Monday, 23 February 2015

Labour Leader gets his facts wrong again on Sefton Local Plan

In a far from impressive performance at the last Full Council held in Bootle Town Hall the council leader rounded on concerned-and very well informed- residents and accused them of peddling myths. It was not his finest hour. The local plan has been controversial throughout Sefton and very late changes have justly upset folks. Here in Southport and plot of land designated for industry all of a sudden became a large housing estate.
 
In Birkdale our chief concern has been with neighbouring West Lancs proposal to build significant numbers of houses hard on the boundary -well away from centres of population within that borough- making it inevitable that those new resident will access facilities in Birkdale where the new homes bonus and the increase Council Tax will not be collected. I specifically challenged the Leader on school places. In his summing up- captured on video- he dismissed such concerns asserting that there were school places. Brandishing a piece of paper he said he had the figures and that Farnborough Rd Junior School had 26 empty places .
 
The facts are these:
 
Year 3 - 118
Year 4 - 123
Year 5 - 113
Year 6 - 119

This is a total of 473. The school's standard number  per year is 120 ie 480 in the four years.
As they are 3 OVER number in Y4, they actually have 10 spaces in school.

They are over number in Y4 as Sefton admissions have asked us to take children into that year group who have siblings that can be placed in other years in school.
e.g A Y5 place is available, but the Y4 sibling cannot get in. As the family would probably win an appeal, the school has permitted them to start. Each of these cases has gone through In Year fair Access panel.
 
Of those ten places the overwhelming majority, seven, are in the same year.
 
This is a very small example but it does illustrate why there is a scepticism about the Leader's assertions

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Pugh: ' to make cuts and deny them and absurdly twist language to do so is dishonest and dangerous'.

A little extract from Hansard which gives hope to our Councillors:
 
John Pugh (Southport) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts).
It would be churlish not to welcome the new money announced—it is welcome and needed—but I want to make a few brief observations. It is indisputable that during the attack on the deficit local government has been hit first and hardest, as it often is by all Governments—because local government is not us. We set the budget and they, the councillors, have to make the cuts. In fact, however, it is the only public service budget that has to reach a black line every year, no matter what we throw at it—and we have thrown an awful lot at it, which makes things tough and constrained.
It is widely admitted, however, that in very difficult circumstances local government has coped quite admirably—somehow—but in varied ways and with greater or lesser difficulty. If the NAO is to be believed, the Government do not realise how much that has varied and cannot be sure that local government can continue to cope in the future. The hon. Member for Sheffield South East made that point very effectively. We cannot be sure that local government is sustainable in its current form, particularly because no party is offering it any kind of reprieve, so far as I can see.
It is indisputable—I would not disagree with the hon. Gentleman—that by and large the metropolitan and urban areas have lost most in proportional and real terms. We can, as the Government do, call that fair, because they had the most per capita in the first place—and they still have—or unfair because they have the greatest need. We can stand in argument either way, and most of our argument concerns just that point.
I personally regard a 40% overall reduction in the DCLG’s account during this Parliament as too severe to be well managed and as unnecessarily damaging. I say that as a supporter of the Government’s deficit reduction ambitions. I have voted unflinchingly so far on most financial issues. On this occasion, however, one thing sticks in the craw—the dishonesty and disingenuousness of the presentation of the facts.
It was bad enough when we had the sophistry of spending power replacing the clear grant support figures in hard cash terms. When we started to include money actually in the NHS budget in council spending power—and then went on to deny double counting—the truth started to recede for me. It was very depressing. As the hon. Member for Sheffield South East has explained, the last straw came last week when I and other members of the Communities and Local Government Committee, some of whom are present, saw the permanent secretary and head of the civil service, Bob Kerslake, attempting to describe double counting as something else. It was 
10 Feb 2015 : Column 690
almost comical—there were contortions that could have appeared in a TV sketch for “Yes Minister”. It was a genuinely class act of a civil servant defending the indefensible. I urge hon. Members to try to download it or find it on Parliament Live, where they will see it is a work of considerable ingenuity!
My point is simple. To make cuts and defend them is honest and tough; to make cuts and disguise them is, as I think most would accept, cowardly and weak; but to make cuts and deny them and absurdly twist language to do so is dishonest and dangerous.