Sefton Council meeting 5th September – Labour really do look like unhappy bunnies

A very edgy ruling Labour Party presented itself at this meeting last Thursday. What with a reasonably straight forward agenda their apparent discomfort was surprising.

We had more lectures about the Coalition Government’s austerity programme than you could shake a stick at despite Labour’s Leaders in Parliament clearly signalling that austerity is also their agenda and that if elected they will stick to Coalition spending plans.

This harks back to my comments of not so long ago about Labour changing tack and backing austerity because they know they have to do that to stand a chance at the 2015 General Election. As I said previously, Miliband’s problem (apart from his personal credibility rating) is that his troops want to keep bashing austerity even after he has all but embraced it.

But returning to Sefton Council and its Labour Leadership, all the Coalition bashing that went on last Thursday evening clearly had a deeper meaning and I strongly suspect that Council budgetary problems are manifesting themselves within the Labour Group and they are causing Leader Peter Dowd problems. His troops are far from happy and I hear that the Council is in danger of seriously missing some important budgetary targets that they set for themselves. Bashing the Coalition Government instead of addressing the issues before them or sensibly answering questions put to them is clearly a way of deflecting such problems.

Watch out for trouble brewing in Sefton Council and even more within its ever more fractious ruling Labour group. There is still a big gulf between Bill Esterson’s Sefton Central Labour Party and Peter Dowd’s Bootle lot not least in terms of the power struggle about who is really the big Labour boss in the Borough.

SAVE OUR LIBRARIES – An update on the 7 closures in Sefton Borough

At present Aintree Library looks to be the only one of the 7 threatened libraries that may have a reasonable chance of surviving Labour’s cull although I understand that last ditch efforts are being made, once again, to pull an iron out of the fire in respect of Birkdale Library.

This is Independent Aintree Village Parish Councillor Terry Baldwin speaking at an outdoor meeting. Terry is highly respected so to see him being told he could not make representations to an Area Committee Committee meeting by Labour Councillors was a low point of the campaign indeed.

This is Independent Aintree Village Parish Councillor Terry Baldwin speaking at an outdoor meeting. Terry is highly respected so to see him being told he could not make representations to an Area Committee Committee meeting by Labour Councillors was a low point of the campaign indeed.

Sadly the other 5 – Ainsdale, Churchtown, Litherland, College Road and Orrell look to be all but dead in Labour’s water.

4 of the 7 down to be culled fought every inch of the way i.e. Aintree, Ainsdale, Birkdale and Churchtown with a later attempt being made to save Collage Road Library in Crosby. We Lib Dems supported all the campaign groups. Can anyone tell me what the Bootle Labour councillors representing the wards served by Orrell and Litherland Libraries did to stop their branches from closing?

Cllr. Andrew Blackburn fighting for Aintree Library

Cllr. Andrew Blackburn fighting for Aintree Library

Aintree is interesting as the campaign to save it was run very much by Aintree Village Parish Council, supported by Melling Parish Council some local community groups and prominent local business. It has been fronted by the redoubtable Ratepayer Parish Councillors Peter Gill and Terry Baldwin whom I have praised before and have a great deal of respect for.

Cllr. Peter Gill

Cllr. Peter Gill

As the campaigns got going I attended rallies and meetings in support of Aintree Library as did my local Lib Dem colleagues Bruce Hubbard and Andrew Blackburn, whilst Aintree’s Labour ward councillors did not know what to do as it was their party proposing the closure of Aintree Branch Library and the other 6.

The proposal now is for Aintree Library to go forward as a form of chartable trust funded mainly by Aintree Village Parish Council. Melling Parish Council may help fund it to a small degree as well but they have not promised long-term financial support, I understand.

The Library will be renamed and it will be run by volunteers from the local community. A coffee shop within the building is a possibility.

Sefton Council will, I understand, provide books and internet access but that’s about it.

The detail of this is presently being worked up but if all goes according to plan Aintree Library could well be up and running in its new guise by the end of the year.

Separately, I went to York a couple of weeks ago and a visit to Rowntree Park provided evidence of a totally different approach to the funding and provision of libraries in that Council’s area. I will post about what seems to be a far more enlightened way of doing things in York soon.

Parish Councils in more urban areas?

A while ago I posted about my wondering why the whole of England was not covered by Parish Councils representing all communities. It would be nice to think someone has been listening?

Have a look at this announcement from Coalition Minister Don Foster.

www.gov.uk/government/news/putting-the-parish-perspective-back-in-town/

SAVE OUR GREEN BELT – Ducking the issue!

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I could not resist this so took a photo. It is the small fish pond in Bootle Town Hall and as luck would have it when I took this photo the 3 yellow (Lib Dem ducks) were all in a row, whilst Peter Dowd’s (Labour) red duck had been captured by a couple of green ones. I presume the green ducks are Green Belt/environmental campaigners looking to hole poor old Peter below the water line because of Labour run Sefton Council’s highly unpopular draft Local Plan.

Liverpool City Region Governance Review – Consultation Response from the Liberal Democrat Group on Sefton Council

I posted about this on 17th August under the heading of Merseyside Joint Authority and now Cllr. Nigel Ashton as Chair of the opposition Lib Dem Group of councillors on Sefton Council has made this excellent formal submission on our behalf:-

Cllr. Nigel Ashton

Cllr. Nigel Ashton

Introduction

1.1 A review of the governance of the Liverpool City Region (LCR) is overdue. The LCR as presently constituted is neither effective nor transparent. It is certainly not accountable, either to its constituent authorities or to the wider public whose interests it exists to serve.

1.2 We are severely disappointed that the opportunity for a more fundamental review has not been taken. The options outlined in the Governance Review merely formalise the existing arrangements, albeit with the inclusion of transport.

Geography

2.1 The biggest problem is the geographical area of the existing City Region. It is neither small enough to be local, nor large enough to be truly effective in the stated aim of creating jobs and driving economic growth at a sub-regional level. There is no recognition given to the strategic importance of co-operation with Lancashire County Council.

2.2 The current area of the LCR is dominated by Liverpool City itself, yet important parts of Liverpool’s economic hinterland and travel to work area are excluded from the LCR. The existing LCR does not even cover both banks of the river Mersey for its tidal stretch.

2.3 Important areas such as Ormskirk, Skelmersdale and Ellesmere Port are excluded. Edge Hill University in Ormskirk is a major contributor to the knowledge economy and a national resource for medical and teacher training. The petrochemical plants in Ellesmere Port are also of huge economic importance.

2.4 The opportunity must be taken to negotiate with West Lancashire District Council and Cheshire West & Chester Unitary Authority with a view to their participation in the proposed Combined Authority. This would add economic clout and go some way to mitigate the over-dominance of Liverpool City itself in the sub-region.

2.5 Most of the land boundary of Sefton is with Lancashire and people in the North of Sefton look as much to the east as to the south. It is important that the LCR establishes a formal partnership with Lancashire County Council.

Transport

3.1 We understand that the Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority has already voted to wind itself up and place Merseytravel under the aegis of the proposed Combined Authority. The fact that Merseyrail reaches Chester and Ormskirk strengthens the case for extending the LCR to include these areas, given the strategic importance of transport to economic development and job creation.

3.2 A sizeable number of people commute eastwards from the Southport area, yet the Southport – Wigan – Manchester rail line has suffered from chronic under-investment for many years. No progress has been made towards the long awaited Ormskirk by-pass, despite improved transport links being a key requirement identified when hospital services were split between Southport and Ormskirk.

3.3 There is no direct rail link between Southport and either Preston or Ormskirk. The lack of a direct rail service from Preston and the north is a drag on the development of Southport’s visitor economy, which forms a key component of Sefton’s economic strategy.

3.4 Improving road and rail links east and north-east from Sefton should be a priority for the LCR’s transport strategy. This would be facilitated by extending the LCR to include West Lancashire and by the creation of a formal partnership with Lancashire County Council.

Governance and Scrutiny

4.1 We don’t feel that any of the options outlined in the Governance Review document will effectively meet the criteria of promoting economic regeneration, development and transport. It is not too late to persuade the Government that more time is needed to do the job properly.

4.2 We are particularly concerned about the inadequacy, and uncertainty, of the proposed scrutiny arrangements set out in paragraph 9 of Appendix One of the draft scheme.

4.3 There are no clear terms of reference or powers for the proposed Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Any establishment of sub-committees or co-options will be subject to the approval of the very body that the OSC is meant to scrutinise.

4.4 In the absence of any guarantee of proportionality on the OSC, it is entirely possible that all the members of the OSC will be members of the same political party as all the members of the LCR executive body. Not only would that be bad governance, it would lead to poor scrutiny and inflict reputational damage on the LCR.

Cllr Nigel Ashton, Chair, Liberal Democrat Group on Sefton Council
6 September 2013

Sefton Council – Central Area Farce Committee

I attended the 2nd meeting of this now huge Area Committee of Sefton Council last Wednesday and just like the first one it was a farce.

The major issues, as far as the attending public were concerned, were about traffic regulation matters in Formby yet the meeting was being held in Crosby at the lakeside Centre! Readers may recall that the 1st meeting was held in Maghull, at the Town Hall, and it was also dominated by Formby matters.

It was ludicrous in my book to bring the 3 former area committees of Formby, Crosby & the East Parishes together in the first place (purely for cost cutting purposes) and all that I have seen in the first two meetings has confirmed my concerns. This is no more accessible local democracy for residents living in the central part of Sefton than I am a Dutchman.

Please, let’s return to the former Area Committees which clearly represented communities and neighbourhoods with a community of interest. From my perspective I probably know every road in Park, Sudell and Molyneux wards (the East Parishes), have walked them all myself and undertaken casework for their residents. But I can’t claim to know much about Formby, for example, yet I am asked to make decisions about that community at this new and huge Area Committee. This is utterly ridiculous and against the spirit of true decentralisation in the Borough. I continue to despair!