Friday, 28 June 2013

Birkdale Irrigation Allotment site breaking news

Over many years people have been concerned that the allotment site established by Birkdale UDC would be sold. That fear grew last year when West Lancs were identifying land on the Birkdale boundary for inclusion in their Development Plan.

A little homework was called for. It was clear that the allotment site was a statutory site established by the 1906 government and as such would need the Sec of State's permission to release it. (We owe the site to Ebeneezer Baxendale of this Parish who tirelessly campaigned to force Birkdale Council to provide a site in accordance with the legislation)  We further know that the land was negotiated from Scarisbrick Hall Estate.  When was slightly unclear was on what basis the council held the land. If West Lancs wanted to include the site in their plan then they need permission of the landowner to do so and their agreement that it can be built on. A couple of weeks back we got confirmation that Sefton owned the freehold. The next stage was to head off any suggestion that the council would agree to having the land included in West Lancs plan AND to undertake not to sell the land. Mission was accomplished last night at the Full Council meeting when my colleague Richard Hand received written assurances that the Council would not sell.

Southport Town Hall and Sefton's rented accommodation

Southport Town Hall has been effectively empty for too long. You can walk around passed empty offices all in the council ownership. So I got to thinking how much were the Council spending renting accommodation whilst keeping all this empty office space unoccupied. Answer over £1.1m!

Download the table below for details. 

I couldn't possibly say if the good news that the coroner has been offered the accommodation he wanted after a long delay and (what some may consider) and a protracted period of being fobbed off, was anything to do with all my queries but certainly things have started to happen.More to follow. 

Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Tate Lowry exhibition Clem Davies, and the Finchley election 1950

The Street Scene -soon to be back on display at The Atkinson Southport
What has Clem Davies  got to do with the new exhibition at The Tate and how is it related to the 1950 election in Finchley?
Well I was waiting for a meeting and with a couple of hours to kill I went to see if I could get into the much publicised new retrospective of Lowry's work opening at The Tate this Tuesday. The placed was packed, but I got a ticket. Lots has been written about Lowry and I have nothing new or original to add -other than to urge you to go and see The Lowry owned by The Atkinson when it re-open in a few weeks.
And so to the politics of the exhibition. Lowry was an old Lancashire Tory through and through. He was not impressed when Harold Wilson sent out Christmas Cards using one of his paintings as the illustration. There are not many of his type of Tory left in Salford. What caught my eye was an exhibit featuring a copy of the Manchester Guardian from February 1950. At the top of the half folded paper was a new picture by Lowry-obviously a big event in Manchester. Also visible were two news reports featuring Liberals. One was by the then Leader Clem Davies advocating the banning of nuclear weapons and declaring the need to work towards
World Government and the second was a report of a speech by the Liberal candidate at Finchley ,Sir Andrew McFadyean . Now the 1950 General Election was not a good one for Liberals we got 2.5 million votes and 9 MP's .It is therefore impressive that there are two articles on the one half page.
Sir Andrew McFadyean was President of the Party having taken over from Elliot Dodds and a former high ranking diplomat/civil servant. Lord Bonkers will remember him as he worked at the Treasury under Charles Masterman. He went on to strenuously advocate that the package of reparations inflicted on Germany after WW1 was wrong. In this he was allied to J.M. Keynes who first really came to public prominence with his publication'The Economic Consequences of the Peace ' Well, on the eve of the
1950 election Mc Fadyean was advocating European Union to the electors of Finchley. He did remarkably well against the trend increasing his vote to over 9,000. Finchley was, of course Mrs Thatcher's seat, and John Pardoe gave her a fright in 1964 when he polled 30% of the vote. The world would have been a different place if he had managed to squeeze the Labour vote a little bit more.
So if you go along to the Tate look out for the Manchester Guardian and read about Liberals and nuclear weapons, world government and European Union.

And so to the Birkdale connection. Sitting in a cinema one day Birkdale business man Monty Bloom who lived in Ryder Cres saw a short film about L S Lowry. He was to become his patron and a great collector of his work. Bloom and his family lived in Birkdale in the 60's and those who visited the house say it was stuffed full of Lowry paintings in every room -including the toilet.

Apparently it was Bloom-who had some connection with Ebbw Vale- who suggested to Lowry that he should visit South Wales. Later in his life Lowry had lost interest in the northern industrial landscapes and the
welsh rural industrial settings inspired him anew. The room that contains the Manchester Guardian also has those large scale welsh paintings

Sunday, 23 June 2013

support for local small businesses involved with tourism

Iain Brodie Browne , Lib Dem Leader, has asked Treasury Ministers to reduce the rate of VAT on charges for hotels and B&Bs. Iain thinks this tax cut could boost trade, create jobs and help our tourism sector compete with other destinations.

Iain has asked the Treasury to bring tax rates into line with other European countries. While VAT rates on hotels and cultural attractions are set at the standard 20% in the UK, they are much lower in other EU destinations:

· Germany 7%
· France 7%
· Ireland 9%
· Spain 10%
· Italy 10%

This puts the UK and the Seaside resorts like Southport at a competitive disadvantage. According to independent research, cutting VAT on tourism to 5% would create 80,000 jobs, many for the young and unemployed, and generate a surplus of £2.6 billion for the Treasury over 10 years.

A report by Professor Adam Blake, using the Government's own Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) model, concludes that cutting VAT on tourism is one of “the most efficient, if not the most efficient, means of generating GDP gains at low cost to the Exchequer that we have seen with the CGE model”.

Iain said ‘my Lib Dem colleague Tim Farron MP - who represents the Lake Districts-, has tabled a written question in the House of Commons. He asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer “if he will consider reducing the rate of VAT charged to hotels in the UK for the purposes of enabling them to run their businesses at similar levels of taxation to hotels in other EU countries?”

Iain said: “small businesses like local hotels and B&Bs are the backbone of our economy and, with the recent changeable weather we’ve had, I think they need more help and support. I would like the government to look at the impact of cutting VAT for the tourism industry because I think it could boost trade and support our local economy.”

Think tank report on local, mutually owned financial institutions

I've been banging on about the need to provide alternatives to the big banks. Ever since the banking crisis broke I have argued for local alternative-preferably mutually owned-that is owned by their savers  and acting in their interest rather than by a PLC.
Last week a report was released  by think-tank Civitas.  Civitas have suggested that credit unions should be allowed to take bigger deposits if they are to become a viable alternative to high-cost lenders.  Credit unions are financial co-operatives or Mutuals that operate in local areas, offering small loans to members.

The big banks have let many people down. They do not provide a service for those seeking small loans. Some people are driven into the arms of payday loan companies and loan sharks who charge enormous rates of interests. Credit Unions are part of the solution to this problem.  We used to have local banks and mutual savings schemes. Walk along Lord Street and you can see their names carved into the stonework. The picture shows me outside the former Preston Bank-written above the door..The destruction of those local financial institutions was one of the biggest acts of economic vandalism of recent years. Bodies like the Trustee Savings Bank and many local Building Societies have been swallowed up by unresponsive mega banks.

The government has been encouraging growth in the sector as an alternative to expensive payday lenders.  From April next year, the maximum interest rate that can be charged by the unions on loans will be increased from 2% to 3% a month.

Currently credit unions often make a loss on loans under £1,000 because of the admin fees involved.  Iain is supporting recommendations in the Civitas report like removing the £10,000 cap on the amount of money that businesses can place with credit unions, by doing that they can attract bigger deposits and allow them to help and support more people on low incomes.

There is a possibilities that with the correct regulations these institutions can grow and offer finance not just to individual member but to local small businesses. As the Civitas report says:

' The supply of finance to SMEs and individuals is still falling dramatically short of 
demand. ‘Mind the Financing Gap: Evidencing Demand for Community Finance’ estimates £1.3 billion of  unmet business demand with nearly 103,000 under-served business customers. For personal finance it found 8 million individuals are in need of better access to affordable credit.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reports a similar failure in commercial finance, estimating that 850,000 people a year incur inancially crippling levels of bank charges because they need help to manage their money, and up to 7 million people use sources of high cost credit e.g. home credit, pay day lenders and pawnbrokers.'

Friday, 21 June 2013

Important progress-Southport get an emergency shelter for rough sleepers

Back in January I got a number of letters from local residents about the arrangements for rough sleeper in Southport during severe weather. I blogged about it then :

As a result of those letters I received I contacted the leading Southport Homeless Charity Light for Life and asked their advice. I was appalled by what they told me. Firstly that Sefton Council discharged their statutory obligations to the homeless by doing a deal with Liverpool City Council for the Whitechapel Project to open up a Church Hall in Liverpool and to tell rough sleepers to make their own way there. This is wrong on so many levels. Firstly how do they get there-Southport is a long way from the heart of Liverpool-some of our town is close to the City of Preston than it is to Liverpool, secondly there may be very good reason why they don't want to be there, this is a typical Merseyside solution that simply doesn't work from our town. As a result the council may have ticked the box but they have failed to provide an adequate service.

After much negotiation the charity came up with a Southport solution and on Wednesday at the Area Committee  I proposed that we fund the start up costs for the service. After some discussion this was agreed A small but important victory

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

100th, 60th and 50th anniversaries

I well remember the Spring of 1962 because of the fuss surrounding the first performance of Britten's War requiem at Coventry Cathedral . I lived near by sang in a local choir and there was a real buzz about the event. The first performance was around the same time as the Cathedral was consecrated and I think I also remember a royal visit. There was a lot of television coverage of the building of the cathedral and film of a helicopter lowering something-which looked like a giant television ariel- on to the new structure. I remember a school visit, the John Piper window and having to draw the Graham Sutherland tapestry behind the high altar, but compared to all that it was talk of the Requiem that stands out in my memory. All that was 50 odd years ago, this year is the centenary of Britten's birth and his music is being performed all over the place.

On Saturday I went to The Trinity Arts Festival where the Southport Bach Choir was singing, among other things, some Britten. They had chosen a piece I'd never heard from a Britten opera that was a 'flop'-Choral Dances from Glorianna'. The opera had been commissioned as part of the celebrations for the coronation 60 years ago among much talk of the ushering in of a new Elizabethan Age. (I somehow don't think that at the next coronation there will be as much talk of a new Carolinian Age after the fate of the first Charles.) Given that the plot of the Opera centred around the relationship of Elizabeth and the Earl of Essex you can understand why the Queen was non too impressed. Apparently a new production has been  commission for the Diamond Jubilee. Whether the Queen or the critic rate the piece more highly second time around remains to be seen, but certainly on Saturday night the choir gave an excellent performance which suggests that the the time may be right for a new production

Monday, 3 June 2013

Women's Liberals welcome new Leader and hear by election candidate speak

Today we bring you the 1956 Annual Report of Southport Women's Liberal Association. It is notable for several features. Firstly the context; the faltering Liberal revival had begun. Deep in the wretched winter of 1954 a by election was held in Inverness-shire on December 21st. In fact so poor was the weather the result did not reach the London Press till Christmas Eve. The Liberal candidate, John Bannerman, was a 'popular Gaelic speaking Highlander, sportsman, potato developer and broadcaster; he had played Rugby for Scotland on thirty seven occasions between 1921 and 1929'. He reduced the Tory Majority from 10,000 down to 1300. Other favorable election results followed -although the party did not fight every seat. Ted Wheeler, amongst others, was dispatched to organise the Torquay by election also held in December a year later and again achieved a significant swing. In February 1956 the Hereford by election took place. The Liberal candidate was Frank Owen. As a young man he had won a Hereford seat in 1929 and he came mighty close to regaining a seat getting 36.4% of the vote. Ted Wheeler told me 20 years later that the campaigning methods adopted at Hereford changed for ever how elections were fought. The Frank Owen that members of Southport Women's Liberals heard speak was the candidate from Herford.

Jo Grimond, who had just taken over as Leader at the time of this Annual Report, needs no such lengthy  introduction . Grimond is properly getting a lot of attention on this the centenary if his birth. David Steel was present at a gathering in Orkney where, in the Firth Church Finnstown, he gave a lecture which, courtesy of Lib Dem Voice, you can find in full here

Jo had a clear political and strategic message which has inspired generations of Liberals. David Steel picked out three issues:
  • shake Britain out of its imperial past with policies more attuned to the realities of the second half of the twentieth century. The American Secretary of State Dean Acheson was frequently quoted as saying that Britain had lost an empire but not yet found a role. Jo was among the early fighters against imperial nostalgia. He spoke against racism at home, and against the conduct of the colonial administration in Kenya at the time of the Hola Camp massacre. On South Africa he said of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960: “I believe something happened which has made a dividing line in history such as we sometimes see. I do not think things will ever be quite the same again…. The prime cause of all this is the attempt to impose a wholly unworkable and repugnant system – a system of race superiority”.
  • ........the most controversial and uniquely Liberal commitment was his espousal of entry into the European Economic Community and
  • opposition to the creation of the so called independent nuclear deterrents of Polaris and Trident.
Steel went on : 'He would also argue that we should concentrate on and promote Liberal principles and values. How do I know that? Because he made exactly that point publicly during the Lib-Lab pact. What had he in mind? First and foremost co-determination in industry. He was deeply interested in that, having studied Yugoslav cooperatives even within a communist system, and the Mondragon cooperative in the Basque region of Spain which he described as “socialism without the state”. He believed fully in co-ownership of shares and worker representatives on boards. Our German Liberal colleagues used to joke with his approval that after the war we the occupying powers insisted on a new German constitution which contained a decentralized federal system of government, proportional representation, and industrial democracy, “and you are so generous you British you took not one of these three for yourselves!”

Grimond will always be associated in the public mind with Home Rule for Scotland and decentralisation within Scotland. Today the Liberal MP for his  beloved Orkney and Sheltland is now arguing for a status for the Islands that recognisies their identity and distance from Edinburgh.

And being Grimond he asserted that a 'Liberal fundamental would be a land tax or site value rating to free up land hoarded for speculation and undeveloped, still as relevant today as it was in his'

When he became Leader in 1956, the Year of this WLA Annual Report, Jo has already caused a stir when  he began to proclaim the need for a realignment of the left. As Michaeal Meadowcroft wrote in Liberator back in 1993 quoting a Liberal candidate who had survived the dark days: "We couldn't stand the Tories and we didn't trust the state." In many respects this is the constant thread of all Jo's writing and places him in the direct succession to T H Green, Maynard Keynes, Ramsey Muir and Elliott Dodds.'

We are now revisiting some of those debates especially on the so called Independent Nuclear Deterrent and Europe. In many ways these questions and the rise a UKIP remind us that we need to face up to a key challenge that Grimond set us 'to shake Britain out of its imperial past '. The failure to grasp the opportunities of Europe and to take on the Little Englanders whose narrow nationalism warps our politics would have infuriated Grimond. When Labour were tearing themselves apart over Europe and the price protection for New Zealand butter Jo caricatured their attitude as waiting to decide whether one was for or against the Reformation until one knew what the monasteries would fetch.

Finally you will note that the WLA met in the Temperence Institute on London Rd-very 'old Liberal' Indeed previous Chairs of the Institute had been Liberal Councillors in the town including John Campion who won Park Ward in 1955-today that post is held by Mr Connard the Lord St Jeweler. I recall a Liberal meetings there in the early 80's. Our usual meeting place was unavailable and someone had suggested going there. I was surprise when I arrived to see a sign board at the front where the groups who had booked the various rooms were displayed. Most of the names were freshly hand written and slotted into place on the board, ours was hand painted and matched the original paintwork on the board. I wonder what happened to it?

Sunday, 2 June 2013

In these parts the Battle of the Atlantic has been properly remembered in recent days. The Cathedral hosted a grand Memorial Service, but what caught my eye was the bell-ringing. Last week over on Kew Focus Mike Booth reported   : On 19th May 2013, a peal of 5040 changes in 2 hours and 54 minutes was made at St Helen's, Parish Church of Sefton. This was to congratulate my ward colleague Councillor Maureen Fearn on being installed as Mayor of Sefton for the third time. The first person to achieve this.

I fancy our good friend Ray Woods had something to do with that. I know he was involved in a special peal of bells to mark the Battle of the Atlantic. The report of that reads like a cipher from a spy novel written in an unknown language:
5040 Cambridge Surprise Minor
5040 Cambridge Surprise Minor 
No. 3 
2345  F  T  W  H 
3245     s  2  - 
5342        -   
2435  -     3  3 
5243     s       
3425  -     3  3 
Repeat twice. 
First peal of Minor on the bells and complete peals of Cambridge from Minor to Maximus on the bells

The thought that bell ringers notation could be a cipher is hardly new, it appear most famously in Dorothy L Sayers Nine Taylors, but like most people- I suspect-I skipped the the bit about the bell ringing....

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Southport FC do partnership deal with Southport College

Across the town the stock of Southport College is rising. I read on the Southport FC website that they have agreed a partnership deal with the Club:

It is exciting times for elite youth development at Haig Ave. Southport Football Club in partnership with Southport College will be running an elite Conference Youth squad commencing this summer. Southport Football Club are seeking applications from sixteen year old school leavers who have been released from north west Premier League or Football League Clubs.
The club are seeking sponsorship to support this fantastic football development for talented teenagers with a shirt sponsor, travel sponsor and track suit sponsor top of the agenda.
Alan Wright the newly appointed Southport Football Club manager and a UEFA A coach, on the news of the club's elite squad said "I believe in youth development and a club's structure. I was told at interview the club was close to securing a partnership with Southport College and I am very pleased we have achieved a scheme that is comparable to the one both myself and my assistant John Hills have worked on at Blackpool. We will look to recruit quality players and develop them. For the future I am looking for the club to have an established youth structure."

Community and Commercial Director Haydn Preece said "This is a fantastic development for Southport Football Club and again strengthens our partnership with Southport College. We have had tremendous support and encouragement from Southport College Principal John Clarke. The north west is a hot bed for football with numerous talented sixteen year olds being released at school leaving age which is heart breaking. We are giving them a second chance to develop in the professional game. We are very proud to be linked to Southport College, enabling us to provide a better education programme than most Premier and Football League clubs."