To be read by Sefton Labour Party

Dear Sefton Labour Party,

I hear that you are investigating me and what I consider to be my prejudicial interest in the appointment of a contractor who is doing some work for Maghull Town Council.

Sorry you will find this rather boring but as it was me who told you about my ‘interest’ a few weeks ago it is rather bizarre that you are now having me checked out, don’t you think?

For the record, my manager where I work is related to the contractor and as soon as that became known to me I made such information available to the Town Clerk of Maghull Council and told everyone who needed to know not to involve me in any dealings with this contractor.

For what it is worth I did not appoint the contractor and should you choose not to believe me then please report me to the Standards Board for England. You have said nothing to my face yet I have been told about your investigations by two sources so far.

And can I also thank you for reading our Lib Dem web sites and FOCUS leaflets. It is pleasing that you feel the need to wave around and quote from FOCUS leaflets and our web sites at Sefton Council meetings. We hope you gain some useful information from them and find some band wagons to jump on.

Yours sincerely

Sefton Lib Dems

Merseytravel – The farce continues

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……

A challenge from a local builder – Give me well trained apprentices or give me the youngsters so I can train them myself straight from school

Yesterday I was talking to a builder who works in the Borough. He is well respected within his trade and I had a good think about what he said to me. It would be inappropriate for me to name him here but I assure you these comments are very much a genuine expression of what he said.

It all started with us talking about the new school/college season starting and he commented that he would soon get calls from colleges asking if he could take on an apprentice, something he has regularly done in the past I understand. However, his concern is quite fundamental i.e. he would much rather take on a young person straight from school as an apprentice than one that has already been studying building at collage. When I asked him why he said that problem was that he felt more able to teach a youngster from scratch as opposed to one he feels has already picked up some bad habits at college that he has to correct. He was clearly questioning the courses run at colleges and felt that they were not up to the standards he felt they should be.

I suppose he was proposing a more work bases leaning process rather then a college based one; a traditional approach one could say. Now there is a brick to add to the wall of colleges so to speak!

Lydiate Canal Marina – Residents win Planning Appeal

Just through is the result of the Planning Appeal that I have posted about before. Readers will recall that Cllr. Robbie Fenton (also representing Lydiate Parish Council), Andrew Blackburn and myself supported residents in opposition to the appeal against planning permission being refused by Sefton Council’s Planning Committee. The appeal hearing was 4 weeks ago and it lasted for one and a half days at Bootle Town Hall.
Whilst we were never sure what the result would be our impression during the hearing was that things were going the way of the resident’s s campaign.

Is this the first bit of substanive positive news in the fight to protect our local Green Belt and Grade 1 agricultuiral land? Many of us certainly hope so.

Lunt – Have we captured a fly-tipper?

Some potentially good news is that Sefton Council’s Environmental Team may well have identified a fly-tipper operating in the Lunt Village area. If this turns out to be the case it will be time to celebrate as the Village has suffered long and hard with anti-social fly-tipping in the back lanes between Lunt and Thornton in recent times. Indeed, I checked the lanes yesterday evening and found dumped rubbish yet again.

I took this picture of fly-tipping around the Village a few weeks ago

I will be keeping a close eye on developments with my Park Ward colleagues Cllrs. Andrew Blackburn and Robbie Fenton as well as Cllr. John Gibson who represents neighbouring Manor Ward.

More news when I have it.

Should a Local Authority take legal action against one of its own members simply because they have fallen out with another member of the Authority?

There has been much comment recently about the legal action being promoted and/or paid for by Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority (Merseytravel) against a Lib Dem opposition member of that Authority.

If I have understood the situation correctly the Lib Dem member said something that the Labour Leader of the Authority took exception to and the Labour Leader then started legal action against the Lib Dem member but significantly the action is being paid for by the Authority i.e. using public money. The explanation, such as it is so far, from Merseytravel is that the Authority also took exception to the Lib Dem member’s comments and decided that its reputation was being damaged by the comments.

My first thought was that if I had taken legal action whenever I heard or read things about me, that I took exception to, in my time as Leader of Sefton Council and Maghull Town Council I would have kept solicitors in business for a long time. Frankly, having been likened to Robert Mugabe (I kid you not) by a local Conservative activist I think I have had the lot thrown at me!

But fundamentally what is going on at Merseytravel? Why on earth do the administration (and I include the senior paid officers of the Authority here) think it is in any way a good use of public money to take/support legal action against one of their own members who happens to have said something about the Authority’s Leader that the Leader does not like?

Political battles should be fought by the politicians themselves and if the battles lead to legal action then that action should not be funded by the public purse. Why you can almost see a case here for the Lib Dem member who is having the case brought against him to saying ‘hey Merseytravel pay my legal costs as well’! Or alternatively, what if the Labour Leader/Merseytravel lose their publicly funded case? Surely under that scenario it may end up paying the costs of the Lib Dem member anyway!

This ridiculous carry on strikes me as being one where Merseytravel need to relaise that public money is scarce, that it is inappropriate to spend it on a party political battle and that those of us outside the Merseytravel bubble think that any damage to the Authority’s reputation is being done by it getting involved in legal action it should not be a part of.