It was Fifty Years Ago Today

Grimond

Rt Hon Jo Grimond. One of the finest orators I have ever heard and a huge liberal in thoughts, principles and practice

Okay it is confession time. For the past 18 months I have been lurking in the Lib Dem Newbies Facebook page at the request of the notorious Daisy Benson. Some of you might have guessed that I am not quite a Newbie but because I look so youthful you might not have appreciated just how long it is since I joined the Party. In fact today is the 50th Anniversary of my going to a meeting at the home a quite remarkable woman, Cllr Mrs Neva Orrell and signed up to be a Young Liberal. Do you know that although it has not been the easiest of paths to be a Liberal there is not one day in those fifty years (well perhaps just the odd one or two) that I have regretted joining up and serving my country by fighting for the liberal, democratic ideals which even Theresa May realises are at the heart of a successful UK.

Tim Farron and I have something in common. He too joined the Party at 72, Turpin Green Lane, Leyland. When I asked him recently how old he was when I joined his answer was minus 3! My revenge on him will be assured! But what a woman she was. It’s not too easy being a Lib Dem Cllr now when at our worst levels there have been 1,800 of us out of about 22,000 in England. Just imagine what it must have been like being one of just 300 Liberal councillors out of more than 50,000 which was the figure prior to the local government reorganisation in 1973.

The Liberal Party almost disappeared then only clinging on in a handful of seats because of local eccentricities or pacts. The greatest orator that I have ever personally heard Jo Grimond hauled us back from the brink of disaster and led our predecessors to the ‘sound of gunfire’.

My own personal highlights are linked to so many other people and events.

I went to my first Young Liberal Conference and got told off by Tony (now Lord) Greaves for being too noisy. He was a grumpy old bugger even then!

I rapidly became a “Jones Boy!” I was one of the earliest converts to the concepts and practices of Community Politics which I had voted for at a Young Liberal Assembly and then helped Sir Trevor Jones put into practice in Liverpool and elsewhere.

I was the organiser for David Austick when we won the Ripon by-election in 1973 on the same day that Clement Freud won the Isle of Ely.

I spent many hours helping Graham (now Lord) Tope become the MP for Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park. Printing leaflets for him and then sleeping on them on the back of a van taking them down to be delivered the next day.

I moved to Liverpool between the two General Elections in 1974 to become David (now Lord) Alton’s agent. Edge Hill was one of the three constituencies in the Country where the Liberal vote increased between the two elections.

Having arrived in Liverpool at the end of May 1974 I became a councillor at the beginning of May 1975. I gained a seat back from the Tories by 56 votes that we had lost in a by-election the previous summer. Just think there used to be Tories in Liverpool.

As a new councillor I was shocked by what I saw when I became responsible for the homeless. Liverpool was the first city in the Country to close the Common Lodging Houses exemplified in Orwell’s ‘Down and out in London and Paris’.

When I became responsible for housing as a whole we had the biggest housing cooperative programme in the whole of Western Europe. Every one of them forced through in the teeth of Labour opposition.

In 1998 we took overall control for the first time of Liverpool City Council. I remember following Mike (now Lord) Storey as he left BBC Radio Merseyside to go to the victory party leaving me to respond to a series of questions about policies that he announced that none of the rest of us knew anything about.

I then got my best ever job in 2005 when I became the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in local government and Vice Chair of the LGA. At 9.15 I was copied into an e-mail from the LGA. At 9.30 I got another e-mail in which I was an addressee and not copied in. That could only mean one thing, the previous Leader, Sir Chris Clark, had failed to gain a seat after moving to live in another County. Such is the brutal nature of electoral politics you are either definitely in or very definitely out!  I was never actually elected as Leader at the LGA as the 4 times I was up I was returned unopposed.

And so it goes on to this day when a young man called Joe Harmer, has literally just knocked at my door to go delivering. We are going to get him elected to the Council in a bye-election on May 4th for Wavertree Ward.

Of course there have been downs. The elections where we didn’t make it. Going down to just 2 members of the Liverpool City Council from a height of 68. Until last May you had to be called Kemp, represent Church Ward and have a CBE to be a Lib Dem councillor. Now we are up to 4 councillors and whilst not yet firing on all 4 cylinders we are certainly looking forward to any elections in this City much more than the Labour Party.

As Frank Sinatra sang, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention”. So I won’t!

This Party has given me great friendships; great opportunities; a place from which I could do things for people and a spirit which has been unquenched in even the darkest times.

Even now I can deliver faster and longer than most 20 year olds and love the doorstep. Even now I look for new challenges within the Party and have just suggested new way of developing quick responses to Government Policy that seems to meet general approval.

Who knows what the future holds?    Providing I’m healthy I will continue to look for new challenges in the Party I love to do good things for the City I love. As long as I have the person I love (the gorgeous and ever forgiving Erica Kemp) beside me I’m up for the fight.

I hope that all those 45,000+ people who have joined our Party recently will be able to look back in 20 years or even 50 and also say that they made the right decisions for themselves; their community and their Country as I am able to do today.

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Why are British Banks so C++P?

stone

This stone wall was more communicative, thoughful and sympathetic than the three banks I dealt with last week!

Regular readers of my blog know that most of the time my erudite contribution are aimed at the highest intellectual level to amuse inspire and inform (or at least I hope that is what you think!) Occasionally, however, I blog to get something off my chest which has really annoyed me. THIS IS ONE OF THOSE TIMES!!!!!

I have troubles with all three banks that I have dealt with this week. Let me start with Monday.

Earlier in March I had arranged to make a transfer for a term account with the Post Office Bank. When I looked at the slip I noticed that the bank was transferring only 10% of what they were supposed to be transferring. They had left a nought off!! So off I went to the Post Office Branch who said that there may have been a mistake but it wasn’t necessarily theirs. That could be true but I remember well asking for the right amount and that the person behind the counter had never done such a transaction before. It is also true that I should have looked carefully but the little slip that the Post Office gave me was in such small type that I could only just read it at all.

There was nothing they could do in the Post Office I had to ring a call centre. There was nothing they could do in the call centre either. They apologised but their system would not allow any correction. So I accepted that and went into the Post Office once again to make the transfer for the remaining amount knowing that I would not get it for 30 days.

So off I went to my local bank. This is the Nat West a bank I have now been with for 46 years. No problem here I thought I have never owed them a penny and they are sure to give me a quick, short term overdraft facility. Problem one was that their systems had been down all weekend and the staff could only give partial information and were run off their feet. But the problem with getting an overdraft for them was, THAT I HAD NEVER OWED THEM A PENNY!!

There was no-one in the branch who can give an overdraft of even the modest level that I wanted. So they gave me a number to call. This put me through to a computer that asked for two numbers off me that I did not have. Twice more I went to the Nat West local branch and was given different numbers which I was assured would connect me to a person. On my fourth visit to the Bank I insisted that they find me the person. After them holding onto a line for about 10 minutes they were able to achieve this and the overdraft I wanted was through in 5 minutes with the minimum of fuss.

So the next problem was with the HSBC on Friday. The Liverpool Lib Dems have just changed treasurer and secretary and the bank mandate needed to be changed. Our new treasurer is Erica so absolutely trustworthy and competent. She had given all the stuff required to change the signatories and everything was agreed with the Bank about being able to reuse the account again. So on Monday she wrote me a cheque and two others. On Thursday she was rung in the morning by the former treasurer, Graham Hulme an ACA who also knows what he is doing, to say that the bank had been on to him to say that the bank was refusing the cheques because the signatures on the cheque were not right.

Immediately Erica shot into town and talked to the relevant clerk (as he described himself). HSBC had lost the new mandates and signatures etc and were relying on the old ones. Nothing could be done unless people came in to once again prove who they were and to sign new forms. So on Friday because I needed the cash that day 4 people had to go in to the bank and provide enough evidence to enable them to pay me and two outside individuals who must have thought that the Lib Dems were scoundrels for issuing a cheque that would not be honoured.

Which brings me back to the Post Office Bank. This morning I got a letter from them saying I could not have another withdrawal because I already had one going through! I rang Omagh again and despite a great deal of sympathy there was nothing that the staff member could do. So I have to go into the Post Office again on Monday to once again ask for money. They could not explain why the counter staff in the Post Office had been unable to tell me this when I went in to make the second transfer although all the count details were available to them.

So I have come to a number for conclusions.

  1. That banks are generally bad at customer service.
  2. That they really only like you if you borrow large amounts from them.
  3. That they are desperate to drive you into on-line banking.
  4. That the whole operation is delivered by algorithms rather than people with discretion who can apply common sense to issues.

Throughout the many hours I spent sorting out banks this week I was partly reassured by the way that individual staff members tried to help me. I have nothing but praise for people who have to deal with the c++p and ill thought systems and therefore deal with angry people like me on a day-to-day basis.

But I have nothing but contempt for the big cheeses with the fat heads who lead these banks. If I could put my money elsewhere I would but all the evidence that I have seen suggest that they are all equally as bad as each other.

I hope that this Blog hasn’t been too boring but I DO FEEL BETTER!!

Why not post your bank problems here. The therapy really is worthwhile!

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Stop the transfer of services from LCH to the Royal and Alder Hey announced today

Royal Liverpool

The Royal Hospital has enough problems with its own rebuild programme to be able to take over the servcies of LCH. It has few competences in community based health practice

Liverpool’s Lib Dem Leader, Cllr Richard Kemp, has asked the Chief Executive of NHS England to pause the move of community based health services from LCH to the Royal and Alder Hey Hospitals which has been announced today.

In a letter to Simon Stevens copied to the Chair of the House of Commons Health Select Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP and Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem health spokesperson, Cllr Kemp has described the tendering process as botched and bungled and has asked for the NHS to do three things before the transfer of undertakings

  1. Review the tendering process to ensure that at the prices offered the service is deliverable;
  1. That the competences are put in place in Alder Hey and RLH at a senior level to manage these activities before any transfer; and
  1. That ways of ‘ring-fencing’ the existing budgets are put in place to make sure that appropriate work continues to be done within the community.

Cllr Kemp says, “This has been a botched and bungled exercise by Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group which has created a huge cost for NHS bodies and leads to an outcome which could place the future of community based health services in doubt within the City. The only way we can make the NHS which we so love sustainable is to do far more within the community and to stop people becoming ill in the first place. Acute hospitals like the Royal and Alder Hey exist to fill beds. They do not have the aptitude or experience to run community based services.

Ends:   Cllr Kemp can be contacted on 07866 626913

The full letter to Simon Stevens, The Chief Executive of NHS England is appended.

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE,

Leader Liverpool Liberal Democrats

16, Dovedale Road,

Liverpool L18 1DW

Richardkemp68@yahoo.co.uk

                                                           07885 626913

 

Simon Stevens,

Chief Executive,

NHS England

PO Box 16738,

Redditch,

B97 9PT

30th March 2017

Dear Simon,

Re:       Reallocation of services provided by LCH in Liverpool

I am writing to you to express my extreme concern over both the process involved in ‘winding up’ the affairs of LCH and the outcome of the process which was to transfer its core activities in Liverpool to two hospitals the Royal and Alder Hey.

The process has been botched and bungled from the start. There was little attempt to get the two relevant CCGs in whose areas the LCH had worked, to work together on a joint bidding process. Whilst I understand there were financial differences in the two areas the tendering exercise across a wide footprint would clearly have been more cost effective to both CCGs and those who tendered. It would also have attracted a wider number of bidders as the prize and the potential for real costs savings would have been greater.

The process in Liverpool seems to have been established with only one intent – to ensure that Bridgewater got the contract. How an organisation that was ‘Required to Improve’ by NHSI and which was shedding contracts in other parts of its areas of operation could be allowed to bid for new work is beyond me. But that is what happened.

There are obvious attractions to working with Merseycare, which is the most relevant operation in the area in terms of community based practices. They have got the contract in the Sefton area but not in Liverpool. I understand that this was because there was a price difference between themselves and Bridgewater. This could of course mean that Bridgewater was deliberately under-pricing to get the work whilst Mersey Care was setting a true base for the work. This suspicion now has been compounded by the fact that Bridgewater is not to get the work. My understanding is that between them Bridgewater and Merseycare have spent £2 million on this process only to find that the contract has been placed elsewhere after discussions which have lacked a strong, robust and independent procurement process.

The work has now been placed with a consortium of the Royal Hospital and Alder Hey. Whilst it was right that some of the peripheral services previously undertaken by LCH neither of these hospitals have experience of running the community based services that LCH provided. I understand the desire for what the NHS now calls ‘Vertical Integration’ in that one organisation can oversee the entire work being undertaken around individual patients and their families BUT:

  1. That can only be properly achieved if the organisation has the proven expertise in the additional fields and the capacity to deliver them; and
  1. There are strong safeguards in place to ensure that the money remains within the community activities which are so desperately needed. As we have seen recently with the so-called £1billion awarded by the Government to mental health activity large parts of this were swiped by the CCGs and put into dealing with the financial difficulties of the acute hospital services.

It is my belief that unless we do more in terms of preventative public health activity; cost-effective community based activity and then swift action within the community to get people out of hospital the NHS will simply buckle under the strain.

For these reasons I am asking you to put the transfers of responsibilities to RLH and Alder Hey on hold pending a top level review of:

  • The tendering process to ensure that at the prices offered the service is deliverable
  • That the competences are put in place in Alder Hey and RLH at a senior level to manage these activities before any transfer; and
  • That ways of ‘ring-fencing’ the existing budgets are put in place to make sure that appropriate work continues to be done within the community.

On a wider level I am not clear that the expertise exists either within your own organisation or NHSI to manage operations of this sort. The cost to the NHS and taxpayer by this sort of bungling is immense and all of it is money that would be better spent on patient care. I would be interested to know, as I am sure would Dr Wollaston MP and Norman Lamb MP about the role that NHSE and NHSI have played in this very sad affair.

Yours sincerely,

 

 

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE

Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Health & Social Care, Local Government Association

 

Cc:       Norman Lamb MP, Lib Dem Spokesperson Health and Social Care

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chair, Health Select Committee.

 

 

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Key questions about Everton’s New Stadium

Everton_FC

We want the Everton Stadium Plan to come off but there are many, many questions that need to be answered.

Just to avoid doubt and to stop the spread the circulation of malicious rumours I want to see Everton develop a new stadium and I believe that, in principle, the North Docks are the best place to do it. Having two big clubs in Liverpool is clearly in the interest of every tax payer. Just look at the hotels, bars, shops and restaurants when either of the clubs are playing in town. They add a lot of money directly to our communities; add a lot of money through the business rates which will now keep all of and add a huge amount to the prestige of the City. The Bramley Moore Dock area clearly needs something big to kick start as the Albert Dock kick-started the redevelopment of the South Docks 30+ years ago.

I say these things because it is now my task, as an opposition councillor to hold the controlling Party (in this case the Mayor) to account and ask questions about this and any other time when they propose to spend money or in other ways commit the resources of the Council.

It seems to me that the very brief report on such a complex matter leaves many questions unanswered. Here are just some of them.

  1. Why is a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle’ needed for a transaction that should be relatively simple? Club builds stadium, club uses stadium!
  1. Why do billionaires (the ones who now own EFC) need a guarantee from a third party? In fact why do they need a loan at all? Surely they should be able to fund the development either from their own resources or by giving ‘mortgages’ against their own existing assets. This would not enable the Council to make a profit from the deal but would be cheaper for the owners. Does the Council know what assets the Club and its owners have available to them?
  1. What assets are available to the council to use against a guarantee if, for any reason, work stopped on the development before the stadium was completed. The owners of EFC come from a very difficult region of the world and who knows what might happened in that area within the next 2 or 3 years that might prevent them fully committing to the Club as it is now never mind as it will appear throughout development. The report only talks about the loan being secured against the rental income. But if there is no rental income?!
  1. What will happen to EFC’s current ground? I understand that it will have a negative value when the club and its revenue stream move out. It will costs more to develop and remediate the land than the land will be sold for.
  1. What will happen to those pubs, snack bars etc. who currently make a considerable part of their income from the EFC presence? Will they be given preference for the new facilities around the new ground and will they be able to afford it?
  1. How much will the public sector need to put in to make this work? The report makes clear that the Club needs no finance from the Council for the stadium but who is going to pay for everything else? There will need to be a huge investment in roads; transport; a new station; new services and general infrastructure to mean that the stadium is accessible and useable. To develop the L1 shopping centre the private sector put in £1.1 billion. But the public sector put in £100 million for infrastructure which is in a better shape that that in the North Docks.
  1. What will the costs be to the public sector for this external activity? Given that a large amount of the money for L1 public works came from the EU, a source no longer available to us, will the money have to come from other road etc? Programmes for which there is already little cash in the pot?
  1. Why is there no consideration being given to the vital infrastructure questions in this report. Do we know what is needed? Have we any idea of the costs of the programme of action which will ensue?

As I said at the outset the Liberal Democrats wish this scheme well. We want it to work. But at the moment there are too many questions which have not been answered in the report. Questions that could come back to haunt both us and Everton.

Just remember some of the problems with other clubs:

  • Northampton Borough Council appears to have lost £10 million on an so-called investment in their local team’s plans for a new stadium.
  • Leeds City Council has twice lost money on investing in Leeds FC when they tried to provide help to keep Leeds in the top flight and top earnings levels.
  • We all know the problems with Manchester Utd when new owners failed to put their own money in and instead, in that case, piled the debt on the club in a way that proved to be unsustainable.

The Liberal Democrats are asking these questions not because we want to stop then proposals but because we want to ensure that it proceeds on a firm footing. This is a minimum 40 year deal for the council. We must get it right.

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The British response to terrorism? Carry on as normal

Whitehall

A picture I took of Whitehall at about 5 pm on 22nd March. Normally you can’t move for traffic near Trafalgar Square at this time

What a nasty piece of work Katie Hopkins is. I’ve only heard of her recently as I do not frequent the type of media where she contributes. I did, however, come across her today for something she contributed to Fox News, another outfit that I have little time for. Basically she claimed that London had been cowed by the terrorist attack on the Houses of Parliament yesterday. I don’t know where she was but I was just outside the exclusion barrier and it did not seem like that to me.

Clearly there was shock as we were only about 300 yards from the ‘action.’ Concern was expressed about what was happening. There was clear interest and sympathy were expressed about the potential victims and the fact that our Parliament had been attacked. But no panic and certainly no thought of being cowed by the action of one or many. London moved on not without heart, not without sympathy but it moved as it always does when problems beset it.

That, Ms Hopkins, is the British way. It may not suit your warped belief systems that we don’t panic; that we don’t carry on; that most of us will not be lured into racist and separatist views by the acts of one person. But that’s just the way that we are and have always been. Perhaps that was exemplified best by the fact that the emergency services fought to save the life of the attacker although they must have been appalled by his actions. That is what we do Katie Hopkins.

Today Parliament reassembled at the normal time. Of course it is true that they had tributes and silence for the dead and injured. Then they got on with the business of running a democracy as they should do. For most of us this will be a one day wonder. We will hope and indeed expect that lessons will be learned. But democracy is not always easy to physically defend.

On the one hand we need to protect our law makers and other decision makers who, for good or ill, with or against our wishes make decisions which affect us on a daily basis. On the other hand democracy cannot work unless it can connect at its heart with the people it serves. I have been in the Commons, Lords or Portcullis House 6 times this year for different events connects with local government and how we serve the people. On any day thousands of people visit Parliament either to participate as I do or to be tourists to see their MPs in action or just wonder and the beauty of the buildings. Nothing must prevent that from happening.

But for others the day will change their lives for ever. The families of the innocent dead will remember the 22nd of March 2017 for the rest of their lives. In 20 years’ time their families will be wondering what their kinsperson would have achieved if their lives had not been cut short. Every police officer will think about the dangers and perhaps give their spouses and children an extra hug as they set off for a shift from which they might not return.

My predecessor as Lib Dem Leader in Liverpool, Paula Keaveney, was caught up in this. Two of the Edge Hill students which she was taking to the Commons were injured and one hospitalised. OK they are fine and will recover. They will always think of the car running at them; they will always remember the time secluded in Westminster Hall as they waited to be allowed out safely. Will that turn them against democracy? Will it make them more determined to get stuck in and make our democracy work? Only time will tell.

I was appalled at the reaction of Donald Trump Jr in his criticism of the words of the mayor of London. Cities can be dangerous places. BUT British cities are nowhere near as dangerous as American ones. Here guns are still a rarity. Mass killings take place very infrequently compared to one a day in the USA.

We can never stop the type of event that happened yesterday. Unless you ban cars and knives people will always have the ability to kill and maim. Even then they can kill you with brick or a knotted scarf.

You can only do three things:

  1. Provide decent but controlled access to the places where people and power meet. We do need to check every public building not only Parliament but our Town Halls as well.

 

  1. Work with communities to promote greater harmony in our society and better understanding of the views and opinions of others.

 

  1. Work within communities to enable them to detect people who might be on the verge of extremism and get the authorities to deal with them quickly and safely.

 

To some this will sound like wishy-washy liberalism. Guilty as charged! But I actually think that this what most people think. People like Ms Hopkins don’t really like the UK of 2017. They pine for an imaged world of 1917 when the UK was a great nation at the heart of an empire and where Johnny Foreigner knew his place. Those days are dead and gone. If you don’t like that Ms Hopkins go to America, become a full blooded Trumper but don’t try and spread you nonsense in this country or about this country.

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At last a Joe we can all like!!

harmer

Joe Harmer. The first of many new and vibrant members of the Liverpool Lib Dems who will be taking seats from Labour on the council.

The Lib Dems have adopted Joe Harmer as our candidate for the bye-election for the Wavertree Ward which will be held on May 4th. the same day as the Liverpool City Region Mayoral election.

Joe Harmer only joined the Party in September 2015 but comes from a long Lib Dem tradition. His father Roger is the Deputy Leader of the Birmingham Lib Dems. Wavertree Ward was held by the Lib Dems for many years before the formation of the coalition in Westminster which caused many of our supporters to stay at home.

Joe Harmer said, “As I have gone around Wavertree in the past few weeks it has become absolutely clear to me that the councillors have not been doing their job. Resident after resident have reported to me that rubbish has been left in the streets, lights have been left unrepaired and the basics of a clean, green and safe neighbourhood have been ignored by Labour councillors. I know from working with my Dad what a difference a good hard working Lib Dem councillor can make to the people of an area like Wavertree.

My own view is simple. Wavertree Ward, part of which I represented until 2004, has never looked worse. No-one seems to care about the day to day problems of its people. Joe Harmer will be great at a local level but will also be a great and confident member of our growing team on the City Council. With Lib Dems gaining seats from Labour and Tory alike nationally and with Labour locally as well as nationally arguing amongst themselves and not against the Tory Government we will go all out to win this seat.

Wavertree is part of our Southern Seats Strategy. Already in our super seven targets we have this bye-election and at least two more Labour councillors have decided not to stand next year so that they can spend more time with their families!

 

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Let’s have a real debate about drugs

Cannabis

Donald Trump probably thinks that this is a number of shamrock plants. It is in fact cannabis! We need to reconsider as a society how we deal with this and other drugs

At the Lib Dem Spring Conference we held an interesting debate about prisons and the need for reform. Per head of population the UK has more people in prison than any other country in Western Europe. This does not say, regrettably that we have the lowest crime rates in Western Europe. Prisons have reached the point where they can no longer rehabilitate. They are overcrowded and understaffed. They just lock people up in such a way that the only learning is about how to be a better criminal.

One of the reasons for this is the way that we treat drugs. Up to 14,000 of the approximately 85,000 people in orison are there because of convictions relating to drugs dealing or usage.

The drugs trade causes huge problems in our society for all of us. Many burglaries and much petty crime is caused by users needing a fix. At the more serious end of the trade serious drug pushers and importers make massive amounts of money from this business. Many of the shootings and stabbings in Liverpool, are connected with turf wars over the drugs trade as gangs fight for territorial advantage.

Lib Dems believe that we should thoroughly review the way the state handles drugs and seek to decriminalise it. Those who just use should be left to get on with it subject, of course, to limits on how they drive and do other things whilst under the influence.

Some people will say that this is totally irresponsible and that by advocating this line, which I support, we are encouraging drugs dependency. There are two responses to this:

  1. That nothing we have done so far has actually stopped the increase in the users and usage of drugs. I have no personal experience but apparently it is very easy to get hold of the recreation drug of your choice.
  2. That this is also true of other things which are legal and controlled. Tobacco; Alcohol and gambling are all addictive but they are also legal.

Of course some people become alcoholics now; some get addicted to gambling and some smoke themselves to an early grave. BUT with the exception of gambling alcohol and smoking problems are on the decrease. Adult smoking numbers have gone from 80% to 20%. Binge drinking on the streets is in sharp decline although middle class dinner party and end of the working day drinking is increasing.

So all thoughts of things can progress from a minor usage to addiction but we treat drugs very differently.

What would happen, do you think, if we did decriminalise drugs and instead:

  • Sold them in a regulated way?
  • Through approved, visible and checkable retailers?
  • Subjected them to tax?
  • Provided overt help to people to come off their usage?

Well to some extent we know the answers to this. In other countries, largely Scandinavian, which have moved in this direction drug usage has declined; the number of addicts has declined; the amount of crime associated with them has declined. The tax take has gone up which means that countries taking this attitude, for example in Scandinavia, are able to pay for the consequences of dealing with the addictions caused.

You can also see what happened in the USA after the abandonment of prohibition of alcohol where everything predicted in the preceding paragraph actually happened.

As we look at costs we can see that removing just 2/3 of the people currently in prison would save the state more than £3 billion every year. Then we would reduce the cost of the police and emergency health services. We would reduce our insurance costs which are hugely inflated by burglary claims as people find things to sell to feed the habit.

Above all the US experience was that lots of people became less attracted to the use of alcohol because part of the thrill of drinking was that of doing something a little naughty, but which at the end of the day did neither them or other recreational users much if any harm.

You may not agree with this. Fair enough. But no-one I know thinks that what we are doing at present is successful. Most people think we are losing the battle because of the way that we currently conduct it. Change is inevitable so how do we handle change? The way to do is to get together with people from all persuasions and backgrounds to thrash out the myths from the facts the reality from the gossip and do something jointly to come up with implementable solutions.

A failure to do so allows super criminals to laugh all the way to the Cost del Sol. It allows people to be swept into petty crime. It allows our homes to be invaded by petty criminals and it allows us all to pay a very, very high price for inaction.

Will you join me locally or nationally in this debate?

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