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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Wirral Council councillors decide to recruit another Independent Person to help decide on complaints about councillors

Wirral Council councillors decide to recruit another Independent Person to help decide on complaints about councillors

Wirral Council councillors decide to recruit another Independent Person to help decide on complaints about councillors

                                           

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Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee (Wirral Council) discussion on independent persons is at agenda item 4 (Appointment of Independent Members starting at 1m:14s and ending at 4m:43s) and agenda item 6 (Establishment of a Standards and Constitutional Oversight Working Group) starting at 21m:31s and ending at 31m:22s)

Councillor Denise Roberts (Chair, Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee at Wirral Council) 6th July 2016
Councillor Denise Roberts (Chair, Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee at Wirral Council) 6th July 2016

Wirral Council’s Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee met yesterday evening.

Their second meeting that evening considered a report on the independent persons.

Continue reading “Wirral Council councillors decide to recruit another Independent Person to help decide on complaints about councillors”

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

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

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

                      

To very little fanfare (compared to the local newspaper coverage that used to go with the annual publication of MP’s expenses), Wirral Council has published on its website what it paid each of its councillors for 2013-14 with a breakdown by basic allowance, responsibility allowance, telephone rental (although this is a £NIL amount for everyone on that list), expenses, subsistence, travel expenses and car mileage. Despite replying to a FOI request and stating this was part of Wirral Council’s “openness and transparency” it is in fact a legal requirement that they publish this information annually (if you’d like to leave a comment referring to the specific Act of Parliament or regulations that require them to do this feel free).

This list includes three people who aren’t councillors but are “independent persons” and are appointed by Wirral Council councillors. These three have a role set down in law in dealing with complaints about councillors. They are also co-opted on Wirral Council’s Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee (whose next scheduled meeting has been cancelled).

Unlike the councillors none of these three get a basic amount, but receive £25 for each meeting they attend of the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee. In addition to this they are able to claim car mileage for meetings associated with their role. The annual amounts for these three are the smallest on the list being £90.80 (Dr. Burgess-Joyce), £122.40 (Brian Cummings) and £208.10 (RS Jones).

For the politicians, the lowest annual amount paid was to Cllr Matthew Patrick of £3,794.14. This is because he was only elected part way through that year in October 2013 in the Upton by-election. The by-election in Upton happened because of the death of Cllr Sylvia Hodrien, who also appears in the list receiving a part year amount of £4,373.84. Former Councillor Darren Dodd is the only other name to receive a part year amount of £6,019.11 as he resigned part way through the year and moved to Leeds.

The rest received the basic allowance of £8,712.48. In addition to this amount roughly half receive an extra responsibility allowance which for this financial year applied to thirty-three out of the sixty-seven councillors. An extra responsibility allowance is paid to the ten members of the Cabinet (generally an extra £9,171 although the Leader receives £22,927), chair of a committee, leader or deputy leader of a political group etc. The largest responsibility allowance paid was to Cllr Phil Davies of £22,926.96 (this is in addition to the basic allowance of £8,712.48). The smallest amount (that wasn’t £NIL) paid as a responsibility allowance was to Cllr Lesley Rennie of £203.38.

In total (the councillors and independent persons) claimed a total of £5,171.75 in car mileage payments, £490.99 in subsistence payments (this a meals allowance when they’re away from home for over four hours) and £1,684.64 in “expenses”.

The total cost (from this list) to the taxpayer for 2013-14 for the councillors and three independent persons was £754,783.18.

For some obscure reason I’m not really sure of, in earlier years the amount that the Mayor and Deputy Mayor are paid is published separately. This doesn’t seem to have been done yet this year (at the time of writing), but in 2012-13 came to a total of an extra £12,228.80. I would guess that the amount for the mayoralty in 2013-14 would be a similar amount to this.

A number of councillors also represent Wirral Council on outside bodies. There are two councillors who represent Wirral Council on the Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority are paid an extra £1,834 each. These amounts are paid directly by Wirral Council to these councillors.

There are other outside bodies such as Merseytravel (four councillors from Wirral Council) and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority (four councillors from Wirral Council). These two pay these councillors directly extra amounts for these extra responsibilities. A list similar to the one Wirral Council produces is published on their organisation’s website annually. These amounts are not included in this list from Wirral Council as such payments are made directly to councillors by those bodies rather than through Wirral Council.

A resolution to Council in previous years required Wirral Council to publish these extra amounts received too from bodies funded through the council tax such as Merseytravel, the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and until it was abolished and replaced with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Merseyside & Police and Crime Panel, the Merseyside Police Authority.

As with the complicated scheme in place at Wirral Council, these amounts can vary quite considerably from a basic allowance that all receive to large amounts for the Chair.

Taking one public body, the figures for Merseytravel (which is now part of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority) haven’t been published on Wirral Council’s website for 2013-14, but the 2012-13 figures show that Wirral Council councillors received a basic allowance each of £5,202.13 (with part year payments to Cllr Blakeley and Cllr Foulkes), an extra special responsibility allowance for three councillors ranging from £1,095.38 to £4,063.29 as well as travel & subsistence payments ranging from nothing claimed to £997.99.

So, although the “cost of democracy” at Wirral Council is at least £754,783.18, in addition to this amount is the cost of the Mayor & Deputy Mayor and the currently difficult to find amounts councillors receive for representing Wirral Council on outside bodies (which Wirral Council should following a resolution agreed by Wirral Council publish on its website but in recent years hasn’t).

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Former Wirral Council Standards Committee Chair Brian Cummings awarded MBE

English: Member of the Order of the British Em...
English: Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) medal, front and obverse Tiếng Việt: Hai mặt của Huân chương Thành viên Đế chế Anh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Brian John Cummings, formerly the Chair of Wirral Council’s Standards Committee has been awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for services to education in the Queens Birthday Honours List (2012). Brian Cummings is currently Chairman of Governors at St Anselm’s College and a governor at Birkenhead High School.

John Brace commented, “Although Brian Cummings will be leaving as the paid Chair of the Standards Committee in the next few days, the award of an MBE is well deserved and recognises his voluntary work in the community as school governor. As a former pupil at St. Anselm’s College (92 to 97), I know how valuable the work of the governors there is and how Brian Cummings should be proud of the results of his hard work.
Although Wirral Council has had its fair share of standards issues involving paperwork mixups, the mistakes have mainly been made by Wirral Council employees, one of whom has received a promotion, rather than members of the Standards Committee that he chairs.”

Standards Committee (Wirral Council) 26th January 2012 Part 1 Declarations of interest, Minutes, Implications of the Localism Act on the Standards Regime

Present (part of Standards Committee)

Independent

Ken Harrison (Vice-Chair)
Alex Nuttall

Conservative

Deputy Mayor of Wirral, Cllr Gerry Ellis
Cllr Simon Mountney deputy for Cllr Les Rowlands
Cllr Chris Blakeley

Labour

Cllr Denise Roberts
Cllr John Salter
Cllr Bill Davies

Liberal Democrat

Cllr Tom Harney deputy for Cllr Pat Williams
Cllr Ann Bridson
Cllr Bob Wilkins

Officers

Shirley Hudspeth (Committee Clerk)
Surjit Tour (Legal Adviser)

Press/public

2 members of the public (John Brace and Leonora Brace)

Ken Harrison (Vice-Chair) said he was chairing the meeting tonight in the absence of the Chair Brian Cummings. Mr. Harrison told those present that Brian Cummings couldn’t make it due to “family problems” and he was indisposed. He thanked those here for attending and asked for apologies.

Apologies were given for Cllr Pat Williams, Stella Elliott and Cllr Les Rowlands.

Item 1 Members’ Code of Conduct – Declarations of Interest

Cllr Denise Roberts declared an interest in item 5 (correspondence received by the Chair) as she was named in the correspondence.

Cllr Denise Roberts declared an interest in item 4, in respect of the meeting on 6/1/2010.

Cllr Chris Blakeley asked Cllr Denise Roberts if it was item 5 she was declaring an interest in?

Surjit Tour asked Cllr Denise Roberts if it was item 5 she was declaring an interest in?

Cllr Denise Roberts confirmed it was item 5 she was declaring an interest in.

Cllr Ann Bridson declared an interest in item 5.

Surjit Tour asked if there were any more who wished to declare an interest in item 5?

Deputy Mayor Gerry Ellis apologised and said he “didn’t think”.

Cllr Ann Bridson wanted to ask legal advice on an interest matter.

Surjit Tour said that for information, it was being recommended that item 5 be dealt with as an exempt item. Therefore he said the public could not be present for item 5 and any councillors who had declared a prejudicial  interest could not be present either. Mr Tour said they could however wait in the corridor until item 5 was over, rejoin the committee after item 5 and he would explain the decision. The discussion and debate would be exempt and it was in their [the councillor’s affected] interests not to take part.

Cllr Ann Bridson asked about item 4?

Cllr Denise Roberts said she had made a mistake with item 4, one referred to herself and Cllr Bridson.

Cllr Chris Blakeley said that item 5 does refer to the four women.

Cllr John Salter jokingly asked why Cllr Chris Blakeley wasn’t in here?

Cllr Simon Mountney responded to the joke by referring him to pages 66 and 67. The committee laughed.

Surjit Tour said Cllrs Roberts and Bridson both had a personal and prejudicial interest in item 5. They would therefore have to withdraw from the meeting when it was considered. He asked if the committee was happy for him to advise them in private session or open session? Would he be able to do this?

Cllr Ann Bridson asked if they would be in or out?

Surjit Tour said she would be out, then in.

The Chair said it was just like cricket and thanked Surjit Tour for his advice.

Item 2 Minutes

The Chair asked if they agreed the minutes of the meeting held on the 29th September 2011? He asked if all agreed to the above, and they said yes they did.

Item 3 Implications of the Localism Act on the Standards Regime – UPDATE

The Chair said this was on pages seven to fifty-four of the agenda.

Surjit Tour said they must be proper and thorough. He was providing an update on the implications of the Localism Act 2011 which had implications for the standards regime, Members’ Code of Conduct and Standards Committee. The changes happening from 1st July 2012 as mentioned in 4.3, were outlined in an explanatory note giving an indication of the timetable. The original date of 1st April 2012 had been changed to 1st July 2012, which gave a greater lead in time.

There would be further guidance from the Department of Communities and Local Government about the pecuniary interest which was difficult to explain. Appendix 2 had a new draft Code of Conduct. Put together with the national changes, it would be used as a basis to invite discussion and debate with the new Code being adopted.

Mr Tour said it was coming in across Merseyside and would hopefully be easier to administer. Appendix 2 contained a draft Code of Conduct to consider. The report also recommended to set up a Working Group to allow further discussion on the new amendments. The new regime would come into effect as of the 1st July 2012. Paragraph 4.10 summarises the key areas.

Mr Tour continued by stating there was no longer a requirement under the Act to have a Standards Committee. However, in order to administer arrangements it was a helpful vehicle. There was no obligation to have a Members Code, but they did have to have a new Members Code of Conduct which would be a requirement. The new role for independent persons was different to Independent Members. The nature of the role, description and approval would require amendment. They had to have at least one independent person.

This person would be consulted. There would still be a requirement on those covered by the Code to keep the Register of Interests up to date. It would be to the discretion of the Committee, as to the procedure regarding conduct matters. He then explained about dispensations (once they existed) and the protocol (in the unlikely event) that a matter should be referred to the police.

The new rules covered eight critical areas. Before 1st July 2011 as outlined at 4.11 they needed to set up a Working Group. The terms of reference were outlined at 3.1. Mr. Tour finally asked if there were any other items or issues?

The Chair asked if there were any items he wanted to draw attention to?

Surjit Tour said on page twelve there were various points in the explanatory note. S. 27 placed a duty on Wirral Council to promote and maintain high standards of conduct on Wirral Council. The other thing was the issue of sanctions. There were issues regarding decisions made outside of jurisdiction. The advice obtained may be considered.

A formal letter or censure was fine. Removal was limited as sanctions were up to political groups and not a sanction that could be imposed. Press releases and publicity was not an issue. There was no longer a reference to a special obligation not to publish and it would be to their discretion as to whether confidentiality still extended to the matter.

On the issue of allowances it was doubtful as to whether these could be withheld as it would be deemed to be unlawful. Even if an allegation related to access to confidential information, further access to confidential information by councillors couldn’t be restricted.

The appointment of the independent person could cause some difficulty due to the legal restrictions on conflicts of interest. This Surjit Tour felt would lead to a loss of knowledge and experience. He reiterated that an independent person was different to an Independent Member.

Cllr Chris Blakeley said it would have to commence by the 1st July. He said it was an awful lot of change. A lot of councillors and Members couldn’t understand the current system. Therefore it was difficult for people to comply, he realised however that ignorance wasn’t a reason. He felt that if they go down that route with a draft Code of Conduct, they had to get the message across to councillors and Members. His personal view was that although they don’t have to have a Standards Committee, was that it was easier to continue with the Code and just transpose the old one to the new one. It had served them well for four years, the difference being was that the sanctions would come out. It was just a suggestion.

Surjit Tour said it was at their discretion but there were some changes as the ten principles had been reduced to seven. There was no reason why they couldn’t adopt the old Code of Conduct as the new Code of Conduct.

Cllr John Salter said that they would have to have training on it between now and July to highlight this, he thought training would only take a couple of hours.

Cllr Bill Davies said he had been on a lot of subcommittees, when members of the committee were ill they sent deputies, it meant the deputies needed training too. Another idea was to exchange with other councils, but he did feel deputies should be included in the training.

The Chair said it was essential especially in the spirit of the matter. In his view training was very important. Anyone sitting or deputising must be trained.

Cllr Ann Bridson said to bring them down to earth she had spotted some misprints.

On page 9, in 4.11 “4.8” should read “4.10“.

On page 22, the first principle was “SELFISHNESS” but this should read “SELFLESSNESS“.

The Chair joked and said it was “not really a mistake”.

Cllr Bridson said adding to what other people have said, she wanted to look at what we’ve got and went on to make a point about training for everyone and deputies.

Cllr John Salter said he encouraged everyone in the Council to have training.

Cllr Ann Bridson said that “everyone should know their limitations”.

Cllr John Salter said they could swap with Liverpool City Council.

Cllr Chris Blakeley said he would prefer it to be pan-Merseyside rather than twelve here, twelve in Liverpool, five authorities, two of them with fifteen person committees. He said it would bring consistency.

The Chair said it was in the pipeline.