Southport Labour has accepted a challenge issued by the local Liberal Democrat Party’s new candidate to a debate in the town.
Now that the boards have been taken down and those newly-elected councillors have begun to find out exactly what they’ve let themselves in for, it’s a week after the local election results and time to take stock of what they mean on the broader political landscape in the town?
Direction is a funny old thing. Your perspective will determine what’s left, what’s right and also indeed, what’s right and what’s wrong. If your internal compass is off you can find yourselves in all sorts of trouble.
So what direction do you think Southport is heading in?
For 20 years or so it’s been on a Lib-Dem path, it had all the councillors and the MP, even leadership of Sefton Council at the same time at a point. Where did that get us?
Look around you and you can see it wasn’t very far. The story of their failure is writ large upon this town.
Now, we still have mainly Lib-Dem councillors but with a Tory MP and yet we are treading the same old tired path, going round in circles.
There is nothing to split their parties locally, so there is no new direction.
Both prefer to ignore real concerns. Why for instance do they not address issues such as the record rate of foodbank use here? Weeks ago we revealed it had risen in Southport yet again and how with a month or so still to go it had already surpassed last year’s amount.
Now, the final foodbank figures have been revealed… and it’s even worse than we thought. Just under 60,000 meals have been given out to local families and single residents who are struggling – a record amount and up 13% from the previous year. It’s an astonishing number from the biggest but not the only foodbank scheme in the area.
Sadly, most figures around foodbanks are astonishing these days thanks to austerity.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Neither party supported Labour when we highlighted indicators that our local hospital was in real crisis; they prefer to gloss over crime being on the up in the region and, while quick to complain if local services are struggling, they rarely discuss why that’s the case?
Why exactly do they want to constantly criticise the local authority instead of addressing these and other significant problems?
Quite simply, because they helped cause them. Local Lib-Dems and Tories want to try and point the finger anywhere but at themselves and it’s clear to see why.
Between them, locally they will soon have cut nearly a quarter of a billion pounds from our local authority. It is another astonishing number.
Our borough will have lost 51% of its pre-cuts budget by 2020, money that could have seen greater investment in this town and its services. Instead, libraries have closed; children’s services have to be re-organised; roads and amenities have suffered. Everything the council does for us has now become a real struggle as a result. Imagine the boost £233m could give to Southport and Sefton.
During their Coalition, the Lib-Dems and Tories also cut £2.3 billion from police funding and so we lost 21,000 police officers, more than that again in PCSOs and support staff. One in four Merseyside officers were lost. The Tories have cut hundreds of millions more money in real terms since.
Crime, which was falling, has now risen significantly in areas like gun and knife incidents. Vandalism and shoplifting go effectively ignored as the remaining officers are so overstretched. Early intervention work with youths on a crime pathway has all but halted.
Do you think Southport is a safer place for all those cuts? Our previous MP voted for them. Our current one just voted for more.
In a few weeks Southport is to feature in a Panorama about a crime blitz caused by police cuts. Southport, featuring in a Panorama on crime?! Who would even have dreamt such a thing before these brutal cuts?
The police service is not the only one feeling the intense pressure brought about by the disastrous policies of the Lib-Dems and Tories. The 2012 Health and Social Care Act that both parties brought in has caused real problems for the NHS, as has the insufficient funding that’s followed it.
When we recently raised concerns about the hospital, local Tory MP Damien Moore claimed all was well there and accused us of “scaremongering”. How wrong and foolish he soon looked. The A&E 4hr Treatment Target figures released just days later showed how our hospital was a staggering 15% below the recommended safe level.
Sixty-eight A&E consultants, including one from our own hospital, then wrote to Theresa May to detail how “patients were dying in corridors” and systematic failure in the NHS. If you were one of the hundreds of local residents who were forced to wait, often for hours, in the back of an ambulance before being admitted to A&E recently, you will have seen it first hand.
The hospital has just had another disappointing report from the Care Quality Commission, there are major problems there caused by various factors but it basically now comes down to one thing – the Tories, who are underfunding and mishandling our NHS. The local MP though still blindly tramples on, unable or unwilling to see the damage being caused.
The austerity measures that the Lib-Dems and Tories brought in have resulted in stagnant wages and local families being hit hard. Perhaps that’s why Southport foodbank numbers are so disturbingly high?
Unemployment might be down but it is at the cost of a huge growth in zero-hours contract, low paid work. A five-fold increase since 2010. So, many working families still need benefits or have to turn to foodbanks. Sure, a few of those already comfortably off may be doing even better under this government, many more are not.
Average wages are lower in real terms than a decade ago – and even that figure is being massively skewed by the increasingly wealthy few. One in eight British workers are now classed as in poverty. Perhaps that’s why nurses have to use foodbanks too? A wage increase that doesn’t match inflation is still a wage cut in real terms. It’s an appalling situation. One where many people are working harder than ever before for less and less reward, while a few see their wealth rocket.
The town’s former MP, John Pugh, voted for those austerity policies and its current MP, Damien Moore, supports them. Little wonder then that both loudly cry “Wolf!” and have named it ‘Sefton’. Look over there, they cry, anywhere but at their voting records and policies.
Since John Pugh returned to local politics as a councillor, the pair and their parties now form something of a double-act on the matter. Let’s call them, the “Fellow Travellers”.
Little encumbered by having to put their political differences aside, they prefer instead to attack the local council at every opportunity. It is now a clear and well-trodden path among local Tory and Lib-Dems parties. They devastate Sefton’s funding and then try to round on it as it does its best to continue moving forward.
These fellow travellers offer little vision for Southport, only division for Southport.
So instead of trying to utilise the local authority and the Liverpool City Region as the engine to get Southport moving again, all they want to do is burn bridges, not build them.
So they point at the Strand purchase and demand to know why the money was spent there not in Southport, as though Bootle does not have its own problems that need solving and as if Southport gets nothing. In this dark fantasy world of “them” and “us” where Sefton constantly deprives Southport; no light can be found.
So they have to pull a blind over the £21m spent on the Atkinson; the £25m on the Floral Hall redevelopment; the £8.5m on Splashworld; the £7m on Southport Business Park; the same again on Marine Way Bridge; the £5.6m on King Gardens and the various other capital investments that altogether come to just under £94m invested in Southport.
Not a mention of the millions Labour has put into the town since it took control of the council in 2012, all the while battling the cuts the “Fellow Travellers” inflicted. No, instead, just their incessant cry “Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!!”
Even now when its budget is down to the marrow, the council still pumps money into the town, constantly looking for ways to boost business and tourism. Money like the huge sums to the convention centre, the Atkinson, last year’s Open golf, etc. etc. Instead of a wolf, “Sefton” is more like some poor faithful hound being constantly maltreated and kicked by those it is duty-bound to serve. It could do more, if it had more.
Then there are the bogus claims that Southport has lost “its voice” due to the Area Committee being superseded by a new Southport constituency forum.
The very idea of this change is actually to give residents themselves a greater voice! To make it easier and less intimidating for them to interact with the council and their representatives.
It’s to hear the voice of the people and not the hectoring, berating and braying bawling of a number of local councillors who have forgotten that they are there to listen to and work for their residents. It is not to leave them feeling “bullied, humiliated and intimidated” as occurred to two young mums at the penultimate Area Committee meeting – a sorry incident that resulted in changes to the Sefton’s Code of Conduct for members and mandatory retraining for all councillors.
The Area Committee was not “Southport’s voice”, it had become a toy megaphone for a number of councillors who had forgotten they are the representatives of local residents, not their masters. What resulted was harsh, discordant and rarely intelligible.
When even the Area Committee’s official young observers take them to task for belittling residents, as happened at the final meeting, things needed to change. Local Lib-Dems protest but care little for true local democracy, they simply want their toy back.
The time has come to stop their viciousness and their vacuousness. To ask the Lib-Dems and Tories some basic questions:
*Let’s ask them why foodbank usage is now at a record amount in the town and do they think their austerity policies have contributed to it?
*Let’s ask why they like to claim they care about crime but then voted to cut all those police officers and staff? Why our town feels far less safe for many?
*Why they have ensured that Southport isn’t getting the funding it could have had? Why they constantly cry “wolf” but are the ones who have torn the financial flesh from our town and borough’s bones?
*Why they try to blame “Sefton Labour” for every Southport ill under the sun when Labour has only had control of Sefton since 2012 and has had to struggle under the burden of their cuts from day 1?
Let’s ask them to stop running Southport and Sefton down and instead look at ways of building it up. To stop trying to falsely pin the blame for Lord Street’s empty shops on a council that does not set business rates, does not set the rents and does not control the global trend to online shopping… and instead help look for solutions to boost the local economy.
Real solutions, not yet more unreal spin.
So they can stop empty talk of projects like tidal lagoons in Southport, which they know would require funding in the billions when, due to the cuts they’ve made, we struggle to raise capital in the millions. Nevermind that other sites are far more practical for it. Labour supports tidal lagoons, we do not support castles in the sky.
Let’s have real change, not yet more phoney “friendship”.
Let’s ask them why they want to follow the same old circular path? The road to nowhere.
If you want Southport to find that new direction, come with us.
We’ll show you a way out by investing in our town and borough, investing in our services, investing in our residents. There is no bigger issue that faces Southport. Virtually everything else flows from it.
It will revive our community and help boost our tourism and economy.
We also want councillors in Southport who will treat residents with respect and work for them, not achieve little but their own tenure.
Councillors who will strive to protect what we have and push for better. Not sit back while their party destroys our services and amenities and then try to blame others. Who will work cooperatively with colleagues elsewhere to get the best for our town.
Despite having only two local councillors who recently crossed over from the Lib-Dems tired of their active opposition to progress, we’ve already had notable successes.
After strong representations from ourselves and Southport BID, Sefton Council listened and we achieved the return of the 30-minute parking charge. The other parties simply attacked, we persuaded.
We also managed to secure £30,000 from Sefton to help the Kew Park Campaigners save their playground, despite the hostility of local Lib-Dems. We are already getting deals done for the good of our town and we are already talking to local businesses about how we can best help to move us forward.
Labour is now a real presence in Southport and is doing much good. We’ve thrown ourselves into a variety of community action projects from hiring skips to help residents clear, to cleaning beaches and also planting 500 young trees. Our councillors work hard on local issues for residents. We can do more if elected and we will do more if elected.
We also want residents to have the opportunity to contribute in an economy based on solid jobs with decent salaries. Have decent housing and a town we can feel safe in. Instead of giving huge tax breaks to those already wealthy and corporations, we believe in wealth creation for all, not just a few.
We should all be able to enjoy a great NHS and social care system; to watch our kids get a good education.
Make no mistake though, the cuts have to stop and the investment has to start or Southport will continue to suffer.
You can help us achieve that. Let’s send a message that enough is enough.
Vote Labour on May 3rd in the local elections and take Southport forward.