Cllr Foulkes uses phrase “shambolic” to describe Wirral Council’s decision making on Lyndale School
Cllr Foulkes uses phrase “shambolic” to describe Wirral Council’s decision making on Lyndale School
Below is the text of the amendment submitted on Monday evening to the minority report from Cllr Paul Hayes. It was not circulated to the public gallery, so myself and another went downstairs during the adjournment to get a copy.
Despite the Chief Executive’s assertion that it was a “private paper”, this will form part of the minutes of the public meeting on 22nd October 2014.
It is a shame committee services officers aren’t instructed to circulate copies to the public gallery too during the adjournment. However this would cost Wirral Council the extra labour costs of sending someone up the stairs and the extra photocopying costs of a further ten or so sheets of paper, so I am happy in these straightened financial times to decrease the labour costs of Wirral Council!
So this Lib Dem amendment gets a wider audience (and I got told off a bit by the Chief Executive on my way out of the Council Chamber for being in the Council Chamber as he made some point about “private papers” and a “private meeting” that to be honest I didn’t understand at the time as we were both tired), it is below. I’ve linked from it to the documents referred to in it. It’s also interesting to hear the Mayor’s comments on an attempt to make councillors vote on an amendment they hadn’t received a copy of yet!
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“….Decision-makers should make clear how they are satisfied that this SEN improvement test has been met, including how they have taken account of parental or independent representations which question the proposer’s assessment”.
…was not included and that, therefore, the matter should be referred back to Cabinet so that they can fully set out how they have undertaken this assessment in the light of the guidance.
Of course, the question is therefore, did Wirral Council’s Cabinet (and Coordinating Committee) actually have to consider the guidance before reaching a decision? It would seem from the legislation they do have to have regard to it. For the purposes of clarity LEA stands for Local Education Authority:
A local education authority must, in exercising their functions under this Part, have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State.”
Note the use of the word must, the decision makers must have regard to any guidance (which was issued on the 28th January 2014). It’s not optional to do so. The current guidance introduced in January 2014 is in four parts (and hasn’t been included in the papers for the meetings so far in full):
In other words, when making the decisions on 5th February 2014, 25th February 2014, 27th February 2014, 4th September 2014, 2nd October 2014 and 20th October 2014 can those over sixty councillors all prove they had regard to the guidance when the seventy-six pages of government guidance wasn’t included in the papers for those meetings?
Not even four weblinks were included, so they could read it in their own time was included.
The guidance that was quoted, wasn’t for the right time period and after new guidance was issued on the 28th January 2014, Wirral Council just kept using the old version as the first Cabinet meeting to discuss Lyndale School was held on the 16th January 2014.
Why don’t people bother to check these things at Wirral Council before including them in meeting papers? Should the Labour councillors accept some responsibility for not asking officers whether required guidance was not included with the papers or do Labour councillors assume that Wirral Council officers don’t make any mistakes (unlike the rest of us)?
During the adjournment I happened to pass Julia Hassall (Wirral Council’s Director of Children’s Serivces) leaving the Council Chamber and she didn’t look very happy by this development. However it’s been known for some time (although apparently Wirral Council officers and politicians are the last to know it seems).
It’s just one of many unresolved anomalies about how the decisions surrounding Lyndale School have not been made as they should have done.
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What does an election year, Cllr Phil Davies, the Schools PFI contract, Lyndale School and the Wirral Schools Forum have in common?
What does an election year, Cllr Phil Davies, the Schools PFI contract and Lyndale School have in common?
Added at 8/10 12:04 In response to a reader comment about this article, I am at the start of this adding a declaration of interest, in that my wife Leonora has the liability for Council Tax at the property we both reside. Council Tax is mentioned in this article. However it is already public knowledge that we both reside on the Wirral.
The next month (September 2014) I was asked to come and collect a paper copy of the contract from a Wirral Council building in Hamilton Square, Birkenhead, which it later turns out is incomplete and missing at least a few hundred pages (which I suppose is to be expected when you’re dealing with Wirral Council)!
One of the duller sides of journalism and blogging is the amount of reading you have to do to write properly about the topics you’re writing articles on. An alternative route is to just use a lot of quotes from experts. After all when I write about matters, people leave comments and sometimes ask follow-up questions in the comments or by email so I try and familiarise myself with the topic I’m writing about first so this can be easily done. This contract runs to 2031, costs ~£12 million a year and is with a company called Wirral School Services Limited (and others).
The day before yesterday I ploughed through the rest of the Schools PFI contract Wirral Council has with Wirral Schools Services Limited (at least the bit of it I have and isn’t missing). Some of the is haven’t been dotted and the ts crossed on the pages I have and there is a large chunk of it that is missing there are some bits I am unsure of. I’ve asked for the rest but how long that will take I’m not sure!
The contract has many boring details that even I find dull to read that I hope even you dear reader would not really find particularly interesting, such as details about school boilers, how many square metres rooms are in various schools on the Wirral & what colours the hot and cold water pipes are (although knowing my luck I’ll end up with a comment from an interested heating engineer telling me how much they’d love to read a detailed article about the building maintenance side of schools).
The Schools PFI contract also has the level of detail of the full names, NI numbers, dates of birth and other details of various employees employed to work at these schools such as cleaners and other staff. Wirral Council also runs the multi-£billion Merseyside Pension Fund, so there is an admission agreement with Merseyside Pension Fund to do with pension rights. There are pages and pages of details about staff as part of an admission agreement with Merseyside Pension Fund. I will however not be publishing such detailed information on living people as it would be a goldmine for ID fraudsters and the height of irresponsible journalism to publish dates of birth, NI numbers and names for large numbers of people!
In order to explain, I need to first write a summary about what this Schools PFI contract is about. This is based mainly on the index.
Part of it is a series of leases to Wirral Council for nine schools and other type of educational premises called city learning centres covered by the contract. At the end of the contract (2031 or earlier if the contract is terminated or modified) ownership of the schools and City Learning Centres reverts back to Wirral Council. Part of the contract is also for services provided at the schools and City Learning Centres such as school meals, caretaking, repairs to the buildings et cetera. Some information on this goes to the schools themselves, some to Wirral Council. There is also a joint liaison committee set up with people from Wirral Council and the contractor.
There are also variations within the contract to account for differences between the schools, for example from memory* (*the caveat is I don’t always remember things correctly and haven’t double checked this against the contract again) I think Leasowe Primary School uses a slightly different system for school meals to the other secondary schools.
Some of the contract also relates to transitional provisions from the previous supplier Jarvis. This applied really in the early stages of the contract.
It’s all very long and very complicated and unless you have an interest in the area or are involved with Wirral Council, one of the nine schools (which are Leasowe Primary, Bebington High, University Academy of Birkenhead (formerly called Park High), South Wirral High, Weatherhead High, Hilbre High, Prenton High, Wallasey High and Wirral Grammar Girls) or two City Learning Centres (Wallasey City Learning Centre and Hilbre City Learning Centre) involved or the contractors in some way it’s probably not very interesting to you. It also interestingly falls into the set of contracts that Wirral Council will be legally required to publish at some future stage in the coming weeks.
The contract is so long and heavy (even with the missing pages) that I had to familiarise myself with our manual handling procedures just to figure out how to lift it up (and am grateful to myself that I didn’t drop it on my foot).
The first section marked “Private and confidential” is an agreement between Wirral Borough Council  and Wirral Schools Services Limited  dated 9/9/2004 and is called “Deed of Amendment and Restatement relating to Wirral Schools PFI project”. Addleshaw Goddard (a law firm) are mentioned at the bottom which are I presume are the law firm that drafted it. This section is 10 pages. This was when it was renegotiated in 2004.
So Section 1 – “Deed of Amendment and Restatement relating to Wirral Schools PFI project” 9/9/2004 10 pages
Then there’s section two, which is a “CONFORMED COPY” of a project agreement dated 27/3/2001 between Wirral Borough Council and Wirral Schools Services Limited which was amended and restated pursuant to the “Deed of Amendment and Restatement” (I’ve just mentioned) dated 9/9/2004. Rowe & Maw or 20 Black Friars Lane, London are at the bottom of the title page, their ref is 617/343/476/27909.1. Rowe & Maw were a legal firm based in London, they then became Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw in 2002 and in 2007 shortened their name to Mayer Brown. Apparently now they are the 22nd largest law firm in the world.
Section 2 – “Project Agreement amended and restated pursuant to a Deed of Amendment and Restatement dates 9/9/2014” dated 27/3/2001 198 pages
Schedule 1 (Volume 1 of the schedules) between Wirral Borough Council and Wirral School Services Limited is mainly series of headleases and underleases for various schools:
Pt 1 Bebington Headlease (16 pages and refers to Land Registry title MS435412)
Pt 2 Hilbre Headlease (16 pages and refers to Land Registry title MS435411)
Pt 3 Park High Headlease (15 pages and refers to Land Registry title MS435414)
Pt 4 Prenton High Headlease (8 pages) * note the copy I have been given is partially incomplete as this is missing pg 9 and schedules 1-4
Pt 5 South Wirral High Headlease (15 pages and refers to Land Registry MS435824)
Pt 6 Wallasey Headlease * missing
Pt 7 “Not used”
Pt 8 Weatherhead Headlease * missing
Pt 9 Wirral Girls Headlease * missing
Pt 10 Bebington Underlease * missing
Pt 11 Hilbre Underlease * missing
Pt 12 Park High Underlease * missing
Pt 13 Prenton High Underlease * missing
Pt 14 South Wirral High Underlease * missing
Pt 15 Wallasey Underlease * missing
Pt 16 “Not used”
Pt 17 Weatherhead Underlease * missing
Pt 18 Wirral Girls Underlease * missing
Pt 19 Plans * missing
This comes to only 55 pages supplied out of an estimated 280 which is hardly a way for a Council to comply with its requirements under the audit legislation is it!? Hopefully they treat Grant Thornton (their external auditors better than this)!
Schedule 2 and 3 following it are then completely missing. I wonder at times if Wirral Council can’t do something simple like actually making a copy of a contract for the purposes of the 2013/14 audit without messing it up, what else are they getting wrong (are they deliberately trying to hide something)?
Schedule 2 Financial Matters * completely missing all parts 1-8
Part 1 Lenders Direct Agreement * missing
Part 2 The Council’s Design and Building Contract Direct Agreement * missing
Part 3 The Council’s Support Services Management Direct Agreement * missing
Part 4 Design and Building Contract Performance Guarantee * missing
Part 5 Support Services Management Agreement Performance Guarantee * missing
Part 6 Initial Senior Funding Agreements * missing
Part 7 Other Initial Funding Agreements * missing
Part 8 Rules for Refinancing * missing
Schedule 3 Works * completely missing parts 1-10 and appendices
Part 1 Design Development Procedure * missing
Part 2 Prohibited Materials * missing
Part 3 Schedule of Key Dates * missing
Part 4 Outline Design Documents * missing
Part 5 The Completion Standards * missing
Part 6 Decant Programme Methodology * missing
Appendix 1 Decant Programme: Park High * missing
Appendix 2 Decant: Further Obligations * missing
Part 7 Handback Requirements * missing
Part 8 Project Programme * missing
Part 9 Construction Site Rules * missing
Part 10 Handback Survey * missing
Schedule 4 between Wirral Borough Council and Wirral School Services Limited is to do with Payments and is split into:
Cover pages (2)
Part 1 Definitions (11 pages, definitions from “Agreed Market Testing Proposal” to “Zone Drawings)
Part 2 Services Contract Payment (5 pages)
Part 3 Performance Deduction Look-up Table (1 page)
Part 4 Table of Service Units per School (1 page) GSUs for each school totalling 28,047 GSUs
Part 5 Monitoring (7 pages)
Part 6 Utility Services (5 pages)
Part 7 Third Party Use (4 pages) dealing with issues such as vending machines
Part 7A Catering (6 pages)
Part 8 Value for Money Testing (12 pages)
Appendix 1 Form of Performance and Payment Report (45 pages) These are examples of the payment reports that go to each school either from Jarvis Workspace FM or Wirral Schools Services Limited.
Schedule 5 is the Accommodation Services Output Specifications (82 pages long)
Schedule 6 is the Support Services Output Specifications
Part 1 Building and Asset Management Output Specifications (12 pages)
Part 2 Support Services Requirements and Performance Tables (59 pages)
Part 3 Service Level Agreements (such as control of pests) (141 pages)
Part 4 Service Level Agreements Alteration Procedure (4 pages)
Schedule 7 Reports and Records
Part 1 Reports (3 pages)
Part 2 Records (2 pages)
Schedule 8 Variations
Variation Notice (1 page)
Schedule 9 Insurance (2 pages)
Part 1 The Part 1 Insurance Period (10 pages) deals with construction all risks, business interruption insurance & public liability insurance
Part 2 The Part 2 Insurance Period (8 pages) deals with property all risks insurance, business interruption insurance & public liability insurance
Appendix 1 Endorsements (4 pages)
Appendix 2 Broker’s Letter of Undertaking (4 pages)
Appendix 3 Business Interruption Insurance – the Authority’s Obligations as Insurer (4 pages)
Appendix 4 Schedule of Insured Parties (2 pages)
Schedule 10 Liaison Committee (4 pages)
Schedule 11 Compensation on Termination
Part 1 Definitions (6 pages)
Part 2 Project Co Default (6 pages)
Part 3 Authority Default (2 pages)
Part 4 Notice by the Authority (8 pages)
Part 5 Fore Majeure, Uninsurability and Planning Challenge (1 page)
Part 6 Corrupt Gifts (1 page)
Schedule 12 Dispute Resolution Wirral Borough Council & Wirral School Services Limited
Cover pages (2 pages)
Dispute Resolution (9 pages)
Schedule 17 Quality Systems
Part 1 Design and Build Period Quality System (24 pages)
Part 2 Operational Period Quality System
Appendix 1 A Quality Policy (1 page)
Appendix 2 B Certificate of Approval (2 pages)
Appendix 3 C Proposed QA Implementation Plan (1 page)
Appendix 4 D Contact Directory (1 page)
Appendix 5 E Local Procedures (1 page)
Schedule 18 Employees
Part 1 Employee Information (6 pages)
Part 2 Terms and Conditions of Employment (1 page)
Schedule 19 Admission Agreements and Bonds
Part 1 Jarvis Workspace FM Limited (Wirral Borough Council and Jarvis Workspace FM Limited and Wirral Schools Services Limited) Merseyside Pension Fund Admission Agreement with Transferee Admission Body (15 pages)
Part 2 Compass Group PLC
(Wirral Borough Council and Compass Group PLC and ??? ) MPF Admission Agreement with Transferee Admission Body (12 pages)
(Wirral Borough Council and Compass Group PLC and ???) Agreement for a bond and indemnity in respect of sums due under an admission agreement arising from the premature termination of a best value arrangement (8 pages)
Part 3 MTL Commercial Limited (22 pages)
Part 3 is an admission agreement to the Merseyside Pension Fund between Wirral Borough Council, MTL Commercial Limited and Merseyside Pension Fund from 2001. This also relates to an unfilled in guarantor (which I will have to assume is Compass Group PLC), MTL Commercial Limited and Wirral Borough Council as well as a bond and indemnity. This admission agreement also relates to Jarvis Workspace FM Limited. This is one of the schedules which includes pages and pages and pages of staff surnames (organised alphabetically by staff surname), initials for staff names, NI (National Insurance) numbers, post titles, pension and birth dates et cetera. However on the copy I was supplied with much has been left incomplete such as the date the agreement was agreed in 2001, the office address of MTL Commercial Limited and much other detail is missing too such as director and secretary signatures.
The end of schedule 19 is an agreement between Wirral Borough Council and MTL Commercial Ltd and ???? which is titled “Agreement for a bond and indemnity in respect of sums due under an admission agreement arising from the premature termination of a best value arrangement”. This too is incomplete and unsigned.
Schedule 20 is a one page staff security protocol which details the information staff have to provide on any criminal matters and also references they have to provide before getting a job. There is also information detailed here that they have to provide to their employer during their employment if things change.
Schedule 21 is “operational site rules” – 19 pages long
Schedule 22 is a “draft transitional services agreement” which is an agreement for the supply of transitional services between Wirral Borough Council and Jarvis Workspace FM Limited which is 145 pages long
Schedule 23 is about the City Learning Centre (8 pages long)
Schedule 24 is the “non moveable equipment schedule of rates” (5 pages)
As the contract is so long, has been supplied incomplete and falls within the category that Wirral Council should be publishing within a matter of weeks, I won’t be scanning in the whole contract and publishing it! If there are any sections you would like me to publish though (that aren’t in the missing sections) please leave a comment or send me an email.
Just to make it clear the amount paid under the PFI contract isn’t going up by £2.5 million a year as it’s pegged to increases based on RPI.
The ratio between December 2013 RPI and December 2012 RPI was an increase of 2.674%.
There is then an “efficiency factor” of 10% built into the contract.
So, 90% * 2.674% = 2.4066%
So the yearly increase this year in PFI costs is in the region of ~£289,000 . Next year’s increase will be known when the RPI data for December 2014 is published.
So why ask is the Wirral Schools Forum being asked to make £2.3 million of cuts in year (2014-15), in addition to the £600,000 of cuts earlier this year for the Schools PFI contract then and what is this actually going to fund instead?
Well last year there was a 0% rise in the Council Tax (after a budget was prepared a few months before showing a 2% rise). Yes a freeze on Council Tax means Wirral Council got a grant which equates to a 1% rise. I presume for the financial year 2015/16 based on statements previously made by Cllr Phil Davies that senior officers at Wirral Council are also planning for a 0% rise for 2015/16 (although we’ll all find that out for sure over the next few months at a Council meeting as plans are sometimes subject to change).
It’s also interesting to note that Cllr Phil Davies (who is the Cabinet Member for Finance/Leader of the Council) four year term of office comes to an end in May 2014 so this is an “election year” for him (presuming he wishes to stand again which by all the recent press articles about Cllr Phil Davies related to Birkenhead & Tranmere means it is likely that Labour have picked him as the candidate for this area already). What better way for Cllr Phil Davies to get himself elected by telling the voters of Birkenhead and Tranmere that he has frozen their Council Tax (helpfully leaving out in leaflets to the voters in Birkenhead and Tranmere the inconvenient facts that this will come at the expense of cuts made this year (pending Wirral Schools Forum approval) to the money spent on pupils with a disability, statements, support for Special Educational Needs, maintenance of school buildings, axing funding for the School Sports Coordinator & use of swimming baths (although this two last items may be funded in future by schools directly themselves through the traded services) and other in year cuts to the Schools Budget)? Oh and also another inconvenient truth that thanks to cuts made by his Cabinet to Council Tax support many in Birkenhead & Tranmere are now having to pay 22% of their Council Tax bill whereas previously they had to pay nothing as 100% of their bill was covered by Council Tax Benefit?
After all, if Cllr Phil Davies is challenged between now and the elections in May about why he is making all these cuts by presumably the Conservatives, Lib Dems or Green Party, he based on past experience of his answers to this very question will probably blame the need to make any cuts to Wirral Council’s budget on the Coalition (Tory and Lib Dem) government, which of course absolves himself of any responsibility for these “difficult decisions”. This is of course is conveniently leaving out the fact that:
a) Wirral Council decides itself whether it wants to freeze Council Tax, rise it or decrease it each year. There is a majority Labour administration in charge of Wirral Council since 2012 so they make these decisions on the budget, Labour decided the 2013/14 budget, the 2014/15 budget and will decide the 2015/16 budget. If Labour want a Council Tax rise over x%* (a figure set by the government each year which was set last year at 2%) they have to win a referendum of the people and
b) that these are all locally made decisions over how the money is spent and that he’s the Cabinet Member for Finance (therefore he is the politician with democratic accountability to the public (and other politicians) for tax and spending decisions).
Of course there are some that would also say that these plans have come from senior officers at Wirral Council, not the Cabinet Member himself and will ask well is it a case of the officer tail wagging the Labour dog instead of the other way round? However senior officers at Wirral Council and politicians do surprise, surprise work together! These large in year changes to the agreed budget do also show as Cllr Stuart Kelly (Lib Dem audit spokesperson) quite recently pointed out at a recent public meeting that in his opinion this year’s (14/15) budget isn’t stable if changes are being made in year!
In fact at this point a £3 million overspend is predicted by the end of the year! I’m also curious as to why the date of the next Council meeting has been shifted from the 13th October 2014 to 20th October 2014. I’m sure it can’t be just because I tabled a question and they need an extra week to answer! If anyone knows the answer to that mystery please leave a comment?
Here’s an interesting question that stems from all this though. Despite the flim flam and contradictory statements over Lyndale School, is the price of Cllr Phil Davies getting reelected in May 2015 in Birkenhead & Tranmere the closure of Lyndale School (in Eastham) or is he just “rubber stamping” plans of senior officers?
After all the closure of Lyndale School currently pencilled in for January 2016 (if agreed by Cabinet later this year) won’t actually happen until after the May 2015 elections have taken place.
Can the many Labour councillors on Wirral Council seriously sleep at night knowing all this or are some behind closed doors expressing their disquiet about how this has played out in private meetings (especially the ones facing the electorate in May 2015)? Are Labour councillors worried that being directly involved in a decision about Lyndale (whether Cabinet or call in) will either affect their ability to be reselected by their fellow party members or indeed their future election prospects when they face the public at election time? Does this also explain why so many Labour deputies were sent to the Coordinating Committee meeting about Lyndale School last week? It’s all very mysterious isn’t it as one can only guess at what happens behind closed doors!?
I know the Cabinet decision to consult on axing Children’s Centres (currently on hold due to Conservative councillors calling it in) isn’t going down well with some Labour Party members (to put it mildly). That decision (made in the last few weeks by Cabinet) “called in” by Conservative councillors (Councillor Paul Hayes seems to be fast becoming the “call in councillor” and is going to be reviewed at a special meeting of the Coordinating Committee on the 15th October 2014 starting at 5.00pm (you can read the papers for that decision here).
Will Labour councillors decide that enough is enough when it comes to children’s centres, or will they agree with the Labour Cabinet and agree to start a consultation on closing them?
We’ll just have to wait and see! Please leave a comment on the above as I am interested to read your views!
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As Tom Harney (the Chair of governors at Lyndale School) himself said at that actual meeting in relation to another matter “it’s amazing the things that go on”. He was also one of the few speakers at that meeting to get applause. The comments made by Cllr Paul Hayes (a Conservative councillor who if I remember correctly was also present at that same meeting) about the consultation process as reported in their local paper were very critical of the way the consultation process and that meeting was handled.
As I’ve mentioned the Conservative and Lib Dem positions, I should mention that the only Labour councillor I recognised at the meeting (Cabinet Member for Childrens’ Services Cllr Tony Smith) arrived late. It is of course extremely difficult to describe what the Labour position is on Lyndale School other than being pro closure consultation, telling the public that they have an open mind and that no decision has been made yet. A decision is expected on the 4th September on the next stage. The point that Labour are keen to make is not for Labour to do things that would give the impression that they have made their mind up. This was again made at the July Council meeting by Councillor Tony Smith and Councillor Phil Davies.
So in the words of a Wirral Council officer Phil Ward what was the purpose of these notes about the meetings? Phil Ward said “They’re notes recording the high level points raised at the meetings and importantly we will be reporting them to Cabinet.”
I had a look through the notes for the one question I asked in the two-hour meeting (something is there but it bears little resemblance to what I asked). It wasn’t there in any form that resembles what I asked. Maybe it wasn’t classed as “high level” enough. Maybe I should instead have started by saying “This is a high level question I am asking so please put it in the notes”. Or maybe Wirral Council doesn’t like putting down tricky questions and answers and prefers to subtly rewrite the historical record to suit itself.
However this isn’t about me. This is about Lyndale School. Let’s have a look at the notes Wirral Council produced.
Here’s the first line of their notes “10th April 2014: 10am to 12pm”
Err no, seems Wirral Council can’t get the date and time of its own consultation right (which should worry you there right from the start if they can’t get the simple stuff right like the date and time!) It should read “16th June 2014: 5.30pm to 7.30pm”.
Turns out there were two different meetings at Acre Lane as part of the consultation. There were notes from both meetings. Apologies.
Moving on, it seems the “points” column according to the table used are not what the people had to say at the consultation. No the “points” column is reserved solely for points made by officers and the Cabinet Member Cllr Tony Smith.
The more difficult questions raised, the important concerns of parents about what’s going to happen, what appears in the points column? Nothing… almost as if Wirral Council is ashamed as to what was said to these questions to be known in public.
Even some of the answers that do make it are misleading. At least one of the officers is in fact tying themselves in knots and going into policy areas that strictly speaking in my opinion they shouldn’t. To the best of my knowledge all the officers at that meeting are in politically restricted posts. One of these legal restrictions from what I remember is that they are not allowed to “speak to the public at large or to a section of the public with the apparent intention of affecting public support for a political party”.
Now I will make this clear, I’m not referring to Julia Hassall, David Armstrong or Andrew Roberts. These people are senior professionals and although I’m sure people like me make doing their jobs more difficult, I will state now my personal opinion that all three have been extremely professional in my past dealings with them.
This is despite me doing what in any other sphere of life outside the political arena would be classed as behaviour that would lead to people falling out with each other. I have written things (robust criticism would be putting it very mildly) that disagree with their professional opinions and have pointed out what I perceive as flaws in arguments they have used. They know I do not however do this out of malice or anything personal.
That’s just the nature of politics as one of the rules is “don’t take things personally”. Other people’s opinion of them may be wildly different but like myself they are doing a job in a highly political environment, so criticism goes with the territory. They are public figures (as are politicians) and are rewarded with a high salary partly to reflect the problems that having to deal with the likes of the press can cause.
Now you can point out at this point the press is supposed to be impartial. I try to be even-handed (and believe me that’s very difficult at times) and to quote Cllr Jerry Williams recently “There’s no side to the gentleman, he does a very good job”. An editorial decision (and I’m pretty sure the Wirral Globe takes a similar policy stance too) was made a long time ago that we’re against the closure of Lyndale School, but obviously in the reporting of this matter to do it justice we have to report both sides of this issue.
There are people of course that are for the closure of Lyndale School. You are entitled to your opinion too (it just happens to be one that this publication disagrees with but that is the nature of politics)! However one of the extremely important roles of the press in society is to stand up for the viewpoints of people who can’t advocate for themselves. The children of Lyndale School are in that position.
The person to whom my criticism is about at that meeting is the Wirral Council officer Phil Ward. Now I’m not saying he said things downright stupid and overt like “vote Labour in May” I’m not. However throughout the whole meeting he appeared to champion a particular policy position/stance on this matter.
There is admittedly a fine line between explaining decisions that have already been made and talking about decisions that have yet to be made by politicians in the future. The former is entirely legitimate for officers to do. Taking policy positions (especially on a party political matter such as how education budgets are spent) is something that officers have to be very careful of.
Now officers can say in relation to future decisions “based on my professional advice or opinion I advise you to do X (or X, Y and Z are options I’d prefer you to do X). However the decision is up to you.” That is one thing, however they should not advocate support when speaking to the public during a consultation for a particular political decision that has yet to be decided or even worse give the impression that a decision has already been made when it hasn’t yet (even if they think they can guess how it will be made). If they go down this route, their impartiality will be called and can be called into question (and his was during the meeting).
No officer at Wirral Council I know of before in a politically restricted post has done what was done at that consultation meeting by Phil Ward in the way he did it. Believe me, during meetings politicians have put officers under extreme pressure to take sides. Most officers with some common sense (and there are a lot of them at Wirral Council) will politely decline to answer such questions. This is what should happen.
This was however what the audience at Acre Lane found so amazing. A consultation is supposed to be about listening to their views (and yes Wirral Council has a long way to go on getting better at involving the public in their decision-making). However chairing this meeting was an officer who was the equivalent of waving a red flag to a bull. Had he come to the meeting with the genuine attitude of “We’re here today to hear your views, the purpose of the consultation is to do that, we appreciate you being here and we’ll listen carefully to what you have to say.” then I think the audience would’ve applauded him. However the impression the audience got was that he was lecturing them and completely impervious to any other viewpoints.
Sadly this particular officer did somewhat get stuck in “broadcast” mode. However, this attitude leads to the audience getting the following impression and I quote from the notes “No one has fully answered any question. You are just white-washing it. You have already made your decision”.
The Wirral public are not stupid, nor are they children. They are able to read people’s body language and how they say something. How something is said and the person’s body language when saying it are a large part of its meaning. Sadly Phil Ward didn’t seem politically savvy enough that night to develop a positive relationship with the audience. Nor did he seem to appreciate the way power shifts. The senior officers are better attuned to these kind of things.
There was for example in that room that night, Emma Rigby from the Wirral Globe, myself and Leonora. For those who recognise us, they’d know that that amount of people from the press means you have to be very careful what you say. I hope to carry on in the next few days with publishing a transcript of the long meeting itself. In the meantime the below links should take you to what has been published so far.
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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.
Cllr Paul Hayes: Thanks Chair, normally unusually really for me I’m quite conflicted on this one in so far as I’ve heard the evidence and I’ve not made up my mind at present. I think I err completely agree with errm Cllr Realey in terms of you know it’s commendable what the applicant wants to do in terms of setting up a business etc, but what I do worry about is the precedent that this would have to create.
I’m thinking in particular about my own ward where there’s two established dog grooming businesses within a town centre area, what would I to say to those business owners? You needn’t have bothered occupying this area of Wallasey Village which you know needs new businesses coming into it, you could’ve just set up in a garage.
I’m worried about the argument that this sort of business could start cropping up in other parts of the Borough although I think you know the intentions of the applicant are entirely commendable and I do think that some of the objections are somewhat overstated as well but nonetheless I think that the request is … directed by the planning officers.
In addition we’re always told about looking at the enforceability of the conditions that we put on applications and I just harbour concerns about how we would enforce the condition of x number of dogs at any particular time, I’m sure we don’t have the manpower to ensure that if those conditions are breached.