Should the pensions age rise in the UK and worldwide?

All our third age citizens should be able to have a decent, warm and comfortable retirement but that raises basic questions about how the state and the individual will pay for it.

I’ve been thinking about retirement recently although I am already well over the UK state pension retirement age. These thoughts have been kicked off for two reasons.

Firstly, in January I will become 70. I am still working full time+ and have a stressful job in the front line of politics. Oh, come on, surely no-one could possibly think that being opposition Leader in Liverpool is an easy job!? You might be hearing me make a statement on that in the not-too-distant future.

Secondly, Ministers appear to want to raise the state pension age to sixty-eight several years earlier than planned in a bid to raise billions for the Treasury, it has been reported.

Under current legislation, the retirement age is set to rise to 67 in 2028, and then to 68 by 2046, although the government’s stated plan is for the latter to happen by 2039.

But it is claimed that relevant ministers and officials in all three of this year’s Conservative governments led by Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and now Rishi Sunak have been thinking about bringing that date further even forwards.

A date of the mid-2030s is now widely favoured, with ministers keen to leave a gap of at least a decade between legislating for the policy and it coming into action, the Daily Telegraph reported, citing multiple current and former government officials.

Even raising the pension age just one year earlier than currently planned could raise more than £9bn for the Treasury, with some £8bn saved in pension payments and an additional £1.3bn taken in taxes on extra earnings, pensions consultancy LCP told the paper. I personally think this is a very crude figure as it takes little account of those who will not be able to work in an increasingly later life.

It was also claimed that Ms Truss believed the move was a “silver bullet” and was initially minded to include it in her and then-chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s disastrous mini-Budget. This might be to many people the final proof that it was a daft idea!

So, when is the right age to retire and when is the right age to be able to collect a pension? The answer seems to me to be that there is no right age per se. However, there is a right age per person. Let’s just look at some differing circumstances.

At 7.00 this morning the bin lorries came round as they do, like clockwork every Tuesday. The refuse collectors have a dirty, arduous and smelly job. They get up at 05.30 every morning. This is not an arduous thing on a nice summer morning but a bummer of a wet winter morning. They are the depot for 06.30 and are then on the road continually for 5+ hours.

Do we really want or expect a 66-year-old man (they are almost all men) to be able to do that sort of work as their physical strength declines.

On the other hand, we might have a professional who has no physical problems although sometimes their memory is not as good as it used to be! He or she works office hours and, in many cases, can choose to reduce their number of hours over time and perhaps move to less demanding and less managerial jobs leaving front-line ‘boss’ jobs to others.

There is a world of difference between the two positions. Everyone is different and every job is different but here we have a clear divide between a manual, physically demanding job and a professionally mentally demanding job and shows how differing circumstances lead to different life choices.

Middle classes in professional jobs seem to have much more choice. No one appears to be asking our refuse collectors, “Would you like to work two days a week instead of five?”

Underlying the choices that need to be made there are clearly financial considerations. What public money is involved and what private money.

When the old age pension was first introduced by the Liberal Government in 1906 it was only given to the ‘deserving’ poor and was based on the fact that on average men died at the age of 65 years and ten months. So just 10 months to shell out then! Life expectancy has grown massively since then. Our three score years and ten of biblical note is now seen as the start of our glorious third age and not the likely end all life stages.

Private money is also important. One of the achievements of Prof Steve Webb whilst in government is automatic enrolment in pension funds. That means a much larger pool of people and their employers are putting money away for their retirement and of course get help by way of tax allowances from the Government. Others have been able to put more away than this minimum but for some this could also be a matter of choice.

Erica and I decided that we wanted to save for a more comfortable retirement and took spending decisions during our working lives towards that end. Others have spent every penny that could on pleasure and leisure and now have very little in the ‘bank’. Of even more concern to me are those that only ever earned enough to live on and had nothing to put away for their old age.

I have not got the solutions to hand but I am saying that the UK and other Countries needs to consider what a happy retirement means and this is not the same discussions as how long we will live. It is a complex decision which varies between person to person and from generation to generation. Now we need to get together to consider the public and private necessities as we face the increasing longevity in our society.

Living for a long time should not just be our only goal although it is a good starter. As a relatively wealthy society our aim should be to allow our third age citizens in a decent and comfortable way. This is my view on the situation in the UK. I have lots of followers from other countries and would be fascinated to hear their views as well on how we take the opportunities of a good third age forward.

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Another day, another scandal at cash hit Liverpool Council

A crude estimate is that it will take 30 years for the Council to recover its investment in this site and that is before services like a school and other public building are added.

On Wednesday I will be raising a series of questions about how we have spent upwards of £60,000,000 on the clearing of the Festival Gardens site in South Liverpool. A report will be going to Council because I have called in a report which went to Cabinet where they failed to ask testing questions about how we got to a point where the council will lose £43,000 for the site costs of every home built on that site.

I have not called this in because I just want to have a go at the Labour Party although they have clearly been at fault here. I’ve called it, and another report on  the Tunstall Street site, in for examination because we need to learn the lessons from how we failed miserably in our procurement exercise here to ensure that we do not make the mistakes again.

These two sites are unique, all sites are different, but there are large amounts of land available for development in the outer city centre fringe which also need development, and which have huge remediation problems relating to their earlier use. When these reports originally came to Cabinet, we did not stop actions relating to the issues of how we minimise the problems to the Council. Work needed to be commissioned immediately or the bill would have been even higher and the work even more delayed.

But even now there are continuing problems with both sites which need to be resolved. How will the Festival Gardens site get a new school? Will the Tunstall Street site ever be sold off as there are legal complications relating to alleged poor work at the site? There are many, many more that I will ask on Wednesday.

Rather than go through the site problems I reproduce here the report by Liam Thorp which goes into detail on this. The detail here is correct and I have made sure that Liam has had all the facts that he needed to write this comprehensive note. Watch out for fireworks on Wednesday night though!!

Article by Liam Thorp in today’s Echo.

Cash-strapped Liverpool Council is set to fork out an additional £7m on the development of a south Liverpool housing site where costs will balloon to £60m before work on building a single property has even begun.

Remediation work at the contaminated Festival Gardens site in the south of the city is already budgeted to cost a staggering £52 million before a housing developer even moves in to start building homes – but a new report shows costs have spiralled significantly beyond this.

Festival Gardens is a former tip site that was transformed, landscaped and planted up to become the home of the Liverpool International Garden Festival in 1984. The local authority spent £6m buying a section of the site in 2015 from Langtree – insisting at the time that the sale would only go through subject to site surveys and the correct due diligence being done. A year later the authority agreed to fund around £6m of site investigations on the former waste land.

The overall plan is to create 22-acres of remediated land with access roads and other infrastructure for residential development of up to 1,500 homes, including 20% affordable housing, with an overall completion date of August 2031.

But with costs of cleaning up the site now set to balloon to close to £60m before a housing developer even moves in – one senior city councillor is labelling the situation as “an absolute scandal.”

After buying the land for £6m, the council commissioned site investigations to identify potential remediation options for the former tip at a cost of a further £6m. It was established that the most appropriate area to develop was a 22-acre plot at the northern end of the site.

The council commissioned Vinci as its principal remediation contractor to manage the design, delivery and validation of the land’s remediation and surface water infrastructure. This work was budgeted at £25.52m and approved via a council report in January 2021. Vinci were later instructed to carry out other work, including preparing an area for a substation.

The council secured £36.8m of grant funding towards site remediation and preparation from Homes England (£9.9m) and Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (£26.9m). With the council spending £6.1m buying the site and £6m investigations – this provided a total budget of £51.4m to fund site acquisition, site investigation, planning permission, site set-up and enabling works, site remediation and strategic infrastructure.

But a new report to the council’s audit committee now shows that the council will be forced to fork out a further £7m after further issues were found on site. This includes £5m costs for extra material that needs to be remediated, £1.3m costs in delays to the work and extra fees for consultants, supervisors and inflated fuel prices.

The report states: “These cost increases totalling £6.97M are directly attributable to the terms and conditions, and risk allocation, that the Council accepted under the remediation works contract with Vinci.” It adds that the additional costs will require a transfer of funds from other projects in the council’s capital programme that are not proceeding.

The eye-watering costs and significant overspend is prompting serious questions and criticisms about how the council acted when it first bought the land back in 2015. Former Mayor Joe Anderson previously said he and the council “knew full well what they were buying” and said the due diligence was done in carrying out the surveys.

But Lib Dem leader Cllr Richard Kemp said two exempt reports submitted to cabinet about these decisions should now be made public. He said: “The Festival Gardens overspend is an absolute scandal that needs to be carefully looked at to ensure that such half-baked projects cannot proceed again.

“Initial costs here were grossly underestimated and eventual land sale costs were grossly over-presented. The result is a huge cost to council taxpayers. I have no doubt that had the council had a half decent estimate of these there would have been no decision to buy this land or if a land purchase had gone ahead, it would be at a nominal price to allow the land to be used for open space purposes.

“The people of the Festival Gardens area have been tormented by heavy traffic for five years, remediation will not complete for another year. Then there will be years of heavy building costs as the site is developed including heavy piling equipment. Two exempt reports were submitted to Cabinet during this debacle, and I want those to be made public so that we can all see who knew what and when they knew it”.

In its own report, the council says there are a number of “important lessons to be learnt” from the Festival Gardens project. It states: “If a decision is made to acquire a former domestic landfill with the objective of comprehensive regeneration, it should be acknowledged that this is a high-risk commitment with uncertainty around viability and deliverability.”

The report adds: “There could be merit in the council obtaining a greater understanding of market forces when assessing contract risk such as increases to taxes and duties, given that fuel duty has doubled over the course of the works contract.”

As well as the ballooning costs, the council could also face a legal challenge from developer Ion. The company previously had an exclusivity agreement with the council for building homes on the site and the two parties worked up a draft masterplan, but this was not completed and the deal expired.

In September this year, the council announced it would instead launch a full procurement process to find a development partner for the land at Festival Gardens after a year-long review. The local authority said the move is being made to ensure the project aligns with the council’s recently adopted Local Plan, Council Plan and the Mayoral triple lock policy, which stipulated a new approach to development focusing on sustainability, inclusivity and social value. The new approach will push the project back by a year.

The change of approach did not go down well with Ion who hinted at potential legal action against Liverpool Council.

In September a spokesperson for Ion said: “We are obviously very disappointed by this approach, particularly given that the council has confirmed on numerous occasions that our performance on the project is not in question and the fact that we have worked seamlessly with the council’s regeneration team to progress the project since our involvement commenced some four and a half years ago.”

They added that they expected to enter formal discussions with the council to “establish how our contribution to date will be recognised and to agree a way that our considerable knowledge can be used to assist with the successful delivery of this important site. Hopefully such an approach will resolve the matter without recourse to litigation.”

Explaining the council’s decision, Cllr Sarah Doyle, Liverpool City Council’s cabinet member for development and economy, said: “Given its strategic importance to our housing programme, it is only right and proper that a major review of our approach was undertaken to ensure it aligns with all the new policies we’ve adopted since our new mayor was elected.”

And speaking about the additional costs, the cabinet member added: “The transformation of this site has been a mammoth undertaking and we have worked very closely with contractors to ensure the surrounding communities have been kept up-to-date every step of the way.

“It’s not a surprise given the sheer scale of the site that the excavation has surpassed what was originally estimated and costed. But whatever the additional costs will be, they will be dwarfed by the long-term economic impact for the city and the millions in revenue that will be generated by the council tax income which we can invest in our front-line services.”

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Liverpool Council to draw up new standards for openness and transparency

I am pleased that last the Council unanimously agreed a Lib Dem amendment that will begin the process of bringing openness and transparency into our proceedings

Last night Liverpool City Council agreed an amendment that I moved on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Group which will commit the Council to creating a new standard in openness and transparency which help the citizens and journalists of Liverpool keep track of what is going on in the Council.

This is the amendment that I moved:

It welcomes the fact the both the current Mayor and City Solicitor have publicly committed themselves to greater transparency and there being a default position of publication of reports wherever possible.

It requests a report to be prepared, for the Constitutional Issues Committee, which outlines how both ‘Freedom of Information’ requests and, ‘Councillor’s Right to Know’ requests are handled and the parameters and timescales within which responses will be made and the criteria for refusing such a request or ensuring that redactions are made.

In fact, we ended up with something slightly different as we agreed a way forward with all the other Parties in the Chamber to ensure that this was passed unanimously.

I moved this amendment during a debate on the BICo project. The most amazing thing to me in this long saga is sadness that the three reports which were produced by internal audit were not published long ago. Of course, they needed some minor changes such as redactions because they were written as an internal report not one that would be published. That aside there was nothing in those reports that could not have been made public up to 4 years ago.

As I said in the Chamber yesterday, “the effect of not publishing the data has meant that a massive number of rumours and half truths has been allowed to fester and grow. There were important lessons that needed to be learnt about the way that the Council handled the issues. Some of those lessons might have been learnt and council procedures tightened up but other lessons seem to have been forced upon the Council”

During the meeting I gave credit to the persistence of independent journalist Matt O’Donoghue who doggedly pursued the matter through the Information Commissioner and eventually got the Council to come clean.

Liam Thorp the political editor of the ECHO now has an FOI request outstanding for more than a year seeking information about some Labour Councillors abused their position to get parking tickets written off. This just is not good enough.

Open and transparency need to be improved. There needs to be an assumption that reports will be publicised and that FOI and ‘Councillors Right to Know’ requests are dealt with promptly.

Such changes are not enough. The Council is changing its scrutiny processes to ensure that councillors are given up to date information to enable them to make decisions about services, especially services that are failing. This information will be available to all councillors and to the press and citizens.

We are changing the way that information comes to Council. Too many reports are presented to Cabinet at the last moment which makes scrutiny different because of time limitation. The Council is moving to a situation where many more reports will be presented to our Select Committees before they go to Cabinet. This will mean better and more informed debates with far more people knowing what is going on and given the opportunity to contribute to decision making.

Last night the four opposition groups failed to persuade the ruling Labour Group to undertake an in depth report into the BICO debacle. That task must remain with the Police and Tax authorities. But at least, and for a change, the Council listened to what and gone on and learned from its mistakes.

I look forward to seeing the report that the Officers produce for us and am hopeful that it will produce a much better system which gives the people of Liverpool the ability to see how we use their money to provide the services that they need.

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Politics and Sport – some thoughts 

This Welsh supporter’s hat was taken off Welsh supporters going into their first game by officials because it supports gay pride. If you host global events, you should deal with global beliefs and not suppress them

As those that know me well know I am not a great sports fan and have only ever been to one football match. But even I am aware of the World Cup taking place. I always keep a weather eye open for big games, not least because if your door knocking in Liverpool if Liverpool or Everton are playing it is a sure way to lose votes!! I always want Liverpool, Everton and England to do well but I am a very passive supporter!

I am also aware of the geopolitics and global financing on which a number sports, especially foot ball are based. I was, however, induced to think more carefully about this issue when I saw the following Tweet on my time line.

“Iranian team refusing to sing their anthem knowing they could go home and be jailed or executed for it. Our lot not wearing a bit of cloth because one of them might get a yellow card. Embarrassing.”

Now I have no idea whether or not sanctions will be made against the Iranian team I suspect they will be, but I doubt if they will be executed because of their stand. It does give us the idea that we should think carefully about how our international sports are organised and paid for.

I have always believed that sport is a very soft tool for global diplomacy. As  sport fans go from place to lace inside their country and from country to country they have the chance to observe behaviours and customs in those countries. Surely, they will learn from that and take some of what they see home.? This the whole principle on which the Olympic Games was founded.

However, these principles have sullied by money and the need for some sports organisations to make huge profits for their organisation and it would appear themselves. The World Cup’s handling by FIFA is an egregious example of this.

It is now apparent that bribery was involved in the original awarding of the Tournament for 2022. It was awarded to a Country of just 300,000 people most of whom live in just one City, Doha. I have been there, and money has been spent on all sorts of projects but if you don’t like posh nosh or boats there isn’t much to do. Of course, far more people live there than the ‘indigenous’ population. If you are a wealthy ex-pat you live a life of tedious luxury. If you are from South-East Asia, you will live a dangerous and tacky existence.

There is no infrastructure for football and a small amateur club team could have played better than the national team at the opening match. The infrastructure that has been provided has been built by basically slave labour. No-one knows how many people have died because of dangerous and unregulated building practices. No-one even asked!

Now the normal courtesies of global relations have been suspended and too many people do not care. Politics has been imported onto the field of play by crass decisions of FIFA about what can and cannot be worn. Human Rights issues that should have been sorted out before the Tournament was awarded and now are being fudged by a compliant FIFA who have the moral compass of a marshmallow.

If I look to my own City of Liverpool we can see Everton being controlled by overseas investors with considerable numbers of rumours that the money comes from a Russian oligarch whose money has been laundered by a supposed owner from a different country. I don’t know if this is true but what is clear is that the Club is in no way controlled locally.

Liverpool FC may or may not be up for sale. It is  owned by business men from America who just see Clubs as an investment opportunity and seek to maximise their returns. That’s business and in most cases, there is nothing wrong with it. Our Country does, after all, need foreign investment. But again, there is no local control.

The investment has, at least in the case of Liverpool FC reaped dividends on the field and off it. That is at the expense of many local people who passionately love their team but will never be able to afford to watch them play. Some Clubs are clearly owned by despots from despotic countries. Does that matter if the put the money in and the results flow?

Well, I believe it does. In some ways some clubs, especially in the Premier League seem to be vehicles for money laundering. The World Cup venues have been built at the cost of huge amounts of money and even more amounts of misery.

The only way that we can make global sport reputable is to introduce controls that would introduce morality into big events at an early stage and to reduce the role that money and greed play in global sport.

I have concentrated on football today because it’s the World Cup. I could have spoken about Formula 1 racing, cricket, the Olympics, golf and probably many other sports. The problems are ubiquitous.

I may be old-fashioned but I believe that all sports should promote events which are a noble competition between sports people and their competition. The sordid world of FIFA and the desperate scramble for football club ownership are far, far removed from this ideal.

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Public Sector Bodies Should Review twitter and other accounts

Last week people joined up to Mastodon at the rate of 11,000 an hour. I am not, at this stage advocating that we withdraw from Twitter, although many have. However, we do need a Plan B if the situation continues to deteriorate.

When three weeks ago I put down a motion to the Liverpool City Council meeting on Wednesday I did not realise how well timed it would be. Since then, Musk appears to have completely removed all checks and balance on the system with a huge increase in abuse, racism, sexism and pornography. I have been on Twitter for 11 years and I have never had porn videos appearing in my Twitter with the promise of more to come.

It would appear that Musk loosened controls because of his belief in free speech. I believe in free speech but not if it denigrates individuals and parts of the community who cannot respond to racial, faith or gender-based slurs. Whether he has done this deliberately or not I have no idea, but we know that he has laid off or lost 75% of his staff depending on how many are let back into their offices today.

I am asking Liverpool Council to think carefully about its approach to Twitter and use the opportunity to review all its social media outlets whist we are about it. We need to consider the reputational damage that might be done by association with a media outlet that appears to have gone rogue.

Let’s suppose that the Council wants to put out messages about exploitation of women and what we are doing about it. What would it look like if that appears next to a Tweet about sex and pornography? What if we want to promote anti racist events and the Tweet before is using racist abuse such as the ‘N’ word?

That would clearly be guilt by association and would demean the positive messages that the Council and most public sector bodies seek to portray.

I suppose the final straw for me has been what is obviously a fixed poll about Trump re-joining the Twitter platform. Why do I think it was fixed? Because when I came to vote in what I knew was a charade I found that I had already voted!! Trump is a danger to democracy not only in the USA but his actions have emboldened extremism in the rest of the World.

How do you know when Trump is lying? His mouth is open! He bullies, distorts and lies as a matter of course. His acolytes do likewise. They seem to think that they are above the law. No-one should be above the law. In fact, elected officials from the President of the USA down to humble councillors like me should set a god example to those who we seek to influence. We will never be paragons of virtue, we are only human. But we should avoid clearly egregious behaviour.

I am slowly moving my social media activity from Tweet to Mastodon which has boomed over the   past two weeks and already has ‘2 million Tooters’. My own following has increased from about 50 to about 550 in 10 days. They are global and delightfully from the nastiness and rancour which has become too prevalent on Twitter. My new ‘handle’ there is liverpoolrichard@mastastodon.social.

Of course, I will still be on several local and Lib Dem Facebook and do my blog to keep people such as you in touch with activity.

I haven’t suggested that the Council should pull off Twitter at this stage and will not do so myself. I think we should look carefully about how we use social media and have a plan B available whereby we can move if necessary.

Our interim Chief Executive has already agreed that my motion should be forwarded to the Head of Communications for a report. So I’m thinking about these things; the Council is; are you. Do you have a plan B? Have you thought what you will do if Twitter continues to deteriorate? If have not done so you need to!

In the meantime, I hope to see you on both Twitter and Mastodon.

Here is my motion to Wednesday’s City Council:

Liverpool Council and social media

Council notes that the Council is a heavy user of social media including Twitter to quickly get out messages and information to those of our residents, organisations and businesses who use social media. It particularly notes a heavy use of Twitter.

It notes that Twitter has a new owner who has already made major changes to the protocols by which it oversees the removal or moderation of hateful, racist, sexist or otherwise offensive messaging employed by some people. Twitter has also removed from employment many of the staff employed to enforce such protocols.

In the short term this has clearly increased the amount of hate items on the media stream including a 500% increase in the use of the ‘N’ word which appears to have gone unchecked.

It believes that if the situation continues to deteriorate then public and private sector bodies and individuals should not use a platform which is uncontrolled and with which the messages that our Council wishes to portray could be contaminated by association.

It requests the Mayor to commission a report from appropriate officers to establish the parameters for our use of social media and the checks and balances that it would employ to ensure it uses only outlets where proper controls are in place to monitor hate speech and remove it; and

Establish a system for regularly updating such a report.

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Liverpool Council Budget document hides 12 years of Labour blundering

Jeremy Hunt is making a Parliamentary Statement today which could make the cuts of £73 million + proposed for Liverpool even worse.

The Liverpool Council budget document which was issued last night is a calamitous document for Liverpool. The £73 millions of cuts will hit hard at the services such as street cleaning, neighbourhood services and care of our old and young people alike.

All councils have been badly hit by events of the past year with rocketing wage, power and other costs. Liverpool faces a double whammy caused by more than a decade of incompetent leadership.

An immediate problem is that we do not know if this will be enough for two reasons. Firstly, the Chief Finance Officer has warned that the prosed cuts will need to be the subject of detailed work to ensure their deliverability and secondly almost every day new problems within the Council are being unearthed.

More than £150,000,000 was lost, wasted or failed to be collected during Joe Anderson’s era a situation which is perpetuated today by the fact that Liverpool has a dire collection rate for business and personal taxes which must be improved. Of course, we must do our best in difficult times to protect those who cannot pay. However, I suspect that the laxity with which the Council approached both business and personal tax collections led people who could pay not to pay.

Whilst all the attention of the Caller Report, Government statements and the work of the Commissioners has centred on contract poor performance and scandals in the Regeneration Department these are not the big spenders. 70% of the base budget of the Council is spent on adult and children’s social care and not the things like street cleaning, lighting and bin emptying that taxpayers want to see. There is one child with sever behavioural problems that cost the council more than £250,000 a year to look after. Liverpool is by no means alone in this.

Despite clear evidence that the population was ageing, and more children were being taken into care little effort was made to introduce new methods of working to resolve issues inside families before they became critical. Many councils have adopted a family-centric approach to dealing with social care issues. They do much work up stream while problems are small to prevent them become large ones further down the line.

Elderly people, that means people my age, are often ending up in hospital because not enough has been done to keep people healthy. That means that people end up in expensive residential care or hospitals when they do not need to be there and would prefer to be in their own home. Do the right things and we will be able to delay the onset of serious problems for up to five years meaning less cost and better lives.

Young people can drift into the care and criminal systems very early in their life as they suffer from lack of parental control and support. I am chairing a meeting in London next month to get more organisations to support care leavers as they make up a very high proportion of street homeless, drug abusers and petty criminals.

I am particularly saddened about two things. It would appear that the small amount of money that has been given to councillors to provide funding for small local projects will be removed over three years. In Church Ward we use the very small amount of money that we get to provide help, usually in £250-£350 chunks, to the charities, citizens groups and other organisations who do great things for our residents.

The budget documents hide the fact that this year the Council will pay more than £2 million for the Commissioners, consultants and advisers as we make a start on a long journey to becoming a normal council.

There is £906,000 which for this year and the next 18 years will be paid in loan repayments and interest for the over spend and over run on Lime Street.

What has also been concealed from view is the precise effect of the electricity debacle from earlier this year. Has £8 million or £16 million been taken from this year’s reserves to pay for this which will need to be met from next year’s budget. Will schools be reimbursed for this monstrous mistake? These are not distant matters about cash. Schools are warning that this will cost jobs of teachers and classroom assistants at a time when they are still facing post-Covid problems.

Over all of this hangs the spectre of even more reductions in Government grant which may be revealed in today’s autumn statement and which will be made clear in the local government financial statement which should be with the council by mid-December but may be as late as mid-January. Our national body, the Local Government Association, has suggested that to meet the pressures on local government generally a 20% increase in council tax is required.

There are rumours that the current rule that we must hold a referendum if we want to put council tax up by more than 2.9% will be removed. That will not solve Liverpool’s problems. 60% of our residents already live on the margins of poverty. Taxing them more will mean the very poor being taxed to pay for the extremely poor.

That is why I have suggested that our Liverpool City Region leadership should invite Sunak, Gove and Hunt to Liverpool to see for themselves the scale and nature of the problems. Sending them a letter, which we do repeatedly, just will not do the trick. Unless they are prepared to admit that they are abandoning any concept of ‘Levelling Up’ then they need to see for themselves that what they are proposing will be ‘Levelling Down.

The people of Liverpool are caught between a rock of Labour incompetence and the hard place of Tory indifference. It will be the people who will suffer with an appalling reduction the services to meet the basic needs of them, their families, their communities and the city as a whole.

The Labour Party are about to ballot for a new Leader to replace Joanne Anderson from next May. Changing the Labour leadership is not enough. Most of the rumoured contenders were part of the successive Joe Anderson Cabinets which brough Liverpool to its knees.

Liverpool will not benefit from a shuffling around of Labour’s deckchairs. It needs a change in Party control which the Liberal Democrats will be pressing for in the May 2023 all-up elections.

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The price of 42 days of the incompetent Truss Government – £33 billion!

This dim duo cost us more than £33 billion in the short-term in just 42 days. How much more we may never know but the consequences will haunt us for years to come

So now we have been told by the Office of Budget Responsibility that the cost to the Government was about £32 billion but that is only in the short term. In the panic of mini budget (which, of course, was not a budget) the £ plummeted and interest rates soared.

The long-term costs to the Government alone will be many times the short-term costs. The Bank of England effectively had to pump more money into the economy although not the £60 billion they first thought might be needed. That has locked in high interest rates on what borrowed in some cases for up to £20 years.

The slump of the pound against the dollar meant that we bought many commodities, most importantly oil, at a higher price than we should have done which will have affected our balance of payment problems which were already acute because of Brexit.

The real cost, however, is probably impossible to calculate but huge. Any reputation that the UK had as a centre of global financial probity was shredded within those days. Competent, stable and reliable are three of the key words that are in global investors minds when they considered where to place their liquid assets or where to put in hard investment such as new factories and other types of investment.

A good reputation takes years to build up but can be reduced to tatters in just a few days and that is where the United Kingdom is today. The Government rightly say that there are global problems that have been caused by the war in Ukraine and a rise in interest rates caused by a raft of problems. That is absolutely true but no-one should be under the illusion that this Country is not doing well by an international yard stick.

Growth is the lowest in the G7 and one of the lowest in the G20. Inflation is the highest in the G7 and one of the highest in the G20. Despite the fact that we have more of our own gas and oil than most European countries our fuel bills have gone up more than most of the others with the probable exception of Norway.

All this will have long-term consequences for the country’s future with an impact on jobs, the economy and our ability to generate the tax returns to provide the much needed boost in services such as the NHS that are so badly needed.

Those interest rates will also impact the housing market. They too have become locked in. This itself is not entirely unwelcome. House payment cost caused by low interest rates have been abnormally low which means that people cold ‘afford’ to pay more which forced house prices up. Since 2008 the amount that people could get for saving their cash has been negative. What they took out at the end of the year could but less than if they bought stuff or services at the beginning of the year.

This has really adverse consequences to those who want to get on the housing ladder, move because of a job or need to move because of changed family circumstances.

This Thursday there will be the second mini budget in as many months. The Government will try and blame everyone except themselves and their predecessors. It will be Labour’s fault, the media for not really understanding the Tory position, Putin, the EU, the markets etc. It will totally try and blank out the fact that the UK has been in continued decline since 2016 but that this decline was greatly accelerated by Truss and the Government’s incompetence in dealing with Covid.

What happened in 2016? Let me remind you. We voted to leave the safety and security of the EU. The Pound started to decline from about 1.35 to the dollar to about the 1.14 it is now. If we had kept that exchange rate but working in commonality with the other European nations our petrol bill would be at least 15p per litre lower than it. You can do similar sums across all sort of products and factor in not only the exchange rate but also the associated costs of new border and health controls and the way that goods have often had to be rerouted to and from us at enormous cost.

The results in the USA have given me hope that the copy-Trumpism that we have seen in the British Tory Party will be pushed back at the next General Election. It was never as deep-rooted as in the USA AND we don’t have guns either! But what will they be replaced with?

If it is just a  Labour Government their Leader Keir Starmer has already made clear that even re-joining the single market will not be a Labour priority for Government. If Starmer does not even understand that unless there is growth we cannot do all the things like providing decent social care and decent housing that they and we Liberal Democrats want he is being as economically illiterate as Corbyn and Truss.

We need good solid growth, and we will not get it unless we reforge our relations with Europe who are our biggest and nearest trading partners.

Now is the time for political boldness not political vacuity. The only way forward is a post-election agreement between Liberal Democrats and Labour so that Labour’s political spine can be stiffened in this crucial area.

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The flag of Freedom flies over Kherson

Two young people married in Kyiv and celebrating their love in their Country

I have spent much of the last 20 minutes with tears in my eyes as I have watched a series of news broadcasts about the liberation of Kherson by the brave Ukrainian forces.

Men, women and children, the young and the old rejoicing in the fact that their part of the Ukraine has been delivered from the cruel oppression of the Russian forces. You can feel the joy, you can see their tears and you can share their pride. They are not Russian, neither are they the Nazis that they were portrayed as. They are Ukraine people in heart body and mind.

Some of them have been hiding or keeping a low profile. Some are not around because they have been murdered. Some have taken all sorts of risks to keep their society and community together. Today was not a day for reflection but a day for jubilation. They had been liberated, their Country is theirs again and they want the world to know that.

There will come a time when a reckoning must be made and those whose imperialist beliefs led to the illegal war in the Ukraine must be held to account. The problem is how. Putin and his cronies will never appear before a criminal court in the Hague. They will never be held to account in an international setting. We should not, of course, discount the fact that they might be called to account in Russia itself, not through a judicial system but an extra-judicial one.

People who wage war often end up having a personal war waged against them and they die by the bullet or the bomb. Not the best way in my view as I actually feel that a justice system will reveal more truths than a lynch mob. But power drains away quickly when losses of the magnitude of those in Russia are reached.

There is probably no-one in Russia apart from a small elite of commissars who are not now suffering. Up to 100,000 soldiers have died and leave behind their grieving families. Tens of thousands of the best and most liberal brains have left the Country. Productive young men have crossed the border in droves to avoid conscription. Millions have lost their jobs. The list of problems that Putin has caused are almost endless. They suffer for their Leader’s bravado.

I have been to Russia a number of times and I find that most Russians are just like you and me. They don’t really want war but want to have a nice warm home, bring up their kids and have a holiday. They love their football and sports and like many here overindulge in high grade tipple! But you can never escape the chilling authoritarianism of the political cadres. They loot and pillage their own country so why should they be concerned or have moral scruples about looting and pillaging someone else’s Country?

Does what is happening over there make you reflect on what you think about your own Country and the relationship between you and your Country’s rulers? I am proud of my Country and indeed represented it at a global level in local government bodies for 10 years. However, I know my Country’s faults. I am not blind to the injustices in the United Kingdom. I know that here too there is an elite who thinks they have a right to rule. Most of these are right wing but in Liverpool they happen to be left wing.

Too much of my Country’s wealth is in the hands of too few people. Tories are trying to ensure the perpetuation of their control by making it harder for poorer people and the mobile young to vote. There are people  who actually do believe that the way to make poor people wealthier is to let rich people heaven more. Yes, this is Britain today

But when I travel through the UK I see its rich heritage, its beautiful beaches, its strong cultures. I have hope for the future as I see people of all ages, races and faiths coming together to make my own city a strong and thrusting metropolis in which they can share. Although tonight, I must confess, my judgement may be clouded by the fact that my Bangladeshi neighbours turned up two hours ago with a superb vegetarian curry. They were having a family event and just counted us in.

As we have seen in The United States of America and Brazil I believe that the tide is turning on injustice and intolerance. There will be a General election soon and the over privileged will be removed so that we can attend more to the needs of the under privileged.

My mum and dad did not experience the joy of liberation, but they did experience the joy of the ending of a cruel war which created a grey and monotone existence, food rationing, poor housing and many deaths. As I look at the joy of Kherson’s liberation, I see the same faces and rapture on the face of those who thronged the streets of London in 1945.

Tomorrow I will lay a wreath on behalf of the Liberal Democrats at the Cenotaph in Liverpool I will think primarily of those of my grandfather and father’s generations who laid down their lives for my freedoms and my futures. But as I do so I will think once again of the young men who are fighting not only for the future of Ukraine but for my future as well as they turn the Russian advance into a Russian retreat.

When I hear these words spoken by an old soldier at our ceremony, I will think of all the young men and innocent civilians who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

“They shall grow not old,

As we that are left grow old.

Age shall not weary them,

Nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun,

And in the morning.

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM”

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What should us Brits make of the American Elections?

Thanks Joe Biden and all the people who flocked to support rational and reasonable Blue candidates earlier this week. It has put a spring in the step of so many people

Well, the first thing is obvious. The red wave was a bit of a ripple. The big loser was Trump and some of the crackpot candidates like Dr Oz that he gathered around him and then endorsed.

This setback for the Republicans is partly echoed in other parts of the World such as Brazil where the far right has been pushed back albeit by slender margins.

I feared for the democratic process globally after Trump got elected as his exposure emboldened the far right nationally. He gave them justification for using his tricks of lies slander, racism, sexism and abuse of power. “Look” they would say, “If the Leader of the Free World can do this why not me?” Over the past two years more and more has been exposed about Trump’s illegal activities. More and more has been exposed by the Committee on the January 6 attempted insurrection and the way that basically stupid and nasty people were manipulated by the elite to try and subvert democracy.

So am I smug about all this. In a word “No!” In practice we have our own mini-me Trumps in office in the UK. It is quite clear that Johnson has lied to Parliament. It is quite clear that the Tories are pursuing a racist and vile agenda over immigration. They only reason that do not build a Trumpian wall is that it would be very difficult to do so where the barrier is the sea!

They too want to subvert democracy. They have made it harder for very mobile people, especially the young, to register to vote. They are making it compulsory to have photo identification to vote from next May with more than 3 million people not having such identification. There will be huge problems at polling stations next year when people just turn up as usual but have no ID with them. Most will just go home.

So, there are two ways in which the Democrats almost stemming the tide in America will help us.

Firstly, it will make politicians think again about trying to ape Trump. (Is it possible to ape an ape!?)

Young people in the USA have been empowered by things like the attacks on women’s control of their own bodies, lawlessness in a public space way and lawlessness by lawmakers in a private and commercial way. Trump has clearly been pilfering not only the State but his own supporters. They have been empowered in Brazil and are increasingly being empowered here as well.

Secondly, it is important to us because whether the USA is the Leader of the free world is debatable, they are certainly the most vital component of democratic forces globally. The UK has always worked closely with the USA, well since the War of Independence anyway. We need to stand together with other leading democratic nations in Europe and elsewhere to keep our Countries safe, to encourage mutually supportive trade routes and to champion democracy throughout the World.

Most of us, including many Tories felt much safer when Trump went out and Biden went in. We have only to look at the Ukraine situation to realise how we need to stand together and work together on issues of international safety. Safety for us and safety for those who we need to support who stand between us and dark forces like Russia.

This has also brought up the problems of climate change linked to our consumption of fossil fuels. It has raised issues of how to feed people, especially in the developing world. Quite simply the ‘West’ needs to stand together and that is more likely if America has an outward looking and bold leader and not an inward looking, wall building idea of American exceptionalism as portrayed by Trump and MAGA.

Those are the hard issues but we need to be aware of the soft issues as well. The Biden administration and the armies of young people who have turn out have made a very clear moral stand. Pussy Grabbers are not welcome. Laws must be obeyed. Money and the amount you have available is not the most important fact in personal or national development. Greed rarely pays (please get Trump for the various charges that are being bandied about for him and his motley crew!)

Morality, decency and community values have been put back right at the centre of political debate where they belong. Various petitions and constitutional amendments have made clear than a woman’s body belongs to that woman and not some heavy-handed man or system.

So, for most of the World the USA has become once again a decent partner to the rest of us. If it was a person, it would be person we would not mind our son or daughter marrying!!

So, my thanks go out to Joe and Kamala and all the young people who stood in line as they queued for hours to vote. You have given me and so many of us a feeling. You have given us hope that we can also push back a Party that thinks that law keeping and taxpaying is only for the little people. That thinks that the colour of a person’s skis matters although in this class-ridden country it’s a person’s call that is more important than anything.

Let the people of the progressive free world stand together. Let us provide support and solace to our fellow travellers who do not live in such a system. Let us work together on all the global issues where we know only united action will work irrespective of national boundaries.

So, thank you to everyone in America who held back the tide. As I write there are still seats to be settled and control of both houses hangs in the balance. But if the Republicans do get very slim majorities, they will not be able to sweep through with their appalling agenda. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for the equally important election in 2 years’ time and hope that the dreaded Trump has been weakened by his manifest failures this week.

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Do we need a new social media route for messaging?

Like many Liberal Democrats I have been viewing with concern the developments at Twitter where it appears that a right-wing takeover of the Company could damage its reasonably justifiable claim that it is a platform for free speech but where extremes are moderated.

That raises to my mind the question as to how we should respond to this as a Council, as a Party and as individuals.

I have already registered on Mastodon which is a sort of Twitter although I have neither done much on it nor got many followers on my account. I have noticed though that a few people on Twitter have also looked at this route and have now begun to follow me. I can be found at liverpoolrichard@mastodon.social

In the short term I intend to do the occasional repeat on Mastodon that I do on Twitter and see what happens. I have about 11,000 Twitter followers and am in regular discourse with many of them, so I don’t want to lose them unless I feel morally or politically obliged to do so.

My concern is the way that Twitter could go. The new Twitter owner is an apologist for Russia at least as far as Ukraine is concerned. He is a huge polluter with his Space X promoting vanity trips into space at a huge environmental cost. He hides behind a veneer of environmentalism with his TESLA cars but there appears to be no commitment here other than to make even more money.

What he does outside Twitter is his concern. I certainly will neither be going into space nor buying a TESLA car although my next care will be an electric one. What he does on Twitter however is a matter of real public concern as it has such domination of that part of the social media sector. Within a week of taking control of the company he sacked half its staff. Crucially, to my mind, his axe fell hardest on the moderators who looked at content.

Here he may have gone to far. There is a laissez-faire attitude to such matters in the USA which is his main concern but, in the UK, and the EU we have harder rules and regulations on these matters. I can see a time developing quickly where our regulators will first place demands on Twitter and then possibly followed by fines.

The ultimate sanction will be, of course, banning it in our air space. I would regret  that because I believe in moderation and persuasion and not compulsion and force but if push comes to shove……! It is already clear that things are changing on this site. The use of the N word has increased 500% in just one week. It is not clear whether this is because of less moderation or because more people feel emboldened by the ownership change. Only time will tell.

The biggest test will be if Donald Trump is allowed back on. Twitter and Facebook banned him because of his lies and clear racism and attacks on democracy within weeks of him losing the Presidential Election. That will be a clear time to move out of the channel.

Already though the channel is losing a lot of advertisers with some big names not being prepared to risk their reputation alongside the potential right wing move in. They have already taken a big revenue hit for next year’s budget with pre bookings at a specific media sales event slumping. This might mean that the new owner comes to his senses and does maintain an impartiality and fact checking service which could be useful. The problem will be if he does not.

As an individual I will have an easy choice. If I am not happy with what happens I will just go and move everything to Mastodon and slowly build it up.

 Could we allow public information to be put out through a media which includes many distorted and impartial messages. Twitter has been very effective in getting quick messages out and the Council will need to replace it.

Should the standard media, such as the Liverpool Echo, which is now so heavily dependent on clickbait be associated with a media route which could be the exact opposite of the social concerns and policies which it claims to espouse.

Should the Liberal Democrats abandon the millions of followers that we have between us to go into uncharted waters when we need to communicate in as many ways as possible both on a day to day basis and an electoral basis with our residents and citizens.

It is too early to tell what we might do but it is not to early to think about what we might do should circumstances change. If things do go the wrong way the last thing that we want is to have no alternative options in hand.

So that is my suggestion. Watch carefully and prepare thoughtfully in case action needs to be taken. I have done my thinking. Will you now do yours?

You can find Mastodon at https://mastodon.social/

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