Labour’s troubles in Sefton Central – It’s Carry on Councillors!

Labour have swept virtually all before them in elections in the Sefton Central Constituency since 2010 yet they seem vulnerable, unhappy with each other and riven with internal disputes.

At an MP Council Leader level, despite the odd smiling photo in the press, it is seemingly common knowledge that MP Bill Esterson and Sefton Borough Council Leader Peter Dowd simply don’t get on. And a question on many lips is who actually controls Labour Parish, Town and Borough Councillors? Some Labour sources say the MP’s office pulls all (too many) of the strings whilst others say that Bootle Labour Party holds all the power. Whatever the case there certainly seems to be a big internal battle going on.

In Formby Labour’s councillors seem to be in a continually fractious relationship with a vocal community group called Fragoff who are trying to save Green Belt land from development.

In Maghull, where do you start; it seems to be one internal problem after another with 7 Labour councillors resigning from Maghull Town Council in just 2 years and that same Council having 4 Labour Leaders in the same 2 year period. Indeed, when Labour gained control of Maghull Council in 2011 they won 13 of the 16 seats but to date 6 of the original 13 have resigned and 1 who was co-opted to replace the first to resign has also packed in.

Across the Constituency the MP talks about Labour opposing developments in the Green Belt but Labour councillors are clearly on a different agenda as they consistently vote to build on Green Belt.

Labour’s Green Belt woes started in Lydiate when some Labour councillors voted to allow a canal marina to be built on Green Belt land. Then, however, Labour had yet to gain a majority on Sefton Council and they were out voted by a combination of Lib Dem and Tory councillors who blocked the planning application. It did not and has not stopped Labour trying to give the impression that they didn’t vote to build on the Green Belt when of course they did.

Returning to Maghull, Labour backed residents who were opposing the development on a significant piece of open green space in the heart of the Town only for Labour Councillors to vote to give the development planning permission.

Also in Maghull there is the strange question of why the Labour run Town Council decided not to make a submission to Sefton Borough Council in defence of the Green Belt during the 2011 Local Plan consultations. Who or what spooked them and made them decide not to make a submission when one had been written up by a Labour councillor? Bearing in mind that the biggest of all the Borough’s Green Belt housing and industrial developments is planned by Labour run Sefton Council to be in Maghull it makes that lack of a submission from Maghull Town Council look all the more devastating.

In Blundellsands and Aintree Labour run Sefton Council proposed closing 2 libraries and has since confirmed the closures. The Labour MP opposed his own councillor’s closure proposals so Labour had a foot in both camps again.

Now across Sefton Labour are planning to charge residents for having green waste recycling bins and this proposal is proving to be about as popular as snow at harvest.

So how are they getting themselves in such a mess? It is probably their brand of band wagon popularism as they seem willing to back anyone who knocks at their door even when they surely must realise they will end up letting some of them down. They seem to think that because of austerity folks will vote Labour no matter what they do; a we can get away with anything sort of approach?

Now, however, Miliband and Balls have effectively pulled the rug from under their feet by saying that Labour will to a large extent follow the financial austerity policies put in place by the Coalition.

Labour craved power in Sefton and eventually got it on the back of saying that austerity was not necessary, that the Coalition was evil in pursuing it and that under Labour such savings and cuts would not happen. Now the very foundation of their band wagon popularist approach has been undermined, by their own Party leaders.

Will there be more internal Labour troubles in Sefton Central, I suspect you can almost bet on it.

Why isn’t the whole of England Parished?

The purpose behind the 1894 legislation (which Gladstone used to set up Civil Parishes) was to separate civil and religious powers in England (rural England in particular) but since then why has no government seen fit to Parish the whole of England?

To those of us in the parish movement (I mean Parish Councillors) it seems such an obvious thing to do if managing communities effectively at the grass roots is a desirable outcome; which it clearly is. So let’s examine why it has not happened and sadly may well never happen.

Firstly, we live in a significantly centralised democracy and since the Second World War it has probably become more centralised. Power is firmly gripped at Westminster and all governments, no matter what they say before taking office and certainly after they have taken office, seem to fall for the argument that letting the natives do what they want is simply not good for them. For that buzz word localism read ‘we need to let the natives think they are gaining more control over their affairs and the communities they live in whilst not really giving them much at all’.

We can see this played out in planning regulations over generations where centralised policies and edicts are made over how many houses should be built for example, even targets (remember the Regional Strategies) for house building are imposed at times.

But hang on don’t all the main political parties talk about decentralisation and localism? Well yes they do but in practice anything that is devolved is either sent down with strings attached or is a reasonably worthless sop such as Neighbourhood Planning.

Then there is the existing spread of parish councils. Are they a good advert for further and/or real decentralisation? I am sure you can find both good and poor examples to justify an answer either way but frankly the parish councils sector is not well organised, it does not effectively campaign and it is taken little notice of by all governments.

But why is that the case? It is probably because of the extremely diverse nature of parish councils and finding two alike is hard work. Governments like dealing with Districts, Boroughs and County Councils because they are predicable, usually do as they are told and can have their funding put at risk by not following the governmental line. Is there any wonder then that national politicians who think Westminster is the be all and end all of democracy don’t care for a local government sector that is incredibly diverse, sleepy in some quarters whilst too innovative and over active (for Government tastes) in others, is staunchly independent and presently still has fund raising powers that are significantly un-fettered by government?

Take Eric Pickles that blunt and controlling Yorkshire chap. He seems, as a Minister of the Crown, to be pondering on trying to control parish precepts! What business is it of his; a parish precept is a matter between the parish council and the folks who live in that parish. Why on earth would anyone outside of a parish have any wish to interfere in that very local democratic process?

But for my money the problem is that parish councils need to become more credible despite their diverse nature because if they don’t truly local grass roots democracy will never be endorsed by any government in terms of powers available and extending parish councils across all of England. The big question is how do they become more credible and break down the walls of our stifling centralising democracy?

NEW CHAIRMAN FOR AINTREE VILLAGE PARISH COUNCIL & SOME LIBRARY NEWS

At it’s A.G.M. Aintree Village Parish Council selected a new Chairman, Cllr Peter Gill was elected unanimously. Peter said “I am delighted and honoured to be asked to serve the community of Aintree Village once again. I look forward to the coming year, it will be testing with all the cuts culminating in our campaign to keep Aintree Library open, we are making great strides and are hopeful that we can transfer it to a community run library. I would like to pay tribute to the retiring Chairman Cllr Terry Baldwin, he has been Chairman for eighteen months and has found it quite stressful at times. He, along with other library campaign leaders fought an excellent campaign which is online to keep Aintree Library open. Terry has always been community led, proof being his membership of St John Ambulance, serving for over 50 years.”

Retiring Chairman Cllr Baldwin said “It has been a long 18 months but most of that time I have thoroughly enjoyed serving the residents of Aintree Village. I will be leaving the area in the near future and will take with me some wonderful memories having lived here for over 40 years. I wish the new Chairman Cllr Peter Gill well for the coming 12 months and thank everybody for their support over the last 18 months.”

rsz_terrypeter

No one should underestimate the contribution that Terry Baldwin has made to Aintree Village and the wider community. I count Terry (and indeed Peter Gill) as personal friends. I first came across Terry via his work with St John Ambulance and of course he was given Maghull’s Civic Award some years ago for that work. Whilst Terry has been feeling his age he put everything into trying to stop Sefton Council from closing Aintree Library and if it does become a community run library the credit will be down to him and other parish councillors like Peter Gill. I really do hope that the comrades who decided to close the library do not have the cheek to try to claim that they saved it when the real work was done by Terry and Peter and a small band of determined Aintree Village parish councillors and residents.

The new bin tax in Sefton – Yes, paying to have a green bin is another form of a Council tax rise but via the back door!

epd_wheelie_bins_group

Back to that knotty issue of Sefton Council, under its Labour rulers, wanting to charge us all for having a green recycling bin. The consultation is presently on-going but the result is clearly intended to follow that of Labour run Wirral Council.

Apart from the obvious backward step in recycling that this policy change will cause (probably around two thirds of folk will stop using the service) it is also a Council tax rise by the back door.

This issue has not really hit the public’s radar in Sefton yet but I will be surprised if it does not do so soon.

And another thing what is to happen to all those thousands of green bins that virtually every household in the Borough has at present? Sadly Sefton’s green agenda under Labour is looking more than a little brown.

Pugh likens Labour run Sefton to North Korea!

Dr. John Pugh Lib Dem MP for Southport and former Leader of Sefton Council is not known for irrational outbursts; indeed he is a thoughtful man who does not crave media attention as do some politicians. On that basis when someone like John waves a flag of concern we should all take notice.

John waved his flag on the BBC North West Politics TV Programme last Sunday and you can see what he said by popping over to my colleague Iain Brodie-Browne’s Birkdale Focus Blog Site to watch a short video from the show.

Sadly, John has a point as Labour run Sefton is becoming very much like a communist regime. It does not like answering questions put to it at Council meetings and does its utmost not to do so. It will not engage in debate about the policies it is pursuing and it fears being scrutinised by its backbench and opposition councillors.

Take the Full Council meeting held last Tuesday. There were two debates initiated by the oppositions Lib Dems. The first was an attempt to open up the Council’s scrutiny process by having some of the scrutiny committees chaired by opposition councillors. The comrades opposed this but failed to give a single reason why they opposed it. Yes their Leader ranted on, for the benefit of his all too quiet troops who are rarely allowed to engage in debate, about this that and the other but he failed to address the point of the debate. Labour then voted to keep their closed shop very much closed.

We then moved on to a second debate where we again pressed for a 10% reduction in the wages paid to the 7 Cabinet members of the Council to assist with the Council’s need to make savings. Unsurprisingly, the comrades were having none of that even though the money we were trying to save was targeted at bringing back some decent democratic representation in the centre of the Borough where Labour have merged 3 Area Committees used by residents to raise concerns about very local matters. The merger was sold as a cost cutting measure but makes no sense at all – what on earth have communities like Formby, Maghull and Crosby got in common apart from all being within the vast middle of the Borough? So Labour again opposed the proposals but without giving a single reason why they thought that keeping more money in the Cabinet’s pockets is more desirable than improving engagement will local communities. No Labour member representing Crosby, Formby or Maghull rose to back their communities but they all voted to keep money in their Cabinet bosses pockets.

And it’s not just on Sefton Council where Labour closes down information channels. Take little Maghull Town Council where a matter was referred to the Police by the Labour run Town Council a few months ago but we opposition members have been unable to obtain the background documents (despite an FoI request) or the detailed reasons for that referral. Yes, the Police decided to take no action but who was under investigation – staff, people who worked for or with the Council? And what about Maghull Cricket Club? We think Labour are trying to use it as a cash cow to gain higher rents from but even another FoI request has yet to reveal what the Town Council’s objectives are in trying to change a legal agreement with the Club.

On a wider Merseyside platform you can also look at what went on with Labour run Merseytravel in the very recent past and where it seems another big financial scandal is about to be dragged from the undergrowth any day now.

So John Pugh MP has a significant point to make even though at face value it may seem like he is a politician simply throwing a little mud at his opposition. Unless Labour start to open up the local councils they run they will end up being accused of more North Korean type approaches to local democracy.

Lib Dems raise concerns about closure of Lydiate Ambulance Station

Plans by the North West Ambulance Service to close their ambulance station in Lydiate’s Kenyons Lane and relocate the ambulance housed there to Netherton’s Buckley Hill Fire Station have met with big concerns from local Lib Dem Sefton councillors.

The worrying news came in a letter to Sefton Council dated 12th March from the North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust signed by Bob Williams the Trust’s Acting Chief Executive.

Says Cllr. Andrew Blackburn “My worry is that not having an ambulance based in the Maghull and Lydiate community will mean that the level of response to emergencies could well be less.

We have had a local ambulance station for as long as most people can remember and taking into account the size of the Maghull and Lydiate population, which has grown significantly since the ambulance station was built, it must surely be the case that an ambulance should continue to be stationed here.”

The Lib Dem councillors view is that the Trust needs to consult local people about this proposal and explain things to local people. The plans need testing against local opinion and residents need to have a say before the Trust takes any binding decisions.

I fear that this has been under discussion for quite some time but no consultation with residents has taken place. This is a big decision and I want it taken with the views of local people before the Trust Board. But for that to happen information needs to be put before residents clearly stating where all the ambulances that serve Maghull and Lydiate will be based and the estimated response times following any relocations.

I am particularly concerned about the large rural area of Lydiate to the north of the Parish which the present ambulance station can serve very well. The proposal to relocate to Netherton could mean that rural Lydiate becomes not so well served.