Local Democracy – Who investigates the goings on in local government these days?

I recently came across a scheme funded by the BBC (or more to the point more probably by its licence fee payers) to address a matter I have long had concerns about – see the link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2017/local-democracy-reporters

Having been a councillor since 1985 I have watched the demise of local reporting on local government with increasing concern. The demise has followed the loss of many local newspapers but even where the local newspapers do exist there is rarely any serious investigative journalism going on these days. I can recall 3 former newspapers that served my community from the not so distant past – The Maghull & Aintree Star, The Maghull Times & The Maghull & Aintree Advertiser and of course we have also lost the regional Daily Post too. This loss of local newspapers is sadly replicated across most communities.

I recall the days when the Maghull reporter for the Maghull & Aintree Advertiser would sit through most meetings of Maghull Town Council listening to and reporting on the debates that went on. Every year or so the reporters would change as new trainees were taken on. Nowadays you would be hard pressed to see local reporters at any meeting of Sefton Borough Council (or Merseytravel, the Fire Authority, NHS decision making bodies etc. etc.) unless a big issue is already on the agenda and even then the reporting is usually of ‘x’ said this and ‘y’ said that nature. You might say the local media often just passes on opinions these days. My point is there is little in the way of getting behind the politicians/officials spin.

A local paper on the warpath would once have been as worrying to a local council as the District Auditor if things were going wrong; now neither pay much attention to what a Council does so who is uncovering the goings on within local government and indeed within the other local decision making bodies that affect the lives of us all? Putting it bluntly no one the vast majority of the time.

Yes we see local government stories in the local press but they are virtually always built upon press releases from councils or the politicians who run the councils, or they are about party political spats between opposing politicians.

Is the issue that the remaining local media is not training young journalists to get to the heart of what is going on in local government? Is it that they can’t afford to pay the kind of wages required to bring on good investigative journalists? A good and experienced local government reporter would once have been expected to know as much or indeed more than the local political bigwigs they were reporting on so that they could take on the spin and expose the facts.

The problem is of course a national one, of that I have little doubt. I wonder how many uncomfortable moments that councils and publicly accountable local bodies across the land should have had (and would have had in the days when the local media was a force to contend with) are not being picked up at all these days, unless the matter is so bad that it reaches the national press/media such as the Rotten Boroughs page of Private Eye?

This challenge is, I think, what the BBC scheme is trying to address but will it have any effect? Are a new generation of independently minded investigative journalists going to be created via it? Is the present day poor reporting by the BBC a reflection of too few good investigative journalists coming through the system and is that why the BBC has launched the scheme?

As the majority of journalists will have started at the bottom of the journalistic ladder reporting on the goings on of the local parish councils will we once again see bored young reporters sat listening to the debates of Little Twittering Parish Council awaiting a juicy story?

In a functioning healthy democracy well informed investigative journalists are a big part of keeping the powerful on their toes and I fear the demise of them at a local level is doing us all a disservice.

Maghull – Sefton takes action at Green Lane over 11 years of car sales

Well this has been one very, very long saga indeed but at last Sefton Council has taken what looks to be effective action.

I think my first involvement in this issue will go back to around 2007 when a Liverpool Road South resident contacted me in what was my Sefton Councillor capacity back in those days. The complaint was that the ‘Hammer Head’ at the end of Green Lane was being used for commercial car sales and could I help get it stopped/addressed? I blogged about the matter back in March 2011:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2011/03/26/the-strange-story-of-the-green-lane-car-sales/

Subsequently I contacted Sefton Highways quite a number of times to see if they had come up with any solutions but I got the distinct impression we were all going around in circles. One resident even suggested to me that Knowsley Council had addressed such issues by using Anti Social Behaviour laws but Sefton were not keen on taking that route.

What it seemed to come down to was that Sefton Highways were saying that a car sales company could sell up to 2 vehicles in one location on the public highway and no one could stop it, or words to that effect. When I pointed out that there were usually 3 or 4 cars for sale on Green Lane I was told that they were being sold by two separate companies so Sefton’s hands were still tied.

I then ceased to be a Sefton Councillor for Park Ward in 2015 (and had moved from Maghull to Lydiate) and whilst the car sales were still on going the complaints, to me at least, had stopped. However, I retained an interest in the matter and discussed it with one of the present Sefton Councillors for the Ward.

Then out of the blue about 4 weeks ago Sefton Council had a contractor out in Green Lane installing parking restrictions. Well I thought to myself 11 years on and a solution has finally been found, who said that the wheels of local government turn very slowly!

Here’s a couple of photos of the end result:-

Sefton Borough – Do Labour really want to merge it with Knowsley and Liverpool Councils?

Sefton Council Logo

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/joe-anderson-open-liverpool-merging-14756310

The Liverpool Echo has the story on its web site – see link above

In times when it looked just about possible that the Borough of Sefton could be split up I recall that Bootle Labour Party were seemingly of the view that merging Bootle in with Liverpool City Council was akin to them all being captured by the enemy. They certainly seemed to view the prospect with more than a little spluttering into their coffee so to speak.

Now it seems that some Labour folk are saying Knowsley Borough may not be viable in the future (I seem to recall that was a phrase used to describe West Lancs Borough not that long ago) and Joe Anderson suggesting that merging Liverpool with either or both Knowsley/Sefton is worth considering.

The church of St. Helen in Sefton Village, This village gave the name to Sefton Borough.

Sefton certainly is a muddle of communities with few common interests and there can be little doubt that it was somehow cobbled together by the Local Government Boundary Commission in 1974 to suit some purpose but no one is quite sure what that purpose was. Unloved would be a good way to describe Sefton Borough. I have blogged about this before and here’s a link to that previous posting dated March 2015:-

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

Of course Labour-run Sefton has now got rid of its Area Committees (mentioned in the March 2015 posting) as they have acted to centralise power in Bootle Town Hall once again.

Sefton Borough artwork recognising the year the Borough was created.

So having rehearsed that history, how on earth would merging Sefton with either or both Knowsley Borough and/or Liverpool City help empower Sefton’s diverse communities – Answer it wouldn’t, indeed it would most probably place the decision making power base even further away in Liverpool.

The other question is why do some Labour folks in Knowsley and Liverpool want to merge their councils areas with Sefton Borough. Is it just a bigger is better approach to local government?

The talk of mergers is probably little more than that but of course we Liberals need to be on our guard as we are very much opposed to the big is beautiful approach to local government because we are decentralisers by nature and instinct. Creating a huge Merseyside Council taking in Knowsley, Liverpool and Sefton would achieve what? A Liberal view is that it would be more remote, less in touch with the needs of individual communities and pretty much impossible for residents to hold to account. In reality we need smaller councils with far less highly paid officials running them.

With thanks to Roy Connell for the lead to this posting

Maghull – 2 parks come BACK under Town Council control, but how will they generate income and why all this talk about developing/building on them?

Old Hall Park, Maghull

I scratched my head quite a bit when I read an article in the Aintree and Maghull Champion dated 23rd May headed ‘All parks now back under control of town council’

Firstly, the parks concerned Old Hall Park and Bobbies Wood had originally been taken from Sefton Council by the Town Council quite a number of years ago but then the Labour-run Town Council decided to give them back to the Labour-run Borough Council. Now they have reversed that decision and once again taken them back under control of the Town Council. Of course this begs the question why give them back only to take them back again?

Wild flowers in Bobby’s Wood a few years ago (junction of A59 and L’pool Rd Sth) in Maghull.

Secondly, the article informed Maghull residents that ‘these sites will be development-free’. What on earth does that mean? No one other than the Labour Party has talked about local parks being developed and as both Sefton Council and Maghull Town Council are Labour run are we being told that parks run by Labour Sefton will be/may be developed but parks run by Labour Maghull TC will not be? In other words is one municipal arm of Labour pro-building on parks and one anti building on parks?

Thirdly, what does the phrase ‘will generate much needed revenue for the council between 2018-21’ mean? Are we talking revenue for Sefton Council or revenue for Maghull Town Council? And how will these parks generate revenue anyway?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m quite happy that the parks are back under the Town Council’s control, after all when I was a Maghull resident and councillor I arranged for them to be transferred to the Town Council the first time. But all this Labour talk about parks being vulnerable to development in Sefton Borough really is a worry. Of course Labour-run Knowsley Council has already gone down the route of allocating parks for building land so is that what Labour-run Sefton are also considering? This needs flushing out as does how the parks that are safe from building on (the ones run by Parish Councils?) going to be used to ‘generate much needed income’.

Far more questions than answers but Labour must surely have the answers?

Fracking on our doorstep – The opposition is getting organised

I suppose that fracking was always going to appear locally following Government giving out licences to companies wanting to explore for shale gas. Trouble is the wider political establishment is wedded to this source of fuel, which is far from being a green/renewable source of energy.

My previous posting on this subject was in January of this year and it is accessible via the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/01/06/fracking-its-getting-closer-exploratory-drilling-in-great-altcar-is-on-the-agenda/

Opposition locally is being led by ‘The Moss Alliance’ who held a public event in Haskayne Village Hall on 10th February.

On 4th January 2018 Aurora Energy Resources submitted a scoping request to Lancashire County Council. This is the stage before submitting a planning application. They want to dill 2 boreholes on Altcar Moss. The site is more or less level with Formby and to the east of it inland. Please note the site is actually within Lancashire (due to the most odd local government boundaries locally) not Sefton but Formby will be the biggest community that is nearest to the site.

Lancashire already has experience of dealing with shale gas exploration and drilling due to the Cuadrilla site near Blackpool which has had a great deal of coverage in the media.

I understand that Aurora will be holding their own public event, also at Haskayne Village Hall, on 17th February.

A final goodbye to Jim Byrne

candidates-photos-04-11-034

It was Jim’s funeral today and it was nice to see so many folks turning out to pay their respects to a chap who had dedicated much of his life to the Maghull and wider Sefton Borough community.

Both the current Mayors of Sefton and Maghull were there as well as 2 former Sefton Mayors and 4 former Maghull Mayors, so Jim was getting a great send off.

Here are a few photos about Jim’s work on the council. The first photo is of the 1984 opening ceremony of Maghull Town Hall and Jim is 3rd from the left:-

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Here’s a shot of the past Mayor’s board at Maghull Town Hall. As you can see Jim was Mayor in 1975/76:-

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And Jim was Chair of the National Association of Larger Local Councils in 2003 and the plates below were presented to him by Barry Town Council in South Wales. They remain on display in the Council Chamber of Maghull Town Hall:-

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Jim really was a nice chap whom everyone liked and it was fitting that someone who had done so much for his community was given such a great send off. Indeed, I think it was goodbye to ‘Mr Maghull’.