Isn’t it time the barriers in local government were removed for disabled people?

Isn’t it time the barriers in local government were removed for disabled people?                                                                Although the above is not a photo of the car park mentioned below, the photo is merely to illustrate that it’s about car parking If anyone wonders if I still do casework, I do (just a lot less than I used … Continue reading “Isn’t it time the barriers in local government were removed for disabled people?”

Isn’t it time the barriers in local government were removed for disabled people?

                                                              

Birkenhead North Railway Station Park and Ride
Birkenhead North Railway Station Park and Ride

Although the above is not a photo of the car park mentioned below, the photo is merely to illustrate that it’s about car parking

If anyone wonders if I still do casework, I do (just a lot less than I used to). The below is casework for Leonora (although I feel strongly about it myself). She’s my wife so I’ll declare an interest now. She’s also involved in this blog too. She’s given me permission to publish it as it may be of wider interest to readers of this blog. A few typographical errors in my original email (such as Arriva Train Wales to Arriva Trains Wales) have been corrected in the version below.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP is our MP here in Birkenhead, Justin Tomlinson MP is the Minister for Disabled People, the car park is in Cllr Dixon’s ward, the reason it’s going to the two Cabinet Members should be self-explanatory, although outside of the Merseytravel area, Merseyrail trains stop at Chester and Arriva Trains Wales run Chester station. I’ve no idea what the transport authority is for this region (do any readers know)?

So far I’ve received one reply back from the personal assistant to Cllr Samantha Dixon (she has a personal assistant as she’s Leader of Chester West and Chester Council) and a bilingual reply in English & Welsh from Arriva Trains Wales.

However it’s only been two days so far and Christmas will no doubt affect how long messages take to return.


Subject: casework (public transport/equality issues in the Chester area) REF: LB

Circulation list:

CC: “Rt Hon Frank Field MP (MP for Birkenhead)”
CC: “Justin Tomlinson MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Disabled People)”
CC: “Councillor Louise Gittins (Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Wellbeing (Chester West and Chester))”
CC: “Councillor David Armstrong (Cabinet Member for Legal and Finance (Chester West and Chester))”
CC: “Cllr Liam Robinson (Chair, Merseytravel)” CC: “Councillor Samantha Dixon (councillor for Chester City ward)”
CC: “Arriva Trains Wales”
BCC: Leonora Brace

Dear All,

I have been asked by my wife Leonora Brace to write to you on her behalf. If you wish to reply to her via post rather than email her address is Jenmaleo, 134 Boundary Road, Bidston, Wirral, CH43 7PH.

On the morning of Saturday 19th December 2015 we both visited the City of Chester.

To explain why we took the car I would like to make some general comments about Chester Railway Station first. We have tried travelling to Chester by train using our Merseytravel issued public transport passes, but unfortunately she cannot go through the ticket barrier as she has a walking stick and she has to use the side barrier. As the side barrier is for passengers travelling in both directions, sadly she has suffered many accidents in the past (for instance wheeled suitcases going over her foot from passengers coming the other way) causing her injuries.

So to avoid these safety issues, this is why I suggested we travel to Chester by car.

We used to travel to Chester using the Park and Ride outside of the City, but the Park and Ride bus driver stopped accepting our Merseytravel passes, so we stopped using the Park and Ride.

However, hopefully the above explains why despite our best efforts, problems with the public transport system in the Chester area meant in my view travelling by car on Saturday morning was the only reasonable option.

I had better point out at this stage that Leonora is issued with a Blue Badge by Wirral Council and as you can guess from the above comments has limited mobility.

I might point out that although the Blue Badge Scheme is administered locally by local councils, it is an international scheme, following legislation that applies throughout England therefore there is supposed to be some consistency across different areas.

We travelled to the Chester West and Chester car park on New Crane Street opposite Chester Racecourse.

On previous visits, she has just driven into the car park, displayed her Blue Badge and clock and there have been no problems.

This time however a barrier had been erected at the entrance to the car park.

From the passenger side the writing on the machine by the barrier was too far away to read and indeed Leonora tells me that it was impossible for her to read even on the driver’s side.

So I got out of the car, walked round to the machine and tried to understand the instructions. Despite having a university-level education I didn’t see anything referring to Blue Badge users, but there were instructions to press the intercom for assistance which I did.

I explained to the disembodied voice what the problem was and explained that we had a Blue Badge.

The disembodied voice asked if the Blue Badge had been issued by Chester West and Chester Council. Obviously as we don’t live in Chester West and Chester Council’s area, it was not and was issued by neighbouring Wirral Council.

The voice then said that if our Blue Badge wasn’t issued by Chester West and Chester Council then we couldn’t park there! I was amazed at how parochial this was! After all people with Blue Badges issued by Chester West and Chester Council are welcome to park in any Wirral Council car park! It didn’t seem fair.

I then had to explain what the disembodied voice had said to my wife (who hadn’t heard what he said due to hearing difficulties).

I asked the disembodied voice if there were car parks we could use our Blue Badge in, he said the nearest one was Frodsham Street and gave long and complicated directions.

Eventually we parked in one of the the disabled spaces at the car at the junction of Grosvenor Road/Castle Drive on the other side of Chester Racecourse. Despite my wife driving for a living as a paramedic the spaces there are badly designed and very difficult to get in and out of. Exiting such spaces you then have to go the wrong way round a one-way system, in our case delaying a coach entering the car park (otherwise we’re back to the barrier problem I mentioned earlier).

I might point out that this car park is so far away from the City Centre that we ended up not spending any money in Chester’s shops (the shops that financially support Chester West and Chester Council’s running of the cark parks through business rates).

I fully appreciate the need to combat climate change and if it wasn’t for the problems I outlined earlier I would happily travel to Chester by public transport without the need for having to interact with its arcane bureacracy.

I hope this was a one-off and a mistake and would like to say how much my wife and I enjoy our visits to Chester, however the following questions arise that I would appreciate a formal response to them.

1. Were we incorrectly informed about whether those with Blue Badges issued to those who live outside the Chester and West Council area can park in the New Crane Street car park opposite Chester racecourse and if so what are the arrangements for getting through the barrier? If a mistake was made will you apologise to Leonora?

2. Are you actively trying to deter people from doing travelling to Chester and spending money there? I noticed on previous visits the car parks were nearly full, however since the barriers have been put up they’re nearly empty. Is this part of Chester’s efforts to combat climate change and encourage greater use of public transport?

3. Why doesn’t the Park and Ride bus accept the passes issued to the elderly or disabled that can be used on all other buses in England? Surely this would be an extra source of income, therefore reducing the need for any taxpayer subsidy (if that is the case) and improving the financial sustainability of the service?

4. Why the distinction between Blue Badges issued to residents in the Chester West and Chester Council area and Blue Badges issued to residents outside Chester? Doesn’t it make little sense that a Wirral issued blue badge will be accepted in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Guernsey, Iceland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland but apparently not Chester (which last time I checked was still part of the United Kingdom despite all the talk of an IN/OUT referendum)?

5. Bearing in mind my comments (and whereas I realise when it is busy a one-way system in in effect at Chester Railway Station), have you considered modifying the ticket barriers to have a side barrier on the left in addition to the one on the right? This would seem to reduce the chance of passengers colliding with each other.

6. Was there a consultation I missed on the car park changes? If so could you provide a link to the decision/report please about this?

7. There are a whole range of legal implications this raises (both national legislation and European level) and have these been properly thought through? I could probably write a further 2,000 words just on those alone.

Protected minorities being treated in this way has the potential to cause great upset (indeed that is why discrimination is unlawful) and there are times (as I’m sure we may not be the only people affected by these matters) that the public do not have the time, press and/or political connections or indeed understanding of this country’s politico-legal systems to make their voice heard. Before the above was implemented (such as the retrofitting of ticket barriers at Chester Railway Station and the barriers on the car parks) some thought should’ve been had as to the implications on society.

I look forward to reading your responses with interest. I sincerely hope that this was a one-off mistake caused by a misunderstanding, but look forward to reading your views and either proposals for changing the above problems or reasons why they cannot be changed.

Yours sincerely,

John Brace on behalf of Leonora Brace
and John Brace

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Why did Cllr Adrian “Father Christmas” Jones try to block scrutiny of £2.6 million given to Wirral Council to spend on the poor?

Why did Cllr Adrian “Father Christmas” Jones try to block scrutiny of £2.6 million given to Wirral Council to spend on the poor?

                                                

Leonora Brace and Councillor Adrian Jones in Birkenhead Christmas 2013
Leonora Brace and Councillor Adrian Jones in Birkenhead Christmas 2013

As you can see from the photo above (and let’s face it three days away from Christmas this is becoming topical), it’s well-known politician Cllr Adrian Jones dressed as Father Christmas and my wife Leonora Brace.

Yesterday (to my surprise), the Wirral Globe ran a story headlined Councillor scolds Wirral blogger over information requests about expenses. If you hadn’t guessed already, I’m the blogger (also described as online journalist) referred to in the article.

Now firstly, I’ve been taken back by all the positive comments people have left both to that article and on social media. It would probably take Christmas to respond to them all.

Firstly I will take this opportunity to wish Councillor Adrian Jones a happy Christmas. However this story isn’t really about him or myself. It’s a far more complicated saga than that. I’ve replied to a number of comments on social media to try and clarify some of it.

This story came about because of two other people who I am going to take the time to thank in this article (before I write any more about this subject).

Firstly, Heather Brooke (who indeed is somewhat of the inspiration behind the story). Heather Brooke wrote a book called Your Right to Know: a citizen’s guide to the Freedom of Information Act (available to read in Wirral Council’s libraries) and was the person that took to task the House of Commons/House of Lords over MPs’/Lords’ expenses (only to find herself scooped by a leak to the newspapers). She writes a blog here.

The second person I’d like to thank is Ted Jeory. He writes a blog here. His blog covers local politics in Tower Hamlets. He’s a former accountant, then newspaper journalist who now works for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

To be honest with you, in my opinion (although this is only an opinion) they are both far better at journalism than I am!

However back to the story (which isn’t just about Cllr Adrian Jones and myself but this is a good place to start). Before doing what we both do now, Cllr Adrian Jones and I came from the academic world (a somewhat different world to politics).

In the academic world, my question to Cllr Adrian Jones would be like the equivalent of an oral exam where I’ve challenged his more orthodox view of the political world. He’s then disagreed with me over some points and it’s all gone to peer review now and now everyones’ commenting on the merits of each sides’ arguments. Fine, fair enough, that much I can understand and yes there should be a public debate and discussion about politicians’ expenses beyond the walls of Wirral Council’s Council Chamber.

It makes more sense that instead of the Heather Brooke route of 5 years of court battles that it is much more cost-effective (as this is a worry of Cllr Adrian Jones’) to have this debate in the media instead.

The world of politics however is very different to the world of academia. Despite sharing some features in fact they’re like oil and water.

I am now going to sound terribly like an academic now and reference a tweet I wrote yesterday about the new Poor Laws (and by new I mean 1844).

The way I made the request to Wirral Council dates back to this legal right from Victorian times, but is still relevant today. It’s an important right that gives access to local voters (such as myself) on what public money is being spent on. I realise the Wirral Globe headline is about councillors’ expenses, however I will instead highlight another part of the request that probably won’t generate as many headlines in the newspapers. In fact on this topic I can only find one article written two years ago by the Wirral Globe.

I’m going to briefly mention an area that you may not have heard of, that Wirral Council was given a budget of £1,345,925 a year to spend on. It’s called the Local Welfare Assistance Scheme. The whole point of it (rather like the point of the Poor Laws) was to reduce poverty.

Wirral Council invoice Furniture Resource Centre
Wirral Council invoice Furniture Resource Centre

The thumbnail for this invoice will be hard to read (it does link to a higher resolution version), however it’s for a cooker, electric kettle and washing machine (total £778.20). This would have been given to someone who made an application under the scheme. The other invoices are for very similar items too such as microwaves. The whole point of it is to help people in need who are have emergencies. The scheme also covers basics such as food and utilities.

Admittedly there can be a lot of public debate over the best ways to help people and there is a detailed report on this on Wirral Council’s website and there are many party political aspects to this issue that I am trying very hard to avoid dwelling on

You may well say good for Wirral Council, isn’t it great that they spent £1.3 million a year on helping poor people? However this isn’t what happened. As estimated by one councillor at this meeting, Wirral Council so restricted (or didn’t publicise enough) what they were doing, that there was an estimated (this was cumulative so it was over two years) £2.1 million underspend of a £2.6 million budget.

Yes this was money given to Wirral Council for the relief of the poor, on which there was an estimated £2.1 million underspend. Bear in mind we often hear Wirral’s councillors repeat that they feel the government are not giving Wirral Council enough money!

By Cllr Adrian Jones’ logic (in answer to the request I put in), I should be restricted from enquiring and writing questions/requesting the invoices for the above matter because it costs too much (despite an estimated over £2 million underspend).

In doing so (oh dear, I’m about to make what could be construed as a party political point here so advance warning), it makes it far easier for the Conservative government to axe funding for this area (as indeed they have done so already). Why, because if Wirral Council blocks or delays press scrutiny of it, then there is little discussion of it in the media in defence of it.

Therefore national politicians think it can be cut as they look somewhat to the press as an indicator of public opinion.

I know his fellow Labour councillor Cllr Janette Williamson has spoken passionately in defence of her view that the underspend should be used for its intended purpose rather than swallowed up to be spent on something else by Wirral Council.

As it is Christmas, I’ll try and give some respite to Cllr Adrian Jones’ on the rather vexed issue of councillors’ expenses (which is the tip of massive iceberg of Wirral Council expenditure) and finish by making these points which because of the time of year probably fall into religion rather than politics.

I was brought up as a Catholic and part of those teachings are about seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable. There are many good things that Wirral Council does, but if you block my queries it makes it more difficult for me to write about it. Personally, it doesn’t bother me too much if you try to block me, but it seems to be unpopular with the people that you are there to serve. To give the Local Welfare Assistance Scheme issue as outlined above, councillor scrutiny on it was done behind closed doors, not in public but as a task and finish group.

The story then sadly becomes about the secrecy (which let’s face it is the kind of story about cover ups the rest of the press like to write about). Frankly if you do this it’s very good for my career and bad for Wirral Council’s reputation (although you know this already). In three days time it will be Christmas (on the day I’m writing this). Christmas is a time of year when society concentrates on the religious and there is a break from politics.

I don’t expect politicians or those working in the public sector to be saints, but I sincerely hope they know the difference between right and wrong (and yes my view of right and wrong is probably slightly different to yours and everybody else’s as right and wrong is subjective).

Although you may not believe this, I don’t wish to quarrel with Wirral Council or its councillors, in fact believe me I try my best not to interfere in your internal affairs. I just see your world from outside the goldfish bowl that is local politics rather than inside. Happy Christmas!

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Public notice for proposed changes to parking on Birkenhead Market Service Road (deadline 26th September 2014)

Public notice for proposed changes to parking on Birkenhead Market Service Road (deadline 26th September 2014)

Public notice for proposed changes to parking on Birkenhead Market Service Road (deadline 26th September 2014)

                                                

In an update to yesterday’s story about the proposed changes to parking behind Birkenhead Market, here is the public notice about it published in the 3rd September 2014 edition of the Wirral Globe. I’d better declare again that my wife Leonora Brace regularly parks in the Birkenhead Market Service Road with her Blue Badge and is someone that will be affected by the proposed Traffic Regulation Order.

This the public notice about the proposed traffic regulation order about the Birkenhead Market Service Road published on page 61 of the Wirral Globe on the 3rd September 2014.

The tale which explains why they’ve had to re-advertise this Traffic Regulation Order (I’m sure the Wirral Globe doesn’t mind the extra money as it’s now been advertised twice) for the second time in the Wirral Globe is covered in this story from August 8th 2014.

One does wonder why they don’t make the plans available at the nearby Birkenhead One Stop Shop in Conway Street? Perhaps Wirral Council still have somewhat of a “beware of the leopard” mentality when it comes to people actually viewing the proposals!

METROPOLITAN BOROUGH OF WIRRAL – (BIRKENHEAD CONTROLLED PARKING ZONE) – (WAITING, LOADING & PARKING PLACES) ORDER 2008 – AMENDMENT NO 1, 2014

Notice is hereby given that Wirral Borough Council in exercise of its powers intends to make the above order under Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 32, 35 and 84 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, and of all other enabling powers.

The general nature and effect of this order will be to amend the existing order Metropolitan Borough of Wirral, (Birkenhead Controlled Parking Zone) (Waiting, Loading & Parking Places) Order 2008 by prohibiting parking and loading along sections of Birkenhead Market Service Road and to allow loading and unloading for vehicles within designated bays. The effect of this order is to improve access for vehicles servicing the Market Hall and Grange Precinct.

A copy of this Notice, the proposed Order, map, the order proposed to be amended and a statement of the Council’s reasons for proposing to make the Order, may be seen during normal office hours at Cheshire Line Buildings, Canning Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH41 1ND and on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 9am to 5pm and Wednesday 10am to 5pm at the One Stop Shop, Town Hall, Brighton Street, Seacombe CH44 8ED.

Any objections to the Order, together with the grounds on which they are made, must be sent in writing to the undersigned (quoting reference KO) by Friday 26 September 2014.

Unless otherwise stated, all Metropolitan Borough of Wirral Public Notices are published by Surjit Tour, Head of Legal and Member Services, Town Hall, Brighton Street, Wallasey, Merseyside CH44 8ED and all notices are dated this 3rd day of September 2014.

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The incredible story of the Gautby Road Play Area starring 1 press release, 1 padlock, 1 councillor and an MP

The incredible story of the Gautby Road Play area starring 1 press release, 1 padlock, 1 councillor and an MP

The incredible story of the Gautby Road Play Area starring 1 press release, 1 padlock, 1 councillor and an MP

                          

Below is a picture of Gautby Road Play Area (owned by Wirral Council) in Bidston which is next to Gautby Road Community Centre taken on the 5th August at about two o’clock in the afternoon.

Gautby Road Play Area Bidston 5th August 2014
Gautby Road Play Area (5th August 2014)

Here is a photo of the sign (also taken the same day at around two o’clock) which is next to the only gate in and out of the Gautby Road Play Area.

Gautby Road Play Area Bidston 5th August 2014
Gautby Road Play Area sign

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed a padlock on the gate, a close up of which is below. So just to make it perfectly clear, yesterday when the photo was taken the only gate into the Gautby Road Play Area was padlocked. This is the reality of the situation.

Gautby Road Play Area padlock Bidston 5th August 2014
Gautby Road Play Area padlock

However the reality of the situation is not what Wirral Council put in a press release titled “Come and play all day!”. The press release is partly about National Play Day 2014 (which is today) but also states “Youth and Play Service also operate three full-time all year round play facilities located at Beechwood Play & Community centre, Leasowe Adventure Playground and Gautby Road, providing free play provision for children and young people aged from six to 14 years.”

At the last Birkenhead Constituency Committee held on the 24th July, my wife asked why the Gautby Road play area was being kept padlocked. Here’s a transcript of the bit of the meeting which you can also watch the video of starting here.

Leonora Brace
I’ve got two questions to ask.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP
Yeah.

Leonora Brace
I did ask Cllr Crabtree and [Cllr] Harry Smith about the children’s play area in Gautby Road, Bidston.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP
Yes.

Leonora Brace
About it being locked all the time and two children nearly drowned in the lake at the back on the opposite side and he told me I had to ask when I came here.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP
Very good, instead of asking do you think we could actually have an answer for Mrs Brace and err can you do that?

Cllr Ann McLachlan (Cabinet Member for Governance, Commissioning and Improvement)
Chair, through you Chair. The Gautby Road Play Area which has recently just been refurbished actually, is only through the, it’s used predominantly by the Gautby Road Play and Community Centre and they kind of keep the keys and police it, but it is through the summer it’s open. The play centre’s open all through the day. So it is open.

Leonora Brace
No. Sorry it’s not. It’s locked, it’s padlocked!

Cllr Ann McLachlan (Cabinet Member for Governance, Commissioning and Improvement)
It is yes, but the play area is open all through the summer holidays. The play centre is open…

Leonora Brace
It’s the area outside where they go up and you know jumping up.

Cllr Ann McLachlan (Cabinet Member for Governance, Commissioning and Improvement)
Yes.

Leonora Brace
That’s not open! I passed it again today, yesterday I passed it and it’s all padlocked!

Rt Hon Frank Field MP
Will councillors when they next pass…?

Cllr Ann McLachlan (Cabinet Member for Governance, Commissioning and Improvement)
I was down there signing some cheques for somebody yesterday and it was open! The play area was open and there were children playing there.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP
Will councillors who pass Gautby Road, would they please check?

Cllr Ann McLachlan (Cabinet Member for Governance, Commissioning and Improvement)
Well yes, it’s in my ward! Yes I will.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP
Very good.

Cllr Pat Williams responds to this story on Twitter:

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How much evidence does there have to be of wrongdoing at Wirral Council before an apology is given?

How much evidence does there have to be of wrongdoing at Wirral Council before an apology is given?

How much evidence does there have to be of wrongdoing at Wirral Council before an apology is given?

                            

In late May of 2011 Simon Holbrook wrote an email to Councillor Pat Williams (in her capacity as Birkenhead Liberal Democrat Chair) and Councillor Alan Brighouse (in his capacity as Birkenhead Liberal Democrat Secretary) to their Wirral Council email addresses. What that email said (despite having a court order for the email to be produced to me from Deputy District Judge Ireland granted in the Birkenhead County Court the next year) is unknown to me as it was never shared with me.

What I do know was that based on the contents of this email (that was never shared with me), Councillor Pat Williams and former Councillor Ann Bridson proposed and seconded my suspension from the Liberal Democrats at a meeting of the Birkenhead Liberal Democrat Constituency Executive based on its contents in early June 2011. The next day (4th June 2011) I made a subject access request exercising a right I have under s.7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 for “a copy of the complaint made against me by Simon Holbrook”.

The constitution of the Liberal Democrats stated (and still does) state

“7.9 When the grounds cited in the charge are those specified under Article 2.6 (a), (b) or (d), the Disciplinary Procedure may proceed as follows:

(iii) The original complaint, the charge, copies of any written statements obtained and details of the Disciplinary Meeting shall be provided to the person being complained against and to all members of the Disciplinary Meeting not later than four weeks before the date of that meeting. ”

and

7.3 “If the procedure is not completed within that time, then the suspension shall automatically cease unless an extension of time is granted by the English Appeals Panel in accordance with its procedures. The person being complained against shall be notified of the suspension and the reasons for it.”

When it came to the disciplinary meeting fourteen weeks later in early September 2011, the original complaint had not been shared with me within the ten week time limit. The forty day limit to respond to my subject access request had passed. I’d written a further letter giving an extra fourteen days to share with me the original complaint otherwise I would sue, that too had passed.

By the date of the disciplinary meeting I was in the frankly ridiculous situation of having been suspended based on a complaint that had never been shared with me (and which I’d sued both the local party and the party nationally to get a copy of) and basically stated that because of this abuse of process the constitution said that because this mandatory requirement of the constitution hadn’t been followed that the suspension had therefore automatically expired and the disciplinary panel therefore didn’t have the power to reach a decision.

The disciplinary meeting made up of Roy Wood (who later stood against me as the candidate in Bidston & St. James the next year), Anna Blumenthal (the Birkenhead Liberal Democrat President at the time since deceased), Allan Brame, Cllr Mark Clayton and some member from Ellesmere Port I forget the name of didn’t see it that way and decided to punish me by deciding that I wouldn’t be allowed to be a Lib Dem candidate in any public election or hold office within the party for five years. This decision could then be appealed within a month to the English Appeals Panel (which I did).

However the English Appeals Panel told me they couldn’t accept the appeal as I didn’t have the original complaint made against me!

The next year in April 2012 (after an unsuccessful attempt in October 2012 by the Liberal Democrats to switch the two defendants in the case to a former Chief Executive of theirs called Chris Fox) there was a hearing in the Birkenhead County Court in front of Deputy District Judge Ireland. One of the two defendants was Councillor Alan Brighouse on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. Roy Wood also turned up to help him. There was nobody appearing for the other defendant which was Liberal Democrats (the Federal Party) on behalf of Liberal Democrats (that defendant was the Lib Dem headquarters down in London who had also ignored the subject access request).

Deputy District Judge Ireland agreed with me that s.7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 that Councillor Alan Brighouse on behalf of the Birkenhead Liberal Democrats and Liberal Democrats (the Federal Party) on behalf of the Liberal Democrats had failed to comply with my subject access request made the previous year in contravention of s.7 of the Data Protection Act 1998. She granted me a court order ordering the two defendants to comply with the request.

On May 25th 2012, after mentioning to Councillor Alan Brighouse at the local election count on the evening of May 3rd or early morning of May 4th Councillor Alan Brighouse wrote me a letter. A copy of his letter is below with a scan of the original handwritten letter.

31 Grosvenor Road

Oxton

May 25, 2012

Dear John,
Attached is a hard copy of Simon’s initial complaint against you.
As I told you at the election count, I was hoping to find the original e-mail to which it was attached.
I think you are aware that, subsequent to sending the complaint to Pat and myself, Simon modified it, leaving the two items that were eventually considered by the panel.

kind regards,
Alan

letter from Alan Brighouse to John Brace May 2012
Letter from Alan Brighouse to John Brace dated 25 May 2012

So what was Simon Holbrook’s original complaint? My comments are in italics and I link to the relevant documents mentioned.

Appendix – Case against John Brace

1. Smearing of Sitting Councillors

This allegation was withdrawn by him in advance of the disciplinary panel meeting.

In an email to Cllr Gilchrist dated 19 May 2011 at 09:59, John Brace did link the Standards investigation into Cllr Williams’ and Cllr Bridson’s part in the “special charging policy” with that of the recent investigation into the way in which Martin Morton had been treated, despite the fact that these are two totally separate matters.

Cllr Williams and Cllr Bridson are not and were not under investigation with respect to the independent investigation into the alleged bullying of Martin Morton. This investigation, which was instigated by former Cllr Holbrook has now concluded and reported. It never was and never had been a matter for the Standards Board of England.

My email to Cllr Gilchrist dated 19 May 2011 is rather long, however the three sentences referred to here are “Morale in the party is extremely low, the Chair and the Vice-Chair of the local party are currently (according to the Wirral Globe) under investigation on standards grounds following a decision by Wirral Council’s Independent Assessment Panel to refer the matter to Standards for England regarding their roles in the Social Services “special charging policy” and how Martin Morton was treated. This independent report (by now read by councillors but currently exempt) will be published within 2-5 months and will lead to a public discussion of their roles in this saga. Both are likely to be candidates in 2012 and the full reasons how and why they did things will have to be made clear to the public and party in the spirit of openness and accountability if we are to move on.

That email was sent to nine people, seven of whom were councillors. The Wirral Globe article referred to was Town hall blunder: Wrong paperwork sent to local government watchdog inquiry. The Chair of the local party at that time was Cllr Pat Williams and the Vice-Chair former Cllr Ann Bridson. The independent report I was referring to was the Anna Klonowski Associates report published in January 2012. My estimate of it being published between July and October of 2012 was a little optimistic. The key to the individuals mentioned in the Anna Klonowski Associates report shows that “Councillor 1” is Councillor Pat Williams. The decision to commission Anna Klonowski Associates Limited to write her report into “an independent review of the Council’s response to the concerns raised by Mr Martin Morton under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA), in relation to the application of a Special Charging Policy for Adult Social Care service users at Supported Living Units in Wirral between 1997 and 2006” was made solely by Councillor Jeff Green (the leader of the Conservative Group) when he was Leader of the Council in July 2010.

Simon Holbrook probably thought I was referring in my email to the heavily redacted Martin Smith report (of the North West Employers’ Organisation into “Mr Morton’s allegations of bullying, harassment and abuse of power by Council Officers”.

2. Disclosure of Confidential Information

John Brace did disclose on the Wirral Globe website blog, discussions that took place within the Birkenhead Executive Committee. Meetings of the Birkenhead Executive Lib Dems are internal party matters and therefore as such confidential to members of the Liberal Democrats and not for general publication.

These disclosures resulted in a senior Councillor from outside Birkenhead (Phil Gilchrist) being sufficiently concerned to raise the matter with the Constituency Chair (Cllr Williams).

The comments were made on this Wirral Globe article on the Wirral Globe website “Jubilant Labour leader invites Lib Dems to unite”, my comments were comments 5 (which it seems nobody had a problem with), comment 16 (referred to above), comment 17 (which nobody had a problem with), comment 22 (which nobody seemed to have a problem with) and comment 24 (which nobody had a problem with).

This was what Councillor Phil Gilchrist (before I was suspended) put in an email dated 19th May 2011 sent at 6:47 from philgilchrist@wirral.gov.uk to myself Cllr Pat Williams, Cllr Alan Brighouse, Alan Brame, Cllr Kelly, former Cllr Bridson, Roy Wood, Cllr Tom Harney and Cllr Dave Mitchell about it

“Dear John
Thank you for the detailed comments and background.
I had seen the matters referred to on the Globe website during my trawls for information, following the ‘initiative’ announced by Cllr Foulkes.
I mentioned my concerns to Pat as Chair of Birkenhead. It is not my place to comment on internal arrangements in Birkenhead.
My concern is and was that the detailed information supplied to The Globe covered ‘internal workings’ that were being made public. .
I have no information on the matters you referred to, just a desire that we avoid sending out information which has the potential to be used or misused by others.
I do see that you have mentioned taking on board the points raised .
I am grateful that you appreciate that comments can have an impact on the rest of work.
Phil Gilchrist

This was the only allegation upheld by the disciplinary panel. The disciplinary panel met on 6th September 2011 and in a report sent to me on 28th September 2011 said what is below on the matter.

Sanctions
“The panel felt that revocation of membership was too harsh a penalty for a single transgression on a little read “blog”, although it was made clear that Mr. Brace should not publish anything on behalf of the party in future unless properly authorised.

Under English Party Membership Rules 7.10(ii) – that John Brace be barred from any elected office in the party for a period of five years.

Under English Party Membership Rules 7.10(iii) – that John Brace be barred from seeking any elected public office for the party for a period of five years.

This was the unanimous view of the panel.

The Panel expressed their concern about the organisation of Wirral’s selection procedures and felt that the problems should be addressed and resolved.”

In summary then, the disciplinary panel report found that I had been right that candidate selection hadn’t been done according to the party’s constitution and therefore agreed with my version of events but chose to punish me for making it public.

3. Making False Allegations in Public

The matters disclosed in point 2 above questioned the eligibility of Simon Holbrook to have stood as the Lib Dem Candidate in Prenton at the recent local elections. John Brace also questioned the appropriate of Cllr Ann Bridson signing Simon Holbrook’s nomination papers. The allegation is that there was a denial of the democratic process to Birkenhead Party members.

The same blog also contains a statement insulting to all Wirral Lib Dem Councillors which said that when Simon Holbrook says “do something, unfortunately his councillors do it.”

This was withdrawn by Simon Holbrook prior to the disciplinary panel meeting. However as mentioned earlier the disciplinary panel report stated “The Panel expressed their concern about the organisation of Wirral’s selection procedures and felt that the problems should be addressed and resolved.” The second part is a partial quote. The whole quote is “However when Simon Says do something, unfortunately his councillors do it.” which was comment sixteen if you follow that link.

4. Making an Unsubstantiated Allegation of a Complaint

In an email to Cllr Pat Williams dated 19 May 2011 at 00:05, John Brace did allege that former Cllr Simon Holbrook had made a complaint about his conduct, when no such complaint had been made.

In the same email, he made reference to Simon Holbrook’s personal statement that he will not seek elected office in 2012 and concentrate on his professional career and seeks to link that with his own on website blogs with no factual justification.

This allegation was withdrawn by Simon Holbrook prior to the disciplinary meeting.

The email referred to stated “Although I have not been made aware of who is making this complaint, I suspect it is from the former constituency exec member and Prenton candidate Simon Holbrook as that was who my comment mainly related to.”

In other words I didn’t allege he had made a complaint about me I just stated that I suspected he had. At this point I hadn’t been made aware of who was making a complaint to Cllr Pat Williams, but as the complaint was about a comment I’d made about Simon Holbrook I suspected that he was the one who had made the complaint (which is ironic as within a fortnight he went onto make the long complaint that this blog post is about).

The other reference referred to in the email was this “Simon Holbrook (issued by a press release on the Lib Dem website) has stated he will not to stand as a candidate in 2012 and is to concentrate on his Environment Agency. I do not know whether this is connected with my comments made or not. That is his personal choice to make.”

The press release was on the Wirral Lib Dem website and is copied below.

MEDIA RELEASE

Issued by: Simon Holbrook
Date of Issue: May 9th 2011

Statement by Simon Holbrook

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many people, council officers, political friends and foes alike, who I have worked with and who have helped me during my 12 years as a Wirral Councillor.

“I am proud to have served as Councillor for Prenton Ward, and thank the many local residents who have supported me and the Liberal Democrats during this time. I would particularly like to thank those people who have stuck with the Liberal Democrats as we have attempted to do difficult things in difficult times.

“For most of my time, Wirral has been a Council where political parties have had to work together to get things done. As Group Leader, I always sought to apply Liberal Democrat influence in the best interests of Wirral people. The past four years have been particularly challenging as a coalition partner to both the other Parties. I am particularly proud of the fact that, during the past 12 months, we have responded to the most difficult financial conditions ever put onto local government, without making the types of cuts made by other councils, protecting front line services and no compulsory redundancies.

“Whilst I shall remain active in politics locally, I now intend to concentrate on my professional career within the Environment Agency. I will therefore not be seeking election in 2012, but do hope to return to frontline politics at some point in the future.

“I pass on my sincere best wishes to all members of Wirral Council in the difficult task that I know still lies ahead of them.”

The most curious bit about part 4 of the complaint are the dates and the timing. Councillor Alan Brighouse deputised for Councillor Pat Williams at a public meeting of Wirral Council’s Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee on the evening of June 1st 2011. After this meeting finished, he told me in the car park of Wallasey Town Hall that Simon Holbrook had emailed him and Cllr Pat Williams with a compliant about me at some point in the days prior to June 1st 2011. The court order granted by Deputy District Judge Ireland in April 2012 was for this original complaint and email (which had to have been sent prior to June 1st 2011). However part 4 of Simon Holbrook’s complaint refers to something that didn’t happen until the evening of the 3rd June 2011 (which seems impossible). Simon Holbrook writes “In the same email, he made reference to Simon Holbrook’s personal statement that he will not seek elected office in 2012 and concentrate on his professional career and seeks to link that with his own on website blogs with no factual justification.” which is a clear reference to this blog post Birkenhead Liberal Democrat Party Constituency Executive Suspends John Brace and the quote which first appears on it when it was first published on the evening of 3rd June 2011 (it has later had a few revisions) which originally stated “Well, I’ve been suspended from the Liberal Democrat Party following a complaint by Simon Holbrook. I can’t say much more than that (obviously) as contrary to the complaints procedure I haven’t been provided with a copy of the complaint. Having written that, if he is concentrating on his career in the Environment Agency he’s showing a funny way of doing it!”

5. Seeking to Attend a Civic Function without an Invitation

That together with Leonora Brace, John Brace did seek to attend the celebration party following the Mayor Making ceremony despite not having received an invitation to the event. When challenged, John Brace did inappropriately attempt to claim that his possession of a ‘Press Card’ entitled him to attend this invitation only civic function.

Note: John and Leonora Brace did attend part 1 of the Annual Council meeting from the public gallery, which they are entitled to do so.

This allegation was withdrawn by Simon Holbrook prior to the disciplinary panel meeting. It’s untrue and probably so for a number of reasons which I will state here. Part 1 of the Annual Council meeting has been held every year prior to May 2011 for as long as anyone can remember in the Civic Hall at Wallasey Town Hall. There is a gallery above the Civic Hall but in the time period referred to by Simon Holbrook nobody was permitted to be in it as it was classed as “unsafe”. It’s only in more recent years when I’ve been filming the Annual Council meeting that I’ve been in the public gallery in the Civic Hall as Council employees insist I couldn’t film anywhere else as it was a “fire hazard”.

I will state a few things here that also will show that I wouldn’t want to attend a celebration party. I have a diagnosed special dietary requirement (a fact that is probably unknown to Simon Holbrook) called lactose intolerance. I have to follow a gluten-free and dairy free diet. Therefore anything that would be available to eat at a “celebration party” I wouldn’t be able to anyway. In fact I can categorically state that I’ve never gatecrashed a celebration party following part 1 of an Annual Council meeting.

However part 1 of the Annual Council meeting is a public meeting (as pointed out in the complaint), the public have a right in law to be there. I do remember one year someone (probably working for the Mayor’s office) asking me for my invitation on the way in to the Annual Council meeting in the Civic Hall and I pointed out to this person it was a public meeting, that I didn’t need an invitation and had a right in law to be there as it was a public meeting. I was then asked what I was planning to do at the end of the Annual Council meeting to which I answered I would be leaving (which I did). If memory serves me correct about what happened the same person came over to me again once the meeting had finished and people were leaving and asked us again if I were leaving (this happened near the stairs just outside the Round Room). I explained that as my wife has mobility problems I would be helping her down the stairs (she’s claustrophobic when it comes to lifts) and that I was waiting for a sufficient gap in the crowds of people who were milling around in order to do so safely as I was concerned that I didn’t want her to be jostled which would cause her to fall. Quite how this series of events morphed into Simon Holbrook’s spurious, fanciful and totally untrue allegation about what happened I’m not sure.

6. Giving a False Impression of Holding Public Office

In a separate blog John Brace did write -“Although in theory I hold the position of councillor, it’s not with Wirral Council and like the Mayoress of Wirral Mrs Jennings is unelected so am I, as like with the Mayoress it’s to do with who I’m married to.”

This remark appeared in a blog speculating about the future shape of the Council administration. Although its purpose is unclear, it does seek to give credibility to the comments through claiming an association with a public office.

This allegation was withdrawn by Simon Holbrook before the disciplinary panel meeting.

This is the blog post referred to written on 11th May 2011. The whole quote (in context) is

“It’s strange of Cllr. Foulkes and his Labour councillors to pursue a strategy of going after the Lib Dems for five weeks, then be all smiles and wanting our help after Labour have lost control in 2010 and are desperate to get a sniff of power. Admittedly all parties behave like this to varying degrees, the Conservatives saw this coming and have (thankfully) told the public some of the skeletons in the cupboard of the previous Labour administration.

What will happen? It’s up to the ten Wirral Lib Dem councillors to decide. Although some residents think I hold the position of councillor, I do not with Wirral Council. The Mayoress of Wirral Mrs. Jennings is unelected so am I, as like with the Mayoress it’s to do with who I’m married to.”

This was a reference to my wife holding a position on the Council of Elders which governs a reservation where she’s from in Canada. The quote used alleges I am a holder of public office, however if the comment is actually read it shows that although some people may think that, I did not. I am married to Leonora and that is the position she holds.

7. Did Make Allegations in his Blog of Irregularities in the Count

In a blog following the local elections, John Brace claimed that the votes had not been counted properly. He sought to compare the declared result with his own canvass returns to justify his claim that his own votes had not been counted properly. In the same blog, he inappropriately said that a large number of votes in Oxton changed hands on the recount.

This is the blog post referred to. The issues were (as explained in the blog post) to do with errors made at the count. Here’s what I put “No yellow 25s were initially handed out to counters. This was raised by myself as candidate as to why the Lib Dem votes weren’t being counted.”, “The counters soon ran out of 25s so 25s from different parties were used. This meant each candidates’ total was a mixture of colours and instead of using separate trays, one tray was used for Labour, the Conservative and UKIP votes were put in a second tray with the Lib Dem votes hidden from view behind a ballot box.” and “We only have to look at the Oxton recount to see how a large number of votes changed after being recounted.”

This is just a factual account of what happened at the count. The Deputy Returning Officer before he declared the result in Bidston & St. James agreed with me and took some votes off the Labour amount before the result was declared and added them to my total as a compromise as he didn’t want to have to do a recount. The result in Oxton (after a recount) was that Stuart Kelly got 1,918 votes and Matthew Patrick 1,792 (a majority of 126). However the original count of the Oxton votes put Stuart Kelly’s majority as much larger at around two hundred.

8. Making an Unjustified Complaint against a Lib Dem Councillor to the Standards Board of England

John Brace did report Cllr Ann Bridson to the Standards Board over the seating arrangements for members of the public at a meeting of the Health Scrutiny Committee. The complaint was investigated at significant public expenses and was dismissed as unfounded.

The complaint had the potential to be damaging to the reputation of a party colleague, yet at no time did John Brace seek to discuss the matter about which he felt aggrieved with Cllr Bridson, or any other member of the Liberal Democrat Council Group.

Well this is what the disciplinary panel stated in their report “The panel found this not proved.”

Firstly, I have never made a complaint about Councillor Ann Bridson to the Standards Board for England. In fact the law at the time stated only Wirral Council could do that. I did discuss it with Cllr Bridson and Cllr Williams before making the complaint.

However I did make a complaint about former Cllr Bridson to Bill Norman (who was then Monitoring Officer at Wirral Council). This complaint was never referred to the Standards Board for England. The complaint about former Cllr Bridson that was referred to the Standards Board for England was the one made by Martin Morton about her and other councillors. The statement that I didn’t seek to discuss the matter with her before making the complaint is untrue.

From my signed witness statement “21. I did raise with the Chair after the meeting the issues about disability and her Committee had a specific responsibility for these. I did not want the events repeated again at this discussion she said that she was not prepared to listen to arguments from members of the public. 22. I was surprised and shocked by what she said.”

From my wife’s signed witness statement “17. After the meeting they had approached the Chair. She [Leonora Brace] became engaged in conversation with a Councillor close by, while her husband was speaking to the Chair [Ann Bridson] and I did not hear the full conversation. She could hear well enough to know that attitude of the Chair [Ann Bridson] was not good. She [Ann Bridson] was shouting in a loud voice and she [Leonora Brace] heard her [Ann Bridson] say this is “not the time nor the place” for speaking. 18. In Mrs Brace’s creed there is great emphasis put on the need to be polite. The Chair was not being polite.

From Ann Bridson’s signed witness statement “24. John Brace may have approached me at the end of a meeting in the last 7 months, and I may have suggested his enquiry/comment was inappropriate at that time. However really I cannot recall.” and “31. On another issue relating to the course of this complaint and regarding the Liberal Democrat Party, John Brace had emailed the Chair of the Liberal Democrats [Birkenhead] Constituency Committee [Cllr Pat Williams] that he had made a complaint about me under the Council’s standards procedures. The Chair of the [Birkenhead] Constituency Committee had sent that email out to all members of the Executive Committee and at the next meeting when this was made clear to me, I felt obliged to say in front of the Committee that it was not a complaint that related in any sense for example fiddling expenses or an income tax offence.”

The Deputy Monitoring Officer at the time Surjit Tour wrote the covering report about the complaint to the Standards Initial Assessment Panel meeting of 20th December 2010. The detailed report of the ethical standards officer Mr David Swallow was also submitted to the Standards Initial Assessment Panel.

I asked the Chief Executive of Wirral Council Graham Burgess at the public meeting of the Improvement Board in November 2013 a question about how this standards complaint had been handled. A record of the questions and answers of Wirral Council are published on Wirral Council’s website.

My question was:

8. A separate and unrelated complaint about one of the four Councillors referred to above (ref SfE 2010/02) was decided on the 20th December 2010. However the covering report sent to the panel which decided was incorrectly titled “Report of the Monitoring Officer – Case Reference 2010/03″. This report to the panel also omitted that the original complaint referred to an alleged breach of 6(a) of the Code of Conduct. As an apology was given for an administrative error to the complainant referred to in question 5, will an apology for this administrative error be given to the complainants of complaint reference SfE 2010/02 and the subject of the complaint?

The answer of Wirral Council is perhaps typical of what would be termed “spin”. Other people may comment that it goes further than that.

This is the answer “The administrative error was that the number 3 was put into the complaint reference instead of number 2. The complaint, relating to an alleged breach of the Code of Conduct was considered by the Standards Committee Initial Assessment Panel which concluded that no action should be taken as there was no evidence to support the allegations. The minor typographical error had no detrimental impact on the complainant as all of the content was correct and considered, and as the panel found no evidence of wrongdoing it would not be appropriate to issue an apology.”

Firstly it was allegations of breaches of the Code of Conduct not “an alleged breach of the Code of Conduct”. If I remember correctly about what was in the decision notice, the Standards Committee Initial Assessment Panel accepted the recommendations of the ethical standards officer David Swallow. The ethical standards officer stated in his report that the sections of the Code of Conduct alleged to have been broken were

“3. (1) You must treat others with respect.

5. You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or Authority into disrepute.

6. You (a) must not use or attempt to use your position as a Member improperly to confer on or secure for yourself or any other person, an advantage or disadvantage”

However Surjit Tour’s covering report just mentioned the following two:

“5.1 The relevant parts of the Code in relation to this complaint are:

Paragraphs:

3. (1) You must treat others with respect.

5. You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute.”

The Standards Initial Assessment Panel accepted the three recommendations in the ethical standard officer’s report which were:

“10 My Recommendations are that
10.1 The finding that there has been no breach of the Code be accepted;
10.2 No further action be taken in respect of this matter and the case be closed
10.3 As to general issues maybe highlighted by this matter, some consideration be given to the issues raised in this Report as to the facilities made available to those with disabilities in attending meetings of the Committees – eg positioning of the water machine; reservation of seats for those with disabilities.”

The statement by the Chief Executive that “no action should be taken as there was no evidence to support the allegations” is therefore ludicrous as one of the recommendations (10.3) agreed by the Standards Initial Assessment Panel was that consideration should be given to the issues raised in this report.

At the public meeting of the Transformation and Resources Policy and Performance Committee last Monday Councillor Phil Gilchrist complained that he couldn’t hear what was going on because of the noise of the tea/coffee machine and asked for it to be turned off. So recommendation 10.3 was never actually put into action. The Chief Executive’s assertion that “all of the content was correct and considered” is untrue due to Surjit Tour’s admission. As to “no evidence of wrongdoing”, there’s plenty of evidence (see above) but when it comes to allegations of disability discrimination involving Wirral Council, well due to the culture no-one is ever found to be accountable however much evidence there is are they?

P.S. You may well say, well you can’t do this John, what about s. 63 of the Local Government Act 2000 which makes disclosure of the above in relations to a standards complaint a criminal offence? Well as regulation 5(d) of The Localism Act 2011 (Commencement No. 6 and Transitional, Savings and Transitory Provisions) Order 2012 meant that part 5, schedule 25 of the Localism Act 2011 had the force of law from the 1st July 2012. Part 5, schedule 25 of the Localism Act 2011 repeals sections 56A to 67 of the Local Government Act 2000.

This also means (despite the legal advice the Standards Committee has been given in the past) that there is no reason in law why previous reports about standards complaints about other Wirral Council councillors can’t be released to the public.

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