Tales from the Chamber : Food for thought…

Woodside Food & Ferry

Pic: Woodside Food & Ferry

Next week we will be making information appeals for some ‘Special Reports’ that we’ve been working on .However before that we thought we’d catch up on Wirral Chamber of Commerce which will be one of our forthcoming areas of investigation.
However we understand it’s been an interesting past few weeks at the Chamber. An insider tell us :
Gemma Nichols, who was brought into the chamber to be Head of Visitor Economy and BID has left quietly although through no fault of her own. She signed up to one thing, was moved onto another and then was put under the ‘former model’ Kate (Eugeni). It was the usual Paula process.
Kate was appointed as Director of Visitor Economy and over saw the BID (Birkenhead Improvement District)  –  (Wirral) council refused to pay Kate’s salary to Princess P(aula Basnett) and so now that there’s no money in the pot…what’s a girl to do?! 
Well, spoiler alert!
Their bright idea is to set up a Marketing and PR firm….and Kate is leading it. It’s due to launch in April……Just like the visitor economy she led for a few months, she has loads of experience in doing just that. She couldn’t write a press release to save her life…but then it’s not like she’ll actually do any of the work…is it?
I wonder what the PR and Marketing businesses who are members think of this? 
If the Woodside Ferry Village is anything to go by: they have nothing to be worried about.It’s worth having a right good rummage of the Woodside Ferry Village though…could one of the directors be  due to resign his position? Can accounts from WFV had to pay some of the BID’s bills to help balance the books because the BID money has been loaned to the WFV to set it up ?- and with Kate getting paid out of that pot…could there’ be nothing left to pay the bills?  
So: Gemma – good luck and well done for getting out. When the BID is up for vote with Birkenhead businesses – it was not you who let them down … 
Meanwhile an unquestioning local press is willing to publish overheated souffles about the ‘food concept venue’ Woodside Ferry Village which we’ve previously ridiculed here
Following the newly established pattern of publishing a  Wirral Chamber of Commerce/Wirral Council press release in the Liverpool Echo before exactly the same story is re-heated by the same journo in the Wirral Globe we get news that there are  Plans revealed for’next Baltic Market’ with shipping container shops and stunning River Mersey Views
Needless to say there are the compulsory artist’s impressions and quotes from, no!, not Chief Executive ‘Princess” Paula Basnett but the ‘Interim Managing Director’ of the Wirral Chamber of Commerce  , Sharon Stanton, who happens to be ,er, Princess Paula’s sister!
Our Shaz provides some unintended hilarity by saying:

“We have been looking at it for some time. We applied for the lease, and luckily enough, we got it and it went from there…”

 

Well I never! Funny how that happens isn’t it ? Some organisations have all the luck! A building here, a building there! Another fortuitous acquisition for Nepotism Central !

With one of our incredulous sources stating : “I can’t believe they keep getting away with it…”  we asked our Chamber insider who would be likely to challenge Princess Paula and the Chamber of Cronyism

Eric Robinson: his son is currently there…and Eric HATES confrontation and difficult conversations…so he won’t challenge the ‘norm’.
Phil Davies: he’s going and equally never stood up to her.
Alan Evans: he’s sown up in the Chamber, the Woodside Food Village, and the council. 
And Jesus wept, don’t get me started on the little **** who’s currently up Paula’s arse… Warren Ward.
Back to Woodside Ferry Village – they’re talking Baltic Triangle, we’re saying Bermuda Triangle , they ‘re talking Las Ramblas, we’re saying ramshackle .And before we get accused of pissing on the barbeque we do so in the knowledge that as long as cronyism, and nepotism are the guiding the way the true Wirral innovators and visionaries won’t get a look in and Wirral (and particularly Birkenhead) will continue to depend on the sorry shower who are currently running the show…and look where that’s got us!

Chamber of Secrets

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“Wow! – just wow” gasped Her Ladyship as she picked up a copy of Wirral Life  from a better class of supermarket “….all that advertising space for the Wirral Chamber of Commerce seems to have paid off as Princess Paula is this month’s cover star! “

Bleached , bobbed and Botoxed(?) to the max the CEO of the Wirral Chamber of Commerce must feel thoroughly at home –   glossy, bright and shiny against a stormy background . The interview can be found here:

 Wirral Life

As you can read all the key words are there – transformation, vision, partnership, empowering, small business ecosystem (eh?) , passionate (obvs!) and nepotism (oh sorry – our bad she didn’t mention that did she Sharon?)

Minus points for no mention of ‘ Hub’ though !  – oh and btw why are you still banging on about ‘Wirral Waters’ ?

Unfortunately what isn’t asked in the article is the question that was put to us about the Wirral Chamber of Commerce earlier this week :

“I would find it very interesting to know why Kevin Adderley has again been sidelined from yet another job.  
 
After being paid off from his time at WBC,  he was rewarded by joining the Chamber of Commerce and becoming a director.  Only to be stripped of the directorship in June of this year and now apparently MD of Egerton House (so manages serviced offices,  owned by the Chamber?)
 
Whats the story?”
Our response :  “It’s the Pip ‘n’ Paula show – dontcha know?”
To which our source replied :  “I was rather thinking its more to do with his involvement in the planning department in 2010 & 2011 – and WBC distancing him as much as they can before it hits the fan.”
Answers on a postcard please – as of course Wirral Life isn’t the place to go if you want answers to such difficult questions because, as you can tell from the cover of their latest edition as apparently they’re all about airbrushing.

A Bit of Bovver at The Lauries

Following our concerns about the operation  of The Lauries seemingly being gifted to the Wirral Chamber of Commerce we gratifingly note that a campaign been launched to take back community control of the centre

https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2016/11/12/the-sorry-story-of-the-lauries/

https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/the-sorry-story-of-the-lauries-chapter-two/

Coincidentally we’ve also been forwarded the Wirral Chamber of Commerce and Industry submission to Companies House made on 23rd December ( to take advantage of the Christmas lull?). Whilst this submission is is a legal requirement ,being classified as a small company means the Wirral Chamber of Commerce is only required to submit abbreviated accounts. Nevertheless  they still make for very interesting reading as do the details of 67 resignations.

https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/00120076/filing-history

 

assets-009

Note particularly that the assets of the Wirral Chamber of Commerce rose between 1 January 2015 and 31 March 2016 from £11,754 to a whopping £981,106. This rise in assets would appear to have been purely as a result of gifting of publicly owned buildings to them by Wirral Council.

Even more interesting reading is the complaint concerning The Lauries Centre submitted to Wirral Council by Birkenhead and Tranmere Neighbourhood Planning Forum earlier in December. This is yet another campaign which we will be following with great interest.

STAGE 1 COMPLAINT: OPERATION OF THE LAURIES LIMITED LEASE

We, the undersigned, ask that the issues outlined below are dealt with in accordance with Wirral Council’s complaints procedure.

As this complaint contains concerns about the conduct and actions of councillors and officers of the Council we would appreciate your early response regarding how this will be investigated and, if corrective and/or disciplinary action is required, what procedures will apply.

We would also appreciate the opportunity to meet with the person appointed to deal with this complaint in order to provide any necessary clarification and to assist in the resolution of this matter at the earliest stage of the Council’s complaints procedure. We consider that you are obliged to provide for this in order to meet the Councils 2020 Vision commitment to openness and transparency.

Background to complaint
Early in the year 2000 community representatives, Councillors and Council officers met in the old YMCA building to discuss which community objectives for capital expenditure under European Objective 1 (Round 2) and Single Regeneration Budget (Round 6) should be prioritised. At that meeting two headline capital projects were decided upon that would provide community meeting spaces at zero or very low cost for community groups across the Birkenhead Ward (pre 2003 boundary). These capital projects were The Lauries Project and the St James Centre. Both buildings were constructed, thereby fulfilling the principal objective of community representatives.

On 29 September 2005 the Council leased The Lauries Centre to The Lauries Limited for a period of 125 years.

The lease defines the permitted use of the building as use:only for the purposes of a community centre, a neighbourhood college (including workshops), a café/snack bar, offices and meeting rooms, conference and events…in furtherance of the Tenant’s aims and objectives as set out in its memorandum and articles of association…being in brief the promotion of any charitable purpose for the benefit of the community of Birkenhead and areas surrounding and in particular the advancement of education the promotion of good health and providing a focus for development and regeneration.

The lease therefore specifically links its own terms with those of the memorandum and articles of association of The Lauries Limited.

Earlier this year it came to our attention that public access to the building had been curtailed, the café had been closed down and it was rumoured that the Wirral Chamber of Commerce had annexed the building. This has since been confirmed because on its website the Wirral Chamber of Commerce now promotes The Lauries Centre as one of its “unique and exclusive office centres”.1 This makes it clear that the building is now used exclusively for commercial purposes, rather than for the purposes that together define the permitted use of the building, as set out in the lease.

Potential breaches of the lease and company mismanagement
Companies House records show that on 31 May 2015 all of the existing directors of The Lauries Limited (including Cllr Brian Kenny) resigned en masse and two new directors, Paula Basnett and Asif Hamid, who are both closely associated with Wirral Chamber of Commerce, replaced them.

The articles of association of The Lauries Limited require only one third of the directors to resign at each annual general meeting. So, the resignation of all directors was unusual to say the least. The articles of association also require a minimum of five directors to be in post at any one time. Once this was drawn to the attention of Paula Basnett, three new directors were appointed (Patricia Crocker, Katherine Eugeni and Sharon Stanton).

According to the articles of association, those three new directors may only remain in post until the next annual general meeting, when their appointment may only be extended by a vote of members of the company. The question of membership of the company is therefore also a key issue.

On behalf of the Forum our chair wrote to the Company Secretary, Paula Basnett, on 6 November 2016 requesting membership under the provisions of Article 1.3 of the company’s articles of association. The Forum also requested other information that the company is supposed to maintain, namely:

  • The company’s membership admissions policy
  • A membership application form
  • A list of current membership classes and their respective subscription fees

To date, no reply to this letter has been received.

The Forum was then approached by a former member of The Lauries Limited, who showed us a letter written in 2009, in which one of the directors at the time dismissed all of the remaining 36 members of the company, offering to refund the balance of any subscriptions paid.

The available evidence indicates that the company has had no members since 30 November 2009. However, it is members of the company who elect directors at each annual general meeting. If there have been no members since 2009 then all directors appointed after 30 November 2009 were occupying those positions unlawfully, as are the current directors. If there are no members, then the company has been operating outside of its own articles of association for a substantial period of time and would therefore appear also to be in breach of its lease with the Council.

Substance of complaint
We believe that the available evidence demonstrates that The Lauries Limited is operating outside of the parameters laid down in its articles of association, which in turn means that the terms of its lease with the Council have been breached. This unlawful operation of the company appears to have been ongoing since 30 November 2009.

We believe that Cllr Jean Stapleton, who was a director of The Lauries Limited continuously from 18 May 2003 until 31 March 2015 was a party to company mismanagement and breaches of the lease that occurred during this time.

We believe that Cllr Phil Davies, who was a director of The Lauries Limited from 6 January 2005 until 18 May 2013 was a party to company mismanagement and breaches of the lease that occurred during this time.

We believe that Cllr Brian Kenny, who was a director of The Lauries Limited from 17 February 2009 until 31 May 2015 was a party to company mismanagement and breaches of the lease that occurred during this time.

In the light of the evidence obtained by the Forum and public records, we believe that any reasonable person would conclude that Councillors Davies, Kenny and Stapleton were party to unlawful decisions, either knowingly or through gross negligence, in a manner that betrayed the commitment to community control and ownership enshrined in the memorandum and articles of association of The Lauries Limited.

It appears that Councillors and Council officers have failed:
1) in their duty to ensure that a significant public asset is managed in accordance with the terms of a lease agreement;
2) to effectively monitor the extent to which The Lauries Limited has been and is being operated in accordance with its memorandum and articles of association, and
3) to safeguard the use of public funds invested in the construction of The Lauries Centre.

Given these apparent failures we have further concerns that the sub-leases of the building, which require Council approval, may not comply with the terms of the principal lease.

In particular we are concerned that market rents are not applied to sub-leases made to commercial companies.

We request that all of the concerns raised in the foregoing paragraphs are investigated by the Council and that arrangements are put in place to ensure that The Lauries Limited is henceforth operated fully in accordance with its memorandum and articles of association and that the lease is properly policed.

The Forum will co-operate fully with the Council’s investigation, including providing copies of the evidential documents referred to in this letter, if the Council cannot obtain them elsewhere.