Standards Committee (Wirral Council) 26th January 2012 Part 1 Declarations of interest, Minutes, Implications of the Localism Act on the Standards Regime

Present (part of Standards Committee)

Independent

Ken Harrison (Vice-Chair)
Alex Nuttall

Conservative

Deputy Mayor of Wirral, Cllr Gerry Ellis
Cllr Simon Mountney deputy for Cllr Les Rowlands
Cllr Chris Blakeley

Labour

Cllr Denise Roberts
Cllr John Salter
Cllr Bill Davies

Liberal Democrat

Cllr Tom Harney deputy for Cllr Pat Williams
Cllr Ann Bridson
Cllr Bob Wilkins

Officers

Shirley Hudspeth (Committee Clerk)
Surjit Tour (Legal Adviser)

Press/public

2 members of the public (John Brace and Leonora Brace)

Ken Harrison (Vice-Chair) said he was chairing the meeting tonight in the absence of the Chair Brian Cummings. Mr. Harrison told those present that Brian Cummings couldn’t make it due to “family problems” and he was indisposed. He thanked those here for attending and asked for apologies.

Apologies were given for Cllr Pat Williams, Stella Elliott and Cllr Les Rowlands.

Item 1 Members’ Code of Conduct – Declarations of Interest

Cllr Denise Roberts declared an interest in item 5 (correspondence received by the Chair) as she was named in the correspondence.

Cllr Denise Roberts declared an interest in item 4, in respect of the meeting on 6/1/2010.

Cllr Chris Blakeley asked Cllr Denise Roberts if it was item 5 she was declaring an interest in?

Surjit Tour asked Cllr Denise Roberts if it was item 5 she was declaring an interest in?

Cllr Denise Roberts confirmed it was item 5 she was declaring an interest in.

Cllr Ann Bridson declared an interest in item 5.

Surjit Tour asked if there were any more who wished to declare an interest in item 5?

Deputy Mayor Gerry Ellis apologised and said he “didn’t think”.

Cllr Ann Bridson wanted to ask legal advice on an interest matter.

Surjit Tour said that for information, it was being recommended that item 5 be dealt with as an exempt item. Therefore he said the public could not be present for item 5 and any councillors who had declared a prejudicial  interest could not be present either. Mr Tour said they could however wait in the corridor until item 5 was over, rejoin the committee after item 5 and he would explain the decision. The discussion and debate would be exempt and it was in their [the councillor’s affected] interests not to take part.

Cllr Ann Bridson asked about item 4?

Cllr Denise Roberts said she had made a mistake with item 4, one referred to herself and Cllr Bridson.

Cllr Chris Blakeley said that item 5 does refer to the four women.

Cllr John Salter jokingly asked why Cllr Chris Blakeley wasn’t in here?

Cllr Simon Mountney responded to the joke by referring him to pages 66 and 67. The committee laughed.

Surjit Tour said Cllrs Roberts and Bridson both had a personal and prejudicial interest in item 5. They would therefore have to withdraw from the meeting when it was considered. He asked if the committee was happy for him to advise them in private session or open session? Would he be able to do this?

Cllr Ann Bridson asked if they would be in or out?

Surjit Tour said she would be out, then in.

The Chair said it was just like cricket and thanked Surjit Tour for his advice.

Item 2 Minutes

The Chair asked if they agreed the minutes of the meeting held on the 29th September 2011? He asked if all agreed to the above, and they said yes they did.

Item 3 Implications of the Localism Act on the Standards Regime – UPDATE

The Chair said this was on pages seven to fifty-four of the agenda.

Surjit Tour said they must be proper and thorough. He was providing an update on the implications of the Localism Act 2011 which had implications for the standards regime, Members’ Code of Conduct and Standards Committee. The changes happening from 1st July 2012 as mentioned in 4.3, were outlined in an explanatory note giving an indication of the timetable. The original date of 1st April 2012 had been changed to 1st July 2012, which gave a greater lead in time.

There would be further guidance from the Department of Communities and Local Government about the pecuniary interest which was difficult to explain. Appendix 2 had a new draft Code of Conduct. Put together with the national changes, it would be used as a basis to invite discussion and debate with the new Code being adopted.

Mr Tour said it was coming in across Merseyside and would hopefully be easier to administer. Appendix 2 contained a draft Code of Conduct to consider. The report also recommended to set up a Working Group to allow further discussion on the new amendments. The new regime would come into effect as of the 1st July 2012. Paragraph 4.10 summarises the key areas.

Mr Tour continued by stating there was no longer a requirement under the Act to have a Standards Committee. However, in order to administer arrangements it was a helpful vehicle. There was no obligation to have a Members Code, but they did have to have a new Members Code of Conduct which would be a requirement. The new role for independent persons was different to Independent Members. The nature of the role, description and approval would require amendment. They had to have at least one independent person.

This person would be consulted. There would still be a requirement on those covered by the Code to keep the Register of Interests up to date. It would be to the discretion of the Committee, as to the procedure regarding conduct matters. He then explained about dispensations (once they existed) and the protocol (in the unlikely event) that a matter should be referred to the police.

The new rules covered eight critical areas. Before 1st July 2011 as outlined at 4.11 they needed to set up a Working Group. The terms of reference were outlined at 3.1. Mr. Tour finally asked if there were any other items or issues?

The Chair asked if there were any items he wanted to draw attention to?

Surjit Tour said on page twelve there were various points in the explanatory note. S. 27 placed a duty on Wirral Council to promote and maintain high standards of conduct on Wirral Council. The other thing was the issue of sanctions. There were issues regarding decisions made outside of jurisdiction. The advice obtained may be considered.

A formal letter or censure was fine. Removal was limited as sanctions were up to political groups and not a sanction that could be imposed. Press releases and publicity was not an issue. There was no longer a reference to a special obligation not to publish and it would be to their discretion as to whether confidentiality still extended to the matter.

On the issue of allowances it was doubtful as to whether these could be withheld as it would be deemed to be unlawful. Even if an allegation related to access to confidential information, further access to confidential information by councillors couldn’t be restricted.

The appointment of the independent person could cause some difficulty due to the legal restrictions on conflicts of interest. This Surjit Tour felt would lead to a loss of knowledge and experience. He reiterated that an independent person was different to an Independent Member.

Cllr Chris Blakeley said it would have to commence by the 1st July. He said it was an awful lot of change. A lot of councillors and Members couldn’t understand the current system. Therefore it was difficult for people to comply, he realised however that ignorance wasn’t a reason. He felt that if they go down that route with a draft Code of Conduct, they had to get the message across to councillors and Members. His personal view was that although they don’t have to have a Standards Committee, was that it was easier to continue with the Code and just transpose the old one to the new one. It had served them well for four years, the difference being was that the sanctions would come out. It was just a suggestion.

Surjit Tour said it was at their discretion but there were some changes as the ten principles had been reduced to seven. There was no reason why they couldn’t adopt the old Code of Conduct as the new Code of Conduct.

Cllr John Salter said that they would have to have training on it between now and July to highlight this, he thought training would only take a couple of hours.

Cllr Bill Davies said he had been on a lot of subcommittees, when members of the committee were ill they sent deputies, it meant the deputies needed training too. Another idea was to exchange with other councils, but he did feel deputies should be included in the training.

The Chair said it was essential especially in the spirit of the matter. In his view training was very important. Anyone sitting or deputising must be trained.

Cllr Ann Bridson said to bring them down to earth she had spotted some misprints.

On page 9, in 4.11 “4.8” should read “4.10“.

On page 22, the first principle was “SELFISHNESS” but this should read “SELFLESSNESS“.

The Chair joked and said it was “not really a mistake”.

Cllr Bridson said adding to what other people have said, she wanted to look at what we’ve got and went on to make a point about training for everyone and deputies.

Cllr John Salter said he encouraged everyone in the Council to have training.

Cllr Ann Bridson said that “everyone should know their limitations”.

Cllr John Salter said they could swap with Liverpool City Council.

Cllr Chris Blakeley said he would prefer it to be pan-Merseyside rather than twelve here, twelve in Liverpool, five authorities, two of them with fifteen person committees. He said it would bring consistency.

The Chair said it was in the pipeline.

Cabinet (Wirral Council) 12th January 2012 Any Other Business – Urgent Business Approved by the Chair (Part 1) – Independent Review of Claims Made by Martin Morton (and others) Part 4

Jim Wilkie, Chief Executive said he would make some very brief comments and did about the Anna Klonowski report and the other summaries attached.

Cllr Steve Foulkes said it was a “damning report”. He hoped the members of the public could understand why there had been an elongation of the Right to Reply to allow the process to take place. He believed the way matters had been dealt with had clearly not been appropriate. He thanked the former Leader, Cllr Jeff Green.

Cllr Foulkes said it was fully costed and they would continue to engage [AKA Ltd] for the foreseeable period. He saw it continuing going forward to the next available Cabinet meeting. He felt it need to be discussed in full and with other whistleblowing issues.

The Highways and Engineering Services Procurement Exercise report was discussed by Cllr Foulkes in detail. He said the main accusations were people being overcharged and compensation as well as other forms of abuse. Cllr Foulkes said they had been investigated and reported to the police.

Cllr Foulkes mentioned detailed work on the Action Plan and how to “move forward”. He said the view to the outside world was one of reputational damage to Wirral Council. They were engaging an external body to help and advise which would hopefully counter the insular culture.

He referred to a Corporate Governance Committee briefing and the “Improvement Board” which would include North West Employers to hold them [Wirral Council] to account. The Chief Executive and Bill Norman would keep an overview on how they dealt with the Action Plan. He mentioned hope and prayer and picking up comments by employees.

There was outrage and outrage by individuals and harm to individuals. He gave a public apology to Martin Morton which was a “genuine case” that Wirral Council had “not dealt with appropriately”. The Audit and Risk Management Committee had had a time of reflection, but should now move forward with a final resolution.

Graham Hodkinson was now Director of Adult Social Services and he welcomed him to his new post. He then read out the following resolution verbatim that was also handed out to those present. He said an apology to Martin Morton had been added. He wanted discussions to continue with Martin Morton to ensure an “amicable outcome” and a job with the authority. However they had to tie the loose ends up and it was not for Cllr Foulkes or the Cabinet to speak on behalf of Martin Morton.

He said it was the final outcome and that it helps the audience. He said it was a “difficult report to read”. He had tried to give encouragement to people working in the Department for Adult Social Services, but that it can’t go without thorough investigation.

Cllr Phil Davies formally seconded the resolution. It was agreed by the Cabinet. The resolution is below.

On a Motion moved by Councillor S Foulkes and seconded by Councillor P Davies it was

RESOLVED (unanimously): That

(1)       the Exempt Appendices 2 and 4 be brought into the public domain;

(2)       the previous Council Leader, Councillor J Green be thanked for engaging AKA to investigate the claims of Mr Martin Morton (and others);

(3)       the Council apologises to Mr Martin Morton and discussions will continue with him in the hope that an amicable outcome is reached; and

(4)       this Cabinet recognises the serious failings contained within this report and the harm done to vulnerable adults as a consequence of those failings.

It accepts unreservedly the recommendations made in the report and asks the Chief Executive to draw up an Action Plan demonstrating how those recommendations will be implemented, which should be reported back to the next Cabinet, and referred from there to a Special Council for full debate.

Cabinet welcomes the fact that the Chief Executive has already asked:

§ The Director of Adult Social Services, supported by the Head of Safeguarding, to urgently review the Final report for any further safeguarding issues that need to be addressed

§ The Director of Law, HR and Asset Management, supported by the Head of Human Resources and Organisational Development, to urgently review the Final Report to ensure all appropriate action is taken,

§ The Director of Law, HR and Asset Management, in consultation with the Director of Adult Social Services and the Head of Safeguarding, to urgently review the Final Report to consider whether any historic safeguarding failures should be referred to the Police, (or any relevant regulatory body) for investigation.

It further notes the actions already under way listed in paragraphs 3.8 to 3.10 which include:

§ A series of measures to strengthen the Council’s  safeguarding of vulnerable adults

§ An ongoing review into the Council’s whistle blowing and harassment and bullying policies and

§ A wider review of the Council’s Corporate Governance (including a review of all fees and charges)

And notes that these measures are designed to ensure that the situations contained within the report could not be repeated in the Department of Adult Social Services or elsewhere across the Council.

Cabinet is also conscious of the fact that one of the criticisms in the report is that in Wirral Council the “abnormal has become normal”.

Cabinet therefore endorses the decision of the Leader of the Council to set up an Improvement Board, under the umbrella of the LGA, with external representatives from the LGA and elsewhere, including the author of this report, Ms Anna Klonowski, to ensure that any future decisions are taken on the basis of best practice rather than accepted Wirral practice.

Cabinet further endorses the decision to refer the Action Plan to be drawn up by the Chief Executive to this Improvement board for their Scrutiny and comment.

Cabinet also refers the Final Report to the Health and Well Being Overview and Scrutiny Committee for their Scrutiny and Comments.

Cabinet believes that this Final Report should be seen in tandem with the Martin Smith report into allegations of bullying and harassment and therefore believes it would be in the public interest to publish this report,  and refer it to the Special Council called to discuss the Final Anna Klonowski’s report, along with a separate report on HESPE which also arose from the actions of Whistleblowers and the Council’s response to those Whistleblowers.

Cabinet thanks Ms Klonowski for the detailed work that has gone into this Final Report and expresses its hope and belief that these findings can be used as a catalyst for major improvement and change.

It further hopes that this will allow the Council to move forward from this point to the provision of radically improved services and a much more open and transparent culture which welcomes and learns from criticism and responds rapidly to complaints or concerns at the earliest possible stage, preventing a situation like this from ever arising again.

Cabinet 12th January 2012 Declarations of Interest, Minutes (8/12/11) & objections (12/12/11), AOB – Urgent Business Approved by the Chair (Part 1) – Independent Review of Claims Made by Martin Morton (and others) Part 3

Bearing in mind the previous interests I have mentioned in this matter I will try to write this up in as fair a way as possible!

Present:
All Cabinet Members

Cllr Steve Foulkes started the meeting by saying “What a day!” He wished people present a good evening and said he was changing the agenda because of a serious issue to do with the AK report, which was supplementary agenda one, item 24. First however the Committee had to deal with declarations of interests.

Cllr George Davies declared a personal interest in item 7 due to his wife’s employment as a primary school teacher.
Cllr George Davies declared a prejudicial interest in item 7 due to his wife’s employment as a primary school teacher.
Cllr Chris Meaden declared an interest in item 13 due to being a Non Executive Director of Lairdside Communities Together.
Cllr Phil Davies declared a personal interest in item 13 due to being a Non Executive Director of Lairdside Communities Together.

Cllr Steve Foulkes asked if they could move on and agree the minutes of the meeting held on the 8th December 2011. The minutes were agreed and the four successful objections to the minutes on the 12th December 2011 were noted.

Cllr Steve Foulkes said he had quite a rewarding day at Hulme Hall. Five people including himself as Leader as well as the Deputy Leader & Chief Executive had been present for matters involving corporate governance, public health and child poverty. He said they had dealt with two thousand employees. He wanted to “get every employee up to speed” but his “voice may go”.

With regards to Agenda Item 24, the independent review, they had been requested and thought it also sensible to bring the Martin Smith report about bullying. An Executive Summary was already in the public domain but he had asked Bill Norman to make it available and to the future full Council meeting.

Bill Norman said the report had been received to a previous Cabinet meeting in April 2011. The report had been exempt because Wirral Council had to consider disciplinary issues. This reason for the exemption no longer continues. There was an exempt appendix three involving North West Employers which for some reasons they’d prefer not to disclose they needed to ensure the version circulated is redacted and anonymised. It was in his opinion in the public interest to disclose.

Cllr Steve Foulkes used the words “anxious”, “complicated” and “accusations”. He expressed the view that they had held onto it longer than they need to. He said councillors had seen the original version and it was part of the same issue. He wanted it in the public arena sooner rather than later. The Martin Smith report would be considered in the public domain. He referred to the full Council meeting.

Bill Norman said with regards to exempt appendix 4, the letters from the Standards for England to four Wirral councillors, he had spoken to the four councillors. All four councillors had said they would prefer the decision notices to be made public and agreed to it being in the public domain.

Cabinet 12th January 2012 AOB – Urgent Business Approved by the Chair (Part 1) – Independent Review of Claims Made by Martin Morton (and others) Part 2

Cabinet 12th January 2012 AOB – Urgent Business Approved by the Chair (Part 1) – Independent Review of Claims Made by Martin Morton (and others) Part 2

Before I write this up, I need to (to be ethical) state a raft of conflicts of interest as I have been overcharged by Wirral Council’s Social Services in the past in the time period around 2004-2005. However the money has since been refunded to me.

There are further many conflicts of interest I now have and to be ethical have to declare (what I can) about two of the four councillors nam