Joe Anderson – A comment too far

We all make mistakes and I include myself in that statement. I always find that the best thing to do when you have made a mistake is to admit it – apologise – and move on. Not doing so damages relationships and damages the ability to work with others. That is no good for anyone. So here’s my mistake.

On the Saturday before the election I was out with colleagues in and around our HQ in Greenbank Ward. We were approached by 5/6 local residents with whom we had no political affiliation who told us not only that the streets had been swept for the first time in living memory on a Saturday but also that they had been told that it was because there was an election on.

As you might guess that made me angry. Although I did not issue a press release or blog about it I did mention it to a journalist when he rang me about other matters. I made clear that if this was indeed the case it would be a major breach of priority and abuse of power.

Subsequently I found out that although the Mayor had been involved in discussions with the contractors concerned but they were over a wider concern that a city-wide contract which was approximately one year old was not being properly delivered properly and that the streets were not in the condition that they should be.

It is, of course absolutely right and proper that the Mayor should make his viewpoint known on such issues and try to ensure that contracts are properly delivered. Indeed the Mayor is still working on this matter and has issued a Youtube video to that effect recently. The contractor had indeed decided to act but they decided which areas to choose for remedial action and when it should be done and not the Mayor or any officer of the Council.

Having been told by officers that this was the case I should have contacted the journalists (another one subsequently contacted me) to say what I had been told and that my enquiries had shown that the actions of the Mayor were fit and proper and the decision to work in Greenbank had not been his. I can make the excuse that I was tired and that it was election week and that excuse would be true but is not good enough. I should have corrected the impression that I made.

So I apologise unreservedly to the Mayor for leaving extant the impression that he had abused his powers. I accept that he has acted in good faith throughout in trying to get value for money for the City. I hope that this apology will be accepted in the spirit in which it was offered so that we can continue to work together, where possible and appropriate, for the good of the city.

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Is Democracy Dead or Merely Dying?

As I have gone around the World representing the UK over the past few years I have been very aware of the respect that so many people have for our institutions and particularly for the strong roots of democracy that underpin so much of what we do. “We have democracy in our heads you have it in your hearts”, I have been told on countless occasions in countless ways. I have taken great pride in that and until comparatively recently thought that it was true.
But the more I think about it now the more I think we are entering into a post democratic age and I haven’t got a clue what democracy will be replaced with.

Take the last elections in Liverpool. A joint European Parliament and City Council election. Much was being discussed that was important and together with all the publicity and all the effort we managed to persuade just 30% of the people of Liverpool to vote and it wasn’t much better anywhere else. It wasn’t that people were hostile to us or the process but that increasingly they do not see the relevance of anything that we do and perhaps more important they do not see how their vote individually or collectively can change things.

Are they right to be cynical – probably. The Prime Minister of the UK does not have as much power as the President of Apple. Put Apple with Facebook, Google and the panoply of IT specialists and providers and you see where the true power really lies. It is true that they do not command “legions” but they can command and change loyalties in a way that captains of industry and the Titans of the press could only have lusted for 15 Years ago and more.
So who should we blame for the decline in democracy because perhaps if we understood that we could seek remedies? Whilst we could seek some people to lash out at, and I will do a bit of that shortly, I think it is far more complex than playing a blame game. As we have got wealthier we have got more selfish. In times past community and families were important because we needed each other. Now we are all consumers and expect services rather than request or hope for them. As society we have largely broken the concept of family. In the past most of us had aunties and uncles and cousins down the street or round the corner. In fact any friend of our parents was an Aunty and Uncle. When any of the family needed help the tribe gathered round and did what they could. Now we expect the Government to provide.

As communications have improved new ways have opened up to get involved. Hacked off with what the council is doing? You don’t need to vote you can express your anger in 140 characters on Twitter. Hear something you don’t like? Start up a Facebook page and campaign hard whether what you heard is true or not. That’s far more satisfying than voting or campaigning. Your anger can be vented in milliseconds through the ether and kindred souls can be connected with world-wide at the push of a button.
Part of this cynicism is engendered by politicians of all Parties including my own who have replaced campaigning and community endeavour with a marketing based approach. Of course it is true that political parties have always been organisations with two products – its people and its policies. But now too often we campaign on what the focus groups says people expect of us and not what we think we should be saying. Too often we create candidates as if we were sculpting statues from granite. “Where are the conviction politicians”, people ask and it’s hard to give a convincing response!

Increasingly we target our actions so closely concentrating on the swing voters in swing constituencies that for most of the population there is no more than a cursory attempt to them fully in the democratic process. Of all the electors in the Country perhaps we will all fight for the allegiance of some 1.5 million people in just 100 constituencies. It is the swing voters who will be inundated with papers whilst the rest will be ignored. These patterns ae repeated in local elections making the whole process remoter and remoter.

We add to that with a less than honest discourse about some of the key issues which the Country is facing. Let me give you just two of these:
The problems being created by an ageing society. We all know that we are living longer and that means increased costs for housing pensions and the health service. The current system will not cope with the changes and therefore needs massive amendment (again I have blogged on this). We need all Parties to be honest about this and get together to look at solutions. That does not mean that we will all have the same ideas for the solutions but surely would mean that we could come to an agreement about a way forward in which all our ideas might be satisfied.

The Country is still in a serious financial position. Let’s ignore the blame game about whose fault this is. The facts are that the Country is heavily indebted and was spending on services at a rate of 50% of GDP whilst only taxing at the rate of 42% of GDP. That created an unsustainable gap. We all know that however had taken power in May 2010 would have created massive cuts. We know that all calculations about repayment of debts and timescales were blown out of the water by the Eurozone crisis. Can’t we be grown up and honest about this and together work on solutions which will enable better growth and investment and a better consideration of how to run services in straitened financial times.

Journalism is in remorseless decline. 30 years ago the quality newspapers would devote a page (a broadsheet page that is) to parliamentary proceedings. Now the best many offer is a facetious piece from the ‘lobby correspondent’ and the cartoon. What gets reported the most? The most irrelevant and useless part of parliamentary proceedings – Prime Minister’s Questions – where a testosterone charged mass hurl pre-ordained questions at each other amidst much howling and baying.

To be fair to journalists they must find it difficult to compete when everyone can set up their own blog (just like me!) and speak with great conviction with a faux knowledge often based on prejudice (occasionally like me!)
And what about the Great British Public. The problem with many of our citizens is that they simply do not recognise that term. As I put in a recent blog they think of themselves as mere consumers of services but unlike other ‘purchases’ they make they do not have a realistic assessment of what they can have for their money. As someone wiser than me has said, “They go to Scandinavia and see high quality and generally available services and want them; they then go to America and see low taxes and want those too”. Often the two positions are in opposition to each other. Every politician knows that they get hundreds of comments that, “you need to spend more on….”. Unfortunately very few people then turn round and say, “and we should stop spending money on …..” the only exception to this being their view than politicians get paid far too much and a few who believe (correctly in my opinion) that we should not renew Trident.

But there are some glimmers of hope in that I can see strong signs that people still want to engage with civil society and do things but do not want to get tied in to our systems. On Sunday Erica and I walked along the Floyover which had been closed for the day for a Flyover Festival. So many people had put so much effort into making this work. The previous weekend we had visited a fund raiser for Allerton in Bloom and one for cancer research at a local allotments society. These showed us that large numbers of people still care for others. They showed us that large numbers of people still will commit their time; compassion and initiatives to make society work better for the good of all.

This blog is not giving you any solutions to this. I think I have some but by no means could claim to come with an earth shattering response to the problems that I have indicated. I am, however, looking to enter into a physical or virtual dialogue with other people who share my concerns. We only have two choices. We can either reinvigorate democracy or we can plan for its demise and replacement. Doing nothing is not an option. Will you join me in a debate?

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In Praise of….. Dr Akbar Ali MBE

Akbar Ali

On Monday I was sitting in my office with a group of long-standing friends. Sarfraz Ali from the Pakistan Centre; Dr Shiv Pande from the Hindu Centre; Ben Quartey from the Ghanaian Association and Chief Angus Chukemega from the Nigerian Association. We were meeting to consider the establishment of a Liverpool Commonwealth Association to further trade, education and cultural links between Commonwealth diaspora communities within the city region and their countries origin.

As we talked we chatted about someone who would have loved to have been there – Akbar Ali. I enquired of Sarfraz how he was and Sarfraz said that he had been to see him at the weekend and that he had returned to his own home from a care home. Little did we know as we talked that Akbar had just died. Or perhaps his spirit had in truth joined us because what we were doing was so close to his heart.

When I got home and heard the news I reflected on the role that Akbar, Ben, Angus, Sarfraz and Shiv had played in making Liverpool one of the Cities with the most harmonious race and cultural relationships in the Country if not the world. I thought of those like Dorothy Kuya, Syeed Safirudin and Herbie Higgins and reflected on what they had in common. I decided that there were three things:

Firstly, they had all decided that Liverpool was to be their home in future and wanted to make a contribution to it.

Secondly, they had in no way forgotten their countries of origin but had resolved to leave behind political and cultural struggles back there in favour of political and cultural struggles here.

Thirdly they were all inclusive in the way they worked and behaved. Of course they were and are proud of their backgrounds and origins but not to the exclusivity of other beliefs and backgrounds.

This was brought home to me a few weeks ago when I attended a Dinner at the Pakistan Centre to honour the Pakistani roots of the High Sheriff of Merseyside Mrs Abi Poynting. The guest speaker from the Pakistan Consulate said that in the past 18 months he had attended many meetings throughout the North West but that the event in Liverpool was unique. Firstly because it had many women there who were not just the caterers and secondly because they had people from all faiths and none there to recognise the fact that the Pakistani community in Liverpool is now part of mainstream Liverpool life.

I was surprised when I heard this because right from the start when I first visited the Hindu Centre and similar places 40 years ago there has always been this mixture. I could not imagine a major event in the life of any of our ethnic groups which did not involve them sharing that event with others.

I have no doubt at all that it is the attitude of the people mentioned above and countless others that have led to our good community relations. That is not of course the only reason. People of varying ethnicities and beliefs have been with us for a very long time. We have become used to people with ways that area little different from our own. An inevitability perhaps for a major sea port. In fact one of the proofs of this has just reopened its doors. The Quilliam Centre has recently re-opened the first ever Mosque in the UK at Brougham Terrace. This Mosque was founded by a convert from Christianity and will now serve to honour the way that the Moslem Community has become part of our City and Country. The re-opening of the Mosque as a visitor centre was instigated and championed by Akbar Ali. I am really delighted that it opened and he knew that it had opened just before he died.

I am not going to pretend that there are not challenges with ethnic relationships in this City. I know that there are some who denigrate those of different faiths and backgrounds. I know that people from some ethnic groups are discriminated against. But I can see in my own Ward how this is being beaten with time. My ward is one of the wealthiest in the City and has relatively high levels of people from ethnic minorities. In practice, however, they are not minorities at all. They have the same education, professions and general beliefs as their neighbours but retain that something different which is the background that their families and religious beliefs have endowed on them.

Akbar broyght His beliefs with him into my political life. For many years he was an active Liberal then Liberal Democrat. He chaired the Constituency Party of (Lord) David Alton and stood for Parliament himself.

At our meeting on Monday we resolved to seek to establish a Commonwealth Association in Liverpool. I vow to redouble my efforts in this regard in tribute to Akbar. Some see the Commonwealth as an anachronism. Other, however see it as a force for good. It is not only former British colonies who are members. Rwanda and the Cameroons with a Francophone background are in as is Mozambique with a Lusophone background. When it is at its best the Commonwealth works to enhance all sorts of links between Countries with massively varying faiths and ethnicities. Just the sort of thing that Akbar believed in all his life. Working together, sharing together, caring together for a common good for the common wealth.

The fact that we are at peace in our City is because of the dedication of people like Akbar, the others I have mentioned here and countless others who have committed themselves to this great City of ours. May Akbar be assisted by his God and his Prophet to have the same peace at the end of his life of service to Liverpool as he has helped us all to achieve.
Akbar Ali – Rest In Peace

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St Luke’s (the Bombed Out Church) Update

StLukesChurch

This morning I had a meeting with Malcolm Kennedy and senior officers of the Regeneration Department of the Council.
We agreed the following way forward:

1. That the Council will take responsibility for bringing the building up to a point where it will have a 20 year life without any major repairs. The Council will also introduce basic facilities such as toilets, a kitchen and a power base. It will look to do this from its own funds and by applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund and other bodies.

2. The Council will conduct a consultation exercise with anyone who wants to contribute to the discussion on the future of the Church during August.

3. At minimum this consultation will consist of:
• A questionnaire on Liverpool Express which will be widely disseminated
• Cllr Kennedy and myself being available for two days on a Friday and Saturday at the Church to discuss ideas with anyone and with written copies of the questionnaire available.

4. Hopefully there will be other means of consultation through the media and in particular Radio Merseyside.

5. The consultation will be open ended and nothing will be ruled out in terms of the discussions. There will however be a presumption that any proposals must accept the nature of the building not only in terms of its listing but also as a memorial to the civilian dead of WWII and the Irish Famine.

6. The results of the consultation will be incorporated into an ‘opportunity brief’ which will be widely circulated throughout the city and wider. The brief will invite organisations or groups of organisations to create an “Expression of Interest” indicating their suggestions for the future use of the building. This expression will need to be accompanied by a proto business plan indicating the experience of the organisation and its individuals and the sources of the funding needed as working capital for any venture.

7. The Council will seek to choose a successful tenderer by the end of December with a view to giving that organisation preferred bidder status and a 6 months period to complete its business plan and prepare for a take-over of operations on the site during the summer.

8. The council will not be obliged to accept any of the bids and might choose either to accept none of the organisations or to combine 2 or more bids to achieve the result that is closest to the results of the consultation exercise and the practicalities and constraints of the building and funding sources.

9. Cllr Kennedy and I will make a recommendation to the Mayor which will then be put through normal council processes of challenge and scrutiny and all decisions will be dealt with in a transparent fashion.

In essence this exercise will replicate, where possible, the way forward that was adopted for the Mansion House in Calderstones Park where there was a great cooperation between local councillors, Malcolm and the local community as to a way forward.

We would also like to give an assurance that at this stage there is no preferred bidder. Each application will be considered on its merits according to the criteria established through the consultation exercise.

The meeting was extremely positive and both Cllr Kennedy and I believe that this approach will safeguard the long term future of the Church whilst respecting the unique role it has in reminding us of dark days in the history of our city.

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What should we call the people of Liverpool?

Some might think that this is a plea from the heart after thinking that not enough of them voted Lib Dem in May. Not so! It is occasioned by the release of a report last week by the Institute of Customer Service which looked at the relationships between a public service provider and how it interfaced with them both as a citizen and as a customer.
I was one of the 23 people interviewed for the ‘qualitative’ part of the report and during the interview was reminded of the fact that one of the most important debates we had inside the Executive Board when I was a member was, “are the people of Liverpool our citizens our customers?”

Of course this is a simplistic debate because they are both (and there is another C that I will talk about later). I took the high minded view that people were citizens and should be treated as such. The majority of the Executive took the view that they were customers and should be treated as such.

In fact the majority were right. Most of the interactions between the council and its residents are purely transactional. The average person has no desire to know how the bins are emptied, the parks kept green or the streets kept clean. They just expect the council to get on with their job and do it properly and cost-effectively. In fact most of them have no concept of what the council does or how it does it in any sphere. But until 2000 we did expect people to understand our system. There were no less than 450 reception counters within the council. YOU were expected to know the difference between environmental health and environmental maintenance. You were expected to know that there was no pint in ringing some of the services after10 a.m. because the staff were out. You were expected to have to traipse from a housing building having reported a repair problem to another building to report an external environment problem.

By 2012 all that was swept aside. You accessed the council through just 12 front doors or the telephone or e-mail system. Those front doors – One Stop Shops – were welcoming and clean and you could make an appointment to see someone. The person you met took responsibility for the relationship with you. They could solve your problem there and then in 95% of the cases and for the others acted as your ‘chaser through the system.

Getting the technology right was the easiest bit. Changing the culture within the council was by far harder, at least at the beginning. For too long too many councillors and staff had come to think that the council existed for them and their interests. The Council was not a customer led organisation but a producer led organisation with antediluvian work practices, over staffing and, in some cases, obscene bonus payments. But slowly the spirit of some people as released. After years of keeping their head down they emerged as champions for change. Some staff didn’t want to accept the change and left and others came to the authority because they saw that what the council was doing was leading edge and they wanted to be part of it. Many of the staff that arrived at that time are now Chief Execs or executive directors in councils and other public bodies throughout the Country.

That change in emphasis made a massive difference to people’s lives. In education for example we persuaded the Labour Government not to take education away from us because for so long Liverpool had provided dreadful education services which left our young people with no hope for a job in an increasingly competitive world. Within 3 months we moved the Department away from the cramped Dickensian conditions of Sir Thomas Street into a new set of offices in Lewis’. There were immediate improvements in key performance indicators within a year for housing repairs, education standards, cleansing. Our business units took seriously feedback from users and changed practice accordingly.

Our complaints procedure was totally overhauled. Within 18 months the local government ombudsman, which until 2000 had one system for dealing with Liverpool and one system for dealing with every other council in England, closed its special Liverpool office. David Henshaw as Chief Executive took person responsible for the process and on monthly basis business unit heads that were under performing were called to the ‘Headmaster’s Study!’

So when do we want people to be citizens? When we are discussing with them big picture changes to their services; their community; and at election time. Regrettably they do not particularly want to be in discussion with us. At the last council election only 30% of the population registered to vote used their vote. When we discuss big ticket items such as changes in service delivery people are not excited – except and until we can show that the service change will directly affect them.

Lots of people have got involved in the library discussion for example. If we are discussing demolition of properties; major planning items which affect a neighbourhood or similar activities we get a strong reaction because people do care and crucially understand what happens to THEIR service or THEIR community but have more sense than to get involved in discussions about the day to day service delivery. If I go into a shop I don’t care about how the book got there. I just want them to have the right stock to buy from at the right price. If not I go somewhere else.

And perhaps that is the most important thing for anyone in the public sector to remember. A private sector customer can usually choose to go elsewhere. A public sector customer, for all the talk about choice in education and the health service is usually stuck with one provider. We, should however, treat them as if they could move because when the paucity of service grew too bad they did leave. For decades they left our city in droves. Those that could move out did so and were often replaced with those who had no choice but to accept us and our services.

Where the report didn’t quite get it right was the fact that it left off a ‘C’. Outside the school system the vast majority of us have a superficial relationship with a council provider. We know about some of these services they provide such as bin emptying and street lighting because we see them. Other services we can be blissfully unaware of such as emergency planning and environmental health. We benefit from them but we don’t even see them. But for some people they have a much a closer relationship with the council and usually with a wide range of other providers as well.

Typically these are people with problems. Children in care, children and adults with mental or physical difficulties; people who lack mobility especially the elderly. Many people end up being intensively supported by the council. In fact excluding schools about 80% of our spending is directed at about 20% of our population. Don’t begrudge that proportion, however, when you get old you may move from the 80% to the 20%. For these ‘Clients’ we need to have special customer care. Some are inarticulate but most are more articulate than we give them credit for. Radio Merseyside used to have a programme about handicapped issues call “Does he take Sugar”, a question directly at someone pushing a wheelchair of a highly intelligent person.

Too often we fail to join up the needs of the individual around their needs but around our needs as a producer. We care for them well internally but do not join up our services in a way that has meaning and adds value to the person we are supposed to be assisting. Of course an elderly person will need help from a range of sources and organisations but they often lack a guide to take them through the system and ensure that the system joins up around the individual’s needs. So even where individual organisations have cracked the customer thing the public sector as a whole often does not.
Clients need more care and more listening to than customers.

I don’t want to dumb down the concept of citizen into the market led expectation of consumerism and markets by just calling people customers. But that is what they/we are. There should be no real external debate about methods of service delivery subject to fair employment practices and big picture targets for items like recycling rates. There should be an understanding that wherever possible the piper should call the tune and that we respond to the people not impose our ideas on them.

‘Citizens and Customers; Further Building the Case for Customer Serivice in the Public Sector’ Is available from the
Instiute of Consumer Service at http://www.instituteofconsumerservice.com.

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Are Racists Ignorant, Stupid or Both?

LpoolTH

“If it wasn’t for us white Caucasians sorting them out they would still be swinging through the trees”

No. Don’t worry this is not my view nor I am going off on one. It was a tweet made on Chuka Umunna’s twitter after he made some very ‘conservative’ comments recently.

I am not a very great fan of the Shadow Secretary of State for BIS. I think he is hollow and opportunistic and seems to have no conception of what Labour did and more particularly did not do in the 13 years of economic destruction between 1997 and 2010. However he is a clever bloke and comes from many generations of clever people.

The trouble with the tree swinging analogy is not that an absolute extremist believes it. Such people can be isolated and dealt with. The wider problem is that such sentiments lurk in the back of the minds of many people in this country because of the way history is taught and the belief that our version of civilisation is better than anyone else’s.

Apparently we Europeans discovered Australia and New Zealand and North America and the Caribbean. There was no-one there before we got there. That may be true in the case of some of the smaller Caribbean islands but is not true of anywhere else. The fact is that in almost every part of the world people lived in a highly civilised way and in most cases had done so for thousands of years before we rescued them from their isolation!
But they did lead very different lives from us. Native Americans were still being depicted in films in my youth as ruthless redskin savages. The Maoris were treated with some respect but the aboriginal tribes of Australia were decimated by contact with European ways and European diseases.
I learnt my lesson in this regard when I lived in Turkey. Not far from the provincial city where I lived were three abandoned cities about 2,000 years old. One, Blondus, was set up by people who left the army of Alexander the Great. I can vividly remember going to sit in a stone built theatre which would hold 2,000+ people built at a time when in our Country there were no theatres, no written language and people lived in hovels. 2,000 years ago the three major libraries of the World were in Greece/Turkey.

But at least in the minds of Europeans we can see the after effects in the Mediterranean and Middle East area right through to Egypt and the tombs and pyramids.

In other parts of the World civilisation developed differently from here – but civilisation it was. Native Americans lived in highly developed tribes. They had a way of life which was sustainable and in which people could normally live their nomadic lives in peace because of agreements with other tribes. They had no need of fences or ownership of land because they didn’t feel that they needed to won it. Rather they saw themselves as the custodians or guardians of the land. They didn’t erect buildings both because they were mobile and because across most of their range tepees were sufficient. They didn’t write things because writing as distinct to advanced languages arose from the needs of governing bureaucracies created to own and store.

Of course there were wars and disputes. Slaving could not have been developed without wars between different civilisations in West Africa. There will always have been some squabbles as people fought for resources for them and theirs. If you look at world history, however, the region to develop ‘civilisation’ last was Western Europe.

Today many look at the world through glasses tinged with the red of Empire – an Empire on which the sun never set. Both the creation, maintenance and even the ‘disposal’ of that Empire still casts a heavy shadow on places like Africa and even our own city of Liverpool.
In parts of Africa we have created Countries which really have no relevance. Whilst not in any way excusing the genocide in Rwanda 20+ years ago the fact is that two different groups of people who had co-existed for centuries were shoe horned into one country. Wherever you see a straight line on a map you know that it has been created by Western politicians dividing up the spoils of empires to their own advantage often creating deep divisions which linger to this day.

Last week I hosted a Conference for Councillors and Mayors from all over the World. We took them to some fine buildings but we should remember that three of those buildings, the Albert Dock, Town Hall and St George’s Hall were built with the profits from Empire which flowed in turn from the profits of slavery. Large parts of the Anglican Cathedral were paid for by a company that traded meat throughout the world and avoided paying tax in all of them.

I am not asking us to forget our past – indeed we did much good as well as much bad over the centuries as we swaggered through the World but let us always remember that it is the winner that writes the history books. The ‘fact’ that we brought civilisation to the World stems not from the reality of what we found or what we did but on the fact that in many places we destroyed a civilisation to create an inappropriate version of our own and then wrote about it.

Particularly be aware of having a go at Africans. My friends we are all of African descent! The archaeology and the fossils have given us strong evidence that many thousands of years ago all humanity was represented by a very small tribe of some 200+ people. DNA research shows us how the descendants of those few travelled in successive waves by boat and foot to the whole world. They show how changes were made to the human body to react to local geography and especially to local climates.

All of African Descent eh? Shouldn’t that make the racists think!!

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In Praise of….. the City of Liverpool

AngCathedral

Last week Liverpool hosted the Executive Bureau of United Cities and Local Government. More than 250 leading local government figures from all the 8 regions of the World came to Liverpool and they were overwhelmed by the experience.

Bearing that many of them come from Capital or major cities such as Istanbul, Paris, Dakka, Washington, Rabat which have themselves a massive history they were amazed by what Liverpool had to offer.

Our events started in the Town Hall on Tuesday in the Council Chamber and anterooms and then went on to an event in the Tate at Albert Dock. On the Wednesday our events were in St George’s Hall with a dinner in the Anglican Cathedral. The next day we were back at St George’s Hall. Of course these were not the only buildings they saw. Many came early or left late and were able to look at many more of the treasures that our city has got to offer.
Perhaps the biggest Wow factor was the Cathedral Dinner. Always a spectacular building the Cathedral seems to shine in the evening light. From about 8 p.m. the light streamed through the stained glass windows to create an indelible feeling of warmth and beauty which will live with me for the rest of my life.

But it wasn’t only the buildings that were great – the people were great as well. This is the first event for many years that the staff of UCLG have not had to come over early to sort out major problems. By the time the staff turned up on Sunday the only outstanding detail was the table plan for the dinner! The staff of Liverpool Vision; the City Council; and St George’s Hall performed with their usual efficiency overlaid with friendliness.

It wasn’t only our staff that were efficient and friendly. The food provided by the caterers and the service was excellent. Staff in the hotels made everyone feel welcome and performed to the highest standards.
Side meetings also worked well. At a meeting for commonwealth delegates with commonwealth diaspora residents of Liverpool we resolved to establish a Commonwealth Association in Liverpool.

Some delegates arrived to see the magnificent River Festival which took place on their door step as most of them stayed in the Crowne Plaza or Atlantic Tower.

I don’t know what this will mean in the future. Nor do I know the long-term effects of the IFB2014 as a whole. I do know that Liverpool is still reaping the benefits of being Capital of Culture in 2008 and I have no doubt at all the 50 days of events this month and next will similarly place Liverpool in the minds of the public and private sectors as they talk about investment decisions over the next decade.

I hope that will give the City confidence to put in bids to bring other such events to Liverpool. We will shortly be opening the bidding round for the 2017 Commonwealth Local Government Conference which we hope would come here with a thriving Commonwealth Group having been established. I hope that it will also make the LGA think more positively of the benefits as well as the costs of bring events like this to the UK to showcase the best of our local government experience

These events have acted as a superb front door for Liverpool. People who thought we were just football and the Beatles (and they are not bad door openers themselves) have been able to see all that the City Region has to offer. We have, as the saying goes, cast our bread upon the waters.

Last year when I moved at our meeting in Lyon that we should come to Liverpool I knew that Liverpool would host the conference well. I did not know that it would do so in such a spectacular style. So THANKS VERY MUCH LIVERPOOL. A lot of powerful people have put Liverpool in their sights for very positive reasons and sooner or later we will all reap the benefit of that.

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