Councillors on Wirral Council’s Audit Committee approve changes to Annual Governance Statement after critical OFSTED report

Councillors on Wirral Council’s Audit Committee approve changes to Annual Governance Statement after critical OFSTED report

Councillors on Wirral Council’s Audit Committee approve changes to Annual Governance Statement after critical OFSTED report

                                         

Please accept YouTube cookies to play this video. By accepting you will be accessing content from YouTube, a service provided by an external third party.

YouTube privacy policy

If you accept this notice, your choice will be saved and the page will refresh.

Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee meeting held on the 26th September 2016 | The item on the Annual Governance Statement starts at 41m:22

Wirral Council's Audit and Risk Management Committee (26th September 2016) voting on an amended Annual Governance Statement L to R Cllr Phil Gilchrist, Cllr Kathy Hodson, Cllr Les Rowlands and Cllr David Elderton
Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee (26th September 2016) voting on an amended Annual Governance Statement L to R Cllr Phil Gilchrist, Cllr Kathy Hodson, Cllr Les Rowlands and Cllr David Elderton

Councillors at a meeting of Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee on Monday finally voted to approve an amendment to the Annual Governance Statement for 2015-16 relating to the recent OFSTED report.

Councillors talked about the Annual Governance Statement and amendment to it for fifty-six minutes, followed by an adjournment for twenty-one minutes (so the spokespersons and Vice-Chair could reach agreement on it in the Library), followed by a further eight minutes before it was finally voted on.

This is what was in the amendment:

“ As Members will be aware the Council received a report from Ofsted on 20 September 2016 which rated Children’s Services in Wirral as inadequate.

Given the significance of the issues highlighted the following amendment are [sic] to be made to the Annual Governance Statement:-

Section 6 : Significant Governance Issues

The Council received a report from Ofsted on 20 September 2016 which rated Children’s Services in Wirral as inadequate. The report highlighted ‘serious and widespread failures’ in the delivery of services to children who need help and protection in Wirral; focusing on frequent changes in social workers, issues in how partners work together, and evidence of poor records management across a range of areas.

The Ofsted findings have been accepted and the response will deliver major and sustained improvements which are carefully planned and considered.

An Improvement Board has been established and will initially be led by the Chief Executive until the appointment of an Independent Chair. The Improvement Plan has to be agreed with the Department for Education before 30 December 2016. A Department for Education adviser will assist the Council and Ofsted will return quarterly to review progress.

Description of Governance Issue Responsibility / Lead Officer Expected Delivery
Ofsted highlighted serious and widespread failures in the delivery of services to children who need help and protection in Wirral; focusing on frequent changes in social workers, issues in how partners work together, and evidence of poor records management across a range of areas.

Improvement Board established to lead the process including identification and delivery of an Improvement Plan.

Improvement Board / Julia Hassall (Director of Children’s Services) Improvement plan before 30 December 2016

Later in the same meeting councillors heard from Wirral Council’s external auditor Grant Thornton that because of the OFSTED report, their value for money opinion for 2015/16 would be qualified.

If you click on any of the buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this article with other people.

What was the decision in First-tier Tribunal case EA/2016/0054?

What was the decision in First-tier Tribunal case EA/2016/0054?

What was the decision in First-tier Tribunal case EA/2016/0054?

                                                

Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool, L2 2BX (the venue for First-Tier Tribunal case EA/2016/0054)
Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool, L2 2BX (the venue for First-Tier Tribunal case EA/2016/0054)

I’ll declare at the start I was the Appellant in this First-tier Tribunal case.

As the costs issue has yet to be decided (that is it is still sub judice), unfortunately I’m turning off comments on this blog post to prevent any comments about an issue that is still sub judice.

This decision was received on Friday 23rd September 2016 and is based on the hearing that happened on Wednesday morning (21st September 2016).

Added 28/9/2016 The original 2nd Respondent’s name read incorrectly Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service (not Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority). The GRC have been in touch with an amended version and it is the corrected version that is below rather than the original.


In the First – Tier Tribunal (information Rights)

Appeal No. EA/2016/0054

BETWEEN

John Michael Brace

Appellant

and

The Information Commissioner

First Respondent

and

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority

Second Respondent


 


Consent Order


 


By consent of all parties, the requested information having been provided to the Appellant by the Second Respondent, this appeal is withdrawn.


The Second Respondent’s application for costs pursuant to Rule 10(2) of the 2009 Rules is adjourned for a date and a procedure to be fixed.


David Farrer Q.C.


Tribunal Judge


22nd. September 2016



Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority end 15 month information request over Greasby and Saughall Massie fire stations by supplying the information, but ask First-tier Tribunal for costs award in their favour against Mr Brace

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority end 15 month information request over Greasby and Saughall Massie fire stations by supplying the information, but ask First-tier Tribunal for costs award in their favour against Mr Brace

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority end 15 month information request over Greasby and Saughall Massie fire stations by supplying the information, but ask First-tier Tribunal for costs award in their favour against Mr Brace

                                         

Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool
Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool

This is a report of a hearing held today of the First-tier Tribunal held in Tribunal Room 3, 3rd Floor (Tribunals Service), Liverpool Civil and Family Court, 35 Vernon Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L2 2BX

At the hearing I was the Appellant and Janet Henshaw represented Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority. ICO did not attend. The case number was EA/2016/0054.

The decision at the hearing was to end the matter by consent order.

The Tribunal consisted of First-tier Tribunal Judge Mr. David Farrer QC, First-tier Tribunal Member Mr. Michael Hake and First-tier Tribunal Member Dr. Malcolm Clarke.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority explained that they had not provided the information covered by decision notice FER0592270, because they had changed it during the course of the EIR request to remove both “Not for publication” and the reason or reasons why under the Local Government Act 1972 it had initially been classed by them as exempt information (although this is a position they reversed during the course of the appeal).

Despite the Appellant informing them by letter in response to what they had sent him on Monday 19th September 2016 (which are the reports below), are not the version he asked for, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority saw it unreasonable to have a hearing today on the withheld information.

During the course of the hearing MFRA supplied extra information to the Appellant Mr. Brace both in written form and verbally.

MFRA asked the Tribunal to make a costs award against Mr Brace, the Appellant.

The Appellant was asked to explain his point of view. He explained that the law stated information that should’ve been in what was supplied, therefore he knew it was the wrong version and he had informed MFRA, the Tribunal and ICO of this by letter.

He had not yet received a response to this letter from MFRA.

MFRA argued that the hearing was pointless, because from their perspective even if the information supplied was two A4 pages shorter than the case management note had required them to supply, in their view, the extra pages contained no information relating to the request in it and referred them to Mr Brace’s letter describing the extra pages.

MFRA were asked during the course of the hearing to supply the version in existence at the time of request to the Appellant Mr Brace.

Janet Henshaw of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority explained that she hadn’t brought it with her to the hearing.

Due to the explanation provided by MFRA as to the withheld pages of information, the Appellant agreed to end the matter by consent order.

Janet Henshaw of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority argued that the Appellant was being unreasonable in bringing the proceedings to a hearing.

The Appellant was given a chance to make representations.

The Tribunal did not agree to make an award of costs at the hearing, but directed Janet Henshaw of MFRA to make a formal application for costs and to serve it on the Appellant and Tribunal by a specified date.

The the Appellant would have a chance to make representations and as he is an individual, supply the Tribunal (and MFRA) with details of financial means (which would have to be considered) when the Tribunal makes a decision.

The First-Tier Tribunal Judge explained that the Tribunal’s rules on costs were different to that of the court.

One of those present also seemed upset at the trees that had been cut down to produce the bundle and the First-Tier Tribunal Judge referred to the cost to the public purse.

Any decision by the Tribunal on costs can be appealed to the County Court.

The information in the two reports relates to MFRA plans for a fire station at Greasby, then Saughall Massie.

The supplied information for Greasby is an Exempt report capital costs Greasby fire station (although this is missing the blank page) and Appendix F Capital Costs Saughall Massie.

Both reports (which were not made public during the two twelve week consultations) show indicative values for selling Upton Fire Station (£350,000) and selling West Kirby fire station (£200,000).

The land value assigned for the abandoned Greasby plans is £300,000 and the notional value assigned for the land at Saughall Massie is £300,000.

The Appellant awaits MFRA’s costs application with interest as at least one of the questions directed towards Chief Fire Officer Dan Stephens (pictured below) during one of the two consultation was why this information wasn’t in the public domain.

Dan Stephens (Chief Fire Officer) answers questions at a public consultation meeting in Saughall Massie to discuss proposals for a new fire station (20th April 2015)
Dan Stephens (Chief Fire Officer) answers questions at a public consultation meeting in Saughall Massie to discuss proposals for a new fire station (20th April 2015)

The First-tier Tribunal Judge stated during the hearing that the reasons given in ICO’s decision notice no longer applied for withholding the information.

MFRA (in line with councillors stating that people should be charged for FOI or EIR requests) despite agreeing to end this by consent order feel that is unfair to pay MFRA’s costs in providing the information, even though the First-Tier Tribunal Judge told them that the reasons for withholding the information in the decision notice didn’t apply.

Janet Henshaw was the person that also refused the information at the internal review stage as she is a senior manager employed by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service.

If you click on any of the buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this article with other people.

Wirral Council’s Children’s Services branded “inadequate” by OFSTED

Wirral Council’s Children’s Services branded “inadequate” by OFSTED

Wirral Council’s Children’s Services branded “inadequate” by OFSTED

                              

Cabinet 17th December 2014 voting to close Lyndale School L to R Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Education), Cllr George Davies, Cllr Ann McLachlan
Cabinet 17th December 2014 vote on Lyndale School closure L to R Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services), Cllr George Davies, Cllr Ann McLachlan

I’ll declare at the outset that I was the Appellant in the First-Tier Tribunal case referred to later.

I’ve just read the 44 page inspection report by OFSTED into services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers which you can read on OFSTED’s website.

The inspection was carried out in July 2016 and the headlines (these are quoted from the report) are:

“1. Children who need help and protection
Inadequate

2. Children looked after and achieving permanence
Requires improvement

2.1 Adoption Performance
Requires improvement

2.2 Experiences and progress of care leavers
Inadequate

1. Leadership, management and governance
Inadequate

The report then goes on to explain the many reasons why and starts with the sentence, “There are widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children who need help and protection in Wirral.” and perhaps even more telling makes this point about senior management and councillors, “Almost all of the deficits identified in this inspection were known by senior leaders.

And in response to a certain senior manager at Wirral Council who repeatedly states the Council acts in the best interests of children, “Plans to restructure services to respond better to children’s needs were delayed for a year due to competing council priorities.

However I don’t want you to think I’m cherry-picking negative criticism from the report. If you read the report you’ll find it has very little to state that is positive.

After all this sentence, “Performance management data is widely scrutinised by managers and elected members, but is not yet leading to improvement and is not always focused on the right things.” sums it up. People (whether that be councillors or managers) know about the problems, but seemingly don’t know (or if I’m being more charitable are thwarted from) fixing them.

The infamous report into Wirral Council by Anna Klonowski Associates explained how in years gone by Wirral Council received independent reports similar to these but just carried on (whereas in other councils it would’ve raised red flags and led to major alarm bells ringing).

Of course it remains to be seen what Wirral Council’s response to this is. An Improvement Board has been mentioned (but if it meets in private as the one before did) the public won’t know about the changes Wirral Council is making in response and to be able to hold their political leaders to account.

And let’s face it, a Council that is prepared to go to a Tribunal to make sure some of the views of senior councillors, union representatives and senior managers at a meeting held in secret about education are kept out of the public domain in response to a FOI request, is that a Council acting in an “open and transparent” way or one that knows about its problems but wants to keep them out of the public domain?

The OFSTED inspection report is due to be discussed by councillors on Wirral Council’s Children Sub-Committee at a public meeting this Thursday evening (22nd September 2016) in Committee Room 2 in Wallasey Town Hall starting at 6.00pm.

Oh and just to quell any rumours, no I don’t have any children but Wirral Council’s external auditor Grant Thornton are reviewing the impact of the OFSTED report on their Value for Money conclusion which goes to be considered at a public meeting of Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee on Monday 26th September starting at 6.00pm in Committee Room 1 at Wallasey Town Hall.

As I wish to end on a positive note Committee Rooms 1, 2 (and I’m told also Committee Room 3) on the ground floor at Wallasey Town Hall are now able to be better accessed by those in wheelchairs or those with reduced mobility due to changes recently made to the doors to these rooms at this listed building.

If you click on any of the buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this article with other people.