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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.
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 has been named as one of three areas expected to be worst hit in the country by looming cuts in public sector jobs.
The borough is ranked third most likely to suffer based on analysis of the area's economy and the dependence on how many businesses are vulnerable, levels of insolvency, self-employment, and numbers of exporters.
In an article "Public sector axe falls heavily on the frail" the FT highlights what it sees as the borough's weaknesses in the face of the anticipated cuts in public spending.
THERE appears to be some confusion about the tunnel tolls for some of the candidates answering readers' question in this week's Wirral News.
Asked "what are your views on tunnel tolls", Labour and the Liberal Democrats seem to be particularly confused - while pretty much every other candidate is opposed to them.
Let's start with the most senior politician up for election: Angela Eagle (Lab) in Wallasey. She, like others is glad the tolls were frozen this year, and goes on to warn voters against being taken in by easy, what might be characterised as perhaps potentially vote-grabbing solutions.
The Government has published its long-awaited review into library provision.
The report and responses to consultation are available here - not surprisingly, Wirral gets a few mentions...
The campaign to "bring the Royal Iris home" from where it is currently berthed - and looking very sad - on the Thames is continuing apace.
Below is a video, thanks to photographer Dave Wood, showing the boat in its present condition.
Labour has confirmed Phil Davies - deputy leader of the Labour group on Wirral Council - has been selected as the candidate for Wirral West.
Here's the press release:
I have tonight been told Labour has selected deputy leader of the party's council group Cllr Phil Davies, to stand as their candidate in Wirral West.
So far we're awaiting confirmation from Labour regional office but Cllr Davies' selection will probably not surprise many - even though last week he couldn't "confirm or deny" if he was standing.
Anyway, the Labour candidate will be standing against the Conservatives' Esther McVey, who has stood twice in the constituency, Lib Dem Peter Reisdorf, Phil Griffiths from UKIP, and independent David Kirwan - and as the last (so far) to declare, will have some work to do following the decision by the incumbent Stephen Hesford to step down at the next election.
Stuart Kelly, the Lib Dem challenger to Labour's Frank Field in Birkenhead, has stepped in to the row over education in the town in defence of the council.
Mr Field had accused the local authority - led by a coalition of his party and the Lib Dems, and with a Labour councillor as cabinet member for education - of failing local children.
However, he had specifically targeted the council's chief executive and education director, and accused chief council officers of incompetence.
Mr Kelly has now stepped in to support the council, after successfully helping press the authority to re-think its plans to close Ridgeway High and force an academy on many people who said they did not want one.