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What I’m writing today is an insight into how Wirral Council rushes decisions, it doesn’t seem to follow proper decision-making processes, gets itself in a pickle and how it can bungle even something simple like deciding on a long list based on applications for a senior post at Wirral Council.
First you need to know a bit of background to this story. The current postholder with the title of Head of Specialist Services Emma Taylor (which is in the Families and Wellbeing Directorate) gave Wirral Council her three months notice two and half months ago and leaves at the end of this year. Due to her being one of the senior managers at Wirral Council it is politicians (not officers) that choose her replacement.
On 27th October 2014 the Employment and Appointments Committee (made up of Wirral Council councillors) met, decided on a panel to decide of 4 Labour councillors, 2 Conservative councillors and 1 Lib Dem councillor, the job description/person specification, terms of reference of the panel, to appoint Penna PLC as recruitment consultants (who get paid £15,000 for this recruitment) and also on the process and timescales.
“3. Exempt Information – Exclusion of Members of the Public
The public may be excluded from the meeting during consideration of the following items of business on the grounds that they involve the likely disclosure of exempt information.
RECOMMENDATION – That in accordance with section 100A (4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the public be excluded from the meeting during consideration of the following items of business, on the grounds that they involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined by the relevant paragraphs of Part 1 of Schedule 12A (as amended) to that Act. The public interest test has been applied and favours exclusion.
4. Appointment of Head of Specialist Services, Families and Wellbeing Department
To consider the applications for this post. ”
Interestingly between the agenda for this meeting being published and the version of the agenda we got handed out just before the public meeting started (late), agenda item 4 had been changed to add (Applications enclosed) (see below).
Now this is the weird aspect of this, the agenda published on 2nd December stated the public interest test had been applied (by a Wirral Council officer) stating no reason why the public were to be excluded, based on applications that were yet to be supplied by Penna until after the closing date of the 5th December.
Applications were circulated to those on the panel, I saw this with my own eyes being done in person on the evening before shortly before the Cabinet meeting on the 9th December 2014.
However a different bit of the Local Government Act 1972, s.100B (4) and (5) required the applications for item 4 to be circulated five clear days before the meeting (which obviously didn’t happen).
The law is quite clear that even for items where they are planning to exclude the press and public that this has to happen otherwise the item can’t be taken unless “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.” and I didn’t see that happen during the first three items.
The meeting itself started five minutes late as Cllr Tony Smith was late and was over by about half an hour later.
The other point I would like to raise is this? If the public and press were excluded, why was David Slatter of Penna PLC (who is neither a Wirral Council employee nor councillor) allowed to stay in the room? Shouldn’t he have left and why didn’t the Chair ask him to when we left?
However it often happens at Wirral Council meetings that the Chair assumes anyone sitting round the table the committee is sitting on is an employee or councillor. For example recently the Pensions Committee excluded the press and public from part of a meeting. We left, but their auditor from Grant Thornton stayed despite falling into the category of press/public just because they were sitting around the table, therefore it was assumed they could be there.
I’ve seen the same happen at many other Wirral Council public meetings too that go into private session. There are members of the public present but they stay and the meeting carries on despite them being excluded from the meeting. Maybe chairs don’t understand what exclusion of the public means?
Politicians (especially those chairing meetings) can’t have it both ways. If the committee agrees to exclude the public then public and press (not councillors and officers) have to all leave. Otherwise it makes a complete mockery of the law and brings Wirral Council’s decision-making into further disrepute!
Do chairs of public meetings at Wirral Council actually understand what they’re deciding? Are the legal advisers advising the committees aware of the laws about public meetings or do they (mainly) just only offer an opinion if asked for the sake of their careers and not “rocking the boat” with politicians who could get them suspended?
Or is the real answer that Wirral Council has outsourced even part of its HR function to the private sector so much that it couldn’t actually function without having the private sector present during private parts of public meetings when the private sector seemingly have no actual legal right to be there? Am I wrong to expect fairness in Wirral Council’s decision-making?
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this and will be interested to read the minutes of yesterday’s meeting when they are published too.
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You can watch the meeting of the Employment and Appointments Committee of 27th October 2014 above at which the Employment and Appointment Panels referred to below were created.
As there is so much happening at Wirral Council now, I thought it was best to write a general piece about a few different topics at Wirral Council.
The public meeting of the Coordinating Committee last week which met to decide a call in of the decision to consult on closure of Children’s Centres was unexpectedly brought to a halt and adjourned (without yet reaching a decision or hearing all witnesses) as the Wallasey Town Hall was evacuated due to the collapse of two Council-owned buildings in nearby King Street.
This story has been widely covered by the media. The main road outside where the building collapsed was closed that evening (but has since been reopened). As I was nearby that evening, I can say that there was a large emergency services response (Merseyside Police, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service and North West Ambulance Service) and also organisations such as National Grid responded to cut off the gas supply.
As Wirral Council owned the properties that fell down, questions were asked by politicians and the press as to why the buildings fell down. However I will leave that story for now and move to other matters.
Two public meetings that should have happened in the next week at Wirral Council have been cancelled. These are:
19th November 2014 5.30pm Licensing Act 2003 Committee, Committee Room 1, Wallasey Town Hall (contact: Anne Beauchamp | Chair: Cllr Bill Davies (Labour)
24th November 2014 6.00pm Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee, Committee Room 1, Wallasey Town Hall (contact: Shirley Hudspeth | Chair: Cllr Bill Davies (Labour))
Presumably standards are now so high at Wirral Council that there can be a budget saving achieved from councillors travel expenses, employee costs and the room hire for the cancelled Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee not meeting. The Licensing Act 2003 Committee’s remit is not unsurprisingly to do with the Licensing Act 2003 c.17. As everyone on Wirral knows, there are no problems whatsoever with pubs, clubs, off licences, late night refreshment or other related activities on the Wirral. Wait a sec, news just in. Seems there is a problem (according to residents). Here’s a question submitted by one of the Oxton residents to the Birkenhead Constituency Committee meeting of 30th October 2014:
“Name: Alfred Lennon (Oxton Village People) Date Received: 23rd October 2014 Query: Wirral has a problem with alcohol as detailed it its Joint Strategic Needs Assessment and requiring the recent police crackdown. Yet the Authority persists in licensing ever more premises with ever longer drinking hours. Why cannot the Authority be brave, reduce the number of licensed premises AND reduce their opening hours?
Response from Wirral Council Licensing Section:
The Licensing Application Process
When a Licensing Authority received an application for a new premises licence or an application to vary an existing premises licence, it must determine whether the application has been made in accordance with section 17 of the Licensing Act 2003 (the Act), and in accordance with regulations made under sections 17(3) to (6), 34, 42, 65 and 55 of the Act. This means that the Licensing Authority must consider among other things whether the application has been properly advertised. These requirements are different to those connected to the Planning process.
Under the licensing regime an applicant is required to display a blue notice on the premises and publish a notice in a local newspaper providing details of the application. The applicant must also serve the application on the Responsible Authorities which are: the Police, the Fire Authority, Trading Standards, Environmental Health, Planning, the Area Child Protection Board, the Licensing Authority and Public Health who are all entitled to make representations. In addition to this, the Council published details of all application on the Council’s website and circulates these details to all Councillors. Representations can also be made by any person, which can include residents and businesses whom may be affected by a premises.
The Licensing Authority may only accept relevant representations. A representation is “relevant” if it relates to the likely effect of the grant of the licence on the promotion of at least one of the four licensing objectives. In other words, representations should relate to how the licensable activities carried on from premises impact on the objectives. For representations in relations to variations to be relevant, they should be confined to the subject matter of the variation.
Four Licensing Objectives:
The Protection of Children from Harm
The Prevention of Crime and Disorder
The Prevention of Public Nuisance
Wirral Council’s question then goes on for a further A4 side on Cumulative Impact. Just commenting on their answer for a moment to this point from what I remember of current policy (I may be a little rusty so don’t rely on this), as a general rule (*which depends on the circumstances of the application) if there are objections to a new premises licence or application to vary a premises licence it gets decided at a public meeting of the Licensing Act 2003 subcommittee by 3 councillors.
A certain amount of other applications don’t get this scrutiny and are either decided by officers (based on a policy agreed by councillors). What’s left out of the answer is that anyone can request a licence review (if you have the time, paper and postage to do this) which results in an existing licence being reviewed.
This doesn’t happen very often (rarely is what I’d say) as either most people don’t know they can do this, or don’t want to or they don’t know how. I doubt it would be in Wirral Council’s financial interests to tell people how as it would lead to more public meetings of the Licensing Act 2003 subcommittee and then they’d have to put up the fees charged to those running premises as it costs Wirral Council £thousands (room hire, councillors travel expenses, employee time, website running costs, printing of agenda/reports, postage et cetera) each time they hold a public meeting.
However moving on from employee time to an employee leaving. On 31st December 2014 Graham Burgess (the Chief Executive leaves). There isn’t time to appoint a new Chief Executive to start on 1st January 2015 as the post hasn’t even been advertised yet.
The Chief Executive is also Wirral Council’s Head of Paid Service, Returning Officer and Electoral Registration Officer.
So before a new Chief Executive is appointed who will fill these important roles (the latter two especially important because there is an election for Wirral’s 4 MPs and 22 councillors in May 2015). The Head of Paid Service, Returning Officer and Electoral Registration Officer role are all ones Wirral Council is under a legal obligation to have someone in post for. However the decisions have to be made by Council (a meeting of Wirral Council’s councillors) before 31st December 2014.
In addition to Graham Burgess leaving on the 31st December 2014, so is Vivienne Quayle (currently Director of Resources and s.151 officer).
So these are the interim management arrangements currently down to be discussed which will then (assuming the Employment and Appointments Panel approve them) be a recommendation to Council which meets on the 8th December 2014 (this report has a typographical error and states 8th December 2015 by mistake) to decide on an Acting Chief Executive and Acting Head of Paid Service.
Also Council on the 8th December 2015 will need to appoint a Returning Officer and Electoral Registration Officer.
These are the following recommendations (subject to Employment and Appointments Panel agreement and Council agreement on the 8th December 2014):
Returning Officer: Surjit Tour (Head of Legal and Member Services) Deputy Returning Officer: Joe Blott (Strategic Director of Transformation and Resources) Acting Electoral Registration Officer: Surjit Tour (Head of Legal and Member Services) Acting Deputy Electoral Registration Officer: Joe Blott (Strategic Director of Transformation and Resources) Acting Chief Executive and Head of Paid Service: recommendation to be made by appointment panel on 24th November 2014 to Council meeting on the 8th December 2014
Due to Vivienne Quayle leaving, these are the proposed interim management arrangements recommended to the Employment and Appointments Panel who then have a choice whether to recommend these to Council regarding Ms Quayle leaving:
Acting Section 151 Officer: Tom Sault (Head of Financial Services) regraded from HS2 (now not the proposed railway but a salary grade at Wirral Council) to HS1 for interim period Acting Deputy Section 151 Officer: Jenny Spick (Finance Manager) Acting Senior Information Risk Owner (SIRO) (recommendation to Council): Mike Zammit (Chief Information Officer) Audit function and Procurement function (functional responsibility in Resources division): Tom Sault
There is also a third member of the senior management team leaving too, but arrangements won’t be decided on that until a meeting on the 10th December 2014. That person leaving is Emma Taylor (Head of Specialist Services) in the Families and Wellbeing Directorate. Emma Taylor leaves in December 2014 and the responsibilities of the Head of Specialist Services post are children’s social work, fostering, adoption and children in care.
Helping Wirral Council with the above are Penna PLC (for which they are being paid £15,000 for each post so £45,000 in total) and the Local Government Association.
The seven councillors who will be making the above recommendations to Council in the near future are the seven on the Employment and Appointments Panel who are:
Cllr Phil Davies (Labour)
Cllr Ann McLachlan (Labour)
Cllr George Davies (Labour)
Cllr Adrian Jones (Labour)
Cllr Jeff Green (Conservative)
Cllr Lesley Rennie (Conservative)
Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Lib Dem)
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So as Wirral Council has the Chief Executive’s three-month notice period (30th September 2014 to 31st December 2014) to find his replacement, what’s happened so far?
Well because the Chief Executive is a political appointment of councillors, the politicians have to decide. So a meeting of the Employment and Appointments Committee has been set up for the 27th October 2014. Graham Burgess is also currently Returning Officer (many people reading this may also know what a Returning Officer is but in simple terms it’s the head person at Wirral Council for elections), Electoral Registration Officer (another role to do with elections) and Head of Paid Service.
It is proposed that Penna PLC be paid about £15,000 for helping find a new Chief Executive and a further about £15,000 for finding a new Head of Specialist Services (who is also leaving in December 2014).
However paying out about £15k to Penna PLC to aid Wirral Council’s Human Resources department is not enough! No a “professional adviser” from the Local Government Association will also be advising the Appointments Panel.
This in fact has always struck me as a bit of an anomaly. Penna PLC and the LGA aren’t officers or councillors at Wirral Council. In the past though, they’ve remained in the meeting room after the press and public were excluded from the public meeting.
So who is the Appointments Panel going to be and what will it do? It will consist of seven councillors who will make a recommendation for the post of Chief Executive to the sixty-six councillors. It will probably be four Labour councillors, two Conservative councillors and one Lib Dem councillor. I have some guesses now below about who will make up this appointment panel for the Chief Executive. It hasn’t yet been decided yet which councillors will be on it, but below are my names along with my reasons:
Labour (4 councillors)
Cllr Adrian Jones * reason is already Chair of Employment and Appointments Committee
Cllr Phil Davies * reason is already Vice-Chair of Employment and Appointments Committee & Leader of the Council
Cllr George Davies * reason is Deputy Leader of Wirral Council, Cabinet Member and Labour councillor on Employment and Appointments Committee
Cllr Ann McLachlan * reason is Deputy Leader of Wirral Council, Cabinet Member and Labour councillor on Employment and Appointments Committee
* Note although Cllr Moira McLaughlin is a possibility, she’s unlikely for the reasons listed above
Conservative (2 councillors)
Cllr Jeff Green * reason there are only 2 Conservative councillors (apart from deputies) on Employment and Appointments Committee
Cllr Lesley Rennie * reason there are only 2 Conservative councillors (apart from deputies) on Employment and Appointments Committee
Lib Dem (1 councillor)
Cllr Phil Gilchrist * reason only Lib Dem (apart from deputies) on Employment and Appointments Committee
The seven councillors on the Appointments Panel will all be from the Employment and Appointments Committee and due to the high-profile nature of the appointment unlikely to be deputies. The Employment and Appointments Committee has eight councillors on it (plus twenty-one deputies). So the seven will come from those twenty-nine.
The Appointments Panel doesn’t actually choose the Chief Executive though. They just recommend who the Chief Executive should be to a meeting of all sixty-six councillors at Wirral Council.
From a practical perspective though, as Labour have a majority of councillors on the Appointments Panel and Wirral Council it will be down to the Labour councillors to decide who the next Chief Executive/Returning Officer/Electoral Registration Officer/Head of Paid Service is. As the process will probably be going on after Graham Burgess leaves and it’s a legal requirement to have somebody appointed to some of these roles, temporary people will have to be found before a permanent appointment is made.
Looking back to July 2012 when Graham Burgess was appointed as Chief Executive by Council, he then had to serve his period of notice before starting in post in September 2012.
If the new Chief Executive has to also serve out a period of notice, it could be as late as May 2015 before he or she starts (which if it is after General Election and local elections it will make the election side of their job easier).
Certainly it will be interesting to see who the politicians eventually recommend for this key post at Wirral Council! If anyone wishes to leave a comment comparing the appointment of Wirral Council’s Chief Executive to the complicated process of appointing a Doge of Venice, feel free.
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