Last night at Sefton ‘s Full Council meeting we may have started to unravel what on earth went on within Merseyside’s Integrated Transport Authority when it dropped, out of the blue I would add, any involvement in bringing Merseyrail’s infrastructure under its own control.
A bit of history first. Taking Network Rail out of the management of our local rail network and putting all the work/responsibilities under Merseytravel has long been a policy of Merseytravel and it has been supported by all 3 political parties, many in the rail industry and by both the previous and current Governments. However as the Coalition Government was granting this long held wish Merseytravel backed out in June 2011. It did so via a rushed motion at a Merseytravel meeting which was not backed by any reports and opposition Lib Dem and Conservative members had no idea why the Labour led Authority had done a very surprising U turn on the matter. Attempts to gain coherent explanations since then have been unsuccessful hence my motion to Sefton Council of last night.
So what did I learn from putting the motion, which unsurprisingly Labour voted down. Well I learned that The Labour Chairman of Merseytravel is at odds with his Director General over the matter as Cllr. Dowd (senior) told us all that he disagreed with Merseytravel’s officers over the project. Bear in mind that Cllr. Dowd has previously supported it!
I learned that Cllr. Dowd’s (both of them i.e. Mark the senior one who Chairs Merseytravel and Peter the junior who is Leader of Sefton Council) think that instead of saving money as was always the aim of the project it could have cost Merseyside’s Council Tax payers £30m! Now where does that figure come from? Well it seems to be the current cost for Network Rail to maintain the Merseyrail system and the implication of their contributions to the debate indicated to me that they have taken the view that the £30m Network Rail spend on our local rail network (and which is paid by Government) would cease to be funded by Government. If they are correct I would like to see why they have come to this view.
The debate was ill-tempered and frankly that fact that I had to put the motion down says a lot about how many of us view Merseytravel. My own view is that instead of being a delivery agent for the 5 Metropolitan Councils on Merseyside it is an organisation that does not feel the need to justify itself to anyone and has become detached from the Councils. I have posted before about the frustrations of Council Leaders Chief Executives on Merseyside about how to bring Merseytravel into line and this latest incident shows why such concerns are held.
To be told during the debate that the Labour Group on Sefton Council had been fully briefed on why Merseytravel had made its spectacular U turn just takes the biscuit because if you are not a Labour councillor gaining any explanation of the policy switch has been all but impossible! Sefton Council has 4 councillors on Merseytravel – 2 Labour, 1 Lib Dem and 1 Conservative, yet the Lib Dem and the Conservative both say they have never had an explanation for what went on in late June. Indeed they both say they had been at a briefing session for councillors who are members of the Merseytravel only hours before Labour announced the ‘back out’ and at that briefing Merseytravel officers were still selling the project and the savings it would generate to the councillors!
So I suppose the big question is who is right? Would the project have made savings for Merseyside’s Council Tax payers as we all thought it would or would it have cost up to £30m? Or was there more to this than meets the eye? More investigations are required and a meeting with Mersytravel’s Director General is on the cards. Like many other things with Merseytravel this will run and run……