7 Wirral Council councillors, 1 appointment to be longlisted & an HR consultant from Penna PLC; what could possibly go wrong?
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What I’m writing today is an insight into how Wirral Council rushes decisions, it doesn’t seem to follow proper decision-making processes, gets itself in a pickle and how it can bungle even something simple like deciding on a long list based on applications for a senior post at Wirral Council.
First you need to know a bit of background to this story. The current postholder with the title of Head of Specialist Services Emma Taylor (which is in the Families and Wellbeing Directorate) gave Wirral Council her three months notice two and half months ago and leaves at the end of this year. Due to her being one of the senior managers at Wirral Council it is politicians (not officers) that choose her replacement.
On 27th October 2014 the Employment and Appointments Committee (made up of Wirral Council councillors) met, decided on a panel to decide of 4 Labour councillors, 2 Conservative councillors and 1 Lib Dem councillor, the job description/person specification, terms of reference of the panel, to appoint Penna PLC as recruitment consultants (who get paid £15,000 for this recruitment) and also on the process and timescales.
The job was then advertised, applications were sought (which went to Penna PLC) and the closing date for applications was 5th December 2014. Below is a screenshot of the page on Penna’s website for it (currently here but as applications have closed this link may not work for long):
As you can see the closing date for applications for this post (which went to David Slatter of Penna PLC shown in the above video) is 5th December 2014.
On the 2nd December 2014 (before applications for the post had even closed), the agenda for the Employment and Appointments Panel (Head of Specialist Services) was published.
Items 3/4 on the original agenda stated:
“3. Exempt Information – Exclusion of Members of the Public
The public may be excluded from the meeting during consideration of the following items of business on the grounds that they involve the likely disclosure of exempt information.
RECOMMENDATION – That in accordance with section 100A (4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the public be excluded from the meeting during consideration of the following items of business, on the grounds that they involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined by the relevant paragraphs of Part 1 of Schedule 12A (as amended) to that Act. The public interest test has been applied and favours exclusion.
4. Appointment of Head of Specialist Services, Families and Wellbeing Department
To consider the applications for this post. ”
Interestingly between the agenda for this meeting being published and the version of the agenda we got handed out just before the public meeting started (late), agenda item 4 had been changed to add (Applications enclosed) (see below).
Now this is the weird aspect of this, the agenda published on 2nd December stated the public interest test had been applied (by a Wirral Council officer) stating no reason why the public were to be excluded, based on applications that were yet to be supplied by Penna until after the closing date of the 5th December.
Applications were circulated to those on the panel, I saw this with my own eyes being done in person on the evening before shortly before the Cabinet meeting on the 9th December 2014.
However a different bit of the Local Government Act 1972, s.100B (4) and (5) required the applications for item 4 to be circulated five clear days before the meeting (which obviously didn’t happen).
The law is quite clear that even for items where they are planning to exclude the press and public that this has to happen otherwise the item can’t be taken unless “by reason of special circumstances, which shall be specified in the minutes, the chairman of the meeting is of the opinion that the item should be considered at the meeting as a matter of urgency.” and I didn’t see that happen during the first three items.
The meeting itself started five minutes late as Cllr Tony Smith was late and was over by about half an hour later.
The other point I would like to raise is this? If the public and press were excluded, why was David Slatter of Penna PLC (who is neither a Wirral Council employee nor councillor) allowed to stay in the room? Shouldn’t he have left and why didn’t the Chair ask him to when we left?
However it often happens at Wirral Council meetings that the Chair assumes anyone sitting round the table the committee is sitting on is an employee or councillor. For example recently the Pensions Committee excluded the press and public from part of a meeting. We left, but their auditor from Grant Thornton stayed despite falling into the category of press/public just because they were sitting around the table, therefore it was assumed they could be there.
I’ve seen the same happen at many other Wirral Council public meetings too that go into private session. There are members of the public present but they stay and the meeting carries on despite them being excluded from the meeting. Maybe chairs don’t understand what exclusion of the public means?
Politicians (especially those chairing meetings) can’t have it both ways. If the committee agrees to exclude the public then public and press (not councillors and officers) have to all leave. Otherwise it makes a complete mockery of the law and brings Wirral Council’s decision-making into further disrepute!
Do chairs of public meetings at Wirral Council actually understand what they’re deciding? Are the legal advisers advising the committees aware of the laws about public meetings or do they (mainly) just only offer an opinion if asked for the sake of their careers and not “rocking the boat” with politicians who could get them suspended?
Or is the real answer that Wirral Council has outsourced even part of its HR function to the private sector so much that it couldn’t actually function without having the private sector present during private parts of public meetings when the private sector seemingly have no actual legal right to be there? Am I wrong to expect fairness in Wirral Council’s decision-making?
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this and will be interested to read the minutes of yesterday’s meeting when they are published too.
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