Why did Councillor Blakeley ask councillors to block a fire station in Saughall Massie?

Why did Councillor Blakeley ask councillors to block a fire station in Saughall Massie?

Why did Councillor Blakeley ask councillors to block a fire station in Saughall Massie?


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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.

Wirral Council - Regeneration and Environment Committee Policy and Performance Committee 15th September 2015 - Councillor Chris Blakeley in the foreground explains his notice of motion on the Saughall Massie fire station
Wirral Council – Regeneration and Environment Committee Policy and Performance Committee 15th September 2015 – Councillor Chris Blakeley in the foreground explains his notice of motion on the Saughall Massie fire station

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).

At this point (and I’m trying not to take sides on what is now a party political issue) and as this issue has had many decisions and press coverage over the years, I will feel it would be better to just quote his speech (and declare an interest as he mentions me twice in it). The Chair told Cllr Chris Blakeley he would have ten minutes (although the procedural rules on notices of motion agreed by the Coordinating Committee earlier in the year (see rule 17) don’t give any time limits at all).

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.

Thank you for your time Chairman and Members.”

Continues at Labour use casting vote to delay decision on Saughall Massie fire station land.

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Lyndale School Consultation Meeting: Cllr Dave Mitchell “They need the care they’ve got!” (part 9)

Lyndale School Consultation Meeting: Cllr Dave Mitchell “They need the care they’ve got!” (part 9)

Lyndale School Consultation Meeting: Cllr Dave Mitchell “They need the care they’ve got!” (part 9)


Phil Ward (Wirral Council's SEN Lead) at a later meeting of Wirral Schools Forum 2nd July 2014 (who chaired the consultation meeting at Acre Lane on the 16th June)
Phil Ward (Wirral Council’s SEN Lead) at a later meeting of Wirral Schools Forum 2nd July 2014 (who chaired the consultation meeting at Acre Lane on the 16th June)

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Continues from Lyndale School Consultation Meeting: Tom Harney “it’s amazing the things that go on” (part 8).

This transcript starts about 1 hour and 4 minutes into the meeting.

Next question, ok, yes, thank you.

I’d just … (unclear)… and this side here, listening to the people who are around who have been giving their opinions, errm frontline people who have all the experience of all the years of looking after the children and seeing all those who have those difficulties that have actually come about you know!? Why aren’t they sitting there? Why aren’t they sitting there telling you, what the nature of those problems are and …(unclear)…ing to you how they feel that it should be dealt with and what would be the best way? Why don’t you prefer no experience to (unclear).. key parts…(unclear)… when you’ve got people with loads of experience and anyway you’re not going to do it at the end of the day?

He received a round of applause.

I’m going to make two points and one is that what is being proposed of the nature of, we need to go back and look at errm individual pupils and we need to do this before we take a democratic decision, before we decide.

The second point is really concerning those children, errm the children of Lyndale and the point Ian [Lewis] touched on earlier, is that moving the children from the Lyndale School to other schools, those are children with different sets of needs and can we invite all those Lyndale actions you know?

What I would like and the children who are at Lyndale, could we be, could we be learning from them? They need the care they’ve got! It’s (unclear)…and you know, I think the point is relevant for me, I think playing one off against the other and it’s a case of the children at the Lyndale, hopefully so we’ll still get the benefit of that, but the children themselves (unclear)… and then (unclear) …and then you have the ability to cause problems and I am really concerned about that! I’m really concerned about that.

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How was the history of the Lyndale School closure consultation rewritten by Wirral Council?

How was the history of the Lyndale School closure consultation rewritten by Wirral Council?

How was the history of the Lyndale School closure consultation rewritten by Wirral Council?

Phil Ward (Wirral Council's SEN Lead) at a later meeting of Wirral Schools Forum 2nd July 2014

Phil Ward who chaired the consultation (Wirral Council’s SEN Lead) at a later meeting of Wirral Schools Forum 2nd July 2014

A while ago, well nearly two months ago I was at the last of the six consultation meetings about Lyndale School. Nobody could really fathom out then why the officers were keeping the notes of these meetings “a secret”. In fact, had it not been for the Freedom of Information Act request of the Wallasey Conservatives I doubt they wouldn’t have been published for a further few weeks (and let’s face it they can use “future publication” as a reason to turn down FOI requests).

The officer chairing that meeting, Phil Ward was adamant in that meeting that the notes were for councillors on the Cabinet. Previously on this blog I’ve written up a transcript of the first hour or so of that meeting. Yesterday I compared the transcript of the meeting to the notes that officers wanted to use to tell Cabinet Members about the meeting.

One of the councillors in Eastham (where Lyndale School is) (who was present at the meeting) is Cllr Chris Carubia. He has written several books for example, The Raven Flies which is described as “finding out the location of his father, Sigurd and his crew, join King Olaf of Norway’s invasion to the land of the Moor’s, encounter a strange new culture and battle a savage new enemy”. I’ve never read any of his books (this isn’t really a blog for book reviews) but this is to make a point. The reason I mention this obscure fact is that his books would be put in a library under the “fiction” section. He used his imagination to come up with them. They’re made up.

This is probably where the notes (which let’s face it officers were going to use to persuade Cabinet to make the decision they wanted) should be as they are veering towards a fictional account of that meeting. Now the alternative viewpoint is, oh don’t be so cruel John, officers are doing their best under difficult circumstances. Yes, they are, but we’ve seen this subtle rewriting of history recently before at the Improvement Board where Wirral Council asked for questions from the public, rewrote their questions and handed out the “approved” version of history to those at the meeting hoping nobody would “spot the difference”.

So what is the proof I have of this? Well yesterday (and believe me it took some time to do as it was a two-hour meeting) I compared the notes to the transcript of what was said by whom. I am only about halfway through the meeting. It is only then when you can compare and contrast the two versions that you see what edits were made, what was left out and how things were changed. After all this is consultation, Wirral-style where we ask for your contributions but then officers meddle afterwards with them.

Call me biased (because let’s face it on Lyndale I am and it’s an editorial line we all agree on here but this is a serious point about how consultations are done and how decision-making happens). Is this the way consultations should be done? If the information politicians take into account when making important decisions has been altered in between being gathered and being put before politicians by officer/s is this honest? Does the way the notes were presented originally give anybody reading them the impression that the meeting was vastly different to how it happened and the misleading impression (as apart from a brief list of some present) as no names are used so that officer’s views can look like people responding to the consultation?

Below this is just the first half of the meeting compared to the notes. Things I have added are I hope highlighted in green. There are aspects of the notes that are broadly similar to what happened and I’ve left them in unedited. The aspects of the notes that seem to be at odds with what was said, have got a line through and are replaced with a direct quote of what was actually said. There are sections which were originally blank in the notes and some of the extra detail has been added.

This is so you can compare the “Wirral Council version” to my version of what happened based on the transcript. I hope that is clear. Most of the changes happen to the “key points” column. As names aren’t in the original version, this could’ve originally given the misleading impression that “key points” were made by the public. However this is just officers’ (and the Cabinet Member’s) viewpoints. It would take a long time to transcribe the rest of the meeting and do the same with the last few pages of the notes. If I have the time I will though. You can listen to the whole consultation meeting at Acre Lane about Lyndale from start to finish if you wish. Please leave a comment on this as (as has been mentioned many times by politicians and others before) getting consultation right is key to the decision making process at Wirral Council.

Annotations are added in red.

Public Consultation Meeting re The Lyndale School held at Acre Lane

16th June 2014: 5.30pm to 7.30pm

In Attendance:

Julia Hassall: Director of Children’s Services, Phil Ward Senior Manager SEN, Councillor Tony Smith: Lead Member for Children and Family Services (arrived late not present from start), David Armstrong: Assistant Chief Executive, Andrew Roberts: Senior Manager School Funding and Resources.

Attendees 34.

Questions/Comments                                                      Key points

Can we have a copy of the notes which you have been taking throughout the 6 consultation meetings

Could you then have key bullet points, or pick

up the themes and can we see them.

These are high level summary notes and not minutes and we will be using them to inform Cabinet. They are to capture your views

Phil Ward: “They’re not for circulation.”

They will be made public when our report goes

to Cabinet

I have been to 100 companies so far and have asked them what they think of the closure of Lyndale and they are 100% against it.

You are public servants and you should be serving the needs of people not yourself

Thank you for your comments

Phil Ward: “Is that something you’d like to submit to us?”

The consultation document is not worth the

paper it is written on

Phil Ward: “point taken”

When the children’s assessments are done

will they be used to cost need. Will you look at the banding

The assessment is about capturing the most up to date information of a child. This will be done on an individual basis

Phil Ward “then we had captured the up to date information that we retain on the children so that we could begin on an individual family basis”

The banding system is new and it was agreed by the Schools Forum.

There will be review after the first year. DA/AR will feed this information you are raising back to the Forum

David Armstrong “Just on the banding system, the banding system where we have five bands because of the special schools budget.  Clearly, it’s new so it’s only been in place for a short while and I mentioned the Schools Forum before.” … He referred to the Schools Forum and how questions about the banding feed into the Schools Forum.


Ed – 1st update: Everything below this has gone a bit wrong (table wise) below this point. I’m working on fixing it! 2nd update: Fixed (11:36 13/8/14) 3rd update 3:55 pm removed duplicate cell in column 1 (above)

Councillor Dave Mitchell:

Will the petition from
5 years ago also be presented to Cabinet?

“Will that include the decisions made by Council which were fully supported by all parties?”

All 3 parties fully supported it and decided not to close Lyndale

“I think that’s a very important issue, it should actually be highlighted. It was a notice of motion to Council and it was fully supported by the local authority at that time.”


David Armstrong: No, it would just include references to previous reports.

Julia Hassall: This is a new consultation.

“We did make clear reference to that to my recollection at the call in.”

Lyndale school is a fabulous resource inside
the school as well as outside. We are able to take our children out so that they can enjoy the trees, the garden etc. The idea of
squashing us into another school is not conducive to provide a high level of care and education

Phil Ward: “Thank you for that point.”

Is it 5 or 10 places in Stanley School, it is
just a play on words

The new building was built to accommodate a higher number of pupils.

The number of extra places will depend on the needs of the children

David Armstrong: “The school’s brand new and what we learnt when the Lyndale School was built was looking at primary schools. We built them absolutely tight on the existing campus. We found that the schools became more popular and also you’re building something for fifty or sixty years. We’re building something for fifty or sixty years, so we’re building to a generous standard and the new style that was built to a generous standard. The school, the school that we’re building had a capacity of ninety pupils. The new building is capable of taking a hundred and ten and the reason for that is that we’ll be building to the maximum standards in place, we’re building some spare capacity because we’re investing several million pounds for the next couple of years.” 

Are there any PMLD children at Stanley School at the present time?

No, but there are some children with PMLD at Elleray Park

David Armstrong: “The school was built to take the full range of PMLD.”

I have visited Stanley School and I would be petrified to leave my child there.
I think it would be a massive risk as I don’t
think my child will be safe
be absolutely petrified to leave Scott there. I’m absolutely petrified.”


Both Head Teachers are confident that they can safely integrate your children into their school. Across the country there are many
schools who do this successfully

Phil Ward thanked her for her point.


Has anyone spoken to Paediatricians or
Specialist Health Visitors about this consultation

Phil Ward: “Sorry I can’t speak for paediatricians, but surely the point… No they have not, no is the answer to that.”


What is going to happen if there are growing
numbers with children with CLD if you transfer our children into Elleray and Stanley

This is something which we have to manage all the time. We need to keep
up with the changes in SEN.

Phil Ward said the question had come up a number of times and the answer was that Wirral Council has a responsibility on specialist provision. When there was evidence that the numbers were growing in any particular category then they would start discussions with schools to plan places.


In your special arrangements to provide an up
to date assessment of each child you need to take into account that some of the children don’t have language etc and the
environment is as important as well as relationships, friends, as well as a sense of place and security. They need a safe environment and this could be difficult if you mix them with children who have ASC
ASD (autistic spectrum disorders)

We have asked our Principal Educational Psychologist to ensure that we have an up to date picture of each child and their needs. She understands each child and if we know the needs of each child, this will help to drive our future provision

Julia Hassall “This is why we’ve got our principal educational psychologist pulling together a group of meetings with the key
staff involved with each child, the parents, any health professionals to really understand each individual child but also how the children interacty with each other.”

What about Councillor Chris Carubia: However nobody had mentioned Foxfield School before?
That was a great provision why have you not put this forward as an option

This is a secondary school; children come into this school at aged 11. One of the options mentioned in the consultation document is a 2 to 19 provision. We are looking at Foxfield School as an option as parents have asked us to.

Also it is important to remember that if we close Lyndale we will have a discussion about each child and parents can state their preference for any school

How come at Stanley only 90% is funded,
will this mean that the other 10% will not be funded and have to
be found our of their resources

She said that there were ten children at the school [Stanley] that were not funded and would this be sorted out if the Lyndale School children went to Stanley School?

Annually there is a census for each
school. Numbers are reviewed and amended taking this into

Andrew Roberts replied, “In terms of places at special schools, those decisions are taken annually. So the schools take it at a point in time, the decision taken in respect of Stanley was taken last November as a census. Clearly we need to be reviewing, as do the number of places at other special schools.”

We gained public support when we fund raised £80,000 for the sensory garden,
if you close what will happen to it and how will you give the money back to the general
public who had donated it?

was their hard work and you are going to knock down Lyndale!

There is an amphitheatre; do you know who built it?

It was the YTS lads from Wirral Action

Phil Ward: “We don’t know”
David Armstrong: “there’s no decision been taken to determine it”….

In other schools we have always made sure that if we were about to
close and transfer the children, we relocate
any other equipment where possible
. “anything that was in memory of a particular pupil we’ve dealt with that first and then we’ve gone on from that” We will look to relocate the sensory garden

David Armstrong: “I don’t know.”

David Armstrong: “I can’t know every detail.”


Ian Lewis

4 years ago officers put forward a
proposal to close Kingsway Primary
School because it was not financially viable and this was voted against and this school is still here. So what is to say 4 years on Lyndale will not be the same and continuing to deliver high quality care and education.

“If in four years time that’s [Lyndale] still here, who’s to say it won’t be viable?”

Kingsway remains a small school which limits its budget income and there is
an outstanding Council resolution to carry out a review.

David Armstrong “In Kingsway, we haven’t gone back, but at some point there’s a Council resolution to go back and revisit Kingsway.”


Elleray and Stanley school do not
always provide 1 to 1 support or even 2 – 1 support for their children so if you relocate Lyndale will that not effect
their financial viability

The Head Teachers of both schools are
confident that they will be able to manage integration of the children from Lyndale.

Ian Lewis

5 years ago at a full council meeting
all 3 parties agreed to keep Lyndale open. Therefore the message is keep it open

Julia Hassall The
difficulty as mentioned is that there is a change to the funding formula and we have been funding empty spaces in this school. You
have been really clear during these consultations that what you want is wherever your children go to school that it needs to
replicate the provision at Lyndale

“No, no the significant difference Ian now to five years ago, is the government have changed the funding formula. So Lyndale is
currently funded as if there were actually forty children at that school and over the last seven years, the numbers have gone down. It’s been about fifty odd percent occupancy in the school and following the exact funding formula, it will mean that as some point, the £10,000 per a child will have to be applied and that will mean £230,000 for twenty-three children as opposed to £400,000 because there aren’t the children in the places.”

I have an issue in relation to the banding of our children. I accept that they all have different needs but my worry is that my child who is on band 4 is getting £8,000 less than others on a band 5 but what will happen at Stanley School?
what band are they because how much money are they going to have taken off them?

We do not think that this will work as my son needs 1 to 1 care as although my son can feed himself he also needs to be fed as well.

Andrew Roberts: The banding is a new system and only came into being on 1st April 2014.

David Armstrong The question about whether your child is on the right band needs to be fed in to their annual review. You can also take this up with the Principal Educational Psychologist.

Julia Hassall said, “Can I just add one other bit, I think it’s important to feed that in through the psychologist when the meetings are taking place as well.”

If the banding was changed would that keep the school open?

David Armstrong:

In relation to the National Funding, Local
Authorities have the ability to say what system they are going to use and Wirral chose to do a banding system which has no flexibility.

“decided to do away with this system, which you know because it was easier,
but it really doesn’t have much flexibility or address the actual needs of the children involved.”

The difficulty is that by the time you go to the Schools Forum to change this system, Lyndale will be closed

(no response given)

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Councillors hear how 13 consignments of fizzy drinks, spearmint, crab and rice all failed port checks

Councillors hear how 13 consignments of fizzy drinks, spearmint, crab and rice all failed port checks

Councillors hear how 13 consignments of fizzy drinks, spearmint, crab and rice all failed port checks


The Isle of Man Ferry was late coming in to dock as in front was the Viking longboat Draken Harald Hårfagre with a broken mast. As the same gate was used to get to the meeting on the dock we had to wait for the Isle of Man foot passengers to collect their luggage and leave first.

As the councillors and ourselves strode across the dock to the meeting room, the Viking longboat pulled up alongside the meeting room on a sight-seeing tour of the Liverpool docks which almost seemed to give out the message to the politicians of behave otherwise we’ll add you to our list of countries to conquer next.

So, what was the meeting, bobbing along on a floating dock over the beautiful River Mersey about? Well just as the beer ad used to be about “refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach” we were reporting on the public meetings other parts of the media don’t reach. In fact I doubt there had been any public along to this public body’s public meetings for a very, very long time. In fact anyone curious enough to read the agenda would’ve been sent to the wrong place as the agenda had “Gate 2” whereas those going to meeting entered through “Gate 3” of the Liverpool Cruise Liner Terminal.

Who were this (and pardon the nautical cliché) motley crew of characters?

Mersey Port Health Committee

Mersey Port Health Committee meeting of the 17th July 2014 Councillor Ron Abbey (Chair) points in the direction of the River Mersey. At the far right are Councillor Dave Mitchell and Councillor Gerry Ellis

Well on the Mersey Port Health Committee was my local councillor, who won our award for scowling before the meeting started Councillor Harry Smith. Also were two former Mayors of Wirral, Councillor Gerry Ellis and Councillor Dave Mitchell who were both friendly. As well as these three there was Councillor Ron Abbey (looking rather stylish in sunglasses).

Apologies were first given for councillors missing from the meeting which included various councillors including Cllr John Salter (Wirral Council’s Cllr John Hale was also absent).

The first decision the crew had to make was to chose a captain (sorry Chair) for the next year. The previous Chair Councillor Ron Abbey was nominated, seconded and elected. Another Labour councillor called Jeremy Wolfson was elected as Vice-Chair.

Councillor Ron Abbey decided to give his speech about his time as captain (sorry Chair) over the last twelve months. He said they had had a “varied and very successful year”, that it was a “very friendly committee” but that it was a “Cinderella organisation”.

Cllr Ron Abbey had a new officer to introduce to the assembled throng. Was it a new deck hand? Was it a comedian with the task of making Cllr Harry Smith smile? Sadly the new guy (called Chris) had the rather duller title of team leader for Information Technology.

The Chair continued by saying about the “quality of staff and the work they do on behalf of us”, asked the Committee to endorse his comments and said that these were “most exciting times”.

Due to no microphones and a room the size of a cavern in which sound gets lost, one of the councillors sitting further away (Cllr Gerry Ellis) asked Cllr Ron Abbey to speak up. Cllr Ron Abbey explained that he hadn’t shouted at him as he felt that upset people. Once again this was an error on the agenda which stated “audio equipment provided as standard”.

No declarations of interest were made and the minutes were agreed. So the meeting rolled on to agenda item 5 (Chief Port Health Officer Report on Activities 2013/14).

The Chief Port Health Officer went through the main points of her report, to do with importing foods. They had lost a post which was now vacant but it had been a “very busy year”. There had also been major changes and a redesign of their website.

Chris (the IT guy) talked at length about the changes, so that students could book training courses and so everything could be done a bit quicker as well as updating policies. There had been some teething issues with some applications in the move from Windows XP to Windows 7. He hoped that they’d have a full set of key performance indicators by the September.

The Chief Port Health Officer explained that there had been a 77p reduction in their charges due to EU legislation which was “out of our hands”. Weights of cargo coming through Liverpool docks varied based on consumer demand. They also had a surveillance role at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, as it was not a port approved for the import of food. However the main responsibility at the airport lay with the UK Border Force.

Thirteen consignments of soda (soft drinks) from America had been sampled and found to have excessive levels of benzoic acid. This had been done due to a grant from the Food Standards Agency. In addition to the fizzy drinks failing tests, so had spearmint (pesticide levels), a food supplement (poly aromatic hydrocarbon levels), crab meat (as additional crab species had been found) and basmati rice (that was only 3% basmati rice and 97% other rice).

In addition to this a consignment of chilli powder had been destroyed due to excessive alfatoxin. During the year, 154 consignments had been subject to official checks. There had also been checks done on ship sanitation, water supplies had been sampled and there had been an increase in routine boardings.

Moving to the Wirral, two cockle beds had been declassified and commercial cockling there was now illegal. There had been a report of illegal gathering of mussels, but after investigation and enforcement patrols the activity had ceased.

In order to qualify as an environmental health officers, people needed to do a length BSc (Hons) or a MSc and then do a practical year of training in port health. However they had incorporated the port health side into student’s degrees so that when they qualified they were qualified as both an environmental health officer and port health officer which opened up extra career opportunities.

A port health awareness day had been held in February to promote the work of port health as some external agencies weren’t aware of the work. One hundred and twenty people had turned up to it. It had been a busy year and would be a challenging year ahead, she was happy to answer questions.

Councillor Dave Mitchell referred to it as a “comprehensive report, brilliantly done as always”. He had two questions. In relation to sampling he asked if they had talked with the relevant government department to make it a national rather than local cost?

She explained that it was very difficult but there were provisions. If a sample failed again they could request the importer pays for the cost. Taking the fizzy drinks as an example, if they continued to fail checks then the Food Safety Agency issued guidance and reimbursed their costs.

Councillor Mitchell asked his second question about fish. The answer given was that the importer would have to pay.

The Chair Cllr Ron Abbey referred to the lobbying government so that the activities of the port were funded by central government. Local authorities’ contribution to port health was only small. Another councillor asked about the enforcement of infectious diseases and how this could be effective on short duration flights as the probabilities of symptoms being displayed were small as opposed to a ship?

The officer said that the air regulations were different to shipping in that they placed a responsibility on the airline. A scoping exercise had been done on the countries they say as high risks. For example it was the responsibility of the airline to disinfect its places coming from a country with malaria. This would hopefully minimise the risk.

Another councillor asked if they could increase their charges? Cllr Ron Abbey (Chair) said that they were looking to decrease to make them more competitive but it would be eighteen months before they’d see an impact. Goods consumed locally were still being shipped through Southampton rather than Liverpool. He said it was a “balancing act” which they were monitoring to reduce the burden on local councils to a minimum via the precept. An officer said there was an increase in products coming through the port and the variety.

Councillor Richard Wenstone asked if they would be setting their own key performance indicators or this would be done nationally? The officer answered that they would set their own as there were no national standards key performance indicators. For example the time it took them to process documentation. Other big ports had key performance indicators.

An officer said that theirs were published on their website and in conversations with ship agents certain importers wanted key performance indicators. A logistical benefit of Liverpool was the Liverpool Ship Canal whereas there was more congestion in the ports in the southern part of the country.

Councillor Harry Smith asked about the significant consignments? The officer answered lamb and pork. Another councillor asked about how far ahead the training had been taken up to which the answer was December 2014. The report was noted.

Agenda item 6 was the quarterly report from January to March of 2014. Cllr Gerry Ellis asked about cockling and what was the story? The officer relied that the complaint was of illegal gathering, an officer had conducted surveillance following the complaint but the complainant was unwilling to make a witness statement. As the surveillance hadn’t caught any illegal activity the complaint couldn’t progress.

Councillor Gerry Ellis asked a further question. Cllr Ron Abbey said they couldn’t take further action as the complainant was unwilling and didn’t want to make a witness statement. The officer said that on the surveillance visits they didn’t see illegal gathering of cockles and in the absence of a witness statement they can’t take further action.

Councillor Ron Abbey pointed out they were closed bays and that commercial activity was therefore illegal. Cockling collection however could still go on as long as it was not commercial. They had responsibility for the tidal side and the police had responsibility for further inland. Cllr Gerry Ellis asked if declassified meant closed?

Cllr Ron Abbey said they were closed to commercial cockling as the cockles were too young or there were not enough for commercial cockling. This gave them time to grow again, the cockling beds were worth millions of pounds as commercial cocklers had gathered £90 million of cockles. Cllr Ellis asked another question to which Cllr Ron Abbey replied “closed”.

In response to a further question of Cllr Ellis Cllr Abbey said that there were different categories, but it was a trade thing so they knew if it was declassified it didn’t have a classification. To take (for commercial reasons) from a declassified bed was illegal.

A councillor asked why there was no mention of Peel Holdings in the report? The Chair said that without them Peel couldn’t operate inspection facilities but they had often had to meet with senior management of Peel to sort out issues. He referred to issues raised at the last meeting with Peel about the docks. The officer said that Peel Holdings were the port operator, but that they (port health) had statutory controls over imported food, enforcement of the regulations and health regulations. The port health authority worked together with Peel Holdings in partnership.

A councillor asked about the financial impact. Cllr Ron Abbey said that without the board doing its job and inspection the port would be greatly diminished. So they worked hand in hand with Peel. They wanted to support Peel to bring more goods through the port as it was more money. Bringing more through meant diversifying but as well as delivering they were putting something back through their training. He gave credit to the staff. The report was noted.

The next meeting was agreed to be held at 11.00am on Thursday 16th October 2014 with the venue announced nearer the time.

The Chair announced one item of any other business (referred to earlier involving the vacancy) for which the public (all two of us) were excluded from the rest of the meeting.

We left and found the way out of through gate 3 was locked. I returned and complained but the way out was not unlocked until the councillors had finished their meeting.

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Lyndale School Consultation Meeting: Kingsway, funding and hydrotherapy pools (part 6)

Lyndale School Consultation Meeting: Kingsway, funding and hydrotherapy pools (part 6)

Lyndale School Consultation Meeting: Kingsway, funding and hydrotherapy pools (part 6)


Next Monday evening (starting at 6.15pm), at a meeting of all councillors at Wallasey Town Hall, Brighton Street in the Council Chamber the issue of Lyndale School is on the agenda again. There is a notice of motion on it (which is the second notice of motion in that list of notices of motion) proposed by Councillor Paul Hayes and seconded by Councillor Jeff Green. As it’s short a copy of the notice of motion that councillors will be voting on is below:

Council, having regard to the support given to the campaign to keep the Lyndale School open by the public of Wirral, resolves that:

1. It is the firm belief of Council that the Lyndale School should remain open, and in order to bring to an end the anguish and uncertainty suffered by pupils and their parents and carers, calls upon Cabinet to confirm that the school will remain open when Cabinet next meets.

2. Council recognises the unique and caring environment provided by the Lyndale School to children with profound and multiple learning difficulties. Council acknowledges the value of this provision and affirms its belief that such provision should remain at the Lyndale School.

3. Council instructs officers to work with the Wirral School’s Forum in order to investigate how the funding of Wirral’s Special Schools can more closely reflect the will of Wirral’s residents, as expressed by the huge support given to the Lyndale School: that the quality and scale of provision for children requiring the services of special schools in Wirral should continually strive to improve and be in no way diminished.

Once the notice of motion is debated, all councillors present at the meeting (apart from the Mayor who traditionally abstains) will have to either vote for, against or abstain. Probably five or more councillors will call for a card vote which means each councillors name will be individually read out and they’ll have to say which way they are voting.

Mindful of the upcoming debate, I therefore thought I’d continue my write up of the last consultation meeting held at the Acre Lane Professional Excellence Centre just before the consultation ended. If you’re interested in the last bit I wrote about this meeting, it can be found on this blog at “Lyndale School Consultation Meeting: questions about the sensory garden, resources, Elleray Park and Stanley (Part 5)“.

David Armstrong said, “In terms of Kingsway, it’s difficult to talk about the school and then appeal. Kingsway was in the final round within six years of primary reviews, Kingsway was in the final round and the decision was that we would review Kingsway at a future date, the date was set for some date but we’ve actually left it longer than that.

We had a hundred primary schools, we went down to ninety, of that ninety there are four that still struggle financially under those arrangements. Struggle to set a balanced budget because of their numbers, it is problematic. It’s a mainstream school who gets its funding in different ways, it can set and does set a balanced budget.

The issue about Lyndale is its financial stability in the long-term because it is the local context of Lyndale is there, there’s also the national context identified and I’ve assured Members of that expression. In Kingsway, we haven’t gone back, but at some point there’s a Council resolution to go back and revisit Kingsway.

I’ll make it clear, it’s not about the quality of the education or about the quality of the school, I must clearly point out, this is not about any failings at Lyndale, it’s about the medium to long-term financial stability at Lyndale. It’s about can we promise when they’re putting their child in there aged four, can we promise that that school they’re attending will be there for ever and ever?”

Julia Hassall said, “Ian, I would just add, in terms of the Lyndale School, there’s been concerns about the future of the school going back to about 2008/9 and I think that that concentrates my mind throughout all of this process and genuinely thinking about the best needs of how we meet the needs of the children is I want to be able to put something forward and Cabinet will make their own view, put something forward that is about the long-term sustainability.”

Ian Lewis said, “Well I accept all you’ve said. Five years ago as Councillor Mitchell said, a resolution goes to full Council and every single one of those sixty-six councillors said keep this school open. That was five years ago and right now the concerns about viability if you’d listened then, when we told you to keep it open, the message is keep it open, not come back, not keep coming back and trying to close it because you think you’re right.”

Julia Hassall replied, “No, no, the significant difference Ian now to five years ago, is the government have changed the funding formula. So Lyndale is currently funded as if there were actually forty children in that school and over the last seven years, the numbers have gone down. It’s been about fifty odd percent occupancy in the school and following the exact funding formula, it will mean that at some point, the £10,000 per a child will have to be applied and that will mean £230,000 for twenty-three children as opposed to £400,000 because there aren’t the children in the places.”

Ian Lewis said, “Will that financial cost be disbursed with the children from Lyndale wherever they went?”

Julia Hassall replied, “No.”

Ian Lewis asked another question to which Julia Hassall replied, “The bit that comes into play is that if you are part of a bigger school you have the hydrotherapy pool for example will be there for the whole school population.”

Continues at Lyndale School Consultation Meeting: Funding, banding and need (part 7).

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