Council (Extraordinary) (Wirral Council) 28th January 2013 Council Tax and Chief Exec’s contract

Council (Extraordinary) (Wirral Council) 28th January 2013 Council Tax and Chief Exec’s contract, also delegation of employment issues and senior management restructure

Monday’s Council meeting started the usual way with prayers. Following the prayers the Mayor asked for apologies for absence. Apologies were given for Cllr Elderton and Cllr McLachlan. The Mayor said that Cllr Elderton had improved in hospital for two weeks and hoped they would have a wonderful evening. He also said he’d be stricter on keeping people to time limits on speaking as if they had been adhered to last time a further eight councillors would’ve spoken, with a warning that the Deputy Mayor said he would be much tougher during his time in office.

No declarations of interest were made.

The Mayor brought forward item 5 (by-election results) and asked for it to be noted. Cllr Jeff Green (Conservative leader) congratulated the two new Conservative councillors at being elected.

A number of petitions were submitted.
Cllr Patricia Glasman submitted a petition opposing planning application APP/12/01520 for a ‘One to One’ Birth Centre in New Brighton.
Cllr Kathy Hodson told of a petition of 690 signatures opposing the withdrawal of maintenance of the bowling greens.
Cllr Leah Fraser put forward a petition of 36 signatures opposing planning application DPP4/12/01491 for an extension to St Georges Primary School in Liscard.
Finally, Cllr Clements presented a petition of 118 signatures opposing withdrawing maintenance of a bowling green in Greasby.

The meeting moved onto approval of the Council Tax Support scheme. Cllr Phil Davies gave a brief speech, bemoaning the fact that their budget was being cut by 10% next year, but that pensioners and people with disabilities wouldn’t lose out. Cllr Gilchrist indicated his disagreement with the scheme and said there would be problems collecting money from people who hadn’t had to pay Council Tax before. Fifty-five councillors voted for the scheme (Conservative and Labour) with the seven Lib Dem councillors against it.

Cllr Phil Davies stating it was unfortunate that they didn’t have the right figures on the senior management restructure from the start, but that they’d had assurances it wouldn’t happen again. The changes were agreed unanimously.

The changes to delegation on employment matters were more controversial. Cllr Phil Davies said that following the feedback from the peer challenge review, which recommended clarifying roles to ensure councillors did “not get overly involved in operational matters”. He asked for a quarterly report to the Employment and Appointments Committee on the gradings, grievances and disciplinary action decisions.

Cllr Jeff Green said they would be supporting it.

Cllr Pat Williams said that poor working practices had been brought to councillor’s attention during these meetings and that they had often found in the employee’s favour. She said that they would not know about these issues if it was taken out of their hands.

The Labour and Conservative councillors voted for (55), the Lib Dem councillors voted against (7).

Item D (Collection Fund 2012/2013, Council Tax Discounts (Annual Review) and Council Tax Base) was agreed unanimously.

Item E (The Employment Contract of the Chief Executive and Head of Paid Service) attracted more disagreement. Cllr Phil Davies said that it was “important to make the change now”, whereas Cllr Green didn’t understand the sudden urgency or why there shouldn’t be an open and transparent process instead. He said it was disappointing as the Chief Executive should have the full support of councillors.

Cllr Harney said he couldn’t understand why the issue of a permanent contract couldn’t be linked to the performance appraisal of the Interim Chief Executive. He said he hoped it was not a precursor to employment practices that had “bedevilled the Council”. Cllr Pat Williams said that Labour had created division which was “unnecessary and insensitive” and referred to adverse and avoidable press publicity. Cllr Mark Johnston said during his time as councillor he had seen three political leaders, four Chief Executives and damning reports on poor governance. Cllr Gilchrist referred to the peer review.

Cllr Davies responded to the comments made and referred to a conversation with Cllr Green in December, Cllr Green disputed how Cllr Davies portrayed this. He said he was more than happy to show the public proof that this was incorrect. He said, “To suggest anything else is not only inaccurate, but it actually puts at risk any sort of trust we can have in terms of when we actually have a meeting, whether those views will be accurately represented or not.”

Cllr Davies (Phil) said that it was his recollection of the meeting and said the “business of the Council must go on” and taunting Cllr Green by saying, “this is why Jeff is no longer Leader of the Council”. He said “I believe this is the right thing to do” and said he was “showing leadership” and that it was “the right thing to do”.

A card vote was called for. Conservative councillors voted against, Labour councillors voted for. Lib Dem councillors voted for and against. The final vote was 36 in favour, 26 against.

Item 4 was noted and Item 6 was agreed. The meeting then finished.

Cabinet 24th January 2013 (Wirral Council): Adult Social Services: The Bad Debt Saga continues

Cabinet 24th January 2013 (Wirral Council): Adult Social Services: The Bad Debt Saga continues

Following the revelation just before Christmas that Wirral Council’s Adult Social Services had £5 million of “previously unnoticed bad debt” Graham Burgess, Wirral Council’s Chief Executive had this to say to last Thursday’s Cabinet on the subject.

He said, “I’ll summarise the comments in a formal email which I’ll send out to all ward councillors. Three actions have been taken in relation to this matter, one is in order to change the system essentially of debt recoverage so we’ve stopped the leakage due to bad debt, and we are following up bad debt as fast as we can. So we’ve stopped the previous practice which led to the situation.

Secondly, we’ve got a small team staff that are actively pursuing the bad debts to bring back to the Council as much as they can of the money which is owed to the Council. As I said some of it is actually more than six years old, some of it more than five years old, more difficult to bring back to the Council, nevertheless we have to be pursuing that now.

Thirdly, simply asking to undertake a review or investigation of this matter to establish how we got in this situation and to learn lessons from it. To this end I have commissioned Eugene Sullivan who until a few weeks ago was the Chair of the national Audit Commission to undertake this investigation, to give some independence to this review.

Eugene Sullivan has started the work, is interviewing some councillors who are still here, is going through records in some depth, is speaking to the District Auditor who has a role in this process and is expected to bring a written report to Members sometime in mid-February where we’ll bring the report back to Cabinet at that stage.”

So yet more bad news on the way for Wirral Council.

Cabinet (Wirral Council) 24th January 2012 Financial Monitoring (Revenue Overspend), SIGOMA report and Come Together campaign/petition Part 1

Cabinet (Wirral Council) 24th January 2013 Agenda items 1-4, Declarations of Interest, Minutes, Leaders Announcements and Financial Monitoring (Revenue), SIGOMA report and Come Together campaign

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Cllr Phil Davies
Cllr Tony Smith
Cllr Adrian Jones
Cllr Harry Smith
Cllr Brian Kenny
Cllr Pat Hackett
Cllr Chris Jones
Cllr Chris Meaden
Cllr George Davies
Cllr Ann McLachlan

Cllr Phil Davies welcomed people present and commented that the meeting was less noisy than the previous Cabinet meeting. He welcome Joe Blott, the new Strategic Director for Transformation and Resources. No declarations of interest were made.

The minutes of the meeting held on 20th December 2012 were agreed.

Cllr Phil Davies said they’d take agenda item 3 (response to alcohol consultation) as an item of Any Other Business as they needed to agree their response to the consultation in time to meet the deadline, so the first main item was Financial Monitoring – Revenue (this is the original report), which was the subject of a revised report in the supplementary agenda.

Cllr Phil Davies asked Peter Timmins to introduce the report. Peter Timmins said that the position on the overspend had improved by a £million, he referred councillors to 2.15 on page 7, talked about the earmarked reserves and referred to table 6 at 3.2 on page 10. He said that the underlying problems had been masked by one-off solutions this year.

Cllr Davies thanked Mr. Timmins for the report and said he wanted to make a few comments. He said it was pleasing to see the overspend this year down, however he said they still had additional pressures such as the bad debts issue in Adult Social Services which there would be a verbal report on later and the Social Services care home fees consultation.

He said they were waiting for a “clear steer from government” in response to the meeting they [the three party leaders] had with the Minister a few weeks ago about flexibility about capitalisation and the way the levies operate. There would be a further meeting with civil servants on Tuesday [29th January] and that they were working hard on the budget options consultation which would end at the end of the month. Following the consultation there would be a report to the Cabinet meeting of the 18th February (where they would also decide on a new three-year Corporate Plan).

Cllr Davies said he wanted to add to the recommendations (which are below):

Add the following to the recommendations in the report:-

1. Cabinet believes that the Government’s austerity policy is proving to be profoundly unfair. Authorities with the highest levels of poverty and deprivation are facing the biggest cuts. At the same time, wealthy areas with the lowest levels of poverty pay less.

2. Wirral is losing £151 per head in cuts. Liverpool is losing £252, Manchester is losing £209, Newcastle is losing £162, Birmingham is losing £166, and Sheffield is losing £140 per head.

3. Milton Keynes is losing just £38 per head. Central Bedfordshire is losing £18 per head. And people in North Dorset are losing just £2 per head.

4. Cabinet also notes that a recent report by SIGOMA (Special Interest Group of Metropolitan Authorities Outside London) indicates that out of the 47 SIGOMA authorities Wirral has had the largest cut in its funding from central government (2.62% cut in revenue spending power 2013-14). This compares with the SIGOMA average of -1.78% and the average for Shire Districts of -1.37%.

5. Cabinet supports the ‘Come Together’ Campaign launched by the Mayor of Liverpool on the 18th January when the Leaders of Core Cities, Merseyside Districts and Faith Leaders met to discuss the impact of the Government’s austerity policy.

6. Cabinet supports the on-line petition which has been launched at This calls on the Government to urgently re-think its policy and to apply the cuts more fairly across the country, protecting those most in need, and making sure those in wealthy parts of the country pay their fair share. We urge all residents to sign this petition.

This was seconded by Cllr McLachlan and agreed by the Cabinet.

Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Special) 22nd January 2013 Four yearly elections, Destination Marketing, Pest Control, redundancies and procurement

Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee 22nd January 2013 Budget Options: Four yearly elections, Destination Marketing, fuel poverty, Pest Control,

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The Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee was a special meeting with only one main agenda item which was to discuss the 2013/16 Budget proposals which are currently part of a consultation with the public (until 31st January 2013).

The Chair, Cllr John Hale said that in his view the Committee was without a lot of the information he would’ve liked on the Budget options, and that he was “not in agreement with the move to four yearly elections”. He also disagreed with the saving on Destination Marketing as this money “brought an awful lot of visitors to the Wirral” and had spin offs for businesses on the Wirral.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Lib Dem spokesperson) arrived and apologised for being late. The Chair asked Cllr Stuart Wittingham if he had any comments to make?

Cllr Wittingham said he was pleased that most of the savings were to the back office and that he wasn’t saying that the front line wouldn’t be affected. He had no comments to make on a four yearly election cycle but described it as a “substantial saving”.

The Chair said it was not a very substantial saving “at the cost of democracy” and that there was still “insufficient information”. He’d be moving to note matters with the exception of the four yearly elections that he was opposed to and the 100% cut to Destination Marketing, which he said supported major activities and brought in thousands of visitors to the Borough.

Cllr Hale had asked what the Pest Control reduction meant and that the answer given was that it would result in their staff being reduced from five to four. He said it also meant that the home insulation program which had only met 59% of its target wouldn’t be able to continue with the rest. However £50,000 would be kept in the Budget for fuel poverty.

Cllr Gilchrist said that previously when the Council had let people retire or take voluntary redundancy, there had been criteria that had had to be looked at such as the need to pass on their expertise or whether it would cause a problem for the service if they left, he asked if officers had discussed the rationale for restructuring?

The Chair asked Chris Hyams to answer the question.

She said the proposals were either for a restructure or service changes. In the case of a restructure, Chris Hyams said that they would seek volunteers first, but may need to move to compulsory redundancies. In order to maximise redeployment opportunities they would look for volunteers across the organisation. They couldn’t let people go where their jobs were required, but would be looking at things on a proposal by proposal basis.

Cllr Gilchrist made a further comment about redundancies.

Chris Hyams responded said the strategy had been to seek voluntary leavers, but ensuring they had the capacity in the services to let them go “at the appropriate time”. She gave the example of letting volunteers go in day services and redeploying people from residential to day services. However the voluntary leavers couldn’t leave until the redeployed workers were ready to move into their posts. She said they wanted to do it quick enough that they were not incurring the need for more savings, but at a time that was right taking into account their notice periods and with due consultation and process.

The Chair asked about suppliers.

The Wirral Council officer responded by saying, “Yeah Chair, thanks Chair, one of the one of the issues that had been identified through the work that the Local Government Association are doing with us with on the Improvement Plan is a weakness in procurement, how the Council procures its related goods and services. There are a number of processes that we can improve upon, one of the issues is that we have a purchase order system, but the majority of purchases don’t go through that purchase order system. So we believe that by improving the governance of that system to actually make it so that 90% goes through that purchase order system, we’ll be able to negotiate with suppliers and get a better deal. Hopefully the volume issue, we will get a better deal.

We’re also looking at how we actually manage our procurement function. One of the things that we’re doing is basically is to have overall category managers, which have an area of spend rather than the generic purchasing officers. A category manager would have an area of spend for instance Adult Social Services and become knowledgeable in that field and achieve savings with suppliers. We feel that the evidence from other councils is that we’re not getting value for money now just now and that the savings are achievable if we can actually both improve our processes and improve maybe we carry out procurement with these category managers.

It’s a process that’s used in the private sector and maybe we’ll use it in the public sector. We’re looking at best practice elsewhere, we’re getting advice both from other Councils and from the Local Government Association, now we actually need a step change in getting more out of our procurement activity because clearly with the financial challenges that the Council’s facing we’ve got to get more for less in effect and we believe that we can actually achieve the savings in procurement.”

Leasowe and Moreton East By-election Result (Wirral Council) Ian Lewis (Conservative) returned

Leasowe and Moreton East Byelection Result (Wirral Council) Ian Lewis (Conservative) returned

Having lost his seat last May to Labour’s Anita Leech (with a majority of 318), after the death of Cllr Ann McArdle, Ian Lewis (Conservative) overturned Labour’s majority into a majority of 265 in the by-election.

The result doesn’t change the balance of power on Wirral Council, but does reduce Labour’s majority from nine to seven. Meanwhile in the Heswall by-election held on the same day Kathryn Anne Hodson (Conservative) was predictably returned with a comfortable majority of 794.

Candidate Party Votes
Ian LEWIS Conservative 1620
Pauline Ann DANIELS Labour 1355
Susan Jane WHITHAM U.K. Independence 148
Mark HALLIGAN Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts 31
Jim MCGINLEY Green Party 28
Daniel CLEIN Liberal Democrat 28