Botches; boobs and U-Turns. The story of Labour in Liverpool

We need to convert this building into a place where there is continued dialogue with the people and businesses of Liverpool. At the moment the Council is performing more U turns than a Learner driver the day before their practical driving test!!

In the past few weeks Labour, led by Joe Anderson, has committed three huge U-turns in Liverpool. In all three of them Mayor Anderson finally made the right decision but only after creating much misery, upset and annoyance in the City which, given his later decisions were unnecessary. All three of them were a long time in the making but the U-turn to the right decisions was rapid. The key factor in all three was the rapid and public action of concerned citizens of Liverpool. In all three cases we were pleased as a Party to get behind the efforts of those citizens. We did so because, as Joe Anderson finally agreed, those citizens were right.

The three issues had different roots and we don’t fully know what those roots are. The issues were the reopening of St. Johns Market; the potential for a Zipwire over the commemorative area for our war dead at St John’s Gardens and the potential closure of Millvana and Brushwood Care Homes.

If we take these one by one we see another common future. A failure to involve the people of Liverpool generally and the users of services specifically.

The St John’s Market problems go back about 5 years. The decision was taken to refurbish the Market which was in need of some tender, loving care. We all agree that but we don’t agree on the way the Council went about it. A decision was taken to appoint an architect with no experience of markets. To compound the problem absolutely no consultation took place with market traders or shoppers. No reason was given for the market to exist other than that it had always existed.

The result was the development of a sterile, tedious environment which was loathed by people who had been regular market users from day one. The traders did their best but it soon became clear that people did not want to visit the Market no matter how good were the bargains on offer (and there are some real bargains to be had there). The Council refused to listen and so the Traders turned to Cllr Juarez and me to intervene. It worked, we thought, the Mayor did visit and listen and promised to make improvements and not to collect rent and charges for 6 months. But the improvements were not made until very recently and no income has been received for two+ years. The terms on which the market was going to reopen post Covid lockdown would have crippled the traders until I intervened on their behalf.

The Zipwire is a story also long in the making. It appears that two years ago some levels of assurances were given that the Council would welcome the proposal for the Zipwire from St John’s Beacon to the Central Library. It only really came to a head when planning permission was granted. I launched a petition and on behalf of the Lib Dem Group requisitioned a Council meeting which would have taken place on 30th September. More importantly Engage CIC and the Victorian Society took a keen interest in the proposal and we happily ‘pulled back’ because they could provide a better professional and community campaign than we could as a Political Party.

Every effort was made to persuade the people of Liverpool that the Zipwire was a good idea. Pressure was put on Labour Cllrs and professional lobbyist Frank McKenna led a spirited, but ill-informed campaign that this would actually create jobs although no justification was given for the tourism claims made. One day the Mayor was furiously defending the idea and then suddenly the idea was dropped! The right decision but only after our City had been made a laughing stock in national media for our ‘Disneyfication’ process for our City Centre.

The last case, Brushwood & Millvana is, in many ways the worst of these cases because it affects 83 very fragile people and their relatives who love them and care about their welfare. Out of the blue Liverpool was informed that the care homes would close and that the residents would be moved to other locations by the end of October. The homes were not full enough to be viable apparently because of Covid was the claim made. This claim lacks credibility. All over the Country there are short term problems with care homes caused by the Coronavirus. What we do know, however, is that in the mid to long term the number fo people who will be affected by dementia will rise. At present 30% of us will have some element of dementia before we die and increasingly many will need the intensive care needed at these two homes.

As a Lib Dem I welcomed what Paul Brant and Mayor Anderson had done in building the homes which are state of the art and provided accommodation which we should all aspire to for our relatives. When the closure was mooted I wanted to know more and immediately called for a report to go to special meetings the Health & Wellbeing Board and the Social Care and Health Select Committee. That never happened. Instead a group of friends and relatives set up a great community campaign to save the homes. As with other campaigns we did not take a leading role because that would have politicised the campaign. However, we did provide the support that was asked of us as the main opposition Party in the City.

When Cllrs Juarez, Kris Brown and I turned up on Monday at the request of relatives we were bowled over with the sheer determination of these people and were able to give our support to those who were able to safely gather together in the vigil. We were delighted that the speaker after me, Ian Byrne, brought to the meeting a message from the Mayor that new options were being looked at and that people should not either look for new jobs or new homes for their loved ones. The right thing to say and do by Mayor Anderson but why had he only been supporting the closure days before?

So the three things that they have in common area:

  • A failure to adequately research projects in early stages;
  • A failure to involve the people of Liverpool and service users at the right time; and
  • A failure to talk to affected people when the going got tough.

There are still questions to be answered about what happened in the Cunard to bring these three sets of ideas forward. We continue to ask those questions although getting answers is not easy.

But two of these fights are not yet over. The Zipwire cannot be resuscitated. St John’s Market Traders still don’t have a fair and reasonable contract to base their livelihoods on. We still don’t have firm proposals for Brushwood and Millvana, only a suggestion that alternatives are now being looked.

We need to change the system; we need to have a council leadership that is accessible and will listen to people rather than arrogantly pushing ahead with daft ideas.

That’s the alternative which my Party and I hope to create for the hard-pressed citizens of this City.

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We must find ways to keep Brushwood & Millvina Care Homes open

We need to be talking about ways to keep the care homes Brushwood in Speke, pictured above, and Millvina House open because there is without a doubt a long term need for heir services

On Monday I will be visiting the vigil arranged by relatives of Brushwood and Millvina Care Homes. A Labour Cllr has already accused me of grandstanding. I can assure him that I am only going because I have been asked to go. If I hadn’t been asked, I would have asked the relatives if they would like me to come. The last thing we want in a situation like this is Party Politics. I am going because above all I want hear from the carers of the residents.

I personally feel that it is important that politicians ought to be around when there are problems. It’s great to turn up at an opening of a place or to deliver good news. Talking to people about bad news however, is something that too many people shy away from.

We should never forget that we are dealing here with money and statistics although both of those are important. We are dealing with 83 very fragile and confused people. Just as importantly we are dealing with probably 1,000 relatives and friends who are desperate to ensure that the residents will continue to be cared for properly. There are also 130 jobs to be considered here at a time when unemployment is rising rapidly.

I’ve also been accused by another Labour councillor of not knowing what I am talking about. That, in part, is correct. On the day that the closures were announced I asked for a meeting of the Health & Wellbeing Board where the Council and Health sectors consider strategy and the Health & Social Care Select Committee which has a statutory responsibility to scrutinise health and social care systems and strategies in the City. In the past 6 weeks there has been no attempt to either call a meeting of those committees or even to let representatives of the committee have a briefing. This is wholly unacceptable.

So, what do we know?

Firstly, because of the work I do on Health & Social care nationally, I know that all over the Country providers of residential health care are having difficulties. To be blunt a lot of the people they care for have died earlier than expected and that relatives are reluctant to put their loved ones into a care home because of the problems that occurred during the early stages of lockdown.

Secondly, we know that in Liverpool and all over the UK more people are living longer and therefore that more people will develop dementia. For many they will enter at worst a situation which we used to think of as being, ‘slightly dotty’. But a proportion will end up being beyond the ability of their family to provide day to day. That’s what Millvina and Brushwood are all about. As more and more people get older, more and more people will need alternative dementia care. This is not someone else’s problem. Before we die 30% of us will have some dementia problems. I have two relatives who are suffering at this point in time. So, if we don’t   need these places now, we will need them in the very near future.

Thirdly, we do know that these are first class facilities with first class staff offering a first-class service. That’s what I want for my relatives and for me if I end up needing such help. These facilities have enabled residents to live with the maximum dignity and for their families and friends to have the maximum reassurance about the care being given.

What we don’t know is a much longer list.

When did the Council know there were difficulties?

Why did they sign up to the contract that they did?

Why did they build two blocks at the same time?

What was the estimate made pre-Covid about the number of people who would need this facility?

What is the estimate now being made during and hopefully at some stage post-Covid about the numbers who will need these facilities and when they will be required?

What alternatives is the Council looking at for the buildings? Both the Mayor and Cabinet Member for Health have made clear that they will not let the buildings be used for something outside social care so what do they have in mind?

Did any expression of interest come in for a new contractor to care for the staff?

How many places are there in high quality facilities for the residents to be moved to?

So, there are more questions than answers. I think it sad that the Council is so reluctant to come forward to talk about the background to this; the current situation; and the future for the buildings, residents and staff.

I personally think that the Council is looking at things the wrong way round. Instead of seeing how they can empty the buildings they should be working out how to fill them! There is a growing need out there which may need slightly different types of services than the ones currently being provided. However, just look round your own community and see the people who do need real, high standard care.

We now have an opportunity provided by the Government who have announced £546 million for care homes in England over the Winter. I urge the Council to use some of this money to extend the use of the homes for 6 months whilst long-term solutions for filling the building are worked out.

When I go to join the vigil on Monday, I will happily talk about these things. More importantly I want to go and listen to the families and share their experiences with mine so that I fully understand the very personal stories and situations that lie behind each and every one of the 83 people so badly affected by this potential closure.

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Questions to the Council about Brushwood & Millvina; ‘Invest to Save’ and many more

This is where scrutiny is supposed to take place but we have a system which makes it difficult to get answers and where there is no checking of the Council’s progress in a systematic way.

Yesterday I held my six-weekly 1:1 with a senior officer of the Council. I only get an hour and as you might guess I have a lot to ask and discuss. I use the time to highlight issues because the scrutiny system in the Council is very poor with members finding it difficult to get questions in and even more difficult to get them answered in a full way.

These are questions that should eb answered easily and quickly but for some of them I have already waiting for an answer for 6 weeks. The Council has no means of monitoring its progress on a month-by month basis with no systematic comparison of Liverpool against either other core cities or other local councils in the Liverpool City Region area.

I am recommending on the next occasion that we review our Governance that we have a public scrutiny session with the Mayor where details of activities across the Council can be asked and, hopefully answered.

In the meantime, I will plug on with my questioning!

So here are some of the questions that are still outstanding which I have asked the Council to respond to quickly with answers I can share:

  1. Companies Governance Committee

My colleague Cllr Andrew Makinson has put in a lot of questions about why this Committee has not effectively met since November 2019; why the accounts from 2019 have not yet been scrutinised and when they and the 2020 accounts will be reviewed.

  • Invest to Earn Strategy (from last meeting!)

I am to receive an outline position on all invest to save investments and the position on relation to their success.

  • St Johns Market (if it hasn’t been sorted in meantime) and markets generally

Changes may be made to the location of the team that run the markets and a move to join a more entrepreneurial unit of the Council. Lib Dem Cllrs will make suggestions about the operations of St Johns Market, the Farmer’s Markets and other potential market activities in their area.

  • Follow up to Fractional Investment Task Force

A review is being undertaken of stalled sites in the City with reputable developers who might be able to find a bespoke solution on a site by site basis. I will be briefed when this si done.

  • Zipworld

We agreed that there are legacy issues here but the questions put to officers under the ‘Councillor’s Right to Know’ from Cllr Andrew Makinson will be answered. In addition I asked:

What was the nature of the legal advice sought by the Council from a London firm regarding the Zipwire in Summer 2018?

Can I see a copy of the advice?

  • How much has the Council spent on ‘The Leccy’ including:

Marketing costs, staff costs, admin costs?

What was the income?

How many people signed up to the Leccy’s services?

  • Briggs Automotive
  1. What are the value of the charges placed by the Council on the Company’s assets in 2013?
  2. Why did the Council seek two separate charges in the same month?
  3. What percentage of the Company is owned by the Council given its purchase of shares in 2017 and 2019 and how much did the Council pay for them?
  4. How much dividend has been received by the Council from the shares purchased?
  5. How many jobs have been created for Liverpool people as a result of the investment?
  6. Do we still believe that an investment in a ‘petrolhead company’ which produces small volume luxury cars is consistent with our Climate Change declaration?
  • Brushwood & Millvina

How did the Council ‘estimate’ that the ‘market’ was sufficient to fill two blocks at the same time?

Residents think that the first discussions about the future of the block between Shaw and the Council took place in January. Is this true?

It would appear that there are sufficient numbers for one block if not two. Have the Council and Shaw considered relocating staff and residents from one block into another to maximise the continuity for residents of staff caring for them with the high level of provision required?

Have the Mayor, Cabinet Member for Health & Social Care or senior officers yet met representatives of the families of those being cared for in the two care homes?

When will the Council make clear whether or not expressions of interest have been received to take over the running of the blocks for their present purpose which would lead to new contracts being issued?

The Mayor has made clear that these buildings will only be used for social care purposes if they cannot be sued for their original purpose. Who are discussions taking place with to ensure that this is the case? When will firm proposals be brought forward for this alternative purpose?

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Last night I cried for my Country

Once upon a time this building represented the best side of the UK. A country rooted in democracy, the rule of law and strong political and governmental institutions. Alas they now represent a bunch of mediocre, law breaking charlatans.

Last night I tuned in to the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ as I do most years. It’s a bit of tradition with flag waving and old established tunes which evoke a past which was by no means glorious but which was substantial.

I like ‘Jerusalem’ although I have no religious faith. I love those last two lines:

‘And we shall build Jerusalem,

In England’s Green and Pleasant Land’

I suppose that’s what I have been trying to do all my life. Build a Country where we can all share the fruits of our wealth and live happy contented lives in clean green neighbourhoods with a decent home and a decent job.

More contentiously, I love singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory. I always put the emphasis on the word Hope rather than Glory. When I sing the Line, ‘Wider still and wider, may thy bounds be set’ I have a very different viewpoint than the right-wing numpties have given recently. Remember them, they are the ones that were passionately against all possibilities of the song being banned but then made clear the only line they remembered was the first one.

I have always believed that the UK, as an advanced and relatively wealthy liberal democracy, could do much to improve the World. Giving .07% of is GDP was part of this but every bit as important is the way we could help emerging democracies to respect democracy; to have strong political and governmental institution; to avoid corruption and to support the rule of law.

As someone who travelled the World for 10 years representing the UK at the highest level in global local government politics, I knew that I was always listened to not because I’m a brilliant orator (although I am he says modestly!!!) but because people knew that I represented those values.

Over the 50+ years that I have been an active politician I have always felt that there was a common thread of decency in most of the politicians for all Parties that I have met and worked with. They too wanted to raise standards for all, they too believed in democracy and the rule of law. They had a different way of doing it than the one that I espoused but we wanted many of the same things. Regrettably, I believe that no longer.

I think that we have a Government composed of mediocre thieves, chancers and law breakers who ultimately do not believe in democracy and do not believe in a better life for all the people of this Country.

These thoughts have been some time in building up so that they are not new. They came to a head last night because the thoughts that I have had crystallised after a terrible and amazing week in British Politics. We no have a Government whose members are prepared to stand up in Parliament and in the media and be quite clear that they intend to pursue a Parliamentary Bill that means that we as a Country will break the law.

In a way it’s hardly surprising. In the heart of the lockdown the Government’s Machiavelli in Chief, the loathsome Cummings, clearly broke the law as did two Cabinet Ministers. It is now clear that he Leave Campaign used Russian money and influence to get the Leave vote that Russia wanted. It is clear that the Tory Party gets large amounts of offshore money slightly sanitised by being given by vaguely British residents or companies.

But this is a whole new order of magnitude. This Government passed a Withdrawal Agreement in Parliament after this Government had agreed that Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union and all its 27 Countries. It is now backtracking on its own agreement and in doing so ensures that there will be no trade agreement with the EU and that we will have to trade on onerous high tariff rates of duties and a bureaucratic system of monitoring trade and Customs.

The cost of this will be high in the short term as the cost of almost everything that we import will rise as will the cost of running the system. In the long-term the cost will be even higher. Forget high politics. If someone breaks their word with you how keen are you on continuing to do business with them? Of course, you aren’t as keen. Even if you do business with them you create higher barriers and more onerous conditions because of the lack of trust.

What’s true for individuals is also true for Countries. Who will want to trade with a Country whose word they cannot trust? Don’t be fooled by the agreement reached last week with Japan. It is a fraction of the deal that we already have with Japan as part of the EU.

The USA, who the Government have been desperate to sign up to a new Trade Agreement, has already made clear that they will no do so because of the threats to the island of Ireland.

Leaving the EU was always going to be costly. Already 50,000 more people are being recruited to enable the borders which we have deliberately recreated to function.  That costs money. New tariffs mean higher prices for basics from energy to food. Leaving without an agreement will be even more costly.

That’s why we won’t deliver ‘Jerusalem’. There’ll be no new money for schools or hospitals, wages will come down in real terms, the houses we desperately need won’t get built because there will be no money to do the things that need doing.

So, what are you going to do about the situation?  Are you going to be part of the Twitterati or the Facebookites who will fulminate mightily on social media, raise countless surveys and petitions and feel better? Or are you going to organise and defeat these dreadful people. They are many ways that you can do this but one way must be to consider joining and working with a Party that fights to replace the existing Government. If you want to join the Lib Dems you can do so here But there are other Parties who must work together and there are other organisations who engage in the political process.

Now is the time for all good men (and women!) to come to the aid of the Country. Don’t get mad, get even!

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Angry Voices don’t make Good Decisions

People want more from councillors and journalists than we can or want to deliver in a system which guarantees human rights and where we, rightly, have to prove what we say.

Over the past few weeks, I have been getting a number of emails and tweets from people who feel that as the Opposition Leader in Liverpool I am not doing enough. Perhaps I’m not. People will have the opportunity to judge that next May when I will be the Lib Dem candidate for City Mayor (Pledge one – abolish the position!) I notice that the established media also come in for stick from the same people and especially Liam Thorp of the Echo.

The feeling is that we are not doing enough to expose some of the terrible things that the Council has done. Fractional Investment; Invest to save actions that have gone wrong; the closure of newly opened residential care homes. “WHY DON’T I SAY AND DO MORE”. I’m told that Z person and Y person and especially Peter Kilfoyle are much more active than you!

There are four reasons why I am not publicly more active than I am and the first three reasons equally apply for the established media.

Firstly, I often do not divulge until the right time information that I know because if I did so I would prejudice both at investigation and trial stage the things that are going on. As an example, I know all sorts of things about the investigations into the fractional investment situations and what is happening with the reviews being conducted into their behaviour both internally by the Council and externally by other public authorities. At the right time I will comment on these situations but now is not the right time.

Secondly, its because we can be held accountable for things we say if we make comments or statements that we cannot prove if challenged in Court. Libel laws are strictly applied to people like councillors and the established media. Put bluntly no one cares what most of the Twitterati say about most things but if I or the media said the same things there would be hell and a large legal bill to pay.

Thirdly, I work on the basis of common justice. I have suspicions from what I hear from some sources about some people. Almost 100% of the time when I say, “send me something to prove it” or “will you go to the Police with me?” absolutely nothing happens.

Fourthly, if I shout a lot, especially about specific issues or cases I will not be able to provide some people with the help that they need. I often work quietly within the system to provide help and support and tell absolutely no one about it. As an opposition councillor I have to work both within and outside the system to get things done for the people and the City that I love. Simple human relationships mean that if I continually slag off institutions and individuals my ability to get things done is much reduced as the barriers will go up.

In addition, a lot of the stuff that I am supposed to use and expose is nonsense. For example, I have been told reliably by many people that Mayor Anderson has a holiday home in various places donated by Redrow. In fact, like many Scousers, he has a caravan in Talacre. Time and again I say to people why do you believe this rubbish. Sometimes its like conversing with the Flat Earth Society.

The last reason that I can’t do as much exposing as people like is that I am desperately under resourced. There are just 10 Lib Dem Cllrs taking on 71 Labour Councillors and the Elected Mayor. They are fully supported by the administrative staff of the Council. Even when I have concerns, I don’t have the capacity to dig as deeply into problems as I would like. The press has the same problems as we both have to resort frequently to FOIs even though I as a Councillor have a ‘Councillor’s Right to know.

I do work closely with the media. Just as Joe Anderson used to when he was the Leader of the Opposition. Oppositions always want to expose the stupidities of the controlling Party and show that we would do better. Journalists, similarly, are more likely to be seen on the opposition’s side because they too expose things for the public.

I’m not the only one under-resourced. When I first became a Councillor in 1975 the Daily Post and the Echo had two council correspondents, and specialist correspondents on social services and education. Behind them there were a range of other specialists who could be brought in for specific stories. I don’t know the number of journalists that the Echo has but I would be amazed it is was a third of the number that they used to have.

The same is true of other parts of the media. City Talk has gone. The BBC Radio Merseyside staff have been shuffled and thinned out and the two regional TV stations have a hugely reduced number of staff.

I can do something about this. Had the Council elections taken place this May I would now have at least 3 more Lib Dem Councillors who can join and enhance those scrutiny functions which are not sufficiently undertaken when the controlling Party is both so large and of such poor quality.

So, don’t expect me to DO TWEETS IN CAPITALS TO SHOW HOW ANGRY I AM on all occasions. I choose to work within the system to try and change things for good rather than write blogs or commentaries as an armchair warrior.

I would just make one last appeal. There are good journalists and good councillors who spend a lot of time investigating things and then agonising about how best to use what they find. Have some trust and faith in what we are trying to do.

In a democracy you do have a way to deal with the Lib Dem opposition in the City. Either work with us to get more Lib Dems elected next May and me as Mayor or stand against us if you think you would do a better job. What we do isn’t easy and certainly not financially rewarding as some people would find out if they moved out of the shadows and into the limelight.

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It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!

Liverpool’s future must be based on attracting to or growing within high quality, well paying jobs filled by people who are committed to living in a global class city. These must be promoted in a way that captures the imagination rather than sending us to sleep.

My last two blogs have been concerned with heritage, planning and other issues coming out of the Zipwire debacle. Some of my earlier blogs began to start shaping a new agenda for Liverpool post virus. I want to attempt to put them together and suggest a way in which Liverpool could think very differently about its past present and future.

I get all the documents sent to me by the Council and other bodies. I’ve received in recent weeks the Liverpool Recovery Plan and the Liverpool City Region Recovery Plan. The first of these is intended to replace over time the Inclusive Growth Plan.

Much in these documents I agree with. They have an element of ambition for the future. They certainly want to spend a lot of money. The 2 Recovery Plans will cost approximately £3.5 billion of public and private money and are dependent on additional £.25 billon of training money.

There are four problems with all 3 of the documents that I mention here:

  1. They’ve been produced by and for the usual suspects. Tired old consultancies bringing forward schemes, many of which they have peddled elsewhere, to decision makers who fail to adequately interpret them in the light of changing circumstances.
  • They involve neither the people or businesses of Liverpool in a comprehensive way. At the end of the day Liverpool doesn’t belong to me or the Council. We act as trustees for the people and businesses of Liverpool. There is no effective way of engaging with businesses on big picture thinking. The Chamber of Commerce and the BID Company which should be leading on business aspect seem to be just deliverers of low-level services.
  • The two new documents lack any comprehension of new possibilities. Much of what has happened so far in the pandemic and lockdown has had bad effects but there were many good effects as well. Because so much has been changed so rapidly we can capture those changes and build on them in a way that would otherwise have taken many years.
  • They are largely incomprehensible to most people and business people who haven’t got the time to wade through pages of incomprehensible jargon. They provide nothing which captures the imagination of the people of the City and their feelings for a new and better City post-Covid. We need some big and simple statements that people and businesses can interpret in their own but which they can direct their own efforts into delivering.

I believe that there are four things that Liverpool could do which involve a new way of thinking and a new way of doing things:

Firstly, we have to set out our aspiration for Liverpool to be a top-class Global City. This might sound very ambitious but let’s not forget that we have been there before. For more than 100 years we were the 2nd port of the British Empire and therefore the second port of the World. We have so much going for us throughout the City Region that other places do not have.

Secondly, to achieve the first objective we need to say unashamedly that Liverpool will only settle for the best. The best new business ideas and Companies. The best new homes to live in built to the highest environmental standards. The best designed buildings for industry and commerce; the best and up to date thoughts on industry and commerce; the highest stands for environmental policies.

Thirdly, we need a new place for thought and challenge of the status quo. We really too much on the tired and cautious. We need a ‘Liverpool Futures Commission’ from outside Liverpool’s greying establishment to think thoughts about the future based on a proper SWOT analysis not only of Liverpool but of the World. We need to serve on that people with new ideas about the economy; future industry and commerce, where science is taking us; what sort of building and planning standards do we need; how the education service is or is not providing satisfied students with the skills for future jobs. AND how all these can be achieved in a way that maximises our efforts to provide a green, clean environment in the City.

Fourthly we need a new way of communicating with businesses and the citizens of the City. We need a business commission to replace the creaking representative business structures that we have. Alongside that will be a People’s Convention where people, especially young people, can bring new ideas and challenge the greying establishment.

So, what do I intend to do about these four ideas? Just talk I am afraid! In this deeply Party-Political City an attempt by me as The Leader of the Liberal Democrats to do the last two things would simply be seen as Party Politics. I know that I am making a real call for change here that would challenge my own Party’s thinking as much as anyone’s but others would just see it as a political ploy for votes. Perhaps I am part of the problem and not the solution. I am, after all, Liverpool’s longest serving councillor.

So, whilst I will continue to talk about the first two objectives which I think should be the subject of legitimate political debate I will take no action on the last two suggestions. I will gladly help people who want to establish some sort of Liverpool Future Commission and a better way of engaging with businesses and the people of Liverpool I cannot take the lead in them as such efforts would eb self-defeating.

So, I end with a plea to the keyboard warriors of Twitter, Facebook and the like. Will you turn your anger, your knowledge, your skills, your ambitions for our City into thoughts and actions? Your City needs you – will you rise to the test?

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Liverpool deserves the best of the best of the best!!

Our City is a canvas which can be added to to make this a City where people want to work, live, invest and enjoy. Too often we have settled for second rate and second division. Liverpool Football Club wouldn’t do this so why should Liverpool City Council

Over the past few days, I have taken part in a number of debates about the false dichotomy of whether the way forward in our City is heritage or development. I have urged in those debates that if we set our stall our right, we can have both. Indeed, if we want Liverpool to rise again as a major European city, we must do both.

But if we are to achieve greatness, we need to think both big and realistic.  I used to give talks for the Town & Country Planning Association about the role of strategic planning. I used to say come out of Lime Street Station (that’s how 38% of our visitors arrive) and see before you William Brown Street and St Georges Hall which was built in the 1850s. Look behind you and you can see the concrete mess that was  built in the 1950s and which needs demolishing.

Of course, that is what has happened. The row of grim shops and Concourse House is gone exposing the magnificent end elevation of the station. They get off the train straight into the wow factor that is Liverpool. In another hundred years I want someone to be saying that had good councillors in the 2020s – just look at the quality of the City that they have given to us. “Wow” they will say as they out of the train or whatever has replaced it, “I am pleased to be here”.

Liverpool has no compelling vision for the future that we can all sign up to.  Much of what has been built in the past 15 years (yes that does include the period when the Lib Dems controlled the Council, has been inferior quality. So, its not just a question of having a vision, because we did have one, it’s having the determination and the powers to deliver it.

Our development framework is in a mess. We were 7 years late in putting in a new planning document for approval by the Government. The last Plan was developed by the Lib Dems 20 years ago. It is now grossly out of date which means that the Council, even if it had wanted to, would find it hard to dictate standards, quality and appropriate uses. The result is a mess of poor-quality buildings and even worse buildings that have been unfinished for 4 years+ which will, without a doubt need to be demolished.

To get out of this situation we need to create a vision. We need to start again and think through where we are, where we’ve come from, what we’ve got as a basis for action and lastly the direction that we want to go in. In short, to use business jargon we need to do a SWOT, Strengths, Opportunities, Weaknesses and Threats, analysis.

Liverpool is at the heart of the Liverpool conurbation which has much to offer the world. Our location is good for some things; we have three universities; a thriving bio-chemical sector; a strong off shore and ship repair sector; two good car producing firms; football, the Beatles and other musical sections including the philharmonic and a strong physical heritage with 981 listed buildings and 50 conservation area. We are in easy reach of facilities such as Open golf courses and the countryside of the Peak and Lake districts and the Welsh Hills.

We have our downsides. A poorly performing schools’ sector; a poor location on the fringe for some things. Poor connections by rail, both freight and passenger to the North of England and a West Coast main line which as at the limit of its capacity. Our housing stock is poor with far too many homes being inadequate and our low house price level means a buying up of stock which then gets filled with immigrants, of which I am generally in favour, at too high a concentration. Many of our work force are unskilled.

In both columns would be our reputation. Liverpool is intricately connected with County Lines drug schemes and a 30-year-old phrase, “I can do that give us a job.” On the other hand, people who come here say what a great City it is and how friendly the people are.

Moving the City forward involves making hard decisions from this complex set of circumstances. In the words of the song there’s got to be, ‘a little bit of this, a little bit of that.’ The development of the City can only be achieved by understanding this complexity. It can only really be successful if we realise where we are today and set us a strong direction and coherent vision for the future. It cannot be heritage or development it must be high quality development which values and recognises our heritage. The list of strengths easily adds up to more than the list of weaknesses but we have never been able to capitalise on them because of our lack of direction and lack of partnership.

I want Liverpool to be the best regional core city in Europe because we are still a European City whether we are in the EU or not. We cannot be London, or Paris or Milan or Lisbon but we can lay claim to being on the same level as Rotterdam; Leipzig; Barcelona or Florence.

If we are to do that we have to say no to development at any price. We need, as was said in Men in Black I to be the best of the best of the best!

That’s why the zipwire debate is so important as is our continued attempt to get to the bottom of fractional investment and attract high quality to developers to the City. Each time we pander to the cheap, nasty and tawdry we spurn the potential investment from people who want to build well and to build for the long-term.

In the run up to the Mayoral and Council elections next year we will spell out our Vision for the City. Second place isn’t good enough for Liverpool Football Club and second rate should not be good enough for our City.

If we set out a first-rate direction based on facts, we can attract first rate businesses to our City which will create first class and well-paying jobs for our people. We will create the housing that they want so that they will stay in our City rather than the low-grade that that has been the epitome of the last decade and longer. We will create the education that all children need so that they will want to stay here and bring their children up here.

In Liverpool while the Labour Party plans low the Liberal Democrats will plan high. The people of Liverpool deserve no less than the best of the best of the best.

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Why Liverpool’s Heritage is a Job Creator not a Job Destroyer

The Albert Dock and the Pier Head bring millions of visitors to Liverpool every year.. They do so by building respectfully and successfully on the built environment which we Scousers love

Over the past few years, I have had to defend Liverpool’s heritage at no time more so than the past few weeks as we have considered as a City the potential zipwire for the William Brown Street area.

Those of us who fought the proposal, which has of course now been dropped, were accused of stopping investment coming to the City. It was claimed that our defence of the World Heritage Status was damaging investment. That the ‘usual suspects’ were opposed to the jobs that the zipwire would bring.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I defend our heritage not only because the people of Liverpool, some of whom I represent, cherish that heritage but also because I know that a good physical environment brings new employers and new opportunities to our City.

We can see how important it is just by looking at tourism figures for the City. The Royal Albert Dock is the most visited multi attraction centre in the Country outside London. It is a prime example of how a heritage asset can be used creatively to provide homes and jobs which ripple out into the wider economy. Inside the complex there are homes, cafes, restaurants, bars, offices, hotels, the Maritime Museum, the Beatles Museum and the Tate of the North. People come for all these reasons and it is a huge success for the City.

The figures for our City Centre Museums and Galleries alone are huge:

Pre covid rough figures (2017-2018)

World Museum – 820,000

Walker Art Gallery – 320,000

Merseyside Maritime Museum – 900,000

International Slavery Museum – 390,000

Museum of Liverpool – 830,000

The people who come to see them spend some money in the venue and then go on to have lunch and shop somewhere. This heritage and its cultural links are a huge creator of spend in the City and therefore a huge creator of jobs!

It was the successful development of the Dock that started development edging southward and led to the development of some stunning new buildings at the Arena, Conference Centre and Exhibition Centre. Go to our iconic Pier Head where our much loved 3 Graces been successfully joined by what I believe will, over time, become the 4th grace the Liverpool Museum. Great new development which adapted and supported the heritage of the City and didn’t challenge it.

Its not just the tourism which is important but the business users as well. I was talking recently to the C-Ex of a Company which employs 70+ staff in the Dock. When I asked him, “why did you choose Liverpool over Warrington?” his reply was, “look out of the window!” Study after study shows that of all the reasons that a company chooses to relocate having a great environment for the business to be located in is a key factor. Owner entrepreneurs have another selfish reason. They want a great environment for themselves and their families as well!

But tourism is one of our most energetic sectors. Our culture is, after football, one of the key reasons that people come to the City. Just look at the visitor figures for the various venues run by National Museums and Galleries. Look what happens when we expose the floors at St Georges Hall or open the Town Hall to visitors and events. People flock in.  Our theatres and Philharmonic, most of which are in listed buildings, bring day trippers for specific events from a 50-mile radius. People do not just go to the venue they have a meal, a wander round and do a bit of shopping.

To get on in the World Liverpool must dare to be different. Being a mini-me of Manchester, Leeds or Birmingham will not bring us the jobs that we still so badly need. We need to create Brand Liverpool which differentiates us from the herd. Our location is important, our football and sports are important, our Universities are important, our existing businesses are important but what unites them in Brand Liverpool is the cultural offer of buildings and services which can provide good locations for all of them.

All this is provable and indeed is self-evident to those of us who live and work here. We see all this when we go out of our doors – in my case to get my milk at the most famous lane in the World!!

So, we opposed the zipwire not because we want to preserve a dead or dying status quo but because we want to use our 981 listed buildings, the most so any City outside London, to provide a strong base for high quality businesses that will create high quality jobs.

We made two challenges to people who supported the zipwire:

On the Vanessa Feltz programme I asked Zipwire to show me the calculations which led them to say that 300,000 tourists would be brought to the City by this one asset. They agreed but even after 3 attempts from me to requests the figures failed to so. I can only assume that the figure was a bogus one drawn up without proper research.

I asked Frank McKenna of lobbying firm DiL to give us proof of his assertion that the heritage lobby and the World Heritage Status were stopping development. None has been forthcoming perhaps because it simply doesn’t exist!

What Liverpool needs is the appropriate range of attractions in the right place. I’d love to see a Zipwire come to Liverpool. Put in the right place it would attract some more tourists to Liverpool without also stopping some people from coming here. There are places like Everton Park where there is a great view of the Mersey at the top, a natural slope down, land available and jobs badly needed. In fact, Engage CIC gave a list of suitable places where a zipwire could be situated.

Heritage or new jobs is a false and unnecessary choice. Respect our heritage, design well and you can have both!

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Action now on selfish pavement Parking

The Government’s consultation on parking on pavements is to be welcomed but powers to decide where and how legislation should be introduced or safe and sensible parking like this in St Michael’s might be banned with real problems in our Victorian terraced streets

Liverpool’s Lib Dem Cllrs have asked the Council to respond positively to the Government’s consultation of pavement parking but asking it to get to work to sue its existing powers to deal with drivers who park with no concern for the disabled, mums with prams, the elderly and others who are too often forced to walk in the road because pavements are blocked.

In a motion to the next full Council Woolton Councillor Kris Brown has demanded that the Council uses its powers now. He says, “the Council and the Police already have powers to partly deal with this problem but neither see it as a priority. The Council slashed its number of enforcement officers yet these people usually produce their own pay in the penalty notices issued with the prime purpose of keeping the streets safe”.

Cllr Mirna Juarez, Allerton & Hunts Cross Ward, says, “We know that there are problems because so much of Liverpool was built before the advent of the car and before so many people decided that they needed an oversized ‘Chelsea Tractor’ to get around an urban area so the Council should be given power by the Government to assess its own streets and neighbourhoods to decide where parking can be safely introduced. In the meantime, there are places all over my ward where drivers park with little care for the needs of the infirm, elderly, those with visual impairment and those pushing, buggies, prams and wheel chairs”

The full motion is appended below.

Notion of Motion to the first full council meeting, assumed to be 30th September 2020

Council welcomes the Government consultation on pavement parking which is a major problem in the City. It believes that pavements are provided so that pedestrians can easily and safely proceed about their business.

It recognises that in too many parts of the City selfish drivers block pavements which force the following into trafficked roads to get round them:

  • Those with difficulty walking;
  • Those using mobility aids such as walking frames and mobility scooters;
  • Those with visual impairment including those who use guide dogs.
  • People in wheelchairs
  • Mothers, fathers and grandparents pushing prams and buggies.

However, it also recognises that most of Liverpool was built prior to the advent of mass use of cars and that Liverpool has many types of pavement of differing widths. It therefore requests the Government to grant Councils the authority to designate areas of safe and prohibited parking to recognise the individual circumstances of each road and neighbourhood.

It further asks the Government to fully fund the legislation otherwise the Council and Police will lack the resources to put the legislation into effect.

 Council believes that more could be done by the Council to make our pavements safe in the short-term recognising that successful conclusion of legislation may well be 2 years away. It therefore askes the Chief Executive as the interim Head of Regeneration to:

  • Conduct a survey through the City’s Councillors to list all dangerous pavements in the area;
  • To use that information to compile actions points for our traffic enforcement staff and Police to commence appropriate action.
  • To use the information to compile an action list of areas to prioritise the worst affected areas if and when legislation is passed; and
  • Ask the Police to use their powers to stop the increasing number of adults cycling on pavements to the detriment of pedestrian and pavement user’s safety.

Cllr Kris Brown

Cllr Andrew Makinson

Cllr Kay Davies

Cllr Mirna Juarez

Cllr Alan Tormey

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What’s happening with the Council’s owned companies?

Liverpool Council has a number of wholly owned companies and an assortment of other investments. The committee which is supposed to oversee these companies has not effectively met for 21 months. Lib Dems are calling upon it to meet and do its job protecting the wallets and purses of Liverpool Council Tax payers.

I have been asked a lot of questions recently about the Companies that are owed by the Council. The last time we were able to review the companies they were quite seriously in debt with a balance of liabilities over assets. However, there was nothing serious about the situation and it is normal in some circumstances for companies to carry debt on their balance sheets as they reorganise their operations or capital to meet current needs.

The review of Council owned Companies is undertaken by a Committee called the Companies Governance Committee. It is not a legal requirement to have such a committee but it is strongly recommended by both the Government and the professional body for local authority treasurers, CIPFA.

The accounts that we looked at in the last set of review meetings were those of the accounts for the Companies for the financial year which ended on 31st March 2018. So, more than two years of trading have taken place with no more than cursory mentions of the liabilities and assets of the Companies being made on the Council’s annual accounts. It should be remembered that the Council’s accounts had observations made on them about associated investment by our auditors.

Of course, since then the whole of the Council’s finances have been put in jeopardy by COVID. Companies like the Markets and Arena companies have seen huge losses in their revenue and despite trying to find out I have no clear picture of what their trading position is; what their current liabilities are; and when the Council might have to contribute to those companies from our taxpayers to keep the companies afloat.

So, I asked some questions about the situation which frankly don’t leave me any the wiser. I give such answers as I have received below. Our finance spokesperson Cllr Andrew Makinson and I will continue to press for a speedy meeting of the Companies Governance Committee so that we can interrogate the detail of both the accounts up to 31st March 2019 and those for the year which ended in March 2020. I will also press for an up to date statement on the trading positions of those companies from 1st April this year.

Cllr Makinson and I will, of course, keep you informed about any information that we have been able to find out. In the meantime, here are the questions that I have asked and the answers that I have received. We can only hope that Cllr Brant, who is one of the few Labour members who would be able to scrutinise company accounts, will see a way forward to call meetings of the committee to allow it to carry out its work.

Some Questions about the above committee:

  1. When did it last meet?

May 2019. (But this was only a formal meeting to sign off a report on the year’s activities before the annual meeting of the Council. The last deliberative meeting took place in November 2018.

  • Was it reappointed at the 2019 Annual Council meeting?

Yes. As there has been no Annual Meeting of the Council in 2020 the members of the committee has been kept the same as for 2019

  • Who is its chair?

Cllr Paul Brant

  • Who are its members?

Cllr Andrew Makinson is the Liberal Democrat member with Cllr Richard Kemp as the substitute member.

  • Which companies it is it supposed to see?

No reply

  • Which committee of the Council has reviewed the annual accounts up to 31 March 2019 of the relevant companies?

No reply

  • Is it a legal requirement to have a Companies Governance Committee?

No. It is a recommendation which the Council has accepted.

  • If not, why did the Council decide to have one and then not call a meeting of it?

No reply

  • When will the accounts of the relevant companies for the year ending 31st March 2020 be ready for review?

No reply

Where will they be reviewed?

It is hoped to call a meeting of the Companies Governance Committee in September 2020

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