Sefton Borough – It lacks balance

In the light of recent local Conservative claims that all of Southport’s money is being spent in Bootle (a rather coarse popularist approach which tries to pinch more sophisticated Lib Dem clothes) I thought I would revisit my piece on this matter from 2015 – you can access that blog via the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/03/28/borough-of-sefton-what-a-mixture-of-diverse-communities-that-have-little-common-with-each-other/

Mm well, my views have not changed and I still think that Sefton is a geographically bizarre Borough and that this situation can only be changed for the better by looking at West Lancashire Borough at the same time.

West Lancashire is not a unitary authority its a District Council within a County so all its major services are provided by Lancashire County Council – Highways, Social Services etc. And thereby hangs the major problem to changing local government boundaries locally – It’s not comparing like with like. West Lancs, for example, is only an Associate member of Liverpool City Region so it can’t really sit at the same table as the big boys and girls. That’s a problem as it means that West Lancs finds it hard to have much of an influence and it means the boundary between it and Sefton/The Liverpool City Region is more like a barrier to progress all round.

Do you remember when John Prescott was all-powerful in the Blair Government years and he came up with a plan to split West Lancs in half putting one half into Wigan Metropolitan Borough and one half into Sefton Borough? Yes, there were significant issues about where the splitting boundary should be but frankly, it was not a bad plan it just needed fleshing out and developing. What actually happened was that it fell off the table and was not pursued at all. The effect has been to keep West Lancs in a weak position within Lancashire (where it has always struggled to make its voice heard) and it, in effect, stopped Sefton Borough being able to review it’s own somewhat bizarre geography.

My personal view is that until local government, in general, is reorganised to make all councils unitary i.e. getting rid of the outdated split between District and County Councils in the shire counties (thereby finding a fix for out on a limb West Lancs) then fixing Sefton will be very difficult indeed.

That the Lib Dems and before them the former Liberal Party has been leading the charge to fix Sefton’s bizarre geography ever since 1974 is a given but what about the oft-made claims that one part of the Borough is subsidising another? Does this argument have any basis in fact? It’s probably true of all council areas where there’s a part or parts of it which are poorer and therefore more disadvantaged that council expenditure has traditionally been higher in the poorer communities to try to pull those areas up and support the social/community infrastructure. So in Sefton, the poorer areas are obviously significant parts of Bootle but also parts of Southport. Yes, Southport clearly has it’s affluent areas but like most UK seaside towns it has its fair share of poorer districts too with all the social, low paid seasonal work and housing issues that go with seaside towns.

The problem with poorer areas though in local government finance terms is not just where the money is spent but how it is raised. By this, I mean that in poorer areas there are far more Band A properties in Council tax speak. This means they generate less income for the Council running the area. Merseyside, in general, suffers from this problem and it means that Councils can’t raise anything like the amount of Council tax that more affluent areas of England can.

Austerity, as it’s been applied to local government finance, has had the effect of making poorer council areas poorer because they have become more reliant on the Council tax they can raise locally rather than on government grants which used top up/prop up their services. This is probably the basis of some saying that community ‘X’ is having its money spent in community ‘Y’ and on a crude popularist level there’s a case to hear where you have a council area with wealth in some parts but poverty in others. Put it this way, if you have a council area where 50% of it is affluent and 50% is poor then the effect will be (if you run your council services at the same level across the borough) that the affluent areas will be subsidising the poorer areas.

The point I’m trying to make here is that it’s not just about where a council spends its money, which may well be unbalanced across its area, but its’ also about how it raises the money that it spends too. OK, I’ve simplified the case for illustrative purposes but I hope you get my drift.

The bottom line is that with Council tax being a property based tax as opposed to one that is based on the ability to pay then such problems will always be the case. And of course, it is why Liberals and Lib Dems have consistently argued for a Local Income tax to replace Council tax ever since Council tax was introduced as a quick fix following the Poll Tax troubles of the 1980s. Both Conservatives and Labour oppose a fairer local taxation system based on the ability to pay and want to keep our property value based tax.

So you could say and indeed I do say that Sefton as a Borough is unbalanced both geographically and in local government finance terms. That it has a ‘viable’ future is more down to the fact that governments, of any colour, have failed to act on the root causes of its difficulties than anything else. My solutions are:-

* Bring in a Local Income Tax and scrap the unfair Council tax
* Reorganise those areas of England that still have District and County Councils so that all councils are unitary
* Empower communities to run far more services at a very local level

Metro Mayor Tax – Another call on your pocket

The Liverpool Echo has the article on its website – see link below:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/steve-rotheram-going-charge-you-15694713

Now I don’t recall amongst all the hype from Tories in Government and Labour locally who backed us having a Metro Mayor, on what I called at the time a 3rd rate devolution deal, that there’d be an addition to all the Liverpool City Region council tax bills, do you? But then again it was probably always the case that there’d be more mouths to feed and such has come to pass.

I’d be much happier if the powers devolved to our Metro Mayor had made it worth us putting our hands deeper into our pockets but I’ve been consistent in saying it was a poor deal that should not have been embraced so lovingly by Labour leaders across Merseyside.

It’s not that I’m opposed to devolved powers, indeed as a Liberal, I’ve championed such moves for as long as I can recall when both Tories and Labour nationally and locally would have none of it. It’s just that I’m far from convinced that the limited powers that our Metro Mayor has makes the post worth having (and us paying for) and I’d hold that view no matter who was our Metro Mayor.

And where’s the detailed plan and the vision for say the next 20 years to take our City Region forward, you get the impression that at least initially our money will be going to put that together whereas it should have come before the plea for cash.

Tell us what you are going to deliver – then ask us to chip in not the other way round

Walking and cycling in the Liverpool City Region (LCR)

Via my good friend Sefton Councillor John Dodd I have become aware of a web site called Arrive Happy in the past few days:- Here it is via the link below:-

www.arrivehappy.org/our-cycling-and-walking-masterplan

As I understand things 31 walking/cycling routes were previously identified across the City Region/Merseyside and now 9 of them are to be progressed towards a funding bid.

Liverpool City Region Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) – I’m told that the LCR Transport Partnership, have identified, using the evidence collected, a total of 31 potential cycling and walking corridors. The previously agreed and approved methodology used for the Active Travel prioritisation process has identified 9 corridors to be developed in more detail with a view to submitting a bid for Transforming Cities Fund funding.

I understand that these 9 corridors will form the basis of the next phase of the LCWIP and will be subject to formal engagement with stakeholders across the LCR which started on the 17th December with an engagement meeting with key stakeholders in the morning and the launch of an online survey into cycling and walking in the city region – www.arrivehappy.org/our-cycling-and-walking-masterplan

The two diagrams below show firstly the 31 identified potential corridors and then the 9 to be taken forward for more detailed design work. More detail will be shared, I understand, as the plan develops.

BUT if you live in Sefton Borough

Now I don’t know about you but if you live in Sefton Borough north of Bootle then there’s little to cheer about as no routes have made it into the 9 to be taken forward! I hold no information as to why this is the case although above you will see reference to an ‘approved methodology’ for choosing the routes to take forward. However, to say the least, I’m at best disappointed. On the ’31 map’ Maghull, despite being a large community, does not even get a mention!

Note:- Click on the two graphics above to enlarge them

What’s going on within the Labour Party – The Merseyside Bellwether

Yes of course Momentum is tightening its grip but on Merseyside, as it’s doing across the Labour Party, but they are known as Militant to Scousers. But let’s look beyond the headlines, the questions being are Momentum becoming more Militant or are Militant gaining Momentum?

It seems as though some on Merseyside are now looking back at the 1980’s with very rose tinted spectacles on. It was not a good time for Liverpool but Militant made it worse with their political posturing and false hope. Yes it was some 30 years ago so many who want to celebrate the return of the far left will not have had any experience of that era. Indeed, their knowledge of it will have come from those who do remember it or those who were a part of it.

Well it seems things are starting to repeat themselves as more moderate Labour councillors start to walk away, defect or suffer deselection in Liverpool. Here’s a recent Liverpool Echo story on the matter:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/sitting-liverpool-labour-councillors-out-15241026

I also understand that some Labour MP’s on Merseyside may not be all that comfortable, especially those with longer memories. By the way don’t get too carried away with Frank Field MP resigning the Labour Whip. His case is more of a unique nature because of his support for Brexit, which seems to go beyond that of even the Labour Leadership in Westminster and that takes some doing.

A good starting point for anyone wishing to get their heads around Liverpool City Council or the Labour Party on Merseyside is to visit the blog site of former Labour MP for Walton Constituency Peter Kilfoyle. If you remember he was Neil Kinnock’s man in Liverpool when Militant were being driven out of the Labour Party.

The Lib Dem Group Leader on Liverpool City Council, Cllr. Richard Kemp, is another blogger on the local political scene who lived through the Militant era, in his case as a Liverpool City Councillor. Both of these men have the scars and knowledge of how Liverpool, from the management of public services perspective, simply fell apart at the seams under Militant. Neither have rose tinted spectacles I might add.

So is Liverpool really slipping back towards the political mismanagement of the 1980’s? At face value it seems to be doing just that. Labour in the City is already riven with splits of both a political and personal nature. That you will oft hear of a Labour faction calling another Labour faction ‘a gang of Tories’ or words that effect says it all does it not?

From a wider perspective my feeling is that Liverpool has always been a tough place to govern and that everyone who has tried to do it has eventually ended up with burnt fingers. Maybe this is not unusual for a large city council? In my years as Leader of neighbouring Sefton Council (and these coincided with good years for the City of Liverpool) you often got the impression that the City Council was pretty much on the edge and that power struggles within it were always about to erupt. But despite this underlying instability within the City Council it still wanted to be the boss on Merseyside and it got very frustrated with the surrounding Borough’s that were often less than keen on whatever its latest initiative was.

That Merseyside politics has traditionally been seen as dysfunctional by governments of all colours over the past 30 to 40 years is a given but to me the City Council and its inability to be at peace with itself, let alone with it’s family of local government neighbours in the now called ‘City Region’ is at the heart of these difficulties.

My guess is that Liverpool City will always be a political melting pot which attracts those with both radical (I use that word in its widest terms not just in the Liberal sense) and off the usual scale views. It will also pull in those who want power because they feel that their vision for the City is the right one whether it sends the City to hell in a hand cart or not and it’s the Labour Party that they usually subscribe to.

Should Liverpool end up is some politically dark places again under Labour then the reality is that few will be surprised. Oh and one last point, on becoming leader of Sefton Council I was asked by a senior officer, somewhat tongue in cheek obviously, ‘what’s your most important task as leader of the council?’ I thought about it but before I could answer I was advised it was to keep Sefton out of the Rotten Boroughs column of Private Eye. As a reader of Private Eye I wonder whether the leading lights on Liverpool City Council have in recent times been advised the very opposite to me?

Oh and as a PS, here’s another Liverpool Echo article. The state of the Labour Party must be a factor is this ‘walk away’ too don’t you think:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/leader-wirral-council-makes-surprise-15289031

Second member of staff to be on all new Merseyrail trains as RMT win long running battle

A new Stadler Merseyrail train artist impression

The Liverpool Echo has the story on its web site – see link below:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/business/merseyrail-abandons-driver-only-trains-15096827

A dispute started by politicians has been won by the trade union they took on and eventually lost to.

Whilst Merseyrail, the train operator, was in effect dumped on and made to take on the RMT by Merseytravel (the Transport Committee of the Liverpool City Region) the real battle was always with the politicians of the Liverpool City Region. The fact is the politicians lost because they never had the backing of the travelling public who clearly wanted a second person on each and every Merseyrail train.

RMT Trade union’s ‘Keep the Guards Campaign’ 1, leading Merseyside politicians Nil. Oh yes and it was our local Labour political leaders whom the RMT took on and beat.

With thanks to Keith Page and Roy Connell for the lead to this posting.

Liverpool – Are the days of City’s ‘Spare Mayor’ numbered?

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-44793164

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

Since the election of a Liverpool City Region Mayor in 2017 there’s been talk about whether Liverpool City needs an elected Mayor as well. You could say that the City now has 3 Mayors, 2 directly elected and 1 ceremonial, that’s one too many for some folk and it’s the City’s elected Mayoral post that is being put froward for abolition to help save money for the cash strapped council.

Can’t say that I have ever supported any elected Mayor anywhere, in my view these posts concentrate too much power in the hands of one person and their imposition on local government (by David Cameron) has been both costly and unnecessary. So in my view Liverpool City Council should take the plunge and abolish its own elected Mayoral post.