Bidston & Claughton Area Forum | St James Centre | 5th February 2013 Part 1 | Proposals abolishing Area Forums
Bidston & Claughton Area Forum
St James Centre
Ian Brand (Lead Officer)
Tracey Smith (Community Engagement)
Jim Parsons (Community Rep)
Jean McIntosh (Community Rep)
Pat Lansborough (Community Rep)
Steve Preston (Community Safety)
Paul Murphy (Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service)
Cllr Denise Roberts (Chair)
Cllr Harry Smith
Cllr Steve Foulkes
Cllr George Davies
Cllr Ann McLachlan
+ various members of the public
The Chair, Cllr Denise Roberts welcomed people to the Bidston & Claughton Area Forum and asked the Lead Officer, Ian Brand to read out a statement. Ian Brand said it was a standard statement that was being read at each Area Forum. A report proposing a new approach had been recommended in January and would be voted on by councillors in the coming weeks. The proposal was for four neighbourhood teams, with devolved decision-making and budgets. These would consist of multi agency teams including the local authority, police, health, fire and would result in the abolition of the eleven Area Forums.
These local committees would draw down and allocate resources based on a neighbourhood plan. The benefits would be that costs would be reduced and there would be better outcomes for local people. The area covered would be each of the four parliamentary constituencies which would each have a public service board, chaired by councillors. There would also be an overarching Wirral Together Public Service Board. If the proposal was agreed it would be implemented from May 1st . Ian Brand said he would be happy to go over any points people missed and answer questions.
Various questions were then asked of Mr. Brand. He answered that the new public service boards would replace the Area Forums covering the area of a parliamentary constituency (in this case Birkenhead). Details such as allocation of funding was yet to be finalised. Cllr George Davies pointed out that the Birkenhead public service board would cover the existing wards of Bidston & St. James, Birkenhead and Tranmere, Claughton, Prenton, Oxton and Rock Ferry. Cllr Roberts said that people would get more news at the next Forum.
Tracey Smith said that on one issue from the last Forum, on the changes to Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit, the finance department had provided a detailed response from Neil Powell which was attached to the minutes of the last meeting.
Cllr Harry Smith pointed out that he’d attended the last meeting, but that this wasn’t reflected in the minutes. Cllr Roberts apologised and asked if there were any questions arising from the minutes.
Continued from Part 2.
Donnie said that the document said there was £200 million left and asked to the layperson what did that mean, as most people don’t talk in those figures? He said he had come along to try to get an understanding of the mechanics. Normally there would be presentations from the grass-roots about bids, but they had received a letter from the new Chief Executive saying the funding had been suspended which he was disappointed about. He said that funding at that level was important and he didn’t understand what caused a £17 million overspend unless people just “can’t add up”. He asked a question about the Rampworx project and how Wirral Council had offered match funding, but that the site had archaeological significance and contamination issues and how they had looked at a plan B which was the back field to the Bidston Rise estate. He asked whether this had been put on hold or they’d switched to plan B?
Cllr Foulkes said that he hadn’t got the Cabinet decision which was about non-essential spending and why it fell foul was that it wasn’t life or death. He said that it should be a priority as it would create jobs and youth opportunities and sounded like good value for money, however they had to fight for investment.
Donnie said that the land in question belonged to Wirral Partnership Homes and had been transferred by mistake with the housing stock, so it was designated as building land due to the need for affordable housing. He was hoping at the Strategic Housing Partnership meeting that he would find out more.
Cllr Foulkes asked Ian Brand to answer.
Ian Brand said if they had entered a legal contract then the money wouldn’t be frozen, he said he would talk to Donnie separately after the meeting.
Cllr Roberts said although this fund was frozen, that there was another pot of money called Community First that it was possible to apply to and that Anna Wallace the person responsible for Bidston could help. She said as there were no further questions, they would move to the consultation on Council Tax support and benefits.
The officer said they were proposing changes from the 1st April 2013 and that there were 40,000 people in receipt of Council Tax Benefit. There were a few rules, pensioners were protected so they would be no worse off and there was a suggestion that they should protect vulnerable groups. There was another consultation about the changes and they were now seeking people’s views. They currently received £32 million for Council Tax Benefit, which would be reduced by £3.2 million next year, so they were looking at options, one of which was not backdating claims and whether there should be a discretionary fund for hardship. If they didn’t agree on a scheme, then the default scheme would be the same as the one they had now. The consultation was running from the 1st September  to the 31st October .
Continued at Part 4.