Friday, 29 July 2011

Carr Lane / Guildford Rd / Heathfield Rd junction

Local residents have been concerned about the accidents at this junction for some time. Obviously driver speed may be a contributory factor but they also wonder whether the design of the junction is partly to blame.

I raised this issue with the police at the last Area Committee and subsequently with the traffic engineers. My colleague Richard Hands went to have a look himself and spoke to  local residents whilst he was there.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Southport delight -report on county match

A great article over on the Lancs CCC website about the County Cricket here in Birkdale

I really can't complain about my journey to the cricket this week. I shut my front door, walk for about six minutes, and there I am, unmolested by the tender mercies of Northern Rail, standing in the car park of the club I joined some 30 summers ago. I've seen it as a player, as an administrator, as a scorer, as a journalist, and, of course, as a spectator. I watched my first cricket here somewhere around the mid-sixties and I certainly saw the Indian tourists play here in 1967. Arriving on the first day of the return of first-class cricket to the old place was, well, just a little moving.

You can read the full article by a journalist who hails from these parts here

It was a great occasion for Southport. The first two days had bumper crowds-the biggest Lancs have had in the Championship. The ECB have declare that the Trafalgar Rd ground has produced  a good cricket wicket. sadly the rain came too late to save Lancs and Notts had an unexpected victory

photo by Elspeth

Now that's what I call a market

The farmers' market was in full swing when I left the Town Hall this morning after a briefing. It was great to see so many people crowded round the street stalls. There were hill farmers with their lamb from the Lancashire moors and fresh veg from West Lancs growers as well as some new small traders with fresh pies, baking, black puddings and cheese. It is just what Chapel Street needs!

Upper Aughton Rd -progress at last, new affordable houses start date Sept 2011

I've been batting away for a long time trying to get the bit of derelict land in Upper Aughton Rd developed with low cost housing.  We desperately need the homes and the folk around about have had to put up with a boarded site for far too long.

The site was originally owned by Servite Houses who (after years of doing nothing) sold it on to Adactus Housing. Richard Hands and I decided we needed to go and visit them in the HQ in Leigh to try and get a handle on progress. They did submit a planning application but then things went quiet.

I am delighted to report that after writing to them again I have received a letter confirming that a contractor has been appointed and that they start on site on 12th September 2011

Culture of free spending in Lab controlled authority

The other day I reported on the cover-up relating to the Labour-controlled Merseyside Transport Authority, where they have failed to publicise the details of Allowances and Expenses paid to councillors last year.  This is something they are required to do by law 'as soon as reasonably practicable' after the year end.

This follows last Sunday's expose by the Sunday Express which criticised Labour boss, Bootle Councillor Mark Dowd and others for what it described as “a culture of free spending” on corporate credit cards.

Now the whole sorry saga has been picked up by one of the one of the most visited political sites Conservative Home.  They report as follows:

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Birkdale bumper crowd beats best attendance

 County Cricket came back to Birkdale today and drew the biggest crowd of the season for Lancs in a championship match. over 2600 packed into the Trafalgar Rd ground to see Lancs take on Notts

Wickets soon tumbled in the seaside sunshine-Hogg got five of them and the photo shows his fifth.
At the end of the day Notts were all out for 203 and Lancs were 86 for 4 after a late collapse having been 50 for 0. Tomorrow promises another fine day but the odds must be against the game lasting the full five days

Full report and more pictures at the LCCC website

Monday, 25 July 2011

Merseytravel member slams Labour Gravy Train

My colleague John Dodd has been active pursuing the Dowd Gravytrain. John is a member of the ITA and along with other Lib Dems has raised these issues over many years. Here is his latest salvo:

Cllr John Dodd Slams Labour ”Gravy Train” on Merseytravel

Cllr John Dodd, the Sefton Council Liberal Democrat representative on Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority (Merseytravel) welcomed the U-turn by Labour Councillors on Liverpool City Council to stop claiming multiple allowances on Merseytravel and back the Lib Dem calls for councillor allowances to be set by an independent panel.

Cllr Dodd said ”Liverpool City Labour Councillors agreed to claim only one allowance each in advance of an independent panel being set up.” The U-turn, which could save Council Tax payers £25,000, comes just weeks after the same Labour councillors rejected Lib Dem calls for independent scrutiny. Cllr Dodd went on to say ”Merseytravel is the only local authority in the country where councillors are allowed to set their own pay and have created 31 paid positions to be shared between 13 Labour councillors on Merseytravel”. Cllr Dodd also said that “Labour Councillors in Liverpool have been forced to face the public anger at their allowances scandal, and have finally been shamed into taking action.” Cllr Dodd added “It's time for the Chairman of Merseytravel, Sefton Labour councillor Cllr Mark Dowd, who earns £48,000 from Merseytravel to take the lead from his colleague Cllr Dean, a Liverpool City councillor and deputy chairman of Merseytravel and stop claiming more than one Special responsibility allowance (SRAs) on Merseytravel. Cllr Dowd, instead of claiming Special Responsibility Allowances for the post as Chair of Merseytravel, Chair of Rail Services and Chair of Policy and Resources Committees, you could do the decent thing for the residents of Sefton. Come on, Cllr Mark Dowd !. Cllr Dodd said ”research shows that the transport authority pays Councillors more than other transport bodies”. Merseytravel is the only travel authority in the country that has not set up an independent allowances panel. Instead, members vote for their own pay.

At the Annual Meeting of the Transport Authority, Cllr Dodd remarked “After the MPs expenses scandal, it’s amazing that Labour Councillors think they can get away with setting their own salaries, and also claim multiple allowances for attending meetings. When the public see over 30 paid jobs created and shared between just 13 Labour Councillors, they must think the transport authority is running a gravy train. Merseytravel costs more than any other transport authority”.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Sunday Newspaper tries to halt Dowd's gravytrain

BUS and tram bosses have been accused of riding on a publicly-funded expenses gravy train.
A culture of free spending at the Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority is suggested by monthly statements for corporate credit cards.
Records obtained by the Sunday Express show expenses for five top Merseytravel managers and its elected chairman Mark Dowd.
The credit cards were used for anything from a cup of coffee to a £1,300 corporate banquet at a leading Liverpool restaurant.
The items include a £140 payment to the Labour Party by Mr Dowd and £165 restaurant bill for a meal he paid for during the 2009 Labour Party Conference in Brighton.

And that is before we get into the tram fiasco or the 'vertical integration' scandal which together wasted millions.

More on Merseytravel's & Mark Dowd's 'Gravy Train'

More on Merseytravel’s ‘Gravy Train’

On Thursday I reported how the BBC in the North West were starting to take a serious interest in the “Gravy Train” antics of the Labour Chair of the Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority (MITA), Bootle’s very own Councillor Mark Dowd.

Arif Ansari, the BBC’s Political Editor for the North West, reported the latest news on Cllr Dowd’s £47,665pa position, which makes him one of the highest paid councillors in the country.

However, I now learn that Cllr Dowd received rather more than that (pretty impressive) £47,665.  In fact, his pay and expenses for last year totalled £62,346.  Not that you could find the full details anywhere – because of what might be described a 'cover-up'.

My Birkdale Ward colleague, Simon Shaw, has been doing some checking up on the legalities on the disclosure of what councillors are paid.  And it appears that MITA may not been keeping to the rules.

Like all local authorities, MITA is required by law to publicise the amounts of allowances and expenses paid to councillors ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’ after the year end.

That’s spelt out very clearly in something called the "Local Authorities (Members' Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003".  This states at s. 15(3) "As soon as reasonably practicable after the end of a year to which the scheme relates, an authority shall make arrangements for the publication within the authority's area of the total sum paid by it in the year under the scheme to each recipient in respect of each of the following: basic allowance; special responsibility allowance; …… travelling and subsistence allowance; ……"

If you want to check for yourself you can find it all here:

So MITA are meant to publicise as soon as reasonably practicable after the year end how much Cllr Dowd and his Labour colleagues pay themselves with our money.  The only problem is that they haven’t.

As Simon explains: “MITA’s financial year runs to the end of March and we are now nearly 4 months on.  These details should have been placed on their website months ago.  As of this weekend they still aren’t there”

“It seems that a cover-up may be taking place.  Clearly Labour are embarrassed about the press storm that has developed in recent weeks over the obscene level of pay and expenses that Merseytravel’s controlling Group have decided to pay themselves.”

However, despite this veil of secrecy, we have managed to obtain a full list of allowances and expenses for last year.

We are able to confirm that Cllr. Mark Dowd received a total of £62,346 in the year to March 2011.  That was comprised of £47,665 in pay from Merseytravel, £8,970 in pay from Sefton Council and £5,711 in expenses from Merseytravel.

I think most of us will agree with Simon when he points out: “That’s actually more than most local Primary School headteachers earn.  Nice work if you can get it!  Although I suppose it does help if you can decide your own level of pay.”

If you want to see what all the members (most of whom are Labour) receive, the full details are here

MerseyTravel are told to Stop The Gravy Train -video

Birkdale Church gets Eco award-presented by John Pugh

ST John's Church in Birkdale was presented with an Eco Award recently. The Church website carries the report:

 On Sunday 3rd July, John Pugh MP attended our 10.30 a.m. service to present the church with an Eco-congregation award. 

The church has been given this award in recognition of the work that we have been doing to try to lower our environmental impact and to educate others on ways to do the same. This independently-assessed award is designed to affirm good practice in environmental stewardship and help churches witness to the importance of caring for God’s creation

More available here. Congratulations to all involved

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Clegg on being anti establishment (!)


Ainsdale councillor Haydn Preece has hit out at council Tree Department officials, wasting money in Ainsdale village. Three weeks ago Councillor Preece urgently reported an up rooted tree in Station Road. The tree a maturing, substantial sapling, sadly had been blown over during a stormy night. Cllr Preece coincidentally was catching the first train to Liverpool and emailed the council tree department at 5:30am.
Cllr Preece said "I was horrified that evening to see the tree had not been re planted and given a chance to re-establish itself. Instead a bare hole was left with a stake in the ground. When I questioned the Tree Department they stated it was not possible to replant the tree as the roots had dried out, how can that be possible in a few hours? I cannot accept this, it was a easy option with no care for the area or tree. Surely the Tree Department at a time of cuts,pardon the pun, should have given the tree a chance of re-establishing itself. Then last week I got a request for the tree to be replaced with a contribution of £200 from our Area Ward fund. I question the motives of sub contractors who can profit from such actions and in another example a charitable group have been quoted £400 to plant a tree to commemorate Maureen Fearns Mayoral Year in the town centre. At a time when Ainsdale has been scared by the amount of trees cut down in foliage this summer which has angered Ainsdale residents, surely a young healthy tree out of the ground for just hours had to be replanted. I have asked for a written report on the matter and the costings of planting trees in Sefton."

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Victory!! BBC report curbs at gravy train Merseytravel Lib Dem campaign

Read all about it................................

The BBC report reads:

Merseytravel is the authority which co-ordinates public transport across Merseyside.
It is the only local authority in the country where councillors still set their own allowances.
Not only that but councillors claim multiple allowances depending on how many committees they sit on, rather than one overall payment.
Professor Jon Tonge, head of politics at Liverpool University, says that's unique: "You or I might like that in our jobs, but it just isn't the reality in any other walk of life."
The Liberal Democrats are running a concerted campaign to reduce what they consider to be a blatant milking of the system.
In June we reported on how Merseytravel voted to increase their allowances a little more.
A new post was created of deputy chair of the women's forum, paying out a further £3,688.
It means there are a total of 35 posts. Thirty one of those are shared between 13 Labour Councillors.......................................................................................................

The chairman, Labour Cllr Mark Dowd, claimed £47,665 in allowances last year. That's for chairing several different committees.

That excludes his Sefton allowances or his Merseytravel expenses =which it is rumoured are not insignificant

The Sefton Labour Party used procedural devices to block Sefton Council debating the chaos at Merseytravel.Let us be clear for years the old (tribal ) Labour  Chair of Merseytravel Councillor Mark Dowd has behaved in the most outrageous an inappropriate way. (Sadly for a significant part of the time his administration was propped up by the Tories-)

Now we need to get to grips with the big issues and the big money. The tram fiasco and Dowd's disastrous debacle over the £1.5 campaign to run the rail and rollingstock.

More to follow

Should Dowd repay his mega allowance

Should Merseytravel abandon their U turn over the vertical integration and accept the responsibility of  the running rail and trains which they spent £!.5million campaigning for only to refuse to do it when RMT Union boss Bob Crowe objected-a reversal that was carried out against officer advice and without any papers or research to back up the U turn?
Watch this space!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Olly Grender Hackgate Quiz

Some of you will have missed Olly Grender's hackgate quiz. I feel sure it couldbe expanded!

Question: Which party called for the criminalisation of payment to Police by media following Culture Committee report?

Answer: LibDems in June 2003 calls were ignored by whoever was in Govt at the time ...... who was it?

Question: who was the first MP to call for a judicial inquiry into phone hacking?

Answer: 9/7/2009: Chris Huhne, LibDem Home Affairs Spokesman, called for a full investigation into the phone-hacking scandal. 2010 February 24th: Chris Huhne is the first politician to call for a judicial inquiry into Phone Hacking.

Question :who said “Only party that has consistently taken a thoughtfully independent position on this issue has been the LibDems"?

Answer: Lord Puttnam on Media plurality 4/11/10 criticising Lab for initially opposing his amendments in Communications Bill

Birkdale gardens open in NGS scheme

As the blustery wind and the rain  visited Birkdale yesterday three gardens were open to the public as part of the National Garden Scheme

I went round to see the garden at Ashton Rd which was amazing. I (predictably) was impressed with the veg patch which was far neater and tidier than my allotment!. The size of the overwintering onions has persuaded me to try them this year.

The photos show the firts part of the garden-complete with Tortoise trap!

Diversity of Ownership in the financial sector-an alternative to share owner banks

We are often told that we have to accept things 'because they were in the coalition agreements'. In which case we could do with an implementation plan for the paragraph that reads:

“We want the banking system to serve business, not the other way round. We will bring forward detailed proposals to foster diversity in financial services, to promote mutuals and to create a more competitive banking industry

An all party group has published a report today that tackles this issue. Many of us have identified the dominance of the 'share ownership ' model as one of the causes of the financial crash. If the chief obligation for directors of a bank is to build share holder value then it leads to increased risk taking. We have long argued that one of the reforms needed is to increase the diversity of ownership models.

Those (few of us) who argued against the de-mutualisation made possible by the banking reforms of Thatcher in 1986 did so for several reasons
  • they would soon be bought up by corporate shareholders whose objective would be to make a quick buck
  • loose financial institutions owned by those who saved in them and whose objectives was to provide a service for those members
  • remove from the market the choice of a low risk, long term financial products particularly suited to providing home mortgages, life assurance, savings and pensions (and who knows they may have come up with a bond to fund social care)
  • because they stood out against the view that the profit motive was good in itself
  • the belief that they would provide the sort of long term financial relationship with local businesses that is at the heart of the success of the co-ops in Mondragon and the SME's in Germany
Instead of which in the privatisation culture created by the IEA two thirds of the asset wealth previously owned by mutuals was bought up businesses whose model of ownership was our highly regressive share ownership model.  Even the TSB was sold off . Disaster followed. Most landed up in banks and all  of them were victims of the crash. What was left of the mutual sector fared much better. This is one of the reason why the 'ask Sid' proposal to hand out shares in the nationalised banks must be resisted.

Our alternative is to see the growth of mutuals so that there is more diversity in the models of ownership in financial institutions. We also believe that this democratic model of ownership permanently anchors the wealth in the community and creates regional financial institutions that can play a long term role in the financing and growth of industry . I might also say it tackles the absurd and obscene bank bonus culture.

So three cheers for the all party group report today. the introduction asserts:

Government has concentrated its policy efforts on encouraging the development of new mutuals to provide public services rather than focusing on the importance of the existing financial mutual sector

Government needs to urgently adopt a comprehensive policy strategy to implement its Coalition Agreement commitment to promote these mutuals.

The priorities of the Financial Services Authority are not aligned with this Government objective to promote mutuals.

Upcoming legislation to establish the new regulatory authorities must specifically commit them to promote mutuals and foster diversity.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Oakeshott posting No1 in Lib Dem 'Top of the Blogs' this week.

I was taken aback when a colleague emailed me to say that the No.1 posting in this weeks Top of the Blogs The Lib Dem Golden dozen was our posting on Robert Oakeshott. Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

The original posting is here

Wow, in a week when the New Corp scandal dominated the head lines (and Vince was proved right once again) when the highest levels of the Met Police were shown to be dining with 'criminals' rather than arresting them and Murdoch CEO ((finally resigned) and was arrested etc etc, the No 1 blog post was on a man who spent his life advocating the unfashionable view that workers' ownership of industry is essential  -well it is not what I expected.

Nevertheless it does emphasis the renewed interest in this policy area in the party and the determination to reclaim this approach. We now see Milliband talking about mutuals and Maude and Cameron peddling them as an alternative to state ownership in public services.We need to assert our view that Ownership is important and that those who work in enterprises are at least as important as shareholders. In Richard Wainwright's time honoured phrase'labour should hire capital'

In a time when there has been a fire-sale of British companies to leveraged buy outs and this and that hedge funded backed asset stripper whose only concern is to turn the biggest and fastest buck, it is essential that we emphasis that the long term health of our industry is best served by those who have a long term interest in its success. We want businesses who invest in training, research and  employee development. We know that co-owned companies always perform well, with happier and healthier staff.

Robert Oakeshott stood for parliament as a Liberal and worked closely with Grimond on the party's co-ownership, workers co-ops policy (apparently Jo also kept him entertained with a supply of jokes!) Co-ownership was one of the signature policies of our party. We need to get it back on the agenda quickly.

Southport MP's Garden party

 Despite the weather our Southport Garden Party went well yesterday-a tribute to the hard work of the fundraising team-Annette, May et al. A big thank you to Alison and Haydn for hosting the event. Mike Booth has written more here and the photos are down to Mike too-thanks.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Labour knives out for Dowd?

The concerns about the governance arrangements at Merseytravel grow. This is a bit like Murdoch but without the criminality. One big beast who nobody wanted to confront is finally 'sorted' when the fear evaporates. Tony has more

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Victory in first skirmish-main battle to follow

My Leader (who is quicker off the mark than I am) has noticed a report in the Champion-sadly not available in the online edition as far as I can see. he writes:

Readers will recall that we Lib Dems recently exposed the ridiculous level of allowances being paid by the Labour run local Transport Authority. The paper quotes a Merseytavel spokesperson as saying “The Authority has agreed to an independent review of members’ allowances and has approached someone appropriate for the role.”

I wonder who the reviewing person is? I also wonder why when all local Councils have had Independent Remuneration Panels for many years now setting the amount of councillors allowances why Merseytravel has not had one?

Two big battles need to be won before we turn to the inadequate governance arrangements that are at the centre of matter.
  • an inquiry into the tram fiasco -£70m
  • the reversal of their long standing policy to take over the rails as well as the rolling stock-a policy they have spent £1.5m on. We are now going to forgo the greater efficiency and cost savings. We need to know why? The clear suggestion is that it has been done at the behest of Bob Crowe and the RMT. We need to know the truth
It is worth recalling that the Labour Leader refused to appear on the same platform at Crowe...

Free market think tank madness -sadly Lib Dems implicated. Time for action

Shrinking the size of the state by abolishing the NHS and limiting overseas aid to humanitarian disasters could save more than £200bn a year and pave the way for growth-generating tax cuts, says a leading free-market thinktank.

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), responsible for many of the policies implemented by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, said the plans to tackle Britain's budget deficit during the current parliament are not radical enough.

So says the Guardian today

It is with enormous sadness that I note that someone posing as a Lib Dem -Mark Littlewood- advocates such damaging and wacky proposals.

The IEA's director general, Mark Littlewood, said that given the choice between reducing public spending to 30% of GDP to allow a £7,500 cut in taxes and keeping public spending at 40%,-...well you can guess where that is heading

 We have been here before. Back in the 1950's our party was convulsed when a tiny-well financed -group tried to hijack the party. William Wallace wrote about this in a letter to Liberal History Journal when he commented on the role of the Radical Reform Group (RRG). I've copied it in full:

The group of free-trade Liberals that included S.W.Alexander and Oliver Smedley had drive, financial resources, and a clear sense of Liberalism in a libertarian, minimum-state interpretation. The almost anarchic structure of party assemblies allowed for such groups to exert real influence.

RRG, as I recall, provided the most coherent alternative definition of Liberalism – much closer to the radical Liberal tradition, and to the nonconformist beliefs which a high proportion of its members held. It helped enormously that Jo Grimond as leader was naturally sympathetic to the RRG perspective; but the existence and activities of RRG, and the arguments of its members on the Party Executive, made Grimond’s task in reorienting the party much easier.

Joining the party in 1960, I caught only echoes of the arguments that had convulsed the then-tiny part in the 1950s. My future father-in-law, Edward Rushworth, had for many years been both a member of RRG and of the party executive.

He made little distinction between being a Liberal and being a teetotal nonconformist; his instincts were anti authoritarian and socially egalitarian.

In the 1962 Orpington byelection Michael Steed and I stayed for a week with the Seldon family while canvassing; Marjorie was an active party member, but her husband Arthur had ‘left the party over free trade’ and was engaged with others of that group in finding an alternative vehicle for their ideas – which became the Institute for Economic Affairs, through which free-market liberal ideas later influenced Margaret Thatcher and her advisers.

William Wallace (Lord Wallace of Saltaire)

You do not need to sign up fully to Professor Richard Grayson thesis that 'while for many Liberal democrats the coalition is explained by practical circumstances, its ideological basis can be found in the dominance of centre-right small state liberalism in the leadership of the Liberal Democrats-to acknowledge that there is a problem that needs sorting.

Revealingly David Howath  in his review of two of the books written about the forming of the coalition wrote:
........To make a new judgment on the balance between raising confidence in the financial markets
 and lowering it in the real economy in the heat of an election campaign, and to put it into operation
immediately  thereafter is, to say the least, courageous. According to Wilson, the Liberal Democrat
 leadership took no external advice about the issue, or about the separate issue of accelerated deficit reduction. Both the Treasury and the Bank of England would have reinforced the acceleration view, given half a chance, but that view is built into their nature. Others took very different positions on the optimal path, from the NIESR’s (of which Lord Oakeshott  is connected) moderate caution to David Blanchflower’s jeremiads. The puzzle is not that the party took  one view or another, but that it did so on the fly without consulting specialists. Has the party of  Keynes lost touch with economics as a discipline?

Well if Sir Humphrey had been writing that paragraph I suspect that he would have said it was a 'brave' decision rather than a 'courageous' one unles of course 'courageous' is one notch up from 'brave'.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Merseytravel member speaks out

My colleague John Dodd is a member of Mersytravel and attended the meeting earlier this month. He has issued this statement today

Labour Party Stifles Debate on Control Merseyrail Electrics Network from Network Rail

Cllr John Dodd, the Liberal Democrat representative on Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority (Merseytravel), was disappointed that at a full meeting of Sefton Council a motion put by his colleague Cllr Brodie-Browne to suspended standing orders to debate a motion calling on Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority (Merseytravel) to take control of Merseyrail Electrics Network from Network Rail was not supported by the Labour Party.  Cllr Dodd, went on to say “what have Labour to hide?  At a recent Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority (Merseytravel) meeting the ruling Labour group on the authority refused a debate”.  Cllr Dodd said this is an important issue to the people of Sefton. There should be a full debate on whether an integrated Merseyrail network would be in the best interest of Merseyside's commuters and would enable local people and rail customers to have a greater say in the decisions taken which would affect the rail network in Merseyside.

Weed spraying in Birkdale

There are weeds in the gutters, weeds in the alleyways and even coming out of the cracks in the tarmac. Thanks to everyone who has contacted me. The answer-courtesy of the Cambridge Ward Lib Dem team is:

The current situation with regards to the weeds on the highways is the second weed spray programme is now ongoing which started on 11th July 2011 throughout the borough one team will be starting in the Southport area.  

Oakeshott obituary in Economist and a political legacy we must not forget (more added)

Robert Oakeshott died on 21st June. He was a great inspiration to many. In Liberal circles he will be remembered for taking Jo Grimond off to the Mondragon Co-operatives in the late 1970s. He was the John the Baptist of the modern employee ownership movement and along with Grimond set up what I think was then called  Job Ownership Ltd- it became the Employee Ownership Association. His connection with Grimond went back further and he was the Liberal Party candidate in the Darlington by election in the 1960's under Jo's leadership.

Grimond often called him in aide in his speeches both inside and outside Westminster. Even when he 'retired' to the Lords Grimond was still quoting him as he tried to persuade Government to amend finance bills or Companies Acts to advance employee ownership.

Grimond tells the story of his trip to the Mondragon Co-ops in the Basque lands with Oakeshott in his 1978 book The Common Welfare. Talking of Co-ownership was commonplace for Liberals under Grimond. Indeed every Liberal Leader from Asquith onwards had such a plan as a distinctive part of their economic and industrial strategy. Richard Wainwright-Jo's great collaborator, his practical man of business- regarded Co ownership as the Holy Grail of his Liberalism. The visit to Mondragon helped to redefine that approach and take it forward. Jo was especially impressed with the Workers' Savings Bank 'Caja Laboral Popular' The Basques put their money into these banks and it was in turn invested into the co-ops creating productive industry in their own province. Oh how different from our own banking system. Surely this must be part of the model for a reformed banking system? Regionally based mutually owned banks developing long term relations with local businesses.

There was lots of opposition to co-ops. It was fashionable to sneer at them. They were dismissed as impractical. As the Economist obituary records:

 Capital was scanty. Unions were hostile. Management and worker functions clashed uneasily together. For decades, both right and left ignored co-ops ..... Marx had mocked them as “dwarfish”, a word Mr Oakeshott ruefully relished. The Economist, for which he wrote occasionally, was cool about them. Undaunted, he pressed his case.

In 1978 Oakeshott published his book the case for Workers Co ops. Grimond told the House of Lords about it in 1981:
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.

It is to be profoundly hoped that our party can once again capture its enthusiasm for this policy. It is an idea whose time has come. We must not let it be captured by those who only see it as a way of breaking up the public sector. It is a much bigger idea than that. It is about redistributing wealth and power and democratising and decentralising our economy. I have no objections to workers taking control of enterprises that are now under state or municipal ownership-indeed I spent part of last year trying to persuaded Sefton Council of that idea-but it is in what Jo called the  productive industries that we must make progress. The Liberal Party used to argue that the law should require that all firm with over 50 employees should treat them at least as equal with shareholder. Wainwright used to assert that labour should hire capital. This is about more than collaborating with  right wingers (whose long term objectives we do not share) to introducing a meagre measure of mutualism as part of a wider campaign to denigrate the state. The Economist records one of Oakeshott's favourite quotes from J S Mill:  'that if production became co-operative, there would be a moral revolution'. He could add another  quote from Mill

It is a long time since I've heard that at a Liberal Democrat conference. Well I should amend that to say that over the last couple of years interest has revived a bit. Indeed after one of the commissions at last years conference David Howarth remarked that the two most popular policy proposals were for Industrial Democarcy (employee ownership) and Land Tax. It was sounding like the 1960's again. The Disgruntled Radical made much the same comment after the Social Liberal Conference last month: asserting in his report that: 'Two great Liberal chestnuts re-emerged to applause: industrial democracy and land value taxation.'

It would be good to think that we were once again becoming a place where the likes of Robert Oakeshott would feel at home. But I fear that we have some distance to travel. One staging post will be the Conference in  Birmingham. John Pugh (Southport's MP) and I have been discussing for some time the idea of holding a fringe meeting there to promote the policy. We would beat honour Oakeshott's memory by reviving in our party the ideas he championed. 

The Daily Telegraph carries an obituary this morning telling us more about Oakeshott's colourful life and ideas 

.................. he relished Marx’s criticism of co-op workplaces and spent much of his career dismantling the theory that those who accumulate capital and those who own nothing more than their labour shall always be apart.
During an adventurous life he also organised a mercy dash to Hungarian revolutionaries; set up a school in Botswana; drafted a law on employee ownership in Zimbabwe, and helped found a Bulgarian wine co-op.

The Times of the 7th July also has an obituary. Sadly this is behind the paywall. It is the most comprehensive published to date and relates his work in Africa (which included anti apartied activities) and the emerging democracies in Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He came back from Africa and inspired by Grimond stood as a Liberal at Darlington. As the Times writes: 'The cause that inspired him was the long standing Liberal Policy of co-operatives and industrial common ownership'
I do wonder whether a present day Oakeshott would find the same radical inspiration from our present leadership or even recognise that employee ownership -with its radical message of redistributing wealth and power- was a long standing Liberal policy. 

Friday, 8 July 2011

Southport coastal visits

Birkdale Councillor Simon Shaw joined our colleague Mike Booth and Sefton Chief Exec Margaret Carney on an inspection of the Southport Coast. Mike has written up the visit here

Drought in the Horn of Africa, Energy crisis in the UK and locally a Labour scandal that beggars belief

The Mayor's Chaplain last night prayed that we would temper our contributions with brotherly concern. Well the Leader of the council certainly took that message to heart. I had the temerity to ask a formal question at the Council meeting about the conduct of Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority (ITA) better known to you and me as Merseytravel.

I had a wide range of option I could have asked about

The Leader  the Council is Peter Dowd (Minor), the leader his brother Mark Dowd (Major) leader of the ITA. They are a bit like rabbit in Winnie the Pooh -their friends and relations are all over the Labour Party locally. It is a fairly open secret many of the other Labour people regionally think Dowd Major needs sorting. My colleague Tony Robertson has spoken more about this. 

For many people things have come to a head with the spectacular hand break U turn that the Labour group did at the ITA over rail integration. For year Dowd and the CEO of Merseyrail have lobbied and campaigned to be allowed to run both the rail and the rolling stock instead of the split between network rail and themselves. They commissioned expensive reports to back up the proposition. There is much sense in this proposal. Dowd really got quite shirty with those who opposed it and said during the campaign I  just do not see why Network Rail cannot understand the logic of our argument".

The morning of the ITA there was a comprehensive briefing from the CEO Neil Scales about the 'ambition' of the authority and the next steps that were to be taken to fulfil their plan of taking over the Network Rail  functions. I understand that there was no dissent. They broke for lunch and followed that with the formal meeting of the ITA. It was at that point that Dowd announced that despite spending £1.5million they were going to forgo the improvements to Merseyrail and the significant cost savings. Why? Well under questioning the name of Bob Crowe came up.

I think Jim Hancocks of the Liverpool Daily Post has the best summary of what happened next:

One gets a clue to Neil Scales’s view of the councillors’ decision in the statement issued on behalf of Merseytravel. It speaks of being “instructed”, refers specifically to union opposition and ends with this telling sentence, “Members don’t want Merseyside to be emblematic . . . for reducing the costs of the UK railways

And so we come to my question at the full council meeting last night. I decided that the best opening was jst to ask the Leader Dowd (Minor)  'can he comment on the decision of Merseyside ITA to abandon its plans to integrate the rail and rolling stock?'

OK the English Teachers and others out there will have identified that I failed properly to distinguish between 'can' and 'will' which makes the Leader's answer more laughable as I got fobbed off with the one word reply:


Now I must say that this has a very close family resemblance to Dowd (Major) response to the media. Both local and National papers tried to contact him and he did not return the calls. Clearly the plan is to bury the item by not talking about it. I 

I got no further with my supplementary so I decide that the next stage was to try and suspend standing orders so as to force the council to discuss this issue. I won the vote ! but procedurally Labour blocked it because the total number of those voting for the motion was less that half the full council (33) Did I mention that one of the absentees was Mark Dowd.? So Labour blocked the discussion. So much for accountability and transparency.

This matter will not go away. The decision of the ITA came too late to include a motion on the Council agenda but there is always next time-and of course there are other avenues to explore.

Can I thank all members of the Labour party who have helped in the preparation of this article.  

Maybe it would concentrate all our minds if the Chaplain begins the next Council meeting with the prayer that goes  

We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word and deed,..........We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable

On a different matter there always come a time when those who see themselves as 'big beasts' in the jungle fall. It is usually when they loose their menace and folk start explaining where all the bodies are buried and retribution is finally on the agenda . But if I were Andy Coulson

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Nancy Seear and a robin

This is a somewhat random post. I've had a couple of photos on my phone for a while meaning to blog about them. The first is of the magnificent and formidable Nancy Seear. I was trying to find a decent photo of her on the internet to illustrate a posting about a meeting of the policy committee and the disastrous 'dead parrot ' .  policy statement. Frankly there were none. I was in the NLC for the first time in a long time to attend the Liberal History group meeting which included a contribution on Richard Wainwright by the author of his biography. The Church Commissioners were about to assemble in the Violent Bonham Carter Room for dinner as I walked passed I noticed a portrait of Lady Seear. I bring it to you now

The second is from the allotment as  is of a robin that perched on my spade and sang his heart out.

Budget consultation in Sefton online!!!!!!

If you visit the Sefton website today you are sure of a big surprise. Slowly, creakingly it is becoming more user friendly. I accept it would be difficult to get any less welcoming but there are, at last, genuine signs of taking the matter seriously. Good grief they have a twitter and youtube account. Ok many other councils, businesses, voluntary groups and individuals have had them for ages but this is Sefton and the resistance has been very deep rooted. It wasn't so long ago that they refused to deal with online media at all!

One bit of the website refresh I would like to draw folks attention to is the You Choose budget consultation. This is an online tool that has been developed by a local authority to get people to meaningfully engage in the budget process. Please have a go and see if you can produce a legal balanced budget!

Some long time passed I did draw to the powers that be Mark Pack's articles on good practice for Local Authority websites

We still have a long way to go but as the  Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, (The Way of Lao-tzu) said: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

In defense of Liberalism. Can we emphasise the best bit of Gladstone's heritage?

The warden of Gladstone's Library-St Deniols-has an article 'In Defense of Liberalism'.  It is well worth a read. St Deniol's has in the past not always been a comfortable place for modern day Liberals but it certainly is now. The article can be found in full here. In it he asserts:

We should remember him (Gladstone) for all sorts of reasons, for instance, universal primary education. That's due to Gladstone. The shift from a democracy being run by the aristocracy to a meritocracy, that's due to Gladstone. The whole concept of human rights—he was certainly not the inventor of human rights, but he was one of the prime movers in our modern concept of human rights, and the sense of "crimes against humanity"—that's a phrase that originates with Gladstone.

Full details of 'green travel' money for Sefton-include cycle intiative in Formby

Details can be found here

Sefton Council was awarded £1.55m for its “visitor economy project”, to improve facilities for pedestrians and cyclists in places such as Formby and Ormskirk town centres.
The plans include the reopening of the Kew park and ride site, during school holidays and weekends initially, to improve travel into Southport town centre.

Have Labour fritter away millions as they kow tow to RMT on Merseyside?

I have a question down to the Leader of the Council at our meeting on Thursday. I am trying to elicit from him his reaction to the decision of Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority (ITA) to abandon its policy of seeking to take over the rail track and rolling stock and run a cost effective integrated rail service. To date they have spent £1.5m on a campaign to promote this policy and the new government is sympathetic to allowing Merseyside to go ahead. In deed the Mc Nulty report specifically identifies Merseyside as the place to trial this idea. As part of his campaign to achieve this desirable objective Cllr Dowd railed (no pun intended) at Network Rail’s refusal to let go. As Jim Hancock in the Daily Post pointed out Dowd has in the past said:
“I  just do not see why Network Rail cannot understand the logic of our argument,”

Jim goes on:

I understand that the decision to shelve the bid to run the track was taken without a full report being prepared for members of the Transport Authority. If true, it beggars belief. Why were councillors asked to reverse a policy which they had faithfully backed for years without a reasoned argument being put before them?

So why? The general belief seems to be that Dowd had a 'brown trouser' moment when the left wing trade union boss Bob Crowe angrily opposed the plan.

Now it is not new for Labour-especially very tribal Labour -to genuinely confuse the wider public interest with the sectional interest of his friends as anyone who witnessed the worst days of the Callaghan government will recall. But was is very worrying is the way that it was done as Jim Hancock points out above. If in truth there was no reasoned report. If the necessary professional advice had not been sought then very serious questions have to be asked about the robustness of the governance arrangements at Merseyside ITA. Indeed their governance arrangements have been a matter of concern for sometime.

I regret that I have come across examples when some Councillors have taken important decisions without seeking or getting the proper advice and have cost the council tax payers mega sums of money. As a barrister might say they acted with a cavilier disregard for the interests of the tax payer.

So what do the officer at Merseyside ITAs-especially the CEO Neil Scales  think? But back to Jim Hancocks:

One gets a clue to Neil Scales’s view of the councillors’ decision in the statement issued on behalf of Merseytravel. It speaks of being “instructed”, refers specifically to union opposition and ends with this telling sentence, “Members don’t want Merseyside to be emblematic . . . for reducing the costs of the UK railways

And what cost saving could be achieved? There seems to be agreement that our railways -in large part to the bonkers way the Tories privatised them-cost 30% more than the  best in the rest of  Europe. As McNulty pointed out:

‘Reducing the cost of providing rail services is critical if the industry is to continue to grow, as well as being critical to the health and prosperity of the wider economy and thus the industry,’

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