Thursday, 30 June 2011

Scrap Trident to fund social care

I am a councillor in Southport. The last time I looked we were the constituency with the 8th highest concentration of pensioners. Regularly people turn up to our surgery asking about how they pay for social care for their relatives. John Pugh's offices deal with many more enquiries. The system is broken. It is confusing. The information is of poor quality and often wrong. The criteria for who qualifies is unnecessarily complex as local authorities struggle to balance their budget by rationing care. Some of the most heart rendering interviews I have conducted are with elderly folk in frightened about whether they can afford to continue to pay for their loved one who is at present in a home which is putting its prices up (to balance their own books). They face having to move their relative to a strange and less appropriate home.

Andrew Dilnot writing in the Times this morning claims this is one of the major area of financial risk for which you cannot plan. Many of the people I seek to help are not affluent. They have saved, often from modest incomes, for their old age. Their thrift throughout life seems to be penalised. Care costs can run into fabulous amounts well in excess of their resources. It is not just the person in care whose life is blighted it is their relatives-often elderly themselves-who dare not spend money on holidays, heating, re-decoration or on any of the things that may enrich their lives for fear that they may not have enough money to pay the care bills. The first casualty is their dignity.

For thirteen years Labour ran away from this problem. It was buried. The situation is now a national emergency.

When Lloyd George introduced the Old Age Pension there were less than 100,000 people over 85 years old. Today there 1,500,000.

Dilnot makes some proposals that will cap the individual liability. We await the details. He implies that insurance products could be developed to bridge the gap so that individuals could plan. In past generations the thrifty artisans would have used their friendly societies to produce a product to deal with this situation. Thatcher and the selling off those institutions has robbed us of a trusted network of mutually owned financial bodies that put serving their members first. All that we are left with are the shysters in the City whose first duty is make as bigger and quickest profits for the share holders. If insurance is to be an acceptable way of funding the individuals contribution to social care then we need acceptable financial institutions. So Vince, when we deal with the banks please return a goodly part of the high street banks to mutual ownership by breaking the nationalised banks and forming regionally based mutual banks.

In the meantime Dinot still requires £2billion extra of public money to fund his scheme.  Lib Dem should without equivocation back the scheme and pledge to fill the funding gap by scrapping Trident

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Clegg comes to LGA

Clegg spoke to the LGA conference this morning and got a pretty good reception. Mind you he was assisted by a particularly sycophantic question from the Leader of Portsmouth City Council that was so obsequious that it brought groans even form the Clegg supporters in the hall.

Nevertheless he brought good news that will genuinely gladdened the hearts of all those who want to see the independence of local government strengthened. We will be moving to a situation where we can raise locally about double the money we do now. Clearly there needs to be a centrally governed equalisation mechanism but the guarantee that no local authority will be worse off than they are now under the grant formula is not a bad start. We await the detail in the consultation document

Liberal Values in the Times

Danny Finkelstien's  article on Richard Wainwright gave me the opening to pursue my campaign to re-instate employee ownership as a central plank of the next manifesto. Due to the paywall at the Times the formatting below is a little erratic. Nevertheless I think I have the text as the Times printed it in their letter page yesterday 

Liberal values 

Sir, Daniel Finkelstein's reflections on Matt Cole's excellent biography of Richard Wainwright (June 23) will be welcomed by many Liberals. Wainwright represented the best in the old Liberal party. The "holy grail" of his Liberalism was the party's radical plans for employee ownership. I have no doubt that he would have written several of his trenchant letters to Nick Clegg by now upbraiding him for his failure to put this reform at the forefront of a Lib Dem programme for economic recovery. Conservative and Labour politicians are now both embracing a watered-down versionof that policy. We badly need a modern-day Wainwright to come among us unmuzzled to make the case for a major redistribution of wealth and power in our society. The market failure that led to our present crisis was in large part fuelled by the shorttermism of capital solely concerned with building shareholder value. Will Hutton's assertion that we have "the oddest and most regressive constitution for private ownership anywhere in western capitalism" needs to be taken seriously, and the reforms championed by Wainwright are a good place to start. 

iain brodie browne Birkdale Lancs,

Labour capitulates to rail unions is £1.5m U Turn?

The blog reported on the bloated pay out to Mark Dowd as chair of Merseystravel (more to follow). In the past their poor governance arrangements have been highlighted, the financial disaster of the tram  and now we learn of a U turn costing £1.5m carried out -many alleged- at the behest of the rail unions.

Tony Roberson comments-link on blog roll on the right- and the Liverpool Daily Post has the full story. That is £1.5 million down the tubes and a plan that is seen as a sensible way forward scuppered. the Chief Exec told the meeting:

....... £1.5m has already been spent investigating taking over the tracks, which is included in the region’s official Local Transport Plan.
And as the Post reports:
Last night Labour chairman Mark Dowd denied the party had caved into pressure from railway unions and said it was not worth taking the risk. I think there is too much uncertainty, we are better under government control.”

Kemps 'valedictory banquet'at LGA conference

I am at the LGA conference in Birmingham  staying at the Weatherspoon's  Lodge. I am being stared down on by a large picture of Joe Chamberlain and William Morris. This establishment is called the Briar Rose named after a series of paintings by Morris's long term collaborator Burne Jones. Whilst her I have already visited St Philip's which has some of the most amazing stain glass windows by Burne Jones

This morning Clegg addressed the conference. I thought it was a tad risky for him to refer to Richard Kemp's farewell dinner as a 'banquet' The potential for the right wing press to spin that into something other than it was obvious.

It should be recorded than underlying all the tributes, farewells and present giving there is genuine affection for Richard. His time as Leaders of the Lib Dem Group on the LGA has not always been easy but he has always robustly defended and promoted the Lib Dem role in Local Government, Too often in a mad world his has been the voice of sanity. As one delegate remark he always felt better if he woke up to hear Richards tones drifting across the airwaves. There are too many examples to quote them all but his steadfast opposition to  notion of police commissioners has earned him  real respect.
It was therefore fitting that when Lib Dem delegates to the LGA shared an evening meal last night they took the opportunity to express their thanks to 'Dickie'-as his would be successor calls him. In attendance was a Government minister and his old friend and long time colleague from Liverpool City Council Mike Storey-now a member of the House of Lords
I first met Richard back in 1970/1 when as a Leyland  YL he was involved in a very dubious organisation called Action Liberal. They seemed to have been formed to  undermine the YL leadership and conspired along with Thorpe to do so. It was all a bit cack handed and counter productive. The truth is that the YLs had rumbled Thorpe well before the party at large. But all that is a another story. Richard then left Leyland and fetched up in Liverpool as David Alton's agent. He now represents (and held this May) the ward that Cyril Carr first won in the early 1960

One of the other speakers last night was Paul Tilsley from Birmingham. He recalled those early days when the party was begining to rebuild its base in the major cities of Britain. Cyril Carr and  Wallace Lawler were the two examples he choose. He was also one of the first elected back in his early 20's. A baptism of fire awaited him as the City Council  passed a motion calling for no more immigration into Birmingham. The one opponent was the young Tilsley.
Richard Kemp on the platform for the opening of the LGA conference

Monday, 27 June 2011

Ainsdale Strawberry tea

 Ainsdale Lib Dems had an excellent strawberry tea at the home of Roy Connell on Sunday. it was good to see such a good turn out. It was an excellent event well attended from members and supported from Ainsdale and further a field.. Mike Booth carries a report over on the Kew blog (link on the left)

The warping influence of nationalism threatens the governement and Europe.

'The warping influence of nationalism' is threatening peace and prosperity in Europe again. The phrase from the old Liberal Party Constitution preamble-and often attributed to Elliot Dodds-reflects a deeply held  Liberal view that nation states need to be bound together more closely and their peoples will more likely live in peace and prosperity if law governs the relations betwen nations. The economic collapse that followed WW1 led to the retreat into protectionism and nationalism

Keynes famously predicted that that the war reparations demanded of Germany would impoverish the peoples of central Europe to a point beyond endurance. In his 'Economic Consequences of the Peace' he wrote:
If we aim deliberately at the impoverishment of Central Europe, venceance... will not limp. Nothing can then delay for very long that final civil war between the forces of Reaction and the despairing convulsion of revolution, before which the horrors of the late German war will fade into nothing, and which will destroy... the civilization and progress of our generation."
All the greybeards and the population at large took no notice and pursued payments back from German which, despite modest adjustments, were well above that nations capacity to pay. There was a national consensus that few had the guts to stand out against.
The repayments now demanded of Greece are greater than Germany endured after the Treaty of Versailles. A great deal of energy is being expended to try and stop the banks having to face the consequences of the dodgy lending. I guess the banks thought they were too big to fail and Germany's commitment to the Euro meant that they would always be bailed out not matter how reckless they were. I struggling to understand why the banks shouldn't take a hit, or in the jargon a haircut.I was staggered to see how much the combined bonuses for bankers were across Europe-enough to impact big time on the Greek debt if they were repaid!

Possibly the most depressing feature of all is to see the Euro sceptic press and MP's in all parties doing a jig to celebrate, telling each other how clever they were to stay out of the Euro. Just pause for a moment to think about the Greek collapse and the contagion spreading . They will not be laughing so hard if the Spanish economy is hit. It was bad enough when Northern Rock went down the tubes think about it if Santender followed suit. And don't be looking for help from Europe-we've been spit in their eye and telling them how clever we are for not pulling our weight.

Never has the inter-dependence of the European economy been so great. If a Spanish bank goes down it hits us, if the mainland of Europe slumps our economy slumps. Will Hutton mightily impressed the SLF conference with his analysis. British banks have £6.5 trillion outstanding in loans to the rest of Europe. That is four times our GDP. And how much equity have the banks to support that lending? £3billion. Do the arithmetic. In addition there is a hefty sum lent in Euros to Governments all over Europe. It is of course usual to quote John Donne at such moments:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

Sadly no Liberal is making this essentially Liberal argument.  Fear of the Eurosceptic press, sheer funk or a flight from core values? I do not know the reason but unless somebody soon steps up to the plate the fate of Europe (including Britain) if it descends into nationalism is too awful to contemplate. We need to be part of the solution because the consequences  of failure are terible for us. We need to present a vision of nations working together under law and recognising their interdependence......

Dowd in mega ratepayer 'rip off'- read all about it

For your information, Merseytravel had its AGM this afternoon.  Cllr Mark Dowd (exceedingly tribal, Old Labour, Bootle)  was elected chair of Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority and chair of the following committees, Policy & Resources, Rail Services, giving him a measly sum of £42,184!.
The Lib Dem group moved that the following amendment,
Amendment to item 17 - Members Allowance Scheme 2011/12
Delete recommendations (i) and (ii) and replace with:-
(i) Note the continuing opposition of the Liberal Democrat group to the payment of multiple special responsibility allowances on the authority.
(ii) Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority is the only ITA that allows members to claim more that one SRA (Special Responsibility Allowance) at any one time, has more positions which pay special responsibility allowances, and spends more on member allowances than any other ITA.
West Midlands
Tyne & Wear
Greater Manchester
West Yorkshire
South Yorkshire
35 SRAs
16 SRAs
6 SRAs
7 SRAs
12 SRAs
9 SRAs
No limit on SRAs claimed
Only 1 SRA per member
Only 1 SRA per member
Only 1 SRA per member
Only 1 SRA per member
Only 1 SRA per member
Furthermore, Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority is the only ITA where councillors set their own allowances, whereas all other authorities appoint an independent panel.
(iii) The authority recognises the need for transparency and public confidence in the way Councillors are paid.
Therefore the authority resolves to defer decision on the suggested member allowance scheme, subject to a full review by an independent panel whose membership is to be subject to agreement by the three party leaders.

Needless to say this was not carried

I would add this is not the full extent of his personal take from the council tax payers. He trousers a lot more- but we don't expect Trinity Newspapers to give him the full treatment.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Saachi, Yelsin, Clegg and bonkers notions

I learned yesterday that the origin of the dubious notion of issuing 45 million shares in the nationalised banks to electors originated with that arch Thacherite Lord Saachi. It is much the same approach as Boris Yelsin pursued in de-nationalising Russian businesses and we know where that unfortunate policy led.

One of the key causes of the credit crunch and the crisis we are in is what Will Hutton described as the
'the oddest and most regressive constitution for private ownership anywhere in western capitalism'. 45 million share holders will be so dispersed and atomised as to play no effective role in the governance of the business. The policy of keeping them happy by building an increase in shareholder value will dominate and all the high risk strategies that go with us. The share will soon be sold on to the British equivalent of the Oligarchs and a quick profit taken. There will be no reform or restructuring of banking and it will soon be business as usual bonuses and all.

There is a radical Liberal alternative. The banks could be broken up and parts could be re-mutualised. They would then be owned by their member-those to whom they provide services. Such owners-who could not sell on their shares- would have a real interest in holding the management to account and instead of involving themselves in dubious bits of financial alchemy the banks would concentrate on serving their members. This diversity in the 'gene pool' of models of ownership in the financial sector would be wholly beneficial.  A regional bank determined to serve its members and locality would be a source of long term finance and partnership for local SMEs (small and medium size enterprises). Those banks driven by the need to make high profits have simply no interest in this sector and as David Boyle pointed out they simply have no insentive to provide the products. One of successes of the Mondragon co-ops that so impressed Jo Grimond was the mutual bank structure which provided the cash for the co-ops to grow.

The nation does need to get its money back from the nationalisation of the banks. This can be achieved by the new banks repaying the cash over an agreed period. A banking structure whose models of  ownership was more diverse and risk adverse would be a real benefit in these times. It is of note that all the de mutualised financial institution failed to come through the crash without state aid whereas the mutual sector fared much better.

These would become popularly owned banks protected from the predatory actions of the share owned banks as the shares would not be up for sale. One of the biggest inter-generational rip offs was perpetrated on the present younger generation by the Baby Boomer generation who cashed in all the value of the mutual society as they were sold off. Value that had been built up over generations was squandered in a moment. I know why Thatcher and Saachi would back this notion but why should we?

One of the debates that is raging at present amongst Lib Dems is about the definition of social liberalism/social democracy/ radical liberalism/mainstream liberalism. I would suggest that the daft notion of doing a Saachi with banking shares belongs on the wacky free market fringes of economic liberalism/neo conservatism. The understanding that our freedom is enhanced by individuals coming together in communities to exercise power belongs to the radical tradition. One way leads to extremes of wealth and power the other leads to the spreading of power and co -operation. I know which I choose.

Finkelstein misses the holy grail of Richard Wainwright's liberalism

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Let us ignore the odd sensation that passed over me at breakfast this morning when I realised I was reading the same book as the Times columnist Danny Finkelstien. Unfinished Business is the title of Matt Cole's biography of the man for whom  many Liberal activists had the utmost affection and  respect -Richard Wainwright. I regret that once again Finkelstien is tone deaf when it comes to Liberals.He has previous for just not hearing the notes or catching the tune when it comes to us. He was after all an acolyte of David Owen whose dissonant atonal contribution served for a season to distract us from our task..

Finkelstien concedes that Liberal consistently held true to certain principles which he identifies as internationalism, political reform and co-operation between parties. Few would doubt Wainwright internationalism. Throughout his early life the dark shadow of  an impending war dominated politics. He worked to build up those institutions which would promote collective security which he believed could avert war. He was highly sceptical about militarism, and loyal to his internationalism especially European integration throughout his life. He would not have been comfortable with the delight that the coalition government displays in not playing a full part in  stabilising the European economy and he would have no truck with regime change as an objective of foreign policy especially if it was pursued through military action. Like most Liberals he rejected the idea of a British nuclear capacity and as Cole records he was at one with the Party Assembly when it threw out the plan of Dr Owen for a Anglo /French bomb. In these matters he was in the mainstream of the party and firmly represented those views to the Leadership-what is regrettable is that these principles are still the mainstream views of our party but there is no adequate champion of them that is heard in remote and secure corridors where the leadership dwells where only those who agree gain ready access.

No Liberal would dissent from political reform being a core principle. Britain needs it as much now as it ever did . For Wainwright this meant not only electoral reform, abolition of the House of Lord and all the familiar agenda it also meant devolution of power to the provinces of England. Unlike the Scots, the Welsh, the Northern Irish and Londoners we have no intermediate centres of democratically accountable decision taking. England remains the most centralised state in Europe.

But where Finkelstien's tin ear is most obvious is in the identification of co-operation between parties as one of the core principles to which Wainwright clung. Like anyone who advocate PR Wainwright readily accepted that  it would lead to coalitions. But crucially for Richard it was cooperation for a purpose. There were Liberal for whom cooperation was an end in itself. David Steel was one. For him the Lib/Lab pact's mere existence was reason enough to sustain it. He simply could not see the objection that Wainwright-once more in perfect tune with party members -made that we were failing to make policy gains. I was on the Policy Committee at the time - Wainwright was chairing -and we drew up a list of policy demands. It was the abject failure to achieve those plans that led Richard to act to end the pact. He had many misgivings about the SDP/Liberal Alliance and the merged party and wrote one of his most blistering private letters to Steel about the 'dead parrot 'policy document that Steel had sponsored with Bob Maclennan to appease the likes of Finkelstien. The Local Government unit at LPO helped break up the pacts that existed with Wainwright's support. Here in Southport we had a pact with Labour and that went as did the pacts at a parliamentary level in Bolton and Huddersfield. Co-operation between parties was not a principle in its own right and certainly not an ideology as Finkelstien asserts, it was a means to achieve political objectives.

As Matt Cole records for Wainwright the holy grail of Liberalism was industrial democracy, co-ownership, outright employee ownership. Countless Liberals could attest to the accuracy of that assertion and Cole has an impeccable source in Caroline Cawston Richard's long time secretary.  If Richard was alive today I think we can be certain that Clegg would have by now have received countless trenchant letters from him upbraiding him for ignoring this central priority for Liberals. In many ways this is a policy which Liberals championed pretty well alone in the wilderness and  whose time has now come. We hear Tories and Labour politicians talking about a watered down version of the radical policy Richard steadfastly advocated.  The aim was full economic citizenship for employees so that they have at least  the same rights as shareholders. How different British industry would have been if all the short-termism of those investing capital had been tempered by the need to gain the consent of employees for their plans. All those destructive schemes that led to takeovers funded by leveraging and other financial alchemy that had no regard to the long term interests of a business would surely have been vetoed by a workforce whose objective  was not to turn a fast buck and then be off. How different British industry would be if it looked to invest in training and research because it knew that was the way to achieve long term viability rather than simply to build short term shareholder value. How much healthier our society would be if wealth and power was more even spread. The evidence is clear that employee owned businesses do not have the same excessive wage bills for their senior staff. How much better it would be to have employees holding management to account rather than absent shareholders who want to play no part in the running of the business as long as it pays a dividend. Cooperation in business was the holy grail for Richard and as he often told Liberal Assemblies 'labour should hire capital'- a harmonious and very different road to recovery and growth than the Clegg 'plan'

Matt Cole's book can be found on Amazon or ordered from good local bookshops

This post was featured in Liberal England's Six of the Best   

Olly Grender commented on this post on twitter:
Good blog re a much missed liberal, love bit re employees......................
For which much thanks. Ms Grender seems to give marks to blog postings. David Allen Green at the New Statesman does 'excellent' postings.  Mine was 'good'. It sounds very reminiscent of Osfted. If you complete the sequence there must be 'satisfactory' and 'unsatisfactory' postings
Danny Finkelstienwho wrote the original article in the Times on 'Liberals and their Eccentric heritage' also commented on Twitter:
thank you for your fascinating post which I read with genuine interest and learned from. I take your point.....
Now that I quite appreciated, but he went on:
I am somewhat reassured by having received emails from people v close to Mr Wainwright saying they felt I had him "spot on"...and I do try to sympathise with the party and understand it. I regret if you feel I failed but am grateful for the engagement.

I suppose I should concede I was not as concise in my objections as I should have been. The first point is that I should have taken issue is the use of 'eccentric'. I did not find Richard Wainwright, his views or his actions 'eccentric' . On the contrary they were the actions of a deeply serious and principled man. Using the adjective eccentric does tend to make it feel as if Richard's life and contribution was being mocked and diminished even if it was done without malice. Now their were eccentrics around in the party-Freud, Bessel, Smith etc. There are eccentrics in every party. what do you call Harvey Proctor, Nicholas Fairburn or the Wintertons,  but I would not have put RSW in that category. I fear it was written that way to make the party sound irrelevant.

The second issue -and the heart of the posting-was what I consider to be a missed placed assertion that one of RSW's top principle's which DF likened to an ideology was a belief in inter party co operation. Now working with others in a 'non tribal' way is proper for Liberals. Nevertheless I think it is to misread RSW to say he promoted it to an ideology. He was after all one of the biggest and most consistent busters of pacts an alliances.  He was at the heart of breaking the post war local government alliances that existed across the North-here in Southport we had a Lib/Lab one but most were Lib/Con.  He sided with those who wanted to break the parliamentary alliances that let us win seats in Bolton and Huddersfield. He was key to the fall of the Lib/Lab pact and later less than enthusiastic for the SDP/Lib Alliance or the merged party. So I think he was pro working with others for a purpose but not just airily in favour of inter party cooperation in the way that Steel was. To that extent I think DF misread him.

And finally this posting was one of Lib Dems Golden Dozen this week listed in the 'most popular category'

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Friday, 17 June 2011

Plan A+ for the economy-with the + bit being Liberal, the issue of onwership

Vince was on good form yesterday. He was determined to stay on message and not discuss a Plan B, instead he shared with us some thoughts on what could be added to plan A, A++ as he called it.

Others have reported on Vince's speech so I will not dwell on it here, suffice to say it was good to hear that land tax and robust banking reform were firmly in his sights.

One other key element on which he put great emphasis was 're-balancing the economy'. This is usually understood to be moving away from  the financial sector being the driving force in the economy, resurrecting manufacturing, developing jobs and businesses in the regions and  looking to exports rather than consumer spending as a priority.

I want to suggest that there is another key bit of rebalancing that is missing. Ownership. It would drive most Liberals of the last hundred years to despair if they had witnessed  a speech that did  not address ownership.

 Their is a gross and obscene mal-distribution of wealth in Britain today. Companies are bought and sold to make a quick buck for the shareholders. Britain  has most regressive model of ownership in Western Capitalism.

This model has meant that Britain's 'crown jewels' have been bought up. Many companies have been destroyed for short term returns. Most institutions investing are not interested in building a long term relationship with a company and so there is little support for projects that might have a long gestation period despite the evidence that this will be the pattern for new products in the future. The workers in the business are not taken any account so there is no need to invest in the long term, in research or staff training.  Mandelson at the fag end of the Labour government got so concerned about the impact of takeover activity that he suggested increasing the margin  by which shareholders had to vote to approve a takeover, to which the response should be: 'what about the workers' have they no interest?

If we want businesses developed which plans and builds for the long term then the employees are key. Liberals have for generation railed against the short term interest of capital dominating business. Look back at our manifestos in the twentieth century-see if you can guess the year, they range from 1979 to 1923

We see a revolution in attitudes amongst all at work through the introduction of Democracy in Industry as the key to reversing Britain's economic decline. This means employees sharing control and profits with shareholders. We would achieve this by giving all employees (irrespective of trade union membership) legal rights as individual members of their company; a direct vote in electing the board of directors jointly with the shareholders; rights to information about its plans and prospects; to participate in decisions through elected works councils; and to share in the profits. Liberals would encourage producer co-operatives by establishing a Cooperative Development Bank.

 The Liberal Party believes that all individuals should be involved in the industry in which they work and this has been the cornerstone of our policy for over fifty years. ........

Liberal industrial policy has three objectives. Firstly, employees must become members of their companies just as shareholders are, with the same clearly defined rights. Secondly, it must be accepted that directors in public companies are equally responsible to shareholders and employees. Employees should be entitled to share in the election of the directors on equal terms with shareholders, and Works Councils representing all employees must be set up at plant level with wide powers to negotiate pay and conditions of work. Thirdly, employees should share in the profits of the company and the growth of its assets.

In the long term, the implementation of Liberal co-partnership policies will contribute to the solution of wage inflation, by ensuring that all employees benefit from wage increases and by including a measure of responsibility into wage bargaining. For in the day-to-day negotiations within each company employees would realise that there is little to be gained by wage increases in excess of productivity. Such increases would simply reduce the amount available in which the workers would share. In short our policies would achieve the identification of employees' interests with those of the firm by providing a visible link between the immediate limitation of wage demands and the future prosperity which will be generated for both employees and shareholders as a result. We cannot believe that any reasonable employer would prefer an industrial strike and the loss of millions of pounds to the hope of industrial harmony and responsible wage bargaining through industrial partnership. Similarly, no responsible employee would refuse the opportunity to become an equal partner in his firm with an equal share in its profits in favour of continued confrontation, inequality and insecurity.

 The individual worker must have a say and a stake in the place where he works. In large-scale industry he is entitled to similar rights to those enjoyed by the shareholder. Industry must become a partnership between capital and labour, with management responsible to the partnership. Workers should participate in the election of directors. Works Councils should be established in every plant. This will facilitate plant-bargaining and productivity deals. It will enable the aim of the Donovan Commission on Trade Unions to be realised by providing the proper machinery for negotiations at plant level between people who know, and are involved in, the local conditions. In this way industrial relations can be greatly improved and the causes of many strikes removed. This state of affairs cannot be brought about by using the power of the law as the Conservatives wish, and as the Labour Government at one time intended. Liberal plans for partnership in industry will give increased opportunities for profit-sharing. This will help to remove the suspicions entertained by labour about capital. Management and labour have to be moulded into one team, not a wrestling match.

The first step must be to give employees more say in the running of the companies in which they work. Company law must be amended to require the setting up of Works Councils for regular consultation and negotiation between employee and management on all major issues affecting their company.

 Employees must be given the same status as shareholders and the consequent right to elect directors to the Board..

Management should be encouraged by tax incentives to increase employee shareholding, because a financial stake is an important part of a man's involvement with, and responsibility to, the company for which he works.

Industrial efficiency depends on partnership not conflict. Our proposals would bring about this partnership.

The Liberal Party offers the electorate a radical, non-Socialist alternative. In the long run, our objective is to form a government.............
Partners in Industry

Go-ahead companies have already realised that the alternative to negative control by the unofficial strike is real participation by the employee in the running of his firm.

The Companies Act must be amended to give all established employees in public limited companies a status comparable to shareholders. Employees must be given a share in the decisions and profits of the companies in which they work. Employees should be represented on the board of directors, or on a joint supervisory council. This is one way to ensure that ability gets to the top.

For instance, the question of how industry should be run is largely one of providing encouragement for efficient management, giving a greater stake in it, and a greater sense of security to the worker and recognizing the important part which the Trade Unions must play, not against management but in close co-operation with it. We all depend on the industries of this country to produce a higher standard of living.

Liberals believe that they should not only be efficient but provide a friendly and secure atmosphere in which everyone involved can have a sense of useful purpose in serving the community. The only people who continually hammer away at this are the Liberals.

 The Liberal Party alone has been advocating the general introduction of co-ownership schemes, desirable not only as incentives but as the foundation of industrial peace

Of first importance are the status and remuneration of the worker. He has for too long been regarded as a "hand". He must become a partner and acquire economic citizenship, through Works Councils set up by law, and through Joint Industrial Councils in every Trade Board Industry. Profit-sharing should be encouraged, and information on the conduct and finance of business should be readily available to assure workers that wages fixed and profit-sharing schemes in operation are fair and just.

Liberals believe that the controversy for and against nationalisation is out of date. They approach industrial problems without economic prejudice, and since they represent no vested interest of employers or employed, they alone can plan in the interests of the whole community. They believe in private enterprise and the value of individual effort, experiment, and willingness to take risks. Hence their support of the small trader and their desire to diffuse ownership as widely as possible. Hence also their opposition to cartels and price- fixing rings which, often abusing the name of private enterprise, create conditions of monopoly and hold the community to ransom.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

missed opportunity for banking reform- I share their dissappointment

Press reports have stated that the Chancellor, Rt Hon George Osborne MP, is to use his Mansion House speech this evening to announce the sale of Northern Rock rather than convert it in to a mutual institution.

Speaking ahead of the Chancellor’s speech, Peter Hunt, Mutuo Chief Executive said:

“If the Chancellor announces his intention to sell Northern Rock this evening before properly examining all options for a mutual, then this will be disappointing news. The Coalition has stated its commitment to foster diversity in financial services and promote mutuals. Clearly, Northern Rock provides an excellent opportunity to take this pledge forward and I hope he will reconsider.”

To read Prof Jonathan Michie’s report ‘Converting failed financial institutions into mutual organisations’ visit:

Let us hope that before the full report on banking is published  Mutuo and others have more impact. Large parts of the nationalised banks were formally mutually owned and it would a positive step to see that restored. Part of the problems with the banking sector is the dominance of the shareownership model.

British constitution Key Stage 1 sylabus confirmed

Last week I commented on Rowan William's distorted view of the Constitution, this week I find the the learned Philip Goldenberg has made the same point in a letter to Independent today. It is good to have the blog's interpretation confirmed!

I have no problem with the Archbishop of Canterbury saying what he did, and indeed, as a Liberal Democrat, I have some sympathy with his critique of the way in which the Health and Education Secretaries have launched policy initiatives significantly beyond the Coalition Agreement.

But I do have a problem with some of your correspondents who have sought to delegitimise the Coalition Government on the basis that "nobody voted for it".

Under the British constitution, we elect a parliament, not a government, let alone a prime minister. If for once a general election under our woeful electoral system produces a genuinely representative parliament, in that no party has an overall majority, then the Queen's government has to be carried on, and a parliamentary majority created to support it, whether by formal coalition or a different relationship. So a coalition between two different parties, with a coalition agreement as to policy which synthesises their two manifestos, is beyond peradventure constitutionally legitimate.

Where those two parties between them received nearly 60 per cent of the votes cast, it's rather more legitimate than a single-party government with 35 per cent of the votes cast.

Philip Goldenberg

Woking, Surrey

Monday, 13 June 2011

Rusden and Diamonds get 21 days.........

The court case against R&D has been adjourned for 21 days . Details here:

A winding-up petition brought against Rushden & Diamonds has been adjourned for twenty-one days.
Northampton County Court heard today that the Diamonds expect to be able to pay their creditors in the form of finance from Japanese investors.

The petition is headed by catering company Cloverdale, who are owed in the region of £65,000.
But the club owes money to a range of creditors, including a debt of around £189,000 to HM Revenue & Customs.

Diamonds were expelled from the Football Conference at Saturday`s AGM held at Celtic Manor, Newport.

The Conference issued a statement yesterday part of which says:

The Board has no confidence in the club's ability to pay its creditors or as to its ongoing viability or its ability to meet its obligations in the forthcoming season, and in order to preserve the integrity of the Competition, it was with regret that the Board considered it had no alternative but to expel Rushden & Diamonds FC.

The consequences of this decision for the Constitution are that Southport retain its membership of the Premier Division; Thurrock retains its membership of Conference South and Bishop's Stortford is transferred from Conference South to Conference North on a geographical basis.

Pugh on Health Bill: 'back to the trenches'

When the history of these times comes to be written the role that the Southport MP has played in rescuing the NHS from the worst excesses of the Lansley proposals will be given significant prominence. John was not one of those who had a 'late conversion' to opposing the Bill, from the outset he identified the major weaknesses and worked tirelessly to challenge them. He consulted widely with those involved in providing health care and with the party (see this early posting on Lib Dem Voice). The announcement that radical changes are to be made are a vindication of his actions. In a statement this morning John makes clear that although real progress has been made there is still work to do. It seems that the Bill will now go to another scrutiny stage by a committee of MPs which will include the Southport MP. 

One thing is certain, if the Tories had got an overall majority at the last election then the Lansley changes would have been rammed through.

Sefton has been well represented on the Lib Dem side with Baroness Williams of Crosby taking a prominent stand. Her views are covered in an article she has written for today Independent . John Pugh was widely reported yesterday for example in the Observer

John statement this morning reads:

Southport MP John Pugh says that he is quietly pleased that the governments planned legislative changes to the NHS have first been halted and now been radically altered. 

John who is Chair of the Lib Dem Parliamentary Health Group has been demanding big changes in the unpopular plans of Health Andrew Lansley ever since they were first proposed last July. He helped draft the critical motion at the Lib Dem Spring Conference that undermined political support for the bill.0ver the last few weeks he organised summits between NIck Clegg, senior health professionals and doctor and nurses leaders to hammer out big changes in the plans.

"Without threatening patients' choice, I believe we have prevented fragmentation and anarchic competition in the NHS- as well as increasing local people's ability to influence local services. The government have moved away from the Lansley revolution to a more sensible and more practical set of changes. There are still some battles ahead as the bill goes back into the Commons but I am convinced we are making progress."

The MP though warned of trouble ahead. "Alistair Darling in his last budget left the NHS with £20 billion pounds to find in savings over the next few years. This will be really hard nationally and locally to find unless the whole NHS becomes massively more efficient. Sadly the time wasted through Andrew Lansley's attempt to force revolution on the NHS has made the task of finding those savings even more difficult."

The MP will be involved as the Bill goes back for Committee Scrutiny in the Commons. The previous Committee session that came before the government's unexpected "Listening Exercise" was itself one of the longest committee sessions in parliaments recent history. "Its a worthwhile and important battle", says the MP ," but it can feel a as though one is being sent back to the trenches! " 

Saturday, 11 June 2011

More on Southport's survival in the Blue Sq Premier League

More on Southport's survival in the Blue Sq Premier League


If we want more workers' control of public services.....

As readers know I was very keen to establish a workers' coop to take over the nursery business at Botanic Gardens. It had become clear that this activity had been allow to drift into an unsustainable economic position and that significant restructuring was required. I thought that the skills of the staff and the respect that they had in the community was an excellent basis to set up a business that would be self sufficient selling high quality products to the public as well as to the council. Sadly the employees could not be persuaded to take over the enterprise. I have learn some hard lessons from that experience.  In many ways they are similar to the conclusions of the all party group on Employee Ownership that has just publish a report (downloadable here) namely that the support that is needed for such a transition is simply not available in the form needed.

There is a very good summary by the Policy Director of the Employee Ownership Association (EOA)here in part she says:

Well, the findings were mixed. Most strikingly, there is a real lack of understanding within local and central government as to what ‘mutuals’ are and how the model could work. The inquiry found that employees and organisations didn’t know how to access support and advice and sometimes found that attempts to explore ‘spinning out’ were thwarted by senior management.

Now I wish mutuals who have taken over public sector work every success but if this policy is to work then there need to be some hard edged support. If such enterprises find themselves competing with private sector business owned by those with deep pockets they could soon fail. 

I while back I posted on the need for our party to re-emphasise this strand of our policy. I am particularly keen that we challenge the dominance of the one model of business ownership described by Will Hutton as 
......... the oddest and most regressive constitution for private ownership anywhere in western capitalism . This is a policy for the public services but it is a lot more that that, it is about the mainstream, about the firms that produce the economic wealth that our public services rely on. Company Directors whose only concern is to build shareholder value have presided over enterprises that have served our nation poorly, their employees and their communities have been short changed by them. After that posting Carole Leslie the Policy Director at EOA put a comment on the blog:
The current political drive towards more mutualism in the public sector is to be welcomed, but I feel we do need more input to ensure that it is not derailed. I believe we also need to refocus on employee ownership as a model for business, something that has been rather lost in recent months. Employee owned businesses tend to have happier employees, more satisfied customers, be more profitable, productive and innovative, and have lower absence and higher retention. Employee ownership is good for the individual, the organisation, the community and ultimately the economy. 

Southport FC survive

News is out that Southport FC will play in the Conference Premier Division next year because Rushden and Diamonds have been expelled. The AGM of the League is today ahead of a court hearing for R&D next week. It is understood that R&D owe in the region of £750k.

Altringham FC have three times been saved from relegation at the AGM when other clubs have gone out of business and now Southport are the latest winners of the AGM CUP. The main point though concerns the financial fragility of much of football and maybe it is another example of the inappropriateness of the share ownership model in this area. Southport is a club that is run on a very sound footing always living within their means but too many others are the playthings of rich folk who are here today and gone tomorrow leaving despair and disappointment in their wake.  R&D is an example which was for a few season the financed by a local sugar daddy whose money came from Dr Martin boots. He moved his factory from Northamptonshire to somewhere cheaper and seems to have lost interest. Many of us would like to see the growth of supporters trusts as a more appropriate vehicle of ownership. In that context I was unaware until last week of the contribution made by Kingston Liberal Councillor Richard Lillicrap to the growth of the Supporters Trust movement. (please take time out to read this posting)

And to add to Southport FC's joy I understand that Chairman Charlie Clapham is in the Honours list today

"Post hoc, ergo propter hoc" -as West Wing fans might say

The wages of populism is U turns. Dear old Eric Pickles just couldn't resist playing to the gallery of Daily Mail readers whipping up a campaign to restore weekly bin collections. We have had the full range of scare stories in Sefton Tory leaflets-which is a tad surprising as they voted for the scheme and successive Tory spokesmen for that policy area on the Council have backed the plan. For several elections we had a Tory opponent who had this as a high priority.  Here in Sefton it would cost us about £7m to restore the collections, but as we offer weekly food waste collections so we are removing the key area of concern. I would find it hard to justify spending that amount of money at a time when we are cutting youth service spending, adult social services, library opening hrs etc.

Nevertheless the Daily Telegraph had a story proclaiming that Pickles was going to make good his campaign pledge. I don't know where the story came from or if it was a 'bloody surprise' to the Department. The Daily Mail was delighted. I guess Pickles was less so because he knew it was simply not going to happen. Today has come the reckoning and Conservative Home is predictably narked

We will have to wait until Tuesday when the Department publishes a report on waste disposal before the final rites can be read over this sad and misleading campaign. As the Mail reports today:
However on the key issue of restoring weekly bin collections it suggests that nothing will be offered. If true this would be a great disappointment. It points out that since the election the number of Councils only providing fortnightly collections has actually increase
I guess that there will be some highly disgruntled Tories who will feel badly let down and for some of the electors it will add to the cynicism.

Friday, 10 June 2011

This would have delighted Jo Grimond

MONDRAGON Corporation, Yearly Report 2010 (english) from MONDRAGON Corporation on Vimeo.
We have been banging on for sometime on this blog about the missing element in policy -namely employee ownership. Liberal from J S Mill to Keynes via Elliot Doods and on to Jo Grimond have argued the case. In 1979 Grimond published The Common Welfare in which he reported on a visit he had made to the Mondragon Co ops of the Basque lands with journalist Robert Oakshott. Out of that work the Job Ownership Ltd organisation was founded which is today known as the Employee Ownership Association. 

I was very impressed with the new Mondragon Annual Report published on vimeo recently charting the considerable expansion that the co ops have undergone. It was well worth a look

How can a nation grow and prosper when its companies are bought and sold like trading chips?

Writing in a recent article for The Scotsman William Davies asks:

How can a nation grow and prosper when its companies are bought and sold like trading chips?

Employee ownership offers a compelling solution. I started researching the subject two years ago at Demos, the independent think tank, and have become increasingly convinced of its role in building more sustainable economies built on long-term foundations.
Employee ownership embeds businesses in their communities by locking in ownership. The employees own the company's shares directly or through an employee benefit trust, so the shares can't be traded on the open market and can only be bought and sold by other employees
Now these are arguments that would have been very familiar to Liberals over most of the last century but sadly we have ceased to make the case for what is quintessentially a Liberal reform. For generations we have asserted that the interests of capital should not be paramount. We have promoted models of employee ownership and co-ownership throughout all that time and in the 1970/80 there was scarcely a Party Assembly when Richard Wainwright did not say that labour should hire capital. Now all is pretty quiet on this front. Nobody asked what Liberal democrat policy was would have at the top of their list employee ownership and yet as Will Hutton has written in an excellent article: We have the oddest and most regressive constitution for private ownership anywhere in western capitalism
It seems that the neo conservative/liberals who now dominate politics are simply not interested in this issue preferring to pretend that the free movement of capital is the chief driver when building a prosperous economy.

British Constitution, Key Stage One (Archbishops begin here)

I've no objection to the Rowan Williams editing the New Statesman or pontificating on any thing that takes his fancy come to that -free speech you know. I think that his willingness to engage with people who he doesn't agree with like Philip Pullman is to his credit. In the past I've quite enjoyed the intervention of clerics-the former Bishop of Durham was always thought provoking. So I do not start from the premise that the man ought to stick to theology and praying, but frankly I would hope that he had brought  the sort of intellectual rigor that so upsets some of his opponents within the Church to the issue of how we form legitimate governments in Britain.
There are various models of democratic government in the western world. Ours is a parliamentary democracy. We elect members to that assembly, it is they that choose the government and approve its programme. It is that assembly that can defeat the government and cause a fresh general election. MPs are there exercise their judgment and to justify their actions to their constituents. This is not the entirety of our democracy we have other institutions some that practice direct democracy, others that like local government and the devolved parliaments and assemblies elect representatives. In other spheres of live we would wish to promote active engagement on a daily basis -in our communities or at work, through pressure groups etc. But the forming and sustaining of a government in this country is done by the House of Commons. A government that can command a majority there for its programme has a legitimate mandate.

I well remember a public meeting held at the Uxbridge by election (held on the same day as Sutton and Cheam) The candidate, Ian Stuart,was asked whether he would vote in parliament in accordance with the views of his constituents . I think the question was from an anti abortionist who suggested the 'most people agreed with her point of view' (polling evidence would suggest that she was in error) and she was seeking to get a pledge from the candidate.  Quick as a flash Jeremy Thorpe was on his feet quoting Edmund Burke on the role of an MP:

........ his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion

Now there is a lot I would wish to see reformed in our democracy but one thing I would not wish to change is the independence of MP's -in fact I would wish to see it strengthened. I would wish to see them hold the Prime Minister and Cabinet far more effectively to account. To do so they cannot be plebiscite driven automatons, they need to use their judgement to act in the way that they believe to be correct and if that includes giving a vote of confidence to a coalition and its programme then there should be no talk of the resulting government not having a mandate. One thing that is for certain is that nobody else has a better mandate. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Southern Cross and the issue of models of ownership

One of the reasons that the economic crash in Britain was so severe was I believe because the dominance of one particular model of ownership. In this country-unlike others in Europe -the prime responsibility of  Directors is to build shareholder value. In other words to make the fastest, biggest buck. There is no interest in the long term, little concern for the employees or the community. Here today and gone tomorrow if there is a quicker and bigger return on the capital

This bonkers situation has long been opposed by Liberal in Britain.  We have argued that other stakeholders interests are at least as important as capital's. We have seen this most graphically in Southern Cross where a quick buck was made on a property deal . There seems to be little interest in the needs of the care home residents or the staff. Activities like this need long term stability.

Now my children reckon my cloths become fashionable every ten or so years. Personal I can't see that a tweed jacket is subject to the demands of fashion. Some political ideas are the same. Liberals have been arguing the case for employee ownership/mutuals and not for profit organisations for decades.It maybe that these ideas are coming around and it would be mighty sad if having championed them in the dogs days we gave up on them just when they make be becoming achievable Writing in today's Independent.Hamish McRae observed:

On the first the thing that stood out, aside from the sorry details of what was happening to Southern Cross itself, was the way the not-for-profit care homes scored best for the quality of their care, better in general than either state-owned or purely private-sector owned ones. Why should that be? Well, no one really seems to know. Maybe the fact that any profit is ploughed back into the business helps. Maybe the culture of not-for-profit attracts a different quality of management. But it does seem an observable fact and that should make us stop and think about how this form of ownership might be encouraged.

And later turning his attention to the financial sector:

If not-for-profit organisations perform so well, why are there so few of them? Actually it is worse than that: the movement has been in decline. It used to be much more important in financial services, with building societies and life assurance companies seemingly particularly suited to this form of ownership.
The conversion of many of the building societies from mutual to shareholder ownership has been a catastrophe. Not one building society that converted remains an independent entity. They have either been taken over or gone bust. Those that remained mutual have continued more or less successful, with the weaker ones taken over successfully and the biggest, the Nationwide, coming through the downturn is good shape.
Many of the mutual life assurance groups have also converted or simply been taken over. Of course mutual ownership is no certain route to success or indeed survival: the Equitable Life was a mutual. Nevertheless it is hard not to regret the decline of a form of ownership that has lasted a couple of hundred years and more.
Sadly, there is not much sign of a turnaround. You might imagine that popular hostility to banks would have created some space for new financial institutions but it is not happening. There was some talk of Northern Rock being reconstituted as an old-style building society but that seems to have died. So while we still have some successful institutions that occupy that space between government and the market-owned sectors we are not creating new ones. John Lewis is universally admired. The Co-op does some things well. But there is nothing new, at least in finance or retailing.

Let us hope that when we get the banking reforms re-mutualisation is back on the agenda. It offers far more hope than issuing shares to the state owned banks Yelsin style.