Sefton Council – Struggling on, at best!

I was a Sefton Councillor representing communities in the East Parishes (Molyneux and Park wards) part of the Borough for 16 years from 1999 to 2015 and had the great honour to be Council Leader from 2004 to 2011. I can’t, in all honesty, say that Sefton Council was one of the best local authorities in England but during my time on it, I’d say it was fair to middling with credible aspects to it.

I say this as in recent years the Council has troubled me. I still live in the Borough, pay my Council tax and use the Council’s services. Sefton has 3 issues that for me are examples of poor local governance. It has:-

* ended up with government-imposed commissioners overseeing its Children’s Services operations following a grim OFSTED report
* been failing significantly for some months now with regard to its refuse and recycling kerbside collections
* failed to put right a situation, of its own making, whereby residents living in areas where Parish Councils maintain local parks & gardens pay twice for this service

Children’s Services in dire straights

If a Council is failing to offer a good children’s services operation it means that the most vulnerable youngsters in our communities are being let down and the consequences can be very serious indeed. I appreciate that cuts in government funding will be a huge influencing factor but why has Sefton ended up with government-appointed commissioners taking the reigns when this is not a common factor across other English councils with children’s services responsibilities. Commissioners are not appointed to run/oversee local government services very often and yes, of course, I’m aware that neighbouring Liverpool City Council has significant governance problems with Commissioners being sent in. So Sefton’s Children’s Services must have been in a dire state. Having said that I hear that significant progress is being made to address the concerns of OFSTED but never the less the Borough should not have ended up where it has found itself.

Best bin service to worst in the blink of an eye

Kerbside refuse/recycling collections in Sefton have been a shining light of the way to do it and pretty much for as many years as the Borough has been in existence – 1974. But oh dear the wheels have come off in recent months causing great anger across the Borough. The Council majors on sickness being the cause, whilst the trade unions representing the refuse/recycling collectors say they’re working to rule following a dispute over management changes to how they work. I suspect that both issues are true although for some odd reason the Council doesn’t seem to want to talk about the latter. Whatever the causes many residents have now had their green (garden waste) bins out on the pavements of the Borough for weeks and weeks. They’re supposed to be collected every 3 weeks but some locals say it feels like it’s slipped to 3 monthly collections, at best. Grey and Brown bin collections have also been impacted too, across many parts of the Borough, although with these the Council is just about keeping its head above water. When it comes to a service that all residents rely on and use on a weekly basis Sefton has gone from very good to very bad in the proverbial blink of an eye.

Treating Maghull, Lydiate & Aintree Village Council taxpayers as 2nd class?

Paying twice, otherwise known as double-rating, with regard to parks and gardens is very much a Sefton Council-created problem. It affects council taxpayers in Lydiate, Maghull and Aintree Village where in all 3 cases the local parish/town council maintains all of the parks and gardens in those communities but the Borough charges the same amount of Council tax as everywhere else. The ridiculous aspect of this is that Sefton Council actually fixed the situation back during my time as Council Leader, indeed I made sure it was fixed. Then under the umbrella of austerity cuts, the problem was recreated i.e. the Council taxpayers of Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village were put back to financial disadvantage by our now Labour-run Council. Yes, money being spent on parks and gardens maintenance was having to be reduced across the Borough but why on earth, in effect, make bigger cuts in these 3 communities, forcing their parish/town councils to have to increase the precept (the name for the part of Council tax raised by parish/town councils) to compensate! Why does the Sefton Council seemingly look upon Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village as being less equal than the other communities in our diverse Borough?

So there you have it, my issues with Sefton Council. As my old school reports used to say ‘with more effort could do better’ and that’s being polite about the Borough’s governance as I see it.

Maghull Health Centre – My letter to Champion newspaper

Dear Sir,

I read with a sense of déjà vu your article about the frustrations of MP Bill Esterson regarding the lack of action/urgency within the NHS to rebuild Maghull Health Centre as I and my then Sefton Council Colleagues, in particular Cllr. Geoff Howe, went around very similar circles about this very same project years ago.

That Maghull Health Centre has not been rebuilt in 2022 and for it not to be a fully-fledged NHS Drop-In Centre is a scandal in my view. I ceased to be a Lib Dem Sefton Councillor for Maghull in 2015 but from around 2000 Geoff and I badgered and pushed various local and regional NHS bodies to get on with a significant rebuild of this outdated building only to go through a cycle of yes, no, and maybes year after year.

It culminated in a senior Sefton Council Officer of the time confirming to me that NHS approvals had been given for the project only for me to be then subsequently attacked by the NHS when I made this news public! This must have been around 2010ish.

That Bill Esterson MP is now getting a similar run-around and is at the end of his tether with NHS funding bodies years later is both depressing but sadly unsurprising.

Yours Sincerely

Tony Robertson

Published 30/03/2022

Those in poverty & councils left in Sunak’s £150 lurch

The link below to a Northern Agenda page is both revealing and informative:-

e.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/interface/external_view_email.php?RJ71505719661254712zzzzz64ab6bfc1951a9ec9ce22b275a3623a2dbd1922a018ed047c176281f5d378977b6&varId=

It shows how, with a government made up of the wealthy, a ‘system’ to get a £150 fuel bill relief help scheme is actually aimed at those who pay their council tax bills by direct debit. The poor don’t use/can’t use direct debit so they and the councils who need to get the money to them are left in a bureaucratic mess.

I’ve seen this at first hand via talking to a Sefton Borough resident who is trying to get a payment process set up but who, due to being in poverty, is left to negotiate a methodology with the Council who seem unsure what to do. A number of telephone calls by the resident to the Council have yet to resolve the matter.

Basing a process on what the middle and upper classes do is crass and insensitive and it makes you realise how little the powers that be understand about poverty and the consequences of it.

And as an aside could this payment be seen as a one-off UBI?

HGVs on Greens Lane Downholland

Having cycled Eagar Lane/Greens Lane for some years now I’m finding the surface of the single track Greens Lane to be in very poor condition presently. Eagar Lane is in Lydiate Civil Parish (Sefton/Merseyside) whilst when it becomes Greens Lane it’s in Downholland Civil Parish (West Lancs/Lancs County).

Greens lane canal swing bridge (known as Rimmer’s Bridge locally) – Photo from 2018.

I’ve been on the Lancashire County Council website a couple of times in recent months reporting huge potholes at 3 points along Greens Lane and at first, I assumed it was the often massive agricultural vehicles of our modern-day churning up the surface. But a second thought was, well why has it got so bad in recent times? Then a conversation with a fellow cyclist (and one with a fellow Lydiate Parish Councillor) made the penny drop so to speak. The point made to me was that adjacent to the canal swing bridge, which is very close to the County boundary, there’s some form of waste recycling going on and I was told it was at times visited by huge HGVs. I’d not encountered them until today when I came across a skip lorry and then a huge (long) articulated HGV. The skip lorry could both have only come from the recycling site, I guess, due to the weight limited canal swing bridge? The huge HGV was actually exiting the site.

It strikes me that Greens Lane will need a significant upgrade if such traffic is going to be using this single track lane for much longer, otherwise, Lancs County Council will have to be out fixing the surface very regularly.

Interestingly, at the Lydiate end of the route i.e. at the beginning of Eagar Lane, this new sign has recently popped up:-

Eagar lane, Lydiate

It will have been erected by Sefton Council and whilst the obvious reason for it will be the canal swing bridge, why has it just gone up? have the HGVs visiting the site on the other side of it been trying to use Eagar Lane?

Whatever the case, I’m assuming that Sefton and particularly Lancashire Council are on the case. If I find out more I’ll update.

Bridges, bridges & more footbridges

I blogged a while back about Lydiate footpath No.5, which links Southport Road to Eagar Lane, as a bridge over a stream needed replacing. Here’s a link back to that posting:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2021/07/01/lydiate-footpath-no-5/

Well, it took a bit longer but the new bridge is now in place. However, concerns have been raised that the step up to the bright blue bridge is too high at around 14 inches**. Lydiate Parish Cllr. Edie Pope* tells me that a Sefton Council officer agrees it’s too high a step so I’m guessing that an additional step will be added? Here’s Edie at the bridge:-

I’ve been wondering why the bridge is bright blue as not so far away a couple of footbridges on paths linking Lydiate, The River Alt and Ince Blundell have also just been replaced and they are a far more discrete brown colour – see below:-

No, I’m not asking for a repaint, just curious about why some footbridges are brown and some blue.

* A section of this footpath actually runs along the boundary of Cllr. Edie Pope’s Church View Farm and she tells me that at some point in the distant past before she owned the land the footpath seems to have been moved from one side of the stream to the other. This must be back in Lancashire County days i.e. well prior to local government reorganisation in 1974. This being the case, if the path had been on the other side of the stream, there would have been no need for a bridge.

** Many local footpath bridges have steps up to them and I have previously pondered on this, amongst other reasons, being a form of obstruction to deter motorcycles. Our historic footpath network in England has never been disability friendly so such steps usually don’t make the paths any more inaccessible. It’s only very modern public rights of way where disability has been/is catered for.

RIP Barry Griffiths & Ron Coffee

I’ve learned in recent days about the deaths of two former councillors that I served with.

Barry Griffiths was a Conservative member of Sefton Council until 2012 and I recall him being a very polite and good-humoured chap. During my time as Leader of Sefton Council (2004 – 2011) Barry was a senior member of the Tory Group on what was then a balanced council with no one party in overall control. As Leader I often felt a bit like a Circus Ringmaster as I tried to corral differing views into a common way forward. Often things were tense but I recall that on odd occasions Barry would take the trouble to come up to me and say a few encouraging words. I appreciated his kindness over what I suspect was a very wide political gap between us.

Ron Coffee was a Liberal Democrat member of Lydiate Parish Council in the late 1980s through to the early 1990s if memory serves correctly. I think he was on the council for around seven years having originally won his seat at a Parish Council by-election. Ron, who lived in Lydiate for many years, was a college lecturer by trade. My distinct recollection of him was that he had a deep interest in public transport and would often be found commenting on the performance of buses, trains and Merseytravel. My apologies for the poor quality photo of Ron.

RIP Barry and Ron