LEGAL INPUT INTO MAJOR REGENERATION PROJECTS EXEMPT APPENDICES
- Meeting of Economy Regeneration & Housing Committee, Wednesday, 26th January 2022 6.00 p.m. (Item 77.)
- View the reasons why item 77. is restricted
The Lead Principal Lawyer introduced the report which had been produced further to a request from this Committee at its meeting of October 2021. The report was provided to enable the Committee to have regular updates on legal risk and project profile, for which the first of these was presented for the Committee’s consideration.
Members were informed that a similar report went to the Audit and Risk Management Committee on 24th January 2022 in accordance with the request of this Committee at its meeting of October 2021. The debate and corporate risk profile raised at the earlier Committee meeting centred on the LGA ‘Planning Improvement Peer Challenge – Follow Up Review of July 2020’. This was due to the peer review being referenced on a slide presentation of the timeline to delivery. The risks associated with the broader regeneration programme had later been identified via a series of external reports. This included the Wirral External Assurance Review of September 2021 as commissioned by the Secretary of State. Members were informed that the Council had accepted these recommendations and implemented an action plan which included a response to the comment (as repeated by the Lead Principal Lawyer) that “an area of risk was ensuring that there is sufficient financial and legal expertise assigned to the very complex and fast moving delivery and investment vehicles in regeneration. Pleasure at seeing external funding secured and schemes progressing after many years of false starts may be bringing a degree of optimism that clouds a rigorous and healthily sceptical view of the financial risks.”
This report, however, focused more on the legal services response to the challenges of the ongoing regeneration projects.
A general discussion was held around the procurement of legal support. The Chair asked for it to be noted that whilst the Chair, Groups Spokespersons and Regeneration Officers of the Committee had been invited to the procurement interview, this was in the capacity of observers and there was no input into the decision to appoint.
Questions were asked concerning the combative nature of legal engagement with partners of different companies that deal with regeneration and around the improvement of the Council’s legal services, which was followed by discussion around the contents of the report. The Lead Principal Lawyer assured Members that changes had been made within legal services, alongside the appointment of a strategic legal partner. There was now a clear line of sight following the compilation of projects produced by regeneration officers to work on, which is set out as an Appendix to the report.
The Chair proposed setting up a working party to oversee the performance of legal support to the regeneration programme.
After a discussion, members resolved that, under section 100 (A) (4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the public be excluded from the meeting during consideration of the exempt Appendices 3 and 34 of the report on the grounds that they involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined by paragraph 3 of Part I of Schedule 12A (as amended) to that Act.
Members then resolved to consider the consider the report in public and proceeded to ask the Director or Law and Governance to comment. He cautioned against establishing the working group meeting with external stakeholders with whom there are ongoing negotiations. The Director of Law and Governance noted that Members wished it to be a supportive process and asked that thought be given to the terms of reference.
1) The contents of the report be noted;
2) Given the importance of the regeneration programme to Wirral in respect of achieving financial stability and sustainability for the Council, as well as other accepted benefits, a working group of elected members comprising the Chair and Spokespersons of Economy Regeneration and Development Committee, with the Chair and Spokespersons of Audit and Risk Management Committee also invited, along with an observer from the current Independent Panel, to oversee the performance of legal support to the regeneration programme, with partners invited when necessary; and
(3) The working group is in acknowledgement of concerns raised by both Committees and will allow for scrutiny of the legal process that will include feedback from partners where needed as an assessment of the performance of the Council legal practice as it relates to the regeneration programme. Its purpose is not to micromanage the process but to allow scrutiny and offer assurance to elected members across both Committees and the wider Council chamber.