Posted by: John Brace | 28 June 2017

Why was I stopped from going to room GA-25 for a public meeting of Wirral Council’s Local Pension Board (about Merseyside Pension Fund)?

Why was I stopped from going to room GA-25 for a public meeting of Wirral Council’s Local Pension Board (about Merseyside Pension Fund)?

Local Pensions Board (Wirral Council) 27th June 2017 L Peter Wallach R John Raisin (Independent Chair)

Local Pensions Board (Wirral Council) 27th June 2017 L Peter Wallach R John Raisin (Independent Chair)

I’ll declare at the outset an interest, in that my father is paid a pension by the Merseyside Pension Fund administered by Wirral Council.

Around a year ago, I wrote about how Wirral Council employees barricaded a fire door with a bin to prevent the public exercising their legal right to attend a public meeting. The most senior Wirral Council employee involved in that fiasco was Joe Blott (in his capacity as Deputy Monitoring Officer).

Yesterday, there was a public meeting of Wirral Council”s Local Pension Board scheduled to start at noon. The Local Pension Board is part of the governance of the Merseyside Pension Fund that Wirral Council administer and has hundreds of thousands of people in the pension fund (mainly public sector workers) and a £multi-billion Pension Fund.

This time however the meeting wasn’t on Wirral Council premises, but on premises owned by Commerz Real Investmentgesellschaft mbH (a German company) as part of its Hausinvest Open Real Estate Fund, leased to Merseytravel, then hired out to Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council.

I am making an educated guess that either Commerz Real Investmentgesellschaft mbH contract out (or Merseytravel does) the reception staff at the building the public meeting was to be held in, which is done by I think Carlisle Security Services Limited (which is a subsidiary company of Carlisle Support Services Group Limited).

If you are confused by reading that so far, then so am I!

We arrived first at reception at Mann Island and they had been told we were coming to the meeting. So we were issued with visitors passes.

However we were told we couldn’t go in because no-one from Wirral Council was there yet.

Reception told us that we couldn’t go in (although they knew we were there for the meeting) until someone from Wirral Council told them it was ok for reception to allow us into the building to attend a public meeting. So we waited.

First to arrive was Pat Phillips (the Committee Clerk and point of contact for the meeting). Standing in front of reception we asked her to confirm we were there for the meeting. She said she would have to go ask someone (despite nobody else but us being there for the meeting).

So they let her through (and she didn’t come back as there was no-one else but her).

Then Joe Blott arrived, who is at Deputy Chief Executive level at Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council and therefore part of the political element of his job such as dealing with people like myself.

Again, Joe Blott insisted he could not tell reception staff at Mann Island that we could come in through the gate as it wasn’t a “Wirral Council building” and he needed to first consult with the Chair of the Local Pensions Board (who actually hadn’t arrived in the building yet).

However, reception staff let Joe Blott through too.

Reception staff then told us they couldn’t let us in because of “terrorism” training and that they had “orders”. They pointed it wasn’t a “public building”.

Apparently now terrorism is used as a reason to avoid legal responsibilities!

The public meeting was scheduled to start at noon and we were still there at reception when more people arrived for the meeting, Peter Wallach, John Raisin, Mike Hornby, Kerry Beirne, Donna Ridland, Pat Maloney and Roger Irvine to name but seven.

I also briefly talked around this time to the Chair of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Merseytravel Committee Cllr Liam Robinson about the problem.

Reception staff are then busy handing out visitors passes and bizarrely trying to determine when the Local Pensions Board plus myself and Leonora should be allowed through the gate on the ground floor to room GA-25.

Finally (at the third time of asking) we found a Wirral Council employee (Peter Wallach) who was willing to tell reception we were allowed into the building!

Eventually by the time we’re all let in, I come through the door to the meeting room (GA-25 on the ground floor) at about 11:59:30, most of the rest of the people behind me came in late.

Then of course, the room needs to be set up and surprisingly the lights turned on (as neither Joe Blott or Pat Phillips had turned the lights on). One Wirral Council officer introducing one of the reports arrived even later even though there was a delayed start to the meeting (which caused a further delay).

However allowing the press into the public meeting half a minute before its scheduled to start is not Wirral Council in my view complying with its legal responsibilities. Specifically reasonable facilities for the purposes of filming the meeting does not mean allow press in seconds before its supposed to start. In fact it’s in breach of their own agreed filming policy specifically paragraphs 1.6, 1.7, 2.3 and 5.1.

Common sense means letting the press in at least fifteen minutes before so that a safe space to film can be determined, a tripod put up, seating arranged, agendas and reports requested etc.

But I feel that since this legal requirement came into effect in August 2014 various parts of Wirral Council have tried to try my patience over it at various public meetings.

Delayed starts to meetings cost the public sector money in lost time.

Terrorism can not be used as an excuse to delay or prevent democracy happening or the press reporting. The legal right to attend public meetings of local councils has been in its current form since 1972 and in another form since 1960. It’s not new legislation!

Nearly every other meeting of Wirral Council’s committees has one of their solicitors present but this one does not!

This is sadly a recurring problem when attending to report and film public meetings at Mann Island. There have been public meetings that have started before we’re allowed in.

Merseytravel’s own Head of Internal Audit (Merseytravel lease room GA-25) has stated at a public meeting in 2014 that people should not talk to the press about whistleblowing concerns.

However who do the press blow the whistle to when there’s no point in blowing it internally? Write an article about it? Embarrass people into changing? Or does it just end up being like the film Groundhog Day with a public sector seemingly unable to stick to its own policy, the legislation and just full of excuses?

What it has shown me, that is of wider concern is that at Wirral Council some senior managers are frightened to make decisions. The culture of not making a decision, just in case it’s the wrong one or the manager may be criticised can be just as damaging to Wirral Council’s reputation as the myriad of other scandals (on subjects ranging from child protection, complaints about councillors, how requests for information are handled and so on and so on).

So below is footage of the Local Pensions Board which turned out to be an interesting meeting (albeit hard to hear due to the lack of microphones).

I had to skip ten minutes of checks to film it and had no chair to sit on (there was literally no time to get a chair before it started).

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Wirral Council’s Local Pensions Board (Merseyside Pension Fund) 27th June 2017 Part 1 of 2

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Wirral Council’s Local Pensions Board (Merseyside Pension Fund) 27th June 2017 Part 2 of 2

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  1. If the above article comes across as being written in a cheesed off tone, I held off on writing it for 24 hours after it had happened so that I wrote it in a calmer frame of mind!

    Writing while angry just leads to a creative use of language!

  2. They see you as a pest John.
    An interfering do-gooder.
    One of these days somebody will end up in prison due to your meddling. And it’s going to cost a lot of good public money to replace the incarcerated crook with another capable, experienced one.
    And if a dozen of them go down, the burden placed on the public purse will be frankly impossible to bear. So you need to desist and take up watching TV soaps.

    • I rarely comment on criminal matters, although I notice today criminal charges against six individuals were brought by the CPS in relation to the Hillsborough matter.

      The matters referred to above in the article are just civil law matters.

      Sadly, I’m not as interested in TV soaps as some are!

  3. Hi John, since your website has changed, I can’t click to share on twitter. Apparently, there are too many characters?

    • Hi Kim,

      I had to disable some plugins because I couldn’t log in. So I disabled them and reenabled them. The share to Twitter is provided through the Jetpack plugin, I’ll try it out now and test it, but thanks for the feedback.

    • It seems to work for me as it reduces the headline to a 140 character tweet (including the link), are you getting an error, if so what error?

  4. Hi john, very interesting reading as usual & as a former pension fund trustee I/we always ensured that is was fully funded in fact even through the banking crisis our fund held up at over 100% in fact it was at some time over 110%.
    The last time I looked at the council pension funding it was only 76% funded so it was and has been in deficit. Perhaps that’s why they are so cagey about the public knowing anything. If my figures are not accurate perhaps you could review the full accounts before publishing my comments or answer what the current state of underfunding. Thanks in advance.

    • John H,

      The Merseyside Pension Fund is revalued every three years. At the last valuation from 2016 it was 86.4% funded. I think your figure is from the valuation before that.

      Hope that helps.

  5. No error, just minus 96 characters, so won’t post?

    • Thanks for that.

      That’s strange, my only suggestion is to edit it down to delete 96 characters from the end of the headline so it does post on Twitter!

      No idea why it’s doing that though (other than the length of the headline) as Jetpack is supposed to edit it down to the 140 characters required on Twitter.

  6. I know Mr Field was chasing Sir Phillip Green for the BHS pension shortfall so what about the mismanagement of the Merseyside pension fund which is about £970 million under funded, Come on Mr Field start chasing the **** on your own doorstep.

    • Trying to convince the employers in the scheme, such as Wirral Council, Liverpool City Council etc to put up their employer contributions so that the Merseyside Pension Fund is fully funded is a political problem. 😛

      Councillors squeal and complain and moan and eventually the political will to do so gets worn down!