Let staff and students work from home wherever possible

The commuting problems are not as great in the Liverpool City Region as they are in places like this scene in London but some employers are needlessly making their staff travel to work when they would be much safer at home

Yesterday I launched an appeal through the media to encourage all Liverpool City Region employers to let their staff work from home wherever possible. I believe that should apply to school and University students as well.

Now it is clear that the Omicron variant of Covid might be a severe threat to people especially the unvaccinated and people at clinical risk. Omicron is already spreading through the community with 6 people known to have it in Scotland. It may be that the current vaccines will work against this new variant, but the signs are not good. This variant has features which will enable it to infect more people and it is likely that our current vaccines will need to be adapted to cope with it.

It is becoming abundantly clear now that Covid will always be with us along with other viruses such as the common cold and influenza. This should not necessarily change our lifestyle but should change the way that we think about illness. Just as I go every year for a flu jab which is slightly different from last year’s, I suspect that we will all be doing the same for Covid.

I also repeat the call that I have already made for the jab to be made much more widely available throughout the poorer parts of the world to prevent the likelihood of more and more mutations.

AND if you haven’t been inoculated yet please go. Doing so will help protect you, your family and friends and your community. I promise Bill Gates will not be monitoring you after the inoculation!

I would give half a cheer to the government because they seem to have very swiftly to this latest threat. We will all need to wear masks on public transport and in retail outlets from tomorrow. Planes have been cancelled to and from the 11 Countries which are clustered around what appears to be the source of this change. People still coming in from those countries will need to isolate for 10 days and take a PCR test.

We should learn from this, however, that it’s always too late. By the time that we know about a variant it may already be within our shores. In many cases it won’t matter. Not all mutations will be dangerous. But in some cases, and everyone assumes this one the mutation will be dangerous.

But it’s only half a cheer because of what the Government hasn’t done. They haven’t insisted on masks from last Friday when they acted on international travel. They have not acted on the clear need to insist on greater protection in places where we meet up such as pubs and offices and other indoor places where we mix and mingle.

Given that the Government is reintroducing the mask regime on public transport and in shops it must be sensible to let people work from home. Over the past few months, it has become clear that many employers are forcing people back to work in conditions that, at best, meet minimum requirements for safety and social distancing. I have spoken to many employees of large firms forcing their staff into work although working from home would be safer and more productive.

The organisations that I am associated with are taking a much more pragmatic approach. We have been expecting most staff to come in 2 days a week and work from home the other 3. This is just common sense and has built on what was beginning to happen already. For many years BT ‘telephone operators’ have worked from home. If considered necessary staff response times and output can be monitored to ensure that they are not slacking.

I suspect that these and many other organisations are doing what a good employer would do and are monitoring the situation carefully and are working closely with staff reps with a view to making changes as swiftly as recommendations from scientific advisers change. Too many employers though are taking a more Dickensian approach to their work force. Gradgrind and Co don’t trust their staff and want to keep them under close supervision and a tight leash!

I also have a concern about schools. The last thing I want to see is protracted closures of schools. Our young people’s education has suffered enough. Children’s mental health is at a low point and valuable social skills that children will need through life are being missed at a time when they become embedded in the way that people behave thereafter.

But as with employment lockdown we must consider small and proportionate steps now to avoid big and nasty steps later such as the complete closure of schools and workplaces for weeks and months as we have seen before. I think that in the short term that schools should reintroduce mask wearing in corridors and other areas outside the classroom. The re-creation of one-way systems and the use of sterilising gels should be a no-brainer.

This Tory Government would not be tightening measures unless they absolutely had to. Now employers and head teachers must play their part in keeping their staff, pupils and our communities safe.

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Why we must vaccinate the World not just ourselves

Masks and social distancing are as important now as they have been for the past 20 months. Please don’t be a covidiot

The sudden emergence of a new variant called omicron by the WHO, should serve to remind us all that just ensuring that rich countries gear up with full vaccination programmes will not save people in poor countries from catching virus variations incubated in unvaccinated people.

There are still many questions about the new omicron strain to which we have few answers: to what extent will the variant diminish the vaccines’ potency? Just how infectious is it? Does it cause greater disease? And what does this all mean for the trajectory of the pandemic?

The scientists are already hard at work exploring these issues and assessing the genetic make-up of the variant – though health officials believe it’s likely to take up to eight weeks until we’re able to develop a clear picture of what’s going on, and what lies ahead.

In the UK we have some cause for optimism. We are heavily inoculated with many people having had three Covid jabs now. But our death rate is rising, our hospitals are being to fill, and the number of cases is still about 50,000 a week. It is hoped that the vaccines that we have will be effective against this new variant but we cannot be sure.

Almost certainly they will reduce the potency of the illness amongst those of us that have had the full jab treatment, but it could be even more deadly than the delta variant amongst those who think that the virus does not exist or it is a fiendish plan by Bill Gates to control the world!

This is one of the many reasons why alarm bells have been ringing not only in South Africa, but in the rest of the world because of what is at the moment a relatively small infection in South Africa where cases have surged throughout November, with the majority of these infections reported in Gauteng province. As many as 90 per cent of new cases in the region could have been caused by the new mutation.  It seems to be more effective at transmission than delta and if that proves to be the case, it will only be a matter of time before the variant dominates globally.

Yesterday, the world reacted in two ways. Firstly, most European Countries effectively banned travel or introduced tough quarantine rules to the 6 Southern African countries clustered around South Africa.

Secondly world stick markets dropped by 3% as investors began to think about what a resurgent virus would to do travel, trade, commerce and industry.

The fact that Government’s reacted so quickly to the emergence of the new strain is because they know that for a variety of reasons eventually the strain will reach our shores. In an age of global connectivity, we cannot stop the virus at our borders. At some time, it will get through and then, perhaps, run rampant through our Countries.

I say ‘perhaps’ because there is still much to learn about this strain. It might fizzle out, it might not be as deadly as it appears, it might not transmit as easily as it seems. When faced with the options of keeping their fingers crossed or acting most governments in Europe have acted. Quite right too!

Regardless of what answers the scientists bring back from their laboratories, it is reassuring to see such a swift response to the variant, which those in Whitehall believe to be the “worst we’ve seen so far”. The UK has jumped straight onto the front foot by placing several countries from southern Africa on its red travel list.

The WHO recently warned that a degree of complacency had begun to set in. “The fight is over,” many believe; “We won.” This insouciance takes many forms – from not bothering to wear a mask, to governments failing to donate thousands of surplus vaccine doses to those in need – but it can be overcome. Regardless of what comes of B.1.1.529, hopefully it serves as a much-needed reminder that we’re all in this together.

That is the situation we need to address in two ways.

Firstly, we must make sure that all the Countries of the world have strong vaccination programmes. This should be done for selfless reasons because we want to help. In fact, we should also be doing it for selfish reasons, if we don’t new strains will emerge and eventually one will overwhelm our defences.

Secondly, we must all continue to be careful. I continue to wear a mask in public places and on public transport. Sometimes I have been the only one on the bus or in the train carriage who was doing so. I will be attending a big public event later. I will again wear my mask. This is NOT an infringement of my civil liberties it’s my way of caring for myself and those with whom I am mixing.

Above all if you haven’t yet been vaccinated get on with it go and do it. Its free and reasonably convenient locations have been set up in Liverpool for you to attend as they have been throughout the richer countries of the world.

A huge proportion of those seriously ill or dying globally are those who have not been vaccinated either by choice or poverty. Death bed conversions are possibly good for some religions, but they are no good for vaccinations. Please, please don’t die because of stupidity or politics.

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Do the Government Commissioners in Liverpool really understand what Liverpool needs?

Today’s Commissioners Report told us little that was new but reiterated the huge amount of work that needs doing to correct the Joe Anderson era in the Council

Today the Liverpool Commissioners first report on the state of Liverpool Council is released not with a bang but with a whimper with a written answer in the Commons and publication of the full report of the Department of Levelling up (DOLUP) website.

I found it quite disappointing. The report tells us little that is new; fails to recognise the huge improvements that have been and makes contradictory recommendations for the way forward.

In the light of that report, I have four key questions about the work, of the Commissioner team in Liverpool.

  1. Are they aware of how far Liverpool has moved on its improvement journey?

There is a clear feeling from the Commissioners that the improvement journey in Liverpool started on the day in June when they arrived. This is wholly incorrect. It has had three prior key trigger points:

  1. The arrival of Tony Reeves in the summer of 2018 began the process of stopping bad things happening. He not only did this but commissioned work within the Council through internal audit which led to the involvement of the Police.
  2. The departure of the former Mayor of Liverpool in December 2020 which enabled the process of improvement and reorganisation to begin to pick up pace.
  3. The publication of the Caller Report in March 2021 which recognised that the process of improvement was already underway but highlighted the gravity of the journey that still needed to be made.

Having been around in Liverpool for a long time and having been involved in work in a large number of poorly performing councils I felt the difference within days of Mr Reeves arriving. I know he stopped a loss of £13 million when he blocked a property deal days before it was due to exchange.

He created the internal audit report that has led to the Police involvement; the Commissioners Report; the departure of staff, the Caller Report and the arrival of the Commissioners.

Everything that we have subsequently found out about how bad the Council was being run would eventually have come out but an even greater cost than the £135 million that is a current estimate of loss in the Joe Anderson/Labour era.

  • Have they the experience in turning around a crisis council?

Max Caller was able to view the situation with understanding the situation in Liverpool because he has been involved in the turn around of a council in crisis when he moved to Hackney as its Chief Executive. None of the commissioners, although they have considerable experience, have experience in this ‘turn around’ world. It is not clear what they bring to the change required at a strategic level. I find it hard to discern what their vision is of a long-term plan and how their work will add to the long-term capacity building that our council requires.

  • Are they moving into areas where they have no competence?

The Commissioners have considerable experience in relevant parts of the operation of Council with the exception of the Chief Commissioner who is looking at the issues from the experiences of another sector which is no bad thing.

Clearly some of them are providing valuable support to our stressed teams especially in the troubled highways and regeneration areas. However, I have real doubts that they are adding anything when they come together as a team.

Liverpool suggested that they needed to have a Councillor or ex-Councillor as a Commissioner. That has been proved a correct approach because the Commissioners clearly do not understand the democratic element of governance. I have repeatedly asked them to justify their work with the boundary reorganisation and reduction in councillors. They have signally failed to do so but instead issued ill-informed dictats.

They are also showing concerns about the Council’s work in education and children’s and adult social care. I have the same concerns, but the council is beginning to address those problems with the appointment of a new Director Adult Services.

  • Are they costing too much?

I am concerned that there is mission creep here. The 4 commissioners quite rightly need travel and subsistence costs in addition to payment for their time. They are seeking to hire in external expertise at huge cost. Every penny we spend on them means a penny we are not spending on either enhancing our permanent staff or on front line services. The Council has now informed me that the costs of the Commissioners team at their expected number of days over 4 years is over £2,000,000 with on costs.

Turning Liverpool Council around will be a long haul. The Council is in a similar shape to when the Lib Dems took over from Labour in 1988. A council that was poorly led; had the third worst service delivery and the highest council tax being more than 20% above the next Council. This is just another way that we will be paying for Anderson’s blundering for years to come. Every penny spent on this work is a penny that is not being spent

It took us more than 4 years to get the Council running well and that was with a much more experienced political team and with much more money to spend from a Labour Government that wanted to help. In fact, the joke was that Liverpool was the best New Labour Council in the UK!

There is more bad news to come; there is more waste to be exposed; there is more work to be done at the centre of the Council before we can release savings for front line services. But the good news is that the problems are being bottomed out and the changes are being made.

All politicians in Liverpool, all officers, all partners and the Commissioners must work together to get the very best services for the people of our city. That’s a concerted action that the Lib Dems have pledge to join in with.

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Concern continues over China Town Site

This dereliction at the edge of our City Centre is blighting the local community and the City’s image. It’s one of 32 sites that are currently needing urgent attention. (Photo credit Colin Lane and the Liverpool Echo)

Announced in 2015 with a great fanfare from the Tory Government and the Labour Council the China Town Development lies derelict and abandoned on a major site at the edge of Liverpool City Centre.

The original company dealing with it has gone into administration. There are now serious questions being raised about the company that acquired the assets. The original investors have received no return on their money and are fighting to try and get some recompense. They are likely to be joined by investors in the second company.

In this tangled web there is a continued problem with company governance with continued failures to produce accounts on time and two of the key companies now appear to have no legally appointed Directors to run them.

I reproduce here the article in yesterday’s Liverpool Echo by Tom Duffy who has been keeping a close eye on the Liverpool property scene. I have been working with him on these property issues for the 3 to 4 years but moving forward is full of legal minefields and both I and the Echo have had to be very careful in what we have said and when we have said it. It is interesting to note the response to what I have said from a representative for the developers, “There is nothing that we can disagree with in what Councillor Kemp says”.

I will be moving a motion to the December Council meeting looking at a way forward for both this and the Eldon Gove site. More details later in the week. In the meantime, my thanks to Tom Duffy for his continued work in exposing the major fault lines in Liverpool development.

There is a growing concern about the future of the New Chinatown site in Liverpool (Image: Colin Lane/Liverpool Echo)

Great George Street Developments (GGSD) bought the site in 2018 from North Point Global (NPG) after the scheme became mired in controversy.

GGSD unveiled their own plans to deliver hundreds of new homes and shops on the land near the Anglican Cathedral. In February last year executives from GGSD met with the ECHO and said they were fully committed to delivering the scheme.

The ECHO can now reveal that:

A receiver for Cambridge and Counties Bank has been appointed to the Great George Street Project Limited

GGSD has not begun any physical works on site

The company has debts of £14m

Liverpool Council is still owed around £950k plus interest

Buyers are still owed around £6m

GGSD and parent company The Great George Street Project Ltd are late in filing their accounts

Sister companies Great George Street Project Phase One Ltd, Great George Street Project Phase Two Ltd and Great George Street Project Phase Three Ltd are late in filing accounts and have no directors

Liverpool company Crossfield Construction was appointed by GGSD to carry out minor work on the site to help ‘discharge planning conditions.’

Now Richard Kemp, leader of Liverpool’s Liberal Democrats, has expressed concern about GGSD and the future of the site.

He said to the ECHO: “Two years ago I warned about possible difficulties of investing in a new company. “It was issuing two-year loan notes (a type of bond) at a rate of interest which was 10 times that which banks were paying at the time.

“I am not surprised that it is now late in supplying its accounts for Companies House and that associated companies have no directors.

“At a wider level I repeat my call for investments of this type to be regulated by an organisation like the Financial Conduct Authority. Too many people have lost money in the UK, and Liverpool has been at the heart of those losses, for the Government not to act.”

A spokesperson for the New Chinatown Buyers company which represents investors in the original scheme said: “The legally established members company New China Town Buyers Ltd have tried, since the long stop date was invoked, to regain our full deposits with interest but without success.

“There have been attempts to make a very low offer to the buyer’s company by the developer but nothing has happened so far. The buyers who legitimately paid deposits in 2016 for a dream development set up by the Government, Liverpool City Council and the developer have been failed from the day they paid the deposits in.

“The debate about whether or not the site is built is not of interest to the buyers because we just want our money back. When deposits were paid it was to see a building by 2018 at the latest, which was the long stop date, what we have had is excuses and failure.

“We hope that clarifies our position and that the £6m owed to the buyers is repaid sooner rather than later. This has been a nightmare for the buyers and the end of a dream of investing in Liverpool which they never believed would turn so bad. “

A spokesperson for GGSD said: “The appointment of a receiver relates to the third phase of the scheme.

“There is nothing that we can disagree with in what Councillor Kemp says but we are working as diligently as we can to bring things into line and negotiate a suitable exit for all creditors subject to an agreed refinancing of the project.

“The investment that was introduced previously to the project was via investor platforms and the structure that we are looking at now is investment of our own funds in order that we relieve the financial pressures on the project rather than add to them.”

The spokesperson confirmed an offer had been made to the buyers company last year.

A spokesperson for the Crossfield Group said: “Our construction team have done some recent work on the scheme in discharging the pre-commencement conditions for Mr Moretti, but that is our only involvement in the project to date. We weren’t involved with any previous owners of the site.”

The original New Chinatown scheme received national media coverage when the plans were unveiled in 2015. The scheme, backed by local and national politicians, was included in the government’s ‘Northern Powerhouse Investment Pitchbook’.

Leading figures from Liverpool Council spoke in favour of the scheme and helped promote it during a government led trade trip to China in 2015.

In 2016, building work stalled on the New Chinatown site after the developers became involved in a number of protracted disputes, and the scheme stalled.

In December 2019 Liverpool Council approved plans submitted by GGSD to develop the site.

In October the Serious Fraud Office announced they had discontinued their investigation into the Chinatown Development Company due to “insufficient evidence.”

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Liverpool is not cowering under the bed clothes!!

Lets stop the gossip and speculation and use the sad events in Liverpool to start a rational debate about migration and immigration

I have been in a hotel in London for the past two nights and it has given me a rare opportunity to watch the telly. As you might guess I have been paying special attention to the what the media has been saying about the events on Sunday and subsequently.

In my view much of the national coverage of the events has been a heady of sensationalist nonsense and gossip. Why are they making such extensive coverage? Because sensation leads to purchase of papers and clicks on social media. The image that parts of the media portray is of a city that has been traumatised by the event and which is hunkering down against fear of further attacks. That just is not the case.

Of course, all of us in Liverpool were shocked by what had happened and even more so what might have happened. The death toll could have been huge if the bomb had actually entered the hospital or been taken to the Remembrance Sunday event at the Anglican Cathedral.

That shock has passed off. People are going about their business in the normal way. Liverpool is a great city that always takes things in its stride. It will shake itself down and get on with life after making known real concerns about what happened and a desire to ensure that the powers that be learn lessons from what occurred to try and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

The coverage has not in any way led to rational coverage about why this has happened and what we should do about it. In a way that does not disappoint. I am, however, disappointed in that it is leading to irrational debate which may well prejudice rational debate.

I have seen ill-informed speculation about the way that the Anglican Church has been recklessly baptising people of other faiths who merely wished to guarantee that they could stay here.

I have seen extremist comment about the nature of the refuges who come to Liverpool and what their motivations for fleeing their Country.

I have seen angry comments about the way that the Council and other authorities not controlling or supporting asylum seekers and refugees properly

The NHS is apparently largely to blame in some people’s eyes because they didn’t properly aid or control someone who had been sectioned under mental health legislation.

All of these areas and organisations should be looked at but that proper review can only be undertaken when the Police have done their work and are able to provide all of us with a coherent report on what happened and the timeline against which it happened. I will wait to deal with the detail of what happened until that time.

However, on a wider level there are perhaps some questions that we can begin to ask which could also be considered in that wider discussion. Questions I want to ask are:

Is Liverpool taking too great a share of refugees and asylum seekers for us to be able to deal with properly? Please bear in mind here that I think that the Country should take asylum seekers and refugees into our Country because the vast, vast majority of them are good citizens who will do well for our Country.

I know how generous the people of Liverpool are to those less fortunate than themselves. When I offered to take clothes, toys and other necessaries to the asylum seekers being brought in from Afghanistan more than 250 bags and boxes ended up in my house in 4 days and I had to turn more away.

What is the role of the housing strategy of the council? We have vast numbers of very cheap small terraces that unscrupulous private landlords can make a fortune from by packing people into with few concerns about the effects on the neighbours and entire communities.

Should asylum seekers be allowed to work? We have scientist and doctors, lawyers and scholars in the Country unable to work. Many of them speak excellent English and with small amounts of efforts could come in and help our hard-pressed NHS and other institutions. At the other end of the work scale, we have lots of people who come from agricultural areas, but we cannot find people to harvest the crops of spuds and strawberries.

What support needs to be given to incomers to the Country to assimilate them into the ways, customs and cultures of our Country?

What can we do to make them job ready when they are successfully given leave to remain, as so many of them are, so that they can begin to fill the job vacancies which are evident throughout the economy?

These are questions which have been valid for years now but Governments both local and national and a host of other public and third sector agencies have shied away from asking them and placed them instead in the ‘too difficult to answer’ box!

Let some good come out of the events in Liverpool last Sunday. Let’s deal with the details of the event when we can but let’s start the national debate on the way we handle immigration and migration in a way that improves our systems; improves the way in we help immigrants; and improves the way in which we help the communities in which they are placed.

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The bombing at the Women’s Hospital brings out the best in our public services

The Police and Fire Services were both in attendance at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital with 4 minutes yesterday. They were just the visible part of a huge public sector operation to safeguard the people of Liverpool.

It’s not always easy to find a ray of sunshine in the dark clouds which follow from an attack like the bombing at the Women’s Hospital yesterday. Naturally we focus on the horror and the immediate concerns for the safety of all concerned. Then we look for the actions being taken to apprehend those who caused the problem.

But there is a huge ray of sunshine and that is in the way that our public sector services showed their professionalism yesterday in dealing with the complex and alarming situation as it unfolded.

Yesterday, I attended the Remembrance Service at the Anglican Cathedral. I was there with a wide range of people including our Mayor, Lord Mayor, Chief Executive, Chief Fire Officer and Chief Constable. There is speculation that this group might have been the bomber’s original target but that is just speculation, and we should all wait to hear what the police have to say.

After the service was over, we were to told to wait in our place at the front of the Cathedral so that the marchers could line up to file past us. This became a little delayed and we were told there was a medical incident. This was true but what we did not know was that there were also the actions taken place at the Women’s Hospital.

I used the time by talking to people about the city and what a great day it had been and looked around because I wanted to talk to the Chief Constable and the Chief Fire Officer. They weren’t there and I just assumed that they had other things to do. It later became apparent that they had been spirited out of the Cathedral by a side door and were already at the Women’s which is minutes away.

Within 10 minutes the whole of the parade had been rerouted and we watched them from the much more secure main entrance to the Cathedral instead of the much less secure side entrance. Apparently, this Plan B was already in existence just in case it was needed.

Just in case……That is something that councils and emergency services spend a lot of time preparing for but hope will never happen. They try and answer the ‘what if’ questions about natural or man-made disasters. It rarely goes according to either plan A or plan B but the incessant attention to detail and the training comes into its own as the actions unfold.

For the rest of the day the what ifs were answered and upgraded by the 3 blue lights emergency services and by the Council.

The Police and Fire Service both of whom were present within 4 minutes of the alarm being given were present all day starting the forensic examination after the Fire Service had made the area safe.

The Army’s ordnance division was summoned to assess the safety of the situation. What a job they have. Very literally putting themselves in places where there may well be dangerous devices.

The Police poured out onto the streets to give a very clear and welcomed reassuring presence.

Acting on information they went to parts of Kensington and Greenbank to search premises and make arrests. They released no information about their suspicions of what was the reason for the bomb and who it’s targets might have been. Nor should they. The Police must do things according to the book otherwise they might prejudice not only investigations but also prosecutions.

The Council staff worked throughout the evening in difficult conditions to help the residents affected by the Police actions. Shelters were open for those that needed them. Later the Council put people into hotels if they hadn’t made their own arrangements for the night with friends and family.

I was invited to a briefing at 4.30 from the Chief Fire Officer and the Chief Constable so that I could play my part in explaining what they were doing to the people who were emailing and messaging me.

I have been invited to another briefing later today from all the services which will NOT deal with the questions around who and why, but they will deal with the logistics that the Council, Police and Fire Service will put in place to take things further with the investigation and all the things that will flow from it.

I was proud to be part of the public sector yesterday. On a day that we were reminded that ordinary people can do by former Lance Corporal Craig Lundbergh who lost his sight serving his Country in Basra. Every day our Police and Fire Service men and women go out and do not know what dangers they will face or what atrocities they will see.

Normally it won’t be terrorism, but they might both be working together to resolve issues at the scene of fatal fires or car accidents. Any day the Police, who have become an easy target, put themselves in situations where they put the needs of the public before the needs of themselves. As Craig reminded us yesterday its not only them but their families who wait at home who might have to pay the sacrifice.

So today I hope that you will join with me in saying a very big thank you to the everyday heroism and dedication of those who work in difficult circumstances to keep the rest of safe and cared for.

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We must honour not dishonour those that died for our freedoms

This picture showed the St Georges Plateau last night. What is doesn’t show is that to get to the Cenotaph veterans and service people had to access through an incomplete Christmas market which caused great offence.

This year I will be attending two Remembrance events. The second of these will be at the Anglican Cathedral on Sunday. The first of these has already been held  on Armistice Day and I was so concerned at what I saw that I wrote this email to our Mayor and Chief Executive and the Leader and copied it to the other two parties on the Council:

“Dear Joanne and Tony,

At 11.00 this morning I stood in silence at the Liverpool Cenotaph at St Georges Plateau and laid a wreath on behalf of the Liberal Democrats.

After the silence and a period or reflection I was inundated by complaints about the scene we saw there.

In all the years that have been a councillor it has always been a strict rule that any Christmas or other commercial activities were not established until after the 11th December or Armistice Sunday. It seemed to me as I stood there with our veterans and their representatives that we had dishonoured and not honoured our fallen heroes by accessing what should be an honoured area though an incomplete Christmas Market. 

I know that there have been particular problems at Lime Street this year but this must never happen again. So, I have drawn up a motion for the next Council Meeting which I hope that you and the other Parties will endorse as an all-party motion at the next Council meeting in December. Will you sign it please?

Motion from Cllr Richard Kemp CBE and …………………………… 

Remembrance Sunday

Council regrets that the November 11th commemoration of the Armistice for the First World War and its day of devotion to the memories of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our Country was spoiled by the way that this site had been commercialised by the early arrival of preparations for the Christmas Market.

It is proud of the fact that for many years the Liverpool commemoration has been the largest outside London. 

It resolves that no commercial events will be initiated in any way before Armistice Sunday on St Georges Plateau”.

Within two hours I had a response from Green Leader Tom Crone saying that he would support the motion.

Today I got a very good response from our Chief Executive, Tony Reeves. He made it absolutely clear that the Council accepted that it was in the wrong and would not repeat the situation in future years. This is what Mr Reeves said,

Firstly, each of your points are acknowledged and completely accepted so please let me begin by giving you absolute assurance that never again will there be any Christmas Market activity ahead of Remembrance Sunday.

Whilst we are all aware of the exacerbating factors this year due to the delayed Lime Street works, the ensuing impact caused by the presence of the Christmas Market site build has been a lesson that the officers involved have fully learned from. 

In the absence of a Service of Remembrance on the Plateau, the agreement for the market to start their site build early was given with the best of intentions, in order to fall in line with the rest of the city’s Christmas activity. Christmas Market activity on the plateau was never part of the plan this year but as the relocation plans to William Brown Street had not had any real time to be fully developed, issues and challenges were being identified in real time, resulting in rearrangement of infrastructure once the site build had commenced. 

This is no excuse and tough lessons have been learned from this year by the officers involved, so again, I would like to re-iterate my complete reassurance that future Christmas Market activity will never again commence until after Remembrance Sunday and this will be contractually agreed”.

I accept that Mr Reeves and the Council have learned their lesson and commend him for the way that he responded. It would be nice if the Mayor had responded but I accept that the Chief Executive had probably talked to her before replying.

However, I do intend to continue to put the draft motion above to Council. It is important that what went wrong is put on the record and that the Council knows, when all the current players have moved on, that there is a council decision which will continue to hold good and which all councillors and staff will need to follow.

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Labour incompetence loses us another £600,000

The Council wants it both ways. It claims its broke yet fails to collect the money it can do from wealthy developers.

Another day, another example of Labour incompetence. At a time when the Council is desperately short of money, it’s looking for £34 million of savings for the next financial year, the Labour members of the planning committee have reduced the section 106 demand from a developer by 80%.

This will mean a £600,000 loss to the Council after the developers, a wealthy property company, pleaded poverty and asked for a total exemption from the payment.

Section 106 money is a payment to the Council to provide a range of physical small-scale developments which will ameliorate some of the adverse consequences inherent in any new development. It cannot be used by the Council against its council tax problems, but it can mean the provision of facilities that the Council would otherwise have to pay for if it had the money to pay!

Typically, the money is used to pay for parks and playgrounds and the creation of green spaces. In Allerton Road we used the money from Tesco to improve the medians in the middle of the road, improve crossings and plant trees.

So, this money is important to the Council as it tries to deliver what communities need at a time when it is strapped for cash.

The developers must be laughing all the way to the bank. Typically, a developer will seek to make a minimum 20% profit from a development. By adding on the £600,000 its profits may be reduced to 18.5% on the estimates of the sale price for the apartments. It would have been so sad if the company had had to reduce its profit margins by this fractional amount!

Liverpool has a serial record of not collecting this planning gains cash. Over the past few years, it has failed to collect at least £4.5 million of tax that it had included in planning conditions.

The most egregious example of this is Fox Street. The planning conditions included a provision that the developer would either pay £1 million+ or it would develop a 120-space underground car park to deal with real parking problems that already existed in the area. The Council failed to notice that the developer did neither. By the time we tried to get the cash the developer had gone broke. As an unsecured creditor we got nothing!

To add insult to injury we then had to pay out more than £300,000 for a fire marshal system as dangerous cladding had been used.

This is the story just of those developments where the planning committee decided to collect money. In case after case, it allowed the developer to plead poverty and make no S106 payment. I have no doubt that good profits have been made on sites, for example in the Baltic area, where S106 was waived.

The word has got round that Liverpool can be suckered by any old sob story. My colleague on the planning committee, Cllr Pat Moloney, tried to call the developer’s bluff and was supported by the two other opposition councillors. Unfortunately, all Labour members of the committee failed to realise that they were needlessly chucking the council’s money away.

I’m not a betting person but if I thought that the Labour members of the planning committee were poker players, I would learn the rules!! They folded their hand at the first sign of resistance. They didn’t look at the company behind the application as they should do for the financial considerations.

So just remember when Labour plead poverty and say they can’t afford things look at the things they do. £13.5 million overspend already for the Strand/Lime Street developments incurring a £4.5 million in interest payments and more costs to come. £2.5 million overpaid to social care contractors much of which is irrecoverable. A Mayoral system which costs £0.5 million a year, dodgy contracts, mates rates procurement, assets given away at knockdown prices or for nothing.

My Mum used to say, “If you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves”. I just wish she was alive today to give the Labour councillors of Liverpool a piece of her mind.

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Polly Toynbee gets it right over cleaning up political sleeze

Johnson showed his cowardice yesterday when he refused to turn up at the Commons to defend his misguided blundering over sleeze. To make matters worse he didn’t wear a mask on a hospital visit.

Cleaning up politics is a stunningly simple task, glaringly obvious to anyone – except those 250 Tory MPs who voted last week to protect their own. What we need to do is take all the money out of Westminster and let parliamentarians live on their salaries as other public servants do. Just over a third of MPs took home £4.9m between them in outside earnings in the 12 months since March 2020.

Ah, we’d lose high-quality people by banning extra work, they say – yet how much would those paid “consultant” MPs be missed? Running the NHS, schools, Whitehall or councils, the public sector is packed with people of far higher calibre than the current crop of ministers. They work without fame but, like the better MPs, to improve society.

The recent scandal only passed as a “Westminster storm in a teacup” – the words of environment secretary George Eustice – because under Boris Johnson barely a week goes by without some new dishonesty: his government has made 43 U-turns since it came to power in December 2019, and most were disreputable. Keir Starmer, accusing the prime minister of “leading his troops through the sewer”, reaffirmed Labour’s commitment to bar MPs from directorships and consultancies; along with restrictions to stop ministers departing to companies through that corrupt revolving door. Lobbying pays good returns: compare Randox’s £8,000-a-month outlay to Owen Paterson, with government contracts worth almost £500m. (The company insists Paterson “played no role in securing any Randox contract”.)

Labour is perfectly placed to run a clean-up-politics campaign, led by a former director of public prosecutions and a frontbench unlikely to be caught pilfering. Back-to-basics campaigns risk exposing a wrongdoer in the ranks, but what matters is how parties respond. Labour has called for Claudia Webbe, the Leicester East MP, to resign – having already withdrawn the whip – after her conviction of harassment against a woman. But Paterson was protected by his leader, with Nadhim Zahawi sent on to the airwaves to defend him, admitting he hadn’t even read the excoriating standards committee report.

Out of wrongheaded tribalism, Labour has refused to give an independent candidate a free run in Paterson’s North Shropshire seat: there’s little chance the party’s candidate would win, so why not sidestep inevitable humiliation and help give the Tories a fright? Johnson’s polling has slid to its lowest level, his every policy indicator flashing red. But Labour fails to streak ahead. It’s time to accept that any general election victory will have to come with near-certain coalition with other progressive parties.

A first step in facing that reality would be to draw up a clean-politics charter with other parties and civil society organisations. Of course the Tories would refuse to join, but how would it look if all Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green, SNP and Plaid candidates wore a clean-up politics white badge, but not the Tories?

An agreed charter could commit to expunging money, honours and bribery from Westminster. Tricky cases, such as Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP working shifts in A&E, or Nadine Dorries’ phenomenal book sales are not beyond the wit of drafters to work round.

Next, they should abolish political donations beyond the small sums that come from party members. If this means increasing public subsidy to political parties, it would be a worthwhile investment for taxpayers, ensuring that the few can’t buy influence: property developers have given the Tories £60m in the past decade. MP Margaret Hodge’s forthcoming report for King’s College London’s Policy Institute traces how laundered and dirty donations mean “corrupt money corrupts politics”.

A charter should pledge a wide-ranging royal commission to give Britain a written constitution, now that Johnson has broken what was left of the honour and tradition supposedly glueing those unwritten conventions together. Starmer’s leadership campaign commitment to a democratic second chamber is more urgent than ever, with open Democracy and the Sunday Times revealing the going rate for peerages: 15 of the last 16 Conservative party treasurers donated at least £3m and got the ermine.

Transparency was meant to let in sunlight, the best disinfectant, but only 41% of freedom of information requests by the public are granted in full, part of a downward trend. Yet transparency isn’t enough: the National Audit Office has no power to act on its stream of shocking reports on government malfunction. It needs teeth. The current elections bill is also a travesty, giving government effective control over the independent Electoral Commission, allowing it to impose penalties on what it determines to be third-party election campaigning – say from the TUC or Black Lives Matter. Meanwhile, one backbencher told the Financial Times that some Tory MPs were informed “they would lose funding for their constituency” if they failed to vote for Paterson – flagrant corruption.

A pact on a clean-politics charter isn’t the electoral alliance many of us favour, and the terms of any constitutional commission would have to be agreed by a post-election coalition. But if Johnson wants a culture war to distract from his corruption, economic failures and weakening public services, bring it on. A renamed statue or a “woke” National Trust initiative is a weak weapon compared with combating the culture of Tory snouts in the trough.

Cleaning up politics is neither left- nor right wing, when Tory wrongdoing will keep bursting into the headlines as long as Johnson stays in No 10. The standards committee chair, Chris Bryant, goes as far as to say to me that the threatened removal of independent checks and balances means “we might as well have Viktor Orbán running Britain”. The Tory barrister and politician, Quintin Hogg, famously once warned of an “elective dictatorship” and that’s Johnson’s way – stuffing every post with yes people. Labour needs to go at this hammer and tongs, not with lawyerly caution but sounding the klaxon on the corruption of democracy.

This article was written by Polly Toynbee of the Guardian whose authorship is fully acknowledged. This was such a strong and effective article that I felt that I could not better it so have reproduced it in full.

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How much will Joe Anderson ultimately cost us?

44,453 British Currency Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images -  iStock
The bad decisions and lack of control of resources under Joe Anderson’s leadership seems to be continuing even though he personally has left the Council

Every day the amount of money that the council has lost, misapplied or simply failed to collect during the calamitous time of Labour control under Mayor Joe Anderson’s leadership seems to grow.

The latest public scandal is yet another update on the Strand/Lime Street debacle. We already know that the scheme was £13.5 million over budget and that we would have to pay £4.5 million in interest to borrow the money.

It gets worse. The Council has agreed a price of £1.5 million for a contract to tidy up and make safe the area for the vital Christmas period. It will then have to retender for the completion of the work and possibly trying at the same time to correct some of the major design faults in it.

I understand that the total overspend is now likely to be twice the original estimate meaning that we will have to borrow £1.5 million a year for 25 years to pay for it. That’s money that will have to be diverted from the provision of vital services to the elderly, children and the environment.

There’s now an example of more waste coming from the Labour Group. Readers with a long memory will recall that back in 2012 Joe Anderson evaded having a referendum on the mayoralty by getting a vote through Council just 3 days before a referendum would have become mandatory.

I have no doubt that such a vote would have been defeated as it was in 10 out of the 11 councils that had a vote. But this gives us some good news. Because there was no referendum then we don’t need a referendum now to remove the mayoralty. What we need to do is have a consultation process which involves the people of the city in a consideration of the 4 governance methods that we could choose to take.

You might think that as a long-term critic of the mayoral system I would be delighted to get rid of it by either method. But that would be wrong. In January the Lib Dems called a special council meeting at which we urged an immediate consultation with the people which could have resulted in no Mayor being elected last May.

The Labour Party amended the motion and the Council agreed instead to have a referendum in 2023 to coincide with the local elections. The problem is now that if that timetable is kept to there will then be a mayor put in place for 4 years in 2023 as the Caller Report and the things that have flowed from it have completely changed the electoral timetable.

So, any consultation or discussion would need to take place in 2022 when there are now no local elections. The cost difference is huge. A referendum taking place on the same day as a local election would cost just over £300,000. One that takes place as a free-standing vote will cost about £600,00. That’s more money that will need to be diverted from front line services.

The estimate is that it will cost about £50,000 to have a full and meaningful consultation with the people of Liverpool.

This came to head yesterday when I read on Twitter that the City Council would be holding a referendum next year about the Mayoralty and would not only issue a series of tweets and videos but would also be having a number of consultation events. Interestingly, when I talked to the staff responsible, they admitted that they were wrong and were acting on the fact that the Labour Group had opted for a referendum.

They further told me that they were preparing videos on just two of the options because they were the ones that would be most likely to be adopted. The Council simply cannot do this. They have to provide information equally on all the options. The Council itself must be neutral on the issue. It’s up to politicians to put the case to people for the specific option that they support.

So, the Council was acting illegally and was working to a decision of the Labour Group. Friends in the Labour Party told me that they had received no idea of the costs involved and were simply going on to try and make sense of their previous decision which was now undeliverable.

All this was in contravention of an agreement that the costed options, timescales etc would be presented to a meeting of Group Leaders, discussed with all Councillors and a way forward would then be considered at a full council meeting which must be the part of the Council that makes a final choice as to the way forward.

So, we have a choice. A good and inclusive consultation event that will cost about £50,000 or a referendum which will cost about £600,000. Politically the referendum would be good for us Lib Dems. We could raise before the people of Liverpool once again the failings of the Mayoral system in our city.

However, we cannot support the additional £550,000 which would mean less of the services that you need in your community. Joe Anderson lives on. Labour continues to make partial decisions with no idea of costs or process. Council staff continue to act outside proper systems and controls.

How much did Joe Anderson’s Labour reign of terror cost us? We will probably never know. Bad decisions and incompetent delivery are hard to account for but is probably way more than the £135 million that we already know about. Joe Anderson might have gone but his spirit lives on in the Labour Group’s nonchalant lack of concern for the best use of our money.

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