Sefton Council – Response to Leader’s endorsement of the Merseyside devolution of powers deal

The Champion newspaper in its edition of 25th November carried an article where the present Leader of Sefton Council endorsed what I call Merseyside’s 3rd rate devolution deal. Here is my response to Cllr. Ian Maher……

Devolution powers so poor they are not worth having

Reacting to the Labour Leader of Sefton Council Cllr. Ian Mayer’s endorsement of the devolution deal for Merseyside the Borough’s former Lib Dem Council Leader Tony Robertson says the devolution deal for the Liverpool City Region/Merseyside is rubbish.

Tony, a long-time campaigner for devolution of powers from Government to the diverse communities of Sefton and Merseyside says the deal that Sefton Council voted for is poor and he sees nothing in it for Sefton or the Boroughs surrounding Liverpool.

“We get a Metro Mayor imposed on us, whom we will have to pay the wages of, for little or nothing in return that will be of any use to us.”

“We Lib Dems passionately believe in devolution of government powers to the lowest possible level of governance commensurate with the effective delivery of services for our diverse communities. However, that does not mean we will accept 3rd rate devolution – no control over the Police or the NHS like in Manchester comes to mind. But holding a gun to our head and being told you can only have your 3rd rate devolution powers if you accept a Metro Mayor to lord it over you is utterly ridiculous. We will not even get a referendum on these issues.”

“This is not devolution it is imposition and there’s nothing good going to come from this for the people of Sefton my view. I was delighted that the Lib Dem opposition Group on Sefton Council stood their ground and opposed this poor deal for the diverse communities of Sefton”

*****ENDS*****

Editors Note – Tony was Leader of Sefton Council from 2004 until 2011

At the time of posting this article the Champion had not printed my opposing view.

Southport – Council’s Big Boss Visits

I came across a Labour Party leaflet the other day that had been delivered in an area of Southport and it did make me chuckle.

Sefton Logo

An article in it featuring the Labour Leader of Sefton Council starts off by saying ‘I recently visited Southport’. Well, if those few words don’t confirm what Southport folk have always thought i.e. that they are in the far flung rarely visited part of the Borough (a Borough they have never wanted to be a part of, I might add) I don’t know what does. And when I say rarely visited I mean by the Council’s Bootle Labour rulers in any meaningful way other than to attend meetings.

Or you could look at it another way; imagine if you could hear such a conversation as this. Not that you ever would mind.

Senior Council Officer to Bootle Labour Leadership – I’m afraid its time to visit Southport once again your eminences. I know you have done missionary work there before but we have to try harder to get those damn Sandgrounders on side and loving Sefton Council.

Labour Leadership (in Unison – no not the trade union) – You go, no you go, who’s not been to engage with the Southport lot yet? Come on speak up. Where have you all gone?

Senior Council Officer to Leader – Sorry your eminence the rest of them have run for the hills so you will have to go! Oh, and I hope you don’t mind me suggesting that you stop using that photo of your eminence that well, to put it bluntly, makes you look er a bit like an old fashioned municipal socialist boss. Such photos don’t go down well in our northern seaside annex.

Labour Leadership to anyone who will listen, we have a vacancy for a Senior Council Officer.

Were my 16 years on Sefton Council productive and worthwhile?

Well I have been having a ponder but I suppose the first thing that readers of this posting may say to themselves is that ‘it’s not for you to say but for us to judge’. You could also add that the judgement has already been handed down by my being invited to leave office on Sefton Borough Council by the Park Ward electorate. However, I have been asked a few times since the May elections what I thought of my time as a Borough Councillor so it has started a certain amount of reminiscing on my part, so here goes anyway.

16 years is a long time to recall all the events of note, at least it is for me as I have never kept a Tony Benn type diary of my activities.

Meadows Leisure Centre – Maghull – I led the campaign to have this built going back well before I was even elected to Sefton Council back in 1999. To see it open in 2009 was a delight. To have also assisted in establishing an exhibition space for the Frank Hornby Trust within the leisure centre was likewise an important step forward. Regrets? Two really – in incorporating a new home for Maghull Library within the Leisure Centre I don’t think we fully understood the noise conflict between exercise classes and the expected quiet of the a library. Secondly, I am disappointed that the planned integration between the leisure centre and the leisure facilities in the adjoining Maghull Town Hall have never been taken forward. The intention was for the two buildings to be run seamlessly as far as users were concerned despite them being owned by two different councils. This vision sadly was lost when Maghull Council came under a political leadership with differing objectives.

Former Maghull Lib Dem Councillor Andrew Blackburn who helped me push the Leisure campaign forward.

Former Maghull Lib Dem Councillor Andrew Blackburn who helped me push the Leisure campaign forward.

My old friend, fellow campaigner and former Councillor Bruce Hubbard outside the Leisure Centre

My old friend, fellow campaigner and former Councillor Bruce Hubbard outside the Leisure Centre

Les French (Chairman of the Frank Hornby Trust) with Margaret Carney & Glyn Sands in the Hornby Room at the Leisure Centre.

Les French (Chairman of the Frank Hornby Trust) with Margaret Carney & Glyn Sands in the Hornby Room at the Leisure Centre.

The Atkinson – Southport – For quite a while I held Cabinet responsibility for the development of this huge project to refurbish 3 adjoining very old and previously poorly upgraded listed buildings into what we see now. I love it and am pleased that it has fulfilled the objectives set for it. Regrets? None really – It cost more than the original budget but frankly we always thought it would. You can’t work on old buildings and expect it to be straight forward because it never is.

A Crossens Canoe on display at The Atkinson in Southport

A Crossens Canoe on display at The Atkinson in Southport

Raising the profile of Sefton’s Parish Councils – I put a lot into this as the relationship between Sefton Borough Council and the 10 Parish Councils in its area had been poor and negative for far too long. I renegotiated what we called the ‘Double Rating’ agreement so the Parish Councils who did their own parks and gardens maintenance got paid a sensible amount back from Sefton Borough Council who were also taking money off local residents in those communities but not then spending it in those communities. Regrets? Yes, Labour have reversed the deal and it is now worse than when I renegotiated it. Places like Lydiate, Maghull & Aintree are being poorly treated by Sefton Council!

Maghull North Station – I have been pressing for this to be built for a long, long time so am delighted that the Coalition Government gave 90% of the money required to build it in 2014. I hope it will be constructed in the next 2 to 3 years. Regrets? None.

Site for the new Maghull North Railway Station.

Site for the new Maghull North Railway Station.

Switch Island – Thornton Link Road – I was campaigning for this before being elected in 1999 because trying to win a Borough Council ward that included the Parish of Thornton made this a must achieve issue. It took a while and I have said many times that the determination of the people and Parish Council of Thornton was the clincher; what I did was to take the matter to the then regional bodies of government and persuade them to back the project. The Blair/Brown Government sat of fence and never came up with the money but again the Coalition Government gave the final green light and of course a large proportion of the money. It is now all but built. Regrets? Thornton folk and their Parish Council not getting the credit they deserve because others (Labour) keep trying to claim that credit for themselves.

Cllr. Geoff Howe and a young me in this @2001 shot marching with Thornton residents. My placard says '83% of Thornton residents want a relief road'.

Cllr. Geoff Howe and a young me in this @2001 shot marching with Thornton residents. My placard says ‘83% of Thornton residents want a relief road’.

Me with the then Coalition Government Roads Minister Mike Penning sealing the deal to get the Link Road built in 2010

Me with the then Coalition Government Roads Minister Mike Penning sealing the deal to get the Link Road built in 2010

Works starting on the new Link Road

Works starting on the new Link Road

Lydiate Village Centre – It took some years to get the new building constructed after the former Lydiate Voluntary Youth Club building had been burnt down. At the time Sefton Council (the land owners) were not exactly being proactive and helpful. But the determination of Lydiate Parish Council (particularly its Chairman Dave Russell) finally got us there with me steering the issue through Sefton Council. I have to say that Dave together with former Cllr. Andrew Blackburn and Lydiate’s then Parish Clerk (Brian Beaven) were the leading lights in this project, I was simply got Sefton to be positive and supportive. Regrets? None.

Former Lydiate Parish Councilors Tony Fenton and Pat Foster outside the old Lydiate Voluntary Youth Club

Former Lydiate Parish Councilors Tony Fenton and Pat Foster outside the old Lydiate Voluntary Youth Club

Cllr. Edie Pope outside Lydiate Village Centre

Cllr. Edie Pope outside Lydiate Village Centre

Oriel Drive GP Surgery – Aintree – So happy this got built during my time as a Borough Councillor for Aintree Village. Working with Aintree Village Parish Council and the health providers was a delight and the new building was worth all the efforts of many people. Again, I was there to assist others who did far more than I. Regrets? None.

Me, Terry Baldwin, Jack Colbert and Peter Gill - July 2012 at the formal opening of the new GP Surgery

Me, Terry Baldwin, Jack Colbert and Peter Gill – July 2012 at the formal opening of the new GP Surgery

Decentralising Sefton Borough and empowering its diverse communities – Sefton has always been an uncomfortable mix of diverse communities with little in common and on the back of the Local Government Boundary Commission deciding not to split the Borough up I helped lead a process to try to empower local communities. We set up Area Committees created a Parish Council’s charter and despite the two old parties, whom we shared power with, being highly sceptical of our push to give power away to the people we did make some strides in the right direction. Regrets? Yes, when Labour took control of Sefton they started an inevitable process to recentralise power in their Bootle heartland. They took out 3 Area Committees to create one massive and pointless one in the centre of the Borough. It was never going to work and it still does not work. As for the Parish Charter which was aimed at treating the 10 Parish Councils with respect (and even decentralising power to them) suffice to say that the day it was ripped up in front of the Labour Cabinet by Aintree Village Parish Councillor Peter Gill showed how Labour cared little for those not in their tribal tent.

Fighting for our precious Green Belt and high grade agricultural land – This seems to have been almost a lifetime campaign for me. Just before I got elected to Sefton Council I had headed up a successful campaign in Maghull to stop the Borough Council from allowing a massive area of land to the east of Maghull being concreted over. We won because Maghull Town Council, its local Borough Councillors and residents spoke with one voice that said to Sefton Planners exactly where they could stick their plans! Regrets? Certainly, because I had to re-fight the very same battle again in 2014/15 but this time without the now Labour-run Town Council who sat and watched it wash over them. I made many new friends in the environmental movement but Labour were determined to build on the highest grade of agricultural land in England and we have been defeated. As I pen this posting we can only hope that a Government appointed Inspector has more concern for our food growing land than either Maghull Town Council or Sefton Borough Council.

A petition against building on Green Belt being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell the then Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council in 2013.

A petition against building on Green Belt being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell the then Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council in 2013.

Fighting to save Woodend Primary School (Maghull) from closure – I attended this lovely school but in the early 2000’s it was struggling because it had so few children in it. Why parents living close to the school were sending their children elsewhere when this great little school had been serving the adjacent community so well I do not know. The fight to save it was being run by the Governing Body led by the redoubtable Andrew Blackburn and being an ‘old boy’ of the school I was right behind his efforts. I recall us delivering advertising leaflets around the southern part of Maghull and beyond to help the school attract more children and was heartbroken when this campaign did not succeed. Regrets? – Losing the fight obviously but also being blamed on a doorstep in Maghull for the closure of Woodend by a lady who clearly felt I had done just the opposite of what I actually had done!

Fighting to raise the profile of our local railways – The Ormskirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan lines are both important for the Sefton and West Lancashire Boroughs. Again this has been an almost lifetime issue for me. Seeing Merseytravel (the Passenger Transport Authority for Merseyside) make little or no progress on these two lines was always a frustration. It was as though they looked upon the lines as not being important to Liverpool so they were not going to put much effort in to developing them. The Liverpool centric approach to transport planning on and around Merseyside has always been to the determent of the large towns that surround Liverpool and here Southport, whilst being in Merseyside, has been poorly served by the Authority they pay to deliver public transport. Regrets? – Not being able to break down the barriers between Merseyside and Lancashire that have held back transportation and other issues since 1974.

Southport Station

Southport Station

Fighting for green issues – Whether it be fighting for our precious Green Belt and high grade agricultural land not to be built upon or seeing Lib Dem run Parish Councils installing solar panels on Maghull Town Hall and Lydiate Village Centre green issues have meant a lot to me. Regrets? – I have always found it difficult to understand why Tory and Labour councillors are generally disinterested in green issues. Labour stuck me as being way off the pace with such matters with the Tories hardly much better.

Solar panels on Maghull Town Hall roof

Solar panels on Maghull Town Hall roof

The fight to save Sefton’s Libraries – A massive campaign but one that was ultimately lost as we could not persuade Sefton’s ruling Labour Group to back off from their closure plans. 7 of Sefton’s 13 Libraries were lost and it was a huge step backwards in my view. Regrets? – Seeing volunteer campaigners being treated so badly by Labour. All they wanted was the chance to try to run their libraries as voluntary undertakings but Sefton Labour would have none of it. So very sad.

rsz_protesting_about_library_closures_-_southport

rsz_al_collins_at_a_save_aintree_library_public_meeting_on_26th_october_12_2

I could go on but I have probably mentioned too many issues already. I enjoyed the vast majority of my 16 years as a Sefton Councillor and the 7 I served as Council Leader. Did I make a difference? I would like to think so but that is probably best left to your judgement not to my rose tinted spectacles.

Sefton Council – New Leader but same old Bootle Bucks dominance

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/sefton-council-gets-new-leader-9245743

So Sefton has a new Leader (Cllr. Ian Maher) and surprise, surprise it’s another Labour Councillor from Bootle and his Deputy will be, yes you have guessed it, another Labour Councillor from Bootle (Cllr. John Fairclough).

The Bootle Labour Party has dominated Sefton politics for some years now with Bill Esterson’s Sefton Central Labour tribe being kept firmly away from power even though they are the voting fodder that enables the Bootle Labour Bucks to dominate us all in the Borough.

Peter Dowd was a Leader of some ability and I say that as someone who opposed him over many things in my time on Sefton Council. Peter was was a quick thinker on his feet and his speeches were usually of high quality whether you agreed with him or not. What I can’t see here is a Labour and indeed Council leadership that can match Peter Dowd’s skills. Is that why Peter is staying on as a councillor despite having just been elected MP for Bootle?