw their car parking charging proposals, to protect the green belt, rethink their newspaper and look into how much Wirral Council spends on energy.

Cllr John Hale (Conservative) referred to the sorry state of the roads and referred to 22 previous budgets he’d been involved in. He expressed his sympathy to the ruling administration from the hypothetical “Society for the Protection of Party Leaders”.

Addressing Labour’s criticism of the Tories, he wondered how the Conservatives had managed to get 20% ahead in the opinion polls? For reasons that in his view the Conservative budget did greater good for more people, that was why he would be voting for it.

Cllr Pat Cleary (Green) reiterated Cllr Gerry Ellis’ call for protection of the greenbelt in Hoylake, referred to various quotes from others about local government funding but supported “low impact tourism”.

Cllr Janette Williamson (Labour) spoke about fast food and increasing the cost of alcohol. She criticised the government for various policies such as the scrapping of Educational Support Allowance (ESA), the Independent Living Fund, the bedroom tax, the NHS, the police, probation and the prison service.

Cllr Wendy Clements (Conservative) highlighted what effect car parking charges would have on those using council facilities (for example the sports clubs that already pay to use the pitches). She referred to the OFSTED inspection and the issue of child protection.

Cllr Brian Kenny (Labour) referred to a deal with Surrey when they had threatened a council tax referendum and asked where the deal was for Wirral? He criticised the sole Green Party councillor (Cllr Pat Cleary) for not proposing a budget amendment.

Cllr Chris Jones (Labour) stated that most parts of her ward of Seacombe didn’t receive the Wirral Globe or the Wirral News. Responding to criticism over Girtrell Court, she said that the 10 bedroom replacement to the 20 bedroom Girtrell Court wasn’t a breach of the “equal to or better” promise as ten residents had been long-term residents and had been moved elsewhere.

Cllr Adrian Jones (Labour) referred to racism and the way the parties to the right had campaigned (presumably a reference to the Brexit referendum).

He once again referred to earlier in his career working on a blast furnace and what he saw as the decline of industry.

Cllr Treena Johnson (Labour) referred to changes in housing benefit policy and criticised the Conservative government.

Cllr George Davies (Labour) warned that we might be heading for Victorian Britain and pointed out that Labour were not in government nationally. In his view only a Labour government in 2020 would reverse some of what was happening.

Cllr Alan Brighouse (Liberal Democrat) said that “nobody is listening”.

Cllr Lesley Rennie (Conservative) referred to the deficit the last Labour government had left in 2010 and how a departing Labour minister had written that there’s “no money left”.

She referred to what she described as shameful that 1,758 streetlights that had been not working for 6 months or more.

She also criticised poor resurfacing work that had been done and highlighted that she had been told it would take 6 months to fix.

Cllr Rennie referred to Wirral Council’s appearances in Private Eye’s Rotten Borough’s column and how a legal injunction may be needed to stop the Wirral View newspaper.

She was against the car parking charges plans and referred to Labour’s promise to service users on Girtrell Court. She questioned whether it was right at Wirral Council to pay senior managers above the salary of the Prime Minister?

Referring to the fact that there were no scheduled elections this year (*note apart from a byelection of a councillor in Claughton and the Metro Mayor, she refers to elections of a councillor), she felt that Labour had forgotten about the residents of Wirral.

Cllr Ann McLachlan (Labour) critisised the Conservatives and referred to the Conservatives’ opposition to the Wirral View newspaper as engaging in lobbying for publicity and encouraging legal action against Wirral Council.

Cllr McLachlan referred to a review of leisure and cultural services coming to the next Cabinet meeting and the 2020 pledges.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat) referred to Cllr Gerry Ellis’ speech as cheerful and amusing. In his view Wirral View had incomplete distribution, he also referred to car parking charges and how Wirral’s roads were deteriorating.

Cllr Jeff Green (Conservative) referred to many of the speeches by Labour councillors, the car parking charges issue which he referred to as “an utter mistake, a massive mistake” and the newspaper as “silly”.

Finishing the debate, Cllr Phil Davies started off with jokes, attacked the Conservative budget, the need for more houses and said the only reason for a fire station at Saughall Massie was the government slashing the fire authority budget. In his view the Hoylake Golf Resort plans would create jobs and said perhaps it was time for the Conservatives to pick a new leader?

He was proud of the Labour budget.

There was then a series of votes.

Liberal Democrat budget

For: 25
Against: 37
Abstain: 1

LOST

Conservative budget
For: 20
Against: 42
Abstain: 1

LOST

Labour budget
For 36
Against 26
Abstain 1

CARRIED

Vote on council tax levels

For 42
Against 20
Abstain 1

CARRIED

The Mayor then accepted an emergency motion on the Vauxhall Motors car plant, which was unanimously agreed.

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Responses

  1. Cllr Adam Sykes wanted to know how much Wirral Council spends on energy? well if you go past the Town hall in Seacombe at around 5.30am you will see the two buildings next to the town hall with its lights on yet no one home, and the street lights that should be on to keep people safe are off!
    Cllr Rennie keep talking like that and you can have my vote, the street lights and the state of our roads are a disgrace, well done.
    But the Council tax going up another 5% going to be working my self to the bone again to pay it then add the water rates also gone up again, so the lousy 30p rise in the wage next month doesn’t cover that, they say it pays to work! bollocks! only if your on £100,000 a year.

    • I think you’re referring to the North Annexe and South Annexe to Wallasey Town Hall, but I’m not usually there at that time of the morning!

      The incentive (or disincentive) to work is a topic that comes up a lot in politics.

      Politicians seem to prefer talking about sticks than carrots though! 😀

      If I remember Cllr Adam Sykes’ point I think it was to do with Wirral Council generating more of its own energy for example solar panels to give one example.

  2. How lucky and fortunate the people of the Wirral are to have you dear John. Without fuss, often without praise and few ‘thank you very much’es’, like the relentless motions of our tidal weather, you relentlessly place your shoulder to the wheel pushing and shoving that mighty round stone up the hill as you go about your journalistic duties trying to open the curtains and let some light into the faces of the bewildered people who’ve put their trust in a group of people who’ve long since lost their ability to distinguish between what’s right and what’s wrong.
    Whilst I’m a sworn friend and ally of the menace Cardin and an admirer of the mighty Wirral Leaks, I think, all in all, all things considered, it’s you that I admire most. Without fanfare and celebration both you and Lenora together quietly go about your business presenting the facts to the people allowing them to decide for themselves the depth of the excrement they’re now standing in and it’s this, this diligence and unswerving focus that sets you apart from everyone else.
    How I wish I could find a Level80 here in Hereford to help topple this here grubby, wasteful, gimmick laden, blue sky thinking, bottom feeding tic of a leach I call the Council that’s dug itself into our fat flesh and sucks away like a parasitical unwelcome ******** ******** ***** thing that’s using us as a host body to sate its daily need for ‘more’.
    Anyways, well done John. My warmest regards. Rob.

    • Thanks for that kind comment Rob.

      Here’s a thank you card from Lyndale School which means a lot to both of us.

      Social and political change only takes one person to talk to another person and before you know it like minded people have managed to chuck out the party in government (nationally and or locally).

      So don’t give up hope Rob.

      I’m sure if you knew where you look there are four dozen people like me in Hereford. Just waiting for the opportunity to shake things up a bit. 🙂

    • Just out of curiousity, do you know if anyone has ever tried filming a Hereford Council meeting and if so what happened?

  3. G’day John

    For heavans sake we will soon be lauding “Phil the Very Very Very Very Slimy, Elusive, LYING and Deluded Dill” for his dream.

    The rubbish paper from over Kev and Stella’s Stinking Stagnant wirral Waters

    Royal Blue: Why Joe Anderson deserves credit for his role in driving Everton’s stadium dream

    Mr “Tarrantino” Brace this story of Uncle Joe’s dream means that there might be as much credibility in “Phil the Very Very Very Very Slimy, Elusive, LYING and Deluded Dill’s” dream of golf resorts with massive housing estates.

    I would say “Tarras” about as much value as their other article

    Man tried to smuggle 59 heroin wraps and six mobile phones into prison up his bum

    Ooroo

    James

    Except Uncle Joe and “Dill Wit” have bigger backsides, they might fit a telephone excange.

  4. Hello John. I’ve no idea lad. I very much doubt it. I was one of the first in the boat down these parts of Blghty shouting and howling at the Council and after a few years of gathering up like minded souls, they’ve all gone leaving me alone in the bloody boat still bloody shouting and howling at the moon making absolutely no progress at all.
    Quite frankly John, it’s so bad here,any senior member of this Council hierarchy could become displeased with the tea lady, drag the poor woman into their office screaming,’ die you old hag. It’s two sugars not one’, strangle the life out of her, kick her dead lifeless body down the stairs, drag the corpse outside in front of the entire compliment of Council staff, order the janitor to dig a grave, bury the poor woman beneath a mature weeping willow and nothing but bloody nothing at all would happen to the killer of this poor tea lady who diligently tried to do her job and please everybody only to be throttled by a psychotic narcissistic suit of a public servant who had no regard for this poor woman or anyone else who was not linked in to the cascading of emails that come tumbling downwards every single day of the working bloody week.

    • I’ve found the clip below on Youtube.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVl_yTzYKf0

      I’ll tell you this bobby, I’ve spotted various features on this video that slightly worry me about Herefordshire Council.

      Firstly, there’s a rope between the public and the councillors as if to give the plebs the not too subtle indication from the councillors, we’re VIPs are you’re not!

      Secondly, out of all those round the table I can see (about thirteen people) only one is a woman.

      Here up north, we’d probably class that public meeting as one of the politest meetings we’d ever seen. Although to be honest, to our ears we’d have to really concentrate to understand what we’d see as the sort of accent somebody would only use if their family owned half the county!

      Maybe you had the day off bobby as I don’t hear any heckling!


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