There was drama and excitement last night as Cllr Foulkes tried to persuade the Tory and Lib Dem councillors to let him stay on as Leader of Wirral Council.
A debate on the HESPE report and AKA report was adjourned partly due to the HESPE report not being ready (despite an earlier assurance it would be) and councillors grumbling over all the blacked out sections of the AKA report that they hadn’t been allowed to see.
Cllr Foulkes felt this wasn’t fair. He said he was worried about justice and claimed he would be sacked before getting a chance to debate the report [Ed – it’s an office he held, not employment so he can’t be “sacked” just voted out].
He wanted the whole thing adjourned to the 20th February and that he would be “seeking independent legal advice”. The Mayor decided to hear the no confidence motions in him anyway. Cllr Harney and Cllr Green both outlined why they wanted Cllr Foulkes to go.
Cllr Phil Davies gave an impassioned defence of Cllr Foulkes, stating that he “doesn’t believe it’s right or just to place the entire blame on Steve Foulkes”. He pointed out how the issues dated back to 1997, through three different leaders, two chief executives and various Directors of Adult Social Services. He said there was a strong argument that all political parties on the Council should take the blame as to why they didn’t take action or ask questions.
He said the “nasty, personal attacks on Steve” were “bang out of order” and that Labour would not take part in a three party Cabinet leaving the Tories and Lib Dems to run it as a Coalition or collaboration.
Cllr John Hale finished his speech by saying, “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” which sums up a lot of what the Conservative councillors had to say.
Impassioned speeches were made in defence of Cllr Foulkes, Cllr Kenny pleaded with them to wait until the May elections. Cllr Steve Williams compared Cllr Foulkes to an incompetent surgeon who needed to be removed before he does any more harm. Cllr Adam Sykes’ speech was interrupted by the Mayor, keen that he used the word alleged in respect of things alleged in the AKA report.
Cllr Foulkes said he was not in it to seek personal gain but wanted to point out what had been done. He apologised again to Martin Morton and anybody who had suffered a detriment in the past. He said they had got it “horribly wrong on Fairer Charging” and got heckled by someone from the public gallery shouting “he hasn’t got his job back”.
The Mayor gave a stern warning to the public gallery and said it was the last warning that if there was any further disruption she would order it cleared.
Cllr Foulkes referred to an unspecified “disgraceful blog” and said he was sorry if sticking ruthlessly to Anna’s recommendations had been misinterpreted by Cllr Tom Harney as lack of involvement. He wanted to make it clear to people in the public gallery that he had apologised and pointed out he had disbanded the Corporate Governance Committee and set up an Improvement Board. Cllr Foulkes said he tried to do things in an open and honest fashion, but that he couldn’t trust Cllr Green [Leader of the Tories] as far as he could throw him.
There were harsh words between the Mayor and Cllr Foulkes who finished by saying he was “not begging for my job”.
Cllr Green said he was not one for Standards Board complaints, but that Cllr Foulkes had called his trustworthiness into question. Cllr Foulkes was forced to apologise.
Cllr Stuart Kelly mentioned the senior officers who had been implicated had left under the cover of a compromise agreement, did this contain a gagging clause? He said “the cover up continues” and compared it to Watergate. He did acknowledge that Cllr Foulkes had “been badly advised” but that not to pay a price and resign diminished him.
Various other councillors spoke either for or against Cllr Foulkes’ removal as Leader. After all the speeches the meeting was adjourned. The Lib Dem motion of no confidence was combined with the Tory motion and went to the vote.
In favour to remove Cllr Foulkes were 36 councillors, against were 30, so he was removed as Leader of Wirral Council. After another adjournment there was a vote as to whether Cllr Phil Davies should be Leader. Thirty voted for and 36 voted against.
There was then a vote on Cllr Jeff Green as Leader, and he was elected Leader by 36 votes to 30. The Mayor asked Cllr Green to make an acceptance speech.
Cllr Green thanked Council for the confidence placed in him and that he wouldn’t name his Cabinet now. He hoped for an all party Cabinet and thought it was “genuinely important to find ways of working together”. He wanted the trust to be regained in Wirral Council and was going to defer Budget Cabinet from the 20th February to the 21st February. He would also send the Budget to the Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee to allow it to be scrutinised. Cllr Green wanted to accelerate the work of the Local Democracy Working Party.
He wanted a pause to reflect if the new management model for the Department of Adult Social Services was the best model. Cllr Green also wanted the Audit and Risk Management Committee to “be more activist”.
Cllr Green then answered a question from myself on the redacted parts of the AKA report. He said he wanted the maximum amount of information shown in public, but that he had to be responsible and speak to Bill Norman.
There were then a series of votes on the motions and the meeting finished soon after.