Sefton Council – Struggling on, at best!

I was a Sefton Councillor representing communities in the East Parishes (Molyneux and Park wards) part of the Borough for 16 years from 1999 to 2015 and had the great honour to be Council Leader from 2004 to 2011. I can’t, in all honesty, say that Sefton Council was one of the best local authorities in England but during my time on it, I’d say it was fair to middling with credible aspects to it.

I say this as in recent years the Council has troubled me. I still live in the Borough, pay my Council tax and use the Council’s services. Sefton has 3 issues that for me are examples of poor local governance. It has:-

* ended up with government-imposed commissioners overseeing its Children’s Services operations following a grim OFSTED report
* been failing significantly for some months now with regard to its refuse and recycling kerbside collections
* failed to put right a situation, of its own making, whereby residents living in areas where Parish Councils maintain local parks & gardens pay twice for this service

Children’s Services in dire straights

If a Council is failing to offer a good children’s services operation it means that the most vulnerable youngsters in our communities are being let down and the consequences can be very serious indeed. I appreciate that cuts in government funding will be a huge influencing factor but why has Sefton ended up with government-appointed commissioners taking the reigns when this is not a common factor across other English councils with children’s services responsibilities. Commissioners are not appointed to run/oversee local government services very often and yes, of course, I’m aware that neighbouring Liverpool City Council has significant governance problems with Commissioners being sent in. So Sefton’s Children’s Services must have been in a dire state. Having said that I hear that significant progress is being made to address the concerns of OFSTED but never the less the Borough should not have ended up where it has found itself.

Best bin service to worst in the blink of an eye

Kerbside refuse/recycling collections in Sefton have been a shining light of the way to do it and pretty much for as many years as the Borough has been in existence – 1974. But oh dear the wheels have come off in recent months causing great anger across the Borough. The Council majors on sickness being the cause, whilst the trade unions representing the refuse/recycling collectors say they’re working to rule following a dispute over management changes to how they work. I suspect that both issues are true although for some odd reason the Council doesn’t seem to want to talk about the latter. Whatever the causes many residents have now had their green (garden waste) bins out on the pavements of the Borough for weeks and weeks. They’re supposed to be collected every 3 weeks but some locals say it feels like it’s slipped to 3 monthly collections, at best. Grey and Brown bin collections have also been impacted too, across many parts of the Borough, although with these the Council is just about keeping its head above water. When it comes to a service that all residents rely on and use on a weekly basis Sefton has gone from very good to very bad in the proverbial blink of an eye.

Treating Maghull, Lydiate & Aintree Village Council taxpayers as 2nd class?

Paying twice, otherwise known as double-rating, with regard to parks and gardens is very much a Sefton Council-created problem. It affects council taxpayers in Lydiate, Maghull and Aintree Village where in all 3 cases the local parish/town council maintains all of the parks and gardens in those communities but the Borough charges the same amount of Council tax as everywhere else. The ridiculous aspect of this is that Sefton Council actually fixed the situation back during my time as Council Leader, indeed I made sure it was fixed. Then under the umbrella of austerity cuts, the problem was recreated i.e. the Council taxpayers of Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village were put back to financial disadvantage by our now Labour-run Council. Yes, money being spent on parks and gardens maintenance was having to be reduced across the Borough but why on earth, in effect, make bigger cuts in these 3 communities, forcing their parish/town councils to have to increase the precept (the name for the part of Council tax raised by parish/town councils) to compensate! Why does the Sefton Council seemingly look upon Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village as being less equal than the other communities in our diverse Borough?

So there you have it, my issues with Sefton Council. As my old school reports used to say ‘with more effort could do better’ and that’s being polite about the Borough’s governance as I see it.

Double Rating in Sefton – My letter to the Champion Newspaper

Dear Sir,

I support Independent Sefton Park Ward Cllr Andy Wilson’s campaigning for Double Rating payments to be reinstated from Sefton Council to those parish councils who maintain their own parks and gardens as without it the council taxpayers of those communities are paying twice.

When I was a Sefton Cllr. and Leader of Sefton Council I ensured that those payments were improved to reflect the real costs of maintaining parks and gardens in Lydiate, Maghull & Aintree Village. That was around 2007, but sadly in around 2013, after I’d stepped down as Sefton Leader, the payments were stopped altogether creating great injustice. I opposed the stopping of payments and wrote Lydiate’s Parish Council’s submission* to the ‘consultation’ prior to them being stopped.

Since then Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village Parish Councils have lost many, many thousands of pounds and have had to fund all their parks and gardens maintenance from the separate precept those councils raise on their council taxpayers. It has meant that in these communities residents have been paying their respective parish councils who do look after their parks and gardens and also Sefton Council who don’t!

What possessed Sefton to stop the payments completely, baffles me as the formula agreed in around 2007 was meant to be flexible in that the money paid (revenue and capital) to the parish councils was meant to reflect what the Borough Council would spend on those parks and gardens if it was responsible for them. So if Sefton reduced expenditure on the parks and gardens it runs, then the payments to the parishes would drop proportionately. Of course, the opposite would apply too.

The irony of some Labour politicians jumping up and down over the matter now is not lost on me though, as it was Labour-run Sefton that stopped the payments in the first place!

Yours sincerely

Tony Robertson
Former Leader of Sefton Council

* My posting of 14th Feb 2022 refers

The letter was published on 16th March 20222

Double Rating – Maghull, Lydiate & Aintree – A history of ups and downs

It’s all about why in Sefton Borough Lydiate, Maghull & Aintree Village Council Taxpayers pay twice to have their parks maintained

This shot of Rigeway Park in Lydiate was taken in 2017

Well, this is a subject I’ve blogged about a few times in the past. Here is one such posting that explains things, it’s from 2017:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2017/04/06/maghull-land-money-maintaining-old-hall-park/

And here’s Lydiate Parish Council’s submission (June 2013) to Sefton Council’s consultation on the withdrawal of Double rating payments to the parish councils doing their own parks and gardens maintenance:-

Double Rating in Sefton – Lydiate Parish Council’s response to Sefton MBC’s proposal to stop repaying the affected Parish Councils

In Lydiate, Maghull and Aintree Village (and to a lesser extent in Melling Parish – see note below) all of the parks are looked after by the Town or Parish Councils and these Councils charge residents for the cost of doing this, via the Council Tax – the separate ‘parish precept’.

Sefton Council also charges for looking after parks in Lydiate, Maghull and Aintree Village even though it does not deliver any such service in those three communities. This means residents potentially paying twice for having their parks looked after. This is clearly not fair or right so, some years ago, an agreement was reached for Sefton Council to pay these Parish & Town Councils the same per acre that Sefton spends on its own parks, elsewhere in the borough. This stopped residents from paying double, so the agreement was called “Double Rating”. In other words, Sefton has been returning to these Parishes what it has been taking from them but not spending on their parks.

However, Sefton Council is now planning to scrap the “Double Rating” agreement and the payments it makes to the Parish Councils which maintain their own parks and gardens. This will mean residents paying twice for having their parks looked after. First, they will pay their Parish/Town Council for actually maintaining the parks and second they will pay Sefton Council to do nothing to them. Sefton will just take the money it raises in Lydiate, Maghull and Aintree Village and spend it on parks elsewhere in the Borough.

Lydiate Parish Council’s view is that Sefton Council’s proposal to stop paying back Double Rating money to the affected Parish Councils is clearly unfair and the Borough Council needs to reconsider. If the proposal is carried forward the result will be that Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village Council taxpayers will be paying twice.

The good news, however, is that Sefton Council does have two quite viable alternative options to resolve this matter without putting the Council tax payers of Lydiate, Maghull and Aintree Village at disadvantage. These options are:-
a) To continue to make the payments but at a lower level commensurate with the reduced standards of grounds maintenance that the Borough has already budgeted for and may well budget for in the future. This option would mean that all of Sefton’s communities would be treated the same by the Borough Council no matter whether the parks and gardens are run by Borough or Parish Council.
b) For Sefton Council to charge a differing level (lower) of Council tax in the Parishes which maintain their own parks and gardens than in the rest of the Borough. This option would stop Sefton Council from collecting money in the Parished communities that look after their own parks and gardens and then having to refund the money via the Parish Councils. Doing this would also mean that Council taxpayers in the affected Parishes would not be put at a disadvantage.

Simply stopping the repayments to the Parish Councils is unfair and will lead the Borough Council open to the charge that it is raising money in one part of the Borough simply to spend it elsewhere. We contend that this is not a position that the Borough Council should wish to find itself in.
Finally, we would add that we fully appreciate the level of savings the Borough Council has to make; all we ask is that in this case of Double Rating the savings are made fairly.
*****
Note 1:- Melling Parish is also affected but in Melling, there is recreational land provided by both Sefton Council and Melling Parish Council so the situation there is more complex.
Note 2:- The other 6 Parish Councils in the Borough do not own or lease land that is used as parks or for public recreational purposes so ‘Double Rating’ is not an issue to them.

Entrance to Dodds Park Maghull

And I suppose you’re wondering why I’m banging on about this great local injustice again now. Is it just an old politician musing on former wins and losses? Well, actually the reason I’m back on the subject is due to a discussion with Maghull & Lydiate’s Sefton Park Ward Independent Councillor Andy Wilson. You see Andy has got the Double Rating bit between his teeth and wants to try to get things rebalanced. Of course, I agree with him. Well, I would, wouldn’t I, having put so much effort into getting a fair system put in place only for it to be pulled a few years later on the altar of austerity. So good luck Andy, I look forward to the oil tanker that is Sefton Council being turned around again and in doing so helping Parish Councils, like Lydiate, to reduce their precept on local council taxpayers.

Kenyons Park – Lydiate

2019 Parish Council elections in Sefton Borough – Some interesting situations

I’m a bit of a parish council nut as I’ve been a parish councillor since 1985 and always seek out quirky things on the notice boards of parish councils when I travel around England.

This year was the year in which all parish councils were potentially up for re-election. Unlike most district and Borough councils (who tend to elected in thirds) parish councils are elected once every 4 years when the whole of the council is potentially at the mercy of the electorate. Some parish councils however never really have elections as only enough or too few nominations are forthcoming and candidates are elected unopposed.

There are 10 parish councils within Sefton Borough – they are:-

Little Altcar PC – had an election
Formby PC – had an election
Ince Blundell PC – no election
Thornton PC – no election
Hightown PC – no election
Sefton PC – had an election in one of its 2 wards
Melling PC – had an election
Lydiate PC – had an election in all 3 wards
Maghull TC* – had an election but only in one of its 4 wards
Aintree Village PC – no election

* There is no real difference between a Parish or Town Council other than a Town Council can elect a Mayor instead of a Chairperson

Here are a few highlights from the elections which took place on 2nd May at the same time as the Sefton Borough elections

Little Altcar Parish Council (7 seats) – Formby Residents Action Group 6, Green Party 1

Formby Parish Council (15 seats across 2 wards) – Formby Residents Action Group 11, Conservatives 3, Labour 1

Ince Blundell Parish Council (5 seats) – Only 3 nominations for the 5 seats on this council – Independents 2, Formby Residents Action Group 1 (all elected unopposed), vacancies 2.

Thornton Parish Council (7 seats) – Only 2 nominations for the 7 seats on this council – Conservative 1, Green 1 (both elected unopposed), vacancies 5 * – potentially the additional 5 seat can be filled by the 2 unopposed/elected councillors co-opting up to another 5 councillors? Could be time to consult the Bible of Parish Council administration by Charles Arnold-Baker.

Hightown Parish Council (7 seats) – Only 5 nominations for the 7 seats on this council – Independents 5 (all elected unopposed) Vacancies 2.

Sefton Parish Council (7 seats across 2 wards) – Independents 6, Green Party 1

Melling Parish Council (11 seats) – Melling Resident 8, Labour 1, Independent 1, Asst Leader Cub Scouts 1 – Labour put up 12 candidates for the 11 seats but only got one elected. However, a Labour Borough Councillor for Molyneux ward (which includes Melling Parish) stood as a Melling Resident and came top of the poll.

Lydiate Parish Council (9 seats in 3 wards) – Labour 7, Lib Dem 2

Maghull Town Council (16 seats in 4 wards) – Labour 12, Conservative 2, Independent 1, Vacancy 1 – Labour effectively lost 4 seats having previously held all 16 on this council. It seems that a candidate elected under the Labour banner subsequently declared as an Independent after the elections. It also looks like a Labour member of this council sits on Melling Parish Council as well but as a Melling Resident not as a Labour councillor.

Aintree Village Parish Council – (12 seats across 2 wards) – Independent 8, Green 2, Labour 2 (all elected unopposed)

My thanks to Andrew Blackburn who helped me trawl through information on Sefton Council’s and other websites to pull together this information. I hope the information is correct but if you see an error please flag it up so that I can correct it.

Oh and one final note – Vacancies on Parish/Town Council can be filled by an election being held, however, if no candidates come forward to stand in an election then the council has the power to co-opt people to fill the vacancies.

Lydiate’s parks and open spaces – An update on my previous posting ‘Maghull – land, money & maintaining Old Hall Park’

Lydiate PC grounds maintenance staff at work in Liverpool Road outside St. Gregs Church.

I wrote not so long ago an article that was based on complaints made by residents about the standard of maintenance at Old Hall Park in Maghull. That posting can be accessed here:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2017/04/06/maghull-land-money-maintaining-old-hall-park/

This is in effect a follow up piece although the detail is about neighbouring Lydiate’s parks and open spaces. I have used Lydiate to further illustrate the points I was making in my first posting as the detailed information is to hand for that community. However, such information should be available about Maghull and indeed Aintree Village as the same principles apply and double payment of Council tax by residents of these three communities also applies.

St Catherine’s also known as Lydiate Abbey, where Lydiate PC does grounds maintenance work.

Let’s start with a brief recap. In Maghull, Aintree Village and Lydiate Council tax payers in effect pay twice for the maintenance of their parks and open spaces, once to their Parish/Town Council who do the work and again to Sefton Council who don’t. Why do I say this? Because the amount of Council tax charged by Sefton Council is exactly the same in these communities as it is in Crosby, Formby, Bootle and Southport where Sefton Council does maintain parks and open spaces. On that basis Maghull, Aintree Village and Lydiate Council tax payers are paying Sefton for a service it does not supply to them, except in the cases of Old Hall Park & Bobby’s Wood in Maghull. If you’re still not with me have a read of my first posting linked above and things should become clearer.

So on to Lydiate where I have the detailed break down of information which illustrates the case I have been making:-

You will need to click on the graphic above to enlarge it for reading

What you can see from this graphic is a list of all the parks and open spaces in Lydiate and how Lydiate Parish Council provides maintenance for them. Sefton Council used to compensate Lydiate Parish Council for the overcharging of Council tax by making a grant back to Lydiate PC. My previous posting (linked above) explains that process which also applied to Maghull and Aintree Village. Sefton ceased making the compensation grant in 2014/15, as you can see from the chart above (the same applied to Aintree Village & Maghull), meaning that an unfair system has been reimposed on those communities.

As I say if you live in Aintree Village, Maghull or Lydiate you are paying for parks and gardens maintenance twice in my view.

Maghull – Land, money & maintaining Old Hall Park

Ive seen a couple of threads on the Maghull Community facebook Page recently raising concerns about the poor standard of maintenance of Old Hall Park and thought a full review of the issues leading up this unfortunate state of affairs was required.

Old Hall Park

Firstly, when Old Hall Park was created following the demolition of the former Old Hall High School Buildings (originally it had been Maghull Grammar School) the park was laid out and run by Sefton Council. Of course houses were also built on around one third of the site at the same time. This became Sefton Council’s only park in Maghull, all the others being run by Maghull Town Council. In fact Sefton did and still does own one other small grassed/wooded amenity area called Bobby’s Wood, which is at the junction of Liverpool Road South and Northway down at the Woodend area of the Town.

Maghull Town Council then hatched a plan. It thought that all the parks/green spaces in the Town would be better maintained to the same standard and by its own local maintenance team, rather these two areas being maintained by the Borough Council’s separate contractors. Negotiations took place and it was agreed that Old Hall Park and Bobbies Wood would in future both be maintained by Maghull Town Council, this was something like 10 years ago if memory serves.

Things remained like this until Maghull Town Council made a policy decision, not that long ago, to hand the two pieces of land back to the Borough Council – this was when the standard of maintenance started to fall.

But there is another back story to this and surprise, surprise it involves money!

Firstly, all communities in Sefton Borough pay the same levels of Council tax, but some don’t benefit from a full range of services. The stand out one is maintenance of parks and gardens. For example Aintree Village only has one park (Harrow Drive Park) which is maintained by Aintree Village Parish Council, who raise a separate amount of Council tax (called a precept) to pay for that work. However, the good folks of Aintree pay the same amount of Council tax to Sefton Council as say Formby where all the parks are maintained by the Borough Council. You are probably getting my drift here but in case you’re not the fact is that Aintree Village Council tax payers are in effect paying their Parish Council who do the maintenance of their only park but they are also paying the Borough Council who don’t do any parks maintenance for for them. They are paying twice for the same job in reality.

That situation is mirrored in Lydiate and Maghull. In Lydiate all their parks and gardens are maintained by their Parish Council, none are maintained by Sefton Council. And so we get to Maghull where the vast majority of it’s parks and gardens are maintained by Maghull Town Council with just Old Hall Park and Bobby’s Wood being maintained by the Borough Council. So Lydiate and Maghull Council tax payers are, like their Aintree Village chums, in effect paying twice for the work to be done – Once to their Parish/Town Council and again to Sefton Council.

The solution that seems obvious to most who look into this is that Sefton Council should charge a lower amount of Council tax in Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village but for reasons I can’t quite fully recall this has never happened. But an alternative solution was put in place in the years following the formation of Sefton Council in 1974. It was called ‘Double Rating’ payments and it led to a formula being constructed which paid money to the Parish Councils who maintained their own parks and gardens.

When a Maghull and Sefton Councillor I looked at this deal and decided it was poor and did not reflect the real costs. I set about renegotiating it and eventually it was significantly improved (around 2007 I think?) to reflect what Sefton would be paying to its contractors if it was doing the work. All was fine then for a few years.

But trouble came with the financial crisis with the Borough Council being hit by massive cuts to its grant from government to run local services. As one of many cuts to its services the Borough Council then decided to stop paying the ‘Double Rating payments to the parish councils. So in effect Aintree Village, Lydiate and Maghull are back to where they were in 1974 i.e. paying twice for parks and gardens maintenance. A very unjust situation in my book.

What happened next was that Maghull Town Council said to Sefton Council if you will not pay us the Double rating we are handing back your parks and you can maintain them. Trouble is the Borough Council’s maintenance standards are low because they are running out of money so residents of Maghull who use Old Hall Park and Bobby’s Wood are not only paying twice for their green space to maintained they are suffering the far lower maintenance standards that are now common across the Borough.

And yes Maghull is the highest rate of Council tax in Sefton (it always has been since 1974) not least now because its Town Council is having to find more money to replace the Double Rating payments that it used to get. An every which way but lose situation you could call it.

I understand, please correct me if I am wrong here, that Maghull Town Council is looking at the possibility of taking over Old Hall Park and Bobby’s Wood once again so to improve the maintenance standards.

I hope this rather lengthy explanation is of use to those interested in this matter.