UPDATED: Wirral Council U-turns on secrecy of Chief Officer’s early retirement in only 26 hours!

UPDATED: Wirral Council U-turns on secrecy of Chief Officer’s early retirement in only 26 hours!

UPDATED: Wirral Council U-turns on secrecy of Chief Officer’s early retirement in only 26 hours!

                                                   

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Employment and Appointments Committee 22nd September 2015 L to R Surjit Tour (Legal), Cllr Adrian Jones (Chair) and Tony Williams (Human Resources)
Employment and Appointments Committee 21st September 2015 L to R Surjit Tour (Legal), Cllr Adrian Jones (Chair) and Tony Williams (Human Resources)

Correction/update An earlier version of this story linked the Employment and Appointments Committee decision to the departure of Malcolm Flanagan. The Employment and Appointments Committee decision was about the early retirement of another Chief Officer Strategic Director Kevin Adderley whose early retirement has been confirmed by Wirral Council.

Yesterday’s Employment and Appointments Committee meeting (see above) was another masterclass in how politicians will seemingly agree to anything that senior officers ask them to do (however nonsensical).

I asked to speak at the meeting to challenge excluding the press and public (a decision that affects me) for the early retirement item and as Mr. Tour stated during the meeting previously early retirements of chief officers (Jim Wilkie’s cost around £111k to Wirral Council) were considered in public. The request to speak was denied.

There is a slight irony to this as when Mayor Cllr Adrian Jones signed up to article 21. Article 21’s interpretation has meant that at other council’s public meetings the public get to speak … but not at Wirral Council when a decision is being made about them by the whole Committee.

I gave the Chair and Mr. Tour a bunch of public interest reasons (the high cost to Wirral Council of early retirement, the cost of recruiting to that post if it isn’t deleted, scrutiny of politicians etc) before the meeting. All ignored, the public were asked to leave and by around 7.30pm at a public meeting, after excluding the public at around 5.05pm, Wirral Council was announcing a name of a chief officer that was retiring (but not the one the Employment and Appointments Committee made an early retirement decision on). Malcolm Flanagan’s departure was announced but Kevin Adderley’s retirement was still a secret until the next day.

The Head of HR wasn’t present at the Employment and Appointments Committee meeting, she was also due to present a report on attendance management to the Transformation and Resources Committee later that evening, however she was absent from that meeting too (yes I do spot the irony in being absent from a meeting where you’re supposed to be presenting a report on why people are absent from work).

Councillor John Salter did ask the Wirral Council officer in her place at the later meeting about the “attendance management” of Emma Degg only to be told that Wirral Council don’t comment on individual cases.

This perhaps shows councillors that as far as officers are concerned they’re the ones running things and councillors can keep their nosy questions to themselves. If they do have the gall to ask them they will be brushed off. The official motto of Wirral Council is “By Faith and Foresight”.

Across the water Mayor Anderson referring to Liverpool City Council commented recently ‘for too long this Council was run like a toy town at Council and officers led the Council by the nose’.

At Wirral Council officers have been leading the Council since as long as anyone can remember (despite what the councillors may say to the contrary). Here are three examples (with the catchphrase of Churchill’s nodding dog).

Will councillors approve officer recommendations for parking charges for Fort Perch Rock car park?

Councillors: Oh yes.

Will councillors do a U-turn on parking charges for Fort Perch Rock car park?

Councillors: Oh yes.

Will councillors decide to close a much-loved special school called Lyndale?

Councillors: Oh yes.

Here are three examples when councillors or those tasked with corporate governance ask officers something.

Will you renegotiate the Schools PFI contract to save money and save having to make massive cuts to the education budget which will cut support for those with special education needs?

Officer: Oh… no.

Will you answer questions about why Emma Degg left?

Officer: Oh… no.

Will you stop using long Powerpoint presentations to deliberately take up so much public meeting time so that nobody on a scrutiny committee has time (or very little time) to ask you questions?

Officer: Oh… no.

So there you go, Wirral Council summarised concisely.

As it was pointed out to me recently by a councillor that I need to be more positive, I will end by wishing Malcolm Flanagan all the best for his retirement and point out that not all officers at Wirral Council are like those described above. Some are decent human beings that work hard in difficult jobs and don’t get nearly enough thanks from either the press, public or politicians.

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What was a £30,507.67 ex-gratia payment made by Wirral Council for?

What was a £30,507.67 ex-gratia payment made by Wirral Council for?

What was a £30,507.67 ex-gratia payment made by Wirral Council for?

                                                 

Each month Wirral Council publishes a monthly list of all payments over £500 made to suppliers and agencies and a particular entry from January 2015 caught my eye.

A £30,507.56 payment was made on the 30th January 2015 to a firm of solicitors called Jackson & Canter. So what you might say, doesn’t Wirral Council seek legal advice quite often?

It was the description of the payment that caught my eye as it was down as “Ex-Gratia Payments”. So what is an ex-gratia payment? Well it’s probably a voluntary payment to a former employee, by Wirral Council without Wirral Council admitting liability.

Back in April 2012 councillors agreed that “all Compromise Contracts except those to settle litigation and those requiring a payment of £30,000 or less” would be decided by councillors instead of officers. In addition to this a report on compromise contracts agreed was supposed to be brought to each meeting of the Employment and Appointments Committee.

The compromise contracts for both David Garry and Bill Norman happened in this way with councillors making the final decision on them.

The whole definition of a ex-gratia payment is that there’s no legal obligation to make it. This notice of motion agreed by Council shows when the change was made.

So, what’s this payment of £30,507.56 for (and let’s hope it’s not to pay someone to keep quiet about something)? Should councillors have agreed to it? Have constitutional changes made to Wirral Council’s constitution since 2012 meant that what was agreed by politicians 2012 is no longer the case and officers have the final say on such matters (if so when did that change get made and does it overrule what Council agreed)? If the payment was made to a senior officer (or a former senior officer) is there a public interest in the public knowing who it was made to?

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Which 7 councillors will recommend Wirral Council’s new Chief Executive?

Which 7 councillors will recommend Wirral Council’s new Chief Executive?

Who will choose Wirral Council’s new Chief Executive?

                                                         

One of the bigger stories on this blog recently has been the news that the current Chief Executive for Wirral Council Graham Burgess has handed in his notice and will retire at the end of the year.

So as Wirral Council has the Chief Executive’s three-month notice period (30th September 2014 to 31st December 2014) to find his replacement, what’s happened so far?

Well because the Chief Executive is a political appointment of councillors, the politicians have to decide. So a meeting of the Employment and Appointments Committee has been set up for the 27th October 2014. Graham Burgess is also currently Returning Officer (many people reading this may also know what a Returning Officer is but in simple terms it’s the head person at Wirral Council for elections), Electoral Registration Officer (another role to do with elections) and Head of Paid Service.

So what’s the timetable for picking a new Chief Executive and will one be in post by 1st January 2014? According to the draft timetable it won’t so temporary appointments will have to be made! The proposed timetable means the job advertisement will be advertised around the start of December 2014, which will give people until nearly a week after Graham Burgess leaves to apply for his job.

It is proposed that Penna PLC be paid about £15,000 for helping find a new Chief Executive and a further about £15,000 for finding a new Head of Specialist Services (who is also leaving in December 2014).

However paying out about £15k to Penna PLC to aid Wirral Council’s Human Resources department is not enough! No a “professional adviser” from the Local Government Association will also be advising the Appointments Panel.

This in fact has always struck me as a bit of an anomaly. Penna PLC and the LGA aren’t officers or councillors at Wirral Council. In the past though, they’ve remained in the meeting room after the press and public were excluded from the public meeting.

So who is the Appointments Panel going to be and what will it do? It will consist of seven councillors who will make a recommendation for the post of Chief Executive to the sixty-six councillors. It will probably be four Labour councillors, two Conservative councillors and one Lib Dem councillor. I have some guesses now below about who will make up this appointment panel for the Chief Executive. It hasn’t yet been decided yet which councillors will be on it, but below are my names along with my reasons:

Labour (4 councillors)
Cllr Adrian Jones * reason is already Chair of Employment and Appointments Committee
Cllr Phil Davies * reason is already Vice-Chair of Employment and Appointments Committee & Leader of the Council
Cllr George Davies * reason is Deputy Leader of Wirral Council, Cabinet Member and Labour councillor on Employment and Appointments Committee
Cllr Ann McLachlan * reason is Deputy Leader of Wirral Council, Cabinet Member and Labour councillor on Employment and Appointments Committee

* Note although Cllr Moira McLaughlin is a possibility, she’s unlikely for the reasons listed above

Conservative (2 councillors)
Cllr Jeff Green * reason there are only 2 Conservative councillors (apart from deputies) on Employment and Appointments Committee
Cllr Lesley Rennie * reason there are only 2 Conservative councillors (apart from deputies) on Employment and Appointments Committee

Lib Dem (1 councillor)
Cllr Phil Gilchrist * reason only Lib Dem (apart from deputies) on Employment and Appointments Committee

The seven councillors on the Appointments Panel will all be from the Employment and Appointments Committee and due to the high-profile nature of the appointment unlikely to be deputies. The Employment and Appointments Committee has eight councillors on it (plus twenty-one deputies). So the seven will come from those twenty-nine.

The Appointments Panel doesn’t actually choose the Chief Executive though. They just recommend who the Chief Executive should be to a meeting of all sixty-six councillors at Wirral Council.

From a practical perspective though, as Labour have a majority of councillors on the Appointments Panel and Wirral Council it will be down to the Labour councillors to decide who the next Chief Executive/Returning Officer/Electoral Registration Officer/Head of Paid Service is. As the process will probably be going on after Graham Burgess leaves and it’s a legal requirement to have somebody appointed to some of these roles, temporary people will have to be found before a permanent appointment is made.

Looking back to July 2012 when Graham Burgess was appointed as Chief Executive by Council, he then had to serve his period of notice before starting in post in September 2012.

If the new Chief Executive has to also serve out a period of notice, it could be as late as May 2015 before he or she starts (which if it is after General Election and local elections it will make the election side of their job easier).

So here’s the proposed job description & person specification for the Chief Executive/Head of Paid Service/Returning Officer/Electoral Registration Officer.

Certainly it will be interesting to see who the politicians eventually recommend for this key post at Wirral Council! If anyone wishes to leave a comment comparing the appointment of Wirral Council’s Chief Executive to the complicated process of appointing a Doge of Venice, feel free.

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Employment and Appointments Subcommittee 13th November 2012

Employment and Appointments Subcommittee 13th November 2012 Appointment of a Strategic Director (Families and Wellbeing)

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Present
Cllr Tom Harney (Lib Dem)
Cllr Simon Mountney (Conservative)
Cllr Lesley Rennie (Conservative)
Cllr Phil Davies, Chair (Labour)
Cllr Adrian Jones (Labour)
Cllr George Davies (Labour)
Cllr Ann McLachlan (Labour)

Officers
Graham Burgess (Chief Executive)
Chris Hyams (Head of HR and OD)
Andrew Mossop (Committee Services Officer)
Unknown female officer

Press/public
Johnathan Swain of  Penna PLC
John and Leonora Brace

Well the Employment and Appointments Subcommittee, part of the final process to select a strategic director (Families and Wellbeing) following the officer interviews today, was predictably short (well the public bit anyway). Jonathan Swain of recruitment consultants Penna PLC once again stayed for the exempt part of the meeting, even though as far as I know being a private sector employee working in the private sector would be classed as part of the “public” (unless they’ve temporarily made him an officer).

Employment & Appointments Committee – 27th January Part 1

The E&A Committee started a little later than advertised. The Chair welcomed those present and asked for any declarations of interest. Cllr Rennie declared a personal interest in the occupational health item by virtue of being on the Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service Authority.

The full agenda and reports for the meeting can be found here. The minutes were agreed with no comments and the committee moved to item 3 on agile working.

An officer introduced the report saying they were moving away from fixed desks for increased productivity. The report outlined best practice and guidance in this change to working arrangements. There had been full consultation with the trade unions. Cllr Mitchell pointed out what was missing was a review of the office space. He was concerned that there would be enough rooms and offices for meetings whether regular or ad-hoc.

The officer replied that agile working supporting the office rationalisation. He referred to the breakout areas/spaces and said this would be subject to individual building’s policies.

Cllr Green said it was not to say that tomorrow everyone would be agile working, but the framework and policies had been agreed with the trade unions. Regarding implementation, it would be when opportunities were identified. He said “We have a lot of office space”. He said it would be useful if a project or service could be used as a case study. He referred to hot desking and hubs and said it was good to have trade union agreement. However there was “vague wording” eg “when appropriate”. Things needed to move forward and it was a “big piece of work well done”.

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