Wirral/LGA Improvement Board 22nd July 2013 Questions and Answers

A report on the Wirral Council/LGA Improvement Board meeting of the 22nd July 2013

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The meeting started with an apology for the cancelled meeting of the 22nd March (due to snow). The questions and answers that were sent in for the March meeting had been published on Wirral Council’s website so the Chair said she wasn’t going to cover them.

The Chair moved the meeting to the key messages from the Improvement Board’s meeting of the 17th May. Unfortunately there weren’t enough copies for the public, so the Chair instructed a Council officer to make copies and skipped forward to the next item on the agenda, questions. Nobody else had submitted any questions so all eight questions were those sent in by the author of this blog.

1. The LGA Wirral Improvement Board terms of reference state “Every third meeting of the Board will be held in public to report on progress and take questions”, however the public are only allowed to stay for the first half hour of the third meetings of the Board. Can you explain why seemingly in contradiction to its own terms of reference that the Board does not hold all of its third meeting in public and only the first three agenda items?


The LGA Wirral Improvement Board has a public session every third meeting in order to update members of the public on progress and respond to questions. These functions take only thirty minutes, depending on the number of questions, and allow the Board to consider other items in the later part of the meeting.

2. Considering that part of its terms of reference the Improvement Board is to “endorse decisions which impact on political and managerial leadership arrangements, corporate governance and improvement in advance of them going through Wirral’s own decision-making structures, e.g. Cabinet or Council” and that it is a joint committee of Wirral Council and the LGA, can you explain why the Wirral/LGA Improvement Board is not seen as a body covered by the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 c. 67, specifically referring to the reference in it that Act to joint committees of a principal council?


The LGA Wirral Improvement Board meetings are not meetings of the Council at which public functions are being exercised. Accordingly, the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 does not apply.

3. It’s previously been stated that the Wirral/LGA Improvement Board is time limited. When it ceases to be at some point in the future, what will there be in place at Wirral Council to prevent a repeat of the circumstances that led to it being needed in the first place?


The objective of the LGA Wirral Improvement Board is to monitor progress towards improvement, provide challenge and offer impartial advice. When the Improvement Board ceases it will be because the Board is assured that the issues around Corporate Governance and effective oversight provided by scrutiny have been resolved.

4. Due to the scale and nature of the problems at Wirral Council that led to the creation of the Improvement Board, some did call (and still do) for a public inquiry. Can you explain the advantages and disadvantages of an Improvement Board compared to a public inquiry?


The LGA Wirral Improvement Board provides challenge and advice to Wirral Council on its improvement plan. The Council’s Improvement plan is derived from a number of critical reports that Wirral Council received in the past. A public inquiry would not resolve the issues identified and would be likely to only restate information from these reports.

5. One of the problems previously identified by councillors on the Corporate Governance Committee was a lack of “Member capacity” to address the widespread corporate governance failings. Has Wirral Council ever thought of (or the Improvement Board ever suggested) of carrying out a community governance review and creating parish/community councils in the Wirral area?


One of the developments from the review of Corporate Governance, has been the creation of Constituency Committees. These committees, based upon the four constituencies of Wirral provide Councillors with the opportunity to make a real difference at the local level, in the wards they represent. The first meetings of these committees are scheduled for September 2013.

6. The recent Wirral Council constitutional changes included a presumption towards openness and a consideration of human rights when reaching decisions. When other Council’s such as adjoining Chester West and Chester webcast their public meetings, what are the Improvement Board’s views on Wirral Council’s recent bans on filming of their public meetings, which led to negative press coverage and guidance (seemingly ignored) being issued by DCLG?


The Council’s position on filming is set out in the Council resolutions of 12 December 2011 and 17 December 2012 in which the Council confirms its general consent to the filming of Council committee meetings. The Council’s position is consistent with guidance issued by the Secretary of State. However, it is a matter for the Council and each Chairperson of each Committee to determine what safeguards and other considerations are relevant and needed to ensure all rights considered and balanced.

7. As the Improvement Board meetings’ agendas are not published, its meetings are not held in public (apart from three agenda items of the third meeting) and few councillors attend the Cabinet meeting at which its key messages are reported to, how do the vast majority of Wirral councillors know what its doing or have an input into its deliberations?


The Leaders of the three political groups attend each Improvement Board meeting and are provided with the opportunity to represent the views of their Councillors. The outcome of the meetings are reported via the ‘Key Messages’ published after every Board meeting and group leaders are in a position to provide further details to their groups should the need arise.

8. Apart from a notice on an obscure page on its website, what publicity has Wirral Council undertaken to advise the Wirral public that they can inspect Wirral Council’s accounts between the 15th July and the 9th August and the arrangements for doing so?


Under the Accounts and Audit (England) Regulations 2011 the accounts and other documents have to be made available for public inspection. The Council has to give notice by advertisement, which appeared in the Wirral Globe 26 June 2013, and on its website, in this instance they may be found under the ‘Annual Accounts’ section of the Council’s website. The contents of the advert are specified in the Regulations.

Council (Wirral Council) 15th July 2013 Public Question Time Mr. Hobro asks Cllr Phil Davies about BIG

A transcript of the first question asked (along with the first answer) at the Council meeting of the 15th July from Nigel Hobro to Cllr Phil Davies about the Grant Thornton report into the Business Investment Grant Scheme.

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This is a transcript of the first question and answer at public question time (to Cllr Phil Davies).

Nigel Hobro: Err thank you for errm hearing me. Err You will have already heard me probably on a daily basis sending you information with regards to my question. Can I ask Cllr Davies errm what external bodies are preventing you from finally publishing the BIG Fund report by Grant Thornton?

Cllr Phil Davies: Indeed, can I err thank Mr. Hobro for err that question errm and the fact that he’s err raised this through the Council’s whistleblowing policy?

Errm I just wanted to err add a slight err concern, not solely, not solely about errm some of the err, some of the emails I’ve had indeed from Mr. Hobro, but I think it is unfortunate there have been errm emails from other errm people who have errm directed some fairly, some fairly sort of I think injudicious comments towards particularly err local government officers of Wirral Council’s .. certainly for me.

However errm that being said errm my approach to claims about both the BIG report, BIG which for those who don’t know stands for business investment grants and the err ISUS which was the errm other grant scheme I think that you were asking about, ISUS is intensive startup support.

Any complaints we’ve received about the err way those two grant machines have been handled have been looked at by errm independent errm consultants and where there has been any hint of illegality I have asked the police errm to err investigate.

Errm with regard to the BIG scheme which was the one you were specifically asking about Mr. Hobro. Errm we published the Grant Thornton report on the 1st July following an extensive fact checking between Grant Thornton who did the independent appraisal and the Council.

I do appreciate the frustration which you’d kind of had about that statement, but I felt it was important that a robust report should be produced following errm a robust investigation.

Errm as you may know if you’ve seen the report, the recommendations were that the Council needs to review the criteria used to consider the business investment grants, grants like that to avoid any ambiguity in criteria used to assess applications and where panels are used to review applications, panels are given written terms of reference and errm I accept those recommendations errm in full.

Errm as again you’ll know err you were informed with the exception of one errm of the companies that were brought to our attention, all as far as I’m aware are still trading.

Errm the consultants did raise concern about how one grant request which I referred to the police. Errm however if it turns out that err others have been affected similarly since the report came to us I’m happy to ensure they’re properly investigated and indeed if there are any further evidence of wrongdoing or the irregularities of accountancy methods brought to my attention, then errm I am errm willing and indeed I make a commitment to refer those to others.

Wirral Council (15th July) Grant Thornton confirms whistleblower’s concerns about Wirral Council’s business grants program

Wirral Council (15th July) Grant Thornton confirms whistleblower’s concerns about Wirral Council’s business grants program

Grant Thornton confirms whistleblower’s concerns about Wirral Council’s business grants program

In answer to a question of Mr. Hobro at last night’s Council meeting, Cllr Davies agreed to publish the Executive Summary of Grant Thornton’s report into their investigation into the BIG (Business Investment Grants) issue (which can be viewed by clicking on the link).

Although the names of the six companies are anonymised (referred to as BIG1 to BIG6), the executive summary does recommend whether Wirral Council should consider whether it should claw back the grant to the company referred to in the executive summary as BIG6 and consider whether it should refer BIG6’s application to the police.

Curiously the executive summary also states at the start “subject to an exemption under section 30 of the Freedom of Information Act”, which considering the Chief Executive’s statement at the same meeting that information relating to the departure of two Department of Adult Social Services officers can’t be published as it’s subject to an FOI exemption is highly curious and seems inconsistent.

As stated in the Executive Summary “This draft summary should be read in conjunction with a more detailed draft report, dated 5 June 2013”. Unfortunately this draft report is the one Wirral Council won’t release, giving the reasons stated above. Certainly the comments made by Grant Thornton and its recommendations vindicate the concerns raised by whistleblower Nigel Hobro.

Wirral Council (15th July 2013): Whistleblower Motion (Chief Executive’s statement)

The Chief Executives statement on the whistleblowing motion of the Conservatives (Wirral Council) from 15th July 2013

In what was a stormy evening at Wirral Council and Cllr Mitchell’s first full length Council meeting in the Chair as Mayor, the Chief Executive Graham Burgess issued a written statement to councillors and the public about the Conservative’s notice of motion on whistleblowing. His statement is reproduced below.

Statement from the Chief Executive

I would like to firstly advise a note of caution to all Elected Members when it comes to discussing individual cases. The Council in this instance has been requested to deal directly with Mr. Morton’s solicitor to seek a resolution to the outstanding issues. We are keen to reach a resolution at the earliest opportunity and have corresponded with Mr. Morton’s Solicitor to that effect.

I must also draw Council’s attention to the recent judgement by Mr. Justice Hughes in the first-tier tribunal between the Apellant [sic] and the Information Commissioner. Judge Hughes upheld the Information Commissioners decision to uphold this Council’s refusal of personal information relating to the Officers alluded to in this question. This followed his appraisal of the AKA report and all relevant information provided.

In particular it is important that Members note the following conclusions:

The information which the complainant has asked for is detailed information on personnel matters relating to the individuals concerned. This goes much further than a request to detail of any severance payments made to the individuals. It is also about the terms under which they left the authority. The public interest in knowing whether appropriate policies and procedures were followed or whether the council acted inappropriately in terms of the events outlined in the report has been served by the disclosure of the report.

The individuals identified with in the report had not been convicted of any crime. Public accountability for failing is within the Council’s practices and rests with the Council as a whole rather than with individual officers.

He concluded by finding that while there was a legitimate public interest in understanding how the Council had reacted to the report; this information would not help with that process and a balance had to be struck with respect to the rights of the individuals concerned. He found that:-

Any pressing social need for greater transparency on the Council’s reaction to the report would not be met by a disclosure of this information. He therefore considers that it would be unfair (and given the implied confidentiality of the employer/employee information, unlawful ) for the purposes of the first data protection principle for that information to be disclosed. 

In the light of the above judgement we do not consider that it would be lawful or practical to allow a further investigation into the circumstances surrounding the departure of the two Officers in question.

Cabinet agree to progress plans to move Foxfield School from Moreton to Woodchurch following consultation

A report on Wirral Council’s Cabinet decision to move Foxfield School from Moreton to Woodchurch

Cabinet agree to progress plans to move Foxfield School from Moreton to Woodchurch following consultation

Wirral Council’s Cabinet agreed to proceed further with the plan to relocate Foxfield School from Moreton to Woodchurch following the consultation. The proposed move would result in a newly built school at a cost of £7.5 million on a site next to Woodchurch High School. Planning officers had pointed out that the proposed site is in Wirral’s Green Belt and that special circumstances would need to be demonstrated if the new build school was to be agreed.

Julia Hassall (Director of the Children and Young People’s Department) told the Cabinet that they had met the special circumstances requirement when building Woodchurch High, but that the decision needed now to be referred to the Secretary of State. She also said that Sports England would need to be consulted as it would result in the loss of a school playing field. In order to deal with the timescales for accessing funding, Cabinet agreed to waive call-in on the decision.