A stranger rides in to Wirral Town in a thrilling Wild West tale about gold, greed, horses, the law and a land grab

A stranger rides in to Wirral Town in a thrilling Wild West tale about gold, greed, horses, the law and a land grab

A stranger rides in to Wirral Town in a thrilling Wild West tale about gold, greed, horses, the law and a land grab

                                     

John Wayne as the sheriff in Rio Bravo
John Wayne as the sheriff in Rio Bravo

The following is a work of satire.

Deep in the dusty, hot West was a town called Wirral. This tale is about a land grab, a common theme in these parts as some townsfolk had let greed enter into their hearts.

Outside of town were about ten acres of farmland known as Fernbank Farm where all day the pony club offered rides to the local children. Everyone had fun there and the pony club had been there for as long as people could remember and paid rent for the use of the land to their landlord. Everybody was happy.

Little did the pony club know then, but their landlord wanted them off that land. At first they thought everything was going as it had in years gone by as their landlord even sent them a new lease to sign, which they returned back thinking everything would be just as it was in the past.

However they didn’t know that the local politicians had had a meeting and at this meeting they had changed the rules so a hundred houses could be built on the land. This was deliberately kept a secret from the pony club on the instructions of Tony Simpson.

Once a deadline had been passed and a new lease had deliberately not been agreed (while telling the pony club they would happily agree to a new lease), the landlord went to Surjit “the Sheriff” Tour, who worked for the landlord to ask him what to do. He told them that he couldn’t turf the pony club off their land yet and in order to evict them he’d first need a judge to agree to it.

The pony club were surprised by this move and got Kirwan (a lawman and former politician to help them), he did his best but the pony club soon ran out of gold coins to pay him and asked for help from Lewis instead.

The pony club’s day in court came and in the judge’s chambers in the town’s courthouse a Judge explained to all (including two curious journalists from the local reservation) that it would have to go to a proper trial where everyone would have their say. Reluctantly the landlord agreed to this.

The day of the trial came and another Judge was in charge. The landlord had hired expensive help from far, far away. The Judge said he was very sorry, but that he had no choice but to sign a possession order to turf the pony club off the landlord’s land. His hands were tied, he felt he had no choice but was very apologetic. If their landlord hadn’t been so underhand he said, he would have granted the pony club a new lease, but now unfortunately his hands were tied.

Once again the two curious journalists from the local reservation were there including a large number of the townsfolk who wanted the pony club to stay. The journalists wrote down what happened, told the local people and a story about the trial appeared in the town’s newspaper.

The husband of one of those put on trial felt the whole thing was unfair and complained. The landlord read his complaint but (surprise, surprise) said he didn’t agree. One of the two curious journalists from the local reservation even asked a question at a meeting of the politicians (it took a month for the politician to answer).

The landlord wasn’t entirely happy with these two going off the reservation at all, as well, these two were known to have caused trouble in the past but they also knew the townsfolk would really start kicking up a fuss if a large number of braves on horseback rode into the town because of how badly it had been handled. You see those on the reservation quite liked horses and didn’t like as it tended to be translated “white man speak with forked tongue”.

It wasn’t the done thing anymore for the landlord to label people (even those from the reservation) they saw as troublemakers as “crazy”. They’d done just that and ending up having to pay many, many, many (and probably a few more) gold coins to a Mr. Morton (a former employee) after he’d raised a big stink about their past skullduggery and a large amount of gold coins that the landlord had stolen accidentally removed in one of their “mistakes” and had said that they wouldn’t pay back (later changing their mind).

So what was the landlord to do? They asked a stranger from far away to come into town. The stranger did come into town, he talked with the pony club and he talked with the landlord.

Not quite understanding the rules of the game* Mr Aspin (the stranger) was from a far away town called Rochdale. He was not a lawman, but a surveyor but he did not like all he surveyed. Phrases such as “this is not an appropriate action for a Local Authority landlord to take”, “accusation of dishonesty”, “gnawed at his professional conscience” and “unfortunate sequence of events” ran through his report as a series of criticisms as to how the landlord had behaved.

*rules of the game referring to the landlord’s rule in that they preferred “independent” people to agree with them as if they didn’t it would mean no more gold coins from the landlord for them.

The stranger recommended they send an immediate written apology to the pony club, pay them them the gold coins they had paid to Kirwan and allow them to stay rent free as well as finding them somewhere else to move to.

Oh dear, what was the landlord to do? Sooner or later those two pesky reservation journalists would start writing about it (although on the plus side the landlord thought it might stop them writing about another of their dastardly schemes to try and close a local school called Lyndale) and then their mistakes would end up in the newspaper again which would mean all the townsfolk would know. Oh dear! How could they stop the press writing about it they thought? Let’s release the report on a Saturday they decided, the press won’t be at work then.

As no politician wanted to associate themselves with such an unpopular issue, they got the big cheese and well-known troubleshooter Mr. Burgess to apologise. “We apologise for the distress”, “the site is on of the three most valuable council-owned development sites”, “savings targets” and “we should have communicated better” he wrote as well as making the same commitment his boss had Councillor Phil Davies to find the pony club somewhere else.

Mr Burgess even went a little too far in some people’s minds in his enthusiasm and wrote things like “the independent investigation”“found that the Council acted legally throughout possession proceedings” when the investigator’s report in fact stated “I am satisfied that the Council followed the correct procedure in the preparation and issuing of Court proceedings. It is outside my remit to make further comments in this regard as a legal process subsequently followed resulting in the Court granting permission.”

So, one of the two journalists on the reservation saw what went on and wrote this tale and here it is. A partial victory for the pony club, but it seems that the fight will carry on.

Tune in for next week’s thrilling episode about the Wild West Town of Wirral to hear how about the landlord continues to get into hot water in its efforts to “evict” disabled children from the local school called Lyndale in another tale of communication problems, politicians, apologies but this time (as far as we know at this point) not involving horses.

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The £1,092,160.12 PFI invoice connected to Lyndale School & why Wirral Council can afford to keep Lyndale open

The £1,092,160.12 PFI invoice connected to Lyndale School & why Wirral Council can afford to keep Lyndale open

The £1,092,160.12 PFI invoice connected to Lyndale School & why Wirral Council can afford to keep Lyndale open

                                               

Wirral Schools Services Limted Invoice Wirral Borough Council 12th December 2013 PFI Schools £1,092,160.12

To the left is a £1,092,160.12 invoice for Wirral Council for paying a company called Wirral School Services Limited under a PFI agreement. This is a monthly invoice, so the yearly total comes to about £12 million. As previously reported this is a story about money and education that is rather complex, but does connect to Lyndale School.

The current PFI contract was signed ten years ago, when Cllr Phil Davies was Cabinet Member for this area. It was originally supposed to run for 25 years in 2001 but was extended in 2004.

For many of these years, if I am getting this right, it was funded from general Council resources and not through the Schools Budget. This year £600,000 of costs for the PFI agreement are paid for by an £1.4 million underspend in money that it was agreed would be spent on special educational needs.

Next year, it’s been stated that Wirral Council want to reduce its contribution to the PFI agreement by £2 million, which led to some angry exchanges at a recent Wirral Schools Forum meeting about the consequences of this decision.

Basically it means that for 2015-16 (the year that there’s been the recent consultation on closing Lyndale) that £2 million of extra compensatory savings will have to be found because of a political decision. The actual funding from one year to the next that Wirral Council is receiving for education isn’t really changing that much so this £2 million issue has dare I say it ruffled some feathers.

I state political decision because (yes there was a U-turn on this last year so who knows really) statements already made are that Labour want to freeze Council Tax in 2015-16 at 2014-15 levels.

However, going back to Lyndale School (soon to be discussed at a special Cabinet meeting). This underspend on special educational needs (money already agreed that should be spent in this area) was shifted out of that budget to pay for the PFI costs. I have requested the actual contract between Wirral Council and Wirral School Services Limited, first by a freedom of information request (denied), now as part of the audit (I’m still waiting).

Based on what I do know, I can tell you this. Part of the PFI cost is funded by a fixed grant Wirral Council get of £5.5 million a year. There are facilities management support costs built into the contract that Wirral Council charge the schools for which total about £3.3 million a year. However this leaves a gap of £2.5 million.

Until this year (although strangely at the Lyndale call in officers stated that funding educational items from outside the schools budget would cause problems and as far as I remember somehwat glossed over the fact that they were already doing this to the tune of £millions for the PFI schools), Wirral Council have plugged this gap.

The problem is essentially due to a political decision not to raise Council Tax in 2015-16 and not carry on with this arrangement (diverting an underspend from special educational needs to plug the gap this year) that although the education money Wirral Council receive is hardly changing that from next year (when there’s a General Election on) the cuts to education can be blamed on the national coalition government despite this being a local decision that’s been made.

I’ve looked at what happened in another borough on Merseyside at their Schools Forum when there’s an underspend in special educational needs. The money didn’t get diverted in this way and was carried forward to the next year to be also spent in that budget area.

There’s no legal impediment in money between different budget headings in the schools budget being shifted around in this way, but as far as I can tell not one of the schools covered by the PFI agreement fall into the special schools category (please correct me if I’m wrong on this point). Therefore there is the moral question to be asked should money previously agreed to be spent on special educational needs be diverted to pay for PFI projects in this way?

Obviously if you’re a parent or member of staff at Lyndale School the answer to that would probably be no. Yes, I have somewhat simplified matters and there are complicated factors involved also in schools funding such as the minimum funding guarantee which for example for this year guarantees that the money schools receive from Wirral Council won’t drop by more than 1.5%.

Interestingly as Wirral Council wanted to bring in its “banding” for special educational needs this year, it asked the Education Funding Agency for permission to drop school budgets by more than the minimum funding guarantee (which is a legal requirement) allows. However this request was withdrawn.

There is also a little confusion as to what was agreed by the Wirral Schools Forum in its five bands for special educational needs. There’s £10,000 for each child, then bands depending on need that go up to £16,000 (band five). However band five was never an absolute limit and from what I remember there was flexibility to go above this in certain circumstances. In fact I doubt putting funding into bands would have ever been agreed by the Wirral Schools Forum without that uncapped band.

You see there is an uncapped band that applies to independent schools, non-maintained schools or schools located outside of Wirral. If Lyndale closed and some children were transferred to schools outside of Wirral there wouldn’t be a cap on their education funding. In fact it almost seems wrong to cap funding to Wirral’s special schools, but not outside of the Wirral.

To give an example of a special education school on the Wirral that falls into the independent category, below is a three page invoice to Wirral Council for one term which totals £535,098.00. These fees range from £10,213 a term to £23,361.00 (or over a year would be from ~£31k to £69k per a pupil). Just for comparison, the consultation on closing Lyndale is because ~£33k a child per a year is seen as high, but when you compare that to what children at West Kirby Residential School cost Wirral Council is actually lower.

44 children at West Kirby Residential School cost £535,098 a term (£12,161 a term). There are three terms in a year, so that works out at about £36,483 a child there compared to ~£33k at Lyndale.

The truth is Wirral Council officers have made an artificial comparison between Lyndale School and other special schools were the needs of children (and therefore staffing costs) were far, far less than at Lyndale School which made Lyndale School look expensive by comparison.

What do you think? Below is a heavily redacted invoice (unfortunately as its double-sided some of the redactions come through on the other side) that backs up my argument that Wirral Council does have the money currently to fund special schools at Lyndale levels (or even in the case of West Kirby Residential School above Lyndale levels).

West Kirby Residential School invoice November 2013 Page 1 of 3 £535098
West Kirby Residential School invoice November 2013 Page 1 of 3 £535098
West Kirby Residential School invoice November 2013 Page 2 of 3 £535098
West Kirby Residential School invoice November 2013 Page 2 of 3 £535098
West Kirby Residential School invoice November 2013 Page 3 of 3 £535098
West Kirby Residential School invoice November 2013 Page 3 of 3 £535098

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Who were the 108 organisations & people (not councillors) that Wirral Council invited to the Open Golf?

Who were the 108 organisations & people (not councillors) that Wirral Council invited to the Open Golf?

Who were the 108 organisations & people (not councillors) that Wirral Council invited to the Open Golf?

                                                                  

Wirral Host of the Open Championship 2014

Wirral Host of the Open Championship 2014

Previously I reported on this blog about the Chief Executive’s email to councillors inviting them to the recent Open Golf tournament. It was a slow news day then and I really didn’t think there would be the interest in it there was.

Since then, a number of people have made various Freedom of Information requests as there was scepticism from some people that the stated reasons given by Wirral Council’s press office applied to everyone that Wirral Council invited. In case you missed it here’s a transcript of what was said back then and Cllr Walter “I must say I enjoyed lavish hospitality” Smith’s take on it.

A partial list of those invited by Wirral Council has been released, however they’re holding some names back because of commercial negotiations.

The original response from Wirral Council stated was the purpose of inviting these organisations was “to attend key business days, which are aiming to attract significant inward investment into the area.”

Firstly, I am puzzled as to why Wirral Council have invited the local press (no Leonora and I weren’t invited so we happily report on this without any conflict of interest) as the local press could’ve applied for press passes for the tournament from the Open Golf’s organisers. The press in the list are the Daily Mirror (for three days), Sky, Liverpool Echo, Wirral Globe, Radio Merseyside and an entry just mysteriously put down as “press”. Why pay for tickets for these organisations when the conference organisers could’ve quite easily given them tickets instead as they were press?

Wirral Council also invited the Bishop of Birkenhead, High Sheriff of Merseyside, Esther McVey MP and guest and Jacqueline Foster MEP and guest.

Yes, a Labour Council using public money to invite Esther McVey to the golf (who let’s face it can afford to pay for her own ticket) isn’t likely to go down well with the unions, who were outside the very same tournament conducting a high profile protest calling for Esther McVey to be sacked (accompanied with a seven foot inflatable rat).

Other names on the list are Weightmans Lawyers and Grant Thornton. Weightmans Lawyers are a form of solicitors that Wirral Council spent £198,043.55 with in the last financial year, Grant Thornton are Wirral Council’s auditors and are paid large sums of money by Wirral Council too.

Neither of those two seem likely to suddenly decide to create hundreds of jobs on the Wirral and they already do nicely enough out of the taxpayer to afford their own tickets to the golf!

Sainsburys was also invited along to the golf too. Yes Sainsburys do employ people on the Wirral, but I’ve heard nothing about a flurry of new stores being opened providing new jobs, have you?

Nearby councils such as Knowsley, Chester West and Chester as well as the Department for Communities and Local Government were also invited. So were Lord and Lady Hunt of Wirral and the Isle of Man Government.

Now, don’t get me wrong, some names on the list DONG Energy (involved in offshore wind farms), General Motors (UK & Ireland) and organisations such as these, Wirral Council are obviously trying to persuade to make inward investment on the Wirral to create jobs. Employment is needed on the Wirral and I’m sure not many would criticise Wirral Council for making genuine attempts to increase local employment.

However there are also a bunch of organisations on the list that it is difficult to ascertain why they were there such as “Future of the North Conference” (that puzzles me perhaps as much as it puzzles you) and “Mere Brook House” (a B&B on the Wirral).

At this time, when Wirral Council is planning on shedding about five hundred staff, there’s a meeting coming up to discuss the possible closure of Lyndale School and Wirral Council spent at least £754,783.18 on its own councillors this is money spent on hospitality for many individuals and organisations that could have easily afforded to pay for themselves. This is at the same time that Wirral Council is dragging the poor through the Magistrates Court for unpaid council tax, when people are evicted because they can’t afford the bedroom tax*/spare room subsidy* (*delete as applicable depending on political preference) and is this really what the public expect of a Labour administration who proudly state on their election leaflets they are socialists?

Or would “champagne socialist” be the way that those more critical of Wirral Council’s political class would describe it? In case you missed it here’s the link to the list of councillors and organisations/people that went to the golf. And doesn’t it just sum it all up when the “open and transparent” Council state “Some organisations have not been included on these lists due to ongoing commercial negotiations between Wirral Council and the organisations in question”. Oh really! So that implies Wirral Council are giving out gifts and expecting something in return!?

As usual your comments on this are much appreciated. Below is the list of 108 people/organisations that Wirral Council invited (if you want to see the list of councillors just follow the link above). Some I’ve never heard of so if you have any further information on who or what they are, please leave a comment.

Bibby Marine Ltd
British Chamber of Commerce
British Slovenian Chamber
Caldy Golf Club
Contact Group
Contemdum
CPL Training
Daily Mirror
DTZ
Helms Briscoe
Hermes
International Festival of Business
Sun Valley
IPW
KMGC Golf Consultancy  
KPMG
Liverpool Chamber
Mere Brook House
Mersey Rural Leader
Merseyside Convention Bureau
Neptune Developments
Osiris Projects
Oxygen 8
PNH Consultancy
Regen Europe.
River Rich Media LLP
Sainsburys
Saudi British Joint Business Council
Sky
Solar Consulting Australia
Sovex
Stonegate Pub Company
Thwaites
UK Regeneration
Weightmans Laywers
Wirral Food Drink Partnership
World Corporate Games
All Our Bars
Beeline Ltd
Cammell Laird
Clear Edge Filtration Ltd.
Coca Cola UK
CPL Training
Daily Mirror
DONG Energy
Future of The North Conference
Grant Thornton
Havas Lynx
IoM Government
Keel Toys
Land & Marine
Insider
Osiris Projects
Rakuten
River Island
TecnoForm Associates‎ Ltd
Thorley Taverns
Wainwright and Gibson
Weightmans Lawyers
Aberdeen Asset Management
Bentley Motors
Briggs Automotive Company
Contact Company
Daily Mirror
DC Consulting
General Motors UK & Ireland
Havas Lynx
Hotel Bookings.com
IDH
JLR
Liverpool Echo
Marketing Liverpool
McLaren
Music Magpie
Oxygen 8
Pageant of Power
Palmer and Harvey
Press
Programme Direct UTV
Rakuten
Sainsburys
Shannon Airport
Toyota
Trimtech
Unipart
Wirral Chamber
Bentley Motors
Bishop of Birkenhead
Consul General of China
Dept for Communities
General Motors UK & Ireland
High Sheriff of Merseyside
Lord and Lady Hunt of Wirral
Knowsley Council
Cheshire West & Chester Council
LEP
Liverpool Echo
Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside
Mayoress of Wirral
McLaren
Jacqueline Foster MEP and guest
Merseytravel
Esther McVey MP and guest
Radio Merseyside
St Helens Council
Wirral Globe
Wirral Met College

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Wirral Council’s Cabinet to decide on one of 3 options for Lyndale: keep it open, close it or change it to an academy

Wirral Council’s Cabinet to decide on one of 3 options for Lyndale: keep it open, close it or change it to an academy

Wirral Council’s Cabinet to decide on one of 3 options for Lyndale: keep it open, close it or change it to an academy

 

Phil Ward (Wirral Council's SEN Lead) at a later meeting of Wirral Schools Forum 2nd July 2014 (who chaired the consultation meeting at Acre Lane on the 16th June)

Phil Ward (Wirral Council’s SEN Lead) at a later meeting of Wirral Schools Forum 2nd July 2014 (who chaired the consultation meeting at Acre Lane on the 16th June and is referred to in some of the consultation responses)

Well the papers for the special meeting of Wirral Council’s Cabinet to decide on the next steps about Lyndale School have appeared on Wirral Council’s website.

Despite an officer refusing a month ago my Freedom of Information request for the consultation responses on the basis that they would be published (which implies that they would be published as part of the papers for the special Cabinet meeting) the consultation responses (a majority of responses are against closing the school) aren’t included in the papers for the Cabinet meeting.

In an exclusive for this blog I did publish them on Tuesday, but that’s not really the point.

I hate to labour the point, but this is how consultations are “supposed to work”. An idea or policy is proposed, you have a consultation on it, you then publish the consultation responses in an open and transparent way so that the decision makers take them on board.

Not including the consultation responses with the Cabinet papers for the special meeting, gives the impression that officers don’t want material published that would lead to say “awkward questions”. Surely doing consultations isn’t rocket science, surely Wirral Council has run so many consultations they know how to do it by now?

The “bureaucratic machinations” go beyond just this “oversight” of not including the approximately three hundred pages of consultation responses. After all some of those responses are very critical of the way the consultation was actually run.

Let’s take how officers deal with the large petition. This gets a brief mention in appendix 5 on the last page.

I quote “A petition was received in support of Lyndale School containing 10,692 entries, of which 2,580 were duplicates, illegible or un-named, missing or non-existent addresses and 3,178 were resident outside Wirral. The remaining 4,935 entries comprised 702 “written” entries and 4,233 “epetition” entries.”

Last time I checked, Wirral wasn’t its own country with a big twenty-foot wall on the border and rumours of “barbarians” outside Wirral that well, you don’t have to listen to. The school is in Eastham which is on the edge of Wirral! Of course there are going to be people outside of Wirral are going to sign the petition (some of whom will probably live far nearer the school than I do living in Bidston). To callously state or imply that the views of over three thousand people don’t count because they don’t live here, I mean well doesn’t this sum up an attitude that has caused some of the problems and got Wirral nicknamed the “insular peninsula”? Family members of those attending the school could be living outside the Wirral, so could staff or other people closely associated with the school.

Moving on to duplicates, there was a written petition and an e-petition, obviously some people will have signed both versions. As to “illegible or un-named, missing or non-existent addresses”, well (I’m writing this as someone who has in the past gone door to door collecting petition signatures but I’ll point out not this petition) there are many adults in today’s society that couldn’t write their own name and address even if they wanted to (a sad reflection of our education system). It doesn’t mean their views don’t count!

The report goes on to state “Note that the Wirral Council Petition Scheme says a valid e-petition entry requires name, postcode and e-mail address. The e-petition was submitted as part of the consultation with name and postcode but without e-mail address”, so basically what this is saying is that out of 10,692 petition signatures, a Wirral Council officer only classes the 702 on a written petition as “valid” and feels happy enough to just disregard the views of the other ten thousand people.

There is a breakdown of the petition signers by ward, obviously the ward where the school is based Eastham attracts the highest number.

However moving on to the crucial question of what is the actual recommendation of officers as to what to do next (and what’s the result of the independent report into whether the options meet the SEN Improvement Test)?

Well in a U-turn from previous statements about being minded to recommend closure, page 19 states “In January 2014 Cabinet agreed to undertake a consultation on the closure of The Lyndale School, the consultation closed in June 2014. This report recommends that Cabinet considers the contents of this report and makes a decision on this matter.” which probably to most people is a recommendation that is about as clear as mud as to what officers want but at least they’re trying to be impartial.

The reason given is “The Council has a responsibility to manage resources effectively for all schools and the school population. We would like to affirm our continued intention to work positively with the children and families affected by any recommendations, and reassure parents of our continued commitment to their child’s wellbeing and education.”

I will translate these two into plainer English for those not as familiar as myself with “Council speak”:

“In January* politicians decided to ask the public for their views on closing Lyndale School. Consultation with the public happened and finished in June. This report (written from the perspective of officers) tells you what we think happened during that consultation and it’s now time for politicians to make a decision.”

* Note: since January the politicians on the Cabinet have changed as Brian Kenny lost his seat in the May elections to the Green Party and Cllr Harry Smith has also left meaning there are two different Labour councillors taking these places (Cllr Stuart Whittingham and Cllr Bernie Mooney).

“It is about money, but don’t blame us senior officers for all this as we’re trying to put children first.”

So, what’s likely to happen and which of the options have been ruled out as they don’t meet the SEN Improvement Test?

Well this is detailed in the “independent” report.

This report states in section 5.2 “In reality the only viable course of action is Option 7, to close the Lyndale
School and expand Stanley School and Elleray Park School to provide 220/230 places.”

However the report is more detailed than that. Let’s analyse each of the options in detail:

Option 7.1 which are variations on retaining Lyndale

Retain Lyndale and change funding bands

The report states that it is unlikely that the funding bands will be reviewed until after the end of financial year 2014/15, which let’s face it by the time a review and consultation is undertaken on this, Lyndale could’ve been closed down. Even though the banding decision is a political one that politicians could change their minds (if they so wished) on at any time and a final decision on next year’s school budget has yet to be made. The independent report refers to the deficit, but many schools operate with a surplus or a deficit (they don’t get earmarked for closure though). As this is “no change” option, the SEN Improvement Test is met.

Retain Lyndale School and restrict places at Elleray Park and Stanley

The report author seems to be against this option on grounds of parental choice “Restriction of places at either of the schools will restrict parental choice. This may result in appeals by parents to the SEN Tribunal. Restriction of places also goes against Government policy which encourages the expansion of popular schools.”

Retain Lyndale School and extend to full range of CLD

The report author states that if Lyndale School took on children with CLD then these would be children they would receive less money for (per a child) than the children with PMLD which would worsen their financial situation rather than improve it.

Retain Lyndale School and school commits to take full range of CLD. Stanley and Elleray Park admissions kept to place numbers

This option also includes changing the funding bands for children at Lyndale. There aren’t any major quibbles the report author seems to have with this option and quotes statistics (based on July 2014 figures) of Stanley with 100 children and ninety places, Elleray Park has 94 children and 90 places. So both schools are currently oversubscribed based on their places.

It mentions that Stanley School could take as high as 120 children and once the building work at Elleray Park is completed in September 2015, that its capacity will increase to 110.

Option 7.2 Lyndale becomes a 2-19 school

The report author goes into detail as to this option, but points out that it could take about seven years for numbers to reach about fifty. The report author sees this as a “high risk option” as it would require capital investment in the school and run the risk of not working out. Four parts of the SEN Improvement test are quoted as not being met for this option. Although this is an option parents want, it seems highly unlikely this will happen.

7.3 Federate (hard or soft) with another school with Lyndale remaining on current site

There is nobody obvious that Lyndale would federate with and this option is ruled out as not meeting three of SEN Improvement Test requirements.

7.4 Co-locate Lyndale School with another special school (which also covers co-locate and federate with another special school)

As with 7.3 there’s no-one obvious that Lyndale would federate with, this option is looked at in detail and ruled out as not meeting three of the SEN Improvement Test requirements.

7.5 Lyndale becoming an Academy/Free School

Such a decision is for the Department for Education and parents, the report author still thinks that Lyndale will have problems with funding but cannot demonstrate how it would/wouldn’t meet the SEN Improvement Test.

7.6 Close Lyndale School. Open two SLD bases in Primary schools for 6/8 pupils each. Expand
Elleray Park and Stanley schools to 100 each

This has a number of sub options which are

Close Lyndale
Close Lyndale and open SLD bases in two primary schools
Close Lyndale, open SLD places in two primary schools and expand Elleray Park and Stanley to 100 each
Close Lyndale and open a PMLD base on the new Foxfield site

However this is ruled out as it doesn’t meet four of the requirements in the SEN Improvement Test.

7.7 Close Lyndale. Expand Stanley/Elleray Park schools to provide 220/230 places

This option also contains the option “Close Lyndale and expand either Stanley or Elleray Park”.

The report author considers the first option as meeting the SEN Improvement Test (however doesn’t go into much detail). The second option is considered to not meet the SEN Improvement Test because of parental choice grounds.

7.8 Close Lyndale School but retain the site making another school a split site school. The Lyndale site would be retained for as long as felt necessary

The suboptions are “until children currently at the school had left” and “until the receiving school no longer required it”.

This is ruled out as not meeting four of the requirements of the SEN Improvement Test.

So the options Cabinet will be considering next Thursday that aren’t ruled out as they breach the requirements of the SEN Improvement Test (which can be quite subjective but this is based on the report author’s opinion are):

Option 7.1 Retain Lyndale

This is further split into sub options such as retain Lyndale and change funding bands, retain Lyndale School and restrict places at Elleray Park and Stanley, retain Lyndale School and extend to full range of CLD and retain Lyndale School and school commits to take full range of CLD. Stanley and Elleray Park admissions kept to place numbers.

Option 7.5 Lyndale becoming an Academy/Free School

The author can’t say one way or the author as to whether this option breaches any of the requirements of the SEN Improvement Test.

Option 7.7 Close Lyndale. Expand Stanley/Elleray Park schools to provide 220/230 places

This is the option that people associated with Lyndale School don’t want. However if Cabinet chose this option it would trigger a further consultation and a future decision to be made following that consultation.

So therefore the three options that aren’t ruled out by in some way breaching the SEN Improvement Test (according to the report author) are:

1) various options on the theme of keeping Lyndale,
2) the Academy/Free School option (which depends on the Department for Education agreeing to it) or
3) closing Lyndale.

Wirral Council’s Cabinet will meet in Committee Room 1 at Wallasey Town Hall in Brighton Street, Seacombe starting at 6.15pm for a special meeting just to make a decision on Lyndale School (which will be a public meeting).

If you would like to contact the people who will be making the decision, contact details are below (although it is always possible that some of these people will not be able to make it to the meeting, however even if not present at the meeting they are bound by collective responsibility for decisions taken). Please note the addresses below are home addresses in case you want to write to them in advance of the meeting by post.

The papers for this meeting have been published on Wirral Council’s website and the consultation responses can be read here.

Councillor Phil Davies (he chairs the Cabinet meetings) phildavies@wirral.gov.uk/ 0151 625 3320 / 07720 073154 / 16 Westbourne Grove, West Kirby, Wirral, CH48 4DL

Cllr Ann McLachlan (she often chairs Cabinet meetings if Cllr Phil Davies is not available) annmclachlan@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 522 0299 / 27 Danefield Road, Greasby, CH49 3BP

Cllr George Davies georgedavies@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 653 4265 / 07713 644330 / 46 Shamrock Road, Claughton, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH41 0EQ

Cllr Adrian Jones adrianjones@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 638 9050 / 10 Elmswood Road, Seacombe, Wallasey, CH44 8DB

Cllr Chris Jones christinejones@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 638 9050 / 07853 042243 / 10 Elmswood Road, Seacombe, Wallasey, CH44 8DB

Cllr Chris Meaden chrismeaden@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 645 1729 / 07738 824130 / 19 Inglemere Road, Rock Ferry, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH42 4QL

Cllr Pat Hackett pathackett@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 638 1543 / 07771 972302 / 7 Wood Lane, Wallasey, Wirral, CH45 8QP

Cllr Tony Smith (he is the Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services whose portfolio Lyndale School falls under) tonysmith@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 677 1384 / 27 South Drive, Upton, Wirral, Merseyside, CH49 6LA

Cllr Bernie Mooney berniemooney@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 200 8089 / 07811 060891 / 30 Brompton Avenue, Liscard, Wallasey, Wirral, CH44 0BD

Cllr Stuart Whittingham stuartwhittingham@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 653 5539 / 16 Fender Way, Prenton, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH43 7ZJ

All of the above ten politicians are members of the Labour Party. If you wish to contact one of your three local councillors (assuming that you live on the Wirral) their contact details are here, but it will only be names listed above (assuming they can make it) who will be making the decision at the special Cabinet meeting about Lyndale School.

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A professor, 2 solicitors and 3 councillors discuss alcohol sales at Westbourne Hall & filming of public meetings

A professor, 2 solicitors and 3 councillors discuss alcohol sales at Westbourne Hall & filming of public meetings

                                               

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The Licensing Act 2003 subcommittee comprising of Cllr Steve Niblock, Cllr Denise Roberts and Cllr Louise Reecejones supposed to start at 10.00am actually started at 10.20am. Cllr Steve Niblock was chair for the meeting. Quite why meetings of the Licensing Act 2003 subcommittee never start on time is a Town Hall mystery to write about another day, but councillors were there to decide on an application for selling alcohol at Westbourne Hall in Westbourne Road, West Kirby which is now run by Westbourne Hall Community Trust.

Attending the meeting were two trustees from the Westbourne Hall Community Trust whose names were David Wade and Ray Davies. Representing them was a solicitor called Barry Holland. There were also various council officers present to take the minutes, give legal advice or answer questions about the detail of the application.

A local resident, described as a professor who lives near Westbourne Hall was objecting to the application was also present, as was myself and my wife. Normally that would be everyone, but unusually (as there were no objections to this application from Merseyside Police) Sergeant Simon Barrigan (Licensing Sergeant for Wirral) and an unknown police officer accompanying him, sat and observed the meeting in silence.

At the start of the meeting Margaret O’Donnell (Licensing Manager, Wirral Council) informed people present that two residents had contacted Wirral Council officers to say that they couldn’t attend the hearing but had emailed in their views. The solicitor representing the Westbourne Hall Community Trust, Barry Holland said that he had had a chat with the objector to straighten out some issues. The Chair, Cllr Steve Niblock read out what he does at every Licensing Act 2003 Subcommittee about what the purpose of the meeting was.

Margaret O’Donnell raised the issue of filming the meeting by saying, “Just to confirm for those who are present as well, that this particular hearing is being filmed and whether or not you wanted to give people an opportunity to comment on that.” I’ll point out here that when Pt 2 of the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 came into effect on August 6th of this year Wirral Council is not allowed to stop filming at its public meetings. The Chair, Cllr Steve Niblock asked people present if they consented to being filmed and asked people present to confirm their consent.

As I sat there, as I’ve sat there through many discussions about filming at the start of public meetings at Wirral Council, I felt like I was in the film Groundhog Day where the same thing keeps getting said in an endless loop about filming in an effort to try my patience.

Heads were nodding around the room about the filming issue and the professor said in reply, “Well I assume I don’t even have a say in the matter, but as it’s a public meeting, usually I object to that in general but I also approve of the general principle of public meetings, so I think I don’t have any choice but to accept.”

Seemingly with a look of disappointment and a big intake of breath Cllr Steve Niblock as nobody was objecting to the filming of the meeting he asked their legal adviser Ken Abraham for “guidance on this issue”. I will point out at this point that in June, Cllr Niblock totally ignored the guidance that Ken Abraham gave him at a previous Licensing Act 2003 subcommittee meeting which led to the stop filming, that means stop now blog post back in June.

Mr Ken Abraham replied very quietly as he can hardly be heard on the video, “Well legislation has recently been passed in respect of meetings held in the past, held by the local authority which is regulations which are in force as well in relation to that. The guidance that was issued, really doesn’t touch upon the issue of individuals who object to the meeting being filmed. So there may be a pragmatic view really, if an individual did object to recording then that part of the hearing with which they were involved, you could ask for the camera to be switched off and we would have to in making that request, rely on the errm credibility and honesty of the individual filming to ensure the fact that the camera is actually put off and there would be no filming of that part.

Really to object to this filming, it would be a shame et cetera. So, councillor as I said before, Members around the table, you could attempt to do that but that is the rule.”

The professor said he didn’t want to cause any problems, followed by the solicitor for the applicant saying they would not to object to filming as it would be “churlish” as the application was being made on behalf of the community.

Margaret O’Donnell said that the purpose of the hearing was to decide on an application for a premises licence made by Westbourne Hall Community Trust and related to Westbourne Hall, in Westbourne Road, West Kirby. She said that they currently had a premises licence, which also allowed for regulated entertainment. Margaret O’Donnell read out the times they had applied for and that there were representations from residents about the application and one resident was here at the hearing.

The Chair, Cllr Steve Niblock asked the solicitor for the applicants to speak in support of their application. He said that it was not an application for a public house, sporting club or any kind of commercial venture. Westbourne Hall had operated as a community trust, originally run by Wirral Council and people from the area. Mr Davies had been associated with it since the joint panel was formed in 1994, but he had been involved before that dating back to 1991.

He went on to make it clear that it would not be a public house, there would be no stock and the application was to enable the premises to offer to people who rent it such as charities, arts groups, martial arts groups, dance groups and that it was a “genuine community venture”. Mr Holland said that the hall was rented out for wedding receptions and that the hall had had a licence since the inception of the 2003 Licensing Act.

However Westbourne Hall used its full quota of twelve temporary event notices and that there was no objection from any of the responsible authorities to this application. He said that due to the restriction the hall had lost out on potential lets and gave the example of an organisation renting the hall for rehearsals but also wanting to have an annual dance and Christmas party there. At the moment these were going to Heswall or Hoylake.

When the trust had taken over they had put a business plan together as to how they intended to run it, but they lost bookings who had gone elsewhere. He referred to the Hoylake Community Trust had done the same and it was to level the playing field. The community trust was not a commercial venture and he went into the detail as to the times.

Birthday parties for people aged 18-25 would not be permitted and he explained that they had had to make notices available about the application on the premises and in the press. If he had changed the wording of these notices to please the neighbours to explain it was not a commercial facility then it could have been argued that the statutory requirements hadn’t been complied with. He had been involved in a previous application where this had happened.

He asked for the artificial restriction of only twelve temporary event notices a year to be lifted and that the hall didn’t aim to change the relationship with its neighbours but he would happily answer any questions.

Two councillors (Cllr Louise Reecejones and Cllr Steve Niblock) asked similar questions about how they would ensure that the licensing objectives were upheld by organisations renting the hall and selling alcohol?

To be continued…

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