A review of the weird and wonderful world of Maghull Town Council under Labour – You could not make it up!
May 2011 saw Labour take over Maghull Town Council from 24 years of it being a Lib Dem run Council – 13 Labour and 3 Lib Dem councillors being elected. From day one it has been a little off the wall but the word ‘murky’ used by one commentator just about sums it up. Not murky financially, I would add, but more in the muddled and unclear context of that word. I am not so tribal as to suggest financial impropriety when I am not aware of any.
Firstly, of Labour’s 13 newly elected Town Councillors 2 come from Aintree but strangely neither stood for Aintree Village Parish Council where they live. One comes from Lunt Village and is a Bootle Borough Councillor but also strangely he did not stand for Sefton Parish Council that covers Lunt Village where he lives. Two come from Bootle and are, like their Lunt comrade, Labour Borough Councillors there. So why do Labour activists from elsewhere want to run Maghull? (A further one came from Crosby but he has since resigned his Council seat – more of that later on) Answers on a postcard to………..
Secondly, what does Labour want to do on the Town Council? So far we have had few clues. They seemingly don’t like community firework displays as one of their first policy initiatives was to try to shut down Maghull’s long running annual display on the basis that there was no money for it. Well there was money for it and after being publicly embarrassed by us Lib Dems they caved in and ran the display in 2011 whilst claiming never to have wanted to cancel it in the first place! Brass neck comes to mind but sadly they are still refusing to say whether they will run the 2012 display.
And what about Youth facilities? Maghull residents will recall Labour marching young folk around the streets of the Town last spring calling for no cut-backs in Sefton Council’s youth provision. All well and good but why then did the comrades running Maghull Council shut the most popular youth facility in Sefton (Maghull Youth Coffee Bar) for weeks on end over the summer of 2011? Yes, ‘elf and safety was the reason given but instead of managing the risk better they chose to shut the youth facility! Double standards indeed.
On the vital issue of defending our precious Green Belt they have been all over the place. First, they put together their own policy paper, which was fine as far as it went, but when opposition Lib Dems members proposed some additions to the paper they withdrew their own paper altogether and in effect refused to make a detailed submission at all. They said they were to put one together in October (some 2 months after the consultation period ended) but for reasons best know to them no paper has ever appeared at a Maghull Council meeting.
On Academies they were in danger of getting their knickers in a right old twist. First they put forward a motion asking each of the 3 local High Schools to hold a ballot of parents before converting, mimicking a Lib Dem proposal agreed on Sefton Council. However when the printed version appeared in the Council’s minutes another sentence had been added condemning the 3 High Schools for considering converting. This ‘extra’ wording had to be withdrawn. Then, not long afterwards, they brought another motion to the Town Council opposing Academies altogether. However, what then happened at the Council meeting that was discussing the matter was utterly bizarre in that the Labour councillors sat there arguing amongst themselves about whether they were to propose their own notified motion at all! In the end they decided to ditch it whilst at the same time they stood outside local High Schools saying they opposed Academies. What on earth they thought they were doing here your God (should you have one) alone knows. Certainly a muddle if nothing else.
Moving on Labour Councillors chucked opposition Lib Dem Sefton Councillor Cllr. Cliff Mainey out of a public meeting claiming it was a private meeting. It was not private and the Labour Leader of the Council was forced to apologise for what one of his own Committee Chairman had done.
Then we had the emergency meeting that never was! (Please stick with me this is not a made up list of stories!) Here, an out of the blue call by the Labour Town Mayor on a Friday afternoon for an emergency meeting to be held the following Monday had to be ruled out of order by the Town Clerk on the basis that the statutory legal notice period was 3 clear working days to members of the Council. Whilst the meeting never happened neither do us opposition Lib Dems know what the crisis was anyway as the matter, whatever it was has not been made public.
During the 8 months of Labour rule one Labour member decided he had had enough and he resigned his seat. He now works as a Lib Dem campaigner locally. However, just before Christmas, the Council was told that the official notice had been published of the Council vacancy and that as no one had called for a by-election the Council could now co-opt anyone it liked to fill the vacancy. Trouble is the notice had not been published at all and it took Lib Dem Councillors to point this fundamental point out to the Labour run Council. The local Returning Officer of Sefton Council agreed and the Council has to publish the notices in January 2012 so that the vacancy can be properly notified to the community – It’s the law of the land!
And what about Christmas? Why did the Town Council not take a lead in getting the icicle lights repaired around the shop canopies in Maghull Square? Some were not working at the end of Christmas 2010 and as the Council helped to fund them in partnership with the business community is it too much to ask that they ensure they are all in working order? Speaking of Christmas lights it was disappointing that the Labour Council decided not to fund the solar powered Christmas trees that have been placed on lamp posts in the Town Centre in recent years. Was a ‘Scrooge’ policy at work in the Labour Party? Considering the difficulties that the retail sector is having because of the recession you would have thought that the Town Council would have been busting a gut to get our major local shopping area looking great. Sadly, we seem to have a deficit in ‘pride in Maghull’ with Labour as well as a huge financial deficit left to us by their last Government!
So yes, Murky is a good description but one could also say that sadly Maghull Council is at times quite unpleasant as well as bizarre. Certainly some Labour members seem to treat opposition Lib Dems as though we are little more than unconvicted criminals, at least that is how comes over to us. Having been a Town Council member since 1985 I can honestly say that I have never felt like this before, after all this is only a large Parish Council. Respect for each other across political parties on Sefton Council is good and on the other 9 Sefton Borough based Parish Councils it has to be better than on Maghull TC. I often wonder if some of the Labour Group members think they are in the House of Commons where behaviour is often and sadly appalling.
The other noticeable thing is the quest for so many Council and Committee meetings yet not much flows from the almost weekly meetings of this or that committee. Indeed, the only initiative of note has been the setting up of a Community Committee, a principle that we opposition Lib Dems supported, yet even the funds allocated to this new Committee are simply the funds previously available under the Lib Dems for donations to community groups and for environmental projects. In other words little more than a renaming of a political process with no new money. We will see how it will work in practice but we intend to give it a fair wind. Our big concern, however, is the loss of the environmental donations pot which has previously supported a number of worthwhile ‘green’ projects. At face value the comrades on the Town Council are not obviously or instinctively ‘green’ in policy terms so this may well be a point of conflict between us in the future.
So there you have it and this from someone who genuinely wants Maghull Town Council to be a success because I both believe in Parish Councils, as the most local of all our democratic forums, and I do want Maghull Town Council to take the Town forward. Yes, I would clearly expect the Lib Dems to offer the best leadership as we are simply ordinary people who fight for our community. I appreciate that Labour are ‘votes first’ community interest second but whomever runs a Parish Council they need to offer leadership and vision. So far Labour has sadly failed on both counts on Maghull Town Council.