Birkenhead First (Second Coming)

Birkenhead First Balloon

Is the balloon about to burst on the BID levy scam? Or are Wirral Chamber of Commerce still allowed to give Tourism Awards to one of their belligerent Director’s former love nest in exchange for screwing over local charities?

Apologies for the disrespectful Easter title – but it’s what we do best. Iconoclastic and sarcastic at the same time.

This post is a follow up to one of our most popular recent stories

Birkenhead First (Among Equals)

Continuing the Biblical theme , readers will remember this was the David v Goliath story of charity boss Jim Barrington taking on the might of Wirral Chamber of Commerce (or rather their enforcers Wirral Council).

Gallant Wirral Councillor Lib Dem Stuart Kelly followed up our story , asking pertinent questions of Wirral Council CEO Eric’ Feeble’ Robinson who in time honoured tradition passed it on to some highly paid underling who passed it on to a less than highly paid underling.

The answers to the questions that Cllr Kelly posed are as follows . Needless to say it starts with apologies, because apparently this is what we do , we pay public servants to apologise profusely and at regular intervals

Apologies for the delay in responding to you.  Please find below my response.

1.Is it the case that Birkenhead First have the ability under regulations to exempt not for profit charitable business from the levy ?   

Schedule 1, Paragraph 1 (e) of the Business Improvement Districts (England ) Regulations 2004 provide that BID proposals shall include “a statement of the specified class of non domestic ratepayer (if any) for which and the level at which any relief from the BID levy is to apply”. This could include charitable rate relief. The Birkenhead BID proposal did not include this optional relief. The BID levy of 1.5% applies to all hereditaments located within the Birkenhead BID boundary area. Businesses with a rateable value that is below £6000 are not liable to pay the BID levy.

2. Is it the case that the BID Levy is being collected on behalf of Wirral Chamber of Commerce by Wirral Council.

Yes we bill and collect on behalf of the BID.

3. Is it the case that none payment is being pursued through the magistrates courts when the liability is a civil matter which are usually dealt with in County Court, if so what is the reason for using magistrates court?

Schedule 4 of the 2004 Regulations deals with enforcement and application for liability orders if the levy is not paid. It applies Part 3 of the Non-Domestic Rating (Collection and Enforcement) (Local Lists) Regulations 1989. Regulation 12 (2) provides that:-
“The application is to be instituted by making complaint to a justice of the peace, and requesting the issue of a summons directed to that person to appear before the court to show why he has not paid the sum which is outstanding.”
The correct jurisdiction for enforcement is the magistrates court.

4. Is it the case that Wirral Council and Wirral Chamber of Commerce are adding £95.00 in court fees before liability has been established in court, is there a breakdown of how these costs have been arrived at.

No costs are awarded by the Court upon application by the Council. They are shown on the summons document. The cost make up is shown on the attached. The costs are the Council’s and not passed on to the Chamber.   

5. What is the relationship between Wirral Council and the Chamber with regard to the BID.

The chamber pays for the Council to administer the Billing and Collection of the BID.  

Thankfully our original source Jim Barrington was able to breakdown this BS response as follows :

This looks promising. Excellent work. I did not see the attachment they used to justify their court costs but I am assuming it is the same excel spreadsheets they sent to me. If so here are a few things to consider:
1) They provide the cost to run the entire revenue and benefits department. These staff are already in place so providing these costs as evidence of what it costs in court fees is a deliberate tactic to avoid providing a per capita breakdown. The staff perform other roles and functions including allocation of housing benefits, council tax benefits and enquiries, non-domestic rates and so on. As such one would need to know the total number of different activities each officer undertakes, how many hours are involved and how much of this is actual spent processing and compiling court actions. Then one needs to add the known £3 court processing fee (taking into account economies of scale) and know precisely how many people are being taken to court on any given submission. Then, since the fees must be BID specific, this must be narrowed down to a per capita cost for each BID summons. I doubt this would cost more than £3 per processing fee plus an average of £2 per individual summons for staff time. Even if this cost is more, it would be difficult indeed to justify £95 per capita.
2) The reply was this is a civil matter and the correct setting is Magistrates court. The reason for this did not seem clear to me despite a verbose explanation. 
3) If the matter is a civil matter as agreed by the Council Officer then it clearly falls under Contract Law. As such the proper setting is County Court. It would also likely represent an unfair contract due to no opt out procedure, lack of written contract, no appeal or clear complaints procedure, no refund policy or part refund policy if a person vacates their premises within the year and total lack of accountability or say over how the money is spent. This applies to all businesses affected by the BID.
4) I am still not clear why charitable organisations have not been exempted. No explanation has been given. I asked the Steering Group to consider this exemption prior to the BID vote and again after the BID vote. I have been told they did but the minutes of the meeting are confidential. So a tax is being levied on the promise it represents businesses to improve the area, but the same businesses are not allowed to see the minutes of the meetings. This is despite the BID brochure clearly stating it will listen and respond to small businesses and their needs.
5) Birkenhead First (or is it the BID Company? or is it Wirral Chamber of Commerce?) are claiming to have spent the money on activities which fall under the remit of Wirral Council and for which business rates are paid. So if Birkenhead First are now doing these things should there not be a reduction in Business Rates within the BID District? If so then perhaps this should equal the cost of the BID Levy so there is no additional cost to the small business.
6) They are claiming only businesses with a rateable value of £6000 or over are affected by the BID, whilst conveniently ignoring the fact most charitable organisations occupy larger premises on a peppercorn rent and could not afford to exist without this goodwill. Precedent for exemption of levies and taxes has been set by notable organisations such as HMRC, Customs & Excise and even Wirral Council themselves. So what justification is being given by Wirral Chamber who insist charitable firms must pay? They are strangely silent on this matter.
7) It seems unclear who is taking responsibility for these decisions. Wirral Council say speak to Wirral Chamber and they say speak to Wirral Council. 
8) I am not certain the magistrate “summons” is actually being dealt with by the court system. If you phone the court on the to enquire about the summons on the day they actually have no record of it. Could it be true the council is hiring a room in the court and hiring a judge who is not acting under oath on behalf of the courts? Surely not. Yet this is being muttered in cafes and corners of the Wirral by those being summonsed who have said the Magistrates courts have no official record of these summons. Some have even called the legality of the summons into question because it does not follow the proper form. If true, then the liability hearing may as well be heard in the Town Hall by a council officer because it has the same legal standing. The implications of this are wide reaching and expensive and could affect everyone. 
9) I suspect the Birkenhead BID is a pilot and Wirral Chamber / Wirral Council are working in concert. If this is allowed to go unchallenged then I predict further BID districts popping up all over Wirral.
10) The challenge needs to be:
– justification of court costs and fees. The Council is being evasive on this matter
– the proper setting for the liability hearing. I maintain civil matters should be heard in County Court not Magistrates.
– the legality of the contract under civil contract law. Anything less is extortion by public officials
– the lack of exemption for charitable organisations
– the lack of transparency or accountability over how money is being spent (see earlier comment re: unfair contract)
– the fact Wirral Chamber claims Birkenhead First is not subject to Freedom of Information laws. I contend they inherit the obligations of Wirral Council because they are working in concert with Wirral Council.
We are increasingly grateful that it is not just us who are concerned about the increasingly dubious relationship between Wirral Council and Wirral Chamber of Commerce. Believe us ,and thankfully for once , these concerns spread beyond the insular peninsula.

The Liptrot Mystery

Evans

Opposition councillors seem unusually curious about the recent controversial appointment of Council leader Phil ‘Power Boy Pip’Davies political ally , Martin Liptrot(sky) to the post of  ‘Interim’ Investment Lead .

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/15173137.Special_meeting_heats_up_as_Wirral_councillors_clash_over_controversial_new_job_for_Labour_s_policy_chief/

And so they might be! The ongoing saga is worthy of an Agatha Christie murder mystery ….. but who knows where the bodies are buried !?

Of course we anticipated such an appointment long ago The Uncanny and the Corrupt

That’s not because we have second sight, it’s simply because, by now, we know all Wirral Council’s plot devices.

So before we get to the heart of the mystery, let us set out the story so far. Are you sitting comfortably? – because we guarantee you won’t be for much longer!

Remember when we exclusively announced Liptrot’s arrival at Wirral Council and questioned how his ‘Policy Advisor’ post came about?

https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/all-hail-the-new-king-of-spin/

Remember when we questioned his apolitical credentials when he was appointed to a politically restricted post despite declaring his long held Labour Party affiliations all over social media ?

https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/a-political-mr-liptrot/

Who can forget when Wirral Globe disclosed that leaked toecurling early morning email exchange between Liptrot and Pip?  Where the former, in full on diva mode, appears to be calling the shots – complaining about his pay and bemoaning the fact that he has to hand in time sheets to Super Duper Director  Joe Blott  – oh the shame!

“Apparently I’m supposed to work for 24 quid an hour and hand time sheets to Joe Blott [strategic director].Clearly that is both insulting and wildly unrealistic for the scope of the role we are discussing.There is no way I’m going to earn even less than I am now. We need to work out what we need to agree and you will probably have to just step up and tell everyone what you want doing in the end. Let’s talk tomorrow.’

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/14306240.Emails_give_extraordinary_insight_into_Wirral_Council_s_controversial_hiring_of_former_Labour_spin_doctor/

And so having set the scene we move on to the latest chapter in the charmed life of Mr Liptrot and his latest ‘transformation'(!) as ‘Interim’ Investment Lead at Wirral Council.

An extraordinary series of extracts from leaked emails details the ‘bureaucratic machinations’ behind this latest appointment and provides us with even more plot twists……..

Firstly , we might recall that  24 councillors  issued  a ‘Notice of Motion’ in respect of, what was at the time, the creation of ‘a senior post of Investor Development Manager’ in response to the Labour Cabinet meeting held on 16 January .  This meeting was chaired by Power Boy Pip and included a report calling for the removal of ‘Call – in’ , thus denying opposition councillors the opportunity to ask any awkward questions about the post. The report stated :

‘Although this was not a key decision, in the light of the time critical nature of these activities, it was considered necessary to request that call-in be waived. This would enable the activities to progress at once and, therefore, ensure that work was completed in time to meet deadlines for key events such as MIPIM. Due to the absence of the Chief Executive, and on his behalf, the Assistant Chief Executive had recommended that call-in be waived’.

Head of Law Surjit Tour clarified the situation : ‘Cabinet agreed to waive ‘call-in’ in accordance with the Constitution and the decision is therefore implementable immediately notwithstanding the request for an extraordinary council having been made and agreed. Council at the extraordinary council meeting is being invited to scrutinise the creation of the post and decide whether it is justified – but council would only be expressing its opinion/view in respect of the post and its justification. The decision maker remains the Executive and the decision in question remains implementable.’

The post was advertised via  Wirral Council’s temporary worker system (Matrix) . Matrix passed on the job specification to recruitment agencies at an equivalent day rate of £195.

Initially six applications were received. However according to Wirral Council’s HR  : ‘none of the applicants met the specification. We  have received feedback from the agencies that the remuneration is not sufficient to attract calibre candidates.Given the urgent requirement for the additional capacity and limited budget we are sourcing an Interim role – Interim Investment Lead on an interim rate, but for a shorter period of time’

HR went on to later add :‘The agencies feedback that they could potentially source some applicants at £350 day , but the calibre we required is likely to be £500 day. Given the urgent requirement for the additional capacity and limited budget we need to increase the day rate .’

Frankly it is simply an astonishing state of affairs when so-called committed, and no doubt ‘passionate’ public servants, don’t consider it worthwhile getting out of bed for less than £350 a day!  And of course the recruitment agencies are going to advocate such a hike in the daily rate because presumably it means more money for them! All of which means that public authorities are held a hostage to fortune!

Needless to say when the post was advertised at the higher rate, 13 further applications were received !

5 candidates were shortlisted. One of the candidates was unable to make the interview date and one candidate withdrew. And in true Agatha Christie fashion :  ‘And then there were 3’. These interviews took place on 15 February 2017.

Initially we understand that Asif Hamid was due to be on the interview panel but he mysteriously withdrew to be replaced , inevitably, by Wirral Chamber of Commerce chum Paula Basnett. Clare Fish , Wirral Council’s Executive Director for Strategy was also a late absentee. This left :

  • Alan Evans, Strategic Commissioner for Growth (Chair of the Panel)
  • Stephen Butterworth, Interim Strategic Project Support
  • Sally Shah, Lead Commissioner: Place and Investment
  • Paula Basnett, Chief Executive, Wirral Chamber of Commerce
  • Ellen Cutler, Director Inward Investment, Liverpool Vision

Now as we know the successful candidate was our leading suspect Martin Liptrot who was awarded an an initial 4 month contract  @ £350 a day.

However the  mystery here is whether the panel made the appointment or was the final decision made by Power Boy Pip and his supine CEO Eric ‘Feeble’ Robinson?

The Extraordinary Council meeting held earlier this week was an attempt by some curious councillors to find the answer to this whodunnit and other mysteries surrounding the case. However the Labour group were anxious to shut this line of enquiry down with Cllr Brian Kenny squeaking up for a ‘guillotine’ thereby reducing the time available for debating the issue.

Perhaps curious opposition councillors should seek clues about the recruitment process from Alan Evans, the Strategic Commissioner for Growth, who chaired the selection panel?

We understand that Evans’ unsung team in Department of Regeneration have been doing some excellent work  behind the scenes  and we can only wonder what they must feel about the influx of Johnny-Come -Lately’s such as Liptrot  who ,under the guise of ‘transformers’ , appear to be muscling in on their act and potentially taking the credit for their work.

We await further plot developments with great interest!

Alternative Facts in a Parallel Universe

Not for the first time when it comes to the ruling administration at Wirral Council we find ourselves asking : “Is it us or are we missing something?” and then we realise we are now living in the age of of ‘alternative facts’. The current epicentre of this parallel universe when it comes to local government has to be our dear own local council.

Of course the main Wirral Council conduit for alternative facts is Wirral View –and halleluljah and praise be , as for the first time Leaky Towers actually received a printed copy of what is known variously to our sources as Liprot’s Journal/ Lost Kev’s Chronicle/Pip’s Post-Truth News .

Was it worth the wait? – hardly ! However the front page caught our attention as it demonstrates to us as to why, once and for all , the tawdry rag should be halted in its tedious tracks. Here we have the now infamous ‘Spot the Muff’ photo-op and the declaration that ‘Proposals to bring in new charges at on-street car parks across the borough have been withdrawn, following feedback from Wirral residents and businesses.’

alternative-facts-010

Oh ! it was all about Wirral Council listening to ‘feedback’ was it ?. Nothing to do with protests, petitions and the highly suspect legality of most of the proposals. Feedback ?- yeah right!

The Witless, Pip and Mr Muff picture turned up again on our Facebook page due to some weird algorithm which suggests that we’d ‘like’ Wirral Labour News. We suppose it makes a change from promos for incontinence and mobility aids and ‘Superman’ pyjamas but let us state for the record it was as equally unwelcome !

alternative-facts-3-011

Then there was further message from ‘Wirral Labour News’ which made us think it must surely be a parody account :

alternative-facts-3-013

Keep Wirral Green ? Huh?  Fernbank Farm?, the Saughall Massie Fire Station ? and the Hoylake Golf Resort?  Our heads started to hurt at Leaky Towers as to how the increasingly self righteous Labour administration could reconcile these development plans with their new found love for the Green Belt.

How ironic that Council ‘leader’ Cllr Phil ‘Power Boy Pip’ Davies talked about “protecting our precious Green Belt” at  yesterday’s Cabinet meeting whilst  we understand that all the seats in the public gallery had the following flyer on them :

alternative-facts-2-011

alternative-facts-2-013

However the ne plus ultra of this week’s alternative facts emanating from Wirral Council is the controversial appointment of the increasingly divisive Martin Liptrot to the post of ‘ Interim Investment Lead’ which we not only predicted but exclusively revealed on this blog:

Pip’s Pay Pal – THAT Liptrot Appointment

The Uncanny and the Corrupt

According to a spokesperson for Wirral Council ( we assume that’ll be Liptrot’s acolyte   Kevin MacCallum)

“The post was advertised and an open recruitment process was held with external support.The panel selected the best person for the job and that person has been appointed.”

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/15103854.Fury_as_Wirral_Council_hires_Labour_s_policy_adviser_to_be_their_new_investment_chief___on___350_a_day/

Really ? – so you’re going with that ‘alternative fact’ are you ? Perhaps one of the interview panel chaired by Alan Evans and including the council’s Strategic Development Manager; Stephen Butterworth, Head of Transformation ( there’s that word again  !) ; Paula Basnett, CEO of Wirral Chamber of Commerce  (a surprising late replacement for a curiously unenthusiastic Asif Hamid) and Ellen Cutler, Director of Inward Investment at Liverpool Vision could publicly endorse this statement .

Alternatively they could tell the people who fund this post exactly what went on behind the scenes and whether they decided not to appoint Liptrot (or indeed anyone) but the decision was taken out of their hands and made by an increasingly desperate Power Boy Pip and the increasingly sinister Eric ‘Feeble’ Robinson.

We’re led to speculate what exactly is the Rasputin-like hold that Liptrotsky  has over Power Boy Pip? All we can say is look what happened to Rasputin and the Imperial Royal Family of Wirral, sorry , Russia.  Just sayin’ !