March 9 2011 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

Bill Esterson

 

Sefton Council set its budget last week and made cuts of £44 million.

 

The cuts included £1million from youth services out of a total budget of £1.4million. They included £900,000 from Sure Start Children’s Centres and they included £3million from Sefton New Directions which includes cuts to day centres and care for the elderly and disabled as well as massive cuts in pay for staff already on very low wages.

 

This is the reality of where the cuts will hit and some of our most vulnerable people will suffer from the cuts. The cuts to services for young people and families are a worry both now and for the long term as these services help prevent problems in later years by giving stability to families and to young people who have nowhere else to turn.

 

One of the young people who attended the public meeting at Stafford Moreton Youth Club in Maghull told us he was worried that he would have nothing else to do so could end up involved in crime. To be fair to that young man and to the other very impressive youngsters who went to the meeting, I thought the real threat was to them as they won't have a safe place to go. Young people may become involved in crime but they are also far more likely to be victims of crime and that is one of the reasons why the cuts are such a concern.

 

In Liverpool, the council had to make similar cuts. They took a different approach. These cuts are not fair to start with but Liverpool tried to make them as fairly as possible by spreading them across all services evenly. That means that Liverpool is saving most of its youth clubs and children’s centres.

 

The cuts in Liverpool are no more acceptable than those in Sefton but the council has worked with the community to try to find a way of protecting the services which are most important to the people. I hope that even after the budget, Sefton councillors will think again and reverse some of the decisions so that we don’t see Youth Clubs closing in a few months time or see Children’s Centres closing after the reviews are finished.

 

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My Case Worker, Veronica, spent three days arranging for Jennifer Currie from Thornton to fly home from Libya with her baby Ailesha and her six year old daughter Nadia. They were stuck in a flat in Gharian, 80 miles from Tripoli where the baby’s father lived.

 

All around them fighting was going on and Jennifer had to run with the children to find a taxi to take her to the airport. Nadia had to explain to the taxi driver in Arabic where to take them. A remarkable woman in Tripoli met them and guided them through immigration and onto a plane to Tunisia. From Tunisia, they flew to Frankfurt and then to Heathrow.

 

Jennifer was remarkably brave and I don’t know how she managed to run past people shooting at each other in the street.

 

When Jennifer asked the government for help she was told that she was on her own. When my office asked the government for help they refused to even pay for the taxi to the airport and insisted that Jennifer’s family book and pay for the flights. It took us 36 hours to get a change of heart but even then, the Foreign Office insisted that Jennifer would have to pay for the flights when she arrived home.

 

I raised this with the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and he has now said that Jennifer will not have to pay. I worry that other families stuck in Libya will not have the same support and will face the same resistance from Foreign Office management. It was only because Veronica kept badgering them that they changed their minds.

 

Once Jennifer was at Heathrow Airport, we had to make all the arrangements to get her home to Thornton. Happily Virgin Trains gave the family complimentary first class tickets and Delta Taxis drove them home from Lime Street Station again for free.

 

Happily Jennifer, Ailesha and Nadia are back home and are safe and I would like to thank all the people who helped including foreign office staff once their superiors had their change of heart.