Posted by: John Brace | 3 July 2012

Standards Committee (Wirral Council) 3/7/2012 Part 1 Election of Chair, Minutes of previous meetings

Standards Committee 3rd July 2012

Photo caption: From Left to Right
Cllr Steve Williams (Conservative), Cllr Chris Blakeley (Conservative), Cllr Les Rowlands (Conservative), Shirley Hudspeth (Officer – Committee Clerk), Surjit Tour (Legal Adviser), Malcolm Flanagan (Report author agenda item 5 & item 6), Unknown Labour councillor (1), Unknown Labour councillor (2)

Standards Committee
Conservative (3)
Cllr Chris Blakeley
Cllr Les Rowlands
Cllr Steve Williams

Labour (5)
Cllr Ron Abbey
Cllr John Salter
Cllr Bill Davies (Chair)
Cllr Bernie Mooney
Cllr Anita Leech

Lib Dem (1)
Cllr Tom Harney

Not Present:

Vacancy (1) Independent

Vacancy (2) Independent

Vacancy (3) Independent

Wirral Council Officers
Malcolm Flanagan
Shirley Hudspeth (Committee Clerk)
Surjit Tour (Legal Adviser/Deputy Monitoring Officer)
Rick O’Brien

Mrs Leonora and Mr. John Brace
Mr. Denis Knowles

Agenda item 1 – Election of Chair 00:00 to 01:50

Surjit Tour explained to councillors that they needed to elect a Chair. Cllr Bill Davies was nominated. Cllr Chris Blakeley queried why it was necessary when Part 2 of the Annual Meeting of the Council, held on the 21st May 2012 had already reached a decision as to who the Chair should be? [Ed – this decision took effect from 1/7/12.]

Surjit Tour answered his question. Cllr Bill Davies was elected unopposed as Chair. The new Chair thanked the Committee for their hard work.

The Chair moved the Committee to:

Agenda Item 2 – Minutes of Previous Meeting 01:50 to 11:35

The agenda item was to discuss the minutes of the meetings held on the 16th April 2012 and 25th June 2012.

Cllr Blakeley asked which set of minutes they were dealing with first?

He disputed the accuracy of various parts of the minutes. The Chair said he hadn’t been at the meeting in question. Cllr Harney said it would “cost a fortune” for verbatim minutes, but they had to record decisions made. He thought it was better if quoting to attribute it to a named person and felt it was better in future “to stick to a brief narrative” and a decision if any was made, feeling that spending time on it was not productive and what mattered was the decision.

Cllr Chris Blakeley suggested they record meetings in the future.

Cllr Ron Abbey stated the recording of meetings would need agreement at a meeting of the full Council, he supported Cllr Harney’s stance, but it required the full Council to resolve. A discussion followed.

Cllr Chris Blakeley referred to his resolution at a previous meeting that was agreed 5:0:4. He recommended that all future meetings are recorded by video or sound.

Cllr Salter said they’d done this route before as they had had streaming video of Planning Committee meetings for two years and there had been difficulties.

Cllr Ron Abbey said that technology evolved but wanted a full report on the policy option.

Cllr Chris Blakeley said he was happy to move a motion.

Cllr Tom Harney said he was in favour of recording, but there were resource implications and systems had to be set up, he felt it was a matter for Cabinet.

Surjit Tour suggested it could be looked at by the Member Equipment Steering Group, especially as KLOE 6 would lead to a review of the IT kit and the Council’s infrastructure, as part of this they could look into the possibility of recording as well as the streaming cost implications as part of this cross party working group.

Cllr Chris Blakeley was happy, Cllr Salter said it didn’t work on Planning, but the equipment was still here. Cllr Ron Abbey said he had no issue with it coming back as technology moved on. He wanted other people to look at it going to the Working Party to fill in information as a policy option.

Cllr Les Rowlands felt video was not helpful, but if it recorded accurate decisions then for Shirley’s benefit it could help improve the accuracy of the minutes.

Cllr Ron Abbey suggested it go to the Working Party.

Cllr Chris Blakeley wanted to move consideration for recording either video or voice, he was happy for Surjit Tour to take it to the cross party Working Group.

Cllr Bill Davies said he was not sure he wanted video, this was seconded by Cllr Les Rowlands.

The Chair said just to be clear it was going to the Working Party, which was agreed.

Continued in part 2


  1. Just a quick note to say that despite a compelling, detailed, comprehensive and well-evidenced Standards complaint regarding ex-Mayor Councillor Moira McLaughlin, lodged by myself some time ago with Bill Norman (Director of Law, currently suspended from work) the councillor managed to escape proper sanction. For a very long time, concerns have been raised about the integrity of this process, and whether it is in fact “fit for purpose”.

    Can this claim be resurrected, now that a question mark has been placed over the conduct of the suspended Director of Law? I know that there have been other, previous unsuccessful standards complaints during Bill Norman’s tenure and believe that since the latest three suspensions occurred, which seem to find echoes within the findings of the Klonowski report, the legitimate public interest would demand that urgent and compelling standards complaints are looked into again.

    Thanks John!

    • You can make a new complaint about the same thing, however only some decisions on complaints were made by Bill Norman. The Monitoring Officer only has a relatively small role to play. The rest were made by councillors or Independent Members and other officers (eg Surjit Tour, Shirley Hudspeth, ethical standards officers) etc etc…

    • There’s a long and a short answer to this. I will have to make some assumptions about your complaint too. The problem is I know too much that I’ll merely repost here knowledge that’s already in the public domain.

      Firstly there needs to be background for people reading this. Bill Norman is (and I presume was) at the time of your complaint Wirral Council’s Monitoring Officer. Cllr McLaughlin was at the time of making your complaint a councillor at Wirral Council. This complaint had to be made at some point in the period 2008 to 2012.

      It therefore falls under the previous legislation which has since been reformed by the new Coalition government through changes to primary and secondary legislation.

      Q1. Can this claim be resurrected?

      A1. It depends how old it is and whether any alleged maladministration surrounding your complaint is connected to the current suspension of the Monitoring Officer. I’ll be more specific and give examples based on the law and policy in effect at the time.

      Failures would be something like this:-

      A) Decided on your complaint but failed to write to complainant about outcome
      B) Your complaint mysteriously vanished
      C) Your complaint was decided but they used a covering report relating to a different complaint
      D) The maladministration of your complaint referred to a protected characteristic eg it could be proved it was ignored because the complainant’s gender, age, ethnic minority, marital status, pregnancy, etc etc…
      E) You suffered as a result of your complaint’s maladministration financially
      F) Your complaint was handled in such a way that your rights as a complainant were overriden.
      G) other reasons such as exceeding statutory time limits

      No, some of these would be cause for a corporate complaint to the Department concerned. If that failed you’d complain to the Local Government Ombudsman.

      Failures that fall into alleged legal breaches are better dealt with through letters before action and lawsuits. However that is beyond the scope of this brief answer to answer fully. The upside however to a lawsuit is that the complainant can be awarded his costs and compensation. The downside is there aren’t many solicitors out there doing legal aid cases for judicial review that have a lot of experience in this area of administrative law on the Wirral or Merseyside. The same issue faces Wirral Council though as their in house legal team is IMHO too small so they outsource (at £millions/year).

      Your question leads to another question though, do the publically (and privately) stated reasons about Bill Norman relate to your complaint in any way? If the answer is yes, then it bears investigation, if no then it would be difficult to link the two.

      There is also another factor to bring into play here, often one of the reason why complaints were dismissed were because of reasons such as:-

      conflict of interest (eg subject Member complained about is on Standards Committee at time of complaint)
      administrative issue (officers turning up late to meetings, paperwork going missing)
      problems (subject Member complained about can’t make meeting, ill, stuck in traffic etc etc)

      Personally I feel that there are two standards at play here, those that work in favour of the councillor/s and those in favour of the complainant. Views are as follows:-

      Councillors: the system is stacked in favour of complainants or “there was a report I can’t show you that cleared me”
      Complainants: the system is stacked in favour of councillors.

      It was discussed in detail at a later part of the meeting…. but the Independent Members (non councillors) on the Standards Committee have been removed as of the 1st July and replaced with three vacancies.

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