Let’s draw a discreet veil over last night’s ‘Question Time’. All we will say is that if the audience in Wallasey Town Hall is what passes for the politically aware of Wirral it explains an awful lot!
Meanwhile , it’s not like us , but we’ve been a bit ambivalent about the local debate to reduce the number of local councillors. Our take has been that fewer elected members would mean a concentration of power and reduce opportunities to challenge the powers that be , but then we had to remind ourselves that a) that rarely happens and b) party whips and council procedures can quell all rebellion.
We think that what we ‘d really like is a reduction in the number councillors who think a Nolan Principle is the latest winner of Celebrity Big Brother.
However such discussion is purely academic as councillors decided last month – quelle surprise! – not to suffer , like the rest of us , the consequences of the squeeze on public spending and to retain their numbers.
This decision was trumpeted by Cllr Foulkesy – of all people! – at a meeting of Wirral Council’s Labour Cabinet last month.
The conclusion that a reduction from 66 to 44 councillors would lead to the need for ‘full -time councillors’ and would apparently inhibit opportunities for women,ethnic minorities and disabled people to hold public office. It would also lead to what Foulkesy called ‘a different shade of councillor’ being required as opposed,we presume, to a ‘shady councillor’ like himself. And suddenly we’re sold on the idea ! – in fact let’s go all the way and do away with councillors altogether and all the party political baggage that goes with it . Think about it – wouldn’t it be great to have full time professional public servants who are not compromised by toxic politicking? So we say less councillors and more council staff ! – we can dream can’t we?
As we’ve been anxious to find out what Cllr Janette ‘Milly Tant’ Williamson called the ‘evidence based analysis’ which led to the decision not to refer the matter to the Local Government Boundary Commission we not only read the Scrutiny Review Panel report but considered a Freedom of Information request made by John H Hutchinson which has been brought to our attention and which reads :
“In his Cabinet report “Number of Councillors Scrutiny Review” November
2016, Cllr Brightmore makes many broad statements the most vague of which
is “significant resources in terms of officer and councillor time” and,
later, to support this statement “significant amount of time and
What, please, was the formal and recorded estimate of time and resources
to support these statements?
If no estimate was made, could Council make an estimate to complete this
FoIA request, please?”
The Council can advise that Cllr Brightmore’s statements relate to the
Scrutiny Review Panel’s estimation of the time and resources required for
the Council to prepare a submission document to the Local Government
Boundary Commission for England (the Commission), and to undergo an
electoral review (See page 9 of the report)
In reviewing a number of lengthy and detailed submission documents from
other local authorities, the Panel was able to gain an appreciation of the
time and resources likely to be required to compile a submission in
preparation for an electoral review. Technical guidance from the
Commission, indicating an 18-24 month timescale to complete each stage of
an electoral review also informed the statements. Beyond this, no detailed
assessment or estimation of the time and resources required to make a
submission was undertaken.
So it would seem that the Scrutiny Review Panel Chair and rising Labour star Philip ‘Brightboy’ Brightmore – who’s previous claim to fame was grassing up former Wirral West MP Esther Mc Vey for using House of Commons stationery and postage for Tory electioneering
– was talking about an ‘estimation of the time and resources required for the Council to prepare a submission document to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (the Commission)’ .
So it would transpire that the Scrutiny Review Panel have basically made some comparisons with some neighbouring councils and councils with a similar profile and decided they are value for money.
It is significant there are no surveys or consultations undertaken canvassing the views of council taxpayers nor an analysis of how much additional council officer time and resources would be needed if the number of councillors were to be reduced. This was firmly put in the ‘too difficult tray’ by the Panel as follows : ‘The impact of a reduction of councillors on back office and support functions was also acknowledged by the Panel. Whilst this is difficult to quantify, it was agreed that that these functions would have to increase in order to fill the gap left by councillors, so any cost savings identified by reducing councillors would have to take account of any increase in officer workloads.’
Meanwhile Panel chair Brightboy says in the introduction :
‘I believe the findings of this investigation speak broadly for themselves. To speculate further upon those findings here risks undermining the analytical, data-led approach I and others have been careful to maintain.’
Which just about sums up some local councillors view of the local electorate. It’s a case of : ‘We don’t want your views .We know best – even when we don’t ’cause we don’t have the data !’
Which is why in the light of such a lack of investigative rigour we say to our readers : keep on making those Freedom of Information requests and most important of all – QUESTION EVERYTHING.