March 2 2011 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

Bill Esterson

 

Sefton Council will set its budget on Thursday.

 

The government is cutting the grant to Sefton by 30% so the council will have 30% less to spend on services over the next few years. That cut in grant means that many services will be cut and 1,000 jobs will go.

 

At its last meeting, Sefton Council approved cuts across the board including to the most vulnerable elderly, to people with disabilities and to young people.

 

The council agreed to close all of its youth clubs including Redgate in Formby, Stafford Moreton in Maghull and Oriel Drive in Aintree.

 

It agreed to abolish school uniform grants, to cut back in activities for children with disabilities and to stop the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. It cut support to the brownies and it decided to review all 19 children’s centres, including those at Hudson Primary School in Maghull, Holy Rosary Primary School in Aintree.

 

There will also not be the same neighbourhood teams or front-line police as a result of the cuts.

 

At the last council meeting, the Labour Group voted against the cuts and proposed a number of amendments to the budget including saving the children’s centres, youth clubs and Duke of Edinburgh Award. These amendments were defeated by the other councillors which is why Labour voted against the overall package of cuts.

 

The council is in an impossible position. It has to set a legal budget on Thursday otherwise the government will step in, fine the council, make bigger cuts and possibly surcharge the councillors. This is what happened in Liverpool in the 1980s and a repeat performance in Sefton will not help those people who rely on the council and it will not save the jobs which are under threat.

 

But there is an alternative to some of the cuts, there is an alternative to cutting services to the most vulnerable. Joe Anderson, the leader of Liverpool City Council has shown that it is possible to protect some of the services to the most vulnerable. It is possible to keep youth clubs open and it is possible to save our Sure Start Children’s Centres.

 

Joe does not want to make any of the cuts but he is forced to do so by the government. So he has decided to protect those services which are most important to the people of Liverpool. And what’s more he has the support not just of his Labour colleagues but also of the Lib-Dem leader, the Liberal councillors and the Greens as well.

 

Joe consulted the people of Liverpool to find out what services they wanted to protect at all cost if cuts were forced on the council by the government. Joe also has the support of the Liverpool Echo and the Daily Post in Liverpool not for the Labour Party but for the people of Liverpool.

 

Sefton has a hung council. So far the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have voted for the cuts and Labour has voted against. In June, the Labour group in Sefton proposed that the council should consult with people across Sefton just like Joe Anderson has done in Liverpool, but this proposal was rejected by the other parties.

 

The consultation would have been to try to make the cuts as fair as possible and to protect the services which are most important to the people of Sefton.

 

By the way the cuts are far from fair, especially when you consider that councils such as Dorset and Richmond on Thames are not having to make cuts at all.

 

On Thursday, there is a chance to look again at what is being cut and to protect the youth clubs, the children’s centres, the Duke of Edinburgh Award and the day centres. These are services which protect some of the most vulnerable and which prevent more problems in future years.

 

I met the sister of a 60 year old man who goes to a day centre every week. He has a learning disability and doesn’t understand why his day centre might close. But his sister does and so do the parents and carers who came to visit me recently.

 

This is not the time to go into why the government is cutting so far and so fast. The reality is that the government is not going to change its mind before Sefton sets its budget.

 

I agree that the cuts are not fair and that Sefton Council are in an impossible position but I would urge the councillors from all parties in Sefton to take a long hard look at the budget, to think about how Liverpool managed to protect some of the services and to think about what the priorities really should be in Sefton on Thursday.

 

And I would urge the newspapers in Sefton to give their support to the people of Sefton who most need their help and to lobby councillors from all parties to set a budget which is as fair as possible.