Councillor Paul Hayes: “I would be concerned if they were meetings behind closed doors”

Councillor Paul Hayes: “I would be concerned if they were meetings behind closed doors”

Councillor Paul Hayes: “I would be concerned if they were meetings behind closed doors”


Yesterday’s Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee started the right way with people from the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre to discuss with the Committee the reasons behind their proposals. I’ve already outlined what is proposed in a previous blog post titled EXCLUSIVE: NHS Consultation on impact on 2,269 Wirral cancer patients of Clatterbridge inpatient and outpatient cuts. You can hear people from Clatterbridge Cancer Centre explain the proposals and answer questions in the video below.

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However the decision made by the Committee at the end of the discussion was that the change proposed was substantial, so that means a joint scrutiny committee will be created. Wirral Council’s representatives on that joint scrutiny committee will be Cllr Moira McLaughlin and Cllr Wendy Clements (the names of a number of deputies were also mentioned at the meeting).

Then Andrew Cranshaw of NHS of the NHS England Team spoke to his report on their two year plan. A number of questions were asked by councillors on subjects such as health screening, NHS changes and health visitors.

The next item was the Future Council item which Claire Fish spoke at length about during a Powerpoint presentation (one of many long Powerpoint presentations during the meeting). The Future Council proposals will go out to public consultation in September and seem to be the new name for what was called last year “What Really Matters?”. Councillors asked questions about the Central Advice and Duty Team, shared services and other matters. The comments made to the end of this item (which start at 3:54 in the video clip link to) are interesting as they show a different approach now Labour are chairing this Committee rather than a Conservative councillor.

Does anybody else want to ask a question? Can I take you back to the two last questions and take a feel about the way you’d like to approach them, myself I feel that the formal meeting, errm this doesn’t allows us to give sufficient time in my view, to give an in depth investigations and I would prefer the workshop approach. Obviously we’re taking the views of the Coordinating Committee. Can I just take a feel and views on that?

Chair, we discussed this previously and it does seem to me that it’s certainly to achieve anything we’ve got to look at the detail and with this room involved you cannot have the number of people sitting round this table to look at the detail. It’s just not possible. So I think what’s being suggested, I won’t be involved with, but I think that is the right way forward.

OK, thank you very much and thanks to you Claire and I’ll move on if everybody’s ok with that, ok sorry Wendy, sorry.

Just a brief comment Moira, as well as workshops so that everybody can be involved in the meeting I would suggest as was discussed at the briefing that we might need a longer time as well so that we don’t have to rush through things at a time when people could be increasingly …

Right, ok let’s see if we can get together and…

Isn’t the economics that drives that?

Well I actually think that there is some work we can probably do to work out now, best to come up with something settled and different workstreams. Yes?

Just a point which occurred to me in relation to what seems to be the consensus and the preference for workshop working if you like. I’d be concerned that we ensure that those types of meetings or workshops are accessible to the public perhaps and there’s built in accountability with it.

OK (nodding).

I would be concerned if they were meetings behind closed doors.

It was raised at the meeting of the Coordinating Committee about concerns about that. OK, thanks very much and thanks for your input, errm there’s still a lot to do there and I take on board your comments on that.

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Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Parliamentary ping-pong, “democracy dodgers” and the £556,789 in “forgotten cuts” at Wirral Council

Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Parliamentary ping-pong, “democracy dodgers” and the £556,789 in “forgotten cuts” at Wirral Council

Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Parliamentary ping-pong, “democracy dodgers” and the £556,789 in “forgotten cuts” at Wirral Council


Shortly before Christmas Wirral Council had a “budget options” meeting after the What Really Matters consultation. At this meeting cuts, based on the public response to the consultation for 2014/15 were in principle agreed to. Strictly speaking it was a new budget and policy framework that was agreed to. The budget for 2014/15 is to be decided in March 2014, based on the assumption that Council Tax on Wirral would rise by 2% in 2014/15.

So just to recap, the Labour administration have ruled out a Council Tax referendum. The reason they give is that the large cost of the referendum that would fall on Wirral Council (if you can remember the amount they quoted please leave a comment about what it was and who said it). This is despite the law (The Local Authority (Referendums Relating to Council Tax Increases) (Date of Referendum) (England) Order 2013) that states a Council Tax increase referendum would have to be held on the 22nd May 2014 (the same day as the joint European & local Council elections). I’m not sure if the estimated figure a councillor quoted last year for a Council tax increase referendum took into account the reduced cost of the referendum due to holding other elections on the same day (or whether the cost quoted assumed the referendum would be held separately to other elections in which case the estimate is too high).

Labour’s budget assumption therefore assumes that Council Tax will rise by 2% (without the need for a referendum) to lessen the need for further cuts they’d have to make if the rise was any lower or Council Tax was kept the same. The Labour administration have also ruled out accepting a Council Tax Freeze grant equivalent to a 1% rise if they agreed to keep Council Tax the same as last year.

However Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP has different plans and according to an article last week in the Guardian based on leaked Cabinet letters wants to reduce the threshold to 1.5% and refers to councils that rise Council Tax by only two percent as “democracy dodgers” and “believes they need to be punished to show the government is trying to control the cost of living”. Furthermore Pickles states “he wants to stop councils or police bodies being able to exempt some spending from the cap.”

This article in the Bristol Post before Christmas also quotes the Rt Hon Eric Pickles from a statement in relation to council tax increases “as being particularly open to representations suggesting that some lower threshold be applied to councils, given the strong need to protect taxpayers wherever possible from unreasonable increases”.

So what has this got to do with Parliamentary ping-pong? Well the Local Audit and Accountability Bill is heading to its next to the last stage (starting on 21st January) called “parliamentary ping-pong” before the last stage “Royal Assent” and it becomes law. Crucially the section on Council Tax referendum calculations (s.41) comes into force (see s.49) when the act receives Royal Assent and changes the formula of how a yearly Council Tax increase is arrived at.

In future once the Local Audit and Accountability Bill becomes an Act, the calculation of Council Tax rise includes not just Wirral Council’s share of the Council Tax bill, but also (if I’ve read the bill correctly and please leave if a comment if I’m wrong) the other levying bodies that form part of Council Tax bills too. This means the yearly increase in Council Tax requirements in the budgets of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and the Police and Crime Commissioner for Merseyside would affect what the percentage increase would be.

It looks from the wording of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill (and a lot of recent regulations) that this will come into effect for the 2014/15 financial year. As the basis by which a Council Tax rise is calculated will change, £556,789 is my rough estimate of what changing the threshold from 2% to 1.5% will be as the true amount of extra cuts will depend on what the Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner’s and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s Council Tax requirements for 2014/15 are.

At Wirral Council’s Coordinating Committee meeting (held yesterday at the time of writing), in item 8 (policy update), councillors on the committee will have read in their papers on page 2, under Implications for the Local Audit and Accountability Bill “Budget Strategy considerations may also be impacted by the changes to the Council Tax threshold for triggering a referendum.”

Yet curiously not one of the councillors of the fifteen on the Coordinating Committee asked how much changing the Council Tax threshold for triggering a referendum would affect the budget strategy considerations or to my recollection anything at all about how a change to the Council Tax threshold would affect the 2014/15 Budget.

So is this £½ million of cuts at Wirral Council that councillors seem to be unaware of going to result in a further twelve-week consultation (or will the responses to the What Really Matters consultation be reused)? If any of these further cuts require ninety days consultation with the trade unions will this mean that they will only be realised as part-year savings in 2014/15?

There does seem to be one concession the Liberal Democrats have received though. Any regulations the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP decides to do with council tax increase referendums has to by law be also agreed with Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP first.

So what do you dear reader think? Will Cllr Phil Davies be saying of the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP something similar to the famous Laurel and Hardy quote “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”. With exquisite timing, Wirral Council’s Labour administration will have to agree the budget for 2014/15 around the end of February 2014 meaning these extra cuts will probably feature in the local election period in the lead up to polling day on the 22nd May.

Certainly this apparent lack of a plan B will have to be explained when the Improvement Board returns in March. As the Rt Hon Ed Balls MP (Labour’s Shadow Chancellor) said last October about Labour’s economic competence, “we are going to win based upon our experience, our track record, our credibility”.

Oh and if you think the projected underspend of £884,000 will mean a further £½ million of cuts won’t have to be made in 2014/15 you’d be wrong.

£250,000 of the underspend will probably be agreed tonight to go towards the clean up and repairs to infrastructure in New Brighton following the bad weather. A further £519,000 of the underspend has been earmarked for future restructuring costs leaving (at current estimates) only a projected underspend of £115,000 that can count towards an estimated a £½ million of cuts required if the Coalition government reduce the Council Tax increase referendum threshold to 1.5%.

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Consultation feedback and questions to Improvement Board (15th November 2013)

Consultation feedback and questions to Improvement Board (15th November 2013)

Consultation feedback and questions to Improvement Board (15th November 2013)


Handed out at last Friday’s Improvement Board meeting were the responses to the consultation received so far, motions passed at the Audit and Risk Management Committee and Coordinating Committee and the questions submitted in advance of the meeting by the members of the public as circulated at the meeting (although some of mine were subtly altered).

I’ve checked the Improvement Board section on Wirral Council’s website at the time of writing, but they haven’t appeared there yet, so here they are instead!


Comments on the draft report on behalf of Wirral Community NHS Trust

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this report.

Wirral Community NHS Trust recognises the significant steps forward taken by the Council over the last two years and agrees with the broad conclusions set out. We also recognise the commitment shown by key personnel, officers and members, and the level of improvement activity which has taken place and which is reflected in the report.

Particular phrases from the concluding pages which resonate with this organisation’s experience working with the Authority over the last year include the reference to a stable, well-led and inclusive organisation, where a change in culture has taken place. We agree that there is a stronger sense of strategic direction, planning and performance management. The grip of the financial position is evident, and there is much greater clarity about the individual roles of senior staff in the new structure, and a strong sense of accessibility.

The Authority is engaging well with key partners and taking a proper leadership role, particularly from our respect, in the health and social care economy.

We look forward to continuing to work with the Council and building this relationship. A key challenge for all public sector partners over the coming years will be our ability to work together to manage the impact of the financial constraints under which we all work, and to ensure that actions taken by individual partners to not impact adversely on the challenges faced by other agencies.

Simon Gilby
Chief Executive
Wirral Community NHS Trust

Thank you for a copy of the Wirral Improvement Board Review report.

I think sharing this document with your peers across the Liverpool City Region is an example of the increased transparency and accountability that you, Cllr Davies your Leader, together with Officers and Members are trying to bring to Wirral.

It is clear that Wirral faced a number of significant challenges and it is to your credit that these have been identified, accepted and acted upon in a way that can only be to the benefit of residents in the Wirral.

The priorities identified by the Improvement Board have set out a clear improvement framework for the Council and the actions taken to date are noted. For me, the priority around political and managerial leadership is key – it sets the example for the Council and all it’s staff and members. This leadership is reflected throughout the other priorities and our challenge now is to build on the cultural changes that are beginning to happen at Wirral so that they become the norm for the future.

It is also to its credit that this improvement has been undertaken in a time of significant financial pressure on the Council, as with the other Councils in the Liverpool City Region. Again the development of a longer term budget and financial plan is noted and will clearly help the Council address current and future challenges in respect of financial settlements.

It would appear that the Council has made significant progress in a relatively short period of time and again it is noted that the Improvement Plan recognises it is not the end but clearly there are further steps that need to be taken to build on what has been achieved to date.

On behalf of St. Helens Council, I would like to congratulate the Leader, yourself and the teamwork of the whole Council on getting to where you are now.

Yours sincerely

Carole Hudson
Chief Executive
St. Helen’s Council

Wirral Improvement Board Review

Merseytravel would like to concur with the view expressed in the report which has recently been published that significant progress has been made by Wirral Council in addressing a number of critical issues that had been raised.

Relationships between Merseytravel and Wirral Council are very open and transparent based on trust. We have a joint agreement on the current transport priorities that will best serve the Wirral, in particular looking at enhancing the connectivity between Wirral and North Wales and Cheshire West. This has been done in the spirit of collaboration at a strategic and operational planning level.

We have developed, and will continue to develop an open and trusting relationship with both the political and senior officer leadership at Wirral Council and have worked collaboratively on the development of a Combined Authority scheme which we hope, when fully implemented in 2014 will see a greater level of outward looking, strategic leadership at City Region level with a very progressive set of revised transport arrangements which will have been developed with collaboration by all parties through which Wirral have contributed significantly.

We also recognise the role of the Leader of Wirral has played in the development of securing European funding within the European programme and we hope to continue to maximise this expertise and the new approach to partnership working between all parties but in particular between Merseytravel and Wirral Council.

I trust that this helps.

Yours sincerely,
David Brown
Chief Executive and Director General

Wirral CCG welcomes this report which clearly demonstrates the significant progress the council has made over the last 18 months. We believe the the correct structures, governance and culture is now in place for us to work collaboratively in the future to deliver integrated services for the population of Wirral.

Dr Phil Jennings
Wirral CCG

“Congrats! Need to keep up the good work!”
Angela Eagle MP


[Ed – Cllr Simon Mountney voted against which isn’t mentioned here]

Moved by Councillors Pat Glasman/Janette Williamson
That this Committee welcomes the report of the Improvement Board, which draws attention to the significant progress Wirral has made in the last 20 months.

It recognises that there are still issues which need to be addressed but believes it is clear that Wirral is now an outward looking Authority – open to constructive criticism and willing to address problems when they occur.

We would recommend the sector-led approach to change and development to other authorities who find themselves in difficulty.

We would like to thank the Improvement Board, all staff and Members who have participated in the change process. It now remains for Members to continue to participate in their own development and not become complacent but ensure that change becomes embedded for the future

Moved by Councillors Steve Foulkes/Pat Glasman
That the Committee welcomes the response to critical reports in that it puts the Council’s progress in an accessible and available format.

The issues remain complex and what happened was regrettable. We urge that all outstanding matters should be resolved as quickly as possible and that Members be updated periodically.

That this Committee welcomes the Report. It clearly states the Authority is moving in the right direction.

This Committee pledges to play its full part in continuing the direction of travel.

All Members will be encouraged to engage in the next steps identified within the report.

We must not be complacent as we still need to improve in many areas identified in the report and embed positive changes.

We thank all members of the Improvement Board for their help.

We thank all employees and Members for their efforts in this journey of improvement.

We would recommend the approach adopted by the Local Government Association, in piloting sector led improvement, and would recommend it to others who find themselves in difficulties.



Dear Sir/Madam

I raise an objection to the timing of the Public meeting arranged for Friday 15th 2013 as notified in the Wirral Globe.
I have not received the statutory notice of at least 5 working days and feel I would not be able to attend at such short notice.
I therefore submit that this meeting be re-arranged to incorporate the legally-required term of notice.


The final report of Anna Klonowski Associates Limited was published as part of the Cabinet agenda of the 12th January 2012. Wirral Council also received from Anna Klonowski Associates sixteen appendices (listed below), which apart from appendix G (Standards for England Decision notices) have not been published. If Wirral Council is now “open and transparent” when will the other fourteen appendices be published (except for appendix L)?

A Appendices as Referred to in the Report
B Equality & Human Rights Commission Letter Dated 29 December 2010
C First Improvement Plan
D Care Quality Commission Inspection Report
E Charging Policy for Supported Living Services
F Documents Relating to 27 Balls Road
G Standards for England Decision Notices
H Documents Relating to Reimbursement Claims
I Emails Relating to Supported Living Contracts
J Documents Relating to Service Provider 2
K Documents Relating to Service Provider 3
L Medical Information Relating to Martin Morton (MEDICAL IN CONFIDENCE)
M Documents Relating to Service Provider 4
N Minutes of Adult Protection Strategy Meetings Relating to Service Provider 4
O Documents Relating to the Safeguarding Adults Unit
P Minutes of the DASS Monitoring & Development Sub Group Meeting Held on 11 December 2008
Q Employment Dates for WMBC Employees

On the 14th April 2011 Cabinet resolved that Martin Smith’s report be made public, however all the names (presumably of Wirral Council officers and councillors) contained within the reported were redacted before publication. Is publishing the redacted (rather than full) report complying with the spirit of the earlier Cabinet decision? Will Wirral Council to publish an unredacted version of the Martin Smith report?

Presumably some of the blacked out names in Martin Smith’s report would be the names of councillors. As councillors are accountable to the people of Wirral, how can the people of Wirral hold their elected representatives to account unless the full Martin Smith report is published including the names of councillors in it?

Does the Improvement Board understand that the Wirral public will find it hard to believe that Wirral Council has changed when there are so many unanswered questions surrounding these events due to the lack of transparency and accountability?

The Standards Committee of Monday 4th July 2011 discussed an administrative error that had occurred in dealing with the standards complaint made by Martin Morton made regarding Cllrs Roberts, McLaughlin, Pat Williams and Bridson. He had initially made a complaint about Cllrs Roberts, McLaughlin and Pat Williams, but had replaced this with a more detailed complaint involving Cllrs Roberts, McLaughlin, Pat Williams and Bridson. This second complaint mysteriously vanished from Wirral Council’s files. A public apology was made at the time by the Monitoring Officer to Martin Morton and the councillors who were the subject of the complaint. Did any Wirral councillors have access to the revised complaint prior to its disappearance from Wirral Council’s files if so who were they?

A separate and unrelated complaint about one of the four councillors referred to in question five (ref SfE 2010/02) was decided on the 20th December 2010. However the covering report sent to the panel which decided was incorrectly titled “Report of the Monitoring Officer – Case Reference 2010/03″ . This report to the panel also omitted that the original complaint referred to an alleged breach of 6(a) of the Code of Conduct. As an apology was given for an administrative error to the complainant referred to in question 5, will an apology for this administrative error be given to the complainants of complaint reference SfE 2010/02 and the subject of the complaint?

In the review report it states “it is proposed to strengthen the independent nature of the Audit and Risk Management Committee through the appointment of a majority of external members”. How many independent members of the Audit and Risk Management Committee will be appointed, who will they be appointed by and will the Audit and Risk Management Committee be chaired in future by one of these independent members?

Although Wirral Council is meeting its target of responding to 85% of Freedom of Information Act requests within twenty days during the Information Commissioner Office’s monitoring period, a greater proportion of Freedom of Information Act requests have been turned down. If memory serves me correctly, this has been achieved by dedicating greater human resources to responding to Freedom of Information Act requests. This raises the questions, are these resources temporary and only for the Information Commissioner Office’s monitoring period (and if so how will the current performance be maintained once these resources are withdrawn) and how does refusing a greater proportion of Freedom of Information Act requests tally with the administration’s stated desire to be more “open and transparent”?

The reports into whistleblowing allegations raised about Wirral Council’s BIG (business investment grants) and ISUS (Intensive Startup Support) have both not been published in full despite being received by Wirral Council in the Spring of this year. The Executive Summary to the Grant Thornton report into the BIG scheme was published by Wirral Council on the 15th July (the companies referred to in the Executive Summary were anonymised). If the Executive Summary to the ISUS report follows the same format as the BIG report and has also been anonymised, why has this not been published also?

If the Improvement Board decides that it is safe to withdraw, do they think that the Corporate Governance Committee should be reconstituted to ensure sufficient oversight by councillors of the work identified in the “Next Steps” section?

Are the LGA members of the Improvement Board financially renumerated for their work on the Improvement Board and if so, could amounts (whether exact or approximate) of the total cost to Wirral Council over the lifespan of the Improvement Board?


Dear Improvement Board,
As a member of the public living on Wirral I have reviewed your report in the limited time it has been available and would like to comment and seek response as follows.

Your recommendations include

(a) The need for an Improvement Board in its current form is no longer the best way forward for Wirral.
(b) Instead the Council will need to drive improvement through the future actions suggested in the Next Steps sections of the report.
(c) There should be a review of Wirral’s progress overall at the end of the year end as suggested in para 85, on page 30 of this report

I struggle to grasp why these recommendations are appropriate given the significant number of “next steps” that the report suggests are required.

The review proposed at c) is to take place within a relatively short timescale at which point, given the scope of the report, it would be unlikely to establish genuine progress or provide confidence that strategies and changes have been effectively implemented.

I believe that continued external oversight by the Improvement Board is necessary to ensure that “next steps” and changes are in fact implemented and embedded.

There are a number of areas of concern that lead me to this belief.

At para 71 of the report reference is made to community representatives having been recruited for Constituency Committees which are a key plank of neighbourhood working.

This is untrue – Birkenhead, the largest constituency is yet to recruit community representatives and from my own enquiries do not appear to have a process to do so.

I am advised that the meeting of Birkenhead Constituency Committee arranged for 28 Nov 2013 is intended to address this although no agenda has yet been produced.

This does not inspire confidence that your report is accurate in this area and leaves other areas open to doubt.

At para 99. reference is made that the direction of travel is towards amber. This implies the situation is still RED and undermines your position that external oversight/scrutiny is no longer necessary.

At para 107 reference is made to FOI requests and the 85% target being achieved. This is measured over a very narrow timescale and makes no reference to any challenges to response that may have been received.

Give Wirral’s poor performance in this area surely continued oversight is required to ensure this is consistent and representative of anticipated future performance.

I have concerns that the Neighbourhood working structures are flawed and as these are key to delivery of the “new” ways of working and this calls into doubt the validity and credibility of much of the work the Improvement Board have undertaken.

The (published) Equality Impact Assessment for this does not appear to consider any potential negative impacts for protected groups or consideration of socio economic factors when in fact these clearly exist on the basis of £200,000 being equally split between constituencies regardless of their demographic or socio economic need. There is potential that inequality will be increased in constituencies/areas with more ethnically diverse population or younger/older populations.

Even on a simple budget per head calculation unequal treatment could be perceived as existing.
If my concerns are correct then this is something I would expect the Improvement Board to have noticed and addressed given the weight and emphasis placed on Neighbourhood Working.


In your report p53 section 184 you write that you are “the first sector-led improvement approach taken to support a Council facing significant governance issues”. In the potted biographies of Joyce Redfearn it is written:

“She has served on two previous improvement boards for Blaenau Gwent and for Liverpool.”

Question 1.
What happened at Blaenau Gwent and Liverpool. I interpret “sector-led” as being led by a peer group rather like the Police investigating themselves. What was different about Mrs Redfearn’s prior appointments to Boards.

Question 2.
Your report refers to external reports 2010-2012 though by contrast WBC writes a response to critical reports 2010-2013. Given that those reports included two from Grant Thornton in 2013 which showed alarming deficiencies in the award of business start-up grants both in working Neighbourhoods, in BIG and in ISUS, how can you make a statement that the Economy was an “area of excellence” for WBC even under the difficult conditions to which you allude?

This is not a complaint regarding those investigations but a query of on what authority can you print such an assertion faced with knowledge of, certainly published in BIG Abbreviated summary, the deep failures of scrutiny over the process shown by WBC?


I have two questions to the Improvement Board:

I would contest that the ‘war’ has been won when so many legacy issues remain outstanding, but to ‘win the peace’ when there has been such a breakdown in trust between the local authority and its residents is it not time for the Local Authority to adopt a corporate charter reflecting the Nolan Principles to embrace the expected standards in public life?

To ‘win the peace’ you have to resolve the grievances and issues resulting from the previous periods of poor performance how can the Council assure the residents that these have been investigated and addressed with the appropriate vigour.


The report states that some council members were less engaged with the improvement training and process than others. Is the public allowed to know which ones these were and can anything be done about the persistence of this negative attitude now that the Improvement Board is planning to reduce its level of involvement?

The ‘What Really Matters’ and other previous questionnaires were hailed as a success and yet there were frequent public complaints regarding the loaded nature of the questions and the lack of information regarding the choices they presented (evidenced by letters to the local press, for example). Were these questionnaires actually designed by a reputable and experienced market research company, and if so, which one?


The Improvement Board will hear from Martin Morton who has requested time to address the meeting.

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What Really Matters budget options, Improvement Board review, Foxfield School move, Byrne Avenue Recreation Centre, Rock Ferry High and Acre Lane sale, Fernbank Farm update, contracts and Wirral Council’s response to critical reports

What Really Matters budget options, Improvement Board review, Foxfield School move, Byrne Avenue Recreation Centre, Rock Ferry High and Acre Lane sale, Fernbank Farm update, contracts and Wirral Council’s response to critical reports

What Really Matters budget options, Improvement Board review, Foxfield School move, Byrne Avenue Recreation Centre, Rock Ferry High and Acre Lane sale, Fernbank Farm update, contracts and Wirral Council’s response to critical reports


The first half of last week saw each of the new policy and performance committees met to discuss the current What Really Matters? consultation on Wirral Council’s budget options for 2013-14.

The first policy and performance committee (Families and Wellbeing), which has a remit covering both education and social services met on Monday. As education and social care are about three-quarters of Wirral Council’s budget there was much discussion about what the impact of the budget options would be. At about two and a half hours long councillors asked questions of officers of the fifteen budget options that fell within the remit of the Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee. The budget options ranged from cutting £100,000 of funding to reduce teenage pregnancies and £60,000 to try to reduce substance misuse to getting schools to pay for school crossing patrols, the school improvement service and the early retirement costs of their staff (a saving of £1.215 million over two years). Another budget option (saving £2 million over two years) discussed was reducing the opening hours of twelve Children’s Centres. If this option is agreed then there will be a future public consultation on outsourcing the running of Wirral’s Children Centres to the private, faith or voluntary sector. As the What Really Matters consultation runs to the 6th December you can respond to the consultation by completing the questionnaire on Wirral Council’s website.

The second policy and performance committee (Regeneration and Environment) met on Tuesday evening to discuss ten budget options. Being Guy Fawkes night what politicians said was at times drowned out by fireworks, however the meeting started with the unusual scene of a committee Vice-Chair (Cllr Steve Foulkes) arguing with its Chair (Cllr Alan Brighouse). Normally a committee’s Chair is of the same political party as the Vice-Chair, but as the Lib Dems only have one representative on the Regeneration and Environment Committee the Chair and Vice-Chair are from different parties. The source of Cllr Steve Foulkes’ ire towards Cllr Alan Brighouse was about a Oxton Lib Dem Focus in which Cllr Foulkes claimed that Cllr Alan Brighouse was critical (or at least was associated with critical comments about) the What Really Matters? consultation. The rest of the meeting was about the budget options ranging from the not particularly controversial (the Floral Pavilion or Floral Hall as one councillor called it charging a £1 booking fee on tickets), to the Friends of Birkenhead Kennels running Birkenhead Kennels resulting in its opening hours reducing to 8am to 8pm (from a twenty-four hour service), cancelling maintenance of the non-golf and non-football pitch parts of Arrowe Park as well as cancelling maintenance of “fourteen local parks, thirty-two natural and semi-natural green spaces, and forty-four amenity green spaces”, switching off more street lights (alternate lights in residential areas) to charging at car parks at Fort Perch Rock, Royden Park, Wirral Country Park, Eastham Country Park and Arrowe Country Park. The charging at these five car parks is particularly unpopular with the public and a petition against introducing car parking charges at Eastham Country Park has attracted over a thousand signatures.

Wednesday saw the Transformation and Resources Policy and Performance Committee meet to consider five budget options and there were more fireworks. Cllr Chris Blakeley who welcomed the new councillor Matthew Patrick followed by saying that “might be the only kind word you’ll hear from me” wanted the meeting adjourned and resumed after the consultation had finished. The four Conservative councillors voted for an adjournment but were outvoted by the Labour councillors, a Lib Dem councillor and an independent councillor. The budget options they discussed (although the Conservative councillors decided not to ask any questions after being outvoted over having an adjournment) was to axe the Council Tax discount of 7.76% to the over 70s (or in an option that saved less money limit the discount to Band A, B and C properties), increasing what Wirral Council charges for its costs for Magistrate’s Courts summons for Council Tax non-payment or business rates non-payment from £85 to £95, charging people extra when they use their credit card to pay Wirral Council for something, an option involving merging their telecommunications contracts, reviewing mobile phone usage and buying cheaper printing equipment and finally transforming Wirral Council (basically making five hundred staff redundant and reducing redundancy payments to the legal minimum).

Thursday saw a meeting of Wirral Council’s Cabinet. A revised recommendation for item 17 (progressing neighbourhood working including strategic reviews of street scene and community safety) was agreed that requested a further report and delegated future decisions about this area to individual Cabinet portfolio holders. The financial monitoring halfway through the Council’s financial year projected nearly a £600,000 underspend. However most of the underspend was agreed to be set aside to meet future restructuring costs with £100,000 released from reserves for spending to do with the Open Golf tournament next year. Cllr Phil Davies also made a comment about car parking charges and stated that the income from car parks had gone up this year to £1.4 million compared to £1.2 million the previous year (although not as much as expected). He singled out Cllr Stuart Kelly for particular criticism for commenting on the car parking charges shortfall in the press and used this opportunity (as many Wirral Labour councillors do) to blame their problems on the Coalition government finishing by calling on opposition councillors to “be more responsible”. He also reported that Wirral Council had received almost all of its Icelandic investment back and were confident of receiving the whole amount.

Cllr Ann McLachlan gave an update on the Improvement Board. There is a consultation on a review of the Improvement Board’s work followed by a public question and answer session of the Improvement Board on Friday. As part of its review a report has been published which makes for interesting reading including the view of the Improvement Board that when it first started its work that Wirral Council was denying it had the corporate governance problems that were identified by the Improvement Board.

The outcome of the consultation on moving Foxfield School from Moreton to Woodchurch was also reported (the Planning Committee recently granted Wirral Council planning permission for the move) and Cabinet agreed to move the school. The Chair of the Health and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee talked about a report produced as a review by councillors looking into the outcomes for looked after children. The report’s recommendations were agreed.

Ben Harrison of the Byrne Avenue Community Trust told the Cabinet that they had got agreement on £350,000 of funding (to match Wirral Council’s £350,000) and wanted to start work on repairing the sports hall. The Byrne Avenue Community Trust wanted to restore the building, creating employment and asked that the asset be transferred to the Byrne Avenue Community Trust. David Armstrong (the Assistant Chief Executive) talked about the history of the site, which was classed as a surplus Council asset. He pointed out that the big funders (Sports England and the National Lottery) had turned down grant applications from the Byrne Avenue Community Trust and that the Community Trust hadn’t submitted a business case to the Council. The Council’s view that was due to the presence of asbestos that the repairs would cost three or four times more than the £700,000 allocated to give it a lifespan beyond the short term and that it had very significant running costs. There were serious structural problems with the building and their concern would be that however well intentioned that it would only be partially restored. He referred to other sports facilities nearby that had been built over the last ten years. Cllr Phil Davies commented on it and his memories of the building.

Cllr Adrian Jones, the Cabinet Member for Central and Support Services expressed his regret at the unhappy position the Cabinet found themselves in. He showed photographs of rusting steel reinforced beams supported by steel acro bars that were rotting away and estimated the cost of repairs at two to three million pounds. He said that the £350,000 was desperately needed and wouldn’t be wasted or lost and that he was sure they’d go away painting him as the bad guy. Cllr Phil Davies said that the condition of the building was more serious than they’d originally been told and that £700,000 wouldn’t go near what was needed to bring it to a minimum safety standard. He referred to the nearby Oval and facilities at Prenton High School for Girls. The Cabinet agreed the recommendations in the report which were to retake possession of Byrne Avenue Recreation Centre from Byrne Avenue Community Trust, withdraw the offer of a £350,000 grant and reallocate it to other Community Asset Transfer activities, declare the asset surplus and give authority to its disposal and if sold on the open market to do so at auction. David Armstrong reassured the Byrne Avenue Community Trust that Wirral Council would allow them to make a photographic record and recover any of their property so that the community would have a record of Byrne Avenue Recreation Centre.

There was a slight change to the recommendation agreed in the report on asset management and disposals. Although Acre Lane (the former professional excellence centre) and the former Rock Ferry High school were both declared surplus to requirements, the land at Manor Drive (called Fernbank Farm) was not declared surplus to requirements due to the Birkenhead County Court case hearing on the 21st November. Cllr Phil Davies said that they had a challenge to try and find an alternative site for the pony club which he knew was much loved and cherished. He said that they wouldn’t lose anything by awaiting the outcome of the legal case and it was agreed that a decision on declaring Fernbank Farm would be deferred to the next Cabinet meeting (which would be after the court case on the 2nd December). This change to the original recommendation was agreed by Cabinet.

The Cabinet then agreed to note a report on proposed public health contracting arrangements for 2014/15 and to a further report in February 2014 which would include a recommendation to agree to all 2014/15 contracts. Cabinet also agreed the award of the reablement and domiciliary support contract to providers named in the exempt appendix.

Agreement to proceed with a joint procurement for garden waste (including the option of providing composting services in-house through the Parks and Countryside service) was agreed by Cabinet.

The Highways and Engineering Services Contract for 2014-2018 (currently run by Colas) was awarded to either BAM Nuttall, Galliford Try or North Midland Construction. The “preferred bidder” that Cabinet decided on was again in an exempt appendix. Approval to start a tender for a four year traffic signals maintenance contract (with an option for a two year extension and cost of £350,000 a year) was also given by the Cabinet.

A two year pilot of emergency accommodation for homeless sixteen and seventeen year olds was agreed by Cabinet. Finally Cllr Phil Davies welcomed the Council’s new Director of Resources (and s.151 officer) Vivienne Quayle and expressed his thanks to Jim Molloy and his work as Acting Director of Resources. The Cabinet then excluded the press and public from the remainder of the meeting which included two business grants to Wirral companies or businesses, the exempt appendix for the Reablement and Domiciliary Support Procurement contract, the exempt appendix for the Options Appraisal for the Future Treatment of Wirral’s Kerbside Collected Garden Waste, the exempt appendix for the Highway Services Contract 2014 – 2018 and exempt appendix for the Emergency Accommodation Provision for 16 and 17 Year Olds.

Later this week a special meeting of the Audit and Risk Management Committee will consider a report on Wirral Council’s response to critical reports (2010 – 2013) and a review of the Improvement Board which includes a suggestion that Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee should co opt some independent members to itself.

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Wirral Council Consultation: What Really Matters (Part 2)

An opinion piece on staff cuts at Wirral Council and the current consultation.

English: Wallasey Town Hall, Wirral, England a...
English: Wallasey Town Hall, Wirral, England as seen from the promenade. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OPINION BY JOHN BRACE: Well as promised at last Thursday’s Cabinet meeting, Wirral Council has published its option papers for part two of the What Really Matters consultation.

As explained on the website the options are about 25% more than the savings required (so the consultation is really about the 25% of things Wirral Council does in the options the public would like to save). Despite stating on their website that the consultation lasts until January 31st 2013, some decisions will be have to be made at the special Cabinet meetings on December 20th 2012 to comply with legal requirements on consultation with the workforce.

There will be more unspecified “consultation events” and of course staff/trade union consultation too. What does this mean for staff working in service areas identified as a budget option? It means basically one of two things if you’re an employee in a service area that’s become an “option”:-

(a) you’ll could be lucky this year and end up in the 25% of options that aren’t cut, due to public/staff support in this current consultation or other reasons (but this doesn’t rule out your post being cut in future years),

(b) once the special Cabinet meeting (followed by the Employment and Appointments Committee) of 20th December 2012 meets your job could be at risk under the new (recently approved) less generous redundancy scheme

How many jobs will go at Wirral Council as a result of this? Well the law requires this kind of consultation for over twenty redundancies, the real figure partly depends on a bunch of decisions yet to be made, however if you add the predicted shortfall of £25.4 million next year to the current required in-year savings of £13.2 million, you get £38.6 million.

Obviously not all the £38.6 million will be staff’s salaries and some staff are directly employed by schools. These figures are based on full-time equivalents, as Wirral Council employs a lot of part-time workers, the real figures could be higher than this estimate.

However by my rough estimates it would be around 154 to 1,026 FT employees that will need to go to balance the books. With those types of numbers involved it won’t just the normal reasons people leave and there will have to be redundancies. The specifics of who, how many and which service areas has yet to be decided (apart from some Executive Team decisions on the current in year savings).