Pugh likens Labour run Sefton to North Korea!

Dr. John Pugh Lib Dem MP for Southport and former Leader of Sefton Council is not known for irrational outbursts; indeed he is a thoughtful man who does not crave media attention as do some politicians. On that basis when someone like John waves a flag of concern we should all take notice.

John waved his flag on the BBC North West Politics TV Programme last Sunday and you can see what he said by popping over to my colleague Iain Brodie-Browne’s Birkdale Focus Blog Site to watch a short video from the show.

Sadly, John has a point as Labour run Sefton is becoming very much like a communist regime. It does not like answering questions put to it at Council meetings and does its utmost not to do so. It will not engage in debate about the policies it is pursuing and it fears being scrutinised by its backbench and opposition councillors.

Take the Full Council meeting held last Tuesday. There were two debates initiated by the oppositions Lib Dems. The first was an attempt to open up the Council’s scrutiny process by having some of the scrutiny committees chaired by opposition councillors. The comrades opposed this but failed to give a single reason why they opposed it. Yes their Leader ranted on, for the benefit of his all too quiet troops who are rarely allowed to engage in debate, about this that and the other but he failed to address the point of the debate. Labour then voted to keep their closed shop very much closed.

We then moved on to a second debate where we again pressed for a 10% reduction in the wages paid to the 7 Cabinet members of the Council to assist with the Council’s need to make savings. Unsurprisingly, the comrades were having none of that even though the money we were trying to save was targeted at bringing back some decent democratic representation in the centre of the Borough where Labour have merged 3 Area Committees used by residents to raise concerns about very local matters. The merger was sold as a cost cutting measure but makes no sense at all – what on earth have communities like Formby, Maghull and Crosby got in common apart from all being within the vast middle of the Borough? So Labour again opposed the proposals but without giving a single reason why they thought that keeping more money in the Cabinet’s pockets is more desirable than improving engagement will local communities. No Labour member representing Crosby, Formby or Maghull rose to back their communities but they all voted to keep money in their Cabinet bosses pockets.

And it’s not just on Sefton Council where Labour closes down information channels. Take little Maghull Town Council where a matter was referred to the Police by the Labour run Town Council a few months ago but we opposition members have been unable to obtain the background documents (despite an FoI request) or the detailed reasons for that referral. Yes, the Police decided to take no action but who was under investigation – staff, people who worked for or with the Council? And what about Maghull Cricket Club? We think Labour are trying to use it as a cash cow to gain higher rents from but even another FoI request has yet to reveal what the Town Council’s objectives are in trying to change a legal agreement with the Club.

On a wider Merseyside platform you can also look at what went on with Labour run Merseytravel in the very recent past and where it seems another big financial scandal is about to be dragged from the undergrowth any day now.

So John Pugh MP has a significant point to make even though at face value it may seem like he is a politician simply throwing a little mud at his opposition. Unless Labour start to open up the local councils they run they will end up being accused of more North Korean type approaches to local democracy.

Maghull Town Council’s Labour rulers go for slash and burn despite a mountain of cash in the bank.

The cash reserves of Maghull Town Council, as set at its budget and precept meeting on 20th March, are truly enormous – £420,153 and this figure has been rising for quite some time now. Ironically, when the Lib Dem’s ran the Council I clearly recall an auditor raising concerns that a reserve of £50,000 was too high! However, I hear chatter from within the Labour run Council that indicates a desire to get the cash reserves even higher. It is this cash awash background in which I make the following comments.

Why take away from local youth groups across Maghull a small fund of £1,500 made available each year to help with youth projects?

Why take away funds of £4,000 which were aimed at kick starting the establishment of the skateboard facility in Maghull and also refusing to allocate the required capital money to make this long-promised facility for the Town’s young people a reality?

Why refuse to support a £20,000 proposal to work in partnership with Sefton Council to refurbish Maghull Town Centre’s down at heel public toilets?

Why refuse to put £20,000 to one side in case it is needed to keep the Town’s highly successful Youth Coffee Bar going?

Why take away the money to run the Town’s annual fireworks display when it helps keep families who want to celebrate 5th November safe and without the need for far more dangerous private displays?

Why refuse to reduce the Town Council’s tax demand on Maghull’s Council tax payers by 10%?

Why indeed……………………………..

All the above could easilly have been done if Labour had supported the Lib Dem budget proposals on the Town Council.

Maghull Town Council – A budget & precept is finally agreed with Lib Dem proposal to reduce the tax on Maghull residents being voted down by ruling Labour councillors

Maghull Town Council has finally set a budget and a precept to demand from Maghull’s hard pressed Council tax payers for 2013/14. Despite all their recent ducking and diving the comrades, who now run the Council, finally forced through a budget last night.

We Lib Dems proposed an amendment that would have reduced the taxation demand on Maghull’s Council tax payers by 10% but Labour were having none of it despite the Council being sat on a huge money mountain of reserves well above £400,000!

We also proposed that the Council reinstate funding it had taken away from youth projects, the Town’s yearly firework display and money to provide a local skateboard park. Labour rejected these proposals too.

Finally, we asked the Council to put money aside to work with Sefton Council to refurbish the down at heel public toilets at Maghull Square which were recently saved from closure by Lib Dem campaigning. Yes, you have guessed it they rejected that as well!

But despite their lack of vision and understanding of what Maghull needs at least the Council now has a legal budget and precept. Readers will recall that the Council has been pretending that it had set a precept over recent weeks when it had done no such thing. Indeed it gave false information to Sefton Council asking it to collect the extra tax on Maghull people without any resolution of the Town Council being proposed and agreed to authorise such an extra tax.

What will the auditors say about the false information? What will Maghull’s Council tax payers think as they get their bills that could have been 10% lower in terms of what has to be paid to the Town Council?

Maghull Town Council – a budgetary fiasco, a deadline missed and a strange story about a phone call and an e-mail

Let’s return to the precept of Maghull Town Council or, more to the point, the lack of one that I exposed yesterday.

Last night was Sefton Council’s yearly budget meeting and there in black and white in the published papers for the meeting was a report that said Maghull Council had informed officers of Sefton Council that it had set a precept demand! How could that be when it has done no such thing?

By the way, my colleague Cllr. Simon Shaw, an accountant by trade and probably the only person I know who can get his head around the weird world of local government finance, had, as usual, been looking into the many nooks and crannies within the Borough’s finances. Simon had also read this blog so he knew that Maghull TC had not held a budget meeting. He had been asking questions and had been informed that a Maghull precept request had been telephoned through from Maghull Council.

“That’s strange,” thought Simon. “How can a Council that has not set a budget or precept yet for 2013/14 telephone through to Sefton Council (who collect the precept money via the Council tax bills) a figure, to be collected from Maghull’s Council Tax payers, which does not actually exist?”

It was clearly time to ask more searching questions at Sefton’s Budget meeting like:-

What is Sefton Council going to do because it is clearly being asked to collect money that it seemingly has no legal right to demand from Maghull Council tax payers?

You can probably appreciate that there were some astonished faces in that Council Chamber; both councillors and Council Officers. What’s more, 7 of the Borough Councillors who sat in that Sefton Council budget meeting also sit on Maghull Town Council – 5 of them being from the ruling Labour group; the other two being Cllr. Andrew Blackburn and me who are opposition members on Maghull Council.

But the point is that all 7 of us must have known straight away that whomever had telephoned-through a ‘precept demand’ (subsequently confirmed by e-mail, I am told) for Maghull Council could not have had any evidence what so ever to back up such a demand.

So, not only has Labour-run Maghull Council failed to set a budget/precept to date it has asked Sefton Borough Council to collect money that Maghull Council has no legal right to request and that Sefton, as the collecting authority, surely has no right to demand from Maghull’s Council tax payers!!!!!

Watch as this appalling ‘carry on’ is played out…………………….

Maghull Town Council fails to set a legal Council tax demand!

I know I keep on saying things like ‘you could not make it up’ about Maghull Town Council under its now 21 months of Labour rule but they really are at it yet again. However, this time the self-made crisis ranks as one of the biggest failures of local council governance that you could ever imagine!

It’s a failure to set a budget and legal precept for the financial year 2013/14, indeed a budget meeting for Maghull Town Council has only just been called for the 6th March and according to the Council’s published timetable of meetings a precept will not be confirmed by the Full Council meeting (a requirement of legislation) until 20th March!

So far, all that has happened is that a presentation on a draft ‘work in progress’ budget was given at a Finance Committee meeting by a Council officer on 23rd January. That ‘work in progress’ was not voted on. After that there was mention of a budget for 2013/14 at a meeting on 6th February when we were told by a senior Labour Councillor that the budget was being ‘taken back to the drawing board’. My posting of 7th February refers.

All 10 Parish/Town Councils in our Borough (like those across all of England) set their budgets for the following municipal year before Sefton Council sets its own budget. Such has been the case for generations. This year Sefton Council sets its budget today – 28th February. However, Maghull’s Labour Leaders have, for reasons known only to themselves, not put a budget and proposed precept demand before the Town Council for a decision to be made within the proper timescale. Indeed, with the 1st of March being the usual deadline for a Parish Council to agree a precept, Maghull Council is in a sorry position because it can’t legally call a meeting in time to meet such a deadline. Three days clear notice have to be given of a Parish/Town Council meeting not including the day of the meeting or the day the papers are issued.

I should explain, at this point, that a budget and precept are two different but directly linked matters. The budget, as you would expect is an informed estimation of the Council’s expected income and intended expenditure for the following year. The precept is that part of the income which is demanded from Council tax payers and this is the important matter that has a deadline attached to it.

Surely it must be the case, must it not, that Maghull Council cannot now make any demand upon the Town’s Council tax payers for a precept in 2013/14 because it has failed to make a decision on an amount it wishes to demand from them within the accepted timescale. The positive angle to this farce, at least for the hard pressed Council tax payers in Maghull, could be that Maghull’s Council Tax bills will be much lower than anybody was expecting i.e. NIL payable to the Town Council!

We Lib Dems have been demanding a Council Tax reduction from the Town Council, something that Labour has opposed. However, they may just have delivered the mother of all reductions via the biggest cock-up you could imagine!

This could now leave Maghull Town Council in one hell of a financial and governance crisis and the obvious question that comes to mind is why on earth has the Labour run Council put itself and the Town that it is supposed to be representing in such a position?