A weekend away – Parish meetings, expenses and merging Parishes

For only the second time this year our family has had a short break. We have been up in North Yorkshire at our usual pre-Christmas haunt of Littondale a remote part of the Dales some 15 miles north of Skipton. Our hosts Bryan and Lyn of the B&B ‘Park Bottom’ serve up excellent breakfasts and over one of these we got talking about how their small village runs. Small being the word as there are so few inhabitants that they don’t have a Parish Council but a Parish Meeting. This means that the whole community comes together around twice per year to decide local matters with the Chair and Vice Chair doing the day to day business on their behalf. Having been a Parish Councillor for some 26 years it was interesting to see how democracy works at a very local level in an isolated rural community like Litton.

Staying on the theme of Parish Councils I notice that the Aintree & Maghull Champion published a letter this week advocating the merger of Maghull Town Council with Lydiate Parish Council and Melling Parish Council with Aintree Village Parish Council on the grounds that it would save on councillors expenses. I have never been paid an allowance as a Parish Councillor and know for a fact that neither Lydiate or Maghull Councils have ever paid one. I am 99% sure that Melling and and Aintree Village Parish Councils don’t pay allowances to councillors either. I recall that the last Labour Government gave Parish and Town Councils the right to pay allowances but I have yet to come across a Council that has taken this up. Maybe the correspondent had heard about the right to pay and was assuming that all Parishes had taken it up? Whatever the case I find it rather encouraging that folks are still willing to give up their time to help run their community, by being a Parish Councillor, without the wish to be paid for it.

And finally, in that same letter to the Champion a suggestion that the new excellent Lydiate Village Centre and Maghull Town Hall could be used for a youth facilities. Well, Maghull Town Hall already is doing that via the highly successful Youth Coffee Bar. It is run by Maghull & District Youth Council with financial support from the Town Council and Youth Workers from Sefton Council. A youth facility is also being set up at the Lydiate Village Centre and at the last Parish Council meeting the President and Chair of Maghull & District Youth Council met with Parish Councillors to discuss how to take the initiative forward. The moral of this last story seems to be that these two youth facilities are not well know about by adults, then again the facilities are not aimed at them. 

Maghull’s Civic Awards Night

As usual this pleasant community event saw two well deserving people from the area gain recognition for their local voluntary work on Wednesday evening. Indeed, this year the two winners were both young people under the age of 18.

The two awards, that are presented every year, are The Maghull Civic Award presented by Maghull Town Council and the Youth Award presented by Maghull & District Youth Council.

All in all a great evening but I find it rather sad to be told that the local Labour Party were seemingly trying to use the event to recruit helpers! What an inappropriate forum for such an activity.

Southport Cultural Centre Developments

Cllr. Mike Booth (Sefton Cabinet Member for Leisure) and I were today treated to a behind the scenes look at the work going on behind the hoardings. Turning the Art Gallery, Museum and Library into a modern Cultural Centre is a huge undertaking especially as parts of the buildings are ‘Listed’.

The work so far is impressive and some old, long forgotten parts of the buildings have been uncovered as the work has progressed but the state of the roof, which we walked on today, makes you realise how desperately needed this massive project is.

There is a long way to go before the buildings are open to the public again but I hope that when we get there we will have a Centre of regional significance. My thanks to all involved, in what has become a hugely complex project for all their hard work to date, as Cabinet Member responsible for the development

Corporate Parenting Board

I have been at this tonight hearing what we try to do for the looked after children in our Borough. It is a sobering thought that these days around 380 children are being looked after by the Council at any one time. With Christmas just around the corner you feel for those children without a family.

Tuition Fees – Credit to Dr John Pugh MP

News that Sefton’s Lib Dem MP (John Pugh – Southport) has come out against the rise in tuition fees pleases me. John is a deep thinker and is not one to do knee jerk reactions when the pressure is on so if he is stating his case so clearly that is good enough for me and it is to John’s credit that he is doing so.

My view is that a pledge is a pledge so the answer to the question, ‘should we put up tuition fees?’ has clearly got to be NO.

Prescot a town under the thumb?

Last night I was guest speaker at Prescot Lib Dems excellent Christmas Dinner. I have been a regular at this event for 10 years now and the quality of the food is always top notch at Prescot Leisure Centre and the meal was a bargain at £15.95. But is Christmas 2010 the last one for this long-standing community building that is both run by and the home of Prescot Town Council?

I have known and campaigned with Prescot Lib Dems for many years and had great fun doing it. Their Leader Ian Smith is a Liberal through and through whom I have huge respect for, so imagine my surprise to hear that Ian is being reported to the Standards Board by Knowsley Borough Council! That’s about as off the wall as David Tattersall (Sefton’s Cabinet Member for the Environment) being reported to the Standards Board and in effect being found guilty of doing nothing! Ian and David are both kind hearted but determined community campaigners. So what has Ian Smith done? Well it seems he has simply and very robustly defended his community against the might and will of socialist big brother Knowsley Labour; what any good Liberal would do when their community is under attack.

The issue is the proposed closure and demolition of Prescot Leisure Centre that Labour, who run Knowsley, has decided to take forward. My point being that whenever possible decisions about community facilities need to be taken in consultation with the level of local government nearest to the people, in this case Prescot Town Council. Yet here, I am told, instead of a partnership approach to matters in Prescot, Labour have taken a ‘we know what’s good for you’ stance. No surprise there then as socialism is all about doing things to people (no matter how benevolently) rather than facilitating communities to tackle their own challenges and opportunities. Of course, it is all about power and dependency. Labour wants to be seen to be exercising power over a dependent community. We Liberals seek to empower communities by giving them the power and responsibility to decide their own destiny.

The contrast between Prescot and Maghull could not be greater as in Maghull a new Leisure Centre has recently been built in partnership between Sefton Council & Maghull Town Council. Maghull TC put land and money into the project and three other local Parish Councils also chipped in money (Lydiate, Melling and Sefton PC’s) as did  the Trustees of the former Lydiate Voluntary Youth Club. This new leisure centre is connected to Maghull Town Council’s community building and the aim is to ensure that both work as a seamless community facility. It can be done if power is put in the hands of the community.

So good luck to Ian Smith and his brave community campaigners who are fighting for Prescot’s Leisure Centre. I look forward to another excellent Christmas Dinner in 2011, wherever it may be. Prescot and Proud  is their rallying cry.