The New Year – What does it hold?

Clearly 2011 is going to be tough and that probably goes for 2012 and 2013 as well. Public services will continue to be cut back as the Country struggles to deal with the excesses of the bankers and Gordon Brown’s mad spending and borrowing spree.

It makes me angry to see good people having their jobs cut but every job loss can be laid firmly at the doors of bankers and Labour. Jointly they destroyed our economy and we are all paying the price for that now.

Personally, I don’t care for the Conservative Party and what it stands for (never have)but I accept the need to work with them to try to get this Country back on its feet. It will be up to us Lib Dems to try to keep a focus on those who have little as it does not come naturally to Conservatives to stand up for that section of society.

But that is the national level of Government, so what about Sefton? Well, as I have posted before Labour on Sefton Council despite holding 40% of the Cabinet seats on the balanced Council, where no one party has a majority, are acting like they are an opposition. They can’t continue to have it both ways and they really will have to make their minds up whether they are going to continue to draw Cabinet wages whilst not taking any responsibility to balance Sefton’s books. They have been challenged directly about their stance but still the response is deafening. Is it Cabinet wages or opposition? We want an answer.

Sefton – A review of 2010

An unremarkable start to 2010 as I recall but, like everywhere else, General Election fever was doing the rounds. In the end, despite all the fuss and huge amounts of money being spent by the political parties, NOTHING CHANGED in Sefton! The 3 constituencies in the Borough stayed as before i.e. 2 with Labour MP’s (Bootle and Sefton Central) and 1 with a Lib Dem MP ( Southport).


The middle constituency (renamed as Sefton Central, which sounds more like the name for a railway station to me) significantly changed its boundaries but whilst the bookmakers predicted a Tory win that was well off the mark as Labour walked it. Why did the bookies get it so wrong I wonder? We realised that Labour were going to win the seat some 3 weeks before polling day but unless I read the Tories very wrong indeed they, like the bookmakers and indeed some in the press, thought they were going to win the seat right up until the last gasp. It has to be remembered that the Tories were so confident of winning that their candidate had resigned her Sefton Council Manor Ward seat as the Parliamentary victory was seen by them as a shoe-in. Poor old Formby Conservative Councillor Anne Ibbs was to get the backlash from this though in the Autumn.


By the way as an aside Sefton’s Manor Ward must be quite unique in that it now has one councillor from each of the 3 major parties representing it! Proportional representation by default?


George Howarth had been the Labour MP for the old Knowsley North & Sefton Central seat (which the new Sefton Central seat in effect replaced) and a generally well respected and liked constituency MP he had been too for many years. He was certainly someone from another party that I could get along with well and I was genuinely sad to see George going off to represent the new Knowsley seat. In Southport John Pugh MP won again but this time by his largest majority to date. In Bootle there was never any question that Joe Benton would win no matter what happened, which is of course why we need to have a new electoral system that makes all votes’ worthwhile casting. By the way this comment is no reflection on Joe who is a likable man well respected across the political spectrum


Richard Clein fought the Sefton Central seat for the Lib Dems. A Merseyside man born and bred, who had previously worked as a Drive Time presenter on Radio Merseyside. Richard built himself a good reputation and deservedly so but he did not have the limitless supply of UNITE trade union money that the unknown Labour candidate had. Neither did he try to pass himself off as a local celebrity as the Tory candidate seemed to. In the end money won and a Labour councillor from Medway in Kent became the MP. So much for folks saying, as they often do, that they want a person who knows the area to be their MP as when push came to shove that did not seem to matter one jot. Having said that it is of course our ridiculous electoral system that gives voters no real choice.


And here is another by the way. Richard Clein had never held any public office before he became the Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate. He had never claimed and never been given any allowances from the public purse. So what you may say. BUT if we go back just a few weeks before the general election we find the terrible goings on of the Parliamentary expenses row. Supposedly we were all going to vote for candidates untainted by being previously paid from the public purse; at least that is what the media told us we were going to do. My point being that logically Richard should have benefited from being the only candidate from the big 3 parties in Sefton Central not to have previously been on the public payroll. This would be an interesting one for a deeper piece of work and it reminds me of that ill-fated Lib Dem proposal at a previous General Election for a Penny on income tax to pay for education. The polling said it was hugely popular and folks would vote for it. The reality is that it went down like a lead balloon as we don’t actually vote in the cold light of day the way we say we will prior to going to the polling station.


On that same day in May we had Sefton Council elections and popular local Lib Dem Molyneux councillor Jack Colbert lost his Molyneux Ward seat to Labour. A big shock this as Jack had been well known and well liked by all who met him during his 10 years representing Melling, Aintree Village and the southern part of Maghull. I saw some of the letters that were sent to Jack from well wishers (not Lib Dem supporters, I would add) following his defeat and they were fulsome in their praise of him. But if Jack is anything he is a fighter and he will be back trying to win a seat on Sefton Council next May.


Also, on the day where nothing much changed in Sefton there was one quite remarkable result. This was the Lib Dem victory in Ainsdale Ward where Haydn Preece took a Conservative seat where previously there had been large enough Tory majorities to declare the ward simply by weighing the Tory votes rather than needing to count them. Add to that the fact that the Tory Parliamentary candidate for Southport was a councillor for the same ward and the Lib Dem victory was all the more remarkable.


So in the local elections Sefton Lib Dems won 1 seat on the Council and lost 1. The Tories, as has often been the case in recent years, came of worst again.


Then came the Coalition Government and the spending review, which is well documented elsewhere. What was coming, whom ever had been elected to Westminster, then came to Sefton and every other local council across the Country – massive reductions in Government grants to local authorities. This got Sefton Labour in quite a spin as they knew the cuts were a consequence of their Government’s bailing out of the banks and Gordon Brown’s rush to spend and borrow in the last months of Labour being in power nationally. So what would they do? How about brazenly taking the stance of it’s nothing to do with us, the cuts are not needed and we will not agree with them? Yes, that’s what they did and what they were still doing at turn of the year, denying the consequences of what they, in Government, had created!


On a personal note I had a great Autumn day out at Southport Football Club when my team Mansfield Town went to play them. The fact that Mansfield won made it a very good day indeed but I really do hope that Southport FC can do well this season. They have had quite a struggle on in 2010 but they are such a welcoming club they deserve a bright future.


Also in the Autumn Sefton Tories engaged in another one of their now infamous local blood-letting events that they have become so well known for in recent years. This time they deselected highly respected Ravenmeols Councillor Anne Ibbs to find a place for their failed Sefton Central Parliamentary candidate who now wants to get back on the Council she had resigned from when she thought she was going to become an MP. My guess is that this one is yet to fully play out but then again the number of attacks the Sefton Tory leadership makes on its own membership means that more trouble is virtually guaranteed!


As the year ended Sefton was still looking for around another £17m of savings to balance its books for April 2011 and it seems that Labour are not willing to find a penny of those savings. Indeed, they have been so brazen in their stance that it has led to them being challenged to say why they feel it is appropriate for them to remain on the Cabinet of Sefton Council, taking their substantial wages, when they are not willing to participate in sorting out the finances of the Borough. As I write they have yet to answer this fundamental question.


The year also ended with severe weather impacting hard on the Borough through Christmas week with residents questioning the ability of the Council to address the cold snap as well as they expected it to. I have commented, via this blog, in detail about the snow over the last few days so I am not going to repeat it all again in this posting. Suffice to say that the inquest into this will clearly spill over into 2011 but the first round of that inquest was held on 29th December with myself and 6 other concerned members of Sefton Council questioning Council officers in great detail.


I will end by thanking two people, amongst the many, who have been important in keeping the wheels of local democracy rolling in 2010. Firstly, Margaret Carney Sefton’s Chief Executive has proved to be a safe pair of hands who works very hard indeed. Margaret has impressed me and I value her efforts greatly. Secondly, Barry Smith the Interim Town Clerk of Maghull Town Council. Barry retired two years ago but stepped back into the post when his successor took very ill. Barry is a remarkable man whom I have huge respect for.


Happy New Year

The things you overhear

Sheila and I went to Ormskirk to do a bit if shopping this afternoon and being a bloke that finds shopping a bit of a challenge I stood outside one shop watching the world go by. Next thing I knew some folks were stood next to me having a conversation about the snow problems! They obviously lived in West Lancashire and West Lancs Borough Council was getting a right old verbal seeing to. Seems it was not just Sefton where we were left questioning the response of the Council.

Snow and Ice Inquest starts in Sefton

Today, along with 6 other concerned members of the Council, I attended a meeting with senior Council Officers to discuss the Council’s reaction to the unprecedented weather we have just experienced.

I passed to officers every contact that I have had with members of the public. We discussed particular issues across the Borough and the wider problems and concerns that affected us all.

I think it fair to say that the Council members present were of the view that the Council could and should have done more. Could it have started snow ploughing earlier? Could it have brought in JCB type diggers earlier to clear compacted ice on the A59 and Formby By-Pass. Does the Borough need more snow ploughs? In fact it has just 3 but they have not been used for so many years no one can quite remember when they were last used!  Should the Emergency Planning processes have been enacted earlier? All these points were discussed at length.

Some of the local issues in the East Parishes covered were the A59 being ice-bound through Aintree, Maghull and Lydiate, danger at the Aintree Lane/Ormskirk Road junction caused by packed ice, The Rutherford Road/Bridge Road Footbridge being dangerous for pedestrians, packed ice at the junction of Dodds Lane and Liverpool Road North and the closure of part of Hall Lane due to accidents by the canal bridge. This is just a flavour of the many such specific sites raised during the discussions.

May I once again thank everyone who has been in touch with their views and concerns about the worst winter weather anyone can recall locally. The cold snap caught Sefton off guard of that there can be no doubt but then again we had the lowest temperatures in England for 3 days recorded in Crosby. When you have year on year of mild winters such severe weather can come as a big shock; it certainly did that!

Thank you for your comments about the Council’s snow and ice reaction

My thanks to those who have e-mailed me to pass on their views about how the Council responded, or did not respond, to the cold snap. All comments are being taken with me to the promised meeting tomorrow.

For what it is worth I went to Ormskirk yesterday and saw a mechanical shovel being used to clear the main shopping street there. Today I went to Southport which was very busy. Of course the thaw sent in yesterday so the main roads both within Southport (that I travelled on) and indeed those to Southport via Halsall were reasonably clear. Chapel Street pedestrianised area was OK but there were still areas of ice and I can see how bad it must have been prior to the thaw.

I have also been talking to East Parishes residents who are upset about the lack of snow clearance in Aintree’s retail parks as much as they are with the Council for not keeping the main roads moving.

 Once again thanks for taking the trouble to get in touch.

Meeting with Council Officers on Wednesday 29th to discuss snow problems

My colleague Birkdale Councillor Simon Shaw has organised a meeting with senior Council officers on Wednesday to discuss widespread concerns over the week-long freeze-up affecting Sefton’s roads.

Our Team contacted officers on Wednesday of last week to ask for a meeting, but specifically wanted to delay the meeting until after Christmas, so as to allow officers time to deal with the priority – which was trying to get Sefton on the move again.

Over the last week residents have contacted me (see my previous postings) and other local councillors with their concerns and we wanted the opportunity to discuss these with senior officers at the earliest opportunity. We agreed that having a meeting on the first day back after the two days’ bank holidays was a sensible balance.  

We have already started compiling a list of the questions we want answered – these take account of points already raised by residents. However, if any other residents want to forward concerns or questions they are invited to e-mail me at  by 10.00am on Wednesday morning. Please include your name and address.