A question relating to Plas Madoc has been rejected today, highlighting an impossible situation people may find themselves in over asking public questions at Executive Board meetings.
The Council rules state “Any question/statement to be put to a meeting shall be submitted in writing to the Head of Corporate and Customer Services of the Council by no later than 12 noon on the Wednesday before the meeting at which the question/statement is to be put.”
This however is problematic when the reports are often only placed online late on Wednesday afternoon, and you would only know if you are aware of the process and keep hitting refresh on the relevant page.
In that scenario it would be impossible for a member of the public to view the report and place a question ‘in time’ for the deadline.
If they read the local media they would have to wait a few hours from that point for us to spot it, read it, write it up (midnight-ish when we published ours) or an entire 24-36 hours delay to see it in print this morning – or not at all depending which paper / websites / radio / how you consume information.
A question was submitted today at 2pm on the topic of Plas Madoc, and the recommendation that a funding application should not be supported. Such a decision is being described as one that could in effect prompt the closure of the centre inside the next few weeks.
We have seen a copy of a reply by a relevant Officer of Wrexham Council who says that the question was not accepted by the Council Leader, citing it as out of time, adding “He advises that as far as he is concerned there was sufficient notice given in the Forward Work Programme and in the record of the previous Executive Board meeting on 08/11/16 to allow anyone to consider submitting any statement or question on this matter in time.”
The response also notes that the full three day legally required statutory period of notice has been met, which is usual for all the Executive Boards we can remember. It adds that although the recommendation was not published outside that timeframe, anyone with questions could have asked them.
The reply ends, “In light of this and to be consistent with previous decisions not to allow exemptions in such circumstances he is not persuaded that he should exercise his over-arching discretion to permit your statement and questions to be submitted out of time.”
The question has however in effect been asked in a digital fashion with the query and associated commentary being circulated to all Councillors, and as it landed in our inbox we presume much wider, with an additional cover note that says: “We reiterate that without knowledge of the Lead Member’s recommendation and when in previous correspondence the Lead Member stated his wish to support, it was impossible to anticipate the refusal of funding in order to submit a relevant Public Question, prior to the deadline and prior to the publication of the Executive Board report.”
With the question being circulated in this manner those who are not on the list, nor those who do not read this will be unaware of its existence. You, like us, are also unaware of the answers to the question raised.
The full question submitted, was from the Company Secretary of Splash Community Trust, and is as follows:
“On page two of Agenda Item 6 of today’s Executive Board meeting, there are five reasons given for the refusal to support the grant application from Splash.
The information on several of these points has been given, it is as follows,
(i) The application for the £50,000 for year two was made in August 2015, over three months before the end of year one. This grant for year 2 would have bridged the cash-flow gap for year 2 (which ended 30th November last) and allowed the Trust to access other funding steams. It must be recognised that without the support of your local council there is an obvious barrier to accessing external funding.
(ii) The Council query how Splash will cover match-funding for the Welsh Government Communities Facilities grant and the Lead Members and Officers are aware that there is no financial contribution to be made by Splash. The contribution is volunteer hours, which have in fact substantially exceeded the requirements by Welsh Government. In addition this grant of £500,000, which Splash pursued, will fund major repairs to the Leisure Centre and ultimately increase the value of a Wrexham Council asset – is there not a question here of how a ‘responsible’ landlord should welcome this?
(iii) The Council has concluded it is unknown how the match-funding requirements for the replacement boilers will be addressed by Splash. Wrexham Council have also been provided with evidence to show the match-funding for the application of £50,000 grant funding from WREN will be more than funded from the savings in gas consumption alone. This is quite clearly not a cost but a considerable saving.
(iv) The Council questioned the level of confidence in the financial and general governance arrangements. Splash have provided Wrexham Council with written reassurance from the Financial Auditors stating following year 1 of trading ‘with robust systems in place, the comment relating to the completeness of receipts and nature of receipts and payments will not be necessary in next year’s audit report.’ Surely Wrexham Council can appreciate and are aware that volunteers played a key role when the business first started to trade and were a huge part of the Business Plan, a Business Plan that Wrexham Council accepted when granting the lease back in November 2014. The staffing structure has evolved and we now employ 46 people which in turn puts thousands into the local economy of the Borough every month.
(v) The Council then question the financial position in respect of the first year of trading. Let’s be clear, Splash made an operating loss of £13,639 in the first year. When Wrexham Council were running the Leisure Centre, they made an operating loss of £550,000. The Auditors did note that Splash ‘would require financial support for the forthcoming period’, hence our funding request to the Council’s Executive Board.
Now this information has been laid before all members of the Executive Board, we ask that, taking all these facts into account, the Executive Board does not support recommendation 3.1 of this report and puts forward an amendment to support the grant funding application?”
We believe rules around submitting such public questions remain the same as they were in 2012, although other elements on how reports and pre-meeting information is shared has adapted since then.
Wrexham.com is kindly invited to ‘media briefs’ on Tuesday’s the week before Executive Boards where some of the Agenda is shared with an opportunity to question Lead Members, often the Council Leader and Chief Executive attend too.
Plas Madoc was not on the agenda items presented, and therefore no questions were possible, however it would have been possible to ask based off the work programme – but not on specific recommendations – which was the ‘the story’.
It is worth noting that often frank exchanges take place without questions dodged, for example this week we asked if 21 enforcement tickets issued under the Council control compared to Kingdom’s hundreds meant Wrexham Council should have done a better job in the first place – and hands were held up acknowledging that. Likewise we asked about the Peoples Market decision before it was public, and Councillor Pritchard said he was unaware of the details at that point in time.
Historically there used to be a media embargo until 6am Thursday morning, until we pointed out it was a slightly odd situation where we could not write about public information if we partook in the ‘media brief’ invitations. This situation was in place in 2012 however in March 2013 it changed to “when the report is live on our website or 6 am on Thursday prior to the meeting”. We were informally told this was historically relating to print deadlines – the aim being that Councillors do not read about information in the media before receiving the agenda packs and information reports directly.
Picture: We spotted this gentleman outside the Guildhall pondering the best way to submit a question in time for the meeting.