A roundup of Wirral Council meetings: Sustainable Communities, Council Excellence and Audit and Risk Management

Roundup of Wirral Council meetings: Sustainable Communities (Biffa and bin collections, flooding, libraries), Council Excellence (overspends, Social Services debt), Audit and Risk Management (HESPE Action Plan, gifts and hospitalities procedures)

In a change to the more detailed format, below are brief write ups of three meetings this week.

Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee 29th January 2013

There was a long presentation by Biffa, followed by questions from councillors. The meeting also discussed recycling, dog fouling enforcement, flytipping (including a recent rise in asbestos flytipping), managing highway structures (bridges, culverts etc), libraries, Wirral Heritage Strategy, food hygiene ratings, no cold calling zones and climate change.

Councillors asked Biffa about the recent missed bin collections and how the new changes (winter tyres and snow shoes) affected collections during the recent cold weather. On food hygiene the Food Standards Agency website was highlighted which shows the star rating for the 1,698 food businesses on the Wirral. A councillor was surprised at the nearly two hundred businesses on Wirral with a one star (which means major improvement necessary) or two star (which means improvement necessary) rating, however most businesses had a rating of four or five stars.

The increased use of volunteers in libraries was discussed and the problem of some households in areas at risking of flooding having problems obtaining insurance was also highlighted.

Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee 30th January 2013

Most of the meeting was a discussion about Wirral Council’s finances including measures to reduce this year’s overspend and how overspends in the past had been paid for by one-off measures that wouldn’t be available in future years. The investigation into Social Services debt was discussed also.

Audit and Risk Management Committee 31st January 2013

The HESPE Action Plan provoked discussion at this meeting. David Armstrong gave a verbal update on it and said that he’d written to all directors and acting directors for an update over the dates in the plan and had received no correspondence to say that they wouldn’t be able to stick to the timescales. The Acting Director of Technical Services had written to him stating there had been no interest from the private sector in consultancy work.

The Action Plan was being monitored by Fiona Johnstone’s department and was going to the Improvement Board and Council Excellence committee as well as being incorporated into Concerto. He assured people of the focus on it and that the actions would be followed through. Cllr Ron Abbey referred to it as a pantomime, saying “Did he or didn’t he?” and asked how much it had cost? Cllr Foulkes said that similar matters were not the remit of their committee, that there’d been two contrary reports, the Audit Commission report and the Penn report. He wanted continuing dialogue with the whistleblowers which he thought was the best way to deal with the matter. Cllr Ron Abbey said he would take that on board. Cllr Foulkes said they needed to find the common ground between the points in the Penn report and the action plan.

Cllr Green welcomed the reassurance, but wanted tests that the actions had been carried out. He said they’d had a range of reports that lessons had been learnt and a culture embedded, so it was useful to have it in writing. He referred to project management problems and who was supposed to be in charge of the Project Board and referred to issues with clarity, responsibility and project management.

Cllr Brighouse said he broadly endorsed the remarks, but the Penn report was ongoing as the recommendations and outcome were still to be resolved and agreed. He said it was appropriate to have some discussion covering the issues and whether there were any governance implications but it was “wrong to pretend there was nothing there”.

The Chair, Cllr Jim Crabtree said there’d be a further report next meeting.

There was also an update given (again by David Armstrong) on proposed changes to the gifts and hospitality/conflicts of interest procedures for officers.

Sustainable Communities (Wirral Council) 4th December 2012 Dog Kennel Outsourcing Option

Sustainable Communities (Wirral Council)

The below is what happened at a recent meeting of Wirral Council’s Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee at the end of a discussion about their response to the consultation on the budget option on the closure of Birkenhead dog kennel. The main concern was that if implemented the budget option would result in owners of dogs having to go to Halton to collect their pets. There’s an online petition against closure that has attracted over five hundred signatures.

Cllr David Elderton (Chair): Well as I’ve said before, I’m not prepared to continue with this tonight if we’re not allowed, yes, well that’s the point, no point in us giving our input unless it’s noted and I’m asked for it to be noted. I think that’s sensible, we’re all here to make our contribution to what’s going on. So are we happy with that and take a vote on that nominal contribution? All those in favour?
Cllr Jerry Williams: No, no, no!
Cllr David Elderton (Chair): OK, well this meeting is likely to be a waste of time if you can’t make some notes based on what we believe is contributing to a successful conclusion for all concerned. I’m disappointed but I’m not prepared to make an issue out of it. Can we, any more comments on dog kennels as such? I’ve made my own notes on that and I shall be reporting them to the right places. What’s the next one?
Answer: The next one is page 57.
Cllr Leah Fraser: Excuse me, sorry but as Dave [Mitchell] said there’s a whip going on, that’s supposed to be declared before the meeting.
Cllr David Elderton (Chair): Yes it should!
Cllr Leah Fraser: Well they’ve just been told to change their minds!
Cllr David Elderton (Chair): Well that’s a whip, so anyway…
Cllr Jerry Williams said it was purely up to [Labour] councillors how they deal with decisions.
Cllr David Elderton (Chair): Right, well if that’s the case I’m going to, I’m not wasting a lot of time on this, it’s a long night, I’m going to wind the tape back and I’m going to say I specifically propose as Chairman that this Committee that it should have some comment in the minutes saying the logistics of the issue should be taken into account during the consultation process. Do I have a seconder for that?
Cllr Steve Williams seconds.
Cllr David Elderton (Chair): Right, which means that the comment that I am about to formulate, including this certain term, dealing with all party on both sides’ interest in this, that we should ask to be investigated. Can I have a vote on that, without a party whip?
For: 4 (Conservative plus Lib Dem)
Against: 2 (Two Labour, the rest abstained)

Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Wirral Council) 21st November 2012 Labour councillors ban filming (again)

Labour councillors on the Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee vote to ban filming of the Wirral Council public meeting

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Well, in what is becoming a rather predictable saga and in a repeat of what happened at the start of Pensions Committee on Tuesday evening, Labour councillors once again voted that filming be stopped of this public meeting of Wirral Council’s Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday evening.

The Conservative councillors (except for the Chair who abstained) and sole Liberal Democrat councillor voted against banning filming but were outnumbered by the Labour councillors.

When asked by Cllr Fraser what the reasons were for banning filming the proposer of the motion Labour councillor Jerry Williams responded as follows:-

“Well, we’ve had clear guidance on this issue, here we are, on the other hand ostentatiously filming and recording events from the gallery could be regarded as disorderly and disruptive or otherwise. It is secondly unsettling to point a camera at someone at issue, significantly Members would know as they were being filmed, we have no control over way the film is taken, edited or even produced. I think that’s quite clear.”

Cllr Dave Mitchell, Liberal Democrat spokesperson said, “I’m in no rush, but I want my say in the end. In relation to that particular note, the passages that you’ve read out, what was the final recommendation to Cabinet or to the Council when that was actually dealt with? I’m just reminded while you’re looking it up, if you look behind it your good selves you will see there are Cabinet here, and for eighteen months every Planning Committee was filmed by the local authority. Did I interrupt you guys? Again it goes back to the comments [Cllr] Leah [Fraser] made before, it was stopped for financial reasons. I don’t see anything wrong with it being filmed because I know I’ve got nothing to hide.”

There were many items on the agenda that I’m sure the Wirral public would’ve liked to see (and hear) their local councillors’ views on which included domestic homicides, pavement and grass verge parking, parks modernisation and the Arrowe Park hospital travel plan.

Ironically (and causing much laughter) in the first main item after filming was banned (an item on domestic homicides) the Labour councillor Mike Sullivan, who had earlier seconded the motion banning filming, spoke of his regret that it was “not on the record” followed up with the barbed insult of “people this side [Labour] know the rules, Members opposite don’t”.

Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Wirral Council) 26th September 2012

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Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Wirral Council) 26th September 2012 Part 1 of 3
Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Wirral Council) 26th September 2012 Part 2 of 3
Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Wirral Council) 26th September 2012 Part 3 of 3

Cabinet (Wirral Council) 24/11/2011 Part 5 Gas disruption (Leasowe and Moreton)

Dave Green continued by saying that given the scale the response of council officers was “very good indeed” after the “unfortunate accident”. There would still be a formal debrief and lessons learnt. He was happy to talk to councillors, such as the Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee and/or Cabinet. On a nicer note, he said the response of the Emergency Planning Team was excellent and that things went well.

He mentioned a Sue Lang and volunteers who had fed people, they were drafting a letter of thanks to the volunteers. National Grid was paying for the food and costs. He wanted people’s views on the matter to be presented to the Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee so it could be done in public in an open and transparent way. The biggest problem had been the problem of getting into people’s houses to turn off the gas as some had been away. Warrants had to be applied for to the courts which had been a “logistical nightmare”, but there were always lessons to be learnt.

Cllr Steve Foulkes asked Cllr Anne McArdle if she had anything to add?

Cllr Anne McArdle said she thanked the Managing Director and staff at the centre as well as the Department for Adult Social Services. She also said the community had rallied round.

Cllr Steve Foulkes said he wanted to endorse a thank you letter to volunteers. He said the debrief could go to Cabinet or the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. If scrutiny met first, that was fine.

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