Great divides? Community boundaries – Mean a lot, mean a little?

I have often pondered on boundaries especially those associated with local government. What forms a boundary, why was it chosen and who chose it?

Here are two boundaries close to my Lydiate home. One is with Maghull and the other with Aughton:-

Maghull Brook - On the left Lydiate (and me) - on the right Maghull.

Maghull Brook – On the left Lydiate (and me) – on the right Maghull.

Sudell Brook - On the left Lydiate - on the right Aughton

Sudell Brook – On the left Lydiate – on the right Aughton

In both cases the boundary is obviously a stream and this can often be the case with local government boundaries where watercourses have been chosen to divide communities up.

The boundary between Maghull and Lydiate simply divides the two Civil Parishes of Lydiate and Maghull and the only real obvious difference this creates is the amount of Council tax or Precept that the residents of these two communities pay to either Lydiate Parish Council or Maghull Town Council. Both Civil Parishes are in Sefton Borough and both are a part of the Liverpool City Region/Merseyside.

The Lydiate – Aughton boundary is of far greater significance though as it is all but an invisible barrier rather than a boundary because Aughton Civil Parish is in West Lancashire Borough and the County of Lancashire. The world does not look any different on either side of Sudell Brook but in fact it is as the Sefton Borough – West Lancashire boundary has, since 1974, become a local government barrier. Why you can almost hear senior council officers saying ‘we are a Metropolitan Borough [Sefton] and they are just a County’ and of course the reverse will apply too. Sadly, whilst I may well be exaggerating here the reality is that since 1974, in local government terms, Sefton’s communities and those in West Lancashire have mainly planned for their futures in glorious isolation – a great divide indeed.

Considering the massive boundary between West Lancashire and Sefton you would think there would be a huge amount of cross-border co-operation and planning for the joint communities. You would think so but I assure you there is not.

I recall during my time as Leader of Sefton Council I went to Ormskirk to meet the Leader of West Lancs Council to try to kick-start closer working relationships but it seems that those who followed us have not developed things further. What sense does separate transport planning in the two Boroughs make? Environmental protection issues must be similar surely? Health issues surely do not stop at a stream do they? Why we even have an NHS Hospital Trust on split between Southport and Ormskirk either side of the great divide.

I recall when Sefton and West Councils were planning for building on the Green Belt and on the highest grade of agricultural land in England that I started to ask questions about how closely the two two planning departments were sharing and consulting each other. The answers I got were hardly an example of close cooperation in my eyes and I wondered if the contact was little more that phone calls with one side saying ‘we are doing X’, ‘well we are doing y’, ‘OK speak again next year maybe’.

The bottom line is that Merseyside and Lancashire are very different worlds in local government terms. Is this something that is hammered into local government officers from an early age akin to religious indoctrination? Whatever the case it is very much to the disadvantage of communities which are near to a significant local government boundary in my view.

Austerity as we think of it post the financial crash is far from being the whole story of the decline in council services

There is no doubt that austerity as either implemented by the Coalition Government (and then sadly pushed far, far harder by the present Tory Government) or indeed as outlined by Alistair Darling (his austerity would probably have been harsher than the Coalition’s some commentators say) on behalf of the Labour Party prior to the 2010 General election has had a huge impact on the ability of councils to deliver services.

But in fact there is a funding crisis that goes back much further than the financial crash of 2007 that has impacted on local authorities. That funding crisis is back in the headlines now but I recall it rearing its head almost every year that I was Sefton Borough Councillor during the budget setting process. In fact it was twofold i.e. children in care and care for the elderly.

Year on year senior council officers would present the need for extra money to be put into these two care budgets, often the amounts asked for, year in year out, would be have six 000,000’s behind them.

My point is that the elderly and children in care budgets have been eating further and further into council budgets for many, many years so austerity as far as local authorities are concerned did not start with the great financial crash but maybe 10 to 15 years prior to that.

And what made me think of this matter which must have been impacting on every local authority with responsibility for elderly/child care? Well two things really. The elderly care crisis is hitting the headlines yet again because politicians refuse to address it properly and have failed to do so for a least the last 20 years. And the other very local issue that made me think about it is the demise of public toilets and in particular the former award winning ones in Maghull.

Maghull's closed public toilets at the Square Shopping Centre.

Maghull’s closed public toilets at the Square Shopping Centre.

Public toilets have been in decline for a long time and the Maghull ones are an interesting and sad example not least because Sefton Council would once boast about them being award winners (Public Loo of the Year or some such award) back in the 1980’s. But since those days the Council’s focus, you could say its priority, has been slowly but surely moved towards funding the elderly and children in care.

What’s happened has been a creeping process whereby the amount of money each local authority has to spend on other services has got smaller and smaller as the budgets for elderly and children in care have got bigger. And this well before the consequences of austerity and the financial crash hit them via government grant cuts.

The thrust of government policy has in effect been to force local authorities to spend their money in these two key social care areas and on little else. Yes there’s no doubt that the austerity that followed the financial crash sped up this process beyond what anyone could have conceived but it had been a trend for a long time, one which was pursued by governments of all colours.

In reality local authorities (this does not include Town and Parish Councils – they don’t get an government grants) are now focused on delivering statutory services and have almost no money to deliver things that local people may want. Public toilets, for example, are a non-statutory service hence their demise across the UK.

Personally, I have thought that the funding of local authorities has been inappropriate for many years because they are in reality delivering two very different things i.e. local often non-statutory services for their communities and statutory services where they are in effect simply an agent delivering governmental/national services. The two got muddled up in the times of plenty and it did not seem to matter. However, in times of scarce money it is the local mainly non-statutory services that have been lost as the money has gone to prop up the statutory ones.

The former Aintree Library - closed by Sefton Council.

The former Aintree Library – closed by Sefton Council.

Sadly, it is more complex than that even because if you take the example of libraries they are a statutory service i.e. local authorities have to provide them. But the level to which they are provided is a different matter so Sefton Council was able to reduce it’s libraries from 13 to 6 without falling foul of the law not so long ago.

However you look at it local authorities are the fall-guys for austerity because governments of all colours over the past 20+ years have not funded statutory services, particularly adult/elderly social care, properly.

BREXIT – will we lose the EHIC card?

www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/jeremy-hunt-brexit-medical-treatment-ehic-health-select-committee-labour-a7544396.html

The Independent has the story on its web site – see link above

ehic-card-nhs_328x212

Looks like this valued card may be at risk. Is this going to be another potential negative effect of Brexit? But will it sober up a Labour Party, who are supposed to be Her Majesty’s opposition, but which seem to be daily more firmly in Teresa May’s Brexit back pocket?

With thanks to Roy Connell for the lead to this posting

Port of Liverpool – The two road only options on the table

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/port-traffic-route-headache-option-12556835

The Liverpool Echo has the story – see link above

This is a matter which I have been blogging about for a long time now and I still feel angry about it.

A classic cart before the horse situation if ever I saw one. The new Liverpool 2 River Berth catering for massive Post Panamax container ships is planned, constructed and completed before any serious thought is given as to how the increased freight is going to get to and from it. You really could not make this up as a planning absurdity but that’s pretty much what has happened.

Liverpool 2's massive new container cranes

Liverpool 2’s massive new container cranes

The A5036 route that links the Port of Liverpool at Seaforth with the motorway network at Switch Island is presently the only/major corridor for freight moving to and from the Port. It’s congested, at busy times the capacity is insufficient to cope with the traffic wanting to use it and there are already big concerns about air pollution from the diesel powered HGV’s that thunder up and down it. What’s more the A5036 is hemmed in by residential areas along significant parts of it.

As I have said before there are two options on the table from Highways England, either increase the capacity of the A5036 or build a new road right down the middle of Rimrose Valley Country Park! As if either option is credible and the plans seem to pit residents who live around the A5036 against residents who live either side of the Rimrose Valley.

And what has Sefton Council been doing? And where’s on earth is Network Rail? Between the two of them the best you can say is hiding behind the sofa!

Why has making new rail connections with the port seemingly been forgotten? Where’s the community leadership from Sefton Council?

This is indeed a dogs breakfast of a mess and the people left to pick up the pieces (and the air pollution) are the residents living in Netherton, Litherland, Crosby and Seaforth.

The present consultation on a road only solution needs to be brought to an end and only reconsidered when every possible rail freight possibility has been put in place.

Canadian Leader stands up to the bully next door as May is Selling England by the Pound

www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-38786656

As the rather sad Mrs. May went creeping around Trump for the odd crumb from his table the decent man next door to the USA who leads Canada was standing firmly against the politics of hate and division.

As the leader of the supposedly free world takes us all into some very dark places indeed with our own appeasing Prime Minister tagging along it’s great to see other world leaders like Justine Trudeau standing firm.

Trouble is that Mrs. May is in an impossible bind, she needs to take whatever Trump is prepared to offer her in terms of a trade deal with the US and at whatever the cost is to us. Having signalled that we want to cease beneficial trading with our nearest partners as a consequence of Brexit she may have no choice but to give in to any other country that is prepared to offer us a trade deal on their terms. And the more powerful that country the more the trade deals will on their terms.

What hope now for the NHS? It seems that in any trade deal with the US Trump will be wanting more access for US companies into NHS services so that they can turn a profit from them. And Teresa May will have no choice but to give Trump that access because our new trade deal with the US will be far more beneficial to the US than it is to us.

And what about education? Will Trump want access into that too? The bottom line Trump will want access into any part of our economy where US companies can turn a profit and that’s on top of our ever greater dependence on China of course.

May has even gone creeping around the former democracy of Turkey to sell them more arms so that they can keep their own people and and those in neighbouring counties under control. Nice to know we can still make a favourable trade deal by selling death to others.

‘Selling England by the Pound’ was the name of a Genesis album; maybe the title is now the Tories, UKIP and sadly even Labour’s new strap line. May your God (I don’t have one I might add) go with you in the words of the late great Dave Allen.

Conservative Council looks to 15% hike in Council tax

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-surrey-38678629

The BBC has the story on its web site – see link above

Now this is an interesting story and it shows how deep the cuts in local government funding have gone. Whether Surrey County Council’s Tory rulers will follow through with this significant rise remains to be seen though.

Locally the elected Labour Mayor of Liverpool was talking about a big hike in Council tax a few weeks ago only to back off when the unpopularity of it became apparent.

BUT it is clear to all of us that social care for the elderly across England is slowly but surely falling apart due to funding cuts. So one way or another we are going to have to pay more whether that be in national or local taxes. If this crisis, which mirrors the similar crisis in the NHS, is not tackled and soon we will no long be able to call ourselves a civilised country. Deliberately under funding care for the elderly is appalling.

With thanks to Roy Connell for spotting the BBC story.