Will a planning appeal over the Saughall Massie fire station fail due to incorrect legal advice to councillors?

Will a planning appeal over the Saughall Massie fire station fail due to incorrect legal advice to councillors?                                                           Originally this bundle was going to be published in a different way, but instead it will be published as an exclusive in serial form on this blog. I’d better start by declaring an interest as the … Continue reading “Will a planning appeal over the Saughall Massie fire station fail due to incorrect legal advice to councillors?”

Will a planning appeal over the Saughall Massie fire station fail due to incorrect legal advice to councillors?

                                                         

Originally this bundle was going to be published in a different way, but instead it will be published as an exclusive in serial form on this blog.

I’d better start by declaring an interest as the Appellant in First-tier Tribunal case EA/2016/0054, which is about an Environmental Information Regulations 2004 request for the estimates of capital costs involving a new fire station first at Greasby, then at Saughall Massie and the sale of fire stations at Upton and West Kirby.

Despite the bundle being 480 pages in total, there are hundreds of pages missing from it (such as the transcripts of the public meetings involved, communications between the 2nd Respondent (MFRA) and the 1st Respondent (ICO) etc).

Continue reading “Will a planning appeal over the Saughall Massie fire station fail due to incorrect legal advice to councillors?”

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority end 15 month information request over Greasby and Saughall Massie fire stations by supplying the information, but ask First-tier Tribunal for costs award in their favour against Mr Brace

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority end 15 month information request over Greasby and Saughall Massie fire stations by supplying the information, but ask First-tier Tribunal for costs award in their favour against Mr Brace

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority end 15 month information request over Greasby and Saughall Massie fire stations by supplying the information, but ask First-tier Tribunal for costs award in their favour against Mr Brace

                                         

Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool
Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool

This is a report of a hearing held today of the First-tier Tribunal held in Tribunal Room 3, 3rd Floor (Tribunals Service), Liverpool Civil and Family Court, 35 Vernon Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L2 2BX

At the hearing I was the Appellant and Janet Henshaw represented Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority. ICO did not attend. The case number was EA/2016/0054.

The decision at the hearing was to end the matter by consent order.

The Tribunal consisted of First-tier Tribunal Judge Mr. David Farrer QC, First-tier Tribunal Member Mr. Michael Hake and First-tier Tribunal Member Dr. Malcolm Clarke.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority explained that they had not provided the information covered by decision notice FER0592270, because they had changed it during the course of the EIR request to remove both “Not for publication” and the reason or reasons why under the Local Government Act 1972 it had initially been classed by them as exempt information (although this is a position they reversed during the course of the appeal).

Despite the Appellant informing them by letter in response to what they had sent him on Monday 19th September 2016 (which are the reports below), are not the version he asked for, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority saw it unreasonable to have a hearing today on the withheld information.

During the course of the hearing MFRA supplied extra information to the Appellant Mr. Brace both in written form and verbally.

MFRA asked the Tribunal to make a costs award against Mr Brace, the Appellant.

The Appellant was asked to explain his point of view. He explained that the law stated information that should’ve been in what was supplied, therefore he knew it was the wrong version and he had informed MFRA, the Tribunal and ICO of this by letter.

He had not yet received a response to this letter from MFRA.

MFRA argued that the hearing was pointless, because from their perspective even if the information supplied was two A4 pages shorter than the case management note had required them to supply, in their view, the extra pages contained no information relating to the request in it and referred them to Mr Brace’s letter describing the extra pages.

MFRA were asked during the course of the hearing to supply the version in existence at the time of request to the Appellant Mr Brace.

Janet Henshaw of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority explained that she hadn’t brought it with her to the hearing.

Due to the explanation provided by MFRA as to the withheld pages of information, the Appellant agreed to end the matter by consent order.

Janet Henshaw of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority argued that the Appellant was being unreasonable in bringing the proceedings to a hearing.

The Appellant was given a chance to make representations.

The Tribunal did not agree to make an award of costs at the hearing, but directed Janet Henshaw of MFRA to make a formal application for costs and to serve it on the Appellant and Tribunal by a specified date.

The the Appellant would have a chance to make representations and as he is an individual, supply the Tribunal (and MFRA) with details of financial means (which would have to be considered) when the Tribunal makes a decision.

The First-Tier Tribunal Judge explained that the Tribunal’s rules on costs were different to that of the court.

One of those present also seemed upset at the trees that had been cut down to produce the bundle and the First-Tier Tribunal Judge referred to the cost to the public purse.

Any decision by the Tribunal on costs can be appealed to the County Court.

The information in the two reports relates to MFRA plans for a fire station at Greasby, then Saughall Massie.

The supplied information for Greasby is an Exempt report capital costs Greasby fire station (although this is missing the blank page) and Appendix F Capital Costs Saughall Massie.

Both reports (which were not made public during the two twelve week consultations) show indicative values for selling Upton Fire Station (£350,000) and selling West Kirby fire station (£200,000).

The land value assigned for the abandoned Greasby plans is £300,000 and the notional value assigned for the land at Saughall Massie is £300,000.

The Appellant awaits MFRA’s costs application with interest as at least one of the questions directed towards Chief Fire Officer Dan Stephens (pictured below) during one of the two consultation was why this information wasn’t in the public domain.

Dan Stephens (Chief Fire Officer) answers questions at a public consultation meeting in Saughall Massie to discuss proposals for a new fire station (20th April 2015)
Dan Stephens (Chief Fire Officer) answers questions at a public consultation meeting in Saughall Massie to discuss proposals for a new fire station (20th April 2015)

The First-tier Tribunal Judge stated during the hearing that the reasons given in ICO’s decision notice no longer applied for withholding the information.

MFRA (in line with councillors stating that people should be charged for FOI or EIR requests) despite agreeing to end this by consent order feel that is unfair to pay MFRA’s costs in providing the information, even though the First-Tier Tribunal Judge told them that the reasons for withholding the information in the decision notice didn’t apply.

Janet Henshaw was the person that also refused the information at the internal review stage as she is a senior manager employed by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service.

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Why is there a £17k to £19k discrepancy in allowances and expenses for councillors on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority?

Why is there a £17k to £19k discrepancy in allowances and expenses for councillors on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority?

Why is there a £17k to £19k discrepancy in allowances and expenses for councillors on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority?

                                                           

Current Chair of the Audit Sub Committee Cllr Denise Roberts is in the foreground of this photo from 27th November 2014 Background L to R former DCE Kieran Timmins  DCFO Phil Garrigan and councillor
Current Chair of the Audit Sub Committee Cllr Denise Roberts is in the foreground of this photo from 27th November 2014 Background L to R former DCE Kieran Timmins DCFO Phil Garrigan and councillor

There’s a discrepancy I’ve spotted. In the papers for the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority Policy and Resources Committee that meets on the 17th September 2015. There is a note in the Statement of Accounts (note 29) on page 59. It’s short so I’ll quote it below as it’s mainly information in a table.

29. Members’ Allowances

The Authority comprises of 18 councillors from the 5 districts of Merseyside. The total allowances paid to members within the year were:

  2014/15 2013/14
£000 £000
Allowances 225 239
Expenses 14 23
239 262

As you can see from the table above, for 2014/15 the total allowances paid to councillors is £225,000 and the total expenses for 2014/15 to councillors £14,000. The total for these two figures is £239,000.

On June 11th the Merseyside Fire & Rescue Authority met, agenda item 9 was Members Allowance Payments 2014/15. This agenda item contained a table detailing payments to councillors for 2014/15.

The total allowances detailed in that table for 2014/15 are £143,242.50 + £16,140 + £24,210.00 + £1.345.00 + £8,070.00 + £11,939.57 + £6,053.04 + £2,690.33 = £213,690.44

However £213,690.44 does not equal £225,000!

The difference is £11,309.56 +-£500!

The total expenses detailed in that table are £1,338.45 + £4,175.84 + £2,194.05 = £7,708.34

Again £7,708.34 does not equal £14,000.

This difference is £6,291.66 +-£500!

The two differences add up to a grand total of £17,601.22 +-£1000.

As the figures in the statement of accounts are rounded to the nearest £1000, this could be any figure between £16,601.22 and £18,601.20.

On the expenses side I can make an educated guess that the expenses paid directly by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority that are detailed on the 49 pages of expenses here for councillors weren’t in June being properly coded. Page 2 of a letter from Janet Henshaw states that this amount estimated at between £5,700 and £6,700 wasn’t being coded to each councillor as it would require going through approximately 12 monthly invoices and coding expenditure to 18 councillors (which is classed as a “wholly unreasonable use of scarce resources”).

I’ve totted up amounts in the first twenty-four pages and they total £3,068.04. Assuming the other pages are for broadly similar amounts that would make the total in the ballpark figure of £6,136.08 (which is within the range of £6,291.66 +-£500).

However I’m still at a loss as to why there’s a ~£11,309.56+-£500 difference on allowances for 2014/15!

Perhaps I should ask the auditor Grant Thornton what’s going on and also raise it with the councillors and officers?

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49 pages of secret expenses on fruit cake, stays at the Hilton, first class travel & taxis for councillors

49 pages of secret expenses on fruit cake, stays at the Hilton, first class travel & taxis for councillors

49 pages of secret expenses on fruit cake, stays at the Hilton, first class travel & taxis for councillors

                                                

At the end of this piece are 49 pages of invoices paid directly by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority. If a councillor pays for a meal or a taxi fare but claims the money back, it’s included in the annual totals for each councillor. You can view the table of annual totals for each councillor that was on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority on the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority website.

The pages of expenses below that cover stays in hotels, train fares and meals (which would usually be in the travel and subsistence or overnight categories of expenditure of that table) aren’t included. Below is what Regulation 15(3) of the Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003 states what should be included. Recipient refers to a recipient of a payment under the allowances scheme.

15. Records of Allowances
….
(3) As soon as reasonably practicable after the end of a year to which the scheme relates, an authority shall make arrangements for the publication within the authority’s area of the total sum paid by it in the year under the scheme to each recipient in respect of each of the following—

(a) basic allowance;
(b) special responsibility allowance;
(c) dependants’ carers’ allowance;
(d) travelling and subsistence allowance; and
(e) co-optees’ allowance.

 

The blog post Which Wirral councillor claimed £50 on taxis to and from a public meeting? includes a letter explaining why Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority doesn’t do this.

In that letter Janet Henshaw (Monitoring Officer for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service) writing on behalf of the Wirral councillors wrote:

“It was not possible to show travel & event bookings made directly by MFRA [Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority] (as opposed to members paying and then claiming back their allowances) due to the fact that this Authority uses an electronic software system to make each booking at the cheapest possible price for both members and officers. We were invoiced monthly in the last year for both Officers and Members without differentiation. Thus it would have been a wholly unreasonable use of scare resources to break this down each month between the two groups and then each and every individual.”
 

CFO on one of the receipts refers to the Chief Fire Officer Dan Stephens. DCFO refers to the Deputy Chief Fire Officer Phil Garrigan. As some of the names of the councillors below will be unfamiliar to readers I include a key below. The key has the name of the councillor, political party, which local authority they represent (or represented as Cllr Ted Grannell and Cllr Tony Newman are no longer on the Fire Authority) and whether they hold the position of Chair or Vice-Chair on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority.

Cllr Dave Hanratty, Labour, Liverpool, Chair
Cllr Linda Maloney, Labour, St Helens, Vice-Chair
Cllr Leslie T Byrom, Labour, Sefton, Vice-Chair
Cllr Ted Grannell (down on invoice as Ted Grenell), Labour, Knowsley
Cllr Tony Newman, Labour, Knowsley
Cllr Steve Niblock, Labour, Wirral

Continue reading “49 pages of secret expenses on fruit cake, stays at the Hilton, first class travel & taxis for councillors”

Which Wirral councillor claimed £50 on taxis to and from a public meeting?

Which Wirral councillor claimed £50 on taxis to and from a public meeting?

Which Wirral councillor claimed £50 on taxis to and from a public meeting?

                                                 

I wrote recently to some of the councillors on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority expressing my concern that there were two expenses systems.

The first involved amounts where councillors had paid out expenses and claimed the money back. The totals for each councillor are published annually and you can see the list for 2014/15 on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service’s website. This list also includes the extra £8,070 a year that each councillor on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority receives with some receiving more on top of this (such as the Chair receives an extra £16,140 on top of the £8,040). These amounts are in addition to what they each receive for being a councillor from their own councils.

However there is a “secret” expenses system for councillors where Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service is invoiced directly. These amounts are not in the list above. My letter expressed the view that such expenses should be included and the reply I received is below.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue service letter about councillor expenses page 1 of 2
Merseyside Fire and Rescue service letter about councillor expenses page 1 of 2
Merseyside Fire and Rescue service letter about councillor expenses page 2 of 2
Merseyside Fire and Rescue service letter about councillor expenses page 2 of 2

As you can see above, the letter refers to the Local Authorities (Members Allowances) (England) Regulation 2003 and Regulation 15 means the financial records of payments to do with councillors have to be open to inspection.

So I recently went to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service’s headquarters in Bridle Road, Bootle and inspected these records. Below are two pages of an invoice for taxi rides by councillors that because Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service are invoiced directly don’t get included in the annual published lists.

Cabfind.com invoice  taxis for councillors page 1 of 2
Cabfind Ltd invoice taxis for councillors page 1 of 2
Cabfind.com invoice  taxis for councillors page 2 of 2
Cabfind Ltd invoice taxis for councillors page 2 of 2

I was astounded to find that a councillor from Wirral (Cllr Steve Niblock who is one of the three Labour councillors from Wirral on the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority) had taken a taxi from his home to the Fire and Rescue Service headquarters for a public meeting that cost £25 and then a taxi back costing a further £25 (total £50)!

The letter from Janet Henshaw stated “It was not possible to show travel & event bookings made directly by MFRA [Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority] (as opposed to members paying and then claiming back their allowances) due to the fact that this Authority uses an electronic software system to make each booking at the cheapest possible price for both members and officers.” and “MFRA [Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority] does not use any taxi firms“.

Cabfind Limited isn’t a taxi firm, but based on this statement you’d expect that taxi journeys made by councillors using Cabfind Limited would be the same or cheaper than paying for it themselves?

Below is an expense claim submitted by Cllr Steve Niblock for a journey when he has paid the taxi fare himself and claimed it back. The journey to the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service headquarters is from and to the same address as the Cabfind Limited invoice above.

Councillor Steve Niblock expenses claim taxi journeys
Councillor Steve Niblock expenses claim taxi journeys

The taxi journeys above were for £18.60 and £20.00. This is for exactly the same journey that when booked through Cabfind Limited (which Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service claim is “at the cheapest possible price”) was £25.00 and £25.00.

Had Councillor Steve Niblock walked to the nearest train station (Bebington) and got the train to the nearest train station to Merseyside Fire and Rescue headquarters (Aintree) the fare would’ve been only £3.85 each way (total £7.70). However there is nothing in the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority expense rules that states that councillors claiming back travel expenses have to travel by the cheapest route possible (such as by public transport).

Councillor Steve Niblock recently voted to close Upton and West Kirby fire stations and is part of the ruling Labour Group on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority that claims that the Conservative government doesn’t give the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority enough money.

Continues at Which St Helens councillor claimed £12 for a salmon dinner and a drink of Coke?.

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