Would you like to see what 19 pages of invoices paid by Merseytravel looks like for Smartcare, project management, police community support officer costs, the Stop Hate Line service, temporary closure of a bus interchange, bus subsidy, a temporary traffic regulation order, EPI sign licence, scanning and flexible hours annual hours consultancy?

Would you like to see what 19 pages of invoices paid by Merseytravel looks like for Smartcare, project management, police community support officer costs, the Stop Hate Line service, temporary closure of a bus interchange, bus subsidy, a temporary traffic regulation order, EPI sign licence, scanning and flexible hours annual hours consultancy?

                                                                

Below is an index page for month one and some of the invoices I requested to inspect at Merseytravel last year (financial year 2014/15) during the period each year when citizens can inspect matters such as invoices. The legal right to do this is outlined in s.15 Audit Commission Act. Each invoice is connected to a payment made by Merseytravel (or to give it its formal name the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive).

The thumbnails below are invoices for payments to ECEBS Ltd (£1,500), Weston-Projects Limited (£4,504.92), British Transport Police (£13,698.87), Police and Crime Commissioner for Merseyside (£39,213.72), Stop Hate UK (£3,500), Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council (£650), Your Travel Borough Wide Ltd (£3,538.46), Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council (£903), Trapeze Group (UK) Limited (£6,100), Service Point UK Ltd (£3,500) and Crown Computing Limited (£1,000 + £1,125.40 + £1,500). All figures are exclusive of VAT.

These invoices relate to the first 13 lines on the index page.

Due to small text size on some of the invoices, it means that the text on some of the thumbnails will be difficult to read or not readable. However the thumbnail images of the invoice below are each linked to a high-resolution image. If you want to view at the original resolution just click on the image.

The invoice from Wirral Council is for £903 for "COSTS IN RESPECT OF TEMPORARY TRAFFIC REGULATION ORDER. WOODSIDE BUS STATION, BIRKENHEAD. ORDER NUMBER 88003977. REF: JESSICA".

JESSICA is an acronym which stands for Joint European Support for Sustainable Investment in City Areas. Merseytravel run Woodside Bus Station which is outside Woodside Ferry Terminal.

Merseytravel 2014 2015 audit Month 1 index page ECEBS Ltd to MERSEYRAIL ELECTRICS 2002 thumbnail
Merseytravel 2014 2015 audit Month 1 index page ECEBS Ltd to MERSEYRAIL ELECTRICS 2002 thumbnail

Invoices
Month 1
Name
ECEBS LTD
WESTON-PROJECTS LIMITED
BRITISH TRANSPORT POLICE
POLICE AND CRIME COMMISSIONER FOR MERSEYSIDE
STOP HATE UK
SEFTON M B C
YOUR TRAVEL BOROUGH WIDE LTD
WIRRAL BOROUGH COUNCIL
TRAPEZE GROUP (UK) LTD
SERVICE POINT UK LTD
CROWN COMPUTING LIMITED
CROWN COMPUTING LIMITED
CROWN COMPUTING LIMITED
LOCAL SOLUTIONS
FOURPOINT MAPPING
OPTEVIA LIMITED
OPTEVIA LIMITED
BIKERIGHT
BIKERIGHT
FOURPOINT MAPPING
FOURPOINT MAPPING
OEFICEXPRESS
TRUEFORM ENGINEERING LTD
KENYON FRASER
KENYON FRASER
NATIONAL QUALITY ASSURANCE LTD
MOTT MACDONALD LTD
MOTT MACDONALD LTD
OFFICEXPRESS
APPIUS INTERNATIONAL LTD
ARTOPIA
LIVERPOOL CITY COUNCIL
VOCUS UK LTD
MOTT MACDONALD LTD
SEFTON M B C
BIRCHAM DYSON BELL
FACELIFT (GB) LTD
FACELIFT (GB) LTD
QA LTD
QA LTD
QA LTD
COUNSELLING SOLUTIONS NORTHWEST
WEIGHTMANS LLP
BIRCHAM DYSON BELL
ALLAN PILCH & CO
DAVIES WALLIS FOYSTER
XEROX UK LTD
HAYS INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
HAYS INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
HAYS INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
HAYS INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
VEALE WASBROUGH VIZARDS
RSTCS LTD
BIRCHAM DYSON BELL
NEXUS
DLA PIPER UK LLP
MERSEYRAIL ELECTRICS 2002 LTD

Continue reading “Would you like to see what 19 pages of invoices paid by Merseytravel looks like for Smartcare, project management, police community support officer costs, the Stop Hate Line service, temporary closure of a bus interchange, bus subsidy, a temporary traffic regulation order, EPI sign licence, scanning and flexible hours annual hours consultancy?”

Cllr Foulkes on Mersey Ferries “we cherish that service and want to maintain it”

Cllr Foulkes on Mersey Ferries “we cherish that service and want to maintain it”

                                      

MV Snowdrop (one of the iconic Mersey Ferries) on the River Mersey with Liverpool skyline in the background
MV Snowdrop (one of the iconic Mersey Ferries) on the River Mersey with Liverpool skyline in the background

This is an update to an earlier story headlined Will the 20 councillors on Merseytravel mothball the Mersey Ferry terminal at Woodside?.

After a long talk followed by a question and answer session with Jan Chaudry-van der Velde of Merseyrail the meeting got to the agenda item titled Mersey Ferries Long Term Strategy.

Here first is what Cllr Foulkes had to say during the meeting.

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

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Merseytravel Committee meeting (part of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority) meeting of the 7th January 2016 (Mersey Ferries item starts at 7m 51s)

Cllr Steve Foulkes (Wirral, Labour) spoke first, “Yes Chair, obviously we’re going to be moving something a bit later on, but I think I think there has to be some criticism I think from the elected Members in terms of the release of the report and the focus and attention on the negativity of it.

I think that I would like to turn this completely on its head and say that if I was a Leader of a Council or running a Council service and anybody was talking in terms of this day and age where the government that we have is actually savaging public services across the sector. It’s almost waging war on the public sector, if there was once, if I had a service and someone was coming forward with a bit of paper that was offering me a twenty year lifespan and beyond, I would grab that with both hands initially.

I would say that is undoubtedly positive news for the ferry service of this city region, an iconic ferry service that we as an organisation are planning for the next twenty, twenty-five years. So we have to take that as a very, very positive aspect and there are some very good initiatives within the report that would allow us to do that.

In particularly a way forward of getting new vessels which is key obviously we’ve been told they’re aging and vessels that will actually allow us to generate more income and make it even more sustainable. So the word is sustainability.

But obviously everyone’s eyes have been drawn to the one paragraph that doesn’t make good reading. But these are people who in their professional capacity have been asked to do if you know a helicopter view of the service and give us their deliberations.

And this is what to me is why I became a politician, why I joined these organisations is to actually have an influence on behalf of the people that I represent in using these facts, figures and information to actually develop the strategy and this is a good starting point for us for a strategy because that’s what it is you say Chair. It’s a discussion document for us to move forward.

Now I welcome the interest that’s been generated by this report and there are some good ideas coming from the public and from groups who are on their own calling themselves protest groups.

There’s absolutely no reason why those protest groups can’t become a useful ally, a tool in actually developing the strategy as we go on. So, for me it is a document that maybe could’ve been handled in terms of the PR issues a lot better.

But nevertheless it does give people some reassurance that this organisation cherishes the ferry service with all the economic problems it presents and the challenges it presents we cherish that service and want to maintain it for twenty, twenty-five years.

I think there’s a way forward that we can think about, certainly it highlights the purchase of the vessels, there are other models to purchasing the vessels. I would just ask just to consider certainly the logic and strategy we’ve used for building up the reserves for the rolling stock and the project management that we’ve gone through that all Members seem to appreciate it.

Could, alright the figures are still high by anyone’s measure we are talking twenties of millions of pounds in this document, but we can handle that in the simple way as we have to build up these reserves for the rolling stock, ie building up a reserve for capital, having some separate you know ways of generating money.

The other thing I would say though Chair, that that shouldn’t stop us from this long-term strategy we’ve debated. I still think that there are ways to make the ferry service more efficient and operationally more successful and there are things that are coming out, as we move on, and things that have already happened such as the annualised hours of the people that work on the ferries.

And there are some glaring costs that we need to remedy, for example keeping the boat on the River overnight with a full crew. It doesn’t seem a good use of public money. So there are lots of things we can do as we build up this strategy but my overall view is that apart from the one negative paragraph, it’s a positive way forward for the longevity of the much-loved ferry service and I’ll hope to reassure the public when you move your resolution. Thank you.”

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A look back to a fictional Birkenhead in 1894 and how things hardly change!

A look back to a fictional Birkenhead in 1894 and how things hardly change!

                                                                  

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson on a train
Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson on a train

As the Christmas special for Sherlock was set in Victorian times, I thought I would write a Christmas special for this blog also set in Victorian times.

INT. BRACE HOUSEHOLD – MORNING (1894)

Queen Victoria is still on the throne and in recent years a railway tunnel between Birkenhead and Liverpool opened in 1886. Mr and Mrs Brace live in the County Borough of Birkenhead in the township of Bidston which is in Cheshire, England.

Mrs Brace is a foreign princess from one of the British Empire’s colonies now called the Dominion of Canada. Mr Brace, a native of Birkenhead edits and owns a small newspaper.

Mr and Mrs Brace sit down to have breakfast together.

MRS BRACE: I hope you slept well, there is much talk in the town about you.

MR BRACE: I’m all ears, what have I done now?

MRS BRACE: Your request using the Public Health Act 1875 to see Birkenhead councillors’ expenses has caused much consternation amongst the political class. They do not approve of you using such modern laws and regard you as a nuisance, in fact Councillor Jones had written a strongly worded letter to a rival newspaper!

MR BRACE: Well dear, I predict that one day Europe will be at peace and the courts will be adjudicating on whether European politicians’ expenses should be revealed. However I fear that will take around a hundred and twenty years. Some things never change!

MRS BRACE: You do have some very fanciful notions my husband! The political class is most perturbed that you have asked for copies of their hackney carriage expenses, the hackney carriage drivers have horses to feed you know!

MR BRACE: Well the voters should know what politicians are doing with their money!

MRS BRACE: But I don’t even get a vote!

MR BRACE: True, true but one day that will change.

MRS BRACE: Do you think the new train to Liverpool will lead to the end of the Mersey Ferry at Woodside?

MR BRACE: Where do you get these strange ideas? No, the trains don’t have the capacity to take everyone who wants to go to Liverpool. The trains carry only 25,000 passengers a day, but the ferries 44,000 passengers a day. It would take at least two further underground tunnels between Wirral and Liverpool to change things! And who has the money to build those tunnels anyway?

If that does ever happen and anybody ever suggests ending the ferry at Woodside I’m sure my newspaper will still be around to report on it then!

(They both laugh).

MRS BRACE: Well that does sound fantastical. Another two tunnels under the River Mersey? It’s like a Jules Verne novel. I’m puzzled as to where the smoke from the trains go as it is.

MR BRACE: Indeed, anything else?

MRS BRACE: Yes, the new maid is working out well.

MR BRACE: I’m glad to hear that.

MRS BRACE: Oh and before I forget, my relatives in Canada have written to me and tell me that the Americans are experimenting with motion pictures.

MR BRACE: How intriguing, I wonder what the public would make of motion pictures of Birkenhead Council meetings?

MRS BRACE: It is only silent movies at the moment and it will be many years before it is perfected.

MR BRACE: I’m sure politicians would not want voters to see their meetings even as silent movies. They seem to spend a lot of the time shouting at each other and getting very cross!

MRS BRACE: Indeed. I just thought you might be interested in it.

MR BRACE: Anyway, I had better get back to writing. Thank you for your most interesting insights.


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Will the 20 councillors on Merseytravel mothball the Mersey Ferry terminal at Woodside?

Will the 20 councillors on Merseytravel mothball the Mersey Ferry terminal at Woodside?

                                               

MV Snowdrop (one of the iconic Mersey Ferries) on the River Mersey with Liverpool skyline in the background
MV Snowdrop (one of the iconic Mersey Ferries) on the River Mersey with Liverpool skyline in the background

One of the reasons I have had not had all twelve days of Christmas off, is because next week there are two Merseytravel public meetings.

The one on the afternoon of Thursday 7th January (starting at 2.00pm in the Authority Room, 1st floor, Merseytravel Headquarters, No. 1 Mann Island, Liverpool, L3 1BP) is a meeting of all twenty councillors on the Merseytravel Committee (which is now part of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority). This committee has councillors from Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral. You might point out that although being called Merseytravel, Halton isn’t in Merseyside but Cheshire (but it is part of the Combined Authority).

The Wirral representatives on Merseytravel are Cllr Ron Abbey (Labour), Cllr Jerry Williams (Labour), Cllr Steve Foulkes (Labour) and Cllr Les Rowlands (Conservative (the two opposition councillors who aren’t in the Labour Party of which he’s one call themselves the Merseytravel Alliance)).

It’s not a long agenda and I am looking forward to the Merseyrail question and answer session, but as you’ve probably guessed this piece is going to be about the Mersey Ferries.

Somebody at Merseytravel paid consultants called Mott McDonald to write a report on the Mersey Ferries. You can read the covering report and consultant’s report on Merseytravel’s website. Mott McDonald also involved two other firms of consultants Peter Brett Associates and Graham & Woolnough.

The bit in the consultants’ report that has been causing a lot of political concern this side of the River Mersey is the part that states,

"Unfortunately, due to the extensive capital investment required in the near future, it is recommended that Woodside terminal is mothballed and the pier infrastructure removed."
 

Obviously this would mean if that was ever decided that the Mersey Ferry would just go between the Pier Head in Liverpool and Seacombe. I presume if that happened that would mean the end of the U-Boat Story tourist attraction which is part of that complex too (all about a German submarine called U-534), the cafe there and Birkenhead would lose out on visitors.

There is an emotional connection people have this side of the water to the Mersey Ferries and I’m sure there are people still alive that remember when it stopped at New Brighton and New Brighton was a bustling seaside resort.

One of the councillors on the Merseytravel Committee, Cllr Jerry Williams is the Heritage Champion and I’m sure he could wax lyrical about how important the Mersey Ferries are for Wirral’s tourism.

For the last twenty-six years the running of the Mersey Ferries has been through a company controlled by Merseytravel called Mersey Ferries Limited. I quote from its latest accounts:

"The results of the company for the year show a loss on ordinary activities before tax of £230,468 (2014 – £243,486). This loss is wholly attributable to the trading activity of the tourism-related business (Spaceport and U534) as the core transport activity continues to receive revenue support grant from its parent undertaking."
 

So, Merseytravel needs to run/market Spaceport and U534 better, whether this means asking people who buy Mersey Ferry tickets if they’d also like to purchase a ticket for Spaceport/U534 and/or just better publicity/marketing anyway Merseytravel have been criticised in the past by their auditors for the tourism side of matters.

However a more detailed look at the accounts shows that Mersey Ferries Limited employ 52 staff (an annual wage bill of £1.6 million) but Mersey Ferries Limited don’t own the Mersey Ferries or the terminals at Woodside, Seacombe and the Liverpool Pier Head.

These assets (the boats and the terminals) are owned by Merseytravel.

I am now going to make a comparison to the business I’m in as this point is raised in the consultant’s report.

As you can’t get to and from a lot of the public meetings I report on by public transport, sadly some means of private transport is vital.

Being somebody with a bit of foresight I put money aside out of what I earn in case there was a major capital expenditure on that front. Sure enough last year the car failed its MOT and I had the money to buy another at a cost of £2,500 (because I’d had the foresight to put money aside). It was only sensible from a management perspective to do this. Of course in the public sector, it would probably be a risk on a risk register.

Merseytravel (according to the consultant’s report) is in the same situation. The Mersey Ferries are getting older, so are the terminals and both are costing more to repair. However being consultants they seem to view everything through the lens of a business and the private sector, all about making money when the public sector isn’t like that.

The sensible thing would’ve been to have a reserve capital fund to pay for these types of issues. I’ll hear on Thursday afternoon more detail.

However back to the Mersey Ferries, from a political perspective Birkenhead’s politicians are united (including Rt Hon Frank Field MP) that mothballing Woodside is frankly (no pun intended) a bad idea.

Now you will probably ask, is this going to be like the annual vote on whether to put up the Mersey Tunnel tolls? Wirral’s four representatives huff and puff and say what a bad idea it will be, vote against it but are then outvoted by the rest of the Merseytravel councillors? Who knows?

However the Mersey Tunnels are why the Mersey Ferries aren’t as well used as they used to be. The Mersey Tunnels were built using borrowed money. In fact if we look at Halton, £470 million was found (who knows what the final cost will be) for a bridge over the River Mersey there.

Compared to the cost of a new bridge, the costs of keeping the ferries and terminals going seem quite small.

When there’s a political will to do something the money can be found!

Indeed the report states having the Mersey Ferries brings wider economic benefits to the City Region.

Now there will be a future, more detailed reports about the Mersey Ferries brought to a future meeting of Merseytravel.

I am going to make a point I have already made at the cost of perhaps sounding unpopular. There is a large surplus on tunnel tolls used to prop up Merseytravel’s budget and save it going cap in hand to the local councils for more money.

My view was that as the Mersey Tunnels (built on borrowed money) adversely affected the popularity and viability of the Mersey Ferries that one should subsidise the other. As I’ve already pointed out the Mersey Ferries are a big draw to tourists and bring wider economic benefits to the region.

The tunnel tolls (which are decided by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority on the recommendation of Merseytravel) have of course been a thorny political issue for a long time. Many people feeling that politicians have forever promised at election time that one day they will be scrapped but that they never are. Indeed political promises were made in the lead up to the General Election and the Combined Authority requested a report (which seems to be a long time in the writing).

However I am going to state my own personal viewpoint now. Whatever the rights and wrongs are over the Mersey Tunnel tolls, it’s one of the few things that Merseytravel/Liverpool City Region Combined Authority can control as the district council treasurers would no doubt be against an increase in the levy on the district councils (yes I realise budgets are ultimately decided by politicians). Although transport (due to the economic benefits it brings) is a priority from national government, Merseytravel can’t expect large increases in its grant.

Mersey Ferries compete against the trains, buses and other forms of transport that go through the Mersey Tunnels. However tourism is a big part of the economy in these parts. Blue Badge tourist guides take groups of people on the Mersey Ferries and transport has always been subsidised. Transport brings economic benefits.

However the consultants don’t see the big picture. They just see it like running a private business whose aim is to make a profit, the public sector ethos is not like that. The public sector runs services for the benefit of the public paid for through taxes.

It would be very sad if the Mersey Ferry terminal at Woodside was lost because of the short-sighted nature of consultants. Yes I was born in Birkenhead and most people see the Mersey Ferries at Woodside as part of the fabric of Birkenhead.

I realise what I have stated about Mersey Tunnel tolls will not be popular, I’m not advocating that they should go up. I just feel that as the Mersey Tunnels were built with borrowed money that it’s an unfair form of competition to the detriment of the Mersey Ferries. Hundreds of millions can be found to build a new bridge across the Mersey, yet much smaller amounts to keep the Mersey Ferries and terminals going can’t? It doesn’t make sense.

If you have any comments or a view on all this, please leave a comment below. If you’d like to come along to the public meeting on Thursday 7th January 2015, the meeting will start at 2.00pm in the Authority Room, 1st floor, Merseytravel Headquarters, No. 1 Mann Island, Liverpool, L3 1BP.

If you would like to write to a councillor on Merseytravel, just click on the photo of the councillor you wish to here for contact details.

There are two petitions about this you can sign.

Save Woodside Ferry Terminal (at time of writing 129 supporters) and

Save Woodside Ferry (at time of writing 367 supporters)

A report of what was said at the Merseytravel meeting starts at Cllr Foulkes on Mersey Ferries “we cherish that service and want to maintain it”.

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