Smug socialsts 2 – Aintree & College Road Volunteers Nil

Last night was the second half of the Sefton Overview & Scrutiny meeting looking into Labour’s Cabinet decision not to allow volunteers to take over the running of Aintree and Collage Road Libraries in the Borough. The first half of the meeting having ended in chaos in early December 2013 as previously noted on this blog site.

The result was sadly quite predictable as Labour members of the Committee used their inbuilt majority to back their Cabinet colleague’s previous decision to, in effect, tell the volunteers to sling their hook.

What Labour had to gain from refusing to allow the volunteers an opportunity to have a go at running the now closed libraries is anyone’s guess but they were simply not going to let it happen.

It is Municipal socialism gone mad! This was no longer about whether the Council had the money to keep the libraries open it was about a Labour-run Council saying we have decided not to run these 2 libraries any more and we are not going to let volunteers do it either.

Interestingly, this time the Council’s Chief Executive answered virtually all the questions rather than the Council officers who had taken so much heat at the first meeting. Also, Council Leader Peter Dowd said nothing this time, having all but taken over the meeting in December when his own Labour members had effectively pressed the panic button is the face of well informed volunteers who had them on the rack.

Labour members of the Committee asked no questions what so ever and simply sat there voting down Lib Dem proposals for the matters before the Committee to be sent back to the Cabinet to be reconsidered or sent to a meeting of the whole Council for a full debate.

Labour should hang its head in shame; treating volunteers so badly is nothing to be proud of. Indeed, I saw Labour supporters smiling at the end of the meeting! Smiling at what?

Aintree Library – Putting the Labour Cabinet Member with responsibilities for Parish Councils in Sefton on the spot

Below is the question that I asked to Labour Cabinet member Trish Hardy at the meeting of Sefton Council meeting last night.

Clause 4 of Sefton’s Parish Charter states that ‘In their role as democratically accountable bodies, parish and town councils offer a means of reshaping the decisions that affect their communities. They offer a means of decentralising the provision of services and of revitalising local communities.’

Is the Cabinet Member satisfied that this clause of the Parish Charter has been complied with, having regard to the way the Borough Council has treated Aintree Village Parish Council in relation to the recent application to operate a community/volunteer run library service in Aintree?

Incredibly her answer was:-

“I am not aware that Aintree Parish Council have applied to operate a library Service”

To which I replied – “Is the Cabinet Member seriously saying that she was unaware that Aintree Village Parish Council was the major funding partner of the community bid to take over Aintree Library and that the bid had been rejected by the Cabinet because it saw Aintree Village Parish Council as being an unreliable source of funding for this bid to be approved?”

I have no idea what she was trying to say in response to my follow up question!

Library volunteers – growing nationally but rejected in Labour Sefton!”

www.thirdsector.co.uk/go/news/article/1226079/number-library-volunteers-surges-year-march-figures-show/

Those of us who have been close to the campaign to save 7 of Sefton’s libraries from closure and also trying to assist volunteer groups to take over our libraries have been hitting against a brick Labour wall and this blog site has chronicled the appalling carry on in the Borough.

Sadly this placard could also read 'NO' to volunteers taking over Aintree Library!

Sadly, in Sefton this placard could also read ‘NO’ to volunteers taking over Aintree Library!

But the rest of the UK is not as prejudiced against volunteers indeed it welcomes them as the link above confirms.

By the way the 2nd half of the Sefton Scrutiny meeting that was hearing appeals from 2 volunteer groups bidding to take over their closing libraries (College Road, Crosby and Aintree), which Labour-run Sefton had given the two fingered salute to, is to be on 11th February.

With 3 Cabinet members who are also Parish Councillors why are relations between Sefton and its 10 Parish Councils so poor these days?

Back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s the Parishes had a poor relationship with Sefton but when I became Borough Council Leader in 2003 I set out to put that right. A Parish Charter was created laying out the relationship between the Borough and its 10 Parishes and an annual event was created on the lines of a mini conference. Borough Council officers were also expected to treat the Parishes with respect, to help them and to jointly solve community issues with them.

It took a while but year by year the relationship changed to one that was far more positive. Indeed, the 10 Parish Councils worked hard at things from their perspective as well and credit must go to Cllr. Mike Coles of Formby Town Council for his efforts as chair of the 10 Parishes umbrella organisation. At last we had some joint working rather than joint hostility!

My time as Borough Leader came to an end in 2011 but there was hope that all would continue to be OK under the new Labour Leadership not least because the new Leader had also got himself elected as a Parish Councillor in Maghull. Not only that but two of his Labour Cabinet colleagues had also been successful in becoming Parish Councillors in Maghull. Sefton’s 7 person Cabinet now had 3 Parish Councillors on it whereas during my time as Borough Leader there was just me amongst a 10 person Cabinet who was also a Parish Councillor.

But the wheels came off very quickly under Labour when logically the opposite should have happened. Why?

• The 3 Parish Councillors on the Cabinet were and still are all Borough Councillors for Bootle wards where there are no Parish Councils. This may explain why they have seemingly been reluctant to champion the cause of the Parishes despite them wishing to be and succeeding in being Parish Councillors for Maghull Council.
• The Borough has had to make some harsh savings, which started in my last year as Leader, due to the Country’s dire financial situation. One of the savings the now Labour-run Borough has decided to make is to stop making yearly refunds of Council tax to the Parish Councils who maintained their own parks. This payment is fair and reasonable and I had made sure it was brought up to date with a sensible formula to calculate the payments. The effect of the decision to stop the payments is that from April 2014 Council tax payers in the 4 Parishes, where their Parish Council maintains the parks, is that they will end up paying twice! Once to the Parish Council which does the work and once to Sefton who don’t! You can imagine how this has gone down.
• Library closures came next as the Labour Council decided to shut a Library in Aintree Parish – one of 7 Labour wished to close across the Borough, but this was the only one where there was a Parish Council representing the community. A huge campaign led by Aintree Village Parish Council against their library closure sprang up but as it built it became clear that the recently elected Labour councillors in the Parished part of the Borough were hardly leading the community campaigns to save the libraries from from the front. But then Aintree Parish Council put together a bid with a group of community volunteers to take over Aintree Library and the Borough’s Labour Cabinet gave the plan the thumbs up. All seemed well until the Borough changed its mind and backed out. In December 2013 this led to an Aintree Parish Councillor ripping up a copy of the Parish Charter in front of the Borough’s Cabinet with its 3 members, who are also Parish Councillors, sat there watching.
• Another cost cutting idea of Labour was to disband the 3 Borough Council Area Committees in the middle of Sefton i.e. Formby, Crosby & the East Parishes for them to be replaced by one massive Area Committee. This has proved to be a complete disaster with the 10 Parish Councils, who had a strong voice, under the old system, being all but ignored.
• Resentment also simmers because Maghull Town Council, the largest of the 10 Parishes is reluctant to fight with the other 9 Parishes and sits back refusing to say anything about Labour’s cut in Council tax refunds even though it is the greatest loser of all the Parish Councils. But with 3 Borough Council Cabinet members sitting on Maghull Council (one of whom being the Borough Leader) and 2 additional back bench Labour members the Town Council does not know which way to turn so sits on the fence trying to say nothing.
• But two other seemingly unrelated matters are also impacting on the Parish/Borough relationship in a negative way. Firstly, the Borough is proposing to build houses on large areas of Green Belt within the part of Sefton that is Parished. Also, Labour proposed a green bin tax which would have impacted most negatively on the Parished part of the Borough where many of the largest gardens are. Fortunately, the loss of two seats to the Lib Dems in the Parished part of Sefton not so long ago has seemingly sobered the Labour-led Council up and they seem to be edging away from this most unpopular of taxes.

Is there any wonder, having taken all these factors into account, that relations between Sefton and its Parishes are poor? You can’t impose things from unparished Bootle on the rest of the Borough. You can’t get yourself elected as Parish Councillors and then back proposals that are against the interests of the Parish that has just elected you to represent their interests.

Community Library campaigners in Sefton feel…………….

Will volunteers ever be allowed to stack these shelves with books again - Not if Labour-run Sefton has anything to do with it!

Will volunteers ever be allowed to stack these shelves with books again? I have just returned from the Sefton Council Scrutiny meeting where brave community library campaigners came up, yet again, against the brick wall of Sefton Labour Party.

But this time the Labour dominated Committee crumbled and fell apart! It failed to back the Labour Cabinet and deferred making a decision on bids from two community groups to run Aintree and College Road, Crosby Libraries to the New Year.

But they refused to take the advice of opposition Lib Dem members of the Committee who proposed that the matter be referred to Full Council for a debate about all kinds of concerns and worries that had been put to the Committee tonight by community campaigners. Indeed, after a bout of headless chickening they called for an adjournment of the Scrutiny Committee to regroup. The Christmas fudge of a compromise that came out of that 10 minute private Labour only conclave was that they wanted to defer the meeting to the New Year and hear no more criticism of the Labour-run Council.

They failed in their attempt to shut me and Cllr. Andrew Tonkiss up so they got more concerns to put in their worry caps for Christmas.

This is no longer about money to run the libraries, it’s about the lack of trust and faith the Labour-run Council has in its community groups and at least one of its Parish Councils (Aintree Village).

Some book titles that seem to sum up how the campaigners feel:-

Betrayed

Betrayed

Double Cross(ed)

Double Cross(ed)

Rough Justice

Rough Justice

All these titles were snapped in one of the Borough’s closing libraries this week as the selves were emptied of books.

All the community campaigners want is to be given the chance to try to run their Library. All Labour said was we really don’t know what to do – we need new orders!

Community bids to run Sefton Libraries – Why were they really turned down for Aintree and College Road, Crosby?

Prior to attending the crucial meeting of Sefton’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee this evening here are some thoughts and questions about the community bids to run Aintree and College Road Libraries which Sefton Council has so far rejected.

Frankly, the bar was set far too high for newly created community organisations to be able to get over. The only one to get though was the bid for Ainsdale Library and that was from an already well established company.

The obvious question to me is why did Labour–run Sefton Council play its cards as it did? I know the volunteers running the bids feel that they have been given the run-around rather than a fair chance to show what they can do.

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Was the reality that Labour did not want the bids to get through?

But amongst all this the most telling part of the debate at Sefton’s Cabinet meeting on the 5th December was the all too obvious, in my opinion, stubborn refusal to embrace the volunteers and community campaigners from Crosby and Aintree and to give them a chance to have a go at running their library. Instead, the Cabinet hid behind all sorts of rules, which Sefton Council had invented, that simply made the campaigners jump through far too many hoops.

Why not give them a year or two to see what they could do? In such a scenario Sefton could have held back on its investment in the properties, which is required because it has not kept up with maintenance requirements. Surely, testing out the volunteer plans for real was always going to be the best way forward unless that is the Council was firmly of the view that it really did not want many if any of the community run bids to get through?

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The other telling thing that came out of the debate at the Cabinet meeting was that I can’t recall any of the questions and concerns that the two volunteer groups raised being answered by the Cabinet in any meaningful way. It just looked like it had already decided what it was going to do no matter what representations were made to it!

And what of the local MP? His reaction was, I am told, to issue a press statement saying that he was going to Government to ask them for more money to run Sefton libraries. Well yes, but what on earth has that got to do with volunteers running the libraries? Surely Bill Esterson should be angry that Labour councillors have not given the campaigning volunteers the chance to have a go at running their libraries? In the end this has come down to how well and to what extent Labour-run Sefton Council is prepared to work with fledgling volunteer groups to encourage them to take on the running of community libraries. And the answer seems to be hardly at all! As an MP for the Borough and a Labour one at that Bill should be taking on this party’s councillors and shaming them into a change of heart.

If Labour has the will to back off from its present stance, embracing the campaigners rather than holding them at arms length, then the volunteer bids can still be given a chance to succeed. But that needs Bill Esterson MP to take his Labour councillor colleagues on in a very public way instead of wringing his hands on the sidelines.