Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Avocets have arrived.

Meanwhile a short walk up the coast from Birkdale Avocets have arrived. The local RSPB Blog for the Marshshide Reserve records:

4 Avocets have been out on Rimmer's Marsh today but they didn't have the stage to themselves. Oystercatchers are plotting nesting sites on Rainford's Island while on the reserve as a whole there are still thousands of Pink-feet coming and going with a couple of Barnacle Geese seen with them

Mr Robert Oakeshott, who I expect many of your Lordships have heard

I first came across the name of Robert Oakeshott in the late 1970's. He was singing an old Liberal song to a new tune.
Jo Grimond published The Common Welfare in 1978. In the chapter on the Organisation of Industry Grimond writes of Oakeshott crediting him with introducing the author to the Mondragon workers' co-operatives in the Spanish Basque region. 
This blog has written before on Mondragon, Employee Ownership, Ownership for All etc and certainly see it as an important element in redistributing wealth and building a fairer and sustainable economy.Grimond then reports on a joint visit that he an Oakeshott took to Spain to learn more about the great success of the co-operatives.

Grimond kept up his interest in Mondragon and when he was in the House of Lords in 1981 moved an amendment to the Companies Act on Job Ownership Companies. Once again in the delightful way Grimond had of acknowledging those who had helped him he gave Oakeshott a name check: Hansard reports :

Mr. Oakeshott, who I expect many of your Lordships have heard of, and who has made a study of the worker co-operative movement from both a theoretical and a practical point of view over many years, has just published a book (which I have not brought with me but which I strongly recommend everybody to read) which he called The Case for Worker Co-operatives. He could actually have called it, I think, The Case Against Worker Co-operatives, because it is a completely objective account from very early days of the co-operative movement with examples of those which have succeeded and those which have failed.

As I recall he and Grimond then were involved in setting up a Job Ownership organisation which over the years has evolved into the Employee Ownership Association-the voice of co-ownership businesses in Britain.

The belief that workers' should have at least the same rights as shareholders or better still that employees should hire capital would undoubtedly combat the 'short-termism' that helped wreck the British economy. The conviction that building share value is the only important measure of a companies success has distorted and destroyed much of our economy where making a 'quick buck' for share holders has led to some 'barking' decision.

This is indeed an old Liberal song sung in every manifesto from Asquith to Ashdown. Let us hope that now we may start up the old song again. 

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Follow up to “Winding up the Tories”

On Thursday I made mention of Mrs Joyce Charlton, “the Tory matriarch of the day” in Birkdale West. 

My Birkdale colleague Simon Shaw draws my attention to a connection of which I was unaware.

In the early 1960s, when Simon was about 7 years old, the Shaw family moved from Waterloo Road to 53 Trafalgar Road, Birkdale.  And who did Peter and Brenda Shaw buy the house from?  Mrs Joyce Charlton.

Simon was still living there with his parents and his sister, Penny, in 1979 when he first stood as a 23 year old Liberal council candidate in Dukes Ward, securing a very impressive 42% of the vote, in a straight fight with the Conservatives.

Two years later, Simon was to win the equivalent seat (Central, West and Birkdale West) in the last ever Merseyside County Council elections by the infamous 6 vote margin, again in a straight fight.

One other connection: across the corner from 53 Trafalgar Road there lived the Braham family, including the young Michael Braham, my authoritative source for the Jack Smith Hughes story.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Friends of Ainsdale Library

Local resident Melanie Horridge has set up a Friends of Ainsdale Library inaugural meeting tonight(Wednesday) 6 30pm. Melanie is asking for residents to bring ideas and proposals to establish the groups aims and objectives.
Cllr Haydn Preece said "I am delighted to be invited, libraries are essential to our social learning and leisure fabric. Libraries have so much to offer in this ever changing technological world. What is vital is that we retain them."

Kennedy urges people to sign complaint

Charles Kennedy has taken up the fight against the destorted advertising by the NO campaign. He has sent an email urging action

Here’s what Charles said in his email this morning:

Over recent days No2AV have published a series of ads in local papers that can be described as distasteful at best, shocking and outrageous at worst.

The premise behind the ads is that the country can’t afford the alternative voting system. That by saying Yes to AV, voters will be taking £250 million away from sick babies in need of care, or soldiers in need of armour.

I say this kind of behaviour shows exactly why the UK can’t afford to say no to AV.

It’s clear that the No campaign don’t have the integrity to regulate themselves, but this is our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change politics in the UK. We mustn’t let the country get distracted by the No campaign’s cheap tricks.

Yes to Fairer Votes are calling on the Advertising Standards Authority to issue guidance on this campaign – and fast. Please add your name today.

The No campaign are building their arguments on scaremongering. They are doing a massive disservice to the voters of the UK. This is a serious subject and we need them to engage in honest, open debate.

This debate must centre on the future of politics in the UK, re-engaging voters and giving a voice to people, this is too important to be sidelined by petty backbiting and cynical campaigning.

UK voters are entitled to decent, honest and truthful advertising campaigns – these adverts fail on every count. Join us in calling for the ASA to step in today, so that we can get on with the debate the country deserves.

Follow the link to sign

We can’t waste this opportunity.

Charles Kennedy

Twiggy and Woody star in night time broadcast

After a 500 year absence from Lancashire, in 2007 two European beavers, a male and a female called Twiggy and Woody, became residents at Martin Mere. Their nocturnal activities captured on night vision cameras made them the undisputed stars of Autumnwatch and you can now watch the nightly antics of the beavers through this webcam.

The beavers are most active after 9pm. If you can't wait here s a little information film

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Winding up the Tories.............

I can't imagine why it feels so appropriate to be writing up this story today -but what the heck?

It relates to our candidate in Birkdale West Jack Smith Hughes and his conduct at the count and comes with an excellent provenance.

When it appeared that he had won – there were several recounts, the Tories in disbelief started looking under the table where the votes had been piled in the hope that a bundle or a few odd votes might have fallen to the ground. At this election the counting was being done in the local polling station. Birkdale West counted at the old Carnegie Library on Weld Road.

All of a sudden Jack stamped his foot as if he was standing on something. The Tory candidate, Major  Downes, asked him to move his foot. Jack refused to budge. A request was made to the Deputy Returning officer to get Jack to move his foot. The Deputy Returning Officer was an elderly Alderman, who asked Jack to move his foot so he could see what was underneath. Jack was enjoying this enormously and again refused so a Constable was summoned and only then did Jack move but of course there was nothing there! Later as everybody trooped off to the Cambridge Hall (now the Arts centre) for the result to be declared to the waiting throng, Bob Molyneux, a highly respected Labour Councillor-whose widow lives in our Ward and who has a bench dedicated to him memory outside the Library. Said of the result “It`s enough to make Birkdale Town Hall fall down “.The old Town Hall – which dated back to the time when Southport and Birkdale were separate local authorities - adjoined the Library and it did fall down in 1969.

These events happened in 1961. There followed a period when the the seat was so safe for the Tories it was often uncontested. On one or two occaisons Liberals and Labour did put up a candidates. The chief reason we contested Birkdale West was to tie up the formidable Tory election machine which was largely female, most of whom were resplendent in twin set and pearls who would drive an army of cars all day taking their voters (and occasionally ours to vote) to the poll. Mrs Joyce Charlton, the Tory matriarch of the day admonished our candidate in the count on one occaision for conducting a dirty campaign. When  asked what she meant she pointed out that we had had the cheek to stand. She and her helpers had therefore been deprived of a days golf at Royal Birkdale !

Happy days

Many thanks to Michael Braham for original research. I am sure that readers will have identified him as the candidate who got the rough edge of Mrs Charlton's tongue.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Have I at last found something to agree with Pickles about?

Over at Virtually Naked they are reporting comments by Eric Pickles :

“Many councils are internet-savvy and stream meetings online, but some don’t seem to have caught up with the times and are refusing to let bloggers or hyper-local news sites in. With local authorities in the process of setting next year’s budget this is more important than ever.”

as the Virtually Naked comments:

This all seems a rather good idea. The coalition’s localism agenda means that more and more decisions that affect people’s everyday lives are going to be made in town halls, not Whitehall, and the more access and scrutiny of the process the better. Local politics if often greeted with a reaction somewhere between disdain and disinterest, but this might just help improve it. Like much of British politics, local politics seems to be quite outdated, and surprisingly out of reach to local people. Opening the doors of town halls to bloggers, tweeters, and film makers means that Councillor’s will be held to account better by the electorate, and perhaps even engage them more.

Thursday update
Lib Dem Voice and the BBC are now this story and the Department has now put out a press release:

Councils should open up their public meetings to local news 'bloggers' and routinely allow online filming of public discussions as part of increasing their transparency, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said today.

To ensure all parts of the modern-day media are able to scrutinise Local Government, Mr Pickles believes councils should also open up public meetings to the 'citizen journalist' as well as the mainstream media, especially as important budget decisions are being made.

Local Government Minister Bob Neill has written to all councils urging greater openness and calling on them to adopt a modern day approach so that credible community or 'hyper-local' bloggers and online broadcasters get the same routine access to council meetings as the traditional accredited media have.

The letter sent today reminds councils that local authority meetings are already open to the general public, which raises concerns about why in some cases bloggers and press have been barred.

For example Tameside Council has accredited professional journalists to report from meetings using Twitter. The decision means local bloggers, the public and even councillors are not permitted to tweet because they are not considered members of the press.

Eric Pickles said:

"Fifty years ago, Margaret Thatcher changed the law to make councils open their meetings to the press and public. This principle of openness needs to be updated for the 21st Century. More and more local news comes from bloggers or citizen journalists telling us what is happening at their local council.

"Many councils are internet-savvy and stream meetings online, but some don't seem to have caught up with the times and are refusing to let bloggers or hyper-local news sites in. With local authorities in the process of setting next year's budget this is more important than ever.

"Opening the door to new media costs nothing and will help improve public scrutiny. The greater powers and freedoms that we are giving local councils must be accompanied by stronger local accountability.

"We are in the digital age and this analogue interpretation of the press access rules is holding back a new wave of local scrutiny, accountability and armchair auditors."

The letter also reassured councils that giving greater access will not contradict data protection law requirements following concerns over personal information. In the majority of cases the citizen blogging about how they see the democratic process working is unlikely to breach the data protection principles.


The BBC is carrying a story about political co operation in Liverpool.  We yearn for Bootle Labour Party to be as constructive and sensible. Instead they have chosen to be opportunistic and to play to the gallery of each and every protester. The BBC story begins:

The two main political parties in Liverpool are to unite to tackle the £100m government funding cut the city faces over the next two years.
Ruling Labour and the recently usurped Liberal Democrats are planning to devise a joint budget and "put aside" any politics.
"We are facing the biggest challenge in our history, it's like a war time spirit," deputy leader Paul Brant said.
Lib Dem leader, Warren Bradley, agreed: "We need to protect the vulnerable."
The two party leaders have agreed in principle to work together on the budget, and Mr Bradley expects this to be ratified by his cabinet on Friday morning.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Researcher of the Year speaks to Birkdale Blog

How come I'm not surprised by the story carried on Lib Dem Voice-a part from being tipped off last week by a source co-named Donna. Anyway congratulations to Erin formerly a member of staff to Southport Lib Dem MP John Pugh for winning 3 awards including Parliamentary Researcher of the Year.
Last year Erin spoke to the Birkdale Blog about her first conference speach

Smith Hughes versus Barberism

I was pleased to receive this reminiscence from from a Liberal activist who helped in the 1961 local elections when the defeat of 'Barberism' was a hot topic. It recalls a Liberal 'dynasty' the Smith Hughes late of Birkdale and now in Essex. The resignation of Lady Watson and the withdrawal of the Tory Whip from Sir Ron, Tom Glover and  David Pearson has left Dukes Ward without a Tory representative. When Lady Watson's father left the Council it heralded a long period when the Tories were out of power in Southport.

'I used to have a photocopy of Jack Smith-Hughes 1961 Election address in *Birkdale West. It was a classic of its kind.

It began by saying “Help me defeat Barberism”. Sir Herbert Barber was then the leader of the Council and we Liberals needed three or four gains to take control of the Southport County Borough Council  in alliance with Labour (that is another story to which we may well return. Ed). Anyway although we didn`t manage it in 1961 we did so the following year. Jack S-H`s opponent should have been Harold Barber, son of Sir Herbert and father of Lesley-who recently resigned from Southport Tories. The Tories got very worried that they would lose and so announced that Harold would not defend his seat but would be nominated for a vacant seat at the Aldermanic elections later in May. This caused a lot of resentment and ultimately contributed the Tories defeat. The Libs rightly argued that the Tories might not have control of the Aldermanic bench after the local elections.

Most of the Lib election addresses were delivered by Jack`s son, my friend Tommy, now a Chelmsford Councillor (and I think Essex County Councillor. Ed) who asked me to help him with the delivery and we won by 7 votes. This was my first foray into local politics around the time of my 12th birthday. Sir Herbert immediately resigned in 1962 as leader when the Tories lost control and was appointed a Freeman of the Borough.

Birkdale West was a Tory rotten borough. It went unopposed from 1912 to 1946. Sir Herbert Barber told me that the local Liberal used to complete a set of nomination papers on behalf of the Tory candidates. In December 1946 a very popular Liberal, John Higham stood in a by-election and only lost by about 63 votes – see History of Southport Liberals. Then again it was unopposed until 1950 when the Labour party stood and continued to contest the seat until 1958 When Haydn Preece`s grandfather, (Haydn is the Lib Dem Councillor in Ainsdale Ward today) Percy Gee got a record 53 votes. Percy, who worked on the railway, was a delightful character whom I remember canvassing. In Railway Walk circa 1970. Other candidates poled between 28 and 44. An Independent - an ex Tory Mayor called Fred Thornley who had lost his seat elsewhere -stood in 1959 and polled strongly so Jack S-H was persuaded to stand after first resigning from the Con club. He lost by 140 in 1960 and narrowly won the following year only to be well beaten three years later when the Liberal tide and receded.

When I stood in 1971, a week after my 22nd birthday the ward had once again become a Tory playground. The previous occasion it had been contested was in1967 when the Tories secured 1225 and Fred Smith polled 112 or 9% of the vote. I can remember being amazed in the count when I got 28% after the Tory ward chairman told me that around 50% of the ward ie, 1500 people, were paid up members of his party! Things have certainly changed since then.

By the way, “Doing a Fred Smith” became another way of saying you would be fighting a paper campaign. I remember Brian Rimmer, ( a longstanding Lib Dem Councillor in Norwood Ward then Chairman announcing to the Executive) that I would not be “doing a Fred Smith” when standing in Birkdale West.'

* I should explain that Birkdale West is nor part of what is now Birkdale Ward but in Dukes Ward it is where Sir Harold's son in law is now the 'rebel' Tory Councillor. Locally it is known as shoreside Birkdale and is home to the Royal Birkdakle Golf Club, Premiership Football players and managers and BBC pundits.
The only other time that we have won in that bit of Birkdale was back in the final Merseyside County Council Election (1982?) when on different boundaries my colleague Simon Shaw triumphed over the full time Tory agent by 6 votes. The Tories were so shell shocked that they failed to ask for a recount. My memory is that Simon-who had calculated his majority was slightly bigger-had to be restrained from asking for a recount. There was a pirate tape of the declaration which some Liberal will recall being played  over the car radio of one activist-who given s/he had recorded it in contravention of the Returning Officers instructions I shall not name.

The heir to Barberism comes in at No2

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceOur report on the ructions in Southport Tories was the second most visited LibDem blog last on the measure used to calculate these matters over at Lib Dem Voice. There was a time when Southport Liberals used to go around the town mattering darkly that the time had come when Sandgrounders should be saved from Barberism. Well it has taken several generation but the antics of Mrs Porter et al have certainly fulfilled that ambition with the resignation of Lady Lesley Watson from Southport Conservatives. As our original report said:

.She comes from arguably  Southport`s  most influential political family. Her grandfather was Sir Herbert Barber, three times Mayor of Southport, Leader of the Council for donkeys years,  knighted for services to Tory party in 1953. Her father was  Harold Barber , Councillor 1949, Alderman 1961,Mayor 1966 and father in law of Sir Ron. And I might say in her own right she is a formidable women.

Thanks to Michael Braham for the historical research

Sunday, 20 February 2011

More on Sefton's cabinet

I promised to return to this topic as there were some important issues on the agenda. In this posting I want to look at just a couple. Firstly the representations we have received from young people about the youth service and secondly the continuing alliance between the 'official' Conservatives and the Labour Party over £7m extra borrowing for projects which when compared with some of the budget cuts we are making do not appear to be priorities-well that is the polite way of expressing it.

Firstly let us look at the Youth Service. The representations on this matter split neatly in to two types. By far the most numerous have been young people themselves. In common with Tony Robertson I have found that these have been overwhelmingly constructive and they fully appreciative of the financial bind we are in. It is not going to be easy but it does encourage you to carry on trying to improve the outcome for those young people. I know our budget team is still working on this issue and if something can be achieved we will all be pleased to go along with it.. I would say that the young man who spoke on Thursday at the Cabinet, Jacob, put his case extremely well and certainly left us with food for thought.

The second group of objectors are folk we've not seen for a while whilst Labour has been in power. They are not so impressive. They urge to spend more money and are first in line to complain if we try to raise any new revenue by charging! Effectively they want us to set an illegal budget. This is the politics of Derek Hatton and Millitant. If we don't set a legal budget one will be set for us and not necessarily with all the effort and inventiveness that is going on at present. Abdicating responsibility will not produce extra resources. It is instructive that Labour controlled authorities are facing up to that reality and making as good a job as possible of the situation. I have seen little convincing evidence that Pickle and his mates assertion that Northern authorities are making the situation worse for political motives. If it is expected that we should make structural reforms then few of us would disagree -but it is not going to happen in time to produce a balanced budget by March. Those of us on the ground who are working hard know that and we heartily wish that Ministers would shut up.

Undoubtedly one area we in Sefton could save some money is on the capital programme. I know that many of our residents are open mouth in astonishment at the fact we are embarking on two projects cost £7m at a time when we are struggling to find enough money to cover far more important matters. In this context I am heartened that the rebel Tories-The majority of those elected as Conservative in Southport- have come out in favour of our belief that there should be a rethink. I shall return to this............

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Compare and contrast the grandstanding of Dowd with responsible action of others

As the Labour candidate in Southport Paul Brant won our respect even if we didn't always agree with him. Now he is Liverpool City Council's budget supremo and has put together an all party budget (Lab/LibDem/Green).It is very instructive and shows what needs to be done to balance council's budgets. Please compare and contrast with the antics of Bootle Labour Party who are happy to vote against seemingly all cuts and suggest to every protester that the reductions are not needed.

Here is an extract from Paul Brant's cabinet report

Libraries and Leisure Centres

The resources available to Libraries and Leisure Centres have been reduced by 28% in
order to protect care services to the vulnerable - such as homeless hostels, mental
health services and short beaks for disabled children.

Libraries budget will be cut by £458,000 in 2011/12 rising to £1.9m in 2012/13.

Leisure centre funding will be cut by £1.6m in 2011/12 rising to £2.7m in 2012/13.

The Council will shortly commence a consultation with the public, service users, interest
groups and staff to establish the best way of delivering the savings. The consultation will
include offering local communities the chance to take over the running of facilities, wholly
or part time. The Council would prefer to foster co-operative organisations (of staff,
service users or residents) to maintain service provision, however it will also work with
the private sector where appropriate to maintain provision.

While the closure of facilities cannot be excluded, the Council wishes to explore all
alternative options with partners to prevent this occurring.

Childrens Centres
The Early Intervention Grant which funds Children's Centres has been cut by the
Government by almost one half. The loss of grant over the spending settlement period is
over £12m.

The Council has protected the Children's centres from the full effect of the Government
cut and will only reduce Children's Centre's funding over this period by £10m .

The Council will protect the vast majority of the 26 Children's Centres. The funding
reduction means that the Council will commence consultation on reduced provision and
the closure of 4 Children's Centres. It is hoped that the consultation will produce
alternative proposals which will deliver the same savings and prevent any closure of
services. The Council remains open to all suggestions from the Voluntary Sector, service
users, residents and other stakeholders.

While the Council notes that some Council's (Hammersmith and Fulham, etc) are
proposing to close all of their Children's Centres, Liverpool City Council remains
committed to continuing Children's Centres which it believes provide a valuable and
much needed service

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Pink footed geese at cabinet and the superior Glover

This morning's Sefton cabinet dealt with some pretty weighty and difficult issues to which I shall return. They are important matters and deserve careful reflection.

In the meantime let me leave you with a couple of anecdotes. Firstly on the pink footed goose, these can be found in their hundreds on our coast line at this time of year. The Marshside RSPB reverve is an excellent place to go and see them.

We were discussing the requirement to identify building land. This is a sensitive issue and we are due to go out to consultation on the matter later this year. Mrs Parry (Conservative, Blundellsands , campaigner for street trees) was very exercised about one site in her area where previously the Rugby Club had sought to erect a couple of small out building and had been refuse permission because of the presence of pink footed geese. She was less than amused to discover the self same place was now being identified as potentially a  site for a housing estate!

Now you would imagine that if there is a matter that the Conservative Leader should turn her attention to  it would be preservation of that genuinely endangered species -the Southport Conservative. The numbers have declined rapidly and  we have now reached the critical stage where there have been more sightings of 'unofficial conservatives' in the council chamber than fully fledged members. 

Mrs Parry's response to this desperate situation is not to seek a rapprochement with the intellectually and numerically superior rebels but rather to emulate the Queen of Heart in Alice and go around declaring 'off with their heads'

She began at the last full council meeting when she removed the three rebels from all their committee places . There is a convention in Sefton that we do nor interfere with the nominations made by other parties to the places on the council committees to which they are entitled. Now despite loosing 4 members in one night (One to UKIP and three to independent Con) she clung on to their places meaning that the tiny official Conservative group now has more and therefore more allowances on average per member that the rest of us.

This morning she was at it again; 'Off with their heads!'  She raised the issue of the council's representatives on outside bodies. She wished to remove all four of the rebels from every activity they undertook on behalf of the council. Because these three had had the audacity to challenge her authority -an appeal is pending to the national party-she was going to render them non members with no role in the council. Of course there are enough of them to form an Independent group and so get representation in their own right. The only difficulty there is that whilst their appeal is pending they do not wish to break away and so burn their boats. They are local true blue conservatives -many would say much more recognisably so than the motley crew of minority  official Conservative in Southport

We got to Mrs Parry's attempt to move former Tory Leader Tom Glover OBE from a NW fishery board which he chairs. The suggestion was that the Lib Dems would fill the post! Anyone but Tom it would seem. Now frankly party politics apart we have been offered this before and decided that Tom is better placed than any of us to do this job. So we refused the nomination and sort to reinstate Tom. In the end the matter was deferred for further discussion.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Something for St Valentine's Day

Measures to spread wealth more fairly.....

A while back Demos published a report called Reinventing the Firm which advocated employee ownership as a preferred model in place of the present dominance of the one that is focuses on building shareholder value. These arguments are old hat to Liberals in Britain who have been lonely advocates of such reforms for generations. Nevertheless we should be pleased to see a renewed interest in this issue especially in the aftermath of the financial crash. as Demos says:

Reinventing the Firm argues that companies' obsession with short-term performance measures such as share price and quarterly profits made many banks and other firms act irresponsibly and helped pave the way to economic ruin a year ago. It says alternative models of ownership that have been neglected - such as employee ownership, mutual finance and public interest companies - would diversify the economy, make firms act more responsibly and spread profits to employees.

Any LibDem looking for a check list of policy measures that the Government could take to redistribute wealth , democratise our society and build a stability into our economy could do worse than look at the reports findings. Some of these issues have already been taken up but there is still lots to do and it could be done under our flag. Robert Oakeshott who has previous for promoting good ideas is a long term advocate of empoyee ownership and was a founder of the EOA.

The report's recommendations include:

Re-mutualise Northern Rock to begin the process of diversifying and stabilising the financial sector as a whole.

Restore tax advantages for business owners to transfer ownership to employees. The tax incentives for Employee Benefit Trusts that existed before 2003 should be re-established. Greater knowledge of employee ownership on the part of those who advise business owners - such as accountants, lawyers and Business Link advisers - would also spread awareness.

Extend employee share ownership to all staff, not just senior management. External investors and internal investors with more than 5 per cent equity benefit from tax breaks through CGT entrepreneurs’ relief and the Enterprise Incentive Scheme; employees who want to invest small amounts of capital should enjoy the same tax relief.

Expand co-owned public services. The public sector should continue to explore the use of co-ownership in the delivery of public services. Foundation Trusts are one model. Experience of co-ownership in the delivery of care services such as home help for the elderly and community nursing indicates that it engages users and empowers public servants. Hybrid organisations, co-owned by government, employees and users need piloting in the areas of health, education and transport.
Set up a public venture capital fund for mutuals and employee-owned businesses to help to open up access to finance and yield a return for taxpayers.

Government should commission in-depth, comparative, quantitative research on the relationship between ownership and the levels of health, well-being and civic engagement of employees.

Reinventing the Firm also argues that in knowledge economies like the UK, employee ownership can significantly increase productivity. The Employee Ownership Index outperforms the FTSE by an average 10 per cent annually and Government employee share ownership schemes can deliver a 5 per cent productivity increase. It also says that spreading asset ownership more widely encourages prosperity and more democratic workplaces increase the well-being of employees.

The report urges government to look at ways of spreading the benefits of ownership to all staff, not just senior managers, including tax incentives. It points to France, where profit-sharing is mandatory for firms with more than 50 employees.

new Tory resignation is 9 on the Richter scale

I was recently reporting on the continuing ructions in Southport Tory party and in particular the resignation of Lady Lesley Watson. I fear I may have failed to adequately explain the enormity of  her departure. If we were talking earthquakes this would be up around 9 on the Richter scale. She comes from arguably  Southport`s  most influential political family. Her grandfather was Sir Herbert Barber, three times Mayor of Southport, Leader of the Council for donkeys years,  knighted for services to Tory party in 1953. Her father was  Harold Barber , Councillor 1949, Alderman 1961,Mayor 1966 and father in law of Sir Ron. And I might say in her own right she is a formidable women.

It is impossible to fathom an explanation for the behavior of the Tory Leadership in the town. Dark words are muttered about their cabinet members of which the politest imply that they are out of their depth. At the last full council the 3 suspended Tory Councillors (Sir Ron Watson, David Pearson and Tom Glover O.B.E-two former Leaders and one former Mayor) were stripped of all their positions an the councils committees. At the upcoming cabinet we expect the hapless Mrs Parry seconded by Mrs Porter to move that they are thrown off all outside bodies.

The three Independent Tories have served over 110 years between them on the Southport /Sefton Councils. Tom since  October 1962 –  over 48  years, Sir Ron since 1969 – almost 42 years and David Pearson since 1991 – almost 20 years. I think Tom`s OBE is for services to Southport and of course Ron`s Knighthood was for political services. The remaining Tories are pygmies in comparison

Freed from the restraints imposed by the Tory whip Sir Ron has moved to establish the superiority of the suspended Tories -I might say that the 3 are appealing against their suspension, but obviously there is no presumption of innocence. At the last Council Sir Ron had two motions down in his and Tom Glover's name and had clearly prepared to ensure that his contributions outshone Mrs Parry-Mrs Porter didn't speak. This week he has unleashed a tactical nuclear strike. Since the emergence of Mrs Porter some would suggest that the usual instinct of the Tories not to spend money has been replaced by a spend spend spend mentality. Our former Chief Exec proposed that senior posts in the Council should be axed saving by now about £1m she opposed the cull and then again it was the settled policy of the council to sell the market hall which was in need of significant investment. Even in these difficult financial times she insisted that the council-with no private sector involvement- should take on a multi million pound capital scheme. And with the economic crisis at its height and when we are struggling to find enough money to keep the facilities we have openly she backed the Labour party in building another Leisure centre in Bootle again with a multi million pound price tag. When challenged Mrs Porter opined; 'why can't we have it all?'

Now Sir Ron is, I fancy, a man who would love to stand in front of a leisure centre and declare ; 'This building is now closed' and so one can only imagine his state of mind when at a time of severe cuts he was being whipped to approve nigh on £10m capital spending on projects which didn't even make it on to his priority list. With particular reference to the market hall no private sector organisation has been prepare to put up the cash and the business plan does not command universal confidence. I have met one real enthusiast of the scheme. He was the agent of the company who own the plot next to it. You can see his point of view. If the Council makes a multi million pound investment the land price of his site will rocket. He will grow rich in his sleep and the tax payer will have funded his windfall.

Sir Ron has this week put out a press release calling for a rethink on the market. The existing contractor ROK is in administration so a new contract has be awarded. It is an ideal time to call a halt.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Vince back on song

Vince Cable first came to national prominence with his attack on the banks, his call for early nationalisation of them and his accurate prediction about the crash. Consistently he has called for a break up of the banks and a separation of retail and investment banking. He has also been an advocate of remutualising Northern Rock. He was at it again this morning on the Andrew Marr programme provoking this response from the Telegraph (it is well worth reading the comments):

It’s no secret that Mr Cable doesn’t think much of the behaviour of our biggest banks and wants to take a tough line on their bonuses. He’s also backed fundamental overhaul that would put a new legal divide between retail banking and investment banking (”casino banking, in Vince-speak), something that would effectively split up banks including Barclays and RBS. George Osborne by contrast is rather more cautious about bank break-ups, preferring some restrictions on banks’ trading operations but stopping short of full separation.

We now need other Lib Dem spokespeople to take up the call for radical reform. We want to see the banks broken up and that includes establishing regional mutual banks including Northern Rock along side the permanent division between retail and investment banking.

I've sat through worse........Simon Hughes

There was a goodly turn for Simon Hughes in Southport on Friday night-especially when you consider he was up against Maureen Fearn's Mayor's Ball.. He asked my daughter after what she thought about the evening and she expressed the view that  she had 'sat through a lot worse'-as indeed she has!

Simon was on good form and carefully rehearsed the choices we took to arrive at the place we are now. Each option was appraised and judged to be the right choice. We are in uncharted territory, each time the road diverges we take the one less travelled by. Just how those choices are made mystifies some of us. Why did we back Groves Academy Bill when there are clearly some ill thought through implications? Why was it deemed necessary to sack Lord Oakeshott from a job he doesn't hold just because he forthrightly expressed the view held overwhelmingly by Party members -that operation Merlin fell far short of our reasonable expectations? and why if one of the defining difference between us and the Tories is our attack on the maldistribution of wealth are we allowing the one parliamentarian who has effectively articulated that view to be sidelined?
I do not doubt that great efforts are being made to ensure that when actions need to be taken that fall outside the coalition agreement that there is some proper democratic process at least within the parliamentary party to approve them.

I failed to 'attract the speakers eye' when it came to questions ( I really must overcome my shyness and be more assertive) but I would have liked to pursue the question of inequality. When it came to bankers bonuses Simon counselled us to wait for the banking commission. Let us hope it is not as pathetic as Merlin. I think that we need to be saying what is the minimum we would expect out of the commission. For me that must be the remutualisation of Northern Rock  and the break up of the nationalised banks leading to the establishment of strong regional mutual banks. Ownership is important. As a report from Oxford University shows:

 ......the UK financial services sector is  dominated disproportionately by a single business model, namely the large, shareholder-owned plc. This domination of the shareholder ownership model – whose purpose is to maximise financial returns to the shareholders – proved a lethal combination with the financial deregulation, the creation of new financial instruments and the subsequent rising levels of debt over the past twenty years.  Ever greater risks were taken to drive up financial returns and ‘shareholder value’, culminating in the global credit crunch of 2007-2008 which in turn created the first global recession since the 1930s, during 2008-2009, 

So we should advocate what the Yellow Book called the Diffusion of Ownership. If we do not want to repeat the crash we need to radically restructure the financial services industry and that includes ownership.

Last week in a post I was arguing that part of the 're-balancing of the economy' had to including rebalancing the rights of stakeholders other than capital-in particular employees. Liberals have long advocated models of employee ownership as superior to the dominance of capital. Those arguments which were rooted in the Liberal desire to spread wealth and power go back to J S Mill. Hence over the years Liberal have advocated co-ownership, common ownership workers' co operatives all of which have in common the belief that labour should hire capital. The globalisation of capital markets over the last 30 odd years have added a new economic imperative . Britain's businesses have been bought and sold by merchant banks and hedge funds from around the world whose only interest has been the building of short term shareholder value. The same is true of the banks as the same report makes clear:

The globalisation of financial services has resulted in the ownership of banks and insurance companies being increasingly owned organisations having concomitantly less allegiance to the UK.  The UK insurance market in particular is now largely in the hands of overseas owners, and some see the UK as a saturated and less attractive market – hence Zurich Financial Services’ recent announcement that it is moving its operations to Ireland, AXA selling its life arm, Aegon closing much of its UK capacity, and Prudential’s failed attempt to purchase AIG.  Mutuals by contrast are generally owned by UK consumers and most remain entirely focused on the UK market.

This is a crucial difference as it means their long objectives are firmly fixed on serving the long term interests of their local owners and no dedicated to making a fast buck for some fund that is here to day and gone tomorrow.

This approach will spread the location of financial services jobs and help develop regional economies. It will also mean that if these new mutual/credit unions are focussed on serving the needs of the owners-the customers- they will seek to develop new products to meet their needs. I am particularly thinking about the need for the spread of pension uptake and even the funding of long-term care.

Anyway the central point is that this is a Liberal solution. The Tories will argue in favour the rights of capital and share ownership mode. Labour members are instinctively and increasingly in favour state ownership and control (despite the actions of Balls as City minister) it is Liberal Democrats who must clearly champion mutual ownership in this area and employee ownership in the wider economy.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

lovely folk at Central Office?

 Richard Kemp has really got under the skin of Tory high command who display their true colours by their reaction . Writing on his blog today Richard reports: 

Tory Dirty Tricks Department versus the Kemp Operation!

Regular readers of this blog and my tweets ( will be aware that right wing newspapers have been trying to dig into my personal finances and those of my wife since the President of my fan club – Grant Shapps – suggested that the DCLG Select Committee should look at the financing of the Kemp operation!
I was hugely flattered by this as the Kemp operation is me working very hard! However on the basis that Tories think that women are the third rib of their husband the search has been extended to the finances of my wife, Erica.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Robertson on Pickles

The letter to the Times is still causing ripples and today the Southport Visiter carries the story:

SEFTON Council’s leader has launched a stinging attack on Communities Secretary Eric Pickles over the £68m cuts facing the borough.

Cllr Tony Robertson was among 88 local Lib Dem heads, including 17 town hall leaders, to sign an open letter warning of the pace of the Government's spending cuts.
They accused Mr Pickles of "letting down" users of council services and refusing to work with councillors.

In the letter, which lays bare the depth of frustration felt by a highly influential section of the Lib Dems, the signatories accused Mr Pickles of being "unwilling to lead the change that's so desperately needed".

Cllr Robertson said he fully accepted the need to reduce the country’s deficit and Sefton’s role in that.
But the Maghull councillor said Mr Pickles’s decision to ‘front-load’ savings had forced councils to rush into making “gut-wrenching decisions”.

Cllr Robertson said: “The front-loading means that we’re making savings at an incredibly fast pace which doesn’t allow us to change the organisation to best harvest savings.

“The real concern is the way things have been gone about.

“The lack of diplomacy from Eric Pickles and the way he talks about local authorities just makes the whole process a lot worse. His contribution to this issue has just not helped.”

You can read the letter on Richard Kemp's website here

Monday, 7 February 2011

The £30,000 non-dom poll tax is a joke

Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson Lord Oakeshott said:
“Non-dom status is the biggest tax loophole in Britain,” .
“We must redouble our efforts to make non-doms pay a fair share.”
“The £30,000 non-dom poll tax is a joke - it’s only the tip they give the waitress after drinks in the directors’ box at Chelsea or Manchester City.”

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Oiy Eon we've had cavity walls since the C19th

I finally got round to filling in my energy suppliers application form for cavity wall insulation on line yesterday. One of the questions was 'in what year was your house built'. I live in an inter-war house built around 1928. Immediately my form was rejected on the grounds that it was too old to have cavity walls. Now this is poppy-cock. During a campaign we ran in Birkdale last year to increase the take up of insulation I learnt that in Southport we have had cavity walls since the 1880's. For some unknown reason Southport builders introduced this innovation fully 50yrs before in was common place in the rest of the country. Initially many applications for cavity were reject outright because the larger national firms were unaware of the situation but local builders soon cottoned on an many of the Victorian homes in our ward took up the chance of cavity wall insulation. Sadly the information does not seem to have been stored on the Eon data base.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Hares are boxing on the Moss

Well I've no idea if it is true, I've certainly not seen any hares on the Moss yet this year, but it is good to see that the Birkdale irrigation allotment group have their website up and running here and it is they who report the hares. Mind you there is some independent corroboration for the sighting of hares in these parts on the RSPB Marshside website.

Muscular Liberalism

If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Southport Tories in turmoil over vote boycott

The Southport Visiter has the story today that we broke a few days ago:

DOZENS of Conservative activists boycotted a crunch meeting to select a new election candidate following the suspension of two stalwart Southport councillors.
Just 11 members of the 100-strong Dukes Ward committee attended Friday’s key vote to select a challenger to incumbent Labour man Les Byrom.
The Visiter understands that of the two candidates selected by Southport Conservative Association, Pat Ball, well known in the town’s amateur dramatics circles, received eight votes.
Three members in attendance abstained, with second candidate Tony Crabtree receiving no support. It is understood that many consider Mrs Ball’s candidacy to have “no validity”.
Veteran Dukes Ward councillors Sir Ron Watson and David Pearson were both handed six-month suspensions last month for an alleged “refusal to accept authority”.
It is understood that several members of Dukes Ward have quit in protest at a perceived harsh treatment.
They include Lady Lesley Watson.....

I can't help thinking that when the reckoning comes it will be very bloody

There is something missing Mr Clegg

It is good the learn that the government has a strategy for growth. I think we'd all been happier if it had been up their in lights competeing for attention with the deficit reduction package. For too long it sounded as if reducing the deficit was the strategy. Now we learn that it has 4 elements:

  • weaning the UK off debt-financed growth; investing in infrastructure,
  • skills and education;
  • boosting competitiveness by reducing the regulatory and tax burden and opening up markets; and
  •  balancing growth across different regions and sectors

So what is missing? Well the Liberal bit is missing. Clegg must be one of the only Liberal Leaders in the last 90years who would have launched such a packed and failed to stress the importance of one of the major stakeholders in the economy-the employees. Any Liberal analysis of the failure of our economy would include the fixation on 'building share holder value' this has led to short term horizons. Liberal have along argued that employees should have to same right as shareholder and that successful enterprises result in a proper and equal partnership.  There is lots of evidence about the improved productivity and commitment of people who work in enterprises where there is employee ownership and where they have a democratic involvement in the business. Surely one key element of any package of reform is to recast the the dominant model of the firm so that it is not beholden to the short term interests of capital.

A Liberal government would be looking to improve our long term economic fortunes by advocating such reforms and by making government assistance-including tax advantages -conditional on such changes. We wish to see a major redistribution of asset ownership. There is no virtue in ushering in new era of growth without embedding such reforms from the beginning. When I fought my first general Election in 1979 we advocated that the government would compulsorily require every enterprise employing over 50 people to have workers represented at the highest level and to share profits. One of the causes of the crash in Britain was the was nature of ownership here, as Will Hutton put it:
 there has just been the unquestioning assumption that the best form of ownership is private; in Britain, that necessarily means our idiosyncratic variant of the public limited company. This represents the oddest and most regressive constitution for private ownership anywhere in western capitalism. British company law makes no requirement on shareholders and directors to have any obligation to be good stewards of their assets, their employees or their customers. Shareholders' rights to do what they want with their shares to maximise their immediate value is more stark than anywhere else and directors' responsibilities are only to serve the interests of these madly unconstrained shareholders.

Now we have a strategy for growth might we also hope to see more Liberal element in it-and not just tacked on at the end as an obvious after thought