Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Possibly the best t-shirt in the world

The best t-shirt with the best line from the best film ever.
There are political t-shirts, film, TV, eighties, sport, music, comedians and many more available from the website you can access by clicking on the title of this entry.
I saw the advert in Private Eye and had to explore further.
As an aside, I remember a very funny moment in Michael Palin's Round the World in 80 days, when he was travelling on a train in India. The camera crew and various assistants, along with Palin had booked a whole carriage. When they arrived at the station the carriage was already full of Indians, all claiming to be Michael Palin (and his wife presumably).
If you could really be persuaded to part with the cash, which t-shirt would you choose?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Liverpool Councillorship Programme

This is by way of being homework.

I am doing the Liverpool Councillorship Programme in conjunction with the University of Chester.

My first module (I think the third or fourth for longer serving councilors) has been "Modern Communications and Media Management". I have to write about working with the written media, the radio, TV and what they call "modern techniques."

I thought I would talk about blogging as one part of modern techniques. It seems appropriate. Using a blog as a form of communicating with local people, residents, agencies, politicians and interest groups in the area.

So if you would like to contribute to my evidence, for my portfolio, perhaps you can spare a moment to let me know whether you find this form of modern communication useful, what the downsides are, what you like about my communicating in this way (in tandem with all the more traditional methods of course.)

You can stay anonymous, but if you read this for information, for interest or indeed in scorn, do let me know, you can be a quoted source in my report!

(I had to laugh to read that the people who created the course think that public meetings are a modern form of communication, tell that to Victor Grayson!)

Cash in the attic

When I moved out of Colin's house and into my own home, I had a lot of china I could not really viably take with me.

As the world's foremost collector in virtually worthless hand-painted 1930s china, I found I had several piles of tea-sets and bits and pieces to get rid of.

As a keen watcher of Flog it, Cash in the Attic, Bargain Hunt and the Antiques Roadshow, I thought I might try my hand at the auctions.

A couple of weeks ago I dropped some of my brightest china off at Cato Crane on the dock front near the office. They agreed to sell it for me at an auction and then said the auction was going to be filmed by Cash in the Attic. I didnt get the chance to come out of the office to see the auction, or indeed to wave a sign saying "hello mum" in front of the camera but I do hope my Grays Pottery set in particular caught the eye of the camera man.

It will be ages before I find out how I did, but seeing that the auctioneer was obviously a relative of "Cut my own throat" Dibbler, I wont hold out much chance of a fortune. He wanted 25% commission plus 2.5% insurance plus £4 a lot. I will be lucky if I dont come out of this owing him money, I should have listened more in the "capitalist" classes instead of focussing on the "socialist" ones


Monday - prioritising at its most intense

In my diary for Monday night I had four appointments.

All four at 6pm

All in the ward

All important

What is a dedicated councillor to do?

Panic, is the first response, followed by a bit of delegation and some urgent attempts to persuade some of the groups to move their meetings!

There was a GEARS meeting. If there was ever a competition to find the best residents association in the country I would be confidently putting them up for an award. They do lots of social events, lots of fundraising, always meet all the agencies that serve their areas, and possibly uniquely also run a junior arm, EAGERS made up of local youngsters who have a passion for their area too.

Thankfully, after a brief scurry at the beginning of the Neighbourhood Committee meeting, Wendy agreed to go there and cover that meeting for the Labour Party.

Then there was the Holt Road neighbourhood Assembly which is one fifth of the Kensington New Deal for Communities area. They were meeting downstairs in the Lifebank. I did contact the organisation to tell them that I wanted to be there but that they had clashed with a meeting I was obliged to attend. They didnt respond, which is not the best news, maybe the email is lost in the ether, many of mine have been lost since last Friday when the server went down at work. They were going to talk about issues very pertinent to their streets as part of the new deal area, there was a lot to talk about but I had to miss it. I do go to the housing focus issues group on Holt Road though, so hopefully I wont be too much out of the loop.

Then we were meant to have a meeting of the Park Forum looking at the Heritage Fund Lottery bid for Newsham Park. This was cancelled in the end, thankfully. I was starting to stretch like a plasticine lady.

In the end I went to the Neighbourhood Committee, which is more or less obligatory. We had an early meeting at 5pm to talk about plans for neighbourhood agreements. This is going to be very important but I cannot do it justice in here in the middle of another entry, more later on that.

Then at 6pm we were straight into business as usual, and as usual there were 6 members of the public (actually two more than usual if I am honest) and three times as many officers and councillors.

There were lots of controversial planning applications to comment on. I did my best for the people of Berwick Street worried about the bin cupboards that will back on to their back gardens. Cllr M and I shared concerns on the plans for building on the "M" street square and a few others. I dont know how much notice planners take, but we have to say our piece.

Mainly though I steeled myself to express my deep concern and disappointment at the ongoing failures to address problems in K&F in those sizeable places that are not in the new deal area.
I do keep going on about it but that doesnt mean I am not right to do so.

The place is knee deep in litter and fly-tipping, graffiti, vandalism, anti-social behaviour, crime, prostitution, speeding stolen cars and general neglect.

And the council treats it like a waste ground or a twilight zone

The miracle was that everyone agreed with me and supported me.

Could this finally be the beginning of some attention in the area?

I truly hope so, watch this space.

Baby Dylan comes to Liverpool

Well he is not a baby any more, not really, he has learnt to walk, but my special little friend Dylan brought his mum and dad to Liverpool on Saturday for the weekend.

I dont know how best to describe him really, I am his "special person" which is a bit like being a godmother only the ceremony was a civil one, so he cannot be my godson, perhaps he is my "special son"?

Anyway, we had a great time.

I got back from Speke in time to make the beds, tidy up and move the breakables out of the way.

We had a curry take out from the fantastic Sakander on Allerton Road on Saturday night, I was too tired from a busy week to make the tea, well that is my excuse anyway.

On Sunday morning we went up to the statues on Crosby beach. Readers will know I am a big fan and take all my visitors to see Anthony Gormley's wonderful masterpiece. I was trying to get an update on whether they are now staying or now going or still in doubt. I went on the Liverpool Daily Post website and the Sefton council website to no avail. If you have an update please post it here, I would be very grateful.

Susan and Dylan stayed on the promenade and Tom and I took some mood photographs down on the sand.


We then went to the equally wonderful Halfway on Woolton Road where I can be found most Sundays having a great carvery lunch - you wont find a better one in Liverpool. See you there.

In the afternoon we went to the Albert Dock and Susan and Tom took Dylan into the Tate to see the Chapman exhibition. I knew I wouldnt like it so I had a walk along the shops instead.

It was interesting to go into the "Heritage shop" and see not one single item relating to the city's 800th birthday. I went up to the shop assistant and asked her why this was, had they not ordered any, did they not know about the merchandise, was the 08 place selfishly hanging on to the merchandise, but she did not know what I was talking about, not really.

So my question to the Culture company, which if I get my act together I will properly ask them, is, wouldnt it be a good idea to get some merchandise onto the Albert Dock. Lots of visitors never come into the city centre or the 08 place but do come onto the Dock and would appreciate the things they could buy.

Why does it take a newbie like me to point out the blindingly obvious, that is what I want to know!

I teased Tom all day about his studious use of the SatNav in his car. As we approached the car park I prefer in Crosby he plaintively said "Louise, we are running out of road". I was happy to point out the car park to him, saying that if he looked out of the windscreen instead of looking at his monitor, he would have seen where we were going. Are SatNavs the next mobile phones in terms of distracting drivers?

Anyway, the irony was that the sodding thing broke down as we left the Albert Dock and they had to drive back to York, via my house, using old fashioned skills like reading road signs and asking for directions, what a nightmare that must have been.

A great weekend with my Labour Party mates from ten years ago in head office.

And a wonderful weekend with my special boy.

A very tough surgery (advice session)

I dont want to get into details but Friday's surgery was the most harrowing I have ever experienced.

Thank God Wendy was with me to take one of the cases as each was so important they merited a good hour each.

All were housing crises, all were women, all were particularly dreadful.

I rarely get housing queries, there is not that much public housing left in the ward, mostly they are home owners or more likely, private lets.

I had three cases which would have been at the top of anyone's emergency lists

Sadly the principal housing officer that I have subsequently contacted has not reacted in the strong positive way I would have hoped for.

I dont know whose fault that is. It may be that, as I have long suspected, the situation with the housing waiting list is so dire and the homes available to be let to them, so few, that we simply cannot help people even when they hit every conceivable button.

A nightmare

Perhaps it is my fault, maybe I just dont understand, but when people tell you that their life is in danger or that their children are at risk unless you act, you expect that when you approach the authorities, they will take note both of you as a councillor and of your constituent.

This has not happened here

My question to the watching audience is what do I do? What mistakes am I making? Should I be breaking one of my own golden rules and going to the Executive Director for instance rather than the local people I am building relations with.

Please, anyone out there, tell me how to get a good response for these women in such pain and difficulty.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Saturday campaigning in Speke Garston byelection

Another great day on "the stump" in Speke Garston.

There was lots to do, leaflets to deliver, doors to knock, posters to get up in windows.

Cllr Doreen Knight and I chose to go doorknocking on Alderwood Avenue in Speke, forgive me if I got the street name wrong, it is not my patch.

We knocked on loads of houses all morning until the need for a hot drink pushed us back to the committee rooms. I dont know where the LibDems are looking to for votes, one has to imagine they are still relying on Garston, because once again we found only Labour voters on the doorstep. Even before we got there someone had organised a terrific spread of Labour window posters. You dont see them much any more, they went out of fashion about 8 years ago as far as I can determine, but in Speke there are loads of posters. We went past one particular row at the top end of the street where every house was voting for Colin Strickland. Amazing.

We were chatting, Doreen and I, to a lady on one doorstep. She had just agreed to put a poster up in support of Labour's Colin Strickland, when coming along the street we spied four LibDem councillors from elsewhere in the city. They were leafletting. They wisely left our house alone and leafletted the one before and the one after.

There they were, not meeting voters, not talking to anyone who lived there, not engaging with anyone, even those standing at their gates, as they walked past house after house of Labour posters, while Cllr Doreen Knight and I were chatting with people, picking up case work, converting stragglers.

I admire them for turning up in someone else's ward, honestly, we can all be blinkered about just looking after "our" bit of Liverpool. But it must have been a thankless task. Nice people some of them, as far as I can tell having served on a few committees and training courses with some of them. Just sadly misguided. My wave to you was genuine, if you were wondering by the way.

I digress, Doreen's promises from last year appear to be holding up without exception and several former LibDems are now moving across, Speke is going to be strongly Labour once again.

Garston is more interesting. We haven't done well there for a long time (last year things were starting to turn our way) but the years of neglect, delay and decay are starting to wear residents down.

In a spectacular own goal the LibDem candidate has put out a leaflet in Garston saying she has been helping the local urban village hall to get more funding from the (LibDem) council. I understand that the committee has written to local people in high dudgeon saying quite the opposite. They have never been approached, they are not getting the money etc etc.

Why do the LibDems insist on keep telling lies even when they know we are crawling over every utterance with a fine tooth comb.

Is it just arrogance?

Anwers on a post card please.

As an aside, I have just learnt that young Daniel Hughes who is a key player in Liverpool Garston Labour Party, (not the retiring Libdem councillor but sharing the same name by unhappy chance for both I suspect) has been appointed to a regional Labour Party campaign role. Lucky region, we will miss him, he is a very passionate and enthusiastic young man that has done a great service to the Labour Party in Liverpool. I hope his career within the party is as exciting and fulfilling as mine was.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Phythian Estate Residents Meeting

Wendy and I went to the Phythian Estate Residents Meeting on Thursday night.

As an organised group of residents I think it is fair to say they have been more or less defunct since the LibDem council shut their community centre where they had such a strong presence.

However, several families on the estate have been suffering from racial criminal damage by some quite young kids, to their homes for a while now and their efforts to resolve this have brought them into contact with various agencies. One of the families emailed me and then all three came to one of my surgeries a few weeks ago. I was very disturbed by what they told me, I wont go into any details as you will understand. I contacted the local police team for the area and went to the Tuebrook police station to see the local Inspector and had a long meeting with him about what the police could do to help - a lot as it turned out.

They had also been to see the youth worker in the (fabulous) youth centre on the estate. Since the closure of the community centre a few years ago, the youth centre has become a bit of a focal point for residents who want to talk to someone "in the council" about their problems.

The youth worker, like me, was very concerned and decided that we needed a public meeting and contacted me to get it organised. We asked the Chair of the old residents group to get involved and chair the meeting and he agreed. The police and youth services agreed to attend a public meeting and answer questions about any local concerns, not just the ones I have detailed above. We were also lucky enough to get someone from neighbourhood services to talk about future housing plans and Maria from Kenny Regen (there's that woman again, I wonder if there should be prizes for the most mentioned public servant on this blog?)

Anyway, the youth centre advertised the meeting and we had it last night (Thursday). There was a good turn out of residents, less so of LibDem councillors who had promised to attend but went back into invisible mode instead and kept away from this meeting too.

The meeting elected not to get into public detail about the racial criminal damage problems but residents did stress their strong support for the families concerned. The police gave a good account of themselves, both the neighbourhood Inspector, Dave Charnock, and the estate Sergeant, Andy Hall were there. They took a bit of flak which is always to be expected, but many residents agreed that the increased patrols they had instigated at our urging were helping a lot. The Sergeant told us that the Phythian is a very quiet and well behaved estate, with one or two very singular exceptions. It is a credit to the residents and it was important that they all knew this. Most of the crime related problems are in areas that immediately neighbour the estate, rather than being on it, and involve drug dealing but there are police operations currently in place that we dont need to discuss to deal with these.

The police stressed over and over again the importance of residents reporting their suspicions and I said I would act as a reporter if anyone was too frightened to go to the police themselves.

On the specific problem itself the Inspector has given me and the victims a promise of his personal attention. You cannot ask for more than that.

We heard from the youth service about lots of schemes they are engaged with, getting local kids involved in all sorts of activities and the good work the club is doing supporting those who have had school discipline problems but are now studying in the centre and learning new skills. Residents were made up with what they heard, they were fully supportive and their fears fell away, for that alone it was a great meeting.

The Housing rep, Ray, explained the stock-transfer ballot and answered, very honestly, umpteen questions about why housing repairs are not being done. Several residents said that they thought they were being blackmailed into stock transfer but both he and I emphasised the £300 million Liverpool is receiving from the (Labour) Government for vital housing repairs and revites if the vote goes ahead. I dont agree with stock transfer and I need to be honest and say that, but then again, if this is the only way, I dont see what choice tenants have. If it was up to me we would be setting up housing co-operatives on the Pythian, the Molyneux (odd houses belong to the council) and Butler Crescent, but it isnt up to me, so we are where we are.

I had a slot where I updated resident on Gawith plans - the taxi garage on the front on Kensington that is such an eyesore. Mr Gawith junior told me when I met him with Environmental Health last week that he is ready to refurbish, renew or redevelop once he is satisfied that Kenny Regen mean what they say about doing up the fronts generally. I would take the same attitude and I knew it would lift hearts, particularly on Gloucester Court.

I talked about my walkabout with Ronnie and Larry earlier in the week and the hotspots we had identified in the immediate Phythian area - the park, the Phythian pub environs, the back entries and so on. I believe Neighbourhood Services will take my criticisms on the chin and we can expect a much better service now they know exactly what needs doing.

I explained that the traffic calming already in place is going to be reviewed after I approached Highways Engineers at the behest of residents, the design of the humps on Phythian Street lend themselves to people cheating by driving on the pavement edge.

I also told them about the consultation where I had agreed to support a change of use for the former and now empty GPs on the exit to the estate, providing it would not be used as a rehab centre for drug users. I dont disagree with rehab centres but we have our fair share of facilities that attract people with problems already in Kenny, for once NIMBYism is appropriate so I had made that clear to the council when they asked for my views.

I discussed my promise to hold a regular surgery on the Phythian estate once elected, which having committed already to weekly surgeries in both Kenny and Fairfield, I had still not organised. I asked if it was still wanted, it was, so I agreed that Wendy and I would hold one once a month in the Youth Club in future to supplement the weekly ones elsewhere. They voted 2-1 Labour in May so they deserve our full attention and they will get it.

Maria from KNDC (Kensington New Deal for Communities, AKA Kensington Regeneration) who had come to support the youth worker, similarly named, talked about the plans for the shop front blocks on Kensington, many are due to be demolished during the next few months, including, I think, the infamous block where the cats were tortured and where paint was thrown on a local family in a racist attack. I am still a bit unsure about KNDC plans for each short block, I am going to ask them to walk me through it really soon. She is meant to be responsible for community safety so it was great that she came and spoke, even though the Phythian is in the twilight zone not covered by Kenny Regen.

Finally we talked about re-establishing regular residents meetings, the residents want it, the police want it, neighbourhood services want it, the youth service want it, Wendy and I want it, so we shall have it! Hopefully the Youth Club will host them until we can get some space in the old community centre if the plans to rent it to a School Drama organisation goes ahead.

I went away with four pieces of casework but that is what I am here for after all.

I dont know why Councillor Invisible and his co-councillor mate weren't there. I checked that they had been invited - they had and had confirmed their attendance - but I suspect they might have been reading an earlier blog of mine where I mentioned the incidence of LibDem councillors (and not just those two) turning up just before an election but otherwise neglecting the area. Either that or, knowing the turnout was 2-1 Labour in the election on the estate, they decided to cut their losses?

We dont need them anyway and they would not have known the first thing about any of the issues, so it was just as well really that we did not have to do the whole embarrasing thing we go through whenever we three are all together of who gets to report back and what news we have.

(Actually although I digress here, I do have a bit of sympathy for them. It was fairly easy for them when I was first elected and didnt know as much as they did about the issues or the history, but now it is clear to all that I have my finger on the pulse having very thoroughly emersed myself in the ward and they are too busy in the Town Hall to know the half of it. If I thought I was going to be put on the spot, or showed up by someone in the opposition party, I might be tempted to stay home too. I would be interested in a debate, perhaps in a separate blog entry, about split party wards and how to maintain local representation in very difficult circumstances)

Nights like last night make the job of being a councillor very rewarding, I have never done anything that felt this good before (except my role in the Labour Landslide of 1997). One of the most fulfilling evenings I will probably ever have as a local Councillor.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Fairfield Assembly February meeting

Wednesday night was the Fairfield Assembly meeting, lots of residents there and a good spread of agencies to answer residents' questions.

We heard some interesting stuff, the police talked about our ongoing community campaign to clamp down on off licences who sell vodka to underage kids. It seems that my bete noire, Not Drunk Enough, has passed a couple of test purchases lately. I suppose I should be pleased, but I find it hard to summon up much enthusiasm. They also highlighted some problems with kids in Lorne Street and how we need to work on describing them and recognising them.

We talked about those signs - the Kensington ones outside the police club in Fairfield and why they are still there. I had anticipated this question, it has come up in my last two surgeries so I knew people were wondering why it was that despite the fanfare from both me and Cllr Invisible about how we had each won the battle to have them replaced, they still haven't been changed. I had been in touch with Highways this week and they told me the signs are about 5 weeks away from being replaced, apparently they have to buy new posts. Not sure why, we only need the sign changing over, the posts are set in concrete in a perfectly good location. Perhaps the new posts are needed to move the Tuebrook sign on Sheil Road a bit nearer to West Derby Road, rather than its "pole position" at the end of Boaler Street?

We had a lively debate about the Cheviot, Middleton, Lindale estate (CML) and the snaggings, I was pleased that my meeting last week on site and subsequent letter to residents had dampened down a lot of the anxieties. I also promised them a further letter this week on the implications for them of the Edge Lane resurfacing scheme. The "powers that be" had once again forgotten to write to them and let them know, they had faithfully told everyone whose house is visible from the main road but forgotten the estates that can only be accessed from Edge Lane but are a bit further out. That is twice in a fortnight that CML has been forgotten, I trust it won't happen again but my patience and compliance only goes so far.

The proposed traffic calming scheme was under the microscope, we anticipate it anxiously, especially after the tragic death of young Katie McPoland last year on Holland Street, but there were still lots of questions about precisely what the humps should look like, and where they might be located. I know residents have been "consulted" twice already but I sense the information must have been a bit obscure judging by the questions people still have about how it is going to work.

Pat, the Chair of both FARA and the Assembly had a lot of questions about the ongoing lamp-post replacement scheme, it seems the work has halted for a while before it has been finally finished and the interim arrangements, with two columns next to each other and uneven pavements as a consequence, are really upsetting people.

Maria Grimes of KNDC (Kenny Regen) told residents about our pilot Carbon Monoxide detection monitors scheme for the Fairfield neighbourhood, I should have talked about it during my opportunity to address the meeting but somehow it fell off the end, and I forgot. I know that is hard to believe given my personal passion for saving lives threatened by CO poisoning after losing my fiance in 1999, but there is always so much to cover. Anyway she did the subject credit (and I think she is great anyway, we are lucky to have her and you can quote me on that).

Finally Lynn Spencer, the Chief Exec of KNDC spoke about the future for neighbourhood assemblies, we all welcomed them and wanted them to continue. She also asked for people to make last minute nominations for KNDC awards for young people, ethnic minority community volunteers and carers. They are the categories with fewer awards apparently. I have already made my three nominations, I thought about it long and hard and chose three people who by chance all live in the GEARS neighbourhood. I don’t know why they need more young person’s nominations, I know the young person I nominated is a star in the making and I doubt very much if anyone can match him or beat him. But it is going to be fascinating to see how it all pans out. Whether they let me actually go to the event is a whole other thing but I may have had some good news about that today, a plan B, we will see.

I am a bit disappointed about not being able to nominate some true community heroes and heroines who live in my ward, just because they live in L6 rather than L7 and therefore are not in the new deal for communities regeneration area. The whole north/south divide in Kensington and Fairfield is going to be an oft repeated topic in my future campaigns.

I love going into Fairfield, they are strong and passionate, they know they want and they keep us up to the mark, it was just how community politics should be.

Kensington's new neighbourhood centre

If you click on the link in the title of this blog, you should be taken to a piece in the Liverpool Daily Post where I am quoted as saying the following about the submission of the plans for a new neighbourhood centre in Kenny (actually technically it is probably in Fairfield but we wont go back into that whole debate just now if you don't mind). It also tells you about some of the detail of the application.

I told the Post that

"Local people have been promised this centre for years, at last something might really happen. The Labour Government has ploughed millions of pounds into the area and this will help tremendously to smarten the place up.

I hope it will provide much needed quality shops and I will continue to campaign for a bank here too which we also desperately need. If it does now finally go ahead it will be a great boost and will go a long way to rebuilding some lost confidence following years of delay and decay."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Guess who is the Chair of the new Parks Strategy Scrutiny Panel for Liverpool City Council?

Yup! Yours truly

I hope Grandad Arthur, Uncle Alleyne and Great Grandad Sid are looking down in pride. They were all Parks, Gardens and Cemetries men for the Corporation - in Coventry. I'm sure my passion for parks has been inherited from them.

We had our inaugural meeting on Monday and it was really good. I had met with the Head of the Parks Service, Paul Scragg, last Friday in his office at Calderstones Park and we had agreed a work programme. I was keen to involve all the areas within the strategy documents for our city's parks and lakes for the next ten years, but also those extra topics that members had shown an interest in at a recent Green, Heritage and the Environment Select Committee.

The panel agreed that we would concentrate on a variety of areas - young people and parks, security and parks, major projects in parks (like the big Heritage Lottery Fund bids for Sefton Park, Princes Park and Newsham Park), events in parks, management of parks, green flag status, using parks, distance from parks, inclusivity in parks and plans for our big lakes etc. We are going to have a special fact-finding session on the famed Botanic collection too.

We also agreed to hold our meetings in parks - within park buildings - so that we can have a proper look at some of the bigger parks while we go through the work programme. I am particularly keen on this, although we will have to make sure we have the disabled access right. I think probably we might get more public visitors to these meetings than we did to those on the 800th birthday celebrations, people are very passionate about their parks. I didnt think it right to discuss them from a tower block in town when we could be out there getting the full picture first hand.

Nick Small said he thought it was going to be exciting and that you couldn't say that about much in local government. Then things got even better briefly when it was enthusiastically suggested that we might have a trip to Central Park in New York to see the park influenced by the one in Birkenhead, but then we came back down with a bang when it was pointed out that it would be cheaper and easier to visit the original....

I do hope Nick's right, that it is exciting and that we learn a lot and make some valuable contributions to the strategy, I think it will be. I believe the Parks staff too are excited, if not a tad bit tentative at this early stage, about having such strong interest shown in their work and their plans, they have felt a bit ignored by politicians over the years I sense (of any party I suspect).

I fully intended to say to the panel members how honoured I felt at being offered this wonderful opportunity to chair a panel on something so close to my heart, especially as there is a 6-2 split on the committee, with Nick and I in the political minority. I am afraid I genuinely forgot to say it in all the excitement, perhaps the chance will come at a later date.

Great stuff - and much nicer than dog muck and fly-tipping (although I can foresee a session on dog muck and fly-tipping in parks, sure to be)

Civic Mass in the Catholic Cathedral

A first for me on Sunday

My first catholic mass, my first visit to the catholic cathedral, my first civic mass and all on the occasion of the city's 800th birthday.

There were very few councillors there really, plenty of mayors from across Merseyside in their spendid chains and gown, but not many from the backbenches.

I sat next to Andrew who was elected to the council on the same day as me, albeit for the other side. We had a chat about how you decide what to go to, councillors get so many invites to so many things, and what to put to one side. Andrew said he was going to go to everything so that he would know for next year what to concentrate on. A pretty good philosophy really. Although like me he had arrived at things to find he was more or less on his own, hopefully neither of us have been conspicuous by our absence anywhere that really matters.

The Catholic ArchBishop made a good fist out of convincing us that there is only one God and so all the churches should work harder at reconciliation and peace. That part was quite straightforward.

He also talked about combatting the political divides and our Lord Mayor (or should I call Joan "My Lord Mayor" which is how Councillor Radford always refers to her) read a reading from St James about turning the other cheek and making the biggest effort to get on with and work with those who are the hardest to like and the furthest away from yourself.

More easily said than done, I guess I just have to try harder, a lot harder

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Campaigning in the Community - the Labour Party Diploma

I delivered some regional training in Radcliffe, Manchester on Saturday afternoon, the module on campaigning in the community.

I wont tell you what I told them, who knows who might be reading this, but we had a very interesting session. I think I may have learnt a few things from the participants as well as them learning some stuff from me, always the best way.

What I did tell them though was that you should never be afraid to put yourself forward as an advocate and a champion of your community, elected or not.

I was holding surgeries in Holmfirth without ever having been elected, it never stopped me from solving problems or fighting injustices. Wendy is as welcome at Residents' meetings as I have always been, nobody ever says "Hey, thanks for your interest but dont bother us until you have been elected". We just have to have the courage of our convictions.

We didn't get round to the conversation about the value of blogs and the internet that we have started here already but there was some very useful stuff about identifying and working closely with single issue groups, voluntary groups, charities, unions, people with their own fights and campaigns they would welcome involvement with.

The buffet wasn't bad either

Barnsley Poet - Ian McMillan

The North End Writers hosted a wonderful evening at the Lighthouse in Anfield. I have not enjoyed myself so much in a very long time. Lisa and I laughed until we cried, my new mascara was in rivulets down my cheeks.

Ian McMillan is a great poet, a funny man and a very warm human being.

He talked a bit about his role as the official poet in residence at Barnsley FC - ten years now since they made it albeit briefly to the Premiership. I was also surprised to hear him say it was 27 years since Northern Arts paid him to give up work and concentrate on his poetry. And yet even then he must post-date the Monty Python sketch - tungsten carbide drill and all.

His Big Family Show was designed to appeal to children, he works with schools a lot, but we are all children at heart so we all laughed at the poem about the "hole in the hall" and some of the notices he had stolen from places he had visited. From a school in Halifax he had a sign which read "Waste food" and other which said "Dirty dishes" - odd instructions to give the pupils he said. But my favourite was our reciting together the poem we wrote as a group "Midnight at the Anfield Gaumont" - the poem was rubbish but the recitation was great.

I bought a poetry book and got him to sign it for me at the end and we went away still laughing and giggling.

I hope they remember to let me know about future events, a smashing venue, I look forward to returning.

Cheviot, Middleton and Lindale site meeting

I had a helpful little meeting on the street with the landscapers who are liaising with builders on the CML site and with Cathy from Kenny Regen. Residents Association Officers had given me a list of snaggings that were still outstanding and we went over them together. We are faithfully promised that they will all be done by the end of March.

I also expressed concerns about how the new building development on Lomond Road would affect CML residents as they come in and out of the estate from Edge Lane, through a building site.

Cathy promised a proper liaison officer who would work as the key contact between builders and residents, Mike offered suggestions for how we might manage the flow into and off the estate too, I hope residents feel they are being listened to now.

Dog muck muncher

I have to tell you about the dog muck muncher, I think it is like a giant industrial vacuum cleaner. It munches up muck on the pavements. The Clean Team have bid to buy one. Great news, except that one wont be enough, I doubt that ten would be enough.

But it is a start, if I can get a photo I'll post it up here.

Clean team "cleaning up"

Had a great meeting with Michael at the Clean Team depot, he showed me round and explained all their plans to recyle the rubbish they pick up from flytipping sites.

We also went through his project book for sites he wants to maintain, clean, improve, tidy up, garden; he is so enthusiastic and I think it rubs off on his staff. I asked Sue of the wardens today if she would ask Michael if he could send the lads to clean up the field round the sports centre entrance on Jubilee Drive, ready for the Chinese Fun Day on Sunday, it was a mess when I was up there at the weekend. He had sorted it by tea-time. I did ask the Kenny Regen people if I could nominate them for one of the community awards but they dont let you nominate staff, what a shame.

Plans for Minto Close are coming along, he has had the bollards removed, got right on top of cleaning the alley and the dirty open back yards of the empty shops on Kensington which back on to the Close. He had taken action on the fly-tipping on Fairfield Street already and I had only told him about it the day before.

I think I might have persuaded Michael to take on the plans for a community garden on Edge Grove too, Dave, the officer who put the Lister Crescent garden together has agreed to offer his help too.

L7 is in good hands with the clean team, now we need to get something similar for the neglected and ignored L6. On the Molyneux there is literally one man with one hand-cart trying to hold back the tide of litter and dog muck. It just aint enough. Enterprise are being paid vast sums of money by Liverpool council tax payers to keep their streets clean, and when I say vast sums, I really mean vast sums, but they must be doing it somewhere else.

I took Ronnie and Larry, the new neighbourhood environment officers on a walkabout today round L6, they were shocked. Everyone always is, the place is so filthy. We get Enterprise to come and collect the crap and take it away, then the nice clean pavement or entry or bit of waste ground just attracts more fly-tippers.

What we really need is enforcement. Big fines, photos of tippers on the front page of the Echo, it would work a treat and restore so much confidence.

What a pity the Liberal Democrats are too bloody liberal to introduce anything like that.

The council officers are fond of telling us councillors that we should report things "by the book" and not try to work round the system by phoning people we know and getting favours done. But I think it needs a personal relationship to be able to say to someone, I have reported rubbish here five times in six months, come and put a fence round this, or whatever. Otherwise I am not really making a difference at all.

Yes, we need another Michael and another clean team for L6, dedicated in every sense.

Carbon monoxide detectors in Fairfield

Maria Grimes and Kenny Regen organised a meeting last week where key members of Community Safety committee, Fire Service, Community 7 Housing Association (C7), the Primary Care Trust and local Police agreed in principle that Kenny Regen in conjuction with C7 would buy a number of detectors for a pilot area - Fairfield neighbourhood.

We still have to work on plans for door-knocking to persuade residents to take them up (we may have some volunteers from among the retired fire officers' voluntary group and we all ourselves volunteered to do it too). We also have to find someone to install them, apparently the FBU are not keen on fire officers doing it.

We also had a debate about the best model to purchase, I told the meeting about the HSE findings about which one passed their tests after a year.

Pat and Alan from the Board were asking about other areas who have systematically introduced CO detectors and what we could learn from them, but the Fire officer, Haydn, seemed to think this was probably quite unique, certainly unusual and wasn't really happening anywhere else for us to compare it with. Although he did then mention South Yorkshire, so we said we would go away and talk to them too about how they managed practically.

All technicalities which I am sure we will get over, but what a wonderful result. I'll keep you posted as to progress.

Speke Garston byelection

We have had some cracking days in Speke Garston, campaigning for the byelection on March 8th. It warms your heart to see a dozen campaigners strung out along a road, all engaged in chatting to voters on their doorsteps.

Nobody knows why the LibDems chose to call a byelection in a ward they lost last year with a massive swing to Labour, not when it is only 8 weeks before the ordinary annual election in the same ward. We can only assume they think it might divert us from the work in our target wards. Either that or they are just desperate and frightened and think maybe they might hold on to one of their Speke Garston councillors if each faces the electorate separately.

They have no chance whatsoever if our canvassing records are anything to go by. Not only is our 1000 vote majority holding up but those voters who did vote LibDem last May are telling us they regret it and wont be doing it again. Local people tell me that the LibDems have done so much damage with their lies about the police station in Garston being threatened with closure. The police aren't exactly thrilled either.

But I think it is more than that. I couldn't believe the state of Garston when I went down there for my first fact-finding visit. I knew Kensington was in dire need of regeneration and rejuvenation but it appears it is not alone. There were boarded up houses, falling down pubs, derelict plots, waste grounds, graffitti, dog muck, no shops, nothing.

Two weeks ago I counted 29 survey returns in particular that said "the best thing about living in Garston is the neighbours/local people". While that is a lovely thing for people to think and feel about each other, what a terrible indictment of the state of the place otherwise. Years of LibDem representation and what do you get? total blight. I think the public can see the pattern clearly now and they dont like what they see.

What I genuinely cannot understand is why the councillors are not fighting for change, for improvement, pushing and making lots of noise, making it clear how bad things have become and what they want and need for their residents. Do they not notice? Do they not care? Doesn't anyone on their own front benches listen to them? What is the point of being in power if you dont take the opportunity to lift your own residents out of the terrible conditions in which they find themselves?

People talk about "fur coat and no knickers", well that is the LibDems in Liverpool in my view. Flashy city centre plans, big events, big fireworks, a skyline full of cranes, glitz and glamour. But in some of the outskirts, Kensington L6, Garston, Everton, Anfield, those sort of places, it is dirty, scruffy, neglected and decaying and they dont give a toss. Underneath, in other words, it is a very different picture.

Incidentally if there are any Labour activists from elsewhere who can get to us on polling day, we would love to see you, there are so many Labour promises to get out, we will need a big team to get round them all. Get in touch.

Elm Park Residents

Had an interesting meeting with Elm Park residents. They are running a door-to-door lottery to fund their activities, they get to host a lot of social events for local people with the money. I think they do a good job, the Christmas party was good fun, I do like St Sebs club. They were talking about an easter event for the kids with dressing up and bonnets, a summer event, maybe a BBQ in the new community gardens and a do at the end of November. How is that for forward planning?

Wendy and I learnt about anti-social behaviour problems in Parton Street, the little sods have cut down the No Ball Games signs the residents paid for, I told them to put them straight back up and keep on putting them back up.

We have promised to get the police and the anti-social behaviour unit to work with the officers once they have found out who the kids are and where they live.

I let them know that I was promised a new lamp post for the end of Ottley Street, I think it might have been turned on this week, must remember to check next time I drive past in the dark.

They were over the moon with the local police action over the crack houses on Sheil Road. I promised to let the police know, they like a bit of praise and it doesn't come their way all that often. I think I might ask Inspector Charnock if I can copy his report to the Secretaries of the Residents Associations each month, I know it would mean a lot to them to see it.

The Labour Party Christmas hampers had gone down very well with the local residents they chose to receive them, all in all a very positive meeting.

Councillor candidates coming out of the woodwork as elections approach

You wouldn't believe the amount of meetings I have been to lately where councillors who are up for election this year are suddenly crawling out from under their stones.

For nine months I have been the only councillor at pretty much everything in K&F, whether it is in the New Deal for Communities area, or the neglected buffer zone on the other side of the road.

And now amazingly other councillors are turning up and trying to show an interest. I wonder how they find it, how they feel, when it is clear that I am a regular attender who makes full contributions and obviously knows the history of issues while they are just sitting quietly, completely in the dark?

Well I say "I wonder how they find it?", the answer is obviously that they are shameless, so they don't care.

It probably doesnt even piss them off to think that I have been carrying all the responsibility while they got up to their important work in the Town Hall and neglected their local ward. They probably think it is funny.

It certainly pisses the residents off though, they are not as green as you might imagine and notes have been taken, cards have been marked. I look forward to polling day with increasing enthusiasm.

Monday, February 05, 2007

How do we stop blogging from being abused by the opposition?

I have been wondering all week whether I should stop telling people in the ward I represent, in Liverpool (and the rest of the blogging world for that matter) what I am up to in terms of various campaigns, by using my blog.

There is proof that the "other side" are exploiting my entries for their own aims.

I am a firm believer in using as many forms of communication as possible to reach out to my constituents. I have weekly advice sessions (surgeries), I knock on doors, I phone voters for their views, I visit local businesses, I issue newsletters, I write letters, sometimes political ones on Labour Party paper, sometimes straightforward information briefings on very local issues, using Council paper and I blog.

Lots of people are not comfortable about leaving comments on the blog, although I dont know why, but I do get stopped in the street sometimes by someone who has read about a story they want to know more about, and I get emailed regularly by people who have had similar experiences. I had quite a long series of emails with a whole variety of councillors from all over the country on the item about licensing laws and regulations, although very few comments left.

A few weeks ago a regeneration officer took me to one side at the end of a meeting to say a friend of hers in another part of the country had alerted her to the existence of one my stories about our local police.

And on Friday night a mate phoned me from the pub in Wavertree all excited. He was talking to a mutual friend who lives in Preston but who occasionally comes to Liverpool to socialise with family and friends. The Preston friend told the Wavertree friend that when he mentioned to a Preston colleague at work that he was coming to Liverpool on a night out, the Preston colleague said he used to live in Kensington, Liverpool and knew the area well. They then googled for images of Kensington Liverpool to show each other and there was a photo of me at the market.

My Preston friend said to his colleague "I know her" and much amazement followed.

(I was slightly less amazed myself as I come very high up the list on Google for an awful lot of searches involving Labour, politics, Liverpool, regeneration, decline, decay and Kensington to name but a few).

Anyway, all this is proof to me that blogging works as one of many different forms of communication and that I should keep it up.

However, and this is where the point of the post begins - not sure why it has taken me so long to get there, but I wanted to give you some background - there is proof that other parties are taking advantage of the detail of some of my campaigns, to instruct officers and agencies to take action and steal my thunder.

In some ways of course that is a very good thing because it means the residents will get the result they want, but it is also very galling and sneaky and underhand on their part (nothing new there then).

I have discussed this with my agent and others, and some think that I should stop providing information that can be nicked and used against us, but others say that it will be a crying shame if such a good example of best practice is stopped.

I dont want to get into specifics and finger-pointing because that is not the purpose of this debate, I would like to hear views about blogging, the opposition, case-work and campaigning, should I stop doing it or stand up to them?

And lets have the debate in here for a change, instead of out on the street and by email - you can post anonymously, I wont mind.