LABOUR say they were gagged last night over an attempt to scrutinise budget proposals - but the Conservatives have accused them of playing political games.
Labour called for a special meeting of the Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee to "to investigate the impact of cuts on the people of Wirral".
But the meeting lasted a grand total of eight minutes, with the Conservatives and Lib Dems voting 7 to 3 to defer it to March 8 - after the budget is heard at full council.
Burton's has announced its proposals to shut their Moreton biscuit factory with the loss of 342 jobs.
The site is shared with Typhoo and Burton's - makers of Jammie Dodgers, Wagon Wheels and Maryland Cookies among others - insists this move will not affect its neighbour, though that is of little consequence to the hundreds of workers who face losing their jobs at a difficult time.
Wallasey MP Angela Eagle has described this as a "devastating blow" for the area, and said although the company has presented this as a proposal their body language during meetings suggested to her they will press ahead with the plan
Late last year council leader Jeff Green, along with chief executive Jim Wilkie and Angela Eagle met with the company to try to convince them to retain the Moreton site.
RUMOURS that the search for a new chief executive has been abandoned at Wirral Council have been scotched by the authority's leader.
Word had reached Hamilton Squared that the headhunters had been called off and there was a distinct lack of action in the search for a permanent replacement for Steve Maddox who left last year.
THERE was high drama at last night's full council meeting after Labour threatened to force a judicial review over the Con/Lib Dem coalition's Â£48m programme of savings.
The Conservatives are pointing to their massive public consultation exercise (Wirral's Future: Be a Part of It), saying it was taxpayers who helped set the priorities.
But Labour are unhappy - they think it should have had more scrutiny by council committees and are accusing council leader Jeff Green of trying to force decisions through
Before the meeting at Wallasey Town Hall Labour's solicitors sent the council's Director of Law Bill Norman a letter saying they would "reserve the right to make application to the Court to judicially review such a decision of the Council on the basis that the Council will have acted unlawfully".
The Conservatives responded by voting to suspend part of the council's constitution on budget and policy framework procedures during a budget debate at a meeting of the full council.
The budget projections were then voted through by the ruling Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition.
The accusations are flying thick and fast. Labour are furious and leader Steve Foulkes (never one to shy away from a good quote) has accused the Conservatives of running a "Third world Banana Republic".
For their part, the Conservatives are talking up the consultation process - and say Labour are in denial about the problems Wirral is facing.
Headed URGENT BY FAX, here's the text of the letter Labour's solicitors sent to Bill Norman yesterday:
Dear Mr Norman,
Association of Labour Councillors
We represent the Association of Labour Councillors and have been approached by the leader of the Labour Group, Councillor Steve Foulkes.
We refer to the decision taken by the Executive Committee on 9th December 2010 which, we understand, relates to Cabinet proposals for changes to the 2011/2012 budget, due to be considered at the full council meeting this evening, 13th December 2010.
It has been drawn to our attention that you have informed the Labour Group that the Council does not intend to refer the recommendations for the alterations to the budget, to overview and scrutiny processes.
We are sure you are aware of the constitutional requirements which were brought to your attention in a letter from Councillor Foulkes on the 9th December 2010.
The Guidance to English Authorities, following the 2000 Local Government Act which referred to "New Council Constitutions", sets out clearly that each Local Authority must have a written constitution. The Guidance also emphasised, as I am sure you are aware (see paragraph 3.15 of the Guidance) that to achieve enhanced accountability and transparency of the decision making process, effective overview and scrutiny is essential. Overview and Scrutiny Committees are the key element of executive arrangements. Their roles therefore should include both developing and reviewing policy and holding the executive to account.
The Guidance goes on to specify how arrangements with regard to overview and scrutiny should be set out in the executive arrangements as part of the consitutionm as the framework against which all Council's decisions are taken.
We have been informed that you do not consider that there is any obligation on the Council to comply with the following paragraph of your constitution:
The Budget and Policy Framework Procedure Rules 2b states:
"Where an overview and scrutiny is not scheduled before the next Council after the Cabinet has made budget proposals, any objections to the proposals should be indicated by notice to "The Monitoring Officer" in advance of any Council in order to allow more time to call a special meeting of the relevant Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Where there is not sufficient time to consult the appropriate Overview and Scrutiny Committee before a meeting of the Council, then any decision that fails to achieve all party support will be referred back by Council to to the relevant Overview and Scrutiny Committee for scrutiny. The Cabinet will take any response, where one is submitted, from an Overview and Scrutiny Committee into account in drawing up firm proposals for submissions to the Council and its report to Council will reflect the comments made by consultees and the Cabinet's response to those comments".
We have been informed by our Members that in your view because the budget has not been set to date, this part of the constitution does not apply to the decision made by the executive on Thursday and the proposals for this evening's meeting.
We wish to challenge your assertion. The Guidance referred to above, again states
the term budget is used to encompass the budget requirement (as provided for in the Local Government Finance Act 1992) or the components of the budget, such as the budgetary allocation to different services and projects, proposed taxation levels, contingency funds (reserves and balances) and any plan or strategy for the control of the Local Authority's borrowing or capital expenditure".
Paragraph 2.28 of the Guidance, referred to states
"The executive should adopt an inclusive approach to preparing the draft budget, plans and strategies, and policy development more generally".
It also states that Overview and Scrutiny Committees should also play an integral part in policy development and the executive should consult such committees regularly in the process of preparing the draft budget and draft plans and strategies.
We consider that should the Council fail to comply with the requirements of their constitution, which are in turn compliant with the statutory requirements for overview and scrutiny, any actions that the Council take will be deemed to be ultra vires. Thus we wish to put you on notice that should the Council choose to ignore the requirements of its constitution, we consider that the budget proposals which it adopts would be deemed to be the end product of a process that it ultra vires and the budget it sets unlawful.
We reserve the right to make application to the Court to judicially review such a decision of the Council on the basis that the Council will have acted unlawfully and we will ask the Court for leave to make such an application on the grounds of illegality and, in the second instance, on the grounds of procedural impropriety.
We request that you give this matter your urgent consideration and revert to us by return.
STEEL & SHAMASH
Wirral Waters will be getting the go ahead, Wirral Council has said.
Cllr Jeff Green, leader of the council, said he has received a letter from Secretary of State Eric Pickles confirming he will not calll in the planning application for a public inquiry.
The Â£4.5 billion scheme is one of the largest planning applications in the country and could transform Wirral's dockland areas.
ACCUSING the Tory-led administration of "sleep walking" towards a disaster in Wirral Council, Labour is ratcheting up the pressure on the borough's Conservative Lib Dem administration.
The press release, below, accuses the ruling coalition of having failed to make decisions quickly enough to deal with the (part known, part assumed) oncoming onslaught of cuts.
It is likely that the Government will front-load its cuts on councils to ensure things seem less severe by the next General Election, assuming Cameron and Clegg stick it out to 2015.
Labour have really started to mobilise opposition to the Conservative/Lib Dem administration's flagship consultation policy.
The video below shows how politics creates strange bedfellows with Labour group leader Cllr Steve Foulkes sharing a platform with Alec McFadden, the secretary of Wirral TUC - two men who have had some harsh words to say about each other in the not too distant past.
Although it has to be said it's not that long ago that Alec McFadden was working with the Conservatives over their joint opposition to Wirral's library closure plans.
Following a secret ballot by back bench MPs Wirral West MP Esther McVey was elected to serve on the Parliamentary Justice Select Committee.
Miss McVey said she would use all her experience working with groups affected by crime in her new role.
WIRRAL Council's leader Cllr Jeff Green has launched his blog (www.leaderofwirral.com).
We are told he will be blogging during his current visit to China. I know he will be less than pleased with me for saying this (so, sorry Jeff!) but maybe he will tell us what the hotel accommodation is like...
Although, to be fair he has said he will be contributing towards the cost of the trip which it is hoped will help bring Chinese investment to Wirral Waters.
In a press release, Jeff said: "I've seen how several colleagues keep in touch with their residents through their blogs and have been thinking about doing my own for a while.
"The visit to China seems like the perfect opportunity to start - I promised to report back on how the visit goes and, rather than rely solely on a report to the Cabinet, I think the blog will enable anyone to see what we are doing."
Wirral's Director of Adult Social Services, John Webb, is to retire after six years service with Wirral Council.
Mr Webb, who joined Wirral Council in 2004 and became Director of Adult Social Services in 2007, has requested early voluntary retirement.
The announcement was made by Wirral's interim Chief Executive Jim Wilkie.