17th August 2016
In the teeth of mounting concern, Wirral Council are ploughing ahead with Frank Field MP’s unheralded pet project, that of venturing into the dying newspaper industry by publishing and delivering a monthly newsletter, Wirral Today, funded by our cash (£270,000 per year). This started life as a Birkenhead only idea, but grew and grew.
It will be despatched, like it or not, to 145,000 Wirral dwellings … and flies in the face of central government guidelines.
The justification we’re told is that following a detailed consultation, the population feel poorly informed by the local press, have united as one and are banging the door down at the council demanding information, information, information.
If the council are to be believed, every man and his dog has suddenly become politically aware, deeply-engaged, and want the council’s newspaper because – all of a sudden – council senior people are not a gang of corrupt, self-seeking, oppressive bureaucrats and jobsworths and the people of Wirral are suddenly queuing up, gagging for their output.
As good as gone is Wirral Council’s dire history as long as your arm of self-inflicted scandal:
- the bullying and mobbing of whistleblowers and complainants
- the shameless issuing of packs of elaborate lies
- streams of denial by default
- elaborate obfuscation
- the trashing of statutory obligations towards vulnerable people
- the closing or farming out of essential services
- political skulduggery by the bucketload
- elevation of a scandal-ridden, ousted former leader to Mayor
- freedom of the borough for a CEO and a Birkenhead Bishop who did them favours
- evasiveness and a continuous dodging of accountability
- £137 million [stated] debt in Lender Option Borrower Option (LOBO) loans
- the gagging and costly paying off of abusive senior officers
- the fixing of Wirralgate using a bogus member’s complaint – all done with the ‘opposition’ leader’s nodding dog, kindly approval
- the protection of senior people in the know, who linger, abuse power, and cover up
- the pressurising of local media into doing their bidding – often complied with
- the atrocious high level failure of Children’s Services which members and senior officers are doing their damndest to gloss over
- (…not exhaustive…)
Freedom of Information request
We placed an FOI request for certain curious information regarding this monthly newsletter three months ago on 20th June 2016. Here is a link to it:
The crux of it is a minute taken from a Birkenhead Constituency Meeting held on 24th July 2014 which reads as follows:
“The Constituency Manager updated the Committee on the latest position in relation to the newsletter for Birkenhead and indicated that there may be some legal implications that needed to be further explored prior to publication and circulation.
The Head of Legal and Member Services advised the Committee that there was a need to ensure that the newsletter would not breech [sic] any aspects of the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity (the Code) and suggested that the decision on this be deferred and brought back to the next meeting of the Committee.
So, correct us if we’re wrong here, but plain as the nose on your face were the doubts put forward by the Head of Legal and Member Services, Surjit Tour.
Mr Tour clearly expressed caution and stated the reason for this: a need to ensure that publishing the Birkenhead newsletter (back then, four times a year) would not breach the central government guidelines (see the underlined bit above).
Now we’re wondering how the situation has altered so dramatically, and instead of having second thoughts about a four times a year Birkenhead only newsletter, it’s now full steam ahead with a 12 times a year Wirral-wide one !!
How could Surjit Tour’s publicly stated misgivings have been allayed? We have a good idea how this place ‘works’ behind the scenes so…..
- Were any secret meetings held in darkened rooms?
- What was said?
- Were any favours called in?
- Was anybody subjected to towel flicking or Chinese burns?
We just don’t know, and our rather detailed FOI request fired over the battlements at “fortress Wirral” has been met with a raised drawbridge.
So off we go down the road most travelled, and it’s the customary appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office. We won’t go into too much detail here so as not to ‘aid the enemy’, but despite Wirral solicitor Rosemary Lyon’s detailed references on the WhatDoTheyKnow website to various case law, we believe we have an excellent public interest case ourselves – and are prepared to take this one all the way to Tribunal.
Finally, we don’t believe a Labour-dominated, bullying (proven) council, controlled by a loose cannon, politically-driven MP – and which has enjoyed carte blanche to do what the hell it likes – will be content with stuffing the pages of a hard fought for newsletter – Frank’s pride and joy – with tedious information about dog poo, potholes and how many streetlights are being switched off this month.
They’re crazed propagandists and power abusers and Martin Liptrot will be itching to stuff the thing cover to cover with page upon page of dreary, party-political dogma.
Not straight away of course. It’ll be a case of – drip – drip – drip … let’s see what we get away with this month … drip – drip – drip … steady as she goes … drip – drip – drip … we did it, no-one noticed, lol … drip – drip – drip … right, let’s turn it up a notch … gush – gush – gush …
…and before we know it, it’ll be too late.
It’s a process known as consolidation of power and yes, it is deeply cynical and yes, they will not be able to help or contain themselves and yes, this was the sole reason for doing it in the first place.
p.s. As the “Vote Labour, you know it makes sense” medicine seeps in via Wirral Today, stand by for eye-watering amounts of your council tax money splurging out – on expensive barristers like Robin Hopkins of 11KBW in an epic, hideously misconceived, long, drawn out legal battle with central government – which will happen if our approach to the Information Tribunal fails.
Toodle Pip !!