Little regulation & minimal enforcement

I can’t say I was big on or even thought much about regulation and enforcement until after the turn of the last century, but that’s probably because for most of my life UK governments, of all colours, made a reasonable fist of regulating and enforcing things across our society.

What I think made me sit up and take notice was when Gordon Brown brought in his ‘light touch’ regulation of banks before the financial crisis hit. It struck me straight away as being a bad move to trust too much those who control our financial systems and my feeling is that the crisis, which soon followed, demonstrated why shutting one eye to the activities of banks and the financial sector, in general, was a really bad idea.

But deregulation and light touch/no-touch enforcement is now the thing across many sectors. It’s as though there’s now a general acceptance that ‘do as you please and beggar the consequences’ is mainstream in our politics! Yes, I realise that the austerity which followed the financial crisis will have brought with it a considerable reduction in the enforcement of regulations simply via the regulators and enforcers being reduced in number within government agencies/departments, councils, the police etc. etc. So my first question is, was austerity used as a back door by the libertarian right to get regulators off their backs to enable that ‘do as I/we please’ attitude? I’m pretty sure the answer to that is a rather obvious YES.

Our roads are a clear example of pretty much no regulation or enforcement leaving drivers to do as they please with little chance of any come back other than via retrospective enforcement due to an accident where someone has been injured or killed. But policing, in general, is surely now a process of reaction to events with prevention very much a thing of the past. Community policing has all but been abandoned and with it the local intelligence that used to be gathered by policewomen and men in neighbourhoods they knew well.

There’s little point in having laws if there are no effective regulators or enforcers of our laws. However, bit by bit over the years we have arrived at a point where those who wish to break laws and regulations have realised that there’s a high likelihood that they’ll be able to get away with whatever dodgy things they wish to. Human nature is to push at boundaries to see how far our luck can be pushed. Sadly, we’ve now created a society where those who want to push boundaries a long way are doing so because they’ve twigged that no one is likely to stop them or enforce action against them.

So whether it be a poorly regulated financial sector or no effective enforcement of bad driving (and there’ll certainly be other sectors too) this process leads to a wild-west approach to our society. You could call it an ‘every man and woman for themselves society’ where significant numbers of the population are beyond any effective control and they know it.

This libertarian right approach has been driven by Conservatives and other right-wing political groupings, yet it’s within living memory that there would have been significant numbers of people within the Conservative Party who would have been far from happy about our developing a lawless society. To me, this shows how much the Tory Party has changed from being the party of law and order to a party of spivs and chancers. Of course, those spivs and chancers have always been there but our politics ensured they were kept in the background; now they are upfront and running the show!

Once you start down the road of desiring government to be as small as possible, deregulation and a lack of enforcement is where you’ll pretty much always end up. That’s a challenge for progressives as it’s hardly a vote winner to tell the electorate that you want more inspectors, more police etc. etc. It’s easy to say pay less tax and we’ll get rid of red tape even if that red tape keeps us all safe and sound.

So do we need better regulation and enforcement? Yes of course we do if we are ever to have a fair and equitable society. The alternative is more spivs and chancers taking us all for a ride!

Double Rating in Sefton – My letter to the Champion Newspaper

Dear Sir,

I support Independent Sefton Park Ward Cllr Andy Wilson’s campaigning for Double Rating payments to be reinstated from Sefton Council to those parish councils who maintain their own parks and gardens as without it the council taxpayers of those communities are paying twice.

When I was a Sefton Cllr. and Leader of Sefton Council I ensured that those payments were improved to reflect the real costs of maintaining parks and gardens in Lydiate, Maghull & Aintree Village. That was around 2007, but sadly in around 2013, after I’d stepped down as Sefton Leader, the payments were stopped altogether creating great injustice. I opposed the stopping of payments and wrote Lydiate’s Parish Council’s submission* to the ‘consultation’ prior to them being stopped.

Since then Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village Parish Councils have lost many, many thousands of pounds and have had to fund all their parks and gardens maintenance from the separate precept those councils raise on their council taxpayers. It has meant that in these communities residents have been paying their respective parish councils who do look after their parks and gardens and also Sefton Council who don’t!

What possessed Sefton to stop the payments completely, baffles me as the formula agreed in around 2007 was meant to be flexible in that the money paid (revenue and capital) to the parish councils was meant to reflect what the Borough Council would spend on those parks and gardens if it was responsible for them. So if Sefton reduced expenditure on the parks and gardens it runs, then the payments to the parishes would drop proportionately. Of course, the opposite would apply too.

The irony of some Labour politicians jumping up and down over the matter now is not lost on me though, as it was Labour-run Sefton that stopped the payments in the first place!

Yours sincerely

Tony Robertson
Former Leader of Sefton Council

* My posting of 14th Feb 2022 refers

The letter was published on 16th March 20222

HGVs on Greens Lane Downholland

Having cycled Eagar Lane/Greens Lane for some years now I’m finding the surface of the single track Greens Lane to be in very poor condition presently. Eagar Lane is in Lydiate Civil Parish (Sefton/Merseyside) whilst when it becomes Greens Lane it’s in Downholland Civil Parish (West Lancs/Lancs County).

Greens lane canal swing bridge (known as Rimmer’s Bridge locally) – Photo from 2018.

I’ve been on the Lancashire County Council website a couple of times in recent months reporting huge potholes at 3 points along Greens Lane and at first, I assumed it was the often massive agricultural vehicles of our modern-day churning up the surface. But a second thought was, well why has it got so bad in recent times? Then a conversation with a fellow cyclist (and one with a fellow Lydiate Parish Councillor) made the penny drop so to speak. The point made to me was that adjacent to the canal swing bridge, which is very close to the County boundary, there’s some form of waste recycling going on and I was told it was at times visited by huge HGVs. I’d not encountered them until today when I came across a skip lorry and then a huge (long) articulated HGV. The skip lorry could both have only come from the recycling site, I guess, due to the weight limited canal swing bridge? The huge HGV was actually exiting the site.

It strikes me that Greens Lane will need a significant upgrade if such traffic is going to be using this single track lane for much longer, otherwise, Lancs County Council will have to be out fixing the surface very regularly.

Interestingly, at the Lydiate end of the route i.e. at the beginning of Eagar Lane, this new sign has recently popped up:-

Eagar lane, Lydiate

It will have been erected by Sefton Council and whilst the obvious reason for it will be the canal swing bridge, why has it just gone up? have the HGVs visiting the site on the other side of it been trying to use Eagar Lane?

Whatever the case, I’m assuming that Sefton and particularly Lancashire Council are on the case. If I find out more I’ll update.

Double Rating – Maghull, Lydiate & Aintree – A history of ups and downs

It’s all about why in Sefton Borough Lydiate, Maghull & Aintree Village Council Taxpayers pay twice to have their parks maintained

This shot of Rigeway Park in Lydiate was taken in 2017

Well, this is a subject I’ve blogged about a few times in the past. Here is one such posting that explains things, it’s from 2017:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2017/04/06/maghull-land-money-maintaining-old-hall-park/

And here’s Lydiate Parish Council’s submission (June 2013) to Sefton Council’s consultation on the withdrawal of Double rating payments to the parish councils doing their own parks and gardens maintenance:-

Double Rating in Sefton – Lydiate Parish Council’s response to Sefton MBC’s proposal to stop repaying the affected Parish Councils

In Lydiate, Maghull and Aintree Village (and to a lesser extent in Melling Parish – see note below) all of the parks are looked after by the Town or Parish Councils and these Councils charge residents for the cost of doing this, via the Council Tax – the separate ‘parish precept’.

Sefton Council also charges for looking after parks in Lydiate, Maghull and Aintree Village even though it does not deliver any such service in those three communities. This means residents potentially paying twice for having their parks looked after. This is clearly not fair or right so, some years ago, an agreement was reached for Sefton Council to pay these Parish & Town Councils the same per acre that Sefton spends on its own parks, elsewhere in the borough. This stopped residents from paying double, so the agreement was called “Double Rating”. In other words, Sefton has been returning to these Parishes what it has been taking from them but not spending on their parks.

However, Sefton Council is now planning to scrap the “Double Rating” agreement and the payments it makes to the Parish Councils which maintain their own parks and gardens. This will mean residents paying twice for having their parks looked after. First, they will pay their Parish/Town Council for actually maintaining the parks and second they will pay Sefton Council to do nothing to them. Sefton will just take the money it raises in Lydiate, Maghull and Aintree Village and spend it on parks elsewhere in the Borough.

Lydiate Parish Council’s view is that Sefton Council’s proposal to stop paying back Double Rating money to the affected Parish Councils is clearly unfair and the Borough Council needs to reconsider. If the proposal is carried forward the result will be that Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village Council taxpayers will be paying twice.

The good news, however, is that Sefton Council does have two quite viable alternative options to resolve this matter without putting the Council tax payers of Lydiate, Maghull and Aintree Village at disadvantage. These options are:-
a) To continue to make the payments but at a lower level commensurate with the reduced standards of grounds maintenance that the Borough has already budgeted for and may well budget for in the future. This option would mean that all of Sefton’s communities would be treated the same by the Borough Council no matter whether the parks and gardens are run by Borough or Parish Council.
b) For Sefton Council to charge a differing level (lower) of Council tax in the Parishes which maintain their own parks and gardens than in the rest of the Borough. This option would stop Sefton Council from collecting money in the Parished communities that look after their own parks and gardens and then having to refund the money via the Parish Councils. Doing this would also mean that Council taxpayers in the affected Parishes would not be put at a disadvantage.

Simply stopping the repayments to the Parish Councils is unfair and will lead the Borough Council open to the charge that it is raising money in one part of the Borough simply to spend it elsewhere. We contend that this is not a position that the Borough Council should wish to find itself in.
Finally, we would add that we fully appreciate the level of savings the Borough Council has to make; all we ask is that in this case of Double Rating the savings are made fairly.
*****
Note 1:- Melling Parish is also affected but in Melling, there is recreational land provided by both Sefton Council and Melling Parish Council so the situation there is more complex.
Note 2:- The other 6 Parish Councils in the Borough do not own or lease land that is used as parks or for public recreational purposes so ‘Double Rating’ is not an issue to them.

Entrance to Dodds Park Maghull

And I suppose you’re wondering why I’m banging on about this great local injustice again now. Is it just an old politician musing on former wins and losses? Well, actually the reason I’m back on the subject is due to a discussion with Maghull & Lydiate’s Sefton Park Ward Independent Councillor Andy Wilson. You see Andy has got the Double Rating bit between his teeth and wants to try to get things rebalanced. Of course, I agree with him. Well, I would, wouldn’t I, having put so much effort into getting a fair system put in place only for it to be pulled a few years later on the altar of austerity. So good luck Andy, I look forward to the oil tanker that is Sefton Council being turned around again and in doing so helping Parish Councils, like Lydiate, to reduce their precept on local council taxpayers.

Kenyons Park – Lydiate

Lord Ronnie Fearn RIP

I first met Ronnie pretty soon after getting involved in Liberal politics in 1980. If memory serves he was at that time a Sefton Borough Councillor for Southport’s Norwood Ward and a Merseyside County Councillor. He came across as a campaigner with huge amounts of energy, ideas and enthusiasm.

Lord Ronnie Fearn of Southport, passing on a little advice..

He encouraged me as a fresh-faced lad to stand for Maghull Town Council but I also recall him wondering out loud if my beard would go down well with the electorate. It did and I won a seat at a by-election in 1985. I would run into Ronnie not only locally when the Liberals, the SDP/Liberal Alliance and subsequently the Lib Dems were campaigning on an issue but also at Liberal Assemblies and then Lib Dem Conferences.

At conferences and assemblies, Ronnie was in his element often surrounded by like-minded campaigners and he had some fun at those events too; Llandudno in 1981 comes to mind as do many a Glee Club (a Liberal political sing-song at conferences) where Ronnie would always do his bit of entertaining. Of course, he was heavily involved in amateur dramatics in Southport so being on stage was second nature to him.

Ronnie suitably dressed for a Burns Night

It was no surprise to me when he was elected as MP for Southport in 1987 as my feeling was folks in the Town looked upon him as Mr. Southport. He lost the seat in 1992 election but stepped right back into campaigning to get it back at the 1997 General Election, which of course he did. He retained his council seat for Norwood Ward of Sefton throughout his time as an MP and was a regular attendee at Council meetings as well as fulfilling his parliamentary duties. His boundless energy made it all possible. I recall asking him on one occasion whether he ever had a day when he did not want to campaign or struggled to do so when he was under the weather. His answer was I put my best foot forward and get on with things, or words to that effect.

Ronnie at the head of the table for his Sister-in Law Maureen’s 90th Birthday celebrations.

Ronnie was determined that I stand for Sefton Council and when I won a seat in Molyneux Ward in 1999 no one was more delighted for me. He then decided to step down as an MP and John Pugh was subsequently elected for the Southport seat. Ronnie found himself elevated to the House of Lords in 2001 where he served until 2018. Subsequent changes within the Lib Dem Group on Sefton Council ended up with that fresh-faced lad, that I mentioned earlier, finding himself as Group Leader and then Council Leader in 2004 when the Libs became the largest party on the balanced Council. I was Council Leader until 2011 and Ronnie was a member of my Group and was Cabinet Member for Leisure too. I recall that on a number of occasions I would be leading my group through some tortuous council process whilst thinking to myself Lord Ronnie is sat there whilst I’m advising him what to do! All my instincts were set up to follow Ronnie’s advice and guidance, how on earth had the tables been turned?

Ronnie with John Pugh at Christine Polanski’s retirement party. Christine on the right was a secretary to the Lib Dem Group on Sefton Council

The reality was that Ronnie was a kind and supportive chap who just wanted to help me to succeed and I’m so grateful for his years of guidance.

A close friend of Ronnie’s was David Rimmer, a fellow Sefton Councillor for Meols ward. David had the ability to sound just like Ronnie and every now and again he’d slip into his impersonation of Ronnie, usually to the great amusement of all concerned. It was not done in a way to make fun of Ronnie but in admiration of him.

So those are my memories of Ronnie, a kind and supportive man who encouraged a fresh-faced lad into front-line politics. I owe him a lot and will miss him greatly.

Councils decide Local Plans, are planning application approvers, sometime land developers & may be social housing providers too!

I’ve long pondered over the various roles associated with land development/housing that are filled by single local authorities.

It was the article below from the Liverpool Echo that made me think about what looks to me like conflicting responsibilities.

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/concerns-raised-over-councils-luxury-22515674

Sefton Council (like all other unitary councils) decided the current Local Plan for the Borough, which in turn designated new pieces of land to be developed. Yes, the government prescribed that councils have such a plan but crucially it’s the councils deciding the parcels of land to be tarmacked and concreted over. Ok, local politicians, across the country, then pull all kinds of stunts to pretend they had nothing to do with taking land out of Green Belt, for example, (as that’s usually very unpopular) via the Local Plan they agreed to. They may even go so far as to oppose planning applications for the land they’ve designated for development! Such is political life but whatever politicians say the decisions about which parcels of land to make available for building were taken by a local council.

So planning applications are decided upon by the same councils who’ve picked the land to be built on. Surely a conflict of interests? Yes, I know, local authority planning committees are at face value run along quasi-judicial lines whereby the members of such committees can’t or should not be influenced by political or party political thoughts and lobbying, but is that really how things work? I’m a sceptic.

But what happens if the very same council sets itself up as a land developer/housebuilder as well as a Local Plan and planning application decider – Surely big conflicts of interest there?

And some local authorities are still social/council housing providers so potentially have a direct say in every part of the process from a piece of land changing from say high-grade agricultural land to it charging rent to the people living in the houses built on such land!

I had such thoughts when I was the leader of Sefton Council some years ago. I was invited to leave the council in May 2015 by the electorate I might add but at least my conscience is clear because I consistently opposed the development of Sefton’s Local Plan due to high-grade agricultural land, which feeds us, being designated for building on, That plan was finally approved after I left the council. Sefton was not a social/council housing provider in the latter years of my being on that council as all the housing stock had been transferred to a housing association called One Vision under pressure from the Blair Government.

Am I right to see all these conflicts of interest and worry about them?

I’m of the view that the designation of land use by local authority areas is taking too many smallish geographical areas and making decisions on them when such decisions actually would be better taken strategically at say a sub-regional level. Look at it this way if say a group of local authority areas, Merseyside may well be a good example, all produce their own Local Plans (what happens now) would it not be better if those land-use decisions were determined over the whole former Merseyside County area? There may be large areas of brownfield land in a couple of local authorities but almost none in others. This means that, under present rules i.e. separate Local Plans, the couple of authorities with large areas of brownfield land have a pretty easy Local Plan process. However, not all their brownfield land needs to be used so some is left undeveloped but in the other adjacent local authority areas with little or no brownfield land their plans can only pick non-brownfield land to be built upon. Do you get my drift? The smaller a geographic area for a Local Plan the more likely it is that poor strategic land-use decisions will be.

In terms of social housing provision, I’d like to see strong tenant-led housing associations separate from local authorities. I worry that housing associations have suffered from neglect and they may well not be fulfilling their original purposes well these days. It would also break a link which can be an issue of conflict of interest to me with local planning authorities.

I’d be interested to hear the views of others…….