Bureaucrats ask councillors to agree filming/photo/audio recording ban at public meetings of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority

Bureaucrats ask councillors to agree filming/photo/audio recording ban at public meetings of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority

Bureaucrats ask councillors to agree filming/photo/audio recording ban at public meetings of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority

Merseyside Fire and Rescue crew in James Street, Liverpool 2nd September 2014
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service crew in James Street, Liverpool 2nd September 2014

Above is the sort of photo for Merseyside fire stories that I’ll have to use if politicians agree to ban filming at future public meetings of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority

Ed – updated at 12:46 8/12/14 to include link to petition and slight rewording of text.

In case it isn’t obvious, I will declare an interest as author in this article as a person who films public meetings of the Mersey Fire and Rescue Authority and reports on them as part of my job.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority have come up with a draft MFRA Meeting Reporting Protocol and Procedure for politicians to sign off on at some future public meeting (which is presumably the Policy and Resources Committee meeting next week (however as the agenda has since been published and it’s not on it is must be a different meeting)).

What’s interesting is how draconian it is and how whoever wrote it seems to unaware of a some of the existing laws surrounding public meetings.

Currently the link to it on MFRA’s website is broken. Technically it is only in draft form until agreed by politicians. However the trade unions will probably have a few choice words to say to me about it when I discuss this with them!

It’s split into two sections Procedure for attendance and recording of meetings of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority"PROTOCOL ON REPORTING AT MEETINGS" and "Procedure for attendance and recording of meetings of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority".

Some of it is just common sense that I agree with such as trying to start public meetings on time. Some public authorities of course are known for starting their meetings before the scheduled start time or up to an hour after the scheduled start time.

Personally I was always taught that punctuality is just good manners but the public sector sometimes forgets to put its clocks back/forward or has watches that are a few minutes slow or fast. Councillors also seem to have great difficulty in getting to meetings on time. In fact I have known in the past some councillors arrive to meetings so late that the meeting has actually finished before they arrive.

However moving on from the perennial, "Wouldn’t it be nice if meetings actually started on time question?" to more serious points.

Here’s a quote from the draft document linked above:

"Temporary Building Works

Due to current building works which are ongoing until Spring 2015, The Authority are temporarily short of meeting and available waiting space. Please bear with us in accommodating you during this period.”

Now you’d think if that was the case the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority could have its meetings somewhere else in Merseyside. For example a room in one of Merseyside’s fire stations (they still have plenty of these don’t they?). Or is this just too much to ask?

"There will be a designated area in the meeting room for you to observe the meeting and to allow you to film, photograph and/or audio-record it. Wherever possible you will have access to a seat (although this may depend on how much space is available)."

Nice to know seats are optional. I don’t mind standing and filming meetings, but I’m sure others in the press expect an organisation to provide seats (especially to the disabled). Maybe this is the parlous state of the public sector in Merseyside though, they can’t even afford a few chairs any more.

"The Chair of the meeting will be informed if the reporting includes filming, photographing and/or audio-recording. Those attending the meeting who are not Members or officers will be made aware that they have the right to object to being filmed, photographed and/or audio-recorded by you."

Oh people can object all they like. I’ve heard objections before. Here’s one of the current councillor representatives from Wirral Council on the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority Cllr Steve Niblock objecting to me filming a meeting back in June 2014.

I don’t mind people objecting, they can object all they like. Just makes meetings a little longer!

"You must not start filming, photographing and/or audio-recording until the Chair opens the meeting."

Usually I don’t anyway. Trouble happens is when does the meeting actually start (which can be before or after the time on the agenda)? Do I just start recording at the time on the agenda when the meeting could actually not start for a further ten minutes? What does “opens the meeting” actually mean? How do I even recognise a Chair?

Does the Chair saying, "We’re waiting for X, Y and Z to turn up so we’re going to wait another 5 minutes” count as the public meeting starting or not?"

Then it gets to the interesting bit:

"The Chair will announce at the beginning of the meeting that the meeting is being filmed, photographed and/or audio-recorded. He or she will then ask attendees whether they agree to be filmed, photographed and/or audio-recorded to allow them to register a personal objection. If anyone has a personal objection then the Chair can temporarily suspend filming, photographing and/or audio-recording to allow attendees to have their say.
Note: this does not apply to Members and officers."

Oh boy. This is going to be fun isn’t it!

You’re going to get councillors and officers object, then be told they can’t make an objection.

There could be between one and a dozen members of the public present. That could be half a dozen "personal objections". During the meeting itself the Chair has no say over suspending filming.

In order to suspend filming, the Chair would have to actually suspend the meeting or exclude the press and public (and if they did the latter how would the objections be heard)?

It goes on:

"If the Chair considers that the filming, photographing and/or audio-recording is disrupting the meeting he/she can instruct you to stop doing so. Therefore, it is worth noting that your equipment should not be noisy or otherwise distracting (e.g. flash and spotlights can be problematic)."

Ahh so this makes Chairs of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority meetings editors right? I’m just glad that my equipment films silently, I don’t carry spotlights with me and I don’t tend to use flash. This makes it even more unclear, earlier on it states the Chair can "temporarily suspend filming, photographing and/or audio-recording" now it states "he/she can instruct you to stop doing so."

There’s a big difference between being instructed to stop filming, photographing and/or audio-recording and temporarily suspending filming.

I’ve seen these "temporarily suspending filming" issues before. By temporary they can mean about two years.

If you refuse to stop filming, photographing and/or audio-recording when requested to do so, the Chair may ask you to leave the meeting.

That’s fascinating, what if I refuse to stop filming and just leave the room? Unless I stop it the equipment carries on recording in my absence…

I could leave the room, then come back. The equipment would still be recording.

"If you refuse to do so then the Chair may adjourn the meeting or make other appropriate arrangements for the meeting to continue without disruption. There are provisions in the Authority’s Constitution that allow this.

When the meeting is officially closed by the Chair you must stop filming, photographing and/or audio-recording."

In other words, we’re back to the old fallback position of Schrödinger’s cat. Public meetings can be filmed (in fact there’s a legal right to do so), but if someone tries to film one and someone objects they will no longer be classed as public meetings. They will be adjourned or some or all of the public will be excluded from the meeting. Or alternatively the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority would ask the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service to call the Merseyside Police who would then presumably turn up to the meeting. If that happens, we’re probably heading for #daftarrest territory…

So to summarise:

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority thinks it can stop filming because despite knowing it was coming in February 2014, the new regulations on filming have taken them by surprise because they didn’t expect anyone would exercise their right to film some of their public meetings.

In total in this calendar year there are 29 public meetings scheduled of Mersey Fire and Rescue Authority.

As the new regulations came into effect on August 6th, only 11 of those can be filmed.

So far 7 public meetings of the Mersey Fire and Rescue Authority have happened since August 6th (plus a number of consultation meetings).

I’ve filmed one of the public consultation meetings and 3 out of 7 of the public meetings (four public meetings in total).

It would have made more sense for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority (who knew 9 months ago the regulations were coming into effect) to make the necessary changes to their constitution (as advised to by the government). Now we’re basically in the Liverpool City Council position.

The Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority met on October 2nd 2014, but changing their constitution wasn’t even on the agenda.

The law has changed, but bureaucrats still cling to an unchanged bit of a constitution and state this gives politicians the right to stop filming of public meetings. Everyone is still clinging to the past and not moving on. It doesn’t work like that now, whether at the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority, Wirral Council, Liverpool City Council, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, Merseytravel or the Merseyside Police and Crime Panel. The last thing anyone should do is try to put politicians in charge of the press. That’s the way of a totalitarian regime.

If that ever happens they’ll censor anything “politically sensitive” from being published or ending up in the public domain. Say for instance like, trying to close fire stations. All they’d need to do is invite one member of the public along to make an objection and that would be it, no filming at the public meeting (or else).

There are a bunch of human rights issues this raises to such as:

a) whether searches by a public body of equipment the press have to do their job before they enter a public meeting is indeed lawful as the press/public have a legal right to be there.

Even the Merseyside Police aren’t allowed to start erasing journalistic material we’ve recorded, so why should Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority be given access to our equipment either before, during or after a public meeting?

b) whether indeed the proposed policy/procedure is actually lawful on Human Rights Act 1998 (freedom of speech grounds)

c) as public bodies have to have some kind of legal power to do stuff like this, as the laws on preventing filming at public meetings of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority have been repealed exactly what legislation they think they can stop filming under and how they can justify it’s adherence to the Human Rights Act 1998 specifically s.6(1) in relation to Article 10 in Schedule 1 which states:

"Freedom of expression

1 Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2 The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary."

So I shall request to speak at the public meeting next week, I may even have organised a petition, but until the agenda is published I can only tell you when and where it meets and which councillors are on it:

Thursday 27th November 1.00pm
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority Policy and Resources Committee
Temporary Meeting Room, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Headquarters, Bridle Road, Bootle

Cllr Leslie T Byrom CBE (Chair, Sefton Council) 01704 574859/ 0783 662 1059
Cllr Peter Brennan (Liverpool City Council) 0151 225 2366
Cllr Roy Gladden (Liverpool City Council) 0151 226 6708
Cllr Ted Grannell (Knowsley Council) 0151 546 2633
Cllr Denise Roberts (Wirral Council) 0151 652 3309
Cllr Jean Stapleton (Wirral Council) 0151 201 5057
Cllr Sharon Sullivan (Liverpool City Council) 0151 225 2366
Cllr Lesley Rennie (Wirral Council) 0151 644 8137/ 0779 545 0497

You can click on each councillors’ name above if you wish to email them with your views on this proposed policy. If you don’t have email their phone numbers and addresses are also included. After all these 8 councillors are supposed to be there to represent your views in the decision making process! Alternatively please leave a comment to let me know what you think.

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Biffa asks Wirral’s Cabinet for a 10 year extension to bins & street cleaning contract worth at least £120 million

Biffa asks Wirral’s Cabinet for a 10 year extension to bins & street cleaning contract worth at least £120 million

Biffa asks Wirral’s Cabinet for a 10 year extension to bins & street cleaning contract worth at least £120 million


Biffa Waste Service Limited November 2013 Invoice Wirral Council £1036840.28
Biffa Waste Service Limited November 2013 Invoice Wirral Council £1036840.28
Biffa Waste Service Limited December 2013 Invoice Wirral Council £1032201.28
Biffa Waste Service Limited December 2013 Invoice Wirral Council £1032201.28
Biffa Waste Service Limited January 2014 Invoice Wirral Council £1032201.28
Biffa Waste Service Limited January 2014 Invoice Wirral Council £1032201.28

Above are three of the recent monthly invoices to Wirral Council from Biffa Waste Services Limited for November 2013 (£1,036,840.28), December 2013 (£1,032,201.28) and January 2014 (£1,032,201.28).

I did not request the invoices for other months during that financial year (2013/14), but I would assume that the other nine are for similar amounts of around a million pounds. So why am I writing about this and what does Biffa Waste Services Limited actually do for it’s ~£12 million it receives each year from the taxpayer?

Well as shown on the invoices it’s for collecting the bins, cleaning the streets and extra amounts for working on a Bank Holiday. I’ll be looking more closely at the current contract with Biffa Waste Services Limited (which runs to 2017) tomorrow morning (if all goes well).

However there is some political news on the Biffa front, in fact Wirral Council seems to be bolstering itself for a bit of bad press coverage judging by the Cabinet papers for tonight’s Cabinet meeting (only tonight if you happen to reading this on the 11th September 2014).

If you’re interested in reading the papers yourself on Wirral Council’s website, it’s the Streetscene Environment Services Contract Extension item which is item 4 on Cabinet’s agenda.

I remember Mark Smith (a Wirral Council officer who is Head of Environment and Regulation) getting a grilling by the Chair (Rt Hon Frank Field MP) at a recent Birkenhead Constituency Committee meeting about what the Rt Hon Frank Field MP seemed to see as a lack of openness and transparency in the area of how Wirral Council manages the Biffa contract.

In the Rt Hon Frank Field MP’s view (from my memory of the meeting) he wanted (rather reasonably some might say) to know exactly what the public were getting for the ~£12 million a year that the taxpayer pays Biffa Waste Services Limited through Wirral Council. Sadly there was no one present at the meeting to answer for Biffa Waste Services Limited and Mark Smith seemed to struggle a little to give the kind of answers that Rt Hon Frank Field MP seemed to want to hear. However moving on from the frustrations of Birkenhead’s MP/Chair of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee to more local politics (although isn’t all politics local)?

Rather helpfully Appendix 5 to the Streetscene Environment Services Contract Extension item contains the following two entries on the risk register (copied below):

Risk No Description of risk Risk category Risk Owner Gross likelihood Score Gross impact score Total Gross Score Net Likelihood Score Net Impact Score Total Net Score Proposed Controls Responsibility Target date RAG Status
1 District Audit scrutiny on decision process likely Legal / Regulatory Tara Dumas 3 4 12 3 2 6 Member decision based on thorough analysis of risks. Best value comparison work to be undertaken – Local benchmarking plus APSE/Audit commission comparison Update on market position sought from previous consultants contracted to review Biffa contract. Process to be reviewed by internal audit TD
2 Negative political and
media attention
Political/societal PR team – Kathryn Green 5 3 15 3 2 6 Proactive approach by PR with press releases Confirm offer not linked to service/workforce changes LF Post decision 31/5/2014 G

In other words, Wirral Council know (before any decision is formally made tonight to enter into negotiations) that it will cause all kinds of trouble. They’ve already decided (it seems) on a public relations line of telling the press it won’t lead to job losses/workforce changes and giving them the “gift” of a press release in the hope that most of the media will just print the press release more or less verbatim and not ask too many awkward questions about the matter.

They even know their external auditor (Grant Thornton) will be asking them a whole bunch of questions to do with it too but surprisingly there are even bigger risks than the media and Wirral Council’s auditors to tackle, although read the risk register at appendix 5 and hopefully you’ll see what I mean.

So how can I sum up what is proposed to be decided tonight quickly? The current contract will Biffa Waste Services Limited will end on March 2017.

The impression I get from reading between the lines of the Cabinet papers, (a lot of the detail has been kept deliberately secret by officers who are recommending to politicians to keep it secret too on grounds of commercial confidentiality) is that Biffa Waste Services Limited seemed to be somewhat concerned that if their multi-million pound 11 year contract ends on March 2017, that they would have to bid in a competitive tender against other companies and organisations for the new contract.

There’s then uncertainty (from Biffa’s perspective) over whether they would end up being the successful bidder or not. It’s called “competition” and is generally required for such large multi-million pound contracts because of all kinds of laws I won’t go into at this point and competition is therefore required for a whole bunch of good reasons.

So someone as Biffa Waste Services Limited has read through the contract they have with Wirral Council and found a caveat. There was a part in the contract that could extend it a further ten years (current prices of ~£12 million a year but yearly increases and variation are usually built-in). This contract covers “all household waste and recycling collections, street cleansing and fly tip removal, waste collection from schools and council offices and wheeled bin deliveries.”

All Biffa had to do to get a further ten years (at ~£12 million a year) was make a formal offer to Wirral Council (which they did) and have this agreed to by Wirral Council (which hasn’t happened yet with the earliest date expected being October 2014).

Due to the size of the amounts involved it has to be a decision made by politicians, specifically Wirral Council’s Cabinet and the councillor with responsibility for this area is the new(ish) Cabinet Member for Environment and Sustainability Councillor Bernie Mooney (who replaced Brian Kenny earlier this year when he lost an election in May to the Green Party councillor Pat Cleary).

However what’s in the currently exempt appendices?

Well appendix 1 covers the “value and suggested terms of the formal offer from Biffa in return for the Council extending the contract to 2027. In summary the proposal offers the Council a one-off saving split between 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17 followed by a continued annual reduction in the core contract price throughout the remainder of the extended contract period to the equivalent value. Officers asked Biffa to clarify the benefits to Biffa if the contract extension was agreed.”

I’m not allowed to link to appendix 1 (as it’s currently a big secret and you’d get an “access denied” type message from Wirral Council’s website if I did), but as the language used by a Wirral Council officer is rather opaque, it has to boil down to how I imagine a summary of what Biffa offered Wirral Council … “give us a further ten years and we will give you very good price if you pick us. Our price is very reasonable, many savings to be had, very good price, you buy from us again we treat you well. We are very good supplier and will take your bins to tip and keep streets clean for another 10 years for a very reasonable price.”

Wirral Council officers asked Biffa to clarify what Biffa would get out of extending the contract a further ten years.

Biffa responded to this on the 10th February 2014. Again I’m not allowed to show you Biffa’s response either on the instructions of Wirral Council officers!

The summary of this response is again in rather opaque language “Biffa indicated that the savings they could offer arose from avoiding future procurement and mobilisation costs, the ability to re-finance their operations and a reduction in overheads due to the stable nature of the contract. The discount is not linked to any service changes.”

In other words Biffa are saying “grant us a monopoly, save us the cost of having to retender for the contract in 2017, Wirral Council will save money from having to retender the contract” (which is a bit of a debatable point really anyway considering the extra costs this will cause doing it this way) “and Biffa will be able to borrow money cheaper because we’ll have a longer contract.” To be honest I don’t agree entirely with Biffa’s point about overheads being significantly lower to justify this.

Another letter from Biffa (exempt appendix 3) is also currently being kept secret by Wirral Council officers (pending a decision by politicians). This letter is about an offer to redesign the fleet of bin lorries from 2017 to collect things such as food waste (to meet Wirral Council’s recycling targets).

However Biffa make it clear that this is absolutely Biffa’s final offer (well unless Wirral Council’s Cabinet say no to negotiations or no to the offer in October 2014 and Biffa have to bid for the new contract starting in 2017)!

Wirral Council officers seem very keen to have the Labour councillors on Wirral Council’s Cabinet agree to Biffa’s plan. “80p cheaper per a Wirral person than Liverpool” they state in the report, but strangely 15p more per a person than in Sefton!

Of course Wirral Council’s Cabinet could just choose to reject Biffa’s proposal and decide to bring the service in-house from 2017.

The recent street cleansing cuts to the contract, have been the source of both political and media attention in the recent past. However, what’s the officer’s recommendation?

Oh and before I get to that, Wirral Council asked Eunomia (are they consultants?) in 2012 to look at the Biffa contract, the consultants in fact suggested the contract should be retendered! Eunomia also suggested that if Wirral Council did agree to extend the contract by a further ten years than there should be changes to “contract clauses relating to indexation, labour cost inflation and future efficiency gains” which would be extremely sensible to do considering the current contract is linked to RPI (and let’s face it inflation is quite high)! However the Eunomia assessment is now two years out of date and things have changed somewhat since then.

As Wirral Council officers freely admit in 5.3.4 of this report, they don’t really know if this will save any money at all versus retendering the contract, it all just seems to be educated guesswork and unknown quantities.

The estimated savings have been listed, but surprisingly (and isn’t this usually the case?) not the increased costs (such as an increased audit bill from Grant Thornton for extra work).

It’s the report gets to “legal implications” that things start to get interesting!

Here’s a quote from 10.2 “The Legal colleagues have highlighted that it is necessary to limit the amount of material changes to the contract in order to minimise the risk of the Council being challenged on the legalities of the extension.”

In other words, do it right otherwise one of Biffa’s competitors, or in fact anyone could sue Wirral Council over how it was done.

Then entering into catch 22 territory the legal advice continues:

“Due consideration has been given to establishing whether the Biffa proposal offers Value for Money (Sections 4 and 5 refers) as required under the Council’s Contract Procedure Rules. However, it is important to note that the only decisive way to determine whether a more advantageous contract could be secured by the Council would be through retendering the contract.”

In other words, Wirral Council don’t know whether this saves them money without retendering the contract in 2017, but if they agree to Biffa’s proposal they won’t be retendering the contract in 2017 so they’ll never really know or be able to prove “value for money” to their external auditors Grant Thornton.

However let’s see, what do officers want? They want politicians to agree to them to enter into negotiations with Biffa, more specifically the Strategic Director of Regeneration and Environment (currently Kevin Adderley) and then report back to Cabinet no later than October 2014.

Personally (and this is just an opinion) I think politicians on the Cabinet will probably agree to enter into negotiations with Biffa tonight (even though Labour’s tendency in the past has been to bring back services in-house), if only just to keep their options open in October 2014. Quite what the Rt Hon Frank Field MP’s views on this latest development in the Biffa saga are at the time of writing unknown.

Coming up next today: What Wirral Council’s Cabinet is planning to do about Children’s Centres.

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Labour councillors blame government for strikes in 1st ever film of a Merseyside Fire Authority meeting

Labour councillors blame government for strikes in 1st ever film of a Merseyside Fire Authority meeting

Labour councillors blame government for strikes in 1st ever film of a Merseyside Fire Authority meeting


Merseyside Fire and Rescue crew in James Street, Liverpool 2nd September 2014
Merseyside Fire and Rescue crew in James Street, Liverpool 2nd September 2014

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I attended (and filmed) a public meeting of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s Consultation and Negotiation Sub-Committee yesterday afternoon. Since last visiting Merseyside Fire and Rescue Headquarters quite a while ago, the whole building has been rebuilt.

We arrived about half an hour before the meeting started and were asked to wait in reception. After about fifteen minutes (we had been told they were “running late” although the meeting started on time) someone came and took us to the meeting which was being held in the Temporary Conference Room on the first floor.

Thankfully there was a working lift which we used. The room had been set up up for the councillors on the Sub-Committee, fire officers and union representatives from unions such as the Fire Brigades Union. Microphones for everyone (with built-in speakers) were set out and tested before the meeting started.

Someone was even kind enough to put one of the speakers behind us so we could hear what was being said. Unlike Wirral Council there was no tea and coffee machine in the room drowning out what was said, but jugs of water and glasses were put out.

I informed someone of my intention to film the upcoming meeting and referred to the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014. In my opinion in response she looked rather crestfallen and left the room in a hurry (maybe to tell someone else).

During the meeting, due to everyone having a microphone (maybe Wirral Council prefers councillors to share as that way they can give the public the impression they’re too skint to afford a microphone for each councillor), there was none of the usual requests you get at Wirral Council public meetings from councillors to repeat what’s just been said as everybody could hear what was going on. In fact playing back the video of the meeting, the sound quality (often a complaint when I record meetings at Wirral Council whether they have microphones or not) was much, much improved.

Due to a current technical fault with one of the SD cards (I do have a backup card but it was impossible for me to predict at the start how long the meeting would last), I didn’t film in HD (which I would’ve preferred to do as that would have been broadcast quality) but instead in VGA. Apologies for the black boxes on the video, this was down to using the usual compression codec I use for HD which has a slightly different aspect ratio.

As having the tripod in front of me would’ve blocked a passageway and I didn’t want to argue about the interpretation of fire regulations with a bunch of fire officers, I put the tripod instead to the side which meant I did less panning and zooming than usual.

Before the meeting itself, I enquired about the West Kirby/Upton fire station plans and was told that a consultation with the public on that issue would be starting soon.

The agenda and reports are on the Mersey Fire and Rescue Authority website if you’re interested in reading them. As you are probably aware, there have been a number of days recently when fire officers have been on strike and anyone passing the new fire station in Birkenhead on those days will have seen the Fire Brigades Union picket.

The Chief Fire Officer, Dan Stephens did most of the talking at the meeting. His report gave an update on the weekly meetings with unions and a summary of progress on the issues.

There was currently a dispute with the Fire Brigades Union which would be going to a conciliation hearing on the 10th November, once the outcome of this was known he would report back to councillors and the committee.

He apologised for using MACC in an email and said it was “not a mistake he would be making again”. Referring to the civil disturbances in 2011, he considered that these had been managed on Merseyside more effectively than in other parts of the country due to excellent interagency work with the Merseyside Police on Operation Derwent.

However the command and control on the seventh floor of the police headquarters was “no longer fit for purpose”. He went into detail about a decision of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority to engage with Merseyside Police on the Merseyside Joint Command and Control Centre in which both organisations would work along with the North West Ambulance Service.

The Joint Command Centre had gone live in early July and he went into detail about the shift patterns outlined in paragraphs nine to fourteen. He wanted to highlight the “outstanding achievement” to have “got to this point” but that the Merseyside Police were training their call handlers and he went into some of the differences as to how Merseyside Police and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service deal with emergency calls.

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The Chair, Cllr Jimmy Mahon (Labour, Sefton) gave his congratulations to the Chief Fire Officer and said there had been the concern that in order to work properly the Control Centre should be in Merseyside.

The Chief Fire Officer continued with talking about the arrangements that they’d put in place for when fire officers were on strike in a dispute over pension reform. He made it clear that it wasn’t a localised dispute on Merseyside, but a national dispute between the Fire Brigades Union and the government over which Mersey Fire and Rescue Authority didn’t have any real influence over which had been the subject of previous reports.

He wanted the dispute itself “resolved as quickly as possible” and commended the FBU as they took a “responsible approach” on Merseyside and also gave them his thanks. Moving on to the collective agreement with the Fire Brigades Union and Fire Officers Association over twenty-four working, there was one location in Croxteth where it was allowed to due to an “operational rationale”. He went into some detail about how twenty-four hour working freed up rota days and other impacts of it.

Referring to the “acute pressure” of “financial challenges” he said that it wouldn’t get easier in 2015/16 and the final two paragraphs of his report were about an independent review of conditions of service. In his opinion the questionnaire contained loaded questions and it had been a Fire Brigade Union recommendation that they shouldn’t take part in the survey. He put on record that he couldn’t be a stronger advocate of the whole time duty system and that he would take questions on his report.

Two trade union representatives replied and also referred to the national issues, challenges, how they were never going to agree to everytying but the Fire Brigade Union representative felt that things were going forward and that both sides were pragmatic. The FBU representative said that they’d used all procedures, asked for external assistance and hopefully both sides had an open mind.

Councillor Leslie T Byrom (Labour, Sefton) made comments about the Ken Knight review and the government’s response to it, as well as a related resolution at the LGA Conference.

He used the analogy of a teenager only being able to afford the cheapest insurance for their first car, but gradually moving up to comprehensive insurance. In his opinion Merseyside had the equivalent of comprehensive insurance in its fire cover. The councillor didn’t want to revert to an inferior service. He referred to the recent terrorism alert change and how fully staffed authorities “can send boots on the ground” but that they had to lobby hard to explain the advantages.

Cllr Linda Maloney (Labour, St Helens) said that she had asked the St Helens’ Human Resources officer for advice on the redundancies issue. The advice she had received was that Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service was being very lenient compared to other councils in making people redundant. She wanted to put on record the work they did keeping full-time firefighters and engines to keep Merseyside safe.

Cllr Tony Robertson (Lib Dems, Sefton) asked a question about the questionnaire. The Chief Fire Officer replied that it had to be returned by the 19th September, but that their submission would be reported back.

There weren’t any meetings of a committee to formally approve it before the deadline, but said that if he was being cynical he’d have taken the view that it was almost a response to the Fire Brigades Union strike action, however he was conscious he was being filmed so was a little circumspect.

Cllr Tony Robertson said that he understood.

Cllr Roy Gladden (Labour, Liverpool City Council) referred to if they wanted to get the person they wanted in a position, they they just needed to sort out the shortlist in relation to the questionnaire. He felt other parts of the country didn’t need full-time firefighters and referred to Devon and Cornwall. The independence vote in Scotland was also referred to and also discussions across the country where they were fed up with being told what’s best for them in that part of the country.

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No matter what happened on the 18th September he felt they should be demanding a better say in what happened regionally and locally and no matter what government there was he wanted the power base lowered so that Merseyside would decide what’s best for them. As elected representatives they could come to the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and disagree and he would be very surprised to be in a situation where they all agreed on everything as “one of us” would be “out of order”. The unions would at times disagree fundamentally with the way forward. However he wanted to make clear this was a national strike and that the government was using finance to look at the service.

The Chair, Cllr Jimmy Mahon (Labour, Sefton) agreed.

Cllr Roy Gladden (Labour, Liverpool City Council) then said the following:

“Just one quick thing which I think you mentioned before, we’ve got cameras. Are we going to be writing to Mr. Pickles asking him if we can have a makeup room before we go out? *laughter* I’m a bit concerned that it’s err, you know splashed across the national and worldwide media and at least I want to get me hair dyed and me makeup on so I don’t look horrible. Well I’m just making sure, I hope Mr. Pickles wouldn’t mind as he’s insistent upon this that we have our makeup room in future.

Having been at the BBC, I mean it really isn’t like that, I might not come along if I haven’t had my hair done. So I just hope in the future, we’ll put it down Chair. Some of us don’t need our hair cutting.”

Chief Fire Officer Dan Stephens said, “Just two things Chair, I thank Councillor Gladden for his last comment and second justly to reassure Councillor Gladden that he looks as devilish as ever..”

Unknown councillor “That’s enough, that’s enough. Meeting closed, thank you.”

Chief Fire Officer Dan Stephens said, “What I would say is, I could use this opportunity to my Ice Bucket Challenge, I nominated Eric Pickles, unfortunately he’s not yet responded to the challenge I’ve put down to him so maybe this is my opportunity to reinvigorate that challenge to him and I shall leave that at the behest of our guests further to the meeting to give some thought as to whether they would like to send that through to him and I will pause at that point Chair having committed career suicide.”

The Chair asked, “Can we have a copy?” to which I replied “ok”. He replied, “It will be interesting to have a look at to see how we’re mentioned. That’s the end of the meeting.”

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Councillor Walter Smith “I must say I enjoyed lavish hospitality”

Councillor Walter Smith “I must say I enjoyed lavish hospitality”

Councillor Walter Smith “I must say I enjoyed lavish hospitality”


I’ve had a chance to listen to what is probably the first mention of this blog on BBC Radio Merseyside on Friday and include a transcript below of what was said (as Roger Phillip’s show is only available to listen online for a week after the show) along with Cllr Walter Smith’s reply later in the show. It’s referring to this blog post Graham Burgess invites Wirral Council councillors to 5 days of the Open Golf Championship.

Now Paul from New Brighton is on the line, hello Paul.

Hello Roger, thanks for taking the call.


Errm, I’m a golfer and I’m really chuffed that Merseyside and particularly the Wirral have got the Open err next week and you know the world’s eyes are going to be on us.

Errm, well one of the things that does concern me as a Wirral taxpayer is that my Labour run Council’s Chief Exec Mr Graham Burgess has sent a letter out, which is in the public domain now, thanks to a leak errm to all councillors inviting them to a five day jamboree basically, corporate hospitality, err at the Wirral Council’s errm event, event tent that is at the Open.

There’s only one councillor who’s publically come out and said this is not acceptable in this time of cuts and people you know sort of fighting a Council here that challenges them on bedroom tax. They actually go to appeal against them and I think the public on Wirral and on Merseyside should know this is what some politicians are getting up to. You know it’s pretty disgraceful really.

Well they tell us that it’s one trial session on Wednesday or something when there’s no competition going on. I’m not quite sure exactly more than that, they are sending us a statement but that’s what they’re saying it is.

Also as regards to the bedroom tax they say that they have to do that, the government makes them challenge these appeals, these things.

Well on those two points, if you actually go to the Council and ask to see Mr Graham Burgess’ letter to councillors, there’s a five day programme there which is inviting people, sorry which is inviting councillors.

Well that’s not what he’s telling us.

Well I’m afraid then, he’s not being honest with you.

Well it’s the press office really to be fair, but I mean they’re very clear it’s a two hour session on Wednesday, he might have given them the whole programme because they may want to go and see other things but in terms of what he’s inviting them to it’s a two hour session non competitive time on the Wednesday.

Well we’re in obviously in dispute on that, but I would say it’s there in the public domain and you should see it and maybe make a news comment on it later. In respect of the bedroom tax, he is legally within the right framework to say he’s not going to oppose it, but you know in Liverpool and Sefton the Council does not waste council payer’s money going up against appeals that these poor people who are struggling to find money to pay for Council Tax for bedrooms that are less than fifty square metres, you know it’s abhorrent that you’ve got a Labour Council that’s doing this!

I’ve now got the statement, it’s not quite what I said. This is the statement. It is not true that all sixty-six councillors have been invited to attend the whole of the Open competition. All councillors have been invited onto the course for a short time, where there will be no bar on one practice day, not a competition day.

The email your caller’s referred to was in fact sent to two people to attend key business days, which are aiming to attract significant inward investment into the area. It is only those people who were extended that invitation, one of which has declined. In addition, the Leader of the Council will be in attendance hosting these important inward investment sessions.

Well that’s what you have spin doctors for isn’t it?

Why couldn’t it be the truth?

Well it isn’t the truth Roger, because there is a website hosted by John Brace on the Wirral and he’s published that letter, I suggest you go and look at it.

Well there is a letter, but it only went to two people, one of which has declined.

Well OK, well you know I can’t prove that and neither can probably..

Well I can’t, but I mean I think it unlikely that the Council’s going to send us a direct open lie.

Well when we get photographs of the councillors attending over those five days and put them on the internet you know which I will do because you know I’m a taxpayer and I’m quite disgusted by the actions of this Council. Then we will see who attended and who didn’t and they’re answerable to the electorate.

Well there’s nothing to stop them attending, as long as they pay.

No, if they pay for their own ticket.

Well absolutely so a picture of a councillor attending means nothing.

Well we’ll see, ok thank you for your time Roger.

Alright cheers.


But now then, Councillor Walter Smith is on the line from Liverpool City centre, he’s a councillor in Wirral. Hello Walter.

I just wanted to put the err gentleman right who was talking about the lavish hospitality we councillors will be receiving from Wirral Borough Council during the Open Golf at err Hoylake. Errm, can I just say though there will definitely be no lavish hospitality. I don’t know whether they may give us a cup of coffee, I don’t know about that but speaking from my experience in 2010, errm I visited the course with the Council on that day and we had err a hospitality tent which I think we had a cup of coffee, there was certainly no lavish hospitality but what people need to understand is when we have an important event, such as the Open Golf Championship that it’s important that we councillors see what sort of facilities we’re providing, what are the arrangements because the world descends on Hoylake and errm we often have to make decisions based on we’re holding such an event and err so we need to experience it. It’s not very often that we get the opportunity to do that.

Now I must say in 2010 I was extremely lucky. I have a customer who is a capable manager of a hotel group and they had a hospitality suite and he invited me on the Thursday, the first day of the competition and I must say I enjoyed lavish hospitality, I mean I thought I was the luckiest man. I couldn’t have done better if I’d been a millionaire but I didn’t get that because I was a councillor. I got it because I’ve been dealing, tailoring suits for him for years and he invited me to that but that was a completely different type of hospitality to the one we councillors will enjoy at Wirral Borough Council and we’re certainly not invited on any of the competition days, I wish we were but we don’t get such a thing, you know.


So that is the reason is we’re there have a look at, we’ve organised the event and if I mean hopefully we’ll do this again and we’ll have some experience of if there were any shortfalls in the organisation. So that is the reason and I think we should squash immediately any such thought that councillors are living it up at the taxpayer’s expense. That is clearly not the case and it hasn’t been for some years.

We don’t even have a drink with the Mayor every sort of four or five months like we used to because we’ve cut out all the frills because we’re in an extremely difficult period for local government funding. Wirral Borough Council will have lost 57% of its income err over the next few years, over the last three or four years.

So clearly we are in a difficult position. We certainly don’t want to spend any funds on a beanie except providing services for the people that pay their council tax.

You’re gilding the lily.

Can I just finish off while I’m on? I haven’t been on for ages with you. I keep meaning to ring just to mention these constant attacks in the press and the media in general on Ed Miliband as though he’s ineffective. Now I must say for myself as a Labour Party member I did not vote for Ed Miliband to be Leader of the Labour Party. I voted for his brother David because I know David Miliband, I’ve met him some eight or nine times and I picked him out as a Leader of the Labour Party in 2004. I met him at a conference and I thought how able he was but I must say for myself as someone that didn’t vote for Ed, I think he’s doing a splendid job, I think he’s put his finger on the pulse on many of the things that concern most of us in Britain today, the cost of our energy, electricity, gas, err rail fares, errm and all that type of thing.

but he’s not getting the ratings

and he’s certainly doing a great job.

but he’s not getting the ratings Walter whatever you say, people you know give Cameron better ratings.

Well Roger whenever was errm the Leader of the Opposition ever getting the rating? I remember Jim Callaghan was streets ahead of Mrs. Thatcher in 1979. Did we get elected?

Alright Walter, I need to leave it there but thank you very much.

Well listen Roger, you are the media, you know, I know you’re well read, you keep up to date with everything and I tell you I, it’s interesting the Leader of the Opposition never err

gets the ratings

gets the sort of vote that you think


that he should.

Alright, thanks a lot for that. Cheers Walter.

Nice to speak to you anyway, all the best Roger. Good bye.

Well that was Councillor Walter Smith.

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4 councillors ban filming at Merseyside Police and Crime Panel public meeting but support police filming the public

4 councillors ban filming at Merseyside Police and Crime Panel public meeting but support police filming the public

4 councillors ban filming at Merseyside Police and Crime Panel public meeting but support police filming the public


Police and Crime Panel meet at Birkenhead Town Hall 24th April 2014

Merseyside Police and Crime Panel (Birkenhead Town Hall) 24th April 2014 taken after the meeting had finished Left to Right Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council officer, Councillor Frank Prendergast (Vice-Chair) (Labour, Liverpool City Council), Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council officer, Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council officer, Joseph Edwards (Independent Co-opted Member) (Mr. Edwards wasn’t present from the start of the meeting but arrived late), Councillor Moira McLaughlin (Labour, Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council), Councillor Doreen Kerrigan (Labour, Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council), Councillor Peter Brennan (Labour, Liverpool City Council)

The meeting started with two announcements the Vice-Chair (Councillor Prendergast) wished to make. The first was he asked for the noisy tea urn at the back of the room to be switched off as he said he had hearing problems. The second announcement Councillor Frank Prendergast (Labour, Liverpool City Council) wanted to make was to say that a request was made to film the public meeting of the Merseyside Police and Crime Panel which he had turned down because “confidential” things may be said during the meeting. However he said the public were welcome to stay for the whole meeting.

At this point as the Chair said it was his decision, I asked if he was making that on behalf of the whole Merseyside Police and Crime Panel as their rules of procedure agreed by the Merseyside Police and Crime Panel last July stated that this decision was of the whole Panel:

“21.1 No audio or visual record of proceedings (or part of the proceedings) of a Panel, Sub-Committee or Working Group meeting may be taken without the express permission of the Panel, Sub-Committee or the Working Group concerned.”

He replied that he was. None of the other three Labour councillors present said anything at this point, nor was a vote taken. I asked the Chair at the close of the meeting to provide a quote as to why he’d been against the public meeting being filmed. He told me he was too busy to provide a quote as he had to leave (the meeting was held in Birkenhead) to go to Clatterbridge via Liverpool.

Although the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 which prevent bodies such as the Police and Crime Panel stopping filming of their public meetings have been laid before the House of Commons on the 3rd April 2014 by the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, due to Parliament breaking up for Easter a week later a resolution approving the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 hasn’t yet been passed by the House of Commons and House of Lords. So it doesn’t yet have the force of law.

However this is what Labour’s front bench spokesperson, Hilary Benn MP had to say when the issue was debated last year in the House of Commons:

“We will therefore support that change, and also the proposal that councils in England should allow the recording and videoing of council and committee meetings. In this day and age, big changes in technology make recording and videoing readily possible, and I cannot see the difference between sitting in a meeting, listening and writing down what is being said, or—for those who have shorthand—taking a verbatim record, and making one’s own recording.”

The Merseyside Police and Crime Panel is a joint committee of the councils on Merseyside. The new Labour chaired Liverpool City Region Authority also declined a request to film their first public meeting. The Liverpool City Region Authority’s constitution delegated such matters to the Chief Executive of Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council Sheena Ramsey. Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council is also the host authority for the Merseyside Police and Crime Panel.

Has the message from Labour’s front bench spokesperson Hilary Benn MP to “support the change” to “allow the recording and videoing of council and committee meetings” fallen on deaf ears? Do the four Labour councillors who made the decision to prevent filming yesterday (Councillor Frank Prendergast, Councillor Doreen Kerrigan, Councillor Peter Brennan and Councillor Moira McLaughlin (who is currently Labour’s candidate in Rock Ferry ward)) realise how strange it seems for their party’s national spokesperson to say one thing yet Labour councillors locally on Merseyside to do the complete opposite?

My comments on what happened are that currently the public (and press) already do have the right to film, blog and tweet at public meetings. This is granted to them by article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Human Rights Act 1998 c.42. It is unlawful for any public body to act in a way that is incompatible with article 10 (freedom of expression) due to section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998. In an ironic twist the Merseyside Police and Crime panel during the meeting discussed the wearing of cameras in public by police officers and were supportive of it.

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