Friday, 18 January 2008

With friends like this.....

The battle lines in the Southport Tories are becoming clearer. This blog identified the three Dukes ward councillors as prime suspects to appear before Brenda's Star Chamber. We will return to the fate of David Pearson, but as we always suspected it is the two Grandees that are the real target of the Porter people. Sir Ron they hate. The story below was set up by the Tory leadership. We have for years resisted the temptation to make an issue of the level of expenses that Les Byrom and Sir Ron claim from public bodies other than the council. I know I was sorely tempted to do so when Birkdale Tories tried to make an issue of our expenses in one election when they were a tiny fraction of the Dukes Ward Tories.
Now there are two separate issues here. One is whether you take the Government's shilling and accept a post on a NHS board and implement New labour policy. That is a personal decision and is a fine judgement. I strongly believe that the NHS should be governed local and democratically accountable.
The second point, and where Sir Ron and Les real annoy the little town Tories is their participation in local government's interface with national government. I am clear that is essential. Local government needs to talk to Whitehall/Westminster. There is no point just sniping from the sidelines it is essential that local government gets its point across over legislation, regulations and governance. I would go so far as to say that unless local government is to be dispensed with we need to have those robust conversations. Sefton council needs to play its part. Who the individual people are who take up that role is up to the parties. In the Lib Dems they are elected by all our councillors in England. Clearly our local Tories want to opt out of that process and bury their heads in the Ainsdale sands. Sefton cannot operate in glorious isolation. We are subjected to central government's policies and we must influence them. That is best done in alliance with the rest of the local government family.I would say that Sandy Bruce Lockheart,a Conservative, the retired chair of the Local Government Association did a very good job as did his Labour predecessor Sir Jeremy Bentham.
Now as to whether Sir Ron's expenses should be paid by Sefton or by his nominating authority is a separate matter that the Tories need to work out. Sir Ron can hardly expect us to bail him out if his own leader will not go in to bat for him. The truth we suspect is that this issue has been poisoned by the Porter/Parry leadership who she it as a way to get even with the Dukes Ward Tories. I guess that is poor leadership. In most walks of life what to do to former leaders is an issue. In local government one way of constructively coping with that is to use them as representatives on national bodies. Les and Sir Ron are lucky to have David Pearson looking after the ranch whilst they are away.

Champion report
Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sir Ron Watson in expenses row

Southport Hospital boss Sir Ron Watson is embroiled in an embarrassing row over expenses, can reveal.
Sir Ron is a member of the influential Local Government Association (LGA). But Sefton Council is refusing to pay his expenses when he attends LGA meetings in London.
A Conservative councillor for the town centre, he is also a member of numerous bodies both local and national (see panel right), earning up to an estimated £50,000 of public money a year in fees and expenses.
Sir Ron, who is chairman of Southport and Ormskirk Hospital Trust ( £20,000 a year) is vice chairman of the LGA’s urban commission. They meet four times a year for which he receives a fee of £4,600. At present he is having to pay his own LGA travelling and subsistence expenses.
“I am in the invidious position where Sefton is the only local authority in the country not to follow the normal protocol for an LGA representative to have his expenses paid by his own local authority,” he said. “They have not even given me the reason for their refusal.” He is furious details of his fight with the local authority have been made public. understands he raised the issue at a meeting of the Sefton Conservative Group on Monday night (14 January 2008) but received little support.
Sir Ron was a Sefton Council nominee on the LGA, but was ditched by new Tory leader Paula Parry, who it is believed, is anxious to share such “perks” among all group members.
His Dukes ward colleague Cllr Les Byrom (who was ousted as leader by Cllr Parry) then nominated Sir Ron for the LGA in his role as chairman of the Conservative Group of Merseyside Fire Authority.
Sir Ron is not a member of the fire authority and is therefore not entitled for his LGA expenses to be paid by them. It later transpired Cllr Byrom’s nomination was ineligible and was replaced by a nomination by the Conservative Group on the LGA.
Supporters of Sir Ron claim he is the victim of a witchhunt – along with fellow Dukes Cllr David Pearson (see story above) – within his own group. However, the decision to reject his expenses claim was made by all three party leaders (Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat) on the local authority.
Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Tony Robertson was unavailable for comment but a council spokesman told “Sir Ron put himself forward for membership of the LGA and he does not represent Sefton Council on all occasions. We are not the only local authority in the country who adopt this policy.”
Supporters of new Tory leader Cllr Parry say she is determined to ensure her members spend more time doing work in their own wards rather than travelling the country as members of various bodies. But there is no doubt, as reported some weeks ago, that there is a definite move by members of the Tory group to make the three Dukes ward councillors – Byrom, Pearson and Watson – toe the line. The Tories are confident Ainsdale Cllr Brenda Porter can beat Lib Dem MP John Pugh at the next general election and want a united front.

By Martin Hovden