Library losses and a strange ‘volunteer’ thing happening in Sefton Borough

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-35707956“>www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-35707956

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

Fighting for Southport's Libraries

Fighting for Southport’s Libraries

If you type in ‘Sefton’ in the box on the BBC web site article to gain information about your own local authority the following comes up:-

In Sefton since 2010 seven libraries and/or mobile libraries have closed. In 2010 there were 137 paid staff in libraries, compared with 58 now. The council had 80 unpaid volunteers in 2010 and has 164 volunteers today.

rsz_al_collins_at_a_save_aintree_library_public_meeting_on_26th_october_12_2

Now then the interesting and probably astounding thing here (assuming the BBC information is correct) is that the number of volunteers working in Sefton’s remaining libraries has risen substantially over the past 6 years, indeed it has doubled! But why is this a surprise? Well back in the turmoil of Bootle Labour closing Sefton’s libraries 2 or 3 years ago they made it very clear that they did not want volunteers helping to run libraries! The link below is to pertinent blog posting of mine from back in 2014:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/02/23/we-simply-do-not-want-volunteers-to-run-council-services-what-other-conclusion-can-you-come-to/

rsz_orrell_library_5

So where does this leave us? The big questions are:-

* Has Labour-run Sefton ditched its opposition to library volunteers? If so when did they make this most welcome policy shift?

* If the volunteers wanting to take over the running of Aintree and College Road Libraries were unacceptable, why was this the case when the Council has seemingly gone on to recruit other volunteers?

* Why were Bootle Labour so opposed to the volunteers running closing libraries in the first place? Or is it more subtle than that in that some volunteers are deemed to be OK whilst others were deemed to be the opposite?

The murky world of Labour-run Sefton Council means we will probably not be getting any answers soon. And that is so sad.

Aintree Library – A sad end to the campaign to save it

rsz_al_collins_at_a_save_aintree_library_public_meeting_on_26th_october_12_2

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/disused-aintree-library-set-turned-10681279

The Liverpool Echo has the story – see link above

I can’t really express who sad and indeed angry I am to see the former library in Aintree Village being sold off for housing. It was a lovely library, a real heart of the community facility for Aintree Village and Melling.

This is former Aintree Ratepayer Councillor Terry Baldwin speaking at a meeting to try to save the library.

This is former Aintree Ratepayer Councillor Terry Baldwin speaking at a meeting to try to save the library.

It was great to campaign to try to save the library alongside friends like Peter Gill and Terry Baldwin and many others in 2013 /2014. It was, however, terrible to see how poorly they were treated by Sefton Council and its Labour rulers. All they wanted was a chance to try to run the library using volunteers. They had the support support of Aintree Village Parish Council but Sefton Council denied them the chance to run the library for reasons I still can’t get my head around but assume were of a political nature.

Cllr. Peter Gill another hero of the campaign to try to save Aintree Library.

Cllr. Peter Gill another hero of the campaign to try to save Aintree Library.

Yes local Labour MP Bill Esterson did his bit but he was let down by his own Labour Councillors who refused to to either save the library or let the volunteers have a go at running it. Sorry, but Sefton Labour should hang their heads in shame over this and the other closing library sites in the Borough where volunteers were effectively held at arms length.

Now housing is going to be built on the site. Sefton Council has closed the library and disposed of the site but good folks of Aintree have got nothing from the deal.

One thing in the Echo article above is rather ironic though where it says ‘Later that year [2013], 20,000 protesters and local MPs and councillors campaigned to keep local library services running’. Well that’s true but the councillors were Lib Dem and Tory members of Sefton Council, the Labour Group were the ones axing the libraries!

Were my 16 years on Sefton Council productive and worthwhile?

Well I have been having a ponder but I suppose the first thing that readers of this posting may say to themselves is that ‘it’s not for you to say but for us to judge’. You could also add that the judgement has already been handed down by my being invited to leave office on Sefton Borough Council by the Park Ward electorate. However, I have been asked a few times since the May elections what I thought of my time as a Borough Councillor so it has started a certain amount of reminiscing on my part, so here goes anyway.

16 years is a long time to recall all the events of note, at least it is for me as I have never kept a Tony Benn type diary of my activities.

Meadows Leisure Centre – Maghull – I led the campaign to have this built going back well before I was even elected to Sefton Council back in 1999. To see it open in 2009 was a delight. To have also assisted in establishing an exhibition space for the Frank Hornby Trust within the leisure centre was likewise an important step forward. Regrets? Two really – in incorporating a new home for Maghull Library within the Leisure Centre I don’t think we fully understood the noise conflict between exercise classes and the expected quiet of the a library. Secondly, I am disappointed that the planned integration between the leisure centre and the leisure facilities in the adjoining Maghull Town Hall have never been taken forward. The intention was for the two buildings to be run seamlessly as far as users were concerned despite them being owned by two different councils. This vision sadly was lost when Maghull Council came under a political leadership with differing objectives.

Former Maghull Lib Dem Councillor Andrew Blackburn who helped me push the Leisure campaign forward.

Former Maghull Lib Dem Councillor Andrew Blackburn who helped me push the Leisure campaign forward.

My old friend, fellow campaigner and former Councillor Bruce Hubbard outside the Leisure Centre

My old friend, fellow campaigner and former Councillor Bruce Hubbard outside the Leisure Centre

Les French (Chairman of the Frank Hornby Trust) with Margaret Carney & Glyn Sands in the Hornby Room at the Leisure Centre.

Les French (Chairman of the Frank Hornby Trust) with Margaret Carney & Glyn Sands in the Hornby Room at the Leisure Centre.

The Atkinson – Southport – For quite a while I held Cabinet responsibility for the development of this huge project to refurbish 3 adjoining very old and previously poorly upgraded listed buildings into what we see now. I love it and am pleased that it has fulfilled the objectives set for it. Regrets? None really – It cost more than the original budget but frankly we always thought it would. You can’t work on old buildings and expect it to be straight forward because it never is.

A Crossens Canoe on display at The Atkinson in Southport

A Crossens Canoe on display at The Atkinson in Southport

Raising the profile of Sefton’s Parish Councils – I put a lot into this as the relationship between Sefton Borough Council and the 10 Parish Councils in its area had been poor and negative for far too long. I renegotiated what we called the ‘Double Rating’ agreement so the Parish Councils who did their own parks and gardens maintenance got paid a sensible amount back from Sefton Borough Council who were also taking money off local residents in those communities but not then spending it in those communities. Regrets? Yes, Labour have reversed the deal and it is now worse than when I renegotiated it. Places like Lydiate, Maghull & Aintree are being poorly treated by Sefton Council!

Maghull North Station – I have been pressing for this to be built for a long, long time so am delighted that the Coalition Government gave 90% of the money required to build it in 2014. I hope it will be constructed in the next 2 to 3 years. Regrets? None.

Site for the new Maghull North Railway Station.

Site for the new Maghull North Railway Station.

Switch Island – Thornton Link Road – I was campaigning for this before being elected in 1999 because trying to win a Borough Council ward that included the Parish of Thornton made this a must achieve issue. It took a while and I have said many times that the determination of the people and Parish Council of Thornton was the clincher; what I did was to take the matter to the then regional bodies of government and persuade them to back the project. The Blair/Brown Government sat of fence and never came up with the money but again the Coalition Government gave the final green light and of course a large proportion of the money. It is now all but built. Regrets? Thornton folk and their Parish Council not getting the credit they deserve because others (Labour) keep trying to claim that credit for themselves.

Cllr. Geoff Howe and a young me in this @2001 shot marching with Thornton residents. My placard says '83% of Thornton residents want a relief road'.

Cllr. Geoff Howe and a young me in this @2001 shot marching with Thornton residents. My placard says ‘83% of Thornton residents want a relief road’.

Me with the then Coalition Government Roads Minister Mike Penning sealing the deal to get the Link Road built in 2010

Me with the then Coalition Government Roads Minister Mike Penning sealing the deal to get the Link Road built in 2010

Works starting on the new Link Road

Works starting on the new Link Road

Lydiate Village Centre – It took some years to get the new building constructed after the former Lydiate Voluntary Youth Club building had been burnt down. At the time Sefton Council (the land owners) were not exactly being proactive and helpful. But the determination of Lydiate Parish Council (particularly its Chairman Dave Russell) finally got us there with me steering the issue through Sefton Council. I have to say that Dave together with former Cllr. Andrew Blackburn and Lydiate’s then Parish Clerk (Brian Beaven) were the leading lights in this project, I was simply got Sefton to be positive and supportive. Regrets? None.

Former Lydiate Parish Councilors Tony Fenton and Pat Foster outside the old Lydiate Voluntary Youth Club

Former Lydiate Parish Councilors Tony Fenton and Pat Foster outside the old Lydiate Voluntary Youth Club

Cllr. Edie Pope outside Lydiate Village Centre

Cllr. Edie Pope outside Lydiate Village Centre

Oriel Drive GP Surgery – Aintree – So happy this got built during my time as a Borough Councillor for Aintree Village. Working with Aintree Village Parish Council and the health providers was a delight and the new building was worth all the efforts of many people. Again, I was there to assist others who did far more than I. Regrets? None.

Me, Terry Baldwin, Jack Colbert and Peter Gill - July 2012 at the formal opening of the new GP Surgery

Me, Terry Baldwin, Jack Colbert and Peter Gill – July 2012 at the formal opening of the new GP Surgery

Decentralising Sefton Borough and empowering its diverse communities – Sefton has always been an uncomfortable mix of diverse communities with little in common and on the back of the Local Government Boundary Commission deciding not to split the Borough up I helped lead a process to try to empower local communities. We set up Area Committees created a Parish Council’s charter and despite the two old parties, whom we shared power with, being highly sceptical of our push to give power away to the people we did make some strides in the right direction. Regrets? Yes, when Labour took control of Sefton they started an inevitable process to recentralise power in their Bootle heartland. They took out 3 Area Committees to create one massive and pointless one in the centre of the Borough. It was never going to work and it still does not work. As for the Parish Charter which was aimed at treating the 10 Parish Councils with respect (and even decentralising power to them) suffice to say that the day it was ripped up in front of the Labour Cabinet by Aintree Village Parish Councillor Peter Gill showed how Labour cared little for those not in their tribal tent.

Fighting for our precious Green Belt and high grade agricultural land – This seems to have been almost a lifetime campaign for me. Just before I got elected to Sefton Council I had headed up a successful campaign in Maghull to stop the Borough Council from allowing a massive area of land to the east of Maghull being concreted over. We won because Maghull Town Council, its local Borough Councillors and residents spoke with one voice that said to Sefton Planners exactly where they could stick their plans! Regrets? Certainly, because I had to re-fight the very same battle again in 2014/15 but this time without the now Labour-run Town Council who sat and watched it wash over them. I made many new friends in the environmental movement but Labour were determined to build on the highest grade of agricultural land in England and we have been defeated. As I pen this posting we can only hope that a Government appointed Inspector has more concern for our food growing land than either Maghull Town Council or Sefton Borough Council.

A petition against building on Green Belt being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell the then Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council in 2013.

A petition against building on Green Belt being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell the then Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council in 2013.

Fighting to save Woodend Primary School (Maghull) from closure – I attended this lovely school but in the early 2000’s it was struggling because it had so few children in it. Why parents living close to the school were sending their children elsewhere when this great little school had been serving the adjacent community so well I do not know. The fight to save it was being run by the Governing Body led by the redoubtable Andrew Blackburn and being an ‘old boy’ of the school I was right behind his efforts. I recall us delivering advertising leaflets around the southern part of Maghull and beyond to help the school attract more children and was heartbroken when this campaign did not succeed. Regrets? – Losing the fight obviously but also being blamed on a doorstep in Maghull for the closure of Woodend by a lady who clearly felt I had done just the opposite of what I actually had done!

Fighting to raise the profile of our local railways – The Ormskirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan lines are both important for the Sefton and West Lancashire Boroughs. Again this has been an almost lifetime issue for me. Seeing Merseytravel (the Passenger Transport Authority for Merseyside) make little or no progress on these two lines was always a frustration. It was as though they looked upon the lines as not being important to Liverpool so they were not going to put much effort in to developing them. The Liverpool centric approach to transport planning on and around Merseyside has always been to the determent of the large towns that surround Liverpool and here Southport, whilst being in Merseyside, has been poorly served by the Authority they pay to deliver public transport. Regrets? – Not being able to break down the barriers between Merseyside and Lancashire that have held back transportation and other issues since 1974.

Southport Station

Southport Station

Fighting for green issues – Whether it be fighting for our precious Green Belt and high grade agricultural land not to be built upon or seeing Lib Dem run Parish Councils installing solar panels on Maghull Town Hall and Lydiate Village Centre green issues have meant a lot to me. Regrets? – I have always found it difficult to understand why Tory and Labour councillors are generally disinterested in green issues. Labour stuck me as being way off the pace with such matters with the Tories hardly much better.

Solar panels on Maghull Town Hall roof

Solar panels on Maghull Town Hall roof

The fight to save Sefton’s Libraries – A massive campaign but one that was ultimately lost as we could not persuade Sefton’s ruling Labour Group to back off from their closure plans. 7 of Sefton’s 13 Libraries were lost and it was a huge step backwards in my view. Regrets? – Seeing volunteer campaigners being treated so badly by Labour. All they wanted was the chance to try to run their libraries as voluntary undertakings but Sefton Labour would have none of it. So very sad.

rsz_protesting_about_library_closures_-_southport

rsz_al_collins_at_a_save_aintree_library_public_meeting_on_26th_october_12_2

I could go on but I have probably mentioned too many issues already. I enjoyed the vast majority of my 16 years as a Sefton Councillor and the 7 I served as Council Leader. Did I make a difference? I would like to think so but that is probably best left to your judgement not to my rose tinted spectacles.

Community bids to run Sefton Libraries – Why were they really turned down for Aintree and College Road, Crosby?

Prior to attending the crucial meeting of Sefton’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee this evening here are some thoughts and questions about the community bids to run Aintree and College Road Libraries which Sefton Council has so far rejected.

Frankly, the bar was set far too high for newly created community organisations to be able to get over. The only one to get though was the bid for Ainsdale Library and that was from an already well established company.

The obvious question to me is why did Labour–run Sefton Council play its cards as it did? I know the volunteers running the bids feel that they have been given the run-around rather than a fair chance to show what they can do.

rsz_college_rd_7

Was the reality that Labour did not want the bids to get through?

But amongst all this the most telling part of the debate at Sefton’s Cabinet meeting on the 5th December was the all too obvious, in my opinion, stubborn refusal to embrace the volunteers and community campaigners from Crosby and Aintree and to give them a chance to have a go at running their library. Instead, the Cabinet hid behind all sorts of rules, which Sefton Council had invented, that simply made the campaigners jump through far too many hoops.

Why not give them a year or two to see what they could do? In such a scenario Sefton could have held back on its investment in the properties, which is required because it has not kept up with maintenance requirements. Surely, testing out the volunteer plans for real was always going to be the best way forward unless that is the Council was firmly of the view that it really did not want many if any of the community run bids to get through?

rsz_college_rd_3

The other telling thing that came out of the debate at the Cabinet meeting was that I can’t recall any of the questions and concerns that the two volunteer groups raised being answered by the Cabinet in any meaningful way. It just looked like it had already decided what it was going to do no matter what representations were made to it!

And what of the local MP? His reaction was, I am told, to issue a press statement saying that he was going to Government to ask them for more money to run Sefton libraries. Well yes, but what on earth has that got to do with volunteers running the libraries? Surely Bill Esterson should be angry that Labour councillors have not given the campaigning volunteers the chance to have a go at running their libraries? In the end this has come down to how well and to what extent Labour-run Sefton Council is prepared to work with fledgling volunteer groups to encourage them to take on the running of community libraries. And the answer seems to be hardly at all! As an MP for the Borough and a Labour one at that Bill should be taking on this party’s councillors and shaming them into a change of heart.

If Labour has the will to back off from its present stance, embracing the campaigners rather than holding them at arms length, then the volunteer bids can still be given a chance to succeed. But that needs Bill Esterson MP to take his Labour councillor colleagues on in a very public way instead of wringing his hands on the sidelines.

Save our Libraries – Aintree Library – Will Labour-run Sefton give an answer before they close it?

rsz_al_collins_at_a_save_aintree_library_public_meeting_on_26th_october_12_2

Below is an extract from a newsletter being delivered around Aintree Village by Aintree Ratepayers Association.
*****
As we go to print we have still not heard anything from Sefton Council as to whether we will be able to take over the running of the Library or not. To say that we are disappointed would be a massive understatement. The Library is due to close on December 20th with a run down in hours up to that date. We would ask you to put as much pressure on your elected members on the Borough Council to support the Library as there has been no support to date.

This is Independent Aintree Village Parish Councillor Terry Baldwin speaking at an outdoor meeting. He and Peter Gill have run a great campaign to save Aintree Library

This is Independent Aintree Village Parish Councillor Terry Baldwin speaking at an outdoor meeting. He and Peter Gill have run a great campaign to save Aintree Library

The fear is that if Aintree Library where to close on 20th December and no decision has been reached that it would become increasingly more difficult to reopen it. This would then deteriorate into a worse condition than it is in now and would look a complete eyesore.

We assure you that your Ratepayer Association will not give up the fight!
*****

I can’t tell you how sad it made me when I read this newsletter as I have been full of admiration for the work that Peter Gill, Terry Baldwin, Aintree Ratepayers and Aintree Parish Council have done to try to save their Library from Labour’s axe. They have moved mountains and embarrassed a slippery Labour Party in the process. I do hope that Labour-run Sefton will now play ball and not just let the Library die.

Stop Press: I hear that there is a Special Meeting of Aintree Village Parish Council on Wednesday 6th November to discuss the crisis.

NEW CHAIRMAN FOR AINTREE VILLAGE PARISH COUNCIL & SOME LIBRARY NEWS

At it’s A.G.M. Aintree Village Parish Council selected a new Chairman, Cllr Peter Gill was elected unanimously. Peter said “I am delighted and honoured to be asked to serve the community of Aintree Village once again. I look forward to the coming year, it will be testing with all the cuts culminating in our campaign to keep Aintree Library open, we are making great strides and are hopeful that we can transfer it to a community run library. I would like to pay tribute to the retiring Chairman Cllr Terry Baldwin, he has been Chairman for eighteen months and has found it quite stressful at times. He, along with other library campaign leaders fought an excellent campaign which is online to keep Aintree Library open. Terry has always been community led, proof being his membership of St John Ambulance, serving for over 50 years.”

Retiring Chairman Cllr Baldwin said “It has been a long 18 months but most of that time I have thoroughly enjoyed serving the residents of Aintree Village. I will be leaving the area in the near future and will take with me some wonderful memories having lived here for over 40 years. I wish the new Chairman Cllr Peter Gill well for the coming 12 months and thank everybody for their support over the last 18 months.”

rsz_terrypeter

No one should underestimate the contribution that Terry Baldwin has made to Aintree Village and the wider community. I count Terry (and indeed Peter Gill) as personal friends. I first came across Terry via his work with St John Ambulance and of course he was given Maghull’s Civic Award some years ago for that work. Whilst Terry has been feeling his age he put everything into trying to stop Sefton Council from closing Aintree Library and if it does become a community run library the credit will be down to him and other parish councillors like Peter Gill. I really do hope that the comrades who decided to close the library do not have the cheek to try to claim that they saved it when the real work was done by Terry and Peter and a small band of determined Aintree Village parish councillors and residents.