Accountability failures by local government highlighted in report by Research for Action and High Court Judge

Accountability failures by local government highlighted in report by Research for Action and High Court Judge

Accountability failures by local government highlighted in report by Research for Action and High Court Judge

                                 

By John Brace (Editor)
and
Leonora Brace (Co-Editor)

First publication date: 28th April 2021, 05:48 (BST).

The three boxes on the left comprise the PFI fire stations contract
The three boxes on the left comprise the PFI fire stations contract

A 40 A4 page report published today (28th April 2021) by Research for Action titled Democracy Denied: Audit and Accountability Failure in Local Government looked at the experience of those who have tried (during a 30 working day period each year) to inspect the financial records of councils, as well as the experience of those who have asked questions of auditors or made objections using rights in the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 (in England) or the Local Authority Accounts (Scotland) Regulations 2014 (in Scotland). The report concentrates on requests to inspect, as well as related rights to ask questions to the auditor and/or object to the auditor. The report is mainly about requests in relation to PFI (Private Finance Initiative) schemes or LOBO (Lender Option Borrower Option) loans.
Continue reading “Accountability failures by local government highlighted in report by Research for Action and High Court Judge”

What are the new restrictions on what you can’t do in Wirral, St Helens, Sefton, Knowsley, Liverpool and Halton from the 14th October 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic?

What are the new restrictions on what you can’t do in Wirral, St Helens, Sefton, Knowsley, Liverpool and Halton from the 14th October 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic?

What are the new restrictions on what you can’t do in Wirral, St Helens, Sefton, Knowsley, Liverpool and Halton from the 14th October 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic?

                                     

A protest outside Wallasey Town Hall in 2016 - protests of this size whilst the regulations are in force will only be allowed if a risk assessment has been carried out and all reasonable measures have been taken
A protest outside Wallasey Town Hall in 2016 – protests of this size whilst these regulations are in force will only be allowed if a risk assessment has been carried out and all reasonable measures have been taken

By John Brace (Editor)
First publication date: 13th October 2020, 12:46 (BST).

Tomorrow (Wednesday 14th October 2020) further public health restrictions come into force in Wirral, St Helens, Sefton, Knowsley, Liverpool and Halton. The regulations are called the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local COVID-19 Alert Level) (Very High) (England) Regulations 2020 and are 27 pages long with a 13 page Explanatory Memorandum.
Continue reading “What are the new restrictions on what you can’t do in Wirral, St Helens, Sefton, Knowsley, Liverpool and Halton from the 14th October 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic?”

£110,000 Community Fund grants scheme now open for expressions of interest from groups for waste prevention, reuse, recycling or carbon benefits projects in Merseyside and/or Halton

£110,000 Community Fund grants scheme now open for expressions of interest from groups for waste prevention, reuse, recycling or carbon benefits projects in Merseyside and/or Halton

                                                              

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.

Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority public meeting of 5th February 2016 (where councillors agreed to continue the Community Fund for 2016/17)

Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority 5th February 2016 agenda item 11 Community Fund 2016 17 L to R Unknown, Mandy Valentine (Assistant Director of Governance and Performance), Cllr Graham Morgan (Chair), Carl Beer (Chief Executive) and Peter Williams (Director of Finance)
Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority 5th February 2016 agenda item 11 Community Fund 2016 17 L to R Unknown, Mandy Valentine (Assistant Director of Governance and Performance), Cllr Graham Morgan (Chair), Carl Beer (Chief Executive) and Peter Williams (Director of Finance)

The author of this piece declares an interest as a customer of his business is employed by one of the Wirral organisations that received a grant from Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority in 2014/15 mentioned below.

Last Friday afternoon councillors on the Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority agreed to continue the Community Fund for 2016/17 with an allocation of £110,000.

£57,000 has been set aside for regional (Merseyside and Halton) projects with a maximum award of £25,000 per a project in this category.

£48,000 has been set aside for district level projects (districts are Wirral, Liverpool, Sefton, St. Helens, Knowsley and Halton) with a maximum grant award of £8,000 per a project in this category.

Any unspent monies at the regional level will be reallocated to projects at a district level.

Three Wirral based organisations received grant funding last year (2014/15) through this scheme. You can read the full list of organisations that received grant funding for 2014/15 on Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority’s website. There is a detailed report about the projects including photos of some of the 2014/15 projects on Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority’s website (the last photo on the last page of that report includes a photo of former Mayor of Wirral Steve Foulkes and Birkenhead’s MP the Rt Hon Frank Field MP).

Tomorrow’s Women Wirral received £10,000 for their Inspiration Hall project.
Community Action Wirral received £19,982 for their Donate and Create Change project.
Wirral Change received £9,064 for their Too Good To Waste project.

This year the Community Fund is open again for applications from registered charities, not-for-profit organisations (including social enterprises), community, neighbourhood or voluntary groups, faith groups delivering community work, schools, colleges or universities.

It is a two stage grant application process with the first stage being an expressions of interest stage.

Applications are sought for projects that can deliver waste prevention, reuse, recycling and carbon benefits.

A link to the expression of interest form, guidance document and terms and conditions can be found linked from this page on Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority’s website. This page also has contact details for Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority in connection with applications for grants.

The deadline for the first stage (expressions of interest) for this two stage grant process is Wednesday 2nd March 2016.

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

Did Wirral Council’s Pensions Committee really approve the accounts of the £6.9 billion Merseyside Pension Fund?

Did Wirral Council’s Pensions Committee really approve the accounts of the £6.9 billion Merseyside Pension Fund?

Did Wirral Council’s Pensions Committee really approve the accounts of the £6.9 billion Merseyside Pension Fund?

Pensions Committee (Merseyside Pension Fund) 15th September 2015 Left Peter Wallach Head of Pensions Right Cllr Paul Doughty Chair of the Pensions Committee
Pensions Committee (Merseyside Pension Fund) 15th September 2015 Left Peter Wallach Head of Pensions Right Cllr Paul Doughty Chair of the Pensions Committee

Below is a copy of my statutory objection to the approval of the accounts of the Merseyside Pension Fund (a £6.9 billion pension fund that form part of Wirral Council’s accounts) which go to Wirral Council and its auditors Grant Thornton.

It’s rather dull and technical, but in the interests of openness and transparency I am publishing it below. It relates to yesterday’s meeting of the Pensions Committee that can be viewed below. I was so cheesed off I made two spelling mistakes in the email (a corrected version is below).

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

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 Pension Committee public meeting of the 15th September 2015 Part 1 of 2 (Merseyside Pension Fund)

I reckon receiving this email will probably be about as welcome at Wirral Council as someone breaking wind in an open plan office. However such is life! The press are independent for a reason!


Subject: Statutory objection to Pensions Committee approval of Merseyside Pension Fund Accounts for 2014/15

CC: Pat Philips
CC: Colin Hughes
CC: Surjit Tour
CC: Peter Wallach
CC: Joe Blott
CC: Tom Sault

CC: Cllr Paul Doughty
CC: Cllr Ann McLachlan
CC: Cllr George Davies
CC: Cllr Treena Johnson (email address unknown)
CC: Cllr Adrian Jones
CC: Cllr Brian Kenny
CC: Cllr Geoffrey Watt
CC: Cllr Kathy Hodson
CC: Cllr Cherry Povall
CC: Cllr Pat Cleary
CC: Cllr Anita Leech

CC: Cllr Nick Crofts (Liverpool City Council)
CC: Cllr John Fulham (St Helens Council)
CC: Cllr William Weightman (Knowsley Council)
CC: Paulette Lappin (Sefton Council)

CC: Cllr Jim Crabtree
CC: Cllr Ron Abbey
CC: Cllr Chris Blakeley
CC: Cllr Angela Davies
CC: Cllr David Elderton
CC: Cllr Phil Gilchrist
CC: Cllr John Hale
CC: Cllr Matthew Patrick

CC: Fiona Blatcher
CC: Heather Green
CC: Chris Blakemore

Dear all,

I am a local government elector in the Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council area and make this statutory objection to the Pensions Committee approval of the the Merseyside Pension Fund Accounts for 2014/15 (see Audit Commission Act 1998, s.16).

For the purposes of clarity to the auditor this is a statutory objection to a matter not in relation to a matter covered by Audit Commission Act 1998, s.17-18 but Audit Commission Act 1998, s.8.

As required I am sending a copy of this objection to the auditor, those I have contact details for on Wirral Council’s Pensions Committee (I do not have an email address for Cllr Treena Johnson), Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee and those tasked with corporate governance at Wirral Council such as the Monitoring Officer Mr. Tour, the Head of Pensions Peter Wallach, the Strategic Director for Transformation and Resources Joe Blott and Tom Sault the Acting 151 Officer as well as other relevant people.

I do not have contact details for some on the Pensions Committee. I am sending this to the officer who took the minutes of the Pensions Committee meeting on the 14th September 2015 in the hope that it can be forwarded to those I do not have contact details for (the non-councillor members and Cllr Treena Johnson).

As this is a rather technical objection, I provide below a summary of the key points.

However I first need to declare an interest. I have a close family relative who is currently paid a pension by Merseyside Pension Fund, therefore a close interest in the corporate governance of the Fund being done properly.

On the 14th September 2015, I and three other members of the public (two of whom were employed by Grant Thornton and are Wirral Council’s auditors) attended a public meeting of Wirral Council’s Pensions Committee.

This meeting was filmed by myself and published shortly after, see

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.

and

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.

.

One of the functions of the Pensions Committee as detailed in Wirral Council’s constitution is to approve the statement of accounts and financial statements of the Merseyside Pension Fund and recommend these to the Audit and Risk Management Committee.

This is because the Merseyside Pension Fund forms part of Wirral Council’s accounts. There is a statutory deadline to approve the statement of accounts for the 2014/15 financial year by the 30th September 2015.

As mentioned at the Pensions Committee itself by one of the councillors this Fund is valued at ~£6.9 billion.

Item 4 and 5 on the agenda of that meeting were the pension fund accounts 2014/15 and draft annual report.

As the Pensions Committee is a public meeting of a local authority, legislation that governs public meetings applies to it. The statement of accounts formed part of a document known as the “Report & Accounts 2014/15” which was given to those on the Pensions Committee present on the afternoon of the meeting itself.

Please note the reference below to principal council, by virtue of Local Government Act 1972, s.100E also apply to committees and sub-committees of a principal council. The Pensions Committee is a committee of a principal council.

Local Government Act 1972, s.100B(4), is quite clear on the procedure that should be followed in the case of agenda items that are not open to inspection by members of the public five clear days before the meeting.

(4) An item of business may not be considered at a meeting of a principal council unless either—

(a) a copy of the agenda including the item (or a copy of the item) is open to inspection by members of the public in pursuance of subsection (1) above for at least [five clear days] before the meeting or, where the meeting is convened at shorter notice, from the time the meeting is convened; or

(b) by reason of special circumstances, which shall be specified in the minutes, the chairman of the meeting is of the opinion that the item should be considered at the meeting as a matter of urgency.

It is clear that the Report & Accounts 2014/15 for the Merseyside Pension Fund did not fall under the description in s. 100B (4)(a) and therefore the procedure in 100B(4)(b) applies. The Chairman of the Pensions Committee Cllr Paul Doughty did not specify at the meeting itself his opinion that the item should be considered as a matter of urgency, nor would the reasons for this be specified in the minutes.

This is an important corporate governance safeguard written into legislation.

Firstly, if the documents are not made available to the public five clear days before the meeting, the public and press cannot scrutinise them. Secondly (as was mentioned at the meeting itself) at least one councillor expressed the view that half an hour was insufficient to scrutinise a highly technical 46 page document.

This is not a one off occurrence. Officers in previous years have frankly played these games of brinkmanship with accounts routinely handed to those tasked with corporate governance to approve on the evening of the meeting itself. The safeguard above in s.100(4)(b) above, details a procedure to be followed if the matter is urgent.

Therefore my objection is that because of what I have detailed above, the Pensions Committee did not approve the statement of accounts for the Merseyside Pension Fund because:

(a) the report was late and
(b) it is clear from the legislation that a procedural step was missed making the decision ultra vires.

I am however not an unreasonable person and suggest the following course of corrective action. If this is followed I will happily withdraw my objection.

i) That the Pensions Committee holds a further meeting between now and 30th September 2015.
ii) The Audit and Risk Management Committee recommendation is altered (agenda item 12 meeting of the 22nd September 2015) to be conditional on the meeting outlined in i) and the same for any Cabinet meeting that has to approve the same item
iii) That at this special meeting it considers the items referred to in this objection in a way that is not open to legal challenge or perceived to be ultra vires and that the information for this meeting is published on Wirral Council’s website five clear days before the meeting.

As Wirral Council’s auditors Grant Thornton will no doubt make clear, the matter that forms this objections needs to be resolved before the accounts are signed off. I look forward to reading and hearing responses to this objection.

However as this is a perceived serious corporate governance failing, I am making this objection public.

Yours sincerely,

John Brace

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

49 pages of secret expenses on fruit cake, stays at the Hilton, first class travel & taxis for councillors

49 pages of secret expenses on fruit cake, stays at the Hilton, first class travel & taxis for councillors

49 pages of secret expenses on fruit cake, stays at the Hilton, first class travel & taxis for councillors

                                                

At the end of this piece are 49 pages of invoices paid directly by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority. If a councillor pays for a meal or a taxi fare but claims the money back, it’s included in the annual totals for each councillor. You can view the table of annual totals for each councillor that was on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority on the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority website.

The pages of expenses below that cover stays in hotels, train fares and meals (which would usually be in the travel and subsistence or overnight categories of expenditure of that table) aren’t included. Below is what Regulation 15(3) of the Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003 states what should be included. Recipient refers to a recipient of a payment under the allowances scheme.

15. Records of Allowances
….
(3) As soon as reasonably practicable after the end of a year to which the scheme relates, an authority shall make arrangements for the publication within the authority’s area of the total sum paid by it in the year under the scheme to each recipient in respect of each of the following—

(a) basic allowance;
(b) special responsibility allowance;
(c) dependants’ carers’ allowance;
(d) travelling and subsistence allowance; and
(e) co-optees’ allowance.

 

The blog post Which Wirral councillor claimed £50 on taxis to and from a public meeting? includes a letter explaining why Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority doesn’t do this.

In that letter Janet Henshaw (Monitoring Officer for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service) writing on behalf of the Wirral councillors wrote:

“It was not possible to show travel & event bookings made directly by MFRA [Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority] (as opposed to members paying and then claiming back their allowances) due to the fact that this Authority uses an electronic software system to make each booking at the cheapest possible price for both members and officers. We were invoiced monthly in the last year for both Officers and Members without differentiation. Thus it would have been a wholly unreasonable use of scare resources to break this down each month between the two groups and then each and every individual.”
 

CFO on one of the receipts refers to the Chief Fire Officer Dan Stephens. DCFO refers to the Deputy Chief Fire Officer Phil Garrigan. As some of the names of the councillors below will be unfamiliar to readers I include a key below. The key has the name of the councillor, political party, which local authority they represent (or represented as Cllr Ted Grannell and Cllr Tony Newman are no longer on the Fire Authority) and whether they hold the position of Chair or Vice-Chair on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority.

Cllr Dave Hanratty, Labour, Liverpool, Chair
Cllr Linda Maloney, Labour, St Helens, Vice-Chair
Cllr Leslie T Byrom, Labour, Sefton, Vice-Chair
Cllr Ted Grannell (down on invoice as Ted Grenell), Labour, Knowsley
Cllr Tony Newman, Labour, Knowsley
Cllr Steve Niblock, Labour, Wirral

Continue reading “49 pages of secret expenses on fruit cake, stays at the Hilton, first class travel & taxis for councillors”