Why did a ferris wheel in New Brighton and a Wirral Globe article about it disappear?
Why did a ferris wheel in New Brighton and a Wirral Globe article about it disappear?
With spin machines in overdrive on the second of two election cycles this year, how about a story about the New Brighton Wheel?
Regular readers of this blog will be aware that the issue of Wirral Council charging for car parking on Fort Perch Rock car park has been a political issue in the recent past which led to a U-turn by Wirral Council on the issue of charging.
Relatively recently part of the Fort Perch Rock car park (owned by Wirral Council) was cordoned off for a ferris wheel and associated facilities run by a limited company.
The Chief Executive of Wilkie Leisure Group Limited, who manages a business close to the Fort Perch Rock car park had concerns about how Wirral Council had run the tendering process for the ferris wheel.
He instructed Kirwans Solicitors (David Kirwan is a former councillor at Wirral Council) to help Wilkie Leisure Group Limited with Wirral Council.
Stories now differ between the different parties to this matter as to why the wheel came down when it did.
The following two quotes are from a press release about the matter.
In a recent letter from Wirral Council to Wilkie Leisure Group Limited, Wirral Council’s Assistant Chief Executive and Director for Business Services (referred to as Mr Amstrong) is quoted as writing,
“Mr Armstrong recognises your client’s long standing contribution to the attractions of New Brighton.
Liverpool Fair Ltd have been granted an extension of their contractual licence to 11 pm on 6/5/17.
They must begin the safe removal of their equipment on 7/5/17. Any further use of the site for the Big Wheel is dependent on the grant of planning permission and a decision by the Council as landowner that it would be an appropriate use of the site.
The Council’s Contract Procedure Rules would apply to any procurement that might then follow.”
David Wilkie wrote, “While I am pleased that Wirral Council has acknowledged its failure to follow the correct tendering processes, I am sorry for the people of New Brighton and the surrounding areas that, thanks to that failure, they will now lose an attraction that all should have been able to enjoy.
It is crucial for local businesses such as ours, which has passed through three generations, that councils conduct fair and just procedural processes through which all businesses can bid. This is a reminder that they have a responsibility to do just that.”
The related court matter has been discontinued due to the removal of the Wheel, but the corporate governance concerns raised by it related to both planning permission and whether Wirral Council had followed their own rules in how the licence was awarded.
Certainly since the removal of the wheel there has been an accusation that the Wirral Council spin machine has entered spin mode. Both the Wheel and the Wirral Globe article about it have both disappeared!
If you click on any of the buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this result with other people.
If you accept this notice, your choice will be saved and the page will refresh.
Wirral Council’s Public Question Time 14th December 2015
Before I write about the question I asked of Councillor Adrian Jones at public question time, I am going to explain some of the legal background, what’s happened so far and why there are echoes of the extreme lengths that the former Speaker of the House of Commons Michael Martin went to over MPs’ expenses.
There are a number of different laws (and a bit of history) here that apply to this, so I am going to start by explaining my understanding of them and explain why Cllr Adrian Jones has unfortunately fallen into the trap of believing things officers tell him and also getting bamboozled by some of the legal jargon. Here is a link to a transcript of a previous answer he gave.
I’m a local government elector here on the Wirral (basically that means I get to vote in elections to Wirral Council).
Each year, during the audit there is a period of about three weeks when local government electors have a legal right to inspect and receive free copies of accounts to be audited and copies of all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts relating to them.
Wirral Council can remove any details of employees, but has to seek the external auditor’s permission (in this case Grant Thornton) to remove anything else.
Once the inspection period ends, there is then a period when questions can be asked of the auditor followed by a period when formal objections can be raised or requests for a public interest report.
In case Wirral Council thinks I’m picking on it, this year I made requests to Merseytravel (part of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority), Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority (also called Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority), Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and Liverpool City Council.
Each of those other bodies managed to respond and provide the information for inspection more or less within the inspection period.
Two of these authorities (Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority) provided some of what I requested in electronic format.
Wirral Council however decided that providing me with what I’d estimate at 10% of what I asked for was reasonable. It’s not!
These other public bodies I refer to are much smaller (in terms of staff and budget) than Wirral Council, yet by being flexible saved to give the example as outlined above the internal costs of copying a contract of over 11,000 pages in length. Had I requested such a contract from Wirral Council I would still be waiting as they would insist on supplying it in paper format!
By reversing this decision Wirral Council saved ’thousands in the costs of perhaps adding an extra hour to the next Highways and Traffic Representation Panel public meeting, the cost of it then going on the agenda of the next Regeneration and Environment Policy and Performance Committee public meeting and the cost of a Cabinet Member finally making a decision (along with the associated costs of officers trying to persuade objectors to drop their objections).
I might point out that as I put this information in the public domain had Cabinet reversed their decision at an earlier stage the costs of consultation on the proposed traffic regulation order (an expensive public notice in the local newspaper etc) would have been saved too.
I would suspect that councillors’ use of taxis would be broadly comparable from year to year. So let’s test Cllr Adrian Jones’ assertion.
In response to this FOI request the taxi bill in 13/14 was ~£3k and Cllr Adrian Jones confirmed in answer to my question that for the 14/15 financial year the total cost was roughly the same.
Here are three councillors that got taxis in 13/14 and the costs:
Cllr Moira McLaughlin £755.30 Cllr Pat Hackett £700 Cllr Steve Niblock £493.90
Had anyone of those stopped getting taxis at Wirral Council’s expense the total amount for 14/15 would’ve dropped dramatically.
Yet here are the relevant amounts from the 2014/15 published list:
Cllr Moira McLaughlin £NIL Cllr Pat Hackett £NIL Cllr Steve Niblock £NIL
If these three councillors had all decided to give up getting taxis and the £NIL amounts were correct (the latter point Cllr Adrian Jones states in answer to my question) then the total amount would drop by ~£2k (the combined total of all three). However it hasn’t!
You can see the full exchange between myself and Cllr Adrian Jones below.
Cllr Ron Abbey (who is a member of Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee) makes the point before Cllr Adrian Jones that it is implied that this is unlawful and isn’t that terrible to imply such a thing?
Clearly as clearly outlined above, had Wirral Council not flouted a number of its other legal responsibilities I would be able to answer that question and Wirral Council’s cultural attitudes towards its legal responsibilities continue to have the effect of interfering with the freedom of the press and triggering the Streisand effect.
Councillor Adrian Jones makes the point that councillors are trusted not to misuse the public purse paying for their taxis.
Below is a claim form (as I’m being seasonal) from one of Cllr Adrian Jones’ party colleagues, a Councillor Peter Brennan (a councillor at Liverpool City Council) who claimed from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority (and was paid for) £5.64 for car mileage expenses to and from a carol concert at St Nicholas’ Church. In the grand scheme of things you may point out that £5.64 doesn’t matter and at least he didn’t get a taxi! However it’s the cumulative cost to the public purse of these matters and the excessive secrecy at Wirral Council that is leading to suspicion as to why despite Cllr Adrian Jones’ claims about openness and transparency that at Wirral Council they are being anything but on this politically sensitive topic!
If you click on any of these buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this article with other people. Thanks:
Does Wirral Council believe that the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government?
I was planning on writing today about the implications of the Comprehensive Spending Review (however that’s something that would really benefit from a very in-depth piece), but Wirral Council have published an interesting document about Cabinet meeting report protocol.
That probably sounds rather boring, but it shows the informal arrangements that everyone knew existed behind the scenes before reports were published are being put on a more formal footing.
Although much of it is probably the rather dry nuts and bolts and let’s face it there will still be people submitting reports late and chairs not following procedures with regards to late reports, it does seem an attempt at least to make what the press and public end up reading at least not full of obvious errors (and I’m not talking about spelling mistakes).
The report does state what I knew already, that the SLT (Senior Leadership Team or senior managers at Wirral Council) see reports before they’re published and have a chance to suggest edits.
Even before each public Cabinet meeting happens, Cllr Phil Davies has a meeting of his Cabinet (called a briefing) which the officers are expected to attend (usually in what’s called the Cabinet Briefing Room behind locked doors at Wallasey Town Hall) where he goes through the entire agenda and matters are discussed in private.
Interestingly, this report shows that the Cabinet briefing is used as a filter and the Cabinet briefing can be used to change the reports that are later published. I presume this practice of writing reports by committee leads to some bits being watered down.
There are also four compulsory steps a report has to go through before the press or public see it. It seems reports have to be run by legal (which makes me laugh considering some of the legal howlers I’ve pointed out on this blog over the years), human resources (which is understandable as many of the decisions are going to have HR implications), finance (again understandable) and the Head of Service (which has been standard practice for years anyway). As there are vacant heads of service posts, in that situation the relevant strategic director signs it off.
However there is one very important group of people this all leaves out, the public. Anyone involved with politics will of course comment and say that the last group of people involved in political decisions are the public.
This is what Wirral Council’s constitution states about decision-making:
13.2 Principles of decision-making
All decisions of the Council will be made in accordance with the following principles:
(i) proportionality (i.e. the action must be proportionate to the desired outcome);
(ii) due consultation and the consideration of professional advice from officers;
(iii) respect for human rights;
(iv) a presumption in favour of openness;
(v) clarity of aims and desired outcomes; and
(vi) Wednesbury* reasonableness (i.e. the decision must not be so unreasonable that no reasonable Council could have reached it, having taken into account all relevant considerations, and having ignored irrelevant considerations).
Every policy disaster (whether the library closure fiasco which resulted in a public inquiry or half a dozen others I could mention here) has resulted because the public weren’t involved (or were involved/consulted but politely ignored by politicians and officers who had the arrogance to think they knew better) and/or the above principles weren’t followed.
Let’s take the Fort Perch Rock car park charging U-turn as an example. Principle (ii) above states the "consideration of professional advice from officers" yet officers didn’t tell them that if they started charging at Fort Perch Rock car park then the lease the Council had for the Marine Point development would lead to charges at hundreds of spaces at the other currently free car parks.
No, it fell to a local blogger to publish the pages of the lease, a large petition against it of thousands of people and a campaign against the charges from a former Conservative councillor in the marginal seat of New Brighton. This was despite Labour’s backbench councillors warning the Cabinet at at least one public meeting not to go ahead with plans for charging.
Next week, the Transformation and Resources Committee will discuss the high-profile issue of a fire station in Saughall Massie. At the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority meeting earlier this year where the decision was made, the petition organiser was given five minutes to speak and a delegation from the Saughall Massie Conservation Society was also given the opportunity to speak for up to five minutes.
Yes, you are probably going to say, this ties in with (iii) above, respect for human rights as article 21, which Wirral Council signed up to when Cllr Adrian Jones was Mayor quite clearly states
(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
Notice the importance of that word directly or through freely chosen representatives (that is politicians).
The other public bodies I report on either have mechanisms written into their constitution (for example Liverpool City Council has a regular public question time slot at many of its meetings and I’ve mentioned the mechanisms that Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority has), so people can exercise their rights at public meetings and have their say before the decision is made.
At Wirral Council the public at public meetings get frustrated and heckle instead (then get told to shut up by the Chair or clear off which does show some politicians’ attitude towards the public outside of elections).
The Chair at last night’s meeting (despite his wish to get home in time to watch Coronation Street) tried to let many taxi drivers have their say (some more than once) before the decision to consult on increasing hackney carriage fares was made (if a decision is made following the consultation it’ll mean fares go up in time for Christmas).
Yet if there’s one point I am trying to make from this maybe boring piece about Wirral’s politics, it’s that the public should be more involved and you don’t encourage the public to turn up by expecting them to sit through meetings in silence and not have any influence over decisions that are going to affect their lives.
At the moment taxi drivers have more influence over decisions as there is a Joint Consultative Committee that meets regularly behind closed doors than I do over say Wirral Council’s filming of public meetings policy.
Yes, this probably sounds like as to why it’s a good idea to have politicians, or for the kind of public interest journalism I spend a lot of time doing but the point I’m trying to get at is one that Wirral’s political system doesn’t seem to have quite grasped which is "the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government".
At Wirral Council this seems to have morphed in the past to "the will of the officers shall be the basis of the authority of government" (and we expect politicians to rubber stamp decisions we refer to them).
If you click on any of the buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this article with other people.
VIDEO: A round-up of local Wirral and Merseyside politics by John Brace (part 1)
VIDEO: A round-up of local Wirral and Merseyside politics by John Brace (part 1)
Below is a transcript of a video I’ve recorded about a range of local political matters. I’ve added some extra detail which I don’t say on the video in  brackets and of course links to more detailed stories. I realised when I finished recording that I’d been talking for nearly eighteen minutes. It’s about a variety of local political issues.
At the time of publishing this blog post the video has been uploaded to Youtube, but is still processing at Youtube’s end.
Please accept YouTube cookies to play this video. By accepting you will be accessing content from YouTube, a service provided by an external third party.
I suppose I’d better briefly explain what the situation is regarding councillors’ expenses and allowances.
Councillors on the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority are entitled to claim expenses for instance for travel to public meetings and each year they’re supposed to publish a table detailing each councillors’ name and how much has been spent over the year in expenses for that particular councillor in various categories.
However unfortunately what Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service was doing was, where they received invoices directly rather than councillors claiming back expenses they’d incurred themselves, where trips were booked through Capita, train travel that kind of thing, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service were invoiced directly but this wasn’t appearing on the actual annual lists so that about £6,000 or so of expenses were being left off. So I have been pointing this out over the past few months.
There’s also the issue that councillors get paid allowances and on this National Insurance and presumably things like income tax were paid. Now those amounts weren’t included in the annually published lists either.
I did ask Councillor Hanratty earlier, I think it was the day before yesterday whether these amounts would be included in future, didn’t get an answer.
I think they don’t want to give me answers on this, I think they hope I’ll just stop writing about it and move on to other things. After all I think there are far less councillors getting a taxi from home to the public meetings now since I started publishing what these expenses were for.
Anyway, another news story that’s seems to be popular on the blog is that Merseytravel’s Chief Executive David Brown is leaving. I think he’s leaving from some time next month to become Chief Executive of Transport for the North. Obviously that’ll be news for people that work at Merseytravel and I suppose you’re wondering what Transport for the North is!
Well it’s a new kind of regional body that’s been set up regarding transport matters and eventually it’ll become like Merseytravel is and the Combined Authority a statutory body. So I wish him luck in his new job and I think the Deputy Chief Executive Frank Rogers will be Acting Chief Executive until councillors decide on who the permanent Chief Executive should be, which should come to a future meeting in the future.
Anyway, another thing I’ve written about on the blog recently is to do with the whole Lyndale School closure matter. Now for those who have been following this story this is probably going to repeat what you already know, but Wirral Council officers said the reason the school had to close was that from 2016/17 which is the next academic year, that funding that they’d get for education from the government would be based on pupil numbers rather than place numbers.
Now at the moment I think there are about forty places at Lyndale School and about must be a dozen or so pupils. So basically they were saying that from next year, there would be a shortfall in Lyndale School’s budget.
But this hasn’t happened!
The Cabinet still decided to close the School, but the funding changes haven’t happened, Wirral Council will get the same funding as they did the previous year.
However despite them getting the same funding, they have actually made cuts from the SEN budget because there is flexibility at Wirral Council in that they can move money around within the education budget. They’ve still got to spend it on education, but they can move money around from say that allocated for teaching assistants for special educational needs to something else within that education budget and one of the things that’s been causing pressures on the budget is that they have a massive contract, I think it’s about half way through thirty years or something.
I’ve read through the contract and it’d take too long to go into here, but it’s a contract with Wirral Schools Services Limited for basically to rebuild a number of schools, but as well as the payments that relate to that there are also payments of millions a year I think that the schools have to pay this private company for services to do with the schools. For instance I think school meals is part of it, possibly cleaning and maintenance.
So the situation had been that Wirral Council was getting a grant from the government for some of this, but the contract meant that the costs were rising each year for PFI.
What was happening was, this money was being funded outside the education budget by Wirral Council. But then a political decision was made [by Wirral Council councillors] not to do this, which meant that a few million had to be cut out of the education budget elsewhere.
Hence why special educational needs got a cut, but again one of the other interesting twists and turns that came out in the Lyndale School saga is that the whole issue of whether the School should be closed or not seemed to arise around the time there was a revaluation of the land and buildings.
Off the top of my head I think the valuation was about £2.4 million [it was actually £2.6 million]. I’d better make it clear at this stage this is a what they call a technical, what’s it called, depreciated replacement cost value. It’s not a they send in an estate agent and they say how much would would we get for this and how much would we get for the school playing fields and so on?
No, it’s more they have to have on their asset list, a list of how much their assets are because obviously as a Council they have liabilities, they have to offset that with their assets.
But it’s a great shame what happened regarding Lyndale School, it’s not closed yet, it’ll close at the end of the academic year, but I think it could’ve been handled a lot better.
He’s called Phil Ward and the problem was that, there was quite a bit of criticism levelled at him for the way he chaired the consultation meetings. Now obviously you can criticise anybody for chairing high profile consultation meetings. I’m sure there were criticisms of how Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority did their consultation meetings.
But moving back to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority, the Saughall Massie issue, it was agreed by councillors on the Fire Authority to go ahead, they’ve agreed the four or so million pounds in the capital budget and a planning application has been submitted.
Now I’ve checked on Wirral Council’s website and I can’t see a planning application there yet but obviously they have to scan it in and put it on the website for consultation so people can make their comments and so on.
The other issue is there was a vote recently on whether Wirral Council should give the land or they may get something for it I don’t know, maybe they’ll give it to them, should give this land to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority for this new fire station in Saughall Massie.
Now obviously it would be better if Wirral Council could make a decision reasonably quickly but I understand the point that councillors made at the meeting, that they felt they were only hearing one side of the argument and that they hadn’t got the information in front of them regarding the emails that had been released under Freedom of Information Act requests, they hadn’t heard the Fire and Rescue Service’s point of view because nobody had been invited along from the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service and basically better decisions are made by politicians when they have the facts in front of them and they don’t like making decisions if they’re going to be made fools of later when it turns out there’s something they should’ve known or was in the public domain.
An example of that New Brighton car parking Fort Perch Rock fiasco. Now that went out to budget consultation, was agreed by Cabinet, was agreed by Council but what wasn’t known at the time was that Wirral Council had a lease for the Marine Point complex and that lease said that if Wirral Council introduced car parking charges at Fort Perch Rock, that they could be introduced in the car parking elsewhere there and Liverpool Echo journalist I think it was Liam Murphy got in touch with the company that runs the Marine Point complex and they said yes they’d have to introduce charges because obviously if Wirral Council had introduced charges at Fort Perch Rock car park then it would’ve displaced some parking to the free parking elsewhere, so then they’d feel they’d have to introduce charges themselves, but once these matters came out then there was a U-turn done on it and they decided they’ll make up the budget shortfall somewhere else.
But that goes back to my point about politicians having the information in front of them so they can make reasonably informed decisions. Now the reports that go before officers, sorry politicians whether that’s at Wirral Council, Liverpool City Council, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, Merseytravel and so on are written by officers. That is employees of the particular public body that the politicians are politicians for.
But there’s a question of, officers can have a particular point of view and make a recommendation and therefore ask the councillors to approve it, but officers aren’t actually going to know everything, but where do the public fit in all this?
Because of course in an ideal world, like for instance the Planning Committee yesterday where the public gets to speak for five minutes if they’ve got a qualifying petition. In an ideal world, if you were making a decision, say a major decision about a fire station being built, well that’s two decisions really, it’s a planning decision and whether Wirral Council give them the land. When you’re making a major decision like that, then not only should you have some sort of consultation with the public and by consultation I don’t mean publishing the papers for the meeting a week before, although that does give some advance warning so people can lobby the decision makers.
I’m talking about that people who are affected by the decision should have their say at a public meeting and I know there’ve been consultation meetings, that the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service have run and that’s fine. But what I’m saying is the ball’s now in Wirral Council’s court, there has to be the usual consultation on planning applications, but it’s a very emotive issue.
And I think basically if I can sum up the positions, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service have received a grant for some of the cost of this fire station and of course with the West Kirby and Upton fire stations being closed, they’ll receive something for the sale of those but basically they want to build it now in Saughall Massie because the site in Greasby has been withdrawn.
But the problem is that this is greenbelt land and there’s a lot of resistance from the residents regarding a fire station there.
Now in the not too distant past Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service did put in a planning application for a temporary fire station in Oxton while Birkenhead Fire Station was being rebuilt. I know that was later withdrawn but that caused a similar level of fuss and outrage and politicians saying they were against it and so on.
But the problem was that was only a temporary ~12 month arrangement, eventually they found some way round finding somewhere else. But the same issues that were brought up then, have been brought up regarding this Saughall Massie issue, you know the issues regarding sirens, traffic and so on but I think the elephant in the room really for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service is that a number of the fire stations they’ve got are part of the PFI scheme, so they can’t close those without massive penalties.
I mean I think Birkenhead Fire Station is one example of one of the fire stations they’ve got under this PFI scheme.
So there are fire stations they can’t shut, so that leaves if they want to make any budget savings, for instance through cutting jobs and merging fire stations, they’ve only got the ones that aren’t the PFI fire stations that they can choose from.
And that’s part of the reason why Upton and West Kirby got chosen.
But I think one of the things that has currently got the public going, is that after there was pressure put regarding the Greasby site, that the offer of Greasby where there’s a library and community centre there was withdrawn and people are asking why Wirral Council isn’t doing the same thing with Saughall Massie?
Well basically these are decisions yet to be determined, it’s a party political matter because three political parties involved in the last decision on this voted three different ways, but I can see a problem because firstly Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service can’t keep Upton and West Kirby open. They just don’t have the budget for the amount of firefighters that would take.
Now one alternative is, just keep Upton open, now the downside to this according to the Chief Fire Officer is that this would increase response times to the Hoylake and West Kirby area, so that’s why they want somewhere roughly in between the two stations.
However then people raised the issue of Upton’s close to Arrowe Park Hospital, so it’ll take longer to get to there so wherever you have a fire station there’ll be people that have a quick response time and people that have a slow response time.
But the fire engines aren’t always at the fire station all the time, I mean about half the time they’ll be called out on a job, well maybe a bit more than that, they’ll be out somewhere else and that can’t really be predicted where they’d be at, whether they’d be fitting a smoke alarm or something like that.
So there are a lot of issues to do with the Saughall Massie fire station and basically I’ll be reporting on it, but at the same time I think it’s interesting seeing both the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority meetings and the Wirral Council meetings and how this issue has been dealt with at both of them.
Of course if the government hadn’t offered Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service a large grant to build a new fire station there, then I doubt this would’ve gone ahead, admittedly they could’ve borrowed the money or found the money from somewhere but I think that what’s interesting is I did make a FOI for the grant application that they made to DCLG, was told that this information would be published in the future so I couldn’t have it now and I’d have to wait till after the consultations were finished and by that they didn’t just mean the Upton and West Kirby consultations but they meant the other consultations because this grant is not just for a fire station at Saughall Massie, there are similar consultations and mergers and closures happening elsewhere across Merseyside.
Objectors referred to pay and display parking in Hamilton Square, Birkenhead and the reduction in visitors once charges for parking had started. Many objectors thought that car parking charges would put people off from visiting New Brighton. Some objectors thought that what charging would be unlawful. Others felt that Wirral Council ordering the pay and display ticket machines before the consultation on the proposed traffic regulation order started pre judged the outcome of the consultation.
The most detailed objection from Singleton Clamp & Partners Limited sent on behalf of the Wilkie Leisure Group stated: