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latest update 12 March 2010

Monday, 19 October 2009

Governor blasts plan to axe popular Wirral schools

Liverpool Echo

A SCHOOL governor from Wirral has hit out at plans to close a successful and popular school.

Wirral Council’s ruling Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition approved proposals to consult parents on the idea of creating a mixed-sex academy and an all-boys academy for pupils.

They would replace the existing Park High, Rock Ferry High and Ridgeway High, in Birkenhead.

But Sally Reynolds, chairman of Ridgeway High’s governing body, said she believed many parents are opposed to the plans.

Mrs Reynolds said: “The community and parents have been up in arms about these plans.”

She said many people have received incorrect information about what is happening, and parents have been concerned about sending their children to Ridgeway fearing they will face the upheaval of closure.

She said the proposed boys academy aims to have results comparable to Ridgeway after five years.

Mrs Reynolds said: “Why would we want to send our kids to a school whose ambition is to get to where we are now in five years time?

“This is the libraries all over again – they decide what is going to happen and don’t ask what we want, and this is even more important because it’s about our children’s education.”

Ridgeway is tonight to hold a public meeting to gauge parents’ views on the proposed closure of the school. The “Preliminary Consultation Meeting” has been organised by the governors at the school.


© copyright Liverpool Echo . Reproduced under fair use for the dual purposes of comment and news reporting

Number of disclosures under the PIDA (1990) since 2000

M Smith has responded to Wirral Council as follows:

Upon reflection I would ask that you reconsider an amendment to my original

Not counting the two Wirral employees who made disclosures under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, how many disclosures have been made by ANY Officer (up to and including Chief Executive) or Member (up to and including Leader and Mayor) of Wirral Council since 2000,

These should include any
that prompted an investigation/inquiry by the Audit Commission or other
statutory body, whether they resulted in a public interest report or not.

Yours sincerely .


Thursday, 15 October 2009

EXCLUSIVE: Wirral Tory leader piles pressure on council law chief over libraries report

Wirral Globe - by Justin Dunn »

WIRRAL Council's head of law is coming under increasing pressure to explain why he excluded the leader of the local Tory group from seeing a confidential report into the library closure programme.

The Conservatives were the only political party on the council not to be shown the contents of the document produced by government-appointed inspector Sue Charteris following a local inquiry in June.

In a letter, which is sure to inflame already strained relations between the Tories and the council's head of law Bill Norman, group leader Jeff Green demands to know what criteria was applied by Mr Norman when considering who was deemed appropriate to read the report.

In all, fourteen people including Mr Norman were allowed to see the report, which is widely believed to be highly critical of the council.

They were five members of the Labour and Liberal Democrat ruling cabinet committee and nine senior council officers.

The names of all those individuals were revealed in an email from Mr Norman to all councillors and senior officers on Tuesday evening, in which he said he had no objection to its contents being passed on to the press and public.

The council was sent the report on July 27 for "fact checking". The cabinet made its surprise announcement that it was scrapping the closures programme on September 30.

Mr Norman received his letter from Cllr Green by email today. The Globe has also obtained a copy.

In it, Cllr Green writes: "I have raised with you and the Chief Executive on many occasions my concerns over how this matter is being handled.

"I have also asked you why Lesley [Rennie, Tory group deputy leader] and I were not deemed suitable to be included in the fact checking exercise and my sincere belief that our knowledge (charged as we are with representing the largest number of Wirral residents) was essential to checking any of the facts Sue Charteris wanted scrutinising in her report.

"Now you have provided a list of those you did deem suitable to see this report, can I to begin with, ask you to provide me with your reasoning (based on the list you have provided) regarding:

"What role you thought [head of tourism and marketing] Emma Degg should play in the fact checking exercise? (Of course I understand that Emma develops and manages the council’s media strategy – but if she was given a copy of the report for that reason it would suggest that it was sent to her to provide expertise on a handling strategy rather than any direct expertise she could provide on the accuracy of any facts contained in Sue Charteris’ report).

"What role you thought the Cabinet Member for the Environment should play in the fact checking exercise? (Of course I understand Gill [Gardiner] is the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group – but if she was given a copy of the report for that reason it would suggest that it was sent to her because of her political position rather than any expertise she could provide on the facts contained in the report).

"I would also welcome your guidance on what the current policy is regarding officers who have told me direct untruths in that a number of the people listed below have told me directly that they had not seen the report and one listed below told me they had seen it but it did not contain recommendations?"

Cllr Green goes on to ask "whether external legal or professional services were used in developing the Council’s response to the draft report?

"Whether the Council has had any direct communication with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport regarding the council’s response to the draft report and when an announcement (prior to the Cabinet’s change of policy) was due or would be made?

"I would also like to know from you whether you have checked with the people listed as having seen the report under the 'obligation of confidentiality' whether they have shared the content of the report or its recommendations with anyone and if they had what the consequences would be?"

The Globe has been asking similar questions of the council since Tuesday morning and last night received the following statement in response:

"The Director of Law, Human Resources and Asset Management shared the initial draft of the report with the senior Members and Officers who were required to provide information or assistance to enable him to respond to Sue Charteris on the content of the draft report.

"He would like to emphasise that this decision was absolutely not intended to be a reflection on any individual Member’s ability to respect confidences."

© copyright Wirral Globe. Reproduced under fair use for the dual purposes of comment and news reporting

Number of disclosures under the PIDA (1990) since 2000

Wirral Council has replied to M Smith regarding the above, as follows:
There have been 2 Wirral Employees who have made disclosures under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 between January 1 2000 and today's date. One Employee worked for Department of Adult Social Services and this information which named the department has already been in the Public Domain. The Council is unable to name the 2nd Department and is relying on the exemption found in the FOI legislation at Section 31. In detail the part of the section we have relied on is below.

"The section allows that information which is not exempt information by virtue of section 30 is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice (g) the exercise by any public authority of its functions for any of the purposes specified in subsection (2).
Subsection (2), by or on behalf of the authority by virtue of Her Majesty's prerogative or by virtue of powers conferred by or under an enactment.
In particular the purposes referred to above in (g) is- (b) the purpose of ascertaining whether any person is responsible for any conduct which is improper,"

One employee is still employed as of today's date.

© copyright . Reproduced under fair use for the dual purposes of comment and news reporting

Special Audit & Risk Management Committee meeting-FOLLOW-UP

The next Special Audit and Risk Management Committee meeting is scheduled for Tuesday 3 November 2009 at 6.15 pm, when results of further investigations into the Special Charging Policy will be discussed.

It will also be an opportunity for the draft minutes of the meeting held on 23 September 2009 to be amended following complaints made to Councillors and the Director of Law.



Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Revealed - the councillors and senior council officers with access to the draft Wirral libraries report

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Wirral Globe - by Justin Dunn »

THE IDENTITIES of thirteen councillors and senior officers given access to the confidential draft report into the Wirral library closure inquiry can be revealed tonight.

The Globe can also reveal that the selected group had been in possession of the draft report since July 27, weeks earlier than commonly thought.

Those with copies of the report include Labour group leader Cllr Steve Foulkes, who is the council leader, and Liberal Democrat leader Simon Holbrook, who is the deputy council leader.

Senior officers who received the report include council chief executive Steve Maddox, his deputy Jim Wilkie, regeneration director Alan Stennard - whose department came up with the idea of closing eleven of the borough's 24 libraries as part of the borough's controversial Strategic Asset Review - and tourism and marketing chief Emma Degg.

The names of all recipients have been released this evening in a letter to all councillors and senior officers from Bill Norman, the borough solicitor - who it has always been known was in possession of the report.

His revelation follows an extraordinary meeting of the council last night in which Mr Norman was asked by opposition Conservative Cllr Ian Lewis to name those who had access to the draft report prepared by inspector Sue Charteris following her two week local inquiry in June, which was passed on to Mr Norman for "fact checking" purposes on July 27.

The Conservatives believe the contents of the report led to the surprise announcement by the ruling Lib-Lab cabinet on September 30 that it was revoking the controversial library closure programme.

The cabinet insist the decision to scrap the closure programme was made because the inquiry had dragged on so long that any prospective savings could not now be realised this year.

No Conservative councillors had access to the report.

In his letter this evening - in which he makes clear he has "no objection to this email being shared with the press or public" - Mr Norman, the council's director of law, lists those he shared the draft with.

They are:

Steve Maddox, Wirral Council chief executive

Jim Wilkie, deputy chief executive

Alan Stennard, director of regeneration

Ian Coleman, director of finance

Howard Cooper, director of children and young people

Jim Lester, head of cultural services

Emma Degg, head of tourism and marketing

Rosemary Lyon, interim head of legal and member services

Cllr Steve Foulkes, council leader and Labour group leader

Cllr Simon Holbrook, deputy council leader and Liberal Democrat group leader

Cllr Phil Davies, deputy Labour group leader and cabinet member for children's services and lifelong learning

Cllr Gill Gardiner, deputy Lib Dem group leader and cabinet member for the environment

Councillor Bob Moon, Lib Dem cabinet member for culture, tourism and leisure

In his emailed letter this evening, Mr Norman writes that he was sent the draft report from inspector Sue Charteris on July 27.

He says he "only circulated the draft report to those members within the cabinet and those officers from whom I needed comments prior to responding to Sue Charteris".

The email adds: "As the recipient of the letter, that judgement fell to me and I accept personal responsibility for my decision in that regard (this was not a matter on which I took any external legal advice).

"However, I wish to emphasise that my decision was absolutely not intended to be a reflection as to any individual member’s ability to respect confidences.

"I was asked [at last night's full council meeting] to list those persons to whom I have shown a copy of the draft report.

"Although I do not believe that there is any legal obligation on me to disclose this information, equally I understand the exceptional level of interest in this matter.

"I have therefore decided to provide that information."

Mr Norman moved to allay fears that the Charteris report may never be published, insisting in bold letters that it will, once it has been considered by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which ordered the local inquiry.

Tory group leader Jeff Green, speaking to the Globe during a break in the Wirral Youth Parliament debate at Wallasey Town Hall tonight, said: "There is something very rotten within Wirral Council.

"It seems indicative of the way this administration is run. One person has already been in touch with me to apologise for saying 'no' when I asked them previously if they'd seen a copy of the report.

"I'm the leader of the largest group on Wirral Council. How come the officers don't seem to think I am an appropriate person to see the report?"

Cllr Ian Lewis - who had challenged Mr Norman during Monday evening's council meeting to name the recipients of the report - said: "Obtaining any information on the library closures has been like pulling teeth.

"While I am grateful to finally receive the list of the selected few who have been given access to the report, I am disappointed that we still do not know what is in it.

"The councillors in the areas affected by the cuts should have been given the same access to the report for 'fact checking', rather than just the 'in crowd' of the most senior officers and some of the ruling cabinet."

Liscard Conservative Cllr Leah Fraser said: "This is yet further evidence of the secretive way in which the people running this council choose to do business.

"It's as though the Freedom of Information campaign has passed them by.

"What we are seeing is 'the state knows best' and that the taxpayers and library users of this borough can't be trusted by the current cabinet running Wirral.

"This cannot go on - it is time for a fundamental change in the way the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral operates."

© copyright Wirral Globe. Reproduced under fair use for the dual purposes of comment and news reporting

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Wirral libraries inquiry: Tories quiz borough solicitor over access to confidential report

Wirral Globe - by Justin Dunn »

WIRRAL’S borough solicitor has found himself at the centre of a political storm by revealing the controversial decision over who was allowed to see a top secret report into the library closure programme was his alone.

Bill Norman told a special meeting of the council on Monday that he had used his own judgement as to who he deemed “appropriate” to be allowed access to the draft report by government inspector Sue Charteris.

Asked to name the councillors and town hall officers who had seen the report, Mr Norman - the council’s director of law and also its monitoring officer - said he wanted time to “reflect” on his reply.

Opposition Tories believe all members of the Lib-Lab coalition cabinet have seen the document, widely believed to be critical of its approach to the proposed closure of 11 Wirral libraries.

They called the meeting on Monday night to discuss the administration's U-turn on the closures, which was announced on the evening of September 30.

The Conservative group believes the administration reversed its plan because of what it had read.

But the Lib-Lab administration insists its decision was made because the inquiry had dragged on so long that any savings to be made this year had been lost.

Council leader Steve Foulkes said the proposed savings would have been reinvested as part of a £20m plan to build 13 multi-purpose neighbourhood centres throughout Wirral.

“That opportunity has now gone,” said Cllr Foulkes, during a stormy debate which lasted almost three hours, in which he also accused Tories of calling the meeting not out of any concern for libraries but to make “political capital”.

There is still no date for when Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw will publish his decision, based on the final report, and the Conservatives fear it may never be released.

Moreton Conservative Cllr Chris Blakeley has now written to the borough solicitor seeking confirmation that it was his lone decision on who was allowed to see the report.

Wirral Council had not responded at the time the Globe went to press.


© copyright . Reproduced under fair use for the dual purposes of comment and news reporting

Monday, 12 October 2009

Cost of investigation and disciplinary process re senior council officer-UPDATE

Wirral Council has responded to the Freedom of Information request as follows:
Good Afternoon,
Thank you for your email below. I have now had sight of the invoices which the Council received and paid in relation to the independent Investigation, and they are from, and paid to North West Employers. I hope this has been of use.
Kind Regards

M Smith has replied:
Dear Ms Corrin,

Thank you for that information. In order to clear up any confusion, would it be possible for you to establish whether or not the investigation was sub-contracted by North West Employers to Vic Hewitt Consulting Ltd?

Regarding the second element of my request, you say there were no separate associated legal costs, as the legal work was all done in house by Wirral Council Employees.

Please will you provide an estimate of the cost of this investigation, as I assume the employees were not working pro bono. This can be calculated from the number of
man-hours entailed and the salaries of those concerned.

Also I understand that Mr Martin Moreton, a Council whistle blower, stated publicly at a recent meeting of the Audit and Risk Management Committee that Wirral Council paid his solicitor's fees, in relation to the disciplinary investigation, from its
commencement in 2008.

Thank you

Yours sincerely



Thursday, 8 October 2009

Mayor: 'Take it back or I'll sue' threat to Wirral Liberal Democrat leader

Wirral Globe - by Justin Dunn »

THE Mayor of Wirral is demanding local Lib Dem leader Simon Holbrook retracts a claim he is bringing the office into disrepute.

The Mayor, Cllr Andrew Hodson, says he will issue legal proceedings within 24 hours unless his warning is heeded.

Cllr Hodson told the Globe today he intends to sue Cllr Holbrook personally for defamation of character, and also report him to the Standards Board, a local authority watchdog.

The row comes on the back of the council's dramatic decision to scrap the highly controversial plan to close eleven of Wirral's 24 libraries, announced last Wednesday evening.

The plan had been backed by the ruling Lib-Lab administration right up until that moment. Cllr Holbrook is deputy leader of the council.

Tories believe the U-turn came after council leader Steve Foulkes, leader of the Labour group, and his deputy Cllr Holbrook, were allowed sight of the still unpublished findings of a Government-led inquiry into the proposed library closures.

They are demanding the report - which senior councillors and officers have had for a month for "fact checking" - be published unedited immediately.

The Globe has learned the draft report made for "painful" reading for the administration.

The Tories then gathered enough signatures to ask the Mayor - himself a Conservative, although the office is non-political - to call an extraordinary meeting of the full council to discuss the U-turn.

That meeting, which will be open to the public, will be held at Wallasey Town Hall this coming Monday evening, October 12.

But last night, the Mayor's decision to grant the meeting on that date was called into question by Cllr Holbrook.

In a statement, his office said: "Liberal Democrat leader and deputy leader of the council, Cllr Simon Holbrook, has accused the Conservative Mayor of Wirral, elected in a nonpartisan manner, of bringing his office into disrepute.

"Cllr Holbrook has received advice from the council’s Director of Law, Human Resources and Asset Management that the date for the extraordinary meeting of the council scheduled for Monday, October 12, can be set at the Mayor’s discretion."

Cllr Holbrook said in the statement: "The Mayor responded to a request from 18 of his own Conservative party colleagues for an extraordinary meeting of the council without consulting either of the other political groups.

"By not consulting with other political parties, the Mayor has used his civic role for party political benefit.

"There is a long standing tradition in Wirral of the mayor acting in a non political manner.

"This is a good tradition and one we lose at our peril."

The statement added: "Cllr Holbrook made the request to reschedule because October 12 clashes with a long-standing business commitment for his employer.

"The date of Thursday, October 15 (currently the next scheduled cabinet meeting, meaning all cabinet members would be available) has been offered by the council leadership as an alternative."

Today Cllr Hodson told the Globe he had spoken to Cllr Holbrook demanding he retract his remarks.

"I've told him I expect the retraction within 24 hours or I'll begin defamation proceedings against him, and also report him to the Standards Board," he said.

"The fact is I have done nothing wrong. The correct number of signatures was gathered to ask me to call an extraordinary meeting, which I've done.

"I also spoke with the director of law who told me I had to give three working days' notice. In fact I gave five with two weekends.

"When I spoke to Cllr Holbrook this morning I made it clear that there are 65 councillors to consider.

"He said I should have moved the meeting, but if you start doing that [for one person] you'll never have the meeting at all.

"Cllr Holbrook told me he couldn't discuss the matter any further at that moment, so I'm awaiting to hear his retraction by tomorrow morning, or the legal action will commence."

Cllr Holbrook was unavailable for comment.


© copyright Wirral Globe. Reproduced under fair use for the dual purposes of comment and news reporting

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

to all who attended the Special Audit & Risk Management meeting

The draft minutes of the ARMC have been published today. They can be found HERE.

Martin Morton's contribution to the meeting is summed up in one paragraph:
With the agreement of the Chair, Mr Morton addressed the Committee. He expressed concern in relation to some of the findings of the audit, in particular that the policy approved in 1997 was reasonable and thus lawful. Mr Morton pointed out that it had been implemented without consultation.
And that's it!

If you were present on 23 September, and believe that the minutes are a travesty, please make your comments and feelings known to all of the following:

The Director of Law -
ARMC clerk Mark Delap -

The following Councillors were all present at the meeting and must be fully aware that the minutes are not a true reflection of the meeting:

Cllr Ann Bridson -
Cllr Jim Crabtree -
Cllr Leah Fraser -
Cllr Jeff Green -
Cllr Simon Holbrook -
Cllr Simon Mountney -
Jean Quinn -
Lesley Rennie -
Cllr Peter Reisdorf -
Cllr John Salter -
Cllr Paula Southwood -

District Auditor and Auditor for Wirral were also present

Mike Thomas -
Liz Temple-Murray -

The press who have been covering the story and/or were present:

Justin Dunn -
Craig Manning -
Lee Marles -
Liam Murphy -

For far too long Martin Morton has carried this fight single-handed. Now is the time for the people of Wirral to show he is not a lone voice in the wilderness.

The Council taxpayers of Wirral pay these people's wages. Make them work for you.

Write now and demand the minutes be amended. Demand an external inquiry, an independent external inquiry. Demand the police be called in.

© excerpts copyright Wirral Council. Reproduced under fair use for the dual purposes of comment and news reporting

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Local Government Ombudsman

A letter from the Local Government Ombudsman addressed to Wirral Council has been made available to this site. At this time it would not be appropriate for the complete letter to be made public, but suffice to say it does not contain good news for the Council.

The Council has until 22 October to respond and answer questions contained in the letter.

Given their record on Freedom of Information requests the outlook seems bleak

© copyright Local Government Officer. Reproduced under fair use for the dual purposes of comment and news reporting

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Cost of investigation and disciplinary process re senior council officers-LATEST

M Smith has responded to Wirral Council regarding this FOI request:
Dear Ms Corrin,

As a result of the annotation made by Veridici I made a telephone call to North West Employers. They confirmed that Mr Hewitt did indeed retire early last year, well before the investigation was ordered by WBC.

In view of this I think it best that the internal review go ahead in order to establish whether the information with which you have been provided is correct.

Yours sincerely,

This brings the number of requests awaiting internal review to twelve, with another seven overdue.


© copyright . Reproduced under fair use for the dual purposes of comment and news reporting