Ashworth Hospital visit

I have been to Ashworth Hospital today, the first time I have been there for a while. The purpose of my visit was for a catch-up chat with a couple of their senior managers and we focused on the future of the Special Hospital.

There have been rumours doing the rounds in the Maghull & Melling community (the site is half in Maghull and half in Melling) for a while about whether the hospital has a future. Today I learned that it certainly does and there are no plans for it to be run down. This is good news for jobs locally.

A specific matter we discussed is the planned sell-off of some of Ashworth’s land for housing in the not too distant future. Putting it simply the Mersey Care Trust, who run Ashworth Hospital, want to dispose of surplus land so that they can raise money to invest in the hospital’s facilities. I urged the managers to consult the nearby community as their plans developed and they said they were happy and already prepared to do that.

We all know that Ashworth deals with some of the worst offenders with mental health problems in the Country but most people would not know it was in the heart of our local community. The 1980’s were a time when this Special Hospital gained a lot of bad publicity for the way it was run yet now all is calm and many local people work there and that helps our local economy. I have to say that the meeting was very positive and constructive and I enjoyed my chat with two pleasant and constructive senior Hospital managers. 

Postscript – No sooner had I got home than the phone rang; it was local resident looking for my help but it soon became clear that he worked at Ashworth. Not only that but he went to school with a good mate of mine! An embarrassing photo of my mate as a young lad is promised!

Loads a money!

I often think of the Harry Enfield character when I see Labour politicians saying daft things about our economy. We know that the bankers were responsible for the financial crisis in a big way but Labour were spending and borrowing like there was no tomorrow. I have no doubt that the cuts we are having to face now would not be so significant if Labour had been more prudent with our cash. The tax revenues of UK plc were never going to match Labour’s spending plans so they simply borrowed more and more.

But have Labour learned? I suspect not as their chant now is along the lines of the cuts do not need to be so harsh! If only they had said the spending and borrowing does not need to be so big when they were running the Country.

Labour can duck and dive as much as they like in opposition but I, like many other public sector workers who could be made redundant, know that they had a good hand in getting us into this mess.

People who have influenced me

The other day I got into conversation about who influences you as you grow up and develop outside of the family. It makes you think about who you are and why you are who you are.

At school my fondest memory is for Jack Petty, a Southport man who taught history, geography and craft subjects in my early years at Ormonde Drive Secondary Modern School in Maghull  (now grandly known as Maghull High School). Jack, if I understood properly, left the forces after WWII and simply became a teacher. I guess he was not carrying huge qualifications yet he was the best teacher I ever had. Kind, engaging and encouraging are the words that come to mind; I learned a lot from Jack.

In politics the late great David PenhaligonLiberal MP for Truro is probably top of the pile and if anyone wants to read an uplifting and very human book I would recommend the one written after David’s untimely death by his widow Annett Penhaligon entitled simply PENHALIGON. I still remember the announcement of his death in a road crash on 22nd December 1986 like it was yesterday. A truly great man and a politician loved by all who met him.

Ludovic Kennedy’s writings have also been a significant influence on me. His books on religion (All in the mind – A farewell to God), crime (A presumption of innocence) and Scottish history (In bed with an elephant) are great reads. And as a railway buff I can’t forget his Great Railway Journey across America for BBC TV.

Many others have influenced me over the years such as Andrew Beattie and Peter Gibson. They are not well known and sadly Andrew died suddenly in 1999 but they, at a personal and local level, probably had just as much influence on me as did the two more famous politicians mentioned above and dear Jack Petty the school teacher.

Around Maghull & Lydiate Through Time – Book Review

Local historian John Rowlands (still former Maghull GP Dr. Rowlands to me) has come up with another one of his books on the history of Maghull & Lydiate and a good one it is. This time he uses before and after shots of buildings and sites and it works well.

Imagine my surprise to find our own family home on page 31 in both the before and after shot. Our house, one of the very few terraced houses in Maghull, was built around 1886 and the oldest photo (which looks to have been taken between the turn of the Century and the First World War) is still quite recognisable. I was given a copy of the same photo by an old lady called Mrs Cook who lived in our row of houses. Sadly, she died around 10 years ago. She also gave me a copy of the photo that John uses on page 30 of the former Coach and Horses Pub, which moved a few yards further north along Liverpool Road North and still stands.

John Rowlands was given Maghull’s Civic Award a few years ago for his work as a local historian and it is great to see that he is still documenting our local history.

Liverpool City Region – What will its future look like?

City Regions have always been an ill-defined entity. Labour set them up but did not give them any powers. In many ways what we now call the City Region Cabinet has been there for years as it was previously known under the less grand title of the Merseyside Leader’s Group. In those days it existed to debate common problems and challenges across Merseyside, to explore collaboration to save costs and generally to ensure that an avenue of communication existed between the 5 Merseyside Councils. All sensible stuff although for a Council like Sefton, which has a longer boundary with Lancashire that it does with Merseyside, not having Lancashire County Council and West Lancashire Borough Council involved was always the big downside. Then along comes the City Region concept, which was intended to be larger than Merseyside and could probably be best defined as taking in the communities with a significant number of residents travelling to work in Liverpool. Well that certainly takes in West Lancashire as many Burscough, Ormskirk and Skelmersdale residents work in and around Liverpool. However, the City Region was never formalised, no powers were handed down as Labour had promised and it all rather fell by the wayside. The City Region, which adopted Halton Borough Council (Runcorn and Widnes) some years ago taking it up to 6 local authorities, carried on doing what it used to do under the old title with some added bells and whistles.

But where are we going now in the Coalition Government’s’s brave new world where there is little money (gambled away by bankers and spent and borrowed by Labour) and localism (at last) seems to be king? Well, one thing is for sure there is not going to be a powerful public sector City Region organisation although we are threatened, for want of a better word, with either a City or City Region Mayor. I must say that the latter does nothing for me; why concentrate power in the hands of one person? Sorry, this is wrong headed thinking.

So we seem to be back to collaboration where it is sensible, spreading best practice and debating things of wide importance. BUT if we get it right the City Region will drive forward the local economy with the private sector, tackle transport issues etc. which will be all to the good. However, Sefton still wants to work with Lancashire by encouraging their Councils to work more closely with our Borough and indeed the City Region.

The local government boundaries created in 1974, when Merseyside was formed, have sadly been a barrier to working with Lancashire and breaking them down is important for economic, health and transportation reasons, to name but the obvious ones. So the battle goes on to open up the Merseyside Lancashire boundary, with Sefton leading the welcoming party. Talks have started, more are planned and hopes are high. Any visitors from another planet would think that a fence had been built bewteen Sefton and Lancashire in 1974, yet no fence exists. However, fences of a different nature were built slowly and by default from 1974 onwards as local government and health providers, for example, created their own separate structures that grew apart. Breaking down those structures made over 35 years does not happen over night but health collaborations across Southport and West Lancs are being developed further and you never know one day, if Government really does pursue the localism agenda all the way, we will construct structures to manage communities as they best suite those communities rather than big brother in Westminster.

Parish Councils meeting hits buses nail on the head

Last night I attended a meeting of the ’10 Parishes’(the umbrella organisation that brings all 10 Parish Councils in Sefton Borough together) if only for a sort time because of other commitments. They were discussing the preparations for the 3rd Local Transport Plan (LTP) for Merseyside and had a transportation expert from Sefton Council leading the discussion. Now LTP planning has filled more pages over the years than I care to remember, principles, policies, strategies, aims……………… you get my drift. But it took Gerry Lee the present Chairman of Melling Parish Council to say that all he wanted is ‘for someone to listen to us about the poor buses services in our Parish’ or words to that effect. Gerry was of course right and others chimed in with similar concerns from across the Borough. Access or the lack of it by public transport to Ormskirk and Fazakerley Hospitals (and Litherland NHS Drop-In Centre, I would add) were the big concerns.

What we can all learn from this is you can have as many glossy brochures as you like, costing loads of money to produce, but if like Melling Parish Council you have shouted from the roof-tops for 10 years that  bus services in the evenings, on Sundays and on Bank Holidays are non-existent why on earth should you think that another round of glossy brochures is going to solve the problem?! 

Like Melling Parish Council I have been raising with Merseytravel time and time again how poor Melling’s bus services are and like them I have had the brush off. I have posted blogs about this before and will probably end up doing it again.