What do disasters, Wirral Council, Wirral Waters, an MOT test, Snowden and America have in common?

What do disasters, Wirral Council, Wirral Waters, an MOT, Snowden and America have in common?

What do disasters, Wirral Council, Wirral Waters, an MOT test, Snowden and America have in common?


Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool, L2 2BX (the venue for First-Tier Tribunal case EA/2016/0033)
Liverpool Civil & Family Court, Vernon Street, Liverpool, L2 2BX

I thought it was time I wrote a piece to explain to readers why there haven’t been as many blog posts this month (bear in mind there were only six last month).

After all a lot has been going on. So where do I start?

Firstly, a bit of internal news. As people know I record a lot of video of public meetings and thanks to the slow internet speeds here on the Wirral (there’s not enough competition on high-speed internet yet unfortunately) a lot of strain had been put on the main hard drive of my laptop. Just as a quick bit of commentary, Wirral Council did at one stage have money set aside for high-speed internet access on the Wirral, but decided to spend it on something else apart from a small amount still earmarked for high-speed internet access to the Wirral Waters area.

Although I’m close enough to Wirral Waters to probably benefit, sadly there is a lack of competition on the high-speed internet front meaning prices are still high.

Those who know me, know I used to fix computers and have a disaster recovery plan in place for this scenario and backups. Thankfully IT disaster recovery (yes I realise it is rare for management for have an IT background) runs smoother here than it has in the past at Wirral Council which has had its fair share of IT fiascos.

However to cut a long story short, the internal hard drive can no longer be used (it’s too unreliable and error prone) and has being replaced by an external 1 terabyte hard drive connected via USB.

Yes, it would be nice to have replaced the faulty internal hard drive, but due to the age of the laptop I’m concerned that opening it up to do so could finish the laptop off completely. This means effectively the laptop is no longer portable and stays in my office (which is basically a spare bedroom).

However my routine had been to write blog posts elsewhere in the morning. That’s tricky now as the external hard drive and USB cable need to be somewhere flat. I will eventually replace the laptop. Public meetings held in the morning (such as the Wirral Council Cabinet meetings held on Monday morning’s) also break up this routine.

Last week, my wife’s car went it for its MOT (bear in mind a lot of the public meetings are held at times when public transport is just not possible). As we both use the car for work purposes, I cover the cost of this as a business overhead. Ultimately though when the car is unavailable, considering the criticism I’ve levelled at politicians for getting taxis (at the taxpayer’s expense) to public meetings, I didn’t want to rely on taxis and decided not to go the Licensing, Health and Safety and General Purposes Committee meeting last week (also in part because of my birthday later on in that week). In a slight twist of fate that meeting I missed was about taxis.

The cost of the MOT plus repairs, VAT etc came to about £740. As that’s a one-off expense, I have had to concentrate on commercial work (basically an advertising deal to cover the overhead).

Another factor to consider is that my original plan for this blog had been long-term to run Google Adsense ads on it. At one stage with another website I was running I was earning about £60 a day over the Christmas period from such advertising. These days however the other side of the dot com bubble, advertising rates are much, much lower.

You may have noticed this blog has minimal advertising on it. Those who keep abreast of information law, will know that the Max Schrems legal case (following Snowden’s whistleblowing revelations) led to the EU US Safe Harbour agreement being ruled as legally invalid. Although it was later replaced by the EU US Privacy Shield, it’s only recently that Google have gone through the process necessary that data can be shared with them (such as running their ads on this blog).

There is also a long running story I’ve been writing about for years that for legal reasons, I can’t write about due to legal restrictions until an outstanding matter in it is decided.

Having had a birthday (indeed this blog is now around 6 years old) and a fortnight to think about the future of this blog, feedback (including emails I get) have told me that people find the videos of public meetings useful and the publication of documents revealed during citizen audits.

There are literally boxes of information I have from the 2015-16 audits of various local public bodies (including a lot of unpublished files on councillors’ expenses), but Wirral Council still owes me a number of contracts and other documentation (an employee went on leave which seems to be the usual standard reason why in an organisation of thousands of employees work grinds to a halt when somebody goes on leave).

So, the upshot is that I’ve not vanished off the face of the earth, or got another job and just because there may be a lack of published blog posts doesn’t mean there aren’t blog posts written and yet to be published (for example I wrote one on my birthday last week about Monday evening’s set of three Wirral Council meetings that is awaiting the final touches (photo, headline etc)).

My aim is to concentrate on topical, but in-depth investigative journalism, but bearing in mind there is just myself and Leonora here, to do a good job on such matters can take years of patient reporting.

This would be made easier if certain people in the public sector locally didn’t act in the title of a book a reader kindly sent me a while back titled “Not in the Public Interest”. My job is made considerably more difficult to do and time-consuming by certain people on salaries that look more like phone numbers in politically restricted posts, who seem to get it into their head that I’m on some personal crusade to actually get them to do their job properly.

Therefore they see me as a threat and their raison d’être becomes making life difficult for me.

I’ve seen many public sector managers come and go, it’s not personal, I’m not out to get you or cause chaos.

Yet have a bit of sense and don’t deliberately go out of your way to abuse your power in ways that are unethical.

I never like having to go down the route of getting the judiciary involved, not just because it polarises matters but as it always leads to a can of worms coming out (that there are no restrictions on reporting on in the interests of open justice). As a court reporter I know how the public sector always treats judicial processes like a game, lies through its teeth, lies under oath and has for a long time abused the court and tribunal processes to get what it wants knowing there aren’t going to be consequences for doing so.

My immediate family (before retiring) worked in the criminal justice system and as a child I was told about the systems of justice in this country. I realise it may be old-fashioned to expect the public sector to adhere to the rule of law and even odder to expect councillors and local government officers to explain why they did what they did to the judiciary.

I also realise that coming from a foreign background and being married to a foreign national that my views on openness and transparency are somewhat different to what seems to be accepted as a cultural norm here (yes I was born in this country but sometimes it seems to be completely different to the one I grew up in)!

However, I would be keen to hear your views (in the form of comments) on what level of advertising you’d find acceptable (or whether you think a different way of funding running costs is better) and whether you think long form more in depth journalism is what you want to read (along with data journalism such as the publication of documents) along with any other thoughts you may have.

If you click on any of the buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this article with other people.

What did a 3 year FOI battle with Wirral Council reveal about councillors’ equipment and training?

What did a 3 year FOI battle with Wirral Council reveal about councillors’ equipment and training?


ICO Information Commissioner's Office logo
ICO Information Commissioner’s Office logo

A fortnight ago, required to do so by ICO decision notice FS50596346 Wirral Council finally provided some more information in response to my FOI request first made on the 29th March 2013.

I will point out (in case you’re wondering why it has taken nearly three years to get to that point) that this request has also been the subject of two other ICO decision notices FS50509081 and FS50569254.

So far Wirral Council has stated that the information requested would cost too much (section 12), that to give me the information would be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs (section 36), that they class that doing an internal review of that decision as vexatious (section 14) and now finally when all of those prior decisions have been proven to be flawed, they withheld some of the information requested claiming it’s personal information (section 40).

My feeling about this is that Wirral Council, who refer to their approach in public as open and transparent have tried to engage in attrition warfare with myself and the regulator ICO over this request.

Mind you this is Wirral Council. Wirral Council is where responses to FOI requests from the press get delayed because they have to be "signed off" by the former head of their press office Emma Degg and their Monitoring Officer Surjit Tour?

So what did I request that was released a fortnight ago? One document was minutes of the Members’ (Members’ means Councillors’) Equipment Steering Group meeting held on the 7th February 2013. The other document was minutes of the Members’ Training Steering Group held on the 19th March 2013.

Quite what is in these two documents that requires a nearly three year cover up about their contents, I’m not sure. The scanned pages Wirral Council have supplied for the meeting of the Members’ Equipment Steering Group and the Members’ Training Steering Group are unfortunately scanned at a low resolution which can make them hard to read. So I will reproduce them both below starting with the Members’ Equipment Steering Group. As that mentions audio recording and webcasting of committee meetings I will declare an interest.

The part of this request that relates to the minutes of a meeting of the Headteachers and Teachers Joint Consultative Committee I have appealed to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) and am at the stage of awaiting ICO’s response to my appeal.

Actions from Members’ Equipment Steering Group Meeting held on 7 February 2013

  1. Actions from the last Meeting
    I Pads had been discounted at the last meeting.

  2. Members’ Homepage and Toolkit
    – Homepage
    Members would consider the proposed content and come back to XXXXXXXXXXXX with any suggestions for inclusion.

    – Toolkit
    The proposed detail of the Members’ Toolkit was endorsed and XXXXXXXXXXXX would progress it.

  3. Councillor Equipment Device Options
    XXXXXXXXXXXX would obtain a price for the following devices:
    430 i 5
    430 i 3
    A recommendation will be made to the Cabinet subject to price and specification
  4. Councillor Equipment Printer Options
    The preferred printer was HP Office Jet 8000. In exceptional circumstances only would a Member’s own printer be connected to the network.
  5. Wireless in Wallasey Town Hall
    All Committee Rooms in the Town Hall would have wifi facilities by the time Members were in possession of their new IT kit.

    Officers will look at the possibility of Members being able to receive emails on smart phones via wifi.

  6. Councillor Equipment Rollout Timetable
    – Personally owned Ipad
    A system would be purchased, configured and installed by IT Services to allow Members to use their own Ipads.

    – Laptop
    This was an option. Members will keep their existing bag.

    – Router
    This was an option.

    – Telephone Handsets
    Members would keep their existing handsets.

    – Furniture
    New furniture would not be purchased

    – Modern.gov Application
    Modern.gov could provide an Application so that Personal Devices could access "Exempt Items" at a cost of £3000. This would not be taken up

    – Political Offices
    Office staff would not be included in the new equipment roll out.

    – Windows XP and Office 2010

    – Broadband Choices

    – Further Members’ Survey

  7. Councillor Case Management Systems
  8. Use of Personal Electronic Devices
  9. Use of Councillors own equipment
  10. iPad and HP Slate Autumn Trial
  11. Audio Recording and Webcasting of Committee Meetings
  12. Date and Time of Next Meeting

    XXXXXXXXXXXX to canvass Members and arrange the next meeting.

  13. Any Other Business

Below should be the Action Minutes of the Member Training Steering Group held on the 19th March 2013. On the original there is a third column with OD (Organisational Development) Team written next to points two to nine. It’s easier to write this in HTML without creating the way it is laid out as a table so I have left this out. I’ve also left out the page numbers and the filename/path on Wirral Council’s computer that it’s stored. However these can be viewed on the original.

Action Minutes

Member Training Steering Group

19 March 2013

Apologies -: Surjit Tour, XXXXXXXXXXXX

Attending -: Cllr McLachlan (Chair), Cllr Clements, Cllr Glasman, Cllr Gilchrist, Cllr Harney, Cllr Hornby, Chris Hyams, XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

  1. Welcome and introductions

    The group welcomed XXXXXXXXXXX who is an associate tutor with the LGA and will be providing an overview of the Leadership Programme for Members

    Noted that Cllr Clements did not attend the last meeting and apologies had been received.

  2. Minutes and Matter Arising

    a) Terms of Reference
    Agreed that the Chief Executive would be included as support for the group.

    The group would continue to sign off requests for training and will continue to be mindful of the travel and accommodation costs.

    Agreed that OD would report back on a quarterly basis training approval decisions.

    Agreed to put the terms of reference into themes and circulate.

    b) Recruitment to Leadership Modules

    Agreed that Members should forward names to XXXXXX to reserve a place on the course and to contact XXX should they have any queries.
    An introduction session will run on the 10th April a Flyer will be sent out providing the details of the session. XXXXX explained that the Pre course briefing would cover an introduction to the programme followed by the completion of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator questionnaire as this would form the basis for the content on Module one, feedback would then be provided either face to face, which preferable or over the phone, prior to the programme commencing on the 8th May.

    It was noted that participants are required to attend both modules to benefit from the programme.

    c) Elected Member training onto the committee calendar

    Agreed to escalate the request to include members training from the skills for Wirral programme into the committee calendar.

  3. Standing Item – Training Update (since last meetings)

    a) 13th February – Developing the Council of the Future

    Noted that 30 attended the event with a mixture of feedback

    Agreed to chase up the feedback from this event and share with Members.

    Agreed to look at how Member’s could be provided with more opportunities to feedback and participate in these events.

    b) Public Health and Wellbeing: 20 February 2013

    Noted that 9 attended with very good feedback

    c) Understanding Local Government Finance: 27 February 2013

    Noted that 8 attended with very good feedback

    d) Media Skills

    Noted that 2 attended with very good feedback

    e) High Level Communications Skills

    Noted that 5 attended with very good feedback

    f) Attendance on training

    Agreed to continue to send reminders for training but as a rolling programme of events that month and to include flash reminder the day of the training that spaces are available.

  4. Standing Item – Upcoming training ( Members Development Programme)

    a) Effective Surgeries and Caseload Management Training

    Agreed to look at were we are up to with an Electronic System for case load Management. Meeting already arranged with IT to discuss this and Members IT training, feedback would be provided at the next meeting.

    b) Training Venues

    Agreed to look at other venues rather than The Laurie’s Centre for Elected Member training sessions and move the training already book to other venues, to minimise costs.

  5. Standing Item – Approved Duty Requests

    No outstanding approved duties

    a) Spending for Approved duties

    Members to discuss and feedback as to how they would like to spend monies for approved duties, agreed to monitor on a case by case basis.

    b) Feedback from Events Attended

    Agreed to look at feedback from events and if particularly effective consider developing a Wirral version of the event.

  6. Standing Item – Budget

    a) Profile 2012-2013

    Budget profile discussed and noted that there would be an under spend this year. Details shared with the group.

    b) Profile 2013-2014

    Approximately £13,000 has been committed to date. Budget to be monitored at each meeting.

    c) Spending for Approved Duties
    Agreed to explore options around external funding available.

  7. Members Development Charter.

    a) PDP Returns
    46 PDP have been completed with 6 scheduled for April. This would bring the total to 52 PDP completed, which takes us over the 75% requirement for completion of the Members Charter. Agreed to continue to encourage the completion of all outstanding PDPs.

  8. Members Development Programme Accreditation

    a) Agreed for flyer to be sent to all Elected Members to promote the programme

    b) Additional information from ilm to be sent to Cllr Harney

  9. AOB

    a) 4th April New Constitutional Event 6pm – 8pm Floral

    b) 16 May Key Transformation and Improvement Agenda Session
    Suggestion from Cllr Glasman Ethics and Conduct.

    c) Training for Members – Directorships and Trusts

    Advert to be sent to Elected Members when programme agreed

  10. Date and Time of next meeting

    30 April 2013 4 – 5.15pm

If you click on any of the buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this article with other people.