Elected Mayors – Centralising power in one persons hands is bad but if it is being forced on Merseyside the crunch will be finding/electing someone of a stature respected by many

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/referendum-merseyside-metro-mayor-moves-9258654

I have long opposed an elected Metro Mayor/City Regional Mayor/Merseyside Mayor call it what you will and without going over too much ground this is why:-

* Merseyside is too small to be a successful competitive City Region with areas such as Ellesmere Port and West Lancashire being excluded from it.
* A Borough like Sefton which has a majority border with Lancashire could end up being even more disconnected with its neighbouring communities. I am thinking of Southport, Lydiate and Formby here especially.
* What’s so cleaver about centralising power in one person’s hands? Surely this is an illiberal idea that goes against the long held view in the UK about how local governance should be set up. Indeed, it is an American idea imported to the UK.
* Electing a candidate whom people can genuinely respect would be crucial if the idea is taken forward on Merseyside against all my other significant reservations/objections above. A Party hack from one particular political tribe who wants to lord it over Merseyside will be no good for anyone.

But despite my reservations is it going to happen? Well it seems it may well just do so if you take on board what is said in the Liverpool Echo article – see link above.

Of course Liverpool already has an elected City Mayor but the role was in reality imposed on the City without a referendum by Labour-run Liverpool City Council. On that basis clearly he electoral legitimacy test of whether the City wanted a elected mayor at all was dodged. The only say Liverpool folk got was who was going to get the job.

What’s more quite a few cities/communities that have held referendums on whether they wanted an elected mayor have said no they don’t. Where elected mayors have been successful will have been where, probably more by chance than anything else, a person of widely respected stature has been elected. In other words it is a game of chance; get a good elected mayor and it may possibly work out get a bad one and it could be an utter nightmare. Such is the result when power is not shared by a group of elected people.

I still think it is a bad way forward and will be campaigning against this Americanisation of UK local government.

Maghull North Station – So when will it get built?

I have long fought for this station to be built and was pleased when the Coalition Government gave what amounts to around 90%+ (£6.1m) of the money required (Est £7m) in 2014 to The Liverpool City Region.

Site of the new Maghull North Railway Station. North of the School Lane bridge and adjacent to the Ashworth South site (right) and Mersey Avenue (left)

Site of the new Maghull North Railway Station. North of the School Lane bridge and adjacent to the Ashworth South site (right) and Mersey Avenue (left)

My understanding of where we are up to is this:-

* Merseytravel is in the process of developing a detailed business case for the new station.

* At least a year will be needed to complete the final design and around another year to construct the station. But additional approvals will be required at City Region level and from Network Rail.

* Two and a half to three years would seem to be a reasonable estimate from now until the first train stops at Maghull North Station.

Having said that major projects like this are often subject to slippage for all sorts of engineering and/or financial reasons so further delays would not be surprising.

Beware of Labour politicians promising to devolve power!

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/labour-pledge-liverpool-benefit-biggest-8997775

The Liverpool Echo has the story – see link above.

But there are two big problems here. Firstly Labour have not all of a sudden become a party that wants to give power away to local communities so that they can decided what is best for themselves. What Labour means by devolution is that local Labour political barons will be given power to decide what’s best for you and I. This is very different from how Liberals see power being devolved to communities and out of the hands of political parties. You can’t empower people if all you are doing is shifting a decision making process from one set of party hacks to another.

Secondly, and my previous posting (see link below) about devolving control over bus services on Merseyside refers of a couple of days ago, how could we have any confidence that our local Labour Council Leaders could do the job?

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/04/06/merseyside-leaders-on-the-buses-but-would-they-would-all-want-to-be-reg-varney-butler-driving-off-to-6-different-destinations/

Their record in recent times of public bickering, an inability to seemingly get along with each other and arguing over the the name of Merseyside’s new combined authority does not fill anyone with any confidence.

Labour are centralisers of power within their own clans, it is not in their nature to share power with ordinary people. Beware of Labour politicians bearing devolution gifts!

Merseyside Leaders ‘On the Buses’ – But would they all want to be Reg Varney (Butler) driving off to 6 different destinations?

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/merseyside-bus-network-should-controlled-8979823

The Liverpool Echo has the story – see link above.

rsz_bus_009

Yes, great idea. As someone who thought Bus Deregulation was a disaster in the 1980’s I find this a positive step forward. BUT could we/would we trust the 6 Labour Council leaders on Merseyside to pull it off?

Remember they could not even agree to a name for their new Joint Authority, they bicker in public over matters they should resolve between themselves and they are seemingly not looked upon by Government as being capable of taking on devolved powers like Manchester.

Fine in principle but we don’t want to end up with a worse bus service than we have got now! Think long and hard before stepping onto a bus driven by Merseyside’s Labour Leaders.

Borough of Sefton – What a mixture of diverse communities that have little in common with each other

The debate about the future of Sefton Borough has recently been ignited again by Southport Councillors calling for the Borough to be split. I share their frustrations despite living in Lydiate and representing Maghull and Lydiate on Sefton Council.

This wall art is on a former railway now pedestrian tunnel behind Bootle's New Strand Shopping Centre. Sadly it has gained a little unwanted graffiti.

This wall art is on a former railway now pedestrian tunnel behind Bootle’s New Strand Shopping Centre. Sadly it has gained a little unwanted graffiti.

Sefton is an odd place geographically and my guess is that few would suggest otherwise. It is, of course, this odd geography that is in many ways the underlying problem. At one end we have the seaside resort of Southport and at the other the northern part of the Port of Liverpool in Bootle. Between are numerous communities many of which are agricultural by their history but which are now very much part pf Liverpool’s commuter belt.

Sefton Council's Logo

Sefton Council’s Logo

Sefton started its tormented life as a troubled child of the infamous 1974 local government reorganisation. Frankly, it has rarely been happy with itself since despite now being a middle-aged 41. Many folk resented being taken out of Lancashire and that cry can still be heard pretty much across the Borough.

Two places strike me as being more out of place in Sefton than maybe others are, although this is just a personal view and other people may hold differing but just as valid views. My two are Southport and Lydiate. The Southport case has been rehearsed many, many times and it is no surprise that this large former County Borough resents being ruled by folks who live miles away as is the case at present with Sefton Council’s Cabinet all representing Bootle Constituency seats.

The Southport issue is, therefore, amongst other things, about the loss of former power and control over its own destiny and being ruled by others who don’t have any affinity with the Town. Having said that one counter-argument that can’t be forgotten is that Southport would not have gained European money to the extent that it did (by being in Merseyside) had it been outside of what is now called the Liverpool City Region. An issue for me now is that West Lancashire is not also an equal partner within the City Region. This means that virtually all of Southport’s hinterland is outside of Sefton and Merseyside and to all intents and purposes behind a ‘Cold War’ type invisible wall.

cropped-Lydiate-Parish-Council-Logo-e1372273297819

Lydiate is an interesting example of Borough’s bizarre geography as its only land connection to Sefton and therefore Merseyside is via a short boundary with Maghull. Its far larger boundary, in effect the other 3 sides of the community is with West Lancashire. Out on a limb is one way of putting it.

The challenges that Southport and Lydiate share are mainly caused by the invisible local government wall which is their boundary with Lancashire. Over the years Sefton Council has become increasingly Merseyside-centric and the much-needed closer working with Lancashire/West Lancashire has become little more than throwing notes tied to stones over that invisible barrier. This ‘we don’t do business with Lancashire’ approach is now firmly rooted in Sefton’s local government officers so it is not just a politicians issue. Despite Lydiate Parish Council striving to keep up links with its West Lancs Parish neighbours and Southport councillors wanting to re-establish working relationships with Lancashire County & West Lancs Borough Councils (that are at least as comprehensive as those which Sefton Council has with Knowsley and Liverpool Councils) the pull of what Merseyside wants always wins.

At one point it was possible that the Local Government Boundary Commission may have recommended that our Borough be split but it backed away from that in favour of telling Sefton to decentralise itself and empower its diverse communities. It was supposed to be the end of ‘one size fits all’ Sefton Borough and for a while it was with Area Committees being set up and Parish Councils (10 of them now and all in the middle of the Borough) being brought into the Sefton family rather than being seen as troublesome beggars who rarely got more than a pat on the head!

St. Helen's Church, Sefton Village, where the Borough gets its name from.

St. Helen’s Church, Sefton Village, where the Borough gets its name from.

I think if fair to say that Labour went along with decentralisation because they felt they had to rather than being of the view that it was a good thing in itself. Of course, centralising power is the Labour way so it was no surprise they were at best highly suspicious of giving it away. The Tories too were hardly keen but with the Lib Dems being decentralisers by nature the Council, which was in balanced for many years, found a way forward.

When Labour took control of the Council though you could almost feel the process of decentralisation being reigned in the following day. This was no surprise to those of us close to the action. Labour’s power base was and is in the Old Labour heartland of Bootle where Tony Blair’s New Labour was seemingly hated as much as Margaret Thatcher. So much so that I recall Labour members of Sefton Council joyfully shouting that they were ‘Old Labour’ at Council meetings during Blair’s rule. The point being that Old Labour wanted power and they wanted it in as few of their own hands as possible – Decentralisation was definitely off the agenda once Labour took control.

So a few years on is there any wonder that folks from places like Southport are unhappy? They have every reason to be unhappy, in my view, as the process they tried to make work after the Boundary Commission’s fudge has not only ground to a halt but has been slammed into reverse!

For local governance to work it needs to be representative of all the communities is serves – Sefton Council is not representative and it certainly is not working for its diverse communities from my perspective.

Liverpool – Joe has a big whinge – He’s not going to be a Metro Mayor

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/merseyside-missed-boat-metro-mayor-8592520

Cllr_Joe_Anderson,_Leader,_Liverpool_City_Council.jpeg

The Liverpool Echo has the story but in reality this is good news not bad. Why would any of the surrounding Boroughs want to be bossed about from Liverpool Town Hall? Having said that Sefton Council Labour seems to be backing Joe as it voted not to have a public ballot before any Metropolitan Mayor is imposed on Merseyside/The Liverpool City Region. But, if I am not mistaken, St Helens, Halton, Wirral and Knowsley Councils have all given Joe Anderson’s ambitions the elbow.

Devolution of powers has always been possible to Merseyside if the Labour Council Leaders and Liverpool’s Mayor could just stop bickering for a while. They could not so that’s why the opportunity may well have been lost. No one else to blame but them.