Friday, 17 November 2017

Sefton Council Leader should come clean about £684,000 cost (and rising) of Bootle Strand “advice”

At last night's Council meeting I tried to get some straight answers from the Council Leader about the costs related to the £38 million pound purchase of the Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle. 

For a moment let us leaving aside the wisdom of spend such a large sum on retail property at a time when High Streets are in decline due to the Internet and this particular sight is problematical because of the near presence of Liverpool ONE- the council has been forced to agree reductions in rates because of the impact. (Added to which 3000 near by jobs are being relocated to Liverpool. The DEMOS report outlines the impact of Liverpool on the surrounding economies) Instead let us pick away an the unnecessary secrecy. Question have been dodged about the Luxembourg Company the Council bought and the tax implications. Last night I was trying to get to the bottom of the fees another area clounded in secrecy and where the council have not responded openly to press inquires. 

Here is the statement I released this morning:

Senior Lib Dem councillor Iain Brodie Browne has expressed his concern at the refusal of Sefton Council Leader Ian Maher to come clean over the cost of professional advisors employed over the controversial £32 million purchase of the Bootle Strand Shopping Centre.

Cllr Brodie Browne submitted a formal written question to Thursday evening’s (16th November) council meeting held at Southport Town Hall.

His question asked ‘would the Leader please supply, in table form, details of professional and similar charges incurred so far, to include the following: Name of Supplier, a brief description of the services supplied and the amount invoiced to date’.

However the Labour Leader declined to do so on the night, saying merely that it would be available ‘in due course’.

“There’s no excuse for the Labour Party to try and conceal this information at the present time,” says Cllr Brodie Browne. “The public, as well as opposition councillors, have a right to know how public money has been spent.”

“To try and kick this into the long grass is simply unacceptable.”

However Southport Lib Dem councillors have carried out their own investigation, using freely published data, and think they have found the answer – which is that at least £684,000 has been spent on outside advisors.

“What Cllr Maher appears to have forgotten is that all councils are required to regularly publish details of all invoices over £500.  In fact Sefton Council does this on its own website in a section called ‘Transparency Reports’,” explains Cllr Brodie Browne.

“What we have found is that there are a number of enormous invoices from firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers, Addleshaw Goddard and Lambert Smith Hampton, all charged to a particular cost centre UA25.  These are Tax Accountants, lawyers and property consultants respectively.”

“We’ve even managed to get hold of a copy of the largest invoice – for £205,950 + VAT – from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and when you see that includes ‘Tax Structuring and Due Diligence’, then even more suspicions are raised.”

“So what we now know is that over two-thirds of a million pounds has been spent, and that was only to the end of August.  That will almost certainly have risen even more.”

“This lack of openness from Sefton Council’s Labour leadership is simply unacceptable.”

Monday, 13 November 2017

Lab told it is time to end secrecy over tax paid on £32 million purchase

In advance of the Full Council meeting on Thursday John Pugh has issued a press statement:

Amid accusations of tax avoidance, hypocrisy and secrecy Sefton Council is being urged to publish in full the details of the controversial £32.5 million purchase of the Bottle New Stand. At the council meeting in Southport this Thursday a motion has been tabled by John Pugh which would commit Sefton Council to publish the details of the deal that was conducted via Luxembourg following tax advice.

According to Cllr Pugh. who has played a significant part in bringing the details of the transaction to public attention ,the council should be prepared if there’s nothing to hide to open the deal to wider scrutiny. 

“This isn’t councillors' or a political party's money and assets that are being speculated with.It’s the public that will pick up the tab. If the council have assisted the vendor in avoiding tax or avoided Stamp Duty themselves on the purchase by structuring the deal via a tax haven, the Luxembourg, there may be serious reputational and financial consequences. Until now the council had been astonishingly secretive and evasive on this subject. That is no way for an elected body to behave and supporting my motion and clarifying the conditions of sale as far as is possible will be a way to show the council wishes to be open and transparent. 

Openness and transparency are a major safeguard for all public bodies."

Background information:

John Pugh's motion

This council: (1) notes the concerns of several members about the purchase of the Bootle New Strand Shopping Centre; and (2) calls for the contract of sale and any additional documents relevant to the understanding of it, to be made available, without redaction or delay, to all members of council .

(2) Quote from e-mail from Cllr Maher 13th April 2017 
        "Firstly,  it is true that one of the important considerations for purchasing the company rather than the asset is that the Council would not have to pay stamp duty land tax. This is a widely accepted tax efficient way of completing the purchase. “

Friday, 3 November 2017

First Lib by election win in Southport since 1938

What a great result!  Whilst anyone who had done any canvassing felt John was going to win few expected him to scoop 56 % of the vote.   This was our first by-election GAIN in Southport since December 1938 when a certain Simms Mitchell (of who more on another occasion) won the Talbot Ward by-election. Simms came from a strong Methodist family and his Mother right up to her death in the early 1960s was a prominent member of the Southport Woman's Liberal Association.

Simms said he owed his victory, at least in in part to the Tory candidate, a Mr Hague who upset the Temperance vote-and you did that at your peril in Southport in those days. Hague’s election slogan was “Don’t be vague vote for Hague” which was based on the whisky advert. Needless to say, this did not go down well with the Temperance folk!

Monday, 30 October 2017

These pumpkins are grown for eating and that's just what I'm going to do...

part of this year pumpkin and squash harvest
The pumpkin harvest is in-and I know some of them are squashes. At this time of year shops are full of the tasteless monsters that are sold for carving. It is about time the UK caught up with the culinary potential of the squash. After years of experiment I have decided that these are the best ones for eating

  • Crown Prince, an Australian grey with dense orange flesh.  It is my favourite, the draw back is that even the small ones weigh in at 3lbs-3lbs.8oz
  • Uchi Kuri, a Japanese onion squash so called because of its shape.
  • Squashkin, this is new and is a cross before the supermarket favourite-the butternut squash, and Crown Prince. I grew it last year and again this year because I think it is a sensible size and has good flavour
  • Honey Bear, an acorn mini squash with orange flesh,  certainly the best tasting squash for one
The question is: how do you prepare them? I have some tried and tested recipes. First up one Sophie Grigson collected from a West Indian Church where it was served as part of the Harvest supper

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

Once the basic technique has been mastered of decapitating the pumpkin and scooping out the flesh, rubbing spices into the wall and baking it so it can be used as a container to serve you pumpkin dish in, the method can be adapted. I have found it works well with lamb and pumpkin red Thai curry. I keep my biggest Crown Princes for this purpose. I have also found the Crown Price excellent for Elizabeth David's Christmas Pumpkin Chutney although it is necessary to cut the chunks smaller than she suggests.

As to the small ones. I use the Uchi Kuri for roast pumpkin soup. I am experimenting with the squashkins, I think they can be stuffed like the Acorn Honey Bear. My vegetarian daughter likes mushroom and rice filling and they can be used as a side dish as here. Honey Bear is an ideal squash for one.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Sefton Lab Councillor declare 'year zero' and accept no responsibilities for 'before JC'

'Year zero' was declared by a Labour councillor at the Sefton Council meeting last week. Everything 'before JC' , as he put it they did not accept responsibility for. With JC all was made new and the world began again. We had the usual rants about how evil and wicked the Lib Dems were for agreeing to reduce the deficit. I thought it appropriate to point out the 2010  Labour manifesto proposed cuts more swingeing than those actually carried out by the Coalition. The Labour councillor did not dispute that. It simply didn't matter because it was 'before JC ' Which is rather silly because certainly the first Blair government was the most progressive of my lifetime.

I felt sorry for the Labour Councillors who were elected before JC. They had endorsed and stoutly defended the every Labour government.  They had defended the Iraq war. The Sefton Labour MP's voted for the war. The councillors refused to criticise the failure to regulate the banks, the failure to increase the stock of social housing (in fact the wretched Coalition landed up with a bigger increase in the number of social housing after 5 years than Labour did after 13). Not only did they support PFI schemes they carried them out. The over-reliance on the financial services sector, the absence of an industrial strategy and the continuing decline of manufacturing all went on without a whimper of objection. The increased centralisation and London centric bias in their administration was unchallenged. The list goes on. All were defended by the Labour party in Sefton Council. I have lost count of the number of times the then Labour Leader (now MP for Bootle) supported the Iraq war.

Of course, there is precedent for Year Zero. It was declared in Cambodia in April 1975, by the Khmer Rouge, it was an analogy to the Year One of the French Revolutionary Calendar. During the French Revolution, after the abolition of the French monarchy (September 20, 1792), the National Convention instituted a new calendar and declared the beginning of the Year I and as Lady Bracknell remarked 'I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to?' The Khmer Rouge takeover of Phnom Penh was rapidly followed by a series of drastic revolutionary de-industrialization policies resulting in a death toll that vastly exceeded that of the French Reign of Terror.

Post JC the situation is not as revolutionary as they seem to imagine. The independent and respected Institute of Fiscal Studies did an analysis of the Labour party's manifesto:

Labour got some sums wrong

Labour put out some costings alongside the manifesto, which purported to show how every spending promise would be paid for.
The IFS says the sums don’t add up. The projections are too optimistic on how much money will be raised by various taxes, and Labour have made basic accounting errors too, like quoting the wrong official figures for estimated revenue.

Business taxes don’t just squeeze the rich

Labour say they want to raise more money from a rise in corporation tax than from income tax. But squeezing big business hurts other taxpayers too: millions of pension fundholders who own shares in firms, workers whose wages might be cut and consumers who face higher prices.

Labour would cut inequality…

Labour’s plans “are likely to reduce inequality”. Under Jeremy Corbyn, those with the highest incomes would lose the most.
But changes to taxes and benefits proposed by the Lib Dems would be the most generous to people on the lowest incomes.

… but won’t reverse benefit cuts

Despite railing against Tory welfare cuts over the years, Labour do not plan to reverse most planned cuts to working-age benefits.
Again, the Lib Dems say they would go further than Labour – reversing cuts to child tax credit and the plan to freeze most benefit rates.

The biggest problem for Labour is JC's clear commitment to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union. As left-wing economists like Paul Krugman, Danny Blanchflower and even Yanis Varoufacis have all made clear JC policy on Europe will hurt British jobs and  prosperity . JC must know some of the reasons he trots out for leaving the single market are baloney but still he persists. It is worth reading Lab MEP Richard Corbett on the topic.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Dog Bin on serving Hartley Rd/ Cres, has been reported for emptying

Thanks to all those pointing out that this bin was disgusting and needed emptying. It has been reported

Friday, 22 September 2017

You are a bunch of lefties, can I join

This conversation happened at the Lib Dem Conference when I was on the SLF ( Social Liberal Forum ) stand. I was approached by a man who was attending his first conference. He had won a prize in the raffle. He explained that his son was on the Liberal Reform stall and they had told him we were a 'bunch of lefties'. He wanted to know about joining....

Left is often one those words which creates more confusion than clarity. So we should be clear that SLF stand in a long tradition of radical Liberalism as this article in the New Statesman shows its origin is traced back to the early C20th and thinkers like L.T. Hobhouse and T. H. Green, it progressed through the thinking of Keynes and Beveridge in the middle of that century and later by economists and thinkers like John Rawls and James Meade.

There is a very useful wiki page

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Dillie Keane of Fascinating Aida sings her anti Brexit song at Lib Dem Glee Club

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
The undoubted highlight of the Glee Club was Dillie Keane sing Fascinating Aida's pro Remain song Thank You Scotland. She was ntroduced by that disgruntled radical David Grace, for him, he said, it was like when Nelson Mandela met the Spice Girls.

After the usual rendition of The Land the packed hall fell silent, frankly stunned by the quality of the performance, it didn't last as the video shows. Enjoy

Monday, 11 September 2017

Thank you for the help you gave me 20 years ago says women at Lib Dem surgery

Cllr Hands and I were at our monthly surgery in the Redbrick Chapel on Liverpool Rd -as we usually are on the first Saturday of the month -when we were greeted by a women keen for our help. She began: "20 years ago you helped me and now the problem has returned. Can you help me again? Thankfully she was looking at Cllr Hands when she spoke, because I freely admit I could not place her.

True to form Richard engaged with the women and after some reminiscing  the problem was identified and a plan of action agreed.

We've been holding regular surgeries in Birkdale since 1980 so there is scope for someone to come along and test our memories from further back-mind you there are some folk who have better long term memories, Now where did I put my car keys

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Norman Lamb done in acrylic and hanging in central London

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice  and in Liberal England's  'Six of the Best'

I was killing time between meeting on Monday so I popped into the National Portrait Gallery. I have to confess that one of the reasons I chose that above other central London venues was because it is one of the few places that will accept my Brompton bike into their left luggage complete with its Harris Tweed bag.

I went to see the BP Portrait Awards for 2017 Exhibition, after checking that Mary Wollstonecraft had made it safely back from her loan visit to Russia.

I have viewed the annual exhibition in previous years when I have been waiting for meetings. When I was Mayor one of the duties was to pick the pictures for the Mayor's Parlour in Southport from the collection held at The Atkinson and I chose a local Lancashire artist Peter Layzell. His self portrait was hung in the 2010 exhibition.

Back to 2017 and the time I spent waiting. The picture that caught my eye was that of the MP for North Norfolk Norman Lamb. I don't think I have seen him without his spectacles but the Norfolk artist Paul Smith obvious felt that their absence produced a better portrait. As I was looking at it a man joined me , he was wearing the identical scarf that Paul Smith the artist had put round Norman's neck. It was my companion explained created by the designer Paul Smith. Such things , when they have to be explained to you, are not as funny.