Why did Wirral Council’s Cabinet recommend closure of Girtrell Court despite a protest against closure and opposition from the trade unions?
There was a protest outside Wallasey Town Hall before Wirral Council’s Cabinet meeting on Monday morning. One of the decisions at that Cabinet meeting was to recommend to a meeting of all councillors (which will be on the 3rd March 2016) a budget for Wirral Council for 2016-17. The protest was about a proposal to recommend to close Girtrell Court. Pictures of the protest are below (each photo should link to a higher resolution image).
Wirral’s Cabinet expected to start consultation on 4% Council Tax rise and £2.4 million of cuts
Wirral Council’s Cabinet will meet next Thursday evening to discuss further cuts to Wirral Council’s budget for the 2016/17 year. Councillors are expected to agree to a public consultation on £2.5 million of budget options as well as a 4% council tax increase. Cabinet is also expected to agree to a staff consultation on budget options such as reducing the pay rise from 2% to 1%.
The consultation will run from the 18th December 2015 and finishes on the 29th January 2016. At the end of the consultation Cabinet will propose a budget to be voted on at a meeting of all Wirral’s councillors.
Community Safety (£367,000) – litter enforcement was recently outsourced to Kingdom Security and this proposal would see the same happen to dog fouling enforcement, Wirral Council hope to increase income to the community safety service from landlords and schools.
Discretionary Housing Payments & Advice (£406,000) – this proposal would see Wirral Council only covering rent shortfalls to people in hardship to the amount they receive from the government, it would also see the end of Wirral Council providing welfare benefits advice.
Girtrell Court service re-provision (£155,000) – Girtrell Court provides short breaks for carers of adults with physical and learning disabilities, this proposal would see that service provided by the private sector instead of directly by Wirral Council.
Highways Maintenance and Road Safety (£320,000) – This proposal means Wirral Council would only use the money it receives for highways maintenance, only 100 out of 300 grit bins would be filled and school crossing patrols would be reviewed.
Leisure Centres and Golf Courses (£641,000) – Discounts and free access would be removed, such as free access for long serving Council staff, foster carers and families, free swimming for those under 18 in the school holidays and free swimming for the over 65s between 9am and noon.
Libraries Re-provision (£203,000) – Transferring up to 12 of Wirral’s libraries into "community ownership" (run by volunteers rather than paid staff).
Parks Community Partnership Working (£108,000) – Increasing the role of community organisations and volunteers in parks maintenance and looking to increase parks income.
Charging for the Pest Control Service (£30,000) – Charging landlords, business and residents who can afford to pay for dealing with rats.
Charging for the Garden Waste Service (£196,000) – Increasing the brown bin charge from £35 a year to £40 a year (but with a £5 discount if paid online).
So to summarise the proposed cuts (along with a 4% council tax increase) are to dog fouling, community safety, covering rent shortfalls for those in financial hardship, axing the welfare right service, the short breaks for carers service, highways maintenance, grit bins, school crossing patrols, free swimming for children, free swimming for pensioners, free leisure access for some Council staff, transferring many of Wirral’s libraries to be run by volunteers, having more volunteers involved in parks maintenance, charging for dealing with rats and increasing the brown bin charge by £5.
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Now I’m not saying people shouldn’t pay Council Tax, however thanks to decisions made by Wirral Council’s Cabinet, households that hadn’t paid Council Tax before because they had got 100% Council Tax Benefit, suddenly had to pay a whopping 22% (this figure is from memory and applies (I’m massively simplifying here as there are people who don’t have to pay Council Tax too) to households of people of working age with nobody of state pension age and above). This led to an increase in people not paying, which led naturally to an increase in Magistrates’ Court cases filed by Wirral Council.
The Magistrates’ Court is of course where my father used to work before he retired and located just off Hamilton Square in Birkenhead and Tranmere ward, which by sheer coincidence is the ward where Wirral Council’s Leader of the Council/Cabinet Member for Finance Cllr Phil Davies represents.
At the time this change was planned and going out to consultation I warned Wirral Council in public meetings that this would need to lead to an increase in bad debt provision and their own costs!
Council Tax is one of the few taxes you can get locked up for in this country for not paying. Thus returning us to the concept of the “debtors prison” in Victorian England.
However the question is, how many people who literally couldn’t pay Council Tax, even if Wirral Council got a court order is Wirral Council going to the trouble of launching criminal cases over that costs the taxpayer money?
Bear in mind that this is a monthly invoice. Although the statement is in the name of LM Burns, it does somewhat remind me of the character of Charles Montgomery Burns in the Simpsons or as he would say “Release The Hounds!”
This is the court fee element, Wirral Council add this, plus their own internal legal costs to the outstanding Council Tax bill, which means by the end the Council Tax bill that they couldn’t pay before is even larger! Oh and thanks to Wirral Council, those who couldn’t pay end up at the end of the process with a criminal record, making it harder for them to get certain jobs to pay off their Council Tax debt!
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Bins, Biffa, page 59, Wirral Council, “Confidential Information” and what you’re not supposed to know (yet)
Bins, Biffa, page 59, Wirral Council, “Confidential Information” and what you’re not supposed to know (yet)
I was reading through the Biffa contract (who get paid ~£12 million a year for collecting bins and other things) and this interesting snippet about Freedom of Information and Data Protection caught my eye on page 59. I haven’t made any FOI requests for the yearly CO2 emissions of bin lorries but this is how such a request would be dealt with if someone were to do so. This is probably only of interest to those who work in this area such as the media, FOI practitioners and of limited interest to the public, so apologies if I’m getting boring! Contractor in the contract refers to Biffa Waste Services Limited. At 126.96.36.199 I couldn’t help but laugh at the bit about time for compliance for FOI requests considering Wirral Council’s track record and my recent decision notice from ICO on that matter.
The “absolute discretion” bit in 4.61.3 is very interesting as quite often local councils refuse to release information about companies and contracts on commercial sensitivity grounds saying well we’d like to give you this information but company X won’t let us.
Last Thursday (11th September 2014) Wirral Council’s Cabinet agreed to ask Kevin Adderley to enter into negotiations with Biffa over extending this ~£12 million/year contract from 2020 to 2027 without putting it out to tender. However an extra clause was added over value for money. Mr. Adderley was asked to report back to a future Cabinet meeting on the outcome of negotiations.
However the contract does state that if Wirral Council wish to extend the contract from 2020 to 2027 they don’t have to tell Biffa this until on or before 21st August 2019. So why the big rush other than to pander to Biffa’s commercial interests and damage Wirral Council’s?
Well from what was said at the Cabinet meeting Biffa Waste Services Limited have offered Wirral Council “incentives” on the current contract (which runs to 2020) if Wirral Council agree to a seven-year contract extension and don’t put it out to competitive tender when it expires in 2020.
Extending the contract by seven years is effectively making a decision that will tie the hands of future administrations (of whatever party or parties) at Wirral Council. However I’m sure (if officers are doing their job properly) that what I’ve just written is the kind of details that were in the exempt appendices for last Thursday’s Cabinet meeting. The Labour politicians on Wirral Council’s Cabinet decided that the public aren’t really supposed to know about it (which is why the press and public got chucked out of the public meeting before those appendices were decided despite the public interest test arguably being in favour of such stuff being in the public domain).
Another factor to consider is that from November 2014 Wirral Council will be under a legal duty to publish such contracts (we here have a copy of the very long contract as part of the 2013/14 audit but it would probably take me about a day of work just to publish a fraction of it as it is very, very, very long) and from November 2014 invoices. Hence I’m sure Biffa are keen to have it extended by seven years, before people like the Rt Hon Frank Field MP start referring to them again (see the last Birkenhead Constituency Committee meeting for that) and anyone kicks up more of a fuss! Oh dear, have I let an awful lot of cats out of the bag yet again?
4.61.1 The Contractor acknowledges that the Council is subject to the requirements of the FOIA and the Environmental Information Regulations and shall assist and cooperate with the Council (at the Contractor’s expense) to enable the Council to comply with Information disclosure requirements.
4.61.2 The Contractor shall and shall procure that its sub-contractors shall:
188.8.131.52 Transfer a Request for Information to the Council as soon as practicable after receipt and in any event within two Working Days of receiving a Request for Information;
184.108.40.206 Provide the Council with a copy of all Information in its possession or power in the form that the Council requires within five Working Days (or such other period as the Council may specify) of the Council requesting that Information; and
220.127.116.11 Provide all necessary assistance as reasonably requested by the Council to enable the Council to respond to a Request for Information within the time for compliance set out in section 10 of the FOIA or Regulation 5(2) of the Environmental Information Regulations.
4.61.3 The Council shall be responsible for determining at its absolute discretion whether:-
18.104.22.168 The Information is exempt from disclosure under FOIA and the Environmental Information Regulations;
22.214.171.124 The Information is to be disclosed in response to a Request for Information, and
126.96.36.199 In no event shall the Contractor respond directly to a Request for Information unless expressly authorised to do so by the Council.
4.61.4 The Contractor acknowledge that the Council may, acting in accordance with the FOIA, or the Environmental Information Regulations disclose Information:-
188.8.131.52 Without consulting with the Contractor, or
184.108.40.206 Following consultation with the Contractor and having taken its views into account.
4.61.5 The Contractor acknowledges that any lists or schedules provided by it outlining Confidential Information are of indicative value only and that the Council may nevertheless be obliged to disclose Confidential Information in accordance with Clause 220.127.116.11.6.3.
4.61.6 The Contractor shall ensure that all information produced in the course of the Contract relating to the Contract is retained for disclosure and shall permit the Council to inspect such records as requested from time to time.