Putting the Mayor in charge of the Council’s money is like putting a fox in charge of the chicken coop!

Mayor Anderson has hardly spoken about finances this year but now she is taking over as a result of our huge electricity losses. We have to question her ability to do the job!

My Liverpool Liberal Democrat Group colleagues and I have reacted with incredulity to the news that the Mayor of Liverpool has completed a reshuffle of her Cabinet team by making herself the Council’s spokesperson on Finance. The move follows the potential loss of up to £16 million caused by the Council failing to do what every householder has done and secure a new fixed rate contract at a time of rapidly rising power prices.

Mayor Anderson, who has twice been forced to avoid action from her creditors by personally becoming bankrupt in her personal affairs, is not the obvious choice to take over the Council’s finances, in our opinion.  At least Cllr Corbett understood how the Council worked and had some idea of its finances. Mayor Anderson has hardly spoken about the tight financial situation of the Council this year leaving everything to Cllr Corbett.

However, we have no say in who the Mayor puts into her Cabinet which is why we want to abolish the Mayoral system and put in place instead a Cabinet system of governance.

We can, however try to do a number of things to try and hold the Mayor and Cabinet to account and open up the Council to proper questioning and scrutiny.

So Liverpool Lib Dems will be moving two major amendments at the Annual Meeting of the Council which will take place on 25th May.

The first will be to merge the Finance and Mayoral Performance Select Committees into one major top level strategic overview committee. We had decided to do this even before the news broke. It makes even more sense now. Mayor Anderson now already gets scrutinised in the Mayoral & Performance Select Committee and will now also eb scrutinised at the Resources Select Committee. It makes absolute sense to have one Select Committee scrutinising at a strategic level the control of the cash and performance of the Council.

The second is to try and place the Leaders of the two major opposition Parties at Cabinet Meetings so that they can challenge the Cabinet on items before them. Now opposition cllrs don’t get the chance to speak and challenge and have to do things after the decisions have been made. Giving the opposition none-voting places at the Cabinet table will ensure better reports from officers and better scrutiny of what they are moving by the Cabinet Members themselves.

These two moves will help the Council sort out its affairs in the short term while we decide how to run the City in future. Labour have combined cash and the mayoralty before when Joe Anderson also took the finance brief and declared himself to be an Executive Mayor.  There’s no one in Liverpool who would think that was a good idea.

I recall also that Joe had only had one foray into running an organisation and that was when we forced a pub he ran into financial meltdown. The two Andersons have more in common than I had thought!

Joanne Anderson appointing herself resources spokesperson is like putting a fix in charge of the chicken coop! There are at least two members of the Labour Group who do know how to run a budget, but they ae not in the Cabinet. It looks as if the people of Liverpool are the last consideration as Labour settles scores inside its own Party

The next 11 months will probably be tortuous for our City but at least there is hope that a rejuvenated Lib Dems will take control of the Council next May and put Labour out of its misery.

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Team Liverpool did us proud yesterday

When Franklin Graham came to Liverpool to sow the seeds of disunity we raised a flag showing unity, a respect for diversity and compassion for all

Now there may be those who read this who think that I am talking about football and am trying to ingratiate myself with LFC fans. It’s not my intention but I might as well do so! The iron discipline that the team and the fans showed during those difficult minutes of extra time and the penalty shoot outs was superb.

I think that this is down to discipline and leadership. If Jurgen Klopp announced that he wanted to stand for Liverpool Mayor, I might just change my mind and support the mayoralty. I don’t now why they did it, but I wasn’t so sure about Liverpool fans booing and jeering at the appearance of Prince William and whilst the National Anthem was being played.

I’m not a great Royalist myself and think that if royalty is to be kept then we need to modernise. But the National Anthem is about respect to our monarch who has given tremendous service to our Country and that should be recognised. Whilst it is our National Anthem, I will stand for it and sing it. I even know the second verse!!

No, the team Liverpool I am talking about was the way in which our City came together to show our contempt and disgust for the presence in our City of Franklin Graham who came, with a perverted view of Christianity and the Bible, to preach his sickness in our great City. In a way I’m glad he came. Few from Liverpool turned out to listen to him and the fact that he can, within reason, say what he wants here is a tribute to our beliefs in free speech and democracy.

As was said time and again yesterday Liverpool is better and stronger than Franklin Graham and his ilk. We are a city of love, openness, honesty, compassion and care. That does not mean that there are no problems with homophobia or racism within out city. Of course, there are. But when it happens the city unites around those who have been victimised and resolves to try even harder to prevent it happening again.

That was certainly true yesterday when hundreds of us came together to bear witness to that inclusivity at Liverpool Parish Church. The event was organised by the team at St Nicks, who are of course, C of E, and ‘Open Table’ who are a cross denomination group who meeting monthly to worship together when, regrettably, they cannot always do so within their own faith.

We heard moving stories of discrimination but more importantly we heard even more stories of hope, love and mutual support. As someone who is neither gay nor of religious faith, I was inspired by what I heard and joined with many others, such as the Chief Constable, Sereena Kennedy to show our support.

The event, albeit a C of E one, received a message of support from 5 other Christian faiths and was read out to us by the Anglican Bishop of Warrington.

I don’t know if there was a demo outside the Conference Centre, but I don’t believe that a demo is always the best way to make a point. It was far better, as was done at the Church, for people to come together to express shared and positive beliefs and show commitment to each other.

Speeches were made by Mayor Anderson and Harry Doyle who expressed his own problems with coming out as a practicing Christian. Again, one could not be unmoved by his and personal testimonies that I heard during the day. I was pleased that 3 of our Councillors and other Lib Dem members were also present at the event.

I wasn’t born in Liverpool although my Mum was born in Walton. I have lived here since 1974 because of its diversity, in so many ways, its inclusivity and its friendliness. Yesterday summed up everything that inspired me to come here and make it my home so many years ago.

Franklin Graham came to Liverpool to divide us and left having strengthened us. All those who came together yesterday were stronger than the faux Christianity he preaches. He came to divide us but left us stronger than ever.

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What should a good council look like?

Liverpool Town Hall and all the other Towns Halls in the UK should be filled with people who reflect the community but who also have the energy and capacity to be good representatives.

I was pleased to be asked recently by Liverpolitan, a new online news service in Liverpool, to write an article for them in response to another article about young councillors. As someone who was a young councillor but certainly isn’t now, I hoped my experience would add to the debate.

Liverpolitan is an interesting read and offers a different type of article, often in more depth, that can be covered in a rolling news media outlet such as the Echo or Radio Merseyside. You can follow them on Twitter at @liverpolitans.

Here is the article that I wrote for them:

There have been a lot of comments on the Liverpolitan Twitter feed recently after they published Child Labour, an article about the number of young councillors coming on to the scene in Liverpool. 

I was struck by the defensive nature of some of them especially from those who had been elected as young councillors themselves. Yet no-one has suggested that young councillors are a bad thing. They can offer a viewpoint and an energy that older members of the chamber might struggle to bring. A good council will use the knowledge and energy of young people as part of a balanced team where their voices can be heard rather than dismissed as it so often is.

I thought that I might contribute to this discussion because although at 69, I’m clearly not a young councillor, I was once and my experience of moving through the ages might help the debate.  I was first elected at 22, became the equivalent of a Cabinet Member at 24, and after 39 years in office, I’m now the longest serving councillor in Liverpool. In a variety of roles including as national leader of Lib Dem councillors I have supported elected members in more than 50 councils across the country, so I’ve seen a lot of local government – both the good and the bad.

This experience does hopefully give me a long-term perspective from which to answer two related questions which I want to address – ’What should a good council look like?’ and ‘What does a good councillor look like?’

So, to the first question. In a nutshell, a council should look as much as possible like the people of the area it represents. This applies both to the elected side of a council and also to its workforce, but in this article I’m just focusing on the elected side. 

“When choosing candidates, we have to be looking at factors like gender balance, ethnicity, age and class. Does what’s found in the chamber reflect what’s found out on the streets?”

Why is this important? Because having a diversity of councillors means that there is a diversity of knowledge and experiences within the council chamber. Different groups of people are impacted by decisions in different ways so having broad representation ensures that we keep our eyes open and our hearts sensitive to the different priorities of the groups that make up our population. That’s really important because even if our intentions are good as councillors, we can’t presume we understand everything or even feel everything that is important to our electorate.

For example, I have never been discriminated against on the grounds of race, gender or sexuality. I can empathise with those who have and have a feeling for their challenges, but I do not have that direct experience.  Perhaps it’s the same with generational differences. I wasn’t born into the computer age, so I don’t have that instinctive feel that younger people do when discussing the challenges of technology, the industries of the future, the pitfalls of social media and issues around how we best communicate with each other. Ultimately, each person has their own stories to tell, and the better our representation, the more able we are to harness them to improve policies and more effectively monitor their success from different perspectives.

All of this means that when choosing candidates to stand for our parties we have to be looking at factors like gender balance, ethnicity, age and class. Does what’s found in the chamber reflect what’s found out on the streets? It’s worth looking at some of the available statistics. In Liverpool, according to the last census data 51% of our population are female and 49% male, while about 14% are from ethnic minorities including those born in other countries. A wide range of faiths are represented. Our population trends slightly younger than the national average with the under 30s clustering in the centre and average ages increasing as you move outwards especially to the north.  When you start to look at profession and class, manual workers now make up a smaller proportion of our elected officials compared to when I first became a councillor, but that reflects changes in the city and society as a whole. The age of mass employment in big unionised factories like Tate & Lyle, Ogdens Tobacco, Dunlop, Courtaulds or, of course, the docks is long over, a decline which set in many years ago as computers and mechanisation took over.

Liverpool Council is currently completing a survey of councillors but the last one, conducted five years ago, showed that only 40% of elected members were female. However, the last five years has brought about a big change in that figure with Liverpool now one of the few councils in the country to achieve gender parity. We appear to have made less progress in other areas. Later this year we will have access to the first results from the 2021 National Census. This will provide us with the most up-to-date information about the make-up of the city’s population compared to that of its councillors. Those results should prove useful as we continue to try to improve representation.

However, and this is an important point, diversity is not enough on its own. Having elected members that look like the community does not mean they’d make inherently better councillors. Being a councillor involves passion and compassion; with a strong civic desire to serve the community. It involves commitment. It involves hard work. Being who you are is only the start. It’s what you want to do and how you want to do that counts and it takes a council chamber full of people with vision and ability to make a good council that is both representative and capable.

If we turn our attention to the second question, ‘What does a good councillor looks like?’, we can see why the ideal council is difficult to create. Your average councillor has four calls upon their time. In addition to what can be the hard and demanding grind of the job of councillor, they also need to earn a living, care for their family and help run their political party which usually involves a lot of campaigning and canvassing. Juggling these different demands is a challenge and the level of difficulty lands differently on different people effected by things such as time of life, financial security, responsibilities for others and many other factors. 

Being a councillor in a big city like Liverpool is a particularly arduous task if you do it properly and most councillors of most parties do.  The life of a councillor involves attending council and committee meetings, keeping up-to-date with the constant stream of information and documents, coordinating with other councillors from your political group, and undergoing professional training when necessary. And all the while you are trying to weigh up matters, figuring out what decisions you have to take, and the need to make decisions is continuous. We then have to work within the communities that we represent, fact-finding and campaigning alongside the many volunteers who keep community life ticking over. For many of us council life is almost 24/7 and 365 days a year.

It’s worth noting that councillors do not receive a salary. Instead, they receive a basic annual allowance which is worth £10,590 plus expenses. Those councillors who have additional responsibilities such as Cabinet members receive additional Special Responsibility Allowances (SRAs) but of course, many do not. This means, that most have no choice but to work for a living. Very few employers like the idea of a member of their staff being a councillor. The fact that we can legally demand unpaid time off to a certain level is unattractive to many which is why councillors often work for the public sector, unions or choose to be self-employed.

Outside of work, councillors have families and face the same pressures as the rest of the population. Those with added responsibilities such as caring for ageing parents or young children will inevitably have more on their plate than those who aren’t dealing with such issues. This is of course not unique to councillors but it’s worth noting because for some perfectly able individuals it can be an impediment preventing them from running for office or continuing their work once elected. In my experience, it’s easier to find the time to do things when you are a grandparent rather than when you’re weighed down with the challenges of parenthood.

Finally, all councillors except perhaps independents have to work inside their own political party undertaking political campaigning and policy development not only for local but also for national elections. What will surprise people who always think of us as politicians, is that party work often takes up a very small percentage of our time. More often than not, we tend to think of ourselves as councillors and not politicians.

All of these four factors intervene at different times to affect what we can do as councillors and even whether we can continue to do the job. 

In future, if we want a more representative council we need as an organisation to understand the realities of these four competing pressures on councillors and provide support mechanisms to help people cope with them. For example, there’s a carers allowance whereby councillors with young children can get some support for childcare activities but none for those who have to care for relatives either older than themselves or those with physical or mental needs. 

I often mentor Lib Dem council groups and young people who are thinking of standing for office or even sometimes those who have been already been elected and they often ask me if I think being a councillor is a good idea. My answer is invariably, “Yes, but think through what that will mean to you and yours.”

Being an elected representative is a huge learning experience which we often fail to capture. On the job, I learned how to speak in public, how big organisations work and how to work effectively within them. I developed many skills in political and managerial leadership. I also picked up a lot of knowledge about people, communities and the way that the public sector responds to needs and problems. 

I was lucky enough to find a job as a regeneration adviser which made use of those skills and knowledge sets. That was, however, by luck not judgement and no help was given to me to find work that would utilise my hard-earned experience. I think a major way forward for all councillors, except for old gimmers like me, would be to find a way of accrediting the learning experiences and training that we have acquired. Having people who know how the public sector works, can chair meetings, can speak in public, and understand how to interpret balance sheets and trading accounts should be a very attractive proposition for both public and private sectors if we could capture that and enable us to put it on our CVs.

For very practical reasons there are life factors which will inhibit the very young and very old from being councillors. Most young people want to experience life in a range of educational, work and leisure activities before settling down. At the other end of the timeline, I am finding it increasingly difficult to cope with some of the grind of council work. I can now only deliver leaflets for 2.5 hours before the knees go!

But saying that, there is an advantage to being an ‘old hand’. I have developed a deep well of ‘life experience’, some of it gained though my time at the council, but much of it elsewhere.  I’ve learned how to listen, how and when to intervene, how to make a point and when it’s better to keep my mouth shut. I now have the confidence to know that I know a lot, but also that it’s OK to admit that there are areas where I know little or do not have the skills required. Always strive to surround yourself with great people – you don’t have to be an expert in everything.

The question of money gets raised from time to time. Some believe that councillors should be paid more to attract better candidates. I don’t think that more money would actually change the makeup of the council, nor should it. When I was first a councillor, we only received an allowance of £10 a day which wasn’t a lot of money even in 1975! But it didn’t affect my desire to do the job. You have to do it because you care and because you feel that being a councillor is your way of giving back to the community that you live in.

I’ve had a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction from my years as a councillor, but it has never been an easy job. When people tell me I am not doing enough of this or that or spending my time wrongly, I always challenge them to stand for the council themselves. Being an angry couch potato or keyboard warrior is much easier and few take up the challenge.

Most councillors of all parties do their best. Everyone can help us to do our job better by supporting us with their time and knowledge in a positive way. If you want more good councillors think of ways in which you could help the ones you’ve got now – that is if you are not prepared to put yourself to the electoral test!

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Lib Dem questions and proposals to deal with the Crisis in Liverpool Council’s finances

Liverpool’s ‘Babes in the Woods’ Labour Cabinet have morphed into the ‘Lost in the Woods’ Cabinet as they fail to grapple with the key issues facing our City. (photo – Liverpool Echo)

Another week – another crisis at Labour controlled Liverpool City Council. A total failure of the Council to do what every householder has done – to seek a good electricity tariff whilst costs soar – means huge problems for the Council’s budgets but also for the schools and Merseyside Fire Service for whom the Council also procure electricity and gas.

Liberal Democrats are doing two things in the short term:

  1. Asking the right questions. We have asked the Commissioners for advice on two issues. Was the council’s budget set in March legal, given that vital information as withheld from the Council in the run up to budget setting and asking “should the people who line of control for procurement be put on gardening leave while an independent enquiry in the fiasco takes place?”
  • Making clear proposals to beef up the supervision of the vital Strategic Improvement Programme by introducing an all-Party advisory panel and a series of other measures including:
    • the creation of an improvements advisory panel composed of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and the 4 opposition Group Leaders to take a top-level review on the progress of the Improvement Plan.
    • The merger of the Finance and Mayoral Performance Committees to look at key performance indicators and the spend levels departments across the Council.
    • An immediate review of the procurement functions of the Council and bringing forward immediate steps to buy in purchasing capacity before appointing a new Head of Purchasing and the development of a new team.
    • All scrutiny committees being chaired by an opposition member.

This what I have asked the Commissioners on behalf of the Lib Dems:

“I am seeking advice on what has happened within the Council and the validity of the Council’s budget.

It is now clear, even without the detailed report that has been asked for, that the Council, somewhere, knew in advance about the failure to procure a contract for electricity. Not belief because there was reference to this at a Cabinet meeting in May although Cabinet Members clearly did not understand what was happening. In fact, they didn’t appear to know the significance of the report until it was publicly pointed out to them by the Chief Executive at the Cabinet last week. All this has blown a huge hole in our budget for this year of £5 million.

Labour should have realised how urgent the need was to ensure proper professionalism in the procurement part of the Council after the £9.5 million overspend on the Lime Street and Stand movement strategy.

Had the full council known I think that a different budget would have been arrived at. To put this in perspective £5 million is more than we picked up from the 1.9% council tax increase outside the social care precept. Or to put it another way it is 50% of the increase in reserves that was agreed of £10 million. We will now have to raid those reserves for this year to pay for the increase and will then have to find £15 million of savings next year to both put the reserves back in shape and add the additional £10 million that CIPFA are suggesting.

On that basis I need to ask you two questions:

  1. Was our budget lawful or do we need to somehow hold a special budget council meeting to introduce a new budget although we are already 1.5 months into this financial year?
  • Given that an external and independent review of the debacle is being undertaken should those in the chain of command for this decision, particularly those that kept the full facts from Members, be asked to leave the council on ‘gardening leave’ whilst the review is urgently carried out.

You will be aware from your conversation with Cllr Kris Brown that he is asking for an early meeting of the Audit Committee to bring these matters to a head urgently but advice from The Ministry via yourselves would be of help in the interim”.

On the wider issues it is clear that there is a complete failure of the Labour Cabinet to priorities their actions. This appalling mess that the Council is in illustrates why the Mayoral model is so bad. There is no point in calling for the Mayor to resign when if she did this would cause a costly by-election for a post that we might well be abolishing next year. I certainly believe that the Deputy Mayor responsible for finance, Cllr Jane Corbett, should resign and take political responsibility for this costly mess. Others, if not all, members of the Cabinet at all levels should also consider their position.

The “babes in the woods” Cabinet is rapidly becoming the ‘lost in the woods’ Cabinet. They cannot see the wood for the trees and cannot find a logical path to bring light into the murky parts of the Council which urgently need reform. There are three key priority areas:

  • Getting the financial functions right and abolish waste.
  • Tackling the failure of adult social care to support people in their own homes and communities leading to a huge rise in costs and poor outcomes for our handicapped and elderly residents.
  • Dealing with the problems of children in care which is blighting lives and costing a fortune.

Labour needs to be focusing on these issues with laser like precision. They cannot keep blaming Joe Anderson and his team for the things that are happening on the watch of Joanne Anderson and her team.

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New Mayor, same name, same old Liverpool Labour

In all the excitement of the election that took place in most of the UK last Thursday two items seem to have been missed by many in Liverpool. The over costly leccy bill and the screwed up mayoral consultation.

The Electricity Farce

The Council will have to pay up to £5 million more in electricity bills because it failed to agree a new contract on time with our electricity supplier. Whilst a high rise was inevitable it would have been much less than this had the Council kept to its own procedures and properly negotiated with the supplier as our previous fixed term contract came to an end.

That is of course what everyone in the City has been doing as our energy costs have been hit by Brexit and the Russian war in the Ukraine. So, you and I can do it, but a report has shown in detail why the Council couldn’t do it. There is much still to learn about this debacle but it is clear that we cannot procure big ticket items well and that there is still a spirit of evasiveness and a lack of competence in our officer corps in that sector.

This is not new. Readers will recall that last year the costs on the Strand/Lime Street work soared by £13.5 million + £6 million in interest charges, because we failed to procure the road improvement contract. It appears that nothing has been learned.

Labour have tried to weasel out of responsibility for this mess up, but they cannot do so. The ‘babes in the woods’ cabinet have now become the ‘lost in the woods’ cabinet. They oversee the key functions of the Council. After the Lime Street episode last summer, they should have doubled down on the officers to ensure that a seasoned procurement profession was hired and rigour, standards, reporting methods and legal properties were properly put into place. In fact, they did nothing.

Liverpool Council will not be the only people suffering. An equal amount of power is procured on behalf of our schools and the fire service so their bills too will shoot up. Make no doubt about it we will lose teachers and teachers assistants to cover this extra bill. To put it into perspective the amount that the Council will have to pay is the equivalent of a 2.5% rise in council tax or social care packages for more than 500 elderly people.

This matter has been referred to the Audit Committee currently chaired by my colleague, Kris Brown, who is determined to get to the bottom of all this and to make sure that lessons are learned and if necessary to ensure that heads roll!

Mayoral Consultation farce

When the Council first published its letter to every household about the consultation process, we warned that:

  1. It was a poorly produced letter that looked like some sort of legal demand and didn’t enthuse people into putting their viewpoint forward and relied too much on people picking up messages on social media and the Council’s website. Many people don’t recall seeing the letter so badly written and uninspiring it was.
  2. It was absolutely unclear how people could write in if they weren’t inveterate users of social media. We don’t all log on excitedly every day to look at our Twitter accounts or turn on to the council’s website regularly to see what it’s up to. Even the old standbys such as the Echo are not followed in the way they were when I first got on the council.

As usual we were fobbed off by an arrogant council that always thinks it knows best. However, they have been forced to think again presumably because not many people have responded to the survey. It would appear that they have put ballot boxes have been placed in 17 locations across the City so that people can look at something and then put their choice into the box to be counted alongside all the others at the close of the consultation.

The first I learned about it was when I read it on a Tweet!! The council’s website does not list the locations. So, to ensure that the locations are properly advertised I have had to ask the Council to let me have the details but at this stage, halfway in to the consultation process we cannot inform everyone about the changes through the letter box so we will have to use social media to spread the word so that people who know other people without computers can inform them.

My first reaction when I saw the letter was that the Council was actually trying to suppress resident involvement because Labour had already decided the way forward. Perhaps I am being cynical or perhaps it is just the absolute incompetence and arrogance that we have come to associate with Labour in our City.

What’s changed in Liverpool?

What has changed since Joe Anderson was replaced by Joanne Anderson? It would appear absolutely nothing. Still wild promises about the future and absolutely complacency about the present. Still a failure to get the council’s officers working to the big priorities. Still a total lack of concern for the waste in the system and the waste of your hard-earned cash which should be spent on the priorities that you want rather than frittered away in waste and mismanagement.

We’ve got the minimum cost to the City caused by Joe Anderson to be £135 million of Waste, mismanagement, failure to collect money and incompetence. We have now started to tally the cost of Joanne Anderson’s administration and have opened it with an immediate deposit of £10 million!

But help will soon be at hand. It is now only 360 days to the all-up elections next year. The Mounties will come over the hill in in our yellow jackets to rescue the City Council and to get the basics right!

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An incredible day for liberals throughout the UK

A happy group of Lib Dem councillors (and one MP) in Kingston where the Tories, who ran the council until 4 years have have just three Tory councillors left.

If last week Ed Davey had been heard to claim that in England that the Lib Dems would end up with 191 seats gained and the control of three very big councils and one medium sized one, he would have been laughed at. If he had then said that we would add 20 more councillors in Scotland and 11 Wales there would have been further scoffing. But that’s what happened exceeding everyone’s expectations. Let’s not forget Northern Ireland where our Alliance sister party added 50% to its first preference vote tally. We now now that Alliance have leapt from 5 to third Party as its number of MLAs jumped from 8 to 17.

Lib Dems largely took seats from the Tories but there were significant numbers from Labour as well. We took them all over the Country. In London the Tories were all but abolished in places like Richmond and Kingston where a Party that controlled those councils until 4 years ago has been reduced to single figure numbers. In fact, the single figure 1!

Outside London we had huge gains in Somerset where we swept past the controlling Tories and reduced Labour to a rump and stormed to victory in the former Cumbria Council where we took Westmoreland and Furness, a new unitary, with gains again largely from the Tories but some from Labour as well.

Somerset is, of course next to Devon where a by-election will soon be called in the Constituency of Honiton and Tiverton where a disgraced Tory MP has stood down because he watched porn in the House of Commons Chamber. That seat will fall to us as thousands of energised Lib Dems pour in to help. Loads of Tory MPs will be looking nervously at the results not because Labour did well but because the Lib Dems did. Reports came in that Tory MPs couldn’t even turn up to the counts in their area because of fear of meeting their own angry members!

Despite the early headlines Labour did not do well. Outside London, where they were strong already and picked up the totemic Tory councils of Westminster and Wandsworth, they did not make significant gains. In total they made 52 gains in seats, only a quarter of the gains of the Lib Dems and less than the gains of the Green Party. They made no advances of note in the so-called blue wall seats that elected Tory MPs in 2019. In many places like Newcastle Lib Dems made modest advances. In Hull the Lib Dems took control of the Council from them.

The Tories lost…..  everywhere! An interesting result came from Sunderland which the press and the Tories wrote up as a potential gain from Labour. The end result showed them losing a seat to the Lib Dems who also took a seat from Labour.  Well done the Greens who made modest advances from a very low base.

What a pity that there were no elections in Liverpool. On the sort of swings that we could see nationally we would have made 6 gains. However, as we could see in the Warbreck by-election Liverpool circumstances would have led to a higher figure than that. In Liverpool, as indeed throughout the Country, we look forward to the elections next year and gaining seats across the Board and across the City and Country.

These were local elections which have huge implications for national politics. We are eyeing up large numbers of seats which could fall to us and huge gains like this leads to more members and therefore more resources of people and cash. This will resume very quickly in Devon where we will shortly announce our candidate. In basic terms we are roughly back in local election terms to where we were before the coalition government. The Coalition is only mentioned by people who would never vote for us anyway.

Labour is not on course to win a nationwide election on these figures. What is absolutely clear is that they will not be in a position to win by themselves at the next General Election. The Tories will only be defeated if people on a constituency-by-constituency basis choose which is the best Party in that area to knock out a Tory MP.

As for the Tories I suspect that they will stagger on. The results were not bad enough to trigger an immediate call for Johnson to resign. There will be more fines in Downing Street and more nasty policies such as the Rwanda plan which will either be knocked out by the Courts or found to be totally impractical. Meanwhile, they have no plans for dealing with the cost of living crisis; dealing with the dreadful effects of Brexit or the climate change.

Labour needs to examine why it has not moved forward in the North or indeed anywhere really outside London. Why do many poorly paid people in the North thank that the Tories are the answer to their problems rather than Labour?

What this Country needs a huge change of direction. Strong action not warm wards on climate change. Proper relations with Europe and the rest of the world and not a hankering for the good old days of the British Empire. I truly believe that only the Lib Dems can move this Country on from a failed and tired politics and policies to a position where the UK is delivering the goods for the people of the Country and reclaiming its place as a confident and leading Country in the World.

Throughout the UK our 4 new Councils and 191 new councillors will deliver better services and better value for money for high levels of taxation. Roll on May 2023 when we can do the same in Liverpool.

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Why I’m proud to be a liberal today

My Twitter feed has been inundated has been inundated over the past few days with pictures of young liberals from the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and the Lib Dems campaigning for their liberal beliefs and their communities.

Over the past few days my Twitter timeline has been inundated with photos of hard-working people, many of them young, from both my political parties who are fighting in todays Council and Assembly elections. I say both because I am a member of not only the Liberal Democrats but also the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland.

All these people have spent months if not years working hard to get elected today. They do so, in most cases, with no certainty of being elected. A success today will not lead to a posh job or a lucrative public position. If people want that they don’t join the Lib Dems or Alliance. They want to get elected because they want to make a real difference to the lives of the people where they are standing.

That need is felt everywhere but perhaps more so in Northern Ireland than anywhere else. Alliance is by far the biggest secular party in NI. That is so important in an area where your religion dominated your politics and strife was caused by religious hatred spreading back over the centuries. They have been a major force for good in the region as they have advocated tolerance a liberal approach and being part of a UK which is part of Europe so that old national boundaries have a reduced importance.

They are firm believers in the Good Friday Agreement which has, until Brexit ruined it, been a major cause of a new kinder politics in NI and the basis of strong cooperation between the two countries on the island of Ireland.

Whether you are a Lib Dem or Alliance candidate you believe in a bottom-up approach to politics. We all go out to work in our area and see our ward or constituency as a place in which to do things rather than a place from which to launch a wider political career. I personally pick up the things that I need to talk about in the Town Hall for the hundreds of conversations that I have each month with people that I represent or bump into in my city.

That all enriches what my colleagues and I have to say and we listen amazed to elected representatives who make bold assertions about what people want with no basis of fact or reality.

That does not mean that I have no political beliefs. I am not a one man focus group just listening to what people say and doing what they want. But I move my political beliefs into practice based on what I know is needed and what I know people will support rather than blindly enforcing an ideology.

Perhaps it is best that we have no safe seats. I see too many people from other Parties who lay dormant for 3.5 years only to burst into frantic animation 6 months before they are ‘doomed’ to meet their electors. Even if our political beliefs did not suggest community action our need for re-election requires constant attention to the needs of our constituents.

The number of young people is particularly encouraging. Having entered elected life as a councillor at the tender age of 22, I value the energy, enthusiasm and fresh ideas that young people can bring. I hope that the way that I and my colleagues behave can be reflective of society in which people not only tolerate but welcome a diversity of views and opinions and conduct a debate in a respectful and learning manner.

It’s a bit strange for me today. We should have been having elections in Liverpool, but they were cancelled by the Government and a new system foisted on us by the Boundary Commission. I haven’t sat the elections out having been to help in three council areas where we are very helpful of having better results than last year when the Tories were on a high. Later today Erica and I will be hitting the phones in support of candidates in marginal wards where our help might just help those candidates past the winning line.

My thanks for standing go to all candidates in today’s elections even those whose ideology I detest. They at least have the commitment to go out and stand for election and put their beliefs before the people of their area. So different from the twitterati and couch potatoes who think that 100 tweets equal a vote or that an angry rant on a radio programme makes a difference.

Above all though my heart and hopes go out for all our liberal candidates wherever they are in what pat of the UK they are standing. As I reach the stage where I am readying myself to pass the baton on to younger liberals, I almost have a tear in my eye as I look at their enthusiasm, passion and commitment to our cause and their area.

Good luck to all the liberals standing today. Let’s hope that you get the results that you deserve and that your area needs.

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Only the Lib Dems can take out the Tories in Tiverton & Honiton

I’ll bet my last pound that a Lib Dem staffer has already been to Tiverton and Honiton looking for the best places to establish a head quarters. Local pubs will do well as the Lib Dem hordes descend on the towns and villages.

I’ve just booked some train tickets to take me to the Tiverton and Honiton by-election. Even though it hasn’t been called yet I know that we Lib Dems are going to put our heart and soul into winning this one and taken on the Tory sleaze which so disgusts people.

Some people are suggesting that we should let Labour have this by-election fight and step aside. That’s what some people said in North Shropshire last year. We were in third place there in 2019 as well, but although Labour had a good fist at the campaign with their Deputy Leader going there it was never going to be a fight they could win, and we had a huge swing to take us from third to first place with a comfortable majority.

The fact is that the whole of the Southwest has a strong history of voting Lib Dem not Labour in opposition for the Tories and that tradition goes back through the decades. Okay in the last 2 General Elections Labour squeaked in to second place but again that happened in North Shropshire well. The evidence as to who the challenger to the Tories can be seen in the three facts below

Devon County Council – Members

Lib Dems                         9

Labour                             5

Mid Devon District Council Members

Lib Dems                         11

Labour                             0

Mid Devon Council

By-election 7th April – Lib Dem, James Buczkowski, gain from Tory  

Lib Dem 318

Labour 67

So let me be clear that I am not saying that this evidence suggests that Labour should step aside and not fight at all. Far from it. I have always believed that Lib Dems, Labour and Tories should field a full slate at every election. It’s the people who will decide how to cast their vote and any attempt to tell voters how to vote will get short shrift from the electors themselves. It’s their vote to dispose as they see fit. It’s not our right to tell them how they must vote.

Sometimes we haven’t got the resources of cash or people to put up a full fight everywhere. That does not mean that we should try and reduce the option of voting for the people of their choice no matter what the local circumstances might be.

But people understand the reality. They understand it in Liverpool where the Tory vote in local elections has never been above 4% for more than 25 years and where the last Tory councillor in Liverpool will be standing for us in a very winnable seat next year.

They understood it in the Batley & Morley by-election where despite us standing and fighting in two wards with a Liberal tradition our voters moved to Labour who achieved a narrow win.

That’s what I predict will happen in Tiverton & Honiton. I don’t know who will win it, but I know that we will give it a good shot and that we will do very well.

My own preference, although it has absolutely nothing to do with me is that we should field a woman candidate because of the reasons that the election is being called. The fact that 9 out of our 13 MPs are women is a very good thing in my view.

Again, it’s nothing to do with me but wouldn’t it be good to see Dr Sarah Wollaston as an MP once more. She represented a nearby Devon Constituency firstly as a Tory and then as a Lib Dem. I and many other people, respected her greatly for her health work and behaviour as a Tory.

The first by-election I helped I was in 1969 when I help Ald Wallace Lawler become the MP for Birmingham Ladywood. I helped David Austick and Alan Beith get elected and then helped my good friend David Alton get elected in Liverpool Edge Hill.

My nose tells me that this could be another winner for the Lib Dems, and nothing is going to stop me playing my part in that.

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Tory callousness and Covid lies exposed by High Court decision

Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris, whose fathers died from Covid-19, leave the Royal Courts of Justice after the ruling yesterday 

Less than half a mile from where I live there is a very good nursing home for people, mostly elderly, with severe dementia problems. It is well regarded by families, the community and the medical profession. It’s where I will want to go if I ever reach a state where my family can no longer care for me. Yet just one month after Covid-19 became deep rooted in our Country it lost almost half its community to the virus.

It was absolutely clear that this was not the fault of the care home but was caused by the fact under instructions from the Government the Home had either received from the hospitals people that should not have received or were unable to take to hospitals those that should have gone there. From day one it was obvious that care homes and domiciliary care providers were not provided with the ‘protective ring’ promised by the Government but had been left to their own devices. There was no guidance, no protective masks or cleansers. Nothing except what they could get for themselves from the local supermarkets.

Everyone clearly understood the visceral thinking of the Tory Government. “These people will die anyway so we will look after others.” But of course the dying didn’t stop with the elderly in care. All over the Country their carers died as well, in many cases after having taken the virus home to their family and their community. In a way the effects went far beyond those who died to their friends and families who could not be with them in the final hours or say goodbye through a full mourning process. The stress on staff was almost immeasurable as was their dedication to their work.

All this was predictable and indeed had been predicted. In 2017 a major planning event had been staged by the NHS and Public Health England to see what would happen in a pandemic arrived. A shortage of PPE was a clear issue raised by the planning but instead of ensuring that stocks were boosted they were run down to save money.

Now there is some justice and clarity being realised about what happened then. A judgement of the High Court has made clear that the way that the Government responded was unlawful. Bereaved families have accused ministers of “sickening and despicable lies” after a court ruled the government acted unlawfully by failing to protect residents from Covid in care homes.

The High Court judgement disproves the claim by former health secretary Matt Hancock that a “protective ring” had been thrown around society’s most vulnerable during the pandemic.

By not requiring the transferred hospital patients to test negative for Covid, the High Court ruled, the government failed to consider the risk to vulnerable residents from non-symptomatic transmission in the early months of the pandemic.

Mandatory testing was not introduced for hospital patients discharged into care homes until April 2020, by which point thousands of infected elderly people had passed on the virus to fellow residents. Between March and June 2020, there were 20,000 care home deaths linked to Covid-19, data show.

The High Court’s ruling has reiterated calls for the government to urgently launch its Covid inquiry, which is not scheduled to hold public hearings until 2023. “After Partygate, the billions in public money wasted and today’s ruling, the need for a public inquiry to begin immediately is clear,” said Layla Moran MP, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus. “Lessons must be urgently learned.”

The ruling from Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Garnham concluded that the government’s care home policies at the beginning of the pandemic were unlawful because they failed to take into account the risk to elderly and vulnerable residents from non-symptomatic transmission of the virus.

They said that despite “growing awareness” of the risk of asymptomatic transmission throughout March 2020, there was no evidence that Mr Hancock addressed the issue of the risk to care homes.

As usual the Tories tried to pass the buck claiming that Ministers had not been told by PHE what they knew about asymptomatic transmission.

Dr Cathy Gardner, one of two daughters who brought the High Court case against the government after their fathers died from Covid in care homes in spring of 2020, called on prime minister Boris Johnson to resign after the ruling.

Here is what Dr Gardner said, and I agree with every word.

“Matt Hancock’s claim that the government threw a protective ring around care homes in the first wave of the pandemic was nothing more than a despicable lie of which he ought to be ashamed and for which he ought to apologise,” said Dr Gardner after yesterday’s judgement. “I think absolutely the prime minister should resign,” Dr Gardner added. “There are so many reasons why the prime minister should resign.”

The Relatives & Residents Association, a national charity for people in care and their family members, said the elderly had been “abandoned at the outset of the pandemic” and “let down by the very systems designed to protect their rights”.

Director Helen Wildbore said: “The ruling is very welcome as a first step to justice but bereaved families will be left asking why more wasn’t done to protect their loved ones.”

Speaking after the ruling, the prime minister said: “Of course I want to renew my apologies and sympathies for all those who lost loved ones during the pandemic. The thing we didn’t know in particular was that Covid could be transmitted asymptomatically in the way that it was and that was something that I wish we had known more about at the time.” So the Prime Minister simply repeated the lies about when information about asymptomatic transmission was made available that had already been made by Matt Hancock.

However, the risks of asymptomatic transmission had been highlighted by figures including the government’s chief scientific adviser for England, Sir Patrick Vallance, who said this was “quite likely” as early as 13 March.

Whoever had been in Government there would have been deaths. There would always have been mistakes made as Governments globally grappled with this alarming menace. But these were not mistakes. There was a callous disregard of prior evidence from the planning event and of the emerging evidence presented to them by the NHS.

These early mistakes were compounded by the ‘mates rates’ cash giveaways for useless PPE, an App that didn’t work and when one was created that did work could not be used by many, and a Track and Trace operation which was a farcical way to splurge £33 billion when other Countries spend a fraction of this on a functioning and effective system.

Honourable politicians would resign after this High Court ruling has examined and exposed their behaviour. But we don’t have honourable politicians in the UK Cabinet so just expect them to lie and bluster on.

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60 years of Liberal service in Church ward

The current team for Church Ward, Liz & Andrew Makinson and I carrying on 60 years of liberal service to the Liverpool 18 community.

I was contemplating recently the fact that I will have completed 39 years of service as a councillor at the end of this month when it occurred to me that there was a much more important anniversary to celebrate. At the same time, it will be 60 years since the Liberal Party, as we were then called, first won Church Ward when Cyril Carr stormed to victory as the first Liberal councillor in about 30 years in the City. He then became the Leader of a Group of 2 when we also won the St Michaels Ward!

History repeated itself in the last decade when Church Ward became the only Lib Dem ward in the City when Erica and I were also a Group of 2!

In fact, we have only lost 3 elections in those 60 years. Twice in the 70s to Tories (yes there did used to be a Tory Party in Liverpool) and once in the electorally hard years of the Coalition. But we always had at least one councillor for those 60 years and for 54 of them have had all three councillors.

The Church Ward of 1962 isn’t quite the same as the one that exists now. 15% of the current iteration used to be in Allerton Ward and 15% in Grassendale Ward. Those bits have only had continuous Liberal or Lib Dem representation since 1973 – so for 49 years! A large chunk of the former Church ward was moved into the new Wavertree Ward in 2004.

Church Ward will have its biggest ever change though in next year’s all up elections when it will be split into three. Ironically about 400 homes in the current Church Ward will join about 2000 homes in Wavertree that used to be in Church Ward to create – wait for it – a new Church Ward!! The part of the ward that I live in, which I always describe as the poor end of the ward, will join part of Greenbank Ward to form a new Penny Lane ward with two other chunks forming the basis of new wards around Calderstones Park. Of, course this is subject to the final recommendations of the Boundary Commission which will report in September.

I have represented the current ward since 2004 with Andrew Makinson joining in 2016 and Liz Makinson joining in 2018. It is reassuring to us that we do the same things in the ward that Cyril Carr did 60 years ago albeit with updated techniques. We have always believed that it was our job to be the representative of the community in the Town Hall and not the representative of the Town Hall in the community.

We communicate regularly with local residents. We still deliver a Focus or a newspaper at least 8 times a year outside election time. Now we supplement it with a weekly e-newsletter and a local Facebook and twitter account. This has always been important but is even more important now that the established media, especially local papers are in decline.

We knock on doors when there is no election on! That’s a novelty for so many people in Liverpool who often don’t see their councillor even when there is an election on!! We take the view that listening to local people is a vital part of our work. How can we speak in the Town Hall unless we have listened to people in our community? I’ve been out door knocking last week and some new residents were intrigued at the fact that I was doing so although there are no elections until next year.

We campaign alongside the local community on the campaigns that they think are important. These can be small issues such a localised planning application or drinks licence or a big matter like the attempt to sell of part of Calderstones Park for housing. The councillors can do some things and the community can do others. Working together helps things either get done or prevented from happening.

We hold advice centres. No longer in schools or libraries but for 4 hours every month at the Allerton Road Farmers Market. On a good day in summer, it’s marvellous and we literally chat with hundreds of people. It’s not quite as good when the rain moves horizontally and is freezing in winter!

We’ve had some luminaries as Church Ward councillors over those years. Cyril went on be national chair of the Liberal Party and Sir Jones, Jones the Vote, became the Party’s President. Mike Storey was the Leader of the Council and is now the Lib Dem education spokesperson in the Lords. All four of us have been the Group Leader! I was Leader of the Lib Dem Cllrs for England for 8 years. So, Andrew Liz and I feel part of a long tradition of service to the people of the community that all three of us live in.

Under Jones the Vote’s influence we pioneered many of the things that Lib Dems now take for granted. The concept of regular Focus style communication, Good Morning leaflets, street letters and petitions were all tested in Church Ward before they went on to become the norm which Lib Dems love and our opponents dread.

So next year, phoenix like, a new Church Ward will be born from the ashes of the old one. What Liz, Andrew and I all promise is that these standards will not slip. This is the way that we serve our community, our Party and our City and we intend to carry on doing so for the foreseeable future and train our replacements when either we or the electorate decide that it’s time to move on.

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