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.

COUNCILLOR MOIRA MCLAUGHLIN (CHAIR)
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?

COUNCILLOR MIKE HORNBY
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.

COUNCILLOR MOIRA MCLAUGHLIN (CHAIR)
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.

COUNCILLOR WENDY CLEMENTS (CONSERVATIVE SPOKESPERSON)
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 …

COUNCILLOR MOIRA MCLAUGHLIN (CHAIR)
Right, ok let’s see if we can get together and…

COUNCILLOR TONY NORBURY
Isn’t the economics that drives that?

COUNCILLOR MOIRA MCLAUGHLIN (CHAIR)
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?

COUNCILLOR PAUL HAYES
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.

COUNCILLOR MOIRA MCLAUGHLIN (CHAIR)
OK (nodding).

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

COUNCILLOR MOIRA MCLAUGHLIN (CHAIR)
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