Sefton Council – Going bust?

Sefton Council Logo

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

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/merseyside-council-faces-27m-black-18487709

Bootle Town Hall

For as long as anyone involved in local politics can probably remember local authorities have shouted from the roof tops at every government of every colour that they don’t understand them and the pressures they are under. Usually and indeed during every one of my 15 years as a Sefton Borough councillor the underlying cause of this shouting was associated with the ever spiraling cost of adult social care and children in care. This time the causes are very different but like the ever present and rising costs of social care the effect will be similar across many if not all local authorities. Indeed, this has led the Local Government Association to to say that local authorities will go bust, which if I recall correctly, is actually illegal as they are not permitted to run deficit budgets.

The underlying problem is that local authorities for the most part are actually just agents for the delivery of government prescribed services. They have many statutory duties to do this that and the other although the level/standard to which they do these functions is often not prescribed so one local authority will major on one thing but another will put more effort into another etc. etc.

There’s surprisingly little room for maneuver and that’s why party political changes within local authorities only see changes at the margins, over 90% of the policies/spending won’t and don’t change with differing political council leaderships.

But returning to Sefton, that most odd of virtually all local authorities from a geographical perspective, is it doing the best that it can during the pandemic? Well that’s a difficult question to answer as like all one-party states and governments it will only tell you what it wants to tell you and what it has no choice but to tell you. But here are my thoughts.

Sefton is far too centralised with virtually everything being controlled and directed from Bootle Town Hall via a small political elite in the every bottom corner of this vast Borough. It has dismantled all the previous community related infrastructure for delivery of services to the extent that it has gone back to a ‘one size fits all’ at best. You could say a typical old socialist model of local government.

The buying of Bootle Strand Shopping Centre for a huge amount of money a couple of years back was not only a financial risk to the whole Borough and it’s Council tax payers (should the deal go wrong) but it also defined where the local authority’s priorities were i.e. Bootle, Bootle and Bootle. There are significant fears that this particular chicken could be coming home to roost soon as the value of that retail property falls.

Sefton is slow to react and ponderous and it’s always had a tendency to be so. I suppose this relates very much to its centralised nature and to me it has often seemed unwilling to innovate in a meaningful way. When it did innovate it was at a community level but as I say that level has been all but snuffed out.

I don’t don’t doubt that Sefton, like many local authorities, is in very deep financial trouble as a consequence of the pandemic on top of austerity. Whether it could have been in even a slightly better position if it were run differently is the question no one can really answer. Having said that those of us who are advocates of decentralised and more transparent local government may well say it probably could be better placed if only at the margins.

That the slow moving and ponderous oil tanker which is Sefton Council will continue and will survive one way or another is all but a given. However, with its finances badly holed at the waterline and it being permanently moored at Bootle Docks it will also continue to fail to deliver the kind of modern day services its diverse communities require, except that is for its generally much appreciated domestic waste and recycling doorstep collections.