Liverpool’s Super Council – The farce that Sefton Lib Dems said it would be!

Council ridiculed over name

A “supercouncil” on Merseyside has been ridiculed for its lengthy name after some of the authorities involved refused to accept it should be called Liverpool. Whitehall will call the grouping the Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral Combined Authority. Frank McKenna, who runs Downtown Liverpool, a business lobby group, said the name was an “embarrassment and a joke”. Phil Davies, the leader of Wirral Council, is expected to chair the authority.

Financial Times, Page: 4 (today)

With thanks to the LGiU for this information

Tackle transport problems east of Southport or don’t tell me that the Merseyside Joint Authority has credibility

I can’t help but return to that Joint Authority matter for the Liverpool City Region/Merseyside as the more I think about it the balmier it looks from Sefton’s and indeed West Lancashire’s situation. Indeed, it makes me angry just to think about it.

West Lancs Borough are all but shut out of the club and Sefton instead of pressing for a wider and far more logically based sub-regional authority that covered the real travel to work geography around Liverpool simply said to its southern Merseyside neighbours yes we will join your club. No fight, no hard negotiations, no championing of the diverse needs of Sefton’s communities just a forest of Labour hands (with some surprising Tory support) toeing the line of the other Merseyside Authorities. Even St Helens has succumbed as Labour’s previous Leader there had been replaced. She, Marie Rimmer, had stood out against a takeover by Liverpool (as had the Council Leader prior to her – Lib Dem Brian Spencer) but she was removed seemingly for her independent stance.

When I spoke at the recent Sefton Council meeting, which sadly agreed to the Borough joining this odd little club, I said there was nothing in the deal for the northern half of Sefton and indeed it could well be to its detriment. The economy of Southport is clearly dependent on what goes on in West Lancashire because it, with the Irish Sea, all but surrounds the Town. Development of Southport’s tourist/seaside economy needs a boost and significantly improved transport links through West Lancashire are the key to that.

So the challenge for this new Joint Authority to me is crystal clear; sort out the major road link that is needed between the M58 and Southport (in effect an Ormskirk by-pass) and significantly enhance and reconnect the Southport – Wigan and Ormskirk – Preston railway lines. If this new Merseyside Joint Authority will commit itself to solving these problems, even though they are in West Lancashire, in say a 10 year timeframe then maybe sceptics like me will have a change of heart. Until I see the Joint Authority say ‘we will solve these issues’ written in blood then don’t ask because a combination of Merseytravel, Lancashire County Council, West Lancs Borough Council and Sefton Council have singularly failed to get these two major projects off the ground since local government reorganisation in 1974!

If I have one huge regret from my time as Leader of Sefton Council it is that this east of Southport transport conundrum was not solved. I heard much sympathy, lots of warm words and many encouraging noises but at the end of the day nothing happened.

I think the people and businesses of Southport have every right to be angry at this situation and I say this despite the valiant efforts of the Town’s MP John Pugh and many of his Lib Dem councillor colleagues. Will the Joint (Liverpool centric) Authority finally sort this out; will they even care about it? Frankly, I severely doubt it and Southport will miss out once again. And please, if they do think about taking this challenge up – no more warm words PLEASE!

John Pugh MP on Sefton’s mad rush to join the Merseyside Joint Authority

pugh

“A cosy, closed club of Labour council leaders is no-one’s idea of a good formula for economic progress in the region but to leave out West Lancs just makes matter worse. Anyone who manages to drive from Southport to St Helens (both in the City Region) and avoids going through the heart of West Lancs is probably plain lost. If transport connections are supposed to be important for the City Region you can’t help thinking Labour city bosses have lost the plot too.”

What future West Lancashire?

As local government changes and merges together for good and for bad reasons our most significant local council neighbour to Sefton, with which we share a massive boundary, is in danger of becoming the area that has no partners and potentially an isolated future.

Sounds harsh I know but I have already posted on this site about my great concerns regarding the ‘merger’ of all 5 of the Merseyside local authorities plus Halton (Widnes and Runcorn) into what one could call a new Merseyside County Council. This has been all but a done deal (and a bad done deal for Sefton at that) with only Sefton’s Labour run Council yet to sign up until tonight when, with Tory support, Labour did so.

That deal is bad geographically because it does not include West Lancashire and places like Ellesmere Port and Neston and maybe even West Cheshire which are all in the travel to work area of Liverpool. Merseyside as it will be constructed is too small to be an effective sub-regional or city region area.

But take another angle on this because Preston City Council and South Ribble Council and Lancashire County Council have also signed up to a partnership deal.

What’s more the hugely effective grouping of Councils surrounding Manchester (including Wigan) has probably got the best partnership deal of all.

None of these deals includes West Lancashire which is now all but surrounded by groupings of councils that are closely working together. This has to put West Lancs at a disadvantage.

What future West Lancashire Borough Council………………………..

Liverpool City Region Governance Review – Consultation Response from the Liberal Democrat Group on Sefton Council

I posted about this on 17th August under the heading of Merseyside Joint Authority and now Cllr. Nigel Ashton as Chair of the opposition Lib Dem Group of councillors on Sefton Council has made this excellent formal submission on our behalf:-

Cllr. Nigel Ashton

Cllr. Nigel Ashton

Introduction

1.1 A review of the governance of the Liverpool City Region (LCR) is overdue. The LCR as presently constituted is neither effective nor transparent. It is certainly not accountable, either to its constituent authorities or to the wider public whose interests it exists to serve.

1.2 We are severely disappointed that the opportunity for a more fundamental review has not been taken. The options outlined in the Governance Review merely formalise the existing arrangements, albeit with the inclusion of transport.

Geography

2.1 The biggest problem is the geographical area of the existing City Region. It is neither small enough to be local, nor large enough to be truly effective in the stated aim of creating jobs and driving economic growth at a sub-regional level. There is no recognition given to the strategic importance of co-operation with Lancashire County Council.

2.2 The current area of the LCR is dominated by Liverpool City itself, yet important parts of Liverpool’s economic hinterland and travel to work area are excluded from the LCR. The existing LCR does not even cover both banks of the river Mersey for its tidal stretch.

2.3 Important areas such as Ormskirk, Skelmersdale and Ellesmere Port are excluded. Edge Hill University in Ormskirk is a major contributor to the knowledge economy and a national resource for medical and teacher training. The petrochemical plants in Ellesmere Port are also of huge economic importance.

2.4 The opportunity must be taken to negotiate with West Lancashire District Council and Cheshire West & Chester Unitary Authority with a view to their participation in the proposed Combined Authority. This would add economic clout and go some way to mitigate the over-dominance of Liverpool City itself in the sub-region.

2.5 Most of the land boundary of Sefton is with Lancashire and people in the North of Sefton look as much to the east as to the south. It is important that the LCR establishes a formal partnership with Lancashire County Council.

Transport

3.1 We understand that the Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority has already voted to wind itself up and place Merseytravel under the aegis of the proposed Combined Authority. The fact that Merseyrail reaches Chester and Ormskirk strengthens the case for extending the LCR to include these areas, given the strategic importance of transport to economic development and job creation.

3.2 A sizeable number of people commute eastwards from the Southport area, yet the Southport – Wigan – Manchester rail line has suffered from chronic under-investment for many years. No progress has been made towards the long awaited Ormskirk by-pass, despite improved transport links being a key requirement identified when hospital services were split between Southport and Ormskirk.

3.3 There is no direct rail link between Southport and either Preston or Ormskirk. The lack of a direct rail service from Preston and the north is a drag on the development of Southport’s visitor economy, which forms a key component of Sefton’s economic strategy.

3.4 Improving road and rail links east and north-east from Sefton should be a priority for the LCR’s transport strategy. This would be facilitated by extending the LCR to include West Lancashire and by the creation of a formal partnership with Lancashire County Council.

Governance and Scrutiny

4.1 We don’t feel that any of the options outlined in the Governance Review document will effectively meet the criteria of promoting economic regeneration, development and transport. It is not too late to persuade the Government that more time is needed to do the job properly.

4.2 We are particularly concerned about the inadequacy, and uncertainty, of the proposed scrutiny arrangements set out in paragraph 9 of Appendix One of the draft scheme.

4.3 There are no clear terms of reference or powers for the proposed Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Any establishment of sub-committees or co-options will be subject to the approval of the very body that the OSC is meant to scrutinise.

4.4 In the absence of any guarantee of proportionality on the OSC, it is entirely possible that all the members of the OSC will be members of the same political party as all the members of the LCR executive body. Not only would that be bad governance, it would lead to poor scrutiny and inflict reputational damage on the LCR.

Cllr Nigel Ashton, Chair, Liberal Democrat Group on Sefton Council
6 September 2013

Merseyside Joint Authority Plan – Lib Dem Merseytravel Councillor says NO!

There has been some media coverage of a plan to get all the Merseyside Councils to form a joint authority; you could say it would be a form of recreating the long lost Merseyside County Council.

Within Sefton we Lib Dems have always been highly sceptical of such forms of local governance as the risk is that all power simply moves to Liverpool Town Hall and the diverse communities of Sefton will be the losers.

Some years ago we gave the fledgling Liverpool City Region a fair wind but that was back when it was intended to be one that brought in West Lancashire, Ellesmere Port and Neston etc. That plan withered on the vine so what is on the cards now is a return to joint council running within the old Merseyside boundaries. This is a nonsense because Merseyside is simply too small to be an effective sub-regional governance area in my view. Just look at Greater Manchester; there is some sense that as it covers the vast majority of the travel to work area of Manchester and it is big enough not to be dominated by Manchester City.

Sefton’s boundary, to a very significant extent, is with Lancashire so why should it benefit Sefton to be even more glued to Liverpool City and Knowsley Borough whilst, by implication, being less connected (in local government terms) with Lancashire?

No, this idea is not a sensible runner as far as I am concerned and neither is it to Cllr. John Dodd, a Lib Dem member of Merseytravel (The Transport Authority for Merseyside) who represents Meols ward in Southport. John opposed the controlling Labour Party on Merseytravel this week, which voted to back this Joint Authority plan, and he was right to do so.

Merseyside is simply too small to be an effective sub-regional local government grouping and Merseytravel, probably more than any other public authority across Merseyside, should know this all too well. Just look at the Merseyrail extensions that have been completed in recent years or which are being planned for/suggested. Virtually all are outside of the old County boundary meaning the travel to work area is far bigger than the old County boundary. Completed Merseyrail Wirral Line extensions to Ellesmere Port and Chester come to mind of a few years ago. So does the long talked about extension of the Northern Line from Ormskirk (in West Lancs) to Burscough (even deeper into West Lancs). Such rail extensions prove a point don’t you think?