Here’s ten very good reasons (according to the Southport Labour Party) why the suggestion of a reorganisation of local government in Sefton would be bad for our town, is ill thought out and would cost everyone money:
1. The Local Government Commission in 1997 concluded any reorganisation of Sefton would be expensive and risk delivery of services. That hasn’t changed. They said “There is a real danger that a new authority for Southport would be marginalised, without a strong voice in Merseyside or beyond. It would have limited resources to tackle the pressures on services from the combination of tourism and an elderly population, and might find it difficult to attract staff of the right calibre.”
2. In the Boundary Commission’s report figures were produced by KPMG that estimated the cost of potential reorganisation along with increased ongoing costs. Allowing for inflation our calculations show that a reorganisation would increase council tax in Southport by around 25.8% in the first year.
3. A unitary authority has a responsibility for over 1,300 statutory duties. A new organisation to carry out those responsibilities would cost a substantial amount of public money in management and consultancy fees, legal costs, recruitment, setting up offices, opening depots, buying equipment, establishing functioning departments and services, re-branding, negotiations with the likes of Merseytravel, the City Region, police and fire authority, waste disposal authorities, health authorities (councils have public health duties), and many other bodies. Who would carry out this set up and negotiation, how much would it cost and how would it be funded? The financial risks and uncertainties multiply the more that the issue is examined.
4. There is the massive question mark over what would happen to assets like the Atkinson. This is Sefton’s cultural centre, paid for by the borough. Would Southport have to compensate the rest of the borough and would a smaller council be able to run it? Who would negotiate the transfer of assets and what would Southport lose?
5. There are currently 21 councillors in Southport. The Lib Dems say that they want to reduce the number of councillors in Sefton. A unitary authority would require many more councillors than 21 in order to function and fill all the committees. Halton is sometimes cited as an example of a small unitary authority in Merseyside that broke away (in this case from Cheshire). The difference is that Halton was already established as a district council. Halton has a population of 125,000 and 56 councillors. On the same basis Southport would need around 40 councillors, virtually double the present number.
6. There is no precedent that we can find for breaking up a unitary authority in the way that they are proposing. More uncertainty and risk with no real promise of improvements for residents.
7. The government has a policy of funding of local councils moving away from central government grants towards a system of funding using local business rates by 2020. Nobody knows what the funding situation would look like then. One could imagine that the bulk of business rates income in Sefton come from areas where industry and businesses are located, i.e. not Southport but further south towards the port area (don’t forget Seaforth docks are located in Sefton). Therefore the level of future funding that would be available for Southport is hugely uncertain
8. The arguments the Lib Dems use for the UK to remain in Europe are the opposite to the ones they use on the Southport out of Sefton. John Pugh MP said, regarding Europe “The family of nations that constitute the EU is not without its stresses and strains but nothing is ever solved in families by walking away and rejection.” Senior Southport Lib Dem councillor Iain Brodie Browne suggested the LibDems need to dust off the slogan “withdrawal doesn’t work”. We agree with these sentiments when applied to the issue of Southport and Sefton.
9. Liam Robinson, the chair of Merseytravel wrote to the Champion newspaper last year:
“I was somewhat puzzled to see the advert in last week’s Champion from the Liberal Democrats purporting to say that current concessionary rail and bus travel for over 60’s Southport’s residents across Merseyside would be safe if Southport set up its own council. The process of setting up a new council would inevitably lead to more bureaucracy and costs and put even greater pressure on budgets to provide services. As the Lib Dems know full well, in this event any new council would have to provide the national concessionary scheme and negotiate its own deal on local additional concessions either separately, or continuing to be part of Merseyside. With the greater financial pressures setting up a new council would bring, it is disingenuous for them to say that they can guarantee any service, such as concessionary travel.”
10. As a very small unitary authority, Southport would struggle to exert influence regionally and therefore would never be at the front of the queue for transport and infrastructure funding. The Local Government Commission concluded “ The distinctive voice of Southport in Merseyside would be small and peripheral.”