Now the local elections are over (although thanks to the government nationally there’s also a general election), I was present yesterday afternoon for a public meeting of Liverpool City Council’s Constitutional Issues Committee.
During the election campaigns for councillors and Metro Mayor, I’m sure many people told political parties and politicians of the “big issues” that people wanted sorted out.
So councillors have listened, and in one of the first recommendations after the local elections have recommended to award themselves a pay rise.
Interestingly based on comments made by those at the meeting at Liverpool City Council at least one councillor stated she was deterred from claiming expenses because they’re worried the Liverpool Echo would criticise them for doing so.
Moving swiftly back to Liverpool City Council councillors though. The report from the Independent Panel was a late report dated the day before the meeting, so Chris Walsh was busy handing out copies to councillors in the minutes before the meeting started.
The report encourages councillors to claim legitimate expenses, although a number of councillors pointed out that Merseytravel already provide them with free travel on public transport. Taxis had been mentioned earlier in the meeting, but in the context of criticism about Wirral registered taxis coming over to Liverpool.
So what are Liverpool’s politicians paid at the moment? Well the Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson is paid a base amount of £79,500, councillors each receive a base amount of £10,077.
Councillors also receive IT equipment (along with access to Council systems), car park passes, “Group Office Member support” (which means staff), printing, stationery, postage costs and surgery costs (up to a maximum of £330 a year).
There is a childcare allowance (only for children up to thirteen) and dependant carer’s allowance. If councillors are representing Liverpool City Council on outside bodies they’re not allowed to “double claim” from that body and Liverpool City Council.
Travel and subsistence claims can also be made, including international travel. There are a range of special responsibility allowances (which are in addition to the base amount) ranging from Deputy Mayor (£28,620) to Whip of Main Opposition Group (if that group has over 20% of the councillors) of £4,209.
Councillors on outside bodies, just to give one example Cllr Dave Hanratty as Chair of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority receives an extra ~£27k.
So back to what councillors said at the public meeting.
Firstly, the Labour Chair Cllr Alan Dean said Liverpool City councillors should be paid more because of what other councillors on Merseyside are paid.
Cllr Richard Kemp (Leader of the Liberal Democrat councillors on Liverpool City Council) said they would not oppose the pay rise.
On the subject of expenses, a councillor then said that she did not want to be mocked on the front page of the Liverpool Echo for claiming expenses.
Councillor Richard Kemp stated that he couldn’t afford the £140-£150 train fare when he went to London so claimed it on expenses, but that Liverpool City Council paid at a discounted rate due to his senior citizens card.
The Chair Cllr Alan Dean stated that politicians shouldn’t be carrying out their functions at a financial loss or gain. He referred to his public transport pass that Merseytravel issue him with. Cllr Richard Kemp confirmed he has a Merseytravel pass too.
The recommendation for a pay rise will be formally agreed at a future public meeting of all 90 Liverpool City Council councillors and the elected Mayor at Liverpool Town Hall.
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The Conway Building and the Hamilton Building are both owned by Wirral Council. Manx Education Foundation who had been behind the plans had a minority shareholding in the International Centre for Technology Ltd. However the International Centre for Technology Ltd have since bought out Manx Education Foundation’s shareholding which means the plan for a creative industry training college in Birkenhead will now not happen.
ICT Ltd are instead concentrating on developing a property on the Isle of Man called the Nunnery that they bought from the Tynwald (Isle of Man government) for £5 million that they hope to open later this year.
VIDEO: A round-up of local Wirral and Merseyside politics by John Brace (part 1)
VIDEO: A round-up of local Wirral and Merseyside politics by John Brace (part 1)
Below is a transcript of a video I’ve recorded about a range of local political matters. I’ve added some extra detail which I don’t say on the video in  brackets and of course links to more detailed stories. I realised when I finished recording that I’d been talking for nearly eighteen minutes. It’s about a variety of local political issues.
At the time of publishing this blog post the video has been uploaded to Youtube, but is still processing at Youtube’s end.
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I suppose I’d better briefly explain what the situation is regarding councillors’ expenses and allowances.
Councillors on the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority are entitled to claim expenses for instance for travel to public meetings and each year they’re supposed to publish a table detailing each councillors’ name and how much has been spent over the year in expenses for that particular councillor in various categories.
However unfortunately what Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service was doing was, where they received invoices directly rather than councillors claiming back expenses they’d incurred themselves, where trips were booked through Capita, train travel that kind of thing, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service were invoiced directly but this wasn’t appearing on the actual annual lists so that about £6,000 or so of expenses were being left off. So I have been pointing this out over the past few months.
There’s also the issue that councillors get paid allowances and on this National Insurance and presumably things like income tax were paid. Now those amounts weren’t included in the annually published lists either.
I did ask Councillor Hanratty earlier, I think it was the day before yesterday whether these amounts would be included in future, didn’t get an answer.
I think they don’t want to give me answers on this, I think they hope I’ll just stop writing about it and move on to other things. After all I think there are far less councillors getting a taxi from home to the public meetings now since I started publishing what these expenses were for.
Anyway, another news story that’s seems to be popular on the blog is that Merseytravel’s Chief Executive David Brown is leaving. I think he’s leaving from some time next month to become Chief Executive of Transport for the North. Obviously that’ll be news for people that work at Merseytravel and I suppose you’re wondering what Transport for the North is!
Well it’s a new kind of regional body that’s been set up regarding transport matters and eventually it’ll become like Merseytravel is and the Combined Authority a statutory body. So I wish him luck in his new job and I think the Deputy Chief Executive Frank Rogers will be Acting Chief Executive until councillors decide on who the permanent Chief Executive should be, which should come to a future meeting in the future.
Anyway, another thing I’ve written about on the blog recently is to do with the whole Lyndale School closure matter. Now for those who have been following this story this is probably going to repeat what you already know, but Wirral Council officers said the reason the school had to close was that from 2016/17 which is the next academic year, that funding that they’d get for education from the government would be based on pupil numbers rather than place numbers.
Now at the moment I think there are about forty places at Lyndale School and about must be a dozen or so pupils. So basically they were saying that from next year, there would be a shortfall in Lyndale School’s budget.
But this hasn’t happened!
The Cabinet still decided to close the School, but the funding changes haven’t happened, Wirral Council will get the same funding as they did the previous year.
However despite them getting the same funding, they have actually made cuts from the SEN budget because there is flexibility at Wirral Council in that they can move money around within the education budget. They’ve still got to spend it on education, but they can move money around from say that allocated for teaching assistants for special educational needs to something else within that education budget and one of the things that’s been causing pressures on the budget is that they have a massive contract, I think it’s about half way through thirty years or something.
I’ve read through the contract and it’d take too long to go into here, but it’s a contract with Wirral Schools Services Limited for basically to rebuild a number of schools, but as well as the payments that relate to that there are also payments of millions a year I think that the schools have to pay this private company for services to do with the schools. For instance I think school meals is part of it, possibly cleaning and maintenance.
So the situation had been that Wirral Council was getting a grant from the government for some of this, but the contract meant that the costs were rising each year for PFI.
What was happening was, this money was being funded outside the education budget by Wirral Council. But then a political decision was made [by Wirral Council councillors] not to do this, which meant that a few million had to be cut out of the education budget elsewhere.
Hence why special educational needs got a cut, but again one of the other interesting twists and turns that came out in the Lyndale School saga is that the whole issue of whether the School should be closed or not seemed to arise around the time there was a revaluation of the land and buildings.
Off the top of my head I think the valuation was about £2.4 million [it was actually £2.6 million]. I’d better make it clear at this stage this is a what they call a technical, what’s it called, depreciated replacement cost value. It’s not a they send in an estate agent and they say how much would would we get for this and how much would we get for the school playing fields and so on?
No, it’s more they have to have on their asset list, a list of how much their assets are because obviously as a Council they have liabilities, they have to offset that with their assets.
But it’s a great shame what happened regarding Lyndale School, it’s not closed yet, it’ll close at the end of the academic year, but I think it could’ve been handled a lot better.
He’s called Phil Ward and the problem was that, there was quite a bit of criticism levelled at him for the way he chaired the consultation meetings. Now obviously you can criticise anybody for chairing high profile consultation meetings. I’m sure there were criticisms of how Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority did their consultation meetings.
But moving back to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority, the Saughall Massie issue, it was agreed by councillors on the Fire Authority to go ahead, they’ve agreed the four or so million pounds in the capital budget and a planning application has been submitted.
Now I’ve checked on Wirral Council’s website and I can’t see a planning application there yet but obviously they have to scan it in and put it on the website for consultation so people can make their comments and so on.
The other issue is there was a vote recently on whether Wirral Council should give the land or they may get something for it I don’t know, maybe they’ll give it to them, should give this land to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority for this new fire station in Saughall Massie.
Now obviously it would be better if Wirral Council could make a decision reasonably quickly but I understand the point that councillors made at the meeting, that they felt they were only hearing one side of the argument and that they hadn’t got the information in front of them regarding the emails that had been released under Freedom of Information Act requests, they hadn’t heard the Fire and Rescue Service’s point of view because nobody had been invited along from the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service and basically better decisions are made by politicians when they have the facts in front of them and they don’t like making decisions if they’re going to be made fools of later when it turns out there’s something they should’ve known or was in the public domain.
An example of that New Brighton car parking Fort Perch Rock fiasco. Now that went out to budget consultation, was agreed by Cabinet, was agreed by Council but what wasn’t known at the time was that Wirral Council had a lease for the Marine Point complex and that lease said that if Wirral Council introduced car parking charges at Fort Perch Rock, that they could be introduced in the car parking elsewhere there and Liverpool Echo journalist I think it was Liam Murphy got in touch with the company that runs the Marine Point complex and they said yes they’d have to introduce charges because obviously if Wirral Council had introduced charges at Fort Perch Rock car park then it would’ve displaced some parking to the free parking elsewhere, so then they’d feel they’d have to introduce charges themselves, but once these matters came out then there was a U-turn done on it and they decided they’ll make up the budget shortfall somewhere else.
But that goes back to my point about politicians having the information in front of them so they can make reasonably informed decisions. Now the reports that go before officers, sorry politicians whether that’s at Wirral Council, Liverpool City Council, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, Merseytravel and so on are written by officers. That is employees of the particular public body that the politicians are politicians for.
But there’s a question of, officers can have a particular point of view and make a recommendation and therefore ask the councillors to approve it, but officers aren’t actually going to know everything, but where do the public fit in all this?
Because of course in an ideal world, like for instance the Planning Committee yesterday where the public gets to speak for five minutes if they’ve got a qualifying petition. In an ideal world, if you were making a decision, say a major decision about a fire station being built, well that’s two decisions really, it’s a planning decision and whether Wirral Council give them the land. When you’re making a major decision like that, then not only should you have some sort of consultation with the public and by consultation I don’t mean publishing the papers for the meeting a week before, although that does give some advance warning so people can lobby the decision makers.
I’m talking about that people who are affected by the decision should have their say at a public meeting and I know there’ve been consultation meetings, that the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service have run and that’s fine. But what I’m saying is the ball’s now in Wirral Council’s court, there has to be the usual consultation on planning applications, but it’s a very emotive issue.
And I think basically if I can sum up the positions, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service have received a grant for some of the cost of this fire station and of course with the West Kirby and Upton fire stations being closed, they’ll receive something for the sale of those but basically they want to build it now in Saughall Massie because the site in Greasby has been withdrawn.
But the problem is that this is greenbelt land and there’s a lot of resistance from the residents regarding a fire station there.
Now in the not too distant past Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service did put in a planning application for a temporary fire station in Oxton while Birkenhead Fire Station was being rebuilt. I know that was later withdrawn but that caused a similar level of fuss and outrage and politicians saying they were against it and so on.
But the problem was that was only a temporary ~12 month arrangement, eventually they found some way round finding somewhere else. But the same issues that were brought up then, have been brought up regarding this Saughall Massie issue, you know the issues regarding sirens, traffic and so on but I think the elephant in the room really for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service is that a number of the fire stations they’ve got are part of the PFI scheme, so they can’t close those without massive penalties.
I mean I think Birkenhead Fire Station is one example of one of the fire stations they’ve got under this PFI scheme.
So there are fire stations they can’t shut, so that leaves if they want to make any budget savings, for instance through cutting jobs and merging fire stations, they’ve only got the ones that aren’t the PFI fire stations that they can choose from.
And that’s part of the reason why Upton and West Kirby got chosen.
But I think one of the things that has currently got the public going, is that after there was pressure put regarding the Greasby site, that the offer of Greasby where there’s a library and community centre there was withdrawn and people are asking why Wirral Council isn’t doing the same thing with Saughall Massie?
Well basically these are decisions yet to be determined, it’s a party political matter because three political parties involved in the last decision on this voted three different ways, but I can see a problem because firstly Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service can’t keep Upton and West Kirby open. They just don’t have the budget for the amount of firefighters that would take.
Now one alternative is, just keep Upton open, now the downside to this according to the Chief Fire Officer is that this would increase response times to the Hoylake and West Kirby area, so that’s why they want somewhere roughly in between the two stations.
However then people raised the issue of Upton’s close to Arrowe Park Hospital, so it’ll take longer to get to there so wherever you have a fire station there’ll be people that have a quick response time and people that have a slow response time.
But the fire engines aren’t always at the fire station all the time, I mean about half the time they’ll be called out on a job, well maybe a bit more than that, they’ll be out somewhere else and that can’t really be predicted where they’d be at, whether they’d be fitting a smoke alarm or something like that.
So there are a lot of issues to do with the Saughall Massie fire station and basically I’ll be reporting on it, but at the same time I think it’s interesting seeing both the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority meetings and the Wirral Council meetings and how this issue has been dealt with at both of them.
Of course if the government hadn’t offered Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service a large grant to build a new fire station there, then I doubt this would’ve gone ahead, admittedly they could’ve borrowed the money or found the money from somewhere but I think that what’s interesting is I did make a FOI for the grant application that they made to DCLG, was told that this information would be published in the future so I couldn’t have it now and I’d have to wait till after the consultations were finished and by that they didn’t just mean the Upton and West Kirby consultations but they meant the other consultations because this grant is not just for a fire station at Saughall Massie, there are similar consultations and mergers and closures happening elsewhere across Merseyside.
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Liverpool City Region Combined Authority meeting of the 21st September 2015 Part 1 of 2 (devolution and Transport for the North)
Declaration of Interest – the author wishes to declare an interest in that Google (named in the piece below) has an existing contract with the author for advertising revenue from Youtube videos.
Unusually a Chief Executive of a local PR company called Kenyon Fraser Limited spoke at the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority meeting on its agenda item on devolution. Below is the exchange between Cllr Phil Davies and Ben O’Brien of Kenyon Fraser, then I go into more detail about the existing contracts that this PR company Kenyon Fraser has with Merseytravel/Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.
The Chair Cllr Phil Davies said at the end of a presentation by Ged Fitzgerald (Chief Executive, Liverpool City Council) on devolution, "With the Combined Authority being advised by Kenyon Fraser [Ltd] on this. Ben O’Brien from Kenyon Fraser has come here today, so just with your permission, I’d just like to give Ben a couple of minutes to talk about plans around public engagement, stakeholder involvement etc so Ben, do you want to just say a few words about that please? Thank you."
Ben O’Brien from PR company Kenyon Fraser said, "Chair, very briefly, as has been outlined in the presentation I think things are developing quickly and our role is to take that forward Chair.
I’m Chief Executive of Kenyon Fraser, my name’s Ben O’Brien, we’re a Liverpool based communications consultancy.
We’re very pleased to have been appointed to support taking the work forward and we’re linking in with colleagues in Knowsley in the Secretariat role in order to facilitate that.
And really given the timescales and the tasks in hand to provide additional resources to be able to do that work to a high standard in the timescales that are required of us.
So in short our role is to produce communications resources to support that better engagement with the public, with key stakeholder groups including the business community and other stakeholder groups relevant to the key policy proposal areas that are being taken forward at this time and in advance of the CSR [Comprehensive Spending Review] in the first instance.
So we’re here to provide additional resources, we’re pulling together our plans to support doing that at a city region level and at a borough level, as we’ll be required by the work that officers are undertaking at this stage and we want to take that work forward from here on in as it takes shape.
So thank you for inviting us along to introduce ourselves in the first instance."
Kenyon Fraser have a number of contracts with Merseytravel.
The first called the "Agreement for Consultancy Services relating to High Speed Rail for Liverpool Campaign development and delivery" is a contract dated 16th September 2014 for £99,500 for the work detailed below (prices have been blacked out by Merseytravel as apparently they are "commercially sensitive") .
For those wondering what the taxpayer got for £99,500 (or find it hard to read the image above) that was the work of the Chief Executive, a named Account Director (name was removed by Merseytravel), Account Managers/Designers/Web Designers/PRs and similar & engagement staff. The services of these people are charged on an undisclosed daily rate.
The Cost Summary Schedule detailed work in the following areas:
Campaign Strategy and planning, political engagement up to launch
Design and build website inc one year hosting
PR & Media Relations inc pre launch activity, copy, video, photography, staff attendance
Branding and core materials – design and production
Public launch, engagement activity to 12th August
Ongoing PR and media relations activity including Liverpool Echo partnership, copy, photography, social media
Political engagement activity including copy, packs, events, liaison
Events programme – business, opinion former and stakeholder engagement, all supporting activity
Public engagement activity across all Local Authority areas post launch period, petition support, public events
Total £99,500 of public money spent on a campaign, which hasn’t resulted in persuading the government to extend HS2 to Liverpool.
There is also an “Agreement for Communication Support” that Kenyon Fraser Limited have (or had) with the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive dated 12th December 2013. The brief for that one is simple and is:
To provide media support as and when required pending recruitment to the vacant posts within the Corporate Communications Team
To roll out support for the Stakeholder Engagement Plan
To provide specialist development and training support
Oh but there’s more than that! This company also has the "Framework Agreement for Consultancy Services for the Design of Travel Marketing Literature Commencing 1 January 2014 until 31 December 2015". This one is for bus posters, Google PPC advertising, Facebook advertising, other online activities, as well as quarter pages ads in the Liverpool Daily Post (although as this paper ceased publication in December 2013 I’m curious about why it’s in the contract), Southport & Formby Champion, Bootle, Crosby & Maghull Champion and Wirral Globe, advertising on the back of buses, bus stop advertising, employee engagement and PR activity such as "Mersey Summer Time", web page work, leaflets, in-car air fresheners, Meal for 2 incentives, engagement and PR activity.
It looks like this contract was extended in 2014 to 2017 and renamed "Consultancy Services Agreement for the Provision of Design Services for Travel Marketing Literature October 2013 to September 2017".
However there’s more, Kenyon Fraser Limited have a 35 page contract dated 20th May this year called the "Merseytravel Consultancy Services Framework Agreement 2015-2019 For Consultancy Services (Various Lots)" which is for PR, campaign & engagement.
First Merseyside Police disciplinary hearing held in public starts today
First Merseyside Police disciplinary hearing held in public starts today
I read an interesting article in the Liverpool Echo this morning. The article refers to a police disciplinary hearing for four police officers that’s being held in public (starting today) for four days. By the time this blog post is published the hearing will have started.
This is the first one held in Merseyside since the Home Secretary changed the regulations earlier this year that govern police disciplinary hearings so that they’re in public and not in private.
However there were some parts of the Merseyside Police notice about the hearing that I wanted to quote. These are matters not referred to in the Liverpool Echo article.
Pages one to two of the notice about the hearing deal with the reasons why it is being held, but it is last bit that is interesting (which I will quote in full here, then comment on).
There will be limited seating for members of the press and public. To facilitate your attendance, you must apply by emailing the Merseyside Police Professional Standards Department at:
Professional.Standards.Department.PSD@merseyside.pnn.police.uk, with the following details: Name, Date of birth, Address, Email address, Phone number.
When attending a hearing you will be expected to produce photographic ID. These measures are in place to ensure compliance with Health & Safety legislation and security protocols. You are expected to arrive at least 30 minutes before the start of proceedings to enable staff to complete the administrative process and guide you to the seating area.
No recording or filming of these proceedings is allowed and attendees may be searched prior to entry.
Please note there are no parking or refreshment facilities available at the venue.
The premises are wheelchair accessible and a member of Merseyside Police staff will facilitate the signing in process.
This is a ‘No Smoking Building’.
No food or pets are allowed in the building, other than guide dogs.
So in other words, Merseyside Police want to know exactly who is at the hearing (held in public for the first time) and not only that but they want the dates of birth, address, email address and phone number of everyone from the press and public there.
They expect anyone from the press to show photo ID (not hard for the press as the press will have press cards or photo ID from their employer) but also the public too!
Merseyside Police don’t want any recording or filming of the hearing (presumably this won’t stop people sending tweets about the hearing from their mobile phones during the hearing) and to possibly search people attending.
There won’t be "refreshment facilities" (presumably that means no tea/coffee machine) and for a four-day hearing you’re not even allowed to bring a packed lunch.
Plus they want you to email in advance to say you’re coming!
For a public hearing (or to paraphrase what some councillors would say not a "public hearing" but a "hearing held in public") Merseyside Police would seem to be trying to deter people from going and to gather intelligence on the press and public attending.
Sadly, however interesting it sounds, with Wavertree being a ten-mile trip there and ten miles back from the Wirral we can’t spare someone for the four days of the hearing. I do hope the newspapers send someone though, so there is some record of what happens in this new age of openness and transparency.
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