Liverpool City Region comes under pressure to take back control of buses

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

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/liverpool-city-region-urged-follow-17059083

This is a welcome move by Lib Dem members on Wirral Council as their initiative will, if supported, have a beneficial effect on bus services across the Liverpool City Region (LCR).

I recall hearing Merseytravel Chairperson, Cllr. Liam Robinson, talk about such a move at an OPSTA meeting in Southport in November 2018. However, my concern then, as it has been for many a year, was that regaining local control over buses was becoming a matter oft talked about rather than actually being energetically taken forward. My note from the Southport meeting said this – Cllr. Robinson presented his vision of how bus services could be improved in the Liverpool City Region (beyond the present Bus Alliance with Arriva and Stagecoach)

Good luck to Wirral Lib Dems in their attempt to push LCR/Merseytravel to deliver on this sooner rather than later. Righting the wrongs of the Thatcher’s appalling 1980’s Bus Deregulation Act, which plunged all local bus services (except for those in London) into a further spiral of decline has been a long time coming – like some local bus services!

Merseytravel – Their over 60’s travel card and the new(ish) Liverpool (LS) to Chester train

Those of us over a certain age and who live within Merseyside/Liverpool City Region have a card which gives us free bus, train and ferry travel within Merseyside and in some cases beyond it.

For example we can go to Chester by train (via Merseyrail) from anywhere within Merseyside for nothing but there are two direct train services from Liverpool to Chester. There’s the long standing one via Merseyrail along the Wirral Line but in very recent times a 2nd route has been added from Lime Street Station to Chester. And you may by now have guessed what my query is…..

How come Merseyside residents over 60 can go via one route to Chester from Liverpool for free but this facility is not available on the new alternative route? And why am I asking this question? Because someone asked it of me and off the top of my head I did not have an answer.

Thinking about it, I can’t see what the problem is; surely it’s just another route to the same destination? Whether Merseytravel (the public body responsible for passenger transport on Merseyside) pay a subsidy for over 60’s travel to Merseyrail or to Transport for Wales (who operate the Lime Street – Chester train) for each journey the end result is pretty much the same is it not? It’s still the case that only eligible Merseyside/Liverpool City Region residents can have an over 60’s travel card, all it does is offer them another route to get to Chester, indeed it may well be a far more convenient route for some card holders.

So what am I missing here? Answers on a post card………..

Liverpool City Region is listening or so they tell us

We’ve all heard about the poor (and that’s being polite about it) devolution deal which came down from our Conservative Government and was enthusiastically embraced by Merseyside Labour. I was not for swallowing 3rd rate devolution though and said so at the time (see previous postings on this blog site) as a Mersey Metro Mayor was in effect forced upon the Liverpool City Region.

I think it also fair to say that we’ve not exactly been overtaken with initiatives by our Metro Mayor who sadly often seems to be in the slip-stream of Manchester’s Metro Mayor, Bandwagon Burnham.

But actually I am really keen on proper decentralistion, well I would be I’m a Liberal and exercising power at the lowest possible level in our democracy is what we Libs are all about. It’s also why we saw a rat and realised the decentralisation on offer to Liverpool City Region was 3rd rate.

Now, having got that off my chest, I hear that our City Region, without much power, is asking us what we want to see it do and they claim to be listening too. Have a look at the link below to the on-line consultation:-

www.liverpoolcityregion-ca.gov.uk/lcrlistens/

I’ve had my say about local transport improvements I would like to see, air pollution that urgently needs tackling and employment issues which need action. Why not have your say too?

I’m not particularly hopeful that the issues I’ve raised will be grasped but if we don’t keep our leaders on their toes then we can’t complain when they do little or do things we don’t think are wise use of our money. Go on give our Liverpool City Region leaders something to think about…………

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