Why has Wirral Council sunk deeper into the quagmire of poor corporate governance surrounding a complaint about Cllr Steve Foulkes?

Why has Wirral Council sunk deeper into the quagmire of poor corporate governance surrounding a complaint about Cllr Steve Foulkes?

Why has Wirral Council sunk deeper into the quagmire of poor corporate governance surrounding a complaint about Cllr Steve Foulkes?


Councillor Steve Foulkes talks about the Mersey Ferries at a meeting of the Merseytravel Committee 7th January 2016
Councillor Steve Foulkes (left) talks about the Mersey Ferries at a meeting of the Merseytravel Committee 7th January 2016

Last night yours truly was witness to another spectacular example of democracy at Wirral Council gone wrong. Indeed from democracy being on merely life support, last night seems to have been an attempt to kill it stone dead.

In fact things have got so bad I am officially on strike for part of my job (Leonora can deal with things during this period), but I thought you should realise the reasons why (outlined below).

First, there needs to be some background to this. Panels which decide on complaints about councillors have in the past been decided in public despite officers’ recommendation otherwise such as this meeting in 2012 about an allegedly homophobic comment made by former Cllr Denis Knowles on Facebook.

On Monday evening, at a public meeting of all of Wirral Council’s councillors opposition councillors in the Lib Dem and Conservative parties referred to Labour’s plans to hold more meetings behind closed doors as wrong. The Conservative councillor David Elderton used the quote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.

However within less than 24 hours, Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour), Cllr Chris Blakeley (Conservative) and Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Lib Dems) were indeed having a private meeting behind closed doors about a complaint made about Cllr Steve Foulkes (Labour). There was indeed also one of the independent people (Brian Cummings) to oversee the process, although he too wasn’t invited to all of the meeting which was being held in private.

The rationale for having this meeting behind closed doors relies on Wirral Council exercising a legal power that was repealed by the government years ago. However the public must realise by now that that there’s an attitude at Wirral Council of completely ignoring the legal position by people who don’t care about the constitutional checks and balances on their power. Having in the past years cross examined both Wirral Council’s Monitoring Officer Mr Tour at a recent First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) hearing and a Wirral Council councillor (Cllr Alan Brighouse) as a defendant in the Birkenhead County Court, I know how strange the culture at Wirral Council is seen by the judiciary and how exasperating the judiciary seem to find the culture at Wirral Council.

Wirral Council exercising a legal power they do not have has become so routine!

The complaint was about Cllr Steve Foulkes, who had brought his legal representative along with him. Cllr Foulkes and his legal representative were allowed to address the Panel in closed session as to why it should not be held in public.

The public however (although technically Cllr Foulkes’ legal representative is also a member of the public) were not invited in so that their side could be heard. Some voices of course at Wirral Council are heard more loudly than others.

Previously Cllr Foulkes, referred to "natural justice" at Wirral Council shortly before the opposition councillors removed him as Leader of Wirral Council. Indeed this is an example of how politicians say one thing on Monday evening, yet behave differently on Tuesday evening.

Indeed getting Wirral Council to stick to its own constitution with its goals of consultation and openness when a "legal representative" is allowed to influence the Panel otherwise is impossible.

All the Panel members are drawn from Wirral Council’s Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee. Indeed it was at the last public meeting of that Committee that the Panel Members were decided.

Despite s.100/s.100E of the Local Government Act 1972 requiring sub-committees to meet in public (even if they then decide to exclude the public) and there being multiple legal representatives at this meeting to offer the Panel advice, Wirral Council seems to instead insist that we provide "evidence" that a sub-committee is a sub-committee and indeed of their legal obligations to hold sub-committees in public.

Indeed as evidence I quote from their own minutes of the Standards Committee meeting held on the 4th July 2011, which can be read on their website here:

"The Director of Law, HR and Asset Management informed the Committee that the report at Item No. 7 on the agenda – Review of a Recent Standards Complaint – had marked on it, in error, a paragraph (7c) of Part 1 to Schedule 12A of the local Government Act 1972 that did not exist."

Indeed if it is a sub-committee the legal requirement for 5 days published notice of the meeting and its agenda weren’t given either.

However for the last 5 years, Wirral Council’s councillors have relied on a legal provision that Bill Norman (previous Monitoring Officer) told them in 2011 "does not exist" as the reason for holding complaints about councillors behind closed doors.

Despite numerous revisions of their constitution they haven’t bothered to update it to take this out.

The Monitoring Officer commented on my views on this at the last public meeting of the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee in response to a letter I wrote. He and I unfortunately disagree on a few points.

Sadly the main questions in that letter were left unanswered which led to the impasse last night. However despite the Monitoring Officer having legal obligations (see s.5A Local Government and Housing Act 1989), advising the panel was the Monitoring Officer’s line manager, the Deputy Monitoring Officer Joe Blott (Strategic Director for Transformation and Resources). For anyone reading this who’s not aware, the Strategic Director level at Wirral Council is basically someone who is line managed by the Chief Executive.

So it’s completely understandable that Mr. Tour can’t intervene when it involves his own line manager! After all even I wouldn’t be stupid enough to cheese off my line manager!

However, back to the meeting of the Panel itself. The meeting was adjourned, then Cllr Foulkes was invited back in. We went back to Committee Room 2 with him at about 6.50 pm, only for Cllr Foulkes to be asked to leave and for us to get shouted at.

Because of course the culture at Wirral Council is one of shouting at people. Since Emma Degg left (she was in charge of the public relations side of Wirral Council) there’s been a power vacuum (which perhaps partly explains this recent plan agreed on Monday morning for a Wirral Council newssheet being sent to residents monthly). Kevin McCallum does his best but after years of the press being bullied by politicians and frankly too much bad news to report on at Wirral Council relations between Wirral Council and the press have been problematic.

Indeed views were expressed to me that evening that employees would rather be getting on with their jobs rather than having to deal with meetings at Wallasey Town Hall.

The person who made this complaint (Cllr Jeff Green) along with the person it was about (Cllr Steve Foulkes) along with us (myself and Leonora Brace) were not allowed to go into the “meeting” in the two hours we were kept waiting apart from what I referred to earlier.

Possibly one or both were invited in after we left.

Oh and I forgot to say, Mr. Tour has advised councillors could (or possibly would) be subject to disciplinary procedures if they talk to the press about these matters.

So what is Cllr Foulkes accused of? He can’t tell us. He’s been gagged.

What is in Cllr Green’s complaint? He can’t tell us. He’s been gagged.

What are the Panel’s views (Cllr Moira McLauglin, Cllr Chris Blakeley and Cllr Phil Gilchrist) on the matter and indeed what was decided? You’re not allowed to know.

Indeed if the Panel decides Cllr Foulkes did nothing wrong and he decides he doesn’t want the decision made public indeed we may never know!

And the above sums up why it is getting nearly impossible to my job reporting on Wirral Council. I think it’s about time I started publishing election expenses returns instead, starting with two councillors who were on the Panel…

Updated 11th July 2016: I have made a FOI request for some of the documents for this meeting here.

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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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Wirral Council take over 19 months to respond to FOI request on Birkenhead Park and other matters

Wirral Council take over 19 months to respond to FOI request on Birkenhead Park and other matters

Wirral Council take over 19 months to respond to FOI request on Birkenhead Park and other matters


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Birkenhead Park as it was in 2007.

Birkenhead Park in 2007 copyright John Brace
Birkenhead Park in 2007 copyright John Brace

I feel a bit sorry for Wirral Council’s legal department who seem to have given me the longest response to one of my FOI requests to Wirral Council ever which is in response to this ICO decision notice and a FOI request I made on 29th March 2013.

I’m beginning to think I should look for sponsorship from a black marker pen manufacturer as even the minutes they have supplied have been heavily redacted. Below is an example of set of minutes I’ve finally received, which is the minutes of the Birkenhead Park Advisory Committee meeting of the 17th October 2012. I think over 19 months is a record by Wirral Council for responding to one of my FOI requests.

Birkenhead Park Advisory Committee
Minutes of meeting 17th October 2012

Chair: Cllr George Davies
Councillors: Cllr Denise Roberts, Cllr David Elderton, Cllr Cherry Povall, Cllr Stuart Kelly, Cllr Jean Stapleton, Cllr Alan Brighouse

Item 1 Apologies
Cllr Brian Kenny, Insp Roy McGregor, XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX

Item 2 Minutes of previous meeting
The minutes were accepted as a true record.

Item 3 Matters arising
Cllr Elderton raised an issue over traffic calming measures.
XXXXXXXXXXXX confirmed signage for the advisory speed limit had been approved by the Conservation Officer.
There was then a question over funding for the above and a request for legal advice on how this advisory speed limit could be made enforceable.

Item 4 Park Manager’s Report
XXXXXXXXXXXX reported the fall in the number of school visits and suggested possible reasons for it, including poor weather and the closure of two schools which regularly visited the park.
Cllr Stapleton asked why such small numbers from University Academy.
XXXXXXXXXXXX suggested the loss of the education officer has affected contact.
XXXXXXXXXXXX suggested a possible role for a volunteer to contact schools and encourage visits.

XXXXXXXXXXXX reported that the work experience programme was a real success as was the Physical Activities programme.
XXXXXXXXXXXX suggested that income from commercial activities could help with finances.
XXXXXXXXXXXX said an increase was required in commercial operations.
XXXXXXXXXXXX predicted that this will increase.

XXXXXXXXXXXX reported to the group regarding the park’s drainage.
It was agreed by all that exceptional weather this year had caused flooding and was unavoidable.

XXXXXXXXXXXX the Events Arena could take surplus water which will also enhance biodiversity.

XXXXXXXXXXXX referred to the increase in concreting over gardens which doesn’t allow the water to drain and thereby causes increased flooding.

XXXXXXXXXXXX reported on underground water tank proposed by United Utilities because of flooding to basements in Park Road South.
XXXXXXXXXXXX said there was a potential revenue asset from development of remaining plots in the park, and the United Utilities proposal to build a storage tank on the plot by Gothic Lodge would make this asset difficult to sell.

Cllr George Davies reported that the ESWA club was closing down and the building was for sale.
XXXXXXXXXXXX asked if the park could make use of the area.
Cllr George Davies suggested keeping eye on developments.

XXXXXXXXXXXX reported the launch of the Park Watch scheme, adding that members were being recruited before calling the first (inaugural) meeting.

XXXXXXXXXXXX gave a report on IRIMS Incident Reporting and Management System, saying there were some “glitches” remaining but it should be up and running in a couple of months.

XXXXXXXXXXXX reported on the new Dog Control Order being proposed to exclude dogs from all children’s play areas in Wirral. He also reported on the possibility of a further Dog Control Order requiring an owner to put a dog on lead if requested, currently the byelaws state only that the dog must be under control.
Cllr Elderton suggested publicising the result of any further action after the event be recorded.
XXXXXXXXXXXX expressed his concern at the nature and number of dog related incidents, suggesting the voluntary code of conduct was no good.

XXXXXXXXXXXX updated the group on the success of the Forest Schools initiative.

Item 5 Membership of Birkenhead Park Advisory Committee
Cllr George Davies requested to expand group to take in the councillor with cabinet responsibility for Cultural Services. This was agreed by all.

Item 6 Any Other Business
XXXXXXXXXXXX suggested an opportunity for external funding for restoration of the Jackson Memorial, Bandstand, Conservatory and Horticultural Training.
XXXXXXXXXXXX suggested that the Friends of Birkenhead Park be invited to submit a report to a future meeting.

Item 7 Date of Next Meeting
It was agreed to meet in Mid April 2013.

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Councillors discuss schools, free school meals and 4 Wirral schools in special measures

Councillors discuss schools, free school meals and 4 Wirral schools in special measures

Councillors discuss schools, free school meals and 4 Wirral schools in special measures


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Last night’s meeting of Wirral Council’s Attainment sub-committee started off well enough. Before the hour of six o’clock had even been reached, Cllr Moira McLaughlin was chomping at the bit to be made Chair. As there was only one Conservative councillor present and many, many Labour councillors, it was hardly likely she wouldn’t become Chair.

The Labour councillors then agreed to Cllr Wendy Clements being Vice-Chair.

The Chair, Cllr Moira McLaughlin pointed out that Cllr Alan Brighouse wasn’t present, but decided to continue the meeting anyway. To be perfectly honest I’m glad as if every meeting waited until Cllr Alan Brighouse was present things would never start on time as like another councillor he has a reputation for poor timekeeping.

Apologies were given for Julia Hassall who would be late. Declarations of interest were given as some councillors were school governors.

The minutes were agreed. The Chair said that the main thrust of the meeting would be a presentation from Deborah Gornik (who wasn’t there). The Chair was informed that Deborah Gornik would also be late as she (and presumably Julia Hassall) were “at another meeting”. Were they meeting each other? What was this other meeting about? Who knows?

The one officer (apart from the one taking the minutes) that had turned up on time, Sue Talbot gave her report on standards (which is not often a word you hear at public meetings of Wirral Council).

However this was about standards of education for at the Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 level, with a focus on raising standards and what happened to the education of those in local authority care (adopted or fostered). The phrase “good news story” was repeated by Sue Talbot many times.

Cllr Alan Brighouse was the first to speak and used words like “pretty fantastic improvement” followed up by a question about falls in numbers of children eligible for free school meals. The answer given was that the eligible benefits for people for apply for free school meals had changed which partly explained the drop and in answer to a further question that the officer preferred to use numbers of children rather than percentages.

The Lib Dem spokesperson (as the only Lib Dem he’s therefore the spokesperson) continued to talk about primary schools becoming academies (at this point I wondered if he was going to explicitly mention Lyndale). Sue replied that Wirral Council still had legal duties towards academies and mentioned the academy representatives on the Wirral Schools Forum and Sue went on to say the good relationship that Wirral Council has with primary schools (which if you’ve been following the Lyndale story is a matter of opinion).

Cllr Wendy Clements then asked about floor targets, the officer replied that no schools triggered all four triggers but they had banded schools (sound familiar?) and there were four schools in band four… followed up by her favourite phrase again “good news story”. Cllr Clements asked a follow up question and the answer given was that they were keen to track children who come out of care but admitted that sometimes they don’t keep an eye on those children.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin asked a question about whether children subject to care orders were monitored. The officer replied not yet, but said that once the virtual headteacher role was shared that id would help. Cllr Walter Smith asked about intervention strategies. Sue Talbot gave a detailed reply going into detail about how two of her team concentrated on early years, one on english and one on maths. She said that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate had highlighted a problem they had with British working class boys and went into detail as to what her team does.

Cllr Walter Smith asked if nursery provision had any effect on children going into primary school. The answer given was yes as long as it was good quality. Cllr Tony Norbury referred to his work as a school governor and asked how the changes to school meals in primary schools would affect free school meals? The officer answered that schools were proactive at doing this as it led to additional funding through the pupil premium for them. Cllr Tony Norbury asked two follow up questions, to which the answers were “too early to tell” and “pupil’s circumstances change”.

Cllr Phillip Brightmore asked about free school meals too. The answer given was that how they encouraged people from September could be different as all infants would get free school meals. The councillor referred to the table and referred to the Wirral West figures. Sue Talbot referred to “pockets of deprivation” in Wirral West in her answer. He then brought up the results for Pensby High. Sue Talbot said that the results might change as the school had sent the whole cohort back for remarking therefore the figures were provisional.

Cllr Tony Norbury asked about English as a second language and the strategies there. Sue Talbot referred to the Ethnic Minority Achievement Service and how they need to support schools, however kids with English as a second language seemed to be better at phonics that people who had English as their mother tongue. She referred to Polish teaching assistants and Urdu speakers.

The Chair Cllr Moira McLaughlin moved the meeting to item 8 (OFSTED reports). Sue Talbot gave a brief introduction and talked about the four schools that were being monitored by OFSTED due to previously poor inspections. One was becoming an academy so would not be in special measures due to this as special measures status disappeared when a school became an academy.

Cllr Phillip Brightmore pointed out that such things “doesn’t help the kids”. Cllr Wendy Clements referred to a “clean start” followed by a comment by Cllr Alan Brighouse.

The officer explained that new academies were given twelve months to become established. A further inspection could happen any time after twelve months. There was an academy planned to start on the 1st September, but it hadn’t happened but the school had changed its name to Kingsway Academy. The delay had been caused due to complexities caused by the PFI contract.

At this point nearly half an hour into the meeting (at agenda item 8 out of 9), the Director of Children’s Services Julia Hassall and Deborah Gornik arrived.

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What did officers say at the Lyndale School call in? “we had a problem the rules mattered more than the children”

What did officers say at the Lyndale School call in? “we had a problem the rules mattered more than the children”

What did officers say at the Lyndale School call in? “we had a problem the rules mattered more than the children”


Councillor Moira McLaughlin asks a question about staffing at Lyndale School (Coordinating Committee, Wirral Council, 27th February 2014)
Councillor Moira McLaughlin asks a question about staffing at Lyndale School (Coordinating Committee, Wirral Council, 27th February 2014)

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Julia Hassall (Director of Children Services), Andrew Roberts (Head of Branch and Planning Resources) and David Armstrong (Assistant Chief Executive) answer questions from councillors on the Lyndale School closure consultation decision

Continuing from yesterday’s transcript of the Cabinet decision to consult on closing Lyndale School is a transcript of the first twenty-five minutes of what officers said at the Coordinating Committee meeting of the 27th February 2014 that was to reconsider the Cabinet decision. Next week Wirral Council plan to start the consultation on the closure of Lyndale School. The Cabinet report titled “Report seeking approval to consult on the closure of Lyndale School” that this is about can be read on Wirral Council’s website.

Back to order. Settle down, I have a rather unfortunate announcement to make. One of our elected Members Councillor Denise Realey has become unwell. I think she’s found the evening stressful as everybody has to be frankly honest and has taken unwell so for the minutes can we have it recorded that Councillor Realey has left the meeting and will take no further part in the decision-making.

OK, with that said, we now move onto the next set of witnesses, these are evidence from the people obviously officers of the Authority. Julia Hassall (Director of Children’s Services), David Armstrong who is Assistant Chief Executive and Head of Universal Infrastructure Services and Andrew Roberts who is Head of Branch and Planning Resources.

They have up to five minutes to speak to us, for brevity they are not taking that option and will probably be spending more time answering questions from elected Members but Julia, you want to give us the background and the thought processes that ended up in the presentation of the papers to Cabinet and the consequent decision. Thank you.

OK, thank you Chair and members of the audience. I just wanted to start by saying from a senior officer perspective how much I appreciated hearing what the parents and members of staff said this evening.

I think following that what the three of us will say will sound a bit bureaucratic, a bit clinical and it’s by virtue of the proposals that we need to put forward. I would like to state that all three of us come from a position of valuing the children that we work with and regarding outcomes for children as an absolute priority.

The report that was presented to Cabinet on the 16th January, was seeking approval to consult on the closure of the Lyndale School. The report set out the background, saying that local authorities have a statutory duty to make sure there are sufficient places in their area, there’s fair access to educational opportunity to promote every child’s potential.

The reasons why in the report we’re considering closure of the school is because of the viability of the school is compromised because of its small size and falling roll which both contribute to a difficult financial position and I think as you said Chair earlier, it’s not in any way because of the standard of care and education in the school which is good and in many aspects outstanding.

In terms of the falling roll over the last seven years, the Lyndale School’s average occupancy has been 59% and there are currently twenty-three children at the school out of a total possible forty places. I know the second report that you’re considering call in really focuses on the financial position which is very briefly the size of the school and the numbers of pupils contribute to a difficult financial position with a likely deficit of £72,000 corrective action for 14/15 with the potential for this to increase to be in excess of £232,000 based on the numbers of children currently on the school roll. Part of that is because of changes to the national formula, which Councillor Smith referred to in terms of funding individual places occupied and a reduction from forty funded places to twenty-three because there are twenty-three children with places and also applying the new banded top up system.

Should a decision be taken to close and this would be in the future. I need to keep emphasising that the report that went to Cabinet on the 16th January was seeking permission to consult on potential closure and the report on the 16th January said that at this stage, the two most, the most viable option if or should the school close, was to expand Elleray Park School and Stanley schools so that the children currently at Lyndale School and future children would go to both of those schools.

It certainly would simply not be a case of just adding children into the existing schools. It would require very, very careful planning, consultation and change the very nature of each school by virtue of additional children joining that school, both school’s community.

It’s really important to say that in the most recent OFSTED report Elleray Park School was judged to be outstanding across the board and Stanley School was judged to be a good school with outstanding leadership and management.

One thing I did want to say and in response to possibly some of the points made earlier, it’s really important to state at this stage that the closure of the school appears the most viable option after having considered a number of options which are the eight options that parents referred to. However I have said and I’m very mindful of the fact that the eight options have been considered by local authority officers and I would expect to proceed to consultation that each of those options would be rigorously considered again and there will be other options that come forward that we have not thought of.

So in very general there will be a proper options appraisal looking at each and every option that comes forward. Should Cabinet, the report that went on the 16th actually talked about the next steps. So, should Cabinet agree to consult on whether we should close the school, there would then follow a twelve week consultation process that will involve full consultation meetings, a consultation meeting with the parents, teachers, interested people connected with Lyndale School, Stanley School and Elleray Park School. There would be drop in sessions. We’d do whatever we needed to do to get to the best possible option to move forward.

I think in summary, I would want to conclude just by describing the report that went on the 16th January that by saying considering the closure of the school is difficult and distressing as you’ve heard this evening particularly when children have such special needs and other abilities. It’s really important that their needs are placed at the centre of our concern and that what’s called the special educational needs improvement test is applied with absolute rigour and that’s a test to make sure that whatever we come up with and whatever Cabinet may agree in the future, is as good as or better than the current provision for the children concerned and it was on that basis, taking all those points into account that I recommended to Cabinet on the 16th January that they should agree to consult on closure and that I would proceeded to compile the consultation document. I’m very happy to answer any questions that Members may have or any comments.

Any of the other officers wish to make a statement about the issue? No?



No, ok. So, it’s clearly open to. Sorry I’ll use my mike I do apologise. It’s obviously open to questions from Members, I’ve got Moira, Leah and Alan and then I’ll take another three.

If it’s alright with you Chair, I’ll combine two of my questions in one go and make it a bit simpler. The first one is, is there capacity for forty children and there’s twenty-three there currently? Has that reduction so far, I mean I don’t quite know how to put this, Steve did allude to it before, if there’s fewer children there I imagine the establishment was reduced to accommodate the children or has the establishment, the staffing establishment I’m talking about not changed even though the numbers have reduced?

What err the staffing establishment reduced I think it was two years ago the funded places reduced from forty-five to forty.

Right, and over a period of time the numbers have reduced further what would happen then as there’s attrition, what would happen? How would that be dealt with?

That’s part of our ongoing discussion with the school and about how the budget issues have been, are dealt with.

OK, thank you very much. That’s the first one. The second one is I mean a couple of questions I asked about from Zoe and Rochelle were about confidence in the process at this point. I think, certainly I was dismayed to see the phrase in this report which was consultation on closure and it seemed to me in the first instance that it kind of preempts the outcome and I have been reassured by the Cabinet Member so far, well I’ve heard what the Cabinet Member said, I’m looking for more reassurance that this is a genuine open consultation and that options that are there, eight of them will be considered and the possibility is still there that other options that haven’t been considered to this point may emerge during the process. There’s those and I mean if you can reassure me of or do your best to reassure me that what the second part is how are you going to reassure parents now because they’ve lost a bit of confidence, well lost a lot of confidence in the process?

OK, by way of reassurance that we will have a very full and open and transparent consultation. I’ll just take a step back, take a step back. The advice I sought prior to embarking on this process was the local authority in these circumstances when we were considering the viability of the school would put forward a proposal to consult on closure. That is what is done, that is how it’s approached.

The intention is to consider every single option, that’s a that’s in the appendix and the eight options that are included there. When I met with the parents prior to Christmas, in a pre consultation meeting I was explaining how we reached a conclusion with a purely internal local authority looking at a number of options which was about us reaching first base to present a report to Cabinet saying that we needed to consult.

The consultation will take account of each and every one of those options, which we will undertake to revisit again and we will genuinely consider every single option that appears that we may not have considered so far.

OK, I did say I’ve got Leah and Alan. I think those two are … ok, sorry.

Chair, just to add to that. Just for the benefit of the audience, I’m David Armstrong and Andrew Roberts is sitting to my left.

Just for the benefit of Members, I currently have some duties outside of the department particularly to do with assets and supporting the Chief Exec. I’m here as the Head of Service for the Children’s Department, clearly I have a responsibility about the school budgets and assets and other issues and obviously I have worked here for twenty-four years and know quite a bit about the school from that so clearly that’s why I’m here.

I think that the comments about the language are very fair and people have said the same thing to us when we did the five-year primary review because we have to follow national documentation and national procedures. If we used sort of a more informal process to begin with, a more informal language and then we changed to a very formal process part way through, people with some justification say well you did that to smoke and mirrors, ..ful language whatever.

The language is very cold. The only thing I can say to people is, that clearly if you look at the track record of when we did a very, very lengthy repetitive process of the primary review we brought forward proposals like this and we named the schools for closure and if you look at what we proposed over that period and if you look at the primary school landscape now, the two don’t match because sometimes our proposals were accepted after the consultation period, sometimes we were told to go away and start again and indeed there’s some schools I can think of one school where we proposed closure twice in two successive cycles and the school is still there and functioning normally so I hope, I know it’s difficult for people to believe us, I know the language is very cold but I think the proof is there that the process did work. There was consultation and the outcome was not predetermined. The outcomes were many and varied, at the end of the day we went from a hundred schools to ninety but it was a very different ten schools to the ones that were proposed unfortunately.

We’ve got Alan and then Leah.

Thank you for that, thanks Chair. The sort of sustainability of err Lyndale School has been in question for some time as I think we’ve heard tonight. Am I right and I accept what the Chair says, I don’t want to stray into the next part of the call in but is it the change in the Education Funding Agency’s funding arrangements that has actually prompted us into now looking at the school and looking at its viability or would we have done it anyway?

I think it’s a key issue within the debate. If you take a very brief view. Local management of schools began in 1990, when massively big Council budgets were broken up and delegated to schools quite rightly and power was given to schools to spend that money and clearly I was here when that started.

The primary and secondary debate puts the money through a formula into the schools and what’s happened over the years when we first started we had hundreds of funding factors so some of those, because we didn’t, had a factor that if you had trees on the site you got more money through the formula or if you had a bigger, we had one for a long time where if you had a bigger building you got more money.

What’s happened in primary and secondary mainstream is that the whole thing over the twenty odd years has been streamlined down and streamlined down and streamlined down. You now have a very few factors which are reliant upon deprivation, but primarily pupil numbers.

If you’ve got somebody sitting on the seat you get the money, if you haven’t got somebody sitting on the seat you don’t and there’s a check mechanism the minimum funding guarantee but that’s the hard reality. What’s happened for many years is the special schools sat alongside that, they have a defined budget, a fixed budget but you were allowed to carry on funding by place rather than pupil but what’s happened is as local … of schools has been achieved and it’s not a criticism of the system, it’s where it was always going to end up over a long journey over twenty-five years.

The national changes bring the special sector into line, not quite the same, but they bring them into line with the primary and secondary situation hence this talk of place plus. So for the first time, we cannot fund all of it on the place we have to fund a substantial part of it on the pupil and what I’m doing and Mike and others are is that through the work of the secondary and special heads which is a tight-knit family of eleven, through Pat’s work, through Andrew’s work that family as a group for some time now that they will fund not … they’ll fund forty places even though there are twenty-three children there.

Clearly they do that at the expense of money that would otherwise go through the formula, go through .. with the schools and what we’re nervous of is is that a sustainable long-term position?

We’re also nervous that we’ve been able to decide that locally. Andrew’s been able to take reports to the Schools Forum, Pat’s been able to meet with the other heads, Andrew’s met with the heads, met with the governors and it’s all been ok. From next year we will have to seek an approval from the Education Funding Agency to fund those places. That made Andrew and I deeply nervous because we’ve had some experience of the national Educational Funding Agency where it appeared that when we had a problem the rules mattered more than the children.

We were heartened to meet with the EFA with local officers this week who said that he thought they would be mindful it was the power of, they would agree to but what we see is a local arrangement that we think would be some sort of dereliction of our duties if we didn’t say we don’t think that this is sustainable long-term and we have a changing national picture which for all the right reasons as I’ve … to us is changing that landscape and taking away some of the freedoms we’ve got. So in that context, yes it is a key issue.

Could I just do a … just to pick up on that the I fully appreciate the direction of travel and where we’re going but ultimately I would like to think that we’re making this decision because we’ve looked at it and we’ve decided that this is because ultimately we are responsible for public funds, that this is the right thing to do. Almost regardless of what the funding arrangements are suggesting because when I read the report it looks as though it’s all driven by the funding arrangements and not by the err by the, I will get to, my question is this.

You’re clearly straying into the next call in.

I know I am straying into the next call in, but I just it was because of I do think at the end it’s fundamental to the whole process. I just, what I really wanted, my question is this. Lyndale School is something special, we’ve heard that tonight. Would we as a Council put a price on that specialness?


I agree with you entirely that it’s very special. I came here in 1990 after being a primary school head and I remember going to the Clatterbridge site. I in fact did the bid in my youth to move them from Clatterbridge, the bid that brought in the grant to move the school from Clatterbridge to Lyndale.

I worked through the scheme that amalgamated ??? Juniors to release the site. So yeah it is a very special school but this is where we have a very difficult job to do. Do we just sit on our hands and say nothing and know an informal arrangement that has worked well for a few years, hasn’t got the resilience to carry on or do we come to you and do we say to the Director actually the landscape’s changing nationally, the numbers aren’t rising, we’re funding this place with empty places currently other schools are compliant with that but it’s a tight-knit family of heads that hasn’t had a lot of change. We have to put the issue on the table and say this is where it is. It’s nothing to do with the specialness of the school, the school is a very special place and we’ve all played a part in our little way, a very little way compared to what you’ve heard tonight in making it what it is.


Can I bring Leah in?


Sorry I’m bring Leah Fraser in ok, thank you.

Thank you I’ve got two questions to Julia Hassall and two for David Armstrong. I don’t mind who answers them. Is that ok to ask all four? Right well I’ll ask them one by one.

I’m asking Julia this but as I say I don’t mind who answers it. I asked Andrew to send me some information via email as you know and that information was the complex learning need pupil numbers between 2004 and 2013 for five schools, Foxfield, Meadowside, Elleray Park, Lyndale and Stanley. Now, going through them in this order, I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, I’m just taking them one at a time.

Foxfield in 2004 had a hundred and twenty-seven and last year had a hundred and twenty-four. So they’ve stayed relatively the same. Meadowside seventy-eight, seventy-two, I’ll skip to Stanley eighty-eight ten years later eighty-nine. Elleray Park fifty in 2004, last year they had ninety-one so they’ve almost doubled by fifty percent. Lyndale was forty in 2004 and now it’s twenty-four so basically Lyndale’s halved and Elleray Park’s doubled.

Now also looking at these feel that this errm chart, each school takes children with PMLD so why when numbers are going down in Lyndale have children with PMLD been sent to say Elleray Park? Hasn’t somebody been keeping an eye on this, because it then from what Emma Howlett, was it Emma? Yeah I think it was Emma said that it’s the Council’s statement and it’s the Council that refer to where a child goes to school. So why have the Council allowed the numbers at Lyndale to halve over ten years? That’s my first question.


OK, Councillor Fraser, I’ll start but colleagues may want to come into that. The reason why numbers are what they are or changed over a period of time is parental choice.


So I’ve really looked into the issue that parents have raised with me that there’s been a subtext of diverting parents from one school to another and I’ve asked colleagues, I’ve researched how the statementing process works and the response I’ve received and I’ve looked at our admissions booklets and there is a very clear process set out and over a period of time these are choices that parents have made as part of the overall statementing process.

At this point in time, there are as you know three primary schools for children with complex learning difficulties, Stanley, Elleray Park and Lyndale. About a year ago an HMI (Her Majesty’s Inspector) was commissioned by the local authority to look at where the children with profound and multiple learning difficulties were being educated and they looked at the children who are being, there are some children with PMLD that are educated at Elleray Park School and with the larger number of children at the Lyndale School and they formed a view that individual Eric Craven formed a view that both settings could appropriately care for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties.

Stanley School has focused more on children on the autistic spectrum and currently don’t have children with profound and multiple learning difficulty but the view was both Elleray Park at that point and Lyndale could care for children with profound and complex needs and it was parents making choices about where there, which school their child attended.

Thanks for that, just to follow up from that, Emma did say that she was only offered one school and there wasn’t a ??? . So you can’t chose something if you don’t know about it. If you’re not told about a school, you can’t actually choose it.


My second question..

Errm, Councillor Fraser, just

Oh right sorry.

Sorry, just very briefly on that the three….

Continues at What did officers say about Lyndale School in reply to “how much money you would expect to get if you sold that land?”.

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