Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Kensington Vision FM 87.7

Look out for the Louise Baldock and Wendy Simon show on 19th November, 4pm - 6pm with all the community news!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Prizes all round for the Turner at Liverpool Tate

On Sunday Colin, Mike and I went to see the artists' work currently being exhibited in the Liverpool Tate, contenders for the Turner Prize

We were expecting to see lots of people there, the newspapers had reported during the week that one of the lifts had broken down due the unprecedented visitors.

We were asked to take timed tickets to enter this part of the gallery, for 2pm, having arrived at 1.45pm which was remarkably soon really. The Albert Docks were buzzing with people, far more than usual on a Sunday and the gallery was being very well used.

We spent 15 minutes looking at the first floor of 20th century art while we waited for 2pm to come along. I was delighted to see so many works by Bridget Riley who readers may remember I viewed some of at the MIMA - Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art earlier this year.

With one eye on the clock we cut our perusal short and went up to the top floor to the Turner Prize exhibition.

There are four artists exhibiting:

Mike Nelson was the first. His was a maze which began with a pile of fire wood, burnt, with artificial red flames in wax or plastic, flickering from the embers. We walked through a series of closed rooms or cubes perhaps, where tiny eyeholes had been drilled to let the viewer look through and see a mirage of desert and lights repeated by mirrors so that the image went on for miles, the only static point was the reflection of your own eye. This was my favourite, Colin's too.

As we made it through the maze of rooms, we found ourselves back at the burning embers. It was very discombobulating.

We were pretty sure we hadnt gone back on ourselves and there was no door to this room from outside, like there had been when we came in. It transpired that it too was a mirror image.

We walked on to the next exhibit.

I think that was Mark Wallinger.

He had a video exhibit called Sleeper which was filmed in Berlin at the Neue Nationalgalerie. It is him, dressed as a bear, wandering round the art gallery there at night after it has closed. I dont think I want to say too much about this because it was too far away from the kind of art I am familiar with or comfortable about expressing. What I will say though is that you could see in the foreground, because it was filmed from outside the windows of the gallery, looking in, the car lights as they went by and occasionally the reflection of pedestrians. I did spend a while thinking about what it must have been like for anyone walking by who caught sight of a bear wandering round these darkened empty places. Wondering if they were dreaming.

The bear did get a huge amount of votes from the public in the final room.

Then we walked into a room of exhibits by Zarina Bhimji which were large photographs and a couple of short films about her explorations in Eastern African and Ugandan Asia. Beautiful photographs of architectural detail, and a 35mm film about a sisal processing factory. I wondered if it was silk, Mike thought it might be wool but in fact sisal is a product in rope making which gives you a bit of a shiver when you have seen it in its raw and delicate, floaty basic state.

The film doesnt sound great but we watched it for nearly five minutes and it only lasts about 7 minutes so it must have been special. We were still making reference to it and to the factory with the holes in the walls, hours later. I should say though that the video rooms are very dark and you can lose your bearings very quickly, probably not great for people with little children.

We went then to the works of Nathan Coley who I was particularly looking forward to, having heard him being interviewed on BBC Radio Merseyside.

Here was tangible art that you could walk round and peer at close up. Two exhibits interested me. The terraced house, pulled away from its neighbours and exposed, with one gable end having the word "glory" imbedded in it and the other "hope". In a very practical sense I was disappointed that the downstairs front window was not a bay, most terraced houses in Liverpool, which Nathan said this was to represent, do have a bay. I know there are houses without, indeed Hawkins and Grantham come to mind, but to really tug at something familiar a bay would have worked better, Nathan please note. I loved the idea though that a Liverpool terrace, just like my own sweet home could feature so prominently in such an exhibition and with such powerful words accompanying it.

His other exhibtion that I was interested in was a set of scaffolding from which were suspended lights reading "There will be no miracles here".

This in a white room with no real explanation did nothing for me, but later as we sat on the terrace of a bar opposite, and I read the booklet that accompanied the exhibition, I understood the context and appreciated it.

Apparently there is a village in France called Modseine where in the 17th century miracles were common place. This got so far up the nose of the King that he had a poster put up locally saying "There will be no miracles here, by order of the King". The brochure illustrates this story with a photo of the scaffolding in a park with trees and grass and drifts of daffodils.

I know my friends in the Friends of Newsham Park would concur only too well with the erection of this scaffolding and its message somewhere in front of Carstairs Road.

This photo and explanation made it all the more poignant and had either been part of the Tate exhibition, I would have put Nathan and this display first.

From here we walked into the comments room, most of which described the whole thing as "crap".

I love art that makes you think and that engages you and that involves you, that is why I like art that I can walk up to, study from close quarters, art that makes me dizzy, art that makes me stop and go back for a second look.

I suppose that is why I adore the Gormley statues at Crosby so much, because you can hang on to them, dance with them and dress them up.

I dont know yet whether I have entirely embraced modern art, I still love a good watercolour above all else, but I do love tactile statues and curiousities and thought provoking ideas.

Above all though I love that the Turner Prize came to Liverpool and that I and so many others have been able to go and see it and think about it and comment on it and for once the world does not have to revolve around London.

Well done to Christoph Grunenberg and everyone else who brought this to us.

Knotty Ash on a Saturday morning

Friends and I were out leafletting on Saturday morning in Knotty Ash.

We did a lovely round, just off East Prescot Road and Queens Drive.

There are some great houses, Alder Road in particular was fantastic. I love going to new places and finding new architectural gems.

Otherwise it was almost dog free this week, hurrah!

Irish night at St Sebastians, Fairfield

Wendy and I had a great night out on Friday night at St Sebastians at the Irish night, part of Liverpool's Irish Festival.

Although it was billed as Kensington's Irish Celeidh in the magazine, it was actually Fairfield.

I do wish Kenny Regen would stop renaming everything in their own image. I do understand why they do this, they do such a lot to support events like these, in terms of money and in terms of staff support, that they want to have recognition and common terminology about the work they do.

But it is not fair to keep rebadging things as Kensington when they happen in Fairfield and when Fairfield people are in the vast majority of the attendees. Fairfield is probably 100 years older than Kensington, if I lived there I would be continually grating my teeth.

However, after 8 years it is probably a bit too late for them to change now.

It was a good night though, Irish dancers from the Cunningham dance studio, Steve the Squeeze on the accordion, a raffle with 25 prizes, including alcohol confiscated from under age drinkers on the street and contributed to the community by local police. Needless to say I didnt win anything, my luck lies not with raffles.

We had a great time, nice buffet, nice company, singing along to all the old Irish classics, we really enjoyed it.

Harry Dermot said I should have worn green, I was agreeing with him until I remembered that I dont actually possess anything green, do you?

Comprehensive Performance Assessment for Liverpool City Council

The last few couple of weeks have seen lots of to-ing and fro-ing in the council as we have been hosts to the CPA team, looking at the performance of Liverpool City Council. Lots of people and organisations have been asked for their views of the council's performance; staff, politicians, residents and partners/agencies we work with.

Politicians were given training by IDeA (Improvement and Development Agency) to help us to give our assessments.

I gave an assessment on two areas:

Electronic support with casework (or the lack thereof) and
Council supporting me in my community leadership role, talking particularly about purdah (the appallingly named rules governing how councils should work during election periods)

Fascinating stuff, I look forward to reading the official assessment in due course.

Neighbourhood Partnership Working Group for Economic Development and Local Enterprise and Physical Regeneration

Now isnt that a title for a committee?

Our neighbourhood committee, Everton, Kensington and Fairfield, Picton has merged with the Waterfront committee (Riverside, Central and Kirkdale) to form City and North joint neighbourhood committee. We do still meet separately, but we also meet together.

In a new form of local funding, designed to move funds from the centre to local areas, the council in its wisdom has decided that we should work together for the common good in five key areas.

I am all in favour of similar wards working together to the same end. Don't get me wrong. But I should just point out here as I have done in every committee meeting, that anyone that thinks the people who live in waterfront condominiums by the marina have anything in common with people who live in the city centre, or that either of them have anything in common with people living on the Dingle, in Kenny, on Smithdown Road, in Everton or Vauxhall has a very different view of what constitutes a neighbourhood to me.

But so be it, this is our new neighbourhood and we must serve it.

The five areas, known as "blocks" we must concentrate on are

children and young people
safer and stronger communities
economic development and local enterprise
healthier communities and older people
physical regeneration.

Some joint neighbourhoods have five Neighbourhood Partnership Working Groups, one picking up on each of these blocks. For reasons I do not yet understand, in City and North we have to put two of these together. In our case we have put Physical Regeneration in with Economic Development and Local Enterprise. I am the new Chair of this working group. Steve Munby is charing children and young people, Jane Corbett is chairing healthier communities and older people and a council officer is chairing safer and stronger communities because the 4 LibDems in the neighbourhood said no to the chance to chair this vital area.

We had our first meeting of the Economic whatsit last week.

It was, if I am honest, a bit of a horlicks.

We had lots of people there from various organisations who specialise in jobs - like the JETs for instance and Connexions . Very good people that I am happy to have on board. We had people who work on economic development like Business Liverpool, equally good colleagues to work with.

What we didnt really have was anyone from Physical Regeneration - two only, but to fair they are both going to be very important to progress.

We will make sure we have lots more Physical Regen people in future. The invite list is being written even as I write. If you have any suggestions for people from any of these groups that we need to invite to cover this geography, let me know.

We have agreed to have a workshop before Christmas, of all the participants - council, agencies and partners who work in these fields across the "neighbourhood", where we will try our best to get a handle on our role and our priorities and then create an action plan.

Many priorities will be obvious - training and jobs in areas of high unemployment, regeneration needs in areas like Smithdown Road for instance, satisfying the needs of employers who want to come to Liverpool or who are already in Liverpool by making sure our people are highly trained in the kinds of work that they want to provide.

This is a really big challenge, a huge area where we need to work on plans for three years spending in some of the biggest issues in the city. I am looking forward to taking it on.

Monday, October 22, 2007

High Noon on the streets of Elm Vale

It was "surveys" at noon on the streets of Elm Vale this Sunday.

Liam and I were continuing our progress around the streets, calling at every house, engaging with local people, talking about the issues they were interested in. We really enjoy it, it is one of the highlights of our week.

We were knocking on doors in a particular side street when into the noon day sun came a cowboy. A big man, dressed in black, with a bow-legged swagger, he stared down the street at us, his fingers twitching over each hip, his holsters packed with survey forms.

In the distance I could hear the strains of his song, carried on the wind.

"Do not forsake us LibDem voters, when it comes to polling day
We do not know what fate awaits us, we only know we must be brave"

Skulking, he followed us round the small side street, knocking on doors we had just knocked on, speaking to voters we had just spoken to. He clearly had a targetted approach (for this cowboy was not knocking on every door but only a few, those perhaps who identified as LibDem in an previous poll or those who had voted in every election. His surveys were pre-printed with names and addresses of recipients apparently).

He caught up with us eventually and stopped to eavesdrop on our conversation. We were pleased to demonstrate our thoughtful and all-inclusive approach to resident engagement and consultation. Indeed had he been at home three weeks earlier, he could have had the full script in person.

Repaying the favour he allowed us to hear his own spiel at the next door. He was, he said, calling on behalf of Frank Doran with a survey that he would like people to complete and then leave in their letterbox when he would collect it back up within 30 minutes. I did call down to the street to him, to ask why Frank Doran couldn't deliver his own surveys, but satisfactory responses were not forthcoming.

At the next three doors we knocked on, in this cowboy's wake, we were asked why the Labour Party and LibDem Party were knocking on the same doors at precisely the same time. A very good question, n'est ce pas?

One resident asked me who the buffoon from the LibDems was, I didnt like to say, it didnt seem fair. Of course dear reader, you are thinking it was Richard Marbrow, and indeed the physical resemblance is uncanny, but this particular cowboy is older and rustier.

Having failed to unnerve us or check our happy and productive progress, he scuttled home, we thought that was the end of it.

But no, it transpired he had only gone home briefly for more ammunition and he returned, triumphantly waving the pre-addressed surveys for the next street. He had clearly hoped to chase us away with just one street's worth of surveys the first time so had not brought any more out with him.

We neatly stepped round him, moved on, missed the next street, chatted to residents in subsequent streets for whom we also had the data and he clearly didn't, unless he went back home for a third time, which even this cowboy would have been embarassed about. We finished the missed street long after he finally sloped off.

What was achieved here?

How helpful was the "buffoon" to Frank's campaign for re-election? "Probably not very" would be my honest response. I would sack him if I were you, he has turned you into a laughing stock.

Neighbours do talk to each other, people in this area do know that Labour is working our way round the doors. They have also heard from us, postal strike permitting, about our progress on their issues. Some of them were sniggering and pointing up the street after your goon. They entirely understood that these were unnattractive spoiler tactics from an unattractive party designed to undermine our efforts.

Take them for granted at your peril.

We had a really productive session, again, speaking to local people, getting the inside track, taking their issues forward, making a difference.

Bring on May 1st, Make My Day!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Raising the cigarette buying age to 18

Over the last couple of weeks I have become aware of leaflets by shop tills explaining that cigarettes can now only be sold to those who have reached 18.

I didnt notice a big campaign about this, I missed any publicity, but I welcome it.

I had my first cigarette when I was 11. I didnt become a big smoker that early, but I had my first go at it.

I am positive that removing the possibility of buying cigarettes from people who dont look 18 will considerably reduce the incidence of smoking. You might be able to look 16 when you are only 14, but you are unlikely to look 18 at that age. Most long-term smokers will tell you that they started as children. Most adults have much more sense than to start smoking (even if we struggle to stop).

Well done Labour for taking such a positive stance.

Challenging stereotypes

Last Saturday morning I was leafletting in Croxteth ward, an up-market private housing estate, four bedroomed houses, drives with expensive cars.

This Saturday morning I was leafletting in Church ward, regular terraced streets.

The contrast over the two weeks made me think about stereotyping. We all hear "Croxteth" and have been conditioned to think of it as a terrible lawless place and we all imagine "Church" (that is essentially the area around Allerton Road) as though it was all big posh detached houses in leafy avenues.

Neither picture is true, there's a lesson there somewhere.

Training with old friends

The Labour Party northern region had a training event in the Devvy this weekend, not for Liverpool members per se but for people from across the north. I went along last night to catch a session from Labour's pollster, Greg Cook which was very interesting, followed by a buffet meal with some old friends from across the country. It was lovely to see my old oppo Tony Slatcher, don't leave it three years next time mate! Lovely too to see Janet Jobber, my old CLP Chair, Jago from Halifax, Dave from Bradford, my old and new colleagues from the different regional offices....I took great delight in welcoming them to Labour Kensington and Fairfield.

This afternoon after some street campaigning, I popped back for a bit of lunch and a session on developing the political message. They had spent a useful morning session on using our computer software package to target voters, something about the practicalities of creating leaflets (we have an expert in Liverpool already) and a session on campaigning with modern methods - texting and the like. I would have enjoyed that.

The session on the message was really helpful in focusing the mind on the purpose of the communication between the party and the people. And the need to make the contrasts clear. Lots of best practice being shared.

But the joy of it, as always, was meeting old friends and catching up.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Update on council motions

Well it is good news and bad.

My motion on violence against women was passed unanimously, so now Liverpool City Council is asked to consider the impact on women's safety in all of its decision making.

My motion on the quality of life for older people was also passed unanimously so now Liverpool City Council is asked to put some KPIs (key performance indicators) into play concerning those things that concern older people - toilet provision, bench provision and uneven pavings.

My motion on the Liverpool Mural Project was voted down - all the Labour councillors voted for it but none of the LibDems did. However, there is more than one way to bring this to fruition and I will now be calling on those wards who have not assigned all their Empowering Neighbourhoods Scheme funds to consider funding a mural - at least 13 wards have at least £5k each left to spend.

The scope of the scheme is to enable Councillors to support communities in their area to run events, or improve facilities that will enhance the well-being of local residents. Applications, it is said, would be particularly welcome from groups who wish to decorate their locality or run another activity between January and March 2008 as part of the Capital of Culture launch and celebration.

Tailor made I would say.

I have already written to Labour Councillors with unspent monies to get behind this.

If you agree with me and you live in one of the following wards

Belle Vale*
Green Bank
Speke Garston*
St Micheals
Warbreck *
West Derby
Yew Tree*

(stars indicate at least one Labour councillor) then get onto your Councillors today and urge them to support any applications from The Liverpool Mural Project.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Chancellor recognises need to encourage renovation by cutting VAT onbuilding costs

From 1 January 2008, renovation or alteration works to a residential property will qualify for the reduced VAT rate (5%), if the property has been unoccupied for at least 2 years.

The present limit is 3 years. By reducing the time limit from three years to two years, the number of empty homes will decrease. The Chancellor argues that a 2 year limit would continue to focus the main benefit upon properties that are unoccupied because they are outside the existing stock of useable homes, rather than those which are unoccupied merely because of short term factors - such as the property changing hands, lengthy purchase chains etc.

This is a step in the right direction, although I look forward to the day when the 5% reduced rate applies to all houses in need of renovation, whether empty or not.

BNP in crisis?

Searchlight has learnt that there are serious and major splits within the leadership of the British National Party. Nick Griffin won the party’s leadership election with 91% of the vote but he is now facing a far more serious challenge from among the party’s highest echelons.
Read the full story here

Motion to council - Violence against women

I wrote this after reading the shocking statistic in the opening sentence. It is a shame I found it necessary to anticipate the usual sexist reactions, by making it clear that of course I also decry violence against men, but with this council, especially on the other benches, that is pretty much what you have to do otherwise they don't hear the argument, only their knee-jerk reaction to it being all about women.

This Council notes with deep concern that violence against women causes more deaths and disability worldwide amongst women aged 15-44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents or war.

This Council believes that all Liverpool City Council and partners' activities should consider women's safety as part of their routine risk assessment.

Some policies contain an obvious potential impact such as the physical environment; street lighting, planting along paths, the use and location of CCTV cameras; house building and provision, estate design and the routing of pedestrian walkways; the availability of public transport, particular for women who need to travel after dark.

However, this Council believes that many less obvious policies would also benefit from this inclusion in their risk assessment.

(For the avoidance of doubt, this Council recognises that men can also be the victims of violence. This Council further believes that measures which will help to keep women safe will also help to keep men safe and so does not believe this is a divisive motion).

This Council reconfirms its commitment to the safety of women and calls upon Liverpool City Council and its partners to ensure that all policy makers consider the impact of their decisions on women's safety.

So those are my three personal motions this month.

Now I just have to hope the council votes for them all

I will let you know how I get on - none will be debated under the new system, just voted on

Motion to council - Help the Aged campaign

This is particularly interesting because of the lack of toilets or benches in Liverpool City Centre as detailed in lots of letters to the Echo and Post of late. I know from taking my Grandad out when he was still alive, that the proximity to a toilet, somewhere to sit on a bench and being careful of tripping up over flag stones were massive concerns to him. It was what put him off most about leaving the house. This one is for you Jack!


Council welcomes the campaign by Help by the Aged to highlight the impact and implications of
Council Policy on older people's quality of life.

Council notes that in January 2007 a NOP survey of 1000 people aged 65-plus found that, when they went out, more than half avoided routes that might have damaged or uneven pavements because these could cause them to slip, trip or fall. In the survey of those who had slipped, 13% said it had left them afraid to leave home.

Council notes that in a Help the Aged survey, 80% of older people said that they found it difficult to find a public toilet when they needed one and 75% said public toilets were not open when they required one. More than half agreed that the lack of public toilets stops them from going out as often as they would like.

Council notes that both these issues along with other simple measures such as street benches (where people can rest) and good lighting are contributing factors in older people's isolation and ultimately declining health.

Council further notes that often only small amounts of funding are necessary to keep services open or functioning in good condition and yet this can have a major impact on a significant section of the community.

Not only would this reduce the potential for compensation claims, it would also benefit older people and those with small children and with disabilities.

This Council therefore requests the Executive Member for Corporate Services to consider the Council's commitment to improving the quality of life of older people and believes these key elements in the physical environment should form part of the performance indicators for this authority.

Louise's motions to council this month - Liverpool Mural Project

I am proud to have the support of the Labour membes of the Leisure Select Committee on this one.


This Council notes that The Liverpool Mural Project is a unique project which is aiming to bring the skills and experience of mural artists from all communities of Belfast, working together and with community groups in Liverpool.

The Council further notes that their objective is to create distinctive non-political murals for Liverpool's 2008 European Capital of Culture year, celebrating Liverpool's proud history and culture.

This Council understands that the project has been supported and welcomed by many members of the Liverpool, Irish and Northern Irish creative and artistic community; Ken Loach, John Fay, Professor Marianne Elliott, Director of Institute of Irish Studies, Ian Jackson - The Liverpool Art and Culture Blog, Robert Ballagh, Professor Phil Scraton, Jimmy McGovern, Danny Morrison, Terry George, Peter Sheridan, Phil Hayes of the Picket, Christy Moore and many more.

It has also been the subject of many supportive letters in local newspapers.

This Council understands that the Culture Board have so far rejected the project for inclusion in the 08 programme on the grounds that it is "not edgy enough".

However this Council also notes that Phil Redmond has said he will re-examine rejected suggestions in an effort for 08 to reach out to more ordinary local Liverpool people.

Given this change of direction, and the big support this idea has, this Council calls on the 08 Culture Board to reconsider its decision on the bid from the Liverpool Mural Project and fully welcome and embrace it.

Ward walkabout with a cast of thousands

Wendy and I went on a big walkabout around Kensington last week, accompanied by about a dozen officers from the council, local housing associations and various other partners and residents.

We walked around that area of Kensington that is not in the new deal area, nor a zone of opportunity, nor HMRI, nor indeed anywhere that anyone ever prioritises, except us and the people who live there of course. Basically it was that area between Farnworth Street and Sheil Road, from Kensington to Boaler Street (and we did walk up to West Derby Road briefly along the side of St Michael's). Wendy and I planned the route with various stops on the way to point out things of interest.

During the walk we created a long list of about 50 items of concern or interest where we want to see improvements or priorities setting. These will then form a schedule which will go to the Neighbourhood Committee for inclusion as part of our local area agreement.

Some of them were as simple as rubbish that needs removing, some were empty sites where it would be good to build a couple of new houses for local people. Some were areas in need of new lighting, at least one was a small row of council houses that would benefit from redesigning. There were green areas that need proper upkeep, broken perimeters that need mending. Masses of stuff.

I dont know how much of it will happen, Wendy and I will of course monitor and track progress, but it was great to show these people round who had never been to Kenny before and really had their eyes opened - either because it was nowhere near as bad as they had thought it would be or much worse than they had imagined. I suppose that depends how often you get out of the office and walk the patch, doesn't it.

A really valuable experience, I hope as time progresses we will do similar walks in other areas of the ward.

Know your place - somewhere behind the great ones

I have just read a great article on the website w4mp (working for an MP) which explains that MPs staff in the Houses of Parliament are now being told to go to the back of the queue, whether it is for a coffee or a pee or a place in the lift.

MPs being the precious creatures that they are, need to be given full freedom to queue-jump.

Well done Dean Trench for fighting back, a great piece.

Doing my bit for National Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week

On Saturday the Liverpool Echo kindly printed a little piece about the work Liverpool City Council is putting in to support the national drive and combined it with my efforts to raise awareness.

On Monday I went to the House of Lords with 22 other survivors, friends and relatives of people who have been poisoned to officially launch the week. We had a two hour session with various people crucial to the campaign’s success. Lord McKenzie from the DWP who is spearheading the Government’s action, Department of Health senior civil servants, representatives from the oil and gas industries, CORGI and various safety awareness groups.

It was very moving, lots of tears, especially from those who have been subjected to long term chronic poisoning and now suffer from various neural problems, paralysis, brain damage, memory problems, speech difficulties, aches and pains. Several are confined to wheelchairs. These people suffer the most as the medical profession is inexperienced and ill-equipped to deal with their problems, many struggling to believe that something we all know kills you, can also cause problems for those who manage to survive an attack.

We drew up three main priorities

1. A centre of excellence somewhere in the UK where victims of poisoning could go for specialist treatment and advice
2. A call for audible CO alarms/detectors to be provided to people when they move house, when a tenancy changes hands, when new houses are built, when they book holidays, at the airport shops and so on
3. For gas appliances – cookers, boilers and fires, only to be sold to people with a corgi registered certificate.

Well done to Lynn Griffiths of CO Awareness for her work in putting this together, the week goes on to the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, culminating in a big event in Dewsbury for the medical profession.

I got up at the crack of dawn this morning to be interviewed in the BBC Radio Merseyside studios. Snelly kindly invited me onto his programme to talk a little about what had happened to Michael, what the council is doing locally, in conjunction with the fire service and the public health people, and also to stress the need for people to get their appliances checked and their chimneys swept at this time of year as the heating goes back on after the summer break. You might be able to hear the interview if you check it out today on the playback, but I confess I have not tried myself.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sticky ending?

On Wednesday the Kingsway tunnel under the Mersey (I think that is the Wallasey tunnel) was
shut during rush hour after a lorry spilled its load.

What was that load?


I was reminded of my entries earlier in the year about the stolen lorry of ice-cream and the stolen lorry of cadbury's flakes.

Now we have the topping!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Phythian Park improvements

Wendy and I met Parks staff and Enterprise Liverpool staff and Neighbourhood Management staff today at Phythian Park to look at some of our proposals for how we would like to spend the big sum of money we have identified for park improvements and managed to push through the NRF budget.

We had a good walk round, past the pile of uncollected rubbish (I counted about five big fat brown rats scurrying all over it, lovely!). We had a look at the burnt down trees, the burnt out rubbish bins, the scarred and burnt benches (are you sensing a pattern here?) and the broken sports area.

We have agreed to seek costs to improve the benches, the bins, add new dog poo bins, add new railings, clean the park, relay the centre feature where benches and railings have been torn up, put the caps back on the gate posts, and plant some new shrubs and spring bulbs.

Exciting to finally see some progress here after I have been shouting about this for 18 months.

Incidentally the council insist on referring to the park as "Fielding Street POS" (public open space), the fact that no-one who uses the park would recognise that name is of no consequence to them, grrrrr

Door knocking in Elm Vale

Liam and I have been out door knocking in Elm Vale.

It has been very interesting, we have done a few sessions now and often they say "Is there a local election then?" and I am able to say that there is not an election until next May, 7 months away.

We only ask about local issues and concerns, we dont ask about voting history or voting intentions, we are getting a lot of warmth and positive feedback, lots of casework and some really good ideas about what our priorities should be.

We are also phoning residents on the electoral register several times a week, at this rate we may even have got round to everyone before next May. I dont think I can ever remember a local election anywhere in the country where I have been campaigning where we have managed a full contact of every household in a year.

Of course it is early days but if we keep up this pace it will be quite possible. That is real public representation, isn't it?

IDEA training to take part in the Audit report into the council

A few of us opposition councillors had a training session last week on how the Audit Commission carries out its inspection into the doings of the council. This is so that we can meet them and detail our concerns, views and considerations in the best possible way.

In other words, we cannot just say "They are an incompetent shower and I wouldnt trust them to lie straight in bed/organise a piss-up in a brewery etc", we have to be a bit more thoughtful.

I have come away with a mountain of documents to read through about the last CPA (Corporate Performance Assessment) and questions to think about and answers to consider. It has to be done though, otherwise we are asked to agree to such statements in the council's own draft assessment as

"The council has provided strong leadership, stability and influence in developing that shared vision". Yeah right

"The Council has had a strong tradition of supporting the casework and community leadership roles of its elected members. "

This council fails to support me in my community leadership role, in fact quite a lot of time I think the LibDems prevent perfectly good officers from working with me, and Wendy, deliberately. And as for casework software, I am still waiting for some, having suggested we buy the Labour Party one, some 18 months ago, to no avail. I am still using a notebook, welcome 2007 and the modern age.

"Inevitably the Council has had to take some difficult decisions and demonstrate a clear rationale and leadership in doing so. This has included a significant rationalisation of school provision to remove surplus places and the modernisation of key care services."

Modernisation of care services? Took a hatchet to them, more like…..

I can agree with this next part though

"A strategy which has seen the lowest council tax rises in the country over the last 10 years has moved the city from the highest level of tax to its present ranking of 102nd. This has however (snip), left the Council with an increasingly challenging financial position. In this context it is currently seeking alternative mechanisms to fund the one off expenditure in 2008/089 financial year on the Capital of Culture to avoid further detriment to service levels or reserves. This remains an area of significant corporate risk to the delivery of the priorities."

I only got to page 6 and I have already thrown it across the room three times.

Good job I have had the training otherwise this early response that I wrote when I first saw the draft official response would be just what the Audit Commission was getting when I meet them later this month.

Fairfield Crescent and Prospect Vale TRA

Wendy and I went to the Fairfield Crescent and Prospect Vale TRA last week. Their first in a year sadly but I think we are back on track now. I came away with 8 action points, it was a packed agenda.

I was disappointed to read last year's minutes where a certain ex-councillor had told the meeting that a CPO had been applied for, for Kenny market (not true) and that the issue re houses on Prescot Drive/Road was imminently going to be solved (we have our first chance of resolving this next Monday but dont hold your breath).

It fell to me to explain the history and the reality of each issue without ever actually saying anything party political or pointing the finger at anyone or any party, quite a challenge. I was so non-partisan it made my teeth hurt.

Anyway there was a really good turnout and our next meeting promises to be really good, I have agreed to invite all sorts of agencies and partners to update residents on things like the new fire station that is planned on Beech Street, the real plans for Prescot Drive/Road (if there are any), the HLF bid for Newsham Park and etc.

Nephew Alex is elected to School Council

My phone rang tonight and it was my 8 year old nephew Alex.

He was ringing to say he has just been elected to his school council and had been to their first meeting today.

Apparently it was a bit of a nail-biter. He and Owen had 11 votes each, and a third boy had 3 votes. He dropped out and the 3 votes were cast again, Alex won 13-12.

He said his heart was beating and his tummy was in butterflies while they counted the ballot papers, I know just how he felt!

I am really excited about it, I think school councils are great and shall really enjoy helping him with advice and support.

Apparently he told his class that his Aunty LouLou was a councillor and had been on a night out with Gordon Brown (!!) and that was what swung it for him. They start their spin early it seems.

Well done Alex, I hope you get as much pleasure out of representing your class as I do out of representing my ward.

Consultation into charges for the marked register

The Department for Justice has launched a consultation into charges/fees being asked for copies of the marked register.

We have until the 18th October to comment.

Our bill here in Liverpool this year was astronomical, we must respond in our droves!
It has gone up from about £10 per ward to about £50 per ward.

I will be asking for marked registers to be free to candidates. I dont see why anyone who is not a political party should want or need to see them, so I dont care how much they pay.

Treasury announces new public service agreements for the next three years

I noticed today that the Treasury has publicised its 30 PSAs for the coming three years. You can see them here

I was particularly interested in PSA 20 which is titled "Increase long term housing supply and affordability"

Halving the number of people in temporary homeless accomodation by 2010 is a real vote winner with this local councillor.

PMQs today - extremely unedifying

Read what the BBC has to say about today's PMQs here

I heard some extracts on Radio4 on my way home from work this afternoon.

Extremely unedifying, put me in mind of the bear pit that is Liverpool city council chamber, that is extremely unedifying too.

How much of a coincidence is it that all the key players are men?

The Jewish Chronicle covering our Deane Road Cemetery project

See the story here

It was months ago when they interviewed me, I had forgotten all about it.

The woman from the Heritage Lottery Fund is coming tomorrow to see if our project might be suitable. Time for some heart-felt prayers please everyone.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Looking up - exhibition in St George's Hall Heritage Centre

You will recall my entry on the Yellow House and the great work they are doing.

Claire and I went to see their new exhibition on Saturday afternoon at St George's Hall.

"Looking up" is a photography exhibition by young people under the tutelage of George and Gosia Mc Kane, where they explored the city centre, focusing on the upper floors of buildings. They photographed friezes, gargoyles, mosaics and so on, and then researched the buildings, the meanings of the imagery, the history of the buildings and the architecture.

It is fascinating, thoughtful and surprisingly moving at times. I particularly enjoyed the photo of detail on my own favourite building, the breathing chimney for the Birkenhead tunnel which sits behind the Port Authority building.

The exhibition will be there probably until the beginning of November - Yellow House is taking a group of young people to Auschwitz later this month so wont be free to remove the exhibition until after that. Do go, you will really enjoy it.

Edit: I have just noticed this is my 300th entry on this blog. I am glad it was about something so positive, showing Liverpool and Liverpool's young people in such a good light.

No Autumn General Election

It seems the PM has been reading my blog and agrees with me that my feet wouldnt take the strain of a fourth election in 8 months. (Speke byelection in March, local election in May, Warbreck in September.)

Hurrah! He is such a thoughtful man.

Labour women were on tour in Picton on Saturday morning, leafletting. Such neglect with filthy, dirty streets and decay everywhere. You can see just how far Kensington is improving when you contrast it with Picton (and I am not just talking about the New Deal area). It is about time the Council got stuck in and made cleaning the place a priority, it must be very demoralising for local people to put up with such filth and there is no need for it.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Elvis on Blundell Street

Last night (Thursday) I went to Blundell Street, off Jamaica Street, for a night with Elvis. This may probably be my last Elvis post, ever, so let's make the most of it.

A big group of us friends from the Richmond on Church Road went down to Blundell Street, I forget the name of the club, but it is probably called Blundell Street, unlikely though that may sound. We had a two course meal (I had duck pancakes and chicken breast stuffed with chillies and mozarella cheese with fresh vegetables) and a half bottle of wine each (or a bottle between two if you like), with a floor show from the King himself and a disco for £20 per head.

Pretty much a bargain really, for a great night out

I think there was 11 of us, I didnt actually count, but it was a big enough group to really get into the evening. Several people commented on how special it felt and how we ought really to go out away from Allerton Road/Church Road/Wavertree High Street more often.
Elvis was good, funny, cheeky, lots of wandering up and down and around the audience, sitting on people's laps, getting them up to sing with him, taking them off for snogs etc (!!)

The dancing was fab, as usual I was first up and last to sit down, apart from the moment when Pat leapt into my arms during a rigorous bit of Rock n Roll and somehow managed to stamp on my foot in the process. Today I have a huge black bruise and a lump, she owes me big time!

If you are planning a Christmas Party or a Birthday Party, can I recommend this?

Great photos, don't you think? Elvis, the table assembled, and yours truly with a very happy smile.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

BBC talking of a million disenfranchised voters in an autumn general election

I think the BBC has misunderstood the situation with the register of electors.

The register is published in January each year, based on where people were living the previous October. However a rolling register has been in operation for several years now and new people can be added to the register at any time if they have moved house in the interim.

As a local councillor I get an update every month of people who have joined the register in my ward. Anyone who registered before August 10th 2007 will have been added to the register of electors on 3rd September.

Then there is a three month suspension while Electoral RegistrationOfficers carry out their annual checks. The next revision is then in December.

It is not yet two months since the temporary closing of the register.

Surely this mass hysteria about 1 million disenfranchised voters must be challenged, or am I missing something here?

Increases in Minimum Wage

From Monday 1st October;
For workers aged 22 and over the minimum wage increased from £5.35 to £5.52 an hour. For 18 to 21-year-olds, it rose from £4.45 to £4.60 and from £3.30 to £3.40 for 16 to17 year olds.
The minimum annual leave entitlement also rose, up four days days to 24 days per year for full-time workers. A further increase to 28 days will take on 1 April 2009.

Minister of State for Employment Relations, Pat McFadden, said:

"Up to six million workers, including 3.5 million women and 2.5 million men, will benefit from the extra annual leave. Businesses will also benefit from a more motivated and productive workforce. In addition, more than a million workers will be better off as a result of the minimum wage increases."

Monday, October 01, 2007

Tories want to effectively get rid of inheritance tax

George Osbourne has told Tory Party conference today that he wants to effectively abolish inheritance tax by making it payable only on those estates worth a million or more.

What a big difference that is going to make.

Here are the facts.

IHT is a form of death duty on estates valued at more than £300,000

About 40,000 estates a year are subject to IHT

It includes the value of a house - unless it is left to a UK-domiciled spouse

So, what does that mean in effect?

It means that only 40,000 families are affected by this at the moment. 40,000 families, now that is hardly the show-stopping wide-reaching policy initiative that is going to set the 60 million people in this country on the path to voting Tory is it?

And if you leave your home to your husband or wife, they dont have to pay IHT on it either.

So who is currently paying IHT?

Ermmm.......rich people who probably voted Tory anyway.

Is it me? Am I missing something?

The big idea for the General Election from the man who wants to be the Chancellor of the Exechequer benefits only 40,000 rich families.

What planet are these people on?