Cllr Louise Harbour is Knowsley Council’s first ever female deputy leader and joined the council’s Cabinet for the first time this year, taking on the new Adult Social Care portfolio.
Cllr Harbour grew up in Kirkby and attended Brookfield School. She went to Kirkby Community College and studied engineering, joining the RAF at 18 as an electrical engineer. Even as a teenager, she always enjoyed public service and helping others – she volunteered with organisations including Centre 63 in Kirkby and as a sexual health advisor in Knowsley.
Kirkby has always been home for Cllr Harbour – in fact, she still lives in the former council house where she was born. She’s fiercely proud to be from Knowsley.
“It’s where my heart is,” says Cllr Harbour. “I’m absolutely passionate about the people of Kirkby and Knowsley. The reason I decided to become a councillor is because I want everyone living here to have opportunities – to make their lives whatever it is they aspire to.
In fact, she decided to become a councillor precisely because of this passion for the place and the people – and a desire to properly represent all the different groups in the borough.
“I understand the challenges that people face – because, in my life, I’ve lived through many of them,” she says. “I’m mixed race, as is my mum, and I’ve been a single mum, a married mum, a business owner, someone whose business has failed, someone who’s on benefits. As a councillor, I want to represent all these people and make Knowsley the best it can be, for them.”
Cllr Harbour was first elected to the council in 2018, representing the Whitefield ward, but she has been involved in local politics for many years now, since leaving the RAF.
She says: “I may have only been a councillor for four years, but I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved as a council in that time. We’ve reversed the decision on parks, we’ve bought a town centre, we’ve got a world class theatre shooting up… we’re delivering major investments, creating jobs and making our towns places where people want to live, work and visit.
“When you look at the deprivation we have in our borough, and the disadvantage we’re at when it comes to the way we’re funded, it’s nothing short of amazing what we’ve been able to achieve at such a difficult time – all with a balanced budget, too. It’s something we can be incredibly proud of.”
Cllr Harbour currently works as a Programme Co-ordinator at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and is a mum of one. She has many family members living in Kirkby and is an active member of the community – she is a regular at the gym and pool at Kirkby Leisure Centre and at the library and gallery in the Kirkby Centre.
Her new portfolio – Adult Social Care – is an extremely important one, and an issue that touches the lives of very many families in the borough. It spans the assessment and care management service for adults and older people as well as safeguarding adults, learning and employment opportunities for adults with disabilities and the learning disabilities service. Cllr Harbour will be overseeing the delivery of adult social care transformation in Knowsley, with a strong emphasis on supporting people in their communities.
“Adult social care in this country is in crisis point at the moment,” she says. “Hopefully, we have the Government’s reforms to come later this year, although they keep pushing it back and back. Integrating adult social care properly into the health system is long overdue – for too long it’s been seen by national government as almost a peripheral issue, but as people are living longer lives the importance of getting this right only gets greater.
“In Knowsley, we’re ready to respond to the reforms when they come. We already have a Transformation Plan in place, which we began work on at the beginning of 2020”, she explains. “We’ve now updated that plan to reflect the impact the pandemic has had on care needs and services – as well as the opportunities we now see for future service delivery.”
“We’ve also doing a lot of work to secure additional Extra Care facilities in the borough and the building of more bungalows, because we recognise there’s a real need for that type of housing. We want to ensure people can live independently at home for as long as possible – not only is that more cost effective but also so much better for the quality of life of the individuals, too.
“We’ve recently seen The Maples and Jackson Court opening in Knowsley, and I want to see a lot more of that happening in the coming years.
“But ultimately, there are major decisions that need to be taken by Government relating to the proper funding of adult social care – for me, it’s the major question of the day. The fact that the burden is being placed on the council tax payer is completely unacceptable – but until Government put forward a proper funding mechanism, it leaves local authorities like us with very few options.”
Across the borough as a whole, recovery from the impact of the pandemic is now a clear focus for the council – and Cllr Harbour says there are so many reasons to look forward with hope and excitement.
“I’m excited for the future, and I’m optimistic,” she says. “We have a really clear plan in place and we’re already making great progress towards our goals – despite the huge setback of COVID.
“We’re seeing a new town centre in Kirkby building up before our eyes, and in Prescot the Shakespeare North Playhouse is nearing completion. Anyone whose been out to eat or drink in Prescot or Huyton Village lately can feel the positivity – there’s a real vibrancy and a sense of momentum. Once Kirkby’s town centre development is complete and open there’s no reason why we can’t create that same impetus there, too. We’re already seeing independent businesses opening up in the town centre and that’s just the beginning. I really can’t wait to see it.”