Cash strapped council to have fewer meetings after damning report

Wirral Council is set to cut the number of committees it has, after being criticised for having an ‘overelaborate’ system last year.

George Morgan 

Two reports into the council, published last November, were highly critical and said it had avoided tough decisions, with councillors focused on “political point scoring”.

One of the reports, by Ada Burns, looked at the governance of the council and the move from a cabinet system, which gave a lot of power to just 10 councillors, to a committee system which spreads power more evenly across all 66 councillors.

One section of Ms Burns’ report read: “[The new system] has clearly improved member engagement but poses a further risk to the improvement journey because of its immaturity, its overelaborate design, and the administrative burden it’s placing on officers.

“The number of committees and requirements to ensure appropriate briefing of all the five political groups in the lead up to each meeting is posing a significant resource burden on the council.”

Any impact on the council’s resources is particularly important at the moment, as the local authority needs to agree a budget which includes £20m worth of savings on February 28.

To deal with some of the criticisms in the Ada Burns report, tonight’s meeting of Wirral Council’s Constitution and Standards Committee decided to cut the number of policy and services committees, the main decision making committees in the council, down from seven to six.

Committees for issues such as the economy, adult social care, environment and transport, tourism and leisure, and education, along with the most powerful committee, called Policy and Resources, will remain.

The main change agreed to tonight will see the responsibilities of the Housing Committee rolled into the Economy, Regeneration and Development Committee.

But Cllr Tom Anderson, who leads the Conservative group on the council, wanted to go even further and cut the number of committees to five.

He thought the administrative burden would not be shifted unless this change was made.

However, Labour’s Paul Stuart disagreed, and said there were other ways of cutting workload such as keeping committee agendas concise and not having lots of “irrelevant” reports to note.

Cllr Stuart said the number of committees could be reviewed again in the next year.

The committee voted by eight to three to reject the move to just five committees, with Labour, and the sole Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent councillors against and the Conservatives in favour.

The original proposal to move from seven to six committees was then passed.