Last night’s Sefton Council meeting was little more than a farce. Many members of the public turned up to hear how the Council was going to react to the representations they had made over Children’s Centres, Youth Centres, Disability Groups and the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme amongst other matters.
Their issues were addressed by a budget put forward by the Lib Dem and Conservative Groups on the balanced Council where no party has a majority. But Labour who had courted every special interest group and promised to fight for them all had no budget proposals to make! So having marched these special interest groups literally around some local streets in the Borough Labour then ditched them having made no proposals to help them what so ever when they had every chance to do just that. Cynical manipulation comes to mind.
So what did happen? Well the Lib Dem/Conservative budget agreed to conduct a full review of Sefton Children’s Centres with a view to making savings in the operation of them. The budget decision did not put any of Sefton’s Children’s Centres under threat of closure. In neighbouring Liverpool the Labour run Council gave 4 Childrens Centres the bullet in their budget this week. What Labour says is not what Labour does.
The budget also agreed to a redesign of Sefton’s Youth Service to both save money and make youth provision as up to date as possible within what will clearly be fewer resources. The savings required to be made by the Youth Service, which had originally been £1.4 in 2011/12 were reduced to £500,000 with an additional £500,000 in 2012/13. There are no preconceived ideas about how the Youth Service will be redesigned but young people will be involved in the process.
The future of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme will also be looked at via the Youth Service redesign with this aspect being noted as a priority issue. Children doing an award at present will be able to complete that process.
Disabled youth groups were also made a priority within the Youth Service redesign.
So concerns were addressed and campaigners have clearly been listened to. However, Labour not only failed to support these positive moves they actually voted against them! In the end they were preening themselves as though Militant of the 1980’s was back in charge of Labour locally. An utterly unbelievable carry on and an abdication of responsibility by Sefton’s Labour Group of councillors.
In the run up to Sefton’s final budget meetings today I attended a debate in Southport with my Labour and Conservative counterparts on the Council last night. Whilst the meeting was organised by a group opposed to the Council’s savings and indeed public sector savings anywhere, I assume, we had a reasonably informed discussion.
Clearly some of the attendees were of the hard left i.e. Socialist Worker party etc. and at times it was almost impossible to reply to a question without hitting a raw nerve that brought back shouts. Having said that the meeting was in a church and was very well chaired by a young lady called Kath. But to get back to raw nerves, they were of course all to do with what the last Governmnet did. Just the mention of Labour getting too close to the bankers and not controlling them brought back heckling because some on the left just can’t accept that we are in the mess that we are because of greedy bankers and the last Labour Government.I have commented on this before as many on the left and hard left hated Labour when they were in Government yet they seek to defend Labour now. Odd things are happening on the left.
Returning to the budget I hope that what the Cabinet agreed this morning and Council will discuss tonight will help to address the concerns that have been expressed about Children’s Centres, Duke of Edinburgh Awards and Youth Centres. All these, I would add, fall within the Labour controlled Portfolio of Children’s Services where the detached approach of the Labour Group throughout the budget process has at best been unhelpful in trying to resolve these issues.
I recently had reason to look out what I think was only the second ever FOCUS leaflet issued in Maghull; that was in 1980 – 31 years ago!
The lead article was about about the Leeds Liverpool Canal calling for it to become a leisure facility to be enhanced. It had been prompted by some calls for the canal to be filled in! Look at the difference now as estate agents say that houses backing onto the canal can have up to a 20% premium on top of what would be the price elsewhere in the area.
The ‘fill the cut in’ idea was very much alive in the late 1960’s and 1970’s in urban communities across the Country as some folks thought that canals had had their day and were dangerous if kids fell into them.
The Leeds Liverpool Canal through Maghull
Now canals are highly thought of by many people and Sefton’s local canal winds through Bootle, Aintree Village, Melling, Maghull and Lydiate on its way to Wigan and beyond to distant Leeds. 31 years is a long time to be delivering FOCUS and it shows how times change and how communities think.
In recent months I have become more and more despairing with what my Sefton Cabinet colleague Iain Brodie -Browne calls our ‘Irresponsible Opposition’ on Sefton Council. A quick read of Iain’s recent article in his blog is time worth spending.
You see the savings required of Sefton Council are massive and it is not unreasonable to to say that a wartime spirit of co-operation is required to successfully address this huge task. Yet Sefton’s Labour Party are not really engaged in what is going on, indeed they have seemingly and I assume deliberately set out their stall not to participate in any meaningful way.
If you have read Iain’s blog you will see how deep party political co-operation has gone in neighbouring Liverpool, a place where consensus politics is utterly new and where raw bare-knuckle political battles have always been the norm. Yet if politicians in Liverpool with its unappealing history of partisan politics can unite around a common agenda why has the opposite happened in Sefton?
What is more surprising is that cross-party co-operation has been doing the rounds in Sefton since 1986 and all-party budgets have been agreed previously. So whilst Liverpool, with its Labour Party majority, comes together in a common cause, Sefton’s all-party administration has clearly fallen apart. Why is this?
As a consensus politician myself I have scratched my head a lot recently as the need for all-party co-operation has never been greater. However, the obvious factor is that Labour on Sefton Council desperately do not want to work with other parties any more. Instead they have chosen to seek out a populist position where they support all opposition to the required savings and they even deny that the savings are required. As I have said before this harks back to the Militant era and I am saddened by this. Of course what they are offering those who sign up to their agenda is false hope and they know that only too well.
My guess is that in Liverpool Labour have seen the dangers of the opposition to the savings agenda developing into an upsurge in extremist left wing politics and having been there once before in the 1980’s they do not want to be dragged back. In Sefton a more naive Labour Party has lost its head and in doing so has lost its ability to influence outcomes. No wonder a recent letter writer to the press in Sefton has blasted Labour for this stance and that from a Labour supporter.
Readers may recall that I commented on this rather odd situation a few weeks ago whereby good old Jack Colbert had been asked to help save a club that had been a Conservative Club since before the Second World War. Jack was in fact asked to Chair the club as he has been a regular (and very good) snooker player there for some time. Yes, Jack Colbert that prominent Lib Dem activist who made that wonderful one liner comment when asked about his involvement in the Club by the press, “I only go for three reasons; because there’s cheap ale, good snooker tables and no Conservatives!”
Well, what you may not know is that the matter was made public by the Tories in the hope of making Jack look daft. I thought at the time it was a odd strategy as it was their Club going down the tubes and so it has proved.
Jack was right there aren’t any Tories there and the Club has just voted to change its name and not to have anything more to do with the Tories! This has to be a most bizarre situation but one where Jack has helped save the Club whilst kicking the Tory Party into touch.
Sefton Conservatives have been in meltdown for a long time and Jack has helped them along their declining way.
No party has had a controlling majority for well over 20 years. There are no voting pacts, although the Conservatives once went into a short lived coalition with Labour to public amazement in 2008.
Sefton is a ‘shared power’ council with 66 councillors (28 Liberal Democrats, 23 Labour, 13 Conservatives (of which 3 are Independent Conservatives) and 1 UKIP. Of the 13 Tories, three of them, all respected and experienced councillors, remain members of the national Conservative Party but have been abruptly suspended from the Sefton Council Conservative Group and all Committees.
The powerful Cabinet of the Council has 4 Lib Dems on it together with 4 Labour and 2 Conservatives making a total of 10.
Labour claim that they don’t have any control over the Council yet their Leader is the Deputy Leader of the Council!