A Dinner with a Difference in HMP Liverpool

HMPLiverpool

HMP Liverpool

Last Thursday night I went to a Dinner with a Difference. The food wasn’t different. I had an excellent 3 course meal of soup, lamb shank and a cheesecake dessert to die for. It was delightfully served by waiters who were attentive and supportive and well trained. The only thing that might strike you from the description of the meal is that the only accompaniment was Chateau d’Eau (or water as it is otherwise known).
That’s hardly surprising when I tell you that the meal took place in the staff canteen at Liverpool Prison and that the meal had been cooked and served by 8 prisoners who were reaching the end of their catering course and would in the near future be re-joining the community having served their sentences.
But I was by no means the most important diner at the event which was the first of its type at the Prison. By far the most important guests were representatives of the catering industry who had been assembled by Adam Franklin the ever- energetic proprietor of the Yacht Club at Liverpool Marina. Because this was a meal with two purposes. Firstly and most obviously it was a chance to test on ‘real consumers’ whether the skills that had been learned in the staff canteen were fit for purpose. Secondly and perhaps more importantly it was to see if those skills would be acceptable in the market place and whether people in the food industries would be prepared to take people into employment when they left the prison system.
On both counts the meal was a success. The meal was good and well served. I am no ‘bon viveur’ so I left most of the review of the meal to Adam and friends. He did look a bit bashful when told by one of his so-called friends that the Bakewell tart which was one of the choices for dessert was actually better than the one he did. But he was not too bothered – I think he tried to find out the recipe before he went!
On the employment count it is early days but those representatives there were interested in seeing how they could work together with those providing the training to provide further training and support activities outside the prison system. Early days but given the quality and attitude of the meal and service they thought that it must be a strong possibility.
As I went home I thought – as I have done before – about the 3 Ps, Protection, Punishment and Preparation.
Of course society needs to be protected from law breakers. We cannot have a civilised society in which law breakers can run amok. Of course law breakers must be punished. Crimes must be paid for – if you can’t do the time don’t do the crime’ But is it’s the preparation to which I think we should give more attention. Preparation for life in which the prisoner is given the life skills to enable him or her to stay out of the prison system and contribute to society instead of taking from it.
This is just one of the projects that Liverpool Prison is involved in to do just that. An alarming number of new arrivals have low levels of literacy and numeracy which, of course, leads to low self-esteem. If you cannot read or add up there are few jobs available to you in out complex society. Starting with the basics plans are devised for each prisoner which are designed to help them use their talents and experience in a positive way to create a new life for themselves.
I was very impressed by the staff of the Prison Service I met on Thursday. Of course they have to be hard people in much of what they do. Life in prison is hard and they often have to make hard judgements about the people they deal with. All the people I met, however, showed me that beneath that hard exterior there was a massive desire to turn the men they deal with round and try and ensure that this visit to prison would be their last.
I know that the business people and I were all impressed by what we saw and started thinking of ways in which we could help the prison service achieve what was described to me earlier in the day at another event by a CofE Rector as redemption!
Another good thing about eating in prison is that it gets you home early as well as sober. We were told that at 10 p.m. the gates shut and don’t open again until the morning. We were out in good time!! If I get invited again I would do my best to attend and bring people with me who I thought could help take things further and work with the dedicated staff to bring back into society those who, for whatever reasons, have hitherto operated outside the norms that we think acceptable.

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Rotherham and Liverpool

LpoolTH

Liverpool Town Hall

Yesterday Cllr Steve Radford and I decided not to take part in a meeting with Joe Anderson and Ged Fitzgerald about what happened in Rotherham in the last decade. For different reasons we overcame reservations that we had about the process when we initially agreed to take part but a lot has happened in the 5 weeks since then. Not least being the resignations of two people connected with the Rotherham scandal and further revelations only this past weekend about the failure to use available evidence.

We believe now that the process being suggested is flawed and that we should wait to consider a Liverpool response when we have clear evidence from the 2 parliamentary and DCLG investigations taking place. Then we can meet and decide what, if anything, we should do.
Here is the e-mail that we have sent to Mayor Anderson

From: Kemp, Richard
Sent: 21 October 2014 11:14
To: Anderson, Joe (Mayor of Liverpool)
Subject:

Dear Joe,

Re: Proposed meeting with Ged Fitzgerald

We are writing regarding the proposed meeting with Ged Fitzgerald.

We have serious concerns about the structure and point of this meeting:

We have taken independent legal advice and have been advised that it is entirely proper for an employer to question an employee about events that took place before they joined their current organisation.

We do not know and have not agreed the name of an independent chair.

We have been told by you that this cannot be an interrogative session.

We understood that it was likely that there would be a written statement from Mr Fitzgerald and that we would then submit written questions for written answer. This would now appear not to be the case.

Although this was not discussed we assumed that this meeting would take place in public and would therefore be on the record.

Given these concerns we will not be participating in the meeting. Given that new allegations about the way that Rotherham Council responded to information about child abuse that was given to them whilst Mr Fitzgerald was Chief Executive and the fact that there are two parliamentary enquiries and a DCLG investigation being undertaken we believe that it would be best for Group Leaders to convene when the results of these enquiries and investigations have concluded.

At that stage the Council could decide corporately what steps it wishes to take given the comprehensive nature of those activities which we cannot hope to replicate. Both the Parliamentary Select Committees and DCLG have the power to compel responses to questions in a way that we cannot.

We look forward to working with you on an agreed all party basis in the New Year.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Steve Radford                                                Cllr Richard Kemp CBE,
Liberal Party Group Leader                               Liberal Democrat Group Leader

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In Praise of…………. International Liverpool

Caledonia

Have you any idea how many people I drank with from different nations in the Caledonia Pub on Saturday night? Well to be frank neither have I. It all got a bit blurred towards the end! But let me tell you about the event anyway.
Actually it was a birthday Party for one of my neighbours Jonathan Aasgard. John is a Norwegian and is the principal cellist at the RLPO. His wife Georgina isn’t quite as foreign as Jonathan because she comes from France and they are in the EU. Their children speak Scouse! Sometimes it is English with a Scouse accent, sometimes Norwegian with a Scouse accent and sometimes French with a Scouse accent!
As you might expect at such an event it had plenty of Norwegians and French people there. Embarrassingly they all spoke impeccable English as if it was their native tongue. Some of them like Jonathan and Georgina have had the temerity to live in the UK but most came in for the occasion. But they weren’t the only foreigners there. The Phil has a fair number of people from other countries in their ranks. Jonathan and Georgina sent their children to Greenbank School a school with a large number of people from ethnic backgrounds. Some of their childrens friend’s parents were there. I spent a large part of the evening talking about Africa with someone born in Ghana but who lived in Nigeria until he was 17 when he came here. He now has a really posh job in the City where he provides services in business interruption planning to companies world-wide.
I also spoke to people from Kenya, China, Japan, America and Poland in the pub that night. I don’t know whether they were actually at the Party because from 10 p.m. it was all just one big Party. Despite the language I used earlier there was not one ‘foreigner’ in the building. What you had was a cosmopolitan group of people from around the globe, many of whom had chosen to live in our city, and who were very comfortable in each other’s company. They did not ask, “Where are you from” and judge them on that basis. They came together because of what they were. People with an international outlook; people with a good education who feel it important to commit back to the community that they live in; people who want to recognise the realities of the world we live in not try and retreat to an unattainable golden past which never really was!
I was proud to be in their company. I was proud that some of them had decided to make their home in my city when they could have had the choice of living anywhere in the World. I was pleased that the evening itself was a marvellous example of the international language of music. Well you didn’t think a Party involving a couple of Phil players wouldn’t have music did you?! In fact you couldn’t have afforded tickets for the ringside seats at the occasion that Erica and I were privileged to occupy last Saturday.
The Caledonia Pub itself was superb. I must have driven past it zillions of times but have never gone in. This is a mistake I will not allow to happen in future. A friendly community led pub with a decent cellar and helpful staff. Just the sort of place that keeps old chaps like me happy (although I didn’t notice the dominos!)
A shiver came down my spine when, just for a few minutes, I thought of Nigel Farage and his motley UKIP crew. It might have buggered the evening up but it would have been nice just for a few minutes for some of them to have come and seen the positives of people from different races and different countries being together and enjoying each other’s company. These are people like most immigrants who contribute to our city and our Country.
Immigration has a price and a value. In the short term it can create difficulties in specific areas with specific services. In the long term it creates opportunities for our nation in commerce, manufacturing and trade that enables us a country to remain competitive. If you are concerned that we are losing our ‘Britishness’ do not look at the people who come to our Country. They have the so-called ‘British’ virtues of respect for law, decency and fair play hard wired into them I see that every time I do a citizenship ceremony.
The bigger threat to our way of life comes from international business practices and international television. I was appalled to hear a group of British children with an American accent rather than a Scouse or Scottish one. They learned their accent from crap US telly programmes and crap Disney programmes and films. If you are concerned at our balance of payments look at the tide of Plastic rubbish we import from the US!
As usual I have rambled a bit so let’s go back to the Caledonia last Saturday night. Let’s just see if we can bottle the self-confident camaraderie of those many-nationed performers who were here in our City helping us directly or indirectly face the future with panache and vitality. I wonder what is happening there next Saturday!

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In Praise of…… Kumamoto City

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Three months ago I hadn’t heard of Kumamoto City. It’s a city of approximately 750,000 people in the South East of Japan and I visited it last week as part of my study tour of Japan organised by CLAIR the Japanese LGA.
It was, as you might expect a very different type of place than Tokyo, the city which we had both left and then returned to. In many ways it was the difference between London and Liverpool. Two great strong cities in their own way but they feel and are very different.
The first strong impression that you get is that this is the real Japan when we think in the West of Japan. You can see from the plane beautiful mountains (one of which is a volcano), the sea with lovely islands and green and verdant countryside and these impressions are reinforced on the way in on the bus. I have never seen bamboo groves before but they look gorgeous. Every piece of earth was cultivated, in some cases by allotments. The volcanic earth has created a very good soil structure which is reinforced by good weather and not too much rain.
As you go into the city itself you see all that you would expect from a large but definitely provincial city. In most cases a very modern city with a massive range of new buildings but, and you cannot escape this, dominated by a 400 year old castle, pictured above, which we subsequently visited. They have an excellent range of hotels. The one stayed at for our first night was a tradition Japanese hotel in which had a traditional meal and then slept on a traditional tatami mat on the floor. There was also a traditional Japanese bath area in which the warm water came from hot springs which well up in various places in the city. Lovely to do for one night but I was relieved when we move to a more western hotel with a bed!
Thinking of food I have to say we ate well. The range of restaurants is vast with an emphasis on Japanese food, hot and cold, but with a wider range of venues and styles. Delightfully however with a very low level of food miles involved. Massive parts of the cuisine are grown, raised or fished locally. Food is a major part of their offering as a city and one that they could build on.

Just up the road they have their own Volcano. We had hoped to visit it but our trip got curtailed when we had to go back to Tokyo because of a volcano. So that’s a downer then but it’s a downer for the whole of Japan.

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The Castle is a must see if you are in South East Japan. 400 years old it would be absolutely impregnable with the weapons of the time. Somehow though it does not come over as a hard place in the way that a mediaeval castle would. Inside the castle it is far more delicate with beautiful interiors and art work. The views from the top of the mountain were spectacular with the city below and even greater mountains above.

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Lastly, we were privileged to be in the city when their ‘Festival of Light’ took place. This event brought in 200,000 over two days and was only able to take place because of a massive input of volunteers. The work had taken place over 2 months with volunteers going out into sustainable bamboo areas and cutting the bamboo. They brought it back to the city and caved it out so that they can put candles inside. They spent the whole of Saturday putting up the lanterns and then – when the Festival was over – they spend the night removing all the bamboo. This went off to be burnt and the ash used in the fields as fertiliser.
The total cost of this to the public sector was about £70,000 – a real bargain. We saw that this idea of communal and community effort was a common one in the City and indeed throughout Japan. In Kumamoto the streets are spotless not only because the council keeps it that BUT more importantly because the people, of the city do not drop litter in the first place. Japanese people care about common areas. They do not chuck rubbish away (indeed they have excellent recycling rates. They do not have graffiti ruined walls. They obey the speed limit and do not even nip across the road as pedestrians but wait until the pedestrian lights change.

photo

The Contemporary Art gallery in the City has to be seen to be believed. Whilst we were there they had on a special exhibition which was one of the most vibrant that I have ever seen. It was, to my eyes, clearly ‘oriental’ in style. You could see comic books and angels in it. Yoshitaka Amano is an artist who clearly should be displaying his work to a much bigger audience than Japan and I hope to make introductions between this art gallery and the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside.

This may sound like a travel brochure for Kumamoto and indeed it is. If I was going for a holiday in Japan I would strongly recommend a week in Tokyo and then a week in Kumamoto. The noise and the bustle against the calm and tranquillity. Big shops and big volcanoes! I will be looking at some of the problems that Kumamoto faces which are shared by most of Japan in my next blog. In the meantime just go to Kumamoto and see for yourself.

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Impressions of Japan II

I have now been in Japan for 5 days and am beginning to formulate my thoughts about what I have seen and what I have learnt.

Firstly I would say that if the Japanese Local Government Centre offer you the chance to visit Japan you should accept whether you are an officer or a Councillor. Visiting a culture which is very different from your own is mentally challenging and can lead you to think about what you do more than visiting a nearby council or another western European country. Of course they do all of the things that we do. They have to keep the streets clean, make sure that the school,s are run etc. etc. etc. BUT they do it from a very different culture and a very different baseline.

In many ways the challenges are so similar. What I have found as I have travelled the world is that the problems facing all developed democracy are very similar. They face the world of austerity. Many of the certainties which governed our live prior to 2007 are shattered. We all over borrowed and over spent. We must pay the price and governments must we do so but ensuring at the same time that our poorest citizens do not pay a greater price than anyone else.

Put simply Japan is running out of people. It has a rapidly ageing population with the birth rate declining but the longevity rising. Japan within a few years will not be able to afford the health and social care needed by its 65+ aged population. And that is before you pay the costs of pensions.

In the UK are problems are being eased by immigration both from Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth. That immigration will provide us with the workforce that will, in future, pay the costs of dating for the elderly through their taxation. Japan, as yet, has no such remedy. Many people have been staring at the group of 10 of us as we went through this large provincial city. We were clearly just about the only foreigners in town. Just think that in central London you can walk past the former citizens of 100+ countries in our city centre? Even in Liverpool you might pass the former citizens of 40//50. In Tokyo you might just pass the citizens of thee countries. Japan is mostly composed of Japanese people. Immigration is very rare and there is a cohesive society which is remorselessly in decline. Either the Japanese need to have more children or they need to import more people otherwise Japan will inevitably decline as an international country and it’s ageing citizens will be seriously left without services. There is no sign that the politicians are up to this necessary debate. They all seem to be Nigel Farrages!

But the people of Japan are great. In Kumamoto tonight I have been stopped 6 times by local people who were concerned that I was lost. They were genuinely concerned for my welfare. Everywhere we have been the people have been polite not only to us but each other. The streets are clean, safe and well managed because that is the way people behave and not just because that is what councils or governments are trying to do.

They genuinely love their culture and are proud to be Japanese but not in an aggressive jingoistic way. They are at ease with themselves but ONLY have about 100 years of outgoing international history and for much of that they were on a ‘different side’ to those countries like our own who are their natural allies. They don’t appear to be very confident in dealing with the outside world.

I feel very safe, secure and comfortable here. I believe that I am in a Country with whom my Country could do business. I feel that there are many opportunities for our Countries to work together and will make some suggestions about that when we meet tomorrow and when I blog at some time in the not too distant future.

In the meantime two thoughts:

One is that Japanese TV seems diabolically bad. It may be that I just cannot work the remote to find something worth watching but what I have seen is dire.

Second is that the Japanese culture is very hierarchical and not really open to challenge from within. As I will discuss in greater detail the public sector is not very technologically advanced although much of the technology and hardware that we use in the public sector in the UK originates in Japan.

One thing that really attracts me is the the respect shown I Japan for elders. But those that know me might say that such a view is merely self interest!

Sayonara!

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First impressions of Japan

For those that have not been following my every word and movement I am currently in Japan as a Guest of CLAIR which is sort of the international wing of their LGA. I couldn’t blog last night as I was exhausted after a 24 hour journey from home in Liverpool to hotel in Tokyo.

My blog readers will recall that I was very unimpressed by my first impressions of New York but I couldn’t be more impressed by my first impressions of Tokyo. The first thing is that Narita Airport is spotless and extremely well organised. The second thing is that they have excellent public transport. Not only a regular and request bus service to and from town but one that goes to key hotels including the one that we are staying in.

The trip in from the airport was incredible. At one point I was on a two lane highway 30ft above another two lane highway which was in turn 30 ft above another ground level two lane highway. Alongside me was a two level railway one which seemed to have local trains and the other was for the bullet train which I will be going on later in the week.

The other key impression was of total cleanliness. This city is spotless. No graffiti, not a piece of litter, pavements and road surfaces well maintained and safe. At one point I noticed an employee cleaning and polishing a fire escape!

The food is excellent. I am not a great fish eater but I have already eaten raw fish four times. We had lunch in a Sumo wrestlers canteen. If they give me any more food it’s a sport I will be able to have up.

Although we have spent some of the day recovering from the flight and looking at some of the Tokyo sights we have also been working. We have begun to discuss the differences between both the customers and practices of local government in our two countries. We have agreed that we have more in common than most people would believe and that there are many things we can learn from each other.

We also visited a project to regenerate an old railway station. Unfortunately there are few opportunities to do this in Tokyo because the city was almost totally obliterated in WWII. Here the station was been converted into shops and restaurants and the platform is now a viewing area to watch the trains which still run along the tracks.

Interestingly the city planners do not seem to have made much use of the nearby river. In the UK we would have used it and its surroundings as valuable amenity space. In Tokyo it is enclosed behind the backs of apartment blocks and appears pretty dead and uninteresting compared to what it could be. From the Albert Fock to the Thames we know that water in the form of rivers,old docks and canals can play a positive role in regeneration as people want to live near them.

I have also been able to talk to the Managing Director of CLAIR about Japan playing a full part in UCLG at world level. I have agreed to write to him to make some suggestions about who they might get involved in work outside their own region, UCLG ASPAC where that ready do some work.

It is too early for me to bring you more conclusions because I clearly have much to learn. CLAIR are magnificent hosts. They arranged a total eclipse of the moon for us and then arranged dinner at a high level facing it. It was incredible to watch the moon disappearing! I still cannot get used to heated toilet seats but suspect that I might develop a taste for sake!

We have an early start tomorrow as we leave Tokyo for Kumamoto City in the Myagi Prefecture which is in the far South of the Counyry.

Sayonara and watch out for more coherent missives in the near future.

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Why is Liverpool Council scared of Challenge?

LpoolTH

Liverpool Town Hall

Last Thursday we had our regular meeting of the ‘Mayoral Scrutiny Committee’. Actually it ended up being the Assistant Mayor’s Select Committee as neither the Mayor nor his Deputy were there. It was as they say about the beautiful game a ‘game of two halves’.
The first half was a really useful interim and oral presentation of the work being done by Baroness Morris’ Education Commission. This Commission which was established by the Mayor of Liverpool produced a really useful report last year and Estelle has been looking at how the report is being implemented. One of the key elements of the report was the use that the Commission had made in the report of comparisons with the other core cities. This clearly indicated how Liverpool was doing against those councils who are most like our own. It gave valuable areas to explore where our performance could be improved.
I asked her if her interim report would continue to make those comparisons. Her reply was that it would but she went further to say that she will know that her work in Liverpool is done when Liverpool has performance management in its DNA.
Well she will have a long time to wait. Just an hour later Labour members chucked out an amendment that I moved supported by the Green and Liberal Leaders, that Liverpool should, where possible, benchmark ourselves against those self-same core cities. In fact that was the second time that week that they had done so.
The reasons given were to say the last spurious:
1. We don’t actually care how well Manchester, Bristol etc were doing. That is true in absolute terms. Their futures must be decided by their councils. But what benchmarking does is to recognise trends and indicate where we should examine what similar cities are doing to see if they are doing things better than us.

2. That there is no City like Liverpool. That of course is partly true. Every council and its SWOT analysis is a little different from every other council. But for the last 20 years we have recognised that the core cities have a massive amount of problems and opportunities in common and therefore could work together to share those opportunities and problems and the solutions to them. That is what benchmarking is all about. Clearly there are some things that cannot be measured across all core cities, for example we would look very good on cruise liners visiting us against the record of Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham but most things are worth reviewing.

3. That the information doesn’t exist because the old ‘Audit Commission’ regime of benchmarking and performance indicators had disappeared. Actually the regime was not that of the Audit Commission – they simply measured the stats. The regime was that of New Labour who until 2008 made us measure up to 1,400 indicators. No-one wants to go back to a system like that and the clear intent of my amendment was only to make a comparison where it would be both useful and possible. The information doesn’t exist anyway we were told but that is clearly not true. Most of the information we need about education, employment, the economy, housing and health are collected across the Country in a common way and therefore a comparison, with interpretation could be made.

4. That it would cost too much. That is clearly untrue. The information is there, it is accessible and it is free. Of course we would have to spend minimal amounts of officer time collating it but as the old saying goes the cost of acquiring knowledge is as nothing to the cost of remaining ignorant!

Of course we know why the Leadership doesn’t want to be compared – it is because they do not compare well with other Cities. Instead of real information we get fatuous ‘Performance Reports’ which make little attempt to measure the performance of the Council but simply record what is happening in the City. So it’s great that the Government is providing the resource to provide a new Royal Hospital; a new Children’s Hospital and a new A & E at Fazakerley but that spending of almost £1 billion has absolutely nothing to do with the Council.
So instead of getting information we can use we get drivel which is of next to no use in measuring the performance of ourselves, our council and our officers.
But are we really surprised when Labour councillors have been told not to ask questions of the ‘Executive’ without permission and where Labour councillors think they have spent a useful evening consuming vast numbers of PowerPoint presentations.
PowerPoint, the opiate of the chattering classes!

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