Marmaduke and the Ghosts (Part 1)

Marmaduke and the Ghosts (Part 1)

                                                             

Tales of Marmaduke
Tales of Marmaduke

Marmaduke was Head Boy at the Squirrel School and thought he was very clever. The Squirrel School was a very strange magical school. There were no children at it as the minimum age was eighteen years old and the pupils were in charge of the School.

There were exactly sixty-six pupils. If anybody left or unfortunately died another magically appeared a few weeks later.

Thousands of people worked at the Squirrel School to keep the magic going. Marmaduke was Leader of the Red Gang, which had over half the pupils at the school in it. Because of the way the rules were at the Squirrel School it meant he and his Red Gang often got their way.

One day the member of staff in charge of the magic told Marmaduke that some of the staff had unfortunately got their sums wrong.

It was Marmaduke’s job to make sure the staff were doing their sums properly, but he didn’t want the pupils, staff and others to know this. He wanted to blame it all on the Blue Gang instead.

He’d been distracted recently as he’d been made Head Boy of all the schools in the area. However Marmaduke’s friend Joe had kindly helped Marmaduke by offering to be Head Boy of all the schools instead of Marmaduke. Marmaduke accepted this helpful suggestion and resigned.

Joe was Head Boy (and also Leader of the Red Gang) from an even bigger school that was the other side of the River of Misery from a place called Shiverpool. Joe had wanted to be Head Boy of all the schools for a very long time. He was pleased that Marmaduke finally agreed with him that this was for the best! It was exactly what he wanted and just in time for Christmas!

However back to Marmaduke.

There was another problem Marmaduke had. There were two ghosts that haunted the school. This caused a problem for Marmaduke as the ghosts told the people outside, the staff and pupils what was really happening.

So he hired an expensive ghost adviser at the Squirrel School to deal with the ghosts. Marmaduke also asked Mr. Journey for a magical spell to make the ghosts go away.

However Marmaduke didn’t have the power to make the ghosts go away on his own. Whenever he wanted to make the ghosts go away, he had to get the agreement of the other pupils at the school to do so.

Sadly sometimes Marmaduke managed to bungle the spell and the ghosts refused to leave until he got it right! He then had to ask for Mr. Journey’s help to make the spell again the right way as Marmaduke wasn’t as good at spells as Mr. Journey.

You may well ask why Mr. Journey didn’t do the spells instead? The way the magic worked Mr. Journey wasn’t allowed to cast the spell that made the ghosts go away. Only Marmaduke and the other pupils could do so.

The two ghosts were rather strange ghosts. One was called the Ghost From Very Far Away. The other ghost was called the Ghost That Walks. They were married to each other.

The ghosts had a strange magic all of their own that Marmaduke and the Squirrel School didn’t really fully understand. There were many myths and legends about the ghosts too.

Marmaduke’s problem was he couldn’t control the ghosts (apart from the spell to make them go away). They weren’t staff at the school, so he couldn’t tell the ghosts what to do.

Some people thought the ghosts must just be from another school but nobody knew if this was really true. Others thought that the ghosts were there because some naughty people at the Squirrel School had done something very bad and the ghosts were there to tell people the truth.

Marmaduke’s friends in the Red Gang thought they could control people through fear and greed. Sadly fear and greed didn’t work on these ghosts. This made Marmaduke’s friends very cross.

For example the two ghosts had told people that Marmaduke (who was Leader of the Red Gang) and Head Boy had helped his friends in the Red Gang.

Marmaduke had agreed that the Squirrel School should pay for people to drive his friends in the Red Gang to and from the Squirrel School.

At the same time Marmaduke had been telling the staff, pupils and people outside that the Squirrel School no longer had any money left!

This wasn’t the only embarrassing matter the ghosts had pointed out.

Another embarrassing thing Marmaduke had done was decide to close a school far, far away even though the Blue, Yellow and Green gangs had told him not to.

In fact even some people in Marmaduke’s own Red Gang had told Marmaduke not to, but he had just ignored them.

Not only had one of the ghosts showed that when the school far, far away was closed that the Squirrel School would sell it for millions of gold coins, but he had pointed out that the Squirrel School was paying many gold coins to the person who was telling them to close it. This person wasn’t even on the staff at Squirrel School.

Continues tomorrow at Part 2 (Marmaduke says goodbye to Mr Snake and his secrets).

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EXCLUSIVE: Dan Stephens (Chief Fire Officer) states altered plans for Saughall Massie Fire Station will be submitted “either this month or early January [2016]”

EXCLUSIVE: Dan Stephens (Chief Fire Officer) states altered plans for Saughall Massie Fire Station will be submitted “either this month or early January [2016]”

                                              

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Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority meeting 17th December 2015 L to R Treasurer, Deputy Chief Fire Officer Phil Garrigan, Chief Fire Officer Dan Stephens, Chair Cllr Dave Hanratty
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority meeting 17th December 2015 L to R Treasurer, Deputy Chief Fire Officer Phil Garrigan, Chief Fire Officer Dan Stephens, Chair Cllr Dave Hanratty

At a meeting of councillors, on the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority held on the 17th of December 2015, Dan Stephens (Chief Fire Officer), gave an update on the progress of plans for a new fire station at Saughall Massie. You can read his report on this matter on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s website.

Dan Stephens said, “Paragraphs twenty-one to thirty on pages sixteen to eighteen provide an update on the Saughall Massie merger.

A pre-application for advice has been submitted to Wirral Borough Council on the 8th October and a planning meeting was held with planning officers from Wirral on the 4th of November.

Following on from this meeting a letter from Wirral planning officers was sent to the agents acting on behalf of the Authority, but unfortunately was given to a Wirral councillor beforehand.

That letter was subsequently passed on to the Liverpool Echo and the Wirral Globe who ran a story quoting sections of the letter. Clearly that was before we’d had sight of that.

I’ve since written to the Head of Regeneration and Planning at Wirral raising a number of issues that relate to that, and they are outlined within paragraphs twenty-six. Paragraph twenty-seven details the position over the medium pressure gas main which runs under the land.

Following on from the planning advice, the size of the station and the design that we would intend to submit a planning application on, has been significantly reduced to the point where the medium pressure gas main would no longer run underneath the main building, thus negating the requirement for it to be rerouted.

It is our intention to submit a full planning application, taking into account the pre-planning advice that we’ve received from Wirral at some point either this month or early January which would allow for consideration by the Planning Committee at some point next year possibly in April.

Paragraph thirty makes the point that any decision by Wirral to grant planning permission will almost certainly be referred to the Secretary of State. I need to make it clear to Members at this point that if planning permission is not granted, then the inevitable consequence will be the outright closure of West Kirby fire station with the resulting increase in response times.”

The reference to Secretary of State above refers to a government minister (however generally such decisions although taken in a minister’s name are decided by civil servants following the policy the minister decides upon).

The Chair of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority referred later in the meeting to his desire that the press would write "good news" stories about Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service. The above story is either good or bad news depending on your political viewpoint.

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Wirral Council

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Wirral Council

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Wirral Council

                                                                

A question on councillors expenses to Cllr Adrian Jones Wirral Council 14th December 2015
A question on councillors expenses to Cllr Adrian Jones Wirral Council 14th December 2015

The following is meant as satire.

Wirral Council [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] says, is one of the most perplexing organisations known to mankind. It’s motto is "by faith and foresight".

Those unfortunate individuals who have experienced its public meetings have said the experience is far worse than listening to Vogon poetry (the third worst poetry in the universe). It is hard to put into words the experience of a public meeting at Wirral Council, but to give one example one evening Wirral Council so upset the universe that nearby buildings owned by Wirral Council spontaneously collapsed to the ground merely to bring one public meeting to an end. People have been witnessed leaving meetings in tears or having to leave suddenly as the whole process made them feel ill.

It is a well-known fact across the universe that politicians seem unable to answer questions (leaving some people to wonder what planet they’re actually from). However at Wirral Council politicians have made this frankly useless skill that would in any other profession get you the sack, into the sort of art form that you’d wonder if they’d actually received a performance arts grant for this from Arts Council England.

Even if by some one in a million chance, your question isn’t consumed by the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal before a politician gets a chance to read it (or said politician hasn’t been bamboozled (which we are told by our own legal team that we have to clarify is the meaning of bamboozle to confuse) by Chief Bamboozler at Wirral Council Mr Tour first, a politician will not give you an accurate answer to the question you’ve asked. You see despite being highly paid, politicians at Wirral Council are reduced to doing something a seven-year old could do and given answers to read out that are written by other people. This is what politicians call "research".

If really pushed for an answer a politician will promise to send you a written answer (which in some cases you will not receive). This system has evolved over time so that the employees of Wirral Council aren’t put under threat by a politician actually having the chance to say anything.

A whole new industry has grown up at Wirral Council to deal with whistleblowers. Whistleblowers are seen as a threat to the smooth running of Wirral Council and persuading the public that black is indeed white. In fact anything outside Wirral Council (and indeed inside such as the trade unions) is seen as a threat to the smooth running of Wirral Council. Therefore information is controlled. English laws (in fact Wirral Council does not recognise the law as applying to it unless it decides it wants to) such as freedom of information do not apply and if Wirral Council was a country America would be referring to it a rogue state.

However back to whistleblowers. Wirral Council has a secret (not subject to freedom of information) playbook for dealing with whistleblowers and troublemakers (a category which covers pretty much everybody including its own politicians) which if it actually considered the law applied would be banned as it would be classed as a cruel and unusual punishment.

Step 1 is whistleblowers will be told they are not being "reasonable". Completely missing the irony that Wirral Council is under a legal duty to be reasonable (which it rarely is), this can be combined with lying to the world and stating whistleblowers are flat out wrong. If the word reasonable doesn’t work, whistleblowers are told they’re "inappropriate" instead.

If a whistleblower isn’t fobbed off in this way and doesn’t fall at the first hurdle and takes some bold step such as telling the press and/or regulators step 2 is employed.

Step 2 is more tricky for Wirral Council as even step 1 can spectacularly backfire (despite highly paid PR advisers). At step 2 the whistleblower is thanked, but told that Wirral Council is seeking legal advice. Properly employed this tactic can stall matters for months. Therefore nothing is done until that advice is received (this advice will however remain confidential). If by some fluke Wirral Council receives legal advice it doesn’t want, it can ask for more until it receives advice it wants to hear. At this stage Wirral Council sincerely hopes the whistleblower will just give up and not force it to step 3.

Step 3 depends on whether denying what the whistleblower stated would get you laughed at and accused of perjury if you tried it in a court of law. By this point the game is up, so it is admitted that mistakes were made in the past (although no individuals can ever be found to be accountable), lessons have been learnt and an action plan has been drawn up with recommendations to make sure it never happens again. This is known in PR terms as a partial hangout. The whole fiasco is never admitted, but it is hoped that by admitting (what by now is in the public domain anyway) that the political pressure will drop and people will "move on".

There used to be a different stage 3 which was paying whistleblowers to keep their mouths shut, but it didn’t seem to be effective.

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A farce at Wirral Council’s public question time (Act 2, Scene 1) Is Wirral Council “open and transparent”?

A farce at Wirral Council’s public question time (Act 2, Scene 1) Is Wirral Council “open and transparent”?

A farce at Wirral Council’s public question time (Act 2, Scene 1) Is Wirral Council “open and transparent”?

                                                                

A question on councillors expenses to Cllr Adrian Jones Wirral Council 14th December 2015
A question on councillors expenses to Cllr Adrian Jones Wirral Council 14th December 2015

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Wirral Council’s Public Question Time 14th December 2015

Before I write about the question I asked of Councillor Adrian Jones at public question time, I am going to explain some of the legal background, what’s happened so far and why there are echoes of the extreme lengths that the former Speaker of the House of Commons Michael Martin went to over MPs’ expenses.

There are a number of different laws (and a bit of history) here that apply to this, so I am going to start by explaining my understanding of them and explain why Cllr Adrian Jones has unfortunately fallen into the trap of believing things officers tell him and also getting bamboozled by some of the legal jargon. Here is a link to a transcript of a previous answer he gave.

I’m a local government elector here on the Wirral (basically that means I get to vote in elections to Wirral Council).

Each year, during the audit there is a period of about three weeks when local government electors have a legal right to inspect and receive free copies of accounts to be audited and copies of all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts relating to them.

Wirral Council can remove any details of employees, but has to seek the external auditor’s permission (in this case Grant Thornton) to remove anything else.

This is detailed in this piece of legislation Audit Commission Act 1998, s.15.

Once the inspection period ends, there is then a period when questions can be asked of the auditor followed by a period when formal objections can be raised or requests for a public interest report.

In case Wirral Council thinks I’m picking on it, this year I made requests to Merseytravel (part of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority), Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority (also called Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority), Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and Liverpool City Council.

Each of those other bodies managed to respond and provide the information for inspection more or less within the inspection period.

Two of these authorities (Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority) provided some of what I requested in electronic format.

For example this one contract that MFRA (Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority) has that comes to over 11,000 A4 pages I could’ve requested in paper format, but didn’t as I was quite happy to receive it on one DVD as opposed to three large boxes of paperwork. The £1.2 billion contract that Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority provided is over 800 pages long.

Wirral Council however decided that providing me with what I’d estimate at 10% of what I asked for was reasonable. It’s not!

These other public bodies I refer to are much smaller (in terms of staff and budget) than Wirral Council, yet by being flexible saved to give the example as outlined above the internal costs of copying a contract of over 11,000 pages in length. Had I requested such a contract from Wirral Council I would still be waiting as they would insist on supplying it in paper format!

So getting back to what I did request. I requested the 44 page contract that Wirral Council has for providing taxi services to councillors, the Highway Services Contract with BAM Nuttall (you can read the first 83 pages here) Wirral Council spend roughly £5 to £6 million a year on this and the contract variations to the Biffa contract (I’m still waiting for the latter).

In addition to this I requested various invoices and to inspect the councillors’ expenses (I haven’t seen any of the latter and received about one in ten of the former).

To give an example of some of the invoices I requested, it answered the details of Wirral Council spending ~£7.2 million on agency staff/consultants as opposed to hiring to these positions. It showed that in one case Wirral Council made a senior member of staff redundant, then hired agency staff (at a vastly increased cost) to do their job. You can view some of the invoices relating to that here.

There are other categories of public expenditure that I requested from Wirral Council that are in the public’s interest to know about too.

Indeed, Wirral Council’s Cabinet itself has referred to this blog in its decision making. The accompanying report to the decision refers to the lease for the New Brighton Marine Point development at 2.5 which was published on this blog.

By reversing this decision Wirral Council saved ’thousands in the costs of perhaps adding an extra hour to the next Highways and Traffic Representation Panel public meeting, the cost of it then going on the agenda of the next Regeneration and Environment Policy and Performance Committee public meeting and the cost of a Cabinet Member finally making a decision (along with the associated costs of officers trying to persuade objectors to drop their objections).

I might point out that as I put this information in the public domain had Cabinet reversed their decision at an earlier stage the costs of consultation on the proposed traffic regulation order (an expensive public notice in the local newspaper etc) would have been saved too.

However going back to councillors’ expenses. As I have not seen any councillors’ expenses for 2014/15, my question to Cllr Adrian Jones must be classed as a request to exercise this legal right (The Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003, regulation 15 to inspect such documents.

I do not like having to ask twice! Cllr Adrian Jones as far as I remember in his answer stated that these amounts were included in the annually published list both in answer to my question this week and earlier this year.

I would suspect that councillors’ use of taxis would be broadly comparable from year to year. So let’s test Cllr Adrian Jones’ assertion.

In response to this FOI request the taxi bill in 13/14 was ~£3k and Cllr Adrian Jones confirmed in answer to my question that for the 14/15 financial year the total cost was roughly the same.

Here are three councillors that got taxis in 13/14 and the costs:

Cllr Moira McLaughlin £755.30
Cllr Pat Hackett £700
Cllr Steve Niblock £493.90

Had anyone of those stopped getting taxis at Wirral Council’s expense the total amount for 14/15 would’ve dropped dramatically.

Yet here are the relevant amounts from the 2014/15 published list:

Cllr Moira McLaughlin £NIL
Cllr Pat Hackett £NIL
Cllr Steve Niblock £NIL

If these three councillors had all decided to give up getting taxis and the £NIL amounts were correct (the latter point Cllr Adrian Jones states in answer to my question) then the total amount would drop by ~£2k (the combined total of all three). However it hasn’t!

You can see the full exchange between myself and Cllr Adrian Jones below.

Cllr Ron Abbey (who is a member of Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee) makes the point before Cllr Adrian Jones that it is implied that this is unlawful and isn’t that terrible to imply such a thing?

If Wirral Council is as strongly suspected from what is outlined above publishing incorrect figures, then it is breaching breach of The Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003, Regulation 15(3).

Clearly as clearly outlined above, had Wirral Council not flouted a number of its other legal responsibilities I would be able to answer that question and Wirral Council’s cultural attitudes towards its legal responsibilities continue to have the effect of interfering with the freedom of the press and triggering the Streisand effect.

Councillor Adrian Jones makes the point that councillors are trusted not to misuse the public purse paying for their taxis.

Below is a claim form (as I’m being seasonal) from one of Cllr Adrian Jones’ party colleagues, a Councillor Peter Brennan (a councillor at Liverpool City Council) who claimed from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority (and was paid for) £5.64 for car mileage expenses to and from a carol concert at St Nicholas’ Church. In the grand scheme of things you may point out that £5.64 doesn’t matter and at least he didn’t get a taxi! However it’s the cumulative cost to the public purse of these matters and the excessive secrecy at Wirral Council that is leading to suspicion as to why despite Cllr Adrian Jones’ claims about openness and transparency that at Wirral Council they are being anything but on this politically sensitive topic!

Cllr Peter Brennan car mileage claim November 2014 to February 2015 page 1 of 2 thumbnail
Cllr Peter Brennan car mileage claim November 2014 to February 2015 page 1 of 2 thumbnail

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A farce at Wirral Council’s public question time (Act 1, Scene 1) No microphone, silent musical chairs & no answers

A farce at Wirral Council’s public question time (Act 1, Scene 1) No microphone, silent musical chairs & no answers

                                                             

Public Question Time (Wirral Council) 15th December 2015 Mrs Nowell asking a question to Cllr Adrian Jones about a fire station at Saughall Massie
Public Question Time (Wirral Council) 15th December 2015 Mrs Nowell asking a question to Cllr Adrian Jones about a fire station at Saughall Massie

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Wirral Council Council meeting on the 15th December 2015 starting at public question time agenda item

Public question time at Wirral Council’s meeting on the evening of the 15th December 2015 was a farce. You can watch this in the video above. I’d better declare an interest as I was one of the two asking questions of Cllr Adrian Jones.

The first member of the public to ask a question was Mrs Nowell (yes it’s Christmas although I’m not making that name up), she was ushered to a chair by Patrick Sebastian to ask her question.

However there was no microphone there.

Cllr Phil Davies (giving up his chair for the second time this week having earlier this week given up the Chair of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority) then gave up his chair for Mrs. Nowell. So in the Town Hall version of musical chairs (but without any music) everyone got a chair except Cllr Phil Davies who was left standing next to Mr. Tour.

The seasonal fun however did not end there!

Mrs Nowell got about four words into her question to be interrupted by Cllr Ann McLachlan sitting to her left who then apologised.

Mrs Nowell resumed her question which was,

"Given the substantial local opposition to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service’s proposal to build a fire station directly adjacent to sheltered accommodation, will Wirral Borough Council Members honour their commitment, as set out in the 2020 Vision, to "empower locally" and attempt to gain a "deep and meaningful understanding of what local people want" by agreeing to "detailed engagement and conversation with local people" prior to gifting, releasing or selling the only significant publicly amenable green-space in Saughall Massie?"
   

The Mayor thanked her for the question.

Cllr Adrian Jones then replied as follows, "Mayor, it is customary to have some advance notice of the question! I’ve had no advance notice and therefore I’m very happy to give a written reply!"

I will point out at this stage that unlike myself Mrs Nowell submitted her question about a month before the meeting (which reminds me of the following famous poem I have rewritten for this):

Though the mills of Wirral Council grind slowly;
Yet they grind exceeding slowly;
Though with patience Cllr Adrian Jones stands waiting for the question,
Waiting for the question which he has done for a whole month,
He is never sent it.
  

The Mayor looked at Mrs Nowell and asked, "Is that OK for a written reply?"

She answered, "That means I don’t get to ask another question. I did email the question in plenty of time."

The Mayor then said to Cllr Adrian Jones, "Cllr Adrian Jones is it possible to give a reply? I understand that you don’t know the full details."

Cllr Adrian Jones answered, "Mr Mayor, I’ve had no advance notice of this, therefore I’ve done no research on this occasion, I’d be very happy to give a written reply but I think in any case it’ll have gone to planning, therefore it will be dealt with fully at that particular point."

The Mayor thanked Mrs Nowell for her question.

As Cllr Jones had now answered she asked the following supplementary, "Why was Cllr Blakeley not allowed to respond to Dan Stephens at the Regeneration meeting?"

The Mayor said, "Cllr Adrian Jones is the Cabinet Member for this particular question to be addressed to."

Cllr Adrian Jones said, "Had I been given some advance notice, I would have done something about it, I’m terribly sorry but we do have a system here as a courtesy, if you want to ask a question."

A councillor heckled, "But she’s done that!"

Surjit Tour said, "I’ll need to look into why the question and the issue about the question why it didn’t make its way to Cllr Jones and I’ll respond to that for that as regards to the process."

Cllr Jeff Green said, "Mr Mayor, we do have the Chair of the relevant select Committee, maybe Cllr Sullivan could answer that?"

Surjit Tour replied, "The appropriate form for a further question to come to Council around that advance notice of it, I appreciate the expectation was that it would be appropriate for a question to be asked in the circumstances."

The Mayor said, "OK, there seems to have been some sort of delay in the question, advance notice being got to the Cabinet Member or the Chair so we need to give them the opportunity to research that and give you a written response."

Mrs Nowell replied, "My second question, I don’t have to give notice of that you see!"

The Mayor said, "It’s called a supplementary question and unfortunately you’re unable to ask the supplementary because the substantive question hasn’t been answered and replied to."

Cllr Chris Blakeley said, "Can I ask, as I know Mrs Nowell submitted the question some time ago, why hasn’t it found its way to the Cabinet Member for a response to that?"

Surjit Tour replied, " I’ll have to look into to understand exactly what has happened."

Mrs Nowell said, "I sent the question to you."

There was laughter from councillors at this point.

Surjit Tour continued, "Yes, that’s agreed, apologies for not following the process, I just need to understand why Cllr Adrian Jones didn’t get the question and then I’ll report back to Council after that moment."

Cllr Adrian Jones said, "Mr Mayor I would be very happy to deal with this question at the next meeting and it goes without saying that I promise to do everything within my power to protect Council." There was more laughter at this point.

The Mayor said, "Under those circumstances, could I ask that the question be asked at the next Council meeting? Where opportunity will have been given to the.. Adrian Jones?"

Cllr Chris Blakeley added, "It may well be too late Mr Mayor!"

The Mayor finished by saying "We’re going to have to leave it to the written reply then I’m sorry."

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