As it is a bank holiday today, I will just be writing briefly today about what has been popular on this blog in the last week and taking the rest of the day off. The last week (August is traditionally a quiet month for politics) has seen 551 visitors to this blog viewing 1,247 pages. The top seven stories in order of popularity the last week have been:
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First here’s a list of who from the Working Group was present:
Councillor Bruce Berry
Councillor Chris Blakeley
Councillor Paul Hayes
Councillor Leah Fraser
Councillor Rob Gregson
Councillor Chris Jones
Councillor Adrian Jones
Councillor Matt Daniel
Councillor Anita Leech
Councillor Bernie Mooney
Councillor Janette Williamson
The first item was appointing a Chair (just for this meeting). Unusually nobody from Wirral Council’s legal services was present to advise the Committee, so the committee services officer Andrew Mossop asked for nominations for Chair.
Cllr Janette Williamson proposed Cllr Rob Gregson. Cllr Williamson’s proposal was seconded by Cllr Chris Jones.
Six out of seven Labour councillors voted for Cllr Rob Gregson as Chair.
Four out of four Conservative councillors voted against Cllr Rob Gregson being Chair.
So Cllr Rob Gregson was elected Chair by a vote of 6:4. Who was the Labour “rebel” who didn’t vote for Cllr Rob Gregson as Chair? Well the answer to that was he didn’t vote for himself.
Cllr Rob Gregson said “thank you very much” and wandered over to where the Chair sits and continued his list of thanks which was thankfully shorter than most Oscar acceptance speeches.
He thanked people for attending, he thanked myself and my wife, the councillors & community representatives. Having thanked literally everyone in the room, he then went on to apologies.
Andrew Mossop read out a list of apologies. It was a long list of councillors that couldn’t make it Cllr Pat Hackett (Labour), Cllr Treena Johnson (Labour), Cllr Lesley Rennie (Conservative) and Cllr Steve Williams (Conservative).
The Chair got his glasses out of his shirt pocket to read what was the next item on the agenda. He asked for declarations of interest? Nobody made any declarations of interest.
The first main agenda item was Integrated Transport Block Capital Programme Funding (2014/15). In case that agenda item title means absolutely nothing to you, it was about how the committee would decide to spend £38,875 on “improving road safety” and £38,875 on promoting active travel & health. The jargon “active travel” if you’re unfamiliar with the term it refers to walking and cycling.
The Chair asked Wirral Council’s road safety manager David Rees to introduce his report. He explained that his report and how officers decided on road safety schemes based on casualty figures. Mr Rees referred to what the money could be spent on, such as vehicle activated signs which had previously been funded by the Area Forums. Another way the money could be spent was on dropped crossings which assisted pedestrians with mobility issues, blind people, those in wheelchairs and mums with prams. The list of schemes already approved by Cabinet under central funding was referred to. He asked for areas that the Committee wished officers to look into and they would find out how much it was likely to cost.
Councillor Leah Fraser spoke first and asked a question and asked what on the list had been dealt with already which was replied to by David Rees. The next councillor to be heard was the mellifluous tones of Councillor Adrian Jones. After a short answer to his question Cllr Adrian Jones explained that he was in a position to understand his own ward (which is Seacombe) but that they had to decide what was best for Wallasey. He explained that each councillor would make a bundle of requests for their own ward which would go to officers, who’d then make recommendations. He said he assumed that David Rees must be frustrated by the process.
David Rees in his answer referred to Department for Transport regulations. Mr Rees said that even with suggestions where there weren’t recorded accidents, there may be broader benefits that officers could see for particular schemes.
Councillor Chris Jones asked about potholes and asked whether some could be done using the extra pothole funding that Wirral Council had received? David Rees explained that he had limited knowledge of the highway maintenance side and that they were keen to sort out the potholes while the weather was good. He said he could ask Caroline Laing to circulate a list to the Committee as to which ones they were looking at sorting out.
Councillor Chris Blakeley said, “OK thanks Chairman, .. I’m aware we’re being filmed tonight” and glanced in the direction of the camera. He said “we all know our own wards” and “at the risk of sounding like a stuck needle” that in the days of the Area Forums, where there were two wards involved that they used to split the money down the middle. He suggested that the money should be split six ways (as there are six wards in Wallasey), so that each ward would get just under £13,000.
The Chair replied to Councillor Chris Blakeley and admitted he was a little confused, but he said the danger was that the more articulate councillors being able to able to describe a minor dint in the road as apocalyptic which would mean such things would be favoured over areas that needed to be looked at.
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Two large petitions were submitted during the meeting, one was against closure of the Youth Centres, another of over 14,000 against closure of the Day Centres.
The Conservative Budget amendment was debated first and proposed saving the day centres and setting a 0% Council Tax rise which would’ve been achieved through savings (reducing amounts awarded to those taking redundancy, 5 days unpaid leave, “leaning Council bureaucracy” and reducing support to councillors.
Not unsurprisingly (despite Lib Dem support) the Conservative budget was defeated by Labour councillors.
The Lib Dem Budget went further and proposed saving a whole raft of services the day centres, youth centres, grants to voluntary groups, school crossing patrols, Birkenhead kennels and ruling out a charge for collection of garden waste. It also proposed keeping the Area Forums and reducing councillors to sixty. This would’ve been achieved through savings in agency workers, reductions in councillors allowances and senior management pay, capping the redundancy payouts, less glossy brochures, reduced audit fees and some other minor savings. This Budget also would’ve led to a 0% increase in Council Tax. The Lib Dem Budget was also rejected.
So the Budget that passed was the unamended Labour Cabinet’s budget recommendation of the 18th February 2013, this Budget will lead to an overall increase in 2% in Council Tax (any higher would trigger a referendum) and includes closure of one of the day centres, cancelling the Tranmere Rovers sponsorship, getting rid of Area Forums, a cut of £1.5 million to the budget for Childrens Centres/Surestart, a cut of £1 million to the Street cleaning budget, a cut of nearly £1 million to the Home Insulation scheme and various other cuts to Council services. For the full details of Labour’s budget you can read the papers on Wirral Council’s website.
Bidston & Claughton Area Forum | St James Centre | 5th February 2013 Part 1 | Proposals abolishing Area Forums
Bidston & Claughton Area Forum St James Centre
Ian Brand (Lead Officer)
Tracey Smith (Community Engagement)
Jim Parsons (Community Rep)
Jean McIntosh (Community Rep)
Pat Lansborough (Community Rep)
Steve Preston (Community Safety)
Paul Murphy (Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service)
Cllr Denise Roberts (Chair)
Cllr Harry Smith
Cllr Steve Foulkes
Cllr George Davies
Cllr Ann McLachlan
+ various members of the public
The Chair, Cllr Denise Roberts welcomed people to the Bidston & Claughton Area Forum and asked the Lead Officer, Ian Brand to read out a statement. Ian Brand said it was a standard statement that was being read at each Area Forum. A report proposing a new approach had been recommended in January and would be voted on by councillors in the coming weeks. The proposal was for four neighbourhood teams, with devolved decision-making and budgets. These would consist of multi agency teams including the local authority, police, health, fire and would result in the abolition of the eleven Area Forums.
These local committees would draw down and allocate resources based on a neighbourhood plan. The benefits would be that costs would be reduced and there would be better outcomes for local people. The area covered would be each of the four parliamentary constituencies which would each have a public service board, chaired by councillors. There would also be an overarching Wirral Together Public Service Board. If the proposal was agreed it would be implemented from May 1st . Ian Brand said he would be happy to go over any points people missed and answer questions.
Various questions were then asked of Mr. Brand. He answered that the new public service boards would replace the Area Forums covering the area of a parliamentary constituency (in this case Birkenhead). Details such as allocation of funding was yet to be finalised. Cllr George Davies pointed out that the Birkenhead public service board would cover the existing wards of Bidston & St. James, Birkenhead and Tranmere, Claughton, Prenton, Oxton and Rock Ferry. Cllr Roberts said that people would get more news at the next Forum.
Tracey Smith said that on one issue from the last Forum, on the changes to Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit, the finance department had provided a detailed response from Neil Powell which was attached to the minutes of the last meeting.
Cllr Harry Smith pointed out that he’d attended the last meeting, but that this wasn’t reflected in the minutes. Cllr Roberts apologised and asked if there were any questions arising from the minutes.
Prenton/Oxton Area Forum 1st November 2012 Belmont Suite, Tranmere Rovers Football Club Part 1
Prenton/Oxton Area Forum
Belmont Suite, Tranmere Rovers Football Club
1830 to 2030
Louise Harland Davies (Community Engagement)
Cllr Tony Norbury Labour (Chair)
Steve Preston (Community Safety)
Sarah Goulding (Community Rep)
Kay Crook (Community Rep)
Brian Griffiths (Merseyside Police)
Ian Lowrie (Community Safety)
Chris McCarthy (Interim Director, Technical Services)
Cllr Stuart Kelly
Cllr Paul Doughty
Paul Murphy (Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service)
Cllr Patricia Williams
Cllr Alan Brighouse
Cllr Denise Realey (arrived late)
The Chair, Cllr Norbury welcomed people to the Area Forum and informed people he had been elected as a councillor in May . He asked people to introduce themselves and gave apologies for a number of people who couldn’t make it including the Lead Officer.
Chris McCarthy, deputising for the Lead Officer who wasn’t present read out a brief statement on the suspension of the Neighbourhood Forum funds. He said the fund was frozen as it was “non-essential” and there was a projected £17 million overspend.
Ed – at the time the projected overspend as of September 2012 was £13.2 million not £17 million as claimed, as the figure for £17 million was the position five months prior to the November Area Forum meeting (June 2012). However no-one will know the true figure until the 2012/2013 accounts have been audited in September 2013, until then it’s “just a guess” and falls into the selective quoting of statistics Wirral Council is famous for, where incorrect information supplied by others is repeated until some of the press and public believe it through repetition.