Southport Cockle Picking

Last Friday I was invited in my Cabinet Member capacity to a debriefing on the recent opening of cockle beds off the Sefton, West Lancs & Flyde coast.

Of course Southport has a long history of cockle picking and there are road names in the Town that make that history very clear.

On the 1st September a number of very large beds were opened and within Sefton Council and the emergency services there was a great deal of nervousness about how the picking, especially in the first few days, could be safely managed. We can all remember those terrible times off Morcombe only a few years ago.

I have been more than impressed with the organisation of the Council, the emergency services and agencies of Government who have all come together to try to ensure that as far as reasonably possible the picking process is as safe as it can be.

But whilst the first weeks are now behind us the the picking will continue on a smaller scale throughout the winter until the end of April 2012. Clearly we can expect bad weather and I just hope that all those who embark on cockle picking know how to remain safe as some of the beds are a long way out to sea.

Fireworks at Maghull Council meeting

Words were had at last Wednesday’s Maghull Town Council meeting with the Labour administration and I coming to verbal blows about the carry on over the Town’s firework display (which after all the fuss is now back on) and also over the weeks of closure of Maghull’s unique Youth Coffee Bar that operates from Maghull Town Hall.

Sadly, I also had to remind the Labour Mayor that it was not her job to make party political remarks as we all look to Mayors to be impartial whilst in their year of office.

The trouble started (over the firework display) about 3 weeks ago when Labour spin doctors issued a press release saying that the annual Town fireworks display was under threat and that if sponsors could not be urgently found it would not go ahead this year. They even claimed that the problem was Government funding cuts! A bit rich when Parish and Town Councils don’t get any funding from Government and the only money that had been lost was what we all saw as temporary fireworks funding from Sefton Council which the Town Council had benefited from over the past couple of years. For donkey’s years the Town Council had happily funded its own display having taken it over from the Round Table in the early 1990’s.

Anyway we Lib Dems hit the roof when we heard that Labour were trying to kill off the display. Fortunately, the Labour back tracking started almost immediately though. By the time we got to last last Wednesday’s Town Council meeting the written report, saying the event should be cancelled (and the money used as a budget saving) had been overturned and now Labour were fully supporting us opposition Lib Dems in saying that the firework display should go ahead.

Thank goodness for that but what on earth was all the original fuss about? It could hardly have been money as originally claimed as a useful question (from a Labour member) brought forth an answer from an independent officer of the Council that the Labour run Council is running, in the present financial year, with an unallocated under spend/reserve of between £130,000 and £150,000.

So we got there in the end and the firework display has been saved but it left a nasty taste in the mouth when it became apparent that Labour were seemingly trying to push the blame for the proposal to ditch the fireworks display on to the Town Clerk when it was clearly their own public statement that had caused all the problems in the first place.

As to the closure of the Youth Coffee Bar during the summer, the fact is that we Lib Dems on the Council did not accept the Labour view that the Coffee Bar had to be closed for Health and Safety reasons during building work on the Town Hall roof. Our view was that youths climbing the scaffolding was not going to stop by simply shutting the Coffee Bar, as it also happened on evenings when the Coffee Bar was not open. Other solutions to ensure the scaffolding was not readily accessible should have been pursued. Our view has not changed and shouting at us because we have consistently challenged the ruling Labour Group’s view on this matter is not going to change our minds. The fact is that had we Lib Dems been running the Council the Youth Coffee Bar, which we provided at the request of local youngsters, would not have been shut.

And this was at a parish council meeting!

Bin Money!

Sefton Council’s Lib Dem Cabinet Member Environmental has responded to recent Government announcement of £250m Fund for “weekly bin collections”

Last week the Government announced a £250 million Fund to help local authorities in England maintain weekly bin collections.

Sefton’s Cabinet Member – Environmental, Cllr Simon Shaw is hopeful that Sefton Council will be eligible for a share of the Fund.

He particularly welcomed the comments of Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who said that “This new fund will help councils whose residents want their rubbish collected more frequently to reinstate weekly bin rounds for smelly waste.”

Cllr Shaw said: “Locally we have maintained a weekly collection of smelly waste through the food waste collection service.  From the fairly limited information available so far, that seems to be exactly the sort of service which the Government is proposing to support through this Fund.  But, as always, the devil is in the detail.”

“It won’t mean an enormous financial benefit, as the £250 million is spread over 5 years.  Sefton’s share of that could be something like £1.5 million – that’s £300,000 per year.”

“It certainly isn’t enough to cover the cost of changing to collecting general waste every week, despite what some misleading recent newspaper headlines may have said.”

“In fact, a while ago Sefton officers worked out how much extra it would cost to switch from the present AWC system to emptying the grey wheelie bins each week.  It came out at more than 10 times the amount the Government would give us.”

“However, if this money can be used by Sefton Council to develop an even better weekly food waste collection service then that’s obviously good news.  Around 50% of local households already use that service, but it would be great to get that figure even higher.”

Some key facts:

• Sefton operates an AWC (Alternating Weekly Collection) refuse collection system for most of the Borough.  For most of the year grey wheelie bins (“residual” waste) are emptied one week, and green wheelie bins (compostable garden waste) are emptied the next week.  Around Christmas, grey bins are emptied every week.
• In addition Sefton provides a weekly food waste collection service.  In 2010/11 it collected 3,000 tonnes of food waste.  50% of households have opted in to this service, and it is hoped this proportion will rise further.
• Recyclable waste (“green box” i.e. paper, bottles and cans) are collected each week.
• In 2004/5 Sefton collected 16,500 tonnes of recyclable materials.
• In 2010/11 it collected 41,000 tonnes of recyclable material via weekly recycling (glass, tin, paper and food waste), bring banks, and AWC Green Bin collections.
• 20,000 tonnes of garden (green) waste were collected in 2010/11.
• Sefton is the only authority in Merseyside to offer a weekly recycling collection service (green box, food waste caddy and paper).

Merseytravel – It’s their rather large payments to Labour councillors this time

At this afternoon’s meeting of the Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority, (Merseytravel), Cllr Mark Dowd made the following statement:
“On behalf of the Labour group, Labour Councillors will only take one Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA) and will not take SRAs for deputy chair positions”. 
Well not before time is seemingly the most appropriate response! Just to explain an SRA is a Special Responsibility Allowance and at Merseytravel they have been large and numerous.
In fact this is the second major retreat by the Labour run Authority in recent weeks as not long ago they reduced the number of committees from something over thirty to just a handful. Bit by bit this Authority is is joining the rest of us in the present century.
I hope to have more on Merseytravel’s many problems soon as this really is a local authority in crisis being blown by the winds of change.

A community run cafe – A good idea at Meadows

I attended a Maghull Town Council meeting on Wednesday and will report further on some rather bizarre events when I have chance to write them up. But as a bit of good lateral thinking I was taken by an idea floated at the meeting by Town Clerk, Mark Julius.

The cafe that until recently has been a commercial operation serving refreshments to users of Meadows Leisure Centre and Maghull Town Hall closed a couple of weeks ago. It seems that the facility may not be profitable as a commercial venture but Mark has suggested that one future possibility could be running it as community facility staffed by volunteers.

This is certainly worth investigating further and it will be interesting to see how the cafe can be brought back either as a revised commercial venture or as the type of community run facility as Mark has floated.

This cafe should not be confused with the the Youth Coffee Bar that is also within Maghull Town Hall.

Merseytravel and that £1.5m ‘U’ Turn on rail integration

First just a brief recap. It has long been the view of most people who understand railways that the Conservative policy to separate railway infrastructure (for this posting we shall say the rails) from the trains that run on them in the 1980’s was bonkers and that in practice it has probably led to higher operating costs for the railway.

So during the last Government a sensible plan was hatched to try to bring the two back together. Merseyside’s Merseyrail Electrics system was in effect volunteered by Merseytravel, the Transport Authority for the County, as a pilot.

Eventually and after spending £1.5m of public money the pilot was about to be rolled out BUT Merseytravel pulled out at the 11th hour. They have never satisfactorily explained their ‘U’ turn and no report has been presented to Transport Authority members. In effect the members of the Authority voted ‘blind’ to back out and ditch the £1.5m project. We Lib Dems continue to pursue the facts and truth behind their highly surprising move.

One of the most prominent independent experts on railways is Christian Woolmar he wrote a thoughtful piece for RAIL Magazine recently about Merseytravel’s ‘U’ turn.  Like Christian, we have found that getting answers is hard work as Merseytravel are not seemingly going to publish anything, other than propaganda, that details why they ran for the hills when the Coalition Government gave them what they had been campaigning for since as long as most folks, who have taken an interest in railways, can recall. His conclusions probably indicate why Merseytravel are so keen not to publish any real information i.e. the decision did not have any logical coherent facts behind it; it was simply the Labour run Authority being spooked/pressured by the RMT union

However, I can assure Merseytravel’s Labour Leadership that we Lib Dems are still on this case and we are not being put off by the Authority telling us all that it is funding legal action against one of its own Lib Dem members who keeps on asking awkward questions about the Authority’s activities.

A Merseyrail tain at Maghull Station

Here is a link to the Christian Woolmar article:-