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The meeting started with an apology for the cancelled meeting of the 22nd March (due to snow). The questions and answers that were sent in for the March meeting had been published on Wirral Council’s website so the Chair said she wasn’t going to cover them.
The Chair moved the meeting to the key messages from the Improvement Board’s meeting of the 17th May. Unfortunately there weren’t enough copies for the public, so the Chair instructed a Council officer to make copies and skipped forward to the next item on the agenda, questions. Nobody else had submitted any questions so all eight questions were those sent in by the author of this blog.
1. The LGA Wirral Improvement Board terms of reference state “Every third meeting of the Board will be held in public to report on progress and take questions”, however the public are only allowed to stay for the first half hour of the third meetings of the Board. Can you explain why seemingly in contradiction to its own terms of reference that the Board does not hold all of its third meeting in public and only the first three agenda items?
The LGA Wirral Improvement Board has a public session every third meeting in order to update members of the public on progress and respond to questions. These functions take only thirty minutes, depending on the number of questions, and allow the Board to consider other items in the later part of the meeting.
2. Considering that part of its terms of reference the Improvement Board is to “endorse decisions which impact on political and managerial leadership arrangements, corporate governance and improvement in advance of them going through Wirral’s own decision-making structures, e.g. Cabinet or Council” and that it is a joint committee of Wirral Council and the LGA, can you explain why the Wirral/LGA Improvement Board is not seen as a body covered by the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 c. 67, specifically referring to the reference in it that Act to joint committees of a principal council?
The LGA Wirral Improvement Board meetings are not meetings of the Council at which public functions are being exercised. Accordingly, the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 does not apply.
3. It’s previously been stated that the Wirral/LGA Improvement Board is time limited. When it ceases to be at some point in the future, what will there be in place at Wirral Council to prevent a repeat of the circumstances that led to it being needed in the first place?
The objective of the LGA Wirral Improvement Board is to monitor progress towards improvement, provide challenge and offer impartial advice. When the Improvement Board ceases it will be because the Board is assured that the issues around Corporate Governance and effective oversight provided by scrutiny have been resolved.
4. Due to the scale and nature of the problems at Wirral Council that led to the creation of the Improvement Board, some did call (and still do) for a public inquiry. Can you explain the advantages and disadvantages of an Improvement Board compared to a public inquiry?
The LGA Wirral Improvement Board provides challenge and advice to Wirral Council on its improvement plan. The Council’s Improvement plan is derived from a number of critical reports that Wirral Council received in the past. A public inquiry would not resolve the issues identified and would be likely to only restate information from these reports.
5. One of the problems previously identified by councillors on the Corporate Governance Committee was a lack of “Member capacity” to address the widespread corporate governance failings. Has Wirral Council ever thought of (or the Improvement Board ever suggested) of carrying out a community governance review and creating parish/community councils in the Wirral area?
One of the developments from the review of Corporate Governance, has been the creation of Constituency Committees. These committees, based upon the four constituencies of Wirral provide Councillors with the opportunity to make a real difference at the local level, in the wards they represent. The first meetings of these committees are scheduled for September 2013.
6. The recent Wirral Council constitutional changes included a presumption towards openness and a consideration of human rights when reaching decisions. When other Council’s such as adjoining Chester West and Chester webcast their public meetings, what are the Improvement Board’s views on Wirral Council’s recent bans on filming of their public meetings, which led to negative press coverage and guidance (seemingly ignored) being issued by DCLG?
The Council’s position on filming is set out in the Council resolutions of 12 December 2011 and 17 December 2012 in which the Council confirms its general consent to the filming of Council committee meetings. The Council’s position is consistent with guidance issued by the Secretary of State. However, it is a matter for the Council and each Chairperson of each Committee to determine what safeguards and other considerations are relevant and needed to ensure all rights considered and balanced.
7. As the Improvement Board meetings’ agendas are not published, its meetings are not held in public (apart from three agenda items of the third meeting) and few councillors attend the Cabinet meeting at which its key messages are reported to, how do the vast majority of Wirral councillors know what its doing or have an input into its deliberations?
The Leaders of the three political groups attend each Improvement Board meeting and are provided with the opportunity to represent the views of their Councillors. The outcome of the meetings are reported via the ‘Key Messages’ published after every Board meeting and group leaders are in a position to provide further details to their groups should the need arise.
8. Apart from a notice on an obscure page on its website, what publicity has Wirral Council undertaken to advise the Wirral public that they can inspect Wirral Council’s accounts between the 15th July and the 9th August and the arrangements for doing so?
Under the Accounts and Audit (England) Regulations 2011 the accounts and other documents have to be made available for public inspection. The Council has to give notice by advertisement, which appeared in the Wirral Globe 26 June 2013, and on its website, in this instance they may be found under the ‘Annual Accounts’ section of the Council’s website. The contents of the advert are specified in the Regulations.