UBER – the role of the regulator

Uber

Even UBER admit that they need to change to meet straightforward and sensible regulatory regimes

Frankly there has been a lot of nonsense talked about the decision of Transport for London (TfL) to not renew the licence of UBER in London. It reveals a widespread ignorance of people about what regulators are for and how they work. It also shows a widespread disdain for people who work in the taxi and private hire industry as the users think that cheapness is all important without considering why the service is so cheap.

Regulators in local government work to a number of nationally agreed regulations. They cover licensing of all types and in a slightly different way planning. All these functions are carried out in a quasi-judicial way. That is, they are, or should be, free from political influence.

The licensing of Hackney Carriages (one that you put your hand up for and call over) and private hire vehicles (which you must pre-book) is carried out for two reasons:

  1. To ensure that the vehicles that carry you around are safe, legal and insured; and
  2. To ensure that the driver is qualified, insured and has no criminal record which might put passengers at risk.

What regulators cannot do is discriminate on any grounds whatever. Whether its UBER or the dodgier firm of Kemp Taxis the regulations are there and should be equally applied to everyone. There is no suggestion from anyone that UBER have been treated differently from anyone else. There does appear to be some evidence, on which TfL acted, that UBER thought that they did not need to comply with the laws and regulations. Interestingly UBER in London now appear to have recognised this hence the headline from the Evening Standard pictured above.

Of particular concern to me is that UBER have in place a system in their computers called ‘greyball’ which would enable them to mislead the regulators. UBER claim that they do not use the system but do not deny that the system is available to them. This probably raises as many questions with you as it does me.

No-one, at any time, in London or elsewhere has objected to the use of APPs by UBER. I don’t use them myself I use a local firm DELTA Taxis who I phone and they come swiftly and have never let me down. I think they have some sort of APP but I prefer the old-fashioned way! But I accept that in a city the size of London where the ‘knowledge’ is more difficult that apps might be helpful in getting cars moving directly and therefore in an environmentally friendly way from place to place. This might also save money.

The other thing raised by people who have objected to the TfL ruling is that UBER are cheap. Perhaps the users ought to consider why the service is cheap. UBER are currently in an Industrial Tribunal dispute about the self-employed status of their drivers. Of course, labour can be cheap if the drivers cannot get paid time off for holidays, maternity/paternity leave and illness. I read that many UBER drivers need to do an 80 hour week to make a living after paying for their vehicle and all overheads. Is this cheapness worth having if it comes at the expense of such apparent exploitation? UBER is, in fact two companies, The App is owned by one part of UBER and the company is based in Belgium. The other bit in the UK is a standard private hire company. Belgium is a place which shelters many companies with advantageous tax breaks. Of course it is possible to be cheap if you have found a legal way of reducing your tax bill. However, we all suffer when we cannot find the money for basic public services.

That to me is one of the key advantages of DELTA and the other local companies. They pay their tax in the UK and wherever their office is. They have a direct interface with their drivers which helps prevent exploitation.

Earlier in the summer I wrote of the need to do more in Liverpool to protect the users of private hire and hackney users. Every week I get a report on the number of people who have been prosecuted for having no driving licence; no hackney or PH licence; not being insured; not having safe, Mot’d vehicles. All this is done by a handful of dedicated staff. In Liverpool as in London there has been a disastrous deregulation of the number of licences available. We need to control the number not to force prices up but to ensure that people can actually make a living from it without massive numbers of hours worked. I don’t want to be driven by someone doing an 80 hour week. It isn’t good for them and it might not be good for me.

So, the problems that UBER faces can be dealt with simply by them. Follow the same regulations as everyone else because they are there for a reason; respect your drivers and pay your taxes. It’s all very simple really.

Meanwhile before you use UBER perhaps you ought to think about why the service is cheap and whether the cost of cheapness is worth ignoring the wider social issues caused by the gig economy.

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Let’s have a rational discussion about the Women’s Hospital

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The Liverpool Women’s Hospital provides an important service to women and new-born babies. We must carefully and rationally consider its future.

Four years ago, the life of my grandson Jonah was saved by the staff at the Women’s Hospital. He had a diaphragmatic hernia. His heart didn’t beat for 6 minutes and he did not breathe for 8 minutes. He was saved by a skilled consultant who thought something felt wrong although all the indicators were marginally OK.

I was reminded of this yesterday when someone spoke to me about the latest report which was issued about the future of the current establishment. “Surely,” I was told, “you must be going to fight for the future of that hospital”. To which my reply is, “Not necessarily”. You see it was not a building that saved Jonah’s life but a person who with a great team provided a great service.

That is, I believe, what should apply in the discussions and consultation which must now take place. The first discussion is, “what service or combination of services is needed to provide the best services for women and their babies.?” The second discussion is, “what is the best way of providing that service?”  Only then should the discussion centre around where that service should be provided.

I am not optimistic about the quality of the debate which will now ensue because it has not got off to a good start. People started dissing the latest report when they could not possibly have read it. They probably did so without knowing what a Clinical Senate is. In fact, very few people know what a clinical senate is so let me tell you.

The Senate is a group of ‘hands on’ medical practitioners from a range of relevant disciplines and a range of experiences. They are not administrators or bureaucrats. They are not intimately involved with this decision and will not personally be affected by it in terms of their jobs. Their task is clear and simple. To comment on proposals and say whether from a clinical/medical viewpoint these represent the best option. They seem to have concluded that it is.

I have spoken today to a none executive director of the Women’s Hospital and told him what I expect to see happen as part of the consultation.

Firstly, I want the consultation to be meaningful and go far beyond the statutory minimum.

Secondly, I want the report from the Clinical Senate to be widely distributed.

Thirdly, I want to hear the views of:

  • Community Midwives;
  • Staff at the hospital;
  • GPs;
  • Women who have had good experiences at the Women’s;
  • Women who have had bad experiences;
  • Women within the NHS in the area whose jobs are not connected with the Women’s.

Fourthly, I want to see a quality consultation process taking place in every ward in the City and beyond.

Fifthly, I want the clinical and medical need for change to be fully explained and justified.

Sixthly, only when the medical issues are dealt with do i want to know about the financial consequences of the options.

On top of that I want to know what will happen to the buildings. This hospital is a modern well-built and well-designed one. In Liverpool there is a huge shortage of quality adult care beds and the need for them is growing. It would seem that some of the Hospital could be rapidly and cheaply converted into high quality accommodation for this purpose. There may well be other and better uses of the building.

If the consultation does proceed on these lines then we should all respect that and listen to and carefully consider all the evidence before making our opinions known throughout the consultation process.

I have already told my Lib Dem councillors that if this matter does get debated in the Council we will have a free vote on the issue. These matters are too important to be left to Party or gesture politics. It would be too easy for any of us to adopt a knee-jerk reaction and just oppose change. That’s probably good for votes and good for ranting in the Council Chamber or elsewhere.

But it is not necessarily good for the children and women of Liverpool. When Jonah was fighting for life for his first 7 days they were the worst ever days in the lives of Erica and me. Never before, have I been totally unable to do anything except exist.

I will consider that carefully when I come to consider how I respond to the potential closure. I will be thinking about the other Jonah’s; I’ll be thinking about the experiences of Mums and Dads (and of course Grandmas and Grandpas); I’ll be thinking about the best service that they could have in future. Then, and only then, will I make my opinion known. This will not be an easy decision but having seen at first hand the quality of service provided it behoves me and everyone else to think carefully before we act.

PS Jonah is absolutely fine now. In fact, he was round at my house yesterday bullying his weak minded Grandpa into all sorts of things we don’t want Grandma or Mummy to know about!!

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Cowardly Labour raise White Flag on Europe

Labour Rose

Labour’s Red Rose is wilting under the pressure of wildly different views on the EU and Brexit

The one issue which above all other which will dictate the future of the UK over the coming decades is how we handle Brexit. There is a clear understanding from Leavers and Remainers, Left and Right that this is the case. No unity on outcomes but complete unity on the importance of the issues at stage. Unity everywhere except in the Labour Party. This pathetic bunch of appeasers have taken the highly principled stand of saying nothing at their annual conference in Brighton.

Why is the EU debate so important? Because it is not some esoteric debate of mythical views of sovereignty and Empire or even migration. It is an act which will define:

Whether we have car factories in Halewood and Ellesmere Port. Early signs are that the car industry in the UK, one of our great success stories in the UK, will now be starved of investment which will go instead to other plants in mainland Europe. Let’s not forget the wing makers in Broughton either. Between the 3 factories almost 12,000 people are employed but with a huge knock on effect to suppliers and the wider economy.

The relationships so carefully built up over the years in Ireland. A hard border will re-ignite old passions and create mass smuggling into and out of Eire.

Our health service. This service is already struggling for staff and already has seen a massive 94% (yes I did mean 94%) drop in nurses coming into the UK from other EU Countries with many health professionals already here deciding to go home.

Social Care with a similar pattern to the NHS with many of our struggling adults being cared in residential situations and their homes by poorly paid migrants.

Our Agricultural services. Farmers, many of whom voted to leave the EU, are already wondering where to get the staff to reap the crops which we rely on for cheap food in our supermarkets.

Our costs for travel. If you went abroad this year it will have cost you approximately 15% more than the year before as the £ has plummeted against both the Dollar and the Euro. Some recompense for this is that we have more tourists coming here to take advantage of the cheap £.

Our Universities which are already losing students and which are suffering from a withdrawal from pan-European research programmes.

The money to pay for everything. Only the most ardent Brexiter thinks that there will be no financial consequences caused by our Exit from the EU; the Single Market and the Customs Union. Calculations from respected bodies show a slowing in growth which will effectively mean, over a few years, up to an 8% reduction in our GDP which will massively affect our ability to pay for things.

Labour are spewing out promises on what they will spend extra money on from schools to the NHS; from transport; to infrastructure. It is all absolutely bogus. If we leave the Single market there will be less money for any Government of any colour to spend on anything!

Why have Labour chosen to dodge the debate? You will have to ask them. However, it appears that there are two main reasons:

Firstly, Corbyn is clearly a Leaver. His campaign during the Referendum was limp wristed and anaemic. He and people like McConnell really think that the EU is a conspiracy of capitalism. He was the person who within hours of the referendum result said that we had to leave immediately without any thought of the consequences of this.

Secondly, Labour are hopelessly split on the issue. The positions of people like Kate Hoey and Chukku Umuuna are wholly incompatible.

So rather than air their differences in a democratic debate Labour have hidden behind their pink curtain and hope that people will not notice. I believe that people will notice.

At the General Election millions of young people voted Labour because they thought Labour was pro-EU and anti-Brexit. How cruelly they have been deceived. Those people will not forget the betrayal of their pro-EU ideals.

There is only one Party that can and will take on the Brexit Lobby. That’s us. A proudly internationalist Party that will continue to fight for the UK’s proper place amongst our colleagues.

Postscript:      I have just sent a congratulatory note to our sister Party the FDP in Cologne. The FDP stormed back into Parliament with 10.5% of the vote, three times the vote that they received in the last Bundestag elections. The success of liberalism in Germany was, of course overshadowed by the rise in support for the neo-Nazi AfD but it was a great achievement all the same.

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Lib Dem Choices for Key South Liverpool Wards

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Liverpool Lib Dem key wards candidates for South Liverpool from l to r Steve Brauner (Allerton Hunts Cross); Carole Storey (Childwall); Kris Brown (Woolton); Some old bloke who gegged in to the photo; Alisha Lewis (Mossley Hill); Liz Makinson (Church); Norman Mills (Cressington)

Liverpool Lib Dems have now completed our selection process for our 6 key wards in South Liverpool and have chosen a great mix of experienced campaigners and former councillors and new blood all of them full of initiative and vigour. Our key ward selections in Central and North Liverpool will be completed in the next three weeks and they will be announced by the end of October. Lib Dems will be fielding a full slate of candidates for all of Liverpool’s 30 wards next year.

The 6 candidates adopted on Friday are:

Allerton/Hunts Cross:             Steve Brauner. This is Steve’s first time as a candidate but he has been closely involved in Liverpool’s political scene having been a reporter at the Liverpool Post and Echo for many years. He is now a media relations manager.

Church:           Liz Makinson. Liz has been actively involved in Church Ward for more than 20 years and is now able to stand for the council following her early retirement as a teacher. She hopes to join her husband, Andrew Makinson on the Council where is the Lib Dems Deputy Leader.

Childwall:       Carole Storey. Carole was a Lib Dem Member of the former Merseyside County Council representing Anfield for 5 years in the 80’s. She has a huge experience of the Council being the wife of former council Leader, (Lord) Mike Storey. She is a former Lady Mayoress of the City.

Cressington:   Norman Mills.  Norman was a Councillor representing the West Derby Ward for more than 20 years. A retired social worker from Cheshire Norman hopes to concentrate on the huge problems of social care in the city if elected.

Mossley Hill:   Alisha Lewis. Alisha is an undergraduate at Liverpool University where she is chair of the Liverpool Young Liberals. Alisha knows Mossley Hill well and heads up the Lib Dems social media campaigning.

Woolton:        Kris Brown.  Kris was the agent for the Woolton Ward last year when the Lib Dems swept Labour out in the ward and gave us a convincing majority. Kris chairs the Liverpool Party and joined the Lib Dems from Labour in 2011.

I was impressed by the compassion for our city and its problems when they addressed the selection meeting. They, like our existing 4 councillors, are determined to push back Joe Anderson’s Labour Party and bring safe and sensible government to our City. Every Lib Dem Councillor elected next May will be another vote inside the council for scrutiny and challenge to the barmy ways of Anderson and his mates with major failures in governance, due diligence; the St John’s Market; property speculation and the William Brown Street Festival.

 

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Labour out of touch with NHS Reality

Chamber

This place is more like a circus than a debating chamber with Labour flailing around like manic clowns to try and avoid serious questioning and debates

On Wednesday, at the Council meeting we were supposed to have a debate about the NHS and the funding problems that the NHS has in the Liverpool City Region. Of course, we didn’t have a debate as much as a snarling match.

Labour moved a motion about the cuts to the NHS. What they moved was factually correct but incomplete. In their scathing attack on the Lib Dems (just one of the many!) they forgot to mention that the NHS spending budget for the Government between 2010 and 2014 was the one that was inherited by the Coalition Government from the Labour Government. In other words, the government spent exactly as much as its predecessor would have done. I don’t know whether Labour in Liverpool don’t know this, hope that you don’t know this or just choose to try and forget this sad contradiction to their posturings.

We agreed that the NHS needs more money but we made two points that were crucially different than Labour’s position:

Firstly, we need to spend the money on different things. I have often pointed out in this blog that we need to spend more money on illness prevention to stop people going into hospital and more money on social care to get them out of hospital. Just spending more on things that we currently spend money on will not overall improve the situation.

Secondly, we need to make decisions in a very different way. Again, as I have argued in this blog we need to look at the Manchester model where many decisions about the use of health service cash is linked to local priorities and the provision of other services through the Council and its partners. My belief that this is the way forward stems from the visits I have made to Manchester and to speeches I have heard last week from Andy Burnham and John Rouse.

Neither of these positions is a sinister Lib Dem plot to overthrow our beloved NHS. For the first position, I quoted the Chief Executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens who has made clear where he thinks extra money needs to be put. For the second position, I quoted well known Lib Dems Lord Peter Smith, Leader of Wigan Council; Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester Council; and Rt Hon Andy Burnham, Mayor of the Manchester City Region. Well spotted – they are not Lib Dems but leading Labour politicians who are enthusiastically implementing the locally led change process in Manchester!

All is not right within the NHS and we should not defend the status quo. Just look at what has happened to our CCG in Liverpool. In just two weeks the Chair, Chief Executive and Chief Finance Officer had to stand down because of governance irregularities. Look at the money they get for those positions. We spend a fortune on poorly performing Boards of Trusts, Foundations and CCGs nationally. Money that would be better spent in the wards and clinics.

To save the NHS we need to thoroughly discuss its problems in a national dialogue to try and achieve a consensus which can bind the national in a practical and sustainable way forward. My colleagues and I in the Lib Dems both locally and nationally have tried to be in the vanguard of such rational discussion. We believe that if we are to continue what we all want – a health service which is free to all at the point of delivery – there must be change in priorities, cultures and spending patterns. The best way to achieve this is not have sterile debates on amounts of cash that is being out in or whether there should be more privatisation (we don’t think there should incidentally) but a real debate about the key issues.

In Liverpool Council Chamber on Wednesday we tried to instigate such a debate but the small minds of Labour would not respond. They had an outdated, old fashioned and incoherent line and they were going to stick to it no matter what was said by whom!

This is our amendment. It basically says go and have a look at what is happening somewhere else. In this case in Manchester which is all of 30 minutes away on a train! But learning from other Labour politicians is far beyond the capacity of Liverpool Labour. So, in Liverpool it is the Lib Dems who will try and learn from the good things that Labour is doing somewhere else and try to implement similar policies and proposals!

Here is our amendment. As always. we are keen to hear what other people think.

Funding the NHS

Council, however, also realises that money alone is not the answer. It welcomes the moves that have been made in Greater Manchester to take far greater responsibility for the NHS within that Conurbation including;

  • The linking of health with public health; social care and other council responsibilities;
  • The development of the England’s best Strategic Transformation plan which was arrived at over three years and involved councillors, patients and communities
  • The success in joining up services within the NHS
  • Increased patient outcomes;
  • The granting of £450 million over 5 years to act as a transformation fund to aid changes.

Accordingly, it resolves:

  1. To request the Health Scrutiny Committee and Health & Wellbeing Board to visit Manchester to see for themselves what is being done;
  2. To ask the Mayor of Greater Manchester City Region, the Rt Hon Andy Burnham, to visit Liverpool to address councillors and other interested parties on the success to date of their work; and
  3. To ask the Mayor of the Liverpool City Region to immediately begin work to emulate his colleague in Greater Manchester and bring health under local, democratic control
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Councillors must be like Caesar’s wife!!

Chamber

When we meet in the Council Chamber every Councillor must be absolutely sure that they are obeying the law about financial declarations

The Liverpool Echo ran a story about 3 months ago that 8 councillors – 7 Labour and one Liberal – had been in serious council tax arrears and may have been voting illegally in the council.

Two weeks ago, they produced a further report which said that 2 0f them – one Labour and the one Liberal (not Lib Dem) had been totally exonerated leaving 6 Labour Councillors in the frame. It is still not clear whether or not they voted illegally. The law says that you must abstain from voting if you are two months or more in arrears. None of the 6 declared such an interest.

As a result, my Lib Dem colleagues, Mirna Juarez and Andrew Makinson have tabled this motion to the Council:

Payment of Council Tax by Councillors by Councillors Mirna Juarez and Andrew Makinson

Council notes with concern the recent media coverage in respect of none or late payment of Council Tax by Councillors. Whilst recognising that Councillors have the same problems as any other citizen of the City we have a duty to set a good example to all tax-payers to pay Council Tax on time.

Council therefore undertakes to continue to offer the opportunity to all Councillors to voluntarily agree the deduction of Council Tax at source from their Councillor’s allowances to ensure that such problems are not repeated.

This is not actually the motion that they wanted to move. In their original motion, the City Council would have had the right to deduct unpaid tax from councillor’s allowances.

Councillors are ordinary people. We too have our divorces; our problems; our emergencies and the plethora of other things that deflect every individual family and individual from a quiet life. Councillors will, inevitably, at some time fall into council tax and other arrears. But there the similarity ends. There are three differences between a Councillor and the electorate in this regard:

  1. We have a specific law which controls part of our behaviour. The law does not say that you cannot get into arrears but that if you do you should not vote.
  2. We should know how the system works and seek the help that is available to every citizen in difficulties to get help from the council in slowing down payments and seeking further income sources through a benefits appraisal.
  3. We devise the systems. If the system is so bad that councillors cannot cope with it they should design a system, in so far as they can, that will work for them and everyone else.

People who have contacted me have been outraged at the behaviour of this small handful of councillors. They agree that councillors have problems but like me feel that as elected representatives we should be more aware and know how to deal with our problems.

Like Caesar’s wife all elected representatives must be beyond reproach!

 

 

 

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Fitzgerald’s suspension calls into question Anderson’s judgement

anderson

Liverpool’s spare Mayor must consider his position after his appalling lack of judgement in this matter

At 17.25 tonight all councillors in Liverpool received the notice below that the Chief Executive of Liverpool, Ged Fitzgerald, has finally been suspended from office 4 months after he was first arrested on serious criminal charges.

Dear colleague,

I am sorry for sending this message late in the day, but I wanted to ensure staff received this information without delay. Please see below the latest update in relation to Chief Executive, Ged Fitzgerald.

With best wishes

Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool

 ‘We can confirm that a meeting of the City Council’s Appointments and Disciplinary Panel met today to discuss the circumstances surrounding the Chief Executive, Ged Fitzgerald.

After deliberating carefully, the Panel took the decision to suspend him.

We must stress this is a neutral act to allow an independent investigation into issues, including potential reputational impacts on the City Council at the current time, to proceed.

It is important for the City Council, the Panel and the Chief Executive that the investigator is able to make an objective assessment and therefore we are not able to make any further comment at this stage.’

The timing, of course is very interesting. As my press statement said it is timed to do two things.

  1. Get to Labour Councillors before they started their group meeting at 6 pm. We know that there has been considerable disquiet in the Labour Group about this and a whole range of other issues.
  2. To avoid press scrutiny. The timing means means that most of the press had gone home. We are not a rolling news 24/7/365 kind of place these days!

My comment was,

“a full investigation into Mr Fitzgerald and Rotherham should have taken place four years ago when the problems first became public. He should have been suspended without prejudice as soon as he was arrested on serious criminal charges.

The Mayor of Liverpool must explain why no full investigation was held 4 years ago and why 4 months ago he refused to take the action that he has today and instead claimed that if he took that action it would be prejudicial. 

I can only assume that this action has been taken today to head off the increasing criticism of the Mayor in his own Party who are holding their pre-council group meeting tonight.

Joe Anderson should consider his own appalling lack of judgement in this matter and resign”.                                                                                                                                 

The Mayor has had two opportunities to do the right thing.

4 years ago, I challenged him to have a clear and public review of the work of Mr Fitzgerald in Rotherham. That would have both cleared the air and allowed us to benefit from a knowledge of the mistakes that had been made to enable us to properly protect our children from sexual exploitation. Instead I was offered a private chat with Joe and Mr Fitzgerald.

4 months ago, I challenged Mayor Anderson to invoke proper personnel procedures and suspend Mr Fitzgerald without prejudice. He responded that to suspend someone without prejudice is itself prejudicial. This is, of course a nonsense. It is, of course, precisely what he has done today. Perhaps now I will be permitted to see the legal opinion on this matter and discover what information the person giving the opinion was given to lead them to such a crass interpretation of the law.

Who on earth is advising Mr Anderson? What on earth is Mr Anderson doing to accept such appalling advice? If it is a council officer who has been advising Mr Anderson then that person too should be considering their own position. If it is a member of the Labour Party from outside the Council they are just incompetent and inept.

At last the right thing is being done BUT the Mayor must go further. As scandal follows scandal and problem follows problem it is absolutely clear that Liverpool needs help. We need a peer review and then officers from other more competent authorities to plug the hole on the ship’s bottom and get us back on track. Why nor e-mail the Mayor and ask him to seek help? As with all elected members his e-mail is joe.anderson@liverpool.gov.uk

 

 

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