Sefton Budget meeting – Labour on the rack and very much on the wrong tack

Would you credit it, Labour votes against reducing the number of councillors and against reducing the amount of money paid to senior councillors. Well yes you would credit it actually!

Sefton Council about to set its 2015/16 budget at Bootle Town Hall - Thursday 5th March

Sefton Council about to set its 2015/16 budget at Bootle Town Hall – Thursday 5th March

Sefton Council is much smaller than it used to be because of huge budget cuts and it is likely to get much smaller whomever wins the General Election. Labour, despite their ‘come the revolution speeches’ of a few years ago, has already backed George Osborne’s spending plans in their first year of Government, should they get elected of course. On top of that in the 2nd to 5th years a Labour Government is pledged to reduce local government spending by a further £500m per year! So you may have guessed by now that there were no more ‘come the revolution speeches’ at last night’s Sefton budget meeting. Reality has hit Sefton Labour big time; once the leaders of anti-austerity campaigners now the leaders of even more austerity!

But amongst all this they refuse to reduce the number of councillors, which would reduce the Council’s costs, so that scarce money can be spent where it is needed. They also refuse to reduce the high wages paid to only senior Labour councillors. Not Labour’s finest hour.

What a carry on – The new Sefton Central Area (Farce) Committee met in Maghull last night

Well I said from day one that it would be more like a conference than what a truly local Area Committee should be and so it proved. Just look at how many people there were in that large room and they are not all on the photo!

rsz_area_farce_committee_06_06_13

Formby residents had to go all the way to Maghull to raise concerns about traffic regulation orders in their own patch which previously were dealt with in Formby.

A Crosby traffic issue was dealt with in Maghull instead of in Crosby ….. I could go on but you get my drift!

The meeting started off with many public questions about very local matters in Formby and Aintree, wind farm issues in Ince Blundell and green belt concerns just about everywhere. The worrying point was that virtually no questions got answers despite them being submitted in some cases many weeks ago. One chap said he had submitted a question to the new Area Committee 8 weeks ago but still no one was able to answer his adult care provision concerns. What’s more he is a well known senior Labour Party activist! If he can’t get the Labour Council to take note of his concerns what chance the rest of us?

Prior to the meeting there was a large lobby/protest outside the meeting venue (Maghull Town Hall) by folks wanting to stop Sefton Council allowing building on the Green Belt. What interested me was that apart from us Lib Dems no one seemed to want to engage with them at all. Here is a photo of the green belt protestors.

rsz_green_belt_protestors_outside_maghull_th_06_06_13

I posted yesterday about the Labour members who are promoting the plan to build on the Green Belt not answering detailed questions about their Council’s plan in the public question time session of the Area (Farce) Committee but later on I was taken aback at the response a chap from Crosby got from Labour. He had come out to Maghull to quite reasonably ask that the councillors from the 4 Crosby Wards dip into their ward funds to help finance his campaign group who are trying to save Collage Road Library from Labour’s axe. He got a positive from Andrew Tonkiss a Lib Dem member of Victoria Ward but he got short shrift from a Labour member for Manor ward who seemed most put out that the chap had not contacted him personally before turning up at the Area (Farce) Committee to ask for financial support. In the end Labour, who have a large majority on the Area (Farce) Committee, wanted to take it away and give it a mull over. Wow, that is really backing a community initiative! By the way it was during that discussion that Labour members made the suggestion that money from a £1m slush fund be made available to library campaign groups when they, yes they, had all voted not to make such funds available at the recent budget meeting!

Did local democracy get a boost from that farcical Area Committee meeting last night – a resounding NO! Were Labour able to prove that the merging of the 3 former Area Committees (Formby, Crosby & Sefton East Parishes) into one huge Area Committee for everywhere outside of Bootle and Southport was a step forward – a resounding NO!

Sefton Council’s budget – The cutters of this year were the protesters of last year

It is no surprise that Sefton’s budget meeting was dominated by the library closures that I posted about a couple of days ago. Indeed, it is fair to say that the budget debate, whilst ranging over many issues, was mainly about the libraries and the dodgy goings on at Maghull Town Council, which I have also posted about recently.

It was not as party political as it could have been though because despite the Labour Council Leader going through the motions of criticising the Coalition government for the cuts it was just that, he was going through the motions rather than blasting the Coalition as he has done in the past. Me thinks that Labour is now hearing a penny drop that they have closed their ears to in the recent past. The penny is one that says ‘we really are in a terrible financial situation’, that ‘if Labour were in government we would be cutting pretty much as the Coalition is doing’ and there is maybe a bit of ‘we helped cause this mess’ amongst Labour politicians thoughts ‘so probably best to tone it down a bit’.

My Party Sefton Leader, Cllr. Iain Brodie-Browne, reminded the now controlling Labour Group how they opposed and ranted and raved about the savings when the previously ‘balanced’ all-party run Council had to make savings. He contrasted that with Labour making the cuts now they are running the Council. Yes, Labour muttered a bit but I think they understood only too well what Iain was saying.

The media coverage of the meeting has, however, clearly hit on what happened just before and during the first part of the meeting; the disruption caused by a small group of anti-cuts activists – maybe 40 of them I would guess? They were outside Bootle Town Hall mingling with the Library closure protesters from Southport and Aintree but two more dissimilar groups of protesters you would go a long way to try to find.

The Library protesters were single issue focused, mainly middle aged to elderly and predominately middle class. Their protest, as with all the other library closure protests was measured and almost too polite. The anti-cuts protesters were noisy, very far from polite (especially to the Labour Council Leader and his members) and seemingly from a very different walk of life to the Library folk. Probably socialist to a man and woman and from every sect of the socialist creed as well they were opposed to any and all cuts being made by anyone.

Obviously both groups of protesters had the Labour led Council in their sights but I suppose you could say that the library protestors were using the power of persuasion and debate to make their point whilst the anti-cuts campaigners were using their voices to shout out their message whether the Council Leader wanted to hear it or not.

Having been a trade union officer for many years I have always thought the former approach works best and the latter one, whilst making those who do the shouting feel that they have achieved something, probably makes little progress in most arenas.

The irony of all this though was what the anti-cuts campaigners were doing this year was what the very same Labour councillors, who were doing the cutting this year, did a couple of years ago on the streets of Sefton. Labour led the protests then but now they are in power on Sefton Council they are the ones axing libraries and many, many, many other things. In a period of two years Labour have gone from heroes to villains in the eyes of the anti-cuts campaigners and probably polite library campaigners as well.

It’s a funny old political world indeed.