Wirral’s former council leader said he is “proud” of the borough’s response to the New Ferry explosion despite a report finding the town missed out on vital disaster relief funding because of internal delays.

Phil Davies made the comments during a meeting of Merseyside’s Police and Crime Panel on Thursday morning, called to scrutinise his appointment as the region’s new deputy police and crime commissioner (DPCC).

A report from the council’s business scrutiny committee into the March 2017 disaster, published earlier this year, strongly criticised delays that saw the local authority miss out on government funding for disaster relief.

But when asked to apologise by Wirral Conservative Les Rowlands, Mr Davies declined.

He said: “I don’t feel I do need to apologise. I think we handled that disaster really effectively.”

The gas explosion, caused by furniture store owner Pascal Blasio as part of an insurance scam injured 81 people, destroyed six businesses and left 86 people homeless.

Although the council, then under Mr Davies’ leadership, put up more than £500,000 for disaster relief, an independent report criticised the local authority for several failings including not asking for government aid sooner.

Mr Davies has disputed this, blaming central government for refusing to release funds to help New Ferry.

He told the police and crime panel: “I don’t think I have got anything to apologise for. I’m very proud of the role I played and my administration played.”

But Cllr Rowlands said his refusal to apologise showed he did not “take failures rightly” or “acknowledge them at all”.

The remote hearing, believed to be the first conducted by any Merseyside political body, also saw Cllr Rowlands clash with Mr Davies over his record as council leader.

Mr Davies told the panel his experience leading Wirral Council for seven years meant he could “hit the ground running” as deputy to Police and Crime Commissioner Jane Kennedy.

But Cllr Rowlands said Wirral residents had no confidence in Mr Davies after seeing his track record as council leader and did not want to see him become DPCC, a statement Mr Davies did not accept.

‘Grave concerns’ over nomination process

Mr Davies’ nomination to take over the vacant DPCC post had already proved controversial after it emerged he was the only candidate considered, despite stepping down as council leader last year in order to leave politics and spend more time with his family.

Ms Kennedy said the recruitment process had been “streamlined” because of the urgent need to fill the position during the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Davies told the panel: “I was approached by Jane Kennedy to see if I would be interested in helping out as her deputy.

“I agreed to do the role for a year because I believe she was facing some challenges. I’m retired, but I’m able to get involved immediately and do whatever I can to help the smooth running of her office.” 

But members of the police and crime panel objected to the process that had seen him selected.

Cllr Rowlands described it as “undemocratic” and Labour Cllr John Sayers, of Sefton Council, said he had “grave concerns about the process”.

Previously, Ms Kennedy has defended the “truncated” recruitment process by saying the coronavirus crisis meant there was not enough time to advertise for the job and carry out a full round of interviews.