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Wirral Council’s Regeneration and Environment Committee meeting of the 15th September 2015 (Part 1 of 4) who discussed a notice of motion about a proposed new fire station in Saughall Massie
Yesterday evening’s meeting of Wirral Council’s Regeneration and Environment Committee was well attended by members of the public.
There were also many councillors from the ruling Labour administration to see what was happening first hand.
Many members of the public were there to see what happened on a vote on whether the land at Saughall Massie (owned by Wirral Council) would be blocked from being gifted, leased or sold to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service for a new fire station.
However let’s start at the beginning.
The sole Lib Dem councillor at the meeting was running late so the Committee started the meeting with just the Labour and Conservative councillors. The first item was declarations of interest.
Councillor Steve Nilbock (a Labour councillor) had to declare a prejudicial interest in the Saughall Massie fire station item as he’s a member of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority. This meant he had to leave the room during that item and not take part in the vote.
Councillor Anita Leech (a Labour councillor and Chair of the Planning Committee) also declared an interest in the Saughall Massie fire station item as although no planning application has yet been made she may have to make a decision on it in the future.
Councillor Jean Stapleton (a Labour councillor) had to declare a prejudicial interest in the Saughall Massie fire station item as she’s a member of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority. This meant she had to leave the room during that item and not take part in the vote.
So that was three Labour councillors that couldn’t vote (as they wouldn’t be in the room).
The Chair then announced he would be dealing with item 4 (proposal for a fire station on green belt land in Saughall Massie) first due to the large numbers of members of the public present.
Although he was reminded he had to first approve the minutes, he pointed out he hadn’t been at the last meeting so someone else would have to propose approval of the minutes.
At this point three Labour councillors (Councillors Niblock, Leech and Stapleton) had to leave the room (having each declared a prejudicial interest) and took no further part in the discussion or vote on the Saughall Massie fire station issue.
At this point the Lib Dem councillor on the Committee, Cllr Dave Mitchell arrived and apologised for being late.
The Conservative councillor for Moreton West and Saughall Massie, Cllr Chris Blakeley (in the foreground of the photo above) was then invited to introduce his notice of motion (which had been referred by the Mayor to this Committee at the Council meeting on the 6th July 2015).
Councillor Chris Blakeley (a Conservative councillor for Moreton West and Saughall Massie) said,
“Thank you Chairman, Members, I’ll try not to take up ten minutes, but I have to say it’s an improvement on Council which comes to only seven minutes! So if I do use the ten please forgive me but I will try and keep it as brief as I can.
Thank you Chairman and Members, first of all can I put on record my admiration for the work Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service do and make it clear that this Notice of Motion is not an attack on them. This is simply saying that while the Chief Fire Officer may believe the closure of Upton and West Kirby and building a new fire station on green belt land in Saughall Massie is his only option, the residents of Saughall Massie have made it very clear that they do not want their green belt developed with this or any other development.
As you will see on the Notice of Motion it states that there has been massive public opposition to this proposal which now has risen to over twelve hundred signatures and is growing daily. Also there’s opposition from Saughall Massie Village Area Conservation Society and the Wirral Society and the Chairman of the Saughall Massie Village Area Conservation Society is here tonight.
Sadly however, the proposal for a fire station at this location on our precious green belt appears to have the support of the Labour Party on the Wirral or at least its candidate in this year’s local election who made it very clear in his paperwork and his election address when he said in a leaflet, "I’ll be calling on the Fire Service to guarantee any design for the new fire station is sympathetic to the neighbourhood and will minimise disturbance to the residents of Saughall Massie."
Sadly this begs the question, has Wirral made up or already made up its mind and that’s very difficult to see?
Chairman and Members, the Chief Fire Officer says he has to have a site that is near to the midpoint of West Kirby and Upton as possible in order to give him the best response times.
On response times there’s a little bit of confusion there because at all the public meetings I went to the Chief Fire Officer said about response times and at other public meetings he said let’s not get hung up on response times. So I’m very concerned that the message that’s going from the Chief Fire Officer were to say the least mixed and confused and I don’t think anybody at any public meeting got the same words other than we need this fire station.
So it’s to give him what he says the best response times for West Wirral residents, the protection he believes is necessary.
Yet Chairman, for the last two years, West Kirby he says because these are his words has only been operational for 50% of the time and so he’s covering West Wirral from Upton without any problems and has been for the last two years!
In fact firefighters I talk to on the doorstep told me for all intents and purposes West Kirby Fire Station is not operational at all and of course what about the most at risk site if he moves from Upton which is Arrowe Park Hospital?
The response times to that vulnerable site will be extended, so why the need to move a mile at a cost of over £4 million?
Assuming the Chief Fire Officer is right and they need a new fire station for whatever reason, why does it have to be on our precious green belt? A green belt that has, kept by this Council, has historically defended to the hilt, green belt that according to the very eminent Doctor Hilary Ash, Honorary Conservation Officer for Wirral Wildlife and the Wirral ??? and Cheshire Trust who says the proposed site is used as foraging for barn owls who are nesting on the north side of Saughall Massie Road, who says that bats are feeding here, who says that kingfishers were reported here, who says that if some of the green belt is lost here it would affect these species of protected wildlife along the corridor along there.
Surely this Committee and Council do not want to be responsible for neglecting its biodiversity duties?
Moving on, it’s come to light there’s been an ongoing string of emails. I’d like to thank Mr. Brace for this, because he got all these emails and I will say a long string of emails as you can see. These are them here so thank you Mr. Brace for your tenacity in getting those emails.
The emails are between senior fire officers and senior council officers, including senior planning officers. Therefore it’s no wonder that local people perceive that this is a done deal!
Look Chairman, Members for the avoidance of doubt I’m not saying that there has been any deal at all, I’m simply expressing views said to me by many residents who I represent and given the evidence who can blame them?
One of those emails was from Kieran Timmins. He was Deputy Chief Executive, I hear he’s retiring, I don’t know whether he’s quite gone so I’ll refer to him as the current Deputy Chief Executive of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service and Council.
Officers talked about sites that had been discounted and sites considered in more detail. According to Mr. Timmins’ email, six sites were considered in more detail, however according to him there were only two runners left. Saughall Massie bypass, which is not the green belt site currently proposed and the library community hub site in Greasby.
Now having had the Greasby site withdrawn by the Leader of the Council, one has to ask why the other frontrunner, their second choice of Saughall Massie bypass described by Mr. Timmins as owned by Wirral Council and looks quite positive based on recent correspondence, was not then turned to. Instead a brand new green belt site, that has never been in the mix previously.
This site which we’re talking about tonight, has never been in the mix until Greasby was withdrawn. Where and how did Council officers suddenly identify a brand new site?
And this isn’t a case of NIMBY [Not In My Back Yard]ism, the site in Saughall Massie Road at the bypass is still in the north-west of Saughall Massie ward. The site at Saughall Massie Road/Upton bypass, like the Greasby site is not in greenbelt and while it’s wooded I checked with Council officers, there are no tree preservation orders on any of the trees. In fact one senior Council officer said the site would already have its own perimeter buffer with the trees that are already in situ.
So Chairman and Members here is a Council owned site that is not in green belt, that is described by Mr Timmins as looking positive. So the Chief Fire Officer’s assertions that there are no alternative sites is clearly is incorrect.
Now I know that the Committee raised earlier this is something that Wirral Planning Committee should a planning application be submitted, however this Committee can act before that in sending a message to Council and the Fire and Rescue Service that this Committee recommends to Council that this Committee asks Council to retain the protection of its green belt, as set by the Authority to stop inappropriate development, ask Council not to give, sell or lease the land concerned at Saughall Massie because of the value it has to the community and ask Council to continue work to work cooperatively with Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service in identifying and facilitating a more suitable site, for operational purposes and to maintain the amenity of local people.
And in closing Chair I will just say that site is available. It’s six hundred metres from this site we’re discussing tonight, it will add nothing or very little to the response times the Chief Fire Officer has been quoting, maybe fifteen or twenty seconds either way. Fifteen or twenty seconds closer to Upton, fifteen or twenty seconds further away from West Kirby and Hoylake.
And one final thing Chairman, that wasn’t in my initial thing but, given the floods we had last week and the horrendous scenes we had in Moreton, with over a hundred families displaced, that field, that green belt, was also underwater from the brook.
By building on that field, you’re taking away natural drainage, you are assisting the freak weather conditions that are becoming more and more frequent to flood that area.
So Chairman I would ask that this Committee fully supports the Notice of Motion that was put forward to Council but moved to this Committee and sends those messages back to the Council.
He suggests I write a list of those that didn’t claim expenses in the 2013-14 period.
Here it is compiled from this list here (although some are now as this last financial year ended in April former councillors): Councillors Abbey, Blakeley, Eddie Boult, Brighouse, Brightmore, Clements, Cox, Crabtree, Bill Davies, Dodd, Doughty, Ellis, Foulkes, Fraser, Gilchrist, Glasman, Green, Gregson, Hackett, Harney, Hayes, Andrew Hodson, Kathy Hodson, Johnston, Adrian Jones, Chris Jones, Kearney, Leech, Lewis, Meaden, Mitchell, Mountney, Muspratt, Niblock, Norbury, Patrick, Realey, Rennie Roberts, Rowlands, Walter Smith, Stapleton, Sullivan, Sykes, Walsh, Watt, Steve Williams, KJ Williams and Williamson.
Obviously the money that these people could have claimed (but didn’t) could be used for providing the services the Wirral people expect of a local Council. Using the councillors that did claim as a guide to amounts as to what this hypothetical amount could be, it represents a saving of about £13,700.
The list linked to above shows the allowances councillors get and let’s face it there are not many people that get paid a mileage allowance to travel from home to their place of work. Yes, being a politician isn’t a “job”, it’s an office, but after the MP expenses scandal broke a few years ago I was surprised so many at Wirral Council were still claiming expenses at all.
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First here’s a list of who from the Working Group was present:
Councillor Bruce Berry
Councillor Chris Blakeley
Councillor Paul Hayes
Councillor Leah Fraser
Councillor Rob Gregson
Councillor Chris Jones
Councillor Adrian Jones
Councillor Matt Daniel
Councillor Anita Leech
Councillor Bernie Mooney
Councillor Janette Williamson
The first item was appointing a Chair (just for this meeting). Unusually nobody from Wirral Council’s legal services was present to advise the Committee, so the committee services officer Andrew Mossop asked for nominations for Chair.
Cllr Janette Williamson proposed Cllr Rob Gregson. Cllr Williamson’s proposal was seconded by Cllr Chris Jones.
Six out of seven Labour councillors voted for Cllr Rob Gregson as Chair.
Four out of four Conservative councillors voted against Cllr Rob Gregson being Chair.
So Cllr Rob Gregson was elected Chair by a vote of 6:4. Who was the Labour “rebel” who didn’t vote for Cllr Rob Gregson as Chair? Well the answer to that was he didn’t vote for himself.
Cllr Rob Gregson said “thank you very much” and wandered over to where the Chair sits and continued his list of thanks which was thankfully shorter than most Oscar acceptance speeches.
He thanked people for attending, he thanked myself and my wife, the councillors & community representatives. Having thanked literally everyone in the room, he then went on to apologies.
Andrew Mossop read out a list of apologies. It was a long list of councillors that couldn’t make it Cllr Pat Hackett (Labour), Cllr Treena Johnson (Labour), Cllr Lesley Rennie (Conservative) and Cllr Steve Williams (Conservative).
The Chair got his glasses out of his shirt pocket to read what was the next item on the agenda. He asked for declarations of interest? Nobody made any declarations of interest.
The first main agenda item was Integrated Transport Block Capital Programme Funding (2014/15). In case that agenda item title means absolutely nothing to you, it was about how the committee would decide to spend £38,875 on “improving road safety” and £38,875 on promoting active travel & health. The jargon “active travel” if you’re unfamiliar with the term it refers to walking and cycling.
The Chair asked Wirral Council’s road safety manager David Rees to introduce his report. He explained that his report and how officers decided on road safety schemes based on casualty figures. Mr Rees referred to what the money could be spent on, such as vehicle activated signs which had previously been funded by the Area Forums. Another way the money could be spent was on dropped crossings which assisted pedestrians with mobility issues, blind people, those in wheelchairs and mums with prams. The list of schemes already approved by Cabinet under central funding was referred to. He asked for areas that the Committee wished officers to look into and they would find out how much it was likely to cost.
Councillor Leah Fraser spoke first and asked a question and asked what on the list had been dealt with already which was replied to by David Rees. The next councillor to be heard was the mellifluous tones of Councillor Adrian Jones. After a short answer to his question Cllr Adrian Jones explained that he was in a position to understand his own ward (which is Seacombe) but that they had to decide what was best for Wallasey. He explained that each councillor would make a bundle of requests for their own ward which would go to officers, who’d then make recommendations. He said he assumed that David Rees must be frustrated by the process.
David Rees in his answer referred to Department for Transport regulations. Mr Rees said that even with suggestions where there weren’t recorded accidents, there may be broader benefits that officers could see for particular schemes.
Councillor Chris Jones asked about potholes and asked whether some could be done using the extra pothole funding that Wirral Council had received? David Rees explained that he had limited knowledge of the highway maintenance side and that they were keen to sort out the potholes while the weather was good. He said he could ask Caroline Laing to circulate a list to the Committee as to which ones they were looking at sorting out.
Councillor Chris Blakeley said, “OK thanks Chairman, .. I’m aware we’re being filmed tonight” and glanced in the direction of the camera. He said “we all know our own wards” and “at the risk of sounding like a stuck needle” that in the days of the Area Forums, where there were two wards involved that they used to split the money down the middle. He suggested that the money should be split six ways (as there are six wards in Wallasey), so that each ward would get just under £13,000.
The Chair replied to Councillor Chris Blakeley and admitted he was a little confused, but he said the danger was that the more articulate councillors being able to able to describe a minor dint in the road as apocalyptic which would mean such things would be favoured over areas that needed to be looked at.
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Once the new Mayor of Wirral Council Councillor Steve Foulkes returned and he made his declaration of acceptance of office, he made a speech the first part of which is below.
MAYOR OF WIRRAL COUNCILLOR STEVE FOULKES
Right, I’ll probably use the microphone. OK, I’m awful sorry, hang on, I’m doing that. Please be seated. It works!
Well I’d just like to say that there are many, many councillors and this is a tribute to former Mayors particularly Gerry Ellis who’s given me this opening gambit which was when some councillors suggested that I end up in something long and flowing, some meant the River Mersey and not the Mayor’s robes and that’s my tribute to Gerry, to Gerry’s.
Before I do make my acceptance speech though, I think I must place on record my gratitude and thanks to Dave and Sue for the friendship that they’ve given me in the last thirteen months, the guidance and just the thoroughly fantastic job they have done on behalf of the people of Wirral. They’ve been an absolute credit to themselves and the Borough so let’s hear it for them.
It would be a really hard act to follow, but I think you’ve earned a good long rest, so have a good rest and a good holiday and enjoy. I’ll also pass on my condolences to Kate Wood’s family and I will be attending Kate’s funeral on Wednesday, a sad way to start the evening however.
I will accept the office and I’d have loved a unanimous vote and I’ve accepted office on a majority vote and I’ve lost office, quite sadly at times, on a majority vote. So I will be accepting the office tonight.
I’d like to thank my group, my leader Phil for the nomination and a fantastic speech he gave, if not a little too revealing about my former name as Mad Max. That won’t go down very well, but we’d asked for an in depth interview and we got one, so thank you very much.
I’d really like to place on record now while I’ve got the chance is my employer Unilever. They’ve been very supportive of me over a number of years as a politician. As a community minded company they have been really supportive and I have to place on record thanks to them.
I’d like to say a special thanks, this is the second time George gets a mention tonight. I came into politics as George’s agent when we won Claughton and he’s been a real close friend ever since. In fact I refer to him as my other brother sometimes and we’ve been that close at times and he’s been a stalwart. My other ward colleague Denise Roberts, who has really been great and supportive to us and more importantly and that’s what it’s all about is the people of Claughton who have voted for me on a regular basis and have returned me to office over twenty-four years. I’d like to thank them.
So what a really great venue for this what to me is a very special occasion of course but it is a special occasion for the people of Wirral. A great venue and a new look New Brighton. This is at the heart of New Brighton and a development that was done and developed and delivered in the teeth of a recession and I think it just shows what Wirral people can do, what Wirral Council can do if it is of one mind, if it has a vision, if it has a cause. Just go out there tonight if you get a chance, in the early evening and see how much we’ve achieved in those circumstances bringing new life and new jobs I hope we can do more of that in future.
Actually we were quite lucky to get in here tonight. I don’t know whether you noticed the sign or not on the way in, clairvoyant’s evening cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. I don’t know whether anybody spotted that on their way in. You’ve heard a little bit about my background and you know it is character building and I do hope when we get out there and talk to people I will describe how poor we were. We were poor and I’m not ashamed of that. In fact we were so poor that all our clothes had to be bought from the Army and Navy surplus store. You know it’s tough, you try going to school dressed as a Japanese Rear Admiral.
I can tell you it’s not easy and there was a big family you know, we had to scrap over food and things like that and actually my real name should’ve been Tuesday because when I was born Dad looked at Mum and said ‘let’s call it a day love’. Actually Elaine jokes because I haven’t got a middle name. Elaine jokes and says you know by the time I was born she’d run out of names so they couldn’t give me a middle name.
Well as Phil said, our council house which I’m always grateful for, a little bit crowded but loving and this is where I go a bit errm. Not a day passes really you know I don’t think about my Mum and Dad, Eric and Gladys and I just hope that they are really, really proud of what I’ve achieved and what I’ve done today and I miss them. Not a day goes by without a thought for them but that’s my emotional bit over with I suppose.
Right, my Mayoress, my Mayoress will be my beautiful fiancee Elaine who I love dearly and dearly being the operative word because the cost of her last outfit I tell you! It’s utterly amazing but a few years for me have been tough, there’s no doubt about it, politically you put your head above the parapet, times get tough and it has felt like I’ve been besieged at times and I actually don’t think I could have coped with those tough years without Elaine by my side and I thank her very much for that.
Elaine’s a hard working mum, with two lovely children Jack and Molly, you’ve seen Molly already, who have become my best mates during difficult times. They’ve shown maturity in themselves and a friendship to me that is a credit to them and should be an example to everybody in this room. I’ve got to give Jack a special mention, he’s chomping at the bit to go because he’s got two A-levels tomorrow and he really wants to get on and revise. He’s taken time out and good luck tomorrow mate with everything and those exams.
If you haven’t heard, if you haven’t heard, it’s open news now. Me and Elaine have named a date. We’re going to get married on August 17th 2015, ok? I’m sorry Councillor Blakeley, but the best man’s job has already been allocated. So after our Mayoral year, we will be married and what an exciting year it promises to be. The return of the Open and the International Business Festival just for two as an example of this Borough with a real chance, a real opportunity to promote itself and put its best foot forward.
Mayors are supposed to sort of pick themes. I’ve had a little think about what we should be doing. So as Mayor I’ve selected one theme which is ‘Wirral a place to do business’. We can’t latch on to the Golf Open and all the other investment that’s going on. At last we will see some work taking place on the Twelve Quays site. If this is not the greatest opportunity we’ve ever had to entice new business into the Borough I don’t know what it is, so the Mayor’s Office, including the Deputy we will be there, ready, willing and able to meet, greet, do whatever is necessary to entice businesses into this Borough. That’s a pledge I will make as part of the year.
The other sort of theme is ‘councillors count’ and what does that mean? Some can’t count, but councillors count, in a, I know when we had the electronic voting we certainly couldn’t count but I remember, I’ve always thought that no one ever speaks up for councillors. You know they’re misunderstood, maligned, not really appreciated what they’re doing. Having been in virtually every role that it’s possible to be as a councillor, I do actually think we need someone to just champion them and all it will be as part of the theme of the year is explaining the role, the job they do. Don’t forget what councillors have, they have an electoral mandate which very few people have. They are actually able to speak with authority for the very diverse communities we have on the Borough. So I will be championing the role of councillor as best as I can during that year and the last theme is a very simple one it’s just about saying thank you.
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Aretha Franklin – Respect 
Cheshire West and Chester invoice for £1800 for investigating a standards complaint (you can click on the thumbnail for a more high resolution version)
EXCLUSIVE: £1,800 "confidential" report clears Councillor Chris Blakeley after allegation of Cllr Foulkes that comments in Liverpool Echo were disrespectful
It was a long time ago (19th March) when I first made a Freedom of Information Act request for the external investigation report (and the invoice) for the standards complaint that Councillor Steve Foulkes had made about Councillor Chris Blakeley. Not surprisingly with such a politically sensitive request, my Freedom of Information request was ignored, so on the 17th April I requested an internal review.
On the 24th April Wirral Council supplied the report itself, an appendix and the invoice from Chester West and Chester Council (for £1,800) for the investigation. On the same day this was released, solicitors that work in Wirral Council’s legal department and the officers that take the minutes at public meetings had a meeting in Committee Room 1, the subject of which was “values and culture change”. The fact that only two lines are redacted in the investigation report and Wirral Council hasn’t claimed an Freedom of Information Act exemption applies to the report and appendix A is one example of how the culture has changed at Wirral Council.
Due to the redaction of two lines on page nine, the seventeen page report is an image, therefore it can’t be spidered properly by search engines. Therefore I’ll be including the seventeen page report below this so it can be properly spidered. The report itself explains who Councillor Blakeley and Councillor Foulkes are so I won’t repeat what is in the report itself. It does however give an interesting insight into Wirral’s politics. Appendix A to the report can be downloaded from this blog. I’ve used a series of equals signs to show where individual pages start and end in the report.
Where legislation or individual cases are referred to I have tried to provide a link where possible in case you want to find out more about the legislation or judgements referred to. If you wish to read the original report as a pdf file you can. The two witness statements referred to in the report as Appendix B (the witness statement of Councillor Foulkes) and Appendix C (the witness statement of Councillor Blakeley) haven’t been supplied in response to the Freedom of Information Act request, but I’ve requested an internal review regarding these. In the report below I have not corrected any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors but left these as they appear in the report.
Report of an investigation by Trudie Odaka acting as investigating officer, appointed by Surjit Tour Monitoring Officer for Wirral Borough Council into allegations concerning Councillor Chris Blakeley.
This report is submitted to the Monitoring Officer for Wirral Borough Council, Surjit Tour.
10th March 2014
1 | Not for distribution. This report is confidential and must not be disclosed
1. Executive Summary
2. The relevant legislation and protocols
3. The Evidence Gathered
4. Nomination for the Office of Mayor
5. The Allegations by the Complainant
6. Account by Councillor Foulkes
7. The Liverpool Echo article dated 13th May 2013
8. Response from Councillor Blakeley
9. Summary of the material facts
11.Reasoning as to whether there has been a failure to comply with the Wirral Borough Council Code of Conduct
Appendix A – Schedule of Documents
Appendix B – Statement of Councillor Foulkes
Appendix C – Statement of Councillor Blakeley
2 | Not for distribution. This report is confidential and must not be disclosed
1.1 I have been asked to conduct an investigation in respect of a complaint made by Councillor Steve Foulkes regarding the conduct of Councillor Chris Blakeley.
1.2 The Allegation
An allegation has been made by Councillor Steve Foulkes that Councillor Chris Blakeley failed to comply with the Members’ Code of Conduct for Wirral Borough Council by failing to treat him with respect. The allegation made by Councillor Foulkes is that in an article that appeared in the Liverpool Echo on Monday 13th May 2013, when referring to Councillor Foulkes’ nomination as for Deputy Mayor, Councillor Blakeley indicated that he would be voting against the nomination. The complaint contains the quote "I truly believe that for labour to nominate such a controversial character as Steve Foulkes threatens the position of mayor and the need for impartiality. Having sat on the benches opposite calling for his resignation because he was not fit to lead the council, how can I now say that he is fit to be the deputy mayor this year and the mayor next year? I would be a total hypocrite. I fully respect the mayoralty; however I have no respect for Cllr Foulkes and that is why I will be voting against him".
1.3 I have investigated whether Councillor Chris Blakeley failed to comply with paragraphs 1.1of the Members’ Code of Conduct for Wirral Borough Council.
1.4 I have investigated Councillor Blakeley’s conduct and in so doing I have considered the article published in the Liverpool Echo on 13th May 2013 which was appended to the complaint. I have taken into account the article as a whole, in order to set the context of any quotes or information contained within it. Whilst concentrating principally on this Liverpool Echo article; I have also considered other articles relating to Councillor Foulkes’ nomination for deputy mayor, articles that appeared in the local press and on the internet. This has enabled me to better understand the background to the complaint, the context of the statement made by Councillor Blakeley and this has allowed me to review the comments made by other members of Wirral Borough Council; members that are not the subject of this complaint but who nonetheless commented publically about the nomination of Councillor Foulkes for the position of Deputy Mayor.
3 | Not for distribution. This report is confidential and must not be disclosed
1.5 I have considered the quotes attributed to the subject member Councillor Blakeley and I have investigated – whether the quotes were made by him and if made; the context.
1.6 I have considered the comments contained within the complaint and I have interviewed both Councillor Foulkes and Councillor Blakeley to listen to their account of events. Through interviewing each member separately; I have paid particular attention to what each of them has said and taken into account how the comments were perceived by them including the intention of the subject member Councillor Blakeley. I have also taken into account the public forum in which the comments were made; being publication of the comments within a newspaper.
1.7 Whilst concentrating the investigation upon the Liverpool Echo article and the conduct of Councillor Blakeley; in reaching a conclusion, I have taken into account the political context at the time by reviewing the press and other public forums where the nomination was mentioned, although the information found is relevant for setting context (as it revealed that others made comments about the nomination) I have not repeated what I have found within this report as it does not relate to the exact detail of this complaint. Copies are contained in the list of documents at appendix A.
1.8 I have investigated whether or not the conduct complained of was directed at Councillor Foulkes as an individual or his personal characteristics.
1.9 I conclude that when quoted in the Liverpool Echo article on 13th May 2013, Councillor Blakeley was acting in his official capacity as a councillor of Wirral Borough Council.
1.10 I conclude that there has been no failure by Councillor Blakeley to comply with paragraph 1.1 of the Code of Conduct for Wirral Borough Council in that, the quotes in the Liverpool Echo article constituted the legitimate expression of Councillor Blakeley made in response to a nomination by the council’s cabinet for the position of deputy mayor; the quotes related to a matter within his legitimate concern as a councillor namely the proposed next incumbent for the position of deputy mayor. In making the statements Councillor Blakeley appears to have been seeking to explain the reason why he would be voting against the nomination of Councillor Foulkes for deputy mayor; against the Wirral Council’s established tradition of members not challenging nominations made for the positions of mayor and deputy mayor. Councillor Blakeley is quoted as saying "Having sat on the benches opposite calling for his resignation because he was not fit to lead the council, how can I now say that he is fit to be the deputy mayor this year and the mayor next year?" Taking into account all the material facts, I do not find that the quotes
4 | Not for distribution. This report is confidential and must not be disclosed
were expressions of personal malice/anger or personal abuse/attack directed at the Complainant Councillor Foulkes.
1.11 In reaching my conclusion, I have taken into account the fact that Wirral Borough Council being a public body is under a duty to act in a way that is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights; this includes the consideration of possible breaches of the Member’s Code of Conduct. Article 10 is a European Convention Right that gives protection to the right of freedom of expression, a right which the courts have strongly upheld in cases involving the expression of political opinion, and as such, Councillor Blakeley’s comments to the Liverpool Echo are protected by Article 10.
1.12 I find that there has been no failure to comply with the Wirral Borough Council Code of Conduct.
2. The Relevant Legislation, Code and Protocols
The Code of Conduct
2.1 Wirral Borough Council adopted a Code of Conduct with effect from 1st July 2012 in accordance with the provisions of the Localism Act 2011.
2.2 The Wirral Borough Council Code of Conduct imposes a general obligation on all its councillors, that when acting in their role as a member of the council they will treat others with respect.
2.3 Relevant paragraphs of the Code of Conduct
Paragraph 1.1 of the Code states –
(1) when acting in your role as a Member of the Council;
1.1 DO treat others with respect
2.4 Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) provides:
Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.
The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic
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society, in the interests of…the protection of the reputation or rights of others."
2.5 Section 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998 identifies the rights under the European Convention of Human Rights which have effect for the purposes of that Act. They include Articles 6 and 10 of the ECHR.
Section 3(1) of the 1998 Act provides that so far as it is possible to do so subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the convention rights.
(1) It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a convention right. (In light of this provision I have taken into account the provisions of the ECHR when conducting this investigation).
(2) Disapplies the section in certain very limited circumstances concerning primary legislation. (This does not apply to the present case)
3. The Evidence Gathered
3.1 I have interviewed –
The Complainant Councillor Steve Foulkes
The subject member Councillor Chris Blakeley
3.2 I have spoken to Surjit Tour, the Council’s Monitoring Officer.
3.3 I have been given a copy of Wirral Council’s Members’ Code of Conduct.
3.4 I have been given a copy of Wirral Council’s Member’s Code of Conduct protocol.
3.5 I have obtained copies of other articles within the press relating to the nomination of Councillor Foulkes as deputy mayor found as a result of a speculative search of the internet. Copies of these are contained within Appendix A
4 Nomination for the Office of Mayor
4.1 Both Councillor Foulkes and Councillor Blakeley have explained the process for mayor making to me. My understanding is that in essence nominations to
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the offices of mayor and deputy mayor are made by the Wirral Council Cabinet. All three parties take a rotational turn to put forward their nomination for the role. In 2013 the rotational turn belonged to the Labour Group. I am told by Councillor Foulkes that the selection of the Labour Group nomination is based upon seniority due to length of service.
4.2 In accordance with custom and practice the role of deputy mayor is normally followed a year later by the holder’s nomination to the position of mayor. My understanding is that the naming of a mayor and deputy mayor is not normally controversial in Wirral.
4.3 The nomination to the mayoralty and deputy mayoralty is traditionally unopposed by any of the parties as the position is considered apolitical.
5 The Allegations by the Complainant
5.1 The complaint stems from a statement which appeared in the a Liverpool Echo article dated 13th May 2013 and a quote attributed to the subject member Councillor Blakeley, words taken from the article of :
"I truly believe that for labour to nominate such a controversial character as Steve Foulkes threatens the position of mayor and the need for impartiality."
"Having sat on the benches opposite calling for his resignation because he was not fit to to lead the council, how can I now say that he is fit to be the deputy mayor this year and the mayor next year? I would be a total hypocrite. I fully respect the mayoralty; however I have no respect for Cllr Foulkes and that is why I will be voting against him."
5.2 Within his complaint Councillor Foulkes explains "I have a proud record of public service over 22 years. During that time I have never been found guilty of being unfit to hold public office. By questioning by fitness to hold the offices of Council Leader, Deputy Mayor and Mayor, Cllr Blakeley is in clear breach of one of the key elements of the Members Protocol, i.e. ‘failing to treat people with respect."
6 Account by Councillor Foulkes
6.1 Councillor Foulkes is an elected Councillor of Wirral Borough Council and following his nomination to the office, he became the Deputy Mayor of Wirral Borough Council.
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6.2 Councillor Foulkes made the complaint on 17th May 2013 following the article that appeared in the Liverpool Echo on 13th May 2013.
6.3 Councillor Foulkes has complained about the comments attributed to Councillor Blakeley within the Liverpool Echo explaining that he took exception to the word ‘unfit’ saying "The use of the word ‘unfit’ implies things, gives connotations that there is criminality involved with your character or malpractice. For this to be true ‘he’ would need evidence. That is what is required to say a holder of a drinks licence or a taxi licence is unfit – you need to explain what makes a person ‘unfit’."
6.4 When interviewed Councillor Foulkes differentiated the comments made by Councillor Blakeley from the other comments contained within the article "The first comment that I found mildly offensive was the comment ‘divisive’ I did not take action about this." "… people are allowed poetic licence even though it was not a great comment; people say many things in political tit for tat. I did not take action over this."
6.5 Councillor Foulkes explained the effect of the quotes on:
him as an individual, "The statements made have had an effect on me as an individual. First it made life difficult for me" "People who read it associated it with criminality or malpractice. I was very concerned that this was what people were thinking of me." "I have to survive in the real world. I have a career. If people associate my name with being ‘unfit’ or ‘divisive’ it will discourage people from taking the role of politician if that sort of language continues"
him as a politician, "Understanding the local people, I knew the phase ‘unfit’ could be interpreted in a whole host of ways. It took me aback that Councillor Blakeley though he knew something that would show me as unfit. Leaders of Council’s are accountable. This is right and correct. This however was an attack on my character."
his family and friends "it has clearly created tension for my friends and family" "I received comments from friends and people that I met "what’s he got on you to call you ‘unfit’?" As I said, normally the use of the word ‘unfit is connected to criminality e.g. in the context of licensing. What have I done? I have never done
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anything. If Councillor Blakeley thought that I was unfit on those grounds then he should have made it clearer.”
6.6 Councillor Foulkes explained why he took exception to the quotes attributed to Councillor Blakeley "I would never say that I don’t have respect for someone. I feel that by saying this Councillor Blakeley has gone beyond the normal attacks that occur." "Where Councillor Blakeley says I was unfit it shows a lack of respect this is made worse when his comments are then emblazoned in the press."
6.7 Quoting directly from Councillor Foulkes’ statement he said "Lots of others called for my resignation, others spoke in support. It doesn’t mean that someone who has been the Leader cannot be Mayor. I have done the job as Leader to the best of my ability. I have made mistakes but I do not think that I have done anything to warrant me being called ‘unfit’. This is personalised attack on my character not based on anything I might have done or anything that he believes that I have done."
"At this point in time there is not a blemish on my character. I would say that as a politician I have made mistakes. I made decisions with the best interests of Wirral and the Council I never knowingly did anything that would breach decent behaviour or any Code of Conduct."
7 The Liverpool Echo Article dated 13th May 2013
7.1 The Article which is the subject of this complaint appeared in the Liverpool Echo on Monday 13th May 2013 under the title "Rivals in row over choice of Deputy Mayor" by Liam Murphy.
7.2 The article is introduced with the editorial "A long-standing tradition of not making mayoralty a political issue looks set to be shattered in Wirral tonight"
7.3 The editorial continues "Former council leader, Labour’s Steve Foulkes, is being put forward as deputy mayor; but a leading Tory has said he will vote against him Cllr Foulkes and other members of the Conservative party are expected to join him or abstain."
7.4 The article sets out the context of the mayor making process explaining "the three parties in Wirral council take turns nominating a councillor to the
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======================================================================================================= mayoralty seen as a non-political role which raises thousands of pounds for chosen charities."
7.5 Within the article Tory Leader Councillor Jeff Green has a quote attributed to him, ‘he was surprised by the decision to nominate such a "divisive figure"’
7.6 The editorial commentary introduces Councillor Blakeley’s quote with "ahead of night’s meeting to nominate the new mayor and his deputy, Tory chief whip Cllr Chris Blakeley said he would be voting against Cllr Foulkes"
7.7 Councillor Blakeley is then quoted as having said "I truly believe that for labour to nominate such a controversial character as Steve Foulkes threatens the position of mayor and the need for impartiality."
"Having sat on the benches opposite calling for his resignation because he was not fit to lead the council, how can I now say that he is fit to be the deputy mayor this year and the mayor next year? I would be a total hypocrite. I fully respect the mayoralty; however I have no respect for Cllr Foulkes and that is why I will be voting against him."
7.8 The article ends with a commentary from the complainant Councillor Foulkes "I think the reality is that the conservatives are becoming increasingly desperate to gain some attention for themselves" . "If they have chosen to show what is considered bad manners, politicising the mayoralty, it says more about them than anyone else."
8 Response from Councillor Blakeley
8.1 During my interview with Councillor Blakeley he explained that he felt the complaint was a tit for tat complaint made by the complainant.
8.2 Councillor Blakeley was and is unhappy with the process followed in the handling of this complaint.
8.3 When interviewed Councillor Blakeley described the council as "factionalised politically".
8.4 In relation to the quotes attributed to him, Councillor Blakeley did not remember the exact words used however he did not dispute the words quoted "When I saw the article I was not shocked by what it said. But I
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can’t say if what they printed was correct because I can’t recall word for word what was actually said".
8.5 Councillor Blakeley explained "I am extremely proud that I voted against Councillor Foulkes as Deputy Mayor along with my colleagues who also voted against and those in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Group who also did not support Cllr Foulkes nomination by abstaining."
8.6 When referring to the mayor making process Councillor Blakeley explained "The traditional view is that the Mayor Making is a non-political event. No vote is taken on either role and it is all done with niceties and everyone is pleasant".
8.7 With reference to the nomination of Councillor Foulkes for the position of deputy mayor Councillor Blakeley explained "The selection of Councillor Foulkes made it a political event. When Labour nominated Councillor Foulkes, the Labour Group knew what they were doing, sticking two fingers up to the Council and to the people of Wirral. As explained by Councillor Jeff Green’s comment "he was surprised by the decision to nominate such ‘a divisive figure’." If you knew and understood the history of politics in Wirral you would understand that".
8.8 In relation to the use of the wording ‘unfit’ Councillor Blakeley explained "Councillor Foulkes was voted out as Leader of the Council in 2011 because of a vote of no confidence. I voted against Councillor Foulkes when he was leader. I vote against him because we all believed he was no longer fit to lead this Council. We need a majority of Councillors to carry a vote of no confidence, clearly that majority was achieved. It wasn’t my words that he wasn’t ‘fit’ it was the Council motion".
8.9 Councillor Blakeley explained the context of his statements "Wirral Borough Council is a ‘bear put’ of a political arena. Since Councillor Davies took over as Leader of the Council there have been calls for him to resign. If the shoe was on the other foot; I am sure that he would be calling for the Conservative or Liberal Democrat Leader to resign. Calling on Leaders to resign is not unusual in Wirral, regardless of which political party it is, that is the confrontational nature of politics that exists in Wirral".
8.10 Councillor Blakeley went on to explain "Wirral Council is exceptionally political." "..I am sure that both he and I and others have said far
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worse in the Council Chamber than is printed on that newspaper page".
8.11 In conclusion Councillor Blakeley said "Looking at the seven principles in public life that are in the Schedule to the Members Code of Conduct, I have been honest in what I have said. I have been accountable about what I have said".
9 Summary of the material facts
9.1 The comments published in the Liverpool Echo on 13th May 2013 complained about are attributed to Councillor Blakeley.
9.2 The article and all the quotes contained within it including those attributed to the Councillor Blakeley "I fully respect the mayoralty; however I have no respect for Cllr Foulkes and that is why I will be voting against him." all relate to the nomination of Councillor Foulkes for deputy mayor.
9.3 It is clear that the comments are connected to the intended departure from a long established tradition of nominations relating to the mayoralty being apolitical "I think the reality is that the conservatives are becoming increasingly desperate to gain some attention for themselves". "If they have chosen to show what is considered bad manners, politicising the mayoralty, it says more about them than anyone else."
9.4 The nomination of councillor Foulkes for the position of deputy mayor led to comments being made publicly about the nomination from a number of Wirral Borough Councillors.
9.5 I note that in relation to the ‘unfit’ comment Councillor Foulkes explained to his employer "that is was just political stuff" I also note that Councillor Foulkes’ response to the comments contained within the article is also quoted (paragraph 7.8 above refers).
10 Case Law
In coming to a conclusion over whether or not there has been a breach of the Wirral Code of Conduct, I have taken into account case law concerning the freedom of expression, in particular political expression and the application of the article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Freedom of Expression) to complaints under the Code of Conduct. Including the most recent high court cases of R (Dennehy) v London Borough of Ealing 
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"The recognition of the importance of expression in the political sphere and the limits of acceptable criticism are wider in the case of politicians acting in their public capacity than they are in the case of private individuals… This recognition involves both a higher level of protection ("enhanced protection") for statements in the political sphere and the expectation that if the subjects of such statements are politicians acting in their public capacity, they lay themselves open to close scrutiny of their words and deeds and are expected to possess a thicker skin and greater tolerance than ordinary members of the public … Although the protection of Article 10(2) extends to politicians, the Strasbourg Court has stated that where a politician seeks to rely on it, "the requirements have to be weighed in relation to the open discussion of political issues".
10.2 In Sanders v Steven Kingston Wilkie J considered the relationship between Article 10 and paragraph 2(b) of the then Code of Conduct. The provision equates to paragraphs 1.1 of the Wirral Council’s new Code with which this investigation is concerned. In paragraph 69 of his judgement, Wilkie J reviewed a number of authorities. In my view the paragraphs taken from the judgement are relevant to this investigation as they relate to the freedom of expression and political expression in particular.
"In this connection the court has to recall that freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress and for each individual’s self fulfilment. Subject to paragraph 2, it is applicable not only to "information or ideas" that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to
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those that offend shock or disturb. Such are the demands of pluralism, tolerance and broad mindedness without which there is no democratic society. More generally freedom of political debate is at the very core of the concept of a democratic society which prevails throughout the convention… In such cases the requirements of such protection have to be weighed in relation to the interests of open discussion of political issues."
10.4 From R v Central Independent Television plc (1994) Fam 192 Wilkie J set out the following passage from the speech of Lord Justice Hoffman:
"Publication may cause needless pain, distress and damage to individuals or harm to other aspects of the public interest. But a freedom which is restricted to what judges think to be responsible or in the public interest is no freedom. Freedom means the right to publish things which government and judges, however well motivated, think should not be published. It means the right to say things which "right thinking people" regard as dangerous or irresponsible. This freedom is subject only to clearly defined exceptions laid down by common law or statute. It cannot be too strongly emphasised that outside the established exceptions, there is no question of balancing freedom of speech against other interests. It is a trump card which always wins."
"Members of Councils are politicians and their actions as such are often political actions. An obvious example is when they are speaking in Council meetings where robust political debate may reflect lack of respect for political opponents or may result in views being expressed which many might regard as offensive. It cannot be the case, in my judgement, that the sole source of obligation in that context is the code of conduct unmediated by consideration of Article 10."
"The burden is on [the Adjudication Panel for England] to justify interference with freedom of speech. However offensive and undeserving of protection the appellant’s outburst may have appeared to some, it is important that any individual knows that he can say what he likes, provided it is not unlawful, unless there are clear and satisfactory reasons within the terms of Article 10(2) to render him liable to sanctions.”
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11 Reasoning as to whether there has been failure to comply with the Code of Conduct
11.1 Two matters fall for determination on the basis of the facts as found:
Whether when quoted in the Liverpool Echo on 13th May 2014, Councillor Blakeley was acting in his role as a member of the Council and
Whether Councillor Blakeley’s conduct was such that he failed to treat others with respect.
Failure to Treat Others with Respect
11.2 Failure to treat others with respect will occur when unfair, unreasonable or demeaning behaviour is directed by one person against another. The circumstances in which the behaviour occurred are relevant in assessing whether the behaviour is disrespectful. The circumstances include the place where the behaviour occurred, who observed the behaviour, the behaviour itself and its proportionality to the circumstances, the character and relationship of the people involved and the behaviour of anyone who prompted the alleged disrespect.
11.3 It is recognised that in politics rival groupings are common and, within this context it is expected that each will campaign for their ideas, and they may also seek to discredit the policies and actions of their opponents. It is very clear from case law that ideas and policies can be robustly criticised, but individuals should not be subject to unreasonable or excessive personal attack, it is also clear from case law that the right to freedom of expression is a crucially important right that can only be interfered with where there are convincing and compelling reasons within article 10(2) to justify that interference "It cannot be too strongly emphasised that outside the established exceptions, there is no question of balancing freedom of speech against other interests. It is a trump card which always wins" (paragraph 10.4 above refers).
11.4 Councillor Blakeley does not deny making the quotes contained in the Liverpool Echo article.
11.5 There is agreement by the complainant and the subject member that the quotes contained within the article were as a direct response to the nomination of Councillor Foulkes for the position of deputy mayor.
11.6 I find that the quotes in the article related to a matter within Councillor Blakeley’s legitimate concern as a councillor. I consider that the right of Councillor Blakeley as a democratically elected member of a public authority to free speech is engaged. I find that in making the statements he was
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seeking to explain why he would be voting against the nomination of Councillor Foulkes as deputy mayor "I truly believe that for labour to nominate such a controversial character as Steve Foulkes threatens the position of mayor and the need for impartiality." This appears to have been said by way of explanation against the accepted Wirral tradition that when such nominations are made by a party for the position of deputy mayor, the nominations are accepted without opposition from any of the other parties’ members "I fully respect the mayoralty; however I have no respect for Cllr Foulkes and that is why I will be voting against him.".
11.7 Personal Attack or Malice
In relation to the article, I have also considered whether or not there was a personal attack against Councillor Foulkes contained within the quotes made. I have concentrated in particular on the use of the wording ‘unfit’ and taking into account Councillor Foulkes’ views when he said "I believe Councillor Blakeley used the words ‘unfit’ for effect. Perhaps politicians think in a different way." I have also taken into account Councillor Foulkes’ own account of the use of the wording "’unfit’ in his explanation to his employer "I explained to them that it was just political stuff.
11.8 I have taken into account that the complainant is directly referred to and is singled out as the subject of the article however I have balanced this with the fact that the article and the comments contained within it relate to a nomination to the very public position of deputy mayor. I have taken the view that in being nominated and agreeing to be put out for nomination the complainant accepted that fellow elected members may or may not approve of the nomination and as a result may voice their support or opposition to the proposed nomination publically using the various media forums available to them. This by the nature of the political arena in which it is set was a direct possibility despite the fact that within Wirral, tradition tended to show that nominations for mayoralty positions are dealt with unopposed.
11.9 The quotes appear to be an explanation of the voting direction Councillor Blakeley intended to take. I am not satisfied that the quotes in the Liverpool Echo amount to any more than political commentary following a group nomination to the position of deputy mayor.
11.10 I do not find that the quotes were expressions of personal malice /anger, or personal abuse directed at the complainant Councillor Foulkes.
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11.11 On the basis that the quotes in the article constituted the legitimate expression of a political view by Councillor Blakeley which is afforded the highest level of protection under article 10 and the fact that the quotes related to a matter within his legitimate concern as a councillor; I conclude that there has been no failure by Councillor Blakeley to comply with paragraph 1.1 of the Code of Conduct for Wirral Borough Council.
12.1 I find that Councillor Blakeley was acting in his official capacity when quoted in the Liverpool Echo on 13th May 2013, he spoke in his capacity as a councillor about the nomination for the office of deputy mayor and he spoke of his intention to vote at the mayor making council meeting.
Failure to Treat Others with Respect
12.2 I conclude that there has been no failure by Councillor Foulkes to comply with paragraph 1.1 of the Code of Conduct for Wirral Borough Council in that the quotes in the Liverpool Echo article constituted the legitimate expression of Councillor Blakeley; quotes relating to a matter within his legitimate concern as a councillor. I do not find that the quotes were expressions of personal malice/anger or personal abuse directed at the Complainant.
Code of Conduct
12.3 My finding is that there has been no failure to comply with the Code of Conduct of Wirral Borough Council.
10th March 2014
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