Labour councillors vote to hold Girtrell Court closure decision behind closed doors

Labour councillors vote to hold Girtrell Court closure decision behind closed doors

                                                      

Cllr Chris Blakeley explaining his notice of motion on Girtrell Court to Wirral Council councillors at a public meeting 14th March 2016
Cllr Chris Blakeley explaining his notice of motion on Girtrell Court to Wirral Council councillors at a public meeting 14th March 2016

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The first part of the debate on Girtrell Court can be watched in the video above (starting at the 22 minutes 21 seconds point)

Councillors at yesterday evening’s meeting of Wirral Council debated a notice of motion on Girtrell Court proposed by Conservative Cllr Chris Blakeley. He asked councillors to agree that the decision on the future of Girtrell Court should be taken during a public meeting rather than behind closed doors.

The Labour councillors (in an amendment proposed by Cllr Phil Davies) disagreed with this and instead restated their previous position. Their view was that a decision on the future of Girtrell Court should be made behind closed doors by the Cabinet Member Cllr Chris Jones and the Director of Adult Social Services Graham Hodkinson.

The Lib Dem councillors (in an amendment proposed by Cllr Phil Gilchrist) agreed with the original motion, but called for all the background and supporting material to be published when Cllr Chris Jones makes her decision.

The Lib Dem amendment didn’t receive enough votes to be agreed as it was only supported by the four Lib Dem councillors. Labour’s amendment received 36 votes for, 24 votes against with one abstention.

It was also announced during the debate that bookings for Girtrell Court will be extended to the end of August 2016.

The following was agreed yesterday evening by councillors:

Girtrell Court

Council believes that it is important to offer service users and their families a choice of respite care provision. People want the ability to choose the type of care and support which is right for them. At present they are unable to do this. This is not about a building or provider, it’s about the person.

Council notes that the Leader of the Council has previously stated that he wants his Administration to be open, transparent and fair with the people of Wirral. Council welcomes this approach.

Council notes that a detailed debate on Girtrell Court took place at Budget Council on the 3rd March and a clear way forward was agreed. This involves statutory consultation with service users and their families followed by a clear new service offer and events for carers and cared for people to meet potential new providers. Services will be commissioned to meet all of the identified needs at that stage. Authority will be delegated to the Director, in conjunction with the Cabinet Member, to make decisions in order to avoid undue delays which would prolong uncertainty. We are not imposing deadlines on when this process will be complete and, in the meantime, Girtrell Court will remain open.

Council further believes that the families of those using Girtrell Court, the staff, trade unions and residents and users must be given every opportunity to influence the future of Girtrell Court through a clear and transparent decision-making process.

 

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8 Labour councillors vote against motion asking for delay in closure of Girtrell Court until alternatives are in place

8 Labour councillors vote against motion asking for delay in closure of Girtrell Court until alternatives are in place

                                                     

Labour councillors (except Cllr Christina Muspratt who abstained) voting against an opposition motion on Girtrell Court at the Coordinating Committee meeting on the 16th February 2016
Labour councillors (except Cllr Christina Muspratt who abstained) voting against an opposition motion on Girtrell Court at the Coordinating Committee meeting on the 16th February 2016

The two most read stories on this blog this month have been Why did Wirral Council’s Cabinet recommend closure of Girtrell Court despite a protest against closure and opposition from the trade unions? and .

However there’s been a public meeting involving Girtrell Court that I haven’t reported on yet.

In the past when there were budget options out to public consultation, Wirral Council’s overview and scrutiny committees each met in public. This gave an opportunity for backbench councillors to give their views on each budget option with an opportunity for the public to hear this. If there was a difference of opinion between councillors alternatives could be put forward and voted on. That was how scrutiny used to operate at Wirral Council all done at public meetings on camera.

However this year (in a repeat of how it was done last year), it was all done in private in “workshops”, not in public. A report was then written up for each overview and scrutiny committee, you can read the Families and Wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee workshop report here, the Regeneration and Environment overview and scrutiny committee workshop report here and the Transformation and Resources overview and scrutiny committee workshop report here.

Around a week before the Cabinet met to decide its recommendation on the budget for 2016/17 the Coordinating Committee (who coordinate the work of the overview and scrutiny committees) met on the evening of the 16th February 2016.

I thought as Wirral Council hasn’t yet met to decide the budget for 2016/17 and people associated with Girtrell Court weren’t at this meeting that a transcript of what was said in the debate on the report from the Families and Wellbeing workshop would be useful. However you can watch this item (item 5 2016/17 Budget Scrutiny Report) for yourself in the video below. The video should start at the right point but if it doesn’t this agenda item starts at the 31 minute 7 second point and the overarching report for this agenda item can be read here.

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Coordinating Committee 16th February 2016

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Chair, Labour): Right, the next item on the agenda is item 5 and it is the report of the workshops that looked at budget scrutiny.

Errm, Joe [Blott] do you want to say something on that?

OK, errm, OK, just briefly as a bit of an overview, we used the same approach the workshop approach this year as was used last year with each Committee holding its own workshop, to give an opportunity for its members to examine in more detail the proposals put forward by the officers.

Errm, the obvious intention was to better understand the service implications and the achievability of the proposals as they were presented.

Errm, I do think that members who took part found them errm helpful and the purpose tonight is really to note the process that we’ve used and perhaps comment on that and whether that could be improved upon in the future and also the character of the workshops and then forward these documents to the Cabinet. I know they’ve already been reproduced and they will form part of the Cabinet minutes for next week.

Errm, I think all members don’t know really of the Council understand the scale of the task that’s underway at the moment over the budget. Errm, and I do hope errm that errm, I mean we won’t be as I said earlier in the earlier report we won’t be debating these proposals tonight, that wouldn’t be appropriate but I do hope that, errm, the non-elected, non-Executive members of the Council, this can form a good part of the consultation, their views on the consultation and that’s what it’s intended to be.

I’m going to errm, I’ll give a brief overview of what happened at Families and Wellbeing and then I’ll ask the other chairs of the other two committees to do the same.

Errm, the session that was on, held by Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee was very well attended, I know unfortunately Wendy [Clements] was unwell, but other than that we had a full turn out.

Errm, and there was err, I think everybody contributed in some form during the discussion that we had. Obviously some of the proposals that were put forward generated more discussion and comment than others.

Errm, what the Committee didn’t attempt to do was to recommend or reject any of the proposals. We didn’t see that as our role.

Errm what we did use, err do, was to use the workshops to dig deeper than the narrative that was presented by errm around the proposal by officers and to examine in more detail the impact, whether that be a positive impact or a negative impact and errm if we thought there were negative impacts to highlight those and possibly make suggestions as to how the negative impact could be errm mitigated and also we looked at the achievability of the savings because in the past errm savings haven’t always been achieved and that’s presented problems in the year, in the following year.

Errm, following the workshop, further information was requested on errm, modelling the saving around the concessions on leisure could be done differently to perhaps protect some of the most errm disadvantaged children in the Borough and since then I’ve had back a report from Clare Fish which we actually asked if we could look at what the errm the effect on the saving would be for errm children who were in receipt of free school meals if they were still entitled to a swim. Errm and the report I’ve had back from Clare Fish indicates that out of a saving of two hundred and fifty, which and there was comment if you look at the night, there was comment about, about the errm, how that figure was errm obtained, but that we would reduce err, would reduce the saving by fifteen thousand, but we would initiate a cost of two swims annually. Errm, so that’s err, as I said will go forward as well.

Errm and one of the members asked at a later stage, raised an issue around the impact of the changes around the CAMHS contract and errm the information that was received from that has been included in the narrative of the report.

Errm, the report’s already been circulated to members, participants of the Committee which the service support and I’m sure Wendy [Clements] you’ve had a copy as well.

Errm, but if you believe that it has been accepted by them as an accurate reflection of the discussion on the night and I thank all those who’ve attended and took part.

Errm, now I think it’s probably reasonable to say that at this point, Phil [Gilchrist] has submitted an email today which I didn’t really have a chance to look at this morning because I was on grandma duties, but I have looked at it as the day’s gone on and errm, I don’t know whether members of the Committee have had, I have to say Phil [Gilchrist] errm, I do believe that the areas that you’ve highlighted were thoroughly explored at the workshop and the comments errm, of Members are included in the narrative of the report.

I don’t really errm, I wouldn’t like to see this Committee, try to change the work that came out of that workshop. So I mean I’m inclined to say thank you very much for your comment and I’m sure you’d be happy to have that email forwarded to the Cabinet directly from you, but I wouldn’t want to change the errm, narrative of the Families and Wellbeing errm workshop report.

Errm, now obviously if the other people feel differently I’ll have to put that to the vote, but as the Chair of the Families and Wellbeing and the person who signed off the report, errm that’s my view. That points were raised, they were explored, they have been commented on and other consultations that maybe have taken place since, can report in their own way and I’m sure they will, but this is the work of the members of the Families and Wellbeing Committee at that workshop, that night and therefore I don’t wish to change it.

OK, errm, but I’m happy, it was, I’ll take questions on this point.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson): Just a comment, if it’s legitimate to receive information later on, which you mentioned earlier about the swimming cost issue, and members are able to get a bit more information on certain issues and they reflected on what’s submitted then it seems equally legitimate, no offence meant at all, to hear what’s been said, concerns that have been raised in other places since and then to reflect on what the Working Party heard and to try and satisfy ourselves as to whether..

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): I understand the point you’re making but I don’t agree with it. Errm, I actually, the points that were raised, one of them was raised on the night by a member of the Committee and the other was raised by a member of the Committee at a later stage. So I think we’re in a different situation to try and use this Committee to change or highlight an area where that was one of the conclusions. Those were a range of concerns that were raised on the night, errm on this issue, but other positive things were put forward as well, so just to highlight those would almost change the emphasis and I understand that you feel strongly and I’m sure that you will make representations and other consultations that are under way will also put their feedback in but that’s for them to do and for those people who are the subject of the consultation to do, not for members of the Families and Wellbeing and that’s, I haven’t got any more to say on it. If you want to put it as a proposal, I’m quite happy to put it to a vote.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson): I think Chair, I’m conscious there are a couple of deputies, I’m conscious that there are members who have been working during the day and might not have seen what I circulated and what I did circulate was a fair summary I thought, plus some suggestions and therefore I’m conscious that not everyone might have seen it, but we often suggest things during a meeting that people haven’t seen.

Errm and I’m not sure perhaps if there are members who have seen what I wrote even though it was about ten to midnight last night. If there are members who agree that it’s reasonable to put it forward they might say so and then they might be able to judge the feeling of members because of course I’m sitting here happily on my own, in my own little group as it were, but…

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): As I say, Phil if you want to read out your email and then if you want to move it and get a seconder, errm then we’ll put it to a vote. So if that’s what you want to do, fine! And I’m quite happy to do that!

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson): I’m getting some indications from members, some members are nodding who have read it that agree with the points that I’ve raised and I’m conscious it’s very lengthy.

For the courtesy of other members would you agree that I should read it out and then members can consider it?

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): Yes, err Ron [Abbey] briefly, because I want to move on!

Cllr Ron Abbey (Labour): I can’t be brief on that because I think we should take the advice of the Chair and I don’t think we should have any email or debate on this.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): We want to be fair though don’t we? So I want to give Phil [Gilchrist], I mean I’m sure it’s very difficult for Phil [Gilchrist] managing on his own. Errm, and I want to give him the benefit of all our help if I can on this, so you read it out Phil and then if you want to move it as a proposal, put it.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson): Thank you for your courtesy Chair.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): I’m always courteous with you.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson): Yes, thank you. I’m always courteous. I’m going to read

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): OK, quickly!

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson):carefully and modestly.

This meeting of the Policy and Performance Coordinating Committee wishes to highlight the concerns expressed by members of the budget scrutiny working party relating to services offered at Girtrell Court.

During those deliberations it was recognised that “the key challenge is to meet the needs of individuals with what can be provided” and that “assurances were sought about availability and quality of the independent sector provision and also how each person would have their needs assessed”.

It was also reported that, “all respite will be honoured until March 2016, but provision will be continued until all reviews are complete and all users have alternative provision in place”. That’s the quote.

Then I went on to write, “In view of the concerns raised since the working party met, it’s even more important that attention is given to meeting the detailed needs of the families involved.

Services need to be offered at Girtrell Court, until it is clear that a range of providers are in place and lined up to offer services truly tailored to the physical, recreational and emotional needs of the users and are demonstrably appropriate to their ages and circumstances.

In view of the tight timescales that have caused concern the officers and Cabinet need to ensure that the transition to future provision is appropriately managed with clients able to use services at Girtrell Court until such time as alternatives are duly commissioned”.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): Thank you very much Phil.

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson): That’s a fair read.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): and that was well read, errm, yes, Phil, I do want to move to a vote on this and then move on.

Cllr Phillip Brightmore (Labour): I just want to voice some concern that this is being attached to a report that came from the Families and Wellbeing Committee. It just strikes me that this is something that should stand on its own as a proposal if it’s going to be brought forward at all. I was on that Committee and it, I’d like the report to remain as it was.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): I’m going to put it to a vote Phil so I don’t want everybody around the room giving their opinion because I don’t think it’s needed. Wendy [Clements]? I’ll just going to take one more comment and then I’ll have a vote if Phil wants me to put it to the vote. I’ll draw people’s attention to page fifteen of the report.

Cllr Wendy Clements (Conservative): Thank you Chair. This is a report which is coming to this Committee and so its got our name on it, this particular bunch of people that’s sat here tonight and I would like to say that I will second this.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): We’ll put it to a vote and then we’ll move on. All those in favour of Phil’s suggestion that we attach that errm email,

Cllr Ron Abbey (Labour): Has he got as seconder for that Chair?

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): Well Wendy [Clements]’s just seconded it! Errm, all those in favour of that, we attach it to the report from Families and Wellbeing. Please show.

6 councillors voted in favour who were:

Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson)
Cllr Adam Sykes (Conservative)
Cllr Steve Williams (Conservative)
Cllr David Burgess-Joyce (Conservative)
Cllr Wendy Clements (Conservative)
Cllr Tom Anderson (Conservative spokesperson)

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): Right and those against?

8 councillors voted against who were:

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair)
Cllr Ron Abbey (Labour)
Cllr Phillip Brightmore (Labour)
Cllr Walter Smith (Labour)
Cllr Michael Sullivan (Labour)
Cllr Jerry Williams (Labour)
Cllr Janette Williamson (Labour)
Cllr Irene Williams (Labour)

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): So that is not carried and the report…

Cllr Christina Muspratt (Labour): Sorry, we haven’t asked for abstentions!

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): Sorry ok.

Cllr Christina Muspratt (Labour): Well I’m abstaining because I haven’t had it, I don’t want to have the .. meeting.

Councillor Christina Muspratt abstained.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): OK, ok, ok, Christine!

Cllr Christina Muspratt (Labour): So I’m abstaining on all this because I’ve not been following the chain.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): OK, one abstention, but I would ask members to look at page fifteen. So now we move on to.

Cllr Christina Muspratt (Labour): Sorry could I ask a question. I’m sorry Chair but I want to ask a question on page eighteen, the CAMHS service, do we know if the money coming from the government may help with this?

Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour) (Chair): Well this is one reason Christina, why I’m saying we won’t be debating these tonight, because we haven’t got the officers here to answer those questions. So if you want to submit a question in your own right on that I suggest you do, but that’s why we’re not debating these proposals tonight and I will now ask Jeanette [Williamson] to give her report.

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Why did Wirral Council pay £48,384 to Weightmans and what has DASS got to do with it?

Why did Wirral Council pay £48,384 to Weightmans and what has DASS got to do with it?

Why did Wirral Council pay £48,384 to Weightmans and what has DASS got to do with it?

Wirral Council invoice Weightmans £2700 7th June 2013
Wirral Council invoice Weightmans £2700 7th June 2013
Wirral Council invoice Weightmans £720 7th June 2013
Wirral Council invoice Weightmans £720 7th June 2013
Wirral Council invoice Weightmans £48384 11th July 2013
Wirral Council invoice Weightmans £48384 11th July 2013

Above are three invoices to Wirral Council from Weightmans, one for £720, one for £2,700 and one for £48,384.

Apart from “Counsel’s fees” and the always cryptic “professional services” I’ve no idea what these are for, other than the two smaller amounts are to do with Wirral Council’s Department of Adult Social Services. Two refer to a fee note attached to the invoice describing the work done in more detail. I’ve made a Freedom of Information Act request for the fee notes.

All three invoices would seem to be related as they have the same account number. Certainly there’s a public interest in having some openness and transparency as why Wirral Council spent £51,804 on legal costs. However considering how much of the detail on these invoices are blacked out, I don’t hold out much hope that Wirral Council won’t do the same to the fee notes in response to the Freedom of Information Act request.

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A tale of 2 invoices paid by Wirral Council: Mystery Employee (£2,496.53) & Martin Clayton's wasted costs (£1,728)

A tale of 2 invoices paid by Wirral Council: Mystery Employee (£2,496.53) & Martin Clayton’s wasted costs (£1,728)

A tale of 2 invoices paid by Wirral Council: Mystery Employee (£2,496.53) & Martin Clayton’s wasted costs (£1,728)

                                            

Ed 22:02 8/12/2014 Although it was initially confirmed one invoice related to Mr. Martin Morton, it appears this was incorrext and this article has been amended.

Below are two invoices paid by Wirral Council’s legal department in the last financial year (2013-14) unearthed as part of my “armchair audit”. A lot was blacked out on both invoices, my annotations are in green.

The first is an invoice dated 8th January 2014 from Ralli Solicitors for £2,496.53. This is for (in part) attendance at mediation meeting on Monday 16th December 2013 involving a mystery employee? to try and reach some type of settlement. Those with long memories will remember there was also a meeting of Council on the evening of 16th December 2013. Had a settlement been reached on 16th December 2013, I wonder if it was connected to what was on the agenda for that meeting.

When this invoice was given to me as part of the audit, Wirral Council blacked out the name.

Some of this bill is for £15.00 (+VAT) for car parking and £15.44 (+VAT) for car mileage. The location of the meeting is also blacked out by Wirral Council so it’s impossible to tell how reasonable the £36.53 for travel expenses tacked on to the bill is.

Ralli Solicitors invoice to Wirral Council 8th January 2014 £2456 53p
Ralli Solicitors invoice to Wirral Council 8th January 2014 £2456 53p

Ralli Solicitors invoice to Wirral Council 8th January 2014 £2456 53p

The second legal invoice I will show you dear reader (moving away from the Department for Adult Social Services to the Department for Children and Young People) is for Wirral Council having to pay another party’s legal expenses after a wasted costs hearing on the 16th October 2013. The invoice is below.

Bear in mind for a court to award a wasted costs order under the court’s rules the court must have deemed that the following happened (legal representative refers to Wirral Council’s legal representative who is again blacked out on the invoice):

“5.5 It is appropriate for the court to make a wasted costs order against a legal representative, only if –
(a) the legal representative has acted improperly, unreasonably or negligently;
(b) the legal representative’s conduct has caused a party to incur unnecessary costs, or has meant that costs incurred by a party prior to the improper, unreasonable or negligent act or omission have been wasted;
(c) it is just in all the circumstances to order the legal representative to compensate that party for the whole or part of those costs.”

I would guess that Hillyer McKeown Solicitors were acting for one (or both) of the parents and Wirral Council is representing one (or more) children.

Wirral Council invoice 24th January 2014 £1728 wasted costs hearing HillyerMcKeown Solicitors Children and Young People Martin Clayton added
Wirral Council invoice 24th January 2014 £1728 wasted costs hearing Hillyer McKeown Solicitors Children and Young People Martin Clayton added

Wirral Council invoice 24th January 2014 £1728 wasted costs hearing Hillyer McKeown Solicitors CYP Martin Clayton added

Wirral Council invoice 24th January 2014 £1728 wasted costs hearing HillyerMcKeown Solicitors Children and Young People
Wirral Council invoice 24th January 2014 £1728 wasted costs hearing Hillyer McKeown Solicitors CYP

Wirral Council invoice 24th January 2014 £1728 wasted costs hearing Hillyer McKeown Solicitors CYP

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ICO rules Wirral Council breached Data Protection Act over blunders and insists on further undertaking

ICO rules Wirral Council breached Data Protection Act over blunders and insists on further undertaking

ICO rules Wirral Council breached Data Protection Act over blunders and insists on further undertaking

                      

Wirral Council are in trouble with the Information Commissioner’s Office again over yet another set of blunders. This time they sent “sensitive personal information” to the wrong address (multiple times) which in one case included details of a criminal offence. The mistakes happened in February and again in April of this year.

The Information Commissioner’s Office is also aware of three previous disclosure incidents reported to them over the past sixteen months. Prior to this period there was the incident where Wirral Council accidentally published a whistleblower’s name on their website.

When the Information Commissioner’s Office investigated, they found that Wirral council had “no mandatory data protection training in place for staff and did not have adequate checks in place to make sure records were being sent to the correct address”.

Information Commissioner’s Office Head of Enforcement, Stephen Eckersley, said:

“While human error was a factor in each of these cases, the council should have done more to keep the information secure. Social workers routinely handle sensitive information and Wirral Borough Council failed to ensure their staff received adequate training on how to keep people’s information secure.

“We are pleased that the council has now made its data protection training mandatory for all staff following these incidents and has agreed to take further action to address the underlying problems that led to these mistakes. This includes ensuring that all staff complete the data protection training by the end of June and adequate checks are in place to make sure sensitive records are being sent to the right address.”

Wirral Council’s Chief Executive Graham Burgess has had to sign an undertaking that Wirral Council will change and do better in the future. Last year Wirral Council had to sign a similar undertaking after their poor performance with Freedom of Information Act requests following concerns raised by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Joe Blott, Wirral’s Strategic Director of Transformation and Resources, said “We take these matters very seriously. As soon as we discovered the errors, we self-referred to the ICO and took immediate steps to discover what went wrong, and make sure we do what is necessary to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

We have taken on board the ICO’s concerns, and have improved our data protection compliance. This has included training for staff with access to confidential and sensitive data, and a re-iteration of how we can and should endeavour to keep confidential information safe.”

Original sources:
ICO Press release 15th April 2014 “Merseyside council agrees to improve practices after social service records sent to the wrong address”
Wirral Council press release 15th April 2014 Council commits to improve data protection following Information Commissioner’s ruling

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