Sefton Council – Struggling on, at best!

I was a Sefton Councillor representing communities in the East Parishes (Molyneux and Park wards) part of the Borough for 16 years from 1999 to 2015 and had the great honour to be Council Leader from 2004 to 2011. I can’t, in all honesty, say that Sefton Council was one of the best local authorities in England but during my time on it, I’d say it was fair to middling with credible aspects to it.

I say this as in recent years the Council has troubled me. I still live in the Borough, pay my Council tax and use the Council’s services. Sefton has 3 issues that for me are examples of poor local governance. It has:-

* ended up with government-imposed commissioners overseeing its Children’s Services operations following a grim OFSTED report
* been failing significantly for some months now with regard to its refuse and recycling kerbside collections
* failed to put right a situation, of its own making, whereby residents living in areas where Parish Councils maintain local parks & gardens pay twice for this service

Children’s Services in dire straights

If a Council is failing to offer a good children’s services operation it means that the most vulnerable youngsters in our communities are being let down and the consequences can be very serious indeed. I appreciate that cuts in government funding will be a huge influencing factor but why has Sefton ended up with government-appointed commissioners taking the reigns when this is not a common factor across other English councils with children’s services responsibilities. Commissioners are not appointed to run/oversee local government services very often and yes, of course, I’m aware that neighbouring Liverpool City Council has significant governance problems with Commissioners being sent in. So Sefton’s Children’s Services must have been in a dire state. Having said that I hear that significant progress is being made to address the concerns of OFSTED but never the less the Borough should not have ended up where it has found itself.

Best bin service to worst in the blink of an eye

Kerbside refuse/recycling collections in Sefton have been a shining light of the way to do it and pretty much for as many years as the Borough has been in existence – 1974. But oh dear the wheels have come off in recent months causing great anger across the Borough. The Council majors on sickness being the cause, whilst the trade unions representing the refuse/recycling collectors say they’re working to rule following a dispute over management changes to how they work. I suspect that both issues are true although for some odd reason the Council doesn’t seem to want to talk about the latter. Whatever the causes many residents have now had their green (garden waste) bins out on the pavements of the Borough for weeks and weeks. They’re supposed to be collected every 3 weeks but some locals say it feels like it’s slipped to 3 monthly collections, at best. Grey and Brown bin collections have also been impacted too, across many parts of the Borough, although with these the Council is just about keeping its head above water. When it comes to a service that all residents rely on and use on a weekly basis Sefton has gone from very good to very bad in the proverbial blink of an eye.

Treating Maghull, Lydiate & Aintree Village Council taxpayers as 2nd class?

Paying twice, otherwise known as double-rating, with regard to parks and gardens is very much a Sefton Council-created problem. It affects council taxpayers in Lydiate, Maghull and Aintree Village where in all 3 cases the local parish/town council maintains all of the parks and gardens in those communities but the Borough charges the same amount of Council tax as everywhere else. The ridiculous aspect of this is that Sefton Council actually fixed the situation back during my time as Council Leader, indeed I made sure it was fixed. Then under the umbrella of austerity cuts, the problem was recreated i.e. the Council taxpayers of Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village were put back to financial disadvantage by our now Labour-run Council. Yes, money being spent on parks and gardens maintenance was having to be reduced across the Borough but why on earth, in effect, make bigger cuts in these 3 communities, forcing their parish/town councils to have to increase the precept (the name for the part of Council tax raised by parish/town councils) to compensate! Why does the Sefton Council seemingly look upon Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village as being less equal than the other communities in our diverse Borough?

So there you have it, my issues with Sefton Council. As my old school reports used to say ‘with more effort could do better’ and that’s being polite about the Borough’s governance as I see it.

Voters against faith school state funding – and so am I

A survey by Opinium suggests 58% of voters now believe faith schools should not be funded by the state, or should be abolished. Labour has called for cross-party talks on how religious education is conducted and monitored in the state sector following the Trojan Horse plot allegations centering on schools in Birmingham. Elsewhere, the BBC reports that Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, has agreed to meet parents with pupils at schools at the centre of the Trojan Horse investigations. Yesterday parents who had disputed the findings of Ofstedā€™s investigation held a small demonstration in Birmingham city centre. Police, government and city officials are drawing up plans to respond to future protests amid concerns they could spark riots.

Covered yesterday by:- The Observer, Page: 1, 14, 44 The Sunday Times, Page: 16 The Sunday Telegraph, Page: 31 Sunday Express, Page: 7 BBC News

I have always felt that state funding of religious schools is wrong but it all goes back to the Country having an established church. This will have to be tackled by Government at some stage and the idea of cross-party talks may well be a good start. Religion and a child’s education should not be mixed by the state. Religion has to be a personal choice of the individual in the modern world.

With thanks to the LGiU for the lead to this story.

Schools hiding bad behaviour – but that’s always been the case has it not?

A study has concluded that the level of indiscipline in schools is being seriously underestimated because of the pressure to satisfy inspectors and keep expulsion rates down. It claimed that schools strain every sinew to create a positive impression of pupil behaviour for fear of damaging their reputation. The study, by the University of East Anglia, found that nearly all schools had a problem with unruly pupils. It warned that misbehaviour was “not limited” to the inner cities and had a major impact on small, semi-rural schools not traditionally associated with loss of control. Researchers said Ofsted figures showing that behaviour was good or outstanding in 92% of schools were misleading and “may seriously underestimate the extent to which poor classroom climate limits pupil achievement”.

With thanks to the LGiU