Will 9 councillors tonight recommend better scrutiny of Wirral Council?
Tonight, it’s a special meeting of Wirral Council’s Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee (yes Wirral Council and standards in the same sentence does cause most people to smile). So what’s it about?
Well last year, Wirral Council decided to save money by having less scrutiny (reducing the scrutiny committees by one). Considering the £millions extra that had to be spent to put a sticking plaster on matters as a result of poor scrutiny and the OFSTED report (which amplified some milder criticisms in the peer review), one wonders with hindsight whether it was both a false economy and a lost opportunity to move towards a better system of scrutiny.
As it states in Surjit Tour’s witness statement (I’ve altered it to the past tense), “the Council had four Policy and Performance Committees that discharge the Council’s overview and scrutiny function.” even though by the time I cross-examined him we both agreed that Wirral Council councillors (albeit bitterly opposed by opposition councillors) had by then recommended to scrap one and have three.
Interestingly the result of that First-tier Tribunal was that the judiciary decided there that Mr. Tour’s decision-making was flawed.
If you read that decision and the OFSTED report together, I wonder if the outcome of the First-tier Tribunal hearing would’ve been different had I had the benefit of that OFSTED report at the time.
Tonight’s meeting, the papers are on Wirral Council website tries to remedy a theme that runs through that First-tier Tribunal decision, the OFSTED report and that that was raised by opposition councillors last year when Labour proposed and then decided on less scrutiny.
I will also make an educated guess that the Improvement Board (which doesn’t appear to meet in public or publish its minutes as far as I can see) decided that the issues expensively identified by Anna Klonowski Associates have never been addressed in any sort of permanent way.
In fact it’s telling that the parting recommendation of the previous Improvement Board (a recommendation endorsed by many of Wirral Council’s committees) for more independent scrutiny, was then vetoed by Cllr Phil Davies. Interestingly his rationale was that Wirral Council would have a combined audit & auditor panel committee, then… yes you’ve guessed it for cost reasons councillors decided later not to!
If I remember correctly, the government are making it a legal requirement that the Combined Authority Scrutiny Committee is chaired by a councillor from a different party, yet Wirral Council has for a number of years considered that scrutiny of Labour councillors is best done by committees chaired by yes it doesn’t take much guessing Labour councillors.
So what is tonight really about?
Well the decision taken last year by Labour councillors is now seen as flawed in light of the OFSTED report.
Labour now propose doing a U-turn and splitting the People Overview and Scrutiny Committee into two new committees. The two new committees will be the Adult Care and Health Overview & Scrutiny Committee and the Children and Families Overview & Scrutiny Committee.
It looks likely that the Children Sub Committee and Health & Care Performance Panel will both be scrapped.
Whether the new scrutiny arrangements will work or whether I’ll be writing next year about a further change to Wirral Council’s scrutiny arrangements who knows?
In the great tradition of Wirral Council, councillors will meet and make no decision tonight, only a recommendation (effectively to all councillors) to then make a decision next month.
Which means nothing will change for at least a further 3-4 weeks.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!
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