Critical Condition

Wirral logocritical-condition

 

As you must know by now we are (and have been) fierce critics of Wirral Council and their uncritical friends ( Local Government Association , Frank Field etc;) for some time.

However it is reassuring that some parts of Wirral’s mainstream media (i.e. Wirral Globe ), local bloggers and our regular correspondents not only have the gift of critical thinking they now have the means by which to express their thoughts.

Unfortunately those means of communication were not around when the power bases were formed which we believe are responsible for the critical condition that Wirral now finds itself in.

So here we find one of our valued Wirral Leaks correspondents Dr Robert B Smith giving us a brief introduction as to how we think we got to where we are and why we all need to challenge the ‘alternative facts’ peddled by the powers that be . As the redoubtable Dr Smith tells us , there’s a book to be written here – especially about missing monies. If he’s looking for a title might we suggest ‘ The Neverending Story’! – Wirral Leaks readers are invited to offer alternatives.

WIRRAL – a Critical Mass of attractions

WIRRAL COUNCIL – a Critical Mess of afflictions

As a recipient of one of then-Cllr Jim (Jumbo) Crabtree’s strident early morning emails at 2.35am, the Wirral Leaks piece reported in Private Eye regarding the exposure of his death threats to Cllr LRJ, prompted me to put a few thoughts together about Wirral Council and councillors.

To understand Wirral’s problems, and there are many, is to understand its history.

To understand Wirral Council’s problems, and there are many, is to understand its history.

Wirral Council should serve its residents, businesses and visitors, but has insidiously created the ‘insular peninsula’. Wirral Council is a stricken organisation, nationally acknowledged as an organisation where abnormal behaviour is so deeply embedded it is accepted as ‘normal’; and the organisation is in terminal decline. Wirral councillors, and chief officers now occupy a self-created netherworld. This is almost beyond comprehension in many ways as, unlike Chief and Senior officers, councillors do live in Wirral with the consequences of their actions, and presumably are friends and neighbours with Wirral residents, businesses and visitors. Maybe that defines peninsularity…or possibly vested interests?

And this is the critical factor that almost entirely divorces Wirral Council from the public it is supposed to serve. The concept of public service for the upper echelons of Wirral Council, both politicians and managers is a distant memory. Self-serving organisational protection is in full-flow, after gaining momentum over the last 15 years or so.

Wirral Council’s finances have been in free-fall since the early 1990s, although no-one in Wirral Council will admit it – but the evidence is all around in the media and archives. Gradually diminishing services, cloaked in desperate efforts to create an illusion of visionary leadership, is not actually about services. It is actually about survival of the organisation and those that significantly benefit from being part of it. That does not include Wirral’s residents, businesses and visitors.

Wirral Council’s self-perception, and its perception of Wirral (‘The Leisure Peninsula’), have led it until fairly recently to vehemently oppose any links to, or association with, Liverpool. This has changed more recently as a matter of necessity due to a now imposed concept, not at all understood by Wirral Council, of a city-region and its interdependences.

Strategic thinkers amongst senior officers are long gone. Over the years political self-interest and party-political power struggles of whatever political persuasion, have taken their toll, at the expense of a great many staff, and those Wirral Council is supposed to serve.

‘That was then, and this is now’. 7 words that embrace a few decades of disastrous planning, and financial management. If in fact there was any planning at all. Wirral residents, businesses and visitors are paying handsomely now, for what happened then. It is interesting to see which councillors were around then, and which are still around now.

When, in the late 1990s, a councillor states “this year’s budget is in a mess, but never mind. The Director of Finance will pull something out of the hat, he always does”. When successive years of budget cuts follow, it doesn’t take an Einstein to know there will be trouble ahead. Chase the regeneration grants…over £500,000,000 spent in Birkenhead by 2008…Wirral Council just walks away and allocates no additional revenue to maintain or run the new facilities. Just take a look around.

Wirral Council owes around £500,000,000 to private banks as a result of borrowing £137,000,000 from private banks between 2001 and 2008. No-one in Wirral Council appears to know where any of that money was allocated. Maybe no-one could find the hat any longer?

Parking charges…again. Another bankrupt idea from an almost bankrupt Council you may think? The Wirral Council mantra “We need to raise additional income.” “We’re having our grants cut again!” “We are the victims in this!”

Are they? And that is the key – the Council see themselves as ‘the victims in this’. It is actually Wirral residents, businesses, and visitors who are the victims.

Parking charges just keep creeping back in. It cost the Council in 2014/15 £119,000 to enforce parking penalties. So the good citizens of the borough are paying for the privilege of penalising parking offenders. However, a separate income line from the same year is ‘the full amount of Pay & Display parking income receipts banked by Wirral Council, £1,689,267’ – taken again from the good citizens of the borough.

Freedom of Information requests – one of which was asked about parking charges. How many requests are refused? There is a procedure called ‘the public interest test’. However, in Wirral it does not exist. What does exist is ‘the Council interest test’. Which is why so many refused Freedom of Information requests are overturned by the Information Commissioners Office.

From start to finish this is a very expensive process. If a request is overturned, then surely the ‘public interest test’ was ignored. How much public money is wasted by Wirral Council, defending the obviously indefensible? A ‘successful’ Freedom of Information request confirms that no records are kept…which appears to indicate there is a bottomless pit of money when the Council wants it to frustrate enquirers by refusing legitimate requests.

Then again £2,000,000 can also be magically produced when the Safeguarding Board isn’t up to the job, and £237,960 per year (with little sign of private sector income to offset the cost) public money to finance the ‘Wirral View’ of Wirral (seen through Wirral Council’s rose-tinted specs). They can’t be read at luncheon clubs now the minimal funding has been axed, can they?

Which brings me back to now. And the legacy of ‘that was then’. Only one of numerous examples…What price is being paid to service a debt of £500,000,000 owed to private banks by Wirral Council? At an average of 6% pa, around £8,000,000 per year (this is not the total of council borrowing by the way) with the final payments being made in 2078. Tell your kids and grandkids if you are in your 20s now – Wirral Council mortgaged all our futures just to save political skins.

What price is being paid by Wirral’s Council Tax and other tax payers? The price of political failure over decades. But the rewards to politicians and some senior officers have been significant. There are not many paid jobs where the serially inept are rewarded with such significant sums of money for continuous failure.

Do any occupants of positions in the upper echelons of Wirral Council management just ‘leave’ without an additional ‘package’ of some kind– if not, why not?

 

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13 thoughts on “Critical Condition

  1. Dear Lord Julian, Doctor Smiths sums up the Wirral to a tee, highlighting a catalogue of the mismanagement the councils officers & more importantly the councillors involvement. What business acumen do they have? by looking at the series of disasters the have overseen beggars belief so the answer to my own question is very little. I love the Wirral but this Labour group over decades has virtually albeit destroyed it. I despair.

  2. To answer Dr Smith’s question in part, 16% of our council tax (not sure how many £millions) goes directly every month to mainly German banks based in London – to pay the rocketing interest charges on LOBO loans alone !

    This damaging legacy was left to us by ‘financial expert’ and Director of Finance Ian Coleman (a resident of Birkenhead I’m led to believe).

    I don’t believe his handiwork has come back to impact him too deeply as he seems to be in a new career and making a good living. To grease the path, he was granted £80,000 + when eventually forced out of the basket case he’d helped to create a while back.

  3. I hope the bulk of Dr Smith’s excellent analysis finds its way to a body containing the teeth to inflict a very long overdue bite to the architects of our failed local government. If cats have ‘9 lives’, then the Foulkes/Davies administrations must be a mutant variation with super-powers!

  4. Back in July 2013 the Globe reported on Wirral lending £35 million to other northern authorities. Just wondering if our cash strapped cowboys have reclaimed that money yet? Would certainly help fund a few more worthwhile jobs in the circus! Anyone know the answer?

  5. Bazza – 12 loans to 8 authorities between 10/06/2011 and 23/10/2014 for 2 years or less.

    Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council
    30/07/2012 30/07/2014 £2,000,000 0.80%

    Lancashire County Council
    18/10/2012 17/10/2014 £2,000,000 0.75%

    Lancashire County Council
    23/10/2012 23/10/2014 £2,000,000 0.75%

    Lancashire County Council
    23/10/2012 23/10/2014 £2,000,000 0.75%

    Northumberland County Council
    20/07/2012 21/07/2014 £5,000,000 0.75%

    Northumberland County Council
    23/07/2012 23/07/2014 £1,000,000 0.75 %

    Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council
    19/04/2012 21/10/2013 £5,000,000 1.00%

    Fife Council Scotland
    12/01/2012 13/01/2014 £2,000,000 1.30%

    Halton Borough Council
    19/10/2011 19/04/2013 £5,000,000 1.40%

    Kingston-Upon-Hull City Council
    20/10/2011 21/10/2013 £3,000,000 1.50%

    Newcastle Upon Tyne City Council
    10/06/2011 10/06/2013 £2,000,000 1.80%

    Newcastle Upon Tyne City Council
    20/01/2012 20/06/2013 £4,500,000 1.37%

    All figures supplied by Wirral Council

  6. I notice that your website fails to mention the role of central government in all Northern councils’ financial problems. They are the ones who slashed 40% of the council’s grant, with more (ie less) to come. They are also the ones who allowed all councils to borrow… then made it a necessity by foisting health care on to local government.
    You sound bitter and pro-Tory to me.

    • Regular readers will know that we do Frank. But that’s not what we’re really about – we question Wirral Council’s priorities and practices and how these compound financial constraints imposed by central government.

    • I’ve never been pro-Tory but I am bitter at local/national Government organisations, of ANY political persuasion, who regularly act with punitive intention upon those who willingly pay into society in the hope that something good will come out of it for ALL people. Yes, central government has crippled LA funding, but that DOES NOT give some automatic mandate for an LA to try and make a protest to central government by punishing its electorate! Some of us would happily pay more council tax to make things better for everybody (if laws allowed). If they wanted £100 a year more from my household to make things better, then hell yeah, I’d give it. Imagine if that could be multiplied by more people who felt some good would come out from contributing more, then we might to see a change for the better.

      But no….wait….this is Wirral Council we are dealing with, and a history of corporate executive style cashflow habits that would bankrupt most medium sized businesses. They also do a neat line in dishonesties with our money – so let’s hold that offer of extra council tax until it can be directed to a cabinet we can actually trust to make better fiscal decisions.

      That would mean a whole new suite of council leadership and right now, with what we’ve got, I wouldn’t care which end of the political spectrum it came from. It could be a coalition if you like – it doesn’t matter, just give us the sanity we deserve rather than having to be on the receiving end of an administration unfit for the purpose it was elected for. These are not times to be focussing on party political jibes, these are times to be looking for genuine, good people who are grounded in reality and actually care about the wishes of their electorate. The fact that Wirral Council are ‘Labour’ is irrelevant to me; I’m not concentrating what it says on their team badge when they kick me in the balls.

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