Monthly Archives: July 2020

Has The Equality Act Given Us Equality?

“2020 marks a decade since the implementation of the Equality Act 2010. In October 2010, it replaced previous anti-discrimination laws with a single Act, making the law easier to understand and strengthening protection in some situations. The Act helps to make Britain an open, equal and inclusive society where everyone is offered a fair chance in life.

“Whilst we know the journey is far from over, we’re proud of how far Britain has come to protect people from discrimination. From equal pay to same sex marriage, hard won rights have changed the way people can live their lives for the better”.

It’s best summed up as “Equality for some” rather than all. Here in West Lancashire, WLBC discriminated deliberately against the elderly and disabled by stopping concessionary travel just as the new Act was passed, while declaring useable reserves of £millions. All they got was social isolation. Where was, and is. their equality?

WLBC deliberately discriminates against residents who live in flood areas. While we regularly report the disgusting flood events of raw sewage in homes and streets in Burscough, opponents of it are ignored and insulted.  Having met with the Flooding Minister and held a Flooding Forum with residents and local agencies, it looks like we need Dad’s Army to hold back the floods, says West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper. The only answer from the agencies seemed to be we should get our own sandbags and help each other! Where is their equality?

WLBC deliberately discriminated against the elderly, senior, golfers of the Beacon Park Golf Club by ruining the course with landfill. WLBC watched as the Seniors were expelled from Senior League Competition matches, and still watches as much of the course still lies derelict under landfill. Where was their equality?

Introduced into West Lancashire while it was under Tory control, and the Westley Arms was open for “free via council tax funding for after-meeting councillors” it was pitiful to see the Act ignored here.

And since Labour gained control, it’s been pitiful to see it still, continually, ignored. They got rid of the Tory “gravy train”. Since then they have agreed with Tories to two absent councillors being kept in paid post after seeking advice from Counsel at a cost of £800 to council tax payers. They endorse the long standing Tory policy of housing development without provision of new utilities and services.

 “An open, equal and inclusive society where everyone is offered a fair chance in life”. Really?

Above And Below Ground in West Lancashire

As building work started on the new Skelmersdale town centre development, January 2020, the official photo-opportunists were there, sharp spade at the ready for the historic press pictures, cutting the first sod!

Councillor Ian Moran, Leader of West Lancashire Borough Council and portfolio holder for Regeneration, said “This is a special day for the people of Skelmersdale as building work begins to make our new town centre a reality. Over the coming months the town centre development will take shape and we can all look forward to the day when we start shopping in these stores and our children are enjoying the play area.

“I want to thank everyone at West Lancashire Borough Council, St. Modwen, Homes England and all our other partners who have helped make this happen. The scheme proves how ambitious the Council is for the economy of Skelmersdale and West Lancashire as a whole”.

Pictured at the site with the developers were Rosie Cooper MP; Councillor Ian Moran, West Lancashire Borough Council Leader; and Jacqui Sinnott-Lacey, West Lancashire Borough Council Chief Operating Officer.

But below ground

are the inadequate sewers and drains in the flooded areas of the borough. Nobody turns up for photographs, just the flooded-out victims of the appalling “so what” borough flooding policies, victims who collect the evidence of their damaged homes. It’s all to no avail. The Burscough Flooding Group seems to aggravate West Lancashire Borough Council merely by being flooded and complaining about it.

In a recent exchange the Secretary of the Burscough Flooding Group wrote in response to a long council denial of secrecy and lack of transparency in the Council “Only WLBC as our Local Planning Authority, has a specific duty to prevent development driven surface and groundwater water flooding onsite and downstream in Burscough from increasing indefinitely.

“As 2019/1182/ARM and 2020/0293/CON are a fait accompli, can you at least reassure residents now expecting increased flooding, that WLBC will discard its hard hats and rigger boots long enough to undertake the investigations requested into the serious issues raised in May 2020?”

The short answer is, and always will be, no. As with the County Council, United Utilities, and the Burscough developers, repairing the drains and sewers and stopping flooding of parts of Burscough, not to mention Ormskirk and Halsall, costs money. Developing Skelmersdale, Burscough, Halsall and green-belt land for housing produces council tax, revenue. That’s what the election manifestos will show next May. It’s disgraceful.



 

The Cost Of Our Public Servants

In The Times a few days ago the costs of public sector pension liabilities were discussed. “Of all the ways to measure the precarious state of the government’s balance sheet, the one that gets the least attention is the whole of government accounts (WGA). Which is odd, because it subjects the government to the same standards as a private company” was suggested.

“The WGA is by no means a perfect measure. Future public sector pension liabilities are capitalised because they are a contractual obligation but spiralling NHS costs are not, because the promise of healthcare is only implicit, for example. But it is more complete than the monthly public finances, with their restricted definition of borrowing and debt. The gaping hole in the monthly data is the cost of those public sector pensions. Every WGA release is a reminder of how expensive they are, how the young are having to mortgage their futures to pay for benefits most will never enjoy, and how reform is vital.

The latest update, for 2018-19, contains some startling revelations. For the first time, the payroll cost of the 5.3 million public sector workers is the largest single government expense. At £256 billion it is bigger than the £230 billion social security bill for state pensions and welfare. Two fifths of that, £96 billion, is the cost of servicing those 5.3 million pensions.

The accounts also include an estimate of the net public sector pension liability for 2019-20. An increase of £350 billion to £2.25 trillion is expected, taking it far above the national debt that year and even above forecasts for this year after the coronavirus bailout.

There is no pot of money to cover the cost; taxpayers will simply have to pick up the bill. What makes the schemes so expensive is that they tie pensions to salaries. Such generous defined-benefit guarantees have vanished from the private sector, where staff have to save up to buy an annuity or property for their retirement income. In a world of tiny returns, this is storing up pension inequality. An employer may pay 10 per cent of an employee’s salary towards their pension but, the WGA reveals, the promises to public sector workers are equivalent to 40 per cent of their wage. For a worker on £30,000, that’s an extra £9,000 a year. An unrecognised wage top-up for the public sector worker. All covered by future taxpayers.

John Ralfe, an independent pensions expert, has proposed a hybrid system, with an initial wage earning defined-benefit perks and, above that threshold, contributions made into a savings pot like private schemes. Universities already do this. Only the first £60,000 accrues defined-benefit entitlements. The public sector would still have better pensions than the private sector but costs would be lowered for future taxpayers. Is the government brave enough to take on the public sector?

West Lancashire Borough Council has pension commitments. In the latest Borough accounts we learn that “The Council employs around 500 people and uses assets of around £258 million to deliver its services. The Council had a total net worth of £92.192m at 31st March 2019, taking into account all of its assets and liabilities, which was a reduction of £1.814m on the previous year. This change was the result of a wide range of different factors.

“The value of the net pension liability in the accounts has increased by £1.078m to £56.573m. The net pension liability represents the excess of long term accrued liabilities, assessed on a prescribed basis, compared with the market value of pension assets. Statutory arrangements for the funding of the pension scheme mean that the financial position of the Council remains healthy”.

Readers know WLBC advertises its vacancies on its website. Perhaps it ought to show a running total of actual employees other than state “around 500” and let us know if the council, with the pensions liabilities, is being prudent in the costs we all carry?

 

Plans To Carve The County Into Three New Authorities

A plan is being drawn up to scrap every local authority in Lancashire and carve the county into three, as part of controversial moves to redraw the council map in the region.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands that members of the ruling Conservative group at Lancashire County Council backed the suggested shake-up at a meeting held over the weekend.

The authority’s chief executive has now been tasked with putting together a more detailed proposal for government approval, possibly as soon as the beginning of September. A majority of county councillors would also have to support the changes before they could be pitched to ministers.

Under the plan, the 131-year-old county council would itself be abolished, along with all 12 district authorities and the two standalone councils in Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen.

In their place would come three so-called “unitary” councils covering central and southern parts of the county (Preston, South Ribble, Chorley and West Lancashire), a broad western and northern area (Blackpool, Wyre, Fylde, Lancaster and Ribble Valley) and the east (Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Rossendale, Hyndburn and Pendle).

That was in response to recent insistence from the government that any deal must be accompanied by a reduction in the number of councils operating in Lancashire, in order to make a combined authority, whose membership would be drawn from the council base, more workable.

However, as the LDRS revealed last week, the LGA declined the invitation to assist in reshaping Lancashire’s local authority set-up, because of likely disunity in the county over the issue. Their assessment may yet prove prescient, with the county council’s proposal now being drafted without any consultation with the district authorities, some of which favour the status quo.

Crucially, the government does not require unanimous agreement amongst councils for any proposed changes. Under a convoluted arrangement, each authority is free to ask the government to be invited to put forward its own proposal for ministers to consider.

If the overtures to the government, either from the county council or any other Lancashire authority, have the desired effect, and Whitehall considers that it is in meaningful discussions over reshaping the local authority landscape in Lancashire, it is likely that next year’s county elections will be cancelled.

West Lancashire

Labour council leader Ian Moran said that he had already spoken to opposition politicians in the district about proposals for a combined authority and council reorganisation and the council would be “confirming its view shortly”.

The Burscough Flood Scandal

This, below, is an annotated picture from Google Earth

It shows the location of the photo used as our header. It is just on the other side of the Railway Crossing from the oft flooded home of the photographer and is one of the main water courses taking water from Burscough.

It is the location of the restriction beneath the Railway which Network Rail refuses to address. You wouldn’t believe that it was on 4th February, 2019 when West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper said “It has taken far too long for this Jacobs flood report to come forward from Lancashire County Council, it’s been a year and a half since I was offered a copy of it at the Flood Forum meeting I held in Christ Church.

“All the county can tell us now is that the recommendations are too expensive to carry out, but very little about what they have been doing for the past two years to make any progress. “This was taxpayers’ money used to fund a very high level and detailed report and the immediate reaction suggests it was all a waste of time and money.

“I have written to Lancashire County Council and to DEFRA to ask what they plan to do now to protect my constituents from the threat of further flooding, many constituents who have already had their lives devastated through flooding in 2012 or 2015.”

On 20th July 2020 Rosie Cooper wrote to a flooded resident of Burscough about the Jacobs Report and with some correspondence from Jacobs she was sending to that resident. It stated “Thank you for reaching out to Jacobs UK and providing comments by ***** to a study we were commissioned to undertake by Lancashire County Council in Burscough. Unfortunately we cannot respond on this matter. We have however forwarded the information you have provided to Rachel Crompton the Flood Risk Manager at Lancashire County Council who is responsible for managing any consultation with local Risk Management Authorities and local communities”. Yours sincerely Tegender Chaudhary Company Secretary. 

It was in February 2018 that Lancashire County Council commissioned Jacobs UK Ltd to “undertake a Level 2 Surface Water Management Plan (SWMP) study covering the small town of Burscough within West Lancashire”. Shortly after the project started, it was put on hold for several months whilst ongoing network modelling was undertaken by United Utilities. This dataset was considered critical to the completion of the SWMP. The project started up again in November 2018, with the updated network model provided March 2019.

A Burscough resident and member of the Burscough Flooding Group affected by these flood events wrote to Rosie Cooper “My personal view, and it is based on my observations rather than the opinion of others, and was formed long before I had any flooding issues, is that “Talking is cheaper than doing”.

“I don’t believe that the Lead Flood Authority was ever meant to be successful, because if they were, then to address all the problems they identify would be prohibitively expensive. So they were set up to fail, understaffed, underfunded and under resourced. If they ever get close to resolving an issue, then it is highly likely that there will be a ‘Reorganisation’ or Members of staff will transfer or leave their post, so that the whole process has to start again.

“I don’t think, given your occupation and experience that I need to spell out the many ways that Government or Local Authorities can avoid or defer paying to get the problem sorted out. BFG have been engaging with the LLFA for over 4 years now, and as was expected when we first met, there has not been a spade in the ground, nor does it look like it will happen any time soon, however, there is no shortage of progress when it comes to Development”.

And that sums up the whole process. Development equals council tax equals huge staffing wages and pensions and sod those flooded out. 

Local Surgeries Prescribing Bikes

The Government is planning to subsidise electronic bicycles for pensioners and commuters as part of plans to massively increase cycling through a £2billion anti-obesity drive.

The e-bikes are like regular bikes but have a small motor usually hidden in the frame to aid travel uphill or on longer journeys. This example shown would cost circa £1,400.

Ministers hope the programme will help those who are less fit or older to get back in the saddle. They could be given up to a third off the £600 – £3,000 cost of a new machine to entice them to take more exercise or leave the car at home.

It comes as Mr Johnson, known as Fatboy Boris, and never known to turn down a pork pie, prepared to unveil a £2billion campaign to get fat Britain ‘on its bike’. Bicycles will be prescribed by doctors for patients and all Britons will be offered free training on how to ride.

Free repair vouchers worth £50 will be handed out and there will be a massive expansion of cycle lanes as part of a revolution unveiled today. Surgeries such as the Aughton Surgery, below, are preparing for the new policy.