The Sefton Council Conservative group have shocked local residents by backing the Labour Party in ‘keeping the lid on’ the wrongdoings of the past Mark Dowd Merseyrail regime. In doing so, they have broken ranks with the Wirral Tories, who have lined up woth Sefton Lib Dem Member John Dodd and other Merseytravel members from Liverpool and St Helens, who want these matters exposing.
The Sefton Conservatives voted with the Labour Party against a Lib Dem motion at Sefton Council’s July meeting, The motion called on the Council to support moves to get a ministerial Inquiry into the allegations made in the Hanson Report on governance in Merseyside which was presented to the District Auditor. Although the District Auditor criticised the Merseytravel bossses for a number of serious matters, there was a whole list of other concerns where he said that not enough evidence had been circulated for him to be able to make a decision one way or another. The Lib Dem motion was an attempt to have all these other matters looked into properly.
Key issues of concern raised in the Hanson report include:
how Merseytravel abandoned its previous (paid for) home to move into a luxury new building which was bigger than it needed at a monstrous cost (£2.8 million per year)
how Merseytravel abandoned the planned ‘vertical integration’ of train and rail services in the area, having spent over £1.5 million on this already, without even receiving a report on the options from its officers
how law firm DLA Piper received £300,000 without tendering for work and public affairs company Bircham Dyson Bell received £10.000 per month.
The District Auditor said: ” There appear to be a number of areas where standing orders have not been followed, European procurement law breached and potentially where it is difficult to demonstrate funds have been properly expende and value for money achieved.”
Labour councillor Joe Hanson said that there was a culture within Merseytravel under Cllr Dowd which allowed councillors to not present invoices or receipts for business trips. He continued:
“The practice demonstrates…the ‘Gravy train’ mentality that exists in the organisation.
“The reality is that (Merseytravel) was an old boys club with little or no effective scrutiny.
“There is still resistance to effective scrutiny, with obstacles being put in place which can only be described as the old guard within Merseytravel afraid of change and frightened that the level of scrutiny will raise an awful lot of questions.”
The backing for Mark Dowd by the Sefton Tories is reminiscent of May 2009, when local election results meant that Labour lost its majority on Merseytravel and might have been expected to have to give up the Chairmanship of the Authority. To keep Mark Dowd in power, Labour created a highly-paid new position to give to the Tory Merseytravel member who was then taxied from his sick bed to the Merseytravel AGM to vote to keep Mark Dowd in the chair and Labour in power.
Mark Dowd was controversially reappointed as a Sefton representative on Merseytravel by a meeting chaired by his brother on 24th May, in what was minuted as an ‘urgent decision’. He resigned as Merseytravel chair precisely 14 days later and he was replaced as Sefton Council representative at the July council meeting, despite the Lib Dems supporting Conservative leader Peter Papworth for this position.
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