Southport – Planning for a positive future

birkdalefocus.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/the-british-lawnmower-museum-and-town.html

Above is a link to the blog site of my good friend Cllr. Iain Brodie Brown, please take a moment to click the link and read his posting. It is pure community politics to my mind.

Southport viewed from the end of its pier

Southport viewed from the end of its pier

Click on the photo to enlarge it

There can be little doubt that the towns/boroughs surrounding Liverpool have not benefited from being a part of the Liverpool City Region. Indeed, my own view is that centralising power in Liverpool as both Tories and Labour are planning for, with a Metro Mayor, could well be the road to ruin for places like Southport St. Helens, Birkenhead, Maghull, Formby, Prescot etc.

Whilst Iain’s posting is all about what needs to be done to give Southport a bright future his fundamental concerns could well be about any of Liverpool’s satellite communities that sit outside of the Liverpool City Council boundary.

Centralising power and influence in Liverpool will just not work, except for Liverpool itself. Unlike the Greater Manchester communities, which mostly seem look towards Manchester, the same can’t be said of Merseyside. Southport has always seen its connections with Preston and Lancashire as being of great importance but it was wrenched away from such historical links by local government reorganisation in 1974. Much of Wirral Borough has historic connections with Chester and Cheshire but it too was forced into Merseyside.

Merseyside because of its odd geographic shape was never likely to be a runner as a viable unit of local government and the years that have passed since 1974 have only proved that theory correct. Sefton, itself a strange collection of diverse communities, realised this some years ago and it began a process of decentralisation. Bizarrely though Labour then slammed this process into reverse when its Bootle based party took control of the Council. What was their motivation to say ‘the Borough will work well as a one size fits all because we say it will’ not least because this approach had failed miserably when first tried?

Presently we are seeing the start of a process to take 1000’s of civil service jobs out of Netherton, St Helens and Bootle for them all to be centralised in Liverpool. Liverpool’s gain will be big losses for Sefton and St Helens Boroughs.

Make no mistake the Tories are wedded to cities being made more powerful at the expense of their surrounding towns and boroughs. What’s more Labour are pretty much behind this process, why else did the 6 Labour Council Leaders on Merseyside sign up to a 3rd rate devolution deal?

Towns surrounding big cities need investment, public and private, not dependency on the nearest City because that is the road to ruin except for the big cities of course.

The photo above is amongst my Flickr shots at:-

www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Sefton’s budget meeting was not all bad news – a glimmer of hope re. Combined Authority

As well as the big party political bust up between the ruling Labour Party and us opposition Lib Dems over Labour’s budget for the Council last Thursday there was another matter on the Council agenda of importance.

I have commented before on the recently created Combined Authority for Merseyside, why Sefton Lib Dems would not support its setting up and subsequently the ridiculous farce because the 6 Merseyside Labour Council Leaders, who are responsible for setting it up, can’t even agree what to call it!

The report before Sefton Council last Thursday was at face value a technical one all about constitutional type issues for this new body but we saw an opportunity to try to make a significant move for the betterment of this flawed project. Our move was to propose an additional clause which read as follows:-

Commits Sefton Council to positively lead an exploration of all the realistic options to expand the Combined Authority to encompass those areas of Lancashire and Cheshire that are presently not a part of the Combined Authority but may aspire to such.

No one was more surprised than me, as the mover of this amendment, when the Labour Leader got to his feet and agreed with me! In Merseyside Labour’s horizons are usually very low but it seems that light has penetrated Labour’s darkness on this matter.

There are two important reasons why Merseyside has been seen to be and indeed has been dysfunctional and unsuccessful in terms of its local governance. Firstly, its Labour-run Councils over the years have not got on or even had a common agenda – fighting like ferrets in a sack comes to mind! I saw some of this at first hand when I was Leader of Sefton and there were then 2 other Lib Dem Council Leaders from St Helens and Liverpool Councils. I think it fair to say that we 3 Lib Dem Council Leaders often used to wonder if Labour had any other agenda than trying to unseat the Labour Chairman of Merseytravel because that issue did the rounds so many times. Most of all this was symptomatic of Labour’s long-standing Merseyside internal rivalries.

But the other problem is that Merseyside is far too small. It does not represent the real travel to work area of Liverpool with places such as West Lancashire and Ellesmere Port being outside of the governance structure. A glance across at Greater Manchester shows you how right that balance can be and how wrong Merseyside has always been since it’s creation in 1974.

Greater Manchester has virtually always displayed a public face of a common agenda and in doing so it has been successful. Merseyside has never had a common agenda and the consequences have been failure. Greater Manchester is clearly a governance area that makes sense and which encompasses the vast majority of Manchester’s travel to work area. Merseyside is too small and it does not represent Liverpool’s travel to work area.

Maybe a small step was made last Thursday to address the geographical problem, I certainly hope so. Whether Labour can sort out the generations of infighting across Merseyside is quite another!