What did a 3 year FOI battle with Wirral Council reveal about councillors’ equipment and training?

What did a 3 year FOI battle with Wirral Council reveal about councillors’ equipment and training?

                                                    

ICO Information Commissioner's Office logo
ICO Information Commissioner’s Office logo

A fortnight ago, required to do so by ICO decision notice FS50596346 Wirral Council finally provided some more information in response to my FOI request first made on the 29th March 2013.

I will point out (in case you’re wondering why it has taken nearly three years to get to that point) that this request has also been the subject of two other ICO decision notices FS50509081 and FS50569254.

So far Wirral Council has stated that the information requested would cost too much (section 12), that to give me the information would be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs (section 36), that they class that doing an internal review of that decision as vexatious (section 14) and now finally when all of those prior decisions have been proven to be flawed, they withheld some of the information requested claiming it’s personal information (section 40).

My feeling about this is that Wirral Council, who refer to their approach in public as open and transparent have tried to engage in attrition warfare with myself and the regulator ICO over this request.

Mind you this is Wirral Council. Wirral Council is where responses to FOI requests from the press get delayed because they have to be "signed off" by the former head of their press office Emma Degg and their Monitoring Officer Surjit Tour?

So what did I request that was released a fortnight ago? One document was minutes of the Members’ (Members’ means Councillors’) Equipment Steering Group meeting held on the 7th February 2013. The other document was minutes of the Members’ Training Steering Group held on the 19th March 2013.

Quite what is in these two documents that requires a nearly three year cover up about their contents, I’m not sure. The scanned pages Wirral Council have supplied for the meeting of the Members’ Equipment Steering Group and the Members’ Training Steering Group are unfortunately scanned at a low resolution which can make them hard to read. So I will reproduce them both below starting with the Members’ Equipment Steering Group. As that mentions audio recording and webcasting of committee meetings I will declare an interest.

The part of this request that relates to the minutes of a meeting of the Headteachers and Teachers Joint Consultative Committee I have appealed to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) and am at the stage of awaiting ICO’s response to my appeal.



Actions from Members’ Equipment Steering Group Meeting held on 7 February 2013

  1. Actions from the last Meeting
    I Pads had been discounted at the last meeting.

  2. Members’ Homepage and Toolkit
    – Homepage
    Members would consider the proposed content and come back to XXXXXXXXXXXX with any suggestions for inclusion.

    – Toolkit
    The proposed detail of the Members’ Toolkit was endorsed and XXXXXXXXXXXX would progress it.

  3. Councillor Equipment Device Options
    XXXXXXXXXXXX would obtain a price for the following devices:
    430 i 5
    430 i 3
    A recommendation will be made to the Cabinet subject to price and specification
  4. Councillor Equipment Printer Options
    The preferred printer was HP Office Jet 8000. In exceptional circumstances only would a Member’s own printer be connected to the network.
  5. Wireless in Wallasey Town Hall
    All Committee Rooms in the Town Hall would have wifi facilities by the time Members were in possession of their new IT kit.

    Officers will look at the possibility of Members being able to receive emails on smart phones via wifi.

  6. Councillor Equipment Rollout Timetable
    – Personally owned Ipad
    A system would be purchased, configured and installed by IT Services to allow Members to use their own Ipads.

    – Laptop
    This was an option. Members will keep their existing bag.

    – Router
    This was an option.

    – Telephone Handsets
    Members would keep their existing handsets.

    – Furniture
    New furniture would not be purchased

    – Modern.gov Application
    Modern.gov could provide an Application so that Personal Devices could access "Exempt Items" at a cost of £3000. This would not be taken up

    – Political Offices
    Office staff would not be included in the new equipment roll out.

    – Windows XP and Office 2010

    – Broadband Choices

    – Further Members’ Survey

  7. Councillor Case Management Systems
  8. Use of Personal Electronic Devices
  9. Use of Councillors own equipment
  10. iPad and HP Slate Autumn Trial
  11. Audio Recording and Webcasting of Committee Meetings
  12. Date and Time of Next Meeting

    XXXXXXXXXXXX to canvass Members and arrange the next meeting.

  13. Any Other Business


Below should be the Action Minutes of the Member Training Steering Group held on the 19th March 2013. On the original there is a third column with OD (Organisational Development) Team written next to points two to nine. It’s easier to write this in HTML without creating the way it is laid out as a table so I have left this out. I’ve also left out the page numbers and the filename/path on Wirral Council’s computer that it’s stored. However these can be viewed on the original.


Action Minutes

Member Training Steering Group

19 March 2013

Apologies -: Surjit Tour, XXXXXXXXXXXX

Attending -: Cllr McLachlan (Chair), Cllr Clements, Cllr Glasman, Cllr Gilchrist, Cllr Harney, Cllr Hornby, Chris Hyams, XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

  1. Welcome and introductions

    The group welcomed XXXXXXXXXXX who is an associate tutor with the LGA and will be providing an overview of the Leadership Programme for Members

    Noted that Cllr Clements did not attend the last meeting and apologies had been received.

  2. Minutes and Matter Arising

    a) Terms of Reference
    Agreed that the Chief Executive would be included as support for the group.

    The group would continue to sign off requests for training and will continue to be mindful of the travel and accommodation costs.

    Agreed that OD would report back on a quarterly basis training approval decisions.

    Agreed to put the terms of reference into themes and circulate.

    b) Recruitment to Leadership Modules

    Agreed that Members should forward names to XXXXXX to reserve a place on the course and to contact XXX should they have any queries.
    An introduction session will run on the 10th April a Flyer will be sent out providing the details of the session. XXXXX explained that the Pre course briefing would cover an introduction to the programme followed by the completion of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator questionnaire as this would form the basis for the content on Module one, feedback would then be provided either face to face, which preferable or over the phone, prior to the programme commencing on the 8th May.

    It was noted that participants are required to attend both modules to benefit from the programme.

    c) Elected Member training onto the committee calendar

    Agreed to escalate the request to include members training from the skills for Wirral programme into the committee calendar.

  3. Standing Item – Training Update (since last meetings)

    a) 13th February – Developing the Council of the Future

    Noted that 30 attended the event with a mixture of feedback

    Agreed to chase up the feedback from this event and share with Members.

    Agreed to look at how Member’s could be provided with more opportunities to feedback and participate in these events.

    b) Public Health and Wellbeing: 20 February 2013

    Noted that 9 attended with very good feedback

    c) Understanding Local Government Finance: 27 February 2013

    Noted that 8 attended with very good feedback

    d) Media Skills

    Noted that 2 attended with very good feedback

    e) High Level Communications Skills

    Noted that 5 attended with very good feedback

    f) Attendance on training

    Agreed to continue to send reminders for training but as a rolling programme of events that month and to include flash reminder the day of the training that spaces are available.

  4. Standing Item – Upcoming training ( Members Development Programme)

    a) Effective Surgeries and Caseload Management Training

    Agreed to look at were we are up to with an Electronic System for case load Management. Meeting already arranged with IT to discuss this and Members IT training, feedback would be provided at the next meeting.

    b) Training Venues

    Agreed to look at other venues rather than The Laurie’s Centre for Elected Member training sessions and move the training already book to other venues, to minimise costs.

  5. Standing Item – Approved Duty Requests

    No outstanding approved duties

    a) Spending for Approved duties

    Members to discuss and feedback as to how they would like to spend monies for approved duties, agreed to monitor on a case by case basis.

    b) Feedback from Events Attended

    Agreed to look at feedback from events and if particularly effective consider developing a Wirral version of the event.

  6. Standing Item – Budget

    a) Profile 2012-2013

    Budget profile discussed and noted that there would be an under spend this year. Details shared with the group.

    b) Profile 2013-2014

    Approximately £13,000 has been committed to date. Budget to be monitored at each meeting.

    c) Spending for Approved Duties
    Agreed to explore options around external funding available.

  7. Members Development Charter.

    a) PDP Returns
    46 PDP have been completed with 6 scheduled for April. This would bring the total to 52 PDP completed, which takes us over the 75% requirement for completion of the Members Charter. Agreed to continue to encourage the completion of all outstanding PDPs.

  8. Members Development Programme Accreditation

    a) Agreed for flyer to be sent to all Elected Members to promote the programme

    b) Additional information from ilm to be sent to Cllr Harney

  9. AOB

    a) 4th April New Constitutional Event 6pm – 8pm Floral

    b) 16 May Key Transformation and Improvement Agenda Session
    Suggestion from Cllr Glasman Ethics and Conduct.

    c) Training for Members – Directorships and Trusts

    Advert to be sent to Elected Members when programme agreed

  10. Date and Time of next meeting

    30 April 2013 4 – 5.15pm



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UPDATED: Wirral Council U-turns on secrecy of Chief Officer’s early retirement in only 26 hours!

UPDATED: Wirral Council U-turns on secrecy of Chief Officer’s early retirement in only 26 hours!

UPDATED: Wirral Council U-turns on secrecy of Chief Officer’s early retirement in only 26 hours!

                                                   

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Employment and Appointments Committee 22nd September 2015 L to R Surjit Tour (Legal), Cllr Adrian Jones (Chair) and Tony Williams (Human Resources)
Employment and Appointments Committee 21st September 2015 L to R Surjit Tour (Legal), Cllr Adrian Jones (Chair) and Tony Williams (Human Resources)

Correction/update An earlier version of this story linked the Employment and Appointments Committee decision to the departure of Malcolm Flanagan. The Employment and Appointments Committee decision was about the early retirement of another Chief Officer Strategic Director Kevin Adderley whose early retirement has been confirmed by Wirral Council.

Yesterday’s Employment and Appointments Committee meeting (see above) was another masterclass in how politicians will seemingly agree to anything that senior officers ask them to do (however nonsensical).

I asked to speak at the meeting to challenge excluding the press and public (a decision that affects me) for the early retirement item and as Mr. Tour stated during the meeting previously early retirements of chief officers (Jim Wilkie’s cost around £111k to Wirral Council) were considered in public. The request to speak was denied.

There is a slight irony to this as when Mayor Cllr Adrian Jones signed up to article 21. Article 21’s interpretation has meant that at other council’s public meetings the public get to speak … but not at Wirral Council when a decision is being made about them by the whole Committee.

I gave the Chair and Mr. Tour a bunch of public interest reasons (the high cost to Wirral Council of early retirement, the cost of recruiting to that post if it isn’t deleted, scrutiny of politicians etc) before the meeting. All ignored, the public were asked to leave and by around 7.30pm at a public meeting, after excluding the public at around 5.05pm, Wirral Council was announcing a name of a chief officer that was retiring (but not the one the Employment and Appointments Committee made an early retirement decision on). Malcolm Flanagan’s departure was announced but Kevin Adderley’s retirement was still a secret until the next day.

The Head of HR wasn’t present at the Employment and Appointments Committee meeting, she was also due to present a report on attendance management to the Transformation and Resources Committee later that evening, however she was absent from that meeting too (yes I do spot the irony in being absent from a meeting where you’re supposed to be presenting a report on why people are absent from work).

Councillor John Salter did ask the Wirral Council officer in her place at the later meeting about the “attendance management” of Emma Degg only to be told that Wirral Council don’t comment on individual cases.

This perhaps shows councillors that as far as officers are concerned they’re the ones running things and councillors can keep their nosy questions to themselves. If they do have the gall to ask them they will be brushed off. The official motto of Wirral Council is “By Faith and Foresight”.

Across the water Mayor Anderson referring to Liverpool City Council commented recently ‘for too long this Council was run like a toy town at Council and officers led the Council by the nose’.

At Wirral Council officers have been leading the Council since as long as anyone can remember (despite what the councillors may say to the contrary). Here are three examples (with the catchphrase of Churchill’s nodding dog).

Will councillors approve officer recommendations for parking charges for Fort Perch Rock car park?

Councillors: Oh yes.

Will councillors do a U-turn on parking charges for Fort Perch Rock car park?

Councillors: Oh yes.

Will councillors decide to close a much-loved special school called Lyndale?

Councillors: Oh yes.

Here are three examples when councillors or those tasked with corporate governance ask officers something.

Will you renegotiate the Schools PFI contract to save money and save having to make massive cuts to the education budget which will cut support for those with special education needs?

Officer: Oh… no.

Will you answer questions about why Emma Degg left?

Officer: Oh… no.

Will you stop using long Powerpoint presentations to deliberately take up so much public meeting time so that nobody on a scrutiny committee has time (or very little time) to ask you questions?

Officer: Oh… no.

So there you go, Wirral Council summarised concisely.

As it was pointed out to me recently by a councillor that I need to be more positive, I will end by wishing Malcolm Flanagan all the best for his retirement and point out that not all officers at Wirral Council are like those described above. Some are decent human beings that work hard in difficult jobs and don’t get nearly enough thanks from either the press, public or politicians.

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4 Labour councillors agree salary for new Wirral Council Chief Executive at between £155,000 and £175,000

4 Labour councillors agree salary for new Wirral Council Chief Executive at between £155,000 and £175,000

4 Labour councillors agree salary for new Wirral Council Chief Executive at between £155,000 and £175,000

                                                                

Employment and Appointments Panel (Chief Executive) Committee Room 3, Wallasey Town Hall, 24th November 2014 L to R Martin Denny (LGA), David Slatter (Penna PLC), Cllr Jeff Green (Conservative), Cllr Lesley Rennie (Conservative) and Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Lib Dem)
Employment and Appointments Panel (Chief Executive) Committee Room 3, Wallasey Town Hall, 24th November 2014 L to R Martin Denny (LGA), David Slatter (Penna PLC), Cllr Jeff Green (Conservative), Cllr Lesley Rennie (Conservative) and Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Lib Dem)

Employment and Appointments Panel (Chief Executive) Committee Room 3, Wallasey Town Hall, 24th November 2014 L to R Martin Denny (LGA), David Slatter (Penna PLC), Cllr Jeff Green (Conservative councillor), Cllr Lesley Rennie (Conservative councillor) and Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Lib Dem councillor)

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Video above is from the Employment and Appointments Panel (Chief Executive) public meeting held on the 24th November 2014 in Committee Room 3, Wallasey Town Hall, Seacombe . This write-up of the public meeting starts at 23:09 in the video above.

Wirral Council’s Employment and Appointments Panel (Chief Executive) met in Committee Room 3, Wallasey Town Hall, Seacombe on Monday afternoon at around 2.30pm. The councillors on the Employment and Appointments Panel (Chief Executive) which had previously been decided by the Employment and Appointments Committee on the 27th October 2014 are:

Cllr Phil Davies (Labour) Chair
Cllr Ann McLachlan (Labour)
Cllr George Davies (Labour)
Cllr Adrian Jones (Labour)
Cllr Jeff Green (Conservative)
Cllr Lesley Rennie (Conservative)
Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Lib Dem)

Continues from Labour councillors argue for increase in range of Wirral Council’s Chief Executives’ salary to between £155,000 and £175,000. This is continuing the write-up of a public meeting of the Employment and Appointments Panel (Chief Executive) held on the afternoon of 24th November 2014.

3. Appointment of Chief Executive, Head of Paid Service (including Returning Officer and Electoral Registration Officer)

There was a report and thirteen appendices for this item.

Cllr Adrian Jones said, “Yes Chair, I just want to make a number of comments on this and I do appreciate Jeff Green that you obviously want to make a big issue about this. I just want to understand and … , but the comments on the existing Chief Executive were way off the mark. He came here as a temp, he stayed a bit longer…. he now wants to retire and do whatever it is that retired chief executives do.

He oversaw transformation of what’s been described as a failed Council, I think it was still a failing Council in 2012 when he took over and he’s transformed that into a 1st class machine which is recognised elsewhere, simply by the National… as being a completely different and efficient Council from the failing one he inherited from you and from your predecessors including us Labour Parties.

Now I think that if we were to argue the price we aren’t going to get that again. That was a very lucky situation … but if Jeffrey [Green] was saying that he passed some moral indignation and objection to extremely high salaries.. then I would be the first to agree with him but this is the pond that we’re swimming in and we’ve got no other way to approach this other than to pay the going rate, if we want to get the best and it really doesn’t boil down to much other than that. I would have thought incidentally, it’s quite a good Conservative principle when you see it put like that.”

Cllr Jeff Green said that saving taxpayers’ money was his primary concern in principle.

Cllr Adrian Jones said he agreed with Cllr Jeff Green and then said something else to which Cllr Jeff Green responded.

Cllr Phil Davies asked if there were any other contributions and that he wished to move an amendment.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist said, “Still resting underneath the present Chief Executive there’s a whole raft and that’s another phrase as well, a series of strategic directors in post. Now they recruit and manage a slimmed down organisation and I’m not convinced everything’s beautiful in the garden and I’ve heard what Adrian [Jones] says and I haven’t got problems with the rest of it, but once the Administration attempts to bring in Superman in order to sort out the existing problems, but unfortunately you know we can’t even get anyone with errm Superman’s qualities.”

Cllr Phil Davies said, “or Superwoman!”

Cllr Phil Gilchrist continued “or Superwoman! … something with some kryptonite. Well probably Ghostbusters would be far…”

Cllr Adrian Jones interrupted, “Is that a proposition?”

Cllr Phil Davies said, “You’ve gone from Superman to Ghostbusters!”.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist said, “Well, all I thought was that the big lake of stuff under the Town Hall made everyone so bad-tempered in the film. I think it would be over the top to go with £155,000.”

Cllr Adrian Jones responded to the point.

The Chair (Cllr Phil Davies) said that Cllr Jeff Green have moved something but that he was going to move the following resolution:

“Given that we the 9th largest metropolitan authority in the country and given that the current salary of our Chief Executive I don’t believe is sufficiently competitive with the market as exists at the moment and given the external advice we’ve had from the Local Government Association and Penna, I’m going to recommend that the salary range for the Chief Executive be agreed between £155,000 and £175,000 an annum and I think as part of that, the second element of that should be that the final, the final salary for the Chief Executive would be within that range and be agreed by this Panel as part of the recruitment process.

He continued, “Could I just make the other comments that you’re abs.. you know.”

Cllr Jeff Green said, “Were you going to say I was right?”

Cllr Phil Davies replied, “You are right that we do need to make substantial savings as a result of your government’s austerity policies and the Chief Executive, whoever we recruit, one of his or her principal tasks will be to make the £70 million that we need to make over the two years and a lot more than that as we’re told that we’re told that the austerity is only halfway through beyond that.

So, I believe that we can get the good, the best outcome we can if he or she would more than pay for their salary ideally and I think if again, if you look at the authorities in Merseyside and Cheshire, this is, this is comparable with the salaries that they’re charging and we’re talking about authorities run by both the Conservative and Labour parties in terms of Cheshire West and Cheshire East. ”

He moved that, Cllr Ann McLachlan seconded it.

The Chair sought legal advice because there was an amendment. The legal adviser said that they would have to vote on the amendment first.

Cllr Jeff Green said, “Could I just make a couple of points? First of all we are comparing all these across the scale across the North-West as far I’m concerned there aren’t all vacancies there. So we’re not really competing with people to fill those posts.

Number two, I you know wonder whether given we are talking about as I say a million pounds over five years if we go along with the proposal you make, wouldn’t it be better to actually test the market? So instead, you know, you as the Leader of the Council, would it be the administration determining what the leader mark to be, because the first thing to do is to test the market. Again you know get three quotes to test it, so will we be actually be better off actually testing to see if the sort of candidates we might want are available at £130,000 and only then if someone can provide evidence that those candidates aren’t available, would we then seek to look at that situation?

That’s the way you’d normally, I think you would normally do it as opposed to make a whole series of assumptions that there won’t be people ever at that level, the level stops here and therefore bump it to what I think is an astronomical figure and I just have to say one that I think the public will find it difficult to understand given some of the measures that you as an administration are currently taking.”

Cllr Phil Davies disagreed, “Well I would errm, I would disagree with that as a way forward for the two reasons. One is we’ve had, we’ve got our experts who know the, who know the market for chief executives and senior officers and their advice is that our current salary would not get a high quality candidate because we are literally at either at the bottom or at the very lowest quartile.

So you know, we’ve had our external advisers who’ve given us that information given the current state of the market and secondly what you’re suggesting Jeff [Green] would build in a delay in the process if we had to jump through that particular hoop and I believe the priority now is to recruit the very best candidate we can, as soon as we can, after the current Chief Executive departs.

So I think for those two reasons I wouldn’t be in agreement with that as a way forward. So I think we’ve got an amendment which I will move, it’s been seconded by Ann [McLachlan], can I see all those in favour?”

For (4): Cllr Phil Davies, Cllr Ann McLachlan, Cllr George Davies, Cllr Adrian Jones
Against (3): Cllr Jeff Green, Cllr Lesley Rennie, Cllr Phil Gilchrist

The amendment (passed on a 4:3 vote) became the substantive motion.

The vote on the motion was:

For (4): Cllr Phil Davies, Cllr Ann McLachlan, Cllr George Davies, Cllr Adrian Jones
Against (3): Cllr Jeff Green, Cllr Lesley Rennie, Cllr Phil Gilchrist

The Chair Cllr Phil Davies said that it would be a recommendation to a meeting of Council on the 8th December [2014] and moved onto the job description and person specification.

Cllr Jeff Green asked how much extra the Chief Executive would get for being the Electoral Registration Officer on top of the £155,000 to £175,000 salary?

Chris Hyams said it was outlined in the appendices, appendix ten, she then changed this answer to appendix nine, page thirty-three.

Cllr Jeff Green asked what exactly was there? Chris Hyams said that the election fees are determined by which elections take place each year which are outlined in the appendix on page forty-three.

Cllr Jeff Green asked on top of that next year, with the assumption that they’re in post by May, there will be a further £12,605 on top of that and asked if it was one or if it got totalled up. So if it was Parliamentary you get £12,605, if it’s a local election as well you get £5,297.16. Would that be £17,800?

Chris Hyams replied that they are a combination of which elections there are. Cllr Jeff Green said that in May they’d get an extra £18k on top of £170,000 that they’d been talking about but normally as there are local elections the Chief Executive would get an additional minimum of £5,000 on top is that right?

Chris Hyams said that it was and that you could see from the appendices who actually sets that fee. Cllr Jeff Green said that he wasn’t saying that they were being particularly generous, just in terms of the overall package, it is £175,000 plus £12,000 plus £5,000.

Chris Hyams replied, “Yes it is.” and pointed out that the chief executive salaries provided were exclusive of Returning Officer fees.

Cllr Phil Davies said that in Cheshire West for example, their Chief Executive makes £180,000 plus they get this in addition. Chris Hyams confirmed this. Cllr Phil Davies asked if it was the same in every local authority to which Chris Hyams answered “yes”.

Cllr Jeff Green commented that it brought the remuneration to round about £200,000. Cllr Phil Davies said it was paid for by central government. Chris Hyams confirmed this.

Cllr Jeff Green asked if the £5,297.16 was paid for by central government? Chris Hyams confirmed this. Cllr Jeff Green said “Are we genuinely saying we can’t get anyone for less than £200,000?” and “I’ll tell you what, all that money I’ve paid to my trade union over the years, I wish they’d had this crowd in.”

The following recommendation was agreed:

(3) That the proposed process and timescales for appointment of a new Chief Executive (who shall also be appointed as the Head of Paid Service, Returning Officer and Electoral Registration Officer) as outlined in appendices two and eleven to the report, be approved.

Cllr Phil Davies moved the following:

(4) That this Panel recommends to Council at its meeting on 8th December 2014 that David Armstrong be appointed to the position of Acting Chief Executive and Head of Paid Service, with effect from 1 January 2015 until the newly appointed Chief Executive takes up the position and also David Armstrong becomes the Deputy Chief Executive from the 8th December to the 31st December 2014.

Cllr Jeff Green said, “I would be very supportive of that, I think David has done the job before so it’s good experience in those terms and I think as we know David is a first class officer that performs incredibly well in this role whatever he’s been asked to do so. What was the final bit?”

Cllr Phil Davies said, “Well, in case he needed err between the. Explain why we have to have a Deputy Chief Executive Chris?”

Chris Hyams replied, “OK”

Cllr Jeff Green asked if he got two salaries to which Chris Hyams replied “Not at all. The proposal around a recommendation from the 8th December is to ensure continuity. The Chief Executive leaves on the 31st December, that’s his last day, however he has outstanding leave. Should he not be in the Borough, there is a continuous Deputy that will be Acting Chief Executive from the 1st January. So there are differing management arrangements, it’s for continuity.”

Cllr Phil Gilchrist said, “I can’t think of anyone else, that’s what’s troubling me. I’m trying to think better than that. I am worried that there are enough problems in CYPD [Children and Young People’s Department] and Asset Management and everything else that needs tremendous amounts of attention. So I don’t know how safe it is to move David up to this position when there are all these little things that need tackling as well?”

The Chair, Cllr Phil Davies replied, “Well, look I mean errm, he’s got, he’s got sort of excellent err officers in asset management errm and I’m I’ve spoken obviously you will have expected me to have had a conversation with him … and he is confident that he’ll be able to play this role but still do his, still have the asset management working in good hands going forward. So I have had that conversation with him and he was confident that those arrangements would be put in place.”

Cllr Jeff Green said, “A reasonable plea to start … knowing the sort of person David is and I think this is kind of … Phil [Davies] as the new council, is to make sure that he doesn’t try to do too much.”

Cllr Phil Davies replied, “Absolutely.”

Cllr Jeff Green continued, “Because he’s the sort of guy that … going so you know just to help him focus”

Cllr Phil Davies replied, “Yeah.”

Cllr Jeff Green continued, “on the actual job.”

Cllr Phil Davies asked them to agree recommendation 4.

Cllr Phil Davies then moved recommendation 5:

” That this Panel recommends to Council at its meeting on 8 December 2014, the appointment of Surjit Tour as Returning Officer and Electoral Registration Officer and that Joe Blott is appointed as Deputy Returning Officer and Electoral Registration Officer, both effective from 1 January 2015 until the newly appointed Chief Executive takes up the position.”

This was agreed. There was no other business so the meeting closed. However a few weeks later in December 2014 the Wirral Green Party issued a press release on this which contained the line “How can Labour claim a commitment to fairness having just voting through an eye-watering 30% increase in the chief executive’s salary. Not only is this an insult to the council employees facing redundancy and reduced pay, it shows a leadership out of touch with reality and missing a glorious opportunity to set an example to others and rein in excessive pay in the public sector.”

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Labour councillors argue for increase in range of Wirral Council's Chief Executives' salary to between £155,000 and £175,000

Labour councillors argue for increase in range of Wirral Council’s Chief Executives’ salary to between £155,000 and £175,000

Labour councillors argue for increase in range of Wirral Council’s Chief Executives’ salary to between £155,000 and £175,000

                                                                               

Employment and Appointments Panel (Chief Executive) Committee Room 3, Wallasey Town Hall, 24th November 2014 L to R Martin Denny (LGA), David Slatter (Penna PLC), Cllr Jeff Green (Conservative), Cllr Lesley Rennie (Conservative) and Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Lib Dem)
Employment and Appointments Panel (Chief Executive) Committee Room 3, Wallasey Town Hall, 24th November 2014 L to R Martin Denny (LGA), David Slatter (Penna PLC), Cllr Jeff Green (Conservative), Cllr Lesley Rennie (Conservative) and Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Lib Dem)

Employment and Appointments Panel (Chief Executive) Committee Room 3, Wallasey Town Hall, 24th November 2014 L to R Martin Denny (LGA), David Slatter (Penna PLC), Cllr Jeff Green (Conservative councillor), Cllr Lesley Rennie (Conservative councillor) and Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Lib Dem councillor)

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Video above is from the Employment and Appointments Panel (Chief Executive) public meeting held on the 24th November 2014 in Committee Room 3, Wallasey Town Hall, Seacombe . This write-up of the public meeting starts at 12:05 in the video above.

Wirral Council’s Employment and Appointments Panel (Chief Executive) met in Committee Room 3, Wallasey Town Hall, Seacombe on Monday afternoon at around 2.30pm. The councillors on the Employment and Appointments Panel (Chief Executive) which had previously been decided by the Employment and Appointments Committee on the 27th October 2014 are:

Cllr Phil Davies (Labour) Chair
Cllr Ann McLachlan (Labour)
Cllr George Davies (Labour)
Cllr Adrian Jones (Labour)
Cllr Jeff Green (Conservative)
Cllr Lesley Rennie (Conservative)
Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Lib Dem)

Continues from Cllr Jeff Green asks if Wirral Council are looking to spend £1,000,000 on their new Chief Executive (over 5 years)?. This is continuing the write-up of a public meeting of the Employment and Appointments Panel (Chief Executive) held on the afternoon of 24th November 2014.

3. Appointment of Chief Executive, Head of Paid Service (including Returning Officer and Electoral Registration Officer)

There was a report and thirteen appendices for this item.

The Chair, Cllr Phil Davies invited Cllr Ann McLachlan to speak. She said, “I think it’s important to recognise where we are in the local government family and what we want to attract here. We want to attract the best in England, so we’ve got to be somewhere in the parameters of being able to say ‘Oh we’re pitching our salary at such an appropriate level, to get the best field of candidates that we possibly can to attract the best in the business’.

I think also it would be fair to say and I’m sure we’ll be doing this, we will be setting, you will Phil within because consultation with the new Chief Executive, you’ll be setting some parameters for them to look at, you know senior management savings across err you know the period of their, their tenure here at Wirral. So and part of the role will also be about saving money, so sometimes you have to invest to save in the longer term and I think also that it’s worth saying that we need to look at comparisons with the rest of the public sector.

It was reported last week that a primary headteacher within an academy was on a salary equivalent to £200,000. The first 150 secondary academies have got heads on over £150,000. You’re talking about a primary head managing a school of two hundred and fifty pupils max, probably about forty staff. There’s no comparison between managing you know a multi-million pound organisation like Wirral!

So I think for those reasons for me, I’ll be saying we need to get this salary in the right range for you know the kind of calibre of the people that we want to work with us.”

Cllr Phil Gilchrist referred to the salary grades. He asked about the salaries of people on the next tier down from Chief Executive and that if they attracted someone who was currently a strategic director in another authority, how much of a salary increase it would be?

Cllr Phil Davies (Chair) replied that they’d have to wait and see what level of candidate they got, but he hoped that they would be attracting not just deputies and strategic directors but actually serving chief executives elsewhere with an “excellent track record” so they could “hit the ground running”. Cllr Phil Gilchrist said he understood.

Cllr Jeff Green said that his parents had told him that “two wrongs don’t make a right”. The other point he wanted to make was that unless they’re going to ask a primary head to run the authority, and there might be one paid £200,000 somewhere around the country, that it wasn’t really a reason for making decisions on the chief executive’s salary. Then again he said, “a primary head might be just what is required!”

Cllr Green continued that his understanding was that a set of proposals were being worked on that were going to save £1.5 million by the current Chief Executive. He said that [Cllr] Ann [McLachlan] had promised that would be delivered in December in terms of Council unless she’d changed her mind and then he revealed “Those savings were already in the works are due to be published in December”. So in terms of some of the points that councillors had been making Cllr Green felt were “extraneous”. He asked them to focus on what would be required, he referred to a saving of £730,000 and referred to a number of issues about the current Chief Executive. He didn’t understand why they’d have to increase it [the Chief Executive’s salary] to £175,000.

Referring to other salaries for Chief Executives in the North West, he said that “to increase to that much seems to be excessive”. He referred to the documents prepared for full Council, how £1.5 million of senior management savings had been identified and how all those things had been delivered off a salary of £130,000. He proposed they seek a Chief Executive on the current salary range of the current Chief Executive of £130,000.

Cllr Phil Davies asked councillors to look at the salaries in appendix 4. He referred to Liverpool City Council’s Chief Executive being paid £197,500, Cheshire West’s £180,000, Cheshire East’s £187,000, Knowsley a “much smaller authority than Wirral” £160,000, St Helens £140,000 and Sefton £152,000. He said “even councils on our doorstep are paying a substantially higher salary than Wirral does.

I think my kind of comments or my reflection on the discussion is, we need to be able to attract the best, but also retain them as well, what we don’t want to do is get somebody here and then because Cheshire West are paying you know a much larger salary, they’ll disappear to Cheshire West in a few years time. So I think we need to just have that in our forefront of our minds as well.”

Cllr Ann McLachlan said, “Completely disingenuous [Cllr] Jeff [Green], because what I was doing was giving a comparison with the public sector that wasn’t a local government chief executive, just to demonstrate that out there the salaries in the public sector in general at that level, you know to get the expertise you want at that level are much more higher than Wirral.

I’m going to ask Chris [Hyams] if she would give us a little bit of background on that £131 or £130 or whatever it is Graham [Burgess]’s in, because how long, what was the previous Chief Executive on? Coz Graham [Burgess] came to us and took his pension, I think he took his pension, .. or has pension arrangements in place or didn’t need to be paid the on costs that we would have to pay.

Well previous chief executives, what kind of salary was he on and how long ago was that? I mean in a sense I think we need to get a bit of a reality check here and get in the real world about what the real costs of salaries at this level are.

So, errm, yeah, I think it’s you know, our salary range here is at the bottom of the tree really. So what’s the history of that and also you know it’s not that two wrongs don’t make a right, it’s not anything like that but what we’re trying to do is demonstrate that here in this Authority we want to get somebody who is going to you know help us in the obviously very clear difficult financial circumstances we’re in, with the financial challenges we’ve got going forward as well and in remodelling and changing this Council. You know, so errm, I’m absolutely of the view that we will have to pay the appropriate level. Thanks Chris.”

Chris Hyams, Head of HR responded by saying, “OK, thank you. The current Chief Executive is paid top of the salary range. As the Deputy Leader’s just intonated, it is in the public domain that he left his last council with a pension which is why we didn’t incur the on costs. So in terms of remuneration, there was an additional salary arrangement through his last job through gaining his pension.

Before that, the salary range that was in place for a previous Chief Executive had his spot salary within that range of £130,000. The range has not been reviewed for a number of years and certainly not reviewed as such or changed previously to this in the time that I’ve been here in the last five years.”

Continues at 4 Labour councillors agree salary for new Wirral Council Chief Executive at between £155,000 and £175,000.

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7 Wirral Council councillors, 1 appointment to be longlisted & an HR consultant from Penna PLC; what could possibly go wrong?

7 Wirral Council councillors, 1 appointment to be longlisted & an HR consultant from Penna PLC; what could possibly go wrong?

7 Wirral Council councillors, 1 appointment to be longlisted & an HR consultant from Penna PLC; what could possibly go wrong?

                                                 

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Employment and Appointments Panel (Head of Specialist Services) Wirral Council 10th December 2014 Chris Hyams explains the purpose of the meeting
Employment and Appointments Panel (Head of Specialist Services) Wirral Council 10th December 2014 Chris Hyams explains the purpose of the meeting

What I’m writing today is an insight into how Wirral Council rushes decisions, it doesn’t seem to follow proper decision-making processes, gets itself in a pickle and how it can bungle even something simple like deciding on a long list based on applications for a senior post at Wirral Council.

First you need to know a bit of background to this story. The current postholder with the title of Head of Specialist Services Emma Taylor (which is in the Families and Wellbeing Directorate) gave Wirral Council her three months notice two and half months ago and leaves at the end of this year. Due to her being one of the senior managers at Wirral Council it is politicians (not officers) that choose her replacement.

On 27th October 2014 the Employment and Appointments Committee (made up of Wirral Council councillors) met, decided on a panel to decide of 4 Labour councillors, 2 Conservative councillors and 1 Lib Dem councillor, the job description/person specification, terms of reference of the panel, to appoint Penna PLC as recruitment consultants (who get paid £15,000 for this recruitment) and also on the process and timescales.

The job was then advertised, applications were sought (which went to Penna PLC) and the closing date for applications was 5th December 2014. Below is a screenshot of the page on Penna’s website for it (currently here but as applications have closed this link may not work for long):

screenshot Lead Wirral website taken on 11th December 2014 Wirral Council Head of Specialist Services timetable
screenshot Lead Wirral website taken on 11th December 2014 Wirral Council Head of Specialist Services timetable

As you can see the closing date for applications for this post (which went to David Slatter of Penna PLC shown in the above video) is 5th December 2014.

On the 2nd December 2014 (before applications for the post had even closed), the agenda for the Employment and Appointments Panel (Head of Specialist Services) was published.

Items 3/4 on the original agenda stated:

“3. Exempt Information – Exclusion of Members of the Public

The public may be excluded from the meeting during consideration of the following items of business on the grounds that they involve the likely disclosure of exempt information.

RECOMMENDATION – That in accordance with section 100A (4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the public be excluded from the meeting during consideration of the following items of business, on the grounds that they involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined by the relevant paragraphs of Part 1 of Schedule 12A (as amended) to that Act. The public interest test has been applied and favours exclusion.

4. Appointment of Head of Specialist Services, Families and Wellbeing Department

To consider the applications for this post. ”

Interestingly between the agenda for this meeting being published and the version of the agenda we got handed out just before the public meeting started (late), agenda item 4 had been changed to add (Applications enclosed) (see below).

Employment and Appointments Panel (Head of Specialist Services) 10th December 2014 agenda
Employment and Appointments Panel (Head of Specialist Services) 10th December 2014 agenda

Now this is the weird aspect of this, the agenda published on 2nd December stated the public interest test had been applied (by a Wirral Council officer) stating no reason why the public were to be excluded, based on applications that were yet to be supplied by Penna until after the closing date of the 5th December.

Applications were circulated to those on the panel, I saw this with my own eyes being done in person on the evening before shortly before the Cabinet meeting on the 9th December 2014.

However a different bit of the Local Government Act 1972, s.100B (4) and (5) required the applications for item 4 to be circulated five clear days before the meeting (which obviously didn’t happen).

The law is quite clear that even for items where they are planning to exclude the press and public that this has to happen otherwise the item can’t be taken unless “by reason of special circumstances, which shall be specified in the minutes, the chairman of the meeting is of the opinion that the item should be considered at the meeting as a matter of urgency.” and I didn’t see that happen during the first three items.

The meeting itself started five minutes late as Cllr Tony Smith was late and was over by about half an hour later.

The other point I would like to raise is this? If the public and press were excluded, why was David Slatter of Penna PLC (who is neither a Wirral Council employee nor councillor) allowed to stay in the room? Shouldn’t he have left and why didn’t the Chair ask him to when we left?

However it often happens at Wirral Council meetings that the Chair assumes anyone sitting round the table the committee is sitting on is an employee or councillor. For example recently the Pensions Committee excluded the press and public from part of a meeting. We left, but their auditor from Grant Thornton stayed despite falling into the category of press/public just because they were sitting around the table, therefore it was assumed they could be there.

I’ve seen the same happen at many other Wirral Council public meetings too that go into private session. There are members of the public present but they stay and the meeting carries on despite them being excluded from the meeting. Maybe chairs don’t understand what exclusion of the public means?

Politicians (especially those chairing meetings) can’t have it both ways. If the committee agrees to exclude the public then public and press (not councillors and officers) have to all leave. Otherwise it makes a complete mockery of the law and brings Wirral Council’s decision-making into further disrepute!

Do chairs of public meetings at Wirral Council actually understand what they’re deciding? Are the legal advisers advising the committees aware of the laws about public meetings or do they (mainly) just only offer an opinion if asked for the sake of their careers and not “rocking the boat” with politicians who could get them suspended?

Or is the real answer that Wirral Council has outsourced even part of its HR function to the private sector so much that it couldn’t actually function without having the private sector present during private parts of public meetings when the private sector seemingly have no actual legal right to be there? Am I wrong to expect fairness in Wirral Council’s decision-making?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this and will be interested to read the minutes of yesterday’s meeting when they are published too.

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