Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Ainsdale surgery

It has been a good while since a Lib Dem Councillor held a surgery  in Ainsdale -that is until Saturday when Haydn Preece opened up the Ainsdale Library for business. Haydn was accompanied by MP John Pugh and Cllr Simon Shaw. 
The surgery had been trailed in the local media and an encouraging number of folk turned up.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Trident should be included in the strategic defence and security review

Surely, surely it is becoming obvious that the scale of reductions required are so drastic that no option should go unexamined. In this context I continue to believe that the Trident missile replacement should be included in the defence review.

I was pleased to see that the new Lib Dem MP for Cambridge Julian Huppert has made the case:

The future of Trident nuclear missiles should be included in the government's defence review and scrapped unless a strong case for it can be made, Cambridge MP Julian Huppert insisted in Parliament.

He raised the controversial issue with Prime Minister, David Cameron during Prime Minister's Question in the House of Commons today (Wednesday, June 23).

"Does the Prime Minister agree with several generals, many members of the public and me that Trident should be included in the strategic defence and security review?" he asked.

And he added that if there were a case for retaining Trident the review would prove it, and if not, it should be scrapped.

But Mr Cameron reiterated his support for retaining the nuclear deterrent saying it was an "insurance policy against great danger".

He added, however, that there is a case for looking at the costs of Trident and seeing "how we can bear down on them."

"I do not believe that we should have the wider review that he suggests."

Sefton Labour still in love with a misremembered past

Meeting a waste of time and more importantly MONEY!

Our deficit denying colleagues in Bootle Labour Party seem predictably enthusiastic about shouting ya boo at any suggestion that spending has to be reduced. Please do not confuse them by pointing out that they too had pledged to cut public spending by tens of billions of pounds (only they conveniently forgot to explain where their axe would fall)

The latest episode was Cllr Dowd calling a special council meeting it a rather crude attempt to sabotage the action we need to take quickly. 

My colleague Tony Robertson has made his views clear commenting on the Special Sefton Council meeting called by the Labour Party Lib Dem Leader Cllr. Robertson said 

"This Labour stunt was a waste of time, effort and money that the council can ill afford.

Hot air and hostile point-scoring in the council chamber makes no
sense at a time when Sefton faces its biggest ever financial challenge because of
the mess left behind by the previous government.

This is also an irresponsible delaying tactic by Sefton Labour
councillors. Councillors are elected to represent the public and take
decisions. We owe it to residents and all council employees to come
to conclusions as soon as possible. We are prepared to do this while
Labour seems to be bottling out.

We fully intend to consult the public of the Borough on the wider
restructuring of the Council and its services but we need to make
some decisions urgently. The longer we leave it the more likely it is that
Council staff could lose their jobs.

As a consequence of our Group's unanimous view we did not attend the
meeting because it served no useful purpose and wasted council
taxpayers money. The business put to the Council would have to be agreed by the
Cabinet anyway.

We cancelled the buffet meal due to be served before the meeting for
our Group as such money can be spent more wisely elsewhere."

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Standards Board to be abolished

I served with Andrew Stunell on Cheshire County Council where his straight forward approach to issues was appreciated on all sides-altho I have to say that I've never thought of him as a 'pin up boy' as the Wellingborough Tory MP seems to suggest. It is good to find that he is still making himself useful as this exchange recorded in Hansard shows:

Standards Board for England

6. Dr John Pugh (Southport) (LD): What steps he plans to take to abolish the Standards Board for England. [1540]

(Andrew expresses his view before he is made a Minister)

14. Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What steps he plans to take to abolish the Standards Board for England. [1548]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell):We shall be abolishing the Standards Board for England. The necessary legislation will be in our localism Bill, announced in the Queen's Speech.
Dr Pugh: I thank the Minister for that answer and welcome him to his position. He brings enormous experience of local government to the post.
We all agree that £10 million could be better spent to better effect, but what rights of appeal will there be if the local process goes wrong or goes amiss, as it sometimes does?
Andrew Stunell: I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome. He is right that a safety net is needed, and we are in discussion with our local government colleagues about the most appropriate way of moving forward.
Mr Bone: Is the Minister aware that he is going to become the pin-up boy for every councillor in the country, and receive an enormous amount of fan mail? Will he ensure that the abolition takes place as soon as possible?
Andrew Stunell: I would like to claim that, for my Liberal Democrat colleagues, I already was, but I am happy to be so for others as well.
Around the country, there are councillors of every political persuasion deeply frustrated by the fact that the Standards Board remains a burden and a threat to them. It costs £7.8 million, but it dealt with only 1,000 real complaints last year, which is £7,800 per complaint. The sooner we get rid of it, the better. That will be done on a statutory basis through the decentralisation and localism Bill.

Monday, 21 June 2010

“A government without a constitution is a government without a right”

“A government without a constitution is a government without a right” asserted Labour MP Graham Allen quoting Tom Paine in an article . He is now the new (elected) chair of the relevant select committee and part of his contribution was broadcast in Peter Riddell's Week in Westminster which is on iplayer for a week.(If you are really keen it can be listened to it by clicking on the title of this posting)

He went on:

A new written settlement, having created clearly defined institutions and rights, where everyone can know the rules, is just the beginning. The relationship and evolution which develops between those new features will be of great significance. There will undoubtedly be a serious debate and even conflict between the different institutions – a reformed House of Commons will discomfort the executive: an elected second chamber will want to spread its wings; individuals using the Bill of Rights will expose the Government to much greater accountability and influence the future development of the judiciary; European decisions will have to be debated in greater detail; and constitutionally independent local government will be assertive and rejuvenated. Above all, individuals will not only feel greater ownership of the political system and be more demanding of it, they will also be less tolerant of the abuse of power and better equipped to put it right. Winning the General Election to decide the national government will always be vitally important. However in a pluralist democracy with other equally legitimate institutions available through which political voice and progress can be realised, losing a General Election will never again be the end of meaningful politics. A Written Constitution will be the trigger for the subcontracting of political action from a whole nation to a small elite in the Executive to end.

Following his election he has been reported as saying that local authorities should be allowed to choose their own electoral systems! What a changed world that would be. At present we aren't even trusted to build our own secondary schools with out tugging our forelocks to central governments, employing their chosen consultants and entering their silly little competitions all of which uses up time and costs millions.

One of the biggest constitutional reforms in this parliament-we hope-will be the introduction of AV. This is not as radical as many of us would like but sadly it is all that is on offer. It has become clear that Labour were not even willing to guarantee that small step even though it is in their manifesto! We want to make progress on this front as it will introduce preferential voting and at last move us away from the concept that we are illiterate peasants who can only make a X mark on a ballot paper. Next stop multi member constituencies. In the meantime it is essential that we make make common cause with constitutional reformers where ever the are found if this referendum is to be one. This is no time for tribal politics

Shirley sets the pace over Trident

As this blog has asserted before the case against the replacement of Trident needs to be argued. It is clearly potty to have a comprehensive defence review and not include Trident.

Shirley Williams of this parish-well Crosby- has entered the fray with an article in the Guardian today. It is not quite the solution that many of us would favour but it does map a way forward that might help us achieve the final objective. As she says:

Nuclear weapons are very expensive weapons seeking a role and a purpose in the post-cold war world. But other than possibly ensuring a place at the top table, it is difficult to find one. Against terrorists, they are less effective than conventional weapons or the soft power of men and women with the skills to reach people's hearts and minds. Against psychotic states like North Korea, a nuclear attack would almost certainly lead to retaliation capable of destroying much of the population and most of the economic infrastructure of our ally, South Korea. Against other current nuclear powers, their usefulness is again questionable, since erstwhile enemies like Russia and China are now our partners or allies........

and later

We do not have to decide between a vastly expensive like-for-like renewal (which would send all the wrong signals to potential nuclear proliferators) and abolition at this point in time. We can minimise our nuclear deterrent stage by stage, at each encouraging others to join us in a global move towards nuclear disarmament, and doing so in the light of the responses of other nuclear nations.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Aung San Suu Kyi

I noticed Jonathan Fryer had a post on Aung San Suu Kyi.  For those who missed it Radio 4 marked her 65th birthday with a half hour documentary which is on iplayer for a week. Well worth a listen.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles’ dangerous attack on Audit Commission

The Daily Mail and Eric Pickles share an obsession about dustbins. I noticed colleagues in Hull reckon-like I do- than Pickles little outburst this morning will have little impact on local authorities.

Eric Pickles is the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.  Unfortunately no-one seems to have told him he is no longer in opposition.

Earlier today his Department issued a press statement in which the Minister, in typical populist fashion, accuses the well-respected Audit Commission of “forcing” local councils to move from weekly to alternate weekly bin collections.  His full statement is here.

My Birkdale Ward colleague Simon Shaw has serious concerns about Eric Pickles’ attack on the independence of the Audit Commission.  Simon is a Chartered Accountant, who has worked as an auditor, as well as being former Chair of Sefton Council’s Audit Committee.

This is what Simon has to say: “Mr Pickles says he has written to the Audit Commission today instructing them to withdraw their guidance contained in a document called ‘Waste Management Quick Guide’.”

“It is a very dangerous slippery slope where a politician, of whatever party, issues a directive to the supposedly independent Audit Commission telling them what to think.”

Simon has managed to obtain a copy of the “offending” Audit Commission document, and you can read it in full on our website.

“I contacted the Audit Commission earlier today and they confirm that the ‘Quick Guide’ has never been issued to local councils, but was merely an internal document to assist inspectors.”

“Most reasonable people would say it is thoroughly balanced.  Indeed in one key section it says this: ‘Alternate week collections will not suit all councils or all areas. They do not always offer the best solution.’ (Page 18, Paragraph 7)”

“The new Minister needs to reconsider.  We had enough of the last Labour Government “instructing” everybody what to do and think without Eric Pickles joining in.”

D66 are back?

It is so easy to get sucked into our own coalition building process that we forgot that other people are having elections too. Coverage of the Dutch election result -in so far as it has had any coverage in the UK media-has dwelt on the increase vote of the extreme anti Islamic party of Geert Wilders. If you dig a little deeper there are encouraging signs for left/social liberal in the performance of the D66 party.

Whilst on the canals with the disgruntled radical last month we got to discussing all the disputes of the 1970/80's involving the Giscardians. With direct elections to the European parliament pan european alliances were being formed. For the British Conservatives this was and continues to be a fraught issue. Broadly Liberals had an easier time. Nevertheless there were parties who clearly part of the social liberal family who who many of us were keen to bring on board. Chief amongst these were D66 in the Netherlands and the Italian Republican Party and the Italian Radicals.

This had been mirrored at a student/youth level with the formation of Lymec in 1976 at whose founding congress I was a UK delegate. I noticed on their website that they are holding a meeting in Liverpool this year.

Anyway of all the groups we met in that period the ones with whom we felt most at home with were D66 whose website- thanks to the wonders of Google translation-I've been checking out. As part of the moves to get D66 admitted to the European group the YL's organised a fringe meeting at a Party Assembly-I guess it was Brighton in 1977. Radical Youth for Europe-of which I was chair at the time-invited Laurens Jan Brinkhorst to speak along side Richard Wainwright.

Scroll forward to today and D66 are full members of the ELDR group in the European Parliament and of Liberal International. Brinkhorst went on to be deputy Prime Minister. In the most recent election earlier this month D66 recovered a fair bit of ground and may possibly be in the next government along side the bigger VDD (conservative liberals)  as part of a broader 'purple coalition' including the Labour party and possibly the 'left greens'.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Southport endangered varieties

I regret that these two onions have little to do with Southport Lancs and as far as I can see are not on the list of any major seed company in Britain. Nevertheless specialist suppliers will sell the seeds. The Red globe was available from D T Brown until fairly recently and is an excellent fiery onion. The white globe has a paper thin skin. Both are on the list of endangered vegetables.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Quaife for defence

Last night Southport Lib Dem executive met. This was the first truly post election meeting and we spent no time dwelling on the results. Meeting have been held about that and lessons drawn and written down for future use. Last night we began working out how to take our campaigning forward. I find very little negative reaction to the coalition.

There is a recognition that reducing the deficit is going to be hard and that aspects of it will be extremely difficult. I have already suggested that the future funding of long term social care needs speedy action and a new agreement about the distribution of costs needs to be on the table as soon as possible. the first wave of 'baby boomers' reach 65 this year.

There was a real appetite for a number of other major campaigns that need integrating into everyday activities. First the AV referendum  needs to be thought about and planned with all the commitment that we summoned in the General Election. I would certainly like to see that done on a non party basis. Then there are two other issues that I would put top of my list: student fees and trident.

I very much regret that trident is not going into the defence review. To me it seems frankly potty. Liam Fox as as the cabinet member for defence makes me anxious. My ideal Tory Defence minister would be Roger Quaife but sadly Fox does not display the subtly of imagination to bring off the coup that Quaife attempted in the corridors of power in the 1950's.

Tories are top claimers again......well until Mark Dowd's expenses are published?

The annual statement of Allowances and Expenses paid to councillors by Sefton Council has just been published.  The “official” statement is available on Sefton’s website.

 We have also done some detailed analysis, and you can see that on our website

Once again it shows that, on average, Conservative councillors were the highest paid on Sefton Council, with Liberal Democrats being the lowest paid.

The average members allowances paid, by Party, in 2009/10 were:

Conservative             £15,930
Labour                        £14,370
Liberal Democrat      £13,540

We covered this item last year when it was noted:

The most interesting/surprising thing to me is that, on average, Conservative councillors are the highest paid on Sefton Council.
Last year, Conservative councillors were paid £2300 more on average than Liberal Democrats, £15,160 pa v. £12,860 pa. This equates to an extra 18%

Once again we so not yet have publication of some of the most important allowance giving bodies eg what used to be called the Mersey Passenger Transport Exec. I predict that when those figures finally see the light of day Sefton Councillor Mark Dowd (Lab) will easily top the list of claimants. Why is it that every year the Transport Exec delays its publication of councillors' allowances until after the main list is published and thus escapes public scrutiny? 

Saturday, 12 June 2010

why participation is efficient

I was watching Tony Robinson discuss the changes that Labour need to make. One of his big concerns was that the Labour Party should become more open and participatory and turn its back on the centralising and authoritarian model under which it has operated since the birth of New Labour. He suggested that the coalition was already  working in a more open fashion and that the electorate would approve. He reasonably pointed out that in order that the Lib Dem and Conservatives keep all their member on board this strategy is not only good of itself but essential..

I have earlier reflected on how the coalition negotiations were carried out-at least on our side-in a very positive way. The level of communication and the skill of our negotiators won the overwhelming approval of members and supporters. The holding of the special assembly was a master stroke-altho' I must admit I was a tad sceptical initially that it was such a good idea. Many Conservatives were seemingly very jealous of our approach. the lord alone knows how  the Labour Party  would have reacted if the negotiation had gone further. I suspect we would screams of anger from their members if we were holding a conference to confirm the deal and they had nor even been consulted! Mind you I guess that there would have been a good deal of pressure from our side to get some formal wider endorsement from the Labour Party-that was certainly one of the lessons that the likes of Richard Wainwright took from the experience of the Lib/Lab pact. And as others have noted we have learnt from our past mistakes and the triple lock regulations required by the Lib Dems was in part a reaction to the disaster of the merger policy statement.

Puffin Cam

Pottering around with the radio on this morning I caught an item about a Puffin Camera on the Shetland Islands hosted by the RSPB. It is well worth a look. If you missed it there was also a fascinating interview with a young women, Sian Norris, about her upbringing. During the piece she and the presenter discuss David Laws posting on his website. It is available on iplayer shortly .

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Sefton Council Cabinet meeting

Sefton's cabinet met this morning. In truth it was a little of an anti climax as we were waiting for a statement from the government about the impact of their deficit reduction plans on the council.There was an interesting moment when Ian Maher (Lab) I proposed that I record one of Mrs Parry's utterances on my blog. I shall ignore his suggestion.I have every confidence that the member for Blundellsands knows all about the facility mentioned at para 2.3 on page 92 on the agenda as well as the site of every tree ever planted in the district.At the end of the meeting she was keen to reassure me she was only joking. I don't think she will be following Lembit into stand up.

Of much more interest was the item on the housing development at Kew. My Lib Dem colleagues had to face down a sustained Tory campaign against this development. The Tory in the local election standing against Maureen Fearn had a no holes barred campaign against this much needed development. The land has been earmarked for housing for a generation. By day Tories were voting in the council for this project whilst at night they were out whipping up a 'nimby' campaign against the development.You have to admire their bare faced opportunism. They clearly feel it is now rank bad manners to point out their actions. Fortunately we have kept their leaflets and will make sure that the new tenants get to see them. 

Tuition fees-Hughes stakes out his ground

With Ming Campbell a having already declared his willingness to vote against increases in tuition fees I noticed that the BBC News website was carrying a piece about Simon Hughes on the same issue.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Southport Liberal Youth launch blog

The new blog for Southport Liberal Youth can be found at:


Good luck to them

Tuesday, 8 June 2010


Since 2005, my Birkdale colleague Councillor Simon Shaw has served as a member of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Human Resources Panel, the Local Government Pensions Committee and the NJC for Local Government Services/Chief Executives/Chief Officers.

As Simon is one of very few Sefton councillors to serve on any of these national bodies it means that he tends to be one of the councillors claiming the highest in travel expenses from Sefton Council.  In fact, most councillors claim no expenses, as travel expenses for travel to committee meetings etc in Bootle or Southport were scrapped in 2007.

Back in early November last year (Councillor's expenses), and in the interests of openness, Simon supplied detailed spreadsheets showing the amount he had claimed in travel expenses since 2005 for travel to meetings of the LGA in London.  We published those 5 spreadsheets ***HERE***.

At that time we published a spreadsheet showing details for the first 6 months of 2009/10 (i.e. April to September 2009).  Simon has now produced a spreadsheet showing details for the full year 2009/10 (i.e. the 12 months to March 2010).  It can be found ***HERE***.

In summary, for last year, Simon has claimed:
  • £933.61 in total, for 12 trips
  • an average of £77.80 per trip, which includes rail fares, tube fares and also hotel & subsistence on some trips (this compares with the Standard Open Return from Southport to London Euston which costs £254.00)
  • an average of £35.14 for hotel & subsistence for the 3 trips where he stayed overnight

Time to cut down the long grass delaying a solution to long term care funding

The difficult issue of funding long term care is one which the coalition must address. The danger is that it will be kicked into the ‘long grass’ with another commission. The King’s Fund, Joseph Rowntree , David Wanlass, White Papers and a wide scale public consultation-Caring Choices (a coalition of 15 groups)- have all considered the issue. Politicians have put forward suggestions -and now is the time for decisions.

Living in Southport-which has one of the highest concentrations of older people in the country-I am increasingly aware of the distress and anger that this issue is generating –and it is going to get a lot worse as bulge in the population caused by the baby boomer generation getting to the age when they need care. When this is coupled with longer life expectancy we are on course for a doubling of the over 85 year olds by 2045.

Nobody thinks the present system works. It is unfair, appears arbitrary and is inconsistent in its application. People want to have some certainty so that they can plan sensibly. Sefton-in common with local authorities everywhere-is increasingly rationing the care available, so that someone who would have qualified for financial support a few years ago lands up bearing the full cost today.

Interestingly in the extensive consultation carried out by Caring Choices coalition-which included Age Concern, Alzheimer’s Association, RCN, LGA, Kings Fund and Rowntree-found a surprising consensus that the care could not be wholly funded by the state and that co-payment was the preferred option.

Clearly there are some tough decisions to be taken especially over whether the £3billion of Attendance Allowances should be used to help fund the cost of care. Then there is the question of equity release and whether the government should sponsor/regulate such a scheme. The Tories have suggested a one of payment to purchase a care bond of around £8k. I’m not sure how many people that would find that to be an attractive option or even if the £8k is enough to fund a scheme but the consultation found that there was no appetite for the government to start offering guarantees to private insurance providers. This may change if not for profit friendly societies ran schemes. And of course there is always taxation.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Chilcot inquiry gets rule change...........

Hidden away in an interview with Clegg on the Guardian comment is free website is a most interesting revelation:

On the Chilcot inquiry on the Iraq war, there was a major development: a clear commitment to make sure that the inquiry is able to publish a great number of documents: the current protocol on a presumption of confidentiality and secrecy will be changed to a presumption of publication, but most likely to coincide with the inquiry's report, whenever that may be.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Saxon church at Wootton Wawen

We had to put into a boat yard at Wootton Wawen to sort out our water supply. Close by there was an excellent example of farm diversification where a series retail outlets including second hand books, a farm shop, jewellery workshop etc have been established. We had an great breakfast in the cafe before I set off to explore the Saxon Church of St Peter leaving the Disgruntled Radical to browse the book shop in search of the works of a mistress of a long lost relative. 

The Saxon bit-over 900 years old- is the sanctuary  (first photo).  

in which we discover that the Navy keeps a fleet of barges......

And here we are making our way down the Hatton flight of locks which have a rise of 146ft 6ins (the canals stick to are imperial measurements) There are 21 chambers spread over two miles. They were opened by the Duke of Kent in 1934 when he was taken through the locks on a barge called 'Progress'. Frankly they are frightening. The gates are heavy and the winding mechanism requires significant strength. They are double locks and we teamed up with a naval barge (I didn't know the navy had canal barges-I wonder when it comes to the defence review what sort of justification the Admirals will have for maintaining a fleet of canal boats. I've been struggling to imagine what naval engagement, in what theatre of war requires their retention. I'd have thought that once we withdrew from east of Suez they would be surplus to requirements) The family in the naval barge called Emily were great. Their two teenage daughters were great loch labourers, without them the journey time would certainly have exceeded 3 hours.

In the distance on the second photo you can see the tower of St Mary's Warwick and slightly out of shot is the old psychiatric hospital where I spent most student holidays working in the laundry. It is now a luxury development of apartments.   

handing on the knife sharpener

I'm just catching up after a week on the waterways of Warwickshire. One of my first ports of call was Liberal England ( incidentally I did think that the photos of the Saxon church, canals with their locks and peculiar architecture was very much in their house style).  I learnt there that the knife sharpener (reported in the FT) given by my fellow loch labourer, the Disgruntled Radical, to David Laws had been handed down to Danny Alexander. David explained:

At the Yeovil constituency post-election party I handed David Laws a present to help with his job as Chief Secretary of the Treasury - a knife sharpener. Not a knife, because I didn't want to promote cuts but a sharpener because I wanted him to make fine cuts.

 As Liberal England says:
I like to imagine it being passed from Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury to Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury down the generations.

I can exclusively reveal that the young Mr Grace knew nothing of the bequest. I can remember when David Steel stood down as leader he passed something down to Paddy, Archibald's Sinclair's desk -it had apparently been the tradition. I wonder if Clegg now has it? I don't suppose it is much suited to modern technology. There is a Pathe news clip of Sinclair sitting behind a desk. I've no idea if it is the same desk that he passed down to Clem Davies et al.


give way to steam......

Somewhere around Birdingbury on the Grand Union we were passed by these fellows on their steam driven  barge . We thought it wise to get out of their way  

Playbuilder launch

Whilst I've been away my colleague Richard Hands has been busy. In particular the Friends of Bedford Park have been celebrating the launch of the play builders programme. Mike Booth over on the Kew Ward Blog has reported on the event. I'm sorry I missed it.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Preston Bagot Bottom Lock

Making our way gently along the Stratford Canal we came to Preston Bagot Lock with it's interesting  lock keeper's cottage with a barrel roof which is typical of the architecture on Warwickshire canals.  It was built originally in 1810