12 Strange Things the Mysterons want in another Thrilling Wirral Council Adventure!

12 Strange Things the Mysterons want in another Thrilling Wirral Council Adventure!                                            In a world of betrayal and lies where you can’t even trust your own party’s councillors. Meet Councillor Phil Davies, one of the few politicians on the face of the planet determined not to change his mind in the face of those that … Continue reading “12 Strange Things the Mysterons want in another Thrilling Wirral Council Adventure!”

12 Strange Things the Mysterons want in another Thrilling Wirral Council Adventure!

                                           

In a world of betrayal and lies where you can’t even trust your own party’s councillors.

Meet Councillor Phil Davies, one of the few politicians on the face of the planet determined not to change his mind in the face of those that say no!

The government said no! Opposition councillors said no! But Phil knew better and set off on a bold adventure of launching a newspaper called Wirral View.

One man defied fate and his name was Phil Davies. His mission was to bring the good news to the people setting him and Wirral Council on a collision course with the government.

What will the citizens of Wirral make of pretty pictures of fireworks or is this political drama even more explosive?

Watch as Wirral View enters into the final launch phase in this thrilling extraordinary political drama involving secret legal advice, a question about recycled paper and the mysterious Code!

Is it time for another episode of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons?
Is it time for another episode of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons?

“This is the voice of Wirral Council. We know that you can read us. You criticised us and you will pay a heavy price. Our next act of retaliation will be to destroy the local free press. Do you hear!? We will destroy the local free press!”

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Extraordinary Meeting (Wirral Council) Keeping Residents Informed 17th October 2016 Part 1 of 3

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Extraordinary Meeting (Wirral Council) Keeping Residents Informed 17th October 2016 Part 2 of 3

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Extraordinary Meeting (Wirral Council) Keeping Residents Informed 17th October 2016 Part 3 of 3

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Hoylake RNLI Open Day and the top 7 stories this week

Hoylake RNLI Open Day and the top 7 stories this week

Hoylake RNLI Open Day and the top 7 stories this week

                                    

It’s a Bank Holiday today and although I’ve been down to the Hoylake RNLI Open Day today and taken plenty of photos which is a story on that can wait till tomorrow. Three years ago I wrote about the Area Forum where the beginnings of what is now the Hoylake Lifeboat Museum were discussed, which is one of the buildings that is open as part of the Open Day.

Wirral Council’s interest in the car park next to the Hoylake Lifeboat Museum was as you can read from this story in the Wirral News from 2010 was originally going to be sold off along with where the museum is after a decision by former Cllr Simon Holbrook (who was then Cabinet Member for Corporate Resources) in November 2010. However the decision was “called in” by councillors and reconsidered in December 2010, a letter from Hylgar Properties Limited being one of the factors that led to a changed decision. Despite brief mentions about that call in meeting, here and here on this blog, it seems I never did get round to writing up a detailed account of what happened at that call in meeting back in December 2010, however the minutes of what happened at the call in are on Wirral Council’s website.

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:

1) Why did Wirral Council spend an incredible £1,872 on a London barrister to prevent openness and transparency?

2) The incredible £754,783.18 that Wirral Council councillors cost (plus amounts for the Mayor & Deputy Mayor)

3) Lyndale School Consultation Meeting: Julia Hassall “we’re not having straightforward consultation” (part 10)

4) Planning Committee on 8:5 vote approves plans for Tranmere Rovers training ground to move to Leasowe

5) Bidston Moss Retail Park: Five New Units Under Construction

6) Birkenhead Market Limited Accounts: Is This The Reason Behind Neptune’s Masterplan?

and

7) Government asks councils in England to bid for £16 million of money to tackle fraud

Note the Contact details for 66 Wirral Council councillors (2014) is in joint 7th place but as it is just for information I have not included it in the above list.

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Cllr Phil Davies says “I think I don’t see why we need to delay” about Birkenhead community newspaper idea

Cllr Phil Davies says “I think I don’t see why we need to delay” about Birkenhead community newspaper idea

Cllr Phil Davies says “I think I don’t see why we need to delay” about Birkenhead community newspaper idea

                            

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Dawn Tolcher (Constituency Manager, Birkenhead)
The second update is around two proposals around improving communication. The first one is the promotion of Wirral Well, that’s been …rated now, it’s been drafted as to what tools we can use. We’re looking at a segmented approach with that as to how we deal with the different members of the community.

You communicate with a sixteen year old girl in a different way to a forty year old man and how we develop that. I was just exploring how we could use the empty shops in Birkenhead to help improve the visual presence of the area, but using them to do some on the streets consultation linked with residents. That’s being developed. The second proposal in terms of publication, Surjit’s going to provide an update on that.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP
Would you?

Surjit Tour
Yes, thank you Chair. In so far as the..

Rt Hon Frank Field MP
If you can’t hear at any one time, we will pass the mic back. You know what to do with that don’t you?

Surjit Tour
In so far as that particular item, this particular item is concerned, there is an issue that we do need to explore with regards to the publicity code to ensure that the proposed publication that this committee has considered, would like to consider doesn’t then interfere with the Council’s broader publications.

There are some areas of discussion that need to be had in terms of the interpretation of both the code and the publication itself at this point in time. The suggestion is that Cabinet considers those and that particular issue further with a view towards a significant finding.

As to the issue with regards to the code and whether or not the publicity code will provide or prevent this committee utilising the publication and using the publication because of the broader ramifications and indeed the implications to the Council of that.

Councillor George Davies
Can I ask a question? I just wanted to make a short comment on that one. Can I just ask the question? Following on from that Surjit and I understood and if I’ve got it wrong I apologise.

I understand that when we actually looked at this, we were talking about and we were convinced that Birkenhead because of its poor publicity, ie that the Wirral Globe, the News doesn’t get anywhere near the publicity that local party people do get.

Birkenhead wanted to be a non-political body’s newsletter being sent out to tell the people of Birkenhead exactly what this constituency is trying to do and trying to achieve. We’re not talking, we’re not saying that that had to be anything to do with Wirral West, Wirral South or Wallasey and this is purely and simply our own initiative to make sure that people there understand how we spend their money.

Surjit Tour
Yes I know but unfortunately the code itself makes specific reference to newsletters and newsheets being issued and the issue really whether or not what’s been proposed whether that then emulates commercial newspapers in style or content. Now that’s a debatable and indeed arguable point and that requires further examination and it is really on that point again clarification on that particular point, which is the central to the issue which we need to address.

And to a degree I understand the rationale of the publication and what its purpose is and it’s not intended to be commercial in that sense, but I think it would be wise just to take stock and ensure that we don’t run into difficulties in the event that we do launch this particular publication and then the organisation as a whole is constrained because of the provisions of the publicity code itself.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP
Phil?

Cllr Phil Davies
Yeah I’m a little bit concerned that just because Eric Pickles has issued a Code of Practice that we kind of delay on this and I think the code of, the summary of what the code says about you know lawful, cost effective, objective, even-handed, appropriate et cetera errm I think that’s clear. I think I don’t see why we need to delay, the next Cabinet meeting isn’t until September. By the time you know a further report’s gone back, it’s going to be well into the autumn.

I would have thought, my personal view is that we agreed this was badly needed a long time ago. I think that we should get on with it and you know we need to run it past you as the guardian of the Council’s constitution to check that it ticks all of Eric Pickles’ boxes but I just think a further delay back to Cabinet, it’s going to be halfway through the year before we produce anything. So I, unless there’s any overwhelming reason why, I’d be firmly in favour of getting on with it and just obviously checking before we publish anything if you’re ok with it and it meets with the code of practice.

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Does Pickles think that Wirral Council’s £22,500 newspaper plan “pours taxpayers’ money down the drain”?

Does Pickles think that Wirral Council’s £22,500 newspaper plan “pours taxpayers’ money down the drain”?

Does Pickles think that Wirral Council’s £22,500 newspaper plan “pours taxpayers’ money down the drain”?

                         

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The point in the video above of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee meeting where the “community newspaper” proposals starts is at 21:28

Birkenhead Constituency Committee (10th April 2014) Birkenhead Town Hall
Left to Right Surjit Tour (Head of Legal and Member Services), Councillor George Davies, Rt Hon Frank Field MP (Chair), Dawn Tolcher (Birkenhead Constituency Manager)

Prior to the Birkenhead Constituency Committee meeting held on the 10th April that decided to go ahead with the “community newspaper” idea, Graham Burgess (Wirral Council’s Chief Executive) would have received this letter from the Department of Communities and Local Government about council’s compliance with the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity.

I won’t include the letter here as you can click on the link and read it in its entirety yourself, but I will quote some sections “The background to the new power is that whilst the majority of local authorities comply fully with the Publicity Code’s provisions, it is a matter of concern to the Government that there are still cases where this is not so, for example, local authorities issuing publicity that is political in nature or continuing to publish newspapers more frequently than stated in the Code’s provisions. The Secretary of State being able to direct compliance with the Publicity Code is a means whereby these concerns can be addressed” and “The Secretary of State intends to adopt the following approach to this consideration. Where on the basis of any material or information currently available to him, the Secretary of State considers that there is some evidence of non-compliance since the Publicity Code was issued in March 2011, and there is no current unambiguous evidence available to him that the non-compliance has ceased and that there is no risk of future non compliance, he will be minded to give a direction to the authority concerned.”

So what does the code state on frequency?

Section 28 quite clearly states “Where local authorities do commission or publish newsletters, news-sheets or similar communications, they should not issue them more frequently than quarterly, apart from parish councils which should not issue them more frequently than monthly.”

So what frequency was approved by the Birkenhead Constituency Committee? I quote from the report on it, “It was proposed to produce a monthly publication to include information residents want to read about.” and later on it describes the frequency of the issues as “The pilot would be to produce an 8 page publication, bi-monthly for 6 months (3 editions) working in partnership with Lairdside Communities Together.”

Moving to the bit in the letter that states “it is a matter of concern to the Government that there are still cases where this is not so, for example, local authorities issuing publicity that is political in nature” the report to the Birkenhead Constituency Committee states “The content of the publication would be devised from the committee and community requests.” Everyone on the Birkenhead Constituency Committee is a politician (whether councillor or MP), does the public expect their requests for what goes in it not to be political. As there won’t be any advertising in the first three editions personally I don’t think there will be enough “community requests” for three eight page editions so the majority of the content is likely to be suggested by politicians.

Here was what was said at the Birkenhead Constituency Committee meeting on this item which starts at 21:28 in the video above.

=======================================================================================================DAWN TOLCHER (BIRKENHEAD CONSTITUENCY MANAGER)
The second item on this Councillor Doughty talked to last time was around a local publication, so we’ve done some further thinking around this and just to clarify what this will be, it will be a community focussed publication supporting people with what’s on in the community. The data shows that the feedback that a lot of Members get is not all our residents get the local newspaper currently.

It will be a focus on work with other public sector organisations and we’ve got a group together called of the Birkenhead public services. What I’ve asked from them is what they currently do around their communication, what spend, what tools they use and I’m collating that together to look at across us all what we use and what we’re spending, what are we doing and is there any way we can pull that together.

What we’re asking from the Committee is a pilot of three editions to see if it works and to monitor that pilot there will be two subgroups and one will look at it will be an editorial board that will ensure the content is non political and it’s what people want to read on the feedback we’re getting.

It’ll aim to recruit an apprentice for nine to twelve months and involve the community around the community news and how that’s developed. So we’re talking as people have been appearing through this there’s been a really positive feedback from some, from a lot of people saying we’ve had for example a few of have been today at a conference around food planning and how people are struggling accessing food and what, there’s massive support out there with people saying I don’t know where it is around initiatives such as somebody wrote to Councillor Kenny saying that we’ve got an initiative around supporting to access free bikes and that’s the sort of information to go in there. Any questions?

RT HON FRANK FIELD MP (CHAIR)
Questions on that? Yes please, yep?

MEMBER OF PUBLIC
Did you find out about whether the Council actually paid additional money to have the newspapers circulated everywhere? Did that actually happen?

DAWN TOLCHER (BIRKENHEAD CONSTITUENCY MANAGER)
My understanding was that it used to happen, it doesn’t happen now.

MEMBER OF PUBLIC
So it’s too late to have any redress for it?

RT HON FRANK FIELD MP (CHAIR)
Phillip I think we should actually follow that up, it’s a serious point. Can we actually have that in the minutes please and follow it up? What happened to that?

COUNCILLOR CHRIS MEADEN
As I understand it, that’s what we used to do.

RT HON FRANK FIELD MP (CHAIR)
Yeah, absolutely, yeah.

DAWN TOLCHER (BIRKENHEAD CONSTITUENCY MANAGER)
What we have got since the last meeting is a breakdown of where it is going and where it isn’t going so we can help with that.

RT HON FRANK FIELD MP (CHAIR)
So what we’re going to be doing, again it comes back to this whole point what does the contract say and is it actually being fulfilled, if not what do we do about it? (At this point he looks at officers to his left and says sotto voce “answer this evening”)? Really, thanks.

=======================================================================================================

What’s interesting is Dawn Tolcher states that the community newspaper will have a “focus on work with other public sector organisations and we’ve got a group together called of the Birkenhead public services. What I’ve asked from them is what they currently do around their communication, what spend, what tools they use and I’m collating that together to look at across us all what we use and what we’re spending, what are we doing and is there any way we can pull that together.”

There’s something called the Wirral Public Service Board. Last year I made a Freedom of Information request to Wirral Council for the agendas and minutes of their meetings over the previous year. That request was refused by Surjit Tour under s.36 (2) (b) (ii) of the Act stating that releasing the agendas and minutes would (or would be likely to) inhibit “the free and frank exchange of views for the purpose of deliberation.” and have a “chilling effect” on their discussions. He also refused it on the basis that the minutes would contain the names of people (data protection grounds).

So just to recap, Wirral Council won’t release the agendas and minutes of meetings held with other public sector organisations at which the decisions and discussion about joint working are made. However they plan to write articles about the decisions made at these meetings and the joint work that Wirral Council is doing in a publication they plan to send out to 39,823 properties in Birkenhead? Oh and after the third edition Wirral Council will charge these other public sector organisations to include details about these projects in their “community newspaper”?

I don’t believe there is as much support for this community newspaper idea as was claimed at the Birkenhead Constituency Committee meeting. I previously wrote about this proposal and included a poll. The poll’s question was “Do you think Wirral Council should spend £22,500 to start a community newspaper in Birkenhead?” with the three following answers to choose from yes, no and don’t know. At the time of writing nineteen people had answered the question. The results were clear, eighteen said no and one answered don’t know.

So did Wirral Council’s Chief Legal Eagle Surjit Tour point out Eric Pickle’s new legal power (which has been in force since the 30th March 2014) to direct Wirral Council to comply with the code (which as outlined above the proposal as it stands doesn’t)? No Mr. Tour didn’t (but then he wasn’t asked for any legal advice on this item). The taxpayer pays him a salary of £73,352 a year. His role (according to Wirral Council’s constitution at 2.3 of Wirral Council’s financial regulations) is defined as follows “The Monitoring Officer is responsible for reporting any actual or potential breaches of the law or maladministration to the Council and/or to the Executive”.

No councillor or MP asked Surjit Tour during the meeting whether aspects of the proposal for a community newspaper were lawful and for his advice. Surjit Tour didn’t say anything during this item and the letter from the Department of Communities and Local Government went to Graham Burgess (so it seems likely that Surjit Tour hasn’t seen it).

The letter from DCLG finishes with “If you have any questions about the new powers, please contact ConductCode@communities.gsi.gov.uk. You can also contact the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP directly at eric.pickles@communities.gsi.gov.uk.

The Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP said about the very issue of Council newspapers “The spread of the town hall ‘Pravda’ is manifestly unfair because they offer cut price local news, but mixed in with council propaganda that pours taxpayers money down the drain.

These free-sheets are often confused for the real thing by residents. I want our news to be told and sold under the masthead of an independent and free press, not through a knock-off Rolex imitation.”

The press release goes on to state “Where a council ignores the statutory code, the government or a concerned member of the public could seek a court order to enforce it. Disregard for that would result in contempt of court.”

So is Wirral Council going to change its plans or run the risk of a showdown with the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP over their newspaper plans? The Liverpool Echo also ran a story about this on the 26th March using the headline FURY OVER TOWN HALL PAPER PLAN; Town could see launch of newsletter.

I’d be interested to read your thoughts on this issue which you can leave as a comment (even anonymously if you wish) or contact the Department for Communities and Local Government or the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP directly yourself to let them know your views on what Wirral Council is proposing to do.

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Wirral Council plan to spend £22,500 on a Birkenhead community newspaper. Will it fall foul of Pickles’ publicity law?

Wirral Council plan to spend £22,500 on a Birkenhead community newspaper. Will it fall foul of Pickles’ publicity law?

Wirral Council plan to spend £22,500 on a Birkenhead community newspaper. Will it fall foul of Pickles’ publicity law?

                             
A recent meeting of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee who will consider proposals to spend £22,500 on a Birkenheadcommunity newspaper
A recent meeting of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee who will consider proposals to spend £22,500 on a Birkenhead community newspaper

Buried among the appendices published ahead of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee on Thursday are two interesting reports.

The first report is the result of a Surveymonkey survey sent out to all residents that Wirral Council has an email address for in the “CH41, CH42 or CH42 postcode” areas. It seems however this is just a typo and residents in CH43 (which covers Bidston & St. James, Claughton, Oxton and Prenton) were also included as I received an email about the survey with the subject “Would you like to receive a community news update?” on 27th February.

Most people responding to the survey stated that what they liked most about the local free newspapers was local news, however question three revealed that around half responding to that question said that they don’t read the local free newspaper as it isn’t delivered to them any more. This answers concurs with statistics in the other report that states that out of the 39,823 households in Birkenhead, 24,962 receive the Wirral News (62.7%) and 22,091 the Wirral Globe (55.5%).

The survey continues with asking what people want they would want included in a “Birkenhead Constituency Committee news update” and the top answer was “unbiased, relevant local news” closely followed by finding out about local services, events and activities.

Interestingly there were also responses about why people didn’t currently read the newspapers from surveys in public locations where people gave responses such as “Council matters only appear if news editors think that they are controversial” and “fed up of hearing about bad people doing bad things and getting away with it”.

When asked about what information they thought should be included in a Birkenhead Constituency Community Newspaper there were a range of responses such as “find out about positive local news and important council information concerning regeneration and development”, “main council committee decisions – with commentary if necessary”, “planning applications”, “proposed road & transport information” but interestingly and this one seems to be a reference to Labour Rose/Lib Dem Focus “but not of councillors’ photographs at places where council work has been done at their behest”.

Not unsurprisingly not one of the questions asked residents if they thought that spending £22,500 of taxpayer’s money for three editions was a good idea. What is proposed is a pilot of three editions over six months (each edition being bi-monthly) of an eight page publication (whether it would be colour or black and white is not mentioned). It’s stated that “It will be non political and inform people of news they are interested in.” Quite how it will manage to write anything about Wirral Council that people are interested in (which means the more controversial political news), yet remain “non political” remains to be seen. The long term aim is to have advertising from “public sector partners”, grants and “appropriate advertising” cover its costs for future editions.

It will be edited by Lairdside Community Together, who will be recruiting an apprentice to work on it through Wirral Metropolitan College. Interestingly it won’t be delivered by paid deliverers but by volunteers with ward councillors suggesting an organisation in their ward (sports clubs and scout groups are mentioned in the report). These organisations would then receive “an incentive”.

However the future is not looking particularly rosy for such Council run publications. Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP is not as keen on them as the Birkenhead Constituency Committee. In approximately a week (30th March 2014) s.39 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 on the code of practice on local authority publicity comes into force. This section gives Eric Pickles the legal power to tell Councils off who aren’t complying with the “Code of practice on local authority publicity” and force them to comply. This section also allows the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP to create a new law making it a legal duty for all local Councils to comply with the Code of Practice on Local Authority Publicity.

So what is the Code of Practice on Local Authority Publicity (which also comes with an explanatory memorandum and how could the proposed Birkenhead Constituency Community Newspaper fall foul of it?

Section 2 of the code makes it quite clear that it applies to such publications “The code therefore applies in relation to all decisions by local authorities relating to paid advertising and leaflet campaigns, publication of free newspapers and newssheets and maintenance of websites – including the hosting of material which is created by third parties.”

Section 4 outlines some principles applying to “publicity by local authorities”. These are that it should be cost effective, objective, even-handed, appropriate and “be issued with care during periods of heightened sensitivity”. I think that last bit refers to the period in the lead up to elections.

Going back to what somebody wanted in such a newspaper being “main council committee decisions – with commentary if necessary” section 15 would appear to rule that out “Such publicity may set out the local authority’s views and reasons for holding those views, but should avoid anything likely to be perceived by readers as constituting a political statement, or being a commentary on contentious areas of public policy.”

Section 28 is specifically about such newspapers, restricts their frequency to quarterly and restricts what can be put in it “Local authorities should not publish or incur expenditure in commissioning in hard copy or on any website, newsletters, newssheets or similar communications which seek to emulate commercial newspapers in style or content. Where local authorities do commission or publish newsletters, newssheets or similar communications, they should not issue them more frequently than quarterly, apart from parish councils which should not issue them more frequently than monthly. Such communications should not include material other than information for the public about the business, services and amenities of the council or other local service providers.”

Section 34 bans such publications in the lead up to elections “During the period between the notice of an election and the election itself, local authorities should not publish any publicity on controversial issues or report views or proposals in such a way that identifies them with any individual members or groups of members. Publicity relating to individuals involved directly in the election should not be published by local authorities during this period unless expressly authorised by or under statute. It is permissible for local authorities to publish factual information which identifies the names, wards and parties of candidates at elections.”

As it states in the explanatory memorandum “Council newspapers, issued frequently and designed to resemble a local newspaper can mislead members of the public reading them that they are local newspapers covering council events and give communities a biased view of the activities of the council.” There’s also the concern that such publications (as this one is expected to be funded after the first three issues through advertising) will take advertising away from local newspapers and make them less financially viable.

So I’m starting a poll to see what readers think about the community newspaper proposal ahead of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee on Thursday which will consider it.

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