In Praise of Local Councillors!

On Thursday we will know how many people have agreed to stand for election to local authorities in England and Northern Ireland (Scotland and wales have no local elections this year.

The candidates will be a motley collection ranged from people who have been told “Don’t worry there is no chance of you being elected ( although some of them will be); through people who have devotedly served their community for years; to wannabe politicians who see being a councillor as the first step on the road to political stardom.

Welcome to you all (but especially the Lib Dem ones). I am now completing my 31st year as a councillor and hope that you will get as much pleasure and satisfaction from this role as I have done in those times if your successful election is announced on 23rd May.

There are three good roles as a councillor.

  • The arm waving thrusting speech maker. Well I do a bit of that but although it is what most people think is our main purpose even I spend very little time in such a role
  • The determined campaigner for a cause. Councils are full of unsung heroes who diligently pursue causes such as the needs of carers or looked after children who very rarely get mentioned but feel that they can achieve something within the system for a cause they hold dear
  • The determined local champion. Acting as a mentor and facilitator within the community they represent to make things happen because they use the power of their role effectively and responsibly.

Inevitably none of us can be good at all these. That’s quite fortunately really a Chamber full of arm wavers would be a terrible place! There are so many un-championed causes to go round that there is a niche role for anyone who will take it up. The role of local champion is demanding but very satisfying. When you can go round your ward and are able to say, “I helped that happen.. and that…and that” there is real satisfaction.

The one bad role is played by the handful of people who see being a councillor simply as a way to getting a parliamentary seat. They pay minimal attention to anything except their ambition. Fortunately there are mercifully few of those.

Of course Joe Public often only sees the first role. Like MPs, most of whom are honourable, we have all been tarnished with the allegations of greed and corruption. “You are on the make, on the take”, we get told regularly. This, of course, is usually by people who are too bone idle to actually do anything for the local community themselves. The legions of arm chair critics who think they know everything about everything but usually know little about anything.

Some of those elected will really not like the job at all. At the end of their 4 year contract with the people about 40% give up their role or are defeated and never stand again. It is hard going. Councillors are often the 4th 24/7/365 service alongside the blue light brigade. So pace yourselves. Go for the role, the niche, and the job that is most suited to you and be part of a tram of councillors, officials, partner organisations and the community where you can deliver. Don’t make speeches unless you really want to (and then check if you are any good at it).

Remember that you have a family and, in many cases, a job to look after as well as your council and ward. You have to map out time for all those parts of your life.

Some of those who are not elected on Thursday May 22nd should have been. They have given good service to communities or would have done so if they had been elected. In my long career I have lost a council election 3 times but I have always come back for more apart from a career break when I just needed to earn some cash in the pre-allowance days. People can be elected because of their own skills and talents or lose because their Party is down rather than up at present.

So enjoy, if you can, the hard slog of the next 4 weeks. Meeting people, sharing their concerns hearing them out has always been one of the best parts of the job for me.

On May 23rd you will know the course of our life for the next four years. Elected or not there is a role to play for people like you in our community. If elected please feel free to ask old hacks like me for support – irrespective of which Party you represent.

I look forward to welcoming you or welcoming you back to our grand fraternity of councillors

Best Wishes


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The importance of Europe to Liverpool



Let me be clear from the start I am biased in my consideration of the importance of Europe to the City of Liverpool. At the time of the Heath Referendum 40 years ago I was a co-chair of the Yes campaign here and we won in Liverpool as we did nationwide.

I am clear that being an active player in Europe is important for our City and our Country. I implicitly believe in internationalism and the freedom of trade and the freedom of labour. I believe that the lessons of our colonial past should show us all that being a little Englander would have meant that we would have been a small and insignificant little island off the coast of mainland Europe. Whilst I have no wish to recreate the roistering and often abusive colonial times that element of global trading; that element of being bigger than ourselves was of vital importance to us.

Liverpool has seen many benefits from being part of Europe. For 10 years it was an Objective One area and has since seen transition status which has kept our money from Europe high. Some may argue that this is money that would have been given to us instead by the UK government and would not have needed to be repatriated. And pigs might fly! I have no doubt at all that we would have got a fraction from Whitehall of the money we received from Brussels.

Go into the City Centre and see the massive changes which were wrought around the docks, Arena, and L1. That would not have happened without EU money. EU money went into the infrastructure without which the private sector would not have invested and into training, research and facilities to make work the private sector and the third sector. The EU has helped individual companies; our 3 universities; much of our social infrastructure.

Look at the issues nationally and similar things apply. Much of the discussion is whether or not 3,000,000+ jobs depend on our membership of the EU. Those jobs will not disappear immediately if we voted to leave the EU but many of them would go over time. Take the investment made by companies like General Motors in Ellesmere Port. There can be no doubt that if we were not in the EU the investment would have gone to GM plants in Germany or elsewhere in mainland Europe. Many companies from places as diverse as Japan, Korea and the US have made the UK their launch pad into Europe. A launch pad that would not be repeated and would eventually be abandoned if we withdrew.

The free movement of labour is vital to us. Let’s take people coming from the Indian sub-continent. Those at Jaguar Land Rover must be delighted that TATA have moved in and brought some staff with them. They have turned round a declining company and converted into a shining success story and created and safeguarded thousands of jobs both directly and in supplier companies. Too many Africans perhaps? Let’s send them all home – except of course the ones in the Health Service who still provide so much of the labour force of consultants and doctors as well as rank and file workers.

Let me give you five facts in conclusion:

  1. At present Europe dominates the G7 leading industrialised countries. By 2035 there will be no single European Country in the G20 leading industrialised countries. We are being elbowed aside by the BRICs – the MINTs and others. Unless we hand together we will fall apart.
  2. There is no massive bureaucracy in Europe. The whole of the organisation including ‘Embassies’ around the World employs less staff than Derbyshire County Council does!
  3. 75% of UK law does not come from Brussels. Some law – especially environmental law- originates in Brussels but then has to be adapted and adopted by the Governments of the individual countries.
  4. Our ability to apprehend some of the worlds’ most dangerous criminals – especially those in the drugs trade – would be severely limited if we could not work through the European Arrest Warrant system.
  5. Countries like Norway and Switzerland do not succeed very well outside the EU and pay nothing. Both these Countries pay money into the EU but have no say in many laws which they have to enact anyway. A clear case of taxation without representation!

Most of the stuff that you see in some of the gutter press about Europe – the endless stories about straight bananas and square tomatoes is pure fiction. I travel regularly to mainland Europe and less frequently to the US. We have more in common with the French and Germans and Swedes including our attitudes to many issues and the depth of inter trading than we do with none-European countries.

I don’t go to Europe. I wake up in Europe! I am a Scouser, A Northerner, English, British and European. I can be all those things because they do not conflict. The European project is not about an absorption into a common mass whereby local and national characteristic will be consumed. Rather it is a platform of strength from which we can all use our national backgrounds and strengths to ensure a continued prosperity and a sytrengthened place in the World.

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Next steps for the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority

Runcorn bridge


Those of a nervous disposition should note that I am almost certain that Joe Anderson will agree with almost everything I say in this Blog!

The new Liverpool City Region Combined Authority has not got off to a good start. Discussion about its name and who chairs it have obscured the launch of what should be the most significant piece of the Greater Liverpool governance architecture to be completed for decades.

Leaving aside the precise boundaries which should be followed the Greater Liverpool conurbation is a place where local council boundaries have little meaning for the purposes of strategic investment, strategic planning, strategic transport and inward investment.

If a good job is created in Liverpool City Centre it might well be taken by someone living in one of the other 5 boroughs or even further afield. And vice versa. If we want to attract industry and commerce what Liverpool City can offer might not be suitable but the land or opportunities that are available in one of the other 5 Boroughs might be. If we want to attract government investment we need to show cohesion. A road or rail boundary does not stop at the boundary of a council or for that matter at the boundary of a city region.

As an example of this one of the transport priorities supported by the whole of the conurbation lies almost at its edge. Getting a second crossing of the Mersey at Runcorn is vital not only for Halton residents and businesses but also for South Knowsley and South Liverpool economic development and an additional route from the city for port traffic.

I think that there is general, if not unanimous agreement about this. So we just need to get on and deliver those opportunities.

What does the Combined Authority need to do? Just four things but four very complex things:

  1. It needs to articulate a vision for the conurbation based on a clear understanding of our strengths, weaknesses and heritage.
  2. It needs to prioritise the potential growth areas in terms of both geography and sector.
  3. It needs to convert those priorities into a realistic delivery plan which is shared by central and local government; central government; and the private sector.
  4. It needs to deliver that programme.

Fortunately we are not starting from scratch. There has been a Council Leaders meeting since the old county council was abolished in 1984. This was formalised into a City Region Board about 4 years ago. Work is already being undertaken on programme implementation using government funds received by both councils and the Local Enterprise Partnership. These funds are being augmented by the councils themselves; European Money and, most important of all, the private sector who invest their own cash in the opportunities which we inform them about and in some cases create.

To take this forward the City Region now needs to:

  1. Start a great debate about the future with:
  • The people of the conurbation
  • The councils of the conurbation because there has not been much explanation in most councils of what the City Region actually wants to achieve;
  • The private sector both directly with appropriate industries and companies and through proxy bodies such as the Chamber of Commerce
  • Our academic institutions
  • Central Government
  • European Government
  1. To develop much more transparent and open system of governance so that more people know more about what is being done both for them and in their name.
  2. To settle differences between leaders and ensure that lead responsibilities are assigned so that work and actions are not dependent on a share but taken forward by each authority.
  3. To establish a proactive scrutiny system which can do two things:
  • Work alongside the Board to review potential activities and programmes
  • Scrutinise the work of the Board to ensure that robust decision making is taking place.

The scrutiny role is, of course particularly important when the entire Board is composed of Leaders of just one political party. Lead responsibility for that should then rest with none Labour councillors.

As I said at the beginning I suspect that Mayor Anderson will agree with much of this. He and I have and will continue to have our differences on a range of internal Liverpool issues. BUT just as I supported his candidature for the leadership of this combined authority I support his ambition in trying to make the Authority work for all of us and all our futures. The world is a big place and we need to ‘big up’ in many ways to meet the challenges but also the possibilities that lie ahead. Together we can achieve, divided we will fail and fall.

I am sorry this is not as exciting as a written fisticuffs but sometimes the most important things have to be dealt with in a sober and constrained way. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!

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What sort of City do we want to live in?

Recently I was challenged by someone on Facebook that I was only jumping on a band wagon and interested in sound bites over my stance on St Luke’s Church

If so then it is a very long standing bandwagon! In 1975 in one of my first votes in the Council I was one of just 5 councillors to vote to stop the Lyceum (the World’s first lending library) being demolished. We lost that vote but fortunately the then Government refused to allow the delisting.

  • Since then I have consistently fought for good architecture (new and old)
  • The preservation of open spaces
  • Support for small businesses and retailers (and particularly against Tesco PLC)

I do that because I have a consistent set of principles to guide me through the decision making process. I want a Liverpool that is:

  • Environmentally sustainable
  • Socially sustainable
  • Economically sustainable

All those in some parts might be shared by most people. But I then want to go one stage further. I want to see a city which is not a clone city replication of some or indeed every other city. I want my Liverpool to be Scouse to its very roots. Proud of its past and its industrial and economic heritage but confident enough to build on those differences to create a city with an enduring heritage that is unique.

That is why I support campaigns as seemingly different as the St Luke’s campaign; the save the Futurist façade campaign; the Save the Meadowlands campaign and a new one to prevent building on Calderstones Park. That is why I do not believe that our World Heritage status is just a plaque on a wall commemorating our past but a very real ticket to a glorious future. That is why I support the stall holders in Greaty Market and Broadway Market whose continuation is far more important to our city than yet another supermarket.

I don’t hanker for a great past because some of the past is eminently forgettable. I don’t want it to be “Six in a bed at the old Pier Head and its Liverpool Town for me!” but some of our past is worth fighting for and much of our past will provide a strong base for a successful economic future.

So what should the role of people like me be in such debates, discussions and campaigns? Well we should not lead them. If we want to develop a strong inclusive city then the biggest turn off for community activism is a politician trying to chair or lead what should be a grass roots campaign. Take the St Luke’s Church campaign. Within hours thousands of people had signed a petition against its sale. I commented on the proposed sale and raised questions within the council. I have put down a resolution to the next meeting of the council for debate. I will do everything within the system because that is what I have been elected to do.

I neither know nor care how the people who signed that petition vote because when you vote you do so for a wide variety of reasons. But on the St Luke’s issue, if no other, we are fellow travellers and fellow campaigners. If I or colleagues were to take a leading role it would party politicise the debate. Some people would be turned. For others in the system it would be the great excuse, “Oh they’re all Lib Dem’ – it’s just politics”.

The role of a politician then must be to support grass roots campaigns where they agree with them. If they do not support objectives because of their own principles then they should be strong enough to say that they will not support them. Even then as part of a democratic system I will tell people what remedies and mechanisms are available to them because that must be my job.

I do believe that increasingly many people are also coming to the ‘Scouse City’ view of things. I see lots of people who are campaigning both on the St Luke’s and the Sefton Park Meadowlands. I think that everyone who is on the same side of the debate should join he debate. I am not going to ask you to join or support the Lib Dems (although you would be very welcome!) but I am going to ask you to help take forward what should be the great debate but a debate which is rarely voiced. The debate on what sort of Liverpool do we want to live in. Whatever your views on these issues make them know. Talk about them in the pub and the workplace. Set up face book accounts or hold public meetings where people can meet each other physically rather than in an ethereal e-form.

I think there may well be a majority for such views in the city. In so many ways that majority should challenge the Barbarians who are not at the gates of the Town Hall but at present are firmly ensconced within them.

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Labour make mockery of Greater Liverpool



Yesterday which should have seen the start of a brave new venture to attract industry and commerce to our Greater Liverpool Conurbation instead saw us descend into an ‘April Fool’s Joke’ of mega proportions. 6 apparently grown up men seem to have played tricks on each other with a vote being taken whilst two of them were out of the room and a prefixed caucus from 4 of them to make a decision about the choice of chair. This, of course, follows an earlier private breaking of Labour ranks about the name of the new body.

I have just issued the press release below which I hope is self-explanatory. I have only ever believed in the combined authority as a stepping stone to a properly elected body. I do NOT want to recreate the 99 member County Council. London manages with just 25 members on the Greater London Assembly. I believe that we should have the same number to deal with these strategic functions and take over the Police, Waste and Recycling, Transport and Fire functions. This would take out a range of joint boards and of course the none job of Police Commissioner.

That body could, like London have both constituency representatives and a top up vote to provide a proportionality to end what is currently a one party state with all members of the combined authority being Labour.

In the meantime Liverpool cannot pull out of an authority which has been established by law. Nor should it. We must make a bad job work and we must do it swiftly before even more damaging headlines are created which will hinder our efforts to create much needed jobs in our community. The only winners to come out this total lash up are the 10 Manchester authorities led by Sir Richard Leese. Manchester 3 points – Liverpool 0!

This is my press release – what do you think?

Call for new elected body for Greater Liverpool

Liverpool’s Lib Dem leader Councillor Richard Kemp has described Labour’s internal rows over the leadership and naming of the Liverpool City Region as, “totally unacceptable and the idea that Liverpool might pull out of an organisation that it helped create on day two of its existence would make us the laughing stock of the Country.”

“Here we have an organisation that has proved to be massively effective in Greater Manchester but which has fallen at the first fence in Greater Liverpool. Whilst I firmly believe that the Leader or Mayor of Liverpool should be the chair of this body it is not the most important factor in its success. It is vital that this body be made to work because it will create long term investment from both the public and private sectors. Its key jobs are upgrading our infrastructure and attracting inward investment. Only by working together as one team can we hope to attract investment that will otherwise go to the South East of England.”

“I am writing today to David Cameron and Nick Clegg to remind them that they have told me at different times that they would make legislative time available for a Merseyside led solution to governance issues. I now believe that we need to put in place a small elected Greater Liverpool Authority which would take over these strategic infrastructure and investment activities and the work of the four Merseyside activities for police, fire, waste and recycling and transport”.

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What sort of retailers do you want in Liverpool?

farmers Market

Local Produce for sale at the Allerton Road farmer’s market

Over the past few days I have pondering the biggest question which never seems to be asked or answered in Liverpool, “What sort of city do we want to live in?”  I will be doing a blog about this later in the week but in the meantime here is a resolution which I have tabled for the next meeting of the City Council on the 16th April.

It deals with the retail sector and Lib Dems are saying clearly that the bland and boring supermarkets and the multiple retail chains should only be part of our retail offer. We need to support markets and independent traders because they add to the product range, give vitality to our offer and ensure that money circulates within the city rather than leeching away to tax havens.

I’ll let you know what the Council does with this resolution in due course. In the meantime – what do you think?

Leader of the Opposition Resolution for City Council

Retailing in Liverpool by Councillor Richard Kemp CBE

Council recognises that the provision of high quality markets and the development of a strong Liverpool based independent retail sector in Liverpool has many benefits including:

*    Attracting visitors into the City

*    Developing local spending patterns which keeps cash in the City instead of being drained off to tax havens.

*    Encouraging entrepreneurship (Marks & Spencer would not have been started without an indoor market and Matalan would not have been started without Great Homer Street Market).

*    The development of manufacturing activities especially in the field of locally produced food  products.

It believes that more markets and independent retailers will produce a wider range of options for the residents of the City and visitors to the city than more bland and boring supermarket chains.

Accordingly it asks the Mayor to:

1.    Redevelop the Dryden Street site for Great Homer street market at a suitable size to ensure that all existing outside pitch holders can have pitches of the same side as at present with sufficient space to park vehicles off site during the trading period.

2.    Renew efforts to find solutions to avoid 30 job losses at the Broadway market which will also have a knock on effect on the shop based retailers there.

3.    Undertake a review of all our markets strategies with Geraud to:

*    Effectively market all Farmer’s Markets

*    Create strong links between market opportunities and small manufacturing businesses.

*    Develop a wider range of locally based craft and artisan markets

*    Develop a wider range of craft markets using our council owned buildings such as St George’s Hall.

*    Review the opportunities of the Christmas market events in the City centre to create a greater set of opportunities for Merseyside based businesses.

4.    To have regular events both in markets and with shop based retailers to promote goods from large and small companies alike which are produced inside the Liverpool City Region conurbation.

5. To support initiatives like Independent Liverpool which encourage joint activities to promote independent retailers.

6. To examine the possibility of setting up mini ‘BIDS’ in each of our district centres such as Allerton Road, Aigburth Road, Walton Vale, Broadway, Old Swan, Woolton Village, Breck Road to improve the retail offer and especially to support the independent retailers on those roads.



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Council Motion Regarding St Luke’s (the bombed out) Church



Attached below is a motion that I am placing before the next meeting of the City Council. I hope that it won’t be debated because I have made no comments about how we got to this position or why. I simply want the council to unanimously agree a way forward which preserves this building which is clearly so important in the view of so many people.

I will, of course, keep you informed of what the other Parties say and whether or not I think we can manage a consensus way forward which I hope should be possible.

What do you think? Comment here or e-mail me at

St Luke’s Church by Cllr Richard Kemp CBE

Council notes with concern the confusion about the future of St Luke’s Church.

It places on record its view that the building should be retained in council ownership but managed by a new non-profit making trust established with the aims of:

  • Keeping intact the heritage and culture of the Church particularly in so far as it’s commemoration of the civilians killed in WWII bombings and those Irish people who died after famines whilst trying to seek a new life in the New World.
  • Applying for grants to enable the stabilisation and continued upkeep of the building
  • Run appropriate activities in the building which would provide an income towards running costs but respect the building’s heritage.

It requests the Director of Regeneration to report urgently to the Regeneration Select Committee and the Cabinet about the implications of this motion with a view to its early implementation.

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