Free School Meals is the wrong debate

We must use the discussion about free school meals and convert it to a proper debate about ensuring the no and low paid get sufficient to provide a decent way of life in a system which abolishes the workhouse and the means test mentality. “Please sir, can I have some more” must be worked out of our systems.

The latest spat about free school meals is a reminder to me about everything that is wrong with our welfare state. These are not new problems they have been endemic since at least the 1950s but have been exacerbated by the current meanness and nastiness of the current government and the way they class large sections of our community as the undeserving poor.

For the record I would like to abolish free school meals altogether and family tax credits and housing credits and a whole range of means tested and grudgingly given handouts and give aways. They are discriminatory in nature and designed to make people do an ‘Oliver Twist’ and hold up their begging bowl and say, “Please Sir can I have some more?” They are also very expensive to administer and provide continued uncertainty to families on the margin of being able to provide for themselves as most people want to. This is a disincentive to move jobs or even move out of unemployment altogether.

The system of handouts also has other undesirable effects such as distorting the housing markets. The huge increases of housing benefit pay outs are caused by new landlords stepping in to provide what would be cheaper and better provided by social landlords such as housing associations or even better councils. They drive up prices and drive down quality. They create ghettoes instead of communities.

So, do I want to abolish support to people with no or low incomes? Not at all. I just believe that there is a better way which is efficient and deals with people anonymously, and takes away both the shame and shaming element of our current system.

This is not a new belief of mine. In the old Liberal Party, we used to call it ‘negative income tax’. Your base line was assessed on an annual basis, but could be changed more frequently, and you either paid tax via your employer or received tax credit from your employer. It’s a bit more complicated than that but basically introduced a payment system which included all the financial support needed in one review than through a series of top ups.

Every year I get informed by HMRC about what my tax code is and where tax will be taken from me. In fact, I’ve just got my final tax bill for the year 2019/2020.  Our tax code system will need amendment but it can already recognise basic changes in employment levels etc and adjust instructions to employers to subtract tax accordingly with relative simplicity.

This basic principle, ‘one assessment’ principle was behind the concept of Universal Credit. However, that was introduced for the wrong reasons at a time of cuts in benefit. It is now so discredited that it is beyond redemption.

Instead the Liberal Democrats voted overwhelmingly for the concept of a Universal Income at our recent Annual Conference. It would sweep away most existing benefits and incorporate them into one basic calculation of what a family needed not only to survive but to live in reasonable but not opulent comfort. It provides stability for people either employees or people unemployed who want to move jobs or move into jobs. It properly transfers the control of a family’s income to the family and away from tick box civil servants.

People see two problems with this. The first is that the money may be misapplied. The selfish parent will spend it on sex, drugs, gambling and rock and roll. It is true that some money won’t be properly spent. There will be some families who won’t spend it on need but will fritter it away. I would suggest that this number would be a small percentage of the population. Unlike Tories I think that the vast majority of people are responsible with both their money and public money.

The second problem is that the Universal nature of this will not recognise the specific needs of some groups. I think of those with medical needs and our increasingly aged population. That is true but that is a relatively small element of our population whose needs are well documented and are already in constant contact with health or social care authorities so that informed decisions can be made by health or social workers as they are mostly done now.

How much will this cost? Well you could choose to do this at no additional cost at all. Work out how much we pay for these current benefits and the cost of running them and then redistribute the money through the new system with lower overheads.

To my mind that isn’t enough. I think existing benefits are too low and the base line for payments to no or low earners will need to be increased. This increase will be good for the economy. If it is paid for by increasing taxation on tax avoiding (i.e. legal) companies like Uber and Amazon and the payment of proper taxes by the wealthy with their off shore accounts, like the loathsome Jacob Rees-Mogg, there would be plenty to share round more fairly. Poorer people spend their money in the UK and often very local economy. Wealthy corporations and individuals spend their cash far away from the UK economy which provided the basis for it.

So, let’s use this opportunity of the question of school meals to avoid what is just a political point scoring fest between Lib Dems and Labour on one side and the Tories on the other and use it to start a proper nationwide debate about opportunity, fairness and equality.

It’s time to end the concept of the workhouse and begging bowl for good. The Lib Dems are up for this. Who’s coming with us.

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People Must Not Die alone

As a society we must find a way of supporting our loved ones to die and improve the grieving
process even in the midst of the Covid pandemic.

The Government is currently consulting on whether or not people should be allowed to visit their friends or relatives in Care homes especially in Tier 3 area. Today I have asked Liverpool Council to respond to the Government consultation about care homes with a clear request to find ways of allowing visits by relatives and friends.

I am also the Deputy Chair of the Community Wellbeing Board of the Local Government Association. As both a local and a ‘national’ councillor over the past 10 months I have been listening, as most people have, to some terrible stories about families who were not able to comfort their loved ones in their final months, weeks and days.

I think first of the misery of the people that are dying. The comfort of having lived well is reinforced by the presence of a family member or friend. Someone to talk to; to reminisce with or simply hold their hand as they passed can make dying the ultimate experience and not the ultimate terror.

Not only does the sadness apply to the person who dies but there are long-term mental health consequences for the people who had to stand aside. The feeling of desolation that at the last they were unable to help their love ones at the end will remain with them for a long time it is certainly slowing the grieving process. This is especially true of some communities where the ‘laying out’ of the dead with washing or other rituals prepares them for their journey into an afterlife.

The NHS is anticipating a 30% increase in people with health problems in coming months. This is one of the causes of mental illness that be reduced cheaply and quickly.

The fact is that because so many elderly people have died and so many families are currently reluctant to put their families in them there is a large vacancy rate in care homes in Liverpool and nationwide. This means that there is room in most facilities to isolate those with Covid and to ensure safe social distancing for both visitors and staff as they care for the residents.

This cannot be done without improving the track and trace system. Currently all staff are being tested weekly but it can take days for the result to come through which means that if they were infectious, they could well have infected the whole of the care home in that time. That’s why we believe that the whole testing, track and trace should be led by the public health departments of local councils with their specialist knowledge.

Currently 42 out of 82 of our care homes in the City have a Covid case or two in them. At this level the infections can be carefully monitored and controlled at a tiny risk to other residents and staff. This is why we must resist what happened in the early stages of the outbreak when the dying were sent to care homes to die to release pressure on hospitals. This overwhelmed ability of the care homes to cope which led to enhanced levels of death for residents, poorly paid care home staff and the wider community as infected staff returned to their homes and communities.

I urge Liverpool City Council to urge the Government to support 5 simple steps

  • Testing of visitors to help the management of the virus
  • As a minimum, designating one person per resident as a ‘special visitor’ who is eligible for regular testing, PPE and training alongside the care home staff, to help facilitate their ability to keep coming in.   
  • Recognise that care homes and residents are all different and must be enabled to manage visiting in the way that works for them, their environment and their people and empowered to talk to all their residents, their loved ones and staff to work this out.
  • Support all care homes to create safe COVID-19 visiting spaces to use to visit safely   
  • Get the entire health and care sector in our City to rally around to support care home visiting, including the Care Quality Commission, local authorities & Directors of Public Health, and health and care staff too. 

The NHS is supposed to support ‘cradle’ to grave’ care. Regrettably, too many people are reaching the end of our lives without that care. We need to let people live and die with compassion and care. The risks here at minimal but the benefits are huge to many of the people who will die and the families and friends that will mourn them.

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Mersey Port Health Problems Show Johnson’s ‘Oven Ready Deal’ is still in the Deep Freeze

When even Theresa May, whose time as Prime Minister caused so much damage to our Country, grimaces and shows disbelief in the words of Michael Gove in the Commons Chamber only the most half-witted people can believe the Brexit lies.

I found out at a meeting of the Mersey Port Health Authority last week that the Port  will face major problems from 1st January After questioning from me, the Chief Port Health Officer, Mercola Douglas revealed two main problems:

Firstly, there is no clarity about regulations concerning imports from Northern Ireland and Eire with only 10 weeks ago until the UK leaves the EU. This uncertainty is also being felt by Immigrations and Customs Officers.

Secondly, there will be a huge problem in gearing up from approximately 1,900 statutory cargo inspections a year to the 21,000 that will be required after Brexit. The Port Authority is currently losing staff to Public Health England and other port authorities who will have to undertake inspections for the first time. Even if they could get the staff there is no money to pay for the staff required.

This could mean that some ships will be unable to unload their cargoes here which might cause a permanent change in which port they choose to use. Alternatively, it would mean that cargoes of food will enter the UK food chain without being checked. DEFRA are aware of the problems but have so far refused to commit the extra cash needed.

This farcical situation shows that after being promised an ‘Oven Ready deal and frictionless borders’ last year Brexit will cause major problems to trade for hauliers and shippers. Thousands of extra staff will be needed in both public and private sectors. All this will slow down trade which adds to expense even before the extra cost of staff is considered.

I am pleased that the Authority supported my suggestion to write to the Mayors of the Region and City asking for help in dealing with the Government to resolve these issues which should have been resolved well before the 11th hour and 59th minute of this long and inept saga”.

These two problems really do show how the Leave campaign and then the Johnson Government comprehensively lied to the people of the United Kingdom.

During the referendum I continually warned that there would be a new hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the North. I was told variously that I was stupid, a liar or didn’t know what I was talking about. Now my words have been shown to be true with the Irish Border a major sticking point in the ‘discussions’ between the EU and the UK. Of course, there was going to be a hard border. After all that was the British Governments, of all political persuasions had demanded during 45 years of members. A free flow of trade with the EU for tariffs and conditions but a powerful EU which safeguarded food standards and other safety and health and prevented dumping of goods.

It was also clear that trade could not be frictionless unless the Government agreed to a range of conditions. Many of those conditions were met in the Withdrawal Agreement which now the Government that negotiated it and the MPs that voted for it are saying is not fit for purpose.

The Government has estimated that 50,000 staff will need to be employed to carry out the customs and other checks required. That costs money that will need to added to consumer bills. Delays cost money with stock in vehicles that are standing in the new lorry parks the Government is building in Kent and other Sothern Counties. That also costs money that will need to be added to consumer bills.

Tesco has already warned of a shortage of fresh food after 1st January. Welsh and Lake District sheep farmers face a 35% tariff on exports to the EU and a range of other Countries. This is not the EUs fault. They are now defending the Withdrawal agreement signed only 12 months ago between the EU and UK.

All this is happening when Covid-19 is wreaking havoc on our economy especially in the North of England. Jobs are going everywhere because of this with high paid jobs in the City of London moving to the Continent and well-paid manufacturing jobs in the North doing likewise.

A Government thinking of the nation would not be pressing the green light for Brexit now. It would be thinking of working with others to weather the storm and work out a sensible way forward to protect our health and our jobs. This is not a Government that cares about the Nation. Reliable sources in our financial capital have made clear that companies that have funded the Tories, stand to make £6.5 billion from Brexit. Frankly folks it’s payback time.

When even the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, cannot conceal her contempt for Michael Gove in the House of Commons surely everyone must now understand that this deal is a bad one and that the Government hold everyone outside a small coterie in contempt.

Yes, we will leave the EU on 31st December bad deal or not. For me it just hastens the time when Lib Dems can join the fight to get as back in as we did in the 60s to get in to the EEC. When the full mess of Brexit finally sinks in to the soft heads of the Right only the real fascists and racists will be left convinced that they can still sing, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ as our Country sinks quietly down the toilet!

Be under no illusion. Johnson’s “Oven Ready Deal” is still stuck fast in the freezer in the cellar.

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Northern Lib Dems call on PM for real support to stop a deeper North/South divide

The Prime Minister claims to want to raise the economies of the North to the levels of other regions. His current policies for dealing with the Coronavirus and its aftermath will have the opposite effect

I’m one of is one of 30 Lib Dem Cllrs, MPs and Peers from across the North of England who has signed a letter to the Prime Minister calling for localisation of health and economic powers to local and regional leaders.

I’m warning the Prime Minister that, “a failure to agree to these very reasonable suggestions will mean that his supposed hopes to level the playing field between North and South will be in shreds.

After the election you said that you would ensure that there would be a levelling upwards by the North. However, if you impose stringent economic penalties on the North which will close down countless businesses you will have the opposite effect.

It is now recognised widely that to be effective, decision making must be taken by local decision makers who are respected and know their patch well. This corona virus hiatus gives us a major opportunity to rebalance the North and South and set the North free from southern based politicians and bureaucrats in Westminster and Whitehall”

As well as local decision making the Northern Lib Dems are calling for:

1. Increased funding for Track & Trace on top of the £8 per head already offered.

2. Real financial support to those who have to self-isolate for the community good.

3. A proper expansion of the furlough scheme at a realistic level of support without resort to further benefit claims which are time consuming and burdensome.

4.  Real Protection for those living in care with sick people not being returned to ill-equipped care homes to die.

5. Effective support for schools to stay open with enhanced PPE type protection and support with I-pads and remote learning for those where schools or part schools are to close.

ENDS:

ENDS:  The full letter to Boris Johnson MP and PM is given below

Open letter to the Prime Minister

We are Liberal Democrats from across the North, calling on the government to take urgent action to support people, communities and businesses across the North.

Millions of people across the north have been living under local restrictions for months. They have borne it with fortitude, but infection rates are still rising. Now the government threatens months of further restrictions, without the support needed to underpin it. This risks a death by a thousand cuts for our hospitality and creative sectors – and the jobs that depend on them.

The north of England hosts dynamic businesses, a rich arts sector, world-leading universities and some of the country’s most popular national parks. But we are too often overlooked by a London-centric government.

We are proud of our communities and stand ready to work cross-party to deliver the support they need to work together to defeat the virus. Clearly, with case numbers and hospital admissions rising rapidly, urgent action is needed. But the government’s own analysis makes clear that even Tier 3 may not be enough. And if local lockdowns without additional support were effective, areas like Greater Manchester and the North East, where restrictions have been in place for months, would not be in this position.

We need to do better than the same failed strategy. Regardless of whether regional or national lockdown strategies are pursued we are calling on the government to act rapidly and constructively with local political leaders who are grounded in communities – not act by fiat from Whitehall – to put in place the support we need to sustain a lockdown and come out of it better placed to defeat the virus.

These actions should include:

1. Urgent funding for local action on test and trace. The central system is an expensive failure. Local government has the capacity to help – but not the funding. A rapid infusion of funding to enable local scale-up could be transformative for our fight against the virus, and justify the pain caused by a second lockdown.

2. Support to enable people to self-isolate. Fewer people across the North can work from home, which may be one reason why the initial lockdown was less effective. That means that support is more urgently needed for those who cannot work while self-isolating.

3. Extension of the furlough scheme to save jobs and support people and communities. While borrowing costs next to nothing, the Chancellor is choosing to leave workers without a salary and forcing viable enterprises out of business. This is a heartless political choice whose effects will last years. He must expand furlough support urgently until June 2021.

4. Protect people living in care. People living in care were appallingly let down in the first weeks of this crisis. We must not make the same mistake again. Government must guarantee that all discharges from hospitals into care homes take place only following a negative Covid test. Staff and residents must be able to access regular testing, with results within 24 hours, and the same must apply to people being supported to live independently, as well as those visiting loved ones in care homes.

5. Support to children and young people. Government must support schools to stay open, whilst also ensuring they have resources to provide online learning. This means getting laptops and internet access to pupils from low income households. They must extend free school meals and vouchers to ensure every child in poverty can access them, even when schools are closed. They must reach a fair deal for university students who are being charged for accommodation they do not want to use, and ensure that actions to tackle outbreaks in the student community consider the rights and needs of both students and local residents.

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Why I supported the Young People of Liverpool

This was the picture that hit the headlines yesterday but it is not representative of the young people of our City most of whom observe the constraints of Covid-19 at a time which should be one of freedom, joy and the making of new friends

Yesterday the press, both local and national was full of pictures and stories about the misbehaviour of young people in the City and how they had brought shame on us all.

Even looking at the photographs provided which came from just one location, this was clearly a massive overkill! The pictures clearly showed a small crowd misbehaving. At the most perhaps 150 youngsters.

I was contacted by a taxi driver who had been in the area. The Fleet Street/Concert Square area had been relatively quiet all night. It was after all a cold and wet evening. 10.00 came and most people were drifting away when a TV crew from Norway came on the scene. It would appear that they encouraged a small section to the young people to misbehave for the cameras. After all they had come a long way to get a story! According to my source none of the accents that were heard that night were Scouse ones.

This isn’t either an attack on the media or a defence of those who misbehaved. The media does what it does. The actions of the young people concerned was wholly unacceptable with a possibility of the spread of a Virus which might not affect the young people concerned too badly but could lead to transmission of the virus to frailer and more susceptible people.

But the way the story was told by some was that this was typical of the behaviour of our local young people and I can tell you from my own observations that it isn’t. There are approximately 90,000 people in the City aged between 18 and 25. It is of course a high proportion because that includes up to 60,000 students most of whom come from outside the City. 200 (ish) caused trouble 89,980 didn’t. The facts speak for themselves!

As I go round my own area, which I rarely leave these days, its not the actions of young people that bother me most. It’s the behaviour of older people who think it their right to do what they want on things like masking. They are either virus deniers or feel that this is an attack on their civil liberties. When challenged they get most offensive often launching into swearing because they are unable to articulate a coherent reason for their bad behaviour.

By contrast if I do tackle younger people most of them listen and apologise for their actions. They have often genuinely forgotten or not understood the rules and I have great sympathy for them for that. I went to Penny Lane Londis and only when I got to the door realised that my mask was where I had left it by the front door. The regulations are not immediately obvious to people and I can accept genuine confusion from young and old alike.

Over the 9 months of the virus I have seen so many acts of kindness by young people. One lot have been helping look after their neighbour’s gardens. Although their Dad mentioned sadly that they never help with their own! Others go shopping for people who were shielding or self-isolating; others make a point of ringing the grandparents more; others have been involved in looking after younger children whilst parents work from home or go out to work.

The vast of young people in our City are behaving well despite all the pressures on the. Imagine being an 18 or 19-year-old student now. They studied hard for exams that didn’t take place; were offered or not offered places based on assessments which they may or may not have been able to take up. They then have arrived in a City which they partly chose because of its night life and that it’s a great place to live. They are now spending a fortune NOT to have the student experience they worked for.

Our own teenagers face an uncertain future. Their path either to further studies or to employment is far from clear. Youth unemployment is rocketing; vacancies are disappearing and their none exam-based assessment looks difficult.

Yet students and local young people alike have largely behaved well. They have respected the science of the virus aware that they are less likely themselves to suffer badly from the Virus but they may well infect their parents or grandparents who will be affected.

I was called a snowflake yesterday in a long rant I received from someone. Really! I will always criticise anyone of any age who breaks coronavirus laws and regulations which are there for their good and ours. But please let’s not judge a generation of youngsters because of the poor judgement and behaviour of a handful.

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Liverpool needs a hand up and not hand outs

Ed Davey emailed me last night for a snapshot of Liverpool before the PM makes what may be worrying announcements later. I have been very positive as Lib Dems believe that Liverpool has a great future but we need short term help and investment.

In a letter to Lib Dem Leader Ed Davey in advance of today’s announcements by the Prime Minister, Cllr Richard Kemp has asked his Party’s MPs and Peers to recognise the importance of Cities in stimulating national economic growth. On that basis, he is asking Lib Dems to support calls for investment in the City’s economy and the City Recovery Plan which was sent to the Government in June.

Cllr Kemp says, “the short-term future of the City looks grim with more pressures on the Council’s budgets and a likely large increase in unemployment coming up after the reduction in support to the hospitality industry and furlough schemes. However, I believe that Liverpool is a resilient City and is one that can make a huge beneficial impact on the regional and national economies.

We need help short-term to keep the basic public and private sector infrastructures intact but in the long-term we can build on the realignments of the last 20 years and place City as a leading European and even global player particularly in research, environment and health companies. Money given to Liverpool now is an investment in the future which will be a hand up for our growth and economic stimulation.

The full letter to Rt Hon Ed Davey is attached

Ed Davey,

Leader, Liberal Democrats 

Ed,

The state of the City of Liverpool

Thanks for your note regarding our view of the City’s position prior to the lunch time announcements. This is my response.

In general terms both within the Council and the City as a whole, things look bleak. In cash terms the Council seems to be heading for about a £20 million+ deficit this year. This cannot be fully determined at this time as we await three small tranches of money relating to our lost income.

Things look very difficult for next year with up to a £50 million deficit with our council tax and NNDR income under threat. This will mean that we will have to take a 10% real terms cut to our expenditure after 10 years of austerity budgets which have hit at our service provision. There is now little fat in our budgets and although we can be a little more nimble in some aspects of our work we will be left with less services to those who need them.

In the meantime, our expenses do not get appreciably less. There are marginal savings on some aspects of our work but an increased rate of unemployment will add continuing pressures onto our budgets for school meals and general work about council tax rebates.

Our social care costs have continued to rise. The care homes currently have less people in them but cost roughly the same to run. We have been able to cope this year with the extra money given to us which enabled us to renegotiate new terms with care home providers. At the moment we have no guarantee for the continuation of the cash for this purpose. This could soon lead to the closure of care homes and the movement of fragile people to new homes which could be a killer. The homes will be needed in the mid-term so we will be reducing capacity across the sector which will be difficult to increase in the medium term.

We have an excellent public health team in place and our element of the track and trace has worked well with more than 95% of people being traced. More importantly we have used local messaging and targeting of groups by people that individuals within the community trust. As elsewhere we have been hampered by national NHS decision making and the lack of clarity from the Government about what we, as individuals, need to do. Trust with the government is wearing thin.

Relationships with the NHS locally have generally been good and there is a strong sense of partnership with not only them but our our other key partners such as the Universities. A recovery plan has been produced which we have had some concerns about as it was based on ‘shovel ready’ schemes devised before Covid. However, our concerns have been noted and there have been alterations made behind the scenes relating to them which keep us on board.

We support the general contention that rebuilding the Country must start by rebuilding our Cities which are the powerhouse for potential growth. We have pressed for a realisation that the Council needs to work with the people and businesses of the City to build a ‘new normal’ which builds on the good things that have happened in our communities and the desire for a cleaner, greener environment.

As yet we do not know the full extent of the economic fall out for our business sectors although there are clear signs both of resilience and concern for the future.

We have a large hospitality industry based on short term visits; cruise liners and students enjoying themselves. This is worth £4 billion to our economy but is hugely threatened. Another lock down on the less than generous terms currently being mooted will lead to many more closures than those that have happened. In general terms it is the chain providers that have been making closures and the local independents grimly hanging on. This cannot continue. The football fans are not visiting, the cruise liners haven’t visited once, the students are confined to barracks!

We have however made improvements in our local attraction with more people having staycations in the City and actually seeing for themselves some of our 980 listed buildings and beautiful parks.

The fall back of the retail sector will particularly hit our City Centre where there is at least a minimum of a 40% reduction in footfall from last year. We, as will every other City and large town, have to reconsider and repurpose our City and district centres to be more than just a shopping and leisure centre.

Job cuts have started but have been muted by furlough and other schemes. I would anticipate that in the next few weeks the unemployment rate will have  substantial increase in the City as these programmes fall out or are reduced as suggested.

So far, we have been able to keep up much of the capital programmes of the public sector although there is uncertainty about future years programmes. I would anticipate that our private housing sector, which has a number of uniquely Liverpool problems, will suffer in the short to medium term.

There is an unprecedented call on services like our food banks. We have people in our City going hungry not because they are feckless but because a combination of zero hours contracts and reduced benefits mean that they have no money. This will in turn lead to more calls on our social services for things like child care and domestic violence which are seeing a small growth but which will get worse.

In the short and medium terms we have been publicly and privately supporting the Labour administration believing that we are in a ‘war time’ state of emergency and we should work together where possible. We have caviled at some schemes that Labour have proposed and have been successful in preventing things like a zipwire proposal that would have made a laughing stock of our heritage sector and the closure of two excellent care homes which were only opened last year.

At the moment Liverpool is coping because have to and because there is a tremendous sense of community here in the City.

However, the future looks bleak. Unless Liverpool gets a good financial settlement, the Council will shortly have no alternative but to commence planning for cuts that will affect vital services. I have agreed to join an internal working group to consider all aspects of the Council’s work. As a Party we have not only said that we would work in this way but that we will also support its conclusions. We will not play Liverpool politics at this time of acute need.

But the future looks grim. Liverpool is not begging for money but making an offer to Government. We are putting place a series of projects and programmes around the health sectors and our Universities in particular which will create good quality jobs which will spin off money into other sectors.

What Liverpool needs now is not a handout but a hand up. We can contribute to the future wealth of this Country if in the short term we can keep the fabric of our City intact and in the long-term have a £200 million investment of government cash into projects which the private sector have committed £1.2 billion to kick start our economy for the future.

We believe that this is a bargain the Government should respond to with alacrity.

Always feel free to ring me or email me. Perhaps we can show you round our City soon when I am sure our Mayor would join with me in showing you some of our opportunities.

Regards as ever.

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John Foley – ‘One of the Best’

The late John Foley in his toy shop where he seemed to give away to needy children as much as he ever sold!

Today I wrote to the family of John Foley on behalf of all my colleagues in Liverpool to say how saddened we are at his death. He was a man full of warmth, vitality and honour. He passionately believed in challenging the powers that be and seeking justice for those who he thought were poorly treated.

I first met him after the City Council bungled the reopening of the St John’s Market and worked with him closely when the Council, having learned nothing bungled the reopening as well!

He carefully orchestrated a campaign in the early days when the Council were trying to charge sky high rents for premises that were not fit for purpose. Interestingly he always took a back seat seeking to promote the views of others such as Colin Laphan as the public face of the Traders and Cllr Juarez and I in their support. The Mayor of Liverpool turned up and promised to do works to the Market (still not complete by the way) and not charge rent or service charge in the meantime.

Having secured the Market, he went in to his next campaign, ridding Liverpool of the Kingdom enforcement company. He was assiduous in following up and interviewing people who had been badly used by this company and I have no doubts that it is largely thanks to his efforts that The Mayor again capitulated and broke the Kingdom contract.

I didn’t agree with him on every campaign he followed. I really don’t that that 5G is as bad as he thought it was! On his behalf I challenged the scientific certainties and when I found proof that 5G is not harmful I explained that I couldn’t support him on this one. I noticed that he stopped campaigning on that issue soon after.

We came back together However, on the way that the way that the Market Traders were treated post Covid. There was no explanation of why the Market was so slow to reopen. There was no way that the traders could have afforded full rents on the stalls given the low number of people in town. Again, he organised the campaign, got the banners out and took to the air waves enlisting Cllr Kris Brown and I in to support them.

His last campaign was to save Millvana and Brushwood Homes. I am so pleased that before he died he saw that once again his work with countless others was so successful and that the homes would stay open.

If I believed in an after life I could well imagine that the first person I would meet on the other side would be John Foley with his video camera saying, “what do you think of this Councillor!”

My thoughts will be with all his family in the difficult weeks ahead. I am sure that they will be comforted by the many people who will simply tell them, as I do, that their Dad was just ‘One of The Best’.

Liverpool has lost a great son who was not afraid to talk truth to power. He was unassuming but determined. If he believed something, he fought for it. Whether you were on his side or in his targets you could not help but respect this man of honour, compassion and integrity.

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Things I learned about Covid at last week’s Health & Wellbeing Board in Liverpool

Covid-19 is now attacking communities the length and breadth of Liverpool from rich to poor from white to black and from community to community. Every single one of us needs to be on a guard to make our City safer and get life back to a new normal.

The news that the Coronavirus has struck at the heart of the American Government is both shocking and unsurprising. Shocking because in theory the President is one of the most protected people in the world. Unsurprising because he has led events where a brew of circumstances was likely to led to wide scale infections. I got the news the day after I attended a meeting of Liverpool’s Health & Wellbeing Board.

Yesterday I tweeted the sad news that Church Ward, the part of Liverpool 18 that I represent with Liz and Andrew Makinson, had the second highest level of infections (per head of population) in the City. The rise has been steep and sharp. For more than two months we didn’t have a firm figure it was just shown on the ‘Council league table’ as being under 5. Yesterday it was 46 people infected in the last 7 days. That number will continue to rise.

It is important that everyone in the City reflects on this. I have heard people saying that they were unlikely to be affected because they were young; or ate well; or were in good health; or didn’t work in the NHS or care sectors or didn’t live in multi-agency households. Those illusions should be shattered. The number of people in the wealthiest wards of Liverpool as a whole has shot up. Did people go on chancy foreign holidays? Did they pour into restaurants and cafes to take advantage of the £10 discount? Did they let their guard down because they thought they were exempt? Probably all these had some parts to play in the huge increase in numbers.

While I was in the Board meeting, which is a meeting of Council and NHS staff and Councillors, I heard some interesting facts that I thought I would share with you.

  1. Two weeks after a rise in infections there is a rise in hospital admissions and two weeks after that a rise in deaths. We are now at higher rates of new cases than at any time since the pandemic started although a direct comparison is not possible because far more people are now, and belatedly, being tested.
  2. The rates of deaths will be proportionately less now because our physicians have learned which drugs and which treatments to use to lower the mortality rate.
  3. There was a 10-fold increase in Covid-19 cases in intensive care units between the first week of September and the last in the City. The ICUs are already now operating at near capacity at a time when numbers are still rising.
  4. 60,000 people nationally still suffered Covid symptoms after 3 months. This is a condition known as long-Covid. For reasons still not clearly understood some people recover quickly and some do not. Many people cannot fully function after 6 months and there is a real possibility they will never fully function again.
  5. Many young people who think they had a slight infection will find out that the virus has affected their internal organisations and will cause health problems in later life. The virus is causing a number of complications which may, at the time be almost undetectable. These include problems with liver, kidneys, lungs, brain and blood. People’s systems are clearly being weakened which will make them more susceptible to illness in later life.
  6. Most activities are safe if you undertake them socially distanced in the open air. As I write the sun is shining although it’s a bit nippy. Going out for a walk, a run, a cycle is good for both your physical and mental health. Talk to people outside your family at a good distance and keep fit.
  7. There were no detectable increases in infection after the 3 big LFC unofficial celebrations. This is linked to 6. I found this surprising given the doom warnings that were predicted BUT the science has changed. The problem with reopening sports grounds etc is not what happens so much whilst you were seated in reduced capacity grounds but how people behave and move around inside the venues; how you behave inside them; and how you get there.
  8. The NHS is expecting a 30% increase in mental ill health problems over the coming year. People are getting lonely. The elderly cannot see their children or grandchildren. Friends cannot meet. Normal funeral arrangements for some religions have been suspended. Our NHS and Care staff are working under unbelievable pressure for long periods of time and seeing things that they should not have to see in such quantities. We have to work out how each of us can do simple things within our community to show compassion to these people.

There are things about the laws and regulations that I do not understand. Why 15 for a wedding and 30 for a funeral? Why 22.00 for drinking at all types of venue but the off licence can stay open all night to fuel home and street parties?

Clearly, the Government has to do better with its messaging and explanations. Many people who want to follow the requirements to the letter are struggling to do so. Equally clearly the track and trace system is still a mess and needs bringing under local control as soon as possible. Trust in messaging has been eroded because of national figures like Dominic Cummings or local figures like Lock Down Lynnie (Hinnegan) and Barbecue Barry (Kushner).

However, in so far as I understand them, I will follow everyone of the regulations set out. Wearing a mask on public transport and indoors is not a badge of cowardice or an infringement of my civil liberties it is a mark of respect to everyone around me as is maintaining a safe social distance from others.

I urge you to do the same. If we want to take big steps forward in tackling this virus before a vaccine is found we all need to act responsibly as a good citizen. Please don’t be a Covidiot, be someone who shows care and compassion to your fellow Scousers.

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Liberal Democrats will lead the fight to re-join Europe

For a Liberal Democrat internationalism and the belief in the inter-dependency of nations is part of our DNA. That’s why we still believe that we should be in the EU and why we will start to campaign to rejoin the EU when the time is right.

Earlier this week we finished our first ever virtual Lib Dem Conference. Given the circumstances it was a very good conference indeed. Most important of all for Lib Dems it gave ordinary members the chance to listen, speak and vote in the debate. In total more than 4,000 signed up to the Conference and many of them took part in the debates, training and information sessions as well as getting on with their own Lib Demmery in their communities. What a contrast with Labour’s so-called conference which was just a series of talking heads and no interaction between the Leadership and members. That’s what the Tory Conference will be like as well, although come to think of it that’s what the Tory Conference is always like.

Of all the debates that one that received the most attention was the one that dealt with the vexed question of Europe. It had been billed, probably by our PR department, as a contest where the Leadership line could be overturned and that there was mutiny in the ranks. In fact, there was nothing like that at all. Apart for a few minutes when I had IT problems I listened to the whole debate and was struck by the few real differences inside the Lib Dems over the key issues. As was repeatedly said being internationalist and therefore being pro EU is part of our political DNA. There was no debate at all about whether we should be in Europe. Just what do we do in the short and medium terms until it is time to get back.

After 75 minutes of debate an amendment to start the re-joining the EU from 1st January 2021 was defeated by 4 to 1. One which set out a timescale for re-joining was overwhelmingly carried and the amended motion was carried with about 95% of conference voting for it. This is what the amended motion actually said:

Conference notes with deep concern:

  1. The decision by the Conservative Government not to seek an extension to the post-Brexit transition period beyond 31 December 2020 despite the apparently deadlocked ‘future relationship’ negotiations between the UK and the EU on economic, transport, migration, welfare, fisheries and security arrangements.
  2. That the UK cannot afford to crash out of the EU without a deal in place or to accept a rushed, bad deal at a time when the UK is already facing the biggest crisis in generations as a result of COVID-19 against a background of intensified China-USA-Russia rivalry.
  3. That the rights of UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK remain at risk, as the Conservative Government attempts to roll back from the commitments it made in the 2019 Withdrawal Agreement.
  4. The Conservative Government’s Internal Market Bill, which the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has admitted will breach international law “in a very limited and specific way”, trashes the UK’s reputation, sets a dangerous precedent and almost certainly precludes any chance of a Free Trade Agreement with either the EU or the USA unless the offending sections are removed.

Conference believes that:

  1. There is no deal that could be negotiated that could be more beneficial than continued membership of the EU, and the damage caused by Brexit to the UK’s economy human rights, security, and standing in the world will be profound and long-lasting.
  2. The UK and its people share fundamental values of liberalism, democracy and respect for the rule of law with our European neighbours and allies; the European Union is our natural home and the UK’s rightful place should be at the heart of the EU.

Conference affirms the party’s immediate priorities to:

  1. Hold the Conservative Government to account unstintingly as it fails to deliver what it promised, and expose the damage of this Government’s Brexit to our economy, security, society and national unity.
  2. Campaign vigorously against measures which are prejudicial to British industry, agriculture and democracy, and in so doing point to the benefits of closer relations with the EU.
  3. Continue to work with others in Parliament (including in the House of Lords) to halt or amend damaging legislation such as measures in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill.
  4. Support international cooperation and a global rules-based system, and oppose isolationism and economic nationalism.

Conference calls for:

  • The Conservative Government to honour the commitments it made in the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration.
  • The rights of UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK not to be further eroded – and where possible enhanced – and the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and Charter of Fundamental Rights to be respected for all UK citizens.
  • The closest possible alignment between the UK and the EU towards customs union, single market and freedom of movement, including minimising tariff and non- tariff trade barriers, no lowering of environmental, food and animal welfare standards, and the maintenance of strong diplomatic, developmental, defence, security, judicial, educational and scientific cooperation.

Conference resolves to support a longer-term objective of UK membership of the EU at an appropriate future date to be determined by political circumstances, subject to public assent, market and trade conditions and acceptable negotiated terms.

Predictably this has been greeted by the Daily Wail as a sell out to Europe and by Labour as a sell out on Europe! Of course, the Daily Mail is upset. Everything is said about the advantages of leaving the EU have disappeared with no trade deal with the USA being likely. Of course, Labour are upset. They haven’t got a policy at all!

So basically, our policy has three sequential sections:

  1. Fight the Tory madness in the run up to the 31st December and do what we can to get a trade deal in place without which our Country will suffer badly.
  2. After 1st January do out utmost to keep European links in place for universities, trade and communities including things like the scientific communities where we fight Covid and other illnesses.
  3. Fight to re-join the EU when people in the UK realise just how bad the decision to leave was and how much.

That’s a group of policies that do not reflect where we want to be, which is to be a member of the EU, but does reflect the reality of the UK as we grapple with Covid and appalling trade deficits in the short term.

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What is a Covidiot?

Let me introduce the World’s most dangerous Covidiot!!

I issued a short video yesterday in which I described Covid deniers as covidiots. One person took exception to that and gave some examples of why he thinks some of the Covid rules and laws are wrong. He is not a covidiot. He is someone who rightly believes that in a democracy he should be able to challenge law makers; ask why they have come to their decisions and insist that they explain things properly. I believe that the Government has done badly in its explanations of why some of the advice and laws are in place. Let me give two examples:

  1. Closing licenced premises at 10 p.m. It is absolutely true that Covid is neither more nor less likely to be infectious at 9.55 or 10.05. 10 p.m. is an arbitrary figure which reflects on the fact that drink influences a lot of people’s behaviour more after about that time than before it. In fact many police shifts start at 10 p.m. at the weekend. Ask the Police or the A & E department at hospitals when the going gets tough and it is from 10 p.m. onwards. Is 10 p.m. the right time rather than 9.30 or 10.30? Who knows? Someone had to make a considered judgement and this is that decision.

In fact I think it is wrong! A well-ordered, well run socially distancing restaurant is a fairly safe place later than that. Behaviour and drinking habits are different in a restaurant until about 11 and vertical drinking bars. Why would you treat them the same? In my view restaurants should be able to stay open later providing they meet all the other virus requirements. This would also lessen the flood onto the streets at one specific time.

  • Meeting 6 six people from different households in a restaurant but not have 7 relatives in your house or garden. Again this is based on sheer practicality. If they are in a public space behaviour can be monitored and, if necessary, enforcement action taken. Who knows what goes on in a private house? We know in Liverpool that two Cabinet members flouted the lockdown rules in their own home. Spaces are more constrained and there might be lots of people in the house totally failing to socially distance because they cannot.

You mightn’t like these rules but there is a reason for them and in a democratic system we have a duty to respect the opinion of experts (yes I do believe in them); respect advice and ultimately respect the law.

Covidiots are a very different type person. They come in many ways and forms as can be seen from the recent demonstrations. People with views as distinct as fascism and flat earthers have been gathering to protest against THEM!! THEM being different people depending on the warped views that lie behind the persons general belief system. But individually and collectively they either deny the existence of Covid-19 or think that it has been grossly exaggerated. Just for the record in a normal year flu kills more than 9,000 people in the UK and the virus has already killed more than  43,000 people and left many with debilitating effects that will reduce their life expectancy and cause long term health problems.

Some think that all 190 Governments have invented this because they want to control their populations. Others say that it’s all Bill Gates and 5G seeking to push people into depending on the pharmaceutical giants. Some think it’s a deep state seeking to take over the World by stealth. Some think it’s the Democrats trying to oust Donald Trump.

All these arguments (and many more) are so barmy that it is very hard to fight against them. If they really believe that Covid-19 is caused by or for any of these reasons and there are many more ideas than this, there is little or no opportunity for a rational discourse with them.

How we as individuals behave now depends on how we view society. As a Councillor I have had three local businesses reported to me who did not appear to be following advice or laws. Instead of reporting them I went round for a chat. One genuinely didn’t understand the law and immediately took steps to fall within it. One explained why there was a momentary lapse and showed me how it had been dealt with. One clearly couldn’t care less, has done nothing to improve matters so I have had to report them to our public health staff. But that is the exception and not the rule. Having looked at and talked to most business operators in the L18 area I am proud to tell you that I would have no hesitation in using any of the services on Penny Lane, Allerton Road and Rose Lane. They are run by caring business people who want to make a decent living but doing so by respecting the health and welfare of their patrons and the surrounding community.

I follow the law. My family no longer visit except when Erica is providing child care which is exempt from the household number regulations. I talk to my son and his new wife in the street outside their home or mine. I wear a mask wherever I am supposed to. I socially distance unless there are very specific reasons why I cannot do so. My wife and I have actually started talking more to our relative and others when we can by phone or Zoom. In some ways being apart has brought us more closely together!

Of course it’s relatively easy for Erica and me. We live in a decent sized house. She has her allotment and I have my laptop. We know that others are getting lonely and distraught. But we know that we must control this virus or the lock downs will cause even more mental health issues and will wreck our economy.

People who won’t wear masks inside buildings or on public transport are not brave freedom fighters defending our civil liberties but selfish, ignorant or ill-informed people. They are, in fact, Covidiots!

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