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.