Cabinet (Wirral Council) 29th November 2012 Neighbourhood Forum funding and Council Tax Benefit replacement

Cabinet (Wirral Council) recommendations on replacement to Council Tax Benefit and Neighbourhood Forum funding

There were two extra recommendations moved at the Cabinet meeting of the 29th November 2012, the first was on the replacement scheme for Council Tax Benefit (agenda item 3).

Additional recommendation:

Cabinet is appalled at the government’s decision to transfer responsibility for helping people on low incomes to pay their Council Tax to local authorities but to cut the funding for this by 10 per cent, resulting in a shortfall for Wirral of £3.5 million.

Councils like Wirral have been placed in the awful position of being forced to choose between reducing support to some of the poorest people in the Borough or removing funding from other Council services.

The government’s transitional grant scheme will not help Wirral as it will leave a shortfall of £1.4 million which will have to be found by cuts elsewhere.

Cabinet believes that this policy makes a mockery of Localism. If government is not prepared to transfer both powers and adequate funding to Councils then genuine devolution will never be achieved.

Cabinet calls on the government to rethink this ill-judged policy as a matter of urgency.

The second recommendation (agenda item 6) was to release of some of the frozen Neighbourhood Forum funding.

Cabinet notes, that due to the potential £13.2 million in year overspend faced by this Council caused in the main by unprecedented cuts in grants from the Coalition Government, all non essential spending has been frozen.

Cabinet has already released £220,000 of funding for local road safety initiatives following a successful bid to the Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

In spite of continuing budget pressures, given clear local need, Cabinet agrees to the immediate release of £330,000 for Area Forums (£30,000 per Forum) for the support of local Community and Voluntary Group projects.

Given the urgency of allocating this resource, Cabinet instructs Officers to meet with Local Ward Members to consider bids that have been submitted, and make recommendations on how this funding should be allocated. Whilst these recommendations are a matter for Ward Members, Cabinet urges Members to consider prioritising bids that seek to assist the most vulnerable and to support community groups who are most in need.

Cabinet also notes that the Chief Executive is currently consulting with residents and staff regarding the future of Area Forum funding and requests that funding for future years be considered in the light of the consultation findings.

Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee 27th November 2012: Changes to Council Tax Benefit

Council Tax Benefit changes, replacement of Council Tax Benefit from April 2013 and replacement with new Local Council Tax Support Scheme

The Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee agreed (except for Cllr Gilchrist) to recommend to Council Scheme 1 to replace Council Tax Benefit which from April 2013 will be called Local Council Tax Support Scheme.

Those who are now in receipt of a state pension, war pension, disability premium or disabled child premium won’t see any change to their current entitlement. Working age claimants (apart from those groups just mentioned) will find the most Council Tax Support they can receive will be limited to 78% of the Council Tax liability.

Council Tax Support will only be awarded to those with savings under £6,000, rather than the current savings limit of under £16,000. Backdated claims will be stopped and the flat-rate Non-Dependant deduction set to £9.90 per a week.

Wirral Council’s Cabinet have also considered the proposed scheme and also recommended Scheme 1 to Council.

Audit and Risk Management Committee 26th November 2012 Part 1 Highway and Engineering Services Contract

Audit and Risk Management Committee 26th November 2012 HESPE (Highways Engineering Services) Contract

The Chair of the Audit and Risk Management Committee started the meeting with a one minute silence for two councillors who had recently died.

There were no declarations of interest and the minutes of the meeting held on 19th September were quickly agreed.

The first item was the report on the action plan in response to the District Auditor’s report into the Highway and Engineering Services Contract. Colin Hughes informed the Committee that it had been presented to Cabinet on the 18th October.

Councillor Foulkes asked for assurance that Wirral Council was in communication and there was a dialogue with the people who had blown the whistle on the contract?

Colin Hughes replies that he had not been involved personally but could make enquiries. David Armstrong said that when he had been Acting Chief Executive there had been a continuing exchange between himself and the whistle-blower.

Cllr Brighouse referred to Recommendation 14, he wanted them to spend more time looking at implementation which in the past he thought they hadn’t done as well at.

Cllr Abbey thought the timescale of January for Recommendation 20 (the review of Internal Audit) was not much time to get councillors involved.

Mark Niblock, Deputy Chief Internal Auditor said there was currently a review into the effectiveness of Internal Audit and the actions taken to address issues. Following the review a report would be brought back to the Audit and Risk Management Committee.

Cllr Abbey referred again to recommendation 20.

Peter Timmins said in order for councillors to be informed, there was preliminary work that needed to be done. He told them that they were currently sharing a Chief Internal Auditor with Liverpool City Council, who was working with their deputy Chief Internal Auditor Mark Niblock. Mr. Timmins said that they didn’t want to get sidetracked with detailed discussions, which were quite technical, but next month they would produce proposals and anything councillors raised would be answered.

Cllr Sullivan said that it worried him when he said it was too technical for the councillors, he said it was important that the councillors scrutinise before decisions were made. He said he had concerns that the scrutiny committees get reports on serious stuff, but all the decisions had been made and was concerned by being told it’s a bit too technical for councillors.

Peter Timmins responded that they would be bringing recommendations to the Audit and Risk Management Committee, he wanted to translate it out of “audit speak” and their intention was to engage fully and not to hide.

Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Wirral Council) 21st November 2012 Labour councillors ban filming (again)

Labour councillors on the Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee vote to ban filming of the Wirral Council public meeting

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Well, in what is becoming a rather predictable saga and in a repeat of what happened at the start of Pensions Committee on Tuesday evening, Labour councillors once again voted that filming be stopped of this public meeting of Wirral Council’s Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday evening.

The Conservative councillors (except for the Chair who abstained) and sole Liberal Democrat councillor voted against banning filming but were outnumbered by the Labour councillors.

When asked by Cllr Fraser what the reasons were for banning filming the proposer of the motion Labour councillor Jerry Williams responded as follows:-

“Well, we’ve had clear guidance on this issue, here we are, on the other hand ostentatiously filming and recording events from the gallery could be regarded as disorderly and disruptive or otherwise. It is secondly unsettling to point a camera at someone at issue, significantly Members would know as they were being filmed, we have no control over way the film is taken, edited or even produced. I think that’s quite clear.”

Cllr Dave Mitchell, Liberal Democrat spokesperson said, “I’m in no rush, but I want my say in the end. In relation to that particular note, the passages that you’ve read out, what was the final recommendation to Cabinet or to the Council when that was actually dealt with? I’m just reminded while you’re looking it up, if you look behind it your good selves you will see there are Cabinet here, and for eighteen months every Planning Committee was filmed by the local authority. Did I interrupt you guys? Again it goes back to the comments [Cllr] Leah [Fraser] made before, it was stopped for financial reasons. I don’t see anything wrong with it being filmed because I know I’ve got nothing to hide.”

There were many items on the agenda that I’m sure the Wirral public would’ve liked to see (and hear) their local councillors’ views on which included domestic homicides, pavement and grass verge parking, parks modernisation and the Arrowe Park hospital travel plan.

Ironically (and causing much laughter) in the first main item after filming was banned (an item on domestic homicides) the Labour councillor Mike Sullivan, who had earlier seconded the motion banning filming, spoke of his regret that it was “not on the record” followed up with the barbed insult of “people this side [Labour] know the rules, Members opposite don’t”.

Pension Committee (Wirral Council) 20th November 2012 Part 3

Part 3 of the report on the Pension Committee’s (Wirral Council) meeting of the 20th November 2012 which manages the Merseyside Pension Fund.

Continued from Pension Committee (Wirral Council) 20th November 2012 Part 2.

The next item on the agenda was the gifts and hospitality policy, Peter Wallach spent five minutes summarising the report. At the end the Chair asked if there were any questions. Nobody asked any questions and the recommendations were agreed.

The next report was an update on work on the Cunard Building. Cllr Hornby wanted a working party set up and for the committee to agree to a working party being created. Cllr Harry Smith said he would second it if Cllr Hornby added if needed. Cllr Adrian Jones said it was sensible and he would go along with it. Cllr Harry Smith said he would support a working party if needed. Cllr Hornby said that he was trying to save time and not wait till next year. Cllr Harry Smith said he wouldn’t name the officer, but the unnamed officer had said that they would make a decision, he said he was not happy with officers making decisions before councillors. The Chair asked for a vote. All voted in favour of a working party.

Peter Wallach said a report was expected at the end of the month, the next committee meeting was in January so there would be a working party by Christmas.

The next report was on the LGC Investment Conference. The officer said it was in the supplementary papers as it had a title similar to a previous agenda item which had been incorrectly duplicated. The investment conference in Chester was seen as an important element of their training and costs would be met from the training budget.

Cllr Harry Smith said he had discussed this at the briefing, he said this training opportunity should be open to members of the Pension Committee. The Chair agreed that training was important. There was a vote and it was agreed that people would be sent at a cost of £425 + VAT (which included a nights accommodation in Cheshire) + travel.

The application from Mellors Catering Services Ltd which had been agreed under delegated decision-making by officers was agreed.

The Chair asked if there were any objections to the Investment Working Party minutes. No objections were made. The press and public were excluded from the rest of the meeting.