Who wouldn’t want you to read this story about the election of 4 Wirral councillors?
George Orwell “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”
This is a tale of power, money, elections and the public right to know. What happens next following this is a reflection of the society we all live in. I strongly suspect that very little will result. I’ve used my editorial independence to write this as my conscience is clear if these matters are in the public domain.
I would like to point out that until recent years the chairs of committees at Wirral Council were shared across the political parties. Labour however decided in the recent past that they wanted to keep the power that rests with chairs to themselves. Therefore that is the reason why all the main characters in this are Labour politicians. It’s nothing personal and I have no axe to grind against the Labour Party.
Like all good stories this tale indeed starts well before the election started. However, we will skip ahead to the beginning of the elections in 2016.
All candidates have to fill out what are termed nomination papers and deliver these nomination papers to Wirral Council by a deadline to be included in the election. The four candidates this tale (who were each elected as councillors) are Anita Leech, Janette Williamson, Mike Sullivan & Bill Davies (real name William Davies).
During the election (but not now after the result is declared) you have a legal right to inspect the nomination papers and request copies. I requested these 4 nomination papers from the Returning Office Eric Robinson.
In addition to the nomination papers, in order to be a valid and legal nomination various pieces of legislation need to be attached too. These pieces of legislation deal with who is disqualified from being elected. I presume the point of having to attach these for a valid nomination is to prevent candidates and agents at a later date claiming ignorance of what they mean.
The declaration they each have to sign (which also has to be witnessed) states the following,
The nomination papers of each candidate are linked to at the end of this article.
The first part of section 80 declares:
(1) Subject to the provisions of section 81 below, a person shall be disqualified for being elected or being a member of a local authority … if he—
(a) holds any paid office or employment (other than the office of chairman, vice-chairman or deputy chairman [or, in the case of a local authority which are operating executive arrangements which involve a leader and cabinet executive, the office of executive leader or member of the executive]) appointments [or elections] to which are or may be made or confirmed by the local authority or any committee or sub-committee of the authority or by a joint committee [or National Park authority] on which the authority are represented or by any person holding any such office or employment; or
So what does that mean? Well he above also means she, but the employment bit means councillors cannot also be employees of Wirral Council as it represents a conflict of interest. Section 81 provides an exception for teachers and other people employed by schools (who are technically classed as local council employees) to be elected as councillors.
As you can see from the above, any Leader of a Council or Cabinet Member is also not excluded from being elected on those grounds.
Edited: 9/5/16 It’s been pointed out that s.80(1)(a) is open to different interpretations and chairman could be interpreted as all people with the title of Chair or just the Chair of Wirral Council (the Mayor). The guidance the Electoral Commission produce for Returning Officers on the matter is here and makes it very clear about the disqualification of candidates represented on outside bodies. That guidance however makes it clear that the relevant dates about disqualification (as determined in previous legal cases) are the date of nomination and the date of election.
Each of the four candidates I name above were at the time of their nomination and election holders of paid office at Wirral Council. I outline below which paid offices they held and the annual amounts they received. These are additional allowances in addition to the basic allowances they receive as councillors.
Janette Williamson – Chair of the Transformation and Resources Policy and Performance Committee (£4,585)
Mike Sullivan – Chair of the Regeneration and Environment Policy and Performance Committee (£4,585)
Bill Davies – Chair of the Licensing, Health and Safety and General Purposes Committee (£4,585) and Chair of the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee (£1,375).
None of these four individual resigned their chairs before the date they were elected and they continue receiving allowances for these at the time of writing.
I presume the whole point of this is to ensure a level playing field and free, fair and open elections. After all if one candidate can turn round and say “Vote for me, I’m Chair of the Planning Committe” and in theory use their taxpayer funded paid office to pay for their election expenses is that fair?
The observant among you will have already realised that the above disqualification also rules out those councillors representing the Council on outside bodies (off the top of my head the Police and Crime Panel, the Merseytravel Committee (or other committees of the Combined Authority) and the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority) are a few that I could name.
However I am not covering these here and it’s up to you the reader if you wish to explore whether any candidates in the election would seem to be disqualified on these grounds.
So what you may say? Even if the above four resigned, that would leave 35 Labour councillors and only 27 opposition councillors. As I say, I haven’t considered whether any candidates would be disqualified on any other grounds and as the deadline for submitting election expenses is a month away I haven’t inspected the declared election spending of candidates too.
However as the public have a right to know, here are the nomination papers of the four candidates I have named above.
Obviously the individuals (and their agents) have some unanswered questions as to whether they knew the above at the time of their nomination. It is only however my job to observe this anomaly and report on it, rather than be in a position to take action to resolve the matter one way or another.
The nomination papers are multi-page TIFF files as these were the format supplied by Wirral Council. I have not converted them to image files that can be read by a browser as I felt it best to leave them as they originally were.
I will end this with a big caveat, the above is merely how it seems from here. The people named could be totally ignorant of what disqualifies people from being a councillor (which would seem to be a difficult position to maintain as they had to include the legislation with their nomination papers). I could be wrong and the above could just be an arcane legal point.
Looking at a case where two Lib Dem Assembly Members were elected to the Welsh Assembly but were disqualified, one of those two successfully argued that the published Welsh guidance on the matter was out of date therefore disqualification was unfair.
However, I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts on what I’ve written here.
Rock Ferry – William Davies (Bill Davies) nomination papers
Pensby & Thingwall – Michael Sullivan nomination papers
Liscard – Janette Williamson nomination papers
Leasowe & Moreton East – Anita Leech (nomination papers)
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13 thoughts on “Who wouldn’t want you to read this story about the election of 4 Wirral councillors?”
excellent research …… well done John……
Somehow I doubt anything will happen next though.
I hear some Labour councillors your side of the River Mersey lost their seats to Lib Dems though?
As Joe Anderson is widely expected to stand as a the Labour candidate to be Metro Mayor next year does that mean there’ll be another election in 2017 for Liverpudlians to vote who their Liverpool Mayor is (at the same time as Metro Mayor). As Liverpool has a Lord Mayor too, isn’t having three mayors going to get confusing???
It would seem to me that, if what you have reported, namely the Law, is correct and the Councillors failed to record their interest or continued to be in receipt of payment for doing certain jobs for Council, then they have broken the Law and should be disqualified.
Ignorance of the Law is no excuse. Therefore, they cannot be ignorant of what disqualifies people from being a Councillor. Moreover, the legal bits should always be read before making / signing a Declaration.
They should be disqualified and fresh elections called.
That’s outside my remit.
They stand elected unless a court determines that at the time of the election they were disqualified. Or possibly a court could determine that there was no criminal intent on their part as they were utterly ignorant of the fact that they were disqualified.
Previous cases about signed declarations on nomination papers have dealt with the offences of perjury and making a false statement in a statutory declaration such as when Warren Bradley was found guilty of perjury.
Obviously people can lodge complaints if they wish with the Electoral Commission, Merseyside Police, Crown Prosecution Service or Wirral Borough Council.
However it is totally outside my remit to start cases in criminal courts alleging councillors of being disqualified.
It is only the courts have the power to annul the result and request a byelection.
Just to be clear in case of misinterpretation it’s not employment (jobs) working for the Council that is the issue which would be completely black and white (in fact that’s specifically mentioned in the Electoral Commission guidance), but being an office holder in a paid capacity.
As to the ignorance point, that’s why a nomination is only valid if the pieces of legislation are included with the papers.
Course in 2012 Wirral Council issued nomination packs for all candidates that failed to include the right pieces of legislation (although I substituted it with the right ones) therefore technically invalidating nearly everyone’s nomination, but that’s an understandable error on the part of candidates and the statute of limitations expired in May 2013 on those sorts of issues.
Another great piece of investigated journalism but what if we broke the rules as these 4 people seem to have done, I suspect Mr. Tour would be on us like a ton of bricks. Remember Mr. Burgess invitation to all councillors to the open golf where I was threatened by Mr Tour to delete my comments on your blog only to be proved right in the end with no apology from the said Mr, Tour.
Perhaps as am electoral official Mr Tour could investigate the above.
Cheers John I await Mr Tours response as I know he is one of your avid followers.
I do remember that.
To be honest I think someone at Wirral Council was cross at me republishing that email (as well as Mr Tour’s withdrawn threat that it was “fraudulent”) and your comment got caught up in the backlash.
However, the resultant publicity it got on BBC Radio Merseyside meant the sorry saga reached a far wider audience.
It gave the impression that Wirral Council were giving out free tickets to the whole championship to councillors and BBC Radio Merseyside during the course of the same programme received two different versions of what had happened from Wirral Council’s press office.
It wasn’t exactly a textbook case in how to deal with public relations was it?
Whether they’ve been ignorant or simply defiant of the rules, the question is;
How can Wirral residents have ANY confidence in their ability to act legally, honestly or knowledgeably on our behalf?
Off the top of my head, Jean Stapleton (MFRA and Birkenhead & Tranmere) should be included in the above too.
Brilliant again John.
You are right that Jean Stapleton held office at the time of her nomination as one of Wirral Council’s representatives on the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and according to MFRA’s website still does.
The Electoral Commission guidance (for Returning Officers such as Eric Robinson) provides clarity on this point.
“1. The Commission has recently received a number of queries regarding the disqualification of prospective local government candidates who are employed by a local authority, or hold a paid office under the authority. In particular, the question of when the qualification criteria need to be met – whether at the time of nomination, on the day of the election itself, or on the day of taking up the post if elected – has been of increasing interest. ”
Disqualification for election and holding office as a member of a local authority
“5. Section 80(1)(a) states that ‘a person shall be disqualified for being elected or being a member of a local authority….. If he holds any paid office or employment […] which are or may be made or confirmed by the local authority’. This includes those who hold a paid office on joint boards or committees on which the local authority is represented. ”
I will repeat that last bit in bold and underlined "This includes those who hold a paid office on joint boards or committees on which the local authority is represented"
But hey Wirral Council is a Labour run authority. Eric Robinson got paid an extra £5,505.28 (on top of his salary) in Returning Officer fees for the local elections and possibly something extra for the PCC election. He’ll probably receive extra for the EU Referendum too.
If a nomination paper of a disqualified candidate is accepted as a valid nomination, shouldn’t the taxpayer get some of this money back?
Or are Returning Officers only allowed to invalidate the nominations in certain specific areas?
If Wirral Council create this many questions about the election, what confidence can anyone have in the result?
It has been commented that the legislation with regards to chairs can be interpreted different ways, but the legislation on candidates representing the Council on outside bodies (plus the guidance I’ve linked to for Returning Officers is clear).
Or has Wirral become like North Korea where government employees must do their best to keep the Dear Leader/Supreme Leader/Glorious Leader in charge (I mean this last comment tongue in cheek)???
(this is now a joke) Maybe the incriminating nomination papers will now be accidentally fed into the shredder to avoid further embarrassment!
It must be very difficult for “Eccles Cake Face” the Blinking CEO to oversee anything since Paul Cardin scred him into hiding under his desk by saying “G’day”.
They really are a hopeless joke.
About time they started thinking about someone other than themselves.
Wirral “Funny” Bizz must be laughing their bits off in Portugal.
I’m currently doing a review of a book written by somebody who worked for local councils that from his stories are worse than Wirral.
You state “About time they started thinking about someone other than themselves.”
Well let’s summarise right (and this goes by some points made in the book I’m reviewing):
people working in local government are seemingly immune to being sacked (even if they’re caught doing something illegal and admit it they get suspended on full pay for months whilst there’s an investigation),
people in local government get paid six-figure sums of money, then get basic aspects of their job wrong but nobody holds them to account!!!
bearing in mind the above (no consequences, silly amounts of money) are you surprised that people act out of self interest?
Very precise John. The Returning Officer is probably being counsellors by the Labour Group that you are being pedantic Tec Tec.
However were they to lose their seats then new Chairmen would have to be elected..it becomes rather presumptuous that they assume continuity .
If the Council follows the small details of prayers before Meetings and the faintly amusing Mayor making ceremony it follows that rules and procedures are important to them. They cannot be permitted that the group in power pick and choose which rules and traditions best suit them at any one time.
It is not retrofitting , your observation, for without theses rules no rules at all need apply. Rules are not discretionary in a free society.
Within a month of the elections (as the proportion on committees and outside bodies is based on the ratio of councillors in each political party) new committee members and chairs are appointed at a meeting of Wirral Council anyway.
Those decisions are made (in part) by the 23 councillors elected this year.
Wirral Council formally did that on Tuesday evening.
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