Sefton Council – 2% tax rise, another rejection of community-run libraries and Green Belt wobble amongst a lot of socialist tub thumping

Sefton’s budget meeting was last night and Labour has imposed a 1.99% tax rise on the hard pressed Council tax payers of the Borough, which we Lib Dems opposed.

Labour also slapped down Lib Dem proposals that would have seen comunity-run libraries take over many of the former library buildings that sit redundant after Labour’s closure programme.

Oddly and despite there being nothing on the agenda about the Local Plan and building on Green Belt land Labour got hot under the collar about their own plans to press ahead with such building.

All this was amongst a number of tub-thumping socialist speeches from Labour members some of which would not have been out of place in Liverpool City Council’s chamber during the Militant era. Indeed, Sefton Labour seem unable to grasp that their party nationally is promising more and bigger welfare cuts whilst sticking to Coalition spending plans! In Sefton Labour’s world they delude themselves into thinking that Ed Balls is marching them towards a socialist state of common ownership!

These are the headlines – more to follow.

Save our Libraries – Labour’s Aintree Library ‘Advice’ an utter disgrace

Sefton’s opposition Lib Dem’s are furious over the comments made by a Labour councillor in last week’s (Wednesday 19th Feb’ edition) Aintree & Maghull Champion about Aintree Library and the failure of Labour-run Sefton Council to agree a take-over package with Aintree Library Action Group’s volunteers.

Me outside the Aintree Library before Labour swung the axe to close it and then block volunteer efforts to reopen it.

Me outside the Aintree Library before Labour swung the axe to close it and then block volunteer efforts to reopen it.

As someone who represented Aintree for 12 years, I was flabbergasted by the Labour view. I personally invested time assisting volunteers who wanted to take over Aintree Library (and College Road Library in Crosby) because I was convinced by the case the volunteers put forward. Where were the 3 Labour councillors who now represent Aintree during that campaign? I never saw them backing Parish Councillors, such as Peter Gill and Terry Baldwin, and the volunteers.

This is Independent Aintree Village Parish Councillor Terry Baldwin speaking at a meeting. He and Peter Gill ran a great campaign to try to save Aintree Library.

This is Independent Aintree Village Parish Councillor Terry Baldwin speaking at a meeting. He and Peter Gill ran a great campaign to try to save Aintree Library.

For a Labour councillor to say now that the group should have followed Labour’s advice is ridiculous; it was the Labour Party closing the Library and Labour blocking the volunteer bid to run the Library!

We simply do not want volunteers to run Council services, what other conclusion can you come to?

I have posted quite a few times about the roller coaster of a ride that Aintree Village Parish Council has had with Sefton Borough as it has tried, unsuccessfully so far, to take over the running of Aintree’s local Library.

To recap the plan was to take over Aintree library, one of 7 that Labour-run Sefton Borough had decided to close, and run it with volunteers and Parish Council finance. All was going well and the bid was seemingly being welcomed but then the Borough (i.e. Labour) started to put all kinds of obstacles in the way.

Eventually Sefton decreed that Aintree Library could not be taken over by volunteers, funded by Aintree Village PC, because there was no guarantee in place for funds to be available for 5 years. No if’s, no but’s, put 5 years funding on the table or sling your hook was seemingly the Borough’s attitude.

Things went from bad to worse in the relationship between the Borough and Parish and the local Parish Charter, which had been ignored anyway, was ripped up in front of the Borough’s Cabinet by an Aintree Parish Councillor.

But underneath all this something very odd was going on as another library was down to be taken over by volunteers and they also got told to shut the door after they left. This one was not in a Parished part of the Borough (it was College Road Library in Crosby). The common denominator was volunteers and them being seen to be unreliable, so much so that they were not given a chance to have a go at running their respective libraries despite both groups having significant business and professional input from the two reasonably affluent communities.

A Sefton Full Council meeting debated volunteers taking over Council facilities, at my instigation, but it became quite clear to me that the Council’s ruling Labour Party held the view that they were not having any of their services, even ones they say they can no longer afford to run, being taken over by volunteers.

The matter concluded, for now at least, with a Sefton Scrutiny Committee going through the motions of examining the matter and then the majority Labour members of it voting to back the Cabinet decision without any really meaningful in depth and independent reviewing of the situation what so ever. Or put it another of the 70 odd questions submitted raising concerns about the process of reviewing the 2 volunteer bids, how many do think came from Labour Councillors? Less than say one………..

So in Sefton which, not so long ago, was developing a good relationship with its 10 Parish Councils and its diverse communities an about face has been done with Parishes and indeed volunteers being shown the door. So much for parish charters, localism and volunteering in the Borough.

This article was originally written for and published on a differing web site.

Smug socialsts 2 – Aintree & College Road Volunteers Nil

Last night was the second half of the Sefton Overview & Scrutiny meeting looking into Labour’s Cabinet decision not to allow volunteers to take over the running of Aintree and Collage Road Libraries in the Borough. The first half of the meeting having ended in chaos in early December 2013 as previously noted on this blog site.

The result was sadly quite predictable as Labour members of the Committee used their inbuilt majority to back their Cabinet colleague’s previous decision to, in effect, tell the volunteers to sling their hook.

What Labour had to gain from refusing to allow the volunteers an opportunity to have a go at running the now closed libraries is anyone’s guess but they were simply not going to let it happen.

It is Municipal socialism gone mad! This was no longer about whether the Council had the money to keep the libraries open it was about a Labour-run Council saying we have decided not to run these 2 libraries any more and we are not going to let volunteers do it either.

Interestingly, this time the Council’s Chief Executive answered virtually all the questions rather than the Council officers who had taken so much heat at the first meeting. Also, Council Leader Peter Dowd said nothing this time, having all but taken over the meeting in December when his own Labour members had effectively pressed the panic button is the face of well informed volunteers who had them on the rack.

Labour members of the Committee asked no questions what so ever and simply sat there voting down Lib Dem proposals for the matters before the Committee to be sent back to the Cabinet to be reconsidered or sent to a meeting of the whole Council for a full debate.

Labour should hang its head in shame; treating volunteers so badly is nothing to be proud of. Indeed, I saw Labour supporters smiling at the end of the meeting! Smiling at what?

Sefton does not want volunteers to run the services it can no longer run?

Well it seems so from the debate that we had at the Council meeting of last Thursday. Whilst we Lib Dems were pressing the case for volunteers to be encouraged and helped to put in bids to run things Labour were at best disinterested and at worst damn right hostile to the suggestion.

Not one speaker from the controlling Labour benches rose to speak up for and back the two volunteer groups wishing to take over the running of Aintree & College Road Libraries.

Yes Labour members, like us Lib Dems, spoke positively about volunteering across the Borough generally but when it came to backing groups wanting to help run Council facilities and services the Labour barriers were all too clearly up.

3 Labour members represent Aintree and 1 represents the part of Crosby where College Road Library is sited but none engaged in the debate which surrounded my motion that I posted details of a few days ago on this site.

In the end Labour, via their majority numbers, watered down and amended my motion beyond all recognition until the straight forward thrust of it was lost in a sea of political rhetoric.

But we saw the whites of the Labour member’s eyes. They were angry at being put on the spot. They were unwilling to embrace volunteers and help them make a success of their ideas to run the two libraries. They were, in my view an utter disgrace to the Borough they claim to be running.

What chance that the Sefton Scrutiny meeting (with its inbuilt Labour majority), which reconvenes on 11th February, will tell the Labour run Cabinet it got it wrong and that it should think again about telling the volunteers to shut the door on their way out?

Aintree Library – Putting the Labour Cabinet Member with responsibilities for Parish Councils in Sefton on the spot

Below is the question that I asked to Labour Cabinet member Trish Hardy at the meeting of Sefton Council meeting last night.

Clause 4 of Sefton’s Parish Charter states that ‘In their role as democratically accountable bodies, parish and town councils offer a means of reshaping the decisions that affect their communities. They offer a means of decentralising the provision of services and of revitalising local communities.’

Is the Cabinet Member satisfied that this clause of the Parish Charter has been complied with, having regard to the way the Borough Council has treated Aintree Village Parish Council in relation to the recent application to operate a community/volunteer run library service in Aintree?

Incredibly her answer was:-

“I am not aware that Aintree Parish Council have applied to operate a library Service”

To which I replied – “Is the Cabinet Member seriously saying that she was unaware that Aintree Village Parish Council was the major funding partner of the community bid to take over Aintree Library and that the bid had been rejected by the Cabinet because it saw Aintree Village Parish Council as being an unreliable source of funding for this bid to be approved?”

I have no idea what she was trying to say in response to my follow up question!