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?