Unilever starts construction on North West Innovation Centre
aided by £4 million of Regional Growth Fund money
I rarely write stories based on press releases as churnalism isn’t the purpose of this blog, but this story about Unilever and the £4 million of taxpayers’ money it received for a new Advanced Manufacturing Centre in Port Sunlight is one of those rare exceptions.
Unilever (for those who don’t know) is a major employer on the Wirral and employ at Port Sunlight nearly as many employees as Wirral Council including Wirral Council’s own Cllr Steve Foulkes.
Wirral Council’ Planning Committee met on the 20th August 2015 earlier this year and approved plans for the Advanced Manufacturing Centre and you can view the plans on Wirral Council’s website and video of that meeting below.
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Wirral Council Planning Committee meeting of 20th August 2015 which starts at item 15 (planning application APP/15/00829) Unilever Plc, QUARRY ROAD EAST, BEBINGTON – Proposed combined research and development building with ground & first floor offices, conference facilities, warehousing and pilot plant chamber for R & D projects. Constructed within the existing Unilever campus/site to the south-west of the Port Sunlight conservation area. All associated highway access/egress to remain as existing. The proposed development retains the quantity of vehicle parking facilities, cycle parking and also pedestrian access arrangements on site on completion of this development.
Since the planning application was approved in August, work has recently started (as you can see from the first photo in this article). Unilever has received £4 million of Regional Growth Fund money (which they are matching with their own resources). Both Wirral Council and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority have a role in the organisations that Regional Growth Fund monies are allocated to.
I also raised it with the LCRCA Monitoring Officer Angela Sanderson. However the same Code apply to Wirral Council too.
Earlier this year, I exercised a right and request to inspect some information during the period over the summer about some of the payments Wirral Council make to businesses relating to the Regional Growth Fund. The regulations required Wirral Council to provide this within the three-week inspection period.
I barely got to see 10% of what I’d requested, not one page of the councillors’ expenses (perhaps a sore topic since publishing these last year) and despite pointing this out to the Monitoring Officer Surjit Tour via email, so far I have just received stony silence.
So that’s why I’m writing about the £4 million Unilever received of Regional Growth Fund based on a press release, because the mandatory openness and transparency that should be there at Wirral Council and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority over how millions of pounds is spent doesn’t seem to be happening!
I will point out that the LCRCA state that they publish this information on Merseytravel’s website instead, however considering how many payments Merseytravel make over £500, however finding this sort of information is like finding a needle in a haystack!
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Once the new Mayor of Wirral Council Councillor Steve Foulkes returned and he made his declaration of acceptance of office, he made a speech the first part of which is below.
MAYOR OF WIRRAL COUNCILLOR STEVE FOULKES
Right, I’ll probably use the microphone. OK, I’m awful sorry, hang on, I’m doing that. Please be seated. It works!
Well I’d just like to say that there are many, many councillors and this is a tribute to former Mayors particularly Gerry Ellis who’s given me this opening gambit which was when some councillors suggested that I end up in something long and flowing, some meant the River Mersey and not the Mayor’s robes and that’s my tribute to Gerry, to Gerry’s.
Before I do make my acceptance speech though, I think I must place on record my gratitude and thanks to Dave and Sue for the friendship that they’ve given me in the last thirteen months, the guidance and just the thoroughly fantastic job they have done on behalf of the people of Wirral. They’ve been an absolute credit to themselves and the Borough so let’s hear it for them.
It would be a really hard act to follow, but I think you’ve earned a good long rest, so have a good rest and a good holiday and enjoy. I’ll also pass on my condolences to Kate Wood’s family and I will be attending Kate’s funeral on Wednesday, a sad way to start the evening however.
I will accept the office and I’d have loved a unanimous vote and I’ve accepted office on a majority vote and I’ve lost office, quite sadly at times, on a majority vote. So I will be accepting the office tonight.
I’d like to thank my group, my leader Phil for the nomination and a fantastic speech he gave, if not a little too revealing about my former name as Mad Max. That won’t go down very well, but we’d asked for an in depth interview and we got one, so thank you very much.
I’d really like to place on record now while I’ve got the chance is my employer Unilever. They’ve been very supportive of me over a number of years as a politician. As a community minded company they have been really supportive and I have to place on record thanks to them.
I’d like to say a special thanks, this is the second time George gets a mention tonight. I came into politics as George’s agent when we won Claughton and he’s been a real close friend ever since. In fact I refer to him as my other brother sometimes and we’ve been that close at times and he’s been a stalwart. My other ward colleague Denise Roberts, who has really been great and supportive to us and more importantly and that’s what it’s all about is the people of Claughton who have voted for me on a regular basis and have returned me to office over twenty-four years. I’d like to thank them.
So what a really great venue for this what to me is a very special occasion of course but it is a special occasion for the people of Wirral. A great venue and a new look New Brighton. This is at the heart of New Brighton and a development that was done and developed and delivered in the teeth of a recession and I think it just shows what Wirral people can do, what Wirral Council can do if it is of one mind, if it has a vision, if it has a cause. Just go out there tonight if you get a chance, in the early evening and see how much we’ve achieved in those circumstances bringing new life and new jobs I hope we can do more of that in future.
Actually we were quite lucky to get in here tonight. I don’t know whether you noticed the sign or not on the way in, clairvoyant’s evening cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. I don’t know whether anybody spotted that on their way in. You’ve heard a little bit about my background and you know it is character building and I do hope when we get out there and talk to people I will describe how poor we were. We were poor and I’m not ashamed of that. In fact we were so poor that all our clothes had to be bought from the Army and Navy surplus store. You know it’s tough, you try going to school dressed as a Japanese Rear Admiral.
I can tell you it’s not easy and there was a big family you know, we had to scrap over food and things like that and actually my real name should’ve been Tuesday because when I was born Dad looked at Mum and said ‘let’s call it a day love’. Actually Elaine jokes because I haven’t got a middle name. Elaine jokes and says you know by the time I was born she’d run out of names so they couldn’t give me a middle name.
Well as Phil said, our council house which I’m always grateful for, a little bit crowded but loving and this is where I go a bit errm. Not a day passes really you know I don’t think about my Mum and Dad, Eric and Gladys and I just hope that they are really, really proud of what I’ve achieved and what I’ve done today and I miss them. Not a day goes by without a thought for them but that’s my emotional bit over with I suppose.
Right, my Mayoress, my Mayoress will be my beautiful fiancee Elaine who I love dearly and dearly being the operative word because the cost of her last outfit I tell you! It’s utterly amazing but a few years for me have been tough, there’s no doubt about it, politically you put your head above the parapet, times get tough and it has felt like I’ve been besieged at times and I actually don’t think I could have coped with those tough years without Elaine by my side and I thank her very much for that.
Elaine’s a hard working mum, with two lovely children Jack and Molly, you’ve seen Molly already, who have become my best mates during difficult times. They’ve shown maturity in themselves and a friendship to me that is a credit to them and should be an example to everybody in this room. I’ve got to give Jack a special mention, he’s chomping at the bit to go because he’s got two A-levels tomorrow and he really wants to get on and revise. He’s taken time out and good luck tomorrow mate with everything and those exams.
If you haven’t heard, if you haven’t heard, it’s open news now. Me and Elaine have named a date. We’re going to get married on August 17th 2015, ok? I’m sorry Councillor Blakeley, but the best man’s job has already been allocated. So after our Mayoral year, we will be married and what an exciting year it promises to be. The return of the Open and the International Business Festival just for two as an example of this Borough with a real chance, a real opportunity to promote itself and put its best foot forward.
Mayors are supposed to sort of pick themes. I’ve had a little think about what we should be doing. So as Mayor I’ve selected one theme which is ‘Wirral a place to do business’. We can’t latch on to the Golf Open and all the other investment that’s going on. At last we will see some work taking place on the Twelve Quays site. If this is not the greatest opportunity we’ve ever had to entice new business into the Borough I don’t know what it is, so the Mayor’s Office, including the Deputy we will be there, ready, willing and able to meet, greet, do whatever is necessary to entice businesses into this Borough. That’s a pledge I will make as part of the year.
The other sort of theme is ‘councillors count’ and what does that mean? Some can’t count, but councillors count, in a, I know when we had the electronic voting we certainly couldn’t count but I remember, I’ve always thought that no one ever speaks up for councillors. You know they’re misunderstood, maligned, not really appreciated what they’re doing. Having been in virtually every role that it’s possible to be as a councillor, I do actually think we need someone to just champion them and all it will be as part of the theme of the year is explaining the role, the job they do. Don’t forget what councillors have, they have an electoral mandate which very few people have. They are actually able to speak with authority for the very diverse communities we have on the Borough. So I will be championing the role of councillor as best as I can during that year and the last theme is a very simple one it’s just about saying thank you.