Pacers are thankfully on their last legs or is that wheels

The BBC has the story on its web site – see link above

An alternative title for this posting could ‘Well John Pugh are you happy now?’ because during his time as MP for Southport John fought to get the appalling Pacer Trains replaced. To be fair many, many other people were on a similar track (sorry about the pun) but John made it onto a BBC North West TV programme about his fight to rid the rails of Pacers.

John has now returned to his political roots as a Sefton Councillor and leads the opposition on Sefton Council.

My previous relevant posting (amongst many!) about Pacers, because it links to the BBC TV programme that John Pugh appeared in, is accessible via the link below:-

John’s contribution to the programme is at about the 12 minute mark.

And here’s a video of the new trains being built in Spain:-

Sefton Housing Plans Fail New Government Test – Pugh turns screw on Council’s building plans

The vast Maghull East site seen from Poverty Lane presently used for growing crops but under Sefton Council’s Local Plan it will be concreted over.

The Liberal Democrat leader on Sefton Council, Cllr. John Pugh is calling on Sefton to review its housing plans following a new government statement toughening up environmental requirements.

In launching the new environmental policy last week, the Prime Minister and the government called for the principle of environmental net gain to be embedded in the planning system.

What this means according to Cllr. Pugh is that any development must enhance and improve the environment. “It is clear that Sefton’s current plans do not meet this test. The government policy document specifically mentions “flooding” and there is no doubt that many of Sefton’s housing projects increase rather than decrease pressure on our ancient drainage system.

A flooded Bridges Lane between Dovers Brook and the River Alt – when it all got too much in December 2015

This new policy raises the threshold for what we expect of new development in order to give more sustainable outcomes.

The Council repeatedly state that they must observe government policy and here is an opportunity to run a new slide rule over proposed developments in Southport, Maghull and all parts of Sefton.

My instinct is that many proposed current developments would fail the new test. That’s scarcely surprising when the council previous policy relied on consultants who also work for the big house building firms. Opposition councillors will be seeking an early opportunity to force a council re-think in the light of the new policy.”


Quote from “Our Green Future” HM Government

We will ensure that we support development and the environment by embedding the principle that new development should result in net environmental gain

P33 We will seek to embed a ‘net environmental gain’ principle for development to deliver environmental improvements locally and nationally. …………. We want to establish strategic, flexible and locally tailored approaches that recognise the relationship between the quality of the environment and development. That will enable us to achieve measurable improvements for the environment – ‘environmental net gains’ – while ensuring economic growth and reducing costs, complexity and delays for developers.

NB Current policy is simply permissive that planners should provide environmental gains where possible.

Financial Times 11th January

‘Developers will have to deliver a “net environmental gain” when they build new housing estates and infrastructure projects under Theresa May’s new 25-year environment plan.’

Sefton Council – So was it avoiding tax or not when buying Bootle Strand Shopping Centre?

Following the revelations in The Times newspaper of Wednesday this week a rather odd situation seems to be developing as Bootle Labour Party run around trying to deal with the fallout.

The Times article says:-

An email seen by The Times from the Labour leader of Sefton council confirmed that the structure of its purchase of the Bootle shopping centre helped to avoid tax. It said: “It is true that one of the important considerations for purchasing the company rather than the asset is that the council would not have to pay stamp duty land tax. This is a widely accepted tax-efficient way of completing the purchase.”

Yet since that article appeared a spokesman for Sefton Council has said this to the Liverpool Echo:-

A spokesman for Sefton council said: “In no way has there been any avoidance of tax relating to the purchase of the Strand Shopping Centre.

So which is it? Was Stamp Duty tax avoided or not avoided?

And another thing, when the matter was covered by BBC North West Tonight on Wednesday evening it was claimed by the BBC that the purchase of Bootle Strand Shopping Centre had all party support [on Sefton Council] or words to that effect. But that is not the case, the purchase was agreed by the Labour Party only Cabinet of Labour controlled Sefton Council. Why did the BBC say otherwise?

The bottom line here seems to be that a secretive process to purchase the shopping centre has taken place and dragging any detailed information out of the Council has required a Freedom of Information request. What little information was made available to opposition parties on Sefton Council clearly did not address the full picture, indeed opposition Lib Dem members of the Council were thrown out of a cabinet meeting, which they were observing, when the matter was under discussion by the Labour only Cabinet.

If there was nothing to hide why has it taken The Times newspaper and Cllr. John Pugh’s efforts to drag this out into the open?

Sefton Council hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons!

From The Times edition of 8th November

Labour-run councils in £12m tax avoidance

Labour councils are using offshore companies to avoid paying millions of pounds in tax, The Times can reveal.

Jeremy Corbyn was accused of hypocrisy yesterday after an investigation found that two authorities controlled by his party avoided paying more than £12 million in stamp duty on the purchase of commercial properties.

On Monday Mr Corbyn hinted that the Queen should apologise if the offshore investment of £10 million of her personal wealth — as revealed in the leaked Paradise Papers — was designed to avoid tax. Yet in May Sefton council in Merseyside bought the New Strand shopping centre in Bootle via a Luxembourg-registered company for £32.5 million, saving £1.6 million in stamp duty. The council also bought insurance against the possibility that the taxman might chase it for payment.

In July Warrington council agreed to pay more than £200 million for Birchwood Park, a business centre in Cheshire, via an offshore company, saving almost £10.5 million in stamp duty. By agreeing to the purchases, the councils may also have helped the sellers to avoid capital gains tax.

In June John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said that corporations were “morally obscene” for ducking out of obligations that “the rest of us fulfil”. Such action “corrodes the functioning of democracy”, he added.

An email seen by The Times from the Labour leader of Sefton council confirmed that the structure of its purchase of the Bootle shopping centre helped to avoid tax. It said: “It is true that one of the important considerations for purchasing the company rather than the asset is that the council would not have to pay stamp duty land tax. This is a widely accepted tax-efficient way of completing the purchase.”

In 2013 George Osborne introduced a levy to stop residential property being held in offshore companies, describing the practice as an abuse of the tax system. It was not extended to commercial property, however, leaving owners of business parks and shopping centres free to hold these assets in companies registered in low-tax jurisdictions, a structure that facilitates the avoidance of corporation and capital gains tax and stamp duty.

Sir Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said yesterday: “The Labour leadership has spoken loudly about stamping out tax avoidance yet Labour-run local authorities have avoided stamp duty through complicated tax structures when speculating in commercial property. The . . . stance appears somewhat hypocritical until they have their own house in order.”

Sefton council, which borrowed money from the Treasury to fund the purchase, declined last night to reveal how much it had paid its tax advisers on the transaction. One of the advisers is understood to be PWC, the accountancy firm that Labour has previously accused of “complicity in tax avoidance”.

There is no suggestion that the structure is illegal and yesterday the council insisted that it had not intended to avoid stamp duty. A spokesman said that the vendor was willing to sell only the holding company that owned the shopping centre rather than the shopping centre itself, giving it no choice but to avoid the tax. He added that it had unwound the offshore structure.

John Pugh, the former Lib Dem MP for Southport who is now a councillor at Sefton, said: “No one has to speculatively buy a shopping centre or take advantage of a tax loophole in doing so. For a Labour council to do so in considerable secrecy looks utterly hypocritical.”

In a letter to Warrington council Helen Jones, Labour MP for Warrington North, said that using an offshore structure was “morally questionable [and] contrary to Labour policy”. She wrote that Labour councillors believe the cash is “better in the borough’s pocket than the government’s” but no one should decide not to pay tax because they disliked the party in power.

Sefton council said: “We paid all the tax due and will continue to do so. The council bought the company that owned the asset as this was the corporate structure that was marketed for sale. We acquired the shopping centre primarily to deliver a new revenue stream to help pay for vital services that have been reduced as a result of government cuts. The purchase also supports regeneration in Bootle.”

Warrington council, which still holds Birchwood Park in an offshore company, said: “The only tax not being paid . . . is a one-off payment of stamp duty land tax. This position was discussed in detail and followed extensive due diligence and external advice to the council. To complete the acquisition in a timely manner the council agreed to leave the business offshore as trying to complete the deal and bring it onshore would have delayed the purchase.”

Labour said: “We’re committed to changing the current tax environment and to tackling tax avoidance.”

Southport – John Pugh takes 55% of votes cast to win Dukes ward by-election

Lib Dem (John Pugh) 1680 55.96%
Conservative 790 26.32%
Labour 417 13.89%
UKIP 69 2.30%
Green 45 1.50%

Lib Dem gain from Conservative

Wow this was some result indeed last night, especially because of the collapse of the Conservative vote and Labour’s really poor showing.

This old political warhorse went to assist John and what was really noticeable was the number of young people involved in the campaign to get John elected. So often middle aged and old folk are involved in politics so it was great to see a new generation of Lib Dem campaigners pounding the streets.

As for John, I have known him for many years as a Sefton Councillor (for of course he has previously been one in the time before he became an MP), as a really effective MP for Southport, and now back on the council again.

My guess is that Labour-run Sefton Council will have wanted John back like a hole in the head. He’s already exposed Labour to some publicity they would rather not have had with regard to the them buying Bootle Strand Shopping Centre and there’s probably more to come on that front before he gets his teeth into other things Sefton’s Labour leaders would rather he did not.

Well done John, happy to have done my small bit to help you get back on Sefton Council.

John and his supporters celebrate after the count