Monday, 31 January 2011

Labour enter deeper into opposition

There (apparently) was no structural deficit when Labour was in government and on Thursday night at the full Council Meeting we were told that they hadn't agreed a deficit reduction programme, nor would they have put up VAT (because Gordon Brown would let it happen-no doubt just like he stopped the abolition of the 10p income tax rate)etc. and what is more a good number actually believed that to be true.

Let us begin with the denial of structural deficit. Nick Thornsby has all the detail.

Ed Balls, speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning:

46.15 : “I don’t think we had a structural deficit at all in that period [i.e. leading up to the financial crisis]…”

47.14: “Was there a structural deficit? I don’t think so.”

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (page 6):

On the OECD measure, the UK had a structural budget deficit of 3.1% of national income in 2007. This is the 2nd biggest structural budget deficit among the G7 large economies (after the US) and the 4th highest of the 26 industrial countries for which the OECD has data.

So it no surprise that Labour Councillors should take their lead from Balls. When they were confronted with the deficit plan that the Labour Government had produced they simply denied it!  Alister Darling knows the problem

"Mr Darling seems to be almost agreeing with Mr Osborne that there are deficit deniers in the Labour party and the two main ones are Mr Brown and Mr Balls."

But Mr Darling has told Sky News that he has always accepted the need to cut Britain's record £155bn deficit.............

The outgoing Labour government was already planning a fiscal tightening of 1.5%of GDP in 2010/2011. The difference between its deficit reduction plans beyond 2010/2011 and that of the coalition amounts to roughly half a percent of GDP per annum: well with in the forecasting error.

The trouble is Labour Councillors simply cannot believe that would be the case. To them it is unthinkable.  Some of them would spend the entire gross national product before breakfast and still believe that more should be spent.   Each extra pound spent is one more brick in the wall of the New Jerusalem and must be defended. Suggestion of economy are offensive. The bigger the state the better, the wider its reach the happier they are, they have no vision of an independent self governing people. They still cling to the to the  ideas that capture the Labour party in the 70's and 80's and like Militant they seek to persuade folk that the council should not make these cuts but challenge Central government to pay up. I fully understand why such rhetoric is attractive if you are to loose your job but a moments sober thought leads people to recognise that is not a sensible path to travel. Labour controlled councils have rejected that path. How ever painful they are moving to set balanced budgets. It is only the luxury of being a minority in Sefton that allows them the chance of such statement.  Sir Ron Watson keeps pointing out the inconvenient truth to them that if they wish to persue that line they should withdraw from the administration.

quote of the day

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

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Lib Dem still narrowly ahead in council by-election results since Coalition formed

My Birkdale Ward colleague Simon Shaw has recently updated his council by-election research to the end of January

Simon has now added the results for the three months November, December and January, in which there were 44 principal council by-elections.  As reported previously the results continue a lot better for the Lib Dems than might be imagined from some national opinion polls.

There have now been 190 principal council by-elections in the 9 months since the Coalition Government was formed.  "Principal councils" cover everything above parish council level, i.e. the results include by-elections in county councils, London boroughs, district councils and metropolitan borough councils, in England, Scotland and Wales.

Over the 9 months to the end of January Lib Dems made a net gain of 1 seat.  There were 24 successful defences, and 12 gains just slightly more than compensating for 11 losses.  Labour are net 22 seats up; Conservatives net 21 seats down and Others are net 2 seats down.  Full details are here:


In the 3 month period November, December and January (since Simon’s last report) Lib Dems were net 1 seat down, with 3 seats successfully defended, 2 gains from Conservatives, but with 1 loss to Conservatives and 2 losses to Labour.

In detail, the movements between the parties in November, December and January are as below:

As was observed in the last report 3 months ago, Labour continue to do well, normally winning a few seats off the Conservatives each month.  In the last 6 months they have also gained 3 seats off Lib Dems.

It seems clear that Lib Dems can produce good results where they are seen to be in with a chance, particularly in more traditionally Conservative areas.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Biomass Power generation Alexandra Dock

Down on Bootle Docks a major project is being planned than will provide around 200 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs. Alpines want to build a major biomass project with an investment of £300m. I have no idea whether this scheme is appropriate for the site but there are some encouraging features not least of all that most of the traffic bring raw material to the site will come by boat. In addition the low carbon fuel produced will supply the grid. They intend to recycle wood into pellets-the same fuel as we use in our stove at work. Those who want to know more can find information about the scheme here.

Planning application for Kew houses expected in spring 2011

One of the biggest battles in Southport in recent years has been over housing. For decades a plot of land at Kew has been identified for housing. In the town we have a desperate need for new affordable homes and this plot was always part of the overall plan. The Tories fought the most shameless and cynical campaign against the project. There candidate with the the support of some of their councillors were putting out leaflets and knocking on doors to oppose the scheme whilst in the council chamber they voted for it! If challenged they just got annoyed and didn't even try to answer the obvious contradiction in their behaviour. Our candidate in that election was Maureen who stood up to their populist antics and won through.
This week I had a report back on the consultation with local residents. I have to confess that the first phase was non too brilliant. A website has been established for those interested in the scheme:

Full Council -the sideshow

I shall write a proper review of the full Council meeting held on Thursday which lasted until midnight. But for now let me concentrate on a side show-the Tory split. Now that the three most effective Tory Councillor have been suspended and have themselves resigned from Southport Conservative Association we all waited to see how that would play out.
Well, if I were giving marks to the various groups I would say that for content on the night the dissidents score 8 and the official Conservatives 3.5, for presentation dissidents 9.5 and official Conservatives 2. Bonus marks must go on the night to the dissidents who produced two motions both of which were relevant and appropriate and both of which they secured a vote in favour.
There is really no contest. If Central office had sent an observer I fancy they would have been down on their knees begging the dissidents to return and offering any concession they cared to mention. Regicide in in the air. I understand there is an appeal to the National Party.............................................

Birkdale Village Conservation Area review

It is news to me but I learn that there is to be a review of the Birkdale Conservation Area. Apparently the Council have a statutory duty to do an appraisal and it is Birkdale's turn. A micro website will be created and I will ensure the link id posted here. On Friday a process of public consultation was approved and local resident will have the chance to give their views

Are these the most influential Liberal pamphlets of the last century ? part three

Part one here and part two here

Part Three 

I have been looking at a couple of pamphlets that have a claim to be the most influential of the last century-We can conquer Unemployment and Ownership for All. There are of course others for which I could advance the same claim: Donald Wade's 'Our Aim and Purpose' 1961 which sold an amazing 100,000 copies, Greaves and Lishman 'Theory and Practice of Community Politics' 1980 or Jo Grimond's  'Growth not Grandeur' 1961. (1961 was obviously a very good year seemingly producing more than in the whole Thorpe/Steel era) But for the time being let us stick the original two and consider how the ideas and principles that they asserted can be relevant today.

Ownership for All 1938 has as the Liberal History Group Journal 2005 records,:.......stood the test of time better than many of the so-called radical tracts of the 1930s, and many of its arguments would be regarded as mainstream, if not left-wing, today. It was a radical attack on the maldistribution of wealth and property in inter-war Britain – inequalities which it described as ‘gross and shocking’. The uneven spread of property prevented equality of opportunity, wasted social resources, reduced consumer choice and menaced democracy by providing a recruiting ground for Fascism. The report rejected outright any absolute right of property and insisted on society’s right to modify laws of inheritance to reduce inequality and spread wealth. ........ maintain and expand the social services; and to place before all the opportunities of a full life hitherto open only to the rich. In a word, the Liberal view is that it is the function of the State ‘to create the conditions of liberty’… 

I was immediately uncomfortable when Clegg seemed to be to be shifting ground on this agenda in his article in the Guardian when he seemed to be trying to ditch redistribution and presenting social mobility as an alternative rather than as a complimentary idea. This does all seem to fly in the face of the Liberal tradition in Britain back to Mill. Stuart Whites article make the same point in more depth. Clegg is simply wrong and Liberals have for generations argued for minimum wages and even a strong steer on maximum wages. Even in our globalised economy there are steps we can take to achieve greater equality of income. We should not be mealy mouth about our ambitions. When we come to look a ownership we can see how different models of the firm other that the existing dominant one based on increasing share value do militate against excessive wages.
In the same area the long standing Liberal commitment to using the state to rectify the maldistibution of wealth cannot be denied. It is an issue which engaged  J S Mill and Liberal thinkers ever since. It is central to the proposition in Ownership for All. Inequality of power needs to be addressed. It is protected by accumulations of wealth. It is bad for society. Chapter 19 of the Yellow Book begins  ...'It is a formidable charge against the existing economic order that it has divided society into a small class of owners who live by owning, and a very large class of workers whose labours enrich their owner........the fact to be faced is that discrepancies now in this country are now so glaring, and consciousness of them so acute, that the resulting discontent endangers the continuance of economic progress itself.' Both the Yellow Book and Ownership for All (OfA)have very robust calls for increase in Inheritance Taxes. 

OfA  identifies that 1% of the population owns more than 60% of the wealth.and this is blamed on inheritance, monopoly, and regressive taxation. And as the quotation shows Dodds et al  found this state of affairs 'gross and shocking'
In Britain today only about 5.4% of estates attract death duties. Right wing organisation have managed to establish the widespread belief that the figure is much higher with recent research revealing that it is widely believed to impact of between 25%-49% of estates.We could do with some robust Liberal campaigning to share the wealth. I well recall Tories telling me that inheritance tax would deter people from working hard and being thrifty. Personally I can think of few things more likely to make you idle than inheriting a fortune and not having to work! As J S Mill remarked about owners; 'why should they grow rich in their sleep, without working risking or economising' .  The authors of OfA certainly understood that the maldistribution of ownership undermined equal opportunities and had to be rectified.

Well I've got to nip out to sort a problem about the non collection of bins in Eastbourne Rd but I shall return to look at plans for creating a fair distribution of wealth and options that are available to us today.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Ownership for All

I was writing a posting before it became necessary to go and deliver Focus in Hillside Rd. I was looking at two Liberal  pamphlets that have a claim to be the two most  influential of the last century. New readers should start here for the posting on 'We can Conquer Unemployment'

The second pamphlet is the 1938 'Ownership for All being the report of a committee appointed by the Executive of the Liberal Party Organisation into the Distribution of Property'

The committee was chaired by Elliot Dodds and included  Liberal MP Harcourt Johnsone, Lucy Masterman, Milner Gray and Miss Jean Henderson.

The pamphlet has a Foreword by Lord Meston (of whom I know nothing -except that he had a room named after him at the National Liberal Club) It is stirring stuff:

..............."Ownership for All" is to be attained by the abolition of privilege and the equalising of opportunities. It is not a task speedy or easy of accomplishment. "It involves" says the report "profound and far-reaching changes in the existing social structure-changes much more profound than those called for by the Socialist programme"

The Introduction concludes by quoting the great Liberal distributionist
Mr Belloc -better known for his Cautionary Tales- of whom David Boyle has written in the Journal of Liberal History:

The influence of Belloc on Grimond Liberalism was almost unacknowledged - though Grimond later described the Belloc tradition as one "to be studied and fostered".[12] Yet the Distributist themes were very prominent in the Liberal Revival years: industrial common ownership, resistance to bureaucracy and the whole idea of a non-socialist radical alternative.

The pamphlet strongly attacks the maldistribution of wealth and income. It calls for more effective Inheritance Taxes, land taxes,a war on monopolies and enhanced workers' rights with co ownership in industry.

Many of these ideas were not new. J S Mill argued for most of the same principles; advocating worker ownership, inheritance taxes and fearing the abuse of monopoly power. Dodds achievement was to make these ideas relevant in his time. They still present a challenge to us today and if we were to consider what would  put in a Liberal budget today if we had a majority it would not be a bad place to begin.
It was Burns Night and usually one of the Southport wards would have used the occasion to hold a fund-raising event. Instead let me leave you with a poems I must admit I had not heard off by the man himself courtesy of  Glasgow blog 'Caron's Musing' . She writes:

All over this past weekend, Burns Suppers have been taking place all over Scotland to honour our national bard. Sometimes I wonder why, though. For all the atmospheric rama of Tam O'Shanter and the poignancy of Ae Fond Kiss, he was not above spouting some misogynist bile. Andy Gray would no doubt be proud of this one.(that last sentence was added today - but maybe Burns would have been a football commentator if he'd been alive today)

Not that I'm one to hold grudges, but I do nurse my wrath to keep it warm on this one, The Henpecked Husband:

Curs'd be the man, the poorest wretch in life,
The crouching vassal to a tyrant wife!
Who has no will but by her high permission,
Who has not sixpence but in her possession;
Who must to her, his dear friend's secrets tell,
Who dreads a curtain lecture worse than hell.
Were such the wife had fallen to my part,
I'd break her spirit or I'd break her heart;
I'd charm her with the magic of a switch,
I'd kiss her maids, and kick the perverse bitch. 

For sure, the picture he paints of this woman is not a pleasant one, but, 
frankly, if a man is capable of the last 3 lines, then he deserves everything he gets.

The whole post is well worth reading

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Council officers sound warning on Phase 2 and 3 Childrens Centres

My colleague and esteemed leader has penned a posting in Children's Centres. I think it is fair to say that those of us seriously engaged with reducing the council budget have found this amongst the most difficult of issues to with which to deal. We have tried to stick to the principle that these services should be targetted on the most vulnerable -children who are not 'school ready' as Graham Allen expresses it in his report. Tony lays out the dilemma in a posting today  which begins:

I think it is fair to say that many of us on the Council were surprised when the previous Labour Government launched phases 2 and 3 of Children’s Centres. It is not they were not desirable but we felt that they would not be financially unsustainable. Sadly, that concern/view has risen to the surface over the last week or so. By the way Phase 1 Children’s Centres were targeted at deprived communities, which was the stated aim of the national project originally.

full posting here

the maldistribution of wealth

It is my attention to return to my posting on Ownership for All which got interupted by the need to go and deliver Focus. Part of the arguement is predicated on the need to rememdy the maldistribution of wealth in Britain. In the meantime let me leave you with a quote from Jo Grimond in his speach to the 1964 Liberal Assembly

We believe both that capital wealth should be more widely shared, and that the salaried workers and those in the public services should be more adequately rewarded. As for industry, apart from giving the worker a share of the profits, we believe that the state should give a lead to industry by fixing minimum wages and indicating a maximum for wages, salaries and profits, leaving room within these limits for bargaining over exact wage rates. As far as profits are concerned, our proposals for free competition and consumers’­ protection, and the steps to curb speculation in land, should keep them in check. But of course profits must be brought into the general purview. If the public welfare is ignored by firms, then sanctions in the form of extra taxation should be applied. These proposals are related to a detailed programme for job-training, consultation and the more skilful use of manpower in industry. We stretch out our hands to the unions who are going our way. The forces of progress in the movement must feel the support of all progressive opinion.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Are these the most influential Liberal pamphlets of the last century ?

Certainly in the first fifty years of the last century these two booklets -'We can Conquer Unemployment' and 'Ownership for All'- can claim to have been the most influential Liberal pamphlets produced. Although published only about ten years apart and of similar length the price doubled which by itself tell us something of the turbulent economic times which gave rise to them.
I recall in the run up to the 1979 manifesto preparation Richard Moore announcing to the Policy Committee that he joined the Liberal Party in spite of and not because of its economic policy. In so doing he was giving voice to a widespread belief that the party's strong suits were in constitutional reform and foreign affairs and that we had not the same impact with our economic policy.  And yet these two pamphlets are primarily about industrial and economic policy.
There is no overlap in the memberships of the two Inquiries except to note that Rt Hon C F G Materman was appointed to the first but his death in 1927 meant he did not live to see its publication. His widow Lucy was appointed to the Ownership for all Inquiry and she is listed as Mrs C F G Masterman. This is the same women to whom Birkdale's Michael Braham presented a menu card of a Southport Liberal Dinner when he met her in 1977 at the centenary celebrations of the National Liberal Federation in Birmingham. Those who want to know more about the Mastermans would best be advised to present themselves at Bonkers Hall

The Yellow Book and the manifesto based on it 'We can Conquer Unemployment' was launched Lloyd George in1929 when he declared 
:If the nation entrusts the Liberal Party at the next General Election with the responsibilities of Government, we are ready with schemes of work which we can put immediately into operation, work of a kind which is not merely useful in itself but essential to the well-being of the nation. The work put in hand will reduce the terrible figures of the workless in the course of a single year to normal proportions, and will, when completed, enrich the nation and equip it for competing successfully with all its rivals in the business of the world. These Plans will not add one penny to national or local taxation. It will require a great and sustained effort to redeem this pledge, but some of us sitting at this table have succeeded in putting through even greater and more difficult tasks in the interests of the nation.

The Liberal Party Summer Schools had flourished at a time when the party's electoral fortunes had fallen and it was the Summer Schools which established the Liberal Industrial Inquiry under the chairmanship of W T Layton and whose membership included Lloyd George, J M Keynes, Ramsey Muir, B S Rowntree, Sir John Simon, Herbert Samuel, Margery Corbett Ashby, L T Hobhouse, and Archibald Sinclair. They produced a detail report (500 odd pages) which was distilled into the manifesto which asserted:
THE word written to-day on the hearts of British people, and graven on their minds is Unemployment. For eight years, more than a million British workers, able and eager to work, have been denied the opportunity. At the end of 1928 the total reached a million and a half; a quarter of a million more than a year before. These workers with their dependants, represent four or five million souls. They are a very nation, denied the opportunity to earn their daily bread, condemned to hardship, to wearing anxiety and often to physical and mental demoralisation. What a tragedy of human suffering; what a waste of fine resources; what a bankruptcy of statesmanship!

And in thinking outside of the mainstream the book said:
Here, as elsewhere, we are obsessed by precedent and routine. But the present situation cannot be dealt with by precedent. It is unique in history, and it must be met by unique methods. The countries of Europe have displayed infinite courage, resource and initiative, in rebuilding the towns and areas which the war had ruined; and we must profit by their example, if we do not wish history to brand us as destitute of the high qualities that make reconstruction possible. At the moment, individual enterprise alone cannot restore the situation within a time for which we can wait. The State must therefore lend its aid and, by a deliberate policy of national development, help to set going at full speed the great machine of industry.

It is hard to express how radical this approach was. It flew in the face of the advice from H M Treasury and the Labour Part and the Tories mocked it. As  one academic noted:

Interestingly, the Labour Party in the same campaign was caught out by the bold Liberal plan. They produced their own document – How to Conquer Unemployment: Labour’s Reply to Lloyd George which among other things said the work would be ephemeral and unproductive and that the financial aspects were “madcap”. The Labour Party won the election easily and the conservatives were tossed out. But in a sense, the conservatives (Labour) just swapped places with the conservatives (Tories).

When the Liberal History Group held a meeting about We Can Conquer Unemployment they invited Robert Skidelsky to speak. This is the same Skidelsky now appearing in the pages of the New Statesman  locking horns with Vince over Keynes's legacy. Iain Sharpe has made some pertinent observations on his present role as Ed Milliband's intellectual cover. The report of the meeting notes:

.....our speaker most clearly revealed his own views as a Conservative, believing that the public sector, whether because of high welfare spending or union militancy, had simply grown too big.  The prescription, Skidelsky argued, should be that the state must
retreat to its defining characteristics - ie only those actions which individual cannot achieve by themselves - or risk collapse.

and goes on

An additional factor, which Keynes did not foresee, was the 
substantial increase in capital mobility, resulting in a rise in 

interest rates from any unilateral attempt to expand the public 


Conrad Russell in his 'An Intelligent Person's Guide to Liberalism' notes that with the collapse of the international monetary system and particularly the abolition of exchange controls in1979 and the collapse of Keynes's theories of demand management we are living in a new economic world. ...'we can probably never again hope to fight an election on quite so interventionist approach to unemployment as...1929.' (page 69)

We have new threats as international capital races round the world looking for the best short term return on its investment. In recent years it has felt that the whole of Britain's economy is up for sale. And this brings us to the second Inquiry which looks at the maldistribution of wealth and the ownership of  business. failure to bring about reform in this area has been a major contributing fact to or poor economic performance and the economic shock waves that hit us last year. All this will have to wait till part two of this posting as I have a Focus to deliver.

Part two on 'Ownership for All' can be found here 
When I got back from delivering (and yes Simon I did Dover Rd as well) I started a new post and found I couldn't copy and paste across with all the links......still learning
And Part three will be an attempt to relate these ideas to 2011 and what we could do if we had a majority government, to follow  when I've mopped up the end of Lynton Road delivery...          

Friday, 21 January 2011

catch up reading for Dr Owen

It is odd to see Dr Owen re-position himself again, this time as a tribune of the left. His erstwhile colleague Lord Skedesky (who if my memory serves me correctly took the Tory whip in the Lords under Thatcher) has been writing in the New Statesman and this week Owen joins him to attack Lib Dems for departing from Beveridge. If anyone wants to buy Owen a present Beveridge's 1948  Voluntary Action, A Report on the Methods of Social Advance, would be good. It has the virtue of being written whilst he was a member of the Liberal Party rather than in a period when he was journeying to that destination. His forthright attack on monopoly provision and the role of mutual organisations is most instructive.

Website Outlines Savings Process

A rare thing happened today; I put out an official press release about the council's online consultation

Residents can submit their own money-saving ideas and find out about how services are being prioritised, on the Sefton Council website.New pages have been posted on the site which give people the chance to see how services may be affected by cuts in Government funding of around £68 million over the next three years.

In December, councillors agreed a number of measures to help identify savings. Part of that process was to agree services which are deemed to be "critical" or 'frontline;' those which the council is legally required to carry out; and those which might be reduced or stopped with less impact for residents. These have been categorised as 'Other Services.'

Savings of around £27 million have already been found across all service areas. These include large reductions in the number of senior managers, a 25% reduction in management and administration costs, and changes to staff terms and conditions.

Many departments have also changed the way they deliver services as part of the Council's ongoing Transformation Programme including more efficient processes and integrated working.

But with £17 million still to find before the 2011/12 budget is set in March, the council is looking at further prioritising the 'Other Services' to help bridge the funding gap.
Residents are now able to see which services have been prioritised by clicking on the different categories on the site. They can also offer their suggestions on how further savings can be generated in the coming months and years.

Sefton Council's Cabinet Member for Performance and Governance, Cllr Iain Brodie-Browne, said: "The new website pages are a way for residents to have a look at the work that has been done so far and also let us know their ideas and suggestions on how we might identify further savings in the future.

"We want everyone to know how services might change in the next few years and also provide another opportunity for people to submit their views. We are hoping to expand on this exercise in the future and are currently exploring a free interactive tool which would allow people to set their own budgets and priorities for future service delivery.

"In the future we hope to be able to communicate with our residents in a more interactive way through our website and also using social media channels. This would help us to update people on services and events and also provide information on what is happening across the borough."


Thursday, 20 January 2011

Liberal MP heckled by Southport vicar.......

Gladstone spoke in Southport on at least three occasions. Michael Braham points out in his History of Southport Liberals that the town was (relatively) close to his home at Harwarden and closer still to his family home in Seaforth which is now part of  Sefton Borough.

It was on the first of those speaking occasions (19th December 1867) that he encountered Benjamin Clarke Vicar of Christ Church. I'm not quite sure what it was that upset the Lord St cleric. The Southport Visiter says the meeting was: 'densely crowded by a most respectable assembly. Gladstone's speech dealt chiefly with the arguments for the secret ballot designed to end intimidation of electors. The goal was finally achieved in the 1872 Ballot Act He also spoke about disestablishing the Irish church and this may well have been what annoyed the Anglican clergyman.

On the platform was Birkdale man Holbrook Gaskell  the first chair of the Southport Unitarian chapel which in situated in Portland St close by what was then the Music Hall . I was walking down Portland St the other day when I noticed that No 41 was for sale and that, if my memory serves me correctly, was the address of the grade 2 listed building called the Music Hall. (If I'm correct then I must say the attic window in the front elevation doesn't look to be appropriate. But more than likely I have the wrong building!)

My parian bust of Gladstone dates from the same period as his first speaking engagement in Southport 

Historical research by Michael Braham his history of Southport Liberal can be downloaded here 

Early Intervention: The Next Steps

Yesterday morning I posted on the report by Graham Allen MP on early years intervention. It is clear that a cross party agreement is being reached as to how to take these matters forward. Iain Duncan Smith collaborated with Graham Allen in a publication last year which covered much of the same ground. Yesterday Nick Clegg spoke at the launch of the report:
It is absolutely clear, as the report confirms, that investment in the early years of life leads to huge economic, social and emotional benefits later on, both for individuals and for society as a whole. The report helpfully highlights the importance of what it calls ‘school-readiness’. The gaps that exists today in ‘school readiness’ mean that by the time they hang up their coats for their first day at school, children from different backgrounds are already on different tracks, already pointed to very different futures.

A full copy of the report can be download here

A second report is due out in the 'mid summer' and the Deputy Prime Minister previewed part of the territory that it will cover:

We know that intervening with families with multiple problems is expensive –  in some cases, up to as much as £20,000 a year. But we also know that over the long term, the savings generated can be far greater. If we can help youngsters stay out of care, and out of trouble, and out of jail, the social and economic benefits are huge. The long-term savings from helping the families with the deepest problems far outweigh the upfront cost.

The challenge is to find creative ways to bridge the gap between the initial investment and the long-term returns. But right here, in the City of London, we have one of the most innovative financial services centres in the world. Social investment is an area where the expertise of the financial services industry could be usefully deployed.

The Coalition Government has said clearly that we need a new social contract between the financial services industry and broader society. Financial services do not exist in a social vacuum, indeed no single commercial sector can operate in isolation from the values of wider society. The financial institutions of the City have an important role to play, not only in rebalancing the economy, but also in rebalancing society in a fairer direction.

The diffusion of ownership

The National Liberal Federation meeting in Birmingham in 1919 resolved:

..the national income is far too unevenly distributed, and that a nearer approach to economic equality must be the foundation of all social progress, and it therefore advocates that both income tax and supper tax should be steeply graduated and more fairly adjusted; that death duties should be materially increased...................

Twenty years on in the Yellow Book Liberals noted:

............the fact has to be faced is that the discrepancies now in this country are so glaring, and consciousness of them so acute, that the resulting discontent endangers the continuance of economic progress itself.

And so followed a chapter on the Diffusion of Ownership advocating all manner of radical policies to share wealth with assertion on inheritance tax that would send George Osborne and the Daily Mail into a blue fit.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Unemployment figures in the North West have fallen by 17,000 to 260,000.

One of my real concerns is that although the private sector will create jobs they will be so concentrated in the SE that regional economies like our own will be left without jobs. The latest figures just released ( in the North West have fallen by 17,000 to 260,000) are encouraging-but the jury is still out.

online tool to set your own Council budget.

This afternoon I have another meeting to discuss Sefton's budget. I general terms after the Comprehensive Spending Review Sefton had to reduce its budget by around £44m. To date we have managed to identify £27m which leaves us with a black hole of £17m. Some of the savings we have agreed ( I say agreed but labour voted against without proposing an alternative) include a 25% reduction in Management which needs to be fleshed out.

I am keen that we keep explaining to our residents what we are doing  and not hide from them the impact of our decisions. We can have a debate about how much and how quickly local Govt needs to reduce its expenditure again but the pressing reality is that we need to make decisions fast. Delay and procrastination only makes the situation worse as it will result in having to make additional cuts. It is worth saying that in Government Labour acknowledged the need for cuts and proposed around £92billion. Or to express it another way they had proposed a fiscal tightening of 1.5% of GDP in 2011/12. As my colleague Simon Shaw pointed out in the council chamber the difference between the Government plan and the labour plan is remarkably small and beyond 2010/11 amounts to about 0.5% of GDP which is well within forecasting error! I wonder if Labour had been in power whether Unite et all would have been going round threatening industrial chaos. Ah well.

Some local authorities have come up with online tools to help residents understand the budget situation. This allows them to carry out the same exercise as I am embarked on this afternoon. Please have a look and see what you think. I would be pleased to hear you opinion.

The example below comes from Redbridge and can be found here

A view and a vision of how to tackle poverty

Graham Allen, the Labour MP for Nottingham North, published a report in the last Parliament with Iain Duncan Smith on 'early intervention'  with children . Frank Field echoed many of the findings in that original document. The Government asked Graham Allen to produce a report and the first part is published today. It was the lead item on the BBC news this morning and the author was interviewed on Today when he said:

Only early intervention can break the "inter-generational cycle of dysfunction and under-achievement", it says.
Mr Allen's report highlights the impact of poor parenting and says too few parents-to-be understand how to build the social and emotional capability of a baby or small child.

All parents need to know how to "recognise and respond to a baby's cues, attune with infants and stimulate them from the very start, and how to foster empathy", it says.
The report quotes some American research that shows the early years are the greatest period of growth in the human brain.

This is why, Mr Allen argues, it is important to intervene in the early years, rather than later when the basic architecture, or wiring, of the brain is formed for life.

He highlights the Family Nurse Partnership, which has had a lot of success in the United States, and says it should be available to all vulnerable first-time mothers in the UK.

The programme sees specially trained nurses regularly visiting young, first-time mothers from pregnancy until their child is two, to promote attachment and positive parenting.

You can hear the interview at:

One of the really significant things he said  was:

But he insisted that there was "no magic bullet" to tackle poverty. But he believed that the schemes, for which he would seek backing from the City, would save the country billions of pounds in the long-run.

I read the original pamphlet when it came out and I am fully signed up to this approach. It is one of the reasons that I think phase one Children Centres have to be protected. I am interested in Graham's belief that money can be raised in bonds from the City to fund the work with dividends being paid out of the savings.

We are promised a second report in 'mid summer' which will further explore the funding ideas. I look forward to it. I cannot count the times that local authority officers have tried to sell me schemes that will save money in the longer term. Sadly we never seem to get to the point when we harvest the savings by discontinuing a service. As we all realise articulate and professional staff enter a little 'mission drift' and start justifying their continued existence by redefining their job roles to meet an urgent and necessary need. Maybe financing via bonds will provide the financial structure that will harvest those proposed savings and the state will 'bail out' of those families lives as Graham proposes  and not just produce an continuing mutual dependency between professional staff and families.

There clearly is no magic bullet to deal with poverty but the honest assessment that Allen/Duncan Smith/Field have produced does seem to me to make societies next attempt more likely to work. This is important work. Tackling and reducing poverty should be a high priority.

Bad week for Conservatives just got that bit worse

Jim Hancock, the doyen of NW political commentators, turn his attention to the disintergration of Southport Tories this week in his Daily article Post

IT WASN’T a good week for the Conservatives. Their vote haemorrhaged in the Oldham by election and locally the Tories are exploding in Southport like a super nova.

The suspension of Sir Ron Watson, who has been a party stalwart and councillor for more than 40 years, means that things have come to a pretty pass....................................

Indeed the Conservative Party in Southport has had a troubled recent history.

In 2007 the choice of Tory veteran Brenda Porter as parliamentary candidate split the party. The following year Sir Ron Watson had his first clash with his fellow Tories over expenses for attending Local Government Association meetings.

Then the other leading Tory councillor, Les Byrom, was stripped of his place on the Merseyside Fire Authority and defected to Labour citing infighting as his reason.

Now Cllr Watson and two others have been suspended and former West Lancashire Tory parliamentary candidate Alf Doran, has become the council’s first UKIP councillor.

Now what Jim does not factor into his reflection is the sheer level of political and managerial incompetence that the Tory leadership have displayed.

Jim seen here at a Sefton Central Lib Dem event

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Time to talk about the undeserving rich

MONDRAGON Corporation Innovation Gene - EFQM Bilbao 2010 from MONDRAGON Corporation on Vimeo.

Yesterday I suggested that Lib Dems ought to begin talking out how they would act differently in Government if they were not sharing power with Conservatives. Clearly the whole area of economics give real concern to Liberals and the impression that very important policy initiatives have had to be shelved. Of even more concern if the impression given by some that in exchange for some real gains in other areas they have swallowed the Conservative analysis as well as their prescription in economic areas.

I was recently re-reading the Liberal Pamphlet 'Ownership for all' published in the 1930's when the arguments about state control from Socialists and Fascists were at their height. Leaving aside for the moment the commitment to widespread and compulsory rights of workers to share in the control and profits of their enterprises that the Liberal party came to adopt and the profound impact that would have on the dominance of the investor model of ownership, the things that stands out was the belief in widespread and radical redistribution of wealth.

Jo Grimond whose thinking was influenced by redistributionst thinker- like the Salford Liberal MP Belloc- was a great advocate of co ownership and common ownership of firms. He was much impressed by the activity of Mondragon, hense the video.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Southport take on Wrexham with Mc Neil

Southport are at home tomorrow against another former Football League side, Wrexham. There was some speculation whether Matty Mc Neil and Shaun Gray could play or whether their suspension would have started. I think this posting on the club website suggest that they can and that they can turn out against Wimbledon.

Vince Cable – “Keynes would be on our side”

Exclusive: Vince Cable – “Keynes would be on our side”

That is the headline in the New Statesman in which Vince argues the case

"The outgoing Labour government was already planning a fiscal tightening of 1.5 per cent of GDP in 2010/2011," he writes. "The difference between its deficit reduction plan beyond 2010/2011 and that of the coalition amounts to roughly half a per cent of GDP per annum: well within the forecasting error

We will return to this issue again shortly.One of the great concerns that many Liberals have is that some in the party(including LDV contributors) have swallowed Tory economic policy-analysis and prescription-whole. We need to be explaining in much more detail how a majority Liberal Dem government would differ from Osborne.

It’s official: Southport Conservatives are united......

Over the last week I have carried a number of stories highlighting the imploding nature of Southport Conservatives.

One of our regular readers has now been in touch to draw my attention to a leaflet they found on an interesting little website called

This is a leaflet issued by the Conservatives in Birkdale in Spring 2010.

The good news is that the local Conservatives are united after all, for this is what the leaflet says:


Conservative unity grows from strength to strength, not only on a National scale but also locally.
So that must be true, then.


My good friend Peter Hough, a great 'Victorian', has joined the swelling rangs of blogging  Lib Dem councillors in Sefton. There are now 8 active sites. Welcome Peter. I have added the site to my blog roll on the right hand side of this page.We all expect great things from Peter as in another life he is a successful author so we expect a very high standard ! He began by issuing the following release:

Cllr Peter Hough has just announced he has just launched his own blog site:

"Communication with residents is vital as a councillor. Whether its through knocking on doors, delivering newsletters, attending public meetings, holding surgeries, through the local media or by letter, phone and email - getting your message across is extremely important. People need to know who you are, and what you stand for. Blogging is the latest way of communicating your views to residents. It's a daily diary that is online and available for all to read.

"My blog won't be just an webpage version of the successful Focus newsletter we regularly deliver to our residents. It will be extra - topical and up-to-date. I've called the blog 'It's not just politics!' because the entries will cover anything I think may interest other people. For instance I've just put on a short review of the hit musical Scouse Pacific. But there will be much that is controversial too. I want to give residents a better incite into my views of the issues affecting us all in Sefton."

Photo: Peter Hough right with Richard Clien trying to get John Pugh's caera to work! 

Sunday, 16 January 2011

speaking for a minority of Tory Councillors Terry Jones accuses the majority of disunity....

Yet more claims that Southport Tories are united came from the beleaguered Chairman of Southport Tories Cllr Terry Jones. They have little credibility as there are now more 'unofficial ' Conservative Councillors in the town than official ones! 
Lady Lesley Watson, wife of Sir Ron(former Leader, LGA bigwig and by some margin the most impressive of Tory councillors) spoke out on behalf of her husband.
She said: “To suggest the actions of Cllr Jones and a few others are for the good of the residents of Southport is a travesty of the truth. They are inflicting huge damage on the party".

But Councillors Jones persisted:
"This is about many issues over many years".
“If they are willing to serve their suspensions and wish to come back agreeing to the rules then we will accept them with open arms.”

The Liberal Democrats in Southport have prospered over the last decade, making inroads into previous Tory strongholds in Ainsdale and Cambridge wards ( and they might have added the amazingly strong vote in Dukes Ward last May).
and (bless him) he kept digging:
Cllr Jones said: “The Lib Dems have taken too many seats because we haven’t been united.
“If people aren’t prepared to step in line and represent the Conservative Party in Southport, then they should look at other options.
“We didn’t want it to end up going this way, but the party is now solid – we are now a united association.”

Personally I would like to hear what former Southport Tory Char Jackie Glover thinks

Saturday, 15 January 2011

What happens when you put Southport Conservatives in Google?

Imagine you were new to Southport and were thinking about joining the Conservatives. Your first move may well be to put 'Southport Conservatives' into Google.

A few of us  were chatting last night and I mentioned that if you put Southport Conservatives into Google you came up with a load of entries about their feuding and last week our blog was top of the list!

At 11.00am today it looked like this :

Friday, 14 January 2011

A strange interpretation of accountabilty

 I reported yesterday  on the strange case of the Leader of Sefton Conservatives defending the repeated failure of Labour Cabinet Member, Councillor John Fairclough, to attend Area Committee meetings to listen to what the public had to say over the Council’s failures on gritting – for which he is politically responsible

The Crosby Herald reported the story yesterday, and the Southport Visiter carry a similar story today (headed “Grit boss absent”), except this now carries a comment from my Birkdale ward colleague, Simon Shaw.

It is interesting to compare the approach of Lib Dem Councillor Simon Shaw. with that of Conservative boss Councillor Paula Parry.

Today’s Visiter article concludes as follows:

But Sefton Conservative leader Paula Parry said the attendance at Area Committees of Chief Executive Margaret Carney, and top Council officers Jerry McConkey and Peter Moore was sufficient and Cllr Fairclough did not need to be there.

Liberal Democrat councillor Simon Shaw said: "I am rather concerned there seems to be an emerging pattern of Councillor Fairclough being unwilling to hear what the public has to say about the council's failures over the Christmas period."

"This is the area for which he has responsibility."

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Taking Coalition politics too far?

This comes under the category of : 'you couldn't make it up'

My old mate Jack Colbert sometime soldier, clown and Lib Dem Councillor, seen photographed here with Sir Ron Watson (recently suspended from the Tory group on Sefton Council and more recently resigned from Southport Conservative Association ) was invited to become chair of a local Conservative Club.

The Crosby Herald and my colleague Tony Robertson have the story. The Herald report Jack's comments:

“Last year a large number of the Conservative Club members asked me to become chairman because they were in dire straights and on the verge of administration.
“The Conservatives themselves wouldn’t help them.
“I said I’d take up the role as long as I didn’t have to swear allegiance and the members were fine with that. I was voted in unanimously.
“Now the committee have decided to de-affiliate themselves from the Conservatives and this will be confirmed at a meeting on February 23.”

he went on:
“I only go for three reasons; because there’s cheap ale, good snooker tables and no Conservatives!”

Tory boss defends absent Labour Cabinet member..................

The new accountability for local councillors is to local people. No more grovelling in the face of demand from the government's tally counters to measure the height of curb stones or weigh small children. Instead we are to be answerable to our residents.

Well the first chance to test the effectiveness of this new accountability came with the snow. The response of the Council was unacceptably poor. The public were up in arms. Birkdale resident Kenny Dalglish vented his spleen in statements to the local press. The Chief Executive apologised. Officers appeared in public to get 'feed back' from local residents. But what of the politician responsible; John Fairclough  (Bootle, old Labour, tribal). He was invited to answer local people concerns at the Southport Area Committee and the Crosby Area Committee.He directed those who wanted to know if he would attend to his comments in the Crosby Herald which was headlined:

Absent grit boss John Fairclough yet to attend public meeting on snow chaos

and which began:

The Labour Councillor is paid £18,000 a year on top of the basic £9,000 to act as the political boss for Technical Services.
He said: “This week’s Technical Services Department meeting was cancelled because the cabinet meeting was cancelled for the following day.
“There is another Technical Services Department meeting planned for later this month. “This arrangement was made in November before the snow had fallen.”
Cllr Fairclough said he would not attend Area Committees until a full report into Sefton’s response to the snow had been completed.
I blogged last week about the problems of accountability in an all party administration. Fairclough went on:
He added: “This is the first time the snowfall and ice clearing issue has been politicised, but not just making it political from other parties, but making it personal.
Now where have I heard that line of defence before?
But most bizarre of all was the response of the Tory Leader Mrs Parry. Now you would have thought she would have been the champion of her government's policy of local unaccountability, but no. Instead she said:
' the attendance at Area Committees of Chief Executive Margaret Carney, and top Council officers Jerry McConkey and Peter Moore was sufficient.'
There was a time when Tories would have been embarrassed to send in the paid help to take responsibility on their behalf. 
I must check to see if there have been any further resignations from the local Conservative group this evening.

How serious arre the Tories at OES?

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Richard Kemp returns to the disaster area that is Eric Pickles

With so much going on in Sefton it is easy to forget we operate in a much wider context. I see Richard Kemp has been at it again making some trenchant comment on the disaster area that is Eric Pickles. 

More on Southport Tory suspensions

More details of the bizarre suspension of three Councillors from the Sefton council group to today's Visiter. It appears that the have left Southport Conservative Party though not the national Party. I see that the chair of Southport Cons is now Terry Jones. I am sure that is wholly unrelated the the crisis that is engulfing Southport Tories (and lets have no Marks brothers style jokes please).I am further informed that the small Cabal that is the Southport Con Exec is even more unrepresentative of local Conservatives than even I imagined and a significant proportion of the group don't even come from within the constituency! Meanwhile it is also being suggested that young Mr Martyn Barber is the man charged with executing the plan to exclude the three. It has even been put to me by usually reliable sources that Alf Doran's departure was in part prompted by the belief that Porter -Parry intended to have him deselected and replaced by the said Mr Barber after he looses his seat in Manor Ward in May.
All this adds credence to Les Byrom's accusation about the nasty back biting and general intolerance of Southport Tories. It doesn't sound like a place you would voluntary spend time.