The poorer you are the earlier you’ll die

I’m not trying to virtue signal but I went to get my jab as soon as I could for both vaccinations. Everyone needs to do that and continue to play safe if we are to fully return to a’normal life

There was a discussion in the Health & Wellbeing Board of Liverpool Council yesterday about the effects of Covid-19 in Liverpool and the rollout of vaccination to prevent it.

No-one was at all surprised when the figures showed two things:

  1. That a disproportionate number of people from the poorest wards had not yet taken up the vaccination offers that were available to them.
  2. That a disproportionate number of people from the poorest wards of the City had died of the virus.

Of course, there are clear linkages between the two. Before looking at them in more detail let me update you on yesterday’s figures:

Covid illness.

In the week beginning 27th March there were 44 active corona cases in the City and a rate of 8.8/100kcases/week. Today that figure is 729 active cases and a rate of 146/100k/week. This figure is appalling BUT it’s less that one third of the rate in other parts of the North West, especially in the Greater Manchester area. There is a very clear warning that the hotspots of the North will not only fill in gaps in the North West but will spread nationwide.

Wards like Central and Greenbank were at the top of the illness problem whilst wards like Church, Childwall and Woolton were least affected although even there the numbers are still rising.

Vaccination rates.

This is almost a total reverse of the illness rates.  In Picton ward there has been a 57-60% take up in vaccination whilst in wards like Church and Woolton the take up is 90%+ This is not because the GPs, who are leading the vaccination process, are better or worse in those areas but structural problems of language, transient life styles and some aspects of faith create barriers which we need to be active in breaking.

In total 276,000 adults have had their first dose (61%) and 205,000 have had their second dose and were as safe as they could be given that no vaccine is 100% efficient.

Why do poor people die earlier?

The coronavirus has accentuated what has always been the case. In most urban areas there is a 10-year age difference in life expectancy between the area’s richest neighbourhoods and poorest. Remember how the Covid death figures used to be introduced? Something like, “1,000 people died today of which 900 had underlying health problems”.

Most of those problems relate to problems caused either by lifestyle or poverty and there are often key links between the two. If you live in a damp home you are more likely to have bronchial problems. That’s related to poverty. If you smoke, you’ll have bronchial problems. That’s related to poverty. But people in poor conditions are more likely to smoke for comfort thus creating a double whammy. If you have bronchial conditions the virus is more likely to attack your weakened system and kill you although, because of what the NHS has learned, the number of deaths or even very serious illnesses is mercifully much reduced.

You can take a whole range of other facts such as poor mental health related to poverty and loneliness which feature much more heavily in the lifestyles in deprived areas. They all increase your ability to cope with stresses caused by the corona virus.

How do we correct the disparities?

In the short-term we just have to get out their and vaccinate more people. We heard yesterday of the work being done by people of all faiths, community leaders, community groups and local councillors to get the vaccination message out. Busses are going out to the areas accompanied by people to door knock and encourage take up.

If necessary, people can be inoculated in their own home. But the figures are worrying. A GP practice can inoculate 600 – 1,000 people a day; a bus visit 200 – 250; a personal visit might cut that to just 100.

In the long-term we need to provide people with safe and warm homes; in neighbourhoods which are clean, safe and well managed and with enough money in their pocket to provide the basics and a few luxuries and a bit of a holiday.

“How can we afford to pay for that?”, some people will ask? The answer is that it is cheaper to the state to give people these conditions than give them bad conditions. So much of what the Governments spends subsidises poor housing and deals with the effects of poor health. Someone in a standard hospital bed costs about £550 a night. Providing them with a decent home which is damp and draught proof might cost as little as £2,500. Less money in the short term giving better lives in the long term.

What can we all do now?

Be safe and be sensible!! Even if the final vestiges of lockdown would have been removed on Monday it will make little difference to me. I have been out for a meal once since restaurants reopened and that was on a quiet night in a place which has voluntarily reduced capacity for diners by about 50%. I will continue for the foreseeable future to wear a mask in shops and on public transport. I will continue to socially distance. I will continue to have limited numbers of people in my own home for their safety and of mine.

As a Councillor I will continue to publish corona safety messages and to encourage everyone who hasn’t yet been vaccinated to go and do so.

It is our duty to keep ourselves safe because if we do that, we are helping to keep others safe as well. None of us are safe until we are all safe because whilst the virus still has people to infect it has the opportunity to mutate and create variants which may make even the vaccinated ill again.

I don’t regard wearing a mask as being an attack on my civil liberties but as a basic sign that I am undertaking my responsibilities to the community that I live in with care and attention. A mask to me is a signal of pride not, as some claim, a symbol of servitude.

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Councils should set the lead on public gatherings

We’d all like to get back to proper meetings in the Town Hall rather than at the Tennis Centre but as covid rates rise again we need to consider whether even these are safe.

Liverpool’s Liberal Democrat Councillors have written to the Mayor and Chief Executive of Liverpool City Council and the Chair of the Local Government Association to ask the Government to allow hybrid meetings of councils and their committees whilst the current surge in infections continues.

The organiser of the letter, Childwall Councillor Carole Storey says, “With infection levels rising as quickly as they are, we are reaching a point where many councillors, staff and members of the public are increasingly wary of attending meetings, especially if there are safer ways of holding them”.

We all want to return to normal as soon as possible. There are some attractions to having a zoom meeting which we could do before May 7th. It certainly reduced travelling times and, in some cases, assisted attendance by reducing child care and other problems with the work place of councillors.

There is no doubt that proper public debates should be resumed because they give better debate and proper inclusion of press and public. In the short-term however, it just makes sense to allow a hybrid system which allows the best of both worlds until infection rates get back to the suppressed levels that we had 6 weeks ago.

It would also surely make sense to allow councils to make that decision. They can judge best their infection rates and know the suitability of council and other buildings in the locality which can be used for public council purposes.

We know that it is technically possible to have hybrid meetings with some people working from home or in a safe office environment and some physically present in the Chamber. Unfortunately, it would now be illegal with the Government insisting that councils meet in person although having laxer rules for members of the Houses of Commons and Lords. Why there is one rule for them and one for us is beyond me!

We have held two Council meetings in the Tennis Centre and committees have been meeting in the Council Chamber. They just don’t seem right. For good or ill they lack the feel of a normal meeting and certainly cannot carry the cut and thrust which is dreadful if done wrong but very helpful if done right.

It is an attack on democracy if we have some councillors, residents and staff feeling worried about attending meetings and therefore staying away. The Government should immediately do two things:

  1. Use their powers under the Coronavirus Act to allow hybrid meetings; and
  2. Allow councils to set the trigger point of local infection levels for moving into and out of a hybrid meeting format.

Councils must be seen to set the highest possible standards of health protection. If people see us getting together, we will rightly be asked, ‘if you can do it why can’t we?’ This can easily be settled by a simple Government statement and use of existing powers.

The matter will also be taken up in the House of Lords by former Council Leader Lord Mike Storey who will seek urgent action from Ministers.

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Let’s rejoin the EU

One of the things that has been saddest about the none medical and care aspects of the Coronavirus is the way that it is totally obscuring the problems to our economy caused by Brexit.

In the last week two things have happened which expose the folly of the departure. Two leading protagonists for Leave have had to look at themselves in the mirror and see who caused many of the problems that we are now facing.

Lord Frost, who was the Government’s chief negotiator, admitted that the protocol deal that he and Mr Johnson negotiated has had a “damaging” impact on the ground in Northern Ireland. In order to get rid of Theresa May’s “backstop” arrangement, Mr Johnson agreed on a customs border in the Irish Sea, leaving the province under EU single market regulations for trade in goods.

Tim Martin the Jester in Chief of Brexit, but really the Chief Executive of Wetherspoons, has appealed to the Government to reopen our borders to EU migration because his tawdry chain of drinking establishments cannot get enough people to staff them. This is true of much of the hospitality industry.

Fruit, vegetables and flowers have been ploughed back into the ground all over the Country as pickers could not be found from the EU and Brits were not prepared to fill the gap.

Many Brits, some of whom voted for Brexit, have had to leave their homes in Spain and other European Countries because they didn’t have the necessary papers and some had been working cash in hand to avoid tax.

Liz Truss has announced a series of trade deals with a range of countries the latest of which were with Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland. Every trade deal announced has been nowhere as good as the trade deal that we had. The priority for the USA (remember the easy deal we would have with them?), Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Australia all have considered the first priority for trade to be with the EU and deal with us coming a poor second, if that!

The fishing industry for which we nearly went to the deadline for trade negotiations is being decimated by the deal which we agreed on their behalf because bureaucrats at the urging of buffoon Johnson had no understanding of how their industry works.

Financial Services Companies have been relocation to France and Germany either quitting the UK altogether or leaving a token presence here.

Student & University relations have suffered with the Erasmus scheme which has served us well for decades being replaced with a much lower elver British schemes which experts say is doomed to failure.

BUT NONE OF THIS IS OUR FAULT!! IT’S ALL THE FAULT OF THE EU. HOW DID WE KNOW THAT ON THE TWO OCCASIONS WHEN WE SIGNED A BINDING TREATY WITH THEM AFTER TWO RATIFICATION VOTES IN THE UK PARLIAMENT THAT THEY WOULD EXPECT US TO KEEP OUR WORD? HOW CAN WE BE EXPECTED TO READ THE MINDS OF THESE DAMN FOREIGNERS//!!***??

If you think that the last paragraph is bonkers, so do I. But that is the argument which is basically being put up by Frost and Johnson. After selling us down the river to get re-elected they are trying to claim that the EU should not expect us to stand by our word. This is very sad when the renowned saying used to be, “An Englishman’s word is his bond”.

Many people were simply unable to understand that when we left the EU we would be treated like any other third country. The EU member states are not picking on us. They are dealing with us equally on the same basis as all other none-EU countries.

I believe that the Liberal Democrat Party has sold itself short by making the assumption that we should not make a return to the EU a major priority for our campaigning. From the Kent Farmers to the Cornish Fishermen, from the car manufacturers to the food importers an increasing number of people ae crying foul. Day by day we are haemorrhaging jobs and businesses are closing. Yes, the virus has had a considerable impact on all these things. The impacts of the virus, however, have been greatly magnified by Brexit.

So here we have the considerable paradox that with a majority of the people of the UK now supporting a policy which has been a cornerstone of our Party policy since I joined it 54 years ago and which is vital to our Country the Lib Dems are running scared of promoting that policy because of their fear of the minority! It was right last year to concentrate on the Virus and associated issues. It’s just as right now to concentrate on Europe.

Everything that we said during the referendum and afterwards has come true. The UK is shrinking in world importance and that is having an effect on our economy, on jobs, on the nation’s wealth and on the employment and financials prospects.

The promised £350 million a week for the NHS wasn’t a mistake it was a downright lie. All services are being hit because we are simply not generating the cash to pay for an improved environment, better public services, a better public realm and enhanced job security which leads to enhanced mental stability.

My simple plea to our Party Leaders is take up once again the EU baton. Yes, some people won’t vote for us because we do so. There’s a risk and potential down side to any policy or proposals but this isn’t just any old policy or proposal. It is one that is dear to what can be considered the soul of liberalism – a belief in internationalism.

Let’s have the courage of our convictions which took 1.25 million of us onto the streets of London in 2019. We are on the side of the people of the UK. Let us not shrink from proclaiming our European beliefs and fighting ignorance with logic. Let’s fight to get back into Europe.

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Urgent Review needed of the safety record of Voi Scooters

Liverpool’s Lib Dem Councillors are demanding that the Council publishes details of all known collisions involving Voi Scooters which are operated by the Council on behalf of the City Region. This is now probably the biggest single issue which is arriving at our advice centres and emails with real concerns from residents not only about safety but all aspects of their use.

We understand that there have been a number of accidents involving the Voi Scooters but after two weeks have been unable to find out the number and extent of the injuries caused. Press reports indicate that 2 girls were involved in a serious incident in Liverpool 8 last week but residents are telling us of more collisions from Garston to Wavertree.

We do know that the situation is serious enough for the Council to have established a liaison group between the Royal Hospital and our Public Health team to look at the situation.

We understand that the Police are also concerned about their use but absolutely lack the resources to ‘police’ either the Voi scooters but also the increasing number of private scooters on are roads which are 100% illegal.

In addition to the safety aspects we also see a number of other issues:

  • Many are clearly being ‘driven’ by young people who cannot possibly have the provisional licence needed to use them. This can only get worse during the long summer holidays as we saw a clear hike in underage use during the Easter holidays. People need to have at least a provisional licence to use the VOI scooters.
  • They are being used on the pavements when they should only be used on the road. Something that can go at 12.5 kilometres an hour is clearly a cause of concern to the elderly and those with young children
  • Many are being used with a total disregard for the Highway Code which is causing alarm to other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.  I have seen many occasions in which users have weaved from pavement to roads and then crossing busy main roads with a total disregard for oncoming traffic and the safety of cyclists and pedestrians.
  • They are being left inappropriately and often block pavements forcing pedestrians and people with prams and wheelchairs into the road. The Voi scooters are big and heavy and therefore difficult to move if they are not ‘turned on’.

The Council has already acted to improve safety if these are being used in parks and have limited speed in parks to 5 kmh by use of a GPS system.

There are now proposals to extend the pilot and we need to fully understand the issues, particularly safety issues, before we can agree to continue this experiment.

The problems are even more acute with private scooters on the road. They can go much faster as the controls can be altered to increase up to a maximum speed of about 50 mph. Unlike the council scheme they are uninsured. This means that if they cause an accident to road users or pedestrians it is highly unlikely that a claim could be made against them for the damage or hurt.

We urgently need to get two messages across:

  1. That the private scooters are illegal and people using them can be fined and be subject to other penalties including the confiscation of the scooter.
  2. That these are not toys and if they are going on the road, legally or illegally, can cause physical hurt to not only the users but others on the roads and pavements.

In principle this is a great idea that is good for the environment and will help reduce the number of cars on the road, especially for short journeys. However, unless we introduce more checks and balances into their use it is an idea that will surely lead to serious injuries and deaths.

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Covid-19 – Here we go again?

Erica and I have had both our jabs but we continue to be Covid aware. When the booster vaccine becomes availabale we will go and get it!

As I write this it is clear that rising Covid-19 infections are being to cause serious concern. Albeit from very low levels, the numbers are once again beginning to rise exponentially in some areas. Fortunately, that area does not include Liverpool where the numbers remain less than 10/100k population/week. It does include neighbouring Sefton where they had high levels of the Kent variant and are now experiencing relatively high levels of the Indian variant.

It is abundantly clear that once again the Government failed to act in a timely and decisive way. They acknowledged the transmissibility of the Indian variant too late; decided to close down travel to India too slowly and let too many people in with little or no supervision between the date of decision and the date of effective border closure. This has meant a mini pandemic which could have been averted.

This surge will not have the same effect as previous ones because of the success of the vaccination. Huge numbers of adults have now received both jabs which means that they are 86% less likely to catch the virus. The vaccine also does two other things. It affects the transmissibility of the illness and it affects the severity of the effects. Transmissibility between potential people is reduced and you are less likely to be severely affected if you catch it.

This, of course means that hospital occupancy is much reduced as more people can be treated either at home or in wards needing less care that in the intensive care units. It also means less deaths.

So far so good.  Too me, though, it leaves three questions:

  1. Why has the Government been slow once again in recognising the threat of the Indian variant? We know from Dominic Cummings that they dillied and dallied in March 2020. They ignored scientific evidence. They failed to take action after the pandemic testing exercise in 2017 and they lied on numerous occasions.

So why was there yet another delay? Speculation is that it was because Johnson wanted to travel in glory to India to announce yet another dud trade deal. Perhaps we will never know but we do know that there a delay in taking the action that was needed. We do know that people will have been made ill and some will die as a result.

  • What does this mean for the virtual ending of anti-infection measures such as masks and social distancing which is scheduled to take place on 21st June. I think that we should be very careful of removing further measures too soon. There could well be problems in increased transmissions and infections because of this glorious Bank Holiday weekend. If the figures continue to rise at the current rate of increase, I suspect that the Government should postpone further opening up.
  • What does this mean for our effort to assist the whole world get vaccinated to control infections? There are those that will say that we should look after our own first. That’s understandable but does raise the question how do we do that? The longer that the virus remains rampant in poorer countries the more variants will arise. The more variants that arise the more chances that existing vaccines will not be able to cope with them.

We cannot keep infections out entirely by closing borders. People and goods move around too much for that. The front line of India, South Africa or Brazil is our front line as well.

So, what does this all mean for each of us? We must all make our own decisions about this. I will continue to wear a mask on public transport and in shops. Erica and I have been for a drink outside a pub but have yet to eat inside a pub. We continue to get a takeaway rather than go to a restaurant. We continue to restrict access to our home. We will not be jetting off somewhere this year but will wait until next year unless there are strong family reasons which mean that such travel becomes an essential rather than a desirable.

We’ve both had both jabs but feel it’s better to be safe than sorry. When the booster jab becomes available and we get called we will go to get even though we both had side effects to the jabs that we have had.

This is not just about self-preservation its about community care. Keeping ourselves safe helps keep safe our family and our community.

I am not attempting to enforce our view on anyone but just hope to remind everyone that this is not all over and may never be. Taking sensible actions is not an attack on my civil liberties or anyone else’s’. It a set of common-sense precautions to limit the chances of us and anyone else falling unnecessarily ill and clogging up the NHS which now needs to attend to a huge backlog of operations and procedures.

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Liverpool Greens Shirk Responsibilities

In Liverpool the Green Councillors shy away from taking the responsibility that they asked the electorate to give them.

During the election Liverpool Greens put out a press release saying how people should vote for them because they were the only Party with a 100% attendance record at committees within the Council. To be fair to them they did point out that the Lib Dem and Labour attendances were above 90% and only the Liberal Group had a poor attendance record.

Well that was not such a good record as it looked because they had chosen either to not go on committees like the Planning Committee, or were not on other committees like the Appointments and Disciplinary committee, which are hugely time consuming. To put it into perspective the average select committee if you are an ordinary member takes just 2 hours each time or about 12 hours a year.

Council meets 6 times a year so if you go on 2 Select Committees and attend full Council meetings it is a commitment of about 44 hours a year. Of course, on top of that it would help if people read and thought about the agendas! So, the formal commitment to the internal processes of the Council are about 1 hour per week for a back-bench councillor.

The planning committee, which the Greens have only now put forward a member on, can do 10 hours in a month. The Appointments and Disciplinary Committee, which I sit on recently had one meeting which lasted 51 hours over 6 consecutive days.

As we approached the Annual Meeting of the Council the Labour Party made a very generous offer in response to the Caller Report to increase the size of the Committees and some others so that each opposition Party could have 1 member on each of the 12 main committees. To do this we needed to suspend the normal proportionality rules. The law says that unless we do this the majority of committees outside the Cabinet must be proportionately balanced so that they represent the number of councillors that each Party has.

That made little difference to the Lib Dems because we are already big enough to have 1 member on a range of committees and bodies. It did, however, increase the committee places and workload for the other two opposition Parties. The Radford Party immediately agreed to a place on everything although given their attendance record whether they will turn up is a different matter.

The Greens approached us to say that as they couldn’t take up their seats would we take some of them because we didn’t have as many places per member as they did. Unfortunately, that is not true. As the main opposition Party, we have places on a wide range of committees that they are simply not on at all and some of those committees have sub committees!

For example, Lib Dems are on the Appointments & Disciplinary Committee; Health & Wellbeing Board, Port Health Authority and Fire Authority. We carry a much bigger workload on complex committees than any other Party as Labour have more people to share places amongst and the other two opposition Parties are too small to be on a lot of committees. We haven’t moaned about that. We accepted our responsibilities because that’s what we had told the electorate that we do – play a full part in the Council and hold Labour to account.

There was another problem with taking their unwanted seats – it would have been illegal! As the Council papers made clear if any opposition party did not take up their seats, they would have to go to Labour under the proportionality laws. That is precisely what happened with the Greens not taking up their positions on 4 main committees – they automatically went to Labour.

The Greens new Councillor in St Michaels went on to defend the Greens position on two grounds:

Firstly, that we were discriminating against them because 3 out of 4 of them have child care responsibilities. No one could be more aware of those difficulties than me. When Erica and I were young councillors we too had childcare responsibilities and somehow managed to juggle a two councillor, two child household with two jobs and a ward to look after and major roles within the Council. The difference now from then is that councillors with childcare or other caring responsibilities can claim an allowance to buy in support and we all get paid £10,500 a year.

It is entirely right that this support should be available. If we did not provide it, we would indeed be discriminating against certain categories of resident which would prevent them becoming councillors.

Secondly, she claimed that, “we are all very dedicated to our communities and sit on a number of outside panels and bodies”. Well that is not unique to the Greens. The hallmark of being a Lib Dem councillor, which is acknowledged even by our opponents, is the hard work we do within our Wards. It is also true of many councillors in other Parties.

Normally, I ignore the Greens because they make no impact within the Council and we can see how, although the Greens made modest advances throughout England, they have maintained the same number of seats in Liverpool since 2014 whilst our numbers are 6 times the number in 2014. I’ve made a point of responding to their latest position because of the sanctimonious press release they put out prior to the elections.

The simple fact is that the Greens were not prepared to take up positions which would have meant, with the exception of the Leader, just 1 hour per week on average per Councillor. They asked us to do something that would be illegal and therefore would have been ruled out by the Council’s legal officers.

We will be reminding people of this repeatedly whenever the Greens pipe up in council or elsewhere about issues that arise in subject areas that they chose not to cover. The electorate gave them a job to do and they have shirked that responsibility.

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Scrutiny to become more powerful in Liverpool?

Cllr Kris will be nominated tomorrow to the post of Chair of the new and powerful Audit Committee. This is an important job and will spend much time in the next couple fo years delving into the bad practices of the past.

News that Lib Dem Councillor, Kris Brown, is to be nominated as Chair of the new independent Audit Committee tomorrow after agreement between Labour and Lib Dem Parties should be a sign that the scrutiny process will become more important in in all the work of the City Council.

I’ll find that immensely satisfying. Over the past decade I have raised issue after issue as have my Lib Dem colleagues. Faced with a granite wall of resistance from both officers and members in the past we have been unable to expose the many problems which were manifest within the Council. Three things happened in sequence which are leading to continual change:

Firstly, a new Chief Executive was appointed three years ago who wasn’t prepared to put up with such behaviour. He commissioned an internal audit report the results of which led to……

Secondly, the Police being called in. There are now 6 extant police investigations into the Council and I am hopeful that action will take place over the summer. This led to…..

Thirdly, the BVI Inspection by Max Caller and team. They had statutory powers of investigation and were able to delve into the Council. They provided valuable back up and information about the Council to he Police who, will all due respect, didn’t have the necessary expertise in Council procedures to look at some of the things that needed looking at. This led to…….

The production of a report with a series of almost mandatory instructions to the Council to change many of its procedures.

Of these the most important in my view is the creation of the standalone Audit Committee.

The new Audit Committee will have much wider scope than on previous occasions and the new Chair will be able to report directly to the Mayor, Cabinet and Full Council on committee findings. It is expected to be the local council equivalent of the powerful Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons. In short it will be the most important Committee of the Council outside Cabinet and it alone can insist on its reports being sent to both Cabinet and direct to full council.

It will be supported by an outside expert who can guide the committee in its work who is likely to be an experienced former Chief Finance Officer of a Council or similar body. It will control the internal and external audit functions of the Council. It can look at anything it pleases subject only to common sense and budgetary constraints.

It will also be able to look at the effectiveness of processes. Clearly, we can see from the Caller Report and other reports which have been submitted to meetings that for legal reasons had to be private that basic processes which should have applied to the use of taxpayers’ resources have been absent. These processes must be improved and wherever possible absolutely transparent.

Although standalone it will clearly work closely with the Finance & Resources Committee on which our Deputy Leader Andrew Makinson is our spokesperson and the Mayoral and Performance Select Committee on which I am the Lib Dem Lead. These three Committees should be able to drive up performance providing the Cabinet Members and senior officers are supportive of changes which might be needed.

Speaking after the agreement between Labour and the Liberal Democrats had been reached Cllr Kris Brown said,

“I am very pleased to be accepting the role of Chair of the new Audit Committee. As we move forward as a council following the Caller investigation, the move to give opposition parties a greater say in the scrutiny of the council is welcomed. Despite my political affiliation, I will be fair and co-operative with all members of the council, as well as being robust in holding this administration to account alongside my Liberal Democrat colleagues”.

To my mind this is exactly the right approach. The scrutiny committees were called Select Committees at my instigation 20 years ago. The idea was that they would be independent and hold the Executive of Cabinet and senior members to account in a pragmatic and none-Party political way in the same way that the House of Commons and House of Lords Committees do for most of the time.

This is how they worked for much of when we controlled the Council. They stopped being that way when the Mayoralty was created in 2012. That summer an email went to all members of the Labour Group saying that the committees could only criticise the Cabinet if the Mayor agreed! All independent scrutiny of the Select Committee ceased.

Only time will tell if the current Mayor Anderson and her Cabinet are more amenable to openness and justified criticism than the last Mayor Anderson and Cabinet.

In return those of us who engage in scrutiny must be fair minded. If the Cabinet is trying hard to do things differently it will make mistakes. If they recognise that and openly agree to correct them things will be fine. If they get all defensive then we are back to business as usual.

I can only be optimistic in the short term about the changes in our practices and behaviour that might ensue. If I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it.

I wish Kris Brown best wishes in this important job. I’m sure that he will do it well not for the Lib Dem Group but for the Council as a whole and ultimately for the people of Liverpool.

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Martin Bashir – who now gives a damn?

Since the days of King George V there has been a huge link between the BBC and the Royals. That works to the advantage of both Parties but perhaps they and the Country would be better off if there was less of a royal fixation

Over the past couple of days, I have talked to many people about many things both local and national. One subject that has not crossed my lips or those of anyone that I have conversed with is the BBC and Martin Bashir. This is quite amazing given that it has taken such prominence in our national and social media.

I believe that what Bashir did was wrong and the BBC should have had checks and safeguards in place to ensure a fair treatment of anyone who is the subject of such intense scrutiny. All that, however, was 25 years ago. So much has changed since then and I really hope that the BBC has changed with the times and such a dark episode would not be repeated.

It’s quite clear that the programme did not change the nature of the marriage between Charles and Diana. 40%+ of marriages end in divorce, many within a few years and more when ‘the children have grown up’. There was clearly already marital infidelity and strains within a ‘stiff upper lip family’. No divorce that I have seen is righteousness on one side and darkness on the other. It is usually a partnership that is strained from both sides.

I suspect that the problems were, however, exacerbated by media exposure. Strip away the royal flum-dummery and at the heart of the situation is a Mum, Dad and two lads. They were a family in a position that relentlessly exposed them to the media and more difficult forces than most in which their family circumstances were discussed by people with nothing more than a desire to gossip over a cup of tea and a prurient interest.

Even people like me who are regularly exposed to a public scourging by the media (are you reading this Liam Thorp?!) are able to keep our private lives reasonably apart from our public persona.

There are two questions that I think need answering here. The first is just about the BBC. I still trust the BBC and so do people around the world and so do people in this Country. It is significant that at times of national celebration or sadness the BBC viewing figures are always far, far greater than the commercial networks. You could see that in the figure for Prince Phillip’s funeral.

The BBC question is, ‘have you learned and changed in the past 25 years?” The way we look after and support staff has hugely changed in those years but so also has the understanding of the need for scrutiny. It doesn’t matter so much with the printed media. If you buy the Daily Mail you know it’s likely to be a load of nonsense with a political bias and a Nelsonian blind eye. Television is much more potent. The moving pictures create a more powerful emotion and concern and leaves a much deeper impression. It is the job of all moving and sound media to remorselessly check their systems both in general and at each time a difficult circumstance which affects individuals gets aired.

This is not censorship. Decision makers in particular should be subject to high-level scrutiny. It’s something we choose to do. But Diana was not a decision maker. She was an individual stuck in difficult circumstances.

That leads to a second question for all of us. How do we support families and individuals stuck in loveless marriages and who are getting divorced? Women particularly suffer. The man is usually the ‘breadwinner’ as it is still women who often reduce their hours or give up their jobs to be the ‘homemaker’. That is great whilst the partnership is strong with the couple deciding for themselves who does what on a mutually supportive basis. However, it too often traps women even when the marriage is not only breaking down but where domestic violence, physical or mental, enters the picture.

The mental health of too many women and children suffer in a way that affects them for life. Often, they choose to flee with nothing in terms of finances or possessions just to escape. If they are lucky, they have a supportive family. Many are unlucky and have no support mechanisms except for what the state or charities can provide. Marital breakup, especially when there are grown up children, is a major cause of a range of severe mental problems which can lead to suicide.

So perhaps instead of indulging in tittle-tattle we all, and especially the Prime Minister, should think about the lessons that we should all learn from this royal romance which faded away. Perhaps this BBC mistake can enable a full and frank discussion about the ways in which would and should help Mr and Mrs Windsor rather than see them as Prince Charles and Lady Diana!

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A surreal Council Meeting in Liverpool

“You have an hour to answer questions about the Caller Report”. You may turn over your exam questions and begin now”. It wasn’t an exam but that’s what our first Council meeting felt like yesterday!

What an evening we had last night at our first in person meeting in the Council since March 2020. It was great for me. I just strolled down the road to the Wavertree Tennis Centre where, because of the needs of social distancing, the full Council Meeting was being held. So many of us remarked that it was like being back at school or Uni doing our exams. Chairs set up well apart from each other in a sports hall but regrettably there were no desks.

That was only part of the surrealism. What should have been an important meeting fizzled out when the debate which should have been held just didn’t take place. This was an opportunity for the controlling Labour Group to collectively and singly take responsibility for their actions. In some ways more importantly it was an opportunity for the Party to say what their submission to the Government meant and the part that they would play in delivering change. Labour did neither.

In effect what the Council agreed was the officer report with very few changes in it since the first drafts of the improvement programme came out a few weeks ago. So, the 91 elected members have allowed ourselves to be led by our officers. Mayor Anderson did move that the officer recommendations be supported and forwarded to the Government but said little else. She was calm and collected and very, very concise. This is such a change from the raging bull approach of the previous Mayor Anderson!

What light was shed from Labour from what was proposed came from the incoming Deputy Mayor Jane Corbett. In practice she added little to the debate but did begin to spell out the problems and the nature of the work to be done.

The only other Cabinet Member to speak was Cllr Doyle. He was more obsessed with criticising me for a light hearted comment I had made on Twitter about the ‘Babes in the Wood’ Cabinet that we have in Liverpool. When I was first elected in 1975, I was the youngest councillor in the UK. I soon learnt that at times anyone in authority has to be the butt of other people’s levity.

The former Cabinet members who should have spoken were silent. Was this a guilty conscience or an effective Labour whip? Who knows? In my view their silence was deafening.

We then moved an amendment which placed on record a number of the problem and solutions to the problems and in which I and my colleagues Andrew Makinson, Kris Brown, Mirna Juarez and Rob McAlister-Bell spelled out more about the problems within the Council, the solutions to this problems and the fact that the Council could change structures easily but more difficult and more important in the long term was the need to change the culture.

Cllr McAlister-Bell made an excellent maiden speech on the issues of changing to the single member ward system Caller proposes. He suffers from Chrohn’s Disease and can be stricken low by it on occasions. His speech merited and received a rare standing ovation in the meeting. Cllr Juarez talked about the misogynistic and bullying culture she had encountered. Cllr Makinson spoke about the financial losses caused to the taxpayers of Liverpool whilst Cllr Kris Brown spoke about the inherent problems of the proposed electoral changes.

In effect, we did what Labour should have done by raising the issues publicly at the first opportunity the Council had as a whole for doing so. Our amendment was put to the vote and on a recorded vote we had 14 in favour and 70 against!

The Green Party didn’t need to turn up! They put in no amendment and didn’t put their names forward for the debate. Their Leader was called though but made no attempt to explore the report but said he accepted it and would vote against the two amendments although he was in favour of much of what they said!

Last to step up was Cllr Radford whose two ‘Liberal’ colleagues were absent. He moved an amendment on proportional representation which would have made us look stupid in the eyes of the Government as it would need primary legislation. His amendment was seconded by Cllr Peter Mitchell an independent who is now allied to the Liberals. He didn’t mention proportional representation once!! The two of them were the only people to support the nonsense proposed.

I was proud of my Party last night. We were all present. 5 out of the 12 of us spoke and made pertinent points about the problems and the way forward. We voted together not because we are made to but because we believe in the same things and are mutually supportive. Our support for most of what needed to be done was sincere and our objections to one part of the report was well thought through and well documented.

Did I miss raging bull Anderson? No not really. I did, however, miss some elements of debate. Our political process is improved by informed and rational debate which can bring different views closer together and in which the public can be better informed about issues, problems and solutions.

Let’s hope the new administration will find some confidence, skills and knowledge they can respond to our reasoned arguments with reasoned arguments of their own. Otherwise Council meetings will be like last night. A pointless rubber-stamping exercise which failed to shine a light on the issues facing Liverpool and its Council.

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All sorts of partnerships are emerging post elections

Although our gains were modest on 6 May the Lib Dems have moved into shared control in a number of councils by agreeing sensible shared priorities with a range of parties on a localised basis. That cooperation should be the way that things are done nationally as well.

On Friday last week my friend Cllr Lucy Netsingha became the Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. She will lead a partnership group made up of the Lib Dems, Labour and 4 independents.

Tomorrow I am going up to Durham to help negotiate a new controlling group of Lib Dems, Northern Independence Party, independents and Tories. Our Leader there, Cllr Amanda Hopgood is playing a leading role in bringing together the ‘Durham Partnership’.

The key note of these two agreements and others is that they reflect the will of the people through their votes that no one Party should control their Council. In both these cases the partnership being formed is designed to get the previous controlling party out. In the case of Durham that Council had been controlled by Labour for more than a century. In the case of Oxfordshire, the Tories have ruled for almost as long.

In both these examples there is a real desire to remove the incumbents from power because of the way that they have behaved whilst in control. Unchallenged power leads to complacency and arrogance. In both councils there has been a strong element of excluding the Parties that were in opposition from the rightful influence that their share of the vote and their share of the Councillors should have entitled them to.

I hope that the incoming partnerships will be more generous than that. There is, however, a lot of evidence that such groups go into a sustained sulk when they go into opposition. They cannot believe that their rights within the council are reduced. In Torbay the Tories are only just coming out of that sulk after two years since the Lib Dems and independents formed a partnership to oust them from power.

The process in both these two councils who went into NOC this year is threefold:

Firstly, a look at what combinations of Parties is possible followed up by thoughts about what combinations are not only possible but desirable. Such desirability takes into account personal relationships within the Council as well as political programmes.

Secondly a partnership agreement is drawn up which indicates what differences the incoming controlling group wants to do that the last group didn’t do. If you don’t want to change directions and methods then what’s the point of getting elected. The agreement will also say how the internal methods of working within the partnership and coming to decisions about budgets and contentious issues will come to the fore.

Lastly, if an agreement on policies is agreed then the practicalities of who does what comes to the fore. Who will be the Leader, who will do what within the Cabinet and in the other positions?

In some ways much of what happens is not that much different to having one Party control of a Council. In Liverpool, for example, the Labour Leader doesn’t have to balance 4 or 5 different Parties but 5 or 6 different factions!

It should be emphasised here that all this does not necessarily mean good news for those who call for a progressive alliance to defeat the Tories. All these deals have been done post-election and not pre-election. People vote for individuals and Parties for a range of reasons. Often, they are voting for one Party because they don’t like another. They vote for one candidate because they don’t like another.

All told political parties are wholly unable to deliver their voters to somewhere else is doomed to failure. A simplistic adding up of the votes of a number of Parties to produce an outcome that we think is desirable is just pie in the sky. Having said that people come to their own conclusions. It was noticeable that when Sarah Olney got elected in her by-election the Labour candidate got less votes than the number of Labour members in that Constituency.

My own belief is that politicians should just get used to working together more and be more accepting of other Party’s policies and methods. We should try and be as inclusive as possible. The vast majority of councillors get elected for one reason only – to try and improve things for their community and the wider council area. There is a lot of common ground between most councillors about the pragmatic methods needed to deliver services and a better future for those they represent. That common ground too often gets dissipated by an unnecessary tribalism and arrogance with people defending their tribe to the end instead of accepting compromise and joint working and rightful involvement.

In Liverpool the Liberal Democrats have offered to work with Labour to maximise joint working and minimise confrontation. Of course, there will be times when we will vote against Labour on some issues. That may well come about at the first meeting of the Council on Wednesday. It seems likely that we will oppose a small part of the Council’s response to the Caller Report. However, as we do that, we will make clear that we support most of the recommendations and are opposed to about 5%.

I think that this is the sort of way of working that the people of the UK are increasingly demanding. Working together instead of interminable arguments. Cooperation instead of confrontation. That’s what Lib Dems are trying to do in Liverpool, Cambridgeshire, and Durham. We try and do it in every council whether we lead or control it or are in opposition. That’s what our troubled times need. I only hope that the other Parties agree locally and nationally.

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