February 2 2011 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

Bill Esterson

 

 

Last Thursday saw one of the most important meetings in Sefton Council's 35 year history.

Councillors gathered together to discuss the future of services which are currently provided by the council.

As you can imagine the meeting was a heated one which raged on for more than six hours.

Outside I spoke to a gathering of protesters who were all there to make their voices heard in opposing the axing of services including Children’s Centres, Youth clubs, Duke of Edinburgh Awards and School uniform grants.

The future of children's centres was one of the biggest issues debated during the meeting, with scores of concerned parents and carers gathered outside Southport Town Hall with the protesters.

As well as gathered outside, I have been contacted by hundreds of people who are nothing short of outraged that the centres face the axe.

By the end of the marathon meeting, the future of the centres was even less certain. While calling for a complete review of all of the borough's children's services, the council have now jeopardised the centres which had otherwise been categorised as 'safe'.

Not the solution the protesters had been calling for.

It is because of this that I called an adjournment debate in Westminster Hall for MPs of all parties to come together to attempt to secure the future of the centres. [The meeting is to be held Wednesday, February 2.]

I'm hopeful that we can cut through the party politics on this issue and come to a working agreement that these centres are simply too valuable to lose, in all parts of the borough and all parts of the country.

As parents have told me, not only do children benefit from going to children's centres with improved communication and social skills which go on to become the foundation for the rest of the child's academic life, but they benefit the families and even act as "a lifeline" for parents and carers from all walks of life.

And the news that youth centres are going to be hit by the cuts, including centres at Oriel Drive in Aintree and Stafford Moreton in Maghull will have a massive impact on huge numbers of families throughout Sefton.

I have spoken to lots of parents who are very concerned by the closure of these centres. Parents of young people with special needs who rely on youth centres to ensure that their children are getting the opportunity to mix with other children but in a secure environment.

Our councillors need to tell us what they expect these families to do now.

They are also directly responsible when the point is made, "There's nothing for young people to do."

The long term implications for some of these cuts will be profound - and they will impact on our communities for generations to come.

I have also been lobbied about the government’s plans to sell off forests and woodland. The Public Bodies Bill paves the way for the complete sell-off of the English Forestry Commission Estate (FCE). It will allow Ministers to dispose of land without consulting Parliament.

Ministers have yet to clarify how rights to public access and the maintenance of biodiversity in our forests will be managed. Residents have also told me that they are worried that developers will just chop down the trees and build on the land. So far, the government has not given any idea of why developers would buy woods or forests unless it was to develop the land.

Lyndsey Page from Maghull told me, “You have only to look at the local King George V playing field in Maghull.  Given by the original owners to the people of Maghull to be a green space in perpetuity it has gradually over the years become more concrete.”