Today I had an excellent meeting with Cllr. Ian Grant the Leader of West Lancashire Borough Council. Surprisingly, even though we are Borough neighbours, Ian and I had not had chance to have a long chat about issues of mutual importance before but this meeting proved to be very useful.
As I have posted before Sefton has a bigger boundary with Lancashire than it does with the other Merseyside Councils. We have transportation, health and economic interests that are common so we need to try to break down the artificial barriers created by local government reorganisation in 1974.
What pleased me about today’s informal chat was that Cllr. Grant came over as a practical and determined chap who is quite happy to work with partners for the common good. We discussed a number of things but settled on the railway links between Sefton and West Lancs as being the matter we would most like to take forward. Again, I have posted before about the daft situation where the Ormskirk to Preston railway line crosses the Southport to Wigan line but the curves connecting the two have been taken away. I have worked with OPSTA, West Lancs Council, Sefton, Merseytravel and Lancs County Council for longer than I care to remember to try to get the curves reinstated but 30 years on the problem still remains there for all to see.
What we want is really quite simple, trains from Ormskirk to Southport and Southport to Preston as well as the present Ormskirk to Preston service. To me the project is a ‘no brainer’ as the advantages to communities in Sefton and West Lancs would be significant. If we can try to move this project on and greater co-operation with West Lancs Council helps us get there then let’s do it.
Today, whilst driving between business appointments, I happened upon one of those radio phone-in programmes that I rarely listen to. I was about to find another radio station when I realised I was listening to a racist. I could only stomach his ranting for a few seconds but the thrust of his call to the station seemed to be that most murders in this Country are committed by people who come from outside the UK! What a load of racist rubbish and to give the presenter his due he told the chap this very directly.
But this reminded me of a journey that I made by taxi a few months ago when I was treated to a lecture of a similar racist nonsense nature by my driver. His view was that the Council where he lived was helping drivers from eastern Europe gain taxi licenses with the poor old white taxi drivers having to wait in the queue behind the lucky east Europeans. I checked it out and guess what it was utter rubbish; an invented story passed around that had become something that those with a tendency to racism chose to believe and repeat.
I have been an active trade unionist for over 30 years (a branch secretary for 22 of them) but I must say that I get a little frustrated these days when I hear trade union leaders, many of whom utterly despised Labour when they were in government, seemingly getting caught in Labour’s opposition web.
Of course, I realise that trade unions and the Labour Party are historically joined at the hip but I have often felt that unions being bound up with one political party was and still is a big mistake. Personally, I think unions should be politically independent so that they can put their members first and that is particularly the case in the public sector where often ‘the bosses’ are a political party at a national or local government level.
But my point is this if you accept, as I do, that the last government was in part responsible for the mess that we are in economically why let them off the hook? My fear is that trade union leaders are doing just that, letting Labour off the hook. Trade union members are losing their jobs, especially in the public sector, in large numbers but the over-spending and over-borrowing of the last government is one of the reasons (the other being the greedy bankers of course) that those jobs are being lost. So for the unions to calmly slip back into Labour’s web and chant a similar song about the evils of the Coalition Governmnet is quite simply letting the membership down. The reason this happens is, of course, that many trade union leaders sadly seem to feel a loyalty to Labour that is stronger pull than that of their members.
I tested my theory by writing to the magazine of my own union saying something along the lines of this blog. The response I got from my General Secretary (who is always quoted in the media as a ‘left winger’ or a ‘thorn in Labour’s side’ or with some such label) was that ‘The national deficit was not caused by excessive public spending’. But that is my very point, it was excessive public spending (together with the greedy bankers) who put us all in the deep hole that we are now in. It’s no use union leaders wrapping themselves in a comfort blanket that says the last governmnet (and let me remind you again that it was universally unpopular with trade unionists) was OK really and we should not have hated it.
Sorry, but it is clear that jobs are being lost now in big numbers because the last government did not restrict spending and borrowing when all the signs were that a crash was on the way. Vince Cable and others warned them long before we hit the brick wall of economic reality but Labour did not listen. The jobs being lost now are, in part, a consequence of that Labour ‘deaf ear’ and our unions really need to wake up and smell the coffee.
Councillors sometimes get unexpected questions and the other day I was asked how do the Council go about naming things such as buildings etc.? The context of the query was the name of Sefton Council’s Meadows Leisure Centre, which by the way is one year old today.
‘Meadows’ was the name suggested by Cllr. Andrew Blackburn as it represents the historic and geographic area where the Leisure Centre has been built. Before Maghull was significantly built up, from the 1930’s onwards, that part of the Town was meadow land which often flooded and at times froze due to the flood plane of the River Alt. We did not want to call it Maghull Leisure Centre as it also serves Lydiate, Melling, Aintree Village and Sefton and Lunt Villages, so a more neutral name was chosen.
This takes me to other named things such as Roy’s Roundabout or Connell’s Island. It’s the only traffic roundabout in Maghull (junction of Westway and Green Lane) and a former Maghull resident and councillor Roy Connell paid for the trees to planted on it in the 1980’s, well all accept the very old one. I know that Roy (now a Southport resident) likes Roy’s Roundabout best.
In fact there are many things and places named after local people. How about Glenn Park, Davenhill Park (that’s a road not a green field in Aintree), Pimbley Field, Hornby Chase, Dunlop Drive (Melling and a football connection here), Tommy Gent Way and my other favourite Bailey way. This latter one right next to Meadows Leisure Centre was named after a grand old chap who fought to try to save the Whinnbrook House Old Peoples Home from closure some 15 years ago. Sadly, Arthur died not long after his big campaign that gained a lot of publicity. I recall a photo in the local press with Arthur stood at the door of the Home with a suitcase and what an atmospheric photo it was too! The reality was the the building was in poor condition and now some excellent sheltered housing has been built on the site but we had to remember Arthur Bailey by naming the road that serves the new bungalows after him. Arthur was a one off, he was great company and he had a great sense of humour.
So, whether it be Roy’s Roundabout, Meadows or Bailey Way let’s continue to mark things with an eye to history or characters in the community. Of course there are many more in the East Parishes Communities that I have not mentioned.
I posted an item about the business of Sefton’s Cabinet yesterday but something else happened which was quite disturbing. I was chairing the Cabinet and its fractious debate about Council savings when out of the blue Labour got really upset about a reporter from a local newspaper who was recording events. As far as I was concerned she was simply doing her job but Conservative Cabinet members also got upset with her. The concern was that she was speaking to another person who was also witnessing the debate. The other person was Cllr. Sue McGuire who is not a Cabinet member, I would add.
The thrust of the attack on the reporter seemed to be that she was showing disrespect by talking whilst the Cabinet was in session! Well, I was sat nearer to the reporter then any other member of Cabinet and I could not hear what she said. Things got more than a little heated and the reporter was clearly upset by what was happening. But if that was not enough a motion to report the reporter to her Editor for showing disrespect was put down and carried with only the 4 Lib Dem Cabinet members opposing it. My reaction to this bizarre carry on was to say ‘is it national over reaction day?’
By the way it soon transpired that all that the reporter wanted to know was which Cabinet member was which as she had not been to a Cabinet meeting before. She asked this quietly to Cllr. McGuire and for the life of me I can’t see what all the fuss was about.
I felt really sorry for the young reporter who, as I say, was simply doing her job. Lib Dem Cabinet member David Tattersall was furious with Labour and the Tories for their attack on the young reporter and as a former member of the Nation Union of Journalists he jumped to her defence.
Politicians like to think they can get the press on their side but this shows how to wind the press up so you get some bad publicity!
Today at Sefton’s Cabinet meeting we had another package of savings before us on this all-party committee. The savings had been crawled over in detail by each political party and we came to the meeting with 3 lists of savings. Two of the three lists had all-party agreement with the third being one where each item had the agreement of only two of the three parties. Things started to go off at a tangent straight away when Labour called for all the savings before us to be postponed until December. Clearly independent council officers advising the Cabinet were surprised at this turn of events and advised against postponing. Their reasoning was sound (the officers that is) as they made it very clear that they needed time to consult with staff and their unions and delaying things would just make things more difficult. Indeed, if we don’t make savings soon we will have to make even bigger savings putting even more jobs at risk. I was perplexed by the Labour move and I assume the trade union reps sitting with us during the meeting were as well. The proposal to postpone could only mean more grief for their members and our staff!
Things went down hill from there with Labour clearly intent on filibustering for reasons best known to them. We got there in the end but frankly it was a farce.
I have said before that the mess our economy is in is down to the bankers and Labour spending and borrowing too much whilst in office. I suppose therefore that Labour’s aim is to distance themselves from the consequences of their party’s own actions whilst in government. A form of denial?
For my part we simply have to make the savings to balance the books; if we don’t more jobs will be at risk and Council services will grind to a halt. I realise that agreeing to making the savings may well be seen by Labour as them admiting their own guilt but they have to get real.