Tony McGann – A great fighter for the people of his community

The whole village turned out as Tony McGann’s coffin was carried through the estate by family and friends

Today I attended the funeral procession, around the Eldonian Village that he created, of Tony McGann MBE.

Tony was a fierce fighter for the people of what was Eldon Gardens. These were a set of three and four storey walk up flats that were being demolished, as were all similar blocks by the then Liberal Democrat controlled council. In all cases residents were being transferred to housing cooperatives which they would run and would commission the design and then management of the buildings into which they would move.

All was going well until we lost control of the Council. Labour exerted its authoritarian instinct and immediately stopped the cooperative housing programme which, at the time, was the biggest in the whole of Western Europe. The estate which had been designed to be run by the residents was going to be a standard council estate. This was at a time when the Council was still an atrocious landlord with estimates of necessary repairs running up to £1billion!

Labour under estimated Tony McGann and the determination of the community to stay together as some of those families had done down the generations. Tony went into full fight mode and recruited three key figures. In no particular order they were Archbishop Derek Worlock, Bishop David Sheppard and, thanks to the persistence and support of those two, Michael Heseltine.

Michael Heseltine got his department to swing into action for the residents and against the Council. Land was found on the old Tate and Lyle site, the money was found by way of grant and mortgage, architects were instructed, and the Eldonian Village was created next to the canal. This enabled the community to move together and avoided the problems of so many clearance schemes that destabilised communities and families.

For decades, the Village flourished and still does as a prime residential area close to the City Centre. Other plans were not so successful. The garden centre designed to provide work and a ‘natural’ experience for did not work well. The Village Hall fell into disuse as the old guard who had created the venture aged and were not replaced by people with the same passion.

Things came to a head last year when the community took back control of the estate and all its assets after they found out things were happening behind their back. I can only hope that things are once again going well and looking good.

You might ask why I as a life-long Liberal should attend the funeral of a life long Socialist. You might think that we had nothing in common. You could not be more wrong. When I pushed the housing cooperative programme I did so because I believed that people with ordinary backgrounds from ordinary communities were more capable of running their lives than people with fancy pants job titles and large salaries. There is no such thing as ordinary but some people like Tony McGann were extraordinary.

Tony was the epitome of that. Who knows what Tony and millions of people like him could have done given the life chances that others start with? But they could not have done what he did. Most of them could not or would not take on the Council and the Government because of their absolute conviction that communities and communitarian principles really matter. Their conviction, which I share, that we all have the right to a decent home in a decent neighbourhood which is green, clean, safe, and well managed.

It became clear to me today that Scousers will never be defeated. What I saw today was, in the very best sense, a gathering of the Everton clans. Great grandfathers to great granddaughters met. The spirit between them was great. They will still be there looking after each other when posh politicians have well followed Tony to the grave. They have a real sense of community and of family. Tory aggression and Labour indifference will not beat them.

He did not call it the Eldonian ‘estate’ but by using the concept of a village which can cater for people throughout their lives with all the facilities that they need reinforces the mutual way in which we can and should support each other on our life journeys. Too often both the public and private sectors have just provided housings segregated by age or class rather than trying to mould the sort of communal and supportive way of life that is the tradition of a village.

There’s only way of paying tribute to the life of Tony McGann and that is to ensure that his dream of a great community in a great village continues to thrive and that the people of that area have access to the same amenities and lifestyles as those in more prosperous areas. As I have made clear to his family and his friends, I remain committed to Tony’s ideals and will do anything that I can to sustain his village and his community.

It was a tribute to be invited to attend the procession today and see his mortal remains escorted around the village that he created. May he ‘Rest In Peace’ after a life well lived in the service of his family, his community, and his City.

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I salute our three new Citizens of Honour

Prof Dr Shive Pande MBE signing the Roll of Honour of Citizens of Honour in Liverpool

Sometimes much of what we do as Councillors is just plain boring or worse. However, uniquely, this 24-hour period has presented me with two opportunities to recognise the work of three people who have made unique contributions to the City of Liverpool over many decades and in very different spheres of influence.

It is people like Shiv Pande, Bill Heckle and Dave Jones who bring so much inspiration to our City, attract so much goodwill to our City and are the real leaders of the City and not those who pump themselves up as Leaders in the normal day-to-day work at the Town Hall. That is why the City Council unanimously nominated them as a Citizen of Honour which is a civic award conferred on individuals who have made significant, exceptional, or unique contributions to enrich the image of Liverpool and/or its citizens.

Shiv Pande is a doctor, faith leader and charity fundraiser who has touched the lives of many is to be made a ‘Citizen of Honour’ in a special ceremony at Liverpool Town Hall on Wednesday, 10 August.

Shiv, who has lived in the city for five decades, started his career as a surgeon at Broadgreen Hospital before going on to serve some of Liverpool’s most disadvantaged communities as a GP for 30 years.

He became the first minority ethnic treasurer to be elected to the General Medical Council, and set up the Professional and Linguistics Assessments Board examination in 1996 in India, which supported the NHS to have junior doctors from different countries around the globe.

On Granada TV, he presented the Asian version of consumer rights programme ‘This Is Your Right’ for 14 years, advising newly arrived Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi communities.

He has also been involved in extensive charity work which has benefited people across the world, including raising funds for orphans of the Indian gas tragedy in Bhopal and the earthquake in Latur. Funds Dr Pande raised were also presented to the Mother Theresa Charity of Calcutta – which included personally presenting the funds to the late Saint Teresa.

Closer to home, he organised cricket matches in memory of Anthony Walker, who was murdered in a racist attack, as well as cricket coaching for unemployed young people by members of the 1983 World Cup winning Indian team.

In 1982, he established the Liverpool Faith Network, and served for 24 years as a magistrate.

There was a good turnout of Lib Dems including three former Lord Mayors to recognise his work also as a Liberal Democrat where he is still an active member of our Executive advising us to on race, equality, and faith issues.

He is a visiting professor at University of Bolton and Gauhati University, Assam, and an Honorary Fellow at the University of Central Lancashire.

Dr Pande was awarded an MBE in 1989 for his services to medicine and appointed as Deputy Lieutenant of Merseyside in 2002.

Pioneers of Beatles tourism industry honoured by Liverpool

Bill Heckle and Dave Jones who have made a huge contribution to tourism in our city who will be honoured by us later today

The two men credited as the pioneers of Liverpool’s multi-million-pound Beatles tourism industry are also honoured by their city.

Bill Heckle, Managing Director of Cavern City Tours and Dave Jones, its President, will be made Citizens of Honour at a special ceremony at Liverpool Town Hall later today (11th August)

Bill (a former teacher) trained to be a Beatle guide in 1982 and after forming the company in 1983 was joined by Dave in 1986 when they organised their first Beatles Convention.

1991 proved a landmark year for the dynamic duo as they acquired both The Magical Mystery Tour and – critically – The Cavern Club the fortunes of which they would dramatically transform from a closed building into a major live music venue and hugely popular tourist attraction.

Their Beatles Convention also quickly developed at this time and in 1993 evolved into the Mathew Street Music Festival, which in just a few short years became Europe’s largest annual free event of its kind, attracting more than one hundred live acts and 300,000 people to the city every August Bank Holiday weekend.

One of their greatest and proudest achievements was to organise the Hillsborough Justice Concert at Anfield stadium, in 1997, which helped to raise more than £500,000. This vital sum was used to pay for the legal costs for the families in their pursuit of the truth into the 1989 football disaster.

Bill and Dave later acquired an iconic and historic building in North John Street which became the Hard Day’s Night Hotel. Although no longer the owners, the hotel opened in 2008 during the city’s year as European Capital of Culture and continues to welcome guests today.

Having already unveiled a statue to John Lennon in Mathew Street – as well as the city’s original Pop Music Wall of Fame – to celebrate The Cavern’s 40th anniversary, in 2015 they famously gifted the city a statue of The Beatles.

Situated on the waterfront, the figures of John, Paul, George, and Ringo walking on the Pier Head has become one of the most photographed landmarks in England.

As owners of The Cavern, the pair, along with co-Directors Julia Baird, George Guinness, and Jon Keats, have sought to continue to manage it as a live music venue celebrating new and diverse acts, and as a result helped to play a key role in Liverpool’s status as a UNESCO City of Music.

The world-famous venue has hosted some of the biggest names in the industry such as Oasis, Adele, The Arctic Monkeys, Jessie J, The Coral and in July 2018, Sir Paul McCartney performed a legendary 28-song set promoting his No1 album Egypt Station. He also gave his final concert of the 20th century at The Cavern in December 1999, which was broadcast live by the BBC.

It is estimated that today, the legacy of The Beatles is worth approximately £100m to the Liverpool economy each year, annually attracting more than 600,000 visitors and supporting almost 2,500 jobs in the city.

As Dave Jones will say today, “We never set out to receive awards and accolades. To be nominated for Citizen of Honour awards is amazing. We feel a huge sense of pride and emotion that our work has received this level of recognition.”

And that is true of all our Citizens of Honour. They did not set out to get and award or honour. They set out to create a better Liverpool for us all from their own unique perspectives. Liverpool would be the poorer without people like Shiv, Bill, and Dave and all the others who we have also honoured. We should all be grateful for their efforts in creating the throbbing and diverse City we know it to be today.

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Labour scandals come along like buses in Liverpool

Cllr Qadir has clearly involved himself in matters where, under the guiding Nolan principles, he should have declared an interest and stayed away.

Just when it seemed that we might have got to the bottom of scandals which involve the Labour Party in Liverpool along comes another one. This time it involves inappropriate behaviour from Cabinet Member Abdul Qadir.

Although he correctly gives his directorship of the Councillors Register of Interest, he has failed to declare his position at a series of meetings in the Council and in particular served as a member of the ‘task and finish’ group which looked at fractional investment in the City.

The problem is that Cllr Qadir is a director of a company which has shared directors and management with of a property development company which has a failed site in the City on Vauxhall Road. This stalled development is one of the companies that failed to pay the planning gain money of about £60,000 which is part of the £4.5 million that the Council has had to write off in unpaid S106 money.

These are the very clear links between three associated Companies:

Abdul Basit Qadir (born august 76) is director of Vega Trading Limited (co number 08761349). The other director is Sami Labidi. 

Vega Group Limited has one Director – Joan Labidi. 

There is also Vega Constructions Ltd, where Joan Labidi and Sami Labidi are directors. The nature of the business of this company is development and construction of commercial and domestic buildings.

There is a clear thread across all 3 companies of linked persons with control. Abdul Qadir is   linked to Sami Labidi. Joan Labidi is linked to Sami Labidi.

Cllr Qadir cannot claim not to know about these issues, nor can he say they are nothing to do with him. At one point a Liverpool Council officer emailed Cllr Qadir chasing a large S106 payment – around £57k. Cllr Qadir also witnessed the S106 agreement between MV Canal and Liverpool Council.

I am so appalled at this that I have referred the matter to Joanne Anderson as Labour Group Leader and the City Solicitor for both of them to examine whether or not Cllr Qadir should have declared an interest on a number of occasions and whether internal and external disciplinary action should be taken.

It is quite clear that as someone who works for a developer within the City, he should have gone nowhere the “fractional investment task group”. The fact that he claims that the failed development with which he has been associated was not financed in this way is irrelevant. I was also on the stalled development task group and I know that many of the interviews that we conducted with outside organisations, in a private and confidential setting, yielded information that would have been of interest to any developer.

Over the past 7 years we have debated on many occasions the problems of stalled developments in the City, what to do about them, problems with our Local Plan and the problems associated with £4.5 million of S106 money that hasn’t been collected. I cannot recall Cllr Qadir declaring an interest on any of the occasions that these matters have been discussed. This is particularly relevant given that Cllr Qadir’s associated company itself has apparently gone bust owing a large amount of S106 money that it is unlikely that the Council can recover.

It is also a moot point whether Cllr Qadir has broken the law. It is certainly a point that the Police need to look at as part of Operation Aloft.

Whether or not Cllr Qadir has acted illegally or against the legal constraints of the Council he has clearly broken a number of the guiding Nolan principles which guide the Council. The Nolan principles are ones that all public officials both paid and elected should follow. The cardinal rule of them all is do not do something which can be misinterpreted by a well-meaning member of the public. On that basis Cllr Qadir failed the test.

But there is another twist to this story. Ironically, he is the Cabinet Member who has been given the job or revising the constitution of the Council and raising the standards of public life in the Council after the scandals of the past decade. This work has involved a review of councillors register of interests; overhauling the committee system which scrutinises the work of the Cabinet and officers; looking at delegated powers actions; and overhauling our constitution. In other words, it is designed to place the Nolan principles at the heart of our work as a council.

I have no doubt is saying that Cllr Qadir should consider his position as a Cabinet Member and even as a Councillor. The idea that he should be responsible for the fundamental reforms needed in our crisis hit council is not sustainable. He should be removed from these duties forthwith.

This is a major blunder by Cllr Qadir. He should now pay the price to avoid even more suspicion of what Liverpool Council does and the way in which it does it.

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The cost of living is a crisis for us all

When in Liverpool, one of the most generous cities in the world, the food banks are running out of stuff ti give away everyone should know there is a huge problem which cannot be ignored.

The biggest set of concerns that are being relayed to me at the moment relate not to council problems but the problems of people having to cope with the daily grind of soaring inflation. Families who have always had enough money, but not vast amounts are being pushed to the edge. Families who did not have enough to begin with are facing the choice, especially in the winter, of heating or eating.

All the excuses are coming out. It is the war in Ukraine, its increased consumption post lockdowns, it is a move away from fossil fuels. All those are true but together they do not add up to the full picture. Inflation in France, Germany and Italy is substantially lower than ours although their power concerns should be higher because they are more dependent on Russian gas. So, what could the difference be?

Well, I am afraid it is absolutely obvious. Many of the inflationary pressures on us are caused by Brexit. Brexit has:

  • Increased bureaucracy and created huge queues at Dover and other Southern ports which cost money.
  • Our own products have been rotting in fields because there was no-one to pick them.
  • Reduced numbers of workers meaning that businesses who have order books cannot always fulfil them.
  • A divergence of standards on things like food have meant that the long supply chains have become unwieldy.
  • Tariffs have come into play on some products because not only did we leave the EU we left the single market.
  • Foreign investment into the UK has plummeted because other Countries no longer see us as the obvious route into Europe.

We cannot deal with the European problems in the short term, but things would be greatly eased in that regard by taking two simple steps:

  • Announce that we will continue to accept the specifications on all products from food to cars that the EU sets. This is a simple step because in practice we already do this. Rees-Mugg has declared that UK manufacturers can ignore EU rulings on socket sizes but in practice they will not do so as they want to sell into the EU market and will make products that can be sold in the UK and the EU.
  • Allow into our Country people we need to undertake the work that is available, and we cannot fill with domestic markets. This actually is a small step because quietly and usually under the radar the Government has been allowing free movement of labour for everything from people to kill our Christmas Turkeys to people to look after us in hospitals and the NHS generally nationwide.

There are things that we can do now.

  1. For a limited period remove or reduce the VAT take from fuel. The Government is actually making a vast profit in increased VAT take on inflated power prices.
  2. Impose a windfall tax on the power companies some of whom are making record profits of £7 billion a quarter. Use that profit to help low and medium level earners to boost their spending capacity.
  3. Tax quickly and permanently those who find means to take their earnings and wealth overseas to low tax regimes to enable them to didge their dues to society. This applies equally to companies and individuals alike.
  4. Pay people properly. We have a summer of discontent because people on low and medium earnings are being offered between 0 and 5% pay increases when inflation is tipped to reach 13% and stay high for at least 2 years.

Our Country is still a wealthy one, but its resources are not shared evenly. Our Government does not understand this. If it did a suggestion from Liz Truss that public sector workers outside London could earn less money would never even have surfaced.

Liverpool is one of the most generous cities on Earth, so you know that when the food banks here are running out of donations the situation is grave indeed. Already in our City there is a 12-year difference in life expectancy between Liverpool 8 and Liverpool 18. Put simply, the people of L8 are suffering from low wages, poor food, poor housing, poor education and all the things that will fail to give people a good start in life and keep them in the slow lane.

We need action and we need it now before people start to die of cold in the coming Winter. The problems of poverty are not inevitable in the short, medium, or long terms. They are a result of failures of governments over decades to address fundamental inequalities so that we can create a society that is fair, equitable and provides equality of opportunity to all.

All that the current crisis is doing is bringing to the fore things that we have known about but chosen to ignore. That is a good thing if we use this opportunity to make quick wins that are achievable but put in place longer term steps to eradicate the huge differences that exist in the UK today.

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In Liverpool we are doing the right things in the wrong order

Like Eric Morecambe all the notes needed to help recover are there but they are not being played in the right order.

Do you remember that incredibly funny sketch in a Morecambe and Wise programme with Andre Previn? Previn is trying to conduct an orchestra whilst Eric Morecambe plays the accompanying piano – terribly. When Previn challenges Morecambe, Ernie patiently explains to Previn that Eric is playing the right notes but not necessarily in the right order or at the right speed!!

Regrettably, that is a hugely amusing sketch that appears to be what is happening in Liverpool today. There is a huge jumble of reports, statements, hiring of consultants, training of staff, culture change and a whole host of other goodies which ignore the basic principles of improving councils.

We all seem to be ignoring the established play book which turned around Liverpool from 1998 but which is replicated in all the other councils like Hackney, Lincolnshire, Islington, Hull, Oldham and Walsall which were also named as ‘the worst council in England’ two decades and more ago.

It needs strong political leadership, supported by strong managerial leadership working with a strong and committed government who wants to help. None of these factors exist in Liverpool now.

These are the elephants in the room that need to be addressed so I’ll take them in turn.

Nothing works without strong political leadership. A Council, or indeed a Government, needs to have a strong sense of direction and it needs stability. Liverpool currently lacks either of these. Our so-called City Plan is clearly deficient. What should have started with a big conversation with the people of Liverpool and its businesses and organisations was signed up to by 16 Chief Executives (or similar) in isolation during the lock down period.

By Christmas all but 6 of those Chief Executives will have left their position. Not that it makes much difference. All those C-Exs signed but appeared to do nothing about it in practice. Drill down into the organisations and there is no joining up of the public sector organisations never mind the private sector into one coherent operation which will move the City forward.

Why is this important? Because the Council is the only elected body which has a democratic mandate to lead the city as whole. For every £1 that the Council spends the rest of the public sector spends £5. The total of that is £6 billion. It is vital that the public sector as a whole pulls together and supports other parts. Unless we do that there is a lack of direction and a huge waste of resources as organisation compete.

The political leadership of the Council will shortly move into a turmoil situation which will last at least a year. At the start of September, we will definitely know the new boundaries on which we will fight the all-up elections next year. There will be a huge turnover in people as many people leave the council because they want to, because they have been deselected or because they lose to another Party. This seems to mean that at least 40% of the Council will be new and struggling to get to know a system which is new to all of us. Even if we had the most acute political leadership, and we do not, they would struggle to cope with the turmoil which has been created by external advisers who thought they knew best.

Nothing works without strong managerial leadership. We need to create a cadre of the strongest managerial leaders in local government in the Country. That will be extremely difficult in Liverpool now. We had a competent and respected Chief Executive. He was respected throughout local government and admired within the Council. Patiently he restored morale within the Council, made sure that corruption was rooted out and began the long change process that was required. All that has been thrown away by intemperate and ill-considered actions.

This is important because although we politicians like to think that staff come to our councils because of our brilliance, they do not. They come because they see a good Chief Executive, a strong senior management team and say I can learn and grow from this and know they can be part of something that is exciting, and which will help people who really need help.

In Liverpool, we have begun the process of creating such a team. We have excellent new appointments for the City Solicitor, Director of Adult Services and Chief Operating Officer. However, the most important part of the team, the Chief Executive, was chopped off and the second most important, the Deputy Chief Executive and Finance Director also left us. We don’t have a Chief Executive, Director of Resources or Head of internal audit. We have interim Directors of Neighbourhoods, Finance and Regeneration only one of who has a detailed and long-term knowledge of the City.

Who is going to come to Liverpool to fill all the gaps with no clear political or managerial leadership? Who is going to enter an arena in which they will clearly not be able to rely on support and stability from the political or leadership teams and where, in the short-term, they will have to report to a third party, the Commissioners who are assuming the responsibility for making all senior appointments?

There needs to be a strong relationship developed with the Government. As part of the Lib Dem team that turned the City around, I pay tribute to the Labour Government of the time. Of course, we had to do the right things and show the right attitude but when we did put forward pragmatic ideas the Government responded with support. People like David Henshaw, Mike Storey and Paul Clein spent a lot of time talking to Ministers.

The best example of that was the way the Council and Government dealt with the threat of taking away control of schools from the Council. The threat was made, the Council both politically and managerially responded in a variety of ways and the threat was withdrawn. A new partnership was created in which the Government and the Council worked together in a number of ways. One way was to provide some money, but money was not the most important factor it was joint working and shared aspiration.

What are the chances of this happening with a Department for local government which has little experience and a Government who is more desirous of taking the Council on than working with us? More money to replace that both lost by the Council (at more than £170 million now) or taken from us by so-called austerity measures is not going to come. Apparently, according to Liz Truss, the Council actually pays its staff too much and any spare money is not coming to places like Liverpool City Region which ahs lost a shedload of cash as we have left the EU.

So, what can we do? Well let me suggest three things:

Firstly, we need to make every effort to get a new Chief Executive and Director of Resources. I doubt that it is worthwhile trying to get other senior staff into the organisation until those positions are filled as people will not know who they will eb working for and with.

Secondly, we must go to meet the Ministers responsible for us. I am unaware of any attempts by the Mayor to go and meet key national politicians, but this must be done and now is the time to do it. Under Johnson we had two very poor and unengaged Secretaries of State, Jenrick and Gove. We now have an adult in the room with Greg Clark filling the position short term. Greg understands local government and has a good track record, for a Tory, of trying to help our sector. This probably means that he will be removed by Truss forthwith!!

Thirdly, we have to create a real vision for the City to which all citizens, businesses and organisation are invited to create and to contribute to the delivery of. That engaging vision should be looking as far as 20 years ahead for the challenges and opportunities facing the City and Country but in deliverable five years outputs and outcomes and a regular review.

Unless we do these things everything else is just fluff. No number of plans, training, PowerPoints and exhortations will ever replace solid political and managerial leadership. These are the challenges I will place before the Politicians of the Council, its current managerial leadership and the Commissioners later today. I can only hope that they will respond.

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Liverpool Pride – Liverpool at its best

Some of the Lib Dem contingent at today’s Liverpool Pride march. As usual we were ahead of the Labour Party!

I had a wonderful time earlier today at the Liverpool Pride march and activities. As ever it was a heady mixture of fun, noise, extrovertist behaviour, fancy dress, and laughter. But we must never forget that it is not only a carnival but there for a serious purpose. It was started after the brutal treatment of Michael Kausner and commemorates his life and the fact that there is still prejudice against the LGBTQ+ community.

One of the many reasons that I joined the Liberal Party, as we were then, 55 years ago was that it was and remains to this day a Party of toleration. It is not that we do not know if people are gay, or of colour or disabled or women or suffering poor mental health. We do notice but we do not care about that fact. What we do care about is ensuring that all people are treated equally and that all people have equal access to the opportunities that our society can provide them with.

Today, that determination was clearly shared by the vast majority of the people of Liverpool. It was abundantly clear that toleration was not only practiced by the people on the march but also by the many thousands of people who lined the route who cheered, clapped, and applauded the march as it passed them by.

Of course, there were a small group of people who protested but they were not opposed angrily by the marchers. Instead, they were treated with the amusement and contempt that they richly deserved. It has always appeared to me that those who protest most about other people’s sexuality are those who have most concern about their own.

Considering that it is a peak holiday Saturday we had a good Lib Dem team out but many of our Lib Dem team walked with other organisations that they also belong to. I spotted a Penny Lane Womble for the first time without her picker and collection bag!

The marchers came from a wide variety of organisational, commercial, and public agencies. I was pleased to see that the Chief Constable of Merseyside, Sereena Kennedy continued the tradition set by her predecessor, Andy Cooke, to lead a large contingent of police officers. As she told me that that this gave out internally to police officers who were themselves gay that it did not matter. Externally it made clear that the Police were on the side of the LGBTQ+ community and would protect and support them as they would any other citizen or visitor.

The Mayor of the City Region was there at the start, but he had to go to another event (a footy match). The Lord Mayor was there and visited a lot of the groups and even marched with the Lib Dems for a while. We promised no photos. Sadly, neither the Elected Mayor nor her Deputy Mayor appeared to be present on a day when I thought that their presence would have been helpful. Nor were any of our Liverpool MPs were there although Alison McGovern from the Wirral joined the Labour contingent.

The banners that we carried, where we made clear that Lib Dem policy against is firmly against conversion therapy, were particularly popular and hundreds of people signed our petition against the practice.

It was interesting to note the wide area from which people had come to attend the event especially on a day when the train services were reduced and one of our local bus companies was not running due to strikes. Postcodes were predominantly from the Liverpool City Region area but came from as far apart as Preston and Milton Keynes.

That meant that the day performed well with its secondary purpose – to make a few bob for local businesses. I had a veggie burger and a cake from a local business that occasionally comes to our Farmers Market. Incredibly good they were too!

I heard more sex jokes today than for many a year, but all told within the normal spirit of having a good sense of humour that seems to be engrained in a Scousers DNA. Even the traditional rivalry between the Lib Dems and Labour was suspended apart from a few minor spats!!

Good humour, concern for each other, toleration, fun and sparkle were the keynotes of the day. All of which reminded me of why I love Liverpool and why I am proud to be a Councillor here. This is by nature a tolerant City. If you can take a joke and give one back, you are all right by us. If you have problems, we will listen and try and help. If you need food or money we will be as generous to you as we possibly can considering the poverty which persists in large parts of the City.

I came home heartened by what I had seen and the conversations that I had with so many young people in particular. Liverpool was at its best today. If only we could show such collectivity and connectivity every day of the year. If the young people I met are typical of our city and wider city region then out future is strong indeed.

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Government asked about jailing of Grandma Wong, and Koo Sze-yiu, for participating in pro-democracy demonstrations and says “the Chinese Government …

Grandma WongLord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, has provided the following answer to your written …

Government asked about jailing of Grandma Wong, and Koo Sze-yiu, for participating in pro-democracy demonstrations and says “the Chinese Government …
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Another £111,000 of council taxpayers money down the drain

The Mazars Report was competent but added little to our knowledge of the depth of the problems within the Council or the solutions required both of which have been obvious for soem time. The £111,000 would have been better used in positive actions to move the Council forward.

So, at 10.30 today the Mazars report on the Liverpool Council electricity purchasing debacle was published.

I spent the afternoon yesterday talking about it although the Government only let the press see it in advance. However, I already knew enough to be able to talk to BBC Radio and Televisión, the Echo and Granada ready for its publication. I’ve now been able to skim read it.

In my view it is an £111,000 waste of money which tells us that the political and managerial systems are not in place to oversee crucial areas of the budget and procurement. We’ve known that since March last year with the Caller Report. The Caller Report laid out in excruciating detail the way that over the previous decade the basic internal systems of the Council had been debased by poor political and managerial leadership. The best that can be argued is that an organisation that has not been involved in Liverpool matters has now independently verifies what has been already said by others.

This has led to the loss through waste, inefficiency, failure to collect revenue, poor procurement and general incompetence of £135 million+ during the Joe Anderson years of Labour incompetence. This takes no account of the reputational loss of the Council the hundreds of millions of pounds lost by inward investors in our failed housing development schemes.

 This was confirmed by the 13.5 million overspend on the city centre movement strategy which will cost us £20 million in total. If we didn’t know then that Liverpool Council couldn’t even procure a sausage roll from Greggs, you have to question the competence of all those in positions of oversight or authority to ask basic questions.

What this does not tell us is the cost of the council’s blundering. That is the subject of yet another expensive report from CIPFA. So, our schools, the Fire Authority and the Council will have to meet extra power costs because that was inevitable, but we don’t know what difference an effective council could have made to lessen the increase! We don’t incidentally know the cost of the further CIPFA Report

Our schools have closed for the summer without their management teams and governors knowing how much they will have to find and how much the council may put in to deal with the blunder.

You might think that it would have been helpful if the Commissioners commissioned a report on ineffective procurement might have commissioned a report that would have given us the information that we vitally need.

The press asked me two questions yesterday about how bad a mess the Council is in and what its next steps should be.

I’ve worked on inspection, review, and improvement programmes in more than 50 councils, and I can say that without a doubt that there is no Council in England in the last 40 years that is in as bad a shape as Liverpool is today. Hackney, Lincolnshire, Torbay, Hull, Islington, Doncaster and more have all appeared in the headlines in the past, but no council has had the toxic combination of 2 major Police investigations and arrests, a hollowing out of professional staff, a degradation of basic tools of financial control and a grossly incompetent Labour leadership that we have suffered for a decade.

What we need is two things to happen.

Firstly, we need to replace urgently the Chief Executive and Director of Resources with highly competent replacements for the ones that have departed. This will be neither quick nor easy. Even if we start the work in September, it will take at least three months to go though the process for both jobs. Most people that we might want to appoint will need to give three months’ notice from their current job.

Who will apply for a job that is not in the Council’s gift but the Commissioners in these circumstances? It would be a brave woman or man who would put themselves forward to be caught having to answer, as Tony Reeves did, to at least two masters who have yet to show vision, competence and leadership.

Secondly, we need to replace the politicians who have either been unable to deal with the problems in Joanne Anderson’s Cabinet or the politicians who were in Joe Anderson’s Cabinet who let the council run out of control and therefore created the problems in the first place.

The least edifying sight in recent weeks has been Joe’s old guard trying to score points of Joanne’s new guard. They are settling scores and creating positions for themselves ahead of the internal Labour group elections when they hope to sweep the Board. We need to have a massive change in Council leadership delivered by the electorate in next year’s all-up elections.

This report is not ‘much ado about nothing’ but doesn’t tell us much about anything!! This wasted and wasteful report has diverted attention from the real task that needs to be strengthening the internal reforms within the Council to prevent these occurrences from ever happening again. Boring but vital stuff like creating a risk register and getting Key Performance systems in place. Kris Brown is leading the changes on this as Chair of Audit but much more needs to be done.

The cost of it, which will be met by the taxpayers of Liverpool is the equivalent of ten people who need a moderate care package putting in place who will not now get one.

The Mazars Report will be discussed in detail at the Audit Committee on 3rd August. It will be ably chaired by my colleague, Cllr Kris Brown who should prepare a list of questions and then invite others also to put questions in. You can watch it on the Council’s website if you have a stomach for such things.

It’ll probably be a heady mixture of tragedy and farce as Labour members try to score points off each other as they did at the last committee meeting called to review the electricity debacle. I doubt that we will learn much from it that is new despite the best efforts of Kris Brown!!

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Alder Hey Hospital and Springfield Park could make a UK leading combination

By working with local residents and the Council the Park could be made into a UK renowned facility providing health and well being opportunities for then local community and hospital staff and users

Earlier today I had a meeting with the Chair of the Alder Hey Trust, Dame Jo Williams and her Development Director. I did so because it seemed to me that relationships between the community and the Trust had broken down and I said that I would try and intervene after being requested to do so by a number of Knotty Ash and West Derby residents. This is the report back that I promised them.

I spent and a half walking around the area and talking with them and it seemed that there was a great agreement about both issues and how those issues could be resolved. Most importantly they were both confident that the work would be completed on time in accordance with the information partially circulated earlier this month.

It seemed to me that their thoughts and mine were in the same place on at least four issues and that most, but possibly not all the community, would agree with those thoughts:

  1. That Springfield Park’s main reason for existence is to be the major public park for the parts of West Derby and Knotty Ash wards which are closest to it.
  2. That the community as a whole have not been kept as informed of the problems that the Trust have faced, or the progress being made in relationship to those problems as they should have been.
  3. That the existence of the park in such a close contact with the Hospital provides a unique opportunity to develop facilities and activities there which could provide an enhanced use by the community and Alder Hey staff and patients which would add to the health and wellbeing of all three sets of people.
  4. There is a unique opportunity to remedy these three issues because of the existence of Alder Hey’s five hundred volunteers many of whom live in the communities adjacent to the hospital.

We went on to look at what the next steps might be:

  1. Alder Hey needs to look at its channels of communications and the format in which it passes information to the community. I found it interesting that the briefing note which was circulated in early July was described by the Trust as the second of its type. This at a time when there have been elements of dispute for at least five years with parts of the community.

Alder Hey could get improved newsletters going out and delivered by the most local of your volunteers and others at an incredibly low cost.

  1. There is a need for a face-to-face event at which senior Trust representatives, staff, Governors, and Board members could meet the local community. I did not recommend a ‘public meeting’ which are often a turn off for people and can become very fractious. Instead, I recommended a longer event in which people could drop in over a period of two to three hours.

We discussed the idea of having displays and the representatives in the atrium on, say a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. They could talk to people, but the residents could then be taken out on a half hour ‘walk and talk’ tour by their volunteers who can show people around, look at the reality of what is already there but also look at what is proposed.

After the walk and talk they could be asked to fill in a simple questionnaire which would indicate what they think of things now and crucially what they would like to see put in place in future in terms of the things that the community and the other client groups could benefit from.

I am not particularly good with plans and reports myself and learnt a lot from the walk round that I was taken on. I am sure that applies to others as well.

  1. After those events Alder Hey could work with their volunteers and others to develop facilities and programmes which would help the Council, as owners of the Park, trial new ways of involving local residents in the control of the Park.

This is very much in the minds of the Council which has unanimously agreed to look at neighbourhood models of working to coincide with our change to new governance structures from next May. It is for these reasons that I have copied in Matt Ashton, our Director of Public Health and Claire McColgan, our Director of Neighbourhoods, who are taking this sort or idea forward corporately within the Council to the letter I sent to Dame Jo.

I hope that after a very positive meeting Alder Hey will consider these suggestions and respond quickly with a view to having the type of event that we discussed or something even better that might occur to them by the end of September

I believe that Alder Hey could create a unique and UK leading facility in the Park if it can find willing partners in the community, the Council and other parts of the NHS. I have offered to help them in taking things forward and going back to discuss things with their staff at greater length.

Whatever they do, I wish everyone concerned good luck with the future. By involving all the community, Alder Hey and the Council can really do something marvellous with Springfield Park which will place Knotty Ash on the UK scene for something in addition to its renowned ‘diddy men!

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Liverpool needs a big plan with big ideas after a big conversation

Liverpool has the capacity to be a world leader and become one of the best cities to live in globally. But too often it is held back by its council who are backward looking and petty. We need a great debate which is citizen and not politician led.

I was quite depressed at the meeting of the Council last Wednesday. The Labour Party totally ignored the results of the flawed consultation that it had led and abolished the Elected Mayoralty, which is good, but introduced the least popular option for change, the Leader & Cabinet model which is bad. It contains many of the flaws of the Mayoral model but there can be greater checks and balances in the system dependent on the results of the next Council elections.

I was depressed because the behaviour was so poor. Mock and false points of order and personal explanations. Untruths being padded as truths often not deliberately but because of ignorance of the real facts.

A lack of reality about where we are was appalling. Liverpool is the most dysfunctional council in the UK but instead of addressing issues our current, and last, Mayor spoke about the dysfunctional central government but failed to mention anything about the council which she leads. She rightly spoke in glowing terms about our former Chief Executive, Tony Reeves, but ignored the fact that she had not been able to stop him being pushed out of office by the Commissioners. She seemed unaware of the fact that the Commissioners will appoint both the interim and permanent Chief Executive, albeit with some councillor input.

Over the past three years Liverpool has been faced with a series of damning press announcements caused by the actions of its terrible Council.

Sixteen arrests in two huge crime operations, a damning internal report. An even more damning ‘Best Value Inspection Report.’ This has generated huge costs and a public assumption through the UK and possibly even in the World that Liverpool is ‘Dodge City on stilts!’

Clearly these are serious issues which the Council must address. We need to provide decent services at a decent price especially for the most deprived areas and people in the City. But we spend too much time navel gazing within the Council with some councillors trying to relive past battles from the 80’s and 90’s and looking back at a vastly different City than the one we live in today.

But what if we looked at Liverpool very differently? What if we looked at in the way that we, the UK, and the World did in the first decade of this Century when Liverpool became the European Capital of Culture?

When the Liberal Democrats took control of the Council, we decided to focus on a City that could and should be one of the finest places in the World. We decided that the best way to deal with the undoubted problems that it had was to by looking at the opportunities that could be created by dealing with the many, many good points about our City and put them at the heart of dealing with our many problems.

Let us look at those advantages:

  • An excellent built and green environment with an impressive city centre, 981 listed buildings, and good parks throughout almost the whole of the City.
  • Three world class Universities bringing in 60,000 students and creating huge opportunities for research and job creation.
  • An inventive, educated, and hard-working population that can deliver world class services and products.
  • A riverscape with our three graces which is the envy of the World and being a major attraction for the almost one hundred cruise liners which now visit every year.
  • A large and modern conference centre which attracts conferences and performers from all over the World.
  • An arts and culture scene which is vibrant and renowned globally including an excellent and unique Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society and no less than 7 museums in or around the City.
  • On the edge of the Lake and Peak Districts and the Welsh Hills
  • A world Leading Liverpool one shopping centre
  • Two Premier League Football teams who bring tens of thousands of people into the City.

All these and more show why Liverpool has a firm base from which to move forward if we once again see that Liverpool has a glass that is half full and invite others to help fill to fill it rather than concentrating on a half full that moans that no-one wants to help us fill it.

To move this City forward we need to be considering the next twenty years and not only considering the weaknesses and opportunities of the City but also the weaknesses and opportunities of the Country and World.

The world has changed in the last 20 years and will change even more in the next 20 years. The momentous changes are also big opportunities:

  • Global warming which is affecting our climate which in turn affects our food supplies and is causing huge harm to communities around the World as weather systems become more extreme
  • A communications network which can make us all ‘Citizens of the World’ through the sharing of knowledge and the sharing of culture.
  • Changes in transport which is inverting the triangle in which the car is at the centre of movement, but which needs replacing it with traffic systems based on pedestrianisation, cycling and the best use of public transport.
  • An understanding that there are complex food chains in place which need to be shortened with the production of more local food and more plant-based food.
  • IT will continue to evolve in ways which I cannot imagine but just think of the changes over the past 20 years to see what this might mean.
  • The need and ability to produce more power in a sustainable and localised way.

Now our so-called City Plan is a desperate affair signed up to by sixteen ‘Chief Executives’ of bodies within the City half of which have already left or will be leaving by Christmas. Our discussion of this ‘plan’ within the Council consisted of the 8 Cabinet Members each reading out a two-minute statement. There were no big ideas and no passion for our Great City.

So how can Liverpool use its assets and opportunities to thrive rather than survive in the coming decades? In September, my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I will be meeting to debate these issues, but these matters should not be left to the politicians alone. This City does not just belong to us, and its future does not just belong to us either.

So, who is going to create the debate? The political parties can play their part, but our time is constrained by the practical issues of running the Council and preparing for the all-up elections next year.

This needs a citizen led response and that, I am afraid, means YOU!! Every community group, amenity group, business group, tenants association, voluntary organisation, school governing body, public sector agency and citizen led body needs to think and set out what its own area of concern is and how that might lead to an improved Liverpool.

Do not wait for the politicians of Liverpool to come down from the mountains with tablets of stone with the solutions on them. If you are concerned about the future of our great city, we need to get your views on the way forward. Your councillors and MPs need positively challenging on their views for the City and how to positively harness change.

My Liberal Democrat team and I would be pleased to come and discuss and debate issues with you. Challenge us on what we have said and done. Make all your councillors and would-be councillors present themselves for debate and discussion in the area that you live in or the topic group with which you are associated.

Politics and the future of our City are too important to be left to politicians. Will you step up to the crease and join in a genuine citizen led debate about the future of our City?

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