What is a political Party?

March

Yesterday 700,000 people marched through London demanding a second vote. Lib Dems were at the heart of that protest and at the heart of a wider liberal movement. We now need to show that there are other major issues as well as Brexit where our values coincide with those of many, many more people

You may think I should know the answer to this question. After all I have been a member of one for 51 years. But recently two things, one negative and one positive have made me think again.

My definition of a political party has always been, “a group of people with common ideals who come together to seek power to try and get those ideals implemented”. However, I don’t see much of that today in the so called ‘comrades’ in the Labour Party either locally or nationally. I tweeted the other day, “I thought they hated me but they hate each other even more!”

At a national level I see Labour are now a deeply misogynist and racist Party with their treatment of those of the Jewish faith; women and people of trans identity. This is not me as an outsider saying this. It is what I see Labour members saying every day on social and traditional media.

These are not the only problems. Brexit has split the leadership from the membership. Every poll shows the majority of the Labour Party; a majority of Labour MPs and a majority of Labour councillors favour a referendum on BREXIT now that the facts of the departure from Europe are clear. Why isn’t the Labour Party uniting behind this majority? Because Corbyn and McDonnell don’t like and have never liked the EU. They believe it to be a capitalist cartel and want to replace it with a socialist cartel. It was an absolute disgrace that not one Labour Front Bencher was present as 700,000+ people marched for a ‘people’s vote’ yesterday.

Locally, women in the Labour Party are clearly not having their complaints dealt with probably. I bumped into 2 Labour Councillors yesterday and they told me about how hateful Labour meetings are with much talk, anger and plotting but very little work for the community. This, of course, happened in the 80s when Militant drove decent people out of the Party and left our City with a wrecked set of finances and reputation.

On the other hand, Vince Cable has started some very stimulating discussions with his thoughts about party membership; movements and supporters.

I personally believe that there is much support for a Supporters organisation around our Party. It builds well on what we do locally. I’d love to involve more people in our policy discussions both locally and nationally; I’d love to have a larger pool of people advocating on our behalf; I think it great to have people giving us information about local and national issues. There are some things that need sorting out but these are details. The Federal Board can make these decisions and we can get on with them. In fact, we already are!

However, I do not think that the idea that a Party can create a movement is valid. Political Parties can only be part of a movement. Labour is part of a wider labour movement; the Tories are part of a vested interest group; the Green Party is part of a green movement which in many ways includes the Lib Dems.

The only way that you can create a movement is by reaching out to other organisations and people. They are created by a fusion of ideas around common objectives. These ideas do not have to be as cohesive as those that come from a single Party but part of a broader stream of consciousness.

Somewhere, though there needs to be a clear demarcation between members and supporters. A line has to be drawn between those who want to help us and those that want to join us. I cannot see a system working where key decisions are made by people who do not join us and make the commitment to our ideals which is on our membership card and enshrined in our constitution.

I think that the way forward is to agree a set of relationships between supporters and the Party which might be part of making a movement. Those relationships will be forged best by us more clearly enunciating our policies. Not creating new ones because we have plenty of strong and radical polices which would shape the way our country is run and provide a very different way of running our finances; education; housing; health service; energy supplies et al.

We have the policies but we are not angry enough about the conditions which make those policies necessary. We need to be clearer about the threats to our environment; the abject poverty in which too many of our people live; about the appalling housing that people ensure which creates illness and burdens on the NHS; about the erosion of our civil liberties; about an education service which stifles initiative.

Make these things clearer and we can find allies, many of whom will not join us, but will work alongside us as part of a wider liberal movement. Yesterday 700,000 people marched sharing an ideal and we were at the heart of it because our policies on Europe are clear and consistent. When people know how clear and consistent we are with 5 more policies we will be heart of a movement for liberal change.

This is not just Vince’s job or the Parliamentarian’s job. It is the job of every party member to be angry about the problems our communities face and voluble about the solutions that we propose.

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Let’s stop people getting ill – A radical policy for health & social care

Ken Dodd

When the late,great Ken Dodd sang his most well-loved song, “happiness”and made people happy he was singing about the most important thing in our lives that keeps us from needing the NHS

If I wanted to make a controversial statement without people understanding my reasoning it would be, “I think we should spend less money on hospitals and acute care”. That could be taken that I want to spend less on health in the UK but it doesn’t. It just means that I think we spend too much on getting people better and not enough on keeping them healthy

If you look at the statistics for the expenditure per head of the population the UK falls roughly in the middle of spending for developed countries. We spend nowhere near as much as they spend in the USA but large amounts of that seems to go on lawyers and accountants. So, we spend roughly the same but we spend it very differently. In almost every other Country there is a far greater expenditure on things that stop people getting ill. They put into practice the old saying, “prevention is better than cure”.

In our Country the proportion spent on getting people better is much higher. Of course, this not only means greater financial expenditure. By not helping people stay fit and healthy there is a huge cost to them in the quality of their lives. In short if we attended more to the physical and mental wellbeing of the community we could spend a lot less on hospital care.

Don’t get me wrong. If I am seriously ill I want to go to a properly equipped hospital, in good condition, where fully trained staff will look after me. I have only been in this position once when I was a hospital patient for 6 days. The rest of the time I roughly eat the right stuff; drink the right stuff both in the right amounts; take a reasonable amount of exercise and avoid drugs and tobacco. But I don’t want to go to hospital or the doctors any more than I have to and that is the same view of most of the people I meet and talk to.

Just as importantly, if I do have to have some elements of acute care I want to get out of it as soon as possible. In the 6 days I spent in the Liverpool Royal Hospital I saw all the truisms of the NHS come true in front of my eyes. Lovely dedicated staff who cared and did far more than they were paid for battling appalling bureaucracy in a place that was falling apart. I just wanted to be home for a whole lot of reasons including the fact that hospitals are inherently unhealthy place.

A few months ago, I was at a conference where I made a challenge to the audience. “How many less people would there be being treated by the NHS if everyone lived in a decent and appropriate home, in a clean, green environment; had a decent job with a few bob in their pockets left over after paying for essentials for a few treats and a couple of weeks holiday every year?”. The answer came swiftly from a senior official in Public Health England – about 40%. So, the NHS has 40% more interventions with the public than they would need to if we kept people happy.

Let’s look at that in financial terms in 2015/2016 the NHS in the UK spent £116 billion. Of that about 20% is spent on primary care and public health leaving a staggering £92.8 billion being spent on acute care. If we reduced the number of interventions by just 20% it would save approximately £18.5 billion. Just think what would happen if we were to spend that much amount of money on housing; community activity and employment creation in terms of the reductions in health and other needs.

But more importantly we need to think of that in more human terms. If we take the 4% of our 11 year olds who are morbidly obese (there’s another 26% who are obese but nor morbidly) we know that it is likely that they will suffer at least three more major interventions with the NHS with poor mental and/or physical health. We know that when they reach retirement age (whatever that might be) they are more likely to have an unhealthy, sad retirement and die early. We can predict that now which is why PHE is advertising the O…Y campaign. What starts with an O ends in a Y and after tobacco is the biggest cause of cancer?

When we look round at the wider public sector budgets we find that it is the very things that keep people in good wellbeing (that’s the term posh people use) or happiness as I call it we see that there are huge cuts. When we consider the mental and physical values of a park; a library; safe community space both open air and enclosed; free travel passes; decent air, decent meals we find that those are the ones which are being cut the most.

In terms of the pure public health budget we know that the budget has been cut by 30% since the summer of 2015. We also know that for every £1 spent on public health other parts of the health service at some time in the future incur costs of £15. So, we are not even cutting expenditure simply deferring it to a point in time when it will cost far more.

So, the essence of our policies is simple. We want to spend more on keeping people healthy. We want to move the NHS budget to prevention. We want to see the NHS working with us to get even more usage from the public assets owned by councils such as parks and libraries. We want to see pharmacists and GPs given much wider responsibilities with concomitant budgets for maintaining community and district health than the delivery of pure medical outputs.

Just think how we could link NHS and council budgets to get even greater and more focused use of assets like those parks; libraries; swimming pools; sports grounds; libraries; and community centres. All of which have been provided at a huge and irreplaceable capital cost over the decades but which are falling into disrepair.

This is a conversation that we must have. If we don’t the consequences are unavoidable. The NHS will become unsustainable no matter what promises are made by politicians about how they will put the cash in that is needed. By 2050 the NHS will take every bit of tax put in to sustain it unless we hugely increase the amount of tax we raise as a proportion of GDP.

Stopping people from becoming ill is good for the NHS; it’s good for the taxpayer and most importantly it is good for all of us. This policy proposal is pragmatic, radical and vital. It’s also common sense. Let’s have the debate to bring everyone to the point where we think that ‘prevention is better than cure”.

 

 

 

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Set the Teachers Free – A radical Policy for Education

teachers

We need to release the expertise and dedication of our teachers to allow them to link up with the enthusiasm and joy of our children and create an education system not a learning system

Our education service is poor value, poor quality and incredibly expensive. Successive governments have spent vast amounts of money on creating a National Curriculum; a vast bureaucracy and an expensive inspectorate. There is little sign, however, that the way we spend the money and what we do with children is in the long-term interests of them or our Country.

As a Liberal Democrat I both yearn for and campaign for a system which encourages children to want to learn and in which they learn to thirst for in formation and learning both of knowledge and skills which will benefit for them for the whole of their life.

Instead we have a system which has created education factories in which pupils are pushed through a series of examinations and tests; taught how to pass exams not to learn more widely; come out of the sausage machine with skills that are not necessarily good for them or employers and which leaves them with no long-term thirst for education.

I don’t want to abolish exams but reduce them and make them more relevant. If someone is going to try and cure my illness I want them to properly qualified and checked. If someone is going to build a bridge I want them to have qualifications to make sure that it is safe. So, the question to me is not whether there should be examinations but is about what part that examinations play in hindering or improving educational excellence.

I believe that the proposals set out in our education policy approved by our Spring Conference this year are a great set of proposals which will lead to the radical way of thinking that I believe in. I reproduce the motion below. You can the full paper from the Lib Dem website. That motion will reduce the number of SATs and exams and improve the relationship between pupil and teacher. It will abolish OFSTED and regional commissioners which mop up huge amounts of money and return school support to localities with an emphasis on leadership skills required and the provision of effective support.

On a personal level I don’t agree with everything in the policy. For example, with three of my grandchildren being home schooled I think we would encourage too restrictive a regime for supporting them. But by and large these policies will reshape the balance between School and Teacher and Pupil and Parent. It will enable teachers to be able to respond more readily to the needs of children and communities rather than work to a restrictive over view.

I genuinely believe that the policies here will make our young people think very differently about what learning and education mean and equip them with skills for life as distinct to skills for passing exams at all levels. Such a change will unleash the talents of far more young people and direct young people into life enhancing activity which will benefit them and society as a whole. Its well thought; its radical and it needs shouting about from the roof tops.

However, with no head for heights I offer either myself or our Children’s services spokesperson, Cllr Liz Makinson to come and talk about our beliefs to any organisation working in the field of education (from Universities to parent’s groups via teachers and schools in Liverpool. Contact me at richardkemp68@yahoo.co.uk

Policy Motion Adopted at the Lib Dem Spring Conference 2018

Conference believes that:

  1. Education is core to our Liberal Democrat Values.
  2. It opens the mind, fosters understanding and tolerance, and empowers our children and our communities to be the best they can be.
  3. Every child deserves a great start in life so they are equipped to shape their own future, and are determined to make sure that the education system finds and unleashes the best in everyone.
  4. Education helps break down the unfair divisions in our society, it ensures a productive, competitive economy and it overcomes intolerance.
  5. Despite the excellent work of schools, parents and children, persistent levels of educational inequality mean far too many children leave school without the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

Conference regrets that:

  1. The Conservative government’s spending plans continue to underfund education.
  2. Excessive bureaucratic demands and constant changes in policy place an unnecessary workload on teachers.
  3. Pressure to pass exams restricts schools’ ability to focus on developing a wider education: on the arts, creativity and skills for work and life.

Conference endorses the approach of policy paper 128, Every Child Empowered: education for a changing world, as a statement of Liberal Democrat policy to meet these challenges.  Conference particularly calls for:

An end to Conservative cuts to education including:

a) A commitment to at least protect per-pupil spending in real terms, including in Further Education.

b) Protection of the pupil premium.

Support for early years education including:

  • Replacing the existing Ofsted with a reformed independent inspection system which should focus on judging whether school leaders are capable of leading improvement and an assessment of the long-term success of the whole school, looking at pupil and teacher well-being as well as results.
  • Replacing existing government performance tables (‘league tables’) of schools with a broader set of indicators including more qualitative data about pupil wellbeing.
  • Scrapping existing mandatory SATs tests at both KS1 and KS2, and replacing the them with a moderated teacher assessment at the end of each phase and some lighter-touch testing.

Have decisions to intervene in schools or change their governance arrangements normally be made by the Local Authority or MAT, ending the presumption that a temporary dip in results will trigger academisation or re-brokering of schools already functioning as academies.

Boosting the readiness of children to learn and supporting household budgets by extending free school meals to all primary-age children.

Action to improve the quality of teaching and boost the morale of teachers by:

a) Supporting the Chartered College of Teaching.

b) Requiring all teachers in state schools to be Qualified Teachers (or be working towards Qualified Teacher Status).

c) Providing 50 hours per year of high quality Continuing Professional Development.

Delivering a more coherent and accountable structure for state schools in England by:

a) Making places planning, exclusions, admissions including in-year admissions, and SEND functions the responsibility of Local Authorities.

b) Abolishing Regional Schools Commissioners.

c) Giving a level playing field between Local Authority Schools and Multi-Academy Trusts, ending the assumption that if a new school is needed it cannot be a Community School.

Modernising the curriculum by:

  • Requiring all state schools including academy and free schools to teach a broad and balanced curriculum.
  • Including a ‘curriculum for life’ (eg. RSE, Citizenship, First Aid, Financial Literacy) and ensuring every child has access to high quality, independent careers advice.
  • Allowing the detail of curriculum to be worked out by a new, independent Education Standards Authority, working alongside the profession and without political interference.

Maintaining high standards while reducing unnecessary distortions in the system arising from the current accountability framework by:

  • Increasing the early years pupil premium from £300 per year to £1000.
  • Ensuring all early years settings have a training programme for staff, with the majority of staff who are working with children to either have a relevant qualification or be working towards one; each setting should be Graduate-led.

Improving the way the system treats pupils with Special Education Needs and Disabilities by:

  • Screening for children to identify trauma and neglect in early years, and proactively provide early and evidence-based interventions to stop the trauma becoming entrenched.
  • Supporting measures to reduce the number of children with special educational needs who are excluded from school – these children are six times more likely to be excluded than children with no SEN.
  • c) Emphasising SEND provision in inspections.

Giving greater support to the mental health of pupils by:

  • a) Developing a mental health care pathway beginning in schools that links with local mental health services.
  • b) Establishing a specific individual responsible for mental health in schools, who would provide a link to expertise and support for children experiencing problems and would also take a lead on developing whole school approaches to mental wellbeing

 

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Liverpool’s Commonwealth Games bid was fatally flawed

BM2

The decision of the Council to make the suggested EFC new stadium the heart of the bid for the Commonwealth games was a major reason for its failure. The stadium is still not fully costed or funded

Once again, the Mayor of Liverpool is seeking to lay the blame for his failures on others instead of looking in the mirror.

I am saying this because Mayor Anderson is furiously accusing the Government of favouring Birmingham with the announcement of funding for a homes package initially for athletes and then for conversion to general homes use for the Birmingham community. The Liverpool bid contained no such proposal and we were presumably relying on our ability to make use of the thousands of vacant private sector flats which litter the City Centre. That money might have been available to Liverpool had the main bid proceeded but the bid was fatally flawed by having a new stadium for Everton at its heart.

We have been repeatedly told by the Mayor that an announcement will still be made in respect of the funding for the Stadium. In fact, two years ago, he made the unbelievable statement that the Stadium would be ready this October. But the money was not in place at the time of the Games Bid and does not even appear to be in place now.

There is no way that a stadium could have been built in time for the Commonwealth Games in 2022 when the money had clearly not been secured. The bid judges obviously had that in mind as a major part of their rejection of Liverpool which meant that we spent £1.1 million on a bid that had a huge hole at its heart.

In March the Mayor told us that a funding proposal would be coming to the Council at the beginning of May. He then blamed me (see the pattern here?) and Momentum for damaging the prospects for the Council’s involvement. We are now in October and there is no announcement for a funding package. This may have been made even more complicated by changes of the ownership structure within the Club.

This is typical of a Mayor that throws accusations around about everyone else’s motives and lack of competency but does not face up to the reality that much of what he does is ill thought out and mis directed.

Who knows that we might have been now working on a Games Implementation Plan if we centred our bid around the existing and expanded Liverpool Ground. Not much chance of that from a ‘blue-nose’ Mayor!

 

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Hatton; General Strikes and Momentum – Labour commit political suicide!

LabourPolls

This poll of polls of all major polls conducted since the General Election show that Labour has no breakthrough position. This was shown best in this May’s local elections where Labour did okay in existing seats but badly in the marginal areas they need to win to form a Government

Well what a week it has been for the Labour Party. Hot on the heels of a Conference where they spent most of their time arguing with each other about internal racism; internal sexism and Brexit the week was capped by the announcement that Derek Hatton has rejoined the Labour Party.

All these things should make me glad for my Party because the type of Labour Party that is being created is one that people who are centre left like Chris Leslie will have no part in. In the context of Liverpool, I just cannot see how those few councillors who support Liz Kendall and Progress can possibly be in the same Party as the Corbynistas who are determined to drive them out.

Locally even more worrying is the fact that some ill-informed Labour Councillors, some of them in key positions inside the Labour Group, are welcoming Hatton back so let me start with the account of the damage that a Militant led Labour Group did for the City.

Firstly, there have been attempts to rewrite history. You should be absolutely clear;

  • The Labour Councillors were disqualified because they set an illegal budget;
  • 33,000 council employees were sent redundancy notices
  • That employees who refused to strike were hounded. The best example of this being the gardeners who looked after the World-Famous Orchid Collection in Calderstones Park
  • Huge debts were taken on from Swiss Bankers that took 25 years to pay off.
  • There were more council homes on the books of the Council at the end of the building spree by Militant but less occupied because the repairs budget was raided to pay for new build homes.
  • Those new homes were so badly managed that one estate of 350 homes off Windsor Street was given away to a housing association just 6 years after completion with a ‘dowry of £6million.
  • Public and private sector investment in the City fell of a cliff edge. For two decades the only cranes erected in Liverpool had a wrecking ball at the end.

These were the decades where Manchester from a standing start streaked ahead of Liverpool. An advantage that they still have today.

It is clear from their public social media accounts that Labour are hopelessly split in Liverpool. The anger being expressed with each other in public is more than doubled with what they say to and about each other in private. As one long-term Labour Councillor said to me at Council, “If you think council meetings are bad you should be in one of the Group meetings. Constituency and branch meetings are even worse”.

So, I can say with absolute certainty that I have seen it all before. All this happened under Militant and it is now happening once again under Momentum. Things are now much, much worse because then at least the rest of the Labour Party was sane. Now the Labour Party as we have known it for decades is dead. The Party of Corbyn is not the same as the Party of Atlee; Wilson or Blair. Only the name reflects more than 100 years in which the Labour Party were a progressive force. They are now regressive wanting to go back in time to the 1920s and the 1980s.

Incredibly, a shadow Minister received a standing ovation when she called for a General Strike. The Labour movement lost the only General Strike when it took place in 1926. The people who suffered most from that strike were the poorest who lost days wages and couldn’t pay their rent or feed their children. That is what will happen again. More than 30% of families with children are living from hand to mouth. Losing a few day’s pay would be disastrous losing few weeks would destroy people.

But all over the Party people look with pride and want to replicate the industrial struggles of the 70s and 80’s. The class war and the class system which they think of is, rightly or wrongly, dead and gone. The big factories where everyone joined the union and the Clubs where they went for pleasure are mostly gone. Most people do not think of a class struggle but the day to day struggle of living decently with their families.

I won’t bang on about BREXIT. It was incredible how a different opinion came out from different people over the four-day conference. In his Leader’s speech Corbyn totally ignored the opinions of the 5000 Labour members, supported by 300 Lib Dems, who demanded a people’s vote and even more incredibly then offered to work with the Tories on a Brexit plan. Let us be clear. There is no such thing as a good Brexit. By supporting the Tories Corbyn is condemning millions of low paid workers to redundancy and even greater poverty.

We can see clearly in the opinion polls that Labour is going nowhere. At a time when we have the most incompetent and divided Government in history the Tories are, on average, ahead of Labour as the graph above clearly shows. If Blair or a similar figure was now the Labour Leader the Party would be 20% above their current showing. The Tories would be on the verge of becoming one right wing splinter group rather than the 3 right wing splinter groups they are at present.

The Lib Dems are doing relatively well but are not doing well enough. On average we are 4.5% up on our General Election vote. Our membership is as high as its ever been and we have gained almost 100 council seats this year with next year looking to provide us with a bumper crop of new councillors both locally and nationally.

In Liverpool we are delivering more leaflets and knocking on more doors than we have done for many years. The response is, by and large, god. I was out in Cressington last Friday the Norman Mills on a glorious morning where people wanted to talk to me about our alternative to Labour. The same happened this morning when I was out with Rob McAlister-Bell in Mossley Hill.

We know that we will do well this year but will do even better with your help. Why not join us or become a supporter? You can do this at www.libdems.org.uk. Why not give me a call to talk to me or a colleague about how we can work with you inside or outside the Party to create a better, stronger and fairer Liverpool. Anyone can e-mail me at Richardkemp68@yahoo.co.uk. I sometimes get over burdened by e-mails but you will always get a reply within a few days.

The next few years are going to be make or break for both the UK and Liverpool. By joining is and working with us you can play a part in ensuring that it is make and not break.

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Lib Dems welcome critical LGA Peer Challenge Report on the running of Liverpool City Council

LGAlogo

At last the LGA Peer Challenge Report on the running of Liverpool has been published. It shows there is a long way to go if Liverpool is to become a properly functioning, properly led organisation

Yesterday councillors in Liverpool received from the Council a link to the recent Peer Challenge Report. Interestingly the media that I have talked to about this have yet to receive a press release from the Council which is hardly surprising as it was a report which, whilst mentioning the undoubted good things that the Council has done, was highly critical of the governance of the Council.

I have welcomed that report. The fact that 3 of the 9 top level recommendations relate to the way the council operates both politically and in the cross over between political and managerial leadership reflects the earlier finding that “Liverpool operates outside the norms of local government”.

In particular the report highlights the poor level of behaviour inside the Council Chamber; ineffective relationships between officers and members; and failure to use the talents of all members of the council. It also suggests that the Liverpool Cabinet needs support and capacity building.

Lib Dems have complained since the mayoral system was introduced of the bullying and hectoring tone of the Labour Party; the failure to involve members properly inside the scrutiny process which is usually just a mass of PowerPoint presentations and the failure of many officers to understand that they work for the Council as a whole and not just the Mayor.

For too long there has been no performance management culture within the Council. The council has not even measured its own performance internally never mind comparing that performance to what other similar councils are doing.

For too long The Mayor has wandered around the Council Chamber in Liverpool like a Poundland Donald Trump spraying out accusations and facts pretending to be fiction and in clear defiance of the Council’s own standing orders

For too long officers of the Council have believed that they worked for the Mayor. Incredibly some staff members actually told the Challenge Team that. Of course, all staff work for the Council as a whole.

We hope that the acceptance of this report and the arrival of a new Chief Executive will mean that Liverpool Council moves from being ‘Dodge City’ to a more normal, inclusive and mature method of inclusive working.

The full report can be found here: http://councillors.liverpool.gov.uk/documents/s225754/LGA%20Peer%20Review.pdf

Top level Recommendations of the LGA Peer Challenge

There are a range of suggestions and observations within the main section of this report that will inform some early practical actions, in addition to the conversations on-site which provided ideas and examples that the council may wish to think about adopting.

The following are the peer team’s recommendations on the next steps for the council:

  • Sharing our findings in a timely way to as wide an audience as possible
  • Effectively scoping the capacity, expertise and infrastructure necessary for the delivery of the Inclusive Growth Plan and the council’s other ambitions; agreeing investment in areas where there are shortfalls. This activity should include an immediate focus on the communications function, Human Resources and organisational development, digital/ICT as well as analytical and policy capacity.
  • Developing the detailed plans necessary for managing the budget pressures and delivering the agreed savings
  • Embedding and establishing further straightforward mechanisms to enhance cross-council working and understanding, building on what the Elected Mayor has done in creating and leading staff engagement initiatives
  • Building on the robust recruitment process for the new Chief Executive that helped provide a positive message to the extensive range of stakeholders taking a very strong interest in the council
  • Seeking to change the way that politics is played out in the council and in particular in the Council Chamber, through elected member development activity in order to achieve a consensus on standards of behaviour governing political discourse across the political spectrum
  • Building quickly on the positive example of the council having identified the need to review urgently the Member/Officer Protocol
  • Exploring the potential to undertake capacity-building work to support the development of the Cabinet
  • Reflecting on the very strong feedback we received from young people we met regarding the need for earlier and better mental health support in schools
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A radical plan for Housing for the UK

Children

We have a song in Liverpool one of which verses goes, “It’s six in a bed at the old Pier Head, It’s Liverpool Town for me”. Throughout our Country there are still people living in conditions little better than this.

Within months of becoming a councillor way back in 1975 I was made Chair of the Homeless Committee. We had a problem in the city in that we were overspending our budget by more than £250,000 – a lot of money in those days! As I looked into the issues of homelessness in the City I found the problem was far worse than losing money. If you have never read George Orwell’s ‘Down and Outs in London and Paris’ do so. He describes there how in the 1920s there were appalling conditions in which homeless people, mostly men, were housed in squalid, foul properties with speculators making a profit from their misfortune.

That was true across the UK and particularly in Liverpool. One hostel called the “Unique Hostel” in Everton was responsible for one third of the deaths in Everton Ward. 230+ men were herded into a property with just 6 toilets and those on the ground floor which could be up to 10 minutes’ walk away from where old men with poor bladders actually slept. The result was buckets of crap and urine and a stench everywhere you went.

There were other smaller versions of this but the charitable sector was no better. The Salvation Army hostels were clean but austere. You could get in during the afternoon if you went to the prayer meeting. This was true of the hostels for both men and women.

My proudest day in politics was entering the Unique Hostel building with a possession order followed by an army of staff with heaters; beds; cleansing materials; clothes, decent food and within days made it habitable but by no means perfect. Our actions were opposed by the Tory Party with Masonic links to the Company’s owners.

Within two years we closed it for good. We created small units which could be made into semi-permanent or permanent homes. We closed down the two Salvation Army hostels and grant aided them to build new small hostels for about 40 men and 40 women.

The work I did then gave me an absolute understanding of what housing meant. Not just a financial asset, not just bricks and mortar but a home where you can be secure and from which you can go out to deal with life’s’ adversities. Put simply if you don’t have a home you don’t have a future.

Soon after that the conversation changed as Mrs Thatcher pushed through her right to buy legislation. People in social housing were seen to be failures; outcasts; misfits. Houses were sold at huge discounts and we were only allowed to use 25% of the takings for more housing. Shamefully the Blair/Brown Governments continued the process. They made no change at all in the Thatcherite system and in the 13 years of a Labour Government the number of social homes was reduced by more than 330,000.

The Lib Dems debated housing at our recent Conference and our main recommendations are given below. The most important conclusion that the Party came to was that every has a right in a Country as wealthy as ours to a ‘house’ that is appropriate to their needs; which is warm and safe; and which is set in a neighbourhood or community that is clean safe and well managed.

I agree with all these recommendations but I do not think they go far enough. One of the things that I was also proud of in those early Liberal years was the fact that we created with residents the biggest housing cooperative programme in the whole of Western Europe. We didn’t tell tenants what they needed but asked them what they wanted and then gave them the means to develop their own self run estates. Those estates have stood the test of time and have continued to provide good community led housing facilities.

I believe that the way forward for all our social housing is to empower tenants to run their own lives. I would convert both council housing departments and housing associations in to deliverers and enablers of housing supporting management by the tenants themselves community by community and estate by estate. Many housing associations are now no more than big businesses and many council housing departments are very old fashioned and not stepping up to the crease to provide a more holistic neighbourhood service.

Public sector housing providers should think of their role more holistically. They should of course be good landlords but they should also be neighbourhood investors using their close contact with people to push for and even run a range of community, environmental, training, employment and health services.

The Blair Government toyed with this concept through Tenant Management Organisations but as we saw so clearly in Kensington & Chelsea these were too often used as a way that unscrupulous councils avoided public scrutiny in the running of their estates. This type of management structure can be done and an organisation based in Liverpool called North West Housing Services provides a range of services to more than 40 small housing associations or cooperatives.

We also need to think about the tenants of private landlords. Many small private landlords run a good local service and care for their tenants. Too many however, are sharks and charlatans with up to one third of privately rented properties in some areas receiving public sector housing credits for people to live in squalid and unsafe conditions.

Licensing of private landlords should be compulsory. A proper licensing system would pay for the inspection services of environmental health and building inspectors to close down or fine bad landlords and the ability to make money through housing benefits would be denied to them. For good landlords this would be a minor expense and a minor inconvenience but they would get the benefit of the bad landlords which create problems for all private sector landlords being driven from the market.

We must end the perception in this Country that housing is just a financial asset. My house is my repository of the memories of the children and now grandchildren growing up; of tears of joy and tears of sadness. I am lucky in that I can say that my favourite place in the whole world is our bed in our house. As politicians we must leave no stone unturned in this wealthy Country to make that true for everyone.

Liberal Democrat Conference calls for:

  1. The creation of a British Housing Company as a dedicated, arm’s length, not for profit non-governmental body to acquire land of low amenity at current use value through compulsory acquisition to reduce prohibitive land costs and excessive developer profits.
  2. Removal of the cap on local authority borrowing.
  3. The construction of 50,000 social homes for rent per year by both councils and housing associations rising as soon as practicable to 100,000 a year.
  4. Local authorities to have the power to decide on the availability of Right to Buy in their areas and for Right to Buy receipts to be reinvested in social housing.
  5. A big expansion in ‘Rent to Own’ where occupants pay rent to housing associations, in return for an increasing stake in the property over time.
  6. Higher quality, safety and environmental standards in the existing housing stock including the retrofitting of 4 million homes to higher standards.
  7. An increase to 500% in council tax levied where homes are being deliberately bought as investment properties and left empty for long periods with a stamp duty surcharge on overseas residents purchasing such properties.
  8. The Government to deliver its commitment to building 300,000 homes a year by i) ensuring the workforce in the construction industry is sufficient to build them ii) encouraging new building techniques to build quality new homes in shorter timescales.
  9. Local government to adopt a civic house building model working in partnership with developers and supported by a planning system which is less about gatekeeping planning applications and more about creating places in which people want to live, work and play.
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