Labour MP’s backing Woolas!

I was very surprised to see prominent Labour MP’s jumping to the assistance of recently disqualified MP Phil Woolas. Have they not seen the literature that was put out in his name in the general election in Oldham East & Saddleworth? I have and grim stuff it was indeed.

I know politics can be a rough old game and at times all political parties can be guilty of pushing the boat out too far but in my view Mr Woolas clearly over stepped the mark by some distance and the election court agreed. Labour would do well to consider what the public would or indeed do think of such literature. A bit of sober reflection should stop tribal loyalty being a stronger pull than the common sense view.

Conservatives and the BBC

I was just a little amused to hear that Radio Merseyside had approached the Tory Parliamentary Candidate for Sefton Central to front up one of their programmes whilst their journalists were on strike last week. Talk about getting in bed with the enemy, the Tories have complained long and hard for years about the BBC being biased against them.

Was this an attempt by the BBC to redress a perceived party political balance problem or was it just a mistake leaving the BBC having to defend cries of bias from Liberals and Socialists? Whatever the case the Tories can’t moan any longer about bias after this BBC approach to them.

Southport Football Club

Well done Southport FC you used the TV covered match this afternoon to put on a great showing. A 5 – 2 loss may be hard to take especially as the team played so well but what it said to me is that our local Blue Square Premiere League team is on the up.

I recall two visits to Haigh Avenue, one when I was about 14 to see Southport play Stoke City in the FA Cup and one this season when I saw my own team Mansfield Town win 2 – 1. I could not be there today as family illness meant that I had to be in Preston but I managed to see some of the TV coverage.

What I recall most about my visit this season is how friendly Southport FC is. I was there as the Leader of Sefton Council at the invitation of the Club but you can always tell when folks are just being polite to a visitor. In this case they made me so welcome (despite Mansfield Town winning!) that I knew the welcome was genuine. Good luck to Southport FC, I hope you continue to do well except of course when you come up against the Stags.

A new war memorial for Aintree Village

Out of the blue this week Merseytravel announced that on a piece of unkempt land next to Old Roan Station and adjacent to the Old Roan Pub a piece of public artwork/war memorial, influenced by Aintree Village primary school age children, is to be dedicated on Remembrance Day.

The site has long been in the sights of Aintree Village Parish Council who have been saying for years that it needed to be tidied up. In fact the site was that of the former booking office for the previous Old Roan Station which was completely rebuilt half a dozen or more years ago.

What surprised me and indeed everyone else I have spoken to about the project is how it was kept under wraps for so long, or indeed why? I think all of us who have ever had dealings with Merseytravel know that they have their own unique ways of doing things but even for them this positive community project seems to have been kept unnecessarily quiet through the development process.

I look forward to seeing the end result, after all a new war memorial being erected is a rare thing these days.

Maghull North Station – Its still on track

Local folks will recall (have a look at my post ‘What a way to run a railway!’ of 9th October) the recent rather strange course of events over this new railway station project. Just a bit of recap though:-

* Former Lib Dem Sudell Ward Cllr. Roy Connell (who retired as a Maghull councillor in May of this year) helped ensure that the Prison Service made a £480,000 contribution towards paying for the new station to be built. This money will be available for up to 10 years (ending in 2019) together with the land on which to build the new station’s car park. All this is enshrined within a legal agreement with the Prison Service (now known as the National Offender Management Service – NOMS) when planning permission was signed off for the new prison on Ashworth South land in 2009.

* The rest of the funding has always needed to be found by Network Rail and Merseytravel.

* The project has been developed to GRIP 3 status with the GRIP 4 stage still to be completed by Network Rail. GRIP stands for ‘Guide to Railway Investment Projects’.

* The project has not been dropped as was stated by Labour at a Sefton Council meeting in July; it is simply deferred awaiting the completion of the development process and the funding package being put together.

* Some of the £480,000 from the Prison Service is not going to be spent on fireworks as Labour suggested it could be at the September meeting of the Sefton East Parishes Area Committee.

I was disturbed at the turn of events since July of this year so I brought together senior officers from  Sefton Council and Merseytravel so that a sensible assessment of where things really are up to with this vital new station project could be made. Some of the fog and misinformation has been cleared away.

The present status of this project is that it is still not fully developed by Network Rail and Merseytravel and it will need to be taken forward by these two organisations. My understanding is that the first 3 stages of project development have been completed, stage 4 is partly completed and stage 5 will only be undertaken when the final funding package is put in place. From what I have heard the funding is highly unlikely to be available within the next 18 months but after that we need to be lobbying Merseytravel and Network Rail to get the cash on the table. In other words Merseytravel need to prioritise this project and I will be pressing them to do that.

The bottom line is that we have until 2019 at the latest to get the station built but I really do hope that we can get things moving before then despite the national economic crisis. The congestion around the present Maghull Station and lack of parking spaces there causes real problems for the community, a second railway station for Maghull is the answer and we must not let this opportunity slip away.

The future of local government

The changes that will be brought about by the reductions in Government grants to local government are going to be on a massive scale. In future Councils will not have thousands of staff (many only doing the bidding of whatever Government is in power anyway) and the scope of council services will be far less than it has been for many years.

In principle, to a Liberal like me, ‘Big Government’ is normally bad governance as it means more rules and regulations controlling our lives. Locally big government manifests itself as ‘municipal socialism’, it has taken over our lives and it has not only been promoted by Labour! Seriously, Sefton Tories have pursued and indeed are still pursuing some local unaffordable projects such as the rebuilding of Southport Indoor Market (against the wishes of the vast majority of Southport’s councillors) and the rebuilding of Netherton Activity Centre. Both will cost millions that Sefton does not have and if this is not municipal socialism gone mad I don’t know what is.

What we need is local governance with services being managed at a very local level. Ever since the Second Word War and probably before it we have been centralising power and control in Westminster and indeed within remote and large councils. Take Sefton as an example, it covers all the way from Southport in the north right down to Bootle in the south taking in Formby, Crosby, Maghull and many other smaller communities. It has been a local government entity since 1974 but can it ever have been able to claim that it knows its communities well and that it delivers services appropriately to those very diverse town and villages? The answer has to be a resounding no as for many of its years it tried to govern on a one size fits all basis. It has not worked and thankfully lessons have been learned. We are now embarking on a new era which I hope will lead to true community empowerment; a process I have been very keen to drive forward.

The spending cuts are going to change councils forever but what we need to do is to focus that change on real communities. The challenges are enormous but the prize of better local governance and less of big brother telling us all what to do is a big one.