Why did a councillor refer to NHS Plan for cuts as a “PR disaster”?

Why did a councillor refer to NHS Plan for cuts as a “PR disaster”?

Why did a councillor refer to NHS Plan for cuts as a “PR disaster”?

Before I write about what happened at Monday’s People Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Cllr Phil Davies shut down any debate and ruled that he wasn’t allowing the public to speak at an earlier public meeting of the Health and Wellbeing Board (which he chairs) on the Sustainability and Transformation Plan.

Protest outside Wallasey Town Hall side door 28th November 2016 38 Degrees Wirral West over NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan
Protest outside Wallasey Town Hall side door 28th November 2016 38 Degrees Wirral West over NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan
Protest outside Wallasey Town Hall 28th November 2016 Green Party over NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan
Protest outside Wallasey Town Hall 28th November 2016 Green Party over NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan

Prior to the People and Overview Scrutiny Committee starting there were two protests at ways in to Wallasey Town Hall (photos above). Apologies for the poor quality of the photos!

The Sustainability and Transformation Plan is published on the Wirral CCG website or alternatively you can watch the video of the meeting (which contains a long presentation by the NHS followed by discussion by councillors).

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Video of the People Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Wirral Council) NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan starting at the 6m35s point)

I’ll try to sum up what this means in a nutshell. If you look beyond the fancy words, glossy brochures in essence it’s a plan for NHS cuts (that is if the plan is implemented people will lose their job).

In addition to that with such a radical reorganisation of how NHS services are delivered locally proposed, services to the general public are also likely to be altered too.

Before a decision is made there will have to be a formal consultation with the public.

I’ve been asked to decipher what decision the People Overview and Scrutiny Committee made on the STP Plan.

However councillors do have a scrutiny role over matters such as this. To give an example, the move of some of the functions of Clatterbridge Centre for Oncology to a new hospital in Liverpool from 2019 was rubber stamped by a scrutiny committee made up of councillors from the affected areas. The impact on thousands of Wirral patients and the consultation was reported previously on this blog.

This is what was agreed by councillors (although some voted against) at the People Overview and Scrutiny Committee (followed by my analysis of what it means).


  • The People Overview and Scrutiny Committee thank Phil Meaken for attending the meeting and presenting the key points of the Sustainability and Transformation Plan.

  • The Committee is concerned that elected Members [councillors] have had no opportunity to feed into the development of the STP, nor have they been given the opportunity to see the plan before it was published on the 23rd of November.

  • The Committee is also concerned by any lack of meaningful consultation with the public of Wirral prior to the publication of the Plan.

  • As a result of the failure by authors of the Plan to engage with local authorities in Cheshire and Merseyside Committee is concerned at the high level of anxiety and speculation of the implications for the future delivery of health services on the Wirral which the Plan has generated.

  • The Committee further notes that though there is very little detail included, many of the proposals would represent a significant variation in service delivery and would therefore need to be presented for scrutiny to this Committee and possibly a pan-Merseyside and Cheshire Committee before any proposals could be implemented.

  • The Committee does not believe that Wirral Council can agree to the STP without absolute clarity on the proposal and a meaningful process of consultation, that engages with elected Members [councillors] and local residents.



My analysis is briefly this, consultation on the Plan was going to happen and if the result of the Plan is to change how local services are delivered, the pan-Merseyside and Cheshire Committee would happen too any way. For whatever reason politicians are agreeing to steps that would happen in any event.

Obviously there is a lot of concern as to what the impact will be for staff and patients of the NHS.

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Why am I angry at Wirral Council for allegedly breaking more laws to cover up a 3 year investigation and subsequent decision by three councillors as to why Councillor Steve Foulkes broke the Code of Conduct and should apologise for leaking information about Councillor Jeff Green to the press?

Why am I angry at Wirral Council for allegedly breaking more laws to cover up a 3 year investigation and subsequent decision by three councillors as to why Councillor Steve Foulkes broke the Code of Conduct and should apologise for leaking information about Councillor Jeff Green to the press?

Why am I angry at Wirral Council for allegedly breaking more laws to cover up a 3 year investigation and subsequent decision by three councillors as to why Councillor Steve Foulkes broke the Code of Conduct and should apologise for leaking information about Councillor Jeff Green to the press?

                                        

Councillor Steve Foulkes (Labour) (right) speaking at a recent meeting of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee (28th July 2016) while Councillor Pat Cleary (Green) (left) listens
Councillor Steve Foulkes (Labour) (right) speaking at a recent meeting of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee (28th July 2016) while Councillor Pat Cleary (Green) (left) listens

17/8/16 Amended to correct name of Phil Goodman to Peter Goodman.

Firstly, I’m cross with Wirral Council.

What is it this time you may wonder?

Well I have a long list of grievances, but not being a Wirral Council employee no formal route (ok I could bring some of these up with my trade union) to take these to a grievance hearing, nor the time or inclination at this stage to get the judiciary involved.

I’m cross at being denied (along with my wife) to be present at what I perceive to be (in part) to be a public meeting of the Standards Panel on the 28th June 2016 in Committee Room 2 at Wallasey Town Hall, Brighton Street, Seacombe, CH44 8ED starting at 6.00pm.

I’m cross at being shouted at by junior public facing employees of Wirral Council who I will gladly name here from what I remember as Shirley Hudspeth (Legal and Member Services) and Peter Goodman (whatever the facilities management side of Wirral Council is called as frankly I’ve lost track of restructures? Is it infrastructure, asset management something like that?) with their view that it was a private meeting, but I’m not cross at them in a major way because I’m more cross at what I presume are their senior manager/s or senior manager/s from another department at Wirral Council who told both of them to say this to me (even though it isn’t true) as it seems a senior manager/s at Wirral Council would stoop that low as to instruct junior employees to do what they (senior manager/s) should have the guts to do face to face themselves.

I’m cross at Wirral Council for its website not working as I write this at democracy.wirral.gov.uk so I can’t include links or refer to the details. But yeah, whoever’s job it is to fix it may be on holiday.

I’m cross at a senior manager (Joe Blott) and his external legal adviser (whose name I can’t recall without checking Wirral Council’s website that isn’t working). Yes the external legal advisor is the guy in this photo as I wasn’t allowed to be at or film him at the public bit of the Standards Panel meeting (and just as an aside this law allows me to film such public meetings even if I’m not physically in the room, which I suppose next time if I’m not allowed actually in the room for a public meeting I’ll have to do the filming either through the meeting room door or from the car park outside!)

However in Joe Blott’s defence I don’t think he understood why the legal advice he got was flawed and had the external legal advisor pointed out why it was flawed he’d have had to have criticised his client (Wirral Council) which is a big no-no if he ever wants further work from Wirral Council in the future.

I’m not cross with Surjit Tour who seems to have a conflict of interest. But if he does have one, Joe Blott is supposed to deal with it!!!

I am cross with the fact that 5 clear working days notice of the date, time, agenda and reports (if not recommended to be heard in closed session) for the Standards Panel meeting on the 28th June 2016 was not given by the 20th June 2016, but instead yesterday the 3rd of August 2016.

I’m cross that a complaint about a councillor (Cllr Steve Foulkes) as to what happened in July 2013 has taken Wirral Council around three years to resolve.

I’m cross that Patricia Thynne in her report refers to myself as having filmed a Youtube video referred to when I didn’t film it and it was indeed someone else! I’m also cross with myself that relying on Patricia Thynne’s report I then left a comment on the Wirral Leaks blog only to be embarrassed into being told it is a mistake in her report.

I’ve recently learned that Cllr Gilchrist was the Chair of the Standards Panel, I’m cross that I wasn’t allowed to go to the public bit of the Standards Panel meeting where this was decided on the 28th June 2016 to find this out and had to wait around a month to know whether it was Cllr Chris Blakeley or Cllr Phil Gilchrist.

I’m cross that in messing up what’s detailed above Wirral Council is relying on a legal power that was repealed years ago.

I’m cross that for reasons of internal capacity here I didn’t take things further over what happened to us at the meeting on the 28th June 2016 whether by letter or subsequent legal action against Wirral Council.

However, moving to the complaint itself, yes I was there in the public gallery in July 2013 in the adjournment while it happened. Yes Cllr Steve Foulkes came in and spoke with Liam Murphy (referred to as Person C). Yes, I was too far away (at the other end of the public gallery to hear what they were saying). Yes I remember Mr Nigel Hobro coming in to the public gallery at this point and wanting to speak with Liam Murphy but getting the brush off.

Yes, my opinion (not that it matters really) is that I think it is fair that Cllr Foulkes should apologise.

However, isn’t it ironic that as Cllr Foulkes previously made a complaint about Cllr Chris Blakeley talking to the Liverpool Echo about whether Cllr Foulkes should be made Mayor (a complaint that Cllr Chris Blakeley was cleared of as you can read about here) that Cllr Chris Blakeley should then be on the Standards Panel to decide about a complaint about Cllr Foulkes leaking information to a Liverpool Echo journalist? Or is that just karma?

Yes Person C in the report is Liam Murphy. Yes I feel sorry for him, yes it is a breach of journalistic ethics to reveal the source of information, but by the sounds of it he (Liam Murphy) was being used by Cllr Foulkes anyway for political gain.

As to the payoff to Emma Degg, her initial silence (prompted in part it seems by the payment of public money), followed by what I presume was a guilty conscience, well at least she finally did the right thing!

As to the allegation that witnesses “colluded” to bring down Cllr Foulkes, well Patricia Thynne feels this is not credible. I will comment however that unless you are in disguise, nobody knows what you look like or in an echo chamber, it’s frankly foolish in the extreme to bring up anything confidential (whether in conversation or by passing it to them) with a journalist when you have people watching you do it, in a public place, in a public building, in the adjournment to a high-profile public meeting.

However Cllr Foulkes’ explanation is he was under a lot of pressure.

Tip for people reading this, if you want in the future to leak something to me, there’s the post (probably the most secure method), email or telephone (if you want the intelligence agencies to read/listen to it in transit) or other ways of sending it to me online.

Yes you can talk to me or hand me things in person, but there are always people watching!

I did ask Cllr Steve Foulkes in person at the end of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee meeting on the evening of Thursday 28th July 2016 to comment on the complaint. He refused to comment directly on the matter (I presume following Mr. Tour’s advice to councillors to keep their mouth shut) and referred me to Wirral Council instead.

So yes, I’m still cross and Wirral Council is finally well dealing with what should’ve been done properly the first time!!!

By first time, I don’t just mean the original complaint (that this morphed into), but what happened at the Standards Panel meeting too.

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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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Which Wirral Council councillor made 38 taxi journeys in 6 months?

Which Wirral Council councillor made 38 taxi journeys in 6 months?

Which Wirral Council councillor made 38 taxi journeys in 6 months?

                                                       

Eye Cab taxi invoice Wirral Council councillors
Eye Cab taxi invoice Wirral Council councillors

Yesterday Wirral Council responded to my FOI request for the more recent invoices from Eye Cab Limited for taxi journeys by councillors.

These don’t include taxi journeys where councillors have paid for the taxi themselves and then claimed back the cost.

Sadly, due to a lot of missing pages (curiously always the ones with councillors’ names on them), plus a number of pages scanned at such low quality making them very difficult to read, I’ve requested an internal review.

There was an £85 taxi journey listed on page 5. By the price list published on my blog here it comes to a taxi journey of around 67 and a half miles.

Sadly the second page of the invoice that invoice from May 2015 that would state who undertook this unusually long journey is not supplied. The invoice itself is of such low quality it’s hard to read how far this journey was. However if you’re going on a journey that far why not take the train instead?

In fact if the journey was by a councillor then Wirral Council’s constitution states (members means councillors):

8. Travel and Subsistence

Travel Costs

8.1 Travel costs incurred by members in performing “approved duties” as specified in Schedule 2 to this Scheme shall be reimbursed at the prevailing public transport rates, provided that the use of taxis or members’ private motor vehicles may be permitted where public transport is either not available, or the journey by public transport would be likely to result in unreasonable delay.”

Sadly as Wirral Council didn’t respond properly to this FOI request it’s impossible to tell whether a councillor took this journey or not!

However over the 6 months of invoices where names were supplied, here are how many taxi journeys were undertaken by each councillor at the taxpayers’ expense. For shared journeys I’ve counted it as one journey for each councillor sharing the taxi:

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (38)
Cllr Steve Niblock (23)
Cllr Bill Davies (13)
Cllr Irene Williams (5)
Cllr Pat Williams (2)
Cllr Kathy Hodson (1)
Cllr Denise Roberts (1)
Cllr Phil Davies (1)

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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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