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?

Trying to turn around Sefton Council to welcome community/volunteer ventures

I have submitted the following motion to the next meeting of Sefton Council to be held on 23rd January more in sadness than in anger. Readers will know how profoundly unhappy I have been over the community/volunteer bids to run College Road, Crosby and Aintree Libraries being turned down by Sefton Council. I genuinely feel that the bids need to be given a chance to succeed rather than Sefton turning them down without giving the bidders the chance to try to prove whether they can make a go of their bids.

This Council wishes to be seen to be fully signed up to the localism agenda that all 3 major political parties support both in broad terms and in many areas of detail.

To this end we welcome and support in principle proposals from Parish Councils, community groups and local charities who wish to assist in running services that the Borough Council can’t find the resources to sustain such as libraries, youth facilities, community halls etc.

Cllr. Tony Robertson

I submitted the motion on the 6th of January and realise that things may have changed before the motion is debated on 23rd January. I say this as we are yet to hear the outcome of the ‘appeal’ against the refusal to approve the two bids to one of Sefton’s Scrutiny Committees, which was heard before Christmas and was subsequently deferred to a second meeting to be held at some point in January.

Stop press: the Scrutiny meeting will not now reconvene until 11th February so I am told.

It would be nice to think that before I come to move the motion that the principle at the heart of it is something that all 3 of the political parties on the Borough Council will sign up to and that the present rather ugly spat between community campaigners and the Borough Council can be put to one side.

All I want is for community campaigners and volunteers to be welcomed with open arms and their ideas be given the chance to flourish.

Sefton – A Review of 2013

Welcome to my review of 2013 for Sefton, a personal trawl through some of the things that made the headlines in a year when the Borough was ruled from Bootle by people who seemed quite out of touch with things to the north and east of Netherton.

Library closures – As 2013 draws to a close I must say that I can’t for the life of me understand what on earth Sefton Council is doing in its seeming mad dash to do all it can to stop volunteers taking over some of its closing libraries.

Will volunteers ever be allowed to stack these shelves with books again - Not if Labour-run Sefton has anything to do with it!

Will volunteers ever be allowed to stack these shelves with books again – Not if Labour-run Sefton has anything to do with it!

Many of my posts during 2013 have been about the closure of 7 out of Sefton’s 13 libraries. The closure programme has now concluded and the Borough has lost more than half the libraries it once had, but the remarkable side story to this has been the obstacles that volunteers have faced in their attempts to take over some of the closing libraries.

One would have thought that with ‘localism’ being on the lips of virtually every politician across the land volunteers would be embraced and encouraged yet in socialist Sefton we seem to be in a parallel universe where volunteers are seen to be challenging and unwelcome! Indeed, it is remarkable to see what lengths Sefton will seemingly go to keep the volunteers at a distance.

Maghull Town Council – Well what can you say, 6 of the ruling Labour Party’s councillors resigned in 2013 and 2 more were all but disqualified from office but saved themselves by turning out at the last possible meeting to stop by-elections 8 & 9 of the year!

Aintree & Maghull Champion 12th June 2013

Aintree & Maghull Champion 12th June 2013

The Council also said it had set a precept for 2013/14 when it had done no such thing and, when it finally did set a budget and precept, it took money out of the 2013/14 budget for the Town’s annual fireworks display, voted against an amendment to put the money back in but then held a fireworks display anyway!

What an odd world Maghull Town Council has been since Labour took over in May 2011 and, for the record, I still await responses to the two Freedom of Information requests that I made to the Council months and months ago. Maghull must be the only Council in the UK to have a special dispensation from the Information Commissioner enabling it to ignore FoI requests.

Green Belt and Sefton Local Plan – This one will run well into 2014 and flow over into 2015 but 2013 has seen environmental campaigners (such as FRAGOFF) give Sefton Council a torrid time. Who would have expected a Labour-run Council to propose, for example, that vast areas of Maghull and Lydiate’s Green Belt and high quality agricultural land be concreted over to create massive urban extensions for these communities? Lydiate’s housing could now increase by 35% and Maghull’s by 25% if Labour carries through what it has consulted on in 2013.

Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes MP with Sudell Ward Sefton Cllr. Bruce Hubbard at the site in Maghull where Labour run Sefton Council wants to built 1,600 houses on high grade agricultural land. Bruce's Lib Dem team opposes Labour's plans.

Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes MP with Sudell Ward Sefton Cllr. Bruce Hubbard, Lydiate Parish Councillor Wyn Maher, Cllr. Jen Robertson and myself at the site to the east of Maghull where Labour-run Sefton Council wants to build 1,600 houses on high grade agricultural land. Bruce’s Lib Dem team opposes Labour’s plans.

In Formby the whole community seemingly rose up to oppose a Green Belt grab there, and with some success too, as the developer ducked out just as the planning application was to go before Sefton’s Planning Committee. Will they be back? Don’t doubt it, developers are not going to give up in their quest to concrete over areas of Sefton’s land which future generations will need to grow food upon.

And don’t forget that the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) has been accused of not fighting for the Green Belt and high grade agricultural land in the Borough.

The best of the rest –

The Hawthorne’s Free School – will it be given the chance to try to make a step change in educational attainment in Bootle? Sadly, Sefton Labour just won’t take a positive step and back it. Having been there I am sure it is taking a welcome risk to improve education in Bootle; that’s a risk we should all be backing. And will St Mary’s in Crosby in Crosby follow suit and convert to a Free School? It seems so and as the aim is quality education that has to be a good thing.

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Maghull’s Mad March – Usually quiet leafy Maghull had a bizarre few weeks when gun crime visited the community. Police say it was drug related gang members shooting at each other but what chaos it created in one of Merseyside’s lowest crime areas. It went as quickly as it came but Maghull residents for a short period had the opportunity to see the madness of guns so loved by Americans. The right to bear arms? More like the right to create fear and mistrust in a community/society.

Here I am at Maghull Police Station where the Neighbourhood Policing Team must have had a tough time during Mad March.

Here I am at Maghull Police Station where the Neighbourhood Policing Team must have had a tough time during Mad March.

Southport Pier – It was quite a fright when we leaned that it needed urgent repairs. A landmark like no other in the locality; fortunately it does seem to have a good long-term future.

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The Liverpool Pigeon, A Micro-Pub for Crosby – Now here was an innovative development in 2013 that could herald a new type of pub not joined at the hip to those pub management companies who are strangling the life out of British pubs everywhere.

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HALT – This environmental campaign group sprung up in opposition to the idea of building land-based wind turbines as tall as Blackpool Town on high grade agricultural land between Ince Blundell and Lydiate. I have been happy to support this group.

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Closure of Public Toilets – Sefton tried to shut them but campaigners fought them off. Maghull’s public toilets survive but for how long? Frankly it was a huge disappointment to me that the Town’s own Council refused to invest in them. They were once award winners and could be that again but Maghull TC seems sadly disinterested in them.

Maghull's Lib Dem  toilet campaigners fighting Labour's axe.

Maghull’s Lib Dem toilet campaigners fighting Labour’s axe.

Sefton’s Bin Tax – This has to have been a really mad moment in Sefton’s bid to save money – a proposal to charge residents to have their green bins emptied! Surely anyone with the slightest understanding of the Borough would have known this was a tax too far but the Labour-led Council had to be hit between the eyes (and in the ballot box) with the anger of residents before that Penny dropped. This and the Green Belt land grab were the major reasons why Labour lost two Council by-elections in Maghull during July to the Lib Dems.

A green bin mountain, Cllr. Bruce Hubbard, and a huge pile of petitions opposing Labours Green Bill tax for Sefton.

A green bin mountain, Cllr. Bruce Hubbard, and a huge pile of petitions opposing Labours Green Bill tax for Sefton.

All years are unique but we certainly have seen some odd events in Sefton Borough during 2013.

PS. A piece of good news is that the expected closure of W H Smith’s shop in Bootle New Strand, which I commented on not so long ago, is not now going to happen.

Clashes after Library Scrutiny meeting?

News reaches me of alleged Labour Party clashes with library campaigners after the Sefton Council Scrutiny & Overview meeting last week. I am told that allegations of abusive comments, seemingly aimed at the campaigners and their supporters, could well become formal complaints to Sefton Council.

I was at the meeting but was not near to the angry exchanges due to being at the other end of the large Assembly Hall in Bootle Town Hall it was held in. I did hear raised voices as people departed the meeting and it seems some of those voices were raised in anger.

Sefton's Scrutiny Committee in session at Bootle Town Hall on 17th December 2013. The room is very large and the alleged clashes happened behind where this shot was taken from.

Sefton’s Scrutiny Committee in session at Bootle Town Hall on 17th December 2013. The room is very large and the alleged clashes happened behind where this shot was taken from.

I can’t claim to know exactly what happened but I am told that library campaigners, who have so far been refused the opportunity to take over some of the 7 libraries that the Labour-run Council has closed, told Labour councillors that they should be ashamed of themselves. I am told that the reaction to this from Labour was allegedly less than polite!

More news when I have it.

Localism – Don’t make me laugh & Scrutiny – Not a chance!

When the Coalition Government brought the Localism legislation onto the statute books the following Governmental statement was made “Councils need to be making it as easy as possible for people to take over buildings and services that are valued by the local community”.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know only too well that Localism is a policy that suits the Coalition at times and not at others. But let’s take that statement of Government at face value because I believe that Sefton Council can’t honestly hold its hand up and say it has made it as easy as possible for community groups to take over the running of the 7 branch libraries that it has just closed across the Borough. Indeed, I think it would be fair to say that Sefton’s stance could, I my view, be more accurately defined as making it as difficult as possible!

But what of scrutiny of the Executive/Cabinet? Has that process been holding the powerful on the Council to account? Sadly the answer is NO! We Lib Dems said, when the Labour-run Council grabbed all the chairs of the scrutiny committees for Labour councillors to hold that there would not be any effective scrutiny and so it has proved. And I say this despite Labour councillors on a scrutiny committee failing to back the Labour leadership last night over the libraries debacle.

Sefton's Scrutiny Committee in session at Bootle Town Hall on 17th December 2013

Sefton’s Scrutiny Committee in session at Bootle Town Hall on 17th December 2013

To my mind what happened last night was driven by the Labour Cabinet not by the Scrutiny Committee because when it got too hot the Labour members of the Committee called for a recess. They seemingly did this so that they could go into a private meeting with the Labour Cabinet members, which they were supposed to be holding to account, to come up with a way of getting the Council out of a hole it had dug for itself.

When they emerged the meeting was effectively taken over by the Leader of Council who proceeded to make recommendations to the Scrutiny Committee about how he thought they should deal with the embarrassment at hand. That put the tin lid on it for me.

Community Library campaigners in Sefton feel…………….

Will volunteers ever be allowed to stack these shelves with books again - Not if Labour-run Sefton has anything to do with it!

Will volunteers ever be allowed to stack these shelves with books again? I have just returned from the Sefton Council Scrutiny meeting where brave community library campaigners came up, yet again, against the brick wall of Sefton Labour Party.

But this time the Labour dominated Committee crumbled and fell apart! It failed to back the Labour Cabinet and deferred making a decision on bids from two community groups to run Aintree and College Road, Crosby Libraries to the New Year.

But they refused to take the advice of opposition Lib Dem members of the Committee who proposed that the matter be referred to Full Council for a debate about all kinds of concerns and worries that had been put to the Committee tonight by community campaigners. Indeed, after a bout of headless chickening they called for an adjournment of the Scrutiny Committee to regroup. The Christmas fudge of a compromise that came out of that 10 minute private Labour only conclave was that they wanted to defer the meeting to the New Year and hear no more criticism of the Labour-run Council.

They failed in their attempt to shut me and Cllr. Andrew Tonkiss up so they got more concerns to put in their worry caps for Christmas.

This is no longer about money to run the libraries, it’s about the lack of trust and faith the Labour-run Council has in its community groups and at least one of its Parish Councils (Aintree Village).

Some book titles that seem to sum up how the campaigners feel:-

Betrayed

Betrayed

Double Cross(ed)

Double Cross(ed)

Rough Justice

Rough Justice

All these titles were snapped in one of the Borough’s closing libraries this week as the selves were emptied of books.

All the community campaigners want is to be given the chance to try to run their Library. All Labour said was we really don’t know what to do – we need new orders!