Who wouldn’t want you to read this story about the election of 4 Wirral councillors?

Who wouldn’t want you to read this story about the election of 4 Wirral councillors?

Who wouldn’t want you to read this story about the election of 4 Wirral councillors?

                        

Power
Power

George Orwell “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”

This is a tale of power, money, elections and the public right to know. What happens next following this is a reflection of the society we all live in. I strongly suspect that very little will result. I’ve used my editorial independence to write this as my conscience is clear if these matters are in the public domain.

I would like to point out that until recent years the chairs of committees at Wirral Council were shared across the political parties. Labour however decided in the recent past that they wanted to keep the power that rests with chairs to themselves. Therefore that is the reason why all the main characters in this are Labour politicians. It’s nothing personal and I have no axe to grind against the Labour Party.

Like all good stories this tale indeed starts well before the election started. However, we will skip ahead to the beginning of the elections in 2016.

All candidates have to fill out what are termed nomination papers and deliver these nomination papers to Wirral Council by a deadline to be included in the election. The four candidates this tale (who were each elected as councillors) are Anita Leech, Janette Williamson, Mike Sullivan & Bill Davies (real name William Davies).

During the election (but not now after the result is declared) you have a legal right to inspect the nomination papers and request copies. I requested these 4 nomination papers from the Returning Office Eric Robinson.

In addition to the nomination papers, in order to be a valid and legal nomination various pieces of legislation need to be attached too. These pieces of legislation deal with who is disqualified from being elected. I presume the point of having to attach these for a valid nomination is to prevent candidates and agents at a later date claiming ignorance of what they mean.

The declaration they each have to sign (which also has to be witnessed) states the following,

“I declare that to the best of my knowledge and belief I am not disqualified for being elected by reason of any disqualification set out in, or decision made under, section 80 of the Local Government Act 1972, section 78A of the Local Government Act 2000 or section 34 of the Localism Act 2011 (copies of which are printed overleaf), and I do not hold a politically restricted post, within the meaning of Part 1 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, under a local authority, within the meaning of that Part.”
 

The nomination papers of each candidate are linked to at the end of this article.

The first part of section 80 declares:

80 Disqualifications for election and holding office as member of local authority.

(1) Subject to the provisions of section 81 below, a person shall be disqualified for being elected or being a member of a local authority … if he—

(a) holds any paid office or employment (other than the office of chairman, vice-chairman or deputy chairman [or, in the case of a local authority which are operating executive arrangements which involve a leader and cabinet executive, the office of executive leader or member of the executive]) appointments [or elections] to which are or may be made or confirmed by the local authority or any committee or sub-committee of the authority or by a joint committee [or National Park authority] on which the authority are represented or by any person holding any such office or employment; or

 

So what does that mean? Well he above also means she, but the employment bit means councillors cannot also be employees of Wirral Council as it represents a conflict of interest. Section 81 provides an exception for teachers and other people employed by schools (who are technically classed as local council employees) to be elected as councillors.

As you can see from the above, any Leader of a Council or Cabinet Member is also not excluded from being elected on those grounds.

Edited: 9/5/16 It’s been pointed out that s.80(1)(a) is open to different interpretations and chairman could be interpreted as all people with the title of Chair or just the Chair of Wirral Council (the Mayor). The guidance the Electoral Commission produce for Returning Officers on the matter is here and makes it very clear about the disqualification of candidates represented on outside bodies. That guidance however makes it clear that the relevant dates about disqualification (as determined in previous legal cases) are the date of nomination and the date of election.

Each of the four candidates I name above were at the time of their nomination and election holders of paid office at Wirral Council. I outline below which paid offices they held and the annual amounts they received. These are additional allowances in addition to the basic allowances they receive as councillors.

Anita Leech – Chair of the Planning Committee (£4,585)
Janette Williamson – Chair of the Transformation and Resources Policy and Performance Committee (£4,585)
Mike Sullivan – Chair of the Regeneration and Environment Policy and Performance Committee (£4,585)
Bill Davies – Chair of the Licensing, Health and Safety and General Purposes Committee (£4,585) and Chair of the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee (£1,375).
 

None of these four individual resigned their chairs before the date they were elected and they continue receiving allowances for these at the time of writing.

I presume the whole point of this is to ensure a level playing field and free, fair and open elections. After all if one candidate can turn round and say “Vote for me, I’m Chair of the Planning Committe” and in theory use their taxpayer funded paid office to pay for their election expenses is that fair?

The observant among you will have already realised that the above disqualification also rules out those councillors representing the Council on outside bodies (off the top of my head the Police and Crime Panel, the Merseytravel Committee (or other committees of the Combined Authority) and the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority) are a few that I could name.

However I am not covering these here and it’s up to you the reader if you wish to explore whether any candidates in the election would seem to be disqualified on these grounds.

So what you may say? Even if the above four resigned, that would leave 35 Labour councillors and only 27 opposition councillors. As I say, I haven’t considered whether any candidates would be disqualified on any other grounds and as the deadline for submitting election expenses is a month away I haven’t inspected the declared election spending of candidates too.

However as the public have a right to know, here are the nomination papers of the four candidates I have named above.

Obviously the individuals (and their agents) have some unanswered questions as to whether they knew the above at the time of their nomination. It is only however my job to observe this anomaly and report on it, rather than be in a position to take action to resolve the matter one way or another.

The nomination papers are multi-page TIFF files as these were the format supplied by Wirral Council. I have not converted them to image files that can be read by a browser as I felt it best to leave them as they originally were.

I will end this with a big caveat, the above is merely how it seems from here. The people named could be totally ignorant of what disqualifies people from being a councillor (which would seem to be a difficult position to maintain as they had to include the legislation with their nomination papers). I could be wrong and the above could just be an arcane legal point.

Looking at a case where two Lib Dem Assembly Members were elected to the Welsh Assembly but were disqualified, one of those two successfully argued that the published Welsh guidance on the matter was out of date therefore disqualification was unfair.

However, I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts on what I’ve written here.

Rock Ferry – William Davies (Bill Davies) nomination papers

Pensby & Thingwall – Michael Sullivan nomination papers

Liscard – Janette Williamson nomination papers

Leasowe & Moreton East – Anita Leech (nomination papers)

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Why is a Labour councillor denying a vote took place on Girtrell Court?

Why is a Labour councillor denying a vote took place on Girtrell Court?

                                                              

Cllr Moira McLaughlin voting against Girtrell Court motion at Coordinating Committee 16th February 2016 thumbnail
Cllr Moira McLaughlin (second from the left) voting against Girtrell Court motion at Coordinating Committee 16th February 2016 thumbnail

As you can see from the still from a video I took of the Coordinating Committee meeting held on the 16th February 2016 Cllr Moira McLaughlin (second from the left in the background) is quite clearly voting on Cllr Phil Gilchrist/Cllr Wendy Clements’ motion about Girtrell Court.

This was a story in a blog post I published yesterday headlined 8 Labour councillors vote against motion asking for delay in closure of Girtrell Court until alternatives are in place. That blog post contains a video of the meeting and a transcript of what was said during that the discussion and vote on the motion about Girtrell Court.

Following publication of that piece, one of my readers emailed the Labour councillors involved in the vote. The reader forwarded a copy of a response received from Cllr McLaughlin which is included below (along with the original email). Cllr McLaughlin is Vice-Chair of Wirral Council’s Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee (therefore expected to lead by example when it comes to standards) but she responds in her role as Chair of the Coordinating Committee.

I have asked the reader for permission to publish this email, but at the time of publication have not heard back yet. Therefore I have removed their name, email address and signature block from both emails.

However considering Cllr McLaughlin’s denial in the email that a vote on Girtrell Court happened, I felt it was in the public interest and important that this is published before Budget Council meets on Thursday evening. Maybe Cllr McLaughlin can explain at Thursday’s meeting why she wrote this in an email (not just to the resident, but a number of other Labour councillors too)? This is one of those rare times I make a decision as editor using s.32 of the Data Protection Act 1998 to publish such material.

I have not approached Cllr McLaughlin for a right to reply to this piece as I believe her views are conveyed in publication of the email itself.

From: McLaughlin, Moira (Councillor)
Date: 29 February 2016 at 14:44
Subject: RE: GIRTRELL COURT
To: ************** <****************>, “Abbey, Ron O. (Councillor)” , “Brightmore, Phillip A. (Councillor)” , “Smith, Walter W. (Councillor)” , “Sullivan, Michael (Councillor)” , “Williams, Jerry (Councillor)” , “Williamson, Janette (Councillor)” , “Williams, Irene R. (Councillor)”
Cc: “Davies, Phil L. (Councillor)”

Dear Mr. **********,

Thank you for contacting us.

I`m afraid , though, your information is inaccurate .

We have had no vote, as yet, on the future of Girtrell Court and I`m really not sure what information you have based this email on.

I don`t think it is appropriate for me to address the other points you make in your email

Regards

Moira

Councillor Moira Mclaughlin
Councillor for Rock Ferry Ward
Tel: 0151 644 8234
Fax: 0151 652 3248

The contents of this e-mail are the personal view of the author and should in no way be considered the official view of Wirral Council

From: ****************** [mailto:******************] On Behalf Of ******************
Sent: 29 February 2016 14:07
To: Abbey, Ron O. (Councillor); McLaughlin, Moira (Councillor); Brightmore, Phillip A. (Councillor); Smith, Walter W. (Councillor); Sullivan, Michael (Councillor); Williams, Jerry (Councillor); Williamson, Janette (Councillor); Williams, Irene R. (Councillor)
Subject: GIRTRELL COURT

Dear All!

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair)
Cllr Ron Abbey (Labour)
Cllr Phillip Brightmore (Labour)
Cllr Walter Smith (Labour)
Cllr Michael Sullivan (Labour)
Cllr Jerry Williams (Labour)
Cllr Janette Williamson (Labour)
Cllr Irene Williams (Labour)

Is my interpretation correct that the above-named Councillors voted against a delay in the closure of Girtell Court until alternatives are in place?

If so, hang your heads in shame.

As a life-long Labour Party supporter, I believe in looking after the vulnerable in our society.

Since having become one of those vulnerable people (I am disabled), I had been hoping that the Party would help look after me. Now I see that it cares not one jot nor tittle. The Conservative Party looks after those able to cope with the vicissitudes of life. To whom must I turn at the next and future elections?

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8 Labour councillors vote against motion asking for delay in closure of Girtrell Court until alternatives are in place

8 Labour councillors vote against motion asking for delay in closure of Girtrell Court until alternatives are in place

                                                     

Labour councillors (except Cllr Christina Muspratt who abstained) voting against an opposition motion on Girtrell Court at the Coordinating Committee meeting on the 16th February 2016
Labour councillors (except Cllr Christina Muspratt who abstained) voting against an opposition motion on Girtrell Court at the Coordinating Committee meeting on the 16th February 2016

The two most read stories on this blog this month have been Why did Wirral Council’s Cabinet recommend closure of Girtrell Court despite a protest against closure and opposition from the trade unions? and .

However there’s been a public meeting involving Girtrell Court that I haven’t reported on yet.

In the past when there were budget options out to public consultation, Wirral Council’s overview and scrutiny committees each met in public. This gave an opportunity for backbench councillors to give their views on each budget option with an opportunity for the public to hear this. If there was a difference of opinion between councillors alternatives could be put forward and voted on. That was how scrutiny used to operate at Wirral Council all done at public meetings on camera.

However this year (in a repeat of how it was done last year), it was all done in private in “workshops”, not in public. A report was then written up for each overview and scrutiny committee, you can read the Families and Wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee workshop report here, the Regeneration and Environment overview and scrutiny committee workshop report here and the Transformation and Resources overview and scrutiny committee workshop report here.

Around a week before the Cabinet met to decide its recommendation on the budget for 2016/17 the Coordinating Committee (who coordinate the work of the overview and scrutiny committees) met on the evening of the 16th February 2016.

I thought as Wirral Council hasn’t yet met to decide the budget for 2016/17 and people associated with Girtrell Court weren’t at this meeting that a transcript of what was said in the debate on the report from the Families and Wellbeing workshop would be useful. However you can watch this item (item 5 2016/17 Budget Scrutiny Report) for yourself in the video below. The video should start at the right point but if it doesn’t this agenda item starts at the 31 minute 7 second point and the overarching report for this agenda item can be read here.

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Coordinating Committee 16th February 2016

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Chair, Labour): Right, the next item on the agenda is item 5 and it is the report of the workshops that looked at budget scrutiny.

Errm, Joe [Blott] do you want to say something on that?

OK, errm, OK, just briefly as a bit of an overview, we used the same approach the workshop approach this year as was used last year with each Committee holding its own workshop, to give an opportunity for its members to examine in more detail the proposals put forward by the officers.

Errm, the obvious intention was to better understand the service implications and the achievability of the proposals as they were presented.

Errm, I do think that members who took part found them errm helpful and the purpose tonight is really to note the process that we’ve used and perhaps comment on that and whether that could be improved upon in the future and also the character of the workshops and then forward these documents to the Cabinet. I know they’ve already been reproduced and they will form part of the Cabinet minutes for next week.

Errm, I think all members don’t know really of the Council understand the scale of the task that’s underway at the moment over the budget. Errm, and I do hope errm that errm, I mean we won’t be as I said earlier in the earlier report we won’t be debating these proposals tonight, that wouldn’t be appropriate but I do hope that, errm, the non-elected, non-Executive members of the Council, this can form a good part of the consultation, their views on the consultation and that’s what it’s intended to be.

I’m going to errm, I’ll give a brief overview of what happened at Families and Wellbeing and then I’ll ask the other chairs of the other two committees to do the same.

Errm, the session that was on, held by Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee was very well attended, I know unfortunately Wendy [Clements] was unwell, but other than that we had a full turn out.

Errm, and there was err, I think everybody contributed in some form during the discussion that we had. Obviously some of the proposals that were put forward generated more discussion and comment than others.

Errm, what the Committee didn’t attempt to do was to recommend or reject any of the proposals. We didn’t see that as our role.

Errm what we did use, err do, was to use the workshops to dig deeper than the narrative that was presented by errm around the proposal by officers and to examine in more detail the impact, whether that be a positive impact or a negative impact and errm if we thought there were negative impacts to highlight those and possibly make suggestions as to how the negative impact could be errm mitigated and also we looked at the achievability of the savings because in the past errm savings haven’t always been achieved and that’s presented problems in the year, in the following year.

Errm, following the workshop, further information was requested on errm, modelling the saving around the concessions on leisure could be done differently to perhaps protect some of the most errm disadvantaged children in the Borough and since then I’ve had back a report from Clare Fish which we actually asked if we could look at what the errm the effect on the saving would be for errm children who were in receipt of free school meals if they were still entitled to a swim. Errm and the report I’ve had back from Clare Fish indicates that out of a saving of two hundred and fifty, which and there was comment if you look at the night, there was comment about, about the errm, how that figure was errm obtained, but that we would reduce err, would reduce the saving by fifteen thousand, but we would initiate a cost of two swims annually. Errm, so that’s err, as I said will go forward as well.

Errm and one of the members asked at a later stage, raised an issue around the impact of the changes around the CAMHS contract and errm the information that was received from that has been included in the narrative of the report.

Errm, the report’s already been circulated to members, participants of the Committee which the service support and I’m sure Wendy [Clements] you’ve had a copy as well.

Errm, but if you believe that it has been accepted by them as an accurate reflection of the discussion on the night and I thank all those who’ve attended and took part.

Errm, now I think it’s probably reasonable to say that at this point, Phil [Gilchrist] has submitted an email today which I didn’t really have a chance to look at this morning because I was on grandma duties, but I have looked at it as the day’s gone on and errm, I don’t know whether members of the Committee have had, I have to say Phil [Gilchrist] errm, I do believe that the areas that you’ve highlighted were thoroughly explored at the workshop and the comments errm, of Members are included in the narrative of the report.

I don’t really errm, I wouldn’t like to see this Committee, try to change the work that came out of that workshop. So I mean I’m inclined to say thank you very much for your comment and I’m sure you’d be happy to have that email forwarded to the Cabinet directly from you, but I wouldn’t want to change the errm, narrative of the Families and Wellbeing errm workshop report.

Errm, now obviously if the other people feel differently I’ll have to put that to the vote, but as the Chair of the Families and Wellbeing and the person who signed off the report, errm that’s my view. That points were raised, they were explored, they have been commented on and other consultations that maybe have taken place since, can report in their own way and I’m sure they will, but this is the work of the members of the Families and Wellbeing Committee at that workshop, that night and therefore I don’t wish to change it.

OK, errm, but I’m happy, it was, I’ll take questions on this point.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson): Just a comment, if it’s legitimate to receive information later on, which you mentioned earlier about the swimming cost issue, and members are able to get a bit more information on certain issues and they reflected on what’s submitted then it seems equally legitimate, no offence meant at all, to hear what’s been said, concerns that have been raised in other places since and then to reflect on what the Working Party heard and to try and satisfy ourselves as to whether..

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): I understand the point you’re making but I don’t agree with it. Errm, I actually, the points that were raised, one of them was raised on the night by a member of the Committee and the other was raised by a member of the Committee at a later stage. So I think we’re in a different situation to try and use this Committee to change or highlight an area where that was one of the conclusions. Those were a range of concerns that were raised on the night, errm on this issue, but other positive things were put forward as well, so just to highlight those would almost change the emphasis and I understand that you feel strongly and I’m sure that you will make representations and other consultations that are under way will also put their feedback in but that’s for them to do and for those people who are the subject of the consultation to do, not for members of the Families and Wellbeing and that’s, I haven’t got any more to say on it. If you want to put it as a proposal, I’m quite happy to put it to a vote.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson): I think Chair, I’m conscious there are a couple of deputies, I’m conscious that there are members who have been working during the day and might not have seen what I circulated and what I did circulate was a fair summary I thought, plus some suggestions and therefore I’m conscious that not everyone might have seen it, but we often suggest things during a meeting that people haven’t seen.

Errm and I’m not sure perhaps if there are members who have seen what I wrote even though it was about ten to midnight last night. If there are members who agree that it’s reasonable to put it forward they might say so and then they might be able to judge the feeling of members because of course I’m sitting here happily on my own, in my own little group as it were, but…

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): As I say, Phil if you want to read out your email and then if you want to move it and get a seconder, errm then we’ll put it to a vote. So if that’s what you want to do, fine! And I’m quite happy to do that!

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson): I’m getting some indications from members, some members are nodding who have read it that agree with the points that I’ve raised and I’m conscious it’s very lengthy.

For the courtesy of other members would you agree that I should read it out and then members can consider it?

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): Yes, err Ron [Abbey] briefly, because I want to move on!

Cllr Ron Abbey (Labour): I can’t be brief on that because I think we should take the advice of the Chair and I don’t think we should have any email or debate on this.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): We want to be fair though don’t we? So I want to give Phil [Gilchrist], I mean I’m sure it’s very difficult for Phil [Gilchrist] managing on his own. Errm, and I want to give him the benefit of all our help if I can on this, so you read it out Phil and then if you want to move it as a proposal, put it.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson): Thank you for your courtesy Chair.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): I’m always courteous with you.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson): Yes, thank you. I’m always courteous. I’m going to read

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): OK, quickly!

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson):carefully and modestly.

This meeting of the Policy and Performance Coordinating Committee wishes to highlight the concerns expressed by members of the budget scrutiny working party relating to services offered at Girtrell Court.

During those deliberations it was recognised that “the key challenge is to meet the needs of individuals with what can be provided” and that “assurances were sought about availability and quality of the independent sector provision and also how each person would have their needs assessed”.

It was also reported that, “all respite will be honoured until March 2016, but provision will be continued until all reviews are complete and all users have alternative provision in place”. That’s the quote.

Then I went on to write, “In view of the concerns raised since the working party met, it’s even more important that attention is given to meeting the detailed needs of the families involved.

Services need to be offered at Girtrell Court, until it is clear that a range of providers are in place and lined up to offer services truly tailored to the physical, recreational and emotional needs of the users and are demonstrably appropriate to their ages and circumstances.

In view of the tight timescales that have caused concern the officers and Cabinet need to ensure that the transition to future provision is appropriately managed with clients able to use services at Girtrell Court until such time as alternatives are duly commissioned”.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): Thank you very much Phil.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson): That’s a fair read.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): and that was well read, errm, yes, Phil, I do want to move to a vote on this and then move on.

Cllr Phillip Brightmore (Labour): I just want to voice some concern that this is being attached to a report that came from the Families and Wellbeing Committee. It just strikes me that this is something that should stand on its own as a proposal if it’s going to be brought forward at all. I was on that Committee and it, I’d like the report to remain as it was.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): I’m going to put it to a vote Phil so I don’t want everybody around the room giving their opinion because I don’t think it’s needed. Wendy [Clements]? I’ll just going to take one more comment and then I’ll have a vote if Phil wants me to put it to the vote. I’ll draw people’s attention to page fifteen of the report.

Cllr Wendy Clements (Conservative): Thank you Chair. This is a report which is coming to this Committee and so its got our name on it, this particular bunch of people that’s sat here tonight and I would like to say that I will second this.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): We’ll put it to a vote and then we’ll move on. All those in favour of Phil’s suggestion that we attach that errm email,

Cllr Ron Abbey (Labour): Has he got as seconder for that Chair?

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): Well Wendy [Clements]’s just seconded it! Errm, all those in favour of that, we attach it to the report from Families and Wellbeing. Please show.

6 councillors voted in favour who were:

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson)
Cllr Adam Sykes (Conservative)
Cllr Steve Williams (Conservative)
Cllr David Burgess-Joyce (Conservative)
Cllr Wendy Clements (Conservative)
Cllr Tom Anderson (Conservative spokesperson)

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): Right and those against?

8 councillors voted against who were:

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair)
Cllr Ron Abbey (Labour)
Cllr Phillip Brightmore (Labour)
Cllr Walter Smith (Labour)
Cllr Michael Sullivan (Labour)
Cllr Jerry Williams (Labour)
Cllr Janette Williamson (Labour)
Cllr Irene Williams (Labour)

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): So that is not carried and the report…

Cllr Christina Muspratt (Labour): Sorry, we haven’t asked for abstentions!

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): Sorry ok.

Cllr Christina Muspratt (Labour): Well I’m abstaining because I haven’t had it, I don’t want to have the .. meeting.

Councillor Christina Muspratt abstained.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): OK, ok, ok, Christine!

Cllr Christina Muspratt (Labour): So I’m abstaining on all this because I’ve not been following the chain.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): OK, one abstention, but I would ask members to look at page fifteen. So now we move on to.

Cllr Christina Muspratt (Labour): Sorry could I ask a question. I’m sorry Chair but I want to ask a question on page eighteen, the CAMHS service, do we know if the money coming from the government may help with this?

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): Well this is one reason Christina, why I’m saying we won’t be debating these tonight, because we haven’t got the officers here to answer those questions. So if you want to submit a question in your own right on that I suggest you do, but that’s why we’re not debating these proposals tonight and I will now ask Jeanette [Williamson] to give her report.

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Why did Cllr Adrian “Father Christmas” Jones try to block scrutiny of £2.6 million given to Wirral Council to spend on the poor?

Why did Cllr Adrian “Father Christmas” Jones try to block scrutiny of £2.6 million given to Wirral Council to spend on the poor?

                                                

Leonora Brace and Councillor Adrian Jones in Birkenhead Christmas 2013
Leonora Brace and Councillor Adrian Jones in Birkenhead Christmas 2013

As you can see from the photo above (and let’s face it three days away from Christmas this is becoming topical), it’s well-known politician Cllr Adrian Jones dressed as Father Christmas and my wife Leonora Brace.

Yesterday (to my surprise), the Wirral Globe ran a story headlined Councillor scolds Wirral blogger over information requests about expenses. If you hadn’t guessed already, I’m the blogger (also described as online journalist) referred to in the article.

Now firstly, I’ve been taken back by all the positive comments people have left both to that article and on social media. It would probably take Christmas to respond to them all.

Firstly I will take this opportunity to wish Councillor Adrian Jones a happy Christmas. However this story isn’t really about him or myself. It’s a far more complicated saga than that. I’ve replied to a number of comments on social media to try and clarify some of it.

This story came about because of two other people who I am going to take the time to thank in this article (before I write any more about this subject).

Firstly, Heather Brooke (who indeed is somewhat of the inspiration behind the story). Heather Brooke wrote a book called Your Right to Know: a citizen’s guide to the Freedom of Information Act (available to read in Wirral Council’s libraries) and was the person that took to task the House of Commons/House of Lords over MPs’/Lords’ expenses (only to find herself scooped by a leak to the newspapers). She writes a blog here.

The second person I’d like to thank is Ted Jeory. He writes a blog here. His blog covers local politics in Tower Hamlets. He’s a former accountant, then newspaper journalist who now works for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

To be honest with you, in my opinion (although this is only an opinion) they are both far better at journalism than I am!

However back to the story (which isn’t just about Cllr Adrian Jones and myself but this is a good place to start). Before doing what we both do now, Cllr Adrian Jones and I came from the academic world (a somewhat different world to politics).

In the academic world, my question to Cllr Adrian Jones would be like the equivalent of an oral exam where I’ve challenged his more orthodox view of the political world. He’s then disagreed with me over some points and it’s all gone to peer review now and now everyones’ commenting on the merits of each sides’ arguments. Fine, fair enough, that much I can understand and yes there should be a public debate and discussion about politicians’ expenses beyond the walls of Wirral Council’s Council Chamber.

It makes more sense that instead of the Heather Brooke route of 5 years of court battles that it is much more cost-effective (as this is a worry of Cllr Adrian Jones’) to have this debate in the media instead.

The world of politics however is very different to the world of academia. Despite sharing some features in fact they’re like oil and water.

I am now going to sound terribly like an academic now and reference a tweet I wrote yesterday about the new Poor Laws (and by new I mean 1844).

The way I made the request to Wirral Council dates back to this legal right from Victorian times, but is still relevant today. It’s an important right that gives access to local voters (such as myself) on what public money is being spent on. I realise the Wirral Globe headline is about councillors’ expenses, however I will instead highlight another part of the request that probably won’t generate as many headlines in the newspapers. In fact on this topic I can only find one article written two years ago by the Wirral Globe.

I’m going to briefly mention an area that you may not have heard of, that Wirral Council was given a budget of £1,345,925 a year to spend on. It’s called the Local Welfare Assistance Scheme. The whole point of it (rather like the point of the Poor Laws) was to reduce poverty.

Wirral Council invoice Furniture Resource Centre
Wirral Council invoice Furniture Resource Centre

The thumbnail for this invoice will be hard to read (it does link to a higher resolution version), however it’s for a cooker, electric kettle and washing machine (total £778.20). This would have been given to someone who made an application under the scheme. The other invoices are for very similar items too such as microwaves. The whole point of it is to help people in need who are have emergencies. The scheme also covers basics such as food and utilities.

Admittedly there can be a lot of public debate over the best ways to help people and there is a detailed report on this on Wirral Council’s website and there are many party political aspects to this issue that I am trying very hard to avoid dwelling on

You may well say good for Wirral Council, isn’t it great that they spent £1.3 million a year on helping poor people? However this isn’t what happened. As estimated by one councillor at this meeting, Wirral Council so restricted (or didn’t publicise enough) what they were doing, that there was an estimated (this was cumulative so it was over two years) £2.1 million underspend of a £2.6 million budget.

Yes this was money given to Wirral Council for the relief of the poor, on which there was an estimated £2.1 million underspend. Bear in mind we often hear Wirral’s councillors repeat that they feel the government are not giving Wirral Council enough money!

By Cllr Adrian Jones’ logic (in answer to the request I put in), I should be restricted from enquiring and writing questions/requesting the invoices for the above matter because it costs too much (despite an estimated over £2 million underspend).

In doing so (oh dear, I’m about to make what could be construed as a party political point here so advance warning), it makes it far easier for the Conservative government to axe funding for this area (as indeed they have done so already). Why, because if Wirral Council blocks or delays press scrutiny of it, then there is little discussion of it in the media in defence of it.

Therefore national politicians think it can be cut as they look somewhat to the press as an indicator of public opinion.

I know his fellow Labour councillor Cllr Janette Williamson has spoken passionately in defence of her view that the underspend should be used for its intended purpose rather than swallowed up to be spent on something else by Wirral Council.

As it is Christmas, I’ll try and give some respite to Cllr Adrian Jones’ on the rather vexed issue of councillors’ expenses (which is the tip of massive iceberg of Wirral Council expenditure) and finish by making these points which because of the time of year probably fall into religion rather than politics.

I was brought up as a Catholic and part of those teachings are about seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable. There are many good things that Wirral Council does, but if you block my queries it makes it more difficult for me to write about it. Personally, it doesn’t bother me too much if you try to block me, but it seems to be unpopular with the people that you are there to serve. To give the Local Welfare Assistance Scheme issue as outlined above, councillor scrutiny on it was done behind closed doors, not in public but as a task and finish group.

The story then sadly becomes about the secrecy (which let’s face it is the kind of story about cover ups the rest of the press like to write about). Frankly if you do this it’s very good for my career and bad for Wirral Council’s reputation (although you know this already). In three days time it will be Christmas (on the day I’m writing this). Christmas is a time of year when society concentrates on the religious and there is a break from politics.

I don’t expect politicians or those working in the public sector to be saints, but I sincerely hope they know the difference between right and wrong (and yes my view of right and wrong is probably slightly different to yours and everybody else’s as right and wrong is subjective).

Although you may not believe this, I don’t wish to quarrel with Wirral Council or its councillors, in fact believe me I try my best not to interfere in your internal affairs. I just see your world from outside the goldfish bowl that is local politics rather than inside. Happy Christmas!

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Wirral councillors agree 2 new policies on attendance management and discipline

Wirral councillors agree 2 new policies on attendance management and discipline

Wirral councillors agree 2 new policies on attendance management and discipline

                                               

Councillors at Monday night’s Council meeting approved two Human Resources policies (apart from the Mayor who abstained and Cllr Pat Cleary who voted against). These were the Human Resources Policy Update (including revised Disciplinary Policy and Procedure) and the Attendance Management Policy.

Approval of the Attendance Management Policy led to this exchange between Conservative Leader Cllr Jeff Green and the Labour Chair of the Transformation and Resources Policy and Performance Committee Cllr Janette Williamson.

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Councillor Jeff Green asks a question about a letter from UNISON at the Wirral Council meeting on the 12th October 2015
Councillor Jeff Green asks a question about a letter from UNISON at the Wirral Council meeting on the 12th October 2015

Cllr Jeff Green: Mr Mayor, am I allowed to ask a question on that particular item? I was just wondering as UNISON have written to me about this, I just wanted to know what the current position is.

Mayor Cllr Les Rowlands: Cllr Green, would you like to ask your question now?

Cllr Jeff Green: Yes Mr Mayor, the question is relatively straightforward. I’ve been written to, probably other colleagues have been written to by UNISON around the Attendance Management Policy and so on and I just wondered whether the Chair can update us on where we are with that letter and our discussions with the trade unions?

Councillor Janette Williamson responds to a question from Cllr Jeff Green at the Wirral Council meeting of the 12th October 2015 about UNISON
Councillor Janette Williamson responds to a question from Cllr Jeff Green at the Wirral Council meeting of the 12th October 2015 about UNISON

Cllr Janette Williamson (Chair of the Transformation and Resources Policy and Performance Committee): Well, firstly Jeff you did have a chance to ask your question before but chose not to do so. You had a chance to ask a Chair’s question before but chose not to do so.

This went before the Committee and received all party approval when it went there. We did have a request from a member of UNISON beforehand to attend and for him to ask a question and he decided not to errm on the night of that. It’s been agreed by the Committee and passed by every Member.


Here are links to the new policies on Wirral Council’s website.

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