The reasons why Wirral Council’s Lyndale School call in is being delayed
Labour’s Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) explaining at a Wirral Council Cabinet meeting why he thinks the Cabinet should agree to consultation on closure of Lyndale School (which is the decision that was called in)
I read the Wirral Globe article headlined “Town Hall bungle means Lyndale meeting called off” with interest as it was related to my earlier blog post headlined “Is the Lyndale School call in going to the wrong Wirral Council committee?”.
Basically Wirral Council is stuck (and apologies for the cliché) between a rock and a hard place. Their new constitution states call ins have to be decided by the Coordinating Committee, however a law (The Education (Parent Governor Representatives) Regulations 1999) means it has to be decided by a committee with parent governor representatives on and a previous case Transport and General Workers Union and Hilary Hollington v Wallsall Metropolitan Borough Council  EWHC Admin 452 means that if they went ahead and made a decision on the Lyndale School call in by the Coordinating Committee without any parent governor representatives having a vote as part of that committee’s decision, then such a decision would almost certainly be quashed (based on that bit of case law) by a High Court Judge if any of the parents requested a judicial review.
The only committee that could legally decide the call in (that has parent governor representatives on it) is the Families and Wellbeing Committee (however for it to do so would currently be unconstitutional). There was a meeting scheduled of the Families and Wellbeing Committee for Thursday but it was mysteriously cancelled. If anybody knows what this cancelled meeting was about and if it was related to the call in please leave a comment.
So what happens next? Well the Coordinating Committee will meet on Wednesday 5th February as planned, but at the meeting will probably receive legal advice that they can’t make a decision on the call ins as they don’t have any parent governor representatives on their committee.
To progress with this matter will need a change to Wirral Council’s constitution. Such changes originate as a recommendation by the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee first (usually on the advice of Surjit Tour), which next meets on the 24th February. A recommendation would then be made to change the constitution to Budget Council on the 25th February and presuming the change is agreed to, the call in will be decided on the 27th February by the Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee.
The quote from Cllr Leah Fraser in the Wirral Globe article of “The parents and staff of Lyndale School deserve better than this chaos” is one I agree with. Both the quotes of Cllr Phil Davies and Joe Blott leave out an important point not mentioned, which is that the parent governor representatives will have a vote in the decision over the call ins. I’m not sure if the Diocesan representatives have a vote too (it’s something I’d have to look into), but as far as I recall one of the two Diocesan representative positions on the Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee is vacant (although an appointment to it could be made at the next Council meeting).
However taking from 16th January (date of the original Cabinet decision) to 27th February (date of the proposed Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee to consider the call in) is a total of one month and eleven days. Certainly it is not ideal for the parents and staff of Lyndale School to face uncertainty over the outcome for such a prolonged length of time.
What Wirral Council’s constitution currently states on call ins is included at the end of this blog post. Changes to it will need to be made if the Lyndale School call ins are to be made by the Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee on the 27th February.
The controversial rewrite of Wirral’s constitution (which included changing the call in procedure) happened at an extraordinary meeting of Wirral Council last April.
Here are some quotes from what councillors said at the time back in April 2013 about the constitutional changes which Labour councillors voted for, but Conservative and Lib Dem councillors were opposed to.
Cllr Phil Davies (Labour’s Leader) (who recommended the constitutional changes which included changes to the call in system) said, “What are the aims of the changes we’re proposing? Well we want to clearly improve our governance and decision-making procedures.”
Cllr Jeff Green (Leader of the Conservatives) said, “One of the elements of these changes is to remove the Children and Young People’s and the Adult Social & Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committees. Given Wirral’s history …. it seems to me a backward and dangerous step to actually remove any of the scrutiny.”
Former Councillor Darren Dodd (Labour) said, “This is what the people of Wirral have been asking for, for for a very long time.”
Cllr John Hale (Conservative) said, “These proposals should be consigned to the dustbin where they belong”.
Cllr Chris Blakeley (Conservative) said, “Where will it end, what next? Will Wirral be twinned with Pyongyang?”
Cllr Tom Harney (Liberal Democrats) said, “We don’t know where we came from, we don’t know where we’re going.”
Excerpt from Wirral Council’s constitution on call ins
35. Calling in of decisions
(1) All decisions of:
(i) the Executive Board,
(ii) an individual member of the Executive Board or
(iii) a committee of the Executive Board, and
(iv) key decisions taken by an officer;
shall be published, and shall be available at the main offices of the Council normally within 2 days of being made. All members of the Council will be sent a copy of the decision.
(2) That notice will bear the date on which it is published and will specify that the decision will come into force, and may then be implemented, unless the decision is called in for scrutiny by 9a.m. on the Thursday following publication of a decision on Friday. (Adjusted by a maximum of one day in there is one or more Bank Holidays in that period)
(3) (a) During that period, the Chief Executive shall Call-In a decision for scrutiny by the Co-ordinating Committee if so requested by any six members of the Council who have given detailed reasons for the Call-In of the decision. The detailed reasons must be provided by the Lead signatory, by the Call In deadline. When a Call In is requested the Chief Executive shall liaise with the Member listed first on the Call-In schedule, to ensure there is sufficient information provided to enable the Call-In to proceed. As long as there is a clear reason given, the call-in should be allowed. He/she shall then notify the decision-taker of the Call-In. He/she shall call a meeting of the Committee on such date as he/she may determine, where possible after consultation with the Chair of the Coordinating Committee, and in any case within 7 working days of the decision to call-in.
(b) The relevant Chief Officer and all members will be notified of a call-in immediately and no action will be taken to implement the decision until the call-in procedure has been completed. A decision of the Cabinet, a committee of the Cabinet or individual Cabinet member may be called in only once.
(4) Having considered the decision, the Co-ordinating Committee may:-
(i) refer it back to the decision making person or body for reconsideration, setting out in writing the nature of its concerns or;
(ii) refer the matter to full Council. Such a referral should only be made where the Co-ordinating Committee believes that the decision is outside the policy framework or contrary to or not wholly in accordance with the budget. The procedures set out in those rules must be followed prior to any such referral.
(5) If a decision is referred back to the decision making person or body it shall be reconsidered in the light of the written concerns of the Co-ordinating Committee before a final decision is made.
(6) If following a call in, the Co-ordinating Committee does not refer the matter back to the decision making person or body and does not refer the matter to Council, the decision shall take effect on the date of the Co-ordinating Committee meeting. If the Co-ordinating Committee does not meet the decision shall take effect from the date when the Committee should have met.
(7) If the matter is referred to full Council and the Council does not object to a decision which has been made, then the decision will become effective on the date of the Council meeting.
(8) If the Council does object the Council may take a decision, which is outside the policy and budgetary framework. Otherwise the Council will refer any decision to which it objects back to the decision-making person or body, together with the Council’s views on the decision. That decision making body or person shall choose whether to amend the decision or not before reaching a final decision and implementing it. Where the decision was taken by the Executive Board as a whole or a committee of it, a meeting will be convened to reconsider within ten working days of the Council request. Where the decision was made by an individual, the individual will reconsider within ten working days of the Council request.
(9) Call-in should only be used in exceptional circumstances where members have evidence which suggests that the decision was not made in accordance with the principles of decision making in the constitution.
(10) Call-in and urgency
(a) The call-in procedure set out above shall not apply where the decision being taken by the Cabinet is urgent. A decision will be urgent if any delay is likely to be caused by the call-in process would seriously prejudice the Council’s or the public’s interest. The record of the decision and the notice by which it is made public shall state whether, in the opinion of the decision making person or body, the decision is an urgent one, and therefore not subject to call-in. The Chief Executive must agree both that the decision proposed is reasonably in all the circumstances and to it being treated as a matter of urgency. Decisions taken as a matter of urgency must be reported to the next available meeting of the Council, together with the reasons for urgency.
(b) The operation of the provisions relating to call-in and urgency shall be monitored annually, and a report submitted to Council with proposals for review if necessary.
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