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.