City Regions

The New Local Government Network (NLGN) has recently published this report about city regions.

The NLGN have a nack of being one step ahead with local government issues and they seem to have done it again – quietly beavering away over the past 12 months with their commission, and publishing it just at the moment that local government reorganisation becomes a live issue once more.

In my opinion, local government reform is the only way that Skelmersdale will reach its full potential. The current two-tier setup with the county council and the district council is cumbersome. It also makes it difficult with regeneration as to who is driving the process. Sometimes it is the county, as with Skelmersdale Partnerships, sometimes it’s the district, with the Skelmersdale Vision. A single authority, bringing a single strategic view, a sense of direction and clear accountability is needed for the town.

The NLGN report talks about city regions: how they have worked in other countries, and a model of how they could work in the UK. Not replacing existing authorities, but bringing them together to form a strategic alliance with delegated powers and funding – making it possible to move forward on city region-wide strategic initiatives such as transport, or helping the local economy.

In West Lancashire we seem to work in a bubble sometimes, the City Region proposals could force us to look over our boundaries to neighbours not necessarily in Lancashire. For example, the A5225 scheme through Wigan would have made a huge impact on the economy in Skelmersdale – there would be a single route from Skelmersdale, through the Wigan Borough and on to the M61 and the North East. However, this hasn’t been discussed in West Lancs and I haven’t seen any reference to it in the local papers. Literally a mile down the road, it has been the subject of great debate.

The problem for West Lancs, however, is that we are stuck between three natural city regions. We have Manchester to the east, Preston to the north and Liverpool to the south. Preston is possibly the most natural ally with the historical links though Lancashire County Council, but we have to recognise that many people in West Lancs travel towards Manchester or Liverpool for work and for shopping. This problem was the cause of the great “split” controversy a couple of years ago, where Skelmersdale was proposed to go into Greater Manchester and Ormskirk into Merseyside. It felt like no-one supported the idea – people wanted to stay in “lancashire”.

The City Regions model also doesn’t cover the unitary status for councils, suggesting that county regions could be created. It feels like an afterthought, and if implemented could end up with little change in the County areas, and perhaps no benefit to a little district like ours.

There is obviously a wider debate taking place about local government, as seen by Miliband’s leaked memo regarding unitaries. The NLGN report is timed perfectly to influence what might happen. I just hope that West Lancs isn’t squeezed out, just because it sits in the middle of three cities.

Local planning authorities generally improving but 27 getting worse, says ODPM

This report on the public technology website shows that West Lancashire has been getting worse in their processing of planning applications over the past year. We’re one of 27 authorities in the country where the performance is “significantly worse”.

I raised it tonight at Overview and Scrutiny, asking that we should have a report on what council officers were doing to try and resolve the problem.

Sadly, the Tories didn’t want anything to do with it and instead blamed the government, certain councillors and anyone else they could rather than accept that by these measures we’re not doing that well.

These are bread and butter services that the council should be performing well at – particularly given the self-congratulatory mode that the council operates in. They like to say that they’re doing well, and they like to give the impression that they’re doing something about performance management; but when presented with an incontrovertiable measure where they don’t face up and try to resolve it, they look for someone or something to blame and leave it at that.

West Lancs tenants reject stock transfer

The results of the stock transfer ballot were published today

Overall Total number of votes for YES: 1984 (43% of valid vote)
Overall Total number of votes for NO: 2678 (57% of valid vote)

Turnout: 61%

This rejection of the proposed stock transfer comes despite the massive amount of money spent by the Council and Arena to try and convince tenants to change landlord. The ‘no’ campaign struggled with very little resources in comparison and yet still managed to get the message out.

It is for the Council to come back with a housing budget that can meet the aspirations of the tenants. We know that it can be done, because the Labour group put forward such a budget at the start of this year. We’ve always argued that the situation in West Lancs is different to other councils because we don’t have the debt that other councils have, for whom stock transfer has meant the debt being cleared.

The campaign locally will hopefully move on to the fourth option which didn’t figure in our campaign locally because we could set a budget without resorting to the extra cash. However, if a fairer way of funding council housing could be introduced, as proposed in the fourth option, then the properties locally could be transformed.

In the meantime, it’s been a good day for tenant participation and for all those who worked hard to get out the “no” message.

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I notice that the defend council housing link above doesn’t work – instead this is a link to the “support4councilhousing” site with the MP’s report on the fourth option.

Bickerstaffe Parish Poll

Typical of the District Council…

This press release is a mean sprited report of the referendum taking place on Thursday.

They’ve tried every trick in the book to try and stop the poll, including writing to John Prescott! Here, they point the finger at one person in Bickerstaffe when for the poll to be called in the first place it needs at least 10 people.

Meeting as an assembly update

At the full council on the 7th December, the council voted that the next meeting should be held in Ormskirk, despite it having been held there for the past three years. The council put forward a report saying that future meetings should be held at the Ormskirk Civic Centre or other similar venue. Since their argument was that the Civic Centre was the only suitable venue, then it would mean that the meeting would always be held in Ormskirk.

Ian Duffy put forward an amendment to remove this unreasonable proposal, which surprisingly was agreed. So the venues will be debated at the March meeting. Hopefully we’ll see Skelmersdale hosting the 2007 “Council meeting as an assembly” show.

My speech to the council is below…
Continue reading Meeting as an assembly update

Housing Stock Transfer Vote

Tomorrow evening we’ll know the result of the stock transfer vote, and it could go either way. When we’ve been talking to people on the doorstep most people have wanted to stick with the Council as the landlord, but there has been a lot of pressure on tenants to vote for transfer.

For every one pound that the “No” campaign has spent, the “yes” campaign has spent over ONE THOUSAND POUNDS. It hasn’t been a very balanced debate.

It has also been a very bitter campaign, with allegations of bullying and lies from both sides, and I think most people involved are looking forward to the result being announced so that we can start moving forward.

Stock Transfer has hung over the Council since Jude and I moved into West Lancs four years ago, and from all accounts, it was controversial for a number of years before that. So it is surely time to move on.

If the tenants have voted to transfer, then those involved in the “no” campaign, myself included, will have to accept the result and work with Arena / West Lancs Homes to make sure the improvements that have been promised are delivered.

If the tenants have voted “no”, then the Council must take on board the budgets and finances that have been proposed by the Labour Group that have shown that we don’t need to lose staff as they have threatened. The worst thing they could do is copy the lead of Sefton where staff was made redundant and then start the whole stock transfer voting process again.

Either way, we all need to start building bridges after the ballot because if things are to improve, we all have to work together.