Press freedom is vital with journalists being arrested in the ‘land of the free’

This is the way most of the World sees the USA these daysS

I had been meaning for a number of weeks to write a blog about the state of the USA. I do this because I have many American followers and because what happens in America does affect the rest of the World as well as affecting its own people. However yesterday I saw this excellent editorial in the Independent to which I have subscribed since it went on-line only a few years ago. This editorial is excellent so I am simply pinching it! The Independent is a great newspaper and is truly independent so why not sign up yourself?

When the phone rings with news of a reporter being arrested, certain members of staff spring immediately to mind. The Independent has people based permanently in countries with poor records for jailing journalists. We often send correspondents into hostile environments such as war zones and coups. There are events to be recorded and important stories to be reported. You can’t cover everything from behind a desk, and risks can be minimised and managed to some degree.

But this one was different. You don’t naturally expect the jailed journalist in question to be in America, the land of the free, a nation rightly proud of its First Amendment, with its reverence for long-established institutions from The New York Times to the Associated Press; a country where movies are made about investigative missions and scoops and holding power to account; where Watergate is just one of a number of journalistic achievements held so widely and so rightly in the highest regard.

And once we had adjusted to the shock of this out-of-hours call coming from the United States, one of the last places in America that we would have expected to hear from would have been Seattle, with its liberal air. Yet it was in Seattle that an Independent staff correspondent was jailed on 1 July while doing his job. We will let Andrew Buncombe tell his own story in his own time – he has earnt that – but let us take the opportunity to consider more generally what this incident tells us about journalism around the world and in the US in particular.

Most of us know, often because we have seen footage on social media, that journalists have been treated as suspicious by US police. While visibly doing their jobs, they have been pushed, attacked and arrested by police officers. At the end of May, Omar Jimenez, a CNN reporter, was led away in handcuffs while he was live on air, reporting on the protests in Minneapolis against the killing of George Floyd. Jimenez was released and Tim Walz, the governor of Minnesota, apologised for his wrongful arrest.

His arrest was part of a pattern. Attempts to gather information across the US have compiled at least 140 cases of police violence against journalists since the Black Lives Matter protests began. It is a pattern that carries an unnerving echo from totalitarian states around the world. It was only this week that a police water cannon targeted a journalist in Hong Kong. We live in an age where autocrats are gaining in confidence and populists in democracies are increasingly sounding like them.

We would not attribute the recent wave of police brutality in the US to Donald Trump directly, but his violent and polarising rhetoric may well have contributed to social division – and possibly to a view among some police officers that the mainstream media is some kind of hostile force. We passionately believe that America is better than this, and indeed we know that there are many inspiring examples of community led policing in many parts of the US.

Now more than ever we need strong, independent journalism to hold the powerful to account and to give people the information they need to build a better world. That is why we are inviting readers of The Independent to give now to our Supporter Programme, a fund that is used solely to pay for investigations and reporting that would not otherwise happen. We have seen this fund put to tremendous use by Shaun Lintern, investigating the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the NHS, and the errors made (and still being made) in Britain’s testing systems. His reporting has set the agenda.

We have a growing readership in the US – more now than in the UK – and soon you too will be able to give to fund reporting. We would like to hear about subjects you think we should look into – you can make these suggestions by emailing letters@independent.co.uk. One subject we are discussing is that of police conduct – it is, sadly, an important subject worldwide, with far, far greater consequences than the arrest of one Independent journalist in Seattle.

Whichever subjects arise, now is the time to defend the greater cause of press freedom wherever that reporting is taking place.

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Task Force needed to deal with Liverpool’s £500,000,000+ property debacle

The Council needs to set up a Task Force to deal with all the problem buildings in Liverpool like the Paramount in London Road where building work stopped more than 3 years ago

Following the collapse on Tuesday of Signature Living with more than £120,000,000 of losses I’ve has written to Liverpool’s Mayor, Joe Anderson, asking him to establish a Task Force of institutional investors to try and sort out the City’s property problems.

Although most of these problems were not caused by the City Council it is nevertheless our responsibility to put them right because there is no other organisation that can do this. The alternative is to have a new wave of poorly financed speculators buying up assets on the cheap and also of some assets never being developed and being left, like the Paramount scheme in London Road, in an increasing dangerous and unsightly state.

We need to bring into our City experience institutional investors who can evaluate these schemes commercially and bring their expertise and know how into play with these problems. Liverpool desperately needs long term and stable investors like the insurance companies and big long-term developers like Grosvenor and Bruntwood to come in and work with us.

We also need to try and bring forward the Company administrators who have individual legal responsibilities to their individual sets of debtors into a partnership with the Council which might unlock a better return of some assets to those whose investment hopes haven so cruelly abused”.

The full letter is appended here:

Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool,

Tony Reeves, Chief Executive, Liverpool Council

1st July 2020

Dear Joe and Tony,                                                       

We need a property Task Force.

The news that yesterday the main Company behind Signature Living has more than £120 million of debts and is not capable of being resurrected hardly came as a surprise. It was just the latest in a series of catastrophes which have beset our property market with companies who have used a fractional investment model and other sources of finance.

We can also count:

  • Problems with Fox Street
  • Problems with the original company that was going to build on the China Town Site
  • Problems with the second company that was going to build on the China Town Site
  • Problems with Elliott Group.
  • The investigations by the Police into a range of Liverpool based developers and our own staff.

The suggestion is that more than £500,000,000 is owed to investors and that most of it will not be repaid. I have seen no forensic examination of that figure but it would seem to be about right

I would urge that the Council should now produce its report on factional investment as it is clear that Liverpool has been roe affected by this form of investment than any other city. In fact, it has been affected as much as the rest of the Country put together. The main purpose of this letter is not to look back but to look forward.

My concern now is what happens to the assets in the hands of the administrators. In many ways it is not our responsibility to mop after this activity but it may be our job.

There is a clear fear that the assets held by administrators will eb passed on at the cheapest possible price to bargain hunters looking to make a killing from the Liverpool property scene. I hope that you would agree with me that they are not the people we want to see running the Signature Living hotels or finishing off, if they can be finished off, the half-built blocks scattered around our City Centre.

I believe that the Council should convene two sets of people in to strategic groups to try and resolve the situation:

  1. We should bring together a Task Force of institutional investors to establish a Single Purpose Vehicle to examine what can be purchased from the administrators, put back into use or finished off. At the same time preserving what value that can be extracted for the investors who put the original investments in to get the schemes off the Ground.

The Council has no legal responsibility to do this but I believe needs to act because these things happened in our City and it is our City’s Reputation that is being trashed by these dodgy investments.

  • We should convene a meeting of all the administrators of the individual schemes and companies to try and show that corporate action is being taken which might provide better return for the investors as they pursue individual winding up activities than they would get from working as individual administrators.

I have no idea how much this will all cost, how much money is still available from the original investors; what the current asset value before debts is of the schemes; what the net asset value (obviously a  minus amount) is; how much is needed to complete schemes to the required level; and how much will be needed by way of public sector subsidy to make sure that the responsible private sector can be encouraged to join us.

I do think that we must act now. The longer that this goes on the more the likelihood that some schemes will rot to a point or no return or that a second way of inexperienced developers with equally implausible financing methods will move in instead.

I would be pleased to discuss this with you but would state my belief that these or similar actions must take place as a matter of absolute urgency if our City is not to be permanently disfigured with dangerous and unsightly half buildings.

Keep Safe,

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE

Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats

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Liverpool zip wire will dishonour our dead and desecrate our heritage

Not only is St John’s Gardens the site of the Regimental Memorial to the King’s Regiment but to 14 other regiments and battalions and to victims of the Holocaust, genocide and other acts of violence.

On Tuesday the planning committee of the Council will meet to consider an application to create a permanent zipwire between the St John’s Beacon and the Central library. It may or may not allow this on planning grounds although I hope that it won’t. Tuesday, however, will not be the end of the matter. This ill-thought out project can only proceed with the support of the Council who, of course, own the Central Library and hope to make money out of this.

Getting money into the council’s coffers is, of course, a very good idea. Our precarious finances have been further damaged by the coronavirus problems. Getting more tourists into Liverpool when there are going to be major legal and personally imposed restrictions on travel and eating and drinking outside the home is also a very good idea.

But, as the saying goes, there is a time and a place for everything. This is definitely not the place for an attraction of this sort and I doubt that it will ever be the time either.

I have three objections to this proposal.

Firstly, St John’s Gardens is simply a lovely quiet place at the heart of one of our principal heritage areas in which residents, workers and visitors alike can enjoy some peace and quiet and take a break from the hustle and bustle. It is truly a marvellous sight and is kept brilliantly by the Council’s staff. Go any lunchtime during the week and it is always busy and bustling but in the calm and quiet way that you would expect from an ornamental garden.

Secondly, it will seriously damage the appearance of the buildings on William Brown Street which are a major part of our tourism offer. There we have three buildings which are a huge attraction for our City. The Central Library, the World Museum and The Walker Art Gallery are together a huge attraction to people wanting to study, think and be challenged by what they see. That is not the right place to bring in what is essentially a noisy and is figuring funfair style attract.

Lastly, it will do a grave disservice to the way we honour those that have given their lives for our City and our Country in countless wars and encounters. The best known of these is the Regimental Memorial for the Kings Regiment. Anyone looking at the list of the fallen from World War One in the ante-chamber to the Council Chamber at the Town Hall will know just how many men this monument commemorates. In fact, there are smaller memorials there for 15 other regiments or battalions. They include famous names such Liverpool Scottish and Liverpool Irish Regiments and battalions.

It’s not only the war dead who are commemorated there. Its where we commemorate the holocaust where more than 6 million people died during World War 2 but with other holocausts such as those in Rwanda since. We commemorate those how have died of violence and other more recent deaths and events. In short it is a place of righteous solemnity.

The zip wire will end all these three things. In fact, it is not one trip wire but two with people trying to race each other down the slope. It will not be a cheap attraction with figures of up to £40 being suggested for the race. So, this will be rich person’s attraction not something that children can use for a few pounds.

The suggestion that is made is that all the traffic will be so far up that it will be unnoticeable. That suggestion is laughable. The noise of the zip wire itself is intense. Then put two people on it screaming and shouting. You will know it is there and you will know it is being used. This will not be invisible. Wires will snake across William Brown Street and damage the appearance of that imposing street even when it is not being used.

For the council to damage St John’s Gardens; desecrate the appearance of our heritage and dishonour those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our Country would be an act of corporate philistinism. Come on Liverpool Council you can do better than this. Find another more appropriate site for the Zip wire. We have loads of space on the river front where this would be much more appropriate.

Oppose the planning application and then say that the Central Library cannot be used for this purpose. That’s the way to keep and attract more visitors to our City and bring with them the money that we need to keep our services going.

My Liberal Democrat colleague Cllr Carole Storey is proposing the following motion at the next meeting of the Culture & Tourism Committee.

Cllr Carole Storey supported by all Liberal Democrat Councillors who are not members of the planning committee

Zip Wire over St John’s Gardens.

Committee notes:

That St Johns Gardens is a haven of greenness and tranquillity in our City Centre. It is place where there are numerous memorials to those who fought and died for our Country and where we also commemorate those who died of genocide.

That the William Brown Street frontages are the finest collection of Graeco Romano style buildings in the UK as is St Georges Hall and that all these buildings are Grade I listed buildings.

It therefore views the proposal to install a permanent Zip Wire between St John’s Beacon and the Liverpool Central Library as an abomination which will:

  • Dishonour Liverpool’s dead and especially the Liverpool Scottish battalions;
  • Destroy the visual amenity of the entire area
  • Irrevocably harm the tranquillity of the Gardens.

It therefore requests the Mayor of Liverpool to remove Liverpool’s support for this outrageous scheme and withdraw permission to use a council building for this purpose.

Sign the petition

Meanwhile I have launched a petition which you can sign, support and promote. Please help us in this important environmental campaign: https://t.co/MATywrKzDj?amp=1

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£200 million+ plea to Government a missed opportunity to do things differently

Everyone wants a strong successful Liverpool but bringing together a load of pre-Covid ideas will not realise the potential of post-covid opportunities.

Last week I was handed, at one hours’ notice, a 5-page summary of a 180 page submission to the Government asking for cash for shovel ready projects. Interestingly, it had already been submitted to the Government the previous Monday.

I stated some concerns I had and it was agreed that I would talk to a senior Council officer when the 180 pages were ready after having to be revised from the Government submission because that version contained some confidential items. I naïvely thought that I would get a copy of the submission and have my chat before the report was published. Not so! The first I knew that the report had been available was when I received a press enquiry about it. I still haven’t seen the full report.

This is now becoming common practice in Liverpool. Any pretence at democracy has been put aside. At the last local elections approximately 20% of the population voted Liberal Democrat. The views of those people are being pushed aside and ignored. I have no idea when I will be able to debate the issues in this report. I suspect that Labour, Green and independent councillors will feel the same.

I believe that the submission to the Government for £200,000,000+ for ‘shovel ready’ schemes is a missed opportunity to do things better and differently. The sad fact is that if you do things the same way as you’ve always done them you should expect to get the same outcomes that you’ve always got.

It is clear from the summary that ‘shovel ready’ means that all that we are presenting is a number of preconceived ideas and projects that have been on the books for years that do not meet what the people of Liverpool are asking for post Virus. 

Liverpool residents want cleaner air, better transport; improved ability to work from home; better use of or parks and facilities in the area; jobs that relate to climate change with all the opportunities that this would give; proposals to generate power from solar, wind and tidal sources.

Today the Government’s Commission on Climate Change has said that recovery must be based on strong climate change actions but in this report we see only the token gesture of a handful of homes in Liverpool being retrofitted with insulation and the rest of the schemes being those of the vested interests that have contributed to the report. No wonder they are in favour of it – most will benefit from it!

There are huge opportunities in the City to create power from wind, solar and tidal sources. Some of the schemes will take time but many can be kick started quickly. A bold council would look at all its buildings and decide which could be used for cost effective power generation. It should then challenge other public and private building owners to follow suit. I have checked and we could start a substantial programme within weeks.

The idea that we can boldly commission a new Liner Terminal when there is clear evidence from within the industry that there is a strong possibility of a long-term decline in this area of leisure is daft. A recent report showed that more than 30% of existing liner passengers will not go on a liner again. Furthermore, the industry is assuming that there will be little cross Atlantic trade for a long time if ever. Liverpool will be dependent on a relatively small number of European destination tours. This may be a shovel ready scheme but it is likely to be a shovel ready white elephant.

The idea that we should commission more office blocks when there is clear evidence that employers and employees want to do more home working which will reduce the amount of accommodation required is naive. A report was published today that 13% of companies in the City of London will close their offices entirely in favour of remote working and a further 15% of companies will reduce their accommodation and have a hub and spoke operation using offices for team and strategic meetings. I suspect that the same will apply in Liverpool.

There are good things in the proposals. The clear intention to further develop the health and knowledge quarters with enhanced physical and working links between companies and the Universities is a clear example of this. Much of this work is already in train and, as it appears to eb commercially viable, can proceed under any circumstances.

In discussions that I have had with both Liverpool Officers and politicians I have made clear that the Lib Dem team was happy to support a bold and early approach to the Government. I still am. But this was not supposed to happen at the expense of democracy. It was not supposed to a shopping list of pre-virus wishes.

If we want our City to develop in a way that is environmentally and economically sustainable, we have to take the blinkers off and think new thoughts, new programmes formed from new principles. That is not what we have done so far.

I hope that through the scrutiny process the six Merseyside Councils will be able to examine in detail the report and make amendments to it so that the Government finally receives a report and a request which meets the new normal which we live in and not the old normal that the authors and promoters of this report would like us to live in.

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Seven Point Plan to boost Liverpool’s tourism offer post Covid

St George’s Hall is just one of the many Liverpool treasures that could be marketed to bring more people from the North West to Liverpool to keep our tourism industry going in the short and medium term.

Liverpool Lib Dem’s Spokesperson on Culture and Tourism, Cllr Carole Storey, has outlined a seven-point plan to create an engine for the recovery of a crucial sector for Liverpool employment post Covid-19.

The seven-point plan will create a sustainable tourism industry which takes account of the changes that will be environmentally and economically sustainable and meeting the requirements of the people of Liverpool.

“There can be no doubt that tourism will be hugely affected by the coronavirus outbreak”, says Cllr Storey.

Locally people have appreciated that our City has more to offer and that there is no need to travel distances to appreciate both nature and culture. Our parks will continue to boom, our cultural attractions will be eagerly used by local people when they reopen and our cafés bars and restaurants have proved their worth through there take away services.

But it is not only local people who will change their leisure priorities. The cost of air travel is likely to go up permanently and many people will question the value of travelling in a metal box of an aeroplane for hours when there is so much available locally. The Cruise Liner industry will be permanently hit calling into question our support for a new terminal which could well be a white elephant”.

Amongst Cllr Storey’s proposals are:

  • A marketing campaign aimed at the 5-6 million people who live in easy reach of
  •  the City
  • The development of a safe city programme to minimise health risks in busy areas
  • Increasing pedestrianised areas in the City to create plazas of activity
  • Creating officials busking points to improve the quality of the street offer and provide work for cultural artistes
  • The development of new usable spaces in the City Centre by moving St Johns market to become a permanent outside market between its current, unviable, position and Clayton Square and provide a ‘bandstand’ in Williamson Square.

The policy can be seen here;

Creating a new sustainable tourism industry for the Liverpool City Region

There can be no doubt that Liverpool has benefitted massively from tourism both internally and internationally because of the successful application for and delivery of the 2008 Capital of Culture year.  During and immediately after the year Liverpool was in the top three of most visited cities in the UK. Now Visit Britain figures put us in 2018 in 6th place behind London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow. In 2017 we were in 5th place behind London, Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham. It appears that we are slipping down the Tourist League Table. For international visitors we are in sixth place.

Tourism is an enormous boost to our local economy and, of course, creates jobs. What is clear, however, that the face of tourism will change at least for the next three years and probably permanently because of the coronavirus lock downs and fears. EasyJet and Ryanair who are the most prolific users of our airport have laid off a third of their employees and fleet and expect not to return to normal for three years. The Cruise Liner industry has received a massive jolt and is anticipating a permanent reduction in its fleets.

There is a general feeling globally that a new normal will emerge. Flying will get more expensive and people will reduce the use of air travel for their holidays. The fact that people will travel less means that we have to think carefully about proposed developments. Do we need a new liner terminal when there will be far fewer liners coming here? Does the airport need to expand onto Oglet shore? Will the figures for the proposed new EFC ground still stack up if less people come by plane and train to watch games?

All these affect not only the means of transport but what people do when they are here. They shop, they eat, they drink, they stay in hotels, they visit attractions, they buy souvenirs. We now need to ensure that we have a tourism and culture policy in place which reflects these changes and is seen as being environmentally sustainable and culturally and environmentally sustainable.

Al these things create jobs. There was a view that all these jobs were seasonal and part time. That is not the case, yes there are part time jobs but thousands of full time jobs have been created and sustained by tourism.

WHY DO TOURISTS COME TO LIVERPOOL?

In no particular order:-

– Beatles attractions and landmarks

– Culture, our 7 world class Museums and Galleries and our Philharmonic and theatres

– Sport -particularly football

– UNESCO World Heritage Site

– Students (students have families who come and visit their loved ones and make a weekend of it)

– Weekend Breaks

– Hen and Stag Parties from other parts of the UK and more widely Europe

These are things which will apply but which will have different levels of engagement and opportunity.

So, what should our priorities be?

A safe City

First and foremost, tourists will want to feel safe and visit places they feel safe in so mass crowd events will just not happen in the immediate future. We will need to develop our cultural destinations to be safe and offer a degree of social distancing. So timed ticketed entrances for our major attractions will be crucial.

Proposal One

Develop and help market free virtual tours of our Museums and Art Galleries, Cathedrals and Religious Buildings, Beatles and Historic Buildings. By offering free virtual tours we can create a desire to visit Liverpool.

Building a strong regional market

Secondly, we need to recognise that more of our tourism will be UK based and regional for the foreseeable future. More than 10 million people live within easy distance of Liverpool by pubic or private land transport.

Proposal Two

We must direct our marketing efforts in the City in the Northwest, Yorkshire, Cheshire and the Midlands. We need to get the best PR brains to come up with a strap line to show Liverpool is a clean and safe place to visit for tourists.

Make our city centre more accessible

Pedestrianising parts of the city centre, which has already been mooted, is something that should be welcomed and encouraged and on even bigger scale than so far suggested.

Proposal Three

All of Bold Street, Castle Street and Canada Boulevard should be permanently closed to traffic with the exception of buses and bikes. A further review should take place of other streets to close.

Create life on our city streets

At times our streets seem full of beggars, fundamental religious groups and poor-quality performance artists.

Proposal Four

Expand and enhance official busking and performance points and work with the music and arts industries to ensure that the offer is good quality and that artists of all sorts can make a living from supplementing their income in this way.

Using our space more effectively

Liverpool City Centre has too much wasted space. In other major European Cities, there are outside markets selling food and other staples but also complemented frequently by crafts people and artisans selling their wares. There is also a much more advanced café and pavement café culture.

Proposal 5

Move St. Johns Market from being an inside market to become a permanent outside and semi sheltered market between St Johns Precinct and Clayton Square. Create a permanent ‘Band Stand’ in Williamson Square; Develop a series of year long artisan markets for local crafts people, traders and food producers.

Urgently review the potential for more outdoor spaces for bars and restaurants to open pavement cafes and bars.

Getting the tourists spread out more widely

At present approximately 90% of our tourism offer is within 20 minutes’ walk of the Pier Head with outliers such as Anfield and the Cathedrals. But Liverpool is much more than that. With Sudley House in Mossley Hill which few Scousers have seen, the Beatles homeland Quarter in the Penny lane/ Allerton Road/Rose Lane area, Croxteth Hall and Speke Hall and a whole host of musical and cultural opportunities there is much that can be done on a ‘hub and spoke’ basis to link the centre with peripheral attractions

Proposal 6

Conduct an audit of all attractions and potential attractions outside the City Centre and then develop a marketing activity and an integrated tourist pass for public transport to get people out to them? Create opportunities for people to come into the City in their cars and them leave them parked up by moving to walking, cycling and public transport mobility solutions.

Create Festivals and events that attract big wallet visitors

Liverpool needs events that attract into the City people who will want to use expensive hotels and expensive restaurants. With travel becoming more expensive Liverpool will need to go upmarket from the cheap and cheerful activities which are its current staple.

Proposal 7

Work with Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Museums, the Theatres and other iconic venues such as the Cathedrals to develop a programme of regular festivals, book fairs, arts events to promote Liverpool to high spending visitors. Hold events such as ‘Arts in the Parks’ and ‘the Phil in the Parks’ to promote a wider range of cultural activities and opportunities.

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Two metres or not two metres – that is the question!

Apologies to Shakespeare for the Headline. This is a matter that we all need to think about carefully and think how it will affect us, our families and our communities

So, the greatest contention in the Covid-19 debate is now whether social distancing should mean 1 metre or two metres. Regrettably, we have seen examples in Allerton Road and Woolton Village where neither of those distances counted because young people from clearly different households were sitting together drinking beer in the open.

So, let’s deal with the science first. Clearly the wider separation the better. 5 metres would be safer than 4 and 4 would be better than 3 etc. But clinical safety always has to be mixed with operational practicalities. If this were not the case, we would never leave home and we would never drive at more than 5 miles an hour.

If you are out in the open you are probably safer than if you are inside. But that depends on what you are doing. Sitting quietly in a room with a couple of people and a book is one thing. Joining a choir where you take in and expel a lot of air surrounded by people is another. Walking with a few people in the open air is probably quite safe. Playing a contact sport is probably not at least under the old rules.

So, there is science and there are rules and the two must come together to provide something that is workable and achievable. I think that most people would be pleased if the Government admitted this and said that there is no precise distance that is safe or unsafe and that circumstances must always be taken into account. Clarity on what needs to be done is vitally needed from a Government which sets targets and then explains why it did meet them but at the same time didn’t.

If we take another example – the testing issue. If the Government had said right from the start that setting up a new system was going to be difficult and they were trying to establish a testing regime of 100k per day by 1st June people would have thought that reasonable and congratulated them on what they achieved. To then say, however, that they had achieved by cooking the books denigrated the achievement. To say now that the app which was going to be world class and would be a major way of ensuring the end of lockdown and now saying (after spending £12 million) that it was never that important just made them look even more stupid.

And that’s true with social distancing as well. I don’t think that a reduction from two metres to one will really make much difference to most people. They are going to take the obviously sensible precaution to stay as far away from people outside their own household as possible. They will apply that in different ways. They will not go into cafes or restaurants if they look full no matter what the regulations say. They will sum up the building and the activity and judge if they will feel safe in it.

Ryanair and EasyJet are complaining that they cannot make social distancing work in their planes. Lots of people have already decided not to use planes for the foreseeable future for just that reason. Whether or not you fill the middle seat is a minor matter to them against the overall idea of sitting in metallic, boxed in, cramped conditions with people you don’t know.

The same applies to schools. Just so that I am not misunderstood I understand the damage that is being done to children’s education and mental health and want the schools to fully reopen again as soon as possible. I believe that every parent will want to look for themselves at the conditions of the school before letting their child return. Are the classrooms safe? What about the corridors, the lunch facilities and the play grounds? Some schools might indeed be safe for a full return in September but others will not no matter what arbitrary figure for distancing is dreamt up by a Tory politician.

Those young people who are sitting in the street or park boozing with people outside the guidelines will probably come to no harm. But they might pick up the virus from someone who is asymptomatic and take it home and endanger their grandparents as families begin to be able to meet more.

Should we all wear masks more? I have a mask permanently in my pocket now but rarely use it because I don’t get into enclosed positions or close proximity to strangers. However, if I need to do either of these I would automatically reach for my mask to maintain safeness for me and the people I am with.

What I say next is going to make me sound old! We all need to consider what the Government says by why of guidelines but need to apply a modicum of common sense to them. We will all make our mind up, if we are thinking at all about these issues, about what we think is safe and if people around us are doing things that are unsafe we will tell them or leave them.

My plea to the government is to say what they mean and men what they say. We don’t want half witted politicians playing ducks and drakes with scientific advice. We accept as individuals that life is a compromise on this as on many other issues. Just give us the facts. Set down in law or regulation what needs to be set down. Then leave us to get on with using that information to get on with the job of keeping ourselves, our families and our neighbours safe.

For me though I can simply say that I will continue to practice practical self-isolation and the two-metre guideline for the foreseeable future.

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Let’s settle the Penny Lane Issue once and for all

penny Lane Residents quickly removed offensive graffiti which suggested that Penny Lane was named after a slave trader. If it was true we would be prepared to confront the issue. BUT it just isn’t true.

Over the past few days, a lot of my time has been spent dealing with absurdities about Penny Lane and Gladstone Hall in which both Liverpool University and the International Slavery Museum have descended into a mumbo-jumbo of ill thought out opinions based on a dodgy view of history. I had expected better research from institutions that are supposed to value research!

Just for the record I will repeat that Gladstone’s family did profit from slavery as did all of the aristocracy at the time. He did make one speech in favour of slavery soon after being elected. He then spent most of his life campaigning against it and the effected that it had on black lives in this Country and the rest of the British Empire.  He thought that slavery was the most pernicious evil that one man could force on another.

Interestingly the University replied to my complaints by saying that they were consulting on this but did not say who they were consulting with! They also made no mention at all about my request for them to do something positive to address the issues facing the BAME communities in the areas where their campuses were situated. Talk comes cheap where Liverpool Uni is concerned.

So, to Penny Lane. Over the years I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have had to make clear that there is absolutely no evidence that the name Penny Lane is not linked to the slaver James Penney. To my knowledge three acceptable and well researched reports have looked in to this matter and found that there is no evidence for this suggestion and that there are more cogent reasons for the naming than a mythical connection dreamed up by the Museum of Slavery.

Those reports have all been presented to the Museum and yet nothing has happened. Yes, the Penny Lane sign needs to come down – but from the display in the Museum!

In fact, as a Councillor I do not believe that the sign in the street should come down anyway. I supported a motion moved by Mayor Anderson in January which, presciently, dealt with this issue.  Basically, the motion said that we should not seek to hide our past but to open and honest about it. If there are links with specific buildings or roads to slavery we should not seek to change them but to add information which would make clear the role and refer those interested to the Maritime and Slavery Museums and the areas within the Museum of Liverpool life which explores the considerable contribution made to this City by its ethnic minorities.

This is the right way forward. The motion was passed unanimously by the Council and was warmly welcomed by the BAME community in Liverpool as an intelligent and sensible way forward. So, I was surprised last night to be contacted by a national journalist telling me that the Mayor of Liverpool was now suggesting that the name might after all be changed.

Of course, it was not the Mayor of Liverpool but the Mayor of the City Region. So, in effect we were presented with the Labour Mayor of Liverpool who actually has power over these issues saying one thing and the Labour Mayor of the City Region who has no power over the issues saying the exact opposite. Lib Dems are quite clear that we don’t like the Mayoral system but our dislike is compounded when the outside world gets confused with mixed messages caused by Labour Mayors in conflict!

I am not being defensive about Penny Lane. Most years I have walked on the march through town on International Slavery Day. I have visited slave forts on the coats of West Africa. I believe that we need to be open and honest about our past. Even more important than understanding our past is understanding the present that has come from it. BAME communities are often disadvantaged in terms of housing, education, employment and income. They are over represented in low paid jobs and under represented in high paid jobs.

Dealing with these problems is what matters now. The Government wants an equalities review which will be led by a No 10 insider. No more reviews please let’s just have some action locally and nationally!

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Abandon tokenistic twaddle and do something real to help BAME students

Liverpool should concentrate more on practical help for BAME communityies within which they work and less on tokenistic gestures

Yesterday I accused Liverpool University of tokenistic twaddle over its decision to remove the name of Gladstone from the Greenbank Halls of residence.

Gladstone became Prime Minister 35 years after slavery was abolished in Britain and the British Empire. He did so many things which effectively began the creation of the welfare state; he is the only PM to be born in Liverpool and the only PM to have that position on 4 separate occasions.

Did he get everything right? No he was a product of his times which can only be considered and not rewritten.

I have suggested that the University ought to follow the example of the Council when we resolved unanimously at our January Council Meeting to explain Liverpool’s past roles with appropriate plaques and descriptors so that people can discuss the problems of slavery and Britain’s role in it.

I’ve asked all three Liverpool universities to do practical things within their institutions to end the discrimination which can be seen in the areas where they have their main academic campuses. My letter to them suggest three things that they could do but there are many more.

Interestingly, I got a quick email back from the University saying that they were only consulting on the name change. However, they failed to mention my requests for action at all. This just confirms my view that the University was looking for some cheap publicity rather than being prepared to get to grips with problems in the areas where they predominantly work.

The full letter is attached:

Cllr Kemp can be contacted on 07885 626913

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE,

16, Dovedale Road,

Liverpool L18 1DW

Richardkemp68@yahoo.co.uk

Colm Toibin,

Chancellor,

Liverpool University

By E-mail

                        10th June 2020

Dear Mr Toibin,

Re: Gladstone Halls, Liverpool 18

I have been contacted today by the media in connection with a report that Liverpool University has decided to remove the name Gladstone Hall from its residential campus in Greenbank Road.

If this is true I can only condemn what I regard as tokenistic twaddle on the back of justifiable rage regarding the conditions of people of colour in the UK. AS an organisation which has some pretension to academic acclaim a little basic research would have shown you that:

·         William Ewart Gladstone is the only Prime Minister born in Liverpool

·         He is the only person to have been Prime Minister on 4 occasions.

·         He did much to abolish laws which treated working people with contempt, left them with no rights and no food. As such many of the things that he did led to the formation of the welfare state.

·         He first became Prime Minister in 1868 35 years after slavery was abolished in Britain and the Empire in 1833.

I urge you to reconsider this crass decision and do two things:

1.      Keep the name and provide an explanation nearby of who Gladstone was and what he did both good and bad so another opportunity is provided for people to understand the often dark past of the City and Country. This is what the Council agreed to do unanimously in January this year when we agreed a motion which agreed to use the names and the buildings of Liverpool connected with the slave trade to explain our past in an objective way. 

2.      Do something useful to try and deal with undoubted problems faced by the BAME community in this City and others. All three Liverpool Universities have the majority of the academic campuses in Liverpool 1 3 and 8 which are areas of great poverty and high numbers of people from ethnic minorities. You could:

·         Endow a scholarship in the name of George Floyd where, on an annual basis, an award could be presented to encourage students of colour to research and publish the facts about our City’s and our Country’s past.

·         Work with the schools around you and set up better pathways programmes to support BAME young people into University.

·         Establish outreach programmes when your academics and students at all levels could do things within the deprived communities in the way that the Liverpool University Settlements used to do in North and South Liverpool.

These are just some of the ideas that you could look at. I am sure that there are more and indeed better ones. As this is a challenge that I am setting to all our Universities I am copying this to the other Chancellors and Vice Chancellors.

The time has come when words and gestures are not enough. Your University needs to start acting alongside the Council and others to correct generations of discrimination in the communities within which you undertake your business.

I would be more than happy to have a discussion with you or your staff at any time to further this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE

Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats

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We must all “bend the knee” to fight racism

One thing we can do quickly to publicly fight racism is to enact a motion unanimously agreed by Liverpool Council last year relating to those public places where our colonial past is glorified. However, for about the millionth time I can say that this should not include Penny Lane which was NOT named after a slaver!

A couple of days ago I saw a rather stupid debate about whether or not the UK is a racist Country. It appeared to depend on your definition of racist. What is abundantly clear to me is that there are four questions which can clearly only be answered in a way that shows that there is far too much racism in this Country:

  1. Do people from ethnic minorities get stopped in the street more by the Police than white people?
  2. Do people from ethnic minorities that were born here have a higher likelihood of ending up in lower paid jobs?
  3. Are people from ethnic minorities under-represented at a higher levels of education
  4. Are people from ethnic minorities more likely than white to be casually abused in the street because of their colour?

Of course, the answer to all these questions is “Yes” but in different ways for different ethnic groups. The BAME community is made up of a number of different communities. Their experiences have a huge number of similarities but many differences. Differences in where people live; differences in educational opportunities; differences in cultural; activities of those communities.

My ward in Liverpool has about a 10% ethnic minority population. Almost all of these are from families which have been in Liverpool, for a long time. We have communities in our City especially from West Africa who have been here for 8+ generations. They are very little different from anyone else who lives in this community. They are well educated, professional or own their own business. They are the typical product of immigrant communities where people arrive in hard conditions, take difficult, low paid jobs but strive to give their children and grandchildren a better life.

Increasingly though the communities are made up of professionals that we have asked to come here. 10 years ago there were few people here from Kenya. Now the City Region has a thriving Kenyan community most of whom came to take up senior positions in the NHS.

So people from different backgrounds, have different jobs, different levels of education and have many other differences so why do they all suffer the same prejudices?

When I look at those who are racists I see two types of people. The majority of racists are people who have poor jobs, poor educations and live in poor circumstances. They lash out at immigrants and people of colour because they are fearful and jealous. They blame those people for their own failures in life culturally, economically and generally. The second group of people are those who exploit the first group. From Moseley onwards some far-right politicians have sought to use the racist element themselves.

Behind them all you have a group who are absurdly attached to two beliefs. That the World was a better place when there was a British Empire and that Britain won World War II against Europe.

In the first case they ignore the fact that most parts of the Empire had perfectly advanced civilisations before we imposed our thoughts and our way of life upon them. Large parts of the World were more advanced in the arts, literature and science than we were. In other parts of the World civilisations worked in different ways with indigenous populations finding their own ways to live lives that were economically and socially sustainable.

So if you believe, as I do, that much needs to be done and can be done to improve equality then there are a number of steps that can be taken and can be started very quickly:

  1. We need to reform the Police and policing so that it is proactive in preventing problems than aggressive in solving them. Most members of the Police are good people. I work with them regularly but the systems that they enforce are manifestly unfair and unjust.
  2. We need to put more resources into inner city schools. At present resources are geared more towards middle class areas which get the ‘best’ teachers. I don’t believe that is always the case. Middle class areas succeed because parents have more resources themselves to help their kids. We need to put more money and the most inspired teachers into the areas with the most difficulties and provide the lap tops and the experiences for children from deprived areas that children see as their right in wealthier areas.
  3. We need to make people of colour much more visible in all areas of employment. Go into big stores in the City and people from minorities are grossly under-represented behind the Counters. Look at the Boards and management of those Companies and there is the same level of under-representation. This is a problem throughout industry and commerce.
  4. We need to review the way that we teach the history of our Country so that truth about what Britain has done throughout the World over the centuries becomes  a central part of educational experiences and destroys the myths which are so readily perpetuated by the far right.
  5. We need to have more people of colour at the top levels of our political Parties. My own Party has a long way to go to achieve this both locally and nationally.
  6. We should look at all symbols of our colonial past and work out how we can sue them to explain the faults of that past.

These things are long-term and even if started now will take some years to bring to fruition. There is one thing that we can all do from today onwards. White people like me need to be far more challenging when we see prejudice in action. The conversations about “them” where the falsehoods are peddled; the aggression on streets and in other public places toward people of colour; the graffiti on walls which we don’t deal with quickly; the discrimination that we see in the shops and other services that we use; the shares in companies that we or our pensions funds do not use to promote equality policies.

Frankly, it is of little use to say, “Well I’m not a racist” and then do nothing about it. There are so many ways in which we can, “bend the knee” in support of the ethnic minorities of our Country. Only if we all accept a responsibility to tackle racism will racism be defeated. The progress that has been made to date is totally inadequate. Now is the time to act.

Below is a motion to the January 2020 Council meeting on the issues which have come to the fore in the World in the past few days and which was moved by the Mayor of Liverpool with my support.

Council motion for Black History Month

Council notes that Liverpool is rightly proud of its rich history, its maritime past and its connections with all parts of the world, which can be seen in the numerous monuments and fixings that adorn the public realm. Statues of monarchs, prime ministers, war heroes, merchant philanthropists, botanists, explorers and a whole host of other notables can be seen from our city centre streets to our suburban green spaces and public parks.

Council recognises, however, that a significant part of the City’s history has been shaped by the slave trade. Many notable figures in the City have their origins in wealth accrued through slavery, while others played an honourable role in the abolition of slavery movement.

Council notes that the physical infrastructure of the City; paintings, monuments, street names and buildings are all an important part of the historical record which should not be concealed, ignored or secreted away.

Council recognises that its own democratic history includes many individuals who were associated with slavery, both as abolitionists and slave traders. Within the Town Hall there are many paintings that depict men who became fabulously wealthy from the slave trade, yet, there is no mention of their role in their description plaques.

Council also notes the number of street and place names in city which are named after prominent individuals, some of whom had a role in the slave trade. Council abhors slavery, modern and historic, and notes the City’s apology for its role in the enslavement of millions of Africans and the destruction of the communities they were taken from.

Council also notes how confronting the city’s past role in slavery signals to existing communities that Liverpool is a tolerant, welcoming city with respect for all.

Council therefore agrees that the City should accurately reflect how some of the wealth and prestige accumulated for the benefit of Liverpool was gained through the business of slavery. It is important to ensure that City visitors and residents are given an honest account of the historical role which our City and such figures played in history. Council therefore calls:

 · On the Chief Executive to commission additional information plaques to accompany the relevant portraits in the Town Hall with information about the true history of some of Liverpool’s merchants and notables.

 · On the Highways Department to commission information plaques to accompany street and place names explaining the origin of their names and their relevance to Liverpool’s historical slave trade.

· On the Highways Department to identify new streets which can be named after Liverpool-based abolitionists and BAME figures of note in order to celebrate our city’s rich history of fighting for justice for diversity.

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Government sent our elderly and disabled home to die

If this Tory wants us old folk to pick fruit he’ll have to make sure we are still alive. Lots of older people were just sent back to the community and care homes to die.

So now it’s official. Our caring Government sent more than 25,000 people home to residential care homes in just one month. They took no precautions about whether or not this frail group of people had the coronavirus by the simple expedient of testing them. Thus they introduced the virus into places with even more fragile and vulnerable people.

They also ensured that the NHS refused to take new admission from care homes. They made decisions about who could go from the community into hospital. They did all this without any thought that the care homes would become breeding grounds for the virus. They provided little PPE or other logistical report and for understandable reasons GPs were advised not to enter private or care homes.

Care homes and the community were then the front lines of the virus even more so than hospitals that within a reasonable time were fully equipped with PPE and had systems in place to manage virus conditions. It didn’t need to be that way. A national pandemic planning session in 2017 had shown that there were two main blockages should a pandemic occur. The provision of PPE and the conditions of care homes.

The Government did nothing about either of these. It failed to stockpile reasonable amounts of PPE. It allowed the care sector to languish with no understanding of its problems. A Green Paper on social care which was supposed to be produced before the summer recess in 2017 was given 5 more publication dates but no report has yet to appear.

The result of all this was that we put at huge risk not only the residents of care homes but also their staff. The staff would often go from home to home without adequate training and protection taking infection with them. All this was compounded by huge cuts since 2015 when Public Health budgets began to be slashed. This took away our ability to plan locally for things like pandemics or to encourage healthier living habits which would have reduced the death rate from the virus.

In other words it’s been a bugger’s muddle of callous indifference. There can be no doubt that this has cost lives and is continuing to cost lives. It has become apparent that the reason there is a slow decrease in the infections and death rates is because the virus is leaking out from those homes by way of visitors; staff and people providing services inside and to the homes.

We can no longer give the Government the benefit of the doubt as we did in the early days when we all agreed that any Government would have to ‘wing it’ and that all governments globally were faced with conditions not seen for a century. But when Care Minister Helen Whateley claims that care homes were looked after from the start we know it isn’t true.

Yesterday the Country’s Chief Statistician wrote to the Secretary of State for Health for a second time saying that the Government’s presentation of figures “falls well short” of normal standards. This was a comment which was specifically about the farcical reporting of tests which Sir David described as, “far from complete and comprehensible”.

The result of this has been much work for the grim reaper. It’s not only the elderly who have suffered but also people with other disabilities such as autism. There has been a high level of deaths amongst the poorly protected health workers and their families. The deaths in care homes have been exceptional. Care homes are accustomed to dealing with death but not on an industrial scale. One home which would expect to have about 20 deaths a year had 16 in three days.

The consequences will take a long time to be removed. There are expected to be considerable mental problems amongst care home staff. Mental health issues will also arise with people who were not able to support their loved ones as they died or even attend their funerals in any meaningful way. The care sector is wholly imbalanced. The people who run homes are now carrying a large number of vacant units whilst their costs have increased. This will not change soon as many will now be worried to allow their needy family members into care homes because of the reputation that they now have.

I believe that the solution to this is threefold:

  1. Pass over primary care and social care activities into the control of the local authority who alone can merge disciplines and sectors into a coherent working relationship.
  2. Treat those who work within the social care as being equal to those in the NHS with many of them doing similar jobs. Ensure that they are equally trained and supported.
  3. End the distinction between the funding of health care and social care which causes so many problems; so much bureaucracy and so much disagreement between equally cash strapped sectors.

I hope that these sensible suggestions will be looked at by all three Political Parties and that a consensus will emerge which all can sign up to. The problems of a growing number of aged people and of people living long lives with disabilities has been known about for at least 35 years. All Parties have failed to deal with this issue so now it is the responsibility of all Parties to get it right.

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