The Grayling Statement On Plans For Britain’s, But Not West Lancashire’s, Railways

 The last time I checked, West Lancashire was still in Britain. So it was with some bewilderment that I read about the “Rail Update” for Britain by the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling MP yesterday. “A railway that is predominantly run by a joint local team of people” he said. Some of us were naive enough to believe him.

Rosie Cooper MP said “My constituents will be listening with avid interest, because prior to the general election, the Transport Secretary visited my constituency and said that the reinstatement of the Burscough curves between Burscough, Preston and Ormskirk would be a “quick win” to help improve rail services in the north. When will we get this “quick win”? When will funding for that project, for electrification in the area and for the Skelmersdale railway station be forthcoming? My constituents look forward to him keeping his promise”.

And Grayling replied “Of course, the people of West Lancashire will be getting the benefit of the investment programme in the line from Manchester to Blackpool. It is a huge investment in improving the services on that route. That, right now, is our priority. After that, I hope we will move forward with other projects that can make a difference to passengers in Lancashire and elsewhere in the north-west”.

Sheer political bullshit. How on earth can anybody in West Lancashire now believe Grayling’s “quick win” promise?

How Transparent Is Your Parish Council?

 Parish Councils, we are told, are the first tier of Local Government, and as such are closest to residents. Parish Councils are required by law under “The Transparency Code” to publish details of their expenditure and financial statements and accounts. The Smaller Authorities Transparency Code came into force on 1 April 2015 and “requires the online publication of certain information which the Government requests, to provide taxpayers with a clear picture of the authority’s activities, spending, and governance, and will improve the ability of communities to hold local public bodies to account. This includes any information on joint committees. All smaller authorities must make sure they are compliant”.

One of the parish activities is to set a budget that will give a clear focus on what residents really want to see in their community when considering any future projects. And to help the community there is participatory budgeting, a process which allows members of a community to participate in making spending decisions about local things that affect them. But for those who don’t participate in the budget process the community will probably not be able to see the budget at all.

Some parish councils DO publish their full budgets. Most do not, merely issuing summaries. They do publish the audited accounts which show the spending and governance. Having recently asked to see the Aughton Parish Council budget I was supplied with a summary. I then asked under Freedom of Information Act 2000 for the full budget, offering to pay for the copies. I eventually received what I had asked for, but was mildly admonished in public for my requests, after all, the clerk is only part-time and very busy! I was also reminded there is a public budget meeting I could have attended. But when I did, a year or two ago it was held in a small meeting room that housed very few people and had no room for the public. That’s how to keep it secret! Why should the public know what will happen to total value of cash and short term investments of £109,239, that’s almost twice the annual precept of £56,903 we are charged.

What can you expect from your parish council? As an example Downholland Parish Council contributes to KIT, the Downholland Newsletter. Its most recent issue includes “Road Safety-We are always concerned about speeding, whether along the main road or in other locations and so we have decided to invest in some “SPID Smiley Face” speed indicators. We will have one to begin with, which can be moved round to preserve its impact. More can be acquired in due course. Owen Connolly Chairman”. Yes, SPIDs for road safety!

And from County Cllr David O’Toole-“I have received a note of thanks from the Haskayne Downholland Community Association saying “Just to say many thanks for your continued support and for the sum of £500 received from your Member’s Grant. This will help towards the maintenance costs to keep our Village Hall in good order”.

And the Community Orchard. “The Community Orchard within The Jubilee Playing Fields is stocked with many apple, pear and damson trees. These have been donated to the community by the local authority. The trees are growing well and bearing fruit, but they would benefit from the attention of someone who has some knowledge of the care of such trees. The Parish Council is seeking a volunteer or volunteers who would ‘adopt’ the trees and attend to their care and pruning when necessary. If you are interested in helping in this way, please contact any Parish Councillor for further information”.

Some parish councils really do serve their communities.

LCC Facing £161million Funding Gap To Save £7million!

 A feeble savings proposal totalling around £7m over the next three years will be considered by Lancashire County Council’s Cabinet when it meets on Thursday next week (7 December 2017). But they do not include stopping the number of councillors receiving special responsibility allowances after it was revealed that three-quarters of all Conservative county councillors received such an allowance on top of their more than £10,000 a year basic allowance.

OWL Adrian Owens said that he was shocked when a Freedom of Information request revealed that 33 Conservative county councillors receive these extra allowances worth typically £7-8,000 a year and sometimes more. There are currently only 42 Conservative county councillors in total. Perhaps the other 9 are wondering why not them?

The proposals, which cover plans as diverse as potentially closing some transport information centres, stopping the member grants scheme, and stopping some of the county council’s extra sheltered care support , have been worked up by senior council officers and will be presented to Cabinet as budget options.

Speaking about the proposals, County Councillor Geoff Driver CBE, Leader of Lancashire County Council, said “We have made no secret of the fact that the county council faces an extremely serious financial challenge. We know that we will face a funding gap of £161m in 2021/22 and that we will have spent the county council’s available reserves within the next two years. It is imperative that we put plans in place to make the necessary savings to secure a sustainable future for the county council, and the vital services that our most vulnerable residents rely on. That will inevitably mean making very difficult decisions and it is clear that these proposals will require very serious thought and consideration of their implications, when Cabinet meets next week”.

OWL Cllr Owens wrote “We’ve written to the Independent Panel that makes recommendations on county councillor allowances. Sadly, they don’t ask the public’s view and then they are sometimes ignored by the county councillors. However, we’ve proposed a limit of 16 councillors getting these special allowances. That would bring the ‘chiefs’ and ‘indians’ into a more appropriate balance and save many tens of thousands of pounds”.

Borough Gets It Wrong On Flood Warnings

 West Lancashire Borough Council (WLBC) recently issued a Press Release that advised residents to “report flooding to the Environment Agency” (EA), and detailed how they could receive Flood Warnings. That information was very misleading and may well lead to increased levels of under-recording of local flooding incidents.

The EA is primarily associated with rivers and coastal flooding, and the majority of flooding in West Lancashire and certainly in terms of Burscough, has largely been due to surcharging of foul/rainwater sewers and blocked drains, which in fact must be reported to United Utilities (UU). Flooded roads must be reported to Lancashire County Council if they are badly affected, for example Course Lane in Newburgh, a stretch of which has now been flooded for almost a week.

WLBC’s advice on how to receive flood warnings was also misleading as those only relate to coastal and river flooding, which fortunately infrequently affect West Lancashire. Such warnings will NOT warn of sewer or road flooding.

It is difficult to believe that WLBC would not know the correct flood-reporting procedures, especially considering this area has experienced increased frequency of flooding in recent years. When flooding does occur, it is vital that it is reported to the correct agency.

United Utilities 24hr telephone number is 0345 672 3723 or email
customer.services@uuplc.co.uk put “Network Complaints Dept” in the subject line. If you have recurring foul or surface water sewer flooding problems, get in touch with BFG and we can advise you how to make your complaint count, email: BFG@fullstopltd.co.uk   Stephen McCloskey Chairman BFG.

NB

Cllr John Hodson comments “The EA state: “If you wish to report a flooding incident, or have concerns that your property may be immediately at risk of flooding, please contact the Environment Agency on 0345 988 1188 where Environment Agency staff with up to date information will be able to assist you”. This is the correct number as listed under ‘Floodline” on the official EA website and so the information on WLBC website is correct and is designed to reduce confusion rather than add to it as BFG’s statement risks doing so”.

 

Moon’s “I Am A Wyre Landlord” Statement Comes Back To Haunt Him In West Lancashire

 An elected member of any local authority is bound by the ethics and standards of public office however many public offices are held by that member. Cllr Paul Moon, local member for Hesketh-with -Becconsall is somewhat unique insofar as he’s also the member for Preesall in Wyre. Public expectations of Moon in both council wards are that he serves them, not himself. But in bizarre circumstances Moon, as a councillor landlord in Preesall was able to speak about landlord housing matters in West Lancashire while six West Lancashire councillor landlords were denied that right.

Principles (often now called the Nolan Principles) – Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership – have been accepted and expected by the public and those active in public life as appropriate determinants of behaviour, and now underpin much of the UK public sector ethical infrastructure. If you work in local government, if you are elected, if you are a statutory officer, if you are an administrator or even if your organisation delivers a service paid for by the taxpayer, these Seven Principles are the ethical framework that should underpin your work. They outline what your baseline ethical considerations should be in administering the public interest as an appointed, employed, or elected person in local government, be it as a holder of one seat or more. And they do not apply on an individual “pick and mix” choice.

Readers may recall an exchange of emails in October 2016 between Conservative Wyre and West Lancashire member Paul Moon and OWL West Lancashire member Adrian Owens that included the public admission from Moon “I also have a property in Preesall which I rent out from which I supplement my pension as a retired firefighter”. In simple terms, Moon is a Wyre landlord. Moon’s Wyre declaration of a disclosable pecuniary interest in respect of 4 Unsworth Avenue, Preesall repeats his admission to Cllr Owens. These are indisputable facts. It must surely follow that reference to the basic ethical considerations of selflessness and integrity should follow Cllr Moon into both of his elected posts to serve the public and not his aim of supplementing his pension. Or perhaps not?

In a matter of national law “Minute 36 Agenda Item 13 ‘Housing and Planning Act 2016: Civil Penalties & Rent Repayment Orders’ as landlords” that was considered at the WLBC Full Council meeting held on Wednesday 18th October 2017 Moon did not mention his pecuniary interest as a landlord and hence the question of twin-hatting became an issue of member standards, transparency, ethical, and moral principles. At the time of Moon’s “twin-hat outing” Lancashire MP Cat Smith said it “looks self-serving”.

On 18th October not only did Moon NOT declare himself to be a landlord, albeit in Wyre, but as a self confessed landlord he watched as Councillors Blane, Bullock, G Hodson, J Hodson, C Marshall and Mrs Marshall declared Disclosable Pecuniary Interests and left the room whilst this item was under consideration. Insofar as the six WLBC council members who left the room did so in respect of their Disclosable Pecuniary Interests, their constituent electors were consequently left unrepresented, unlike the constituent electors of Cllr Moon who were represented by his presence and opinions given. He spoke about carbon monoxide detectors, matters of serious consideration for any landlord, in Wyre or West Lancashire.

Moon had a choice, of declaring himself as a Wyre landlord and seeking dispensation from the Borough Solicitor to speak as a landlord in West Lancashire, or sitting on his hands and shutting up. That he did not do so was a perverse and unacceptable situation for many WLBC electors. Case law already exists that suggests that in Essex the County Council and Fire Authority Joint Standards Committee authorised the grant of dispensation for “twin-hatted members” who are members of other public authorities, under Section 33(2) Localism Act 2011. Section 34 of the LA 2011 creates a criminal offence where a member fails without reasonable excuse to comply with the requirements to declare discloseable pecuniary interests or takes part in council business at meetings.

An opinion suggested locally is that because the subject of WLBC Minute 36 being discussed on 18th October applied only in West Lancashire, Moon was not officially barred from speaking as a Wyre landlord. But with the memory of 88% of residents in a local newspaper poll calling on Moon to resign his West Lancashire seat, this is a further ethical test of local democracy. As stated earlier “An elected member of any local authority is bound by the ethics and standards of office”. Do they change between Wyre and West Lancashire whose council tax payers fund both seats but with different standards?

As for the leadership of Moon’s West Lancashire Tory party, its ethical stance is invisible on this matter even though three of its members did the right thing and left the meeting. No surprise there then. In this case the determinant of behaviour has no binding ethics but a loose relationship with them.

Stop Moaning, We’re Leaving The EU

  Frank Baybutt of Burscough writes to the Champion to berate “Remoaners with their useless arguments” and to suggest they “Stop moaning because you lost the democratic vote and get over it. We are leaving-full stop end of-and the sooner the better”.

But it seems that leaving will be painful as EU “blackmail” suggests Theresa May is about to hoist the white flag  by telling an EU employee she is prepared to give ground on the “Brexit divorce bill” as Brussels demands a written guarantee of more money to unlock trade talks. The European Council President will make it clear to the Prime Minister that Britain must give a “no strings attached” promise of paying substantially more than the current £20 billion on offer.

Mrs May, who this week won the backing of senior Cabinet ministers to make an offer that could run to 40 billion euros, has not ruled out giving the EU a written breakdown of what Britain considers its financial obligations to be, but will insist on a written guarantee of trade talks in return. Like me you will wonder why we should pay just to talk, and just where will this 40 billion euros suddenly appear from? Whoops, borrowed and interest paid on the borrowing, of course!

The EU will not expect Mrs May to name a figure at this stage, but wants detail on exactly what Britain is prepared to pay for. EU sources said Brussels would refuse point-blank to say in writing that a better financial offer would be accepted. Point blank refusal from the EU, total capitulation from the UK!

But no deal IS now an option. As a barrister reported the other day “The EU is digging its heels in. But this isn’t the cataclysmic option many people think. In fact, with a simple conformity deal, the no-deal scenario would work very well for the UK indeed.

“It would benefit not only the UK and EU’s businesses, but their citizens too. But we must not accept a deal at any cost. It now seems the EU is trying to force us to comply with all their regulations and tack to the ECJ rulings, without even the possibility of free trade. This is unworkable. It’s time to walk away, and the way to do it is through our ‘Most-Favoured-Nation’ status with the World Trade Organisation that denies other countries including the EU the right to penalise the UK”.

Once again we see this country on its knees while the so called super state gloats at our weakness. It’s shameful.

Lancashire County Council Continues Response To Flooding

  Having had highways teams out overnight, assisting the emergency services, clearing drains and culverts, and delivering sandbags, Lancashire County Council staff will be out today assessing any damage caused by the flooding, and clearing debris from roads and drains.

Speaking about last night’s flooding, which particularly affected the north of the county, as well as pockets in areas including Chorley, Whalley and the M65, County Councillor Keith Iddon, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport seen above, said “My sympathies go out to everyone affected by last night’s flooding. The problems were caused by the sheer volume of rainwater. We saw very high river levels, including the River Conder breaking its banks in Galgate, which meant that water pouring off the land into drains on the roads had nowhere to go. Fortunately, when the rain stopped at around 4am this morning, we saw the flooding clear quite quickly.

“Our out of hours teams across the county, include drivers on standby for gritting duties, spent all night assisting the emergency services, clearing drains and culverts, putting out warning signs and delivering sandbags. We will have other staff out today assessing damage to our highways, clearing any debris left on roads or washed into drains, as well as visiting affecting residents to offer support and advice”. Shouldn’t all the drains have been routinely cleared? Doesn’t the LCC know what happens when surface water can’t run off, it runs into peoples’ homes?