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 c