Thursday, 31 January 2008

Birkdale Nightingale

And now to raise the tone. I regularly take the dog along the coast between Birkdale and Ainsdale often walking through the sand dunes. In our Liberal Democrat room at Southport Town Hall there is a rather fine watercolour painting of the dunes. With my daughters I have been out with the local Brownies and Guides when Duncan, one of the Coastal Rangers, guided us to the pools and slacks where the natterjack toads live and breed.

The Birkdale Nightingale a poem by Jean Sprackman is set in the same landscape:

(Bufo calamito – the Natterjack toad)

On Spring nights you can hear them
two miles away, calling their mates
to the breeding place, a wet slack in the dunes.
Lovers hiding nearby are surprised
by desperate music. One man searched all night
for a crashed spaceship.

For amphibians, they are terrible swimmers:
where it's tricky to get ashore, they drown.
By day they sleep in crevices under the boardwalk,
run like lizards from cover to cover
without the sense to leap when a gull snaps.
Yes, he can make himself fearsome,
inflating his lungs to double his size.
But cars on the coast road are not deterred.

She will lay a necklace of pearls in the reeds.
Next morning, a dog will run into the water and scatter them.
Or she'll spawn in a footprint filled with salt rain
that will dry to a crust in two days.

Still, when he calls her and climbs her
they are well designed. The nuptial pads on his thighs
velcro him to her back. She steadies beneath him.

The puddle brims with moonlight.
Everything leads to this.

from Tilt (Cape, 2007)

Vince Cable and Northern rock

The Devil's Kitchen: British Fascism Revisited An interesting and perceptive comment picked up by Liberal England. I also liked the other Northern Rock bit earlier in the week:

Vince Cable and Northern Rock

My(Johnathon Calder) House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News: Fairy Tales

The great nineteenth-century radical journalist William Cobbett wrote that it was typical of Britain to have the National Debt but the Crown Jewels.As Vince Cable pointed out in his question to the Alistair Darling on Monday, something similar is now the case with Northern Rock. Under the his plans the risk stays with the taxpayer but any profits will go to private investors.Vince said the BBC’s political correspondent had described Richard Branson as looking like the "cat what got the cream". Which is hardly surprising. He appears to be the government’s preferred bidder and, according to Vince, is proposing to put in £250 million to acquire a bank worth £100 billion."He has never run a bank," Vince went on, "and I believe that the profits will be routed through a Caribbean tax haven. So what benefit does the taxpayer derive from his participation?"All in all, it is hardly surprising Mr Branson is unwilling to let the prime minister out of his sight.

Vince’s Indian summer shows no sign of drawing to a close. He retains his talent for using humour to puncture Gordon Brown. Everyone remembers "Stalin to Mr Bean", but on Monday he was nearly as good.He recalled the "great Danish economist Hans Christian Andersen" and his story of the two conmen who visited a credulous king to sell him an imaginary suit of gold. "We have a naked King Gordon, desperately trying to cover his embarrassment over the ‘n’ word ‘nationalisation’."

Beyond that, he has Ming Campbell’s ability to come over as being above the political fray. And he has been seen on television dancing with Alesha Dixon.

Craig Revill-Horwood adds: Very good he was too. But where are the Tories in all this?

Good question, Craig. It is hard to know what the Tories believe on Northern Rock. George Osborne’s approach was to sound apocalyptic without advancing any firm proposals at all.They can hardly favour temporary nationalisation, as Vince consistently has. But do they really want to let the market decide? That would mean shutting down the business and abolishing 6000 jobs in the North East.The truth is that the Tories agree with the government but lack the courage to say so.

Friday, 25 January 2008

The bloody Tory squabble part 29

I've lost count of all the different bits of petty vindictiveness visited on the Dukes Ward Tories-who are by any measure the most sucessful Tories in Southport. They have held all their seats on Sefton council since it was set up and are certainly the safest seat they have. Nevertheless the bloody squabble continues with petty revenge. More will certainly follow. The electorate don't like parties that are riven with in fighting-witness the Labour wilderness years and the Tory collapse during the Major government.
Head to head the popular David Pearson and Brenda Porter


The Conservative Group on Sefton Council have stripped embattled Dukes Ward Councillor David Pearson of every single one of his committee places on the Council. Committees of the Council are where much of the real business gets done so removing a councillor from all committees deprives the voters of the ward concerned of effectiveness for their councillor.

Councillor Pearson is the respected former Mayor of Sefton and has served for over 16 years. as a Conservative councillor for Dukes Ward (this covers Southport Town Centre and Shoreside, Birkdale.)

Members of all political parties were stunned at last Thursday’s Council meeting when the Conservative Group leadership read out 9 changes in Tory Committee places which had the effect of removing Councillor Pearson from all his committees (see below for full details).

This latest action by the Conservative Group leadership of Councillors Paula Parry and Brenda Porter is a slap in the face for the Conservatives' Area Appeals Committee, who upheld a successful appeal from Councillor Pearson before Christmas.

Dukes Ward Councillor David Pearson had originally been suspended in November 2007 for six months from the local authority’s Conservative Group. The charges against Cllr Pearson included "being too outspoken", "having too loud a voice", "being too friendly with the Liberal Democrats" and "not being a team player".

The appeals committee determined that Councillor Pearson ‘s suspension should be reduced from six months to two. But it now appears that the Sefton Conservative Group have decided to ignore the finding of the Appeals Committee.

Normally, changes in Council committee places are agreed automatically, but this time Birkdale Liberal Democrat Councillor Simon Shaw spoke out at he Council meeting to question the move.

Cllr Shaw asked the Legal Director whether it was right for the Conservative Group to have as many committee places as they were claiming since they were no longer treating Councillor Pearson as one of their members.

“The Conservatives say they have 19 councillors out of 66, so that entitles them to a proportionate number of committee places,” said Councillor Shaw.

“However if David Pearson is no longer a member of the Tory Group they only have 18 councillors. That would mean they are entitled to fewer places.”

“It rather looks as if the Conservatives want to ‘have their cake and eat it’. They want to be able to count Councillor Pearson as a member of their Group when it suits them, but not when it doesn’t.”

“Their treatment of Councillor Pearson is nothing short of a disgrace,” said Councillor Shaw.



Councillor Platt proposed the following additional changes:

● Councillor T. Jones to replace Councillor Pearson as a Member of the Scrutiny and Review Committee (Regeneration and Environmental Services) and Councillor D. Jones to be substitute for Councillor T. Jones on the Committee.

● Councillor Papworth to become Vice-Chair of the Scrutiny and Review Committee (Regeneration and Environmental Services) (in place of Councillor Pearson) and Councillor Sir Ron Watson to be substitute for Councillor Papworth on the Committee.

● Councillor Bigley to replace Councillor Pearson as substitute for Councillor Glover on the Planning Committee.

● Councillor McIvor to replace Councillor Pearson as a Member of the Scrutiny and Review Committee (Health and Social Care).

● Councillor McIvor to replace Councillor Byrom as a Member of the Audit and Governance Committee and Councillor Papworth to be substitute for Councillor McIvor on the Committee.

● Councillor Papworth to replace Councillor Pearson as substitute for Councillor Sir Ron Watson on the Local Joint Consultative Committee.

● Councillor Glover to replace Councillor Pearson as substitute for Councillor Doran on the Joint Consultative Committee for Teaching Staffs.

● Councillor T. Jones to replace Councillor Pearson as a Member of the Sefton Borough Partnership Neighbourhood Regeneration Thematic Group.

● Councillor Porter to replace Councillor Pearson as a Member of the Lord Street Steering Group.

Monday, 21 January 2008

David Pearson -the shameful action continues

Firstly John Siddle deserves credit for sniffing out this story. I can add from my own sources that that the Tory group meeting was anything but harmonious. Sir Ron allegedly raised his expenses issue- for which there was not a lot of sympathy. I'm told that Les was absent-he certainly missed the council meeting-but that the talk was of increasing David's suspension to ensure he cannot stand in May. I have had it confirmed that in large part the attack on Pearson is really aimed at Les Byrom and Sir Ron who are seen as disloyal and not backing the beleaguered Brenda. If I were the Tories I would be striving to get the two Grandees back on board, without them they cut a rather second rate profile. Instead the bloody squabble raised itself at the council meeting as John Siddle predicted below with Paula moving the axing of the Dukes Ward Tories from key committees. My colleague Cllr Shaw raised the question of whether Pearson's suspension from the Tories allowed them to count him in the number when it came to committee places. An issue that needs following up

Future of Southport councillor remains uncertain
Jan 16 2008
by John Siddle, Midweek Visiter

THE future of suspended councillor David Pearson is now “impossible to predict”, according to a Conservative source.
The Dukes Ward councillor was set to be reinstated at a meeting on Monday, after an appeals committee recommended reducing his suspension from six months to two.
But Cllr Pearson, who is currently on vacation in Cyprus, remains suspended and is likely to be dropped as the party’s representative on council committees at a meeting tomorrow.
Sefton’s Conservative Group leader, Cllr Paula Parry, said Cllr Pearson was not discussed at the meeting due to his unavailability.
However, sources within the Conservative Party told the Visiter that heated exchanges had taken place at the meeting, and that the group’s chiefs remain reluctant to withdraw the party whip.
“David being away is being used as an excuse to not do anything about it.
“We’re in a complete quandary. I don’t know where we are going, I’ve never experienced anything like this,” said a source.
Cllr Pearson has appealed to the national Conservative Councillors’ Association in a bid to have his suspension overturned. That appeal is set to be heard on Monday, January 21.
If a six-month suspension remains enforced, the former Mayor of Sefton will be ineligible to stand for re-election in May, despite having the unanimous backing of his ward committee.

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

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

lower council tax

Ho Ho Ho. I looked at the Southport Tory website. It must make John Pugh very proud of his own. It has a headline listing their 'campaigns', one is listed as 'Lower Council Tax'
Now there is a way that the Tories could help bring a lower council tax to Southport. My colleague Simon Shaw outlines the matter in a letter to Ms Porter:

Birkdale Ward

14 January 2008
Dear Brenda

You and I both attended, as observers, last Wednesday’s Scrutiny and Review Committee meeting which looked at the Chief Executive’s proposals on slimming down the senior management structure. I have to say I was very concerned that the Conservative members voted to support a Labour move which will cost local Council Tax-payers £1 million over the next two years.
You were absent from the December Cabinet meeting. However you will be aware that at that meeting some Cabinet members did not support the sensible and financially-prudent proposals about the future senior management structure of the Council, although they were carried on the casting vote of the Liberal Democrat Chair of the Cabinet.
I have been disappointed, that, to date, the Conservative Group on Sefton Council, in which you hold a position of leadership, has not supported the full slimming down of the bureaucracy as proposed in the report which went to Cabinet in early October. Now this matter is returning to Cabinet this Thursday.
The key issue here was put clearly in a briefing note prepared for last Wednesday’s Scrutiny and Review Committee meeting. Referring to the many (less well paid) jobs recently transferred in the fields of council housing and social care, it said:
“In simple terms if you lose 1000 direct employees and nearly £2.5 income it seemed reasonable to scale down management.”
People often say about local authorities: “too many Chiefs, not enough Indians.” This is sometimes far too simplistic. However I hope you will agree that it is incumbent upon those who do not seize, with open arms, the opportunity to slim down the senior Council bureaucracy to explain why they are willing to waste these enormous sums of Council Tax-payers’ money.
Your absence from the December Cabinet meeting means that you have not previously voted on this issue (setting aside the full Council vote which was subsequently declared to be illegal). Accordingly, the issue of a “U-Turn” would not arise in your case. Putting it bluntly, while I would welcome any influence you can exert on your two Conservative colleagues in the Cabinet in voting for prudent financial management, your vote alone can swing the decision.
We are clearly not talking about trivial sums of money here and I very much hope you are willing to put the interests of those you represent above the party whip. Please think what good could be done with £1 million, or how much a saving of this amount would allow Sefton’s Council Tax to be cut
Yours sincerely
P.S. The figure of £1 million over two years is arrived at as follows:
Year 1
Annual employment cost of 3 senior post which Labour wish to “save” £300,000
Projected cost of early retirement package of Chief Executive/Recruitment Consultants/increased pay of replacement Chief Executive £350,000
Year 2
Annual employment cost of 3 senior post which Labour wish to “save” £300,000
Contingency £50,000
TOTAL OVER 2 YEARS £1,000,000

Liberal England: Nick Clegg's speech on the reform of public services

Liberal England: Nick Clegg's speech on the reform of public services
I feel under some pressure to blog. I keep getting asked about things I have written and the feedback is very encouraging. So I thought I'd start the year with a bit about our new leader Nick Clegg. He made a major policy speech at a conference last weekend which has received broadly a positive press Paul Walters of whom I know little, has done a complete run down of the media response and today's papers carried still more 'think' pieces on the speach. Even our own John Pugh has added a thoughtful note.
The reform of public services is a key political debate. In some way Sefton's Major Service review is an aspect of the wider issue. Clegg proposing a plurality of providers funded by the state with guarantees of equality of access is nothing new. I modestly point you to my own 1984 publication in the Liberty 2000 series which was part of the post general election policy review I chaired for the national party. Nevertheless Clegg has chosen his ground in taking education as the policy area to explore. This I welcome. I share much the same view as Johnathon Calder over at Liberal England on the issue. It has always struck me that monopoly is a matter that should concern Liberals. We should genuinely welcome diversity even if it is inconvenient for the planners and those who value conformity above excellence.