Council Meeting (Wirral Council) (11th February 2013) Kate Wood made Honorary Alderman, Debates on Taxes and Spending

A report on the Council meetings (Wirral Council) of 11th February 2013 along with video footage of the latter. The first was an extraordinary meeting to confer the title of Honorary Alderman on Kate Wood. The second was a regular meeting with motions on local government funding, health, housing, elections, benefits, Area Forums, tax credits, payday loans, public sector contracts and Universal Credit.

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Above is the first 2 1/4 hours of the Wirral Councill meeting of 11th February 2013.

Unfortunately the day this finally uploaded, someone rang up my ISP pretending to be the bill payer (my wife) and cancelled the ADSL line (which took a week to set up with another provider).

Prior to the main meeting there was a short (well by Council standards fifteen minutes is short) Extraordinary Meeting to make Kate Wood an Honorary Alderman. As a slight legal footnote for the last two and a half years Wirral Council could also confer the title of Honorary Alderwomen as the last Labour government changed the legislation in 2010. The papers and minutes for that meeting can be found on Wirral Council’s website.

The main meeting that night was much longer.

The first controversial point (at least if you’re a Conservative councillor) was the recommendation from Cabinet for approval by Council that Cllr Steve Foulkes be the Deputy Mayor for 2013/14. However to avoid any long drawn out debate on the merits of Cllr Foulkes as Deputy Mayor, the matter was simply noted on the basis that it’ll be decided at the Annual Council meeting of the 13th May 2013.

As usual only three notices of motion were debated, the first being Labour’s entitled Unfair Cuts in Local Government Funding, along with a Lib Dem amendment.

The second notice was a Conservative motion entitled Council Tax Referendum along with a Labour amendment and Lib Dem amendment.

Around this point I ran out of battery as the meeting was by now two and a quarter hours long.

The last notice of motion debated was a Lib Dem motion entitled Council Finances along with a Labour amendment.

A few of the motions not debated were unanimously agreed (well unanimous except for the abstention of the Mayor) (Vascular Services Review (about moving vascular services from Arrowe Park to the Countess of Chester), “Health Homes” and the Case for Selective Licensing of the Private Rented Sector and Construction Industry Blacklists).

For the rest of the motions and objections there were splits in the vote among party political lines. The first was “Attack on Democracy in Wirral” – a Conservative motion against the move to four yearly elections from 2015/6, the second was “The Empty Rhetoric of Localism” – a Labour motion about Council Tax Benefit, Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants, the third a Conservative objection against abolishing Area Forums and calling for consultation, the fourth a Lib Dem objection to abolishing Area Forums calling for it to be referred to a group of councillors to make recommendations on, the fifth a Labour motion entitled “Cuts to Tax Credits” (as well as a Conservative amendment and Lib Dem amendment), the sixth a Labour motion on “Payday Loans” (as well as a Conservative amendment and Lib Dem amendment), the seventh a Lib Dem motion on “Tax Avoidance and Public Sector Contracts” (as well as a Labour amendment) and the eighth a Lib Dem motion on “Universal Credit” as well as a Labour amendment.

The meeting finished with a number of changes agreed to committee places, after the recent by elections and resignation.

Cabinet (Wirral Council) 29th November 2012 Neighbourhood Forum funding and Council Tax Benefit replacement

Cabinet (Wirral Council) recommendations on replacement to Council Tax Benefit and Neighbourhood Forum funding

There were two extra recommendations moved at the Cabinet meeting of the 29th November 2012, the first was on the replacement scheme for Council Tax Benefit (agenda item 3).

Additional recommendation:

Cabinet is appalled at the government’s decision to transfer responsibility for helping people on low incomes to pay their Council Tax to local authorities but to cut the funding for this by 10 per cent, resulting in a shortfall for Wirral of £3.5 million.

Councils like Wirral have been placed in the awful position of being forced to choose between reducing support to some of the poorest people in the Borough or removing funding from other Council services.

The government’s transitional grant scheme will not help Wirral as it will leave a shortfall of £1.4 million which will have to be found by cuts elsewhere.

Cabinet believes that this policy makes a mockery of Localism. If government is not prepared to transfer both powers and adequate funding to Councils then genuine devolution will never be achieved.

Cabinet calls on the government to rethink this ill-judged policy as a matter of urgency.

The second recommendation (agenda item 6) was to release of some of the frozen Neighbourhood Forum funding.

Cabinet notes, that due to the potential £13.2 million in year overspend faced by this Council caused in the main by unprecedented cuts in grants from the Coalition Government, all non essential spending has been frozen.

Cabinet has already released £220,000 of funding for local road safety initiatives following a successful bid to the Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

In spite of continuing budget pressures, given clear local need, Cabinet agrees to the immediate release of £330,000 for Area Forums (£30,000 per Forum) for the support of local Community and Voluntary Group projects.

Given the urgency of allocating this resource, Cabinet instructs Officers to meet with Local Ward Members to consider bids that have been submitted, and make recommendations on how this funding should be allocated. Whilst these recommendations are a matter for Ward Members, Cabinet urges Members to consider prioritising bids that seek to assist the most vulnerable and to support community groups who are most in need.

Cabinet also notes that the Chief Executive is currently consulting with residents and staff regarding the future of Area Forum funding and requests that funding for future years be considered in the light of the consultation findings.

Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee 27th November 2012: Changes to Council Tax Benefit

Council Tax Benefit changes, replacement of Council Tax Benefit from April 2013 and replacement with new Local Council Tax Support Scheme

The Council Excellence Overview and Scrutiny Committee agreed (except for Cllr Gilchrist) to recommend to Council Scheme 1 to replace Council Tax Benefit which from April 2013 will be called Local Council Tax Support Scheme.

Those who are now in receipt of a state pension, war pension, disability premium or disabled child premium won’t see any change to their current entitlement. Working age claimants (apart from those groups just mentioned) will find the most Council Tax Support they can receive will be limited to 78% of the Council Tax liability.

Council Tax Support will only be awarded to those with savings under £6,000, rather than the current savings limit of under £16,000. Backdated claims will be stopped and the flat-rate Non-Dependant deduction set to £9.90 per a week.

Wirral Council’s Cabinet have also considered the proposed scheme and also recommended Scheme 1 to Council.

Cabinet (Wirral Council) 19th July 2012 Part 2 Budget Projections 2013/2015, Welfare Reform: Council Tax Benefit, Welfare Reform: Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans, Improvement Board

The meeting started with Cllr Phil Davies giving apologies for Cllr Tony Smith and saying that he was delighted by the news that fourteen parks [in Wirral] had been awarded a Green Flag. Tam O’Shanter Urban Farm had been awarded a Green Flag Community Award, he asked Cllr Meaden to comment.

Cllr Meaden (Cabinet Member for Culture, Tourism and Leisure) said that Birkenhead Park had won a Green Flag and that the volunteers had worked hard to achieve this. She said it was the most Green Flags awarded in the Merseyside region.

Cllr Pat Hackett declared a personal interest in item 14 (Investment Strategy Update).

Cllr Phil Davies declared a personal interest in item 14 (Investment Strategy Update) due to his involvement with the Local Enterprise Partnership.

The Cabinet agreed both sets of minutes to be signed.

Malcolm Flanagan introduced item 3 (Budget Projections 2013/2015). He said it was a regular report and highlighted the change in balances in 2.4.2 from £9.8 million to £14 million.
Cllr Phil Davies thanked Mr. Flanagan, but wanted to comment on the considerable budget challenge due to the shortfall. He asked for working budget options to be brought forward and for  a detailed public consultation from September. He asked for a report on how the Budget in future years would be affected by the recently released 2011 Census population figures? Mr. Flanagan said he was happy to note that.

Mr. Flanagan also introduced report 4 on Welfare Reform: Localised Council Tax Reduction Scheme. From April 2013 there would be a ten percent reduction in funding. If they wanted their own scheme, there had to be a consultation on it by 31st January 2013. Pensioners would be protected, which would mean any shortfall would be passed to people of working age. This would mean people who didn’t previously pay Council Tax would become liable, the timescale for this was outlined in 2.17.

Cllr Phil Davies thanked him for the report, but said it was a “difficult report to digest” as it would lead to a £3.15 million reduction in spend on Council Tax, which in his opinion just added to the difficulty with the Budget. However he went on to say they had no choice in it, it was important to consult, but he took the point made in 2.28. He went on to say that out of the options on pages 15 & 16 on balance they would like to consult on option two. Cllr Davies then expressed their view on changes to exemptions and discounts in relation to repairs, second homes and vacant properties. He claimed that by their calculations this would save £3.286 million which was slightly over what they needed and asked for a further report back to Cabinet.

Mr. Flanagan said there would be consultation and a report back in September. The report was agreed.

Mr. Flanagan then introduced item 5 Welfare Reform: Local Welfare Assistance Scheme. He said that from 1st April 2013, Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans would be transferred to a local welfare assistance scheme, designed and administered by Wirral Council. He said a consultation would be required, using a similar timescale to the Council Tax changes.
Cllr Phil Davies asked for another report and worried about paragraph 2.12 and the budgetary implications. He said they would receive a proportion of the current spend however it was regrettable to talk about cutting crisis loans for the vulnerable residents in the Borough which Wirral Council would have [in the future] to administer. He said it was crucial to have a local scheme with discretion and referred to the current increased demand on the new food bank. He asked for a further detailed report.

The Cabinet then turned to the recommendations from the Improvement Board. Cllr Phil Davies asked Cllr McLachlan to make comments about the items and key messages. She said that the document was for noting, but since its last meeting issues had moved on. There had been a seminar on the 7th July for councillors with over forty attending. Cllr McLachlan said there was a real energy and buzz about improving governance structures, but there was an issue raised about communication with councillors and engagement. The Improvement Plan was going to the Board for agreement and ratification. The report was noted.