Friday, 31 December 2010

the failure to deal with the snow...................

 I know I don't have to explain to local folk why there is such anger about the council's failure to deal with the snow, but for those from further a field these photos (all of bus routes) were taken a week apart.

Fury at failure over snow clearing, MP demands apology

Southport MP John Pugh called on the council to say sorry for the failure of its gritting and yesterday (Wednesday) Jerry Mc Conkey, Sefton Council's Network Manager, apologised for the disruption.
Dr Pugh said: “Amongst us citizens there is not a man or woman standing who thinks the council got it right this time or planned it well.”
The Southport Visiter has the full story. The Birkdale blog broke the news that angry Councillors were to hold a crisis meeting with the council officials in charge of the clear up. Can we thank all those who emailed their questions in advance of that meeting. As the Visiter report:
In the aftermath, senior councillors and technical services officers got together at Bootle Town Hall yesterday afternoon (Wednesday) to discuss the issues involved – and see what lessons can be learned.
In a private meeting called by Liberal Democrat councillor Simon Shaw, seven councillors were due to ask Sefton what went wrong.

Personally I'm furious. Any suggestion that the response was even adequate is rubbish. There appears to have been a lack of imagination and leadership. Simon has done an excellent job in addressing these matters but inevitably it has been after the event.
I want to know why local farmers weren't called on and why volunteers were not called on to clear key areas. A lot more could have and should have been done. This does not appear to have been about resources but about will.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Councillors to meet with Highways officers over gritting mayhem

Birkdale’s Councillor Simon Shaw, together with fellow Southport councillors, are meeting senior Council officers this Wednesday.  They plan to get answers from the Council as to why there has been such poor performance locally in clearing main roads and town centre pavements of snow and ice.

“The absolute priority throughout has been trying to get effective Council action on the ground,” explains Simon.  “The last thing we wanted to do was to divert key officers from doing their job in the run-up to Christmas by having a Town Hall meeting too soon.”

“That’s why we have delayed having this crucial meeting until the first day back after the bank holiday break.  We’ll be demanding explanations as to why things have clearly gone so badly wrong.  As the problems affect all parts of our town I have asked local Conservative councillors if they would like to attend as well as Lib Dems.  I am keen for all wards to be represented.  On a cross-party basis, we all want some urgent answers.”

Simon and his colleagues have a comprehensive list of questions they want answering on behalf of residents.  Please forward any issues you would like raised to Simon at by 10.00am Wednesday.  Please include your name and address.

Saturday, 25 December 2010


I always play a CD of church bells at Christmas must to the annoyance of my children. This year I have found an excellent rendition from York Minster. Have a very merry Christmas

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Birkdale makes it to Radio 4. The Eagle has ......

Sir Tim Rice explores the lasting appeal of British magazine Eagle and the impact of its flagship character Dan Dare.
Eagle ran in two main incarnations between 1950 and 1994. Dan Dare, often referred to as "Biggles in space", is regarded in some circles as the greatest British science fiction hero of the 20th century
In this feature we chart the influences behind the comic, and explore the life of its creator Marcus Morris, a fascinating man who began the publication because of his concern over 'horrific' US comics which presented 'disturbing' storylines which he felt 'corrupted British youth'.
The programme reveals how Dan Dare was originally envisaged as a space chaplain before becoming the popular astronaut. It also examines the work of illustrator Frank Hampson who introduced technology years ahead of its time. Hampson knew the Space Age was on its way while serving in the Second World War and seeing the German VI rockets. He made the Dan Dare strips as realistic as possible by dressing his team in spacesuits and uniforms, basing the look of the fictional characters on his colleagues.
We reveal how the stories had educational value and, along with Dan Dare, we look at other Eagle offerings including Shakespeare's plays and the Greek myths which ran as comic strips.
Featuring contributions from author Philip Pullman, Sally Morris the daughter of Eagle Creator Marcus and Eagle Society member David Britton.

You can listen to the broadcast for seven more days:

I thought of calling the blog 'this needs closer investigation'. The creator of the Eagle was a Birkdale clergyman. Many local remember him and his illustrator very well. Amongst his fans are Cllr David Pearson seen with the two busts of Dan Dare in the town.

Oops, slipped my mind

I must apologise. I promised that i would publish the 'Thank you' leaflet for the second 1910 election on the centenary of the event.

I forgot.
I will put the event in context over the Christmas holiday

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Have Labour resigned from the Sefton Cabinet?

My Birkdale Ward colleague Simon Shaw has been left “confused” this week after listening to an i-player recording of a recent Radio Merseyside programme.

This was of the Roger Philips Show last Friday.  This featured Sefton’s Labour Leader Cllr Peter Dowd who rejoices in the exalted title of "Executive" Deputy Leader of Sefton Council.

To understand Simon’s “confusion” you have to be aware the context which is that Sefton Council’s 10 member, all-Party Cabinet has 4 Lib Dem members, 4 Labour members and 2 Conservative members.  Labour are the second largest party, which means that their leader, Cllr Peter Dowd is designated the senior Deputy Leader of the Council.

Anyway, we had a full Council meeting last Thursday, as I reported last week:

The following day, Friday, Peter was interviewed by Lee Bennion, standing in on the Roger Phillips Show.  Despite Peter still being designated "Executive" Deputy Leader of Sefton Council these were just two of the exchanges on Radio Merseyside:

1.  Interviewer (Lee Bennion): But do you agree that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition on Sefton Council has had, sort of, no other choice than go through the cuts that they have decided on?”

Cllr Peter Dowd: “Well, I think, you can go down the path of saying that they don’t have any other choice on the cuts.  There’s a difference of opinion on what some of those cuts might be, but the primary issue is that the Government have told Sefton Council that it’s going to get £31 million less next year in grants from the Government in the most poorest areas.”

2.  Interviewer (Lee Bennion): “So what can the Council do about it then?  Obviously you’re in opposition, I presume you’ve got some different ideas to the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives?”

Cllr Peter Dowd: “Well of course.  You go for what you consider to be usual efficiencies in the Council, but usual efficiencies aren’t going to be able to make up that particular balance.

The Council, or the Liberal Democrats and the Tories in this particular case, have decided that they, because of the way that we’ve been forced as a Council to make these cuts, they’ve decided that they are going to go down the path of making redundancies and cutting services drastically.”

So there we have Cllr Peter Dowd standing up on Thursday night a member of Sefton’s all-Party Cabinet; we have Sefton’s website still saying he is Deputy Leader of the Council, but we have him appearing on Radio Merseyside on Friday and giving the impression that there is a Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition on Sefton Council and that Labour are in Opposition.

Confusing indeed.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Southport gritting and refuse collection

The two big issues with residents are about gritting and refuse collections during this severe weather. The council has put information on its website about both issues


Sefton's gritting fleet was out several times before, during and after the heavy snowfall on Friday evening.

With snow forecast, an increased 'double spread' of grit was applied three times on Friday and the gritters were also out on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

A council spokesman explained: "We are doing our very best to keep the roads moving but grit has only a limited effect after such heavy snowfall - particularly followed by a sustained period of sub-zero temperatures. In CSefton, we are told it fell as low as -17C on Sunday.

"Grit also works most effectively in conjunction with significant volumes of traffic so the busier roads tend to be become clearer quicker than roads which experience less traffic."

Sefton currently grits more than 200 miles of roads which is more than Government guidelines currently suggest. The type of roads on the gritting routes is based on national criteria and the routes are reviewed every year.

Refuge Collection

Sefton only operate refuse collections in Sefton between Tuesday and Friday.

Sefton currently monitoring the situation for rest of the week and further details will be published on their website when available.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Snow came down at Christmas and we were all very neighbourly

Snow came to Birkdale this weekend. The trains didn't run and folk had to don their walking boots and hike to the local shops. The Village was busy and all the shops appeared to be doing an excellent trade.The Churches together in Birkdale were out despite the snow singing carols. Everyone was talking to those they met. I'm sure the novelty will wear off but for now everyone seems to be enjoying the weather. As you can see my dog Toby had a great time !

Time to shut up about the right Pickle he's caused?

I first met Richard Kemp at the Young Liberal Conference in Morecambe in 1971. He was a delegate from Leyland YL's . A couple of years later he moved to Liverpool to work along side David Alton. He has now risen to the exulted position of Leader of The Lib Dems on the Local Government Association. It is this capacity he has written to Nick Clegg urging that Pickles is ditched. As the BBC reports:
In his letter, Mr Kemp urged Mr Clegg to "rein in" Mr Pickles and he accused the two ministers of failing to acknowledge the effect government cuts will have on jobs and services.
Mr Kemp said the men "continually put forward the idea that all the savings at this massively high level can be made by increased efficiency, cuts in a small number of salaries, raiding reserves that are not needed".
"In fact almost every day we get from them a new gimmick," he wrote.
"Their behaviour is a disgrace. Either they really do not know how serious the situation is that they have created... or they are deliberately trying to distract attention from the problems that they have created."

Last week I posted in a similar vein  and I am confident that Richard speaks not just for Lib Dems but also many Tories. My colleague Tony Robertson has confirmed that his impression matches mine and has since returned to the topic

But I am now beginning to wonder whether all the anger at Pickles which Lib Dems are properly voicing maybe counter-productive.  Cameron has real problems with his Right Wing head bangers. They are the heirs to those who destroyed John Major. They are furious about the Coalition, Their dream of withdrawal from Europe, the Human Rights legislation have been destroyed. Ken Clarke is a liberal Minister of Justice, the economic policy that is being perused is a long way short of the small state ideas that they want and worst of all the expenses regime in the House of Commons infuriates them. Cameron has problems of party management. In that environment ditching Pickles because Lib Dems demand it would have a real downside. I suspect we should be quiet for a while so the voice of Tories in Local Government can be heard. My hunch is that for the most part they want Pickles gone too.

caught red handed..........................

Thursday was a busy day with cabinet in the morning, a briefing on the local government settlement and a rowdy fully council in the evening.

The scene was set in the morning. Although Labour hold 40% of the seats in Sefton's all-Party Cabinet and have a leader who is Deputy Leader of Sefton Council , it was our clear impression that Labour were disengaging from the process-opposing the cost savings that were proposed and putting forward no alternative. The Tories voted throughout and broadly speaking took the maximum cut available-which given we have to find £44m is not an untenable position. It led to some fascinating internal conflicts. I want to just report a couple so you get the flavour.

Paula Parry, the Tory leader, has clearly decided that we have got to get on and deal with the programme of reductions. I genuinely believe that she understand that any procrastination will lead to the council having to make extra reductions and hence extra job losses and service reduction. I have my differences with Mrs Parry but she has been consistent and reliable through the period and has not sought to duck the issue. Most importantly she has not spoken with a forked tongue. At no time has she tried to suggest or imply that she has not taken tough and difficult decisions. You may argue with that approach but you have to respect it.

Let me explore a couple of the minor proposals to illustrate this. Firstly the mobile library; in advance of the thorough review of the Library service which is being undertaken it was suggested that the mobile Library should be cut. My colleagues and I felt that we would rather wait for the review which reports early in the new year because it occurred to us that if any libraries were shut the mobile library may have a role in providing a comprehensive service. The problem was that the lease for the vehicle was up and we were being asked to enter into a new 5 year agreement. Mrs Parry and Mrs Porter (the two Tories) voted to shut the mobile library. We voted against and asked the CEO to see if she could 'roll over' the contract for a shorter period to allow the full review to be undertaken. But no, Mrs Parry and Mrs Porter stuck to there guns. There was no decision as Lab voted against both.  It was fascinating to see Mrs Porter VOTE TO CLOSE the mobile Library but then, seemingly oblivious to how she had voted, to speak in favour of the proposition she had voted against!  The irony is that not so long ago Mrs Porter was putting forward the idea of the mobile Library as being an acceptable alternative for Southport Town Centre for the nearly 3 years in which the Lord Street Library will be closed.

Frankly from then on it got a little embarrassing. We got to the item of reducing the bedding plants in the borough . We were faced with two options: firstly an across the board cut of 50% and secondly preserving the bedding in the 'classic resort' areas of Southport. True to form the Tories voted to cut the maximum on offer. It will escape nobodies notice that is you reduce the number of displays you will need less plants.

 This brings us to the thorny issue of the nursery at Botanic Gardens who produce some of the plants. The option to reduce the number of plants we require impacts on the viability of the nursery. At the last cabinet meeting Mrs Porter and Mrs Parry voted to close the nursery. I was not surprised by that decision. Our advice is that the unit cost of the plants they produce is very high. Some people have sought to challenge that advice. The figures are in the public domain. Nobody has produced any evidence to cabinet that the figures are not robust. I asked again on Thursday about the figures. The officers stand by them. They too have received no credible challenge to their calculations.  Our chief exec is a qualified accountant, other fully qualified staff have reviewed the figures and chartered accountants who are not officers have crawled all over them. They stack up. Even after voting to close the Nursery Mrs Porter has sought to suggest that the figures are wrong and that in effect Mrs Carney our CEO has misled councillors. What is even more bizarre is that in the evening at full council Mrs Porter voted again to agree the closure of the nursery. There was a named vote. The record will clearly show how she voted. She did not move an amendment, Lots of other people did. She did not speak in the debate at all. So why I wonder has she a letter in the Southport Visiter praising the nursery men and concluding: 'Do we really want to loose their expertise.?' Well apparently she does as she has twice voted in recorded votes to shut down the nursery.-(oh, and don't forget she has also voted to reduce the number of flowers we should buy thus further reducing demand for the nurseries and inevitably increasing the unit costs)

It is with great regret that the Lib Dems on Cabinet concluded that in its present financial situation the Council finds itself in the nursery is not affordable and therefore throughout this debate I and the Lib Dems have promoted the idea that some of the activities that the council no longer has the money to support could be taken over by the workers and run by them independently of the council.

It is proper to report that Peter Dowd the Labour leader has supported me in this policy. I raised it at the previous cabinet meeting but it was not mentioned in the minutes. Peter proposed a form of words to be added to the minutes to express the cabinets support for this policy. In relation to the Nursery I explicitly asked the CEO that this option should be pursued with the staff and they should be directed to the various independent agencies that can give help and support in business start ups. I am assured that this will be done.

I further asked if there was enough time for the staff to fully explore that option before the saving was harvested. Mrs Carney said that if more time was need to conclude a workers buy out/social enterprise take over she would return to cabinet to request a delay. For our part we indicated that if extra time was needed to establish the new enterprise we would wish to grant it.

I ought to add that the wonderful gardens in Southport which every summer are a delight and a matter of pride to the town are not under threat. Sadly some folk have tried to suggest that they are.

Friday, 17 December 2010

An unbalanced bit of spin?

There is much chatter around about a cabinet reshuffle. The suggestion is that in the New Year David Laws will be brought back and various names of those who might be axed have been floated. Amongst the names of those who are 'at risk' are Philip Hammond at Transport and Eric Pickles.

Now judging by my (unscientific) poll of Tory councillors Eric Pickles would get the nod. He is generally seen to be not up to the job and even for those who accept the arguments for deficit reduction, his enthusiastic adoption  of the 'front loading' of spending cuts for local government is seen as an example of his failure. Equally annoying is the bizarre bit of 'spin' (because that is what it is) of inventing a new measure of local government funding: the total spending power. This, of course, confuses people and makes comparisons difficult. Silly, silly, man.

As a party game we used to devise lists of who was the best and worst  politician in the great offices of State. Home Sec was always won by Roy Jenkins with Joynson Hicks the worst-I'm not sure that we shouldn't revise that opinion as any one the quartet of 'knuckle dragging neanderthals'* Labour appointed should be in the reckoning.

If we added Pickle's portfolio to the list he may well take the prize as the worst having fought off the incompetent John Prescott for the tittle.
Here in Sefton I've heard no one try to defend him. I was particularly annoyed by another irresponsible bit of 'spin' he indulged in; namely asserting that Local Authorities were sitting on vast balances that they ought to spend to keep the council tax down

Now Sefton has always kept very low balances and regularly gets the Auditor and or Senior Finance Officer (who is obliged to certify that the budget is financial robust) pushing for higher reserves. Now along comes Pickles and suddenly we have £24 million in reserves and we are wicked people. Of course the simple minded will ask why don't you spend it? and we shall have to endlessly explain.

My colleague Simon Shaw has done his homework writes:

For example, within the £24 million are included the following - with details copied from the 2009/10 Sefton Accounts - see Note 43 on pages 63 and 64 

1. £6.6m Standards Fund - Schools have until August 2010 to spend their 2009/2010 allocations of
Standards Fund grant from central government. As at the year-end, £6.597m of the total grant
remained unspent. This has been reserved for use in 2010/2011. BELONGS TO SCHOOLS.

2. £1.4m Modernisation Fund - The Council is currently undergoing a review of relative staff
responsibilities / remuneration levels as a result of the Single Status agreement in 1997. This
potentially could result in a significant level of additional expenditure for the Council over the next
few years. A reserve has been created to offset some of this expenditure in future years. In
addition, it will be used to help the Council modernise its services and meet “one-off” invest to save


3. £7.9m Environmental Warranty - The Council has provided a 35 year environmental warranty for
the land / property that has been transferred to One Vision Housing Ltd. This warranty requires the
Council to remediate any environmental contamination found on these sites during the life of the
warranty. Resources are being set-aside over the coming years as a prudent measure against a

There is part of the "£24 million" which could be used, e.g. £6.9m Insurance Fund, and I am fairly certain part of this have already been assumed in order to bridge the £38m (now £44m gap). However, if Pickles really thinks that (for example) Sefton has £24m which it could use, then someone should put him straight. Another example of civil servants not understanding the real world.

*Polly Toynbe's description of the likes of Blunket, Straw and Reid,

Monday, 13 December 2010

Birkdale Christmas Tree festival

Once again it is the time of year for the Christmas Tree Festival held at St John's Birkdale. Lots of photos etc are on the church website. The week began with the Farnbourgh Rd Junior School Christmas Concert held in the Church and finished with a great sing along of Christmas Carols. I was surprised and delighted that one of my favourite carols was requested

Powered by
The Coventry Carol (Medieval Baebes).

Thursday, 9 December 2010

If we have 'national treasures' why can't we have 'town treasures'

If we have 'national treasures' why can't we have 'town treasures'. I guess for Southport Jean Alexander may well fall into that category. The BBC website has just done an interview with her from her Southport home:

Thousands of characters have come and gone during Coronation Street's 50-year history. But only a few live on in viewers' affections long after leaving the cobbles.

Hilda Ogden is one of them. With her curlers and headscarf, the cleaning lady has remained arguably the most iconic character of the last five decades.

Actress Jean Alexander, who played Hilda, recalls her days on the Street.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

WikiLeaks names Southport as top terrorist target

The think we should be told-  according to today's Southport Visiter our town is a top terrorist target:

THE United States fears Southport could be targeted in terrorist attacks, secret Whitehouse documents reveal.
A $52m telecommunications hub in Kew, where trans-Atlantic cables link Europe with Canada and North America, is listed as a key site for the country’s homeland security.
Our sleepy town is one of 12 places in Britain listed in confidential documents released on whistleblowing website, WikiLeaks.
The 7,300-mile undersea fibre-optic cable makes landfall at a huge station based at Southport Business Park, on Wight Moss Way.
Owned by US firm Hibernia Atlantic, the state-of-the-art cables have the capacity to allow huge data exchanges, equivalent to 25 million simultaneous phone calls.
American embassies compiled the suspected ‘targets for terror' list in February 2009 to improve “protection of the nation's CI/KR [Critical Infrastructure/Key Resources] to prevent, deter, neutralize [sic] or mitigate the effects of deliberate efforts by terrorists to destroy, incapacitate or exploit them".

and please Mr Reporter less of the 'sleepy town'

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Sefton post of the week

The clear winner this week is Meols Ward Lib Dems with this article on the micro car rally held in Southport

Children of Keynes not Thatcher..................

Mathew Paris last week reported on a speach by John Major on the future of conservatism in which the former Prime Minister picked out three issues.

“ The former Prime Minister said: (1) that Britain should stop kow-towing to the Americans; (2) that before the next election the coalition should formalise an electoral pact to protect the most vulnerable Lib Dem seats: ie, campaign for a renewed, post-election coalition; and (3) that Britain's independent nuclear deterrent is hard to justify in the 21st century and the money could better be spent elsewhere on defence. ”

All of which is interesting. Parris was praising Clegg again later in the week and asserted that Clegg had in essence accept the Conservative economic position. Most of us would beg to differ. As Chris Huhne said to a Liverpool Conference fringe meeting if the economic weather changed then the policy would have to change. To date the chances of a 'double dip' recession seem to be receding but if there was a faltering in private sector growth or if regions remote from the SE suffer then we would require government action-even if that offended the small state minority in the party.

Another Tuition rebel goes public

Regional media report today that Southport MP Joh Pugh will vote against the rise in tuition fees; the Daily Post reports:

MERSEYSIDE’S only Liberal Democrat MP has vowed to oppose the raising of student tuition fees in a crunch Commons vote this week.

Southport’s John Pugh told the Daily Post: “However you cut it, this still means adding to the indebtedness of future generations already burdened by our failures on pensions and the economy.”

He has told party whips he will vote “No” on Thursday to the bill to raise the cap on tuition fees from £3,350 to up to £9,000 a year.

It is important to stress that the Constituency Party in Southport overwhelmingly baack their MP on this issue.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

It's the weather to remember John MacGregor

As the temperatures plummet I still see young people wandering around scantly clam. That's up to them. I am snuggly warm  The  story starts a good while back when one spring I took myself off to walk the Western Islands -south to north. I was on the final stretch and had just visited the Callinish Stones. My destination that evening was Garenin on the NW coast of Lewis. In the late afternoon I came across little corrugated iron shed, the door was open and inside were three other walkers talking to an elderly man who was operating a weaving loom. The man was John MacGregor and he was explaining to the three visitors the weaving process.John had retired from the Harris Tweed organisation a few years ago and now operated free lance.
The three visitors he was talking with were typical of folk I met walking the Islands, one was German, one was Canadian and one Australian.  The shelves in the weaving shed had finished bales of tweed done to John's own design. Also pinned on the walls were two quotes. One, as befits a wee free Churchman, was from the bible:

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

which I later tracked down as from the epistle to the Hebrew. The second I still can't find despite several searches. It was from Thoreau and essentially said that if you were a quality craftsman no matter how remote you are located people will come to you to buy your wares. John certainly followed the injunction in Hebrews and as I stood in the isolated weaving shed it was obvious to was a living example of the Thoreau assertion.

John was the warden of the small Gatliff Hostel in a renovated black house in the village he was born. He and his wife Pat were brilliant wardens and spent many hours talking to hostellers and telling them about the area and its culture.

Before I left I went back to John's shed and and bought some tweed which I sent back by post. On my return I had it made up unto a suit  and that is what (25 years later) is keeping me warm.

The story ends in part with John's death and his obituary that appeared in the Herald part of which is below. I subsequently had a letter from his wife who greatly appreciated all friendships that she and John made whilst looking after the hostel. 

John took up Harris Tweed weaving as a profession and excelled as a designer and weaver. He won numerous prizes for his tweeds and one of his proudest moments was when he demonstrated his weaving skills to Her Majesty the Queen at a Craft Point exhibition in Beauly in 1981. Much of his own character was evident in the beautiful cloth he produced. His choice of colour and patterns were mere replicas of the colour, warmth, and pleasure he brought to other people's lives by his affectionate personality and friendly smile.

John was a founder member of the Carloway Historical Society and one of the founder-directors of Urras nan Gearrannan, a trust set up to restore a village of blackhouses. The first such blackhouse to be renovated became a Gatliff Trust Hostel and, when wardens were required for it, Pat and John MacGregor were the obvious candidates for the post. From 1991 to 1997 they played host to some 4000 visitors and the postcards, letters of appreciation, and comments in the visitors' book speak volumes about the quality of the MacGregor hospitality. Visitors came from all over the world and many returned more than once. Immensely proud of his culture and heritage, John was taken aback once when a German tourist asked him: ''What is it like to live in such a remote and inaccessible place?'' John replied that he thought Gearrannan was the centre of the universe and listed some of the various nationalities of the past week's visitors: French, German, Italian, Australian, Alaskan - and asked the bemused tourist: ''When did you last have an Alaskan on your doorstep?

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Botanic Garden-workers takeover?

The Southport Visiter covers our initiative to set a workers' co-op to take over the Botanic Nursery operatition:

Birkdale ward politician Iain Brodie-Browne said officers were already investigating the possibility for staff to take over the nursery as a private business.

He told the Visiter: “There is a lot of competition out there and if the nurserymen want to make a go of the business themselves I think that would be an excellent move.

“Over the years they have produced excellent results and I am sure that they could turn the Botanic operation into a viable business.

“I am very keen on giving staff the opportunity to take over and run those bits of the council where a viable business can be built. I am confident that if the staff owned and controlled the operation they could make a go of it.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Southport, Lancs., thanks

I went to the Post Office on Liverpool Rd the other day to post a parcel for which I required proof of posting. I was gratified that when the postmaster handed me the receipt it showed that i had posted the parcel in Southport, Lancashire. One of the most economically damaging bits of legislation for our town came back in the early '70's when a county boundary was introduced divorcing us from our natural hinterland. Over the last 40 yrs the communications through the narrow corridor to the South have been maintained and enhanced whilst those to the North and the East have not. This is particularly true of the rail links. Not only has this meant we have ceased to be the tourist/shopping destination of choice for  many of our closest neighbours it has also separated us from our hospital facilities many of which are in Ormskirk.

On the council our group have been striving to repair the damage done by cultivating good relations with our Lancs neighbours. My colleague Tony Robinson met up with the leader of West Lancs today and his report is here. Of course all the emphasis on the city region which forces us into ever closer union with Merseyside and cements the divorce from Lancashire doesn't help, but if the government can resist the temptation to micro manage local authorities and free us up to co operate constructively with our closest neighbours then there is hope..........

an amusing suggestion...............

I am told that an amusing suggestion has been made that I will tutoring Cllr Mrs Brenda Porter on which way to vote during the cabinet meeting last week. This is a gratuitous insult to both of us. The likely outcome of me asking Mrs Porter to vote a particular way is that she would do the exact opposite! As we saw over the vote on closer links with Lancashire County Council the fact that I proposed it led the Tories to vote against it (they later sought to change their vote).

This suggestion is particularly nonsensical in relation to the budget votes last Friday. The party groups have had the list of proposals for weeks. We have all had extensive briefings on the issues. All three parties-in advance- published their position on each of the measures. For the record let it be known that after that careful deliberative procedure the Tories had marked the Botantic Nursery saving as GREEN. Therefore there can be no truth in the suggestion that Mrs Porter was 'led' by me, the Tories had declared their position in advance and voted in accordance with that declaration..

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Southport Ajex Speaker and Presentation evening

Last week saw the annual AJEX (Association of Jewish Ex Servicemen) hold their annual speaker and presentation meeting at Southport Town Hall. Michael Braham was Master of Ceremonies which ensured that a good time was had by all. The deputy Mayor, Paul Cummins, took the chair and having been well warned that he might be the victim of Michael wit had come well prepared. There is always a frisson of expectation when Michael speaks, a certain fear that his wit licences him to say things that others might only think. Do not get me wrong I didn't for a moment imagine that those who sent their apologies did so to escape the possibility that they may be singled out. I am sure they all have bone fida appointments elsewhere.
Michael gave the Deputy Mayor a flattering introduction and Paul replied in like manner drawing attention to Michael's success as an Author. It was kind of Paul to plug our online publication where Michael's book on the First Hundred Years of Southport Liberal can be found . It is always pleasing to meet our readers

AJEX presented cheques to various charities including the locals hospices, the British Legion, Help for Heros, the Mayors Charity and a Jewish Servicemen charity. We then moved on to the speaker Rabbi Arnold Saunders the only Jewish Military Chaplain in the UK armed forces a job he began in 2009. He is based locally at the Fulwood barracks in Preston and is clearly well know to the Southport congregation. He told us about his work and co operation with the other 'world faith' chaplains in the military
Afterwards there was tea and coffee in the Birkdale room where the photos above were take. The second one shows the Rabbi talking to Fred Weavers. History does nor record whether the spoke about cycling, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Labour leader hectors innocent journalist

A completely  unwarranted attack on a local journalist during the Sefton Cabinet meeting last week left many of us stunned. My colleague Tony Robertson who was chairing the meeting has already written about the incident. I hope that Cllr Dowd the Labour leader will, on reflection, see fit to apologise to the young lady  involved.

The incident occurred late on in the meeting. Cllr Dowd had not been getting his way, this causes him to become very annoyed and his judgement slips. The journalist, who I must admit I had not seen before, was sat in the public gallery-that is the chairs arranged in an outer circle around the cabinet table. She was sat next to Cllr Sue Maquire (Lib Dem, Cambridge Ward) and as is the way on this occasions  they had struck up a conversation. I later learned that Sue was identifying members of the cabinet to the journalist.

The Labour Leader, Cllr Dowd, suddenly took exception to this solte voce conversation. He started complaining loudly that journalist shouldn't be talking to people in the public gallery. He was talking and he clearly expected everyone else to listen. I was smiling to myself. Peter Dowd, who despite his best attempts to hide it sometimes, is a thoughtful and decent person, but he does suffer 'judgement by-passes' sometimes when things aren't going his way. I thought the episode would soon peter-out so I thought it would be a good time to nip out for a comfort break. Imagine my surprise when I returned to hear Peter was still in full cry against the journalist demanding that we pass a motion that the Editor of the newspaper should be written to upbraiding the journalist! I resumed my seat. The Tory Leader Mrs Parry joined in and supported Dowd. I was open mouthed with astonishment at this point. He pushed it to a vote and Labour and Tories voted together to send the letter.

This was too much for my colleague David Tattersall (Meols Ward Lib Dem, extremely sensible). David has spent a lifetime in the media including a spell as a local journalist. He was appalled. Like me he couldn't see that the young women had done anything wrong. (I can't say Sue was too pleased with the onslaught, but politicians have to put up with such things and Sue with admirable composure was doing just that.)

I don't think that there is any doubt that Cllr Dowd overstepped the line of what was appropriate. His hectoring of the journalist displayed very poor judgement. I guess some would call his tone bullying. I hope on reflection he apologises. As for Mrs Parry who frequently 'goes off on one' when she thinks people are behaving badly, it would be a pleasant surprise if she too,on reflection, concluded that her behaviour fell short of the standard she expects of others.

Southport Botanic Gardens 1

I was really impressed by the photos of the Botanic Gardens on this flickr site that I wanted to make sure I gave the proper credit .

Workers' buy out for Botanic Nursery

The employees at Botanic nursey should be offered the chance of taking over the operation themselves. Well that was the proposal I put to Sefton’s cabinet on Thursday. The council had agreed that they could no longer afford to run the nursery themselves. Southport is proud of the floral displays around the town but sadly the market price is significantly lower than we have achieved in- house.

For some time now we have been buying in bedding plants. There is a lot of competition out there and if the nurserymen want to make a go of the business themselves I think that would be an excellent move. Over the years they have produced excellent results and I am sure that they could turn the Botanic operation into a viable business.

I am very keen on giving staff the opportunity to take over and run those bits of the council where a viable business can be built. Lib Dems have always advocated worker owned businesses like the John Lewis partnership and I am confident that if the staff owned and controlled the operation they could make a go of it.’

The Council agreed to investigate the option

I should say that during the exchange on Botanic Garden's nursery we had a fascinating insight into our local Tory's economic 'thinking'. Essentially the proposal to close the nursery arose because it was clear that we were buying in bedding plots significantly cheaper than the in house nursery was charging-with no discernible difference in quality . In the present economic climate it would be clearly wrong to continue to spend all that extra money. At this point up pipes one of the Tory cabinet members and starts arguing that it is better to have the service in house .......Now we had all been briefed how vastly more expensive the in house bedding plants were. We were paying more for our plants than the market price. Please bear in mind this area is rich with nurseries and the market for bedding plants is well developed with many suppliers. Part of me wishes that a few Tory backbenchers had turned up to hear their spokesman once again embrace municipal socialism, endorsing the policy that the council owned operation should be the  monopoly supplier of a service even though the price in lot higher!

I understand that one of the reasons for the higher price is the scale of the operation. It the employees took over the business they could concentrate on those niche markets where that is not such a significant disadvantage. Anyway that is up to them.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

David Laws and Sir John Simon

In David Laws book he notes that he was the first Liberal minister at the Treasury since Sir John Simon. Some may consider that a not altogether happy precedent. Simon was after all one of the 'guilty men' over the appeasement of  Hitler and he stayed in the National Government long after Archibald Sinclair led the Liberal party out. Simon's role as leader of the National Liberal which ended in his wish to join the Tories (which Churchill did not approve) was a key cause of the decline of the Liberal Party. As David Dutton his biographer write on the Liberal History Website:

Simon was one of the most intellectually distinguished politicians of the twentieth century. But he lacked warmth and the common touch. The Liberal Party split of 1931, in which he played a leading part, put paid to any last hopes that the party would recover from the internal divisions which had plagued it since the First World War. 

Friday, 26 November 2010

Old labour economics and Tory confusion at Sefton cabinet

I'm not sure what an independent observer would have made of our cabinet meeting this week. I know what Council Leader Tony Robertson made of it as he has blogged his observations.

I thought there were a few very revealing little episodes. Tony has written about Labour's bizarre tactics and their failed filibuster. I thought that was just rather desperate and sad.  We had a couple of incidents which made folks shake their heads.

Firstly was the economics lecture we got from Cllr John Fairclough (Bootle, tribal, old Labour).He explained that the national debt was not very high and there was no need for all the deficit reduction nonsense. It has been suggested to me that because he works for Santender he fancies himself as an economist. .  

I've just been reading David Laws's account of the negotiations with Labour after the election. In the appendix  he usefully publishes the papers tabled by the Labour negotiating team on the economy. To my surprise it is a lot more hawkish on deficit reduction than you would guess from Labour's stance yesterday. Not only did that paper acknowledge the need for what was essentially a post election budget signalling a tougher stance than Darling's previous proposal, but also that steps had to be taken quickly to re-assure the markets.

The second incident was a repeat performance by Tory Brenda Porter of her confusion over voting. We had been carefully working our way through the various proposals for expenditure reductions. These have been with the party groups for a good while and we have all had individual briefings about the options.This allowed us to express  our Party group's response to the proposal, some  had a green light or an amber light or a red light. We were faced with a series of schedules-all published on the council website-which gave us the proposal we had all agreed to i.e. three greens, those with two greens and those with a combination. Despite flagging up 'green' for many of these items Labour failed to vote in favour of any of them and usually abstained.

The Tory Leader, Cllr Parry, had decide that they were ready to vote green on all the major proposals and to take the biggest saving available where there was an option. She was commendably straight forward  and we were making progress. We got near to the end of one schedule and with just a few items left it was clearly marked that we had registered either amber or red for these items. Mrs Parry thrust up her arm with renewed enthusiasm and declared; 'I'm not afraid to take tough decisions'. I assumed this was a public show of macho behavior meant to embarrass us as we were not going to vote for the item. We wanted to defer the matter as we were not satisfied that the implications had been fully worked through-it referred to the cleansing of public open spaces like the town gardens on Lord St. Brenda, of course, followed Mrs Parry's lead but got a tad flustered when she saw us Lib Dems vote the other way. Her agitation grew when Labour began taunting us for doing this for Southport! She then told the clerk she was voting against the item which rather undermined Mrs Parry's macho stand and further confirmed her reputation for getting in a muddle over such matters.

A third episode took place which certainly does not show the Labour party in a good light and which my colleague David Tattersall is going to write up. More to follow

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Former Tory Leader who joined Labour annoys residents

The Crosby Herald front page records the sad failure of Les Byrom formerley of this parish (Dukes Ward Con) to gain  election as a Labour candidate in the long time Liberal ward of Victoria in Crosby miles from his home  in Southport. As the headlies says he was 'blasted' by local residents

A POLITICIAN bidding for re-election in Crosby has been blasted by campaigners after claiming credit for much-needed improvements to Victoria Park.

Cllr Les Byrom, who is standing in Victoria Ward in May, sent Labour Action Team pamphlets to hundreds of homes outlining how he had “led the campaign to get much-needed investment” into the community park.

But he and Bootle MP Joe Benton, who was also named in the leaflets, were told last night by voluntary group Friends Of Victoria Park: “None of the improvements are anything to do with you.”

Stan Hesketh, chair of the non-party political group, said: “I don't see any reason why these people should be claiming any recognition or success for improvements in Victoria Park.

“I don't even know these people and I have never met them at any meeting about Victoria Park or anything else.

“Cllr Byrom has certainly not led any campaign I am aware of.”

My colleague Mike Booth has more on the story

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Pioneering artist paints allotments..........

Ok it was over a century ago but the artist collectively know as the Glasgow Boys started out painting realistic images of the things round about them and did so in a very 'natural' way.  I first came across their work by chance when walking in Galloway as a student 40 years ago. I was staying in the 'Artist Town' of Kirkcudbright and came across a small exhibition of one of the Glasgow Boys, E.A. Hornel, whose work was preserved in his old studio by a local trust. Anyone who had read Dorothy L Sayers book 'Five Red Herrings' was aware of the artist colony but it was hardly seen to be of great significance. Although the studio 'Broughton House' had a sleepy backwater charm of a well kept secret some of the painting there were amazingly avant garde even in the 1970's. This was particularly true of the latter 'symbolist' ones that Hornel and his friend Henry painted.

I went back to Galloway on a frequent basis and saw the amazing growth of the Artist's town, The National Trust for Scotland took over Broughton House and major exhibitions were held . Twenty odd years ago the Glasgow Boys really got on the map when Roger Billercliffe  published his book on the movement.

Why is this relevant today? Last week I was a way working in London (and sadly missing the Southport Area Committee) when I came across a major exhibition of the Glasgow Boys at the Royal Academy on Piccadilly. Their video tells you more about it:

 Royal Academy of Arts on Vimeo.

Moving on from the early open air, naturalist painting Hornel and some of the others developed a style that put them at the forefront of European Art. Possibly the most famous painting being a joint collaboration between Hornel and Henry: The Druids bringing the Mistletoe. It is along way from painting the town allotments!

Friday, 19 November 2010


The uneven road surface at Aughton Road level crossing has long been of concern to Birkdale residents.  Massive potholes just besides the railway lines have been a danger to cyclists as well as to car shock absorbers.

Following complaints from residents, Birkdale’s Councillor Simon Shaw took the matter up with Sefton Council.

“Because the problem is right by the railway, responsibility for repairs lies with Railtrack, not Sefton.  I know that council officers have been in repeated contact trying to get Railtrack to fulfil their responsibilities,” explains Simon.

“In September, Railtrack finally filled in the potholes, but they might as well not have bothered!  Within days the holes were back, and I contacted the council yet again.”

Simon now reports that, at long last, a proper repair job was done at the beginning of November.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010


My Birkdale Ward fellow councillor Simon Shaw, Chartered Accountant that he is, has been doing some financial ferreting.

You may well have thought that Sefton Council was cash-strapped.  But not, so Simon has highlighted, too cash-strapped to propose spending over £26,000 on 3 granite seats!

This mad-cap plan comes to you courtesy of the Conservative and Labour councillors on Sefton Council.

This week’s meeting of the Southport Area Committee is being asked to consider a package of “Public Art” proposals as part of the Southport Market redevelopment.

Regular readers of the Birkdale Blog will be aware of the enormous concerns Southport and Sefton Lib Dems have had about spending £3 million at the present time on the Southport Market redevelopment project.

Within the total spend there there is a £110,000 budget for new Gateway Features.  The Council is proposing to spend £41,700 on 2 “Bronze Gateway Markers”, £12,100 on “Inlayed Granite & Ceramic Motifs” and £26,400 on 3 “Granite Seats”.  A further £31,500 is due to be spent on Design, Delivery, Installation and “Community Engagement”.

Simon thinks that Conservative and Labour councillors on Sefton Council are now displaying “a complete lack of any grasp of economic reality.”

“If you take into account a share of the cost of Design, Installation and Delivery costs, you are talking about something over £30,000 for 3 granite seats.  It’s simply barmy!” comments Simon.

“Even in times of economic plenty, I would have serious doubts about spending such money.  But we are not in such times.  Sefton Council is talking about the possibility of up to 1000 employees losing their jobs as well as cutting services on a large scale.”

“It is therefore both unjustifiable and grossly insensitive for some local politicians to still be supporting a scheme that involves massive amounts of public money being spent on ‘fripperies’ such as granite seats.” 

“Liberal Democrats have warned repeatedly that this whole project is unaffordable, but Conservatives and Labour members of the Council have ploughed on regardless.  They are displaying a complete lack of any grasp of economic reality on this matter.”

Monday, 15 November 2010

Farnborough Road Schools – new Guardrails at Guildford Road

Pupils attending Farnborough Road Junior School should be safer on their way to school – thanks to new guardrails put up near the Guildford Road entrance.


My fellow councillor Simon Shaw serves with me on the Governing Body of Farnborough Road Junior School (he also serves on the separate Farnborough Road Infant School Governing Body).

Simon and I happened to be outside the Guildford Road entrance earlier this year and we were both horrified to see one motorist drive up onto the pavement right outside the School – just as pupils were coming out. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a few minutes later the driver decided to reverse along the pavement, just inches away from children.

Simon has been following up with measures to try an prevent this serious road safety hazard. His most recent success was to persuade the Council to fund the installation of extra guardrails on the school side of Guildford Road.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Several hundred turn up to celebrate Liberal by election victory

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

After the courts overturned the General Election result several hundred people congregated outside the Liberal Club in Chapel St to celebrate the subsequent by election victory.

The report in the Southport Guardian dated July 12th 1911 reads :

The scene was indeed animated. The result came through at 11.15pm that the former candidate for Southport had been successful and a great cheer went up when Mr E Rhodes announced the fact to the crowd. 

Iain Sharpe over on the Eaten by Missionaries Blog caught my attention last week when he reported that the last Liberal unseated by an electoral court was Charles Masterman. As Iain points out there are significant differences between this case and that of Mr Philip Woolas (who judging by his recent website launch has learned little). Can you for a moment imagine the judge in the Woolas case causing reports to be written that asserted
'Remarkably, the counsel for the petitioners (i.e. the Conservative candidate) was at pains to stress that 'no imputation was made on the honour, integrity, or conduct of Mr. Masterman in relation to such matters', a proposition endorsed by the judges.' 

For some Masterman has always been a hero. His parliamentary career was a success and he was held in near universal high regard- another marked difference with the Woolas case. 

Those who are regular readers of this blog will know that Baron de Forest contested the 1910 General Election in Southport where he endured one of the nastiest Tory campaigns ever seen in the town. The Woolas case with the brazen attempt to whip up racial tension has echo of the Tory campaign here a century ago. There were sections of the Tory campaign that pursued a straight forwardly anti Semitic line against the Liberal Candidate. There is some poetry in the outcome of the 1911 by election in the North West Ham division, that de Forest should rise above the racist abuse and triumph.

The Southport Guardian goes on the report some of the Tory excuses. I am particularly grateful to the Birkdale blog's History correspondent, Michael Braham, for drawing to my attention to this gem, I quote:
Tory chagrin
Mr Wild (the conservative candidate)made no secret of his chagrin at the result....and bitterly complained that he had been badly let down in the way of outside help.'I know for a fact' he said  'that between 300 and 400 motor cars were unavailable to me because of the Eton and Harrow cricket match...'

The Southport Guardian does not seem at all persuaded by Mr Wild's excuses but rather reports in full the contribution that Mr & Mrs Masterman made to the campaign. They appeared always to be at de Forest's side, the crowds frequently calling out 'Good old Charley' accompanied by cheering and toy trumpets(!)

In an interview after his victory Baron de Forest said that head had not fought as a 'weak kneed Liberal but as a Radical of the advanced sort and that the result was: 'the final nail in the coffin of the House of Lords'. Well we're still banging away at that nail. But it is true that his victory did help push through the Parliament Bill which was before the parliament. Finally the Guardian reports that 'having signed the roll Baron de Forest took his seat below the gangway in the centre of the benches occupied by the 'young Scots group', the advanced Radicals.'

Charles Masterman returned to Parliament and went on to serve as Chief Secretary to the Treasury until the out break of War when he became head of war propaganda. He lost his seat in 1918 but returned to Parliament in 1923. He died four years later. What became of his wife who accompanied him during the 1911 by election? Michael Braham tells me she attended the 1977 celebrations in Birmingham marking the centenary of the founding of the Nation Liberal Federation. This was a grand affair as I recall and Michael also attended. He had seen an advanced list of guest and had taken the opportunity between courses of presenting Mrs Masterman, who was a guest of honour and sat next to Jeremy Thorpe, with a dinner menu from 1906 when Charles Masterman had spoken at a Southport Liberal Association function. I was in Birmingham in 1977 but have no memory of Mrs Masterman.

The last time the courts disqualified an MP may well have been 1911, but Masterman's case was not the only one that year. In the Irish seat of Louth the candidate ran foul of Gladstone's corrupt and illegal practices Act as the report to parliament shows but maybe Mr Woolas can find some solace in fate of that candidate.

But for now let us hope that the Oldham Chronicle is soon reporting that hundreds of Liberal are celebrating an election victory after the result of the General Election was overturned

Many thanks to Michael Braham for providing me with the Southport Guardian report of de Forest's victory and for his recollection of the dinner in Birmingham in 1977 and to Iain Sharpe and Jonathan Calder for the posts last week 

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice This item has appeared two week running in the Lib Dem Voice Golden Dozen