Advent Farewell 6 – Deja View

There’s an interesting lead letter in the printed edition of this week’s Wirral Globe written by a certain Chris Noble asking for our views on what to do with the Wirral View. You can read the online version here : Your Views?

Mr Noble tells us he wraps his fish and chips in it. How very droll! But dare we suggest that Mr Noble is a bit late to the Christmas Party? We made the following suggestions a year ago in our Things To Do With Wirral View  post where we wrote:

Put out the flags! Strike up the band !  – not that it was delivered to Leaky Towers but we’ve finally got our hands on an actual paper copy of the second issue of the Wirral Council newspaper Wirral View .  

And was it worth the wait we hear you cry ? – “not so much”  we reply ! . Seemingly in an attempt to avert the attention of  Department of Communities and Local Government minister Marcus Jones who takes a dim view of such publications  Wirral Council seem to to have reversed the old Daily Mail ad slogan and made Wirral View – ” A snoozepaper  , not a newspaper” . Dear Lord but it’s dull.

http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/2016/news/tax-boost-for-local-press-as-minister-launches-council-paper-crackdown/

The tone is set on the front page  with an exclusive story about road gritters. Now we’re sure the guys in the picture are lovely chaps and they do a wonderful job but it’s a bit of a literal and metaphorical fall back down to earth after the fireworks on the front page of the first issue .  The partly obscured word “SPREADING” (no laughing at the back) seems to a subliminal message as even by issue 2 Wirral View seems to spreading itself too thin ( down to 28 pages from 32 and no advertising!) . Her Ladyship was most disappointed there wasn’t even a follow up recipe to the spicy lentil & tomato soup recipe from the first issue.

Therefore  to avoid that empty feeling for those who feel their information deficit has yet to be filled we’ve come up with five festive fun things to do with your copy of Wirral View.  And so with a cry of  : ” Mummy dearest pass me my superman pyjamas I’m going to the spare room to crank one out for Wirral Leaks ….” here dear reader is the list we cranked out just for you ! : 

  1. RETURN TO SENDER

Buy some extra stamps from the Wirral Scout & Guide Charity Post and return the unwanted gift back .

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2. PARTY BUNTING

Make your own party bunting – or better still your own party political bunting by personalising it with pictures of your favourite local politicians !

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   3. CHRISTMAS CRACKERS

Do as Wirral View suggest and recycle card and paper from around your home! Forget health and safety regulations (or should that be elf and safety !- geddit?) and craft your own crackers from an empty loo roll. Add some glitter to bring a bit of sparkle to your mundane existence!

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4. PARTY HATS

What better accessory to go with the wacky Christmas jumper than a Wirral View party hat ! You can surprise everyone  at the Wirral Council office party by showing what a funster you really are under that dour exterior . But remember ! – no photocopying your bottom or subsidising your festivities by raiding the petty cash tin!- or Internal Audit will be after you. Oops! no sorry they missed that particular party trick didn’t they?

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5.  HAVE YOURSELF A VINTAGE CHRISTMAS

After a trip to the local foodbank to pick up a slightly dented tin of Spam for Christmas dinner why not go the whole hog and get  into the austerity spirit of rationing and make do and mend. Relive those post-war , pre-Izal days of yore and get all nostalgic about outside lavs and using strips of old newspaper for loo roll!

Newspaper loo

Fail to plan, plan to fail

Fail to plan

It won’t come as any surprise to our regular readers (or indeed anyone living near some derelict wasteland or an empty building) that Wirral Council finds itself in trouble with central government for failing to have a ‘Local Plan’ under the Planning Act 2004 .

Local Plan Intervention

Accordingly Sajid Javid ,Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) , has written to Wirral Council ‘leader’ Cllr  Phil ‘Power Boy Pip’ Davies that   central government will take over local planning if they can’t get their act together.

Only last week Wirral Leaks pointed out the lack of any Wirral Council co-ordination when it comes to planning in our Any Old Ion story.  This leads the council – and more importantly us – to be prey to speculative developers and ultimately leads to ad-hoc, piecemeal, opportunistic building developments.

Of course this isn’t all the fault of the current administration as Wirral Council have failed to produce a ‘Local Plan’ for 13 years !!! –  13! unlucky for some, usually us who pay these incompetents to actually do their jobs and comply with central  government requirements.

Nevertheless,  isn’t it funny how the current incumbents of power at Wallasey Town Hall can come up with the window dressing of ’20 Pledges’ and then drone on about them ad nauseum and yet can’t come up with the foundations for a  legally required ‘ Local Plan’ !

Meanwhile in the absence of the ‘Local Plan’ publicly-funded fantasists can pursue the corrupt dream of fire stations, golf resorts and international trade centres – OK , NOT international trade centres ,even we admit that’s a bit far fetched – without any public accountability!

But then why have central government let them get away with it all this time? Isn’t it funny how central government can intervene when it comes to planning regulations but when it comes to failures in children’s and adult social services we’ve had to put up with with totally ineffective and utterly cosmetic ‘improvement boards’.

Perhaps it’s not so confusing when you think about it , as apparently we live in a world where everything and everyone is a commodity and obviously real estate (including the blessed green belt) has so much more worth than real people.

Oh no it’s a LOBO!

 

Image result for debt resistance ukImage result for Debt Resistance UK

With all this Labour Party conference talk of Private Finance Initiative ( PFI) schemes we thought we’d turn our attention to the Local Authority (LA) equivalent of the never-never and and return to an old story concerned with LOBO loans.

LOBO-tomy Loans

For those unfamiliar with the concept -although you might not know you’re paying through the nose for one –  a LOBO stands for Lender Option Borrower Option.

The Lender Option means that periodically the lender can impose a new interest rate.

The Borrower Option is to agree to new interest rate or pay loan back in full.

However if the local authority chooses to pay the loan back in full there are punitive ‘break penalties’ which can cost the local authority (and more specifically the council taxpayer) an arm and a leg.

Last night’s Audit & Risk Management Committee confirmed that Wirral Council have taken out a LOBO loan and the reason that the annual accounts have not been fully signed off by external auditor Grant Thornton is that a member of the public has raised an objection to the LOBO loan situation.

Indeed we understand  from the excellent Debt Resistance UK website that Wirral Council is one of  46  councils that are subject to such a legal objection (see below). Full details can be read here : LOBO legal objections

LOBO Debt & “Fair (repayment) Value” for financial liabilities at 46 UK Councils where objections were lodged in 2015/16 and 2016/17 financial years.

As you can see Wirral have taken out an eyewatering  LOBO loan of £157+ million and it is estimated that they will be paying back £295 + million .  The loan repayments represent 10.2% of council tax income and debt per person on Wirral is £924 .

Furthermore latest figures Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) indicate that Wirral is the 13th (unlucky for us) overall highest LA borrower in the UK. No doubt part of that that is to cover pay-offs to council managers,  contracts for consultants and salaries for ‘transformers !

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The Lights Are On But No One Is Home

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They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Following on from our ‘Where Your Money Goes’ report and anticipating tonight’s planned protests at Wallasey Town Hall about Wirral Council’s proposals to introduce parking charges the length and breadth of the borough we discuss further worrying developments when it comes to the council’s questionable income generating measures.
We have been contacted by a concerned citizen about correspondence they received from the council which they describe as ‘frightening’ :
I have just received a letter from the council asking me to verify that I do live on my own and thus still qualify for the single person allowance.
Fair enough, I have no problem with this, indeed, it even smacks of efficiency. However I note these two bullet points on the letter:
  • We will shortly be performing further and more detailed checks on household residency in order to validate claims for Council Tax Single Person Discount.
  • These residency checks will be performed in collaboration with an external agency.
What the hell does this mean? I notice that alongside the Wirral Council logo is another one for ‘northgate public services’.
Are we to have these civil police marching around our properties sniffing bed sheets and checking for extra shoes under the bed?
I am 60 and very active, but I would not like to open my door to these people if I was a frail 85 year old widower. This is really alarming.
How will these checks be carried out, what right have these people to enter my flat and if I refuse them entry! What then?
It’s like a Stalinist police state..!
Our correspondent should count themselves lucky they don’t own an empty property. There’s no Council Tax Single Person Discount there – owners have to a 100% Council Tax on an empty property if it’s been unoccupied for 6 months.  What if they can’t sell it in these desperate times ? Once again we can’t help thinking this has nothing to do with bringing empty properties back into use or about tackling homelessness. We don’t understand how Wirral Council can charge someone for services they don’t receive as there’s no-one living at the property!
Meanwhile it comes to something when two Labour MPs  ( Alison McGovern and Margaret Greenwood) speak out against the council’s car parking proposals whilst the two most prominent and headline grabbing Wirral MPs ( Angela Eagle and Frank Field) keep schtum.
We can’t help wondering with some of their punitive proposals as to whether the current Labour administration at Wallasey Town Hall have a death wish or they’ve grown so arrogant and complacent that they can impose any draconian measure on the people of Wirral – the people they’re meant to serve! Now we know that Wirral Council have made some wayward moves over recent years but some of their recent decisions are simply inexplicable! –  It really does seem to us to be a case of the lights are on but no one is home !
We have to say , as worthy as they are ,we’re getting a tad frustrated with the protests and petitions . Once again we invoke the words ‘Judicial Review’ to test the legality of Wirral Council’s actions. We think that this is where people need to get organised and direct their energies if the these proposals get the go ahead.
We suggest the grounds for ‘Judicial Review’ are set out succinctly in correspondence sent from regular Wirral Leaks correspondent Dr Robert B Smith to Eric Robinson and Cllr Phil Davies Wirral Council  CEO and ‘leader’ respectively and a response Dr Smith received from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) .

Dear Mr Robinson, Dear Cllr Phil Davies,

Please forward my email to any new councillors.

Nothing has changed since 2015 regarding the legislation prohibiting using parking charges to raise revenue leading to the defeat at Fort Perch Rock in 2015 regarding questionable budget options. From the DCLG: –

Operational Guidance, and legislation, is clear that local authorities should never use parking charges to raise revenue. Where there is surplus income local authorities must ensure that any revenue not used for enforcement is used for legitimate purposes as prescribed in Section 55 (as amended) of the RTRA 1984, and that its main use is to improve, by whatever means, transport provision in the area so that road users benefit.

Another important aspect of the function of the Monitoring Officer related to legal compliance is clearly stated by the DCLG viz.,

All local authorities have a Monitoring Officer, and it is their role to ensure that the authority complies with legislation in its operation.

I paste the reply I received from the DCLG in full, below, for those with short memories.

Dr Robert B Smith

Dear Dr Smith

Thank you for your email dated 20 July to Greg Clark concerning proposed pay and display parking in New Brighton. I work in the team in DCLG working on high streets and town centres and have been asked to reply on his behalf.

Parking is vital to modern high streets and town centres, which is why we are encouraging all local authorities to consider the impact of parking policies on the health of town centres and to adjust their policies accordingly. We want to make sure local authorities operate fair and reasonable parking strategies that are not an unnecessary disincentive to motorists who visit our high streets and town centres.

Operational Guidance, and legislation, is clear that local authorities should never use parking charges to raise revenue. Where there is surplus income local authorities must ensure that any revenue not used for enforcement is used for legitimate purposes as prescribed in Section 55 (as amended) of the RTRA 1984, and that its main use is to improve, by whatever means, transport provision in the area so that road users benefit.

I am sorry that you feel that the Wirral Borough Council is not supporting the recovery of New Brighton, Wallasey. Parking is ultimately the responsibility of local authorities; it is for them to determine what is best for their own area. You are correct therefore, to raise this issue with your MP, as Ministers have no remit to intervene in a local authorities day to day affairs, except where specific provision has been made in an Act of Parliament. All local authorities have a Monitoring Officer, and it is their role to ensure that the authority complies with legislation in its operation.

You will be interested to know that the Department for Communities and Local Government has published new statutory guidance that ensures local residents and firms can petition to initiate a formal review of parking policies in their area from the council, with Councillors then voting on the action to be taken. This guidance describes in more detail a new mechanism to use petitions to give local residents, community groups and businesses the ability to challenge parking policies, and advises local authorities on best practice. The full guidance can be found at http://www.gov.uk/government/publications/right-to-challenge-parking-policies

Yours sincerely,

Kathryn Clarke

Town Centres, High Streets and Coastal Team