To deal with questions from councillors and from members of the public, in accordance with Standing Order 11.
Note: Questions from members of the public must be submitted in writing or by email by no later than 5.00pm on 6 December 2010.
(A) Mr A Elston, having given the appropriate notice in accordance with Standing Order 11, submitted the following question relating to road safety at Worcester Road:
“I was walking my dog. I was about to cross the road when a vehicle on the opposite side of the road on the service road turning circle, came up through the gap, across the pavement and onto the main road. The turning circle is next to Holy Cross Presbytery, could something be done here for instance for instance some bollards to prevent this happening again?”
Councillor Lesley Rennie, Cabinet Member for Streetscene and Transport Services, in response thanked Mr Elston for his query regarding road safety on Worcester Road and went on to state, “As members are aware, Road Safety is a key priority for this Authority and we continue to make good progress in reducing the numbers of people injured on our roads.
I have raised the specific problem to which Mr Elston refers with the Director of Technical Services and I understand that the Road Safety Manager has visited Mr Elston to discuss his concerns.
It would appear that some irresponsible drivers are driving across a short section of footway to save themselves just a couple of seconds on their journey.
I understand that in the interest of continuing to protect pedestrians at this location the Director intends to introduce some minor physical measures to prevent this occurring, and that this is likely to be undertaken in the New Year.”
At 6.45pm, in accordance with Standing Order 16(2), the Mayor adjourned the meeting due to a general disturbance from the public gallery.
The meeting reconvened at 6.55pm.
(B) Mrs L Brace, having given the appropriate notice in accordance with Standing Order 11, submitted the following question on flytipping:
“For over a year, I have regularly reported flytipping in my neighbourhood in areas ranging from Bidston Hill, Flaybrick Cemetery to the roadsides. What’s dumped are items ranging from furniture, tyres, builders’ waste to domestic rubbish.
In some cases, this rubbish has been deliberately set alight burning parts of Bidston Hill to the ground. Having this flytipping removed must cost Wirral Council a lot of money. What will be done to catch those involved and deal with the backlog of rubbish?”
Councillor Lesley Rennie, Cabinet Member for Streetscene and Transport Services, in response thanked Mrs Brace for her query regarding flytipping and went on to state, “During the past year there have been a number of fly-tipping incidents in the Bidston Hill, Flaybrick Cemetery locations. These have ranged from domestic waste to furniture and on occasions commercial type waste including frying oil.
Where appropriate, i.e. if the waste is likely to contain personal information, officers have investigated these incidents and in all cases arrangements have been made to have the waste removed. Unfortunately none of the incidents have produced any evidence sufficient to identify an offender. In consideration of the disparate location, frequency and nature of the fly tips it is likely that a number of different offenders are responsible and this makes it more difficult to plan a campaign to prevent further incidents.
The Director of Technical Services has recently purchased a number of ‘No Fly-tipping’ signs for use as a deterrent at hot spot locations and consideration is being given as to whether locations in this area would be appropriate. The Council also has available portable CCTV equipment for use in monitoring and detecting this type of offence. Not all locations are suitable due to public access, lighting, security etc and use of such equipment is strictly controlled. However, when the current operation has finished officers will undertake a review to see if use of the equipment in the locations identified above is feasible or appropriate.”
(C) Mr J Brace, having given the appropriate notice in accordance with Standing Order 11, submitted the following question on gifts and hospitality:
“I note that at the Standards Committee meeting of 30 March, 2009 the Committee agreed that all Councillors were to be reminded about their responsibility to register gifts and hospitality (over the value of £25) within 28 days in the Register of Interests, as well as informing the Monitoring Officer.
I welcome the fact that Wirral Council currently publish online a Register of Interests for Councillors, but note with concern that currently any gifts and hospitality received (or offered) to Councillors are not currently shown on Wirral Council’s website.
At a time when public confidence in their elected representatives is low, I note that other borough councils, such as Stockton-on-Tees, Stevenage and Hartlepool publish the information contained in their gifts register on their websites.
Councillors should be open about decisions they make, selfless, honest and show integrity. Publishing the list of gifts and hospitality Councillors have received would help members of the public better understand any potential conflicts of interest that may arise as a result as well as counter any uncertainty that stems from the information not being made easily available.
Can you provide in your answer:
(a) details of gifts declared by each Councillor (both in their duties on Wirral Council and representing Wirral Council on outside bodies), names of donors and value if known for the last 12 months, and,
(b) a commitment that in future this information will be published on a regular basis on Wirral Council’s website in line with current practice at other local councils.”
Councillor Ian Lewis, Cabinet Member for Community and Customer Engagement responded as follows:
“Can I begin by thanking Mr Brace for his question and also say how much we should all value his work, and Leonora’s, to hold this Council to account.
Mr Brace will know that the new Government believes that we need to throw open the doors of public bodies, to enable the public to hold elected representatives to account. We also recognise that this will help to deliver better value for money in public spending, and help us cut the record deficit.
The Council will, of course, work with in existing laws to protect the personal data of residents while striking the right balance with promoting freedom of Information.
At the last Council, Cabinet was requested to consider further steps to open Wirral Council to the public. Mr Brace, perhaps more than most, will have noticed how the new Cabinet has reduced the number of exempt items discussed, to enable the press and public to stay at meetings for longer. This followed Wirral becoming the first Council in Merseyside to publish all supplier spending of £500 or more.
The Leader also responded to longstanding calls from the public and released details of the Council’s sponsorship deal with Tranmere Rovers.
We will soon publish all major supplier contracts, enabling the public to see not only what we spend, but what we spend it on. Later this week, Wirral Council will launch our new ePetition scheme that builds on the work undertaken to open up the Council through petitions and give people the right to address this Council.
We are also looking at how best to remove all controls over the broadcasting of Council meetings.
We recognise that, as well as being more open and transparent with the public, the Council has also been too secretive with its staff. The Leader has, since May, been in regular contact with staff, to keep them informed of the issues faced by the Council and to involve them in decision making. Many of the Council’s staff, at all grades, have been in direct contact with the Leader, highlighting areas of waste and giving their ideas on making the Council work better.
In line with the plans outlined by the Coalition Government, we will also, in the New Year, publish online the job titles of every member of senior staff and organograms that include all positions. And we look forward to new protections for whistleblowers in the public sector, also promised by the new Government. That protection should, we hope, help the future Martin Morton’s of the Council.
Mr Brace’s remarks and questions are also directed at the conduct of elected members. Mr Brace tells us that councillors should be open about decisions they make, selfless, honest and show integrity. Equally, no councillor is above the law – whether local Government law, civil or criminal law on theft, fraud, bribery or defamation or any other matter.
We all abide by the various Local Government Acts and the guidance provided for councillors, including that from the Standards Board for England. In particular, all members receive training on receipt of gifts and hospitality, not least paragraphs 8 and 13 of the Code of Conduct. While the system introduced in Wirral as a result of that Code of Conduct is rigorous in the way gifts and hospitality are overseen, I accept the point by Mr Brace that the system must also been seen to be rigorous. The offer of all gifts and hospitality, of £25 or more, to a person undertaking their duties as a Wirral Councillor, whether accepted or declined, will therefore be listed on the Council’s website.
We also welcome plans to regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists.
A person may also, of course, be offered gifts and hospitality, when seeking election, and we shall therefore publish the election expense return submitted by each elected member.
We also welcome the work by the Government to pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to remove big money from politics. And, in the spirit of openness, the answer I have supplied will be issued as a news release this evening.”
Councillor A Jones queried why 2 members of the public had been refused permission to ask questions on student tuition fees and the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management responded that the two questions had been ruled out of order as they did not relate to the discharge of the Council’s functions in accordance with the procedure for public question time.