Sefton Borough – It lacks balance

In the light of recent local Conservative claims that all of Southport’s money is being spent in Bootle (a rather coarse popularist approach which tries to pinch more sophisticated Lib Dem clothes) I thought I would revisit my piece on this matter from 2015 – you can access that blog via the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/03/28/borough-of-sefton-what-a-mixture-of-diverse-communities-that-have-little-common-with-each-other/

Mm well, my views have not changed and I still think that Sefton is a geographically bizarre Borough and that this situation can only be changed for the better by looking at West Lancashire Borough at the same time.

West Lancashire is not a unitary authority its a District Council within a County so all its major services are provided by Lancashire County Council – Highways, Social Services etc. And thereby hangs the major problem to changing local government boundaries locally – It’s not comparing like with like. West Lancs, for example, is only an Associate member of Liverpool City Region so it can’t really sit at the same table as the big boys and girls. That’s a problem as it means that West Lancs finds it hard to have much of an influence and it means the boundary between it and Sefton/The Liverpool City Region is more like a barrier to progress all round.

Do you remember when John Prescott was all-powerful in the Blair Government years and he came up with a plan to split West Lancs in half putting one half into Wigan Metropolitan Borough and one half into Sefton Borough? Yes, there were significant issues about where the splitting boundary should be but frankly, it was not a bad plan it just needed fleshing out and developing. What actually happened was that it fell off the table and was not pursued at all. The effect has been to keep West Lancs in a weak position within Lancashire (where it has always struggled to make its voice heard) and it, in effect, stopped Sefton Borough being able to review it’s own somewhat bizarre geography.

My personal view is that until local government, in general, is reorganised to make all councils unitary i.e. getting rid of the outdated split between District and County Councils in the shire counties (thereby finding a fix for out on a limb West Lancs) then fixing Sefton will be very difficult indeed.

That the Lib Dems and before them the former Liberal Party has been leading the charge to fix Sefton’s bizarre geography ever since 1974 is a given but what about the oft-made claims that one part of the Borough is subsidising another? Does this argument have any basis in fact? It’s probably true of all council areas where there’s a part or parts of it which are poorer and therefore more disadvantaged that council expenditure has traditionally been higher in the poorer communities to try to pull those areas up and support the social/community infrastructure. So in Sefton, the poorer areas are obviously significant parts of Bootle but also parts of Southport. Yes, Southport clearly has it’s affluent areas but like most UK seaside towns it has its fair share of poorer districts too with all the social, low paid seasonal work and housing issues that go with seaside towns.

The problem with poorer areas though in local government finance terms is not just where the money is spent but how it is raised. By this, I mean that in poorer areas there are far more Band A properties in Council tax speak. This means they generate less income for the Council running the area. Merseyside, in general, suffers from this problem and it means that Councils can’t raise anything like the amount of Council tax that more affluent areas of England can.

Austerity, as it’s been applied to local government finance, has had the effect of making poorer council areas poorer because they have become more reliant on the Council tax they can raise locally rather than on government grants which used top up/prop up their services. This is probably the basis of some saying that community ‘X’ is having its money spent in community ‘Y’ and on a crude popularist level there’s a case to hear where you have a council area with wealth in some parts but poverty in others. Put it this way, if you have a council area where 50% of it is affluent and 50% is poor then the effect will be (if you run your council services at the same level across the borough) that the affluent areas will be subsidising the poorer areas.

The point I’m trying to make here is that it’s not just about where a council spends its money, which may well be unbalanced across its area, but its’ also about how it raises the money that it spends too. OK, I’ve simplified the case for illustrative purposes but I hope you get my drift.

The bottom line is that with Council tax being a property based tax as opposed to one that is based on the ability to pay then such problems will always be the case. And of course, it is why Liberals and Lib Dems have consistently argued for a Local Income tax to replace Council tax ever since Council tax was introduced as a quick fix following the Poll Tax troubles of the 1980s. Both Conservatives and Labour oppose a fairer local taxation system based on the ability to pay and want to keep our property value based tax.

So you could say and indeed I do say that Sefton as a Borough is unbalanced both geographically and in local government finance terms. That it has a ‘viable’ future is more down to the fact that governments, of any colour, have failed to act on the root causes of its difficulties than anything else. My solutions are:-

* Bring in a Local Income Tax and scrap the unfair Council tax
* Reorganise those areas of England that still have District and County Councils so that all councils are unitary
* Empower communities to run far more services at a very local level

That Corbynism thing – An American perspective

I’ve been trying to get a better understanding of Jeremy Corbyn and his followers who idolise him so much. By chance my good friend Bob sent me this link to an article about him and wider UK/USA political matters. It comes from an American perspective and its a very long read indeed, but it is one of the best insights into what Corbynism is all about that I have come across:-

nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/08/andrew-sullivan-on-jeremy-corbyn-face-of-the-new-new-left.html

Yes I know, if you have read it by now, some of the points are a little odd from a UK perspective. A Radical, for example, in British political terms is a socially progressive Liberal – Corbyn is no Radical but of course the word is used in American terms.

In turn I asked Bob and another deep political thinker, my daughter Jen, what they thought of the points made. This is what they said:-

Bob‘this [is an] excellent essay on Jeremy Corbyn and the influences that shape his views. The Tories appear to think in the same way although from a right wing perspective. It is both interesting and disturbing that terms such as “entryism” now are being used about both of the major parties in this country.’

and

‘I had not read such a coherent analysis of Corbyn’s strengths and weaknesses before. The danger is not so much that we become a polarised country but that we become bi-polarised – in the hands of parties that appeal to populist sentiment by detaching themselves from economic realism.’

Jen

‘I do not understand people who find Corbyn charismatic, sincere or meek.

The parallels between him and Trump are interesting, they do both seem to be the product of populist politics that values slogans over substance and seems not to care who their chosen saviour allies himself (because it’s always HIMself) with, no matter how misogynistic/racist/homophobic they turn out to be.

Corbyn is exactly the kind of man to start invoking the idea that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing and yet when those who identify themselves as his tribe hurl misogynistic and racist abuse that is exactly what he does.

But seriously what the hell is it with the British public suddenly deciding they want to run by characters from a knock-off PG Wodehouse novel?!

“When he isn’t politicking, he gardens on the British equivalent of a Victory Garden. He loves animals, particularly pigs. He has a passion for cricket, the football club Arsenal, and railways (he refuses to drive a car for environmental reasons). He also has an obsession with manhole covers and takes photos of them across the country.”

Between him and Rees-Mogg we’ll be living in the bloody 1920s never mind the 1970s! I love Wodehouse, but let’s be honest his is a world of white men, class divides, and women being viewed as distant figures of lust or terror that can never be understood. Not a world I really wish to inhabit.’

From my own perspective I get why Corbyn’s social policies are so popular even though they may well be economically unworkable particularly with the Labour Leadership also bizarrely backing a Brexit that can only make the poor poorer. The money that they would struggle to find for their huge spending plans in good times will certainly not be there in the bad times that Brexit is bringing to our table. So big social spending whilst backing Brexit simply does not add up and it never will.

The point I really see though is that Jeremy is a 1970’s-type left wing politician and like some socialists that I have known (many of whom I would consider my friends) through my many years working in the trade union movement he seems to live almost to re-fight the battles of the political past. Thatcher and Thatcherism is the usual go to for socialists who spend more time looking back than forward. It’s not that those times were insignificant, they were indeed very significant but harking back to those dark days does not really help solve the political challenges of today. To put it simply Jeremy seems to me to think that if everything that was done under Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown was undone then all will be well. Indeed, he may even want to undo things Harold Wilson did too! But I think you get my drift here; re-fighting the battles of past will not cure our troubles of the present.

And yet despite all these issues there are many who would walk over hot coals for Corbyn.