A copy of an e-mail sent out by Sefton UNISON to its members, just before Christmas, has been forwarded on to me. I have rarely seen a document which contains more factual errors.
In summary, the e-mail accuses councillors of all parties of putting their own pet projects and their own financial interests ahead of the interests of UNISON members employed by Sefton Council, some of whom face redundancy to help cover a £25 million funding gap.
To quote from the e-mail, it refers to decisions in relation to efficiency savings “made by our elected members with matters of their own constituencies often taking priority over the people who provide the service (our Members).”
UNISON go on to claim that Sefton’s Cabinet on 17th December agreed expenditure of £195,000 for Tree Planting and also agreed £1million to refurbish Splash World.
They also claimed that the Full Council meeting, also held on 17th December, rejected a request for Councillors’ Allowances and Expenses to be frozen.
In fact all three of these claims are untrue.
Reports to (and Minutes of) the Cabinet and Council meetings held on 17th December are available to the public via the Council’s website and they explain what was really going on.
Dealing with each of those three UNISON falsehoods in turn:
1. Tree Planting
Paragraphs 3.1 to 3.3 of the Report to the Cabinet meeting (http://modgov.sefton.gov.uk/moderngov/Published/C00000139/M00004774/AI00009551/$TreePlantingTender.docA.ps.pdf) explain that around 90% of the cost of trees (i.e. £225,000 out of £250,000) is being funded from "Section 106 monies",. Section 106 monies are what property developers have to pay when they get planning permission to develop more than a very small number of houses. As an alternative to providing e.g. play areas and landscaped areas within the boundaries of the development, they can agree to pay the Council a calculated sum instead (under s. 106 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990).This minute is about agreeing to proceed with tree planting, the cost of which overwhelmingly comes from outside sources (s 106). Accordingly, the UNISON implication that the Cabinet is "frittering away" money on trees which could have been used to avoid redundancies, is false.
2. Splash World
What the Report to (and the Minutes of) the Cabinet make clear
(http://modgov.sefton.gov.uk/moderngov/Published/C00000139/M00004774/AI00009699/$SplashWorldReport.docA.ps.pdf) was that there was originally a "Sinking Fund" for Splash World involving an annual contribution of £200,000, so that over 5 years the fund would have built up to £1million, to be used for a refurbishment of the pool attraction.Around nearly 2 years ago (i.e. in the run up to the start of the 2008/09 budget), the Council decided to "save" the £200,000 it was contributing each year, so as to mean a slightly lower council tax rise. Instead it agreed that when the 5 years had elapsed (i.e. in 2013/14, as referred to in the minutes) it would borrow the money then instead. What was agreed 2 years ago was a "clever" accounting transaction, if you will.Thus all that part (3) of the resolution is doing is recapping what was agreed nearly 2 years ago, which included the intention of carrying out a refurbishment scheme in around 3.5 year's time. Again, for UNISON to imply that the Cabinet agreed, a week before Christmas, "fritter away" £1million on Splash World, is false.
3. Councillors’ Allowances and Expenses
When UNISON say that the Council meeting on 17th December rejected a request for Councillors to take an ‘expenses freeze’, this is the exact reverse of the truth.
On 17th December, the Council had before it a recommendation from the "Independent Remuneration Panel" (IRP) which had met in November 2009
(http://modgov.sefton.gov.uk/moderngov/Published/C00000143/M00004574/AI00009809/IRPReportAnnex2.pdf). This recommended paying higher allowances to 4 individual councillors. There were no changes proposed for the remaining 62 councillors. If agreed to, the total allowances bill would rise by £22,150 in a full year.
The problem was that the IRP had made the same suggestion earlier in the year, and the Council had said that it was unwilling to agree anything that meant an increase in the total cost. The Council resolved the following on 9 July 2009:
(1) the IRP recommendations be noted and, while supportive of the principles, this Council believes that the overall Councillors Allowances Budget should be capped at the present level; and
(2) accordingly, this matter be referred back to the IRP to consider how the IRP principles can be achieved whilst staying within the overall Councillors Allowances budget and the IRP be asked to examine the overall Councillors Allowances budget in the light of the current financial climate with a view to possible reductions in the budget.
Although the IRP meeting in November 2009 was presented with a proposal (by the Lib Dems, as it happens) that would have cut the allowances paid to the councillors in the Cabinet so that the allowances paid to those 4 members could have been increased without increasing the TOTAL cost of members' allowances, the IRP felt that they knew better - you can read what they said in the document referred to above.There was therefore an impasse at last Thursday's Council meeting, with the IRP wanting the total bill for councillors allowances to go up, and councillors saying that they did not want any increase in the total cost. Note that this is effectively the exact reverse of what UNISON said in its e-mail to members.The conclusion was that the Council voted to make no change at all at the present time (Minute 58, to be found at: http://modgov.sefton.gov.uk/moderngov/ieListDocuments.asp?CId=143&MId=4574 )