Meet our candidates: John Larkin, Skelmersdale Central

“As a Bus Driver, I see just how many people are isolated by infrequent and expensive services and I also saw throughout the pandemic that NHS staff were forced to pay full fare when other areas like the Liverpool City Region had initiatives to allow NHS workers free travel. That meant that someone living in Skelmersdale working in Southport would have to pay full fare but someone living in Liverpool could travel free to Southport, for instance. To me this was a disgrace and it made me think about how bad a deal the people of Skelmersdale get. They pay more for their travel and they are now expected to foot the bill for a rise in council tax.

The Workers Party ‘Corona Tax’ campaign coupled with affordable and accessible public transport is not only a good idea but it makes great sense; not only to access more employment opportunities for workers but also for the local economy more broadly. Any recovery from COVID-19 should start with contributions from the richest people in this country, some of whom have not only made a fortune during the pandemic but have also taken advantage of taxpayers money to ring-fence their profits. All the while, there are industrial disputes taking place across the north west area as workers have no option but to take to the picket line in defence of their pay, terms and conditions. This is not acceptable treatment for those that were branded ‘heroes’ at the start of the pandemic by employers looking to take advantage.”

Workers Party of Britain Skelmersdale Central county election manifesto speech

The party has proudly stood alongside workers through disputes and strikes since its creation more than a year ago and despite being a new party that doesn’t have the cash reserves of the other big parties, we believe that we at least stand with ordinary people in their struggles whether through waiting for a doctor’s appointment, being placed on waiting lists for accommodation, the access (or lack of) to public transport as well as the complete lack of choice to make tangible changes to our political system for the betterment of their lives.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Workers Party of Britain was leading the way in holding twice-weekly party broadcasts and interactive sessions via Zoom that were screened on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. This allowed us to cultivate new members and grow the party considerably and was even more impressive, as the other major parties were laying low at a time when ordinary people had very important issues and questions that needed to be redressed. Moreover, we have offered new and innovative solutions to the fall-out of the COVID-19 pandemic with a modest 5% one-off tax on fortunes exceeding £10m. The result of this would see the richest 4,640 ‘ultra-high net worth individuals’ contribute more than £17 billion for the treasury to safeguard jobs and industry and allow the country to build from the bottom in its recovery. Such revenue for the treasury would also be well-received in Skelmersdale, as it could mean new infrastructure building to accommodate the vast increase in house building in the area. We initially launched our campaign to pressure Keir Starmer’s Labour Party to support the labour movement and its people by signing it and despite recent success of such policies being implemented elsewhere in the world, our calls have fallen on deaf ears.

Locally, we have identified the following areas of concern for Skelmersdale that urgently need to be corrected:

1) Local Infrastructure

The Workers Party wants to see local opportunities to rebuild British industry and infrastructure.

In Skelmersdale, it is often said that if you do not have access to a car then living here can be extremely difficult. Indeed, there needs to be some questions asked about this. If Skelmersdale is going to be housing a lot more people as seen by the massive increase in home-building, then it ought to have decent employment opportunities for those that come to live here and cannot afford the luxury of a car. In other words, we need a better provision of employment opportunities at a local level balanced with access to better transport links for those who wish to work outside of Skelmersdale. This means we would like to see a full re-design of the area with accessible footpaths and properly maintained roads so that people who do drive can do so without having to slalom their way around potholes and those that wish to walk, or cycle can do so without walking on dual carriageways or on grass verges to get to where they want to go. The subway underpasses currently used are an insult to the people of Skelmersdale as they are frequently left impassable due to flooding and essentially ‘left to rot’ with graffiti and fly-tipping an all too regular sight. After forty-plus years of Tory and Labour governments and Labour representation at local level, this cannot be acceptable. Moreover, it suggests a type of political class that is so out of touch from their electors that they see no reason to address these issues. I can only conclude that the current Labour councillors do not use these subways.

The Concourse Shopping Centre ought to be purchased by the local council. The current owners, LCP Properties Ltd, have for years been boasting of record years of profit-making whilst our local shops have closed, and local businesses and the accompanying talent brutally wasted. It goes without saying that a company by the name of ‘London and Cambridge Properties’ with “privately owned investment and property management operations in key locations… such as Germany and Poland” will have little in common or in sympathy with the people of Skelmersdale, as “The Group remains committed to improving asset growth”. By bringing the Concourse in-house, the Council will be able to set their own business rates and provide tailored support for local business and enterprise initiatives and allow the centre to be run under the watching eye of its constituents rather than a company that is metaphorically a million miles away from the realities of Skelmersdale residents. This has been done with other shopping centres such as Bootle Strand in Liverpool acquired by Sefton Council and Kirkby Town Centre by Knowsley Council in November 2019. Acquiring the Concourse Shopping Centre is both necessary and sufficient to the prosperity of the ward, but it requires political will to do so and the current crop of Labour representatives seem scared, incapable perhaps even wary of making demands as modest as this.

2) Public Transport – Free Travel for Children

The Workers Party also wishes to see the introduction of free travel for our young people. Such schemes have been introduced in other areas and the benefits of this are that our young people can access the key skills, training, employment, and education that their skills warrant, rather than being priced out of these opportunities by monopoly public transport operators, which like the Concourse shopping centre, have firm interest and footholds in European markets, too.

In Skelmersdale, the public transport situation is bleaker than in many parts of the country. Not only do the people of Skelmersdale pay more for their travel, but they also have limited access to buses with only a handful of buses available. Indeed, someone working or studying in Liverpool must pay a huge fare to sit on a bus that takes one hour and thirty minutes to go from the Concourse Bus Station to Liverpool Queen Square and workers getting off at Ormskirk to catch the train only save about ten minutes in doing so whilst essentially paying twice, with the area lagging massively behind with access to more integrated ticketing that is afforded to other areas such as Merseyside and Greater Manchester. This issue was no more apparent to me than during the pandemic. At a time when the Liverpool City Region unveiled subsidised free travel for NHS workers living in the area, NHS workers in Skelmersdale and West Lancashire were left to pay full fare – a fare that is more expensive in West Lancashire already. So, an NHS worker living in Skelmersdale travelling to the COVID-19 ward at Southport Hospital paid £3.20 when his/her colleagues in Liverpool/Sefton were able to use the bus for free. I know this as an Arriva bus driver myself.

3) Housing

The Workers Party advocates for decent, affordable, secure housing for all and the rights of tenants and small landlords in the face of aggressive monopolistic groupings.

Whilst the house building programmes in Skelmersdale have achieved some good for the area, there is a sense that the speed and intensity of such programmes are reshaping and redesigning our communities as we know them at break-neck speed. The constant churn and change is unsettling to those who have lived in Skelmersdale all their lives but it also unfair on new incoming residents to Skelmersdale, too. This is because the rate and speed of housing has surpassed the rate of construction of local infrastructure. Surely, any more housing projects need to be done in consultation with existing residents and their local representatives first so that the infrastructure is there to accommodate new housing estates. Instead of giving construction companies carte blanche, there clearly needs to be more vocal opposition in putting residents’ interests first over the interests of monopoly construction companies. The Skelmersdale Independent Party rightly points out that the area needs “to develop the infrastructure first so that new developments can be absorbed” but they seemingly offer no solution as to how such infrastructure developments are to be funded. The Workers Party Corona Tax Campaign would not only allow such money to be made available to areas such as Skelmersdale, but the party is also committed to reversing council tax rises until local authorities’ lobby and win such a policy from national government.

4) Education – Free School Meals

 The Workers Party will fight for free school meals for all children at local authority schools and academies, paid for from the cash reserves built up since 2010 by the same local authorities who now sit on billions of pounds of ring-fenced reserves.

In Skelmersdale, a 2015 Council Report showed that levels of child poverty in Skelmersdale are some of the very highest in the entire district with five of the town’s wards (Moorside, Digmoor, Birch Green, Tanhouse and Skelmersdale North) recording levels far higher than the national average. It can only be assumed that following the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the ever-more fragile and casualised state of employment that such figures are worse still. This means that parents are going to be more hard-pressed to feed their children and there is evidence in the report that the food consumed by those in the area is unhealthy, too. Indeed, 29% of the UK population are estimated to be eating the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables with the figure being 27% in the West Lancashire district. However, when focussing on Skelmersdale, Digmoor ward has estimates of just 17.2% and Moorside lower at 16.3%. It is therefore paramount that these cash reserves are made available to prevent serious health issues and improve educational attainment allowing our children to flourish in the classroom, the benefits of which we all reap. The fact that this past year has seen the prominence of footballer Marcus Rashford in speaking up for this not only highlights the issue but highlights the gaping hole in our political system whereby politicians locally and nationally remained quiet up until Rashford’s social media campaign gained significant traction. We unequivocally support free school meals because it when children are not fed, it is not only children who lose out but our education system that also falters and we fail to unleash the talent of our children and grandchildren that is felt for generations. 

5) Local Politics – Give Skelmersdale a chance!

The ‘managed decline’ of Skelmersdale is sadly not all that rare in Britain’s towns these days. The lack of economic prospects coupled with political apathy is indeed quite common. It is therefore paramount that we try to build relationships with other working people from other areas. The rise of small, localised groups like the Skelmersdale Independent Party does the opposite of this. It tells – in my view – an already isolated community and group of people that they should become more isolated and more inward looking and like most independent movements, it pledges indifference to the working man or woman struggling in another area. But I bare no grudge to these groups. I understand and empathise that for too long, a complacent local Labour Party has taken them for granted and left them exposed and defenceless to endless cuts and austerity from both the Tories and Labour. Worse still, there are changes planned for Lancashire County Council with the current setup set to be abolished and replaced with three unitary authorities and a Mayoral Combined Authority. One of its priorities is to deliver funding through the Town and City Investment Plans to the tune of £434m with mentions of Morecambe, Preston, Silverdale, Ormskirk. Clitheroe and not one mention of Skelmersdale at all. So, I encourage any of you watching in Skelmersdale – and indeed anywhere in the country for that matter- to vote for your Workers Party candidate and we will demand that our towns and cities receive the funding they need, not because we think we could do nice things with it but because we see the changes our community needs desperately so that our workers can live fulfilled lives, so that our children can have food in their bellies. We are not interested in playing political monopoly with the lives of people we want to serve and care about and we don’t have the baggage and the self-serving interests of the other parties. We just want things to be better.

And to end a quote from the late and great Tony Benn:

“The only way we can change Britain and the world is when working people gather together and decide whether they will change it. When we have decided we will change it, no power on earth can stop us”.

I hope you decide to change it on the 6th May.

Thank you,

J Larkin

Branch Secretary of West Lancashire

Workers Party Candidate for Skelmersdale Central