A farce at Wirral Council’s public question time (Act 2, Scene 1) Is Wirral Council “open and transparent”?

A farce at Wirral Council’s public question time (Act 2, Scene 1) Is Wirral Council “open and transparent”?

A farce at Wirral Council’s public question time (Act 2, Scene 1) Is Wirral Council “open and transparent”?

                                                                

A question on councillors expenses to Cllr Adrian Jones Wirral Council 14th December 2015
A question on councillors expenses to Cllr Adrian Jones Wirral Council 14th December 2015

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Wirral Council’s Public Question Time 14th December 2015

Before I write about the question I asked of Councillor Adrian Jones at public question time, I am going to explain some of the legal background, what’s happened so far and why there are echoes of the extreme lengths that the former Speaker of the House of Commons Michael Martin went to over MPs’ expenses.

There are a number of different laws (and a bit of history) here that apply to this, so I am going to start by explaining my understanding of them and explain why Cllr Adrian Jones has unfortunately fallen into the trap of believing things officers tell him and also getting bamboozled by some of the legal jargon. Here is a link to a transcript of a previous answer he gave.

I’m a local government elector here on the Wirral (basically that means I get to vote in elections to Wirral Council).

Each year, during the audit there is a period of about three weeks when local government electors have a legal right to inspect and receive free copies of accounts to be audited and copies of all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts relating to them.

Wirral Council can remove any details of employees, but has to seek the external auditor’s permission (in this case Grant Thornton) to remove anything else.

This is detailed in this piece of legislation Audit Commission Act 1998, s.15.

Once the inspection period ends, there is then a period when questions can be asked of the auditor followed by a period when formal objections can be raised or requests for a public interest report.

In case Wirral Council thinks I’m picking on it, this year I made requests to Merseytravel (part of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority), Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority (also called Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority), Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and Liverpool City Council.

Each of those other bodies managed to respond and provide the information for inspection more or less within the inspection period.

Two of these authorities (Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority) provided some of what I requested in electronic format.

For example this one contract that MFRA (Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority) has that comes to over 11,000 A4 pages I could’ve requested in paper format, but didn’t as I was quite happy to receive it on one DVD as opposed to three large boxes of paperwork. The £1.2 billion contract that Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority provided is over 800 pages long.

Wirral Council however decided that providing me with what I’d estimate at 10% of what I asked for was reasonable. It’s not!

These other public bodies I refer to are much smaller (in terms of staff and budget) than Wirral Council, yet by being flexible saved to give the example as outlined above the internal costs of copying a contract of over 11,000 pages in length. Had I requested such a contract from Wirral Council I would still be waiting as they would insist on supplying it in paper format!

So getting back to what I did request. I requested the 44 page contract that Wirral Council has for providing taxi services to councillors, the Highway Services Contract with BAM Nuttall (you can read the first 83 pages here) Wirral Council spend roughly £5 to £6 million a year on this and the contract variations to the Biffa contract (I’m still waiting for the latter).

In addition to this I requested various invoices and to inspect the councillors’ expenses (I haven’t seen any of the latter and received about one in ten of the former).

To give an example of some of the invoices I requested, it answered the details of Wirral Council spending ~£7.2 million on agency staff/consultants as opposed to hiring to these positions. It showed that in one case Wirral Council made a senior member of staff redundant, then hired agency staff (at a vastly increased cost) to do their job. You can view some of the invoices relating to that here.

There are other categories of public expenditure that I requested from Wirral Council that are in the public’s interest to know about too.

Indeed, Wirral Council’s Cabinet itself has referred to this blog in its decision making. The accompanying report to the decision refers to the lease for the New Brighton Marine Point development at 2.5 which was published on this blog.

By reversing this decision Wirral Council saved ’thousands in the costs of perhaps adding an extra hour to the next Highways and Traffic Representation Panel public meeting, the cost of it then going on the agenda of the next Regeneration and Environment Policy and Performance Committee public meeting and the cost of a Cabinet Member finally making a decision (along with the associated costs of officers trying to persuade objectors to drop their objections).

I might point out that as I put this information in the public domain had Cabinet reversed their decision at an earlier stage the costs of consultation on the proposed traffic regulation order (an expensive public notice in the local newspaper etc) would have been saved too.

However going back to councillors’ expenses. As I have not seen any councillors’ expenses for 2014/15, my question to Cllr Adrian Jones must be classed as a request to exercise this legal right (The Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003, regulation 15 to inspect such documents.

I do not like having to ask twice! Cllr Adrian Jones as far as I remember in his answer stated that these amounts were included in the annually published list both in answer to my question this week and earlier this year.

I would suspect that councillors’ use of taxis would be broadly comparable from year to year. So let’s test Cllr Adrian Jones’ assertion.

In response to this FOI request the taxi bill in 13/14 was ~£3k and Cllr Adrian Jones confirmed in answer to my question that for the 14/15 financial year the total cost was roughly the same.

Here are three councillors that got taxis in 13/14 and the costs:

Cllr Moira McLaughlin £755.30
Cllr Pat Hackett £700
Cllr Steve Niblock £493.90

Had anyone of those stopped getting taxis at Wirral Council’s expense the total amount for 14/15 would’ve dropped dramatically.

Yet here are the relevant amounts from the 2014/15 published list:

Cllr Moira McLaughlin £NIL
Cllr Pat Hackett £NIL
Cllr Steve Niblock £NIL

If these three councillors had all decided to give up getting taxis and the £NIL amounts were correct (the latter point Cllr Adrian Jones states in answer to my question) then the total amount would drop by ~£2k (the combined total of all three). However it hasn’t!

You can see the full exchange between myself and Cllr Adrian Jones below.

Cllr Ron Abbey (who is a member of Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee) makes the point before Cllr Adrian Jones that it is implied that this is unlawful and isn’t that terrible to imply such a thing?

If Wirral Council is as strongly suspected from what is outlined above publishing incorrect figures, then it is breaching breach of The Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003, Regulation 15(3).

Clearly as clearly outlined above, had Wirral Council not flouted a number of its other legal responsibilities I would be able to answer that question and Wirral Council’s cultural attitudes towards its legal responsibilities continue to have the effect of interfering with the freedom of the press and triggering the Streisand effect.

Councillor Adrian Jones makes the point that councillors are trusted not to misuse the public purse paying for their taxis.

Below is a claim form (as I’m being seasonal) from one of Cllr Adrian Jones’ party colleagues, a Councillor Peter Brennan (a councillor at Liverpool City Council) who claimed from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority (and was paid for) £5.64 for car mileage expenses to and from a carol concert at St Nicholas’ Church. In the grand scheme of things you may point out that £5.64 doesn’t matter and at least he didn’t get a taxi! However it’s the cumulative cost to the public purse of these matters and the excessive secrecy at Wirral Council that is leading to suspicion as to why despite Cllr Adrian Jones’ claims about openness and transparency that at Wirral Council they are being anything but on this politically sensitive topic!

Cllr Peter Brennan car mileage claim November 2014 to February 2015 page 1 of 2 thumbnail
Cllr Peter Brennan car mileage claim November 2014 to February 2015 page 1 of 2 thumbnail

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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)

VIDEO: A round-up of local Wirral and Merseyside politics by John Brace (part 1)

                                                            

Screenshot from Youtube video of John Brace
Screenshot from Youtube video of John Brace

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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John Brace on local Wirral and Merseyside politics (part 1)


JOHN BRACE: Hello, I hope you can hear me clearly. I’m John Brace and I’m going to be filming a series of videos as due to the half term holidays next week, there’s a shortage of public meetings.

So, I thought I’d start off by looking at one of the bigger stories on my blog this week.

That was about what I said at a meeting of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority to the Chair Cllr Dave Hanratty and his response about councillors’ expenses.

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.

In fact that’s a legal requirement, a very basic level of transparency.

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.

Asked a question about this at the Birkenhead Constituency Committee, told it was a matter for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service/Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority.

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.

Obviously there’ve been recent revelations come out that the person that chaired the consultation meetings on the Lyndale School closure wasn’t in fact a Wirral Council employee, but is a what do you call it, a temp, a temporary worker because they couldn’t recruit somebody to the post [for £775+VAT/day].

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, that was a five for, five against vote with one abstention so it got deferred to another meeting.

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.

So hopefully that will sum up things and I’ll point out that tonight at the Wallasey Constituency Committee, I won’t be there but I noticed because I read through the reports and the agenda, that the Motability, they have a little place in Birkenhead that hires out wheelchairs and things like that are looking to set up a place in New Brighton, so people can hire wheelchairs and that kind of thing.

So that’s a possibly positive move for New Brighton, because I know there’s been a lot of criticism at New Brighton and a large petition over the dropped car parking plans.

Anyway I’d better finish for now, but thanks for listening.

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What was the reason for Cabinet’s decision to U-turn on Fort Perch Rock car park charges?

What was the reason for Cabinet’s decision to U-turn on Fort Perch Rock car park charges?

What was the reason for Cabinet’s decision to U-turn on Fort Perch Rock car park charges?

                                            

Fort Perch Rock car park 29th June 2015 Photo 1 of 3
Fort Perch Rock car park 29th June 2015

To very little fanfare, last Friday Wirral Council’s Cabinet Member for Governance, Commissioning and Improvement (and Deputy Leader of the Council) Cllr Ann McLachlan made a delegated decision to abandon plans to charge for car parking at Fort Perch Rock car park in New Brighton.

The decision states “That the Leader of the Council” and is not signed by Cllr Phil Davies, one can only presume that when Wirral Council put in a press release Council Leader Phil Davies has announced he has blocked proposals to charge for parking in New Brighton, what was actually meant was Cllr Phil Davies asked for a report blocking proposals to charge to parking in New Brighton, but when it was decided he was unavailable so left instructions for his deputy to decide to block the proposals.

However that minor quibble aside, what does this decision mean? Firstly the current traffic regulation order consultation process is “discontinued”. This means the Highways and Traffic Representation Panel will now not meet in September to make a recommendation on it.

The decision also states “that the approved proposal to introduce car parking charges at Fort Perch Rock, New Brighton not be implemented”.

Interestingly the decision also states in the reasons for the decision (paragraph 2.5 refers to the report that accompanies the decision) “As described at paragraph 2.5 above, factors which were not known by Cabinet at the time of the approval of the budget proposal have become known during the Traffic Regulation Order consultation process.”

The report that accompanies the decision goes into more detail.

“2.3 As part of the 2015/16 Budget Proposal, Cabinet and Council also agreed to review car parking charges across the Borough to help support business needs.

2.4 In order to implement the parking charge at Fort Perch Rock, the Council has been undertaking consultation as part of the required Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) process. Whilst it is not considered that there are any objections or other representations received which would prevent the TRO proposal being implemented, there are objections relating to traffic regulation which would require consideration of the outcomes of the consultation regarding the TRO by the Highways and Transportation Representations Panel.

2.5 However, it has recently come to light that the legal agreement which was signed between the Council and Neptune Development as part of the Marine Point Development included a clause which stated that should the Council introduce on street car parking charges in New Brighton and/or charges for the Fort Perch Rock Car Park, then the other car parks which formed part of the Marine Point Development could also not unreasonably be prevented from introducing car parking charges.

2.6 The wider introduction of car parking charges to New Brighton could potentially have an impact on visitors and businesses in the area. Given the outcome and budget decision regarding reducing car parking charges throughout Wirral in order to support businesses, this could potentially have a conflicting impact.

2.7 It is therefore proposed that the work to undertake a TRO be halted and that the proposal to introduce car parking charges at Fort Perch Rock, New Brighton, not be implemented.”

The legal agreement referred to above means the lease. Maybe it’s only recently come to light to the author of the report, but I published the three pages of the lease on December 22nd 2014 so it’s hardly recently come to light has it? However as Wirral Council is the landlord for this lease isn’t this a prime example of “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” or to put it another way silo working.

So how are the books now going to balance? Well the report states that for this year “income for off-street parking is forecast to be greater than budgeted.” and “The overall budget saving of £35,000 will be included in the planned budget for 2016/17, from further efficiencies which will be identified during the current year.”

The decision to not charge at the Fort Perch Rock car park will take effect from the 8th August 2015 (assuming that the decision isn’t called in which is highly unlikely).

UPDATED 18:56 3/8/15 As the TRO process has been discontinued, I’ve made this FOI request to Wirral Council for the number of objections and what was in them.

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Over 3,000 people have signed a petition against car parking charges at Fort Perch Rock in New Brighton but what happens next?

Over 3,000 people have signed a petition against car parking charges at Fort Perch Rock in New Brighton but what happens next?

Over 3,000 people have signed a petition against car parking charges at Fort Perch Rock in New Brighton but what happens next?

                                                            

Fort Perch Rock car park 29th June 2015 Photo 1 of 3
Fort Perch Rock car park 29th June 2015 Photo 1 of 3
Fort Perch Rock car park 29th June 2015 Photo 2 of 3
Fort Perch Rock car park 29th June 2015 Photo 2 of 3
Fort Perch Rock car park 29th June 2015 Photo 3 of 3
Fort Perch Rock car park 29th June 2015 Photo 3 of 3

Above are three photos of Fort Perch Rock car park in New Brighton taken on the 29th June 2015. Over the busier summer holidays this car park will be full.

Future Council Wirral logo
Future Council Wirral logo

As part of the Future Council consultation last year Wirral Council consulted the public on £2.5 million of budget cuts. In the end only £2.4 million of cuts were agreed because of savings that resulted from the extended Biffa contract.

One of the budget options as part of the Future Council consultation was to introduce car parking charges at the Fort Perch Rock car park in New Brighton. Councillors were told that this would bring in an estimated £25,000 in 2015/16 and £10,000 in 2016/17. A public document (that wasn’t part of the documents shared with the public as part of the Future Council consultation) estimated that the cost of providing cash payment ticket machines would be £20,000 (see section 6.2 page 9).

Last year as part of that budget consultation, there was a public meeting of Wirral Council’s Regeneration and Environment Policy and Performance Committee on the 4th November 2014 where councillors discussed the budget option for charging for car parking at Fort Perch Rock car park.

You can watch that discussion in the Youtube video below which should start at the point about the Fort Perch Rock car park.

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The minutes of what was agreed at the public meeting of the 4th November 2014 are included in the agenda for the Cabinet meeting that decided on the budget options.

At that meeting Cllr Jerry Williams (Wirral Council’s Heritage Champion and a Labour councillor) tried to move a recommendation that the budget option of charging at Fort Perch Rock car park be removed from the budget options. However the solicitor advising the Committee said that it couldn’t be removed, so instead it was watered down to a recommendation to Cabinet that the budget option wasn’t adopted. The recommendation was seconded by Cllr Robert Gregson (also a Labour councillor representing New Brighton ward). This is what the recommendation stated:

“The Regeneration and Environment Policy and Performance Committee recommend to Cabinet that the budget option to introduce car parking charges at Fort Perch Rock Car Park, New Brighton is not adopted.”

                                                            
Cllr Irene Williams (Labour), Cllr John Salter (Labour), Cllr Anita Leech (Labour), Cllr Matt Daniel (Labour), Cllr Robert Gregson (Labour), Cllr Jim Crabtree (Labour), Cllr Jerry Williams (Labour), Cllr Steve Williams (Conservative), Cllr John Hale (Conservative), Cllr Jerry Ellis (Conservative), Cllr Andrew Hodson (Conservative) and Cllr David Elderton (Conservative) voted in favour of the recommendation.

Two councillors voted against that recommendation (Cllr Chris Carubia (Lib Dem) and Cllr Mike Sullivan (Chair, Labour)).

On the 9th December 2014 Cabinet (which is ten Labour councillors including one for New Brighton Cllr Pat Hackett) met. They didn’t agree with the recommendation from the Policy and Performance Committee and instead voted to introduce car parking charges at Fort Perch Rock in New Brighton. The minutes of that meeting state “We also feel that it is appropriate to introduce a modest charge for parking at Fort Perch Rock in New Brighton up to 6 p.m.” .

This Cabinet budget proposal then formed the Cabinet’s proposal for Labour’s budget to the 2015/16 budget meeting of all councillors held on the 24th February 2015.

All the Labour councillors on the 24th February 2015 present at that meeting (including those who had three months earlier voted for a recommendation to Cabinet not to start charging for parking at Fort Perch Rock) voted for the Labour budget apart from Cllr Steve Foulkes (who was Mayor and Mayor’s traditionally abstain from votes on party political matters). You can see which way each councillor voted on the Labour’s budget here.

On December 22nd 2014 I wrote When Wirral Council introduces car parking charges at Fort Perch Rock, will 3 hours free parking end for a further 423 New Brighton spaces? which details how if car parking charges are brought in at Fort Perch Rock car park then under the terms of the lease that Wirral Council has for the Marine Point development at New Brighton, that charges could be introduced at two free car parks (the supermarket car park and the health & fitness car park).

Earlier this year Wirral Council had a formal consultation on introducing car parking charges at Fort Perch Rock car park. You can see the public notice (which has more detail as to how much they could charge for parking) for that consultation below. That consultation ended on the 3rd July 2015.

Fort Perch Rock car park public notice
Fort Perch Rock car park public notice

There is a large petition against introducing charging for car parking at Fort Perch Rock car park in New Brighton which at the time of writing has 3,395 signatures.

So what happens next? In September there will be a public meeting of the Highways and Traffic Representation Panel to consider objections people have made to introducing car parking charges at Fort Perch Rock car park.

The Chair of the Highways and Traffic Representation Panel is Cllr Steve Williams (Conservative). Cllr Mike Sullivan (Labour) and Cllr Dave Mitchell (Lib Dem) are the rest of the panel. This panel meets during the day and if any of the three councillors can’t make it to the meeting they can send a deputy in their place.

When the Highways and Traffic Representation Panel meets in September, it will make a recommendation on whether to introduce car parking charges at Fort Perch Rock car park to the Regeneration and Environment Policy and Performance Committee. The Regeneration and Environment Policy and Performance Committee meet in public on the 15th September 2015 starting at 6.00pm in Committee Room 1 at Wallasey Town Hall. The Regeneration and Environment Policy and Performance Committee can alter any recommendation they receive from the Highways and Traffic Representation Panel.

The Regeneration and Environment Policy and Performance Committee then make a recommendation to the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transportation Cllr Stuart Whittingham who then makes a formal decision on the matter which is published on Wirral Council’s website.

Such a large petition also grants the petition organiser for five minutes to explain their petition at a meeting of all councillors, which then triggers a debate of a maximum of fifteen minutes. However as the next meeting of Council is on the 12th October 2015 (probably after all this will be decided) this is a moot point.

Finally, what’s known now, but wasn’t known last year, is that Wirral Council had an underspend last year of £510,000 last year (which is money that is carried over to this year).

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Why did Wirral Council receive £2 million from an off shore company based in the Isle of Man?

Why did Wirral Council receive £2 million from an off shore company based in the Isle of Man?

Why did Wirral Council receive £2 million from an off shore company based in the Isle of Man?

                                                          

Following on from yesterday’s blog post about how Wirral Council spent £16,412.04 on legal advice for regeneration of Birkenhead Town Centre, you only have to look at the lease for New Brighton’s Marine Point to see why Wirral Council sees these sorts of deals with companies such as Neptune Wirral Limited/Neptune Developments Limited & Neptune Projects Limited as lucrative.

In return for a 250 year lease of New Brighton’s Marine Point between Wirral Council and Neptune Wirral Limited (an offshore company based in the Isle of Man), Wirral Council received a premium of £2 million (plus VAT). In addition to this £2 million Wirral Council also receives 6% of the rents paid by commercial tenants in the Marine Point development as the documents below show.

It’s highly likely that if Neptune’s plan to redevelop Birkenhead Town Centre goes ahead, that there will be some sort of similar lease between Neptune and Wirral Council.

New Brighton Marine Point lease Wirral Council Neptune Wirral Ltd cover page
New Brighton Marine Point lease Wirral Council Neptune Wirral Ltd cover page
New Brighton Marine Point lease Wirral council Neptune Wirral Ltd index page
New Brighton Marine Point lease Wirral council Neptune Wirral Ltd index page
New Brighton Marine point lease Wirral Council Neptune Wirral Ltd £2 million premium
New Brighton Marine point lease Wirral Council Neptune Wirral Ltd £2 million premium
New Brighton Marine Point lease Wirral Council Neptune Wirral Ltd Additional Rent Page 1
New Brighton Marine Point lease Wirral Council Neptune Wirral Ltd Additional Rent Page 1
New Brighton Marine Point lease Wirral Council Neptune Wirral Ltd Additional Rent Page 2
New Brighton Marine Point lease Wirral Council Neptune Wirral Ltd Additional Rent Page 2
New Brighton Marine Point lease Wirral Council Neptune Wirral Ltd Additional Rent Page 3
New Brighton Marine Point lease Wirral Council Neptune Wirral Ltd Additional Rent Page 3
New Brighton Marine Point lease Wirral Council Neptune Wirral Ltd Additional Rent Page 4
New Brighton Marine Point lease Wirral Council Neptune Wirral Ltd Additional Rent Page 4

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