Bootle Town Hall – Is it a Northern Poorhouse?

Bootle Town Hall

Bootle Town Hall

We have all heard of the Chancellor’s Northern Powerhouse but the reality across Town Halls in the north of England is more akin to Poorhouse than Powerhouse.

With Council budgets being cut, way, way beyond what anyone thought they could be/should be the reality is community services being reduced to an absolute minimum.

Bootle Town Hall

Don’t get me wrong, of course local government had to play its part as the UK tried to re-balance its books after the financial crash which happened during the last Labour government’s watch. However, to reduce local government across northern England to the point where it is virtually unable to deliver anything but very basic services of poor quality is what is actually happening.

Yes, no one has much sympathy for those who run our Town Halls as many think, and possibly with good reason, that too much money goes on paying the wages of officers and councillors.

So the cuts have gone too deep but are our councils too stuck in the past to reform themselves? Sadly if you look at Sefton Council the answer has to be yes they are stuck in the past and it’s a past that costs us money.

Just look at the opportunity to reduce the number of councillors from 3 per ward down to 2. Should it happen? Yes of course it should as Councils are delivering far fewer services and managing much small budgets than in the past. But what does Sefton Council under its Labour leadership do? It votes not to reduce the number of councillors and keeps on paying 66 when it could be paying 44. Makes no sense and neither has Labour explained why it voted to keep 66.

Then again look at the amount Sefton Council’s Cabinet members are paid. It is still higher than many other councils. Clearly there are savings to be made here but to date Labour have fought to keep their high wage earning Cabinet members on those high wages.

Local government in Sefton is being done no favours when sensible reforms are resisted. Time to wake up Labour – cut the number of councillors and the wages paid to Cabinet members in Sefton.

Maghull – Netto on its way and another twist of the knife in Maghull’s Labour councillors ribs

The story of how the former Maghull Library and Stafford Moreton Youth Centre site, in the heart of Maghull’s shopping centre, has been disposed of by Sefton Council is quite a saga as this blog site has previously noted. However, the Champion newspaper has added another chapter in its Aintree & Maghull edition of 9th December.

Apart from announcing the Netto planning application for the former Library site, which of course this blog site made public on 30th November, the Champion also refers back to the ding dong battle between Maghull’s Labour councillors and their Labour masters on Sefton Council.

Readers will recall that the all-Labour and all-powerful Cabinet of Sefton Council decided to sell the former Library/Youth Centre site but that they were then publicly challenged by what we shall call ‘brave’ Maghull Labour back-benchers. For brave we had better substitute ‘foolish’ as they were never going to get away with challenging their Labour bosses. And so it proved as the day after the Maghull Labour councillors announced a public consultation about the site their Labour bosses on the Cabinet squashed the consultation flat by confirming their original decision to sell the land.

Oh how Maghull’s Labour councillors must wish the Champion had not resurrected the story of their put-down by their Bootle Labour bosses.

Maghull – Sale of Old library and Stafford Moreton Youth Centre site -The facts need outing

I mentioned not so long ago (15th September) – see link below – that Sefton Council was selling this valuable piece of land in the heart of Maghull’s shopping area:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/09/15/morrisons-maghull-store-to-stay-open-but-whats-happening-around-it/

The sale was approved by the Labour elite running the Council but Labour back-benchers are unhappy and have called for the decision to be brought to a Council Scrutiny Committee. This will happen on 22nd October.

The former Stafford Moreton Youth Centre and old Maghull Library stand ripe for redevelopment in the heart of Maghull.

The former Stafford Moreton Youth Centre and old Maghull Library stand ripe for redevelopment in the heart of Maghull.

I recall seeing the original public report going before the Cabinet and thought at the time it was a little thin and lacking in the background information you would expect to see when valuable public land is being sold off. It seems my concerns were shared by Labour back-benchers on the Council because they have broken ranks to challenge a decision made by their own elite; a very rare if not unique occurrence in my experience. Normally Labour back-benchers toe the Party line or else so I think we can take it that the Sefton Labour Party is as unhappy as their national colleagues seem to be.

The Labour back-benchers ‘calling in’ the decision have sighted the following reason for the Cabinet decision to sell the land being reviewed by a cross-party Scrutiny Committee:-

“The decision is unsound because not all potentially relevant facts /information were provided to enable the Cabinet to make a balanced
decision”.

Now of course the Scrutiny Committee has a Labour majority and a Labour Chair so the Labour Party will in effect be scrutinising themselves! This is what goes for democracy in Sefton it would seem.

But the point of this posting is really this; why was the report to Cabinet so brief and lacking in detail about the tendering exercise? Who were the bidders? What were the amounts bid? Has value for money been achieved? Is the land being sold for a purpose commensurate with the best interests of Maghull’s (and indeed the Borough’s) residents and Maghull’s shopping centre?

My view, based on what I have managed to glean so far, is that the Council has put itself in a position whereby people are questioning what it is doing because it has seemingly tried not to put relevant information in the public domain.

Of course folks may well not be surprised at the secrecy of the one-party ruled Labour Council where decisions are are so poorly detailed that Joe and Jane Public would really have no idea what was going on in their name. But as I pointed out above even back-bench comrades are asking questions and doing so in public! Does that mean they have not got answers by asking their bosses face to face so they are putting those rather uncomradely bosses in a public forum to try to extract the information? Will anesthetics be required to combat the Labour pains?

Let’s get this out in the open and be told what the Sefton Council has done, why it had done it and gain an undertaking that ‘say nothing reports’ will no longer be put before the public of the Borough. Of course, there may be more to fall out of this, time will tell.

Sefton Council – So this is the Bootle Bunker

Last Thursday Cllr. Fred Weavers and I went to observe a meeting of Sefton Council’s Cabinet at Bootle Town Hall, known to some as the ‘Bootle Bunker’.

The meeting lasted all of 27 minutes by my watch but some important issues were on the table before the 7 person Cabinet (all Labour, all representing Bootle Constituency), which for the record is made up of 6 middle aged men and one young woman. I mention gender balance as I understand that Labour has previously had a pop at Aintree Village Parish Council for a perceived gender imbalance. Those who live in greenhouses should not chuck stones comes to mind……..

Sefton's Bootle Bunker

Click on the photo to enlarge it.

A Sefton Cabinet meeting is never likely to be entertaining but they are all open to the public to attend. So what happened at this one? Here are a few highlights:-

Item 4 (Public Health Annual Report 2014) – Page 15 of this document (Page 35 of the Cabinet meeting papers) annoyed me as it tried to say that the Sefton Local Plan ‘promotes accessible open green space so children and families can enjoy the outdoors’ – That is of course if you ignore the acres of green fields that are to be built upon under our Labour ruler’s plan!

Item 5 (Adult Substance Misuse Contract Extension) – Some ‘underperformance’ by the present contractor was in the Key findings but the Cabinet did not ask for details, which I thought odd.

Item 7 – (Child Sexual Exploitation) Quite a bit of discussion over this report and it is also going to the Council’s Overview & Scrutiny (Children’s Services) Committee on 31st March. A Council officer spoke at length about it and answered the Cabinet’s queries but what stood out for me was the use of Merseyside-centric speak.

It was as though it had not occurred to the Council that places like Southport and Lydiate have huge boundaries with Lancashire and that child exploitation does not recognise council boundaries. From what was said you could only conclude that there is little or no liaison with Lancashire (shades of the Local Plan)! I fear the Sefton Council Bootle bunker has its face turned only to look at things from a Merseyside perspective when, as I have said many times before, Lancashire needs to be just as important a partner for Sefton Borough.

The only mention of Lancashire was that they, as a neighbouring authority, do not need to tell Sefton if they are placing children in homes within Sefton. There is clearly a concern about the number of private children’s homes within the Borough as the young residents of them are seemingly potentially more vulnerable to child exploitation than other sections of child population. As far as I could understand Sefton has only a very small number of children who are subject to child sexual exploitation plans. Clearly this report was very much written on the back of those horrible events in Rotherham. Frankly, I thought the Cabinet dealt with this most serious of matters well but oh if they could only open their eyes to encompass all the local authorities surrounding Sefton!

There were no confidential items on the agenda so we sat through all the meeting.