Local Democracy – Who investigates the goings on in local government these days?

I recently came across a scheme funded by the BBC (or more to the point more probably by its licence fee payers) to address a matter I have long had concerns about – see the link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2017/local-democracy-reporters

Having been a councillor since 1985 I have watched the demise of local reporting on local government with increasing concern. The demise has followed the loss of many local newspapers but even where the local newspapers do exist there is rarely any serious investigative journalism going on these days. I can recall 3 former newspapers that served my community from the not so distant past – The Maghull & Aintree Star, The Maghull Times & The Maghull & Aintree Advertiser and of course we have also lost the regional Daily Post too. This loss of local newspapers is sadly replicated across most communities.

I recall the days when the Maghull reporter for the Maghull & Aintree Advertiser would sit through most meetings of Maghull Town Council listening to and reporting on the debates that went on. Every year or so the reporters would change as new trainees were taken on. Nowadays you would be hard pressed to see local reporters at any meeting of Sefton Borough Council (or Merseytravel, the Fire Authority, NHS decision making bodies etc. etc.) unless a big issue is already on the agenda and even then the reporting is usually of ‘x’ said this and ‘y’ said that nature. You might say the local media often just passes on opinions these days. My point is there is little in the way of getting behind the politicians/officials spin.

A local paper on the warpath would once have been as worrying to a local council as the District Auditor if things were going wrong; now neither pay much attention to what a Council does so who is uncovering the goings on within local government and indeed within the other local decision making bodies that affect the lives of us all? Putting it bluntly no one the vast majority of the time.

Yes we see local government stories in the local press but they are virtually always built upon press releases from councils or the politicians who run the councils, or they are about party political spats between opposing politicians.

Is the issue that the remaining local media is not training young journalists to get to the heart of what is going on in local government? Is it that they can’t afford to pay the kind of wages required to bring on good investigative journalists? A good and experienced local government reporter would once have been expected to know as much or indeed more than the local political bigwigs they were reporting on so that they could take on the spin and expose the facts.

The problem is of course a national one, of that I have little doubt. I wonder how many uncomfortable moments that councils and publicly accountable local bodies across the land should have had (and would have had in the days when the local media was a force to contend with) are not being picked up at all these days, unless the matter is so bad that it reaches the national press/media such as the Rotten Boroughs page of Private Eye?

This challenge is, I think, what the BBC scheme is trying to address but will it have any effect? Are a new generation of independently minded investigative journalists going to be created via it? Is the present day poor reporting by the BBC a reflection of too few good investigative journalists coming through the system and is that why the BBC has launched the scheme?

As the majority of journalists will have started at the bottom of the journalistic ladder reporting on the goings on of the local parish councils will we once again see bored young reporters sat listening to the debates of Little Twittering Parish Council awaiting a juicy story?

In a functioning healthy democracy well informed investigative journalists are a big part of keeping the powerful on their toes and I fear the demise of them at a local level is doing us all a disservice.

Maghull – Moss Side Hospital/Shell Shock/Public Artwork

Readers of this blog site will recall how disappointed I was when the railway powers that be refused to acknowledge (in the name of the new Maghull North Station) the part the former Moss Side Hospital had played in the treatment of Shell Shock during and after WW1. Indeed, that disappointment was felt across a large number of campaigners as we wanted the station named ‘Maghull Moss Side’ because it sits on the site of the former hospital as does the new Poppy Fields housing estate.

View of platforms at Maghull North Station

My blog posting of December 2015 refers:- tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/12/07/maghull-name-new-station-maghull-moss-side/

We may have lost that particular battle but things have moved on in a far more positive way since and users of the new station will probably have seen the display boards that have been erected on the station’s platforms detailing the history we all wanted recognised. Here’s a photo of one of the boards:-

Now Maghull Town Council has stepped in and is to provide a piece of public artwork for display at the station. Details of the artwork can be found, via the link below, to the planning application documents recently submitted to Sefton Council (look at the Design & Access Statement):-

pa.sefton.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=PF34SBNWH4600

Local history is important in any community but in Maghull, which is world famous for 3 things, it is vital that the past is not forgotten. And the 3 things? This issue of course because of the pioneering medical work into trauma, the fact that Maghull had one of the first ever epileptic colonies (The Maghull Homes) and finally because it was the home of world famous toy maker Frank Hornby of Meccano, Dinky Toys and Hornby Model Railways fame. Who’d have thought that a town, which many think is just a post 2nd World War suburb of Liverpool, had such a history!

With thanks to Nigel for the lead to this posting.

Click on the photos to enlarge them

Maghull – 2 parks come BACK under Town Council control, but how will they generate income and why all this talk about developing/building on them?

Old Hall Park, Maghull

I scratched my head quite a bit when I read an article in the Aintree and Maghull Champion dated 23rd May headed ‘All parks now back under control of town council’

Firstly, the parks concerned Old Hall Park and Bobbies Wood had originally been taken from Sefton Council by the Town Council quite a number of years ago but then the Labour-run Town Council decided to give them back to the Labour-run Borough Council. Now they have reversed that decision and once again taken them back under control of the Town Council. Of course this begs the question why give them back only to take them back again?

Wild flowers in Bobby’s Wood a few years ago (junction of A59 and L’pool Rd Sth) in Maghull.

Secondly, the article informed Maghull residents that ‘these sites will be development-free’. What on earth does that mean? No one other than the Labour Party has talked about local parks being developed and as both Sefton Council and Maghull Town Council are Labour run are we being told that parks run by Labour Sefton will be/may be developed but parks run by Labour Maghull TC will not be? In other words is one municipal arm of Labour pro-building on parks and one anti building on parks?

Thirdly, what does the phrase ‘will generate much needed revenue for the council between 2018-21’ mean? Are we talking revenue for Sefton Council or revenue for Maghull Town Council? And how will these parks generate revenue anyway?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m quite happy that the parks are back under the Town Council’s control, after all when I was a Maghull resident and councillor I arranged for them to be transferred to the Town Council the first time. But all this Labour talk about parks being vulnerable to development in Sefton Borough really is a worry. Of course Labour-run Knowsley Council has already gone down the route of allocating parks for building land so is that what Labour-run Sefton are also considering? This needs flushing out as does how the parks that are safe from building on (the ones run by Parish Councils?) going to be used to ‘generate much needed income’.

Far more questions than answers but Labour must surely have the answers?

Maghull – Audrey Beattie – Sorry you’re leaving

Audrey Beattie has been well known face across Maghull for many a year now having lived in in the Town since the 1960’s firstly in Pimbley Grove West and in more recent times at Mayhall Court on Westway. She worked for quite a number of years at the Maghull Homes (now Parkhaven Trust) at both the Kiffin Taylor and Alexander Homes.

She has served as a Maghull Town Councillor and her son Andrew Beattie was both a Town and Borough Councillor (and indeed Town Mayor in 1996/97) who sadly died suddenly in 1999. Audrey has been a regular attender at St. Peter’s Church in Moorhey Road and with the Focus Group at Maghull Baptist Church

Now in her 80’s Andrey is moving to Cleveleys to be nearer to her daughter Alison.

I first got to know Audrey when I was around 12 years of age and she was a tough lady indeed. Any teenagers larking around could expect her to stand no messing. I still expect her to shoot first and ask questions later so to speak. My abiding memory of Audrey is that she is not someone to suffer fools gladly and we came up with a phrase that we thought summed her up when she was a councillor. The phrase? – Audrey has just given so and so a good hand-bagging. I think I may have been on the end of a few of them myself:-)

We will miss you Audrey – good luck for many more happy years in Cleveleys.

With thanks to Andrew Blackburn for his help with this posting and providing the photograph

Maghull – Des Carter former Clerk to Town Council has passed away

Des Carter was Clerk to Maghull Town Council for around 7 years if memory serves. He retired in 1995 but lived in Maghull until he died.

Des was without doubt one of the nicest people I have ever met. He was old school and always wore a business suit and tie at work. He was a highly qualified accountant who came to work for the Town Council when financially it was in a right old mess. He sorted all that out working with a councillor of that time called Merrick Stott, who was a retired bank manager. Merrick also died earlier this year and his obituary can be found on this blog site.

After Des retired and Merrick stood down from the Council the pair became good friends and ended up living within a quarter of a mile of each other in Maghull.

Des was the Town Clerk when the Council opened its innovative Youth Coffee Bar in Maghull Town Hall and he is pictured here with others on the opening night in November 1994:-

Des is on the left side of this photo with Town Mayor of the time Cllr. Bruce Hubbard.

On one occasion I went to London with Des for a parish councils conference. We stayed overnight and went to see a play called ‘The Woman in Black’ in the evening. It was memorable because unknown to us there was a speaker under my seat and at the appropriate time a blood curdling scream came from it which nearly put Des and I on the ceiling we were so surprised.

I have no doubt that we have lost a good and decent public servant. In Andrew Blackburn’s words ‘he was a gentle man’ – RIP Des Carter

Notes – Please click on the photo to enlarge it

His funeral is at St. Andrew’s Church Maghull at 2.30pm on Wednesday 30th May – Unfortunately I can’t be there

The people in the photograph are from left to right, Des Carter – Town Clerk and Councillors Bruce Hubbard, Bill Chambers, Jim Byrne, Tony Robertson, Dot Wilson, Roy Connell, John Butterworth, Sheila Nelson, Audrey Beattie and Andrew Blackburn

With thanks to Andrew Blackburn for his help with this sad posting and providing the photograph

Maghull – Car parking ‘disagreement’ between Councils over Meadows Leisure Centre

I’m hearing that Maghull TC and Sefton MBC are tussling once again over the issue of car parking spaces around the Leisure Centre and Town Hall.

If this is indeed the case it is yet another chapter in a very long running saga as the success of the Leisure Centre has always meant that the car parking provision, as originally planned for back in 2010 when the Centre opened, is inadequate.

Maghull’s KGV Park and Meadows Leisure Centre

When I led the campaign for the Leisure Centre to be built I always had a feeling that it would take off but even I have been surprised by how many locals from the East Parishes part of Sefton Borough have been using it. The consequence of this success is the lack of car parking spaces.

Sefton allocated money a few years a back to enlarge the car park but at Maghull TC’s request this ‘offer’ was withdrawn. Now I hear that Sefton has once again put up money but that Maghull TC is still not supportive. As Maghull TC owns the land (KGV Park) then stalemate has been reached again.

The dilemma is of course green-space/parkland V car parking spaces. But if the matter is not successfully resolved then there are of course other consequences. Those consequences are:-

* Grid-lock in the car parks surrounding the Leisure Centre and Town Hall (I’ve been in one!)
* Parking in surrounding residential roads – L’pool Rd Sth, Northway Service Road
* Users of facilities at the Leisure Centre/Town Hall going elsewhere because of lack of car parking

There’s no easy answers but which Council will blink first in this battle of grass V cars?