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As I am referred to at this meeting because of an email I wrote to the Committee and others I will declare an interest at the outset. I will also declare an interest as a paid member of the press who are referred to in a report that was agenda item 4.
The public meeting of Wirral Council’s Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee was a special meeting held in Committee Room 3 at Wallasey Town Hall without microphones.
The following councillors were present: Cllr Eddie Boult (Conservative) deputy for Cllr Gerry Ellis (Conservative), Cllr David Elderton (Conservative), Cllr Chris Blakeley (Conservative spokesperson), Cllr Denise Roberts (Labour Chair), Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour), Cllr Ron Abbey (Labour), Cllr Jean Stapleton (Labour) deputy for Cllr Brian Kenny (Labour), Cllr Paul Stuart (Labour) and Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson).
There were also two independent people on the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee present who were Brian Cummings and Professor Ronald Jones.
Wirral Council officers present were Surjit Tour and Shirley Hudspeth.
Present from the press & public were myself and Leonora Brace.
The new Chair (Cllr Denise Roberts) welcomed people to the first meeting of the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee of the municipal year.
Apologies were given for Cllr Gerry Ellis (Cllr Eddie Boult was deputy for him) and Cllr Brian Kenny (Cllr Jean Stapleton was deputy for him).
Essentially there are three points that Mr. Brace has raised.
One is in relation to the supplementary agenda, the report that you have before you not being circulated with the original initial agenda, but that was the reason for that, we were still in the process of trying to co-ordinate dates for the Standards Panel which we need to establish and there was a slight delay in terms of getting the finalised date.
I can confirm that there is a date that has now been confirmed and I’ll come onto that as part of the substantive item. So that was the reason for why the report was not published because I wanted to actually provide you with a date as part of ??? rather than leave you with a outstanding issue.
Unfortunately that caused a difficulty with regards to the date when I published the supplementary agenda despite our efforts to try and provide the full report to you in terms of the date that a particular Panel would meet.
With regards to concerns around errm the article 6 arguments or the section 6 arguments and Article 10 provisions that have been referred to, errm the Protocol and the paragraph within the Protocol paragraph 12.5, simply requires anyone who’s involved in the investigation is being advised not to share information with the press or media rather than go through our Press Office purely because any investigation it’s important that the integrity of the investigation is maintained and if information appears provided in the public domain, it could have the effect of prejudicing the investigation.
It is only an advisory point, individuals are entitled to ignore that advice if they so wish, but they do so in the knowledge that they could potentially jeopardise an investigation.
So if you’re a complainant you could find that the subject councillor is prejudiced because you could bring about a potential conclusion of the investigation prematurely and clearly if it’s a subject councillor again could find themselves bringing the Council into disrepute by not adhering to appropriate advice and undermining the ethical framework.
So paragraph 12.5 in the first instance specifically makes reference to anyone involved in the investigation, who will be advised, it doesn’t require and doesn’t say that they are prohibited from sharing information in the public domain and clearly they would be advised against that.
So I don’t believe that provision in any shape or form either contravenes either section 6 or indeed article 10.
With regards to the constitutional changes, with regards to paragraph 7 of the Access to Information Rules, we’re aware of that change. It was an oversight and you know in previous reviews the Standards Working Group of this Committee when it meets in July, if you’re minded to re-establish the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Working Group again. One of its tasks will be to again review the full ethical framework and see if there any constitutional changes that are required and so I’m grateful to Mr. Brace to raise that, we’ll be aware that that change needs to take place and the constitutional amendment and that will take place as part of the Standards Working Group Working Program if you’re minded to re-establish it, if not then I’ll bring a separate report requiring that change to be made in relation to Council be made for that amendment to be made to the Constitution accordingly.
Thank you Chair, with regards to the substantive matter before you, the purpose of this meeting is to establish or for the Committee to establish formally the Standards Panel and the Standards Appeal Panel which all form part of the arrangements for dealing with standards complaints under paragraph 9.5 of article 9 of the Council’s constitution.
You’ll find in the report I’ve attached a number of appendices, there is information on article 9 of the constitution, which effectively sets out the constitutional framework for both panels and that’s in the first agenda document that we’ve got. Can I refer you to page 11 of the original agenda and in particular if you turn to page 13 and 14 and ?? onwards you will have the terms of reference of both the Standards Panel and the Standards Appeals Panel setting out not only its composition, but also its scope, remit and indeed its authority in terms of any sanctions that may be imposed.
So the purpose of this Committee is really to establish formally those two panels, not least because there is a particular matter that needs to be considered by the Standards Panel and therefore this Committee by formally establishing those enables the particular Standards Panel to be progressed to the first meeting of the Standards Panel.
With regards to that particular Panel meeting, we have canvassed dates. It has been a matter that has been long-standing in terms of both its progression, but we have now managed to secure a convenient date for a number of parties who need to be attending including at least one of our independent members and the date that is now available for that Standards Panel to meet is Tuesday 28th June at 6.00pm. There is also the possibility of a further date of the following day the 29th of June which I would suggest that we keep that date as a hold over provisional date that if we’re not able to conclude matters on Tuesday evening, we are in a position to adjourn to the following day where all the parties who are required are also available for Wednesday the 29th.
I’m not anticipating the matter having to extend to a second day, but it would be prudent now that we have a date to hold both days indeed if that we need them.
So Chair, the report itself sets out the position, I would like to just remind all people to bring to the attention of everyone the procedure, suggested procedure in appendix 4 of the supplement which sets out the suggested procedure for how matters will be dealt with by either the Standards Panel or indeed the Standards Appeals Panel.
As essentially an indicative process or procedure that would be followed. There is the discretion here for the Chairperson of the Panel to vary the ??? procedure if it’s necessary in the interests of fairness to all parties I understand, but it’s anticipated that following the process there will be making it ??? who needs to have whose views need to be sought, have the opportunity to share those thoughts with the Panel before the Panel considers its position with regards to the standards matter and also goes so far as to deal with if they do uphold and find that there is a breach, also then to address the issue of any sanctions if any that it thinks are appropriate.
So your approval is also sought in respect of that decision.”
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Often the motivation at the past at Wirral Council with regards to late papers not sent out with the agenda/reports for the meeting are that it is a way for officers to really make sure something is "rubber-stamped" (and if you really want it rubber-stamped just hand out about two dozen pages of information at the meeting itself on the basis that those on the Committee won’t have time to read it before reaching a decision).
I’ve written an email below which explains my position (in the interests of openness and transparency it is below). I look forward to the meeting itself to see what is decided.
To: Cllr Denise Roberts (Chair)
Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Vice-Chair)
Cllr Ron Abbey
Cllr Brian Kenny
Cllr Paul Stuart c/o Shirley Hudspeth
Cllr Chris Blakeley
Cllr David Elderton
Cllr Gerry Ellis
Cllr Phil Gilchrist
Cllr Jean Stapleton
Cllr Eddie Boult
Professor Ronald Samuel Jones c/o Shirley Hudspeth
Brian Cummings c/o Shirley Hudspeth
Chris Jones c/o Shirley Hudspeth
Press Office (Wirral Council)
I do not have email contact details for the independent members on the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee and Cllr Paul Stuart and hope that Shirley Hudspeth can give them either a copy of this at the meeting itself, or may know their email addresses to forward them a copy of this email.
I know that two councillors (Cllr Brian Kenny and Cllr Gerry Ellis) are sending deputies and am sending a copy of this both to the councillor deputising and the councillor they are deputising for. If any other councillors are planning to send a deputy to the meeting feel free to forward this to the deputy.
This email is in relation to item 4 (Appointments of Panels) on the agenda of the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee meeting to be held on the 2nd June 2016.
The papers for this were published late and can be found in the supplementary agenda. Please note that in order for the committee to consider material published after the 5 clear working days before the meeting, it’s a legal requirement that both the Chair (presumably Cllr Denise Roberts) accepted this item of other business and the reasons for accepting it late are recorded in the minutes. I’m sure Mr. Tour will be familiar with this as it formed the basis last year as to my formal objection to the 2014/15 accounts of the Merseyside Pension Fund (administered by Wirral Council) with the result being that the Pensions Committee had to arrange a further meeting to properly approve the accounts.
However, I have some general questions/queries. In the interests of openness/transparency I’m publishing this email, so it’s not confidential.
1) As the people proposed to be on the Standards Panel & Standards Appeal Panel are also members of the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee are both panels being categorised by Wirral Council as a sub-committee, similar to how the Licensing Act Sub-Committee members are also drawn from its parent committee?
2) In the proposed protocol it states,
“12.5 Anyone involved with the investigation will be advised that they may be compromising their position if they communicate with the media on matters relevant to the investigation whilst the investigation is ongoing and that any communication that is made should emanate from the Council’s communication team.”
The legal requirement for secrecy of those involved with the investigation of complaints about councillors was repealed some time ago. Because of s.6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 a public authority (such as Wirral Council) can’t make a decision which causes it to act in a way incompatible with a Convention right. This suggestion in the protocol would seem to conflict with both the Article 10 (freedom of expression) Convention right and the whistleblowing provisions in the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. I would therefore either like a detailed explanation as why this is proposed (or why I am wrong) or for it to be removed from the proposed policy before it is agreed.
3) Part 21.1 of the proposed policy refers to “7C of the Council Access to Information Procedure Rules”.
This refers to the following reason for excluding the press/public at a meeting:
“7C. Information presented to a standards committee, or to a sub-committee of a standards committee, set up to consider any matter under regulations 13 or 16 to 20 of the Standards Committee (England) Regulations 2008, or referred under section 58(1)(c) of the Local Government Act 2000.”
A local council can only use powers it legally has to do something. Standards complaints about councillors are no longer considered under s.58(1)(c) of the Local Government Act 2000 (which was repealed) or the Standards Committee (England) Regulations 2008.
Therefore the references to a repealed legal power need to be brought up to date to the current position and Wirral Council’s constitution updated to prevent confusion.
I plan to attend the meeting itself and look forward to hearing an answer to this email then.
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How much did taxis cost for councillors at Wirral Council through a contract with Eye Cab Limited between September 2014 and March 2015?
How much did taxis cost for councillors at Wirral Council through a contract with Eye Cab Limited between September 2014 and March 2015?
During the 2014/15 audit I requested the contract between Wirral Council and Eye Cab Limited for LOT 4 (councillors taxis) called the Passenger Transport Contract. This is what the contract states about the invoices (pages 22 to 23):
Invoices should be submitted once a month for all journeys undertaken by Councillors for official business only. There will be no payment in advance for journeys. The invoice should contain the following information
Journey collection and arrival destinations
Date and time of journey
Name of the Councillor ordering the journey
Invoices will be paid at the price agreed between Wirral Council and the Contractor at the time of award of contract. If an overcharge is identified on an invoice a credit note will be required from the Contractor or a deduction for the amount owed clearly identified on the following invoice.
Invoices should be forwarded to:-
Legal and Member Services
Wallasey Town Hall
The invoices supplied don’t contain the times of journeys, or the journey collection or arrival destinations!
Wirral Council have also tried to black things out on these invoices (incompetently I might add with an image mask) because they class them as personal data.
All the underlying images of the invoices are still there as they’re using an image mask (that is the file contains two images that of the underlying invoice and over the top a further image used as a mask to black certain bits out).
Let’s start with the junior officer name at Wirral Council they blacked out which is Thompson, Carl S. [firstname.lastname@example.org].
Here’s the mobile phone number from this invoice: 0798 944 6652. I might point out that Eye Cab Limited publish this mobile phone number on their Facebook group page anyway.
Below are the totals by councillor for each invoice. The below are just journeys through this contract. It is possible for councillors to pay for taxi journeys themselves, then claim the money back from Wirral Council, in which case those figures would not be included below.
Invoice dated 27th September 2014 (LOT4/2)
Pat Hackett £5.20 Ron Abbey £43.40 Steve Niblock £9.40 Moira McLaughlin £42.80 Irene Williams £8.00
Invoice dated 4th October 2014 (LOT4/2)
Ron Abbey £56.60 Moira McLaughlin £16.00 Bill Davies £6.60
Invoice dated 4th October 2014 (LOT4/3)
Ron Abbey £34.00 Moira McLaughlin £31.00
Invoice dated 11th October 2014 (LOT4/5)
Moira McLaughlin £26.80 Ron Abbey £71.60 Bill Davies £6.60
Invoice dated 18th October 2014 (LOT4/6)
Moira McLaughlin £26.80 Pat Hackett £5.20 Ron Abbey £51.00
Invoice dated 24th October 2014 (LOT4/7)
Ron Abbey £76.00 Moira McLaughlin £31.50 Bill Davies £6.60 Muspratt £10.80 Pat Hackett £5.20
Invoice dated 31st October 2014 (LOT4/8)
Pat Hackett £5.20 Moira McLaughlin £18.80 Ron Abbey £71.00 *for two journeys includes waiting time of 5 minutes (£1) and 10 minutes (£2)
Invoice dated 8th November 2014 (LOT4/9)
Pat Hackett £15.60 Muspratt £12.20 Moira McLaughlin £33.40 Bill Davies £6.60 Niblock/Davies £10.80 Irene Williams £8.00 Ron Abbey £51.00
Invoice dated 15th November 2014 (LOT4/10)
Irene Williams £17.40 Pat Hackett £19.40 Steve Niblock £28.20 Bill Davies (down on invoice as W J Davies) £13.20 Moira McLaughlin £9.40
Invoice dated 22nd November 2014 (LOT4/11)
Steve Niblock (down on invoice as S. Niblock) £28.20 Moira McLaughlin £40.40 Bill Davies (down on invoice as W J Davies) £6.60 Irene Williams (down on invoice as I. Williams) £8.00 Muspratt (down on invoice as C. Muspratt) £12.20 Pat Hackett (down on invoice as P. Hackett) £11.80
Invoice dated 29th November 2014 (LOT4/12)
Moira McLaughlin £18.80
Invoice dated 6th December 2014 (LOT4/13)
Moira McLaughlin £9.40 Steve Niblock (down on invoice as Steve Nibkock) £37.60
Invoice dated 13th December 2014 (LOT4/14)
Steve Niblock (down on invoice as Steve Nibkock) £49.80 Moira McLaughlin (down on invoice as Moira McGlaughlin) £18.80 Bill Davies £13.20 Muspratt (down on invoice as Clr Muspratt) £12.20 Taxi Share £12.20
Invoice dated 20th December 2014 (LOT4/15)
Steve Niblock (down on invoice as Steve Nibkock) £59.20 Muspratt (down on invoice as Clr Muspratt) £12.20 Denise Realey (down on invoice as Denise Reaty) £8.00 Pat Hackett £11.80 Moira McLaughlin (down on invoice as Moira McGlaughlin) £10.80 Irene Williams £8.00
Invoice dated 10th January 2015 (LOT4/16)
Pat Hackett (down on invoice as P. Hackett) £11.80 Moira McLaughlin £79.40 Bill Davies £16.00
Invoice dated 17th January 2015 (LOT4/17)
Pat Hackett (down on invoice as P.Hackett) £9.40 Moira McLaughlin £28.20
Invoice dated 24th January 2015 (LOT4/18)
Irene Williams £8.00 Bill Davies £6.60 Moira McLaughlin £9.40 Niblock/Davies £12.20
Invoice dated 31st January 2015 (LOT4/19)
Steve Niblock £10.80 Bill Davies £6.60 Moira McLaughlin £28.20
Invoice dated 7th February 2015 (LOT4/20)
Steve Niblock £31.00 Moira McLaughlin £73.80 Williams/Muspratt £12.20 Irene Williams £9.40
Invoice dated 14th February 2015 (LOT4/21)
Moira McLaughlin £9.40 Steve Niblock £9.40
Invoice dated 21st February 2015 (LOT4/22)
Bill Davies £19.80 Irene Williams £8.00 Moira McLaughlin £9.40 Davies/McLaughlin £10.80
Invoice dated 28th February 2015 (LOT4/23)>
Moira McLaughlin £18.80 Bill Davies £18.40
Invoice dated 7th March 2015 (LOT4/24)
Moira McLaughlin £59.20
Invoice dated 21st March 2015 (LOT4/25)
Moira McLaughlin £28.20 Bill Davies £13.20 Irene Williams £8.00 Niblock/Davies £12.20
Below is an email I’ve just written about what happened today. I look forward to reading your comments on it. If I had faith in the whistleblowing procedures at Merseytravel I would not see the need to publish it, however these remarks do not inspire me with confidence. I realise I tend to get a bit verbose
Subject: protected disclosure (Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998)ED 18th February 2016: Although I originally thought I fell within the definition of worker in this legislation it seems I do not.
I am making this protected disclosure to Merseytravel, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council and KPMG.
Basically I am blowing the whistle and as I have little confidence in these matters being taken seriously by the public sector or addressed in a satisfactory manner I am also taking the step of publishing these concerns.
Obviously there are other routes I can go down other than this, but I hope this will resolve matters.
From this part onwards I will number the sections for ease of reference in replies to this communication.
I am a member of the press called Mr. John Brace. Part of my job is covering public meetings of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. For clarity I am both a member of the broadcast media (as I film such meetings) and new media as I write online about these meetings. I write online at http://johnbrace.com/ , which last month (December 2015) had an audience of around 3,345 readers. I publish the video I record on the Youtube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/level80 which in December 2015 was viewed for a total of ~87 hours.
2. Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014
On the 6th August 2014 a piece of legislation called the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 came into effect. These can be read at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2014/2095/contents/made and I will briefly summarise some of the main changes it made relevant to this protected disclosure:
a) it changed the existing legislation to place a positive duty on certain public bodies that now had to allow filming at their public meetings (regulation 4(5)),
b) it changed the existing legislation to make it clear that such recordings of public meetings could be published (explicitly mentioning the internet) (regulation 4(5)),
c) Please note in order to allay any confusion in what I am about to quote, I will point out that s.100J of the Local Government Act 1972 (which defines various terms used in Part VA means that “principal council” includes a combined authority.
This is a quote from regulation 4(5) which modifies the Local Government Act 1972.
“A person attending a meeting of a principal council in England for the purpose of reporting on the meeting must, so far as practicable, be afforded reasonable facilities for doing so.”
3. 26th January 2016 On the morning of the 26th January 2016 I attended the Merseytravel Offices which are at No 1 Mann Island, Liverpool, L3 1BP. For the purposes of brevity I will refer to this location as Merseytravel HQ.
This was to attend and report on a public meeting of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Audit Committee which was scheduled to start at 10.30am. I was there with my wife and colleague Leonora Brace.
There was also at least one other member of the public present during the meeting called Ian Warwick, who works for the external auditors KPMG to the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.
4. What happened
We arrived at the ground floor of Merseytravel at approximately 10 am.
The meeting was to be held on the first floor of Merseytravel HQ (in a room called the Authority Room).
We were told by the receptionist (I have a recording of this conversation on tape which can be supplied) that we would not be permitted to go through the barrier to this meeting (which started at 10.30am), until 10.45am.
Obviously had we taken her assertion at face value (and it causes a certain degree of work place stress to have to continually fact check what a public sector employee states to us) this would have been a breach of our rights to attend the public meeting and report on the public meeting.
There have been times in the past at Merseytravel HQ when we have arrived in plenty of time before a meeting has been to start.
However to give an example of what happened once, we had been kept waiting and not permitted to go to the room where the meeting is held until well after the meeting had started (by the time we were allowed to attend it was from memory had started thirty minutes before). It then causes us embarrassment to arrive late to a meeting when we had indeed on that occasion arrived in plenty of time. It made it impossible then for example to report on agenda items that had already happened.
Public meetings start at different times. For example these are the start times of public meetings held at Merseytravel HQ this month (I include the cancelled Combined Authority meeting scheduled for the 22nd January 2016 too):
There are other public meetings held in Merseytravel HQ too such as the Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority (also known as the Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority) which start at 1.00pm.
Invariably due to the confusion caused by the receptionist stating that we wouldn’t be able to go into the meeting until 10.45, I had to double-check the time of the meeting using the guest wi-fi.
I found out that the meeting was supposed to start at 10.30am. The receptionist was therefore wrong in her assertion that we should not be allowed in until 10.45am.
I also took the opportunity to read the Combined Authority’s policy on filming.
The Monitoring Officer for the Combined Authority is Angela Sanderson. She does not work for Merseytravel, but for St Helens Borough Council.
The agreed filming policy for the Combined Authority meetings (which presumably covers meetings of its Audit Committee) is based on that originally adopted by Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council. It was agreed on the 22nd September 2014.
In that policy the phone number of 0151 443 3536 (the press office of Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council) is given for enquiries.
However Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council have (as far as I know) no part in the public meeting of the Liverpool City Combined Authority Audit Committee of the 26th January 2016.
The papers for the meeting are published on Merseytravel’s website, see http://moderngov.merseytravel.uk.net/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=336&MId=1343 and the minutes are taken by a Merseytravel employee.
Here is a transcript of part of my conversation I had with the receptionist (who seems a textbook example of the doctrine of “superior orders”) to the extent below:
John Brace: This is the filming policy they use here, it’s the Knowsley Council one they use because they’re the ones that administer the Combined Authority and it says,
“Anyone wishing to do so is asked to inform them in advance to ensure any necessary arrangements can be made.”
So does that mean you need to ring the press office here or Knowsley?
Denise (who has a phone on her desk) (Merseytravel employee): No, they’ve given me instructions not to let any members of the public in there.
John Brace: No what I’m saying is your filming policy …
Denise (who has a phone on her desk) (Merseytravel employee): up until 15 minutes before until someone else is in that room.
John Brace: Sorry this is something different. Your filming policy says you request to be informed in advance of the meeting, so that’s what I’m doing.
Denise (who has a phone on her desk) (Merseytravel employee): Yeah, yeah.
John Brace: So what I’m saying is, it says media enquiries to be conducted to the Communications Team, does that mean
Denise (who has a phone on her desk) (Merseytravel employee): There you go, there’s Louise.
5. The conversation with Louise Outram
Before the public meeting started, myself and Leonora Brace had a conversation with Louise Outram (who as far as I know is the Monitoring Officer for Merseytravel) about these matters.
I will point out at this stage that this is not the first conversation I have had with Louise Outram about these issues.
Louise Outram: OK, Mr & Mrs Brace, can I take over here please?
Louise Outram: What’s the problem this morning?
John Brace: Well, the filming policy does say you require advance notice, so I was just asking whether that goes, because the policy was Knowsley’s policy so I’m not sure whether that phone number is Knowsley’s press office or your press office?
Louise Outram: Err, that looks like Knowsley’s number.
John Brace: Ahh, OK.
Louise Outram: Well I think it’s been accepted that you will film. We don’t have a problem with that. We can’t gain access to the building until there’s a committee officer within that room.
Leonora Brace: Yeah, but surely we can go upstairs and sit outside?
Louise Outram: No, you can’t. It’s a public, this is the public area and the meeting is a public meeting and we will afford you the reasonable facility to film.
Fifteen minutes before the meeting gives you sufficient time to set up your camera and at fifteen minutes before the meeting there’ll be a democratic services officer in that room.
We cannot allow the public unrestricted access to this building. We’ve got private tenants and public offices.
John Brace: Well we’ve seen plenty of members of the public go through when we’ve just been here in this short period for instance there’s one of your auditors from KPMG that doesn’t actually work for Merseytravel has gone through. You know other people have gone through into what you term as a non-public area. So,
Louise Outram: They, those officers have a legitimate meeting in this building. You have a right to the public meeting. The public meeting doesn’t start until 10.30, it’s only 10 o’clock now.
John Brace: You said 10.30, is that
Louise Outram: Yes.
John Brace: correct? I’ll just check on that, because I thought the time was different on the website, Louise Outram and Leonora Brace: No, it’s 10.30.
John Brace: If you look here I’ll just show you, oh yes it says 10.30. Sorry I’m thinking of another one that starts at 11.15,
Louise Outram: They’re all different times unfortunately, so it is important to check the time.
(a number of people speak at once)
Louise Outram: Yes, as soon as a Committee Officer, a Democratic Services Officer is in that room, they’ll advise Denise and Denise will allow you access up to that room to set up your camera, in the place that you normally set it up.
John Brace: The only other thing is that Leonora was saying is she’s a ********. The problem with sitting here opening and closing a lot it does get quite cold and draughty down here.
Louise Outram: Well I’m afraid we can’t do anything about that. The door has to open and close. I mean all I would suggest is that you arrive at 10.15 or fifteen minutes before whatever meeting time is scheduled and in doing that you will then be afforded the facility to come through.
John Brace: Well today for instance, as you know there’s bad weather and disruption to the transport network so it’s only advisable to leave a bit of extra time.
Louise Outram: Well I can’t allow you into the room until there’s a democratic services officer. Denise will advise you when that is. So if you’d like to sit, you’re more than welcome to sit here.
If you’d like to walk around the block, you’re more than welcome to do, but they’ll allow you in fifteen minutes before the meeting starts. OK, alright? I’ll notify Democratic Services that you’re filming again today. We do generally take it as read that you are afforded facilities to do that, so, we’ll, that’s not a problem, ok?
John Brace: Well another question I want to ask is, it states err “reasonable facilities” in the regulations, but it doesn’t actually state what they are so, is there some kind of understanding between us as to what they are or what?
Louise Outram: You come in, you are there are seats available, you generally set your tripod up,you generally move it around as in the camera around, so
John Brace: Sorry receipts?
Louise Outram: There are seats available for the public and you generally.
John Brace: Sorry I thought you said receipts.
Louise Outram: No,
John Brace: It’s the echoes in here isn’t it?
Louise Outram: No, you generally sit yourself in a particular position which affords you a good view of the, I mean I’ve seen your films, you know it affords you a good view of the Chamber and people are reminded to use their microphones, so we do try and ensure you get a good video of the meeting.
So I think we afford you reasonable if not very good facilities!
Louise Outram: The legislation unfortunately doesn’t describe anything formal but, and it doesn’t give any guidance as well, so I would say we (unclear)
I think so, I think you’re getting yourself a good spec.
Leonora Brace: It’s nearly ten past now!
Louise Outram: Well the Democratic Services officer will notify Denise and she’ll allow you access through.
John Brace: But it’s not Denise’s decision?
Louise Outram: She’s acting on instructions from ourselves.
John Brace: Oh I was trying to explain to Leonora, that she was getting instructions from above, it’s not her decision to make.
Louise Outram: It’s not Denise! (laughter)
John Brace: Does that help at all or not?
Leonora Brace: No.
There are many issues this raises.
For example the public sector equality duty (which was ironically raised by Cllr Pam Thomas at the meeting we were at). .
For example the area Louise Outram insists we wait in has no access to water or toilets.
This discriminates against two people with protected characteristics as Merseytravel is fully aware why we would require greater access to these than others.
To give one example, the pollution found in Liverpool City Centre, where Merseytravel HQ is based makes me thirsty because I’m an asthmatic.
Merseytravel is fully aware of the disability I have and the nature and extent of those disabilites as a District Judge at Birkenhead County Court found in the past that Merseytravel had discriminated against me three times (but accepted Merseytravel’s defence that on each occasion it was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim).
One could regard denying me access to water in such circumstances as degrading treatment contrary to Article 3.
Are we expected to bring our own water to such meetings?
Article 2 deals with freedom of movement which is again restricted.
It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way this is incompatible with a Convention Right (s. 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998).
Merseytravel states that it prides itself on good industrial relations with its workforce. We both work in Merseytravel HQ, yet not for Merseytravel. Yet Merseytravel management unilaterally imposed this new policy upon us without formally consulting us first.
I hope I will receive a satisfactory response to the issues raised. Not just for my benefit, but for that of Leonora, other members of the media who attend public meetings at Merseytravel HQ and indeed the wider public who may wish to do so.
Long drawn out legal cases are neither beneficial to either Merseytravel or myself, adverse press criticism is about the only tool I have to bring about change.
Merseytravel is part of the public sector and should be able to resolve this issues well before they get to this stage.
I would hope that after having read the above that matters will change.
However realising how difficult cultural attitudes are to change in an organisation, I am not hopeful of a quick resolution to these matters.
I can be contacted in the following ways:
Address: Jenmaleo, 134 Boundary Road, Birkenhead, CH43 7PH
Tel: 0151 512 2500 (but please not that due to the nature of my work you are highly likely to just get the answering machine)
P.S. Last year I heard Mayor Anderson (now Chair of the Combined Authority) state at a public meeting how hurt he was when decisions affecting his employment with Chesterfield School were made without prior consultation and about his political beliefs as a trade unionist.
If Merseytravel have behaved in the way I describe above (which I have the tape to prove), then management is not acting in accordance with the political belief of the Chair of the Combined Authority who is answerable to the public for its functioning.
I would also like it confirmed (as three senior managers at Merseytravel, Stephanie Donaldson, Liz Carridge and Louise Outram) were involved in trying to persuade me to alter the article here:
Will the 20 councillors on Merseytravel mothball the Mersey Ferry terminal at Woodside?
One of the reasons I have had not had all twelve days of Christmas off, is because next week there are two Merseytravel public meetings.
The one on the afternoon of Thursday 7th January (starting at 2.00pm in the Authority Room, 1st floor, Merseytravel Headquarters, No. 1 Mann Island, Liverpool, L3 1BP) is a meeting of all twenty councillors on the Merseytravel Committee (which is now part of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority). This committee has councillors from Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral. You might point out that although being called Merseytravel, Halton isn’t in Merseyside but Cheshire (but it is part of the Combined Authority).
The Wirral representatives on Merseytravel are Cllr Ron Abbey (Labour), Cllr Jerry Williams (Labour), Cllr Steve Foulkes (Labour) and Cllr Les Rowlands (Conservative (the two opposition councillors who aren’t in the Labour Party of which he’s one call themselves the Merseytravel Alliance)).
It’s not a long agenda and I am looking forward to the Merseyrail question and answer session, but as you’ve probably guessed this piece is going to be about the Mersey Ferries.
Somebody at Merseytravel paid consultants called Mott McDonald to write a report on the Mersey Ferries. You can read the covering report and consultant’s report on Merseytravel’s website. Mott McDonald also involved two other firms of consultants Peter Brett Associates and Graham & Woolnough.
The bit in the consultants’ report that has been causing a lot of political concern this side of the River Mersey is the part that states,
"Unfortunately, due to the extensive capital investment required in the near future, it is recommended that Woodside terminal is mothballed and the pier infrastructure removed."
Obviously this would mean if that was ever decided that the Mersey Ferry would just go between the Pier Head in Liverpool and Seacombe. I presume if that happened that would mean the end of the U-Boat Story tourist attraction which is part of that complex too (all about a German submarine called U-534), the cafe there and Birkenhead would lose out on visitors.
There is an emotional connection people have this side of the water to the Mersey Ferries and I’m sure there are people still alive that remember when it stopped at New Brighton and New Brighton was a bustling seaside resort.
One of the councillors on the Merseytravel Committee, Cllr Jerry Williams is the Heritage Champion and I’m sure he could wax lyrical about how important the Mersey Ferries are for Wirral’s tourism.
For the last twenty-six years the running of the Mersey Ferries has been through a company controlled by Merseytravel called Mersey Ferries Limited. I quote from its latest accounts:
"The results of the company for the year show a loss on ordinary activities before tax of £230,468 (2014 – £243,486). This loss is wholly attributable to the trading activity of the tourism-related business (Spaceport and U534) as the core transport activity continues to receive revenue support grant from its parent undertaking."
So, Merseytravel needs to run/market Spaceport and U534 better, whether this means asking people who buy Mersey Ferry tickets if they’d also like to purchase a ticket for Spaceport/U534 and/or just better publicity/marketing anyway Merseytravel have been criticised in the past by their auditors for the tourism side of matters.
However a more detailed look at the accounts shows that Mersey Ferries Limited employ 52 staff (an annual wage bill of £1.6 million) but Mersey Ferries Limited don’t own the Mersey Ferries or the terminals at Woodside, Seacombe and the Liverpool Pier Head.
These assets (the boats and the terminals) are owned by Merseytravel.
I am now going to make a comparison to the business I’m in as this point is raised in the consultant’s report.
As you can’t get to and from a lot of the public meetings I report on by public transport, sadly some means of private transport is vital.
Being somebody with a bit of foresight I put money aside out of what I earn in case there was a major capital expenditure on that front. Sure enough last year the car failed its MOT and I had the money to buy another at a cost of £2,500 (because I’d had the foresight to put money aside). It was only sensible from a management perspective to do this. Of course in the public sector, it would probably be a risk on a risk register.
Merseytravel (according to the consultant’s report) is in the same situation. The Mersey Ferries are getting older, so are the terminals and both are costing more to repair. However being consultants they seem to view everything through the lens of a business and the private sector, all about making money when the public sector isn’t like that.
The sensible thing would’ve been to have a reserve capital fund to pay for these types of issues. I’ll hear on Thursday afternoon more detail.
However back to the Mersey Ferries, from a political perspective Birkenhead’s politicians are united (including Rt Hon Frank Field MP) that mothballing Woodside is frankly (no pun intended) a bad idea.
Now you will probably ask, is this going to be like the annual vote on whether to put up the Mersey Tunnel tolls? Wirral’s four representatives huff and puff and say what a bad idea it will be, vote against it but are then outvoted by the rest of the Merseytravel councillors? Who knows?
However the Mersey Tunnels are why the Mersey Ferries aren’t as well used as they used to be. The Mersey Tunnels were built using borrowed money. In fact if we look at Halton, £470 million was found (who knows what the final cost will be) for a bridge over the River Mersey there.
Compared to the cost of a new bridge, the costs of keeping the ferries and terminals going seem quite small.
When there’s a political will to do something the money can be found!
Indeed the report states having the Mersey Ferries brings wider economic benefits to the City Region.
Now there will be a future, more detailed reports about the Mersey Ferries brought to a future meeting of Merseytravel.
I am going to make a point I have already made at the cost of perhaps sounding unpopular. There is a large surplus on tunnel tolls used to prop up Merseytravel’s budget and save it going cap in hand to the local councils for more money.
My view was that as the Mersey Tunnels (built on borrowed money) adversely affected the popularity and viability of the Mersey Ferries that one should subsidise the other. As I’ve already pointed out the Mersey Ferries are a big draw to tourists and bring wider economic benefits to the region.
The tunnel tolls (which are decided by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority on the recommendation of Merseytravel) have of course been a thorny political issue for a long time. Many people feeling that politicians have forever promised at election time that one day they will be scrapped but that they never are. Indeed political promises were made in the lead up to the General Election and the Combined Authority requested a report (which seems to be a long time in the writing).
However I am going to state my own personal viewpoint now. Whatever the rights and wrongs are over the Mersey Tunnel tolls, it’s one of the few things that Merseytravel/Liverpool City Region Combined Authority can control as the district council treasurers would no doubt be against an increase in the levy on the district councils (yes I realise budgets are ultimately decided by politicians). Although transport (due to the economic benefits it brings) is a priority from national government, Merseytravel can’t expect large increases in its grant.
Mersey Ferries compete against the trains, buses and other forms of transport that go through the Mersey Tunnels. However tourism is a big part of the economy in these parts. Blue Badge tourist guides take groups of people on the Mersey Ferries and transport has always been subsidised. Transport brings economic benefits.
However the consultants don’t see the big picture. They just see it like running a private business whose aim is to make a profit, the public sector ethos is not like that. The public sector runs services for the benefit of the public paid for through taxes.
It would be very sad if the Mersey Ferry terminal at Woodside was lost because of the short-sighted nature of consultants. Yes I was born in Birkenhead and most people see the Mersey Ferries at Woodside as part of the fabric of Birkenhead.
I realise what I have stated about Mersey Tunnel tolls will not be popular, I’m not advocating that they should go up. I just feel that as the Mersey Tunnels were built with borrowed money that it’s an unfair form of competition to the detriment of the Mersey Ferries. Hundreds of millions can be found to build a new bridge across the Mersey, yet much smaller amounts to keep the Mersey Ferries and terminals going can’t? It doesn’t make sense.
If you have any comments or a view on all this, please leave a comment below. If you’d like to come along to the public meeting on Thursday 7th January 2015, the meeting will start at 2.00pm in the Authority Room, 1st floor, Merseytravel Headquarters, No. 1 Mann Island, Liverpool, L3 1BP.