Scousers cheer Metro Mayor (but it’s not their own)

It’s been a little surreal over the last couple of days as Scousers have been piling onto social media to cheer along on Greater Manchester’s Metro Mayor Andy Burnham! Yes you’ve read that right Scousers cheering a Manc’, when anything to do with Manchester is usually treated with utter distain probably because of football loyalties in the city of the Beatles where the main religion is indeed football be it red or blue.

But the Manc’ Mayor is actually all but a Scouser himself having been born in Aintree Village/Old Roan on Merseyside, so I guess that allows Liverpudlians to cheer him on even though he’s working for the enemy so to speak.

Personally, I’m no fan of Burham at all as I recall him, when in government, having a hand in NHS privatisation, something he seems to oppose these days. I also see him as a populist politician who will shift his ground to follow the crowd. However, presently he seems to be a bit of a hero in some folks minds because he’s been taking on Johnson’s Government when here on Merseyside/in Liverpool City Region Burham’s Labour colleagues are being accused of capitulating in the same Covid 19 Tier 3 lockdown fight in the very first round.

Steve Rotheram, the former Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, is the Liverpool City Region Mayor and he seems to find himself very much in Burnham’s shadow. Of course Burham is media savvy indeed he seems to be the darling of the media who rush to him for quotes on anything remotely to do with anything in Greater Manchester or even the North West of England. Poor Rotheram is clearly not so comfortable surrounded by the press and being out shone by Burnham must surely be getting him down.

I’ve said before and I’ll say it again that public health is the loser in the spat between northern leaders and Johnson’s Government over the detail of Covid 19 Tier 3 lockdown measures and the compensation which closing businesses will or won’t be getting. At the very time we need unity of purpose at all levels of governance we end up with a party political ding dong.

Interestingly, these issues have not just been exercising the minds of Labour Council Leaders, MP’s and Metro Mayors as plenty of Tory MP’s and Council Leaders in the north have also been picking a fight with Johnson and Sunak. Indeed, I hear that Labour allowed the northern Tories to have a good old go at Johnson’s lot before they joined in. It seems that Lancashire has gained a ‘better’ deal than Merseyside because they’ve been offered a better (better than what?) business compensation package and also their gyms will not have to close. The latter is very much a moot point because if gyms are seen by scientists as being Covid 19 spreaders then it’s debatable whether that aspect is part of a better deal or simply a bad decision. I know many folk think gyms are key to better mental health so them being open outweighs the negatives/challenges of them being open. I’m no scientist so am left wondering whether the trade-off’s are right or wrong and I guess that goes for many of us watching this most public of fallouts.

But what of Greater Manchester’s still to be done deal? What will Comrade Burnham ‘win’ for his own patch or, together with his Tory Lancashire colleagues, has he shown up how Merseyside’s Labour Leaders fell into line following the first Government punch?

More importantly, as this Covid 19 battle is seemingly going to last for a long time, through various phases have ‘lessons been learned’ (a favourite politician’s phrase) about putting public health first rather than political point scoring? Answers on a postcard……………….

The case for free public transport and getting on with (rather than talking about) bus re-regulation

Vintage Ribble bus photoed at the West Lancs Light Railway in 2018

Very soon after I got involved in politics I attended a Liberal Party conference in Blackpool, I think it was in 1980. On the agenda was a motion for debate that was all about making public transport free to use in and around towns and cities. If memory serves David Alton, MP for Liverpool Edge Hill, was backing the motion and he must have made a powerful case because ever since I’ve held the view that free public transport (or with a nominal fare) would one day become a reality.

David Alton MP

That conference motion of 40 years ago was clearly well before its time so to speak but the reasons for it were sound then and look even more sound now as we have arrived at a Climate Emergency and are suffering air pollution problems that are quite literally killing us!

Of course the underlying reason for that 1980 debate was to try to start a process of reducing reliance on cars by making high quality public transport a viable attractive alternative particularly in urban areas. That only 2 years later the Conservatives passed the Bus Deregulation Act pushing things in totally the opposite direction is at best ironic! What’s more urban areas like Manchester and Liverpool are presently trying to find ways to re-regulate bus services because they are in crisis, but more on that later.

In rural areas, sadly, bus services are all but extinct in parts of Lancashire although that’s as much about the lack of public money to subsidise vital routes as it is a cause of the Bus Deregulation Act. Add into all this the chaos created via the privatisation of our railways, which are now widely seen as dysfunctional, and it should make politicians who created this mess (and those who have failed to get us out of it) feel very much ashamed – but of course it doesn’t.

So whilst we should have been developing high quality subsidised public transport to tackle road congestion, air pollution and accessibility to all kinds of services for those without access to cars our governments have been pushing public policy further towards reliance on cars!

Merseyrail train at Maghull North Station

But across Europe’s cities and regions there’s been experimenting with and policy changes in favour of free public transport, whilst they’ve rarely gone down the road & rail to ruin routes that the UK has chosen for itself. I think Luxembourg is the latest convert. The downside to public transport being free (other than paying for it of course) is the potential for it to have the unintended consequence of encouraging folk to do the exact opposite of what they need to do. I’m talking here of walking and cycling because if we create a system where say short walkable journeys reduce because folk get on the free public transport we’ve solved one problem but inadvertently created another with negative health consequences.

But to go back to that re-regulation issue, which I’ve heard talked about for more years than I care to mention particularly on Merseyside, is it going to be action or more taking? I ask as the Liverpool City Region Mayor has popped up recently to rehash all the old arguments in favour of re-regulation. Now don’t get me wrong I with him but I just wish he’d get on with it! No more talking Steve!!!!

310 Ribble bus in Maghull – Photo credit Arnold Richardson/Photobus

We know the bus companies and their shareholders won’t like it, that’s a given, but we need as a matter of some urgency an integrated public transport system of high quality buses and trains. What’s more we need it to deliver far less CO2 emissions (thinking of diesel powered buses in particular here)and be good enough (punctual, fast, reliable and running 7 days per week) to make us want to ditch our cars for many local journeys.

So yes re-regulate the buses, integrate them properly with the trains and start to look seriously at either free public transport or nominal ticket prices.

Climate Change & the Port of Liverpool

Daughter Jen and I attended a public meeting in Waterloo yesterday evening at Crosby Lakeside Adventure Centre organised by Friends of the Earth. The subject of the meeting and debate was The Port of Liverpool & The Climate Crisis.

The meeting took the form of a panel of speakers making initial statements and then them taking questions which had been submitted prior to the meeting, although there was also some interaction with the audience of I would guess @150 people.

(The acoustics were not great in the room so I may have missed some points that were made)

The panel was Paulette Lappin (Sefton Councillor for Ford Ward & Cabinet Member – Regulatory, Compliance and Corporate Services), Stu from Save Rimrose Valley Campaign, Bill Esterson MP for Sefton Central, a representative of the Church Road & District Residents Assn, Craig from Friends of the Earth and the event was hosted/chaired by Dominic Browne, editor of Highways Magazine/ Transport Network.

Cllr. Lappin raised concerns about poor air quality associated with the area around the Port. She also said that Sefton Council was still pressing for a road tunnel to access it.

Rimrose Valley Country Park.

Stu from Save Rimrose Valley Campaign was disappointed that Peel Ports & Highways England were not at the event.

Bill Esterson MP said he was against both a new road down the Rimrose Valley or the alternative Highways England solution of upgrading the A5036/Church Road. He wanted a tunnel but but not a road tunnel, a rail tunnel.

The Church Road & District speaker (my apols I did not catch his name) said his group represented concerned residents from Millers Bridge to Switch Island. He also said his group would be taking Sefton Council to court for its failings. He wants digital air pollution monitoring at all the schools around the A5036 corridor.

Craig the FofTE speaker said a Health Assessment for the proposed new road down the Rimrose Valley needs to be made. He also called for Highways England to be scrapped in favour of sustainable transport solutions. He was clearly incredulous that the Port had been expanded and then the transport links to it were being considered.

Other comments – Why was Steve Rotherham the Metro Mayor not at the event? – The response from some was that he was simply a figurehead but with little power. FofTE called on Rotherham to come out clearly against the 2 road schemes for accessing the Port.

Why did Sefton Council not apply for government money (in 2018?) to enable it to conduct detailed air monitoring? – This was clearly a big issue between the Church Road & District Group and Sefton Council, indeed it led to the host saying he was glad the two of them were at different ends of the table.

What had Merseytravel been doing as the Transport Committee for the City Region? Had they been assisting Highways England?

Rebecca Hanson (from the audience) called for the only digital monitor in the Port vicinity to be put on-line so that anyone could access it for real time air pollution information. My understanding is that the Sefton Cabinet Member undertook to try to get this done.

Has a detailed assessment been undertaken for the 3rd alternative i.e. a rail tunnel? The MP thought not.

Reference made to early reports and investigations via Sefton Council and the Port Access Group it chaired, going back to 2003, but of course the Climate Crisis had not been the massive issue then that it is now.

A chap from the audience asked about the long talked of HGV parking-up facility for the Port and where this had got to – no one seemed to know the answer to this.

My thoughts on the event –

Why hadn’t Sefton Council sent a councillor along who was a member of the Port Access Steering Group which it had chaired from the outset? Cllr. Lappin said she had not been a member of it.

Why was the Sefton Central MP there when the vast majority of issues are actually within the Bootle Constituency?

What did the event achieve? Well it clearly led to information sharing amongst those who attended it but whether it will have contributed to changing of minds in government or elsewhere is a different matter. I got the impression that all of us at the event were opposed to what Highways England is proposing (either road scheme) so there’s a danger we were talking to ourselves and not really exerting that influence that is so clearly needed on the real decision makers.

If I have anything wrong here please let me know and I will correct. As I said the acoustics were not great.

Liverpool City Region is listening or so they tell us

We’ve all heard about the poor (and that’s being polite about it) devolution deal which came down from our Conservative Government and was enthusiastically embraced by Merseyside Labour. I was not for swallowing 3rd rate devolution though and said so at the time (see previous postings on this blog site) as a Mersey Metro Mayor was in effect forced upon the Liverpool City Region.

I think it also fair to say that we’ve not exactly been overtaken with initiatives by our Metro Mayor who sadly often seems to be in the slip-stream of Manchester’s Metro Mayor, Bandwagon Burnham.

But actually I am really keen on proper decentralistion, well I would be I’m a Liberal and exercising power at the lowest possible level in our democracy is what we Libs are all about. It’s also why we saw a rat and realised the decentralisation on offer to Liverpool City Region was 3rd rate.

Now, having got that off my chest, I hear that our City Region, without much power, is asking us what we want to see it do and they claim to be listening too. Have a look at the link below to the on-line consultation:-

www.liverpoolcityregion-ca.gov.uk/lcrlistens/

I’ve had my say about local transport improvements I would like to see, air pollution that urgently needs tackling and employment issues which need action. Why not have your say too?

I’m not particularly hopeful that the issues I’ve raised will be grasped but if we don’t keep our leaders on their toes then we can’t complain when they do little or do things we don’t think are wise use of our money. Go on give our Liverpool City Region leaders something to think about…………

Council Tax – How many more political mouths will want feeding on Merseyside?

I recently raised the issue of our Metro Mayor wanting you to dig deeper into your pockets to pay for his staff, wages and office running costs but of course we also have a Police and Crime Commissioner too and guess what they want you to dig deeper as well! Here’s a link to my post regarding the Metro Mayor’s grab for your pocket:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2019/01/20/metro-mayor-tax-another-call-on-your-pocket/

As for the Police and Crime Commissioner here’s what they are demanding in the next Council tax year beginning April 2019:-

My point is that I am very far from convinced that we need a Police and Crime Commissioner and the jury is certainly out over the Metro Mayor post because the 3rd rate devolved powers to the Merseyside Mayor make it hard to justify the cost of having one.

Bizarrely, both posts are the creation of the Conservatives who used to claim they wanted to keep the rates/Council tax down!

Whilst I was never a member of if it, in my time as a Borough Councillor or Council leader, my impression was that the former Police Committee made up of councillors from across Merseyside worked well and it was one of those things that was not broken and did not need fixing. But the Tories knew best and had been taken in by the American way of running Council areas with elected Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners. Why they didn’t go the whole hog and call the P&CC’s Police Chiefs and give them a fancy uniform I don’t know.

But hey you get the grand positions and then surprise, surprise they want paying, they want to hire staff and they need premises to operate from. Seems the Tories have simply added folks to the public payroll and frankly what do we have to show for our generous ‘donations’ to either cause?

And before you ask, no I’m not saying that we all don’t have to chip in to run local services, it’s just that I don’t believe adding more glorified posts to the local payroll is the way to do it.

With thanks to Roy Connell for the lead to this posting

Click on the chart above to enlarge it

Merseyrail – Should their fare structure copy Bandwagon Burnham’s Manchester approach?

Merseyrail Class 508 EMU at Maghull Station


The Liverpool Echo has the story on its website – see link below

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/1-ticket-manchester-commuters-been-15395226

Well, I’m certainly no fan of Andy Burnham, who has always struck me as popularist who jumps from policy to policy depending on which way the political wind is blowing, but has his latest pronouncement as Mayor of Greater Manchester hit the right note in terms of trying to reduce congestion on our roads?

A Manchester Metrolink Tram

Here’s a link to Transport for Greater Manchester’s website with details of their low fare scheme:-

www.tfgm.com/press-release/early-bird

Would I be right that Mersey Metro Mayor was caught on the hop by the Echo in effect challenging him to come up with a similar deal for Merseyside? The fact that a spokesperson from Merseytravel responded for the Mayor makes he think so.

My own view is that public transport needs to be cheap, reliable, convenient and of high quality and frequency if we are to get folk to leave their environmentally challenging cars at home.