There have been some intriguing events in recent days, giving insights into how various political groupings intend to approach the forthcoming local elections. I begin with one of our quieter boroughs, Halton, suddenly replete with hopeful announcements of future developments. Good news galore, you might say, including the council’s intention to turn Runcorn into a tourist hot spot, no less. Joining a publicity shot concerning canal-centred development was local MP Derek Twigg, and what appeared to be two Buddhist monks!! We are also told that the new Mersey Gateway bridge means hundreds of new jobs for the town, along with increasing real estate values – just as major new road works commence.
Knowsley has kept a low profile of late, although I am being told that the Labour monopoly in Kirkby is set to be challenged again by local residents, tired of waiting for the long-overdue – and promised – town centre renewal. Last time out, Labour complacency was shaken by set backs in Prescot and in Halewood. Is Kirkby set to join the club?
Neighbouring St Helens remains preoccupied with the Labour group’s internal rivalries, whilst Sefton’s ruling Labour group faces stiff opposition to the proliferation of proposed housing developments and their potential effect on green space. Such is the nature of local council fortunes as elections loom. Like all local authorities, those of our city-region perpetually face difficult decisions which must be taken. It is at election time when the council tax payer has the opportunity to exercise their franchise regardless of the claims and counter-claims of the different political parties. Even within those parties, it is far from clear cut to predict the outcomes of the election.
Take Wirral, for example. The resignations and deselections may or may not have a bearing on the election results. The divisions within the currently dominant Labour group – and, indeed, the wider Wirral Labour Party – are there for all to see. The mini-group of deselected Labour councillors may yet turn out to have a critical bearing on the council’s future. Perhaps, more important will be the battle to succeed Phil Davies as Labour group leader, and the concomitant redistribution of cabinet portfolios – that is, assuming that Labour retain control.
Come what may, I can see further political embarrassment for Wirral Labour. There are still concerns about retiring councillor Paul Dougherty. His registered address – Waterloo Building in Bridge Street – is the registered home to a number of extremely dodgy companies, together with their extremely dodgy directors. He remains central to the unexplained and hefty pay increases to senior officers of the Mersey Pension Fund. Perhaps a new intake of councillors will take these matters more seriously than has been the case hitherto.
Naturally, Liverpool will again stumble into the local election campaign with Joe leading the way like a poor man’s Donald Trump, although he is not yet facing the electorate himself. Still, he is there making more promises – or trashing old ones – with a cavalier disregard for reality. He has suddenly remembered the empty and unused state-of-the-art Parklands school in Speke. This has for years been costing the council taxpayer £4 million per annum, but he has failed to seal this massive financial drain.
However, he is now promising 1500 houses on the toxic International Garden Festival site (down from the 2500 previously promised). He says this might start in 2020, but his own professional officer , Chris Ridland, has pointed out to the mayor and his cabinet that remediation of the site could cost £30 million and take ten years. Finally, Joe has announced yet another city centre road scheme, beautifying the area around Lime Street and St John’s Gardens at a cost of a mere £67 million. Where all this money is to come from in these times of austerity, we can only guess. Still, it is election time.
One tiny sign of progress is the news that the council’s audit team is to look at long last at the scandal of the match-day car parks. True to form, the Echo has plagiarised what I have been saying for years – and still getting it wrong. There are three car parks which need to be looked at. The biggest – on the corner of Priory Road – appears to be outside of both the scope of the council audit and the Echo’s half-baked reportage. Ho hum, roll on May 2nd.