The Sleaford Result is another success for our Newbies (with oldies support)


Newbie Ross Pepper ably supported by an oldie (politically!) Baroness Sal Brinton

I woke up this morning to hear news of another good result from the trio of Parliamentary by-elections that we have had over the autumn. Ross Pepper and his team did incredibly well given:

  1. They started from a very low base – the sort of base that most of us are facing if we look back at the terrible results of the last General Election.
  1. Sleaford was totally over shadowed by Richmond Park. A tiny, tiny team worked to keep things going until a much greater number of people started to come in last Friday.
  1. This was a big Brexit Constituency although as our leaflets said of the 10 candidates only Ross Pepper could speak for the 38% of the constituency who voted remain. There are many MPs who get elected on 38% of the vote.

So despite all this they gave us a really good headline – “Labour squeezed into 4th place”. The continuing headlines that have developed during the day are all about Labour’s failure than the Tory success. As one Labour MP put it, “If we can’t do better than this with a local binman as our candidate we are in terrible trouble”. Not quite the way I would have put it but nevertheless true! This was no HQ shoo-in but an authentic Labour working class candidate who surely should have appealed to the small, presumably working class vote that Labour had in the Constituency. It didn’t appeal at although the campaign was run by the efficient Vernon Coaker and supported on the penultimate day by the ultimate bruiser, Lord Prescott.

What can we make of the other parties including the thoughts from last week’s Richmond Park election?

The Tories are flying high. Enough said!

The Greens are almost none-existent. In Richmond Park they backed the Lib Dems and in Sleaford they backed a candidate who lost her deposit! There are few signs locally or nationally that the Greens are a serious political party.

UKIP is a busted flush. If they cannot do well in Sleaford they cannot do well anywhere. I’ve just been looking at the story of UKIP in what was one of their most successful areas – Cornwall – where in the last County elections in 2013 they elected 6 councillors. Today only one of them is still both in UKIP and a councillor. All but one of their 6 parliamentary candidates in 2015 have now left the Party. In Liverpool their vote is 2%. They have no money, nor discipline and no resources. If it wasn’t for a declining handful of financial backers and the continued support of red top newspapers and the BBC they would have ceased to exist a year ago. Their demise is certain.

And what about poor old Labour? Fourth this week and their first lost deposit in London since 1909 last week. As a Labour councillor in Liverpool desperately trying to stave off Momentum told me last week. “We’re too busy fighting each other to take on the Tories”. Every day on Twitter we see tweets from Labour members who have either just left the Party or have left the Party and joined us. The people who are leaving are the backbone of any Party. The people who deliver leaflets; knock on doors and support the candidates. The people staying are the Militant type people who love meetings, infighting and squabbling over arcane points of order, procedure and doctrine. I’d love to see Momentum out on the streets of my ward. They would bolster our vote hugely but I suspect that they won’t be around – too much like hard work.

Finally once again a crawling paragraph about our Newbies. New members who are beginning to reshape and reorganise our Party. Ross Pepper is such a newbie. He was not a rounded politician when he started the campaign and perhaps he isn’t quite yet a rounded politician. But when I saw, listened to and spoke to him I found a lovely bloke full of principle and the desire to put those principles into practice. Let’s hope that he starts that more formal political career by gaining a County Council seat next year. But I hope he never becomes the practiced, urbane politician that we see too often on our TV screens. Whilst Ross Pepper and our countless newbies remember that it is not our job to represent the council or parliament in the community but to represent the community in council and parliament all will be well.

The Liberal Democrat Party is a bottom up party. We see national and council-wide politics through firstly the prism of liberalism but more importantly through the greater prism of our communities. We sometimes say different things in different places not because we have different principles but because we have the same principles which must be interpreted in different ways in different circumstances. I understand that we have had another 1,500 people join us since the RP bye-election. I welcome every one of those Newbies to our Party. I look forward to handing over to you when you are ready and the time is right.

Let’s not forget either that continued drip, drip of council by-election gains. This year between the May elections and bye-elections we have gained about 70 seats on principal councils (plus loads more on town and parish councils). Every one of those new councillors adds to the publicity in local papers; adds to the knowledge within the Party adds to the sense of momentum for the Party as a whole. The Westminster bubble does not think these elections are as important but local observers and journalists take note and begin to give us more publicity than when they thought we were a dead duck. Yesterday we averaged an 8% increase in our vote in 5 of the local elections held.

In only one did we fall back where we did not put up a candidate but instead supported Labour as did the Greens. It didn’t work. That should tell us a lot about developing ‘Progressive Alliance’ and what the public think of that. It should be the public who decide who works with who after an election not us stitching up a deal beforehand.

The year isn’t over yet with more bye-elections and at least one more council bye-election gain to be looked for in Somerset (Ross Henley will, I am sure deliver the goods as he is well known and being helped by the whirling dervish Daisy Benson). But in 2016 we have put behand the annus horribilis of 2015. Baby steps they may be that we are now taking but they are steps that are increasingly confident and powerful. For the first time in 7 years I can truly say that I am really looking forward to the local elections on May 4th. Our Newbies and our Oldies will once again do us proud.

Lastly, however just spare a thought for Jane Brophy our candidate in last year’s December bye-election in Oldham. Her campaign, because it was the only one, was better organised and better resourced and went on for longer. Yet she lost her deposit. Just think what would have happened if that election was to have been held this year rather than last. People like Jane kept our Party alive in hard times. Let’s not forget them as we glory in triumphs anew.

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Some Good News from the NHS about HIV and PrEP


Well done the Terrence Higgins Trust who led the fight to secure PrEP availability on the NHS as part of the fight against HIV/Aids

At last some good news from the NHS regarding PrEP. You may recall that twice this year the Terence Higgins Trust supported by the LGA and other partners took the NHS to court as it tried to say that it could not fund PrEP because they had passed the responsibilities for health improvement and prevention to local councils. Local councils have not got the money to pay for this work because of huge cuts in our budgets.

The initial court and then the Court of Appeal then found that the NHS did have the power to pay for PrEP although it could not be made to. However the NHS has responded quickly to the court ruling and has included PrEP activity in its programmes as it ups its HIV prevention work.

This is a very sensible move. The cost of PrEP is tiny and is coming down compared to the cost of looking after people with long term HIV conditions. Cost is an important feature but so, of course is the physical and mental health of thousands of people whose lives will not be blighted by the consequences of HIV.

The Terence Higgins Trust and the LGA should be congratulated for this announcement. Lib Dems locally, nationally and in Parliament led by Norman Lamb were also very active in getting this change of direction from the NHS which will be delivered by PHE and local councils. I am pleased that Liverpool Lib Dems supported the resolution on this issue which was passed almost unanimously by our Autumn Conference where it was ably summated by our own Paul Childs.

On that basis I repeat the NHS announcement in full here.

NHS England will fund a major extension to the national HIV prevention programme led by Public Health England with the aim of supporting those most at risk and reducing the incidence of HIV infection.

It has also decided to routinely commission ten new specialised treatments as part of the annual prioritisation process for specialised treatments.

The new HIV initiative is joint between NHS England and Public Health England, and follows the recent Court of Appeal ruling that NHS England, alongside local authorities, has the power, although not the obligation, to fund the provision of anti-retroviral drugs for the prevention of HIV, known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

The first phase of implementation will be the launch of a large scale clinical trial in early financial year 2017/18. Although the evidence around the clinical effectiveness of PrEP is strong, advice from Public Health England has highlighted significant outstanding implementation questions that should be answered prior to using PrEP in a sustained way on a substantial scale in England. These questions will be answered by the clinical trial, paving the way for full rollout.

It is anticipated that the clinical trial phase will include at least 10,000 participants over the next three years. NHS England will fully fund the cost of the clinical trial phase and will work in partnership with local authorities, the Local Government Association and Public Health England to implement the findings as part of a wider national rollout.

Detailed planning will now take place to ensure the launch and the clinical trial phase can begin as swiftly as possible. Up to £10 million will be made available over the next three years to fund all aspects of the trial. Next steps will include asking both the manufacturer of the branded PrEP drug Truvada, as well as generic manufacturers to make proposals to participate in the trial.

Dr Jonathan Fielden, Director of Specialised Commissioning and Deputy National Medical Director, NHS England said: “We’re pleased to be able to announce funding not only for ten new specialised treatments but also a new ground breaking national programme for PrEP that will benefit at least 10,000 people.

“This has, in part, been made possible by the willingness of many pharmaceutical and device companies to come forward with lower and more responsible prices. Continuing this constructive joint working will enable us to fund more new drugs and treatments in the future.

“We have however, had to make some tough decisions over what we are not able to fund at this point in time within the resources we have available. We will ensure those treatments have the opportunity to be considered as part of the next annual prioritisation round in spring 2017.”

Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England said: “Currently 13,500 people are living in the UK with undiagnosed HIV and we are still seeing around 5,000 new infections each year. Given we are in the fourth decade of this epidemic there are too many new infections occurring, and we need to use all tools available to save lives and money. We’re delighted to be working in partnership with NHS England on this major new addition to the national HIV prevention programme. This comes after much planning and preparation to ensure we can successfully coordinate this extremely important and large scale clinical trial.

“We encourage all those who may be at risk of HIV to ensure they get tested and we are again working with local authorities to fund the HIV home-sampling test kit as well as issuing joint guidance for the first time with NICE, which supports increased uptake of HIV testing.”

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “We are pleased that NHS England has acted quickly and chosen to fund the commissioning of this trial and rollout of PrEP. We now want to stand united with the NHS to defeat the spread of HIV.

“PrEP is a ground-breaking method of treatment that has the potential to save lives and councils want to work with the NHS to help roll out the trial.

“Local authorities have invested millions in providing sexual health services since taking over responsibility for public health three years ago, and we firmly believe that PrEP could significantly reduce levels of HIV in the community.”

Dr Ian Williams, Senior Lecturer and Hon Consultant Physician, Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust and Chair of NHS England’s Clinical Reference group for HIV said: “This announcement demonstrates NHS England’s commitment to fund PrEP and provides the chance to best prepare England for optimal roll out following this large scale clinical trial. For now, the trial will provide access to PrEP for thousands of people most at risk of acquiring HIV.

“I’m delighted that the work of many people from the HIV Clinical Reference Group, including clinicians and patient advocates, is providing the foundations for this trial. Now we look ahead to working with partners in PHE, the voluntary sector and local government to get the trial underway across England, helping us to better understand how to integrate PrEP as part of comprehensive HIV prevention service aimed at preventing transmission of HIV and other STIs.”

The decision to routinely commission ten new specialised treatments is based on advice from NHS England’s clinical priorities advisory group which assessed the relative priority of investing in a new range of specialised treatments and interventions. This took into account revised prices submitted by some manufacturers since provisional investment decision were published in July.

The list of treatments that will now be routinely commissioned are below:

  • Pegvisomant for acromegaly as a third-line treatment for adults
  • Auditory brainstem implants for congenital abnormalities of the auditory nerves or cochleae
  • Haematopoietic stem cell transplant :  Lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma /Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinaemia (adults)
  • Everolimus for subependymal giant cell astrocytoma (SEGA) associated with tuberous sclerosis complex
  • Rituximab for immunoglobulin-G4 related disease (IgG4-RD)
  • Microprocessor controlled prosthetic knees
  • Tolvaptan for hyponatraemia secondary to the Syndrome of Inappropriate Antidiuretic Hormone (SIADH) for patients who require cancer chemotherapy
  • Ivacaftor for children (2-5 years) with cystic fibrosis (named mutations)
  • Sodium oxybate for symptom control for narcolepsy with cataplexy (children)
  • Pasireotide for Cushing’s Disease

Both the decision to fund a new national HIV prevention programme and to routinely commission the ten new treatments follow consideration by NHS England’s Specialised Services Commissioning Committee.

Further information

The PrEP clinical trial will answer questions raised by Public Health England about six key outstanding questions:

  1. What proportion of genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic attendees will be assessed as eligible for PrEP?
  2. How to identify, engage and maintain other eligible PrEP users?
  3. What proportions of the eligible will accept PrEP and will choose daily or intermittent dosing?
  4. For how long will those beginning at high risk stay on PrEP?
  5. What impact will PrEP have on HIV incidence?
  6. What impact will PrEP have on STI incidence?
  • Public Health England and NICE have also announced the rollout of new guidanceto increase the uptake of HIV testing
  • Public Health England has been working closely with St Stephen’s AIDS Trustin developing the trial proposal
  • The three proposals with the lowest cost/benefit priority are not currently affordable and will not be routinely commissioned at this time. These policies will have the opportunity to be considered again next year in the relative prioritisation process in spring 2017. The list of proposals not funded as part of this year’s prioritisation are as follows:
    • Eculizumab for treatment of recurrent C3 glomerulopathy post-kidney transplant
    • Riociguat for pulmonary arterial hypertension
    • Second allogeneic haematopoietic stem cell transplant for relapsed disease (all ages)



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In praise of Newbie MPs!!


Our New and Newbie MP, Sarah Olney

Apparently Sarah Olney (MP!) had a bad TV interview somewhere on Friday and at one of the hustings meetings had not answered a couple of questions brilliantly. I only raise this because this has led to one or two sneerers raising a headline something like, “Lib Dems learn a day late that you have to get good people elected”. Well let me let you into a little secret. I haven’t always given perfect interviews. I haven’t always given perfect answers at hustings or other meetings. An even bigger secret is that everyone else has made mistakes as well!

Let’s consider the relative positions of Sarah Olney and the journalists. She has spent the last 6 weeks on a knife edge of exhilaration and exhaustion. The mood swings will have come and gone and having been declared the MP for Richmond Park at 02.00 was back on the streets at 7.30 with Tim Farron (who according to Radio 4 was even at that time leaping round the constituency like a gazelle). The journalist who sneered at her will have been nice and warm for those 6 weeks. Perhaps sallying into the constituency at noon when it is warmest for a bit of a vox pop. No strain, no tiredness there then!

So Sarah isn’t a fully accomplished and practiced politician then. Well I think that is bloody good news. You might expect someone who has been around a long, long time like me and others to feel jealous or upset that a newbie of just 18 months standing has been elected as an MP. Far from it. We are delighted that people like Sarah, Liz Leffman (not really a Newbie but young and committed) and Ross Pepper in Sleaford are coming forward. For too long our Party got older and older. To go to bye-elections and see hordes of young people who we don’t know is an absolute delight. To hear them demanding three delivery rounds and then coming back for more when we can only really manage two rounds is absolutely marvellous.

I believe that this also fits the public requirement. The word is continually heard that we need a change for the old metropolitan elite who have been round for years and are part of some sinister club. For some reason that leads some people to support Farage who is the epitome of a metropolitan old guard elitist. For too long politics, even to a small extent Lib Dem politics has been the preserve of the old and wise and the cognoscenti. You don’t get that if you vote Leffman, Olney or Pepper. You get people with rough edges that need knocking off them a bit but more importantly you get people who joined us and campaign for us because of their beliefs and their convictions in our principles.

Our Party used to run training courses in what to wear; how to behave; how to appear. As will be patently obvious to anyone who knows me I attended none of these courses! We are what we are. If we stick to that we remain authentic politicians and not people who look plastic and sound house trained. The one thing I would say in favour of Farage is that he speaks his mind. Of course I don’t like what he says but no-one can doubt that he means it!

So where does Richmond Park leave us? Well no-one really knows except to give a very obvious answer that bit leaves the Lib Dems better off than we have been for 6+ years. Council bye-elections are important. The fact is that we will end the year with about 65 more councillors than we started. But it’s MPs that journalists count; its votes on parliamentary issues that excites them. What Richmond Park has done is ensure that Lib Dems cannot be ignored as we largely were for the 15 months after the 2015 General Election. The Lib Dems are once again part of the national story. Our new MP, councillors and about 20,000 members this year place us very well for the future as a united party campaigning on key issues which resonate with a very large proportion of the population. This is a base that we can build on.

This is not true for our Opponents. Let’s start with that party which has become the epitome of 1970’s Dave Spart, Socialist Worker Party nonsense. Step forward the Labour Party. Well isn’t it interesting how they vary their policies? In Richmond Park they were anti-Brexit. In Sleaford they are pro-Brexit. How can you trust them when they say one thing in one part of the country and something the exact opposite in another part of the country? They’d do and say anything for a few votes. Meanwhile back inside the Party desperate battels are being fought out by reasonable Labour members fighting of the Momentum theorists. I have seen it all before. What is happening to Labour nationally now is what happened to Labour in Liverpool in the 80’s.

The Tory Party are also split but they are much better disciplined than the Labour Party! It is clear from the local and national bye-elections that some of the more reasonable Tory voters are peeling off from the Party. A large number of Tory Remainers obviously feel some empathy with us. What is more surprising is that in Richmond Park a large number of Tory Leavers also moved to the Lib Dems because of the lash up that May & Co are making of the Brexit process. This is reflected in the parliamentary party. The fact that there is a Sleaford bye-election is because a Tory Leaver gave up in despair at the lack of leadership and failure to abide by Parliamentary democracy.

The Greens have all but disappeared from the scene. Well done to their 50% Leader Caroline Lucas for persuading her local colleagues not to field a candidate in both Richmond Park and Sleaford. In some constituencies and wards it may well be right for us to do likewise. This will not be an easy process. It is easy to say what we don’t like rather than we jointly agree on. Somewhere however there is sufficient common ground for some joint working between us.

Lastly what do we make of the pantomime donkey of British Politics, UKIP? Well I chose the Donkey analogy because the front legs and the head are always going to be Farage. This month’s back legs and tail is someone called Paul Nuttall. Let me make three things clear. He doesn’t come from Liverpool; he wasn’t a professional footballer and he hasn’t got a PHD all claims that seem to have been made by him or for him in the very recent past.

In fact he comes from Bootle and appears to be making a pitch to become the MP for Leigh. This is a constituency which Labour expect will be vacated when Andy Burnham becomes the Metro Mayor. But it is not the only seat where such expectations are held. Next door to his home turf in Bootle is the Walton Constituency part of which will be added to by Bootle wards if the boundary changes take place. Labour expect to hold a bye-election there if they were to win the Liverpool Metro-Mayor contest. If Nuttall had any guts how would fight his home patch. But of course he won’t. UKIP got 2% of the vote in Liverpool last year although they almost beat the Tories which really is not difficult to do here!!

So that’s my summary of the political scene as I sit around WITH NO DELIVERING TO DO on a crisp, cold Sunday. But we have got 40,000 Christmas Cards just arrived which need stuffing into envelopes and delivering so I’ll get on with that.

My message above all to Sarah Olney MP and the 40,000 other people who have joined our Party since May 2015 is get on with it. This is your Party and the future and its beliefs look to me to be very safe in your collective hands! As I look at people like these candidates, Daisy Benson and Daisy Cooper and in Liverpool Joe Harman; Steve Atkinson; Leo Evans and Kris Brown I know that I can last aspire to one more job in politics. Elder statesman!!!



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I’m off to Sleaford on Friday


Ross Pepper and team whose campaign I will be joining in Sleaford on Friday

There are two bye-elections taking place at the moment but you would be forgiven for thinking that there is only one. The metropolitan elite are very cosily looking at the one just 10 miles from the hubs of world communications in central London. It is an area that they understand, feel comfortable in and where they feel confident in talking about and predicting the future. This is all great news for the Lib Dems because there is every chance that we can take the seat from the so-called Independent candidate backed by the Tories locally and UKIP, Zac Goldsmith.

Zac, if you remember, is actually a typical Tory Posh Boy. His pater was Jimmy Goldsmith the Leader of the Referendum Party. Zac is slightly different because he, at least in theory, is an environmentalist. That is not particularly apparent in his voting record in the Commons where he has loyally trooped through the lobbies with his fellow Tories on a range of issues. No matter what he says on Heathrow, where the Lib Dem Candidate Sarah Olney represents a Party with a much longer pedigree of Heathrow opposition, Zac is really a Tory at heart. Whether as an Independent or a Tory MP he will vote for Brexit, for cuts in social care – in other words on every issue except Brexit the Tories are sure of his vote. That’s why they haven’t had the guts to oppose him. And all this, of course in a constituency with a huge Remain vote in the June Referendum.

The second bye-election is 200 miles North (I always like putting a capital N on North even though it is not grammatically correct!) and you will find the Sleaford Constituency. They too had a heavily Brexit supporting MP but in this case for a constituency which was also heavily Brexit. He too resigned on a matter of principle – the sovereignty of Parliament. He strongly believed that Parliament must make the final decisions because – well that’s why we elect a Parliament.

I decided from the start that with a limited amount of time available I would go to Sleaford not just because I want to campaign for our excellent candidate, Ross Pepper and our excellent polices but because I want to listen to what people are saying. When I talk to people who wanted Brexit they have always been very imprecise on facts. In fact in many cases they had no facts at all to go on. I well remember telling people during the referendum that the EU employed less people than Lancashire County Council to be shouted at as a liar. When I asked the people shouting how many people worked for the EU and the Council they didn’t have a clue but they knew that I must be lying!

So I don’t expect to listen to many facts although I will probably hear a number of none facts in the factless society that we now seem to exist in. I expect to hear sentiment and it is vitally important that we understand and respect that sentiment if we are to tackle it head on.

There’s nothing the matter with sentiment and belief in politics. I would prefer to work with people with sincere beliefs than with people who decided what their policy is based on what people said in a tightly controlled Focus group. Much of my own political belief is based on sentiment. I know that men and women, black and white are born equal but don’t always have the same opportunity. In my case that sentiment can be backed up with facts. So I lead with my heart and follow with my head! But that is not true of Brexit where there appears to a huge amount of heart but very little head!

The sentiments seem to be based on a past which appears to have very little contact with the reality either of the past or indeed the present. I suffer from asthma, for example, because when I was a little boy I lived in London where the smogs and fogs and smoking meant that I missed school for one week in three during the winter. When I first came to Liverpool and became a councillor in 1975 more than 5% of people still had outside toilets. This was not for many a golden past.

Changes came thick and fast from the 50s onwards. The great Liverpool foreign holiday in the 50’s was a trip to the Isle of Man. By the 60’s it was becoming the Costas and the golden beaches of Spain and Italy. Technology made massive changes. In the 70s and early 80s it took weeks to get the GPO to install a landline. By the end of the 90s many people had mobiles and now more people have mobiles than fixed landlines.

These are huge changes indeed and I can understand that people look to the certainties of the past rather than try to cope with the uncertainties of the future.

Perhaps some changes are reversible. We could plan our housing better so that the all-important community can flourish within it. We can use new technology to help people make new friends in new ways. But we cannot reverse technology and communications. We cannot bring back jobs like coal mining and mass manufacturing.

So we need to treat the Leavers of Sleaford with respect. We need to recognise the huge gap between what young people who are born into travel and the internet think and what older people who struggle to grasp new technologies and new ways think. It was probably always thus but the speed of change is now ferocious.

We also need to remember that change is exciting if you are riding the surface of the wave but dreadful if you under the water. The changes have meant that the progression through wage groups and classes has at best stalled and at worst gone into reverse. Social mobility is decreasing. The gig economy is creating jobs but not of a nature to provide a decent living which means that a couple can decently bring up their children. Providing we are prepared to work we all deserve a decent house, a decent job, a decent education and decent old age. For many that is now an unattainable dream.

So when I hit the streets of Sleaford on Friday, no doubt buoyed by an excellent result from Richmond Park and some promising local bye-elections I will be in discussion and not persuasive mode. I am going to campaign but also to learn.


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Social Workers – Our forgotten heroines and heroes


Prof June Thoburn who was recognised for outstanding work as a social worker and in support of social workers.

Like many people the closest I get these days to social workers is looking at the ‘Clare in the Community’ cartoons in the Guardian by the incomparable Harry Venning. I was reflecting on this on Friday night when it was a great honour for me to present an award at the Social Workers annual award event.

You would think I’d meet social workers occasionally. I am the Deputy Chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board and I spend a lot of time looking at the problems we face nationally with regard to social care, especially of the elderly. I am the opposition member on the Liverpool Heath & Wellbeing Board which looks at the same problems locally. I know about the number of children in care; the financial crisis we face; the huge problems of coping with aged and infirm. I know all the statistics but I know little of the people who struggle with those statistics to try and bring help to some of our most fractured and disturbed people in the Country. Of course they look after a lot of other people as well but always people in stress. People coming out of hospital with little or no support; people with severe learning difficulties who have trouble coping in the world particularly so as their parents get older.

So I know the big picture but within that it is easy to forget that the big picture is made up of little pictures. Little perhaps but pictures which can literally be life or death to those who depend on the services of social workers and others within the caring support sector.

Social work is a job that I just could not do. But it is a job that most people think that they could do. For most of the time we are blissfully unaware of the work that they do day in and day out. But we hear about them when a crisis hits the newspapers usually about a crime or terrible happening caused by someone that social workers were trying to look after. Then everyone could do the job! “Any fool could have seen that this man was a danger to society/himself/his family/the public at large”, opine the couch potatoes who ring in to the radio phone in programmes or who become entirely professional after four points of lager in the Rat and Ferret. It’s certainly true that we can all be wise after the event but those who think it is easy clearly have no idea about the complexities of a social workers life.

So how do you go into a clearly stressed family or deal with a clearly stressed individual and with 100% accuracy decide what should be done? Perhaps we could double the number of children in care? Perhaps we could keep far more people in specialist institutions and hospitals? Perhaps we could take away the liberties of everyone who looks iffy? 20% of us will at some time in our lives have mental problems so that might just include you and me! Perhaps we should just leave it all to the ultimate social workers – the police and prison officers who have to tackle some of the hardest problems when people move beyond the competence and legal range of social workers. At what stage should we lock people away, which might make them worse, and at what stage do we provide appropriate support for the majority of the 20% who come though their problems and re-emerge fully into society?

Of course when you look at it like that you cannot be 100% accurate. Many mental problems most clearly manifest themselves inside homes and within families. Those families themselves are, in many cases, protective of the individual and try to provide support. Sometimes they fail to act because of the shame that will surround the family as a whole. Sometimes they are themselves conditioned to problems particularly those who are children who consider unorthodox life styles to be orthodox.

Social workers have to work within very tight financial constraints. This has always been the case but the money is more tightly controlled than ever with demand rising and finance contracting. On a daily basis they make agonising decisions about who to help; who to monitor and who to not help. They know that sometimes not helping will lead to more problems later but they have only the resources to deal with the problems of today.

How do they manage their own lives when they spend the day dealing with other people’s problems? How do they empty their own heads and minds of the suffering of others, especially children, when they go home to their own families? There is a tremendous burn out in social workers with many leaving the profession after a few years.

The prize that I presented was to Professor June Thoburn. She entered the profession as a front line social worker dealing with preventative child and family work. After about 20 years at the front line she became an academic providing a wide range of support to front line social workers. Like the best of academics she had walked the walk. Like the most excellent of academics she continued to walk the walk to ensure that her academic research and teachings were relevant and useful. She has devoted her life to caring for others yet is incredibly modest. As she came to get her award on the stage she whispered to me that she was really a back room sort of person!

On Friday night we celebrated young social workers entering the profession and older ones who have had the rough edges knocked off them – the survivors if you will! What I saw from everyone in the room was a huge compassion for the underdog and fierce determination to redress some of the country’s many wrongs. They are far from overpaid, they are definitely underappreciated! They are indeed the forgotten heroes!

I suggested to the award organisers on Friday that we needed to take the celebration of that event out into councils and communities. We all should know more about the social challenges that society faces and the front line efforts of our magnificent men and women who deal with some many of them. I have already asked our own Director of Adult Services to get me out and talking to our front line social care staff.

What I will definitely do though is talk about the profession more and support them more especially when they are being slagged off in public. It is no surprise that they sometimes make mistakes. The big surprise is that they don’t make more mistakes. So my voice will be heard next time to put the case that they cannot – that they are working in incredibly difficult circumstances with all the cards stacked against and insufficient money, resources and support to do their jobs fully. They are indeed the forgotten heroes of our society caring for those which society would largely prefer to forget. On Friday I was proud to be one of the outsiders to the profession who could salute them and their work



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Why the Lib Dems are supporting a UCATT initiative


Jaguar Cars, produced in Liverpol City Region by an Indian owned company, will be one of the first to suffer if there international trade barriers put in place

Two weeks ago I received an e-mail from the building trades union UCATT asking for my views on the draft motion here:

Motion – British Referendum upon Conclusion of EU Exit Negotiations

This…………. believes that there is an unassailable logic in the argument for a second EU referendum upon the conclusion of negotiations by the British Government.

The uncertainty and lack of open discussion makes this all the more important.  This is not a second bite at ‘a poor decision’ but a real necessity if the national interests are to be best protected.

We call upon constituency ………….. Parties to make this an urgent priority and ensure the widest possible debate with potential ‘coalition’ partners.

We also call on ……………………………………to pursue the above with the utmost vigour.

UCATT had initially written this draft to be presented for support to Labour Constituency Parties but had realised that there needs to be built a partnership of the willing if we are to make any sense at all from the Brexit vote.

I am delighted to say that both the Liverpool City Council Liberal Democrat Group and the Liverpool Liberal Democrat Party have both agreed this motion and have offered to work with UCATT and its partners to bring about what we believe to be necessary – a second Referendum to approve, or not, the terms by which we leave the EU.

It is quite clear that there are no easy answers to what is happening nationally, in Europe or worldwide. The Brexit vote has caused many problems which UCATT members are beginning to bear the brunt of. Major capital works have already been shelved or abandoned. That has not resulted in many job losses yet in the building industry but will do when existing contracts reach completion.

Most of the promises of ‘Leavers’ have proven to be built on sand. It was always clear that there was no extra £350 million per week for the NHS. It was always clear that the remaining EU would not let us go out with penalty. This is just obvious. If you are in a club of any sort you reap the advantages. If you are not you don’t.

To add to this lack or precision from the Leavers the May Government clearly hasn’t got a clue how to take things forward. “Brexit means Brexit” is in itself a meaningless statement. Talk to any Brexiteer and you find that although they want to leave they want to end up in different places. Some want a Norwegian style relationship; some want to be in a Customs Union; some want to be in free trade zone; some want some immigration of some sorts and some want some immigration of other sorts. There is no clear, consistent Government policy and when the 3 Ministers in charge fall out they appear to be less the three Musketeers than an expanded Chuckle Brothers. To add insult to injury they are making fools of themselves and our country with many of the things that they are saying to Countries that we need as our partners inside the EU or not.

But the EU situation has been made much, much worse by the election of Trump in America. This morning he announced that he would immediately halt the Pacific Trade agreement forged over three years with 11 other countries when he becomes President. We have now moved from a position of UK absurdity to one of international lunacy. Let us be clear that if countries put up obstacles to free trade just to protect their own industries then growth world-wide will falter and reverse. Some countries are better at doing some things than others. Some have natural advantages; some have locational advantages; some have educational advantages. Whatever those advantages are it is better that we mutually take advantage of them then regress into a past that is not replicable.

If we leave aside the work of the World Trade Organisation or the EU and others such as the Africa Union; if we abandon any attempt to work together we will retreat into a dog eat dog scenario where none will benefit.

We can see that in so many ways in our Country. We are a major producer of cars yet very few of them are made by a company which is British owned. We have tremendous technical expertise to offer both in the design of cars and the manufacturing of them. But we need access to the international markets so that we can sell those products.

This is true not only of products but also of services. The banking industry needs reform and there is a massive greed within it. BUT on the good side it is a major payer of taxes to the Treasury. We are in danger of losing huge numbers of jobs if our banks cannot passport their services to the EU and now possibly if Trump has his way to the rest of the World. Either we do less or our best brains will leave these shores. Either option leads to diminished revenues for the NHS and all other services.

Our academic institutions are world renowned and rightly so. Liverpool has at any one time 10,000 foreign students pouring money into the city’s and the UK’s economy. Many of those students will not come if we are isolationist. Much research work which is undertaken jointly with institutions around the World has already been threatened by potential Brexit- a situation that can only get worse.

That is why UCATT is entirely right to demand a second EU referendum. Things have changed globally since June and things have become clearer. The people of the UK and only the people of the UK as a whole have the right to decide the way forward based on the new circumstances and the new knowledge.

I don’t know what support UCATT are getting within the Labour Party for their campaign. Labour seem to be as confused as the Tories. Some people might consider that a trades union like UCATT and the Lib Dems are strange bed-fellows indeed. But there comes a time when you have to put aside past histories to come to terms with new realities. For UCATT and the Liberal Democrats that time is now. Join with us both to demand a second referendum on the terms for BREXIT.

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Yabba-Dabba-Doo we’ve got £30million

Carl and some of his team who will be taking on Jeremy Corbyn’s bag carrier next May

So a great triumph is being proclaimed today. Today we got the first instalment of our City Deal money – £1billion apparently. Actually it’s not its £30 million. The first instalment of 30 similar sums on the basis of £30 million per year. That actually comes to £900 million!

Let’s put that in context. There are 1,750,000 people in the city region so the grand handout is equivalent to less than £20 a year each! Compare that with the £90 million that Liverpool Council alone will lose from its central government grants.

When the City Deal was debated in council last year the Lib Dems made clear that we thought it a puny little deal which was only worth supporting because it is a first baby step to getting something worthwhile. As I have discussed in an earlier blog I could only look on with envy as I listened to the story of what Manchester City Region are achieving in the health field alone. Top quality staff brought in from central government to lead the work. Full control of £4.5 billion a year budget for health and an initial support grant of £450 million to transform the service; to cut out waste and more importantly ensure proactive health work to stop people becoming ill as distinct to merely coming in at the end of the process to make people better.

As we now look at the work being done to prepare for the creation of the new Liverpool City Region Mayor next year we find it is of low aspiration and low standard. On the one hand the lack of political vision is appalling. Only our candidate, Carl Cashman is coming up with some really exciting stuff looking at the leadership role of the City Region. Labour seem transfixed on small things. For some reasons their candidate seems to think that they will run the parks with some of the green space commitments that they have made. He also has related the staffing levels of the Combined Authority to the £30,000,000 budget. Of course that is nonsense. The Authority will have more powers and certainly more influence than in the spending of such a modest sum. I don’t think that the Tories have yet selected a candidate but as the third Party in the City Region they are irrelevant.

But it’s not only the policies that are clearly unexciting it’s the whole approach. The scrutiny system being suggested whereby the Mayor and the Authority can be challenged is dreadful. A tedious, small committee controlled largely at present by one party. There are no guarantees of an independent staffing and research budgets so that it can adequately carry out its role of appropriately challenging the political and managerial leadership.

So what we are going to get is a Mark II County Council. Staffed by local government worthies without the power to challenge to bureaucrats in London and with politicians without the vision or clout to make a difference. BUT it doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s start by looking at the public side of the Mayoral/Authority model.

Lib Dems throughout the City Region have called for a ‘London Assembly’ style model that will publicly hold, the Mayor, the Authority and senior staff to account in a way. A regular open forum looking at all areas of combined region activity is essential if people are to be aware of what could be a very remote and closed-shop body. We need to hold the leadership of this body to account in a very clear way. Good, independent and open scrutiny is a vital part of good decision making. Knowing that you are going to be held to account means that better, more thought through and more coordinated policies are put forward in the first instance.

We have also unitedly called for the Authority to be more visionary and aggressive in its work. We are not suggesting that they should do things that are unlawful. Far from it. Liverpool has suffered too much from that sort of behaviour from the Labour Party in the past. What we want the new Mayor and Authority to do is think big. The Liverpool City Region has 1.75 million residents. It has a huge GDP, 3 Unis, a Super port, a fast growing Airport and a skilled workforce. That is what it needs to tell the World about.

I am delighted that Cllr Cashman understands all this and will be actively promoting these think big ideas. He is already putting together a manifesto that will ensure that Liverpool is once again an outgoing city looking for business in the World. Both a Trump Presidency and Brexit create a huge number of problems for the LCR but as with any change they also present opportunities for the quick thinking and the fleet of foot! Liverpool has one of the best ‘brand names’ in the World. Having represented the UK on the international scene for 10 years I know that vibrancy and potential connected with the international view of us.

Let’s take post Trump America. I think that there will be lots of footloose companies wishing to escape from Trump and all he stands for. These companies will be overwhelmingly in the new technologies and new thought processes. Where better for such a company to come than to a city which speaks English (well almost!), which is the nearest access point to America and has traditionally fulfilled that role; which has high quality Educational establishments; which has a thriving culture and cheap housing. We need to be out there selling the opportunities now. The Authority and Mayor should not be looking inward but outward at these and all the opportunities that are available to us.

On a smaller point I am pleased that Cllr Cashman has taken up the cudgels alongside us to get rid of the position of elected Mayor in Liverpool City. Three Mayors is just one too many. We can save £500,000 by abolishing the position of Liverpool Mayor and will still have a political leader and a Lord Mayor (and 5 others) to do the hand shaking and the flag waving to visitors as we attract them to our area for investment, tourism and education.

I look forward to the launch of Cllr Cashman’s manifesto for change in the New Year. I hope that Labour will manage to produce a manifesto for this year in good time (in last years Liverpool Mayoral election Labour produced no manifesto just a ragbag of ideas hours before voting opened). I am sure that will really show up my assertion that the election will be a contest between Jeremy Corbyn’s bag carrier and Carl Cashman’s youthful freshness and initiative.

Can I ask everyone to do something to help the debate? In last year’s mayoral election there was only one public hustings meeting at which people could hold the candidates to account. There was a debate on Radio Merseyside and individual interviews on CityTalk. We need far more challenge than that. Will your church, residents association; campaign group, amenity group, school help the democratic process by setting up hustings meetings and other challenges within and for your community? That would really help focus people’s ideas on this election which otherwise I am sure will have a very, very low turnout.

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