Saturday, 28 February 2009
This week residents around Portland Street have been invited to Linaker Street School Children's Centre to view an exhibition about the scheme. In particular the project aims to turn Portland Street into a East/West cycle route into town.
There are a lot of other initiatives as part of the Cycle Town which we will return to-in the meantime it should be reported that there was good turn out of interested residents. There was an enthusiastic team of officers who were on hand to answer question alongside Fred and his ward colleague Mike Booth.
Chris Davis, Birkdale's MEP, has written an article for the BBC News website. Chris was chiefly responsible for blowing the whistle on the likes of Southport Tory MEP Den Dover for fiddling their expenses. (Dover had to repay £500 000).
Friday, 27 February 2009
A tribunal has ordered the reviews to be released under the Freedom of Information Act, but it is still not certain that this will happen.
You can read the full story at: http://tr.im/gJy6
Please also pass this story on to friends or colleagues, and encourage them to sign our petition at http://www.libdems.org.uk/noidcards/
Thursday, 26 February 2009
There has always been a problem for civil libertarians. The sacrifices of freedoms made by successive governments often seem small, particularly when they are pushed through at times of panic about terrorism. Each time, the government argues that you only need to give up a modest amount of freedom or rights to win greater security. And what could be more free than life itself? Yet the cumulative effects of this salami-slicing have now become deeply corrosive to the free spirit of a civil society. Like some sci-fi horror movie, we are slowly becoming the authoritarian threat that we are fighting.
Wednesday, 25 February 2009
Sadly there has not yet been a thorough public attempt to learn the lessons and government has resisted all the calls for a public enquiry. Lynne Featherstone has written an article in Liberator which can be found here arguing the case for a public enquiry
Local Authorities are also faced with important choices. If they are unfortunate enough have have a serious incident should they public the report warts and all? Birmingham City Council has decided to publish a damning report into a serious incident into the death of Khyra Ishaq in the city.
Now let us turn to a wholly separate story to see how somebody else was dealt with who handed over their property to a trust and then claimed expenses. This report from the Daily Telegraph.
"The local authority’s investigation discovered that the property was held in
trust by Charles and Pauline Smith, who are the claimant’s parents. "
I watched Question Time last week and there was a discussion on Jacqui Smith's claim for a second home allowance. I suspect that rather like the Winterton's the claim it is within the rules. In the programme Sarah Teather revealed that as the MP for Brent -which is classed as on outer London Borough -under the rules she is entitled to a second home allowance! This clearly barking and to her credit Sarah has not claimed the allowance. Sadly the Winterton's have not exercised the same moral judgement.
Tuesday, 24 February 2009
Lord Ashcroft and the Conservative Party: the financial controversies
Written by Mark Pack on 24th February 2009 – 10:20 am
Cross-posted from The Wardman Wire:
With Michael Ashcroft back in the news over his financial support for the Conservative Party, this post provides a quick recap of the past controversies over Michael Ashcroft, the Conservative Party and political funding.
Ashcroft’s sequence of senior Conservative posts:
Under William Hague, Ashcroft was Treasurer of the Conservative Party (1998-2001), becoming a peer and member of the House of Lords in 2000. He was involved in a protracted dispute with The Times, which had been investigating some of the sources of his wealth. A libel action was settled out of court, with both sides paying their own legal costs.
After Hague’s departure, there was a gap of several years before Ashcroft once again held senior office in the Conservative Party, coming back as Deputy Chairman after the 2005 general election. This role, combined with his financial contributions, have given him huge influence over the Conservative Party’s target seats operation.
Ashcroft’s influence on the Conservative Party’s direction:
He paid privately for an extensive polling operation during the 2005 campaign, the results of which - along with his book, Smell the coffee: A wake-up call for the Conservative Party - played a significant part in the modernising debates in the Conservative Party.
Tim Montgomerie has commented on ConservativeHome that, “I think his polling operation and Smell The Coffee report did too much to send the Cameron project in an über-modernising direction.”
Ashcroft and the House of Lords:
Prior to being made a peer in 2000, Michael Ashcroft promised that he would return to the UK and pay income tax:
After Lord Ashcroft’s nomination for a peerage was rejected in 1999 - in part because of his status as a tax exile - Mr Hague wrote to Downing Street demanding a change of heart on the grounds that the businessman intended to become resident in Britain “in order properly to fulfil his responsibilities in the House of Lords”.
Mr Hague added: “This decision will cost him (and benefit the Treasury) tens of millions a year in tax, yet he considers it worthwhile.”
Despite this assurance, Lord Ashcroft was said to be resident in Belize during 2004, almost five years later. In October that year, in the House of Lords register of peers’ expenses claims, Lord Ashcroft’s “location of main residence” was declared to be Belize. A House of Lords spokesman said: “The peers themselves have to put it in writing when they inform the accountants office of their main residence.” (Source: The Guardian)
Lord Ashcroft has repeatedly refused to say whether he is legally resident in the UK and whether he pays UK income tax. The Conservative Party itself has also refused to answer such queries, with David Cameron deflecting questions and saying that are not a matter for him (even though Ashcroft takes the Conservative Party whip in the Lords and works in Conservative Central Office).
The issue is a regular source of criticism of both the Conservative Party and Lord Ashcroft, even from sources normally friendly to the Conservatives. For example, in September 2008 two Spectator journalists both hit out:
Lord Ashcroft’s tax status … is a huge strategic liability - and one that a half competent Labour party would exploit … It is reckless for the Tories to let this issue fester - James Forsyth
There is no denying that Lord Ashcroft’s tax status is an growing embarrassment. I suspect that Ashcroft feels untouchable, having seen off several media investigations into him. But it still looks dodgy, and as the election approaches there will be mounting questions as to why a man so crucial to Cameron’s operation may no be domiciled in Britain for tax purposes. It’s a problem that will not go away – Fraser Nelson
Lord Ashcroft was caught up in the secret loans scandal of 2006, when it emerged that the Conservatives had received £20 million in loans, including £3.5 million from Ashcroft. The revelations precipitated a change in the law in order to ensure that such financial support could not be kept secret in future.
Failure to declare donations from Michael Ashcroft:
One of Lord Ashcroft’s companies, Bearwood Corporate Services, has been a frequent donor to the Conservative Party. However, there was a string of failures by local Conservative Associations to declare the money they received. In February 2008, the Evening Standard listed three, whilst in November 2006 a series of others were named by the Electoral Commission.
Where are Ashcroft’s funds coming from?
In September 2008, the Sunday Times published a detailed investigation into the sources of the Michael Ashcroft funds used to financially support the Conservative Party:
5,000-mile money trail to Tory HQLord Ashcroft uses a string of firms to channel cash from Belize to his party
Following this report, a Labour MP – John Mann – wrote to the Electoral Commission asking them to investigate. An initial review by them concluded that there are grounds for a full investigation, and this is the news which broke about last week.
The issue is that whilst UK companies can donate to UK political parties, overseas companies (and individuals) cannot. The question is whether overseas money was funneled into a political party in contravention of the rules: was the money foreign, and if it was, did the means by which it got to a British political party break the law? Watch this space, as they say.
Friday, 20 February 2009
Predictably the other parties had not got their act together to propose a motion and reacted badly to us having stolen a march on them. I remember one masterly piece of procrastination from one Labour member questioning our proposal for housing associations to step in to buy homes that were on the verge of being repossessed-a proposal his party later adopted. Sadly some of those rescue packages have failed to materialise and the government does not appear to have been able to inject the necessary urgency into the situation and as Nick Clegg has pointed out not a single family has been helped by the much announced flagship scheme.
Vince Cable has launched the Lib Dem proposals which reprise some of the suggestions we made and adds a few original ones-including identifying some dud schemes that can be wrapped up and the cash used better.
Urgent action is required as the full extent of housing repossessions is revealed
Thursday, 19 February 2009
In fact, Birkdale Councillor Simon Shaw was in contact with the Environment Agency on this issue as long as 4 weeks ago.
For those who are interested in the complete story we reproduce below the full e-mail response which Simon received:
Subject: 'River Nile' Outfall on Birkdale Beach
S informed me of your interest in the outfall on Birkdale beach, so I wanted to let you know the details.
We received a report by email that the outfall appeared 'contaminated' and was causing a foul odour. I went down the day after the report to have a look. At the time, both channels were pretty clear. I took a photo (please see attached) and some samples - one from the right and one from the left of the channel. There was very little flow from the right outfall as you look at it, so the sample I took was from the 'pond' in front of it. There were one or two bits of sewage litter on the banks of the channel. The odour was the seaweedy type odour that you tend to get on the beach - not especially pleasant, but not something I would attribute to pollution.
I've now had the results back and they show that both samples were ok. There is a slightly higher organic carbon figure from the right side, which could indicate a small pollution source, but the value is very low and not something I would worry about unless it got worse. The ammonia (which is usually a good indication of sewage pollution) was too low to be detected in both samples.
It is my understanding that there is a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) into the right channel and that a few years ago, United Utilities did a lot of work to improve it. A CSO is an overflow system on the sewer which allows water (sewage and rainwater) to escape when the levels in the sewer are very high. The small amount of sewage litter I found could indicate that there had been an overflow relatively recently. This mainly happens when there is a lot of rain and prevents contaminated water backing up into people's homes. These overflows are legal when they occur for reasons of high flow. The discharges do not generally have a significant environmental effect because the rainwater dilutes the sewage enough to stop it being much of a problem.
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Tuesday, 17 February 2009
Richard kemp the LGA Lib Dem Leader has reacted with this statement:
Tories right for Direction but woefully lacking in substance
"The Leader of the Liberal Democrats in local government, Cllr Richard Kemp has welcomed the direction of the Tory proposals for local government, but has cited four major concerns.
"This is a wholesale repudiation of the Thatcher and Major governments which stripped councils of their power and finance and made them into puppets of central government, but the plans lack substance in 4 areas".
1. They do nothing to correct the imbalance between central and local funding. Whilst central government supplies up to 80% of the money spent by local government they will continue to call the tune asserting national priorities over local ones. They have similarly chickened out of tackling the way we raise money locally by keeping in place the grossly unfair Council Tax whilst we would propose a fair local income tax.
2. They have learned nothing about local mayors. Some Mayors, and of course our own in Watford, have been successful. And where people decide that they want a mayor they already have the right to elect one. But of the 12 elected mayoral systems in England two are in deep trouble with Stoke already voting to end their mayoral system. If the same proportion of councils generally were in trouble there would be aid teams outside 38 Town Halls today.
3. They have learned nothing about regionalism. They are, of course, right to rail against the bureaucracies of unelected regional government. But to suggest that employment, housing, transport and planning matters stop at the boundary of each council is ludicrous. Councils must and do work together and should be empowered themselves to develop sub regional and regional frameworks.
4. Proposals for elected commissioners for the Police are deeply scary. Most people believe that the head of the Police should be a serving and experienced police officer. Although the green paper does not define what an elected commissioner would do there would be no point in having such a position if that person were unable to radically change policing policy and operational policing activity.Cllr Kemp added: "In these proposals the Tory MPs are clearly not listening to their own councillors who would support many of these points especially the one about police commissioners. In particular they have shown that they know little about urban government with many major urban councils like Liverpool. Sheffield and Newcastle being entirely Tory Free Zones."
All this tells us more about what is truly nasty at the heart of New Labour which has authoritarianism woven into its DNA.
There is another twist in the tail of the UK ID saga reported to me via Roy Connell:
Airline pilots are refusing to take part in Government trials of ID cards planned for Manchester and London City airports.The British Association of Airline Pilots (BALPA) has told the Government and the airport managers that pilots will not co-operate with the plans:“ID cards have absolutely no value as far as security is concerned...
It is clear that the Government’s staged introduction of biometric identity cards first to overseas students, then to migrant workers and then for aviation workers represents a way of picking off what is seen as easy or compliant targets.”
You can read the full story at Home Office Watch: http://tr.im/gh4fPlease also pass this story on to friends or colleagues, and encourage them to sign our petition at http://www.libdems.org.uk/noidcards/
Thursday, 12 February 2009
I'm not alone in noticing the number of people calling for Capt Mannering style bank managers and this does under score an important point, namely that there are two types of banking that have got mixed up. In the first instance there is the 'utility banking' that most of us and businesses need. Secondly there is the merchant/investment banking which is high risk venture capitalism stuff.
Vince Cable who has been writing and talking about banking reform well before this crisis has suggested that having effectively nationalised the banks that a mutual model of ownership could replace the ownership by share capital. I am attracted to this idea as it would seem to anchor the banks in service to their members rather than in the pursuit of shareholder profit and bonuses.
There is a whole range of other issues which need to be tackled around regulation. All those who heard the Tories baying for less regulation and listening to the stick they handed out to Vince for daring to suggest that the credit bubble was about to burst. (In fact the Tories were so badly behaved had our own dear Mrs Parry observed their behavior I'm sure she would have reported them to the standards board and they would have instantly reformed)
A number of people have drawn my attention to this posting and asked me what on earth it means?
Of course we all know that this situation is not all down to "glorified spivs in the city" but many factors not least of all a Government that did not save for a rainy day and when hit by a global recession were not prepared for it , now a recognised point of fact. Strong measures have to be introduced that will be supportive of local businesses, and that is not being done at this time. There are 7524 premises in Sefton who currently pay business rates with the average bill in 2008-2009 £7950 raising a total of £59.8 million a year in tax which is handed over to Whitehall. It is not only our businesses that need help but also our elderly and many others in our community but as in the past we will unite and beat these hard times but urgent help is needed to give added support and this is not happening. The good news of a cash injection into Pontins in Ainsdale is welcomed and will eventually have a positive effect on Southport and our tourism trade, as well as providing additional local jobs for local people, but help is needed now and this Government is not delivering. Those of us in a position to lobby for change must do so with some urgency.
Interestingly one thing it does reveal is that the author fails to understand that the failure in government regulation was a key component in this crisis. Now remind who was it who wanted less regulation and didn't think the credit explosion was a problem?
The Government decision to centralise student finance applications has come under attack from Birkdale Liberal Democrat councillor Simon Shaw.
Until now applications for loans and grant finance for students attending universities and colleges has been processed by Sefton Council and other local authorities.
However students starting in higher education from September 2009 will now apply direct to the Student Loan Company via a national call centre.
Councillor Shaw spoke out against the proposal at last week’s (Tues 10 Feb) meeting of Sefton’s Scrutiny Committee for Education and Children’s Services.
“I am concerned that this change is a big mistake. Many people have experiences of centralized government operations going seriously wrong – problems over the last 5 years with the tax credit system being the obvious example,” commented Councillor Shaw.
“More recently, in recent months many young people have encountered serious difficulties in claiming Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). The government’s track record with these centralized IT-based operations is far from good. I am worried that this could be another disaster waiting to happen.”
Councillor Shaw also voiced concern at the loss of local contact. Under the old system staff from Sefton’s Student Finance Section visited local Sixth Forms each spring to give guidance to local students and their parents.
“Now the only contact will be with a call centre 150 miles away. One of the biggest concerns is in relation to vulnerable students. How many of those are going to be discouraged from going into higher education through having to deal with a remote bureaucracy?” asked Councillor Shaw.
Dr Pugh said:
"A serious amount of my constituency caseload in Southport has been taken up trying to put right the mistakes made by these centralised and sometimes privatised computer-based call-centres. The systems which they use mean that, even when they know that they have got it wrong, they cannot stop the system from acting on the wrong information. Tax Credits and Education Maintenance Allowances have been two of the worst offenders. Otherwise good systems have been tainted by an unacceptable error rate and the difficulties in putting things right. I really do hope that this is not going to be another one of these."
Sunday, 8 February 2009
It was brought in at 5 shillings per week, which would be worth in 2009, well.....
£17.89 using the retail price index £23.01 using the GDP deflator £95.01 using the average earnings £112.96 using the per capita GDP £158.26 using the share of GDP
Friday, 6 February 2009
Simon Shaw and I successfully persuaded Sefton Council to oppose the introduction of ID cards. Three Tories pointedly refused to support our straight forward motion. We thought that there may have been a principle involved here. But no. Like so many other things there has been a sharp hand brake 'U' turn carried out. One of the tree pro ID card Tories suddenly, effortlessly changed direction.
The government had sent out a consultation on the implementation of the scheme. I proposed that as the council had a settled policy on the issue we should respond by sending them a copy of the resolution. Up pipes the previously pro ID card Tory to say: We can have nothing to do with ID cards and votes to have my resolution (that she had opposed) sent off to the government.
Now I've nothing against folk changing there mind. In fact I applaud it. But you would expect a tad of humility and explanation. Mine you it is not the first time. Some folk voted to put car parking charges up after the credit crunch had struck whilst refusing to do so at the height of the boom. (most folk would say that was the wrong way round). Equally there are some people who went on and on about re introducing weekly bin collections and how achievable and cheap it was but have never proposed it in a budget, there is even one member who supported the retention of a nasty bit of legislation which many folk felt was indefensibly anti gay only to reinvent herself as an equal ops champion.
You would just like to believe that these conversions were not just the result of ' sitting at their front room window waiting for a passing bandwagon to go by so they can jump on it...as Sir Ron Watson memorably put it in another context.
In fact you would like a little consistency of principle so that you know when a politician signs up to an idea they will stick with it and not flip flop..
David Sumner a member of the Merseyside Transport Passenger Transport Authority (MPTA) reports.
At yesterday's MPTA Budget meeting Tories put an amendment to make both Mersey Tunnels toll free from 6.00pm - 6.00am every day in effect from 1st April 2010.
No this isn't an April fools joke but is it mass suicide by the Tories? The Finance Director, Jim Barclay advised the committee that if this went ahead, it would give Sefton Council Tax payers an increase on the levy of 24% or £4.5m.
He also stated that if this went ahead, there would have to be massive redundancies which means that they could not operate a tolls system, possibly resulting in a further levy increase bringing it up to for Sefton, 38% or £7.6m.
The stupid thing is that the Tories, even after all this, were still deadly serious about their amendment. As only 3% of Merseyside use the tunnel it would mean that 97% of the population would be subsidising the tunnel.
Jim Barclay went on to say that there isn't a cap on levy's but as there is on Council Tax it would make the whole situation in Merseyside very difficult and who would pay off the debt still owing on the tunnels?
Not finished! now we have known about this date for a long long time. The idea is that the Cabinet passes a budget to Overview and Scrutiny for comment before it is approved by Cabinet and full council.
If you were interested in doing the best by Sefton you would be keen to let your colleagues know what your proposals were so, if you had any good ideas they could be incorporated in an improved budget. Not the Tories.
I share Tony Robertson's view that the likely explanation is not some clever Machiavellian trick but just failing to hand their work in on time.
At cabinet I did suggest that it was a bit like turning up with a bit of course work and not handing it in until you'd had the chance to look at everyone else's answer.
Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Home Office Watch reports that the Government are introducing ID cards a step at a time, using terms like “beacon areas” and “protection” to try to make them seem attractive.With 50,000 ID cards estimated to be issued to foreign nationals by April 2009, this intrusive scheme is already growing fast.
You can read the full story at: http://tr.im/dtjo
Please also pass this story on to friends or colleagues, and encourage them to sign our petition at http://www.libdems.org.uk/noidcards/
Chris RennardChief Executive,
Monday, 2 February 2009
Sunday, 1 February 2009
SEFTON COUNCIL “GAGGING” PROTOCOL CONDEMNED AS DRACONIAN
A recent proposal by Sefton Council to prevent councillors speaking to the press on many of the issues discussed by the Council has been widely deplored with Birkdale Lib Dem Councillor Simon Shaw leading the condemnation.
A draft “Media Protocol” for Elected Members and Officers has recently been prepared. It was intended to seek final approval for the new Protocol at the Council Meeting on 26th February.
Simon Shaw has condemned the proposal as “draconian”, pointing out that the protocol seeks to severely limit councillors’ ability to talk to the press for no obviously good reason.
“I am totally appalled at what is being proposed,” is Simon’s reaction.
“To give an example of the draconian proposals being put forward, most councillors are a member of one of 4 Overview and Scrutiny Committees. The draft protocol says that only the relevant chair may give ‘media statements and interviews on Overview and Scrutiny matters’.”
“What this means is that on such matters only four councillors may speak to the press and the other 29 members of these Committees are to be barred from expressing their views to the local media.”
In speaking out, Simon has gained support from a number of quarters, including in the editorial in last Wednesday’s Liverpool Daily Post.
The Daily Post editorial voices its support for Simon’s stance as follows: “It has already been described by one councillor as “draconian”; it seems his fears are very real.”
Reported in the Visiter were the views of senior Conservative Councillor Sir Ron Watson: “I have never heard anything like it in my 40 years as a councillor.”
Simon acknowledges that part of the proposed Media Protocol is needed. Clear guidelines are now set out confirming that councillors may not disclose to the press the contents of confidential reports.
The need for guidance in this area was prompted by a recent case where an official complaint was made against Ainsdale Conservative Councillor Brenda Porter. This concerned certain financial information from a confidential report about Southport Market which appeared in the press and also on a Conservative Party web-site.
“I think it is right that clear rules are set out where we are talking about confidential information. However the rest of these proposals are completely unacceptable in a free and democratic society,” added Simon.
I turned up late having detoured to see Richard in hospital to find Southport one nil up. The Torquay fan who brought me up to date was very generous about the quality of the goal. He had left his home in Brixham at 5.45am and had spent the morning in Southport with his wife. They were both very impressed with the town and had clearly done a lot of shopping. Someone ought to do a study on the economic benefit of a successful football club to the town.
The remainder of the second half saw Torquay having the lion's share of the ball but not seriously threatening.
In the second half after a period of prolonged Torquay Southport came into their own with a well taken goal and they became dominant. The final goal was , well judge for yourself by following the link below.
I'm not really fully up to speed with this technology but this link ought to get you to a You Tube video of the Southport goals and the third one is really amazing, it made every smile even the Torquay fans - a real feel-good afternoon
I bumped into John Siddle from the Visiter this morning and we talked about the game. He assures me that the player is insisting that he intended to score! (and here was me thinking it was just a hopeful punt up the ground and the lad had turned his back and was jogging towards the Blowick end)
I have just heard that Southport have just drawn Telford away in the next round. That is a tough challenge. I guess that a tie against a Conference premier side was the preferred option.