Local Democracy – Who investigates the goings on in local government these days?

I recently came across a scheme funded by the BBC (or more to the point more probably by its licence fee payers) to address a matter I have long had concerns about – see the link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2017/local-democracy-reporters

Having been a councillor since 1985 I have watched the demise of local reporting on local government with increasing concern. The demise has followed the loss of many local newspapers but even where the local newspapers do exist there is rarely any serious investigative journalism going on these days. I can recall 3 former newspapers that served my community from the not so distant past – The Maghull & Aintree Star, The Maghull Times & The Maghull & Aintree Advertiser and of course we have also lost the regional Daily Post too. This loss of local newspapers is sadly replicated across most communities.

I recall the days when the Maghull reporter for the Maghull & Aintree Advertiser would sit through most meetings of Maghull Town Council listening to and reporting on the debates that went on. Every year or so the reporters would change as new trainees were taken on. Nowadays you would be hard pressed to see local reporters at any meeting of Sefton Borough Council (or Merseytravel, the Fire Authority, NHS decision making bodies etc. etc.) unless a big issue is already on the agenda and even then the reporting is usually of ‘x’ said this and ‘y’ said that nature. You might say the local media often just passes on opinions these days. My point is there is little in the way of getting behind the politicians/officials spin.

A local paper on the warpath would once have been as worrying to a local council as the District Auditor if things were going wrong; now neither pay much attention to what a Council does so who is uncovering the goings on within local government and indeed within the other local decision making bodies that affect the lives of us all? Putting it bluntly no one the vast majority of the time.

Yes we see local government stories in the local press but they are virtually always built upon press releases from councils or the politicians who run the councils, or they are about party political spats between opposing politicians.

Is the issue that the remaining local media is not training young journalists to get to the heart of what is going on in local government? Is it that they can’t afford to pay the kind of wages required to bring on good investigative journalists? A good and experienced local government reporter would once have been expected to know as much or indeed more than the local political bigwigs they were reporting on so that they could take on the spin and expose the facts.

The problem is of course a national one, of that I have little doubt. I wonder how many uncomfortable moments that councils and publicly accountable local bodies across the land should have had (and would have had in the days when the local media was a force to contend with) are not being picked up at all these days, unless the matter is so bad that it reaches the national press/media such as the Rotten Boroughs page of Private Eye?

This challenge is, I think, what the BBC scheme is trying to address but will it have any effect? Are a new generation of independently minded investigative journalists going to be created via it? Is the present day poor reporting by the BBC a reflection of too few good investigative journalists coming through the system and is that why the BBC has launched the scheme?

As the majority of journalists will have started at the bottom of the journalistic ladder reporting on the goings on of the local parish councils will we once again see bored young reporters sat listening to the debates of Little Twittering Parish Council awaiting a juicy story?

In a functioning healthy democracy well informed investigative journalists are a big part of keeping the powerful on their toes and I fear the demise of them at a local level is doing us all a disservice.

Maghull – Moss Side Hospital/Shell Shock/Public Artwork

Readers of this blog site will recall how disappointed I was when the railway powers that be refused to acknowledge (in the name of the new Maghull North Station) the part the former Moss Side Hospital had played in the treatment of Shell Shock during and after WW1. Indeed, that disappointment was felt across a large number of campaigners as we wanted the station named ‘Maghull Moss Side’ because it sits on the site of the former hospital as does the new Poppy Fields housing estate.

View of platforms at Maghull North Station

My blog posting of December 2015 refers:- tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/12/07/maghull-name-new-station-maghull-moss-side/

We may have lost that particular battle but things have moved on in a far more positive way since and users of the new station will probably have seen the display boards that have been erected on the station’s platforms detailing the history we all wanted recognised. Here’s a photo of one of the boards:-

Now Maghull Town Council has stepped in and is to provide a piece of public artwork for display at the station. Details of the artwork can be found, via the link below, to the planning application documents recently submitted to Sefton Council (look at the Design & Access Statement):-

pa.sefton.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=PF34SBNWH4600

Local history is important in any community but in Maghull, which is world famous for 3 things, it is vital that the past is not forgotten. And the 3 things? This issue of course because of the pioneering medical work into trauma, the fact that Maghull had one of the first ever epileptic colonies (The Maghull Homes) and finally because it was the home of world famous toy maker Frank Hornby of Meccano, Dinky Toys and Hornby Model Railways fame. Who’d have thought that a town, which many think is just a post 2nd World War suburb of Liverpool, had such a history!

With thanks to Nigel for the lead to this posting.

Click on the photos to enlarge them

What about the women who built our country? They need recognition

I have long thought that our male dominated society is to our mutual disadvantage so was taken by the posting below which I recently picked up on:-

www.libdemvoice.org/lib-link-alex-colehamilton-we-still-dont-value-women-in-public-life-57971.html#utm_source=daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=email

Quote from the article – ‘The commemoration of important and trail-blazing women matters. It matters because if we don’t do it then the subliminal impact of public art is to cement the patriarchal view that only men can ever achieve greatness.’ I think that’s spot on.

Better Days Ahead – Well there has to be surely

www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMr3_5bO8fU

Above is a link to a most wonderful tune by jazz guitarist Norman Brown.

Hey things are more than a bit grim at present. The NHS is falling apart at the seams, the police are so under funded they struggle to protect us from crime, our schools are at breaking point with budget cuts, Northern would rather run buses than trains, Government is all at sea and their Official Opposition doesn’t seem to know how to oppose them. Trump keeps going bonkers, global warming is going to create a living hell for future generations and Brexit is going to see job losses, an economic downturn (yes we can keep going down!), less environmental protections…………. But you get my drift, as a progressive times have never been so tough – Thatcherism and Reaganomics were grim but we are are potentially on the road to far far worse.

So what do you do in the face of all this misery? You realise that there will be better days ahead as the electorate are sure to slam the brakes on whose they put in power and U-turn the political juggernaut away from the march towards fascism back to a progressive way forward. Well we’ve got to hope so because staying on the course the UK is presently on means a very poor outcome for us all but for the poor it does not bear thinking about!

But until May is put out of her misery and until Corbyn learns to oppose try listening to this tune by Norman Brown entitled Better Days Ahead, it will lift your weary soul…..

Maghull – All that remains (of Burleigh House)

A corner of wall and a door have not been demolished – I wonder why? Where the major services came into the property which sit need disconnecting?

Burleigh House was a substantial property on the Ashworth South Site in Maghull, it had previously been a part of Moss Side Hospital’s grounds and was set back a few yards off Park Lane. The land is presently being redeveloped for the Poppy Fields and Pavilions housing estates.

But why the photo and the history lessen? Well the photo struck me as odd in that the demolition of the house seems to have been stopped with 95% it already gone but the other angle goes back a while to when I was first elected to Sefton Council’s Molyneux Ward in 1999.

Probably the first contact I had as a fresh faced and enthusiastic Sefton Councillor was from an organisation called the Beechpark Initiative, an organisation covering the Beechway estate (in Melling) and the Park Lane/Parkbourn/Parkbourn Square estate (in Maghull). The Maghull/Melling Civil Parish Boundary passes right through the middle of Ashworth Hospital in case you did not know. Both these small estates (built at differing times) had originally been staff accommodation associated with the mental health hospital they still sit either side of and which is called Ashworth Hospital these days. Here’s a note from the Charity Commission’s web site about the Beechpark Initiative:-

beta.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity-details/?regid=1088209&subid=0

The charity wanted to take over Burleigh House and use it to further their community and educational aims and I recall trying to help them together the then MP for Maghull of the time George Howarth. Sadly, despite our efforts and those of others too the ambitions of Beechpark to take over the house did not become a reality so it’s rather sad to see the last bit of it hanging on awaiting its seemingly inevitable end.

Click on the photo to enlarge it. It was taken on 24th March 2018 and is also amongst my Flickr photos at:-

https://www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

With Thanks to Keith Page for the lea\d to this posting

Melling – Remember ‘The Chesterfield’?

The Chesterfield was a banqueting Suite/restaurant for want of a better description on Prescot Road in Melling, near to the junction with Cunscough Lane. The building was originally a school (St. Mary’s RC Primary School which closed in the 1970’s?) and the banqueting suite/restaurant itself closed around 2000?

The site has now been redeveloped as a large house and here’s a couple of photos of it with an appropriate plaque/datestone reflecting back to what used to be on the site.

The building as it was until the recent redevelopment – Photo Credit Rightmove

From talking to a Melling resident who lives nearby I think I have pieced together the rough history of this site. There seems to have been a link between the former school with St. Mary’s RC Church (of which more in a subsequent posting) just over the civil parish border and further along Prescot Road into Aughton. Also, the old school and indeed the restaurant/banqueting building was used as a polling station in elections until a few years ago.

But that about exhausts all the information that is readily available, unless of course anyone out there can fill in the gaps. Comments, additions and corrections gratefully received.

With thanks to Alan Thompson for his help with this posting