Why we are standing for election in Birchwood

April 29, 2021 12:00 AM
By David Eccles and Matt Scott

A message from your Liberal Democrat candidates for Warrington Borough Council (Birchwood ward) and Birchwood Town Council (Locking Stumps ward) at the elections to be held on Thursday 6th May

B&C Focus logoDo you worry about how our money is spent?

As Liberal Democrats, we support openness and transparency when it comes to public funds and how they are spent. In short, we like to see value for money. We are concerned that Birchwood Town Council is not doing enough to ensure this. What checks and balances are in place to see the town's money used wisely, and on things the community considers most important? The answers are not readily available, but the financial figures do tell a story.

The payments per household for Birchwood Town Council services are the highest for any town or parish council in Warrington by a significant margin. For comparison, the cost to Band D properties in 2021/22 is £114.32, which is over 50% more than the £74.29 charged in Penketh. Equivalent figures for Liberal Democrat run parishes include £58.00 in Stockton Heath, £47.80 in Grappenhall & Thelwall, £44.76 in Lymm and £35.09 in Appleton.

The actual amount you pay towards council services may be higher or lower depending on your property band. However, Birchwood Town Council also has the second highest precept - the total amount raised for town or parish services - in the whole of Warrington at £357,726. This figure has risen by 4.5% in each of the past two years, far in excess of inflation. The only parish with a higher total precept is Great Sankey, which has over twice as many properties and charges £45.80 for a property in Band D.

This high precept is being maintained at a time when the Town Council is sitting on substantial reserves. In April 2019, £295,572 was carried over to the next financial year. By April 2020, this amount had increased to £337,658. Accounts for 2020/21 have not yet been published; however, the increase in the precept is likely to more than offset any loss of revenue due to Covid, meaning current reserves may be worth more than the annual precept.

While some of these reserves have been earmarked against future projects, such as office repairs and equipment renewal, £160k remained unallocated in April 2020. Why are these funds not being utilised within the community, instead of building up in a bank account? As of March 2020, the Town Council was also servicing debt in the form of a £120k loan from the Public Works Loan Board. Why is money owed on a loan when so much is left over each year? What is this costing us in interest?

Do you actually know how the Town Council is run?

As our colleague Cllr Bob Barr has said of Warrington Borough Council, one-party rule does not serve the town well. For the past five years, Birchwood Town Council consisted entirely of Labour Party representatives. Effective opposition, and scrutiny of budgets and spending, was not possible. For many years, there was nobody in a position to provide a healthy democratic challenge. On Thursday May 6th you have the chance to change this.

Do you know how much the Chair and other Town Councillors claim in expenses and allowances? This is not published and should be, as a matter of openness and transparency. Why does Birchwood have more admin staff than any other Parish Council in Warrington? Why is the Town Council funding work the Borough Council previously did (or should do)? Are we paying twice for the same level of service? Will this year's Borough Council cuts mean more of this?

Town and Parish Councils are the best forum we have for discussing ideas and proposals that will benefit our communities. The Town Council should work collaboratively with organizations such as Warrington Borough Council, the police and others to ensure Birchwood gets its fair share.

We will deliver for you!

If either of us is elected to Warrington Borough Council or Birchwood Town Council, we pledge to do the following over our 3-year term:

  • Provide effective opposition and ask challenging questions
  • Scrutinise in detail the budget and spending
  • Ensure residents are kept regularly informed of the work of the Council
  • Seek to make all Council financial matters clear and transparent
  • See that Council resources are utilised fully, fairly and equitably for the benefit of the whole community

David Eccles profile picDavid Eccles has 40 years of experience in education - including 20 years as a secondary school teacher, senior leader, and primary advisory teacher, and a further 10 years working in local authority education services. He's held a number of professional posts in Local Authorities, including Education Officer, Head of Governor Services, and Head of Governance.

He's been an independent Governance/Leadership Trainer and Educational Consultant; his specialist areas included management of schools, challenge and change, and health and safety. He was also a Governor in both primary and secondary schools for some 30 years, and Chair of Trustees for a Multi-Academy Trust in Warrington that included a school in Birchwood.

Since retiring, Dave has been able to devote even more time to voluntary and community service, and extend his work with charitable organisations.

Dave has previously served as a Borough councillor for Birchwood, and as a Birchwood Town Councillor for over 10 years. He has a real interest and investment in the area and the people who live here. He feels it is important to contribute to the development and successful future of Birchwood and would welcome the opportunity to positively represent all its residents at both Borough and Town Council level once again!

Dave has been married to Christine for almost 44 years and lived in Warrington for 40 years (35 in Birchwood). He has 3 grown up daughters, 2 grandchildren with another on the way, and a little dog called Tommy.

Matt Scott profile picMatt Scott is originally from Bristol and has lived in Birchwood since 2015. A Civil Engineering graduate with 15 years of experience in highway and drainage asset management, he moved to the North West to help make the region's roads safer from flooding. This work has given him plenty of insight into getting the most out of limited funding, and he would very much like the opportunity to apply this knowledge as a Town or Borough Councillor!

Despite regularly voting Liberal Democrat all his life, Matt only joined the party in 2017 in response to political events nationally. He has since taken part in a number of campaigns and currently serves as the local party's Data Officer.

Matt's interests include a broad taste in music across genres such as prog rock, metal and jazz. He's an amateur electric bass guitarist, aspiring to also learn electric guitar, although working through lockdown - and a wish to avoid disturbing his neighbours - mean he's not an expert at either instrument just yet.