On Thursday evening we had a Full Council. Labour spelt out with an unintentional clarity their dystopian vision of society. The Tories, incidentally, said absolutely nothing all night. We had certainly not come for bout of extreme ya boo exchanges but clearly that was Labour's plan from the off. They were even petty about answering written questions
I should start by saying that during the meeting we got the devastating news that our friend and colleague Robert Hamilton had been killed in Southport when he and his bike were hit by a car in Linker St. John Pugh paid tribute to Robert immediately. Our thoughts were with his widow May rather than the shenanigans in the Council chamber. Robert was a extraordinary person. He was amazingly energetic, cycled pretty well everywhere and had not long return from a long distance ride from, I think, Paris to Southport. He and May had traveled widely since she retired, went dancing together and Robert had an allotment-as well as helping me out on my own plot. He was a keen environmental activist on top of chairing Dukes Ward Lib Dems. We will all greatly miss him. So you will understand we were not in the frame of mind for a trip down memory lane to be confronted with a circa 1979 Labour Party
Labour had a motion down on fixed odds betting terminals (Item 14). Now of course the 2005 legislation that allowed the proliferation of these machines was introduced by Labour. At the time real concerns were raised but Labour would not budge. They would 'take no lectures from opposition' as the Leader of our Council frequently asserts. It is undeniably the fact that the legislation would have been improved had they listened-and to be fair Harriet Harman has admitted that 'they made mistakes' No such recognition was forthcoming in the Town Hall on Thursday evening. Please see my earlier posting
I was interested in other bits of the motion namely:
'there are an estimated 1 million families a month nationally taking out payday loans, including many families in Sefton;
Look again at introducing a cap on interest rates charged by high cost, short term lender'.
It struck me that things are changing on this front. For one the Archbishop Welby has launched his well publicised campaign to put Wonga and the like out of business by promoting Credit Unions as an alternative source of loans. As the CEO of the Church's anti poverty campaign put it:
The Archbishop has advocated Credit Unions, and encouraged churches to develop them as an alternative. Some people will always need credit and, for the poor of this land, to have Credit Unions as an answer to payday lenders or doorstep lenders would be of great assistance.
I couldn't agree more. There has been a good deal of government investment in Credit Unions recently and this has greatly improved their back office functions. I was aware that some of the leading Credit Unions, like London Mutual, had geared themselves up to offer payday loans in the way the Archbishop had advocated.
I thought that the motion would be improved by including the role of Credit Union who do operate under a capped interest rate. I should have known better. The Leader of the Council will 'taken no lectures' from the likes of me . A quick check on Wonga's website showed that for a £400 loan for a month you would pay interest of £131.21p representative APR of 5,853%. The same loan from London Mutual Credit Union would cost £8 APR 26.8%. To express it another way if you borrowed £400 for a month from Wonga you would have to repay £531.21p. If you borrow from the Credit Union £408. Got it?: It is a good deal if, as the anti poverty campaigner says, you are poor and need credit. There is not a bank in the country who could set and and administer a small short term loan for just £8. All this is pretty recent, Partners Credit Union introduced an almost exactly similar product on 3rd January.
Well Labour speaker after Labour speaker got up to condemn my proposal! It was 'outrageous', 'immoral' how could I suggest such a thing etc. etc. My colleague Cllr Shaw in his best Chartered Accountants manner tried to explain the situation to them, but no. In the end in order to get the amendment through I withdrew the detail of the Credit Union offer. It was bizarre. Why were they so unreasonable? Were there red blooded socialists in the public gallery they were trying to impress? or was it just because we moved the amendment. We certainly got the standard lecture about how dreadful the impact of markets and competition is. (Strange when the Labour party has just unveiled its new policy of more competition for the banking sector) I was told, outside of the meeting, that the rate of interest was outrageous and the state should provide such loans. My heart fell,a government providing micro finance. I doubt that would come in at a cost of £8 ! and this from a party this is going to run a budget surplus in the next parliament. Their eyes will water and their pips squeak when our socialist colleagues realise the impact on spending of that promise. There is not one government budget reduction I have heard them accept. Every cut is evil. We should be ashamed of ourselves, they'll take no lectures.........on and on its goes with more 'essential' spending identified .
Earlier in the meeting Tony Robertson had introduce an excellent motion seeking to expand the council's co-operation with local voluntary groups who, for example, want to run the Libraries Labour want to shut. Interestingly the Leader, who will take no lectures from Lib Dems, said in passing that he looked forward to a day when 'nobody had to volunteer' . A revealing remark. I wrote it down at the time. In fact it appears that they would rather the Libraries close than open up the possibility of an alternative to the statist model. Tony Robertson has blogged about this here. Our unreconstructed Labour Party are,as G. B Shaw put it : the man or woman who desires through Democracy to gather the whole people into the State . . .". We on the other hand want to see the flourishing of independent voluntary groups, people organised in communities to take and use power or as Ramsay Muir, sometime Liberal Party President and Professor of History, put it :the hallmark of a Liberal society would be radical devolution to give public spirited citizens the chance to participate in decision making and to encourage voluntary associations.
Oh, dear. We even had difficulty over our mild motion urging maximum effort at building an alliance with neighbouring authorities to push the case for improved road and rail links to the North and East of Southport. This is urgent because of West Lancs new proposed transport plan about which I will blog later. Labour could not let this pass with out an amendment proposed, most uncharacteristically, by a decent Labour Councilllor. He simply assumed that the government was failing on rail investment overall and the North wasn't getting a fair crack of the whip. Now step forward Norman Baker and take a bow because thanks to Norman we have the biggest rail investment programme in Britain-and the North-since Victorian times, far outstripping anything done by Blair or Brown. Had he been talking Eric Pickles and local government he would have had a point-I would have agreed with him. But he was talking railways and the government has a good story to tell-the Manchester Hub, electrification of Liverpool to Manchester etc. Ah well. Now is the moment when Labour strategy will be tested. So many of their member believe that spending restraint was wrong and now they are about to accept it. It will end in tears