Why was trouble brewing in the Shire about a fire station? (Lord of the Rings parody)

Why was trouble brewing in the Shire about a fire station? (Lord of the Rings parody)

Why was trouble brewing in the Shire about a fire station? (Lord of the Rings parody)


This is a parody of local politics based on the Lord of the Rings. As someone referred to in it I’d better declare an interest. As a child I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy in a Wirral Council library that Wirral Council later tried to close (but the government stopped them) because of people who Wirral Council would probably label “unreasonable”.


The Shire in the Lord of the Rings as imagined in the film
The Shire in the Lord of the Rings as imagined in the film

In the Shire, trouble was brewing. Not only were the hobbits cross at plans to concrete over their beloved countryside with a fire station, but Men had decided (although it was now under review) to spend much of the hobbits’ money on a golf resort project too.

This story had begun some time ago.

The hobbits had decided on a representative called McVey who a group of the Men had taken a dislike to*. The Men had told the hobbits that McVey was why their fire stations must close (even though the Men had decided this). This way the Men could persuade the hobbits to ditch McVey and pick the Men’s representative instead. It was all about power!

* I’m being diplomatic.

So there were consultation meetings of the hobbits so well attended, hobbits couldn’t get in and stood outside getting cross.

At these meetings the Fire Man, who lived in the Shire, told those who actually managed to make it inside that whoever the hobbits voted for the fire stations would still close. So much for democracy!

However the Men got worried, enough of the hobbits were cross about the issue, that if the Men decided to put a new fire station in Greasby (demolishing a much-loved library and community centre in the process), McVey might win again! So the Men gave the credit for stopping the fire station plans to the Men’s candidate instead who had a very Shirey sounding name Greenwood.

Instead as a plan B, the new fire station would now be in Saughall Massie.

Around this time, a man who’d grown up in the Shire as a child and was described by some as a legend (or as the Judge described him “obstinate” and “unreasonable”*) asked the Men for the costs of this project as the Men claimed it was to save money. The arguments around this matter carried on for 1 year and 5 months (despite the law stating this information should be provided within 20 working days!)

* George Bernard Shaw: The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

Although the information was eventually provided, it turned out that the hobbits had been lied to during the consultations so that the Men could get the answers they wanted!

Oh dear!

Not only that but the Men had repeated these lies in their planning application for the fire station in Saughall Massie.

Double oh dear!

However the Judge decreed at a hearing (the Judge later admitted that he hadn’t read all the papers about this matter before the hearing took place*) that there was no “public importance” to the hobbits knowing that they’d been lied to and later ordered the man to pay the Men £500.

* thus stating more in a nutshell about justice, fairness and decision-making than the man ever could

This was despite the Men who controlled the Fire Authority having an annual budget of £62.673 million (revenue) and £20.6 million (capital). The Fire Authority had also received £297,900 (revenue) and £4.171 million (capital) in extra funds by the government for the fire stations mergers project.

The Men on the Fire Authority also had decided to pay their in-house solicitor £102,000 a year and picked this person too.

After all the Men had been saying for ages the hobbits should give them more money and the Men really disliked requests for information! This was money that the Men on the Fire Authority could then spend on taxis to public meetings, expensive dinners and stays in hotels.

The fact that the man who had grown up in the Shire had (as a result of this) told the hobbits that ~£300,000* of their money for the land would go to the very body who decided on the planning application (if the planning application was approved) was embarrassing to the Men (who had wanted to keep this a secret).

* at 2015 prices, anybody want to leave a comment on the legal implications of this?

But the legend (that was what people called him) still believed in openness and transparency.

He had realised that the Shire was in danger of being altered permanently and corrupted by greedy Men interested in power.

Not just with the fire station, but with the golf resort too.

Greed had truly corrupted the Men’s hearts.

But what would happen next?

Would the Planning Committee refuse the planning application for the fire station?

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Why has Wirral Council sunk deeper into the quagmire of poor corporate governance surrounding a complaint about Cllr Steve Foulkes?

Why has Wirral Council sunk deeper into the quagmire of poor corporate governance surrounding a complaint about Cllr Steve Foulkes?

Why has Wirral Council sunk deeper into the quagmire of poor corporate governance surrounding a complaint about Cllr Steve Foulkes?


Councillor Steve Foulkes talks about the Mersey Ferries at a meeting of the Merseytravel Committee 7th January 2016
Councillor Steve Foulkes (left) talks about the Mersey Ferries at a meeting of the Merseytravel Committee 7th January 2016

Last night yours truly was witness to another spectacular example of democracy at Wirral Council gone wrong. Indeed from democracy being on merely life support, last night seems to have been an attempt to kill it stone dead.

In fact things have got so bad I am officially on strike for part of my job (Leonora can deal with things during this period), but I thought you should realise the reasons why (outlined below).

First, there needs to be some background to this. Panels which decide on complaints about councillors have in the past been decided in public despite officers’ recommendation otherwise such as this meeting in 2012 about an allegedly homophobic comment made by former Cllr Denis Knowles on Facebook.

On Monday evening, at a public meeting of all of Wirral Council’s councillors opposition councillors in the Lib Dem and Conservative parties referred to Labour’s plans to hold more meetings behind closed doors as wrong. The Conservative councillor David Elderton used the quote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.

However within less than 24 hours, Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour), Cllr Chris Blakeley (Conservative) and Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Lib Dems) were indeed having a private meeting behind closed doors about a complaint made about Cllr Steve Foulkes (Labour). There was indeed also one of the independent people (Brian Cummings) to oversee the process, although he too wasn’t invited to all of the meeting which was being held in private.

The rationale for having this meeting behind closed doors relies on Wirral Council exercising a legal power that was repealed by the government years ago. However the public must realise by now that that there’s an attitude at Wirral Council of completely ignoring the legal position by people who don’t care about the constitutional checks and balances on their power. Having in the past years cross examined both Wirral Council’s Monitoring Officer Mr Tour at a recent First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) hearing and a Wirral Council councillor (Cllr Alan Brighouse) as a defendant in the Birkenhead County Court, I know how strange the culture at Wirral Council is seen by the judiciary and how exasperating the judiciary seem to find the culture at Wirral Council.

Wirral Council exercising a legal power they do not have has become so routine!

The complaint was about Cllr Steve Foulkes, who had brought his legal representative along with him. Cllr Foulkes and his legal representative were allowed to address the Panel in closed session as to why it should not be held in public.

The public however (although technically Cllr Foulkes’ legal representative is also a member of the public) were not invited in so that their side could be heard. Some voices of course at Wirral Council are heard more loudly than others.

Previously Cllr Foulkes, referred to "natural justice" at Wirral Council shortly before the opposition councillors removed him as Leader of Wirral Council. Indeed this is an example of how politicians say one thing on Monday evening, yet behave differently on Tuesday evening.

Indeed getting Wirral Council to stick to its own constitution with its goals of consultation and openness when a "legal representative" is allowed to influence the Panel otherwise is impossible.

All the Panel members are drawn from Wirral Council’s Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee. Indeed it was at the last public meeting of that Committee that the Panel Members were decided.

Despite s.100/s.100E of the Local Government Act 1972 requiring sub-committees to meet in public (even if they then decide to exclude the public) and there being multiple legal representatives at this meeting to offer the Panel advice, Wirral Council seems to instead insist that we provide "evidence" that a sub-committee is a sub-committee and indeed of their legal obligations to hold sub-committees in public.

Indeed as evidence I quote from their own minutes of the Standards Committee meeting held on the 4th July 2011, which can be read on their website here:

"The Director of Law, HR and Asset Management informed the Committee that the report at Item No. 7 on the agenda – Review of a Recent Standards Complaint – had marked on it, in error, a paragraph (7c) of Part 1 to Schedule 12A of the local Government Act 1972 that did not exist."

Indeed if it is a sub-committee the legal requirement for 5 days published notice of the meeting and its agenda weren’t given either.

However for the last 5 years, Wirral Council’s councillors have relied on a legal provision that Bill Norman (previous Monitoring Officer) told them in 2011 "does not exist" as the reason for holding complaints about councillors behind closed doors.

Despite numerous revisions of their constitution they haven’t bothered to update it to take this out.

The Monitoring Officer commented on my views on this at the last public meeting of the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee in response to a letter I wrote. He and I unfortunately disagree on a few points.

Sadly the main questions in that letter were left unanswered which led to the impasse last night. However despite the Monitoring Officer having legal obligations (see s.5A Local Government and Housing Act 1989), advising the panel was the Monitoring Officer’s line manager, the Deputy Monitoring Officer Joe Blott (Strategic Director for Transformation and Resources). For anyone reading this who’s not aware, the Strategic Director level at Wirral Council is basically someone who is line managed by the Chief Executive.

So it’s completely understandable that Mr. Tour can’t intervene when it involves his own line manager! After all even I wouldn’t be stupid enough to cheese off my line manager!

However, back to the meeting of the Panel itself. The meeting was adjourned, then Cllr Foulkes was invited back in. We went back to Committee Room 2 with him at about 6.50 pm, only for Cllr Foulkes to be asked to leave and for us to get shouted at.

Because of course the culture at Wirral Council is one of shouting at people. Since Emma Degg left (she was in charge of the public relations side of Wirral Council) there’s been a power vacuum (which perhaps partly explains this recent plan agreed on Monday morning for a Wirral Council newssheet being sent to residents monthly). Kevin McCallum does his best but after years of the press being bullied by politicians and frankly too much bad news to report on at Wirral Council relations between Wirral Council and the press have been problematic.

Indeed views were expressed to me that evening that employees would rather be getting on with their jobs rather than having to deal with meetings at Wallasey Town Hall.

The person who made this complaint (Cllr Jeff Green) along with the person it was about (Cllr Steve Foulkes) along with us (myself and Leonora Brace) were not allowed to go into the “meeting” in the two hours we were kept waiting apart from what I referred to earlier.

Possibly one or both were invited in after we left.

Oh and I forgot to say, Mr. Tour has advised councillors could (or possibly would) be subject to disciplinary procedures if they talk to the press about these matters.

So what is Cllr Foulkes accused of? He can’t tell us. He’s been gagged.

What is in Cllr Green’s complaint? He can’t tell us. He’s been gagged.

What are the Panel’s views (Cllr Moira McLauglin, Cllr Chris Blakeley and Cllr Phil Gilchrist) on the matter and indeed what was decided? You’re not allowed to know.

Indeed if the Panel decides Cllr Foulkes did nothing wrong and he decides he doesn’t want the decision made public indeed we may never know!

And the above sums up why it is getting nearly impossible to my job reporting on Wirral Council. I think it’s about time I started publishing election expenses returns instead, starting with two councillors who were on the Panel…

Updated 11th July 2016: I have made a FOI request for some of the documents for this meeting here.

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