Economy and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Wirral Council) 22nd April 2013 Thextons (Green Deal Installer) explain the “Green Deal”

Economy and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Wirral Council) 22nd April 2013 Thextons, Green Deal, Wirral Partnership Homes and rendering

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The Economy and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee met on Monday 22nd April, although the agenda and reports can be found on Wirral Council’s website, two agenda items (Thextons and Digital Inclusion) were presentations and three (Trader Toolkit, Fair Trade and Regeneration Update) were verbal updates so for the full details on those you’ll have to watch the video of the meeting above.

Present:
Cllr Mark Johnston (Chair)
Cllr Jean Stapleton
Cllr Stuart Wittingham
Cllr Mike Sullivan
Cllr Jeanette Williamson
Cllr Rob Gregson
Cllr John Salter
Cllr Peter Kearney
Cllr Tony Cox
Cllr Andrew Hodson

Cllr Stuart Wittingham declared an interest in items five (Under-occupation scrutiny review), six (Draft Housing Needs Assessment) and ten (End of Year Performance Update) as he is a director of Wirral Partnership Homes.

The first main agenda item was a presentation by Simon Thexton from Thexton Properties Ltd. Mr. Thexton began by describing his various experiences working in the construction industry before starting Thextons in 2001 and said that his aim had been to create a small building firm to offer a quality service. This hadn’t worked as everyone had wanted the cheapest price instead so they had concentrated on specialist sub-contracting instead.

In 2003 they’d won a business award and the business had grown and between 2005 and 2009 they had consolidated and improved. Originally based in Brassey Street, they’d moved after purchasing a derelict pub to use as a Head Office. Although the construction industry had flatlined since 2009, he was proud that they hadn’t laid anyone off and had maintained the workforce at 2009 levels by reducing profit margins.

Eighteen months ago Mr. Thexton had been to a seminar on the government’s Green Deal and ECO (Energy Company Obligation) funding, he’d seen this as a massive opportunity for Thextons. It had taken them eighteen months to change their policies investing £150,000 in retraining their workforce in internal and external render systems. He’d travelled the country looking at how other organisations were doing internal and external rendering and bringing this knowledge back to Thextons to retrain their staff. Thextons then became a chartered building company and were PAS 2030 certified (as a Green Deal Installer).

Simon Thexton referred to the work Thexton had done on the hundreds of Wirral Partnership Homes houses being rendered in the North End of Birkenhead through Brammall Construction. He said that the Green Deal element for the public (as opposed to large landlords such as Wirral Partnership Homes) was being rolled out slower due to backlogs. He explained the various stages of the Green Deal process and the various types of work that could be done to properties using Green Deal funding.

Economy and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Wirral Council) 22nd April 2013 Part 1 of 3
Economy and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Wirral Council) 22nd April 2013 Part 2 of 3
Economy and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Wirral Council) 22nd April 2013 Part 3 of 3
Economy and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Wirral Council) 22nd April 2013 Playlist (all three parts)

Cabinet (Wirral Council) Special Meeting 18th April 2013

Special Cabinet meeting (Wirral Council) 18th April 2013 Labour confirm they’re sticking with the Leader and Cabinet model

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

The Chair (Cllr Phil Davies) welcomed people to the special meeting of Cabinet and asked for any declarations of interest. No declarations of interest were made, but apologies were given for Cllr Harry Smith by Cllr Chris Meaden.

The minutes of the previous Cabinet meeting were agreed.

The Chair said he would ask the Cabinet Member for Improvement and Governance to talk to this report (on revisions to Wirral Council’s constitution) after he said a few words himself. He thanked Stephen Gerrard for his work on the report.

Cllr Davies said the changes to the Council’s Constitution were “a key issue with the Improvement Board”, a “key action area in the Improvement Plan” and “an issue the Corporate Peer Challenge raised with us last Autumn”.

He continued by saying, “I want to stress at the outset that the Administration intend to continue to operate the Cabinet and Leader model, that’s very clear. We are not persuaded that it is time to depart from that model and we’re certainly not persuaded to go back to the old Committee system and I know that’s an issue of contention with the Opposition, but I want to make it absolutely crystal clear that that is the Administration’s position for the avoidance of doubt and I do personally believe that the Cabinet and Leader model is the best model for us at present and actually will enable us to work in the most efficient and effective way in which we make decisions. So I think it’s important to put that on record.”

He talked about the aims behind the changes and how their “big hope is the new arrangements will lead to greater engagement by local residents”. Cllr Davies said the new procedure for Council meetings was “designed to focus on things we are actually responsible for rather than things we’re not responsible for” and “we need to move away from the kind of too often I think all of us have been guilty about engaging in the kind of Punch and Judy aspect of debating the issues in the Council Chamber”.

Audit and Risk Management Committee (Wirral Council) 15th April 2013

Audit and Risk Management Committee (Wirral Council) 15th April 2013: Proposed Revised Council Financial Regulations and Contract Procedure Rules – Draft for Consultation

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Present:
Cllr John Hale
Cllr Jim Crabtree (Chair)
Cllr Steve Foulkes
Cllr John Salter
Cllr Darren Dodd
Cllr Alan Brighouse
Cllr Geoffrey Watt
Cllr Joe Walsh
Cllr James Keeley

No declarations of interest were made.

David Armstrong, Assistant Chief Executive said he would speak to the first part of this agenda item on the Contract Procedure Rules. He said that when he had started at Wirral Council Chris Batman had given him three bits of advice. The first advice was not to go up the carpet on the main stairs, the second was not to reply to letters from councillors using their Christian names and the third was not to take things to committee that are only half-done. He said for the first time, he’d brought something which was a “work in progress”.

He said that Graham Burgess had asked Peter Timmins and himself to look at the financial regulations and Contract Procedure Rules. Mr. Armstrong said the set they had was “not user-friendly” or “easy to follow”. They had looked at the rules used by other authorities and had had a discussion as to whether they should modify the existing rules or look towards better examples from other local authorities. The latter option had been chosen.

Cheshire West and Chester’s had been chosen as they were “more straightforward and simple to follow”, that their rules had been “tried and tested for some time” and that it would make joint procurement (with Cheshire West and Chester) easier too. For what happened in the rest of this meeting this link takes you to the correct part in the video.

Employment and Appointments Committee 8th April 2013 Management Restructure Proposals Agreed

Employment and Appointments Committee agrees reduction in management posts

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In a short meeting, the Management Restructure Proposals were agreed without any questions by councillors. The agreed proposals will result in a loss of eight posts resulting in a saving of £435,714. A number of other posts have been renamed (such as the Chief Internal Auditor will now be called the Senior Manager (Internal Audit)).

Further restructures (not needing to be approved by the Employment and Appointments Committee) will occur at Principal Officer level and above in order to reach the £5 million savings target.

Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee 28th March 2013 Further ban on filming and conflicts of interest

Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee 28th March 2013 Moreton Day Centre Consultation

The papers for this meeting can be found on Wirral Council’s website.

Most of the meeting was about the twelve week consultation on the closure of Moreton Day Centre (which runs until the 5th June 2013).

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However once again, filming of this meeting was not allowed as the Chair said he had had “representations that one of the Members would not like to be filmed” and “until there was a policy please turn off the camera until we do get a policy, thank you.” For those who don’t know Members means councillors.

I then asked which councillor it was (as I could’ve quite easily moved the camera to point away from them).

Me: “Can I just ask which Member that was?”
Cllr Simon Mountney (Chair), who looked very uncomfortable at me having asked the question, answered with the politician’s answer of “Errm, you can ask, I think if the Member wishes to indicate then they can, if they don’t then they don’t.”

At this point Cllr Bernie Mooney looks straight at the camera (make of that what you will).

So what is the policy on filming meetings? Well, there’s the policy “Lights, Camera, Action” agreed unanimously by 64 councillors in December 2011. As it’s short it’s below:-

Council:

(1) Welcomes public engagement in the democratic process. Council notes the growing use of blogs and microblogs by members of the public and notes that many sites now also include video and audio recorded at Council meetings.

(2) Reaffirms its commitment, made last year by the previous Conservative Liberal Democrat administration, to ensure that any member of the public who wishes to film or broadcast from a public Council meeting is encouraged to do so.

(3) However, Council is concerned to protect the rights of members of the public, petitioners and others who are not elected members and may interact with the Council and its committees. Council asks the Director of Law HR and Asset Management to ensure that the Chairs of committees are appropriately briefed.

(4) Council would not wish to see proper debate constrained in any way by the presence of cameras or audio equipment and therefore asks the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management to clarify in writing for members the position on qualified privilege which may go some way to allay fears about unfounded legal actions arising from detailed recordings of proceedings.

(5) Council further asks the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management to draw up a protocol on the use of material designed to prevent any abuse of material which could be harmful to councillors who are legitimately engaged in the processes of democracy.

(6) In the meantime, the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management is asked to re-circulate the original guidance he produced when the issue first arose.

There’s then the amended motion (recording and filming within Council meetings) decided last December agreed by 42 councillors:

(1) Council notes that the Administration has not banned the public from being able to attend and film at meetings.

(2) The issue of filming is under review. The Acting Director of Law, Human Resources & Asset Management has been asked to look at how a balance can be struck between maintaining openness and transparency and addressing concerns among some members about what safeguards can be put in place on how video recordings might be used.

(3) Council notes that the wider issue of the Council streaming its committee meetings is being considered by the cross-party members Equipment Steering Group.

(4) Council asks for the outcome of the review to be presented to the Licensing, Health and Safety and General Purposes Committee for detailed consideration.

On point (4) there have been not just one but two meetings of the Licensing, Health and Safety and General Purposes Committee since last December, at neither one has a “review” been on the agenda.

There are also two Standards Committee decisions on this matter (all of which were agreed by Council without any amendment):

29/9/10 Resolved (12:0)- That this matter be referred to a future meeting to allow a much wider discussion involving all members of the council before a decision is made.

26/1/11 That the report be noted and that no further action be taken regarding this matter.

So the agreed policy (as outlined) is filming is allowed, the proposed review (which never seems to happen) is merely a smokescreen to ban filming yet the public are told Wirral Council has no policy.

As pointed out by the Health and Safety Executive here it’s nothing to do with health and safety, but openness and transparency.

Hmm openness, that rings a bell, ahh yes it’s mentioned in the new Councillor’s Code of Conduct:

OPENNESS
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

There’s also some other fine words on the same page about how councillors should “promote and support these principles” (one of which is openness) “by leadership and example”.

However why would a councillor not want what they say at a public meeting on tape?

Well that was revealed shortly after filming stopped.

Cllr Denise Roberts declared a prejudicial interest in item 2 on the agenda as she’s a trustee of Arch initiatives whose funding is to be cut by £327,000. However Cllr Roberts didn’t leave the room as required during item 2.

Cllr Bernie Mooney declared an interest as an employee of Age UK (in the report linked to above they’re down under their previous name of Age Concern). The report detailed the fact that they needed to reduce grant funding by a further £173,000, Age Concern is currently in receipt of six amounts (£128,602.00 (Core costs), £134,569.00 for Advocacy and info, £33,339.00 for carer support and further amounts for two Day Centres and the Older Peoples Parliament).

Cllr Mooney lists her occupation as advice officer at Age UK. So did she declare a prejudicial interest in this agenda item and leave the room as any cuts to funding could affect her day job or at the very least that of her colleagues? No she didn’t leave the room while it was discussed. She declared an interest and then when the item came round for debate said her employer had an advocate paid for through the grant with two temporary ones, but talked about the growing need for these services.

So what does the current Councillors Code of Conduct state about this?

3. As a public figure, your public role may, at times, overlap with your personal and/or professional life and interests however when performing your public role as a member, DO act solely in terms of the public interest and DO NOT act in a manner to gain financial or other material benefits for yourself, your family, your friends, your employer or in relation to your business interests.

6. At a meeting where such issues arise, DO declare any personal and/or professional interests relating to your public duties and DO take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

7. Certain types of decisions, including those relating to a permission, licence, consent or registration for yourself, your friends, your family members, your employer or your business interests, are so closely tied to your personal and/or professional life that your ability to make a decision in an impartial manner in your
role as a member may be called into question and in turn raise issues about the validity of the decision of the authority. DO NOT become involved in these decisions any more than a member of the public in the same personal and/or
professional position as yourself is able to be and DO NOT vote in relation to such matters. (Further clarification is provided in Schedule 2 of this Code).

9. Where you disclose a disclosable pecuniary interest, you must withdraw from the meeting room, including from the public gallery, during the whole consideration of any item of business in which you have an interest, except where you are permitted to remain as a result of a grant of a dispensation.