Wirral Council tries to rewrite history: Questions to Improvement Board subtly altered

Wirral Council tries to rewrite history: Questions to Improvement Board subtly altered

Wirral Council tries to rewrite history: Questions to Improvement Board subtly altered

                        

Although I didn’t notice it at the time, some of my questions to the Improvement Board had been subtly rewritten. Some of the original questions I submitted are subtly different to those printed in the handout given to people at the meeting. Below are the questions that were changed by person/persons unknown. The original question is first, followed by the changed version circulated to people at the meeting. I suppose whoever did it didn’t think I’d spot it, I only did when I compared the handout to the questions I’d submitted. So why was this done, who did it and why? I wonder if any of the question submitted by the five other members of the public were rewritten too? When they publish the questions on Wirral Council’s website which version will be used the original or the altered version?

Original question
Whereas there are strong reasons not to publish appendix L (Medical Information Relating to Martin Morton provided in confidence), if Wirral Council is now “open and transparent” when will the other fourteen appendices be published?

Changed question (as in handout)
If Wirral Council is now “open and transparent” when will the other fourteen appendices be published? (except for appendix L)

Original question
On the 14th April 2011 Cabinet resolved with regards to the Martin Smith report decided that “at the conclusion of all the necessary internal processes Mr Smith’s report be made public”. On the 12th January 2012 Martin Smith’s report was published, 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?

Changed question (as in handout)
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 publish an unredacted version of the Martin Smith report?

Original question
Martin Smith’s remit was to “seek to establish whether Martin Morton was subject to any bullying or other inappropriate behaviour by any officer or Elected Member, or by the Council as an organisation, and to present a report on my findings”. Presumably considering his remit some of the blacked out names in his 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 Martin Smith report is published including the names of councillors in it?

Changed question (as in handout)
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?

Original question
Bearing in mind questions one to three, does the Improvement Board understand that because of the obfuscation referred to, 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?

Changed question (as in handout)
Does the Improvement Board understand 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?

Original question
The recommendation at the end of the review into the Improvement Board’s work recommends a review by the end of the year, ending the work of the Improvement Board and the Council following the next steps recommendations in the report. Does the Improvement Board think that the Corporate Governance Committee should be reconstituted to ensure sufficient oversight by councillors of the work identified in the “Next Steps” section?

Changed question (as in handout)
If the Improvement Board decides 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?

Original question
Q12. a) Are the LGA members of the Improvement Board financially compensated for their work on the Improvement Board?
b) Is Wirral Council invoiced by the LGA for the Improvement Board’s work?
c) If the answer to (a) or (b) is yes, could amounts be given (whether exact or approximate) of the total cost to Wirral Council over the lifespan of the Improvement Board?

Changed question (as in handout)
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?

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Wirral Council (15th July 2013): Whistleblower Motion (Chief Executive’s statement)

The Chief Executives statement on the whistleblowing motion of the Conservatives (Wirral Council) from 15th July 2013

In what was a stormy evening at Wirral Council and Cllr Mitchell’s first full length Council meeting in the Chair as Mayor, the Chief Executive Graham Burgess issued a written statement to councillors and the public about the Conservative’s notice of motion on whistleblowing. His statement is reproduced below.

Statement from the Chief Executive

I would like to firstly advise a note of caution to all Elected Members when it comes to discussing individual cases. The Council in this instance has been requested to deal directly with Mr. Morton’s solicitor to seek a resolution to the outstanding issues. We are keen to reach a resolution at the earliest opportunity and have corresponded with Mr. Morton’s Solicitor to that effect.

I must also draw Council’s attention to the recent judgement by Mr. Justice Hughes in the first-tier tribunal between the Apellant [sic] and the Information Commissioner. Judge Hughes upheld the Information Commissioners decision to uphold this Council’s refusal of personal information relating to the Officers alluded to in this question. This followed his appraisal of the AKA report and all relevant information provided.

In particular it is important that Members note the following conclusions:

The information which the complainant has asked for is detailed information on personnel matters relating to the individuals concerned. This goes much further than a request to detail of any severance payments made to the individuals. It is also about the terms under which they left the authority. The public interest in knowing whether appropriate policies and procedures were followed or whether the council acted inappropriately in terms of the events outlined in the report has been served by the disclosure of the report.

The individuals identified with in the report had not been convicted of any crime. Public accountability for failing is within the Council’s practices and rests with the Council as a whole rather than with individual officers.

He concluded by finding that while there was a legitimate public interest in understanding how the Council had reacted to the report; this information would not help with that process and a balance had to be struck with respect to the rights of the individuals concerned. He found that:-

Any pressing social need for greater transparency on the Council’s reaction to the report would not be met by a disclosure of this information. He therefore considers that it would be unfair (and given the implied confidentiality of the employer/employee information, unlawful ) for the purposes of the first data protection principle for that information to be disclosed. 

In the light of the above judgement we do not consider that it would be lawful or practical to allow a further investigation into the circumstances surrounding the departure of the two Officers in question.

Cabinet (Wirral Council) Special Meeting 18th April 2013

Special Cabinet meeting (Wirral Council) 18th April 2013 Labour confirm they’re sticking with the Leader and Cabinet model

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Present:
Cllr Phil Davies
Cllr Brian Kenny
Cllr Ann McLachlan
Cllr Chris Meaden
Cllr Chris Jones
Cllr Pat Hackett
Cllr Tony Smith
Cllr George Davies
Cllr Adrian Jones

The Chair (Cllr Phil Davies) welcomed people to the special meeting of Cabinet and asked for any declarations of interest. No declarations of interest were made, but apologies were given for Cllr Harry Smith by Cllr Chris Meaden.

The minutes of the previous Cabinet meeting were agreed.

The Chair said he would ask the Cabinet Member for Improvement and Governance to talk to this report (on revisions to Wirral Council’s constitution) after he said a few words himself. He thanked Stephen Gerrard for his work on the report.

Cllr Davies said the changes to the Council’s Constitution were “a key issue with the Improvement Board”, a “key action area in the Improvement Plan” and “an issue the Corporate Peer Challenge raised with us last Autumn”.

He continued by saying, “I want to stress at the outset that the Administration intend to continue to operate the Cabinet and Leader model, that’s very clear. We are not persuaded that it is time to depart from that model and we’re certainly not persuaded to go back to the old Committee system and I know that’s an issue of contention with the Opposition, but I want to make it absolutely crystal clear that that is the Administration’s position for the avoidance of doubt and I do personally believe that the Cabinet and Leader model is the best model for us at present and actually will enable us to work in the most efficient and effective way in which we make decisions. So I think it’s important to put that on record.”

He talked about the aims behind the changes and how their “big hope is the new arrangements will lead to greater engagement by local residents”. Cllr Davies said the new procedure for Council meetings was “designed to focus on things we are actually responsible for rather than things we’re not responsible for” and “we need to move away from the kind of too often I think all of us have been guilty about engaging in the kind of Punch and Judy aspect of debating the issues in the Council Chamber”.

Employment and Appointments Committee (Wirral Council) 27th March 2013 Compromise Contracts Part 2

A page detailing the money paid out to former Wirral employees in compromise contracts between November 2012 and March 2013

As at least one reader has according to Wirral Council, an obsessive interest in compromise contracts, so this is for you and the small numbers of people actually interested in the subject.

Item 11 was originally an exempt appendix, but councillors decided not to consider it in exempt session (although it’s still not published on Wirral Council’s website).

Page 56 was blank (so I didn’t scan it in), but here’s page 55 (click for a larger version).

Compromise Contracts

It details the £¼ million paid out by Wirral Council to nine employees in compromise contracts since mid-November. So why did the officers want to keep this page a secret? The covering report contains the line “Compromise Contracts for EVR exercises should remain within the bounds of existing delegated authority and policies.” Reading between the lines does that mean HR could make a whistleblower redundant under the guise of redundancy which would avoid any democratic scrutiny of the compromise contract? Answers in the comments please.

Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Wirral Council) 21st November 2012 Labour councillors ban filming (again)

Labour councillors on the Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee vote to ban filming of the Wirral Council public meeting

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Well, in what is becoming a rather predictable saga and in a repeat of what happened at the start of Pensions Committee on Tuesday evening, Labour councillors once again voted that filming be stopped of this public meeting of Wirral Council’s Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday evening.

The Conservative councillors (except for the Chair who abstained) and sole Liberal Democrat councillor voted against banning filming but were outnumbered by the Labour councillors.

When asked by Cllr Fraser what the reasons were for banning filming the proposer of the motion Labour councillor Jerry Williams responded as follows:-

“Well, we’ve had clear guidance on this issue, here we are, on the other hand ostentatiously filming and recording events from the gallery could be regarded as disorderly and disruptive or otherwise. It is secondly unsettling to point a camera at someone at issue, significantly Members would know as they were being filmed, we have no control over way the film is taken, edited or even produced. I think that’s quite clear.”

Cllr Dave Mitchell, Liberal Democrat spokesperson said, “I’m in no rush, but I want my say in the end. In relation to that particular note, the passages that you’ve read out, what was the final recommendation to Cabinet or to the Council when that was actually dealt with? I’m just reminded while you’re looking it up, if you look behind it your good selves you will see there are Cabinet here, and for eighteen months every Planning Committee was filmed by the local authority. Did I interrupt you guys? Again it goes back to the comments [Cllr] Leah [Fraser] made before, it was stopped for financial reasons. I don’t see anything wrong with it being filmed because I know I’ve got nothing to hide.”

There were many items on the agenda that I’m sure the Wirral public would’ve liked to see (and hear) their local councillors’ views on which included domestic homicides, pavement and grass verge parking, parks modernisation and the Arrowe Park hospital travel plan.

Ironically (and causing much laughter) in the first main item after filming was banned (an item on domestic homicides) the Labour councillor Mike Sullivan, who had earlier seconded the motion banning filming, spoke of his regret that it was “not on the record” followed up with the barbed insult of “people this side [Labour] know the rules, Members opposite don’t”.

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