Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The laying of a wreath at Gladstone's statue on the 200th anniversary of his birth

A goodly crowd gathered in the garden's of St George's Hall Liverpool to see the deputy Lord Mayor lay a wreath at the statue of Gladstone to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth in the city. Lib Dem cabinet member Gary Millar was master of ceremonies. He is pictured above with a bust of Gladstone which is part of the new exhibition in the Gladstone Gallery in the Hall which is there for the next 3 months
The event was organised with St Deniol's library and they have learnt material for the new exhibition. Three talks followed the wreath laying-mercifully in doors as it was mightily cold. We learnt all about Gladstone's childhood in that paradise that was Litherland and a stout defence of Gladstone's actions in the Sudan concerning General Gordon (see the earlier posting)

200 years since Gladstone's birth

It is Gladstone's birthday and certainly in this part of the world it is being well marked. Gladstone was born in Liverpool-indeed in the next street to where I am sitting now. He went on to try to be an MP for South Lancashire which included Southport and Birkdale. You can read more about that on our website where you can access an online copy of Micheal Brahams's excellent history of the 'First 100 years of Southport Liberals'
The BBC did an excellent Radio Four programme direct from St Deniol's Library- Gladstone's residential memorial library. I have visited St Deniol's several times for conference-none of them Liberal ones! Under the present Warden it has become a very welcoming place and the Library is fascinating especially to those interested in Gladstone, victorian studies , Liberalism or theology. The building is a Victorian mock gothic gem. As you enter it there is a display of Gladstonian artefact donated by one Eric Flounders.
Regretably the Liberal Party contribution to the Radio Four programme was from David Steel. He was never a man for the detail-witness (amonst other examples)his major cock up over the 'dead parrot' policy statement. If he had spent as much energy and effort on checking that document as he spent preventing the policy committee and others getting a sight of it until after it was publish life may have been better. Well on this occaison despite being in Gladstone's Library he was easily outclassed in his knowledge and understanding of the Grand Old Man by both Andrew Adonis and David Willets. Sad. Surely there were other better qualified folk.....For his New Year reading the chapter on General Gordon in Roy Jenkin's biog may cause him to revise his opinion that Gladstone's policy in the Sudan and Egypt was a 'mistake'.
Anyway, I'm off to the wreath laying ceremony in Liverpool in my lunch hour. The invitation reads:
International statesmen, political reformer, 3 times Chancellor of the Exchequer and 4 times British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone was born in Rodney Street, Liverpool on 29th December 1809. Liverpool City Council, the Gladstone family, local historians Steve Binns, Brenda Murray and Frank Carlyle, plus St Deiniol's Library and the Flintshire Record Office have all contributed to help us celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the “Grand Old Man’s” birth. Please join the city’s celebrations at St George’s Hall on 29th December 2009 from 12pm to 3.30.
Please come to all 3 of the events below or whichever ones suit your busy diaries.

29th December 2009: -

12pm – 1pm : Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Gladstone Memorial at St John’s Gardens at St John’s Gardens, St Georges Hall
This hour includes teas & coffee in St Georges Hall

1pm : Gladstone Exhibition
Launch of Gladstone Exhibition, Concert Hall
The Gladstone Exhibition is in the Gladstone Gallery, St Georges Hall from 29th Dec – 7th March 2009

Gladstone Lectures
Concert Hall

1.30 – 3.30pm
* Brenda Murray
* Steve Binns
* Frank Carlyle

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Kew Ward Christmas

Kew had a great time at their christmas party last week. A few of the not so shy one agreed to have the photo taken

Monday, 14 December 2009

Temporary Library Costs “Unbelievable”

Major concerns about the costs quoted for relocating Southport Library into the Market Hall have really begun to concern me.

I told the press this week:, 'Conservative and Labour councillors have been claiming the cost of the temporary relocation would be £500,000 – which they say is not affordable.'

However I believe that the true cost is likely to be very much lower.

“We have thoroughly checked the figures and reckon that the net cost of the temporary relocation is likely to be in the range NIL to £100,000 - nowhere near the £500,000 claimed,”

“Some of the costs have been unbelievable. For example, there is a figure of £25,000 for ‘Kitchen Ventilation’. This is for a small temporary kitchen with facilities for the library staff to make a cup of tea, or heat some lunch in a microwave.”

“The other key issue is that there will be savings while the current Southport Library is shut for 2 ½ to 3 years. Those savings should be set against the relocation costs.”

“From Council figures we have obtained, we reckon there are savings of around £70,000 a year, on such things as building repairs, insurance, rates and suchlike. Over the period of closure that is something like £170,000 to £200,000 saved.”

“What we clearly have is a situation where certain other politicians are trying to make the cost as high as possible as an excuse not to provide a temporary town centre library.”

“We have 7,000 residents so far who have signed our petition to say that they think those politicians are wrong.”

If you want to see the details follow the links to our website on the left and then go to the download button.

(A, B &C) was sent on 6 November 2009 (a week before the key Cabinet meeting) by Council officers to all Cabinet members and all Southport councillors. This e-mail gave details of the estimated costs required and the amount retrievable against the planned Market Hall refurbishment. These were:

Gross costs for temporary Library £471,000
Less Retrievable against Market Hall refurbishment £101,000
Total net cost of temporary Library in Market Hall £370,000

Even the £370,000 seems overstated. Within that total, the biggest item by far is £183,600 + 10% Contingency + 15% Design Fees = £229,500 for “Upgrading lighting levels, ventilation and heating” (so-called M&E Works). Supposedly none of this £229,500 of spending would be retrievable/reusable in the long-term Market Hall refurbishment. We find that very difficult to believe.

Late last Wednesday (9 December 2009), and following a request to Council officers, we received certain information (D) which casts even more doubts on the figures within that £370,000. Some of the costings we obtained look to be way over the top, for example within the £229,500 M&E Works are the following:

Toilet Ventilation £10,000
Ventilation High Level £30,000
Kitchen Supply/Extract Ventilation £25,000

(Note that the kitchen referred to will be modest facilities for library staff to make a cup of tea, or heat some lunch in a microwave.)

In addition local Lib Dem councillors have looked at what savings there might be from the 2 ½ to 3 year closure of the current Lord Street Library. We managed to obtain details (E) of the costs incurred in 2008/09 and charged against Southport Library in Sefton Council’s accounts. Some of that spending would not take place during the Library closure and, we believe, could be set against the costs of the temporary relocation of the library. The most obvious examples are:

General Building Repairs £ 6,411
Environmental Sewerage £ 4,744
General Rates £15,015
Insurance – Premises £34,400
Building Cleaning £10,700

These costs alone total over £70,000 for one year. Over the 2 ½ to 3 years of the closure, the total saving would be of the order of £170,000 to £200,000.

To summarise:
According to Council Officers the “non-retrievable” net cost of works necessary to allow the Library to temporarily relocate to the Market Hall is £370,000, not £500,000 as some local politicians have bandied around.
Lib Dem councillors even have serious doubts about the figure of £370,000. It is claimed that none of the £229,500 within this total for “Upgrading lighting levels, ventilation and heating” is reusable in the Market Hall refurbishment. We find this unbelievable.
Even if none of those costs were “retrievable”, then some of the estimates still appear grossly excessive, for example £65,000 for ventilation including £25,000 for “Kitchen Supply/Extract Ventilation”.
Closure of the current Library leads to cost savings which can be set against the Market Hall temporary conversion costs. Over the period of closure those savings could amount to £170,000 to £200,000.
Taken together, we believe that the net cost is likely to be in the range NIL to £100,000.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Library Petition Campaign gains over 1500 signatures in three hours

Saturday’s three hour session in Chapel Street gained a massive 1574 signatures – well in excess of our target of 1000. Together with the 5443 already collected, this now means that 7017 people have signed the “Southport Needs a Town Centre Library” Petition.

As readers may be aware from earlier posts this week, the 5443 signatures collected by Wednesday were presented to that evening’s meeting of Sefton Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

It was at that meeting that a call (led by my colleague, Birkdale Lib Dem councillor Richard Hands) for the issue to be referred back to the ruling Cabinet was turned down by the Conservative and Labour councillors on the Committee.

From the amazing response on Saturday, it is very clear that the people of Southport have not given up in the fight. We found that people were genuinely angry at the refusal of the other two parties on the Council to reconsider.

At one stage people were queuing up to sign and it was clear we would run out of petition forms so we had to dash away and photocopy an extra supply.

As the decision currently stands, it means that Southport town centre would be without a library for nearly 3 years from around March 2010. The last chance to try and change this will come in early January, so we are certainly not letting up in our campaign.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Call for 1000 more signatures on Library Petition

Campaigners for the use of Southport Market Hall as a temporary home for Southport’s Library are aiming to collect 1000 more signatures on their petition this Saturday (12th December).

They will be out again in the centre of Chapel Street from 11.30 to 2.30 seeking to add to the 5443 signatures they have collected so far, but which were clearly not enough to persuade this week’s meeting of Sefton’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee to refer the matter back the Council’ ruling Cabinet.

Birkdale Lib Dem Councillor Richard Hands (pictured to rear on left) is one of those behind the Campaign and he says that people are angry.

“When we took the petition of over 5400 names to Wednesday’s meeting we had high hopes that councillors from the other two parties would listen to what people were saying,” said Richard.

“It is not just library users and residents who are angry about not having a town centre library for the next 3 years. We also had representations from the overwhelming majority of market traders who said that they strongly supported the idea of a ‘Library within a Market’. Despite this, and all the evidence that Cabinet members had not been aware of the full facts, the Conservative and Labour majority had their way again.”

“If 5443 signatures are not enough, then we will just have to collect some more. Our final chance to try and overturn this wrong decision is in early January, which is why we will be out again tomorrow, collecting more signatures.”

“We will be in the centre of Chapel Street on Saturday from 11.30 to 2.30, and look forward to seeing other residents who want to sign.”

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Hilda Ogden-well actress Jean Alexander-supports petition as public voice anger over Southport Library “snub”

Birkdale’s Councillor Richard Hands led an effort on Wednesday night at Southport Town Hall to get the issue of a temporary library referred back to Sefton’s ruling Cabinet. However Conservative and Labour members combined to defeat the Liberal Democrat move.

Richard, together with fellow Lib Dem Councillors David Sumner and Mike Booth, called for the unoccupied part of Southport Market Hall to be used as a temporary library while the £15 million Southport Cultural Centre project is carried out over the next 3 years.

A petition with 5443 signatures on it was presented to the meeting, but was not enough to persuade Conservatives and Labour on the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to have a change of heart.

Even the appearance of Southport resident, Jean Alexander (Coronation Street’s Hilda Ogden, pictured at Southport Town Hall with Councillor Lord Ronnie Fearn) was not enough to win the day. As a keen library-user, she told councillors why she was opposed to the idea of Southport having to do without of a town centre library for the next 3 years.

Richard has condemned the decision: “This is a clear snub, both to the 5400 people who have signed our petition so far, but also to the market traders who strongly support the idea and many of whom were there on Wednesday night.”

“If only the Southport councillors from the other parties had backed this call, the issue would already be on its way back to Cabinet to be looked at again.”

“Members of the public who attended the meeting have said very clearly that they thought we won the argument, but that councillors from the Labour and Conservative parties had arrived with their minds made up. They are very angry about the way that some councillors are just not listening to the public on this issue.”

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

impact of smaller state and why blogs are for recipes

I have noted before that our local Tory leadership does not score highly on policy. In contrast some of those on what they call the 'naughty step' are conspicuous for the grasp of the current debates and the implications for local authorities.

I was pondering this today sitting on a train. Someone had discarded an unread copy of the Daily Telegraph. I don't know whether this was out of disgust or forgetfulness. One of the comment pieces asserted that 50yrs ago we opted to be a high tax country and that now we have an opportunity to reverse that and become a Texas like low tax country.

Clearly Cameron's speeches in recent months have a similar theme and philosophically many Tories have never had much truck with the post 1945 settlement. In recent years Labour too has ditched the idea of a redistribution of wealth often leaving Vince Cable as the lonely advocate of that policy objective.

Now how does all this play out locally. We were sat in the public session of cabinet the other week with the Trade Unions in the public seats. They had presented a series of suggestions designed to achieve budget reductions without compulsory redundancies. That is a perfectly proper line for a Trade Union to take. What was interesting was the Tory response. No talk of dramatically reducing the state instead the now familiar line. Nobody wants redundancies, we all agree it would be best if we could avoid them. The line was not as blatant as in the debate on the post office privatisation/modernisation debate we had when the Tory PPC explicitly announced that there should be NO redundancies. I'm sure that would be news to George Osbourne. As usual we go an out pouring of empathy. The strategy seems to be that the softer and fluffier they are the better. It is as if a decree has be sent out: don't mention politics or policy but hug and stroke as many people as you can meet, don't use you blog to explain policy -publish recipes instead!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Attack on Ronnie Fearn rebounds

Attacking Ronnie is seldom a good move. Our Tory candidate appears not to have learned that lesson...............

Last week’s letter from Councillor Porter attacking Councillor Lord Ronnie Fearn is typical of what people have come to expect from politicians. That is to divert blame from oneself by attacking others.

What she conveniently fails to mention in her letter is that Lord Fearn, as Cabinet Member for Leisure Services, resolved in July 2009 that “the temporary closure of Southport Library be agreed on the basis that the Leisure Director make continued efforts to find a suitable town centre location for the library prior to closure.” The minutes clearly show that. Perhaps Councillor Porter failed to read them.

The simple fact is that Councillor Porter is the only Southport councillor who voted against providing a temporary town centre library. The voting was so close that had she voted in favour we would now have agreement on using the Market Hall for the near three year closure of our town centre library.

In her letter Councillor Porter claims that to use the (currently vacant) rear of the Market Hall would cost “£500,000 with only £50,000 retrievable as part of their planned refurbishment.” Wrong! All Southport councillors were sent an e-mail on 6 November advising us very clearly that the estimate from officers was a cost of £471,000 with £101,000 retrievable, i.e. a net cost of £370,000. Perhaps Councillor Porter failed to read that e-mail.

Even the figure of £370,000 may well be an over-estimate. For example £230,000 of that total relates to “the heating and lighting requirements of the temporary library”. It is claimed that none of that expenditure is retrievable in the Market Hall refurbishment project. Is that really credible?

For Councillor Porter to suggest, yet again, that the Borough’s mobile library is a solution to the needs of Southport town centre shows how out of touch she is.

Library petition-enormous response

The backlash against the daft decision to leave Southport without a central Library for 3 years was been enormous. Well over 4000 have now signed up.
Despite having been told that it would not be able to 'recall' this decision the Chair of the relevant committee has over ruled this and we are all set for a meeting tomorrow evening in Southport Town Hall.
My colleague Richard Hands who triggered the review is going to speak and we are hopeful it will find itself back at cabinet. The voting on the cabinet is interesting. If all the Southport Councillors stick together the decision will be changed.

Tory U turn on Regional quango

About the one polices that our local Tories have grasped is 'anti regionalism' and 'anti quango'. It comes a particular delight to read about Caroline Spellman-the Tory front bencher-announce a U turn on that Regional Quango our Tories particularly love to loath, Regional Development Agencies. I can almost hear Mrs Parry stridently assert how how come the General election this will be the first quango to be slaughtered. Now she will have to get to grips with another policy...................................

Monday, 7 December 2009

Tories give up

I'm one of those people who never think elections are won until the votes are counted and the returning officer has declared. Nevertheless it is a boost to read the Times this morning relating that the Tories are effectively withdrawing from from a number of seats including Cheadle. Lucky Mark Hunter-although I'm sure that he will not give up working hard. There seems to be continuing evidence that the Tory vote in the North is not strengthening in the way it is in some places further south. I suspect that the truth is that in some key constituencies they will not vote Tory no matter how many millions of Ashcroft's money is spent.