Why has Wirral Council agreed to write to the government asking for money and for the government to meet people affected by the New Ferry explosion?

Why has Wirral Council agreed to write to the government asking for money and for the government to meet people affected by the New Ferry explosion?

Why has Wirral Council agreed to write to the government asking for money and for the government to meet people affected by the New Ferry explosion?

                                                  

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Council (Wirral Council) 10th July 2017 Part 8 of 17 (Support for New Ferry)

Usually the press outnumber the public in the public gallery above the Council Chamber at Wallasey Town Hall.

Wallasey Town Hall (public gallery) Wirral Council 10th July 2017
Wallasey Town Hall (public gallery) Wirral Council 10th July 2017

Monday evening’s meeting of Wirral Council’s councillors was different as many people (see photo above) with connections to New Ferry had turned up to listen to the debate on the notice of motion about New Ferry following the explosion earlier this year.

After around two hours of waiting, councillors rearranged the agenda so that the Support for New Ferry motion was heard first (rather than fourth). This motion was proposed by Cllr Warren Ward and seconded by Cllr Phil Davies.

A large explosion in New Ferry happened on Saturday 25 March. Many buildings in the area had to be evacuated because of structural damage (these were buildings used for both residential and business purposes), roads were closed and at least one person injured ended up in hospital. Cllr Warren Ward’s notice of motion asked for Wirral Council to write to the national government to intervene and to help.

Councillor Phil Davies (Leader) estimated that Wirral Council’s costs so far in dealing with the aftermath as around £300,000.

Cllr Warren Ward (Bromborough) criticised the government for sending a minister to visit the area some time after it happened.

He singled out a government minister for further criticism, stating that the minister had said in a local radio interview that the government had been supporting Wirral Council since day one of the explosion. Cllr Ward described this as a “kick in the teeth to all those residents affected crying out for government support only to receive nothing”.

Councillor Warren Ward thanked the “phenomenal emergency services”, “[Wirral] Council officers” and “community members”. He referred to the community members as “picking up the burden”.

He explained that Wirral Council employees had been working “15 hour days” at a cost of “hundreds of thousands of pounds” asking, “why isn’t the government playing its role in supporting the residents affected by the New Ferry disaster?”

At the end of his speech he received nearly thirty seconds of applause and a standing ovation.

Cllr Adam Sykes (Clatterbridge) moving an amendment to Cllr Warren Ward’s notice of motion started by thanking the members of public in the gallery for waiting “a long time”.

He described meetings of residents he had attended and the impact and distress the disaster had had on them. Cllr Sykes described people who had lost everything and how others had no insurance and how people were “looking for answers”.

His speech covered the cause of the blast and resident’s fears that it could happen again. Wirral Council employees were once again thanked and the community for their “hard work”. Describing Cllr Warren Ward as an “outstanding example of a councillor in our Council for all his tireless work ”, he explained that the amendment wasn’t to take anything away but sought to support by “exploring other options”.

Cllr Sykes explained that in the short-term Wirral Council should use its own funds held in reserves for emergencies and to explore financial assistance under the Bellwin Scheme as he was not sure whether that had been done yet.

He agreed that Wirral Council should work with the government to “resolve this situation” and said he had spoken to the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP (Minister for Communities and Local Government) on a number of occasions and that the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP was clear that the government “wished to help” to discuss a plan with Wirral Council officers.

During the general election (when Cllr Sykes was the Conservative candidate hoping to be MP for Wirral South after the general election in June) he said that he hadn’t wanted to bring the Rt Hon Sajid Javid to the blast site, as it would appear that Cllr Sykes was after a “photo opportunity”.

He was at this point heckled by the public gallery.

Cllr Sykes said he had told Cllr Warren Ward that he didn’t want to make the issue a “political football”, he repeated his request for Wirral Council to provide a plan to the government. Referring to a visit by the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse on the 6th of July 2017, he said that the Minister had asked during that visit for the plan to be submitted so “things could move forward”. The councillor continued by saying that it was the responsibility of “all of us” (referring to both Wirral Council and the government) “to look after our neighbours when they”re in need”. He said it was about “basic compassion and shouldn’t stop at [political] party boundaries” and that he wished to work with all Wirral Council councillors and the community to help the people of New Ferry.

He was further heckled by the public gallery.

Cllr Irene Williams (Bromborough) thanked the Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram for a contribution by the LCRCA of £20,000. She thanked Wirral Council employees and people in the community who she described as “working tirelessly”, she said that New Ferry was in need of “emergency funding”. Cllr Williams said that the government had indicated it couldn’t help because of the general election (which had now been over for a month) and referred to residents being “traumatised”. She described some residents as suffering flashbacks, how businesses will close and how some buildings would have to be demolished.

Cllr Williams described New Ferry as “struggling before the explosion” and asked for a “fair share of help from governnment”. She received applause for her speech.

Other speakers in the debate were Cllr Ian Lewis (Wallasey), Cllr Ron Abbey (Leasowe and Moreton East), Cllr Dave Mitchell (Eastham), Cllr Chris Blakeley (Moreton West and Saughall Massie), Cllr Jerry Williams (Bebington), Cllr Stuart Whittingham (Upton & Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport), Cllr Chris Carubia (Eastham), Cllr Tracey Pilgrim (Clatterbridge), Cllr Phil Davies (Birkenhead and Tranmere & Leader) and finally again Cllr Warren Ward (Bromborough).

The vote on the Conservative amendment was lost (24:36:1 (for:against:abstain)).

The vote on the original Labour motion was passed (60:0:1 (for:against:abstain)).

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Election Result (Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, 2017): Mayor: Labour (Steve Rotheram)

Election Result (Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, 2017): Mayor: Labour (Steve Rotherham)

Election Result (Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, 2017): Mayor: Labour (Steve Rotherham)

                                 

Polling station 4th May 2017 resized
Polling station 4th May 2017 resized

Please note we would have been happier reporting from the count centre but the Combined Authority Returning Officer Ged Fitzgerald was not happy with us being there.

Election Result (Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, 2017): Mayor: Steve Rotheram (Labour Party)

Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (Mayor) (2017)
 
Name of candidate     Description (if any)  Votes   %
Rotheram
Steve
 Labour Party  171,167   59.3%   Elected
Caldeira
Tony
 Conservatives  58,805   20.4%   Not elected
Cashman
Carl  
 Liberal Democrat  19,751   6.84%   Not elected
Crone
Tom
 Green Party  14,094   4.88%   Not elected
Walters
Paula
 UK Independence Party   11,940   4.14%   Not elected
Bannister
Roger
 Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition   7,881   2.73%   Not elected
Morton
Tabitha
 Women’s Equality Party   4,247   1.49%   Not elected
Breen
Paul
 Get the Coppers off the Jury   729   0.25%   Not elected

There were 2,789 rejected ballot papers. Turnout was 26.1%. The turnout for the Wirral area was 27.8%. The electorate was 1,116,495. Any candidate with less than 5% of the first preference vote loses their £5,000 deposit (Tom Crone (Green), Paula Walters (UKIP), Roger Bannister (TUSC), Tabitha Morton (Women’s Equality Party) and Paul Breen (Get the Coppers off the Jury).

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Election Result (Wirral Council, 2017): Claughton: Labour hold (Gillian Wood)

Election Result (Wirral Council, 2017): Claughton: Labour hold (Gillian Wood)

Election Result (Wirral Council, 2017): Claughton: Labour hold (Gillian Wood)

                                 

Polling station 4th May 2017 resized
Polling station 4th May 2017 resized

Please note we would have been happier reporting from the count centre about half a mile away but Wirral Council were not happy with the press being there.

Election Result (Wirral Council, 2017): Claughton: Gillian Wood (Labour Party)

Claughton Ward (2017)
 
Name of candidate     Description (if any)  Votes   %
Wood
Gillian
 Labour Party  1,761   52%   Elected
Evans
David Robert Cynlais
 Liberal Democrats  740   22%   Not elected
Sinclair
Barbara Vera  
 Conservative  567   17%   Not elected
Heydon
Liz
 Green Party  136   4%   Not elected
Jones
Beryl Rosina
 UK Independence Party   130   4%   Not elected
Wheddon
Leon Allen
 Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition   27   1%   Not elected

There were 11 rejected ballot papers, the electorate was 11,336 and the turnout was 30%.

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Will 9 councillors tonight recommend better scrutiny of Wirral Council?

Will 9 councillors tonight recommend better scrutiny of Wirral Council?

Will 9 councillors tonight recommend better scrutiny of Wirral Council?

                                       

Tonight, it’s a special meeting of Wirral Council’s Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee (yes Wirral Council and standards in the same sentence does cause most people to smile). So what’s it about?

Surjit Tour (Monitoring Officer (Wirral Council)) at the Coordinating Committee held on 15th June 2016
Surjit Tour (Monitoring Officer (Wirral Council)) at the Coordinating Committee (which was one of the scrutiny committees abolished last year) held on 15th June 2016

Well last year, Wirral Council decided to save money by having less scrutiny (reducing the scrutiny committees by one). Considering the £millions extra that had to be spent to put a sticking plaster on matters as a result of poor scrutiny and the OFSTED report (which amplified some milder criticisms in the peer review), one wonders with hindsight whether it was both a false economy and a lost opportunity to move towards a better system of scrutiny.

As it states in Surjit Tour’s witness statement (I’ve altered it to the past tense), “the Council had four Policy and Performance Committees that discharge the Council’s overview and scrutiny function.” even though by the time I cross-examined him we both agreed that Wirral Council councillors (albeit bitterly opposed by opposition councillors) had by then recommended to scrap one and have three.

Interestingly the result of that First-tier Tribunal was that the judiciary decided there that Mr. Tour’s decision-making was flawed.

If you read that decision and the OFSTED report together, I wonder if the outcome of the First-tier Tribunal hearing would’ve been different had I had the benefit of that OFSTED report at the time.

Tonight’s meeting, the papers are on Wirral Council website tries to remedy a theme that runs through that First-tier Tribunal decision, the OFSTED report and that that was raised by opposition councillors last year when Labour proposed and then decided on less scrutiny.

I will also make an educated guess that the Improvement Board (which doesn’t appear to meet in public or publish its minutes as far as I can see) decided that the issues expensively identified by Anna Klonowski Associates have never been addressed in any sort of permanent way.

In fact it’s telling that the parting recommendation of the previous Improvement Board (a recommendation endorsed by many of Wirral Council’s committees) for more independent scrutiny, was then vetoed by Cllr Phil Davies. Interestingly his rationale was that Wirral Council would have a combined audit & auditor panel committee, then… yes you’ve guessed it for cost reasons councillors decided later not to!

If I remember correctly, the government are making it a legal requirement that the Combined Authority Scrutiny Committee is chaired by a councillor from a different party, yet Wirral Council has for a number of years considered that scrutiny of Labour councillors is best done by committees chaired by yes it doesn’t take much guessing Labour councillors.

So what is tonight really about?

Well the decision taken last year by Labour councillors is now seen as flawed in light of the OFSTED report.

Labour now propose doing a U-turn and splitting the People Overview and Scrutiny Committee into two new committees. The two new committees will be the Adult Care and Health Overview & Scrutiny Committee and the Children and Families Overview & Scrutiny Committee.

It looks likely that the Children Sub Committee and Health & Care Performance Panel will both be scrapped.

Whether the new scrutiny arrangements will work or whether I’ll be writing next year about a further change to Wirral Council’s scrutiny arrangements who knows?

In the great tradition of Wirral Council, councillors will meet and make no decision tonight, only a recommendation (effectively to all councillors) to then make a decision next month.

Which means nothing will change for at least a further 3-4 weeks.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

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Conservative and Lib Dem councillors granted special meeting to debate car parking charges

Conservative and Lib Dem councillors granted special meeting to debate car parking charges

Conservative and Lib Dem councillors granted special meeting to debate car parking charges

                                        

Cllr Phil Davies is being asked to U-turn on car park charges proposals
Cllr Phil Davies is being asked to U-turn on car park charges proposals

Despite the partial U-turn on car parking charges by Wirral’s Cabinet previously reported on this blog, after campaigns by Conservative and Lib Dem councillors on Wirral Council, the Mayor has granted a request for a special meeting to debate the increase in proposed charges at existing car parks and the introduction of car parking charges at various country parks.

The extraordinary meeting of Wirral Council will be held on the 6th March 2017 starting at 5.30 pm in the Council Chamber at Wallasey Town Hall, Brighton Street, Seacombe, CH44 8ED.

A notice of motion to that meeting (proposed by Conservative councillors), which can be read in full on Wirral Council’s website asks for the following:

“Council therefore requests the Leader of the Council to:

(a) withdraw his proposal of a 20p increase on all existing car parking tariffs

and

(b) withdraw his plan to introduce car parking charges at Wirral’s parks in their entir