Sefton – A Review of 2013

Welcome to my review of 2013 for Sefton, a personal trawl through some of the things that made the headlines in a year when the Borough was ruled from Bootle by people who seemed quite out of touch with things to the north and east of Netherton.

Library closures – As 2013 draws to a close I must say that I can’t for the life of me understand what on earth Sefton Council is doing in its seeming mad dash to do all it can to stop volunteers taking over some of its closing libraries.

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 – Not if Labour-run Sefton has anything to do with it!

Many of my posts during 2013 have been about the closure of 7 out of Sefton’s 13 libraries. The closure programme has now concluded and the Borough has lost more than half the libraries it once had, but the remarkable side story to this has been the obstacles that volunteers have faced in their attempts to take over some of the closing libraries.

One would have thought that with ‘localism’ being on the lips of virtually every politician across the land volunteers would be embraced and encouraged yet in socialist Sefton we seem to be in a parallel universe where volunteers are seen to be challenging and unwelcome! Indeed, it is remarkable to see what lengths Sefton will seemingly go to keep the volunteers at a distance.

Maghull Town Council – Well what can you say, 6 of the ruling Labour Party’s councillors resigned in 2013 and 2 more were all but disqualified from office but saved themselves by turning out at the last possible meeting to stop by-elections 8 & 9 of the year!

Aintree & Maghull Champion 12th June 2013

Aintree & Maghull Champion 12th June 2013

The Council also said it had set a precept for 2013/14 when it had done no such thing and, when it finally did set a budget and precept, it took money out of the 2013/14 budget for the Town’s annual fireworks display, voted against an amendment to put the money back in but then held a fireworks display anyway!

What an odd world Maghull Town Council has been since Labour took over in May 2011 and, for the record, I still await responses to the two Freedom of Information requests that I made to the Council months and months ago. Maghull must be the only Council in the UK to have a special dispensation from the Information Commissioner enabling it to ignore FoI requests.

Green Belt and Sefton Local Plan – This one will run well into 2014 and flow over into 2015 but 2013 has seen environmental campaigners (such as FRAGOFF) give Sefton Council a torrid time. Who would have expected a Labour-run Council to propose, for example, that vast areas of Maghull and Lydiate’s Green Belt and high quality agricultural land be concreted over to create massive urban extensions for these communities? Lydiate’s housing could now increase by 35% and Maghull’s by 25% if Labour carries through what it has consulted on in 2013.

Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes MP with Sudell Ward Sefton Cllr. Bruce Hubbard at the site in Maghull where Labour run Sefton Council wants to built 1,600 houses on high grade agricultural land. Bruce's Lib Dem team opposes Labour's plans.

Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes MP with Sudell Ward Sefton Cllr. Bruce Hubbard, Lydiate Parish Councillor Wyn Maher, Cllr. Jen Robertson and myself at the site to the east of Maghull where Labour-run Sefton Council wants to build 1,600 houses on high grade agricultural land. Bruce’s Lib Dem team opposes Labour’s plans.

In Formby the whole community seemingly rose up to oppose a Green Belt grab there, and with some success too, as the developer ducked out just as the planning application was to go before Sefton’s Planning Committee. Will they be back? Don’t doubt it, developers are not going to give up in their quest to concrete over areas of Sefton’s land which future generations will need to grow food upon.

And don’t forget that the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) has been accused of not fighting for the Green Belt and high grade agricultural land in the Borough.

The best of the rest –

The Hawthorne’s Free School – will it be given the chance to try to make a step change in educational attainment in Bootle? Sadly, Sefton Labour just won’t take a positive step and back it. Having been there I am sure it is taking a welcome risk to improve education in Bootle; that’s a risk we should all be backing. And will St Mary’s in Crosby in Crosby follow suit and convert to a Free School? It seems so and as the aim is quality education that has to be a good thing.

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Maghull’s Mad March – Usually quiet leafy Maghull had a bizarre few weeks when gun crime visited the community. Police say it was drug related gang members shooting at each other but what chaos it created in one of Merseyside’s lowest crime areas. It went as quickly as it came but Maghull residents for a short period had the opportunity to see the madness of guns so loved by Americans. The right to bear arms? More like the right to create fear and mistrust in a community/society.

Here I am at Maghull Police Station where the Neighbourhood Policing Team must have had a tough time during Mad March.

Here I am at Maghull Police Station where the Neighbourhood Policing Team must have had a tough time during Mad March.

Southport Pier – It was quite a fright when we leaned that it needed urgent repairs. A landmark like no other in the locality; fortunately it does seem to have a good long-term future.

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The Liverpool Pigeon, A Micro-Pub for Crosby – Now here was an innovative development in 2013 that could herald a new type of pub not joined at the hip to those pub management companies who are strangling the life out of British pubs everywhere.

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HALT – This environmental campaign group sprung up in opposition to the idea of building land-based wind turbines as tall as Blackpool Town on high grade agricultural land between Ince Blundell and Lydiate. I have been happy to support this group.

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Closure of Public Toilets – Sefton tried to shut them but campaigners fought them off. Maghull’s public toilets survive but for how long? Frankly it was a huge disappointment to me that the Town’s own Council refused to invest in them. They were once award winners and could be that again but Maghull TC seems sadly disinterested in them.

Maghull's Lib Dem  toilet campaigners fighting Labour's axe.

Maghull’s Lib Dem toilet campaigners fighting Labour’s axe.

Sefton’s Bin Tax – This has to have been a really mad moment in Sefton’s bid to save money – a proposal to charge residents to have their green bins emptied! Surely anyone with the slightest understanding of the Borough would have known this was a tax too far but the Labour-led Council had to be hit between the eyes (and in the ballot box) with the anger of residents before that Penny dropped. This and the Green Belt land grab were the major reasons why Labour lost two Council by-elections in Maghull during July to the Lib Dems.

A green bin mountain, Cllr. Bruce Hubbard, and a huge pile of petitions opposing Labours Green Bill tax for Sefton.

A green bin mountain, Cllr. Bruce Hubbard, and a huge pile of petitions opposing Labours Green Bill tax for Sefton.

All years are unique but we certainly have seen some odd events in Sefton Borough during 2013.

PS. A piece of good news is that the expected closure of W H Smith’s shop in Bootle New Strand, which I commented on not so long ago, is not now going to happen.

Labour’s Green Bin Tax is finally to be withdrawn – Lib Dem campaigning wins the day!

Liberal Democrats are cock-a hoop at Sefton Council’s proposed U-Turn on the £46 Green Bin Tax.

The Council was proposing to charge this amount to raise £1 million per year from 2014-2015 and Labour councillors voted for it at Sefton’s February 2013 budget meeting.

A green bin mountain, Cllr. Bruce Hubbard, and a huge pile of petitions opposing Labours Green Bill tax for Sefton

A green bin mountain, Cllr. Bruce Hubbard, and a huge pile of petitions opposing Labours Green Bill tax for Sefton

The Bootle Labour Councillors, who were planning to impose this back door 3 per cent Council Tax rise, mostly on Southport, Formby and Maghull residents, have ‘turned turtle’ after a relentless Lib Dem campaign which has seen Labour suffere the biggest by-election loss in the country in the past 3 years partly as a result of this issue. In July there was a 26 per cent swing from Labour to the Lib Dems in the two Maghull Town council wards that make up Sefton Council’s Sudell Ward.

Southport Councillor Tony Dawson, who started off the campaign with a survey in Hope Street, Southport, in May, is presenting his petition forms to the all-Labour Cabinet on Thursday. Thousands of residents from both Maghull and Southport returned surveys, rejecting the Green Bin charge by a factor of 50 to one. A report to the Council’s Cabinet for its meeting on Thursday now suggests that the Council should abandon the charge plan.

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The proposed Green Bin Tax was always an idea which did not add up. Labour refused to allow the Council’s Scrutiny Committee to consider the proposal in January. They forced it through the Council’s budget meeting in February without even trying to find a clue as to whether or not people would be willing to pay a charge for Green Bin emptying. They were prepared to throw away over a million pounds wasted on the purchase of the Green Bins which people would refuse to use and discard if the charge had come in.

It seems that Bootle’s Labour councillors were originally prepared to see thousands of tonnes of ‘green waste’ stuffed into grey waste bins, leading to the Council being ‘stung’ with massive extra charges for landfill. They were prepared to see a rise in fly-tipping all over the borough. No wonder the people of Maghull turned against them so massively in the July by-elections.

There are still considerable concerns as to what precisely Labour plan to do to replace their planned Green Bin Tax. The report to Cabinet is almost ‘back of an envelope’ stuff and contains no financial information whatsoever. But that can be looked at over the next few months. The abandonment of the Green Bin Tax proposals, which disproportionately-hit Southport and Maghull residents, is a fantastic victory for the constant Lib Dem campaign over the summer.

Lessons for Labour from Maghull by-election defeats

There were 4 very clear messages coming across from the electorate in the three Maghull wards where by-elections were held last week.

Sick of Labour’s internal warfare

Firstly, residents are heartily sick of Labour’s local infighting and the consequent 7 Labour councillor resignations. One thing the electorate does not like is political party splits and this recent long-running one has really damaged Labour’s credibility.

Green Bin Tax

Secondly, Labour’s proposed Green Bin tax for Sefton Borough has clearly been binned by the electorate. There can be little doubt that it has really got people upset as they see it as an idea from Bootle Labour Party being imposed on a community like Maghull (but you could easily say Crosby, Formby, Southport etc.) where virtually everyone has a garden. Residents also see it as a back door Council tax rise and are having none of it. The outright lie that was published in one Labour election leaflet which said that the Lib Dems were bringing in the Green Bin tax and that Labour was opposing it was openly being laughed at as ridiculous desperation.

Building on Green Belt

The third big issue was the Green Belt. Labour councillors voting to build on the Green Belt whilst saying they opposed building on it has made folk angry. This is a huge credibility issue for Labour and time after time people have been saying things like ‘Labour said they were not going to let building take place on the Green Belt and then their councillors go and vote for just that!’ Interestingly, Cllr. Peter Dowd, the Labour Leader on Sefton Council and a Maghull Town Council member seems to have a little more credibility than his Labour colleagues over this issue. Electors had noticed that whilst he was advocating building on the Green Belt, which they opposed, at least he was doing it by promoting it as a positive thing rather than saying one thing and doing another whilst blaming just about everyone else, as his Labour colleagues have been doing.

Embracing austerity

The final issue is a national one. Labour’s national position of recently embracing austerity and agreeing to follow Coalition spending plans, if Labour gets elected at the next General election, is making people wonder why Labour locally has been presenting itself as being against all cuts and seemingly giving the impression that it will reverse them. This issue is important in a community like Maghull because of the high numbers of public sector workers. Obviously, Labour’s ploy nationally, between 2010 and early 2013, was to play to this public sector worker audience. However, with Ed Miliband now backing off from that message it leaves local Labour Party folk who continue to hammer this for all they are worth very exposed. Public sector workers now know Labour will not reverse the cuts in their pay, pensions etc. so why should they continue to troop out and vote for a party that promised them everything but then dropped them like a stone.

These are the factors that led to the significant collapse in Labour’s share of the vote in the 3 Maghull Town Council by-elections.

Maghull Town Council by-elections – 2 lib Dem wins and an oh so close!

Following years of almost complete Labour domination of the electoral scene across not only Maghull but Sefton Borough (except Southport), last night showed what many may find surprising, Labour losses.

There were 3 by-elections held in Maghull across 3 separate Town Council wards – East, North and South. The Lib Dems took a seat from Labour in both East and North wards and came within 9 votes of doing the same in South ward.

Jen Robertson (2nd from left), Bruce Hubbard (3rd from left) and their team celebrate the Lib Dem wins at Maghull Town Hall.

Jen Robertson (2nd from left), Bruce Hubbard (3rd from left) and their team celebrate the Lib Dem wins at Maghull Town Hall.

Interestingly, the UKIP flame did not burn bright despite recent national indications that they may be on the up.

Why did Labour come unstuck? Very public internal squabbles that caused the 3 Labour councillors to resign, a hugely unpopular Green Bin tax proposal and their voting to build on Maghull’s Green Belt.

The results:-

Maghull East
Lib Dem – Bruce Hubbard 621 ELECTED
Labour 557
UKIP 165

Maghull North

Lib Dem – Jen Robertson 546 ELECTED
Labour 504

Maghull South

Labour 180 ELECTED
Lib Dem 171
UKIP 74

Maghull East and North wards form Sefton Council’s Sudell ward where Labour have been dominant in recent times so with a good electoral turn out last night Labour’s hold on things certainly cracked. And this on top on a Lib Dem win against Labour a few weeks ago on Prescot Town Council in Knowsley Borough.

Sefton Central Labour – Watch out they are spitting their dummies out!

You don’t need me to tell you that Sefton Central Labour is in one hell of a mess at present because:-

7, yes 7 of their councillors have resigned in recent times

They are fighting pitched battles with people who are trying to defend the Green Belt

Their proposed Green Bin tax is about as popular as snow at Harvest!

But now the panic button has really been pressed hard as the comrades try to make out that black is white over the Green Bin tax and just about everything else. In a move that surely shows political fear (something you should never show to the opposition, I would add) they have produced a leaflet which is circulating in Maghull that is so over the top it is laughable.

As we all know (and this is on public record) Labour run Sefton Council proposed in its 2013/14 budget to introduce a Green Bin tax; a budget that Lib Dem councillors opposed.

Now, on the basis that if you are going to tell untruths tell whoppers, how about a Labour claim that ‘Labour has binned the Lib Dem proposals to introduce a green bin tax which would have hit us here in Maghull hardest’! From ‘which would have hit us in Maghull hardest’ I agree with but to claim that Lib Dems proposed a Green Bin tax and that Labour binned it is turning black into white!

How rattled can you get to try to pretend that your own policy which has proved so unpopular is that of another party!