Letter from China

In case any of you are suffering because I have not been using Twitter or Facebook it’s because it am In China and they are not allowed here. I can however blog!

Before anyone says I am on a freeby, junket or jolly I spent 33 hours getting here, and it will take me 26 hours to get back. I am here in total for 4 days and have already spoken twice using Liverpool as an exemplar of certain types of activity. I am now in a pre meeting for the Executive Bureau of United Cities and Local Government. UCLG this a sort of UN for local government. 173 countries are members of UCLG and I have been the UK representative for 8 years. I have just been asked to take on a role for this organisation which I will explain as soon as I worked out what it is.

I haven’t really seen much of China. So let me tell you what it is like being part of an international gathering. For an internationalist like myself it is great. Different languages, different clothing, different customs could be things that force us apart. Instead it is the difference that unites us! Everyone here is an internationalist otherwise we would not be here. We believe in two things:

1. The importance of local government and local delivery. Of course not everyone has the same belief in local democracy that we do in Western Europe and North America but whatever type of democracy or lack thereof the is no doubt that the more local delivery; the more local the decision making; the better the service will be.

2. We believe in working together by learning from each other and then supporting each other. This is particularly true of those of us from developed areas who wish to help those who, for whatever reason are unable to Ada CE as quickly as possible to our standards of service delivery. This means poorer living conditions, health conditions and education conditions for much of the world.

One of the things I have been spending most time on is the implementation of a new programmes for local government from the EU. For the first time the EU has set up programmes to help local government deliver services. and improve their capacity. Previously help only went to councils through national governments. EU member councils will provide assistance to these colleagues using staff and elected member resources. As I reported back from my visit to the UN they too are considering direct help to councils And are involving UCLG in the key decision making processes in New York. I wish that the UK government was as enlightened. Some of their money gets wasted either because the institutions they put money into lack the capacity to use the money effectively or because there is corruption.

I hope I can persuade the LGA to fully enter into and a support these international programmes. They are fully funded so there will be no charge to local taxpayers. We can not only provide expertise but we can learn from other countries in other situations. Looking seeing and helping can bring returns by way of new thinking and new experiences for our own councils and the citizens we serve.

Just a few thoughts about what I have heard.

Firstly in many ways we do not know how lucky we are to live in a part of the world that is geographically stable. Yesterday I heard terrible but uplifting stories about how countries had suffered earth quakes, volcanoes and tsunamis. Within 1/2 years these countries has been able to stabilise their services BUT it took 10 years to get back to normal. Everywhere they talked of the wasted 10 years. The strength of the human spirit in dealing with such shocking situations is uplifting. “Yes we can” is not a political slogan in the Pacific rim but an actuality. People who have lost their entire families work together and band together to recreate their communities and their lives.

Secondly we should also be pleased that for the past 70 years we have lived in an area of great political stability. I was with Mayors from Lebanon yesterday and tried to put their experiences into context. They have had many people pour over the borders from Syria in the past 3 years. In proportion it would be the same as the people for England absorbing the people of Wales and Ireland. Not only providing them with basic housing big food, health services, education and at a rudimentary level all the things that we need to survive.

They do this with relatively little help from the developed countries although I am proud to say that the UK is often mentioned as a generous donor that keeps its word. That is why we should keep to our commitment to give 0.7% of GDP to aid activity in line with UN targets. When the Disaster Emergencies Committee appeals for help it pours in because of the generosity of British people. It is sad that a relatively small number of politicians appeal to the less generous concerns of a minority and seek to restrict this help.

But it’s not all work and disasters! Last night the European section met for dinner. I sat next to the President and a fellow Liberal who is Mayor of Alemere in Holland. She was saying how she had to learn all the national anthems of major European Countries when she was a girl. Her challenge was to sing them providing we joined in with our own anthem. She managed 8 of them but what impressed me was that she knew the second verse of ours. Most Brits don’t know we sometimes sing 2 verses (there are in fact 3 verses). I have heard many people sing the first verse twice to disguise their lack of knowledge!

Last night we made fun of each other’s. I blamed the Swedes for the viking invasions and the French for 1066! I took the credit for single handedly freeing the World from the German scourge. all this whilst sitting next to a close friend of mine a Mayor from Germany. We could joke because we were comfortable in each other’s company and knew that we were joking about some things that others would take seriously. Inevitably after the national anthems competition we snag a few more things. Some people knew Beatles’ songs better that I did!

Delightfully for me so many of the delegates here complimented me on the way they were looked after when they came to Liverpool in June. They thought our city was marvellous; that our public organisations were efficient and that our citizens were friendly. They are, of course, absolutely right! Already two people have told me that they came back for weekend breaks with their families. others said that they were planning to do so. When people come to our city they are entranced, want to come back and want to seek opportunities to work with us politically and commercially. I was proud to bring so many international visitors to our City and look forward to bringing back even more.

I am now going to listen to a session about water problems. isn’t it great to be able to turn on a tap and the previous fluid of life comes out of it. we have many problems in our country not least of which is the problem of inequality within our country. we are one of the richest countries in the world. If we had the will no-one in our Country would need to be ill educated, ill housed or ill fed. When in see what other countries can achieve with their scarce resources I am spurred on the greater efforts in my own.

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Emily Thornberry, Politics and Liverpool

Liver Bird

You might well ask, “what has Emily Thornberry got to do with Liverpool?” The answer, mercifully, is very little! However what you can see in Liverpool is the sort of contemptuous attitude that she and people like her have for ‘ordinary’ people. For those who aren’t paying attention ‘ordinary people’ are those that live outside the Whitehall or Town Hall bubble.
Apparently Emily is a rich woman with a number of homes. She chooses to be a Labour MP and to be fair to her she is different from many people in Parliament (of all parties) in that she has at least had a real job. But in many ways she is very like Joe Anderson. Did you hear on Monday on Radio Merseyside or at the Council meeting the previous week? On both occasions he accused me of lying. Totally without foundation. In the council I couldn’t respond. On Radio Merseyside Roger Phillips was urged to cut me off or Joe would hang up.
Emily tweeted the photo not because she thought it funny that every window of the house was covered in flags so that they could not see out them. She tweeted, with a sneer’ because she had made assumptions about the people inside the house. She assumed that they were not her type of person. England flags with a white van – just not our type dear boy!
Well I am as proud of my Country as the white van man Emily holds in contempt. I am as passionate about our city and the people who live here as Joe Anderson. It’s just that I see different solutions than them. I think that their hearts are right but that their politics is wrong.
The first thing that all UK politicians should be aware of because we work inside a democracy is that people have different opinions. People with different opinions are not ‘liars’ and they are not plebs either. Sometimes they might be wrong to hold those opinions or support those policies. Sometimes they might be right. In a democracy unless the views are totally disgusting we all must edge around and work out together what is right so that a consensus can evolve which the majority of the electorate can be satisfied with.
In Liverpool on Monday next week it is possible that we will see the birth of a new none-political, political movement. None-political in that they do not seem to want to be a political party but political in that they want to exert an influence of political parties. They have come together not because they necessarily share the same political viewpoints but because they share the same contempt for the way that politics is conducted in this city.
They seem to have three things in common.
• They don’t like the fact that the city has an elected mayor without it being the people of the city who made that decision.
• They believe that the Council doesn’t own anything but holds our parks and loively buildings ,in trust for the people.
• That politics in Liverpool needs reforming because of a clear lack of a link between governed and governors
If those are indeed their objectives I support them. Our political system in this Country, never mind this City, is broken. I have met several of the groups that are coming together next Monday I could work with them on these three objectives. But there we might part company. Many of the views expressed by some of the members of the Group are clearly contrary to the views that I hold. But I am not contemptuous of them for that but pleased that they have views, will debate and discuss them and are committed to doing things within our City.
I will not be in Liverpool next Monday because at 3.30 tomorrow morning I leave my home for 7 days to travel to China where I will represent the UK at a major international gathering. I would probably not have gone to the meeting anyway because it is a meeting when they themselves will be establishing their territory; deciding what they want to do and getting cracking on their priorities.
My offer is to go and meet and debate with any of their groups or the group as a whole. I am prepared to listen; debate; say where I agree and equally say where I disagree. I will go and try and engage with anyone anywhere who I believe has the interests of the city at heart. I might try and convert them to my viewpoint – they will certainly try and convert me to theirs.
That’s democracy. I believe in it that is why Democrat is half of my Party’s name. I hope that I practice it. If you want to go along and see what is going on the meeting takes place at 8 p.m. at the ENVI club in Fleet Street next Monday 24th November.
If anyone wants a debate on these issue I am definitely free at 3 a.m. tomorrow morning whilst I wait for a taxi!

PS I was just about to publish this blog when up pops a tweet which links to an article about the white van issue from Ed Milliband. It would appear that Mr Milliband, ‘Always respects white van drivers!” Well I don’t! If I find the white van driver who cut me up on the M56 10 days ago I will give him a piece of my mind. You see Mr Milliband there are some revolting people who are white van drivers and some lovely ones. In fact they probably have the same mix of nice and nasty as any other segment of our country. It’s almost as contemptuous to say you like all of them as to assume that they are people you would not like as Ms Thornberry did.

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A referendum about the elected mayoralty of Liverpool?


Last Thursday, following an absolutely disgraceful Council meeting I wrote the following,
“I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that we need to have a referendum on whether we should have an elected mayor. Remember that the people of Liverpool were denied a vote on the issue and that all but one of the Cities that held a referendum rejected the Mayoral model. I had thought until recently that a referendum would be a distraction but so damaging is Mayor Anderson to Liverpool that perhaps we all need to think again and collect the 16,000 votes needed for a referendum”.
Some people interpreted that as a sign that not only had I launched such a referendum but would lead the campaign. I want to make clear that this is not the case. For reasons I elaborate on below I believe that such a referendum should now be held. I will not, however, lead such a campaign. This is not because I do not relish a fight or support the aims of this fight but because I have always believed that major constitutional change should be the decision of the people of an area and not its politicians. That is why I wrote to all the Labour leaders in the City Region two years ago suggesting that they should help establish a Constitutional Convention to consider the governance that would be required by a stronger, more powerful city region. I also moved an amendment in Council that we should not choose an elected Mayor but should await a referendum in May 2012.
So I will not lead a campaign but am happy to support one for the reasons given below:
1. A clear reason that people feel able to attack the Mayor is because a very large number of them do not feel that there should be an elected mayor and that they were cheated out of the right to be part of that historic decision making process. Had the people voted for an elected mayor they would appreciate the fact that he had more of a right to govern than one chosen after the back-handed method used in Liverpool. As it happens I do not believe that the people of Liverpool would have voted for the mayoralty any more than did the people of places like Manchester, Leeds or Newcastle.
2. The mayoralty has failed in one of the key objectives set by the Government which was to increase electoral turnout. At two meetings the Mayor claimed that turnout was at Parliamentary levels for his election – nothing could be further from the truth. In fact in 2012 approximately 2,000 more people voted in the council elections than voted on the same day for the mayoral election.
3. Cllr Anderson, as he then was, told us that having a Mayor would get us more powers than having a Leader. Despite the Deputy Prime Minister saying that this was incorrect the Labour party pushed on. Of course it was incorrect. The Government would have needed to create primary legislation to move powers around and there was no likelihood that they would do it for a handful of councils never mind just for Liverpool.
4. Cllr Anderson also told us that Liverpool would get more money if we had a mayoralty. This can only bring a hollow laugh! In regional terms the pool has been scooped by the Manchester City Region at the heart of which is a city without a mayor. On both a gross and per capita calculation Manchester CR has done far better than Liverpool CR.
5. There is some evidence coming out of the ‘smoke filled’ rooms of the Labour Party that the existence of a City mayor is hampering proper discussion and the development of a way forward on the creation of a new authority for the City Region. Notably Liverpool’s Mayor failed to convince his fellow Labour Leaders of his call for a City Region Mayor perhaps because it is so closely connected with his ambition to do the job himself.
6. Decision making has become a joke in Liverpool. The council lacks openness and transparency with reports, most of which should be available to the public, shrouded in ‘commercial confidentiality clauses. Decision are made on the whim of the mayor ranging from the suspension of the bus lanes to the sale of a park which the mayor does not think is well used. The mayor makes a decision and officers have to scurry around to try and find ways of justifying that decision often using expensive consultants (see Cunard Building!!)
7. There is no scrutiny of the Executive. In law we are supposed to follow the Parliamentary model where the decisions of the Executive (i.e. the Government) are appropriately challenged by everyone else. In Liverpool we have a select committee system which exists on a diet of PowerPoints delivered by outside agencies and officers to make councillors think they are important.
8. It costs a lot of money. Having a Mayor; a deputy Mayor and about 9 mayoral leads is costing taxpayers about £250,000 a year more than the council leader model which was just as effective.
Those are my arguments for the change but there is one argument that I do not feel is relevant – the quality of Mayor Anderson himself. People get who they vote for but they vote for different reasons. Our Party is very small in Liverpool not, mostly, not because of our actions but because of national politics. Labour have a large majority not because people like the mayor but because they dislike Nick Clegg. The democratic process however allows people to vote how they want to and why they want to and that means that under any system in any way you can end up with an ugly duckling instead of a swan!!!
So how can this get taken forward? At their request I have already had a meeting with representatives of three organisations who intend in the New Year to campaign for an end to the elected mayoralty by way of a referendum. I am more than happy to convene a first meeting of these and any other groups to introduce people to each other and to explain how to go about getting a referendum. Then, however, I would leave the discussions.
Whether or not Liverpool has an Elected Mayor should be a decision of its People. If there is to be a campaign for a referendum it should be conducted by people outside the formal political structures who might be seen to have a personal or party-political self interest in such a decision.
Now however, in my opinion, is the right time for such discussions to be had and such a referendum to be held. In that, as in all things that I try to do, I will act as a servant of the people of Liverpool. So what do you think? You can comment here, on my Facebook page (cllrKemp@facebook.com) on my twitter account (cllrkemp@twitter.com) or e-mail me at richardkemp68@yahoo.co.uk. Over to you organisations and people of Liverpool!

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Disgraceful scenes at last night’s council meeting


Last night’s council meeting was an absolute disgrace. This was not because of the way that the Lord Mayor conducted the meeting (would I dare to criticise her?!) but the way that the Elected Mayor of Liverpool conducted himself!
As people left the meeting and conducted a debate on what had transpired afterwards three words were used about the Mayor. No doubt he imagines himself being described with words like great statesman; marvellous leader, wily politician. The words being used most frequently were bully, cheat and disgrace.
Let’s take where the concerns of the people started – the very first item!
In what is broadly described as Mayoral Announcements the Mayor made not one single announcement. Instead for 20 minutes he lambasted his opponents and in that time launched no less than 7 attacks on me. These attacks do not personally bother me because they were a mix of half-truths, evasions and total fantasy. All of them could have been answered to the satisfaction of any neutral observer. The only trouble was that no-one but the Mayor can speak on this item. He confirmed publicly that he would not even answer questions from me. You must decide for yorself whether those actions can be construed as proper leadership or as people said, “the actions of a bully and a coward”. Joe Anderson loves to dish out the attacks but is incredibly thin skinned when it comes to accepting criticism.
The Mayor could have been making an announcement on all sorts of things that should have been raised in the Council Chamber. We would have liked to hear about why he was unable to get his fellow Labour Leaders to back the idea of a City-Region Mayor last Saturday and what he intends to do next. He could have told us why the Santa Dash and other major sporting/charitable events in the city are under threat. He could have told us why spending got totally out of hand in the refurbishment of the Cunard Building with purchases that would have made the Shah of Iran envious! He chose to tell councillors nothing – he chose to tell the people of Liverpool nothing about these issues. He chose to resort instead to cheap and unanswerable political sneering and posturing.
Joe does not like to admit this but I support 90% of what he is doing in Liverpool. He knows that money would have been incredibly tight even if Labour had been re-elected to Government and to his credit admitted it last night. BUT the biggest difference between us is our style of politics. I don’t think that Liverpool needs an Emperor but a Leader. I don’t believe that the Leader of the City should spend much of his time mocking its citizens but should work with them. I don’t believe that places like Allerton Golf Course should be privatised but leased to their users on a none-profit making basis. I believe in creating partnerships not creating tensions. I believe in working together with all the people of Liverpool and not driving wedges between communities and the council and each other. I believe in openness and transparency and a system where councillors and the public do not need to resort to FOI requests for information from the council to which they are entitled.
And that’s is what people dislike about the Mayor. Not so much what he does but how he behaves. Nationally he is loved by the Tories because he dances to their game. (Incidentally I am proud to say that there are very few national Tories who like me or I like!) Locally he is despised by much of the Labour Party which is why our City Region is proceeding so slowly. On the BBC television programme last week about devolution his most significant intervention was an attack on a Labour MP!

On the main  issue that we discussed there was little agreement between us. Yet again he put decsion making off into a Commission when the council could have both legally and practically said that they would not sell off Sefton Park Meadowlands; The Harthill Estate of Caldersones Park; Walton Hall Park etc. On these vital issues of concern Labour tried to throw sand in the eyes of the people of Liverpool by mis-stating the role of the Liverpool Plan and their powers as a land owner and planning authority. They could have voted to keep our parks safe for our grandchildren but chose not to. Let me warn Labour that the clamour will not die down. The fight will go on until the Parks are safe.
I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that we need to have a referendum on whether we should have an elected mayor. Remember that the people of Liverpool were denied a vote on the issue and that all but one of the Cities that held a referendum rejected the Mayoral model. I had thought until recently that a referendum would be a distraction but so damaging is Mayor Anderson to Liverpool that perhaps we all need to think again and collect the 16,000+ votes needed for a referendum.
Let me close by repeating the challenge that I made in Council last night. I will debate any issue which is affecting the people of Liverpool on the Pete Price show; on Radio Merseyside or in any public debate with a neutral chair to which the people of Liverpool were admitted and could join the debate and ask questions.
I just don’t think that Joe Anderson is man enough to accept the challenge to a debate where the rules aren’t rigged to make him the victor. We shall see!

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Labour blunders to right decision on Liverpool’s libraries


The Mansion House where the Reader Organisation is encouraging thousands to read and use the written word

Like a giant mammoth pricked by the 20,000 arrows of the petitioners of Liverpool Joe Anderson has finally stumbled to what might be the right decision on Liverpool’s libraries. The sad thing is that if we had in Liverpool a council with vision and direction capable of thinking ahead and creating real partnerships the anguish felt by library users and staff in the past few months could have been avoided.
No-one likes someone who says, I told you so”, but Mayor Anderson and the Labour Party in Liverpool don’t like me anyway so here goes.
For the past two and a half years I have been saying that we needed to have a close look at our library service and see if it is fit for purpose. Times have changed and nothing has changed quicker and more dramatically than the way in which we communicate. For the past decade our libraries have stood still. Yes they had more computers than before but to all intents and purposes the looked and felt like libraries have done since libraries were invented.
This was at a time when readership of newspapers had slumped and a mass increase had started in the way people bought books. Not books now in a physical sense but books downloaded from the internet and held in I-pads, I-phones and computers. When I said this in council two years ago I was mocked by the Cabinet Member responsible for libraries. Yet a year later my words were heeded and Liverpool launched its own e-library programme with more than 1,000,000 books available.
These changes do not mean that there is now no need for a library but that our libraries need to change if they are to meet their continued need. That need can be defined as:
• A place where we can access the written word
• A place where we can be helped to access the written word
• A place where we can come together as a community to appreciate the written word
• A place where we can come to study the written word.
All these together mean that we need places with books and computers but open up the possibilities of doing them in very different ways.
If you want to see new ways of doing things go to the Reader Organisation in Calderstones Park almost any day of the week. There you will see a wide range of activities which could be classed as ‘library like’. People come together in a range of classes, reader groups, play groups, fun groups to explore both reading and writing. Those concepts are then taken further with people exploring drama, acting and reading. Together these activities are important in their own right. Anything that encourages the increased skill base with the written word is good for the individual and for the city. But the end results are much, much more important than that. Being able to read at a higher level, being able to speak aloud and be listed to; being able to use your voice to promote an argument rather than shouting are all things that help people to get jobs. Yes reading is about pleasure but yes it is about employability and the future as well.
Over the past two years as the threat to libraries became more apparent ‘Friends of Libraries’ have been established all over Liverpool. In my own Ward Erica and Andrew Makinson have been active in establishing and supporting a Friends group at Allerton Library. This group has an increasing number of activities which not only do things within the library to encourage reading but sue the library as a base to go out and meet people. The Friends of Garston Library have been particularly active with a range of innovative competitions and meetings.
All this support was always available to the Council if it had found a way of asking for it. What they did was to be political about it. “It’s Nick Clegg’s fault”, they say and it’s the cuts. It’s what they say about everything! But Government cuts were not the most important consideration here but the changing face of book use. If we had not changed the way we do things then our libraries would, over the next decade, have declined as we lost the ‘market’ as a supplier of services concerned with the written word.
How much better it would have been if instead of resorting to crude politics the Council had stated clearly an openly the facts about the need for change. Had right from the start made it clear they were open for offers and wanted to talk to people about innovation. In that way all the solutions that have been proposed by the community which are now being worked up come have come forward in a rational and positive way.
The need for vision, strategy and competence needs to embed itself through every service in the council. Take Allerton Municipal Golf Course which has been saved by being privatised! Last year the council refused to allow the Golfers themselves to enter the tender process to take over the course. Apparently they had no track record as an organisation – which was of course true. Yet they had a committee composed of people who knew the course well and knew what was preventing it making money. The membership includes more solicitors, accountants and business people than you could shake a stick at. Was it really that they had no track record or was it that the Council had no trust in the people and see privatisation as the answer to everything?
Vision, strategy and competence are in short supply in Liverpool Council as anyone who comes to the Council meeting on Wednesday will see. We need to challenge the Labour party in this city but we equally need to challenge the system which allows a city of giants to be run by a council of pygmies.

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Liverpool Opposition groups unite to fight green space sell off


Protestors in Walton Hall Park demonstrating against Joe Anderson’s plans to develop the Park

Opposition councillors from the Lib Dem, Green and Liberal Parties supported by independent councillor Jake Morrison have come together to put a resolution condemning changes in the Liverpool Plan which would mean the sell off and development of parks and other green spaces.
Lib Dem Leader, Cllr Richard Kemp said, “From Jericho Lane in the South to Walton Hall Park in the North via Sefton Park, Calderstones Park, Newsham Park and Wavertree our green heritage is threated by a Labour Group who value the befits of such spaces very lightly indeed. Were we to have a referendum on these issues the people of Liverpool would vote heavily against these proposals. Labour are going to try and sneak them through”.
Cllr Richard Kemp can be contacted on 07885 626913. The full text of the resolution is appended below.
Resolution from Cllrs Richard Kemp CBE, Barbara Mace, Steve Radford, Kevin Morrison, Hazel Williams, Jake Morrison, John Coyne, Laurence Brown, Tom Crone, Sarah Jennings

Council notes with concern that within the response to the Consultation on the Local Plan that council officers have listed a large number of sites currently used for green open space purposes as being suitable for development for housing.
It notes that the Council is currently negotiating the sale of land at Sefton Park Meadowlands and is proposing to sell of the whole of Walton Hall Park for development.
It notes that the Riding for the Disabled Association has received a written assurance that the move to Clarke Gardens which will necessitate the provision of new stables, paddocks and exercise yard will be financed from the sale of the land which the RDA currently occupies in Calderstones Park.
It notes that a requirement of the Local Plan is that a plentiful supply of land for housing purposes needs to be identified. It believes that land has already been identified in Liverpool in the Mayoral Development Zones, North and South Docks and other brown field land within the city formerly occupied by housing to meet the 15 year horizon required by the Local Plan process even though not all this is currently formerly listed for housing.
It notes however that the population of the City has started to rise and that it is doing so because Liverpool is now seen to be a green and pleasant city with a vibrant city centre and an improving economic and educational outlook.
Council believes that Liverpool will need all its current green space if it is to adequately cope with the planned growth in population and accordingly:
1. Requests the Mayor to rescind his recent decision to sell Sefton Park Meadowlands and similarly withdraw the outline proposals he has made for the redevelopment of Walton Hall Park
2. Requests council officers to work with local residents to redevelop the former MANWEB site in Wavertree primarily for Community Sports use.
3. Requests council officers to enter into negotiations with the Riding for the Disabled Association to allow for a long term lease for the current site in Calderstones Park to enable them to attract funds to enhance the facilities at that location.
4. Instructs officers to cease to consider the use of part of Woolton Woods for the development of St Julie’s School and to find alternative methods for the redevelopment of the school.
5. Resolves that all land zoned for green space uses within the current Urban Development Plan be designated as such within the prosed Local Development Framework unless officers can identify other land in the vicinity of such land which could be ‘swapped’ for current green space if a specific need has been identified.

In particular the pieces of land at or near:
• Maiden Lane Playing Fields
• Cherry Lane Recreation Ground, Walton
• Clubmoor Recreation Ground North, Walton
• Newsham Park
• Ye Priory, Allerton
• Detached playing Fields, Tramway Road
6. That officers from appropriate departments be asked to liaise with the appropriate resident and campaign groups to ensure that suitable uses and ownership and leases for the areas be developed to ensure their long-term use for green spaces.

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The Secrecy that is Stifling Democracy in Liverpool

Labour Rose

Last week the Council agreed a major report which transferred control of hundreds of staff and millions of pounds of assets and running costs from a joint venture to the direct control of the council. You would expect that as this is a major action there would be a full, comprehensive and lengthy report on this matter. Well perhaps there is but I have to tell you that I do not know because neither I nor any other councillor has seen the report.
What I have seen is a 4 page poorly written report from our officers with as back up a further 4 page report from KPMG who had been appointed to ‘oversee the process.’ Some answers were provided at the Mayoral Select Committee but it was like drawing teeth without an anaesthetic! The fact is that the Lib Dems, Liberal and Green Parties were not satisfied with what we had seen and what we were being told and supported an amendment that I moved that the meeting be adjourned to allow representation from KPMG so that we could ask them questions directly. No chance! Crucially no member of the Cabinet with the possible exception of the Mayor had seen the full ‘due diligence’ report – apparently not one of them had asked for it.
As an elected member I have no idea about the detail of what is going on. Liverpool Council corporately is a shareholder in the joint venture. When I asked how I exercised my rights as one of the 90 shareholders I was told that those rights had already been exercised by officers. So apparently bureaucrats now take precedence over those of us who bother to go out and ask for votes.
One interesting issue is how we will treat the potential redundancy, voluntary or otherwise, of one individual. I did not ask how much that individual would be paid I simply wanted details of how the potential redundancy payment would be calculated as I have been repeatedly told that we did not know the pension or salary arrangements of this individual because he was being paid by the Joint Venture. As a councillor this information was denied to me which means that a payment of £500,000 or more than a £1 for every resident of Liverpool could be paid out without members and the public even knowing the basis on which the payment might be made.
Interestingly we were told that the reason that we could not see the KPMG report was that the writers of the report were insisting on ‘commercial confidentiality’.
Here is where we see an interesting parallel because it is the second major report where apparently the consultants have insisted that their report should be dealt with in this way. The first is, of course the one relating to Cunard Building. Four weeks ago I wrote to a senior officer and asked not to see a copy of the report but copies of the contract or exchange of letters which established the work which showed that such a request had been made. In response I got a terse letter saying that I was challenging the integrity of officers. When I replied that I still wanted the information I was told, two weeks later, that I could not have a copy of the report which is commercially confidential. I knew that already and had not been asking for it. I still want to know why this report is confidential and have also asked why the Mayor was allowed to make public a key part of that report which no-one else could see.
In the UK it is standard practice that any consultants’ report becomes the property of the person or organisation that commissioned it. The Cunard report was undertaken by a Dutch company. So I checked with the Dutch LGA and that is the same practice in Holland as well. So we have two reports where it is claimed that commercial confidentiality is applied by the people doing the work but I have yet to receive proof of this in the case of one of them (neither has the Liverpool Echo).
I accept the principle of commercial confidentiality and willingly accept that parts of both the reports I am talking about should not be revealed. But the majority of both these reports should be available for councillors to scrutinise on behalf of the people that paid for them – the people of Liverpool.
This is just another example of what is going wrong in Liverpool. Basic information is kept from the people of Liverpool by restrictive reports and by the total failure of the 78 Labour councillors to hold their Mayor to account. Whether they are scared of him; are hoping for financial preferment; or genuinely believe that the Mayor walks on water I do not know. I do know that for whatever reasons they are not doing the job that they are being paid for.
I have been around a long time and remember the City Council in the 90’s when this sort of behaviour was manifest whilst Liverpool had a council tax 20% higher than the next council and our delivery of services were the third worst in England. I became part of a team that undertook two Corporate Government Inspections in two of the worst councils in England – Walsall and Rotherham. What is happening in Liverpool is reminiscent of all those three sets of circumstances. It’s hardly surprising that on two occasions in the last cycle of meetings an attempt by opposition groups to have a proper bench-marked performance management system in place within the Council was knocked back.
Today I will do what I can within the law to get to the facts. I am submitting an FOI request to my own council to try and get to the bottom of how ‘commercial confidentiality’ could be applied so rigorously to reports the generality of which should be available to taxpayers.
Sad isn’t it that I have to go to such lengths!?

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