Localism – Don’t make me laugh & Scrutiny – Not a chance!

When the Coalition Government brought the Localism legislation onto the statute books the following Governmental statement was made “Councils need to be making it as easy as possible for people to take over buildings and services that are valued by the local community”.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know only too well that Localism is a policy that suits the Coalition at times and not at others. But let’s take that statement of Government at face value because I believe that Sefton Council can’t honestly hold its hand up and say it has made it as easy as possible for community groups to take over the running of the 7 branch libraries that it has just closed across the Borough. Indeed, I think it would be fair to say that Sefton’s stance could, I my view, be more accurately defined as making it as difficult as possible!

But what of scrutiny of the Executive/Cabinet? Has that process been holding the powerful on the Council to account? Sadly the answer is NO! We Lib Dems said, when the Labour-run Council grabbed all the chairs of the scrutiny committees for Labour councillors to hold that there would not be any effective scrutiny and so it has proved. And I say this despite Labour councillors on a scrutiny committee failing to back the Labour leadership last night over the libraries debacle.

Sefton's Scrutiny Committee in session at Bootle Town Hall on 17th December 2013

Sefton’s Scrutiny Committee in session at Bootle Town Hall on 17th December 2013

To my mind what happened last night was driven by the Labour Cabinet not by the Scrutiny Committee because when it got too hot the Labour members of the Committee called for a recess. They seemingly did this so that they could go into a private meeting with the Labour Cabinet members, which they were supposed to be holding to account, to come up with a way of getting the Council out of a hole it had dug for itself.

When they emerged the meeting was effectively taken over by the Leader of Council who proceeded to make recommendations to the Scrutiny Committee about how he thought they should deal with the embarrassment at hand. That put the tin lid on it for me.

Community bids to run Sefton Libraries – Why were they really turned down for Aintree and College Road, Crosby?

Prior to attending the crucial meeting of Sefton’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee this evening here are some thoughts and questions about the community bids to run Aintree and College Road Libraries which Sefton Council has so far rejected.

Frankly, the bar was set far too high for newly created community organisations to be able to get over. The only one to get though was the bid for Ainsdale Library and that was from an already well established company.

The obvious question to me is why did Labour–run Sefton Council play its cards as it did? I know the volunteers running the bids feel that they have been given the run-around rather than a fair chance to show what they can do.

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Was the reality that Labour did not want the bids to get through?

But amongst all this the most telling part of the debate at Sefton’s Cabinet meeting on the 5th December was the all too obvious, in my opinion, stubborn refusal to embrace the volunteers and community campaigners from Crosby and Aintree and to give them a chance to have a go at running their library. Instead, the Cabinet hid behind all sorts of rules, which Sefton Council had invented, that simply made the campaigners jump through far too many hoops.

Why not give them a year or two to see what they could do? In such a scenario Sefton could have held back on its investment in the properties, which is required because it has not kept up with maintenance requirements. Surely, testing out the volunteer plans for real was always going to be the best way forward unless that is the Council was firmly of the view that it really did not want many if any of the community run bids to get through?

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The other telling thing that came out of the debate at the Cabinet meeting was that I can’t recall any of the questions and concerns that the two volunteer groups raised being answered by the Cabinet in any meaningful way. It just looked like it had already decided what it was going to do no matter what representations were made to it!

And what of the local MP? His reaction was, I am told, to issue a press statement saying that he was going to Government to ask them for more money to run Sefton libraries. Well yes, but what on earth has that got to do with volunteers running the libraries? Surely Bill Esterson should be angry that Labour councillors have not given the campaigning volunteers the chance to have a go at running their libraries? In the end this has come down to how well and to what extent Labour-run Sefton Council is prepared to work with fledgling volunteer groups to encourage them to take on the running of community libraries. And the answer seems to be hardly at all! As an MP for the Borough and a Labour one at that Bill should be taking on this party’s councillors and shaming them into a change of heart.

If Labour has the will to back off from its present stance, embracing the campaigners rather than holding them at arms length, then the volunteer bids can still be given a chance to succeed. But that needs Bill Esterson MP to take his Labour councillor colleagues on in a very public way instead of wringing his hands on the sidelines.

An e-mail to strike at the very soul of the Labour councillors to whom it has been sent!

Below is the genuine text of an e-mail sent to Labour councillors by an angry Aintree Village resident about the closure of Aintree Library and Sefton’s refusal to allow a voluntary group to take the Library over. A powerful message indeed and one I have not seen the like of before:-

For the attention of the Labour Councillors

Everybody on the To (main list) of recipients above needs to hang their heads in shame, since you have deprived this community of one of the only leisure services provided by Sefton MBC. Clearly, this is the very worst council we have ever experienced since the change from West Lancs RDC in 1974. You gave this area great hope of the library facility being retained and have now dashed everybody’s vision that it would come to fruition. In my view you should all resign and,it won’t take long before the residents of our areas discover which of you voted for closure. Any attempts you might harbour to hide behind the Coalition cutbacks will, I fear, be categorically rejected. Aintree and Melling are, in my view, deprived areas within Sefton MBC, a fact you all need to wake up to.

Did you ever consider that a reduction in the number of Councillors might help to reach the savings you sought to achieve? If not, why not? Maybe we should explore this opportunity in the future in an attempt to bring some sense of responsibility to your thinking. You are, ALL, poor representatives of this community. Heaven forbid any one of you should ever be re-elected.

New Bus Shelter – Ormskirk Road, Aintree Village – It probably took half a dozen years to get it installed!

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So what a new bus shelter, you might say. And you would be right had it not taken more years to get it installed than I care to remember. And it’s not just me that’s banging away at Merseytravel over recent years as I know that a number Maghull/Lydiate residents and Cllr. Jane Day of Maghull Town Council have raised the lack of a shelter at this rather exposed spot.

As a point of reference it is close to Wickes Aintree store on the A59 on the northbound carriageway. Getting the shelter installed here is an important move forward because anyone travelling by bus to Aintree’s Retail parks from Maghull and Lydiate needs to be able to keep dry as they wait for the bus home. For years they have not been able to keep dry so a big thank you to Merseytravel for putting the new shelter in. It may have taken too long as far as some folk are concerned but at least it is there now.

Maghull Town Council – Nearly by-elections 8 & 9!

A further two by elections for Maghull Town Council were narrowly-averted when Town Councillors Peter Dowd and Paul Tweed turned out for a Maghull Town Council meeting on 20th November, having not attended a meeting for nearly six months. Had they not done so, Maghull Town Council would have been facing its 8th and 9th by-elections since the 16 strong Town Council was elected for a 4-year term in May 2011. 7 Labour members of the Council have resigned so far!

Councillors Dowd and Tweed are both Sefton Cabinet Members and Borough Councillors for Bootle wards on Sefton Council.

In order to remain in office, every councillor has to turn out to an official council meeting at least once every 6 months: neither Cllr Tweed and nor Councillor Dowd had been to a Town Council meeting since May.

Despite Labour’s majority (11 Lab – 5 Lib Dems) on the Town Council the Town Mayor had to cast her vote to block a Lib Dem motion condemning Sefton Council’s Green Belt building plans last month.

Emporium project about to launch in Maghull

I have posted about this project previously and it is going to launch/open for the first time on Monday.

Here are a few shots of works that were on-going over the past couple of days to ready the shop unit for action.

The outside - Graphic by Les French of course.

The outside – Graphic by Les French of Caractor Graphics.

This is s hot of the rentable bays being readied

This is a shot of the rentable bays being readied

The idea is that small start-up businesses can rent a bay within the shop unit in Maghull Square Shopping Centre to see if they can make a go of their entrepreneurial ideas. In simple terms they can road test their business model at low cost on the high street.

Let’s hope this joint private/public sectors project leads to successful retail businesses taking shape.