Friday, July 04, 2014

GUEST POST The mad, mad world of Maghull Town Council

Tony Robertson, a Liberal Democrat councillor from Sefton, introduces us to the strange world of Maghull local politics.

Until May 2011 Maghull Town Council, on Merseyside, was a calm affair as it had been since 1894 when Gladstone set up Civil Parishes. It had been run by Conservatives, Ratepayers, Liberal Democrats and Independents over a century and had developed into one of the largest Parish Councils in England.

Land had been acquired over the years and Maghull had a legacy of many playing fields, parks and open spaces but it had all been orderly, considered and sober. Then in May 2011 a political earthquake hit Maghull and Labour came from having no councillors to holding 13 of the 16 seats, with the other three going to the Lib Dems. It’s an earthquake that the council has still not recovered from as it has lurched from crisis to crisis in just three years of Labour rule.

Eight - yes, eight - Labour councillors have resigned so far and some of them had been elected at by-elections to replace other Labour members who had chucked in the towel.

When first elected six of the new Labour councillors did not live in the town at all, three of them have gone but three still remain and they are also Labour Sefton Borough councillors representing Bootle wards. Of course, all six lived just with the three-mile limit to make their standing for Maghull legitimate.

Labour did not expect to win control and frankly they have since acted as though they would rather not have. Their internal disputes which are at the heart of a number of the resignations have blighted the council.

When they took control the town hall was about to have a new roof put on it as the old one was in poor condition. They did not stop the project, which they could have done, but instead continued with it whilst making all kinds of wild allegations. They claimed it was costing and they still claim it cost £500,000. It actually cost less then half that. They referred the project to the police muttering about fraud whilst producing no evidence at all. The police rejected the referral but to date no one outside of the Labour group knows the detail behind the referral, who was under suspicion etc. Neither the police nor Labour will say.

The next big issue they faced was an attack on the town’s green belt and high grade agricultural land from Borough Council planners, a battle that the former Lib Dem administration had fought and won, in a previous round, back in 1998. This time Labour did nothing and has continued to do nothing to defend the green belt despite many press articles saying how they were to fight for it.

More recently they proposed that only the person paying the council’s precept, in each household, could ask questions of the Council – fortunately they backed off this one. However, at the same time they did approve a new rule that says that residents can’t bring a petition to the council about community-wide issues. Petitions will now only be accepted if they are about a matte or service the council directly controls.

In 2013 they told the Borough Council that they had set a precept for the 2013/14 years when no such thing had happened at all. No budget meeting had even been held, so when this was exposed at the Borough Council’s budget meeting there was uproar.

Returning to the green belt issue they came up with a ruse to try to cover their lack of action. The ruse was a community survey which was clearly aimed at softening up folk for building to take place and opposition Lib Dems had nothing to do with it. But when it was completed a presentation was made to the Council on the findings.

Not surprisingly, Maghull folk were trying to get the message over that they wanted their green belt to stay as green belt, but Labour was having none of it. They sent the results on to the Borough Council, but when opposition members asked for all the background papers to the survey nothing was forthcoming at all. Indeed, the town clerk said she did not hold any data at all and that it was all held by the Labour Party. Remember, this was a survey conduct at the request of the Council!

Maghull has become a political mad house where you don’t know what is going to happen next, but sadly the local press seem to be rather uninterested. So it has have failed in what I would think is its duty in a democratic society to hold our rulers account.

What will happen next I have no idea; they still have 11 months to go before the next Town Council elections. Time enough for more mad happenings.

Tony Robertson blogs at Sefton Focus.

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