Sefton Borough – 40 years old and still unloved

The Borough of SEFTON is 40 years old in 2014 having been created by some dark and mysterious force (The Boundary Commission) in 1974 for reasons no one can quite get their heads around.

Joking aside Sefton is an odd place geographically speaking, a glance at a local government boundary map shows this only too well. The basic criticism of Sefton is that it brought together many communities which had virtually no shared community of interest!

Many Southport folk have never wanted to be in it and have always resented losing their old County Borough status. What’s more the vast majority of Southport’s hinterland and historically connected villages etc. to the north and east of the Town have been in a different county (Lancashire) since 1974!

This wall art is on a former railway now pedestrian tunnel behind Bootle's New Strand Shopping Centre. Sadly it has gained a little unwanted graffiti.

This wall art is on a former railway, now pedestrian, tunnel behind Bootle’s New Strand Shopping Centre. Sadly it has gained a little unwanted graffiti.

Bootle also resented losing its former proud local government status but found itself between the devil and deep blue sea. They either went with Sefton or got subsumed into Liverpool. The latter being their worst nightmare!

As for the communities in the middle of the Borough they were the make-weights between the two big Sefton towns of Southport and Bootle.

No, Sefton has never been loved and those who created it will never have felt appreciated. All you can say is that Sefton is an amalgamation of disparate and diverse communities that sit to the north of Liverpool.

And I say all this having been Council Leader for 7 years when my aim was to try to make the Borough work as well as possible despite all the difficulties. I would like to think that I helped to bring in a decentralised approach to running Sefton but sadly most of that has now been undone since Bootle Labour gained control of the Council in 2012.

A muted and mumbled ‘happy birthday’ from a small section of Sefton’s residents is probably the best that anyone can muster.

The photo above is also amongst my Flickr shots at:-
www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

A further thought on Sefton’s declining Governance

Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village are positively being victimised by Sefton Council under Labour these days.

You see the former payments the Borough Council made to their respective Parish Councils to compensate for the fact that Sefton raises the same Council tax in those communities but provides little or nothing in the way of parks and gardens (the Parish Councils provide them) have been stopped.

The effect of this is that those communities are being ripped off because the money they pay to Sefton for park and gardens is being spent elsewhere in the Borough!

Talk about rowing in the opposite direction to the one the Boundary Commission requested!

Sefton Council – Its local governance is getting worse not better!

Another important matter discussed at the recent meeting of Sefton Council was the future of our strange Borough which was seemingly thrown together, without much logic, as a collection of disparate and diverse communities to the north of Liverpool in 1974.

Frankly, the Borough has never sat well with most people and it is well know that the good people of Southport find it hard to believe that the neighbouring areas that they have most in common with i.e. West Lancs and Preston have been in a different County since 1974. Lydiate is another example of a community surrounded on 3 sides by Lancashire but only connected in local government terms to Merseyside. One wonders what on earth was going through the minds of the great and the good who created Sefton Borough.

The Boundary Commission reviewed Sefton in 1997 and it recognised the Borough’s geographical/local governance problems and said:-

There are a range of democratic and management arrangements that could be used to address the problem. If these changes are to succeed, they must provide a shared agenda for the Council and those who have been campaigning for Southport to leave Sefton.

AND

The encouragement of a culture with Sefton Council which recognises the distinctiveness and importance of Southport and other parts of the borough is needed. We have seen little evidence that Sefton Council as a whole has this kind of decentralised approach and thinking. This is reflected in the way in which residents across the borough feel that other areas receive more favourable treatment – which will only change if the Council behaves in a different way.

As a consequence of such independent criticism, which effectively backed up what many residents felt, Sefton embarked on structural changes. This coincided with me being elected as a Sefton Councillor in 1999 and subsequently becoming its Leader in the early 2000’s for 7 years. Coming from a part of the Borough that, like Southport, felt that Sefton did not serve it well I was keen to move the decentralisation agenda forward.

Bootle Mafia?

My part of the Borough is its East Parishes (Maghull, Melling, Lydiate, Aintree Village, Lunt & Sefton Villages) and I was the first Leader of the Council not to come from either Bootle or Southport, indeed I still am as the leadership of the Borough is now firmly a Bootle one again. On one level the fact that the present Labour leadership of the Borough is called the Bootle Mafia in some quarters is amusing but sadly it has a hard edge to it as well as this Bootle-centric leadership has simply highlighted once again Sefton’s geographical governance problems.

Progress made in empowering communities

But back to how the Council tried to address the criticisms of the Boundary Commission of 1997. The big changes were:-

* the setting up of Area Committees which were intended to get decision making done at the lowest possible level within recognisable communities and groups of communities that had a commonality of interest. Originally there were 9 of these – 3 in Southport, 3 in the central part of the Borough and 3 in Bootle. However, it soon became apparent to the people of Southport that they could more effectively manage and govern their communities with just one Area Committee and a vote was held across Southport which confirmed this view. The middle part of the Borough, where the communities are particularly diverse, continued with 3 Area Committees as did Bootle and all worked reasonably well, although I was always of the view that more decisions needed to be made at Area Committee level myself. However, the Council was balanced with no one party in control so, with Labour generally being hostile to more decentralisation and the Tories lukewarm on the matter, no significant further devolvement in decision making was made.

* the establishment of a Cabinet system of governance to take strategic decisions affecting the whole Borough went hand in hand with the establishment of Area Committees. From when the Cabinet was set up until 2012 it had members on it from all 3 major political parties and in turn they represented a good cross section of Sefton’s diverse communities. I know that the cabinet system of local governance has its critics but from my perspective, whilst I was a member of it, it worked reasonably well. However, since 2012 all the members are Labour and they all represent wards in the Bootle Constituency, so the limitations of the cabinet system have been starkly brought to the surface.

Area Committees get the chop under Labour

Moving forward to 2012, Labour wins control of the Council and the decentralisation train hits the buffers. They not only reduce the number of Area Committees to just 3 across the whole Borough but they don’t even put this to the people of Bootle and Sefton Central to vote upon as had previously happened in Southport. The heavy foot of socialist central control was firmly stamped down. In the East Parishes, Formby and Crosby folks were up in arms but Labour would not listen. We now have a frankly ludicrous conference once every 3 months, which replaces the by-monthly meetings of the 3 former Area Committees. 27 Borough and 10 Parish Councillors sit on the new Area Committee and it is a nightmare for the public to access and sensibly engage with.

Governance – now worse than in Boundary Commission’s damning 1997 report

So Sefton, having made some progress towards decentralisation has significantly rowed back on this under Labour. With our all Bootle, all Labour Cabinet running the show the two other Parliamentary Constituencies that make up the Borough (Sefton Central and Southport) and the councillors elected to serve in them effectively have no say in how Sefton is run! In other words the governance of the Borough is worse now, in terms of it being representative of our diverse communities, than when the Boundary Commission made its 1997 report!

Southport people still feel local governance is wrong and inappropriate but so do folks in the more remote parts of Sefton like Melling and Hightown for example. Sadly, Labour decided not to address these concerns last Thursday but to continue to issue socialist edicts from Bootle Town Hall and if the residents of the Borough don’t like it then they know where they can ……….

Sefton Council – 2% tax rise, another rejection of community-run libraries and Green Belt wobble amongst a lot of socialist tub thumping

Sefton’s budget meeting was last night and Labour has imposed a 1.99% tax rise on the hard pressed Council tax payers of the Borough, which we Lib Dems opposed.

Labour also slapped down Lib Dem proposals that would have seen comunity-run libraries take over many of the former library buildings that sit redundant after Labour’s closure programme.

Oddly and despite there being nothing on the agenda about the Local Plan and building on Green Belt land Labour got hot under the collar about their own plans to press ahead with such building.

All this was amongst a number of tub-thumping socialist speeches from Labour members some of which would not have been out of place in Liverpool City Council’s chamber during the Militant era. Indeed, Sefton Labour seem unable to grasp that their party nationally is promising more and bigger welfare cuts whilst sticking to Coalition spending plans! In Sefton Labour’s world they delude themselves into thinking that Ed Balls is marching them towards a socialist state of common ownership!

These are the headlines – more to follow.

Save our Libraries – Labour’s Aintree Library ‘Advice’ an utter disgrace

Sefton’s opposition Lib Dem’s are furious over the comments made by a Labour councillor in last week’s (Wednesday 19th Feb’ edition) Aintree & Maghull Champion about Aintree Library and the failure of Labour-run Sefton Council to agree a take-over package with Aintree Library Action Group’s volunteers.

Me outside the Aintree Library before Labour swung the axe to close it and then block volunteer efforts to reopen it.

Me outside the Aintree Library before Labour swung the axe to close it and then block volunteer efforts to reopen it.

As someone who represented Aintree for 12 years, I was flabbergasted by the Labour view. I personally invested time assisting volunteers who wanted to take over Aintree Library (and College Road Library in Crosby) because I was convinced by the case the volunteers put forward. Where were the 3 Labour councillors who now represent Aintree during that campaign? I never saw them backing Parish Councillors, such as Peter Gill and Terry Baldwin, and the volunteers.

This is Independent Aintree Village Parish Councillor Terry Baldwin speaking at a meeting. He and Peter Gill ran a great campaign to try to save Aintree Library.

This is Independent Aintree Village Parish Councillor Terry Baldwin speaking at a meeting. He and Peter Gill ran a great campaign to try to save Aintree Library.

For a Labour councillor to say now that the group should have followed Labour’s advice is ridiculous; it was the Labour Party closing the Library and Labour blocking the volunteer bid to run the Library!

Only on Merseyside could its leaders look so dysfunctional!

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/merseyside-super-council-called-halton-6719391

The Liverpool Echo has the story.

You could not make this up! And down the East Lancashire Road in another place, where the Councils do get on, the investment will continue to made by Governments (of whatever colour) and their council leaders will be having a good old chuckle at this latest example of self inflicted Greater Liverpool embarrassment.