Why am I angry at Wirral Council for allegedly breaking more laws to cover up a 3 year investigation and subsequent decision by three councillors as to why Councillor Steve Foulkes broke the Code of Conduct and should apologise for leaking information about Councillor Jeff Green to the press?

Why am I angry at Wirral Council for allegedly breaking more laws to cover up a 3 year investigation and subsequent decision by three councillors as to why Councillor Steve Foulkes broke the Code of Conduct and should apologise for leaking information about Councillor Jeff Green to the press?

Why am I angry at Wirral Council for allegedly breaking more laws to cover up a 3 year investigation and subsequent decision by three councillors as to why Councillor Steve Foulkes broke the Code of Conduct and should apologise for leaking information about Councillor Jeff Green to the press?

                                        

Councillor Steve Foulkes (Labour) (right) speaking at a recent meeting of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee (28th July 2016) while Councillor Pat Cleary (Green) (left) listens
Councillor Steve Foulkes (Labour) (right) speaking at a recent meeting of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee (28th July 2016) while Councillor Pat Cleary (Green) (left) listens

17/8/16 Amended to correct name of Phil Goodman to Peter Goodman.

Firstly, I’m cross with Wirral Council.

What is it this time you may wonder?

Well I have a long list of grievances, but not being a Wirral Council employee no formal route (ok I could bring some of these up with my trade union) to take these to a grievance hearing, nor the time or inclination at this stage to get the judiciary involved.

I’m cross at being denied (along with my wife) to be present at what I perceive to be (in part) to be a public meeting of the Standards Panel on the 28th June 2016 in Committee Room 2 at Wallasey Town Hall, Brighton Street, Seacombe, CH44 8ED starting at 6.00pm.

I’m cross at being shouted at by junior public facing employees of Wirral Council who I will gladly name here from what I remember as Shirley Hudspeth (Legal and Member Services) and Peter Goodman (whatever the facilities management side of Wirral Council is called as frankly I’ve lost track of restructures? Is it infrastructure, asset management something like that?) with their view that it was a private meeting, but I’m not cross at them in a major way because I’m more cross at what I presume are their senior manager/s or senior manager/s from another department at Wirral Council who told both of them to say this to me (even though it isn’t true) as it seems a senior manager/s at Wirral Council would stoop that low as to instruct junior employees to do what they (senior manager/s) should have the guts to do face to face themselves.

I’m cross at Wirral Council for its website not working as I write this at democracy.wirral.gov.uk so I can’t include links or refer to the details. But yeah, whoever’s job it is to fix it may be on holiday.

I’m cross at a senior manager (Joe Blott) and his external legal adviser (whose name I can’t recall without checking Wirral Council’s website that isn’t working). Yes the external legal advisor is the guy in this photo as I wasn’t allowed to be at or film him at the public bit of the Standards Panel meeting (and just as an aside this law allows me to film such public meetings even if I’m not physically in the room, which I suppose next time if I’m not allowed actually in the room for a public meeting I’ll have to do the filming either through the meeting room door or from the car park outside!)

However in Joe Blott’s defence I don’t think he understood why the legal advice he got was flawed and had the external legal advisor pointed out why it was flawed he’d have had to have criticised his client (Wirral Council) which is a big no-no if he ever wants further work from Wirral Council in the future.

I’m not cross with Surjit Tour who seems to have a conflict of interest. But if he does have one, Joe Blott is supposed to deal with it!!!

I am cross with the fact that 5 clear working days notice of the date, time, agenda and reports (if not recommended to be heard in closed session) for the Standards Panel meeting on the 28th June 2016 was not given by the 20th June 2016, but instead yesterday the 3rd of August 2016.

I’m cross that a complaint about a councillor (Cllr Steve Foulkes) as to what happened in July 2013 has taken Wirral Council around three years to resolve.

I’m cross that Patricia Thynne in her report refers to myself as having filmed a Youtube video referred to when I didn’t film it and it was indeed someone else! I’m also cross with myself that relying on Patricia Thynne’s report I then left a comment on the Wirral Leaks blog only to be embarrassed into being told it is a mistake in her report.

I’ve recently learned that Cllr Gilchrist was the Chair of the Standards Panel, I’m cross that I wasn’t allowed to go to the public bit of the Standards Panel meeting where this was decided on the 28th June 2016 to find this out and had to wait around a month to know whether it was Cllr Chris Blakeley or Cllr Phil Gilchrist.

I’m cross that in messing up what’s detailed above Wirral Council is relying on a legal power that was repealed years ago.

I’m cross that for reasons of internal capacity here I didn’t take things further over what happened to us at the meeting on the 28th June 2016 whether by letter or subsequent legal action against Wirral Council.

However, moving to the complaint itself, yes I was there in the public gallery in July 2013 in the adjournment while it happened. Yes Cllr Steve Foulkes came in and spoke with Liam Murphy (referred to as Person C). Yes, I was too far away (at the other end of the public gallery to hear what they were saying). Yes I remember Mr Nigel Hobro coming in to the public gallery at this point and wanting to speak with Liam Murphy but getting the brush off.

Yes, my opinion (not that it matters really) is that I think it is fair that Cllr Foulkes should apologise.

However, isn’t it ironic that as Cllr Foulkes previously made a complaint about Cllr Chris Blakeley talking to the Liverpool Echo about whether Cllr Foulkes should be made Mayor (a complaint that Cllr Chris Blakeley was cleared of as you can read about here) that Cllr Chris Blakeley should then be on the Standards Panel to decide about a complaint about Cllr Foulkes leaking information to a Liverpool Echo journalist? Or is that just karma?

Yes Person C in the report is Liam Murphy. Yes I feel sorry for him, yes it is a breach of journalistic ethics to reveal the source of information, but by the sounds of it he (Liam Murphy) was being used by Cllr Foulkes anyway for political gain.

As to the payoff to Emma Degg, her initial silence (prompted in part it seems by the payment of public money), followed by what I presume was a guilty conscience, well at least she finally did the right thing!

As to the allegation that witnesses “colluded” to bring down Cllr Foulkes, well Patricia Thynne feels this is not credible. I will comment however that unless you are in disguise, nobody knows what you look like or in an echo chamber, it’s frankly foolish in the extreme to bring up anything confidential (whether in conversation or by passing it to them) with a journalist when you have people watching you do it, in a public place, in a public building, in the adjournment to a high-profile public meeting.

However Cllr Foulkes’ explanation is he was under a lot of pressure.

Tip for people reading this, if you want in the future to leak something to me, there’s the post (probably the most secure method), email or telephone (if you want the intelligence agencies to read/listen to it in transit) or other ways of sending it to me online.

Yes you can talk to me or hand me things in person, but there are always people watching!

I did ask Cllr Steve Foulkes in person at the end of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee meeting on the evening of Thursday 28th July 2016 to comment on the complaint. He refused to comment directly on the matter (I presume following Mr. Tour’s advice to councillors to keep their mouth shut) and referred me to Wirral Council instead.

So yes, I’m still cross and Wirral Council is finally well dealing with what should’ve been done properly the first time!!!

By first time, I don’t just mean the original complaint (that this morphed into), but what happened at the Standards Panel meeting too.

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Rt Hon Frank Field MP asks for report on The Hive

Rt Hon Frank Field MP asks for report on The Hive

Rt Hon Frank Field MP asks for report on The Hive

                                          

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The video above is of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee meeting held on the 8th October 2015 (public question and answer agenda item). The video should start at the point I asked a question which is at the 36 minutes 17 seconds mark.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP (Chair) and Ken Abraham (solicitor (Wirral Council)) at the meeting of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee on the 8th October 2015
Rt Hon Frank Field MP (Chair) and Ken Abraham (solicitor (Wirral Council)) at the meeting of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee on the 8th October 2015

Below is a copy of my question for the Birkenhead Constituency Committee. I submitted it on the 18th September 2015 for its meeting on the 24th September 2015. However the 24th September 2015 meeting was then cancelled and rearranged to the 8th October 2015.


  

The Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority decided recently to transfer the land by Birkenhead fire station to Wirral Council for a Youth Zone which will be called The Hive.

I also discovered that councillors on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority were receiving their allowances in full, but the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority was paying any tax or National Insurance due (an arrangement costing Merseyside council taxpayers an extra £10,820.28p). These amounts for tax were not deducted from the allowances they received but instead were paid by the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority.

Could the Birkenhead Constituency Committee:

a) give an update on progress on the expected timescales for the Youth Zone called “The Hive”

and

b) explain why some councillors are paying payroll taxes directly out of their allowances, whereas in other cases these taxes are paid not by the politician but by the public? It just seems a basic issue of fairness.


  

The written answer is below.


  

Response from CYPD and Merseyside Fire Service:

a) The Hive is due to open in December 2016.

b) Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service (MFRS) have advised that they have given John Brace an explanation of the figures on a number of occasions. If John Brace would like further information he should contact MFRS directly.


  

However a verbal answer was also given at the meeting which was more detailed. Sadly some of what Jo Burrell said at this point is unclear on the video.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP (Chair) Great, on a) we’ll ask for a report. On b) this is not actually relevant to this Committee because we have no say in it. I’m all in favour of extending our authority but I gather they have written and will continue to take up your points and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority will answer your issues on that John.

On where are we with the Hive? [Cllr] Jean [Stapleton]’s not here about this, do you know?

Cllr ??? ???: … Chief Exec.

Jo Burrell (Constituency Manager) That’s the information we’ve received. I don’t know exactly where the, this building is up to, it’s something I would probably have to ask …

Rt Hon Frank Field MP (Chair): Yes but I think whatever the target date is it’s on target, and most of the money seems to have been raised, hasn’t it? So I think it’s actually, it’s huge sums, it’s brilliant that people have made contributions so that will actually go ahead. The police, the Fire Authority John are very happy having a conversation with you by correspondence.

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Should Eric Pickles intervene and stop Town Talk being delivered to Birkenhead households during the election?

Should Eric Pickles intervene and stop Town Talk being delivered to Birkenhead households during the election?

Should Eric Pickles intervene and stop Town Talk being delivered to Birkenhead households during the election?

                                        

Councillor Paul Doughty explains why he's had sleepless nights over Town Talk and won't agree to a further £5000
Councillor Paul Doughty explains why he’s had sleepless nights over Town Talk and won’t agree to a further £5000

Last year, Wirral Council’s former Chief Executive Graham Burgess would’ve received this letter from DCLG about publicity issued by Wirral Council.

To summarise the letter it reminds Wirral Council to comply with the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Government Publicity and if they don’t reminds them that the Secretary of State has a legal power to direct local councils to comply.

Since this new power came into force about a year ago, you can read here various letters written by the Secretary of State to councils that weren’t complying with the code.

Continue reading “Should Eric Pickles intervene and stop Town Talk being delivered to Birkenhead households during the election?”

The incredible story of the Gautby Road Play Area starring 1 press release, 1 padlock, 1 councillor and an MP

The incredible story of the Gautby Road Play area starring 1 press release, 1 padlock, 1 councillor and an MP

The incredible story of the Gautby Road Play Area starring 1 press release, 1 padlock, 1 councillor and an MP

                          

Below is a picture of Gautby Road Play Area (owned by Wirral Council) in Bidston which is next to Gautby Road Community Centre taken on the 5th August at about two o’clock in the afternoon.

Gautby Road Play Area Bidston 5th August 2014
Gautby Road Play Area (5th August 2014)

Here is a photo of the sign (also taken the same day at around two o’clock) which is next to the only gate in and out of the Gautby Road Play Area.

Gautby Road Play Area Bidston 5th August 2014
Gautby Road Play Area sign

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed a padlock on the gate, a close up of which is below. So just to make it perfectly clear, yesterday when the photo was taken the only gate into the Gautby Road Play Area was padlocked. This is the reality of the situation.

Gautby Road Play Area padlock Bidston 5th August 2014
Gautby Road Play Area padlock

However the reality of the situation is not what Wirral Council put in a press release titled “Come and play all day!”. The press release is partly about National Play Day 2014 (which is today) but also states “Youth and Play Service also operate three full-time all year round play facilities located at Beechwood Play & Community centre, Leasowe Adventure Playground and Gautby Road, providing free play provision for children and young people aged from six to 14 years.”

At the last Birkenhead Constituency Committee held on the 24th July, my wife asked why the Gautby Road play area was being kept padlocked. Here’s a transcript of the bit of the meeting which you can also watch the video of starting here.

Leonora Brace
I’ve got two questions to ask.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP
Yeah.

Leonora Brace
I did ask Cllr Crabtree and [Cllr] Harry Smith about the children’s play area in Gautby Road, Bidston.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP
Yes.

Leonora Brace
About it being locked all the time and two children nearly drowned in the lake at the back on the opposite side and he told me I had to ask when I came here.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP
Very good, instead of asking do you think we could actually have an answer for Mrs Brace and err can you do that?

Cllr Ann McLachlan (Cabinet Member for Governance, Commissioning and Improvement)
Chair, through you Chair. The Gautby Road Play Area which has recently just been refurbished actually, is only through the, it’s used predominantly by the Gautby Road Play and Community Centre and they kind of keep the keys and police it, but it is through the summer it’s open. The play centre’s open all through the day. So it is open.

Leonora Brace
No. Sorry it’s not. It’s locked, it’s padlocked!

Cllr Ann McLachlan (Cabinet Member for Governance, Commissioning and Improvement)
It is yes, but the play area is open all through the summer holidays. The play centre is open…

Leonora Brace
It’s the area outside where they go up and you know jumping up.

Cllr Ann McLachlan (Cabinet Member for Governance, Commissioning and Improvement)
Yes.

Leonora Brace
That’s not open! I passed it again today, yesterday I passed it and it’s all padlocked!

Rt Hon Frank Field MP
Will councillors when they next pass…?

Cllr Ann McLachlan (Cabinet Member for Governance, Commissioning and Improvement)
I was down there signing some cheques for somebody yesterday and it was open! The play area was open and there were children playing there.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP
Will councillors who pass Gautby Road, would they please check?

Cllr Ann McLachlan (Cabinet Member for Governance, Commissioning and Improvement)
Well yes, it’s in my ward! Yes I will.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP
Very good.

Cllr Pat Williams responds to this story on Twitter:

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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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