Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Sefton Council and credit crunch

There would have been nothing on the order paper 0n the economic crisis for the last Council Meeting if the Lib Dems had not put down a motion. We felt that doing nothing was not an option but were aware that the situation was moving so quickly that any specific proposals in a motion submitted in time to be accepted would be out of date by the time the Council met. After some discussion we decided to put in a ''holding motion' and move some relevant amendments on the night. Below you will find the motion with our amendments as printed in the minutes:


To consider the following Motion submitted by Councillor McGuire:

“That this Council records its concern:

That residents and businesses within Sefton (as well as nationally) are facing economic difficulties on a scale not seen in recent years, which seriously threaten their own financial well-being;

That families, pensioners and other residents face rising fuel and heating bills, soaring food prices, repossessions, credit difficulties and threats to their jobs, pensions, annuities, savings and investments;

That Sefton MBC’s current budget is threatened by hugely-rising energy costs and other pressures which threaten cutbacks to services and/or increases in charges.

This Council believes and welcomes the fact that the vast majority of people in the UK are working positively to try to minimise the damage and work towards restoration of a thriving economy.”
Minutes:
It was moved by Councillor McGuire, seconded by Councillor Tattersall:

“That this Council records its concern:

(1) that residents and businesses within Sefton (as well as nationally) are facing economic difficulties on a scale not seen in recent years, which seriously threaten their own financial wellbeing;

(2) that families, pensioners and other residents face rising fuel and heating bills, soaring food prices, repossessions, credit difficulties and threats to their jobs, pensions, annuities, savings and investments;

(3) that Sefton MBC's current budget is threatened by hugely rising energy costs and other pressures which threaten cutbacks to services and/or increases in charges;

(4) That Sefton MBC takes steps to ensure that all invoices from all small and medium sized enterprises (SME) are paid promptly within the agreed payment time period and that this is monitored to ensure that no SME suppliers suffer as a result of late payment in this difficult financial climate.

The Council believes and welcomes the fact that the vast majority of people in the U.K. are working positively to try to minimise the damage and work towards restoration of a thriving economy.”

(In accordance with Rule 15.7 of the Council and Committee Procedure Rules, the Council gave consent without discussion to the consideration of the additional wording set out in (4) above, which was not included in the Notice of Motion submitted to the Legal Director.)

It was then moved by Councillor Brodie - Browne and seconded by Councillor Robertson that the Motion be amended by the insertion of the following text before the final paragraph of the Motion:

That the Council is concerned that Mortgage Possession Claims have dramatically increased in the courts serving Sefton and whilst recognising that some measures have been announced:

requests that a report be submitted to the Cabinet on the ways that Sefton Council can assist our residents and
notes that other Councils in the region have amongst other measures; established formal forums of local mortgage lenders and the council to ensure that repossessions are kept to a minimum, expanded Equity Loan Schemes to enable loans to be offered to owners of long term empty properties so that the can be brought back into use, and launched publicity campaigns warning residents against selling their homes in panic to predatory private investors who may force them out

That the Council calls on the Government as a matter of urgency to:

allow councils to borrow against their assets to buy up unsold homes and land to replenish the social housing stock
give families facing repossession the right to sell part of their equity, and rent their home back
make the Council of Mortgage Lenders’ Code of Conduct legally binding so that repossession is a last resort

After debate thereon, the amendment was put to the vote and, on a show of hands, the Mayor declared that the amendment was carried unanimously.

Following further debate, the Substantive Motion was put to the vote and, on a show of hands, the Mayor declared that the Substantive Motion was carried unanimously; and it was

RESOLVED

That the following motion be approved and submitted to the Cabinet, in accordance with Rule 15.14 of the Council and Committee Procedure Rules for formal consideration of the financial implications, in advance of any budgetary commitment and prior to any action being taken to implement the decision:-

“That this Council records its concern:

(1) that residents and businesses within Sefton (as well as nationally) are facing economic difficulties on a scale not seen in recent years, which seriously threaten their own financial wellbeing;

(2) that families, pensioners and other residents face rising fuel and heating bills, soaring food prices, repossessions, credit difficulties and threats to their jobs, pensions, annuities, savings and investments;

(3) that Sefton MBC's current budget is threatened by hugely rising energy costs and other pressures which threaten cutbacks to services and/or increases in charges;

(4) That Sefton MBC takes steps to ensure that all invoices from all small and medium sized enterprises (SME) are paid promptly within the agreed payment time period and that this is monitored to ensure that no SME suppliers suffer as a result of late payment in this difficult financial climate.

That the Council is concerned that Mortgage Possession Claims have dramatically increased in the courts serving Sefton and whilst recognising that some measures have been announced:

requests that a report be submitted to the Cabinet on the ways that Sefton Council can assist our residents and
notes that other Councils in the region have amongst other measures; established formal forums of local mortgage lenders and the council to ensure that repossessions are kept to a minimum, expanded Equity Loan Schemes to enable loans to be offered to owners of long term empty properties so that the can be brought back into use, and launched publicity campaigns warning residents against selling their homes in panic to predatory private investors who may force them out

That the Council calls on the Government as a matter of urgency to:

allow councils to borrow against their assets to buy up unsold homes and land to replenish the social housing stock
give families facing repossession the right to sell part of their equity, and rent their home back
make the Council of Mortgage Lenders’ Code of Conduct legally binding so that repossession is a last resort

The Council believes and welcomes the fact that the vast majority of people in the U.K. are working positively to try to minimise the damage and work towards restoration of a thriving



A couple of matters arise from that;firstly it was not unanimous. The Tory leader having made a perfectly sensible speech and having read the motion noticed that my amendment asked for a report to cabinet then rather ostentatiously abstained! The rest of her group voted for the motion-you could have knocked us down with a feather, secondly there was rather a sad little contribution from Tom Glover which I guess even his friends would have wished he hadn't made. Luckily the Mayor charitably intervened. Tom was trying to give financial advice and go it all wrong. He was foolish to start handing out advice, sad that he got mixed up over the advice he was offering and plain out of touch. The burden of his advice was that people should switch to a 'repayment' only mortgage-we guess he meant 'interest only'. He missed the point that some people can not get any sort of mortgage at all in the present situation nor did he grasp that many lender are just not offering 'interest only' at present. Lloyds TsB announced today that they were withdrawing such products and if their take over of HBoS goes thro they will by far the biggest mortgage lender in the UK

Monday, 27 October 2008

Climate change.


News of more Government climb downs on the Cimate Change Bill. Firstly they gave way to Steve Webb and other campaigners on the issue of the target for reducing CO2 emmissions. The government wrote an inadequate target in of 60% into the Bill which showed they were not really serious . Secondly the issue of including the emissions from ships and planes which the government left out. As Friends of the earth said : 'it is like a drink-driving law that doesn't count whisky'.
Friends of the Earth’s “Big Ask” campaign for a tougher climate change law is also backed by Radiohead singer Thom Yorke, who said: “MPs have a chance to fix this when they vote on the law.
“We are on the verge of getting the world’s first climate change law. This is an amazing achievement, but there is one very large elephant in the room – it doesn't cover pollution from ships or planes.”

Well now we have the announcement of the government climb down. They took their time.

Friends of The Earth (FoE) are not the only group who have been active. Church groups like Christian Aid and Tear Fund have run excellent campaigns. Sadly the Tories Green talk has not turned into action (again)they abstained on this issue when the Bill was in the House of Lords, and have stated that the Bill goes far enough already.



Sunday, 26 October 2008

NW Lib dem Conference-Vince's Iraq moment





There was no doubt why the NW Lib Dem Conference was so well attended. Vince Cable was the key speaker. Everyone who was anyone in the region was there and Dr Cable did not disappoint. Firstly he was enormously patient and generous. He was signing books and pamphlets, talking quietly and directly to many delegates. There is no swagger about this man. Although he has been accorded superstar status by the broadsheet and broadcast media he wears it modestly and has a democratic approach. In question and answer he brilliant listening carefully to what was said answering complex points dispensing his knowledge without ever patronising.

Without being triumphalist he reviewed the economic policy over the last twenty years clearly pin pointing times when things went wrong and the warnings that he and others gave. Firstly with the banking crisis when he opposed the de mutualisation of building societies and recalled the hate mail he got from punters who believed that his approach was depriving them of a windfall payment when the assets of the mutual society accumulated over generations were given away to todays members.

He is justly famous for his graphic warnings about the borrowing that was going on secured against the artificially high price of property. We all remember his attack on lenders giving people 125% the supposed value of people's home as a mortgage. He recalled how one of the regualtors had rung him up and given him a hard time about his call for nationalising Northern Rock asserting that it was a sound well managed bank. And we all remember how the Tory front bench laughed him to scorn and Gordon Brown failed to comprehend the points at all.

Now the disaster that he almost alone in Parliament warned about has happened he has laid out his prescription and folk are now listening. He believes that the Tory party are both unable and unwilling to act having so consistently and recently opposed the measures that need to be taken. The whole issue of the banking sector needs to be rethought from the beginning and he floated the suggestion that we may wish to a model of mutual ownership so that the shares cannot be traded etc.

On the economy he was clear dramatic cuts in interest rates even as low as 0%. Tax cuts at the basic rate to put spending power in the pockets of citizens now. He did not rule out more traditional Keynesian public works but pointed out the time lag involved before they had a beneficial impact. He made two further points firstly that this was not the time to turn our backs on overseas aid as no matter how bad things are fore us the needs of those in developing countries are greater and secondly that we must not turn away from the green agenda it is not choice between confronting the economic disaster or tackling climate change, we need to both!

This he said was an Iraq moment when were right but had to endure rejection being ridiculed but in the end the fact we were right will be acknowledged.

For those wanting more this link is worth a read and a listen:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/oct/27/vincent-cable-liberal-democrats

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Rochdale Lib Dems







Paul Rowan the Rochdale MP is seen here with Mike Booth, Sue Maguire and me looking at our new newspaper. I've known Paul for many years going back to Young Liberal days. I was particularly interested to see him as Sefton's new Chief Exec has come from Rochdale MBC and Paul is a former leader of the Council there.

David Tattersall Cabinet Member for the Environment in Sefton is seen talking to William Hobhouse who is the Cabinet member for Resources in Rochdale . For those interested in Liberal History William Hobhouse is a member of the same Hobhouse that gave us L T Hobhouse the philosopher and leading light in the New Liberal Movement at the turn of the C20th. His book entittled 'Liberalism' is still worth reading.

The final picture show the two environment cabinet members getting to know each other better and I understand that David feel that there are things that we can learn from Rochdale

Welbeck Rd

Welbeck Rd and Terrace are a parking nightmare. It is a narrow road and if cars park on both sides there is a real concern that emergency vehicles could not get through. A few H markings have been put down some yellow lines painted but clearly more still needs to be done. In particular cars are now parking on the pavement making it difficult for pedestrians especially those with push chairs etc




Monday, 20 October 2008

We Can Conquer Unemployment

The papers are full of Keynes this morning, lots of photos and explanations about his economic theories. Sadly none of the ones I've read mentioned that he was a Liberal and a Liberal at a very unfashionable time to be a Liberal. I pointed out last week that the 1929 Yellow book was the first real Keynesian manifesto. A genuine radical and far sighted document. Sadly Labour won that election and did not follow his bold approach. The Yellow book was widely seen as the template for FDR's New Deal in America and people report that he(FDR) had a copy with lots of scribblings and notes in the margin

I rather like this quote of his:

"I do not know which makes a man more conservative—to know nothing but the present, or nothing but the past."



The Liberal History Group nominated him as one of the 'Great Liberal' and said of him:

'Keynes was also an active Liberal. He was a pioneer of the Liberal Summer School movement, a member of the Liberal Industrial Inquiry, which produced Britain's Industrial Future, the famous Yellow Book (1928), and part-author of the 1929 Liberal manifesto and of the accompanying Can Lloyd George Do It?, which explained the Liberal Party's plans to cure unemployment' More from Liberal History Groups 'Great Liberal' posting

It has taken us 80 years to be back having the our strong suit as the 'main story' . The 1929 election was the best Liberal vote for 45years. We may not have won but we were certainly the only party on the right track. Vince Cable has given us that opportunity again

Thursday, 16 October 2008

J S Mill


Casting around at yesterday's opening of Lord St we got to discussing the changing face of Southport's Tories. It is not a great revelation that they have been squabbling and nasty to each other for some while and it is stating the blindingly obvious to say that amongst those who have been knifed and vilified or just chosen quitely to leave are some of the most impressive members of their group. I make no comment on thos ewho have tried to replace them. All yesterday there was a quotation buzzing around in my head. I was fairly sure that it came from J S Mill's essay On Liberty. I finally sat down to read it last night and there it was in chapter 5:


'a State, which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposes, will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished'

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Lord street















Ken Dodd came to open the refurbished east side of Lord St yesterday. A goodly crowd had gathered as he made his way into the garden in front of Sainsbury's where the refurbished mermaid once again spouted fresh water-more of her and her origins later.



Dodd was on excellent topical form. The Mayor(whose day job is with the Inland Revenue) came in for gentle banter as did the frozen assets of the Icelandic banks. Interestingly he picked out two Labour Councillors visiting from Bootle as archetypal 'money men'. I thought that they looked more like a couple of Russian Oligarchs.



After the opening I fell into conversation with Mr Conard from the Jewellers, Brian Rimmer and the Cambridge Ward Councillors. Interestingly it was Mr Conard's father who had commissioned the statue of the mermaid. Apparently there was some dispute between the Conard's and the Council about the land. The borough was busy buying up all the land on the east side of Lord St to create the gardens that now stand there. These, as every sandgrounder will tell you, are the model for Paris's boulevards. The resolution of the dispute appears to be that Mr Conard's ancestor was allowed to design the statue. It should be made clear that all this happened before Freud explained the workings of the sub-conscious.



We got to talking about the shrimping trade up in Marshside with people recalling the sight of the shrimps being shelled by the local women. In the mosaic and on the benches in the refurbishment there are reminders of the shrimping that was and still is important to Southport. Mr Conard told us tha this Aunt Gwen was a Methodist lay preacher and went to speak at Marshside Methodist Women's Fellowship when 10 minutes into her talk all the ladies stood up and walked out. She was devastated, what on earth had she said to upset them. She was reassured that it was nothing she had said only that they had heard the handbells being rung signalling that the shrimping carts-or shankers as David Pearson told us the were called-had come in and they were needed for shelling.


Methodism and non conformity was strong in Southport and was one of the key reasons that the seat was won in 1923. Micheal Stead, the academic psephologist, produce a 'political atlas' at a Liberal History group meeting held during and annual conference in Plymouth a few years back. Some sad researcher had collected lists of memberships -golf clubs, drama societies, churches and chapels etc and it appeared that Southport was in the top ten of constituencies ranked by membership of chapels. The 1923 General Election was the high point of correlation between chapel membership and voting Liberal and so Southport was won in that year but not in the much more successful year 1929 .
This was not the first time that non conformity had impacted on Liberal politics in the town. In 1910 the Women's Liberal Federation had refused to back the parliamentary candidate because he would not support temperance legislation which rather brings us full circle to Mr Conard who I understand is chair of the Southport Temeperance Society



























Tuesday, 14 October 2008

more Vince

Rachel Sylvester writing in the Times this morning and reviewing the economic carnage strewn all around us said:

'Time and again Vince Cable, the Lib Dems’ wise Economic spokesman, raised concerns about Britain’s over-dependence on debt-and on each occasion he was accused of being a doom-monger spreading ‘alarm without substance’ by the man in charge' Oh dear Gordon

open goals and bins

As a Scotland supporter (I proudly fail the Tebbit test on nationality) I was gutted- as the say in football interviews- when Chris Iwelumo managed to miss an open goal from a yard out at Hampden on Saturday when Scotland drew with Norway. What was the man thinking off? He clearly was not focused on the job in hand or at the ball at his feet. Did he panic on the big occasion or was he simply out of his depth, impressive at a lower level but unable to make the step up to a higher class and compete with the giants of Norway.
I was thinking is there a political equivalent. Imagine if you will a world economic storm, a perfect tsunami: Banks crashing, pension funds going belly up, small businesses going bankrupt, family homes being repossessed, folk’s life time savings wiped out, small shareholder carefully investing in triple ‘A’ rated bank shares only to find them nationalised at a tiny fraction of their value even two weeks ago, the government borrowing half a trillion pound on which we the tax payers will have to pay the interest, massive unemployment once again the realistic fear felt by the UK equivalent of ‘Joe six pack’ and ‘hockey moms’, massive cut backs in public expenditure on the way etc., I guess you get the picture. Now in the midst of that fear and chaos when all around are looking for leadership and a coherent plan to guide us out of this turmoil, up steps a ‘would be’ champion for local people pitching to be their advocate on the national stage where these big issues of economic survival are decided. What are her views on the political issue of the moment-well of the decade, well of the rest of her life? Er,Er, at last it comes-she wants her wheelie bin collecting more often. Well that’s a comfort if you’ve lost your job, or your business, or your life savings-a real NW Trains League sense of priority. It may have been better if she had said nothing….

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Vince again and again and again

Cameron and George Osbourne must be sick as the proverbial parrot with all the praise for Vince this weekend. Look at the Mail on Sunday:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1076633/Drinks-No11-Alistair-lunch-Vince---Im-credit-crunch-expert-now.html
and when you've done that take a glance at the coverage in all the other Sundays thanks to Liberal England

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Home with the Hamiltons

Morning Coffee with the Hamiltons was the scary event that the title suggest. May and Robert opened their home this morning for a Birkdale Ward fundraiser. We attracted a good crowd and I persuaded some of them to leave their conversations about the economic crisis and join me for a photo.
It is gratifying to hear how well received Vince Cable's economic policy has been. As one wag remarked the last time the Liberal's held the high ground on economics was 1928 when Keynes inspired the Yellow Book http://www.liberalhistory.org.uk/item_single.php?item_id=62&item=history

I remember the 50th anniversary of its publication and was present at the launch of the reprint, the guest of honour at the reception in the National Liberal Club was the redoubtable Margery Corbett Ashley who was a feminist, suffragette, internationalist & Liberal candidate. She had been part of the team that had produced the book. In many ways the brilliance of this document blighted the Liberal Party as this hefty book was seen as the template for a manifesto- it ran to 503 pages. Thankfully the 'popular version'-'We can Conquer Unemployment' was must briefer.

I can't quite make all the dates tally as I have written on the fly leaf of the book February '77





Friday, 10 October 2008

Ruth Lea, Sarah Palin, Brenda Porter







I was struk by Ruth Lea's response to Chris Huhne on Question Time last night. Chris had perfectly properly challenge Ruth Lea (right wing, pro market think tanker) about her oft repeated advocacy of 'free' unfettered markets with light touch regulation. I would guess that she would back George Osborne's call earlier this year for even 'lighter' touch regulation of banks. Anyway instead of answering the question she protested that she was being bullied! Where have I heard that before?




The Democrats-in America- were faced with the challenge of bringing to book a right wing populist evangelical fundamentalist and have successfully turned her into a liability for the Republicans. Lesson to be learned.....

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Fairtrade update


Following on from the Tory debacle over Fairtrade (reported below) when a leading Tory lady made a rather crass comment about the quality of Fairtrade coffee comes news that Cafe Direct has just won several Gourmet awards for their fairtrade coffee. The report was on the BBC 'Bottom Line' programme and you can listen to it for 7 days if you follow this link:

“Do you know as much about economics as Vince Cable, George?”



and I thought it well worth reproducing (thanks to Sara Bedford for the research). It is about an exchange on the Today programe when Evan Davis gave both Alistair Darling and George Osbourne a dressing down over their economic failures, telling them:
“You both represent this part of the very same system of deregulated capitalism that has got us into this.”
But the best part came when he spoke directly with George Osbourne. Davis said:
“It sounds to me like I should vote for Vince Cable. Vince Cable was against demutualising the building societies back in the 1990s when your government was doing that. Vince Cable was sending me as an economics editor emails every three weeks, about the levels of debt through the last five years and he has been instrumental in saying that the taxpayer needs to be protected nationalising the banks and in having the upside risks as well as the downside ones are the way to go. Why if I am angry would I vote for you over him.”
Osbourne had no response, except to make snide remarks about looking forward to ince supporting a Conservative budget proposal. Evan Davis, sensing a back foot move when he saw one, went for the jugular.
“Do you know as much about economics as Vince Cable, George?”
The surprise and stuttering in Osbourne’s voice could not have been greater if Davis has produced his famed intimate jewelery and dropped if on the table at a family dinner party. He sounded although the most unpleasant remark had been made by an outsider at an upper class dinner party (and having been to several Tory Conferences in the 1990s representing my employer, that’s exactly how you can be made to feel).
“Well, er, I, er, oh, er …”
“He was the Chief Economist at Shell!”
offered Davis, helpfully.
“I was not Chief Economist at Shell, but, er um I do spend a lot of time talking to people across the economy .”
said Osbourne. Even over the airwaves you could sense him looking around for his press aide, hoping to be told that the time was up and he needed to go and discuss fashion trends for Autumn with Lorraine Kelly.

Sefton Governance Review

The Government is keen to force us to change the way we operate. This is not as a result of any ground swell of public opinion, but rather because they have a 'new idea'. Personally I'd rather they went to lie down in a darkened room and had another idea. In the meantime we will have to go along with their dictat but we will take the opportunity talking to our local communities to see how we can best improve our governance arrangement.
I have long held the view that if there is to be a major revival of public involvement in local government it will only about when we take control of our own taxation, answer at the ballot box for our actions and have real and important jobs to do. Sadly Labour(new and old) are not prepared to let local government take that responsibility and spend vasts amounts of public money and time ineptly micro managing us. There are now so many unelected public bodies locally carrying out the central governments wishes. There is no democrat oversight or control over them and all their cash comes from central government. PCT's, Hospital trusts, Housing Associations, Partnerships now dominate local public services and bureaucrats are focused on satisfying central governments whims and prejudices rather than responding to local democratically voiced concerns. Officers look at you in a disbelieving way when you tell them that elsewhere in Europe local government is responsible for and raises the taxation for health, policing, education etc. They have been so brain washed by the centralising power of Whitehall that their minds can no longer envisage a decentralised alternative.
Sadly such an option is not on the table now but we must do our best with the role we have and pray that one day central government will become as efficent, corruption-free and responsive as local government is today. I have been charged with overseeing the review. The first background briefing can be found here: https://web15.sefton.gov.uk/Published/C00000386/M00003619/AI00003391/$GovernanceReview011008.docA.ps.pdf

Thursday, 2 October 2008

NW Summit LibDem




Nick Clegg Lib Dem leader was in the NW to meet Lib Dem Council Leaders and MP's today. I represented Sefton. Clegg was on fine form. Clearly the economic situation is dominating politics at present and I was impressed how much he and Vince Cable have got their act together and are clearly communicating well and co-ordinating their responses to fast changing events.


I can't remember a time when the Lib Dems have managed to get their message across so well. Too often in the past if their has been a crisis outside an election -when the broadcasting rules protect us- we have been banished from the media. This time Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have bucked the trend. This has happened for two key reasons. Firstly the boldness of Clegg's pitch. He has embraced a political strategy of tax cuts for low and middle income people which is a highly progressive tax policy especially when coupled with a credible policy of funding that by making the rich pay more. Too often in Britain tax cutting has not led to redistribution of income. The Tories have cut the tax for the wealth claiming-despite all the evidence to the contrary that there will be a 'trickle down'. Their present policy to cut inheritance tax will only help the wealthiest 6% of the population.


The second key reason why were are still in the debate is Cable's track record. He has over years gone on and on about mounting personal debt and the coming disaster when the housing bubble bursts. He was mocked and scorned. The Tories were the cheer leaders for the 'get rich pay later' economy. He has credibility where simply no other opposition politician has.


Norman Baker MP was there as our Transport Spokesman to launch a campaign for a high speed rail link to the NW. Norman is very impressive and has really done his homework. He has produced a costed plan that will mean the high speed line will serve not just Manchester but also Liverpool and Preston and unlike the Tory plan will not be funded by axing other rail spending(God help the Southport Wigan line under the Tory plans. ) He was also very well briefed on minor rail plans that would have significant impact including the Burscough Curves and the Todmorton Curves. I will post more about this shortly