Saturday, 28 January 2012

Clegg's employee ownership initiative gets a boost

I missed this article earlier in the week reviewing Clegg's speech on employee ownership. David Erdal who wrote it is author of Beyond The Corporation and has practical experience in the workings of successful enterprises that have been turned over to employee ownership:

A way of driving growth that avoids the corporate excesses of the past and addresses disparities in wealth and reward that are simply unfair - that is the holy grail of British politics today. The search appears under many rubrics: curbing crony capitalism, boosting boardroom responsibility, securing a fair deal for the squeezed middle.
In the last 10 days all three leaders of the main political parties have staked their claim to pushing a new, more responsible kind of capitalism. Yesterday Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made the most substantive contribution to this debate so far.
Calling for a renewed focus on employee ownership in the UK economy, Mr Clegg pledged to identify a number of measures over the coming months to help ordinary employees hold a real stake in the companies for which they work.
In so doing he articulated a realistic path to giving more people a direct stake in the country's economic recovery - boosting growth whilst at the same time doing something about that intractable fairness issue. He should be applauded. For employee-owned businesses, which come in many different forms, are models of responsible capitalism - not just superficially, but in depth.

read the whole article here:

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Southport's 'new cultural centre', update..

Today I visited  the building site on Lord Street where work on the former Arts Centre is well under way. The new building is certainly going to have a 'wow factor'.  The new design has brought masses of natural daylight into what was a dark building. By opening up archways and long blocked up windows there are some striking long sight lines right across the building pretty well from the Cambridge Arcade to Eastbank St.  

We began our tour at 1a Eastbank Street (which regular readers will recall was the address of FJ Hooper the Town Hall keeper who was part of Scott's last Antarctic expedition) It is called Eastbank Street-so I'm told-because the original building was a Bank and the architecture reflects that. We have some magnificent old bank buildings in Southport and this looks to have been as grand as many of them. The first picture shows the restored ceiling in what became the Atkinson Library

We had an enthusiastic host to show us around who explained in detail the work that has been undertaken.  The old studio theatre has been transformed and I guess will become a very popular venue. It was not part of the original building but was added in the 1980's to the old Cambridge Halls.
Although it was full of scaffolding you really got a feel of what the old dance hall was like. Today it a theatre  but with all the windows on the Lord Street side opened up it was transformed.
I guess the biggest impact will come from the light that will stream in from the glass roof above the central stairwell into the hallways.

During the renovation the builders have uncovered some forgotten mosaic floors. It is not clear if it will be able to include any of these into the final scheme. I think the team hope that one from the old banking hall (now the library) may be preserved.

I was struck by the electric blue tiles in the photo taken in the corridor outside the main theatre. Apparently the blue dye came from arsenic and there are very few examples surviving-which is not surprising as it must have had a very bad effect on the health of the workers. Thank goodness for modern Health and Safety. Talking of which there has not been any notifiable accidents at all during the building work. Up to 100 hundred employees have been on site from 15 different contractors.

When we got up to the roof you got to see some of the detailed restoration work close up that is normally hidden. Some of the sandstone carvings were impressive. I was good to learn that the specialist builders who was involved in this work had taken on a local unemployed lad who proved to have a real talent for this work. Some of the replacement stone work developed from moulds of the original was pointed out to us and it was pleasing to hear they were the work of the new recruit who has now been taken into permanent staff.

I had not realised that along the front of Cambridge Halls there are four figures all very well preserved. No one appeared very sure if they were Shakespearean characters, the season or the various ages of men.

The view from the roof-the picture was taken between the icy hail showers-gave some views of Lord Street

Southport Fernery in top ten

I am not a regular reader of The Telegraph but my attention has been drawn to the papers gardening column which lists the Top Ten Ferneries in Britain and the one in Southport's Botanic Garden is listed at No2 and is described thus:

A splendid example of one of the many public ferneries constructed in the nineteenth century. Opened in 1876 and recently restored, the walls are covered in tufa, steps lead up to viewing platforms above grottoes at each end, and mirrors reflect endless ferny vistas

My thanks to David Cobham for drawing my attention to this item.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Meadocroft in call for conventional weapons to be updated

Competition. Prize a pint of beer at the next Birkdale Beer and Bangers Evening

Ok this is 1961, but the recent death of Eric Howard former Chair of Southport YL's has brought into the hands of our resident historian a mass of press cuttings.

Eric was not only Chair of the YL's he was a wizard agent masterminding the Party's electoral success in Craven Ward. But more of that in a future posting. In the meantime can anyone identify anyone in the photo. I think most Southport Liberal should be able to identify at least a couple and there is one which Liberals from further a field should get

Percy the Town Hall keeper was a genuine hero!

I scraped the ice off my window screen this morning wrapped up in a warm overcoat and a heavy tweed suit I still felt I was ill prepared for the weather. 

At lunch time I entered the Mayor's Parlour to attend the unveiling of a Blue Plaque (possibly the only one in Southport) to commemorate F J Hooper -Percy to his friends. Percy was the Town Hall Keeper from 1922-1955 only breaking his service to serve in the armed forces. 

He joined Scott's expedition to the South Pole (as the youngest member) as a steward but soon became part of the Shore Party.  Scott reached the Pole on 17 January and so today was an appropriate day for the ceremony. Hooper was one of the team that found Scott's body. On show in the Town Hall were items that belonged to Hooper from the expedition. Apparently these turned up in the Botanic Museum and included a cotton shock-it certainly would not have kept him warm-the lowest recorded tempreture on the expedition was -39 F. He tracked miles across the Antarctic landscape pulling eye watering  weights of supplies. He was awarded the Polar Medal from the King.

He gave his address at The Mayor's Parlour, Lord St. although he actually lived in a flat above the Atkinson Library at 1a Eastbank Street. He was not Southport's only link with Scott's ill fated exhibition. The photographer Pontin signed on the Terra Nova giving his address as Argyle Rd Southport. 
This picture is believed to have been taken after he found Scott's body

The second picture shows Sefton's Mayor with Hooper's biographer Joan Smith who has led the campaign to have the Blue Plaque erected on the Town Hall outside the Mayor's Parlour where Hooper worked. Joan Smith has her own connection with the town her father and grandfather were managers of Boots the Chemist in Lord St.

We should add that Hooper was a great supporter of Southport FC

Hooper was also a character in the famous Ealing Film for which Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote the music

Jan Pallach

Jan Palach was a Czech student who on 16/01/69 committed suicide in protest against the USSR occupation of his country. This happened on my birthday and as a teenager made a great impact on me. Since the Velvet Revolution he has been honoured in his home country.

Monday, 16 January 2012

The Sun and Oakeshott on equality

Nice to see the Sun give such prominence to Lord Oakeshott's attach on Board Room inequality. But check out the comments from readers.

NEARLY 90 per cent of Britain's biggest firms have no female bosses, damning figures show.

There is no woman executive director at 310 of the top 350 companies.

And only 43 ladies are in the most senior roles — one fewer than in 2008.

The figures will put pressure on David Cameron to tackle the divide.

Last week it emerged the number of women in British boardrooms was at its highest level ever.

But Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott said this masked the low number who call the shots.

Unlike other board members, executive directors have full-time jobs running the company.

Ex-Treasury spokesman Lord Oakeshott uncovered the Government figures in a parliamentary written answer. He said: "Britain's big businesses are an old boys' club."

Cleggs: 'Industrial Democracy lite' a step in the right direction more still needed

It has taken too long for Clegg to identify himself with long Liberal Party tradition of employee ownership and Industrial Democracy. It would be wrong not to acknowledge that this represents some welcome movement but it fall a long way short of the proposals endorsed by the Liberal party as I will discuss later on.

The Employee Ownership Association founded by Jo Grimond (Chair) and Liberal candidate Robert Oakeshott (Chief Exec) has today published a report on the wider case for Employee Ownership

Clegg's proposals are in tune with new Labour's view about more active shareholder. The Liberal Party tradition whilst arguing for employee share ownership also argued that employees-where they owned shares or not -should have rights equal to shareholders. Here is the old policy:

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

This policy sets Industrial policy in a wider context-namely the desire to spread power and wealth. Influence is not dependent on share ownership but rather employees have rights because of the contribution they make to an enterprises success. It is a sign of the level of besottedness with capitalism that in Clegg's model share ownership is only factor. Finally the Liberal party policy was not a voluntary one. The Party wanted to:

The Companies Act must be amended to give all established employees in public limited companies a status comparable to shareholders. Employees must be given a share in the decisions and profits of the companies in which they work. Employees should be represented on the board of directors, or on a joint supervisory council.
So when Liberals talked of employee rights they did not have in mind just ''flexible working or parental leave' they wanted employees to have a share in decisions and not leave that just to the owners of capital.
Now none of this is to oppose full Employee Ownership. It is very much in the Liberal tradition. Interesting the EOA defines employee ownership as: “businesses in which the majority of the shares are owned directly by employees, or owned on behalf of all employees in some sort of special purpose legal entitity, such as an Employee Benefit Trust (EBT)”

Clegg quotes Mill and so shall I from Political Economy

 It would have been more interesting if he had quoted from the Keynes inspired 1928 Yellow Book which devotes a whole chapter to Co-ownership but I fancy Centre Forum may not have been a congenial place for such thought. never the less the speech is strong on taking on vested interests. Let us hope that extends to the powerful vested interests of capital. We need to be careful who funds us!

Of course the model that has interested many of us is from Mondragon in Spain. It was after a visit to that region that Grimond and Oakeshott set up the Job Ownership Ltd-later EOA. In this model the employees own the company and have to buy shares to join. So there is no way that the interest of capital-which is often short term-can trump the workers. For me to make the proposal convincing we need to amend Company Law so that the requirement is statutory-although I can think of a few vested interests who would not be comfortable with that!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

BBC radio 4 finally catch up with Grimond business/econ-still waiting for Clegg

 Radio 4 In Business is doing a programme focusing on the worker owned businesses of Mondragon in the Basque Region of Spain. Jo Grimond and Robert Oakeshott visited these successful enterprises. Today over 100,000 people work in these worker owned businesses. The mutual bank they set up has been described as the most successful entrepreneurial support system ever.

Grimond and Oakeshott returned and together set up a group to promote employee owned businesses. For generations this has been central to Liberal Party thinking .  The model of shareowner capitalism under which Britain suffers need radical reform and employee ownership should once again become a core part of the Liberal platform. Such a system redistributes wealth, tackles mega pay, improves productivity, ensures business look to the long term as opposed to the short term interests of building shareholder value and can be begun now.

Many of us will have been frustrated by Milliband's tokenist response to high pay suggesting an employee should be put on the committee looking at board room pay. For Liberal who have argued that as a minimum their should be parity between shareholder and employees- and not just in relation to decisions on pay- that is not good enough. Shareholders, as they are at present constituted, are not the answer  they are part of the problem not the solution.

Radio 4 website says:
In these tough times, are there better ways of doing business: worker cooperatives, for example?
In crisis-battered Spain, Peter Day visits the world's biggest worker coop in Mondragon, to find out what makes it different. And, in the UK where the cooperative movement began, will 2012, designated the year of the cooperative see the rise of the mutual business model?

The programme can be heard on BBC iplayer here

Lib Group named after Birkdale schoolboy launched-again

Beveridge went to school in Birkdale. In the 1945 election he wrote supporting our candidate :
'I am more than sorry not to able to visit Southport during the Election because I will miss re-visiting one of the scenes of my childhood. With my sister I was left for three years in a small school in Southport from an age of 4 to 7 whilst my parents were in India. If, as many psychologists say, these are the most critical formative years of life, then Southport is largely responsible for everything I had done, including the Beveridge Report!

Yesterday John Pugh , Southport's MP,issued a press release re-launching the Beveridge group. You can read the response of party members response here

With an eye to the new parliamentary year and forthcoming legislation, the Beveridge Group has reformed and a new updated website is already up and running. The initiative follows widespread concern inside and outside parliament as to where Coalition policy on public services may be going.
We want to prompt a proper debate as to where the Liberal Democrats stand and importantly what we will stand for as well as engage those many members and supporters active in improving our public services and perhaps a little flummoxed by some of the initiatives coming out of government – particularly from the Tory ministers with a clear ideological axe to grind. The response from parliamentary colleagues has been very positive but the idea is to reach out beyond parliament and to those working in the public services whom the coalition may unintentionally have alienated. The message is ‘pitch in’.
The group was originally set up by John Barrett, Paul Holmes, Alistair Carmichael and John Pugh was set up at the time of the Huhne Commission and the party’s last review of its policy and exists according to Alistair, “to promote debate on the subject of public service provision within the Liberal Democrats. The Group seeks to advance thinking which will better define the public service ethos and its place in party policy. It seeks to re-establish the standing of people working in public services and to promote recognition of the contribution which they make to the wider community.
The Group approaches public service provision from the basic premise that public services must be accountable and responsive to community needs and wishes. They are therefore best provided by democratically elected bodies and as a consequence of that are most likely to be paid for out of general taxation which should wherever possible be progressive and transparent.”

Opinion: is the infant class size limit of thirty too inflexible?

This is a cross posting from my colleague Simon Shaw with Lib Dem Voice. It has certain sparked a lively exchange.

The Chief Executive of the Lib Dem-controlled London Borough of Sutton, Mr Niall Bolger, has been in the news recently, flying a kite on the possible relaxation in the current statutory limit of 30 on class size for Reception, Year 1 and Year 2, i.e. Key Stage 1 within primary schools.
Mr Bolger has subsequently clarified the situation by saying: “Increasing class sizes is not a Sutton Council policy or something that has been discussed at a political level.”. However, this recent report has reinforced my own personal doubts about the unintended consequences of the limit of thirty in infant classes.
I have been a primary school governor for over twenty-five years, and, in principle, the thirty class size limit is an excellent thing. However, I cannot help feeling that some limited flexibility might be helpful.
I want to highlight one of the little-known consequences of the class size limit. The specifics I describe relate to my own authority, Sefton MBC, but will apply to a greater or lesser extent in many parts of the country.
In the 2010/11 academic year Sefton Council had to allocate £156,000 to employ an extra teacher in each of four primary schools. The reason was that there were a total of just five children spread across those four schools which took a Key Stage 1 class over the national limit of 30 children per infant class teacher.
In the current academic year, 2011/12, the Council is allocating £118,000 to employ an extra teacher in each of three primary schools, each with just one pupil more than the thirty class size limit.
Accordingly, over two years, a staggering £274,000 has had to be found to employ seven teachers for twelve months so that just 8 infant pupils can be taught “legally”. But that money hasn’t come from the Council, or from the Government, it has come from reducing the funding to every other primary school pupil in Sefton.
So what is the solution I would like to see? The slight relaxation I suggest would be achieved by taking account of the use of teaching assistants. It seems to me to be bizarre that, while it is perfectly legal to have an infant class of thirty with one teacher who has little or no teaching assistant support, to have thirty-one or thirty-two pupils in a class is illegal no matter how much extra teaching assistant support there is.
Surely a common-sense solution is to change the law so that schools have the flexibility to go up to thirty-two children in an infant class, if they wish, but only so long as they have a qualified, full-time teaching assistant as well as a teacher.
Pressure on Reception class places (already strong in many parts of the country) is expected to increase further in the next few years. Without measures such as I suggest we are increasingly likely to see three problems:
• More parents failing to get their first preference of school.
• Councils and central government having to find significant sums of money to build extra classrooms – apparently Sutton Council has needed to spend £7 million in one year.
• Money being taken away from other primary school children (£274,000 over two years in Sefton Council) to enable what are often literally a handful of infant children to be taught legally.
Could a little common sense prevail?
Simon Shaw is a Liberal Democrat councillor for Birkdale Ward, Southport. He is Cabinet Member Environmental on Sefton MBC

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Liberal answer to mega pay

Clegg failed to impress this morning on the Today programme over controlling top pay.I regret that asking shareholders to be more active is simply not the answer. Shareholders want the maximum return on their investment. they are here today and gone tomorrow-and in the new electronic age sometimes they only stay a nano second.

If we are to control top pay then we have to revert to the Liberal Party policy of giving employees at least the same rights as share holders. Personally I'd prefer our template to be closer to the Mondragon model which so impressed Jo Grimond,. So lets start proposing that as a minimum employees should have a share in the ownership and profits of all enterprises above a certain limit and rights to be on the board determining strategy and pay.

If you look at the Employee Ownership sector of the economy -including financial Mutuals - they have  achieved a better control of executive pay as well as the other benefits of spreading asset ownership, better productivity, longterm decision making, happy workforces etc

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


Liberal Democrats in Southport are calling for local residents to help save the resort’s tourism industry.

As part of the drive to save £20 million next year, Sefton Council is looking at all its services to see if savings can be made. One proposal is to review the Council’s Tourism function with the “possible outcome of ceasing to provide a Tourism service”. The consultation process is shortly coming to an end.

Councillor Lord Ronnie Fearn was Southport’s MP for 9 years, during which time he was the Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesman on Tourism. He said:

“Tourism is vital to jobs and to the economy generally in Southport. That’s why the idea of scrapping all Council activity in the tourism field fills me with horror.”

“Research shows that tourism is worth hundreds of millions of pounds a year to the local economy, and supports 5000 jobs. The Council plays a key role in supporting this key industry by promoting events, attracting conferences, which are vital to hotels and other businesses, and by operating the Tourist Information Centre, among many other things.”

Birkdale Lib Dem councillor Richard Hands, Chair of the Southport Area Committee, (pictured 2nd left) is also backing the campaign. He added:

“I appreciate that many residents and those involved in the sector have already responded to the consultation. But I am asking others, as one of their New Year’s Resolutions, to find 10 minutes this week to go on-line and express their views about this service which is so essential to the well-being of our town.”

Anyone wishing to respond to the Sefton Council Consultation on the proposal to cease the Tourism Service will find it at: . Alternatively a search for ‘Tourism Sefton E6.7a’ will also find the correct website.