There was one A4 page handed out to those present at the meeting which was about the Youth Voice Conference 2014. Obviously it would have been interesting to have on video politicians, officers and a young person’s response to these issues raised at the Youth Voice Conference, but considering the politically sensitive nature of some of these issues one can fully understand why there was an effort before the meeting began not to have it filmed, audio taped or photographed.
As one section of it mentions the media, I had better declare an interest in this as a member of the media. As well as politics I also write about video games, so I’d better declare that too. Below is the text of the 1 A4 page handout circulated to the committee, councillors, officers and others present at the public meeting.
Copies of what is below were handed out during the meeting itself by Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children’s Services), as the Youth and Play Service Advisory Committee, unlike many other public meetings of politicians at Wirral Council doesn’t have Wirral Council officers from Legal and Member Services assigned to it to deal with such matters. It’s “served” by officers from Wirral Council’s Children and Young People’s Department (or whatever it’s called these days) instead who take a different view on some matters to that of Legal and Member Services.
The day democracy and freedom of the press died at Wirral Council: 28th October 2014
The day democracy and freedom of the press died at Wirral Council: 28th October 2014
CORRECTION 1/11/2014: The version of this article published on 29th October 2014 contained an error. Although Cllr Chris Carubia was on the Youth and Play Service Advisory Committee this article stated he was not. It has since been corrected.
I apologise to Cllr Chris Carubia for this error. It is my fault entirely. Wirral Council’s website shows him as not being on the Youth and Play Service Advisory Committee (see screenshots below) although it does show the committee appointments for the other seven councillors on this eight person committee. I didn’t double check this incorrect information on Wirral Council’s website against the list of committee appointments made at the Annual General Meeting (Part 2) in June 2014. Hopefully this explains how the error was made and I apologise.
However I cannot blame others for my mistake and have to accept responsibility. I personally apologise both to Cllr Chris Carubia and to readers for any confusion caused.
Yesterday I attended a public meeting of Wirral Council’s Youth and Play Service Advisory Committee and the meeting started twenty minutes late for reasons I shall go into below.
Here is a list of the councillors on this committee:
Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Labour) who refers to himself as Chair
Cllr Chris Meaden (Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport and Culture, Labour)
Cllr Walter Smith (Labour councillor who wasn’t present last night)
Cllr Paul Hayes (Conservative councillor who wasn’t present last night)
Cllr Wendy Clements (Conservative councillor who wasn’t present last night)
Cllr Cherry Povall, JP (Conservative councillor who wasn’t present last night)
Cllr Mrs Pat Williams (Liberal Democrat councillor)
Cllr Chris Carubia (Liberal Democrat councillor)
So out of that list of seven councillors, only Cllr Tony Smith, Cllr Chris Meaden, Cllr Mrs Pat Williams and Cllr Chris Carubia (four councillors) were actually present.
Also there, but not part of the committee that met that evening was Cllr Phil Gilchrist. Cllr Phil Gilchrist is a deputy for this committee, however the two Liberal Democrat councillors were both present so he was not deputising. However as he is Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, he used his ex-officio powers to speak at the meeting.
Prior to the meeting starting, the papers for the meeting which you can view on Wirral Council’s website hadn’t been published on Wirral Council’s website a week before the meeting as required by law but merely hours before the meeting was held.
I asked for a copy of the agenda and reports at the meeting itself (as is my legal right to do so). I was very reluctantly given a copy of the agenda by an officer who had a big bunch of copies of the agenda but had to check he had permission to give one to me.
As the video was about twelve minutes long (and I planned to film discussion of it once it was over), this left the other seven agenda items plus the rest of that one.
However Lindsay Davidson (whose job description is “Senior Locality Manager – Youth Support”) and is an employee of Wirral Council was before the meeting not happy with the prospect of me filming this public meeting of a local Council (that she worked at) at all.
Another thing to bear in mind, is that whereas the Legal and Member Services section of Wirral Council send along a trained solicitor and someone to take minutes at all other meetings, this did not happen that evening.
I pointed out that usually committees have a solicitor and a committee services officer present just to be rebutted by Lindsay Davidson with “We service our own committee.”
She carried on saying, “As far as I’m concerned it’s a safeguarding issue because we haven’t got parental consent.”
No, she wasn’t referring to councillors having to write to their parents and gain their written permission of their parents before they attend and get filmed at a public meeting. Nor was she apparently referring to Council officers (of which there were five including herself and the Head of Service (Head of Targeted Services) Deborah Gornik.
She was referring to one young person present at the public meeting called Daniel (who she told me at this point was sixteen years old but in later conversation (in front of councillors and Surjit Tour) refused to divulge what age Daniel was). Interestingly Daniel hasn’t been formally appointed by Council to this committee and isn’t (despite what Council officers may state) part of the committee.
This was my response to her “As far as I’m concerned it’s a legal issue because the regulations changed in August” and before I could even finish that sentence Lindsay started talking over me.
She said that Daniel’s parents “don’t know”. So I talked with Surjit Tour over the phone in reception, who agreed with me that it was a committee of Wirral Council that met in public.
However as far as Surjit Tour was concerned, he wanted to dissuade me from filming the meeting at all. So what does the law actually state on the issue now?
“(7A) While a meeting of a principal council in England is open to the public, any person attending is to be permitted to report on the meeting.
(7C) A person attending a meeting of a principal council in England for the purpose of reporting on the meeting must, so far as practicable, be afforded reasonable facilities for doing so.
(7E) Any person who attends a meeting of a principal council in England for the purpose of reporting on the meeting may use any communication method, including the internet, to publish, post or otherwise share the results of the person’s reporting activities.
“(9) In this section “reporting” means—
(a) filming, photographing or making an audio recording of proceedings at a meeting,
(b) using any other means for enabling persons not present to see or hear proceedings at a meeting as it takes place or later, or
(c) reporting or providing commentary on proceedings at a meeting, orally or in writing, so that the report or commentary is available as the meeting takes place or later to persons not present.”
There are similar modifications also made by Regulation 3 to the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 which also apply.
So that’s the legal position, I can film the public meeting of the Youth and Play Service Advisory Committee, whether or not a sixteen year old happens to be there without his parents.
However what happened yesterday evening is bizarre.
The meeting did not start on time and a twenty minute conversation happened between Lindsay Davidson, Cllr Chris Meaden, Cllr Tony Smith, Surjit Tour, I think Deborah Gornik and myself in the corridor outside Committee Room 1.
I was basically told that by Surjit Tour that if I exercised my right (enshrined in law) to film the meeting, Surjit Tour would advise the Chair (Cllr Tony Smith) to adjourn the meeting and therefore the meeting would not take place that evening.
This is in fact why the meeting started twenty minutes late. I offered the following compromises to Wirral Council:
a) that I would only film the side of the room that the 16-year-old was not actually sitting in: REFUSED
b) that I would only audio record the public meeting: REFUSED
c) that I wouldn’t film the video shown during the meeting: REFUSED
You can tell how any other “reasonable compromises” were dealt with too.
Wirral Council were obviously not going to budge from their stubborn position until I backed down. Personally I feel sorry for employees and opposition councillors in such an organisation as the way it was dealt with was wholly unreasonable.
This is also probably why there have been strikes recently by the unions, because both Wirral Council’s management and politicians behave unreasonably.
Both Surjit Tour and I knew what the legal position was and that I could film.
Officers (including Lindsay Davidson who was “servicing the committee”) didn’t know the legal position, neither did councillors and were looking to Surjit Tour to not only offer them legal advice but to negotiate on their behalf my agreement not to film the meeting. Neither Surjit Tour or I had the text of the legislation to show them, although it takes minutes to look up these matters as Wirral Council does have both wired and wireless internet access (including in the Committee Room 1 that the meeting was being held in).
He, Surjit Tour as Head of Legal and Member Services could only advise councillors to adjourn the meeting if I tried to film it and by then the officers had got the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services/Chair involved Cllr Tony Smith (who is obviously rather cheesed off already at the moment over my reporting on Lyndale School matters). I realise officers have had safeguarding drummed into them (perhaps this is the legacy of Martin Morton), to the extent that they repeat it as a mantra when people tell them things they don’t want to hear.
However from a practical perspective, a 16-year-old in the UK at the moment is old enough to:
vote in the recent Scottish independence referendum (if he or she lived in Scotland)
join the Armed Forces
leave compulsory education
get arrested & probably other matters I haven’t thought of.
However according to Wirral Council, even at 16 years old you are not old enough to attend a public meeting without getting a written note from your parents first, just in case you might get filmed or recorded on tape.
In fact according to Wirral Council officers you are still treated as a child until you are eighteen.
In some ways even though I am well over eighteen and in my mid 30s some Wirral Council officers (and politicians) still treat me as if I was a child. After all, the reaction last night to me trying to film the meeting was the way you’d deal with a two or three-year old having a temper tantrum.
Although not explicitly stated by anyone, reading between the lines and based on how the discussions went, it came across as “Go outside John, we’ll tell you how you should behave, don’t you realise you shouldn’t be filming this meeting and how dare you try to do so and annoy us?”
In other words the petulant attitude I’ve come to expect from councillors and officers at Wirral Council.
So, although it sets a bad precedent, I decided yesterday evening after a twenty-minute stalemate on this issue pragmatically not to film the meeting because:
So this leaves Wirral Council in the position now where the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP refers to such decisions on filming by local councils in a newspaper article as behaving in the past like “Putin’s Russia” and is exactly the sort of dispute the regulations are there to avoid.
Wirral Council’s way of skirting around the regulations applying is to pressure me into voluntarily agreeing not to film & or audio record a meeting before it takes place. If I say no and take a militant attitude they will make sure the meeting doesn’t actually happen.
So that is Wirral Council’s position, I am allowed to film public meetings. However if I try to do so, the public meeting won’t actually happen. It’s a bit like Schrödinger’s cat really and exactly a fortnight after this farce last night I’m sure I’ll be going over this same ground again over the Youth Parliament meeting where there will be more than one young person present.
Below are my uncorrected notes of the meeting yesterday and in a PS I will point out that I tape record meetings because I have a writing disability because of breaking my wrist in two places in 2012. This means I can no longer write shorthand so I use the audio tape recordings for the purposes of quotes.
However equality issues, disability issues and safeguarding concerns regarding myself are not considered by Wirral Council as hypothetical views of a 16 year olds parents trump the “reasonable adjustments” Wirral Council are required to take (it’s a legal duty) during meetings.
For an example of a reasonable adjustment made during the meeting, Cllr Phil Gilchrist (with hearing problems) asked for the tea/coffee machine to be turned off as no microphones were used (although three were put out nobody sat near them).
However reasonable adjustments are always made at Wirral Council for disabilities of councillors, or its own staff but its legal duties to the disabled public and press are not even thought of and if raised not considered as they should.
Below are my notes of the meeting (I will point out that some of these service changes are currently out to public consultation at the moment):
Youth and Play Service Advisory Committee 28th October 2014
552 pm late start
Visual description of young person chairing meeting (Daniel) has black curly hair, wears glasses… approx 16 years old wearing .blue short sleeved shirt
Cllr Tony Smith (Chair) apologies discussion whether Mr Brace able will not do tonight resolved another
Welcome y… apologies
P Williams didnt get agenda until today cllrs missing oversight
lindsay problems server getting on to server … … reminder gpt agenda
P Giochrist attachemts council website couldnt open…
lindy resolved today wasnt resolved
daniel over to you
go round asking people’s names
Linndsay Davidson Senior locality manager Youth and Play service
Cllr tony smith
Cllr pat williams
Cllr phil gilchrist
Cllr chros meaden
South and West Wirral…
creative youth development
P Gilchrist d…matters arising from minutes hand over Lindsay…
Note Left side: 4 coucillors (CM (Lab), PW (LD), PG (LD) and CC (LD)), 2 officers
Right: Cllr Tony Smith, officers (Lindsay Davidson and two others) and Daniel (young person)
Lindsay highlight a few things senior locality manager’s report 1.1 inform latest goals project underway … following on from success under 1.2.1 lads project started in September proving to be very successful aged young men… designed to address a number issues harmful exploitative relationships… towards end program residential Oaklands outdoor education centre first project young men did have concerns drop out rate male staff working with young men retention rate high midway meeting had to get Birkenhead Youth Hub
cllr tony smith how identified
officers agencies targetted services… so agencies able identify needs young person get consent also used part working young people…
lindsay challenging young men program … its a testament program…
officer midway thing big impact groups teenage males mix in one spot … all mixed all deliberately mixed groups… a project in itself…
p gilchrist public health funded Wirral South Constituency Committee improve funding or top up… public health mentioned … has been funding South Wirral additional residential young men… under item 2 Wallasey District Wallasey Youth Hub… 12 week…
Lindsay heavily involved partnership work police don’t know aware Flaybrick Cemetery traves outreach involved not only working with young people … perpetrators… trying divert further criminal damage also working other young people locality concerned peers done this wanted to show other young people were like that workong young people rangers cemetery cleanup positive project different aspects … South Wirral Bebington Youth Hub redesigned painted music room young women crime prevention panel… under 5 West Wirral… West Wirral Youth Hub Thursdays young people additional needs disabilities accessing Youth Hub… … good practice journals weighting oist families cross agency steering group further funding… demands that particular program item 7 7. 1 housing service new Wirral based .. … yp family… ok.. and again under 7.1 aaare response young people took part healthy eating project positive outcomes chefs Barrow in Furness healthy eating techniques homeless have been… .. ok number 8 partivipation and engagement fee days ago Youth Voice Conference make aware under 8.2 have reported framework young people brought paper previous merting champion event prior Youth Parliament 11/11 what doing champion event sign up become yp champion some activities tea young people and councillors Youth Parliament into Chamber for session… busy collecting motions majority theme conference emotional health and wellbeing number 10 beechwood supporting with homework projects creating number artifacts enable young people doing things like making models atoms sex education… huge models of sperms eggs and ovaries… extremely successful giving to curriculum Daniel end report
Daniel questions… ?
P Gilchrist detail Fender health and safety closure building
Mark reason closed … throw …at one windows youth club on first floor thick windows stone kind of shattered… unfortuantely quite a long time to get repaired quite blessing in disguise dealing with a lot antisocial behaviour on Woodchurch coming in to building youth workers stop doing this stop doing r ship put on hold a bit take stock go out onto streets build better relationships young people Moira liasing community looking at how involve community volunteers… running youth project … all young people… mischief night along police fire service operation banger have some music playing food fire service providing sports mobile football cage looking into having … finalising the health and safety but really positive … community more and more involved people weren’t reporting antisocial behaviour positive step community get involved yp Woodchurch
T Smith add to what Mark said engagement adults in new approach and that talking about 10-20 live on estate let someone elee do it got good leaders come forward … things move rapidly see a good future for it… hopefully lookimg at very carefully Woodchirch High … antisocial behaviour… headteacher myself working .. encouarging done a lot work
Daniel all questions
P Willaims on 6.4 kids timd ..
officer supported London project families mental health shared group session whole families particular area… work children come back together pizza… got an average … referred into it 18 months at real capacity… 15 adults quite hefty put a stop to it … 2/3 referrals a month
P Willaims very very necessary…
officer lot of good will creative ways keeping going well needed at a satge need look…
officer ward 10/12
C Meaden adult dance class
officer struggling along…
C Meaden quick step or something as long as not Zumba
Lindsay one at momemt adult singing…
Cllr Chris Meaden leaves room…
Officer film aums it up shown at alumni event watch that
A thirteen minute film was shown at this point in the meeting.
subtitles voice over alumni … participative arts youth work… interview groups individuals… alumni project … camera 40 years old .. fivus take … final stages narrow down final set of images yecgmival skill… quirks of film photography …
like u photographer chloe
music and voice over
Liam and Gemma Chloe… blossom tree … courtyard industrial estate next Cammell Lairds…
Pacific swing Eliott
shoot taken at dusk… changing shutter speed… architectural quality capture personalities… piano calmer Cathryn… leaning on piano love music… Ben photographer Jamie Lee… learn a great deal about photographry.. using film cameras… buy one for myself focus every aspect picture … rather stunning iamges … chose photograph them so many ideas choosing wlls interesting decision… interesting shot chose photograph Ben… number shots taken courtyard… rather exciting image… … shows in photograph look like a … … with… camera… I like the light and shadows in studio phases… which gives… before the … happy that i got perfect pictures since shoot … Josh photographer Maya spoke about how … hos story how improved homself… wanted reflect in photographs noticed Josh spoke.. moved graceful way… gentle person.. shadow bigger… wanted Josh suggest to them… camera … for one shoots… shutter speed not as long enjoyed having josh … way chooses words… interesting story … would’ve gone down another lath this shoot taken as film setting photographs… dropped ueard stories how much fun has … character… all told lots of funny stories… take photograph control light noticed … decided use spotlight plesed photograph… Alice many stories how nighty… red dreadlocks started to take photos different side inner confidence … interesting places… compassionate personality… … you are in darkness this is how it should be doing job well… technical skills… chose image close bond between them spotlight … my point… cerebral palsy… interview her … outside the centre… …
educational pathway trainibg
C Meaden there that night brilliant night what came out evening young people spoke night explained … excellent evening
officer permanent display … biz cebtee Birkenhead Park some examples here hack stories
large photos put up by windows not all jazz hands through a hard time give back…
officer booking lots viewings.. takes over water a bit
P Willaims basic equipement
P Willaims learning …
officer working on Priory funded by Lottery opening event huge … projections journey take community through journey about 15 in group multiple needs.. large number people on autistic spectrum
P Williams look forward seeing in my ward at Williamson [Art Gallery]
Chair all questions hand back Lindsay Youth Voice Conference
Lindsay this is me youth voice conference on 16/10 havent really evaluated it fully didnt want to miss opportunity highlights conference aims… Youth Voice Conference explore issues important to them… a second about how identified that
628 Cllr Chris Meaden leaves..
Lindsay . again.. opportunity yp question … senior ppl partner organisations what’s imporatnt to them make sure yp truly involved… in terms conference 12th annual conference this year … approcimately 200 young people overwhelmingly wanted theme this years conference emotional health .. yes things like sex education alcohol subtance misuse important what don’t tend to talk about issues mental health wellbeing what particularly about themes look more carefully at.. looking out ourselves and each other … promoted variety invitations secondary schools… youth voice group… overarching group representative youth forums Children in care Council youth voice group planned… and developed conference consulted … identify themes young people involved every aspect conference for young people… looking at daniel involved conference too.. is about making sure young
631 Cllr Chris Meaden returns
Lindsay instrumental subject amtter sensitivity feel as workers .. some .. needed some supoort in terms of our partners plan workshops… organised steering group where yp met whole range partners… Wirral Autistic Society health services and schools whole range people workshops identified talk a little bit more approproate consultant partner agency… plan content workshops… and we again… this year hot seat panel…
Cllr Chris Meaden said she had left the room before they came to that point
Lindsay formulated questions… list some questions.. rather identifying all of them …
Cllr Tony Smith passes out a handout (1 A4 side)…
Lindsay ADHD autism… yp with autism actually wanting to express yourselves coping ooss change social isolation social media aad gaming .. Daniel you say something? putting you on spot concerned not only themselves but perr not going out picking up phone texting can only say what I do lost without my phone yp saying 100 fold real serious issues camh concerned about as well a lot wotkship enabling yp deal issue friends might be too isolated through gaming media literacy… some sterotypes yp concerned … airbrushing photographs what is a real image taking to Council real image not airburshed real people publicity final workshop topic dealing with homophobia… concerned about some issues daily basis .. ok haven’t fully evaluated this early days over 90 young ppl in attendance aktest count 96
Lindsay 96 plus 20 16 school colleges involved… a scale 1-10 and what were saying to yp said at conference theme emotional health and wellbeing themes Youth Parliament motions.. prioritised in debate.. what incraesingly want to happen Wirral Youth Conference not just standalone influences number deabtes of which Youth Parliament will be one… full evaluation to follow whistlestop tour
Debroah Gornik?.. no matter how many times consult young people cross section generally have same issues as adult population… antisocial behavior litter crime bothers young people exactly same ways articulate in terms telling us … concerns that they have concerns we would have about
C Meaden one I sat in bullying side how recognised children being bullied are kids looking after other kids as well was interesting did sneak out left after
Chair (Daniel) representative police didn’t answer single question
Officer she did
Chair hand over Steve talk about Wirral summer holiday playschemes report Wirral Play Council summer 2014 if grant give Wirral Play Council run program for us … operating since 1974 how long grant 35 years know chris received grant considerable … so as I said before restructure relook at how deliver schemes essentially meant less schemes conducted … geographical … slight increse provision… also able to get run schemes Prenton Eastham and West Kirby magenat resdents group support … West Wirral constituency spread schemes 68 schmes throught 4 districts additioanl grant smaller projects grant Love Wirral supply tomatoes strawberries growing strawberries tomatoes strawberry deadm took home flowers… cost £500 good value 4.4 again had a good return play work… 60% round about 75 playworkers fully trained qualifiaction recognsied university Gloucester intriductiry recignsied … qualified one things highlight terms program… what gone on to do over the years… lecturers.. one particular person.. deolivering training… started careers introduction work children 2-3 summers working on summer playschemes good ground how develop careers… so just moving on start slides in a second what did on playday obviously a big event … more public event about 3,000 participants what these slides are at the moment have a competition… initially artistic … again what is play asked came up all sorts ideas.. Mayor … judges competition often said won’t have want a competition who’s won really want a competition talking about cooperation climbimg being active examples one from Bebington and Woodchurch these are the plants Love Wirral… climbing wall again this year… Mayor Mayoress we also have this raet street oaijters give yp and oarehts families all get involved early in day looks like France railings Birkenhead Park paint what we want to paint… .. face painting… minim version zorbs health and safety friendly version straw bales.. football cahllenge photo with Mayor … made friends as well another photo with Mayor public heakth police all services… lot of other groups … also families themselves dont have used to supervise children… just invite ppl come down… notice that on day family day out… played and had fun… tahts it .. obviosuly appxed more detail schemes themselves 1,000 chiodren comments children parents what they think
P Willaims interesting shaped pots…
P Gilchrist dropped into met yp running scheme … from Edge Hill enthusiatsic working hard occupy actaully was … making sire things happened … bottomless pit plan now what os around … …
Officer every year
P Gilchrist ok
Lindsay proposl public consultation could affect Play Council and summer playschemes make people aware ..
Chair all question thanks Steve come back Cllr Tony Smith
Cllr Tony Smith thanks you well done quickly through meeting good experience havent notified any other business…
P Gilchrist ask something haven’t notified haer staff whats done this year’s consultation budget with young peoples views collected fed into process opportunityty committee review in time consultation important scrutiny committees as item based topic go Families and Wellbeing where go once collected?
C Meaden brought in just over 2,500 from young people yesterday and 300 or 400 today don’t know what committe go to hasn’t been discussed yet
D Gornik waiting Council decision once get that position then we look to do consultation young people staff and community users not at that stage until decision
C Meaden … all from .. play schemes quite a few boosted up numbers come into consultation yesterday
Lindsay young people harder to reach… staff comtribute either by website or paper copied
C Meaden making sure aware …
P Gilchrist be clear Deboarh where all collected process to be processed wrong word studied and examined before report to Cabinet not clear where might go to
C Meaden analysis breakdown
T Smith responses each age group
C Meaden in press how many responses staff know how many so far
T smith young people made aware … £2 million is oppty number
C Meaden what public consultation about look at it do best resolve some issues.. cash strapped authority…
P Gilchrist resolved
Chair right date next meeting
Officer next one set January beginning February…
Cllr Tony Smith thanks all Mark and Steve officers Karen and thanks very much
C Meaden Daniel back again fine…
Expense claim forms for Councillor Pat Williams 2013 to 2014
Expense claim forms for Councillor Pat Williams 2013 to 2014
Councillor Pat Williams is a Liberal Democrat councillor for Oxton ward and is Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group. Her expenses claims are for attendance at meetings of Council, the Corporate Parenting Group, the Licensing Act 2003 Subcommittee, the Attainment Subcommittee, the Wirral Awards Working Party, the Oxton Conservation Society, the Licensing Panel, the Youth Parliament, the Licensing, Health and Safety and General Purposes Committee, the Birkenhead Constituency Committee, the Community First Funding Panel (part of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee), meetings with officers, an Employment and Appointments Committee appointments panel, training, the Improvement Board and various briefings.
She is the last in the series of councillors expenses forms for 2013-14. I did also ask for the underlying information supporting these expenses claims such as petrol receipts, parking receipts, tunnel toll receipts, taxi receipts, train tickets, hotel expenses et cetera. Although I made this request as part of the audit back in August I’m still waiting! However for the twenty or so councillors one petrol receipt was provided!
In some cases I have not been given information for the correct financial year. It is certainly something I need to follow-up with officers, who blame it on Wirral Council’s HR department supplying incorrect information or not supplying it when requested!
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On Monday evening the issue of the future of Lyndale School was debated by Wirral Council councillor for about forty-five minutes. I’m going to try and sum up what was said and decided in a short blog post so inevitably I will be leaving some things out.
The notice of motion by the Conservatives and Labour’s amendment to it is already covered here. The response from the Lyndale parents is here, in addition to that there were a further ninety or so responses to the consultation.
Cllr Paul Hayes (proposing the motion to keep the school open) started by referring to the consultation response by Lyndale parents and the passion and “strength of feeling” he’d observed at a recent consultation meeting (which you can listen to in full). He said he hoped all councillors had received a copy of the consultation response.
The Mayor Cllr Steve Foulkes said that some councillors had received it on the day of the meeting and that he didn’t believe they could be expected to read it in full as they hadn’t had time to digest it.
Cllr Paul Hayes continued by referring to an earlier consultation on Kingsway Primary School and the similarities between the two. He was critical of an officer chairing the Lyndale School closure consultation meeting and said that as well as the majority of people feeling that the officer wasn’t neutral, he also described him as “rude and dismissive”. He described the consultation process as “farcical”.
Cllr Stuart Kelly asked whether Labour’s amendment should be ruled out of order as it was negating the original motion. Labour’s motion deleted all paragraphs in the original motion bar one line. He said surely the same effect could be achieved by voting against the motion?
The Mayor (Cllr Steve Foulkes) said he would allow a legal opinion, but it had been a difficult decision on his part to allow the notice of motion on Lyndale School to be debated. From his point of view he felt that Cllr Stuart Kelly “didn’t have a leg to stand on” with regards to the [Labour] amendment being ruled out of order.
Surjit Tour said that the notice of motion referred it to the Cabinet as the final decision rested with te Cabinet. The amendment also did exactly the same in referring it to a special meeting in September. Therefore in his view the amendment was lawful.
The Mayor said that points of order was not the way he wanted to open the debate and asked the mover of the amendment to speak.
Cllr Phil Davies said that it had been agreed some time ago that they need to have a special Cabinet meeting and that there had been a very detailed consultation exercise, the results of which they had not yet seen. In his view the consultation responses were a “hugely important piece of evidence” which the Cabinet needed to consider before taking a view. To take the clear view expressed in the Conservative notice of motion before the special Cabinet meeting was “premature” as they would be making the decision now in advance of the special meeting. He was also very concerned that if the notice of motion was agreed then they would fall foul of predetermination. He thought it was a shame that Cllr Hayes had said that officers were not neutral.
He continued by referring to his time as Cabinet Member and again referred to the claim that officers were not neutral. Cllr Davies said that the amendment asked that they take no action on the motion tonight but refer it. Again he said that he was worried if they agreed the motion it would have predetermined the outcome before the Cabinet had considered the evidence, but there was no question that Lyndale School provided a “unique and caring environment”. He had visited the school but it was essential he had an open mind and considered all the evidence. He worried that if they made a decision tonight then they would be completely ignoring important evidence that they had not yet seen.
Cllr Andrew Hodson referred to his daughter who had learning difficulties, despite being in her 30s she had a mental age of nine. He considered himself lucky that she had her full health, but that the children at Lyndale had complicated health needs. Although his daughter lived in an establishment she still had her independence in fact [Cllr] George [Davies] had been at the opening.
He referred to the Corporate Plan about protecting vulnerable people and how Lyndale School was an essential service that met people’s complex needs. The staff at Lyndale were geared up to making sure that while receiving an education the children were safe and well cared for. He was perplexed by the decision as the Council would not benefit financially from the closure of Lyndale School so why do it? He finished by making a plea to keep the school open.
Cllr Phil Gilchrist said that the Childrens and Young People Department had told him they had received ninety response and that he had had time to read the documents. He knew that members of the Council had been concerned about the future especially [former] Councillor Tom Harney. He referred to the document received at the weekend and referred to the reference in it to a working party.
Cllr Gilchrist referred to the space that children using wheelchairs need, children with epilepsy, those require oxygen and those who required time consuming feeding. He had attended two of the consultation meetings and concurred with Cllr Paul Hayes’ description. He referred again to the parents’ response to the consultation quoting from it and that it may be September by the time the issue was resolved. He said that the high needs budget for 2013/14 was £31.7 million.
After being given extra time, he referred to the strain on families, the SEN Improvement Test and said that if they wished, councillors on the Cabinet could choose not to vote on this notice of motion (and amendment). The notice of motion was about Council’s view.
Councillor Dave Mitchell said that the way the process worked was that councillors who stood were indicating that they wished to speak in the debate and that if no Labour councillors stood up then councillors who wished to speak should still be allowed to address the Council. Cllr Chris Blakeley said he had no objections.
The Mayor (Cllr Steve Foulkes) said that if that was an early test, that he would decide what goes on, who was asked and which councillor would make a contribution.
Councillor Dave Mitchell said that he’d pick up on the point made by Cllr Paul Hayes at the start. He too had been surprised at the way the presentation had been presented by officers to the parents and that the parents knew what was required and that the parents were the ones who should be listened to. Cllr Mitchell recommended that councillors read every page of the parent’s response to the consultation and absorb every part as it “rips to shreds” the proposal [to close the school] and deals with the real issue which was the children.
Cllr Mitchell continued by saying that it had nothing to do with the schools formula funding as it was all there set by the government and had never been taken away. This was not the case with education funding and the way the funding was divvied out was decided by Cabinet. One of the problems that concerned him with the consultation itself was the way parents had asked questions to officers and had no responses till the last day of the consultation.
Cllr Pat Williams objected to the Mayor refusing to let her speak. She said she was being deprived of her democratic right and that she’d been elected by the people of Oxton to speak.
The Mayor [Cllr Steve Foulkes] changed his mind and agreed to let her speak after all.
Cllr Pat Williams said that during the consultation period it was made abundantly clear that the appropriate place was to let the children remain at Lyndale School. She referred to the petition against closure of nearly 11,000 signatures which demonstrated how much Lyndale School was valued as a unique asset. She like other councillors referred to the parents response to the consultation and wanted the profound and complex needs of the children fairly reflected in the funding.
She had visited the school and was always most impressed by the caring an dedication of the staff and when she was Mayor had had the pleasure of formally opening the sensory garden. The consultation had ended and it was overwhelming apparent that Lyndale School should stay. She asked councillors to take note and resolve that Lyndale was to remain open.
Councillor Pat Cleary (the new Green Party councillor) said that he wanted to make a brief point. He said that Lyndale School doesn’t have to be closed and he appreciated the sincere feelings. He was disappointed as he didn’t understand the Labour councillors not engaging.
One issue he wanted to raise was that 18 months ago there had been a letter from the Leader of the Council during the What Really Matters consultation about whether local elections should only be held once every four years. It had been said that the reason the proposal was being brought forward was that early analysis of the consultation results had shown 91% supporting this change. In that instance a recommendation had been brought forward before the consultation was finished, he wanted to know why the current situation was any different?
Cllr Tony Smith said that he agreed that the uncertainty about Lyndale School must be resolved and had been an ongoing concern for a number of years. The consultation had been undertaken, but reducing numbers of children on the school roll, changes in funding arrangements and questions about the future viability of the school were the reasons behind the consultation. He stressed that the consultation was not about the quality of the education.
He continued by saying that any decision about future provision would be informed by individual needs and make sure people’s requirements were fully met. The government required the [SEN Improvement] test to be undertaken to show that the proposal was as good as or better than the children’s current provision. He said that they would make sure they had an up to date understanding of each child’s needs.
They had undertaken a consultation and there was oversight from the [Wirral] Schools Forum. The original decision had been called in and it was made clear then at the outset that the process should be open and transparent over the twelve week consultation.
Prior to the consultation starting, there had been a meeting with parent governors of Lyndale and throughout the consultation six public meetings. Eighty-five people from the community had turned up to these, with some attending more than one. Wirral Council had commissioned an independent person to consider each of the published options and any new options and consider the application of the government’s [SEN Improvement] test. All councillors had also been invited on an escorted bus tour which included Lyndale School. Twenty-two councillors had taken part in these visits on the 16th/17th June. He made the assurance that all information relevant to the consultation would be made publicly available prior to the Cabinet meeting to inform the decision making when the Cabinet would be taking all factors into account such as the needs and welfare of each individual child.
Cllr Jeff Green (seconder to the Conservative motion) reminded people that when Cllr Tony Smith spoke that closure is a preferred option. He reminded people why it was called in and referred to the speeches of Cllrs Hayes, Gilchrist, Mitchell and others (as well as congratulating Cllr Cleary on his maiden speech). He said a maiden speech was normally held in silence but the response from Labour councillors was because he’d beaten them in an election.
Cllr Green said that Lyndale was unique and incredibly special and that that needed to be safeguarded.
Strange: Why proceed with a consultation on closing Lyndale School when the reason for closing it no longer exists?
Strange: Why proceed with a consultation on closing Lyndale School when the reason for closing it no longer exists?
The Cheshire Cat from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (the 1951 version) which seemed about the only image that seemed ideal for this story about Lyndale School and Wirral Council
First, if you’ve been away on holiday the past two months a recap on what’s happened so far in a saga that’s seems to quickly becoming as complicated as the plot to the Lord of the Rings.
It starts with a proposal to Wirral Council’s Cabinet by Wirral Council officers to consult on closing Lyndale School. At the same meeting Wirral Council’s officers also proposed introducing a new system for funding “high needs” students where from 2014-15 extra funding to schools would be determined by which one of five bands that school’s pupils were categorised as being in. There was an emotional plea made to councillors on the Cabinet by Dawn Hughes (who has a child at the school) not to agree to consult on closure of Lyndale School (which was reported on this blog). However Labour councillors on Wirral Council’s Cabinet decided to both agree to consult on closing Lyndale School and also the banding proposals too.
It’s important at this stage to state the reasons given back in January for consulting on closing Lyndale School by Wirral Council officers, which are detailed both in the minutes and the report.
Here are some quotes from the report (although at this point in time some of these purported facts have been found to be factually incorrect).
“The closure of the Lyndale School is proposed for consideration because the viability of the school is compromised by its small size and falling roll, which both contribute to a difficult financial position.”
“In 2013-14 the school has set a budget for the year based on School Funding of £761,733 with a small deficit of £3,647. This was achieved using all accumulated balances brought forward of £51,707. The latest position indicates there will be deficit at the year end of £15,667. This has resulted from changes in staff costs and support services.”
“In 2014-15 the school forecast, before any corrective action, is that there would be a deficit of £72,000. This deficit has the potential to increase to in excess of £232,000 based on the numbers of children currently on the school roll.”
“This means that for 2014-15 the shortfall the school may experience will be approximately £72,000 for the year based on the number currently on school roll. This is approximately 9% of their budget.”
These two decisions then went to the Coordinating Committee meeting of the 5th February 2014 to be looked at again. However the Coordinating Committee didn’t have the required parent governor representatives and Diocesan Body representatives that they were required by legislation to have when making decisions on educational (or school) related matters. So the meeting of 5th February 2014 was adjourned and a recommendation made to the Council meeting on the 25th February 2014 so that the parent governor representatives and Diocesan body representatives could be added to the Coordinating Committee. This was agreed at a meeting of the full Council on the 25th February 2014.
While all this was going on, the Cabinet made its recommendation on the 2014-15 Schools Budget to Council on the 12th February 2014 and Council agreed the Schools Budget on the 25th February 2014 (including matters that were yet to be decided because of the adjourned Coordinating Committee meeting). The issue of the upcoming call ins was raised at the Cabinet meeting and councillors were told that there was a contingency (of £908,900) included as part of the Schools Budget which would mean that whatever the outcome of the call ins were that it could still be funded.
On both matters the draft minutes state that a majority of the councillors plus the parent governor representative present who had a vote, voted to uphold the original Cabinet decisions. It’s worth pointing out that on the Lyndale School closure consultation decision the Conservative councillors proposed instead a review (which was voted against by nine votes to six). On the banding proposals the Conservative councillors proposed the following motion “We would like to seek assurance that the required contingency funding is in place to top up the special educational funding to ensure that the level of funding required for the best care and education is provided for all children” (which was lost by seven votes for the motion and eight against).
The votes on the Labour councillor’s recommendations to uphold the two original Labour Cabinet decisions were on the Lyndale School consultation closure decision nine votes to six (the Labour councillors plus the Lib Dem councillor Cllr Alan Brighouse voted in favour of a consultation on closure whereas the Conservative councillors and parent governor representative voted against). The vote on a recommendation by Labour councillors to uphold the Labour Cabinet decision on the banding proposals was won by a narrower margin of eight votes to seven (the Labour councillors voted for it with the Lib Dem councillor, Conservatives and parent governor representative being opposed to it).
So, what’s new? Well unfortunately I had to go (and as the first call in on consulting closing Lyndale School had taken three and half hours had run out of tape anyway) after the first decision over the Lyndale School closure consultation decision. So I’ve only found out what happened at the second part of the meeting by reading the draft minutes of that meeting were available at last Thursday’s Cabinet meeting.
Here is what the draft minutes state about the minimum funding guarantee. My comments are in italics underneath.
The first quote is about the explanation of the banding proposals decision by the Cabinet Member Cllr Tony Smith.
“Basically, the report had dealt with the banding model and informed how top ups would be made. The Committee noted that the minimum funding guarantee was now more affordable, therefore the application for an exemption from this requirement had been withdrawn.”
Then this in the draft minutes from the evidence of the Vice-Chair of Governors at Lyndale School (and Chair of their Finance Committee) Ian Harrison.
“Mr Harrison informed that the Lyndale School now had a surplus forecast for 2013/14. It was going to get the minimum funding guarantee. There would be a small surplus in 2014/15.”
So if the original reason for consulting on closing Lyndale School was that an officer (or officers) at Wirral Council thought it wouldn’t have enough money, but the minimum funding guarantee exemption request has been withdrawn so that Lyndale School is now projecting a surplus (at least for 2014/15), why is Wirral Council going to the trouble of a twelve week consultation on closing the school?
“Members then asked Mr Harrison some questions which he answered as appropriate. It was noted that:
The Cabinet had received an early estimate rather than one at the end of the period when it would have been more realistic.”
Perhaps councillors were too polite to suggest that the Cabinet had based their decision on an estimate based on an assumption about the minimum funding guarantee (that is that the assumption that it would be approved and not withdrawn) which turned out not to be the case.
None of the special schools agreed with the formula that had been approved.
There are eleven special schools on Wirral (Hayfield, Clare Mount, Orrets Meadow, Gilbrook, Stanley, Elleray, Lyndale, Foxfield, Meadowside and Kilgarth). The 2014-15 budgets for each special school would have each been affected by the banding proposals. Had the minimum funding guarantee exemption application not been withdrawn, other schools could have been facing deficits (although Lyndale was the school most affected). The motion that was agreed on this item is stated in the draft minutes as “That the Committee upholds the Cabinet’s decision and it be ensured that consultation is meaningful, informed and transparent”. This is very unclear. Does that mean there’s going to be a consultation on the banding proposals or is it referring to the consultation to close Lyndale School?
So to summarise, Wirral Council officers thought there would be a large deficit in Lyndale School’s budget so recommended to the Cabinet that they should consult on closing the school. This decision was called in and during the call in it was discovered that Wirral Council’s application for an exemption from the minimum funding guarantee had been withdrawn. So now there’s a legal requirement that Lyndale School will get at least 98.5% of the amount they got in the previous year. As Lyndale School had looked into reducing costs of non teaching staff to reduce the original estimated large deficit, they now estimate a small surplus in their budget for 2014/15.
However Wirral Council is still going to carry out a twelve week consultation on closing the school based on an estimated deficit in Lyndale School’s budget that now can’t happen because the minimum funding guarantee of 98.5% is a legal requirement on Wirral Council.
How much is such a consultation, based on a guesstimate by officers (which ended up being wrong) going to cost? Bearing in mind the above, is it any wonder that people get confused by Wirral Council’s decision-making and politics? Am I missing something vital or is everything I’ve stated here correct?
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