Recently by Lorna Hughes
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.
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
THEY should think about adding it to the job description.
"Mayor of Wirral wanted. Must have joke book bulging with cheap gags that will keep audiences groaning for a whole year".
Conservative Councillor Andrew Hodson carried out 568 engagements and raised an impressive Â£84,000 for charity during his year as Mayor but I'll remember him as much for the jokes which left me shaking my head and reaching for my pen and notepad.
And he didn't disappoint on his last night in the spotlight at Wallasey Town Hall.
Making his final speech, Cllr Hodson said many people had asked him how he felt about handing over the chains of office to Lib Dem Cllr Alan Jennings.
It was, he said, a time of mixed emotions, "something like watching your mother-in-law drive over a cliff in your brand new car".
Fortunately for me, our new Mayor looks to be cut from the same comedy (if not political) cloth.
Dressed in his shiny new robes and the Mayoral chain, Cllr Jennings said it was an honour to become Mayor and he was humbled to be chosen for the role.
Then I started to suspect we had another comedian on the stage.
"When you become Mayor", he said, "Fellow councillors say nice things about you and you don't have to be dead."
A statement of fact. Can't argue with that.
He said it had been difficult to adjust to having car doors opened for him while Deputy Mayor, and at one point his driver had jokingly threatened to put the child lock on.
Then he started to tell a story about driving through Saughall Massie and seeing a man standing in a field.
On the way back he was still there, so Cllr Jennings decided to stop the car and see what the problem was.
"This is serious stuff", I thought. "Maybe he saved a man's life while being driven back from an engagement?".
I started to think of the headlines. It was definitely a front page story.
Then the punchline came.
"He said 'don't you know Nobel prizes are only awarded to people out standing in their field?"
Groan. Enjoy your year Cllr Jennings.
I LIKE a story with a happy ending.
In March 2008 I wrote about the sad state of Wirral's tribute to the world's first powered submarine, Resurgam.
WIRRAL MPs rarely speak to us about matters of national - or dare I say, international - importance - preferring to stick strictly to the local stuff.
Bus services? Muddy fields? Derelict buildings? Allotments? Not a problem for some (in particular Wirral South's Ben Chapman).
And, while that might not be your cup of tea if you want investigative journalism and in-depth analysis of politics, it's bread and butter for a local, weekly newspaper.
But if you want an opinion on everything from agency workers to disaster relief in Haiti, Neston and Ellesmere Port's elected representative is your man.
EVER heard of Bromborough Hill? No, me neither.
But the Forestry Commission believes that's what we'll all soon be calling the old tip off Dock Road South.
I attended a presentation today on Wirral Council's plans for the coastline stretching from Rock Ferry to Eastham - more on that in another blog post - and among the speakers was Chris Waterfield, Newlands Programme Manager for the Forestry Commission.
Jokes about names aside, he said he's expecting a decision on Monday from the North West Development Agency (NWDA) on whether they will be funding a long-awaited Â£2.3m project to landscape the site and turn it into a park.
"Unofficially", said Mr Waterfield, the funding has been approved and all it needs now is the signature of a senior figure at the NWDA, who is on holiday until Monday.
Once the trees, grass and benches are in place, there are also plans for an "iconic sculpture" at the park's highest point, which people would be able to climb to take in the views across the waterfront.
Mr Waterfield said it was a long way off: "We have to look into the technicalities of putting a structure on top of a landfill site, so I can't say whether it will..but it should form part of the final project."
The trouble with "iconic sculptures" is that they always make me think of the row another one caused a few years ago elsewhere in the borough.
New Brighton clown, anyone?
WITH THAT story taking all the headlines this week, Hamilton Squared is declaring this blog post a strictly a lib**** free zone.
With just months to the General Election and the spotlight firmly on Steve Foulkes, Jeff Green, Simon Holbrook et all, Wirral's MPs are bound to be feeling a little bit left out by now.
So we thought it was time to redress the balance - here's a little look at what three of our five elected representatives are doing this week.
2009 seems to be the year of the U-turn.
First it was Wirral Council and the libraries and yesterday, along came meat packaging firm Tulip International's decision to return to Bromborough.
Investing Â£12m into the plant to make it a "sausage production facility" will create 270 new jobs - but only seven months ago, Tulip said the Bromborough site didn't have a future, closed it and made 303 people redundant.
BUSINESS and company speak is full of meaningless phrases that say so much and deliver very little - "Blue sky thinking" anyone?
Then there are words and sentences which are wheeled out so many times that you wonder (a) what's behind the rhetoric and (b) whether it means anything at all.
Newspapers are as guilty as anyone else - there are only so many ways you can describe a situation in a way that fits three lines and 100 words.
And Wirral Council is no exception. If I had a pound for every time I've heard an officer or a councillor use "fit for purpose" I'd be shopping in Prada rather than Primark.
FORGET the glitz and glamour of the Oscars.
Here in Wirral we have our very own ceremony celebrating the achivements of the borough's finest.
It's called the Wirral Tourism Awards and it took place last night at Thornton Hall Hotel.