Wirral Council paid a day rate of over £700 a day for some agency staff!
Wirral Council paid a day rate of over £700 a day for some agency staff!
During the public inspection period I requested copies of a number of invoices from Matrix SCM Ltd to Wirral Council for agency staff. An example of one of those invoices for £308,534.18 (which doesn’t state much detail) is above.
However first a recap of the story so far (Wirral councillors and officers can breathe a sigh of relief as this story is about Cheshire West and Chester Council).
Cheshire West and Chester Council spent hundreds of thousands of pounds with a company to put barriers up at its car parks (albeit it this was a decision made by a previous administration). Councillors were at the time assured by officers that the issue of Blue Badge holders/disabled drivers would be thought through. The operation of these car parks however wasn’t outsourced and remains controlled by Cheshire West and Chester Council.
As far as I can tell from the 30th November 2015 last year barriers were introduced at a number of their car parks. Cheshire West and Chester insisted that Blue Badge users (but only those issued by Cheshire West and Chester) could apply for a special microchip to go in and out of the car parks controlled by a barrier. However even Cheshire West and Chester residents with a Blue Badge have to wait a month for a microchip.
Just before Christmas my wife (who is a Blue Badge user) visited one of these car parks to get that traditional Cheshire welcome of (and I paraphrase), "this is a local car park for local blue badge users, now go away".
Yesterday I received a reply back from the Labour Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Cllr Samantha Dixon. I’m sure the Labour Party is aware what I do for a living, which perhaps explains why as a non-Cheshire West and Chester resident I received a reply. The car park (one of many in Chester) in question is also in the ward that the Leader of Chester West and Chester Council represents.
It’s a matter of public interest, so in the interests of hearing both sides I am publishing her reply here (and my response). As I was writing this blog post, I received a copy of the traffic regulation order and public notice too, so those are included at the end.
Dear Mr Brace
I refer to your e-mail of 21st December to the Rt. Honourable Frank Field MP and copied to a number of Cheshire West Councillors. As your e-mail is about parking in Chester city centre, I am able to provide a response to the Blue Badge parking issues you raise.
You are correct that there is a national Blue Badge scheme, details of which are set out in the Department for Transport booklet entitled "The Blue Badge scheme: rights and responsibilities in England." Under the scheme, Blue Badge holders can park close to their destination, either as a passenger or driver, but the scheme is intended for on-street parking only (please refer to pages 6 and 17 of the booklet). Where a time restriction applies, a parking clock must also be displayed as the concession is limited to a maximum stay of three hours.
Many councils, but not all, also allow Blue Badge holders to park in their car parks for three hours free of charge, but in Cheshire West, four hours free parking is available in the Council’s pay and display car parks. In some council areas, charges apply to Blue Badge holders from the point of arrival in local authority car parks. Spaces for Blue Badge holders must be provided in all car parks whether or not charges apply.
This Council is in the process of converting a number of its car parks in Chester city centre from pay and display to ‘pay on foot’ or ‘pay on exit’ systems in order to be able to manage the car parks more efficiently and to increase the flexibility of payment methods. Where ‘pay on foot’ systems are introduced, it is normally the case that free parking for Blue Badge holders is removed altogether. The Council has, however, introduced a system for borough residents who are Blue Badge holders to apply for a microchip sticker which allows four hours free parking in most car parks affected by the changes, effectively making them permit holders for the car parks in question.
Badge holders who reside outside the borough are able to continue to park for four hours free of charge in Frodsham Street and Hamilton Place car parks, both of which are located in the heart of the city and are for the exclusive use of Blue Badge holders during the day (8am to 6pm). Of these, Frodsham Street (postcode: CH1 3JJ) is the larger car park, providing 80 spaces. I can understand that the directions from Lower Watergate Street seemed quite complicated when communicated via the intercom, but I can reassure you that access to Frodsham Street car park is straightforward. There is also plentiful on-street parking for Blue Badge holders throughout the city centre.
The Council published a notice in local newspapers detailing all the impending changes on 11th June 2015 and the information also appears on the Council‘s website. The signage in the car parks is being replaced as each site is converted and no longer refers to free Blue Badge parking. In light of your comments, we will, however, review the information on the signage to see if it can be improved.
I note your comments about the ticket barriers at Chester Station. We are advised the station is managed by Arriva Trains Wales and that if you send details of your request to the company at: email@example.com, they will be pleased to look into it.
I am sorry that you experienced inconvenience on your recent visit and I hope this information is helpful for the future.
Councillor Samantha Dixon Leader of the Council
Councillor for Chester City Ward (Labour) Cheshire West and Chester Council
Thank you for that comprehensive reply to my original message.
I have read your reply to my wife and she has agreed that I should send this response on her behalf. I have also made a Freedom of Information request for the traffic regulation order that relates to the Lower Watergate Street car park. As you will no doubt be aware there are regulations that apply to the traffic regulation orders that apply to this sort of off street parking and at least one of these makes explicit reference to blue badge users.
Thank you for your suggestion to contact Arriva Trains Wales about Chester train station, I already have, but am still awaiting a reply.
I also realise that the decision to go out to tender for the changes to the car park system in Chester was made by a previous administration before the Labour administration took over in May. A company then supplied the barriers/intercom system whereas the operation of this parking system is controlled by Chester West and Chester Council employees.
As you (or if not you your CWAC officers) will no doubt be aware Chester West and Chester Council employees have the ability to check the validity of any blue badge (whether issued in Chester West and Chester or not).
I fear that anything I write beyond this will become somewhat technical and may only make sense to CWAC’s Monitoring Officer/ whichever solicitor at CWAC deals with traffic matters or traffic officers at CWAC. I therefore apologise in advance if I getting technical.
Firstly you haven’t outright stated if the traffic regulation orders relating to the car park in question and the other car parks that this applies to have been changed. It is possible that the notice in the paper you refer to was part of the public consultation on such changes. If so, this hasn’t made clear.
However in order for changes to be approved traffic regulation orders still need to be lawful and comply with the regulations (even for off street parking).
You have stated that accommodation has been made for Chester West and Chester residents with a blue badge to exit and enter the car parks to which the changes have been made.
However the legislation makes no distinction between blue badge users based on the public body that issued the blue badge, so either:
a) the traffic regulation order at Lower Watergate Street still refers to blue badge users and you are preventing non-CWAC issued blue badge users from parking there (when CWAC has the ability to check all blue badges) and/or
b) you are discriminating against some disabled drivers (who do not have a CWAC issued blue badge) whilst allowing CWAC issued blue badge users to park there
You refer to other nearby car parks that Blue Badge users (where the Blue Badge is not issued by CWAC) can use. I presume you regard this as a "reasonable adjustment".
However the issue is the provision of a service by Chester West and Chester Council at the Lower Watergate Street car park.
Essentially the provision of car parking at other nearby car parks is not entirely relevant (although I realise a number of other car parks have been switched to the same barrier system).
I realise you point out that Blue Badge users not issued by CWAC can park on single and double yellow lines elsewhere in Chester. However I’m sure you and I both know how gridlocked traffic can be in Chester city centre (especially on race days). From a traffic management perspective are you seriously suggesting that blue badge users (not issued by CWAC) should park in such a way that will effectively bring traffic to a crawl?
However the problem is that traffic in this off-street car park is covered by a traffic regulation order.
Therefore the The Local Authorities’ Traffic Orders (Exemptions for Disabled Persons) (England) Regulations 2000 applies to whichever traffic regulation order covers this car park.
Regulation 6 of those regulations states:
Exemption in favour of vehicles displaying disabled person’s badges
6.—(1) The following provisions of these Regulations have effect for requiring local authorities to include, in orders to which these Regulations apply, exemptions in favour of a vehicle displaying a disabled person’s badge.
(2) Any exemption from a provision which these Regulations require to be included in an order may be limited to vehicles of the same class as those to which the provision applies.
So therefore my point is you can’t treat blue badge users issued by CWAC differently to other blue badge users in CWAC car parks. The point about booklets and everything else is therefore irrelevant.
I am therefore copying in the Monitoring Officer at CWAC Vanessa Whiting in this response and requesting that she (as is her legal duty) follow the procedure in s.5A of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 to both:
a) write a report which will be sent to all councillors at CWAC and
b) try and remedy this situation
As I sadly have had a lot of professional contact with various local authority monitoring officers, I hope I will be pleasantly surprised and Vanessa Whiting will remedy a situation that shouldn’t have happened in the first place and that this matter will not require further measures.
And in another interesting development, whilst writing this blog post, Chester West and Chester have responded to the FOI request (considered under the Environmental Information Regulations) for a copy of the traffic regulation order and have also supplied the public notice advertising the changes.
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 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
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
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.
John Brace on behalf of Leonora Brace and John Brace
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The removal of the taxi rank outside Hamilton Square train station in Hamilton Street. The reason would be so there could be a puffin crossing outside Hamilton Square train station. This taxi rank would be relocated to two sections of Bridge Street (one for four taxis, one for five taxis).
A bus stop in Bridge Street would be relocated to Hamilton Street.
The existing bus stop outside Hamilton Square train station would be moved further down Hamilton Street.
The area in front of Birkenhead Town Hall which is now closed to road traffic, solely for pedestrians and protected by bollards would become part of the road and open to traffic.
The mini roundabout at the Hamilton Square/Hamilton Street junction (to the North-East of Birkenhead Town Hall) would be removed and replaced with a Give Way junction instead.
The mini roundabout at the Hamilton Square/Hamilton Street junction (to the South-West of Birkenhead Town Hall) would be removed and replaced with a Give Way junction.
The closure at this junction which prevents traffic going to Hamilton Square from the South-West along Hamilton Street would be removed.
Hinson Street (now one-way) would be made two-way between Hamilton Street and Henry Street.
Hamilton Street (now one-way between Hamilton Square and Conway Street) would be made two-way between Hamilton Square and Conway Street.
Conway Street will be closed at its junction with William Street.
Alterations to the traffic signals at the Bridge Street/Hamilton Street junction.
The deadline to respond to this consultation is Friday 13th November 2015.