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.
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.