Thursday, December 25, 2008

Boas Festas

While the Brits are settling down to toast Brenda and see what special message she might have for us this year, we are sitting in a bar in the old town, having had a long walk on the beach and along the cliff tops. We lunched in a restaurant overlooking the beach, it must have been 70 degrees at 1pm although the sun went behind a cloud a bit later on. Santa found his way to us overnight, I think he came up on to the balcony and through the sliding doors, but I cannot be sure. He left a note though saying that he found it easier to leave most gifts at home to be opened when we return, so we shall have to speculate about the most of them. Last night we had a lovely Indian meal, most of the bars and restaurants were shut and most taxis were off the road as the Portugese celebrate mainly on Christmas Eve. It is odd to be somewhere so warm at Christmas, but I am loving it, and not a single call about wheely bins for three days! Will post some pics up to illustrate this post when we get home.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas from Albufeira in the Algarve

If it has all gone a bit quiet that is because I am in Portugal.
It is sunny, Colin, Mike and I have just walked on the beach, I am in a sun top and we have stopped for a drink in a bar to get out of the sun.
Don´t you hate me?
This key board is a bit hard to work - none of the symbols are in the same place!
Anyway, we are having a great time and looking forward to Christmas Day in a restaurant in the old town overlooking the sea.
Will get back online if I can
Boas Festas!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The nativity scene from Life of Brian

My favourite scene in my favourite film, it seems apt as Christmas approaches to relive it again. I have found the full script on this website

I think my favourite part is this

Mandy: What star sign is he?
WM2: Capricorn.
Mandy: Capricorn eh, what are they like?
WM2: He is the son of God, our Messiah.
WM1: King of the Jews.
Mandy: And that's Capricorn, is it?
WM3: No, no, that's just him
Mandy: Oh, I was going to say, otherwise there'd be a lot of them.

and the glorious

King: We are three wise men.
Mandy: Well, what are you doing creeping around a cow shed at two o'clock in the morning? That doesn't sound very wise to me.

You can see a clip of the scene here - go to the theatrical trailers section

Anyway, you know what they say, enjoy, and don't worry too much about the myrrh next time.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reflections on Liverpool's Capital of Culture year 2008

We are being encouraged by the local media to reflect on the Liverpool European City of Culture 2008 experience so I thought I might add my thoughts to the debate.

Let me begin by saying that I am interested in art, music, drama, film, museums, history, photography etc, so my views come in no small part from my experience of some activities in those areas.

However, I am also a Labour councillor for a very deprived ward in Liverpool, Kensington and Fairfield, and so I have to have an eye for how the year has affected the ward too.

And finally, as a recentish incomer, I have lots of friends and family who live elsewhere and so another big part of my experience this year has been reflected through their eyes as they have visited me and visited the city.

The first thing I want to draw positive notice to is the poster and postcard campaign that began a few years ago to promote Liverpool 08. A series of photos with messages across the front, I recall particularly one which said that Liverpool has more art galleries and museums than anywhere outside of London. There were a series of posters running up the escalators at Euston Station underground for instance and I felt proud thinking I lived there. I dont have a link to the posters and would be grateful if anyone who does have could post it up here.

Without question my favourite thing about the year was the wonderful Superlambananas which I later contrasted with the Berlin bears. I loved them personally, because they were fantastic and colourful and energetic, but I also loved them because everyone else loved them too. I particularly remember going down to the plateau in front of the new Jury's Inn where three superlambananas were grazing, and getting in a queue for photos behind grandparents with their tiny grandchildren, a couple holding hands and two hooded teenagers, all really enjoying the experience. Everyone of every age loved the lambies.

I loved the Turner prize at the Tate - of course it came in 2007 but it came because of the City of culture label so I think it is okay to include that. I would say the same about the Liverpool Nativity too.

I enjoyed the Klimt exhibition but more for my step-father Roger who has loved Klimt for decades and had such obvious pleasure from seeing so many works in one place.

Lisa and I went to a wonderful event at the Anglican cathedral - One step forward, one step back, which will live in my mind for years to come. It was magnificent.

I also enjoyed the opening event at the Arena - the Liverpool Musical.

Another real hit for me was the boxes of treasure in the exhibition space at St George's Hall

I popped into the building on Old Hall Street that houses the Liverpool Echo to see Anthony Brown's 100 Heads exhibition earlier this year, it was fascinating, I expect it is still on somewhere in the city.

Another great favourite during the year was an event that the Culture Company refused to support - A Liver Bird Sang. I thought it was tremendous, a local performance, for and by local people.

Of course, given my declared support for them, I was thrilled to see two Liverool Mural Project murals take shape during the year. All power to Peter Morrison's elbow, I hope we shall have a mural in our ward next year too.

Who could not have been delighted by meeting
Irish President Mary Mcaleese at a special Irish reception at St George's Hall? I was nearly struck dumb I was so chuffed to shake her hand in the line-up.

I was impressed that Liverpool had won the hosting of many big events in 2008, things like the Tall Ships, the World Firefighter Games, the MTV awards, the Sports Personality of the Year awards, the National Holocaust Memorial event for example, but whether we shall get the same level of support next year is a whole new challenge for everyone, the Arena managers notwithstanding.

I should say I did not like the princess spider - I only saw it once, on the Saturday night, and it didn't do anything and I think it may have broken down for a while, although nobody admitted it. I know lots of other people loved it, but if they had only seen what I had only seen then they would have felt the same as I did, it was a let down.

I loved lots of the Liverpool Biennial art - the blue spider in Exchange Flags, the exhibitions in the Blue Coat Art Centre, Turning the place over (from 2 years ago) but must point out that they would have happened despite the 08 Capital of Culture, and indeed I would say the same about the
Mathew Street Festival

There are of course those who insist that the Labour Party has not supported the year but that is crap, we even had our own dinner with Phil Redmond as a speaker to celebrate the year.

My friends and familly have all enjoyed several visits to Liverpool and I have enjoyed showing the city off to them, but will they clamour to come again next year? I really don't know, will the city still be 3rd on the list of places to visit in 2009? Can we sustain the interest? That is a real question when we think about the legacy of the year, was Liverpool only flavour of the year for 2008 or can we keep it up?

Has the year positively impacted on Kensington and Fairfield? Not really, no.

We have had of course the controversial and much despised Edge Lane murals and a complete failure of the council to tackle the other boarded up houses on Prescot Road and Drive in Fairfield.

I guess for those residents who like art and exhibitions and live music and so on, there have been things in the city centre that they could enjoy, but there has been little impact on the appalling levels of poverty, health, unemployment, housing or other crises in the ward. It is true that our school children have had some cultural experiences and been involved in concerts and exhibitions but will their lives be clearly improved or enhanced as part of the millions spent this year? No I am afraid I don't think they will.

In fact we end the year in Kensington and Fairfield in a worse place than we began, with the housing crisis deepening, thousands on waiting lists for somewhere to live and no obvious progress in terms of worklessness for instance.

Speaking as a culture lover I have loved 2008 and have been so proud of much of the year's activities, but whether that has deeply touched the wider population as much is doubtful, and whether it will be all over on January 1st 2009 is something we may have to wait and see - but I fear that it will be and I hope I am wrong. It is the battle to sustain the city when we are out of the headlines that will be the real challenge for city leaders in years to come.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fascinating story about Nick Clegg

I picked up this intersting story by email, enjoy!

Plane Stupid!
Exclusive: Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg slags off his own party colleagues on packed plane
By Adam Lee-Potter (who just happened to be in seat 7A in front of Mr Clegg)

GAFFE-PRONE Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has sensationally slated key members of his own cabinet as “useless” and “not equipped” for top jobs… while on a packed commuter jet. Mr Clegg also blurted out closely-guarded plans for a reshuffle during a 90-minute flight, oblivious that fellow passengers – including me – could hear his every word.

He revealed his dislike for Steve Webb, his Environment spokesman, and decided to demote Chris Huhne, his former leadership rival and currently Home Affairs spokesman, before adding he wasn’t “emotionally intelligent” enough for the environment job. And he dismissed Communities and Local Government spokeswoman Julia Goldsworthy for a particular post, saying she “gets patronised” in her current role.

He even revealed he would consider a coalition but, while he didn’t say which party he’d side with, he added he would only consider it if Tory David Cameron loses the next election. “I would think about it,” he admitted. “But only if the Tories lose. And I can’t imagine that.”

He finally decided on David Laws for Environment, but only because “he’s not enjoying Education”, Goldsworthy for Education and Webb for Justice – currently Chris Huhne’s job. Clegg, 41, drew up his plans as he flew to Inverness for a meeting this week.

He told of his loathing for Steve Webb, recently made spokesman for Climate Change and Energy and tipped by some as a future Lib Dem leader. “Webb must go,” he said. “He’s a problem. I can’t stand the man. We need a new spokesman. We have to move him. We need someone with good ideas. At the moment, they just don’t add up.” After deciding to give his job to David Laws, currently Education spokesman, he added: “Give David a day and he’ll come up with more good ideas than Webb has come up with in a year. As his key policy adviser Danny Alexander nodded, he added: “But we need to keep him in the cabinet. As a backbencher, he’d be a pain in the a***, a voice for the left. And we can’t move him before the spring.”

Clegg, in seat 8A on the 9.30am Flybe flight BE7321 from Gatwick to Inverness last Thursday, took notes as Alexander said: “You have to be firm.” But indecisive Clegg dithered over various options and, at one point, he talked of simply swapping Webb and Chris Huhne. “It’s the path of least resistance,” he said. His adviser then suggested: “How about Webb for Foreign?” Clegg snorted: “He’d be useless. And he wouldn’t do it.” He then slated rising star Julia Goldsworthy. “We have to move her too. She gets patronised. And we can’t give her Foreign. She’s just not equipped to do it.” Huhne also came in for a battering. Clegg dismissed him for the key Environment job by saying the shadow cabinet needed someone “more emotionally intelligent”. He then talked of demoting Huhne. His adviser told him: “If you tell him that, before an election, you need a big hitter, he might just wear it.”

Even close pal David Laws, Children, Schools and Families spokesman, came under scrutiny. Sheffield MP Clegg said: “Laws is not enjoying Education. The Tories have left him no space. But he’s got a forensic intelligence – he’s probably the best brain we have.” His adviser chipped in: “We want to get our best players in the most important jobs, that’s the truth of it.” Again, Clegg nodded.

The Lib Dem leader was so wrapped up in his reshuffle he had to be reminded about what he was due to do in Scotland. Just before landing, Inverness MP Alexander reminded him: “Right, you’re giving a talk to the Inverness Chamber of Commerce.” Clegg had no idea I was in the seat in front, intending to cover another Sunday Mirror story in Scotland. I couldn’t believe my ears – or that Clegg let himself be so easily bossed about.

After revealing I had been made privy to Clegg’s comments, his private spokeswoman said: “We don’t comment on reports of fragments of private conversations. Nick has said before and genuinely believes that he leads the strongest front bench in Westminster.”

The Mirror, 29th November 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Deputy Lord Mayor guilty of breach of Councillors' Code of Conduct

According a story I heard on BBC Radio Merseyside this afternoon, Councillor Mike Storey has been found guilty by the Standards Board of England of a breach of the Councillors Code of Conduct.

The LibDem councillor for Wavertree ward (which is also represented by Councillor Steve Hurst who is currently appealing against a criminal conviction for breaching the Representation of the People Act and has resigned his seat on the council's cabinet pending that appeal) has been found guilty of telling a newspaper journalist confidential details about the health of a council officer.

Councillor Storey, the erstwhile leader of Liverpool City Council has been found guilty before of breaching the code and resigned his leadership as a consequence.

I see the Daily Post is reporting that he will face no further action.

We are asked to see tomorrow's paper for further information and reactions

I am curious to see whether those reactions include any discussion of the appropriateness of Councillor Storey becoming our Lord Mayor and first citizen of Liverpool in May 2009.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

More Edge Lane let-downs

Anyone who has travelled by car into Liverpool from the North or the East has probably arrived by driving down Edge Lane from the M62.

Liverpool Land Development Company (now merged with Liverpool Vision) have done some great work, tidying up the flyover at the Rocket, which now looks very smart. They have tidied up Edge Lane Drive so that it also looks like something to be proud of, but once you hit the Old Swan junction it all goes pear-shaped.

We have acres of empty and derelict retail properties and after a mile or so they are followed by acres of empty and derelict houses. It is true that the road itself has been smartened up, with new trees, new lamposts with distinctive blue decorative touches, new kerbs and visual improvements. But if you look across the pavement then all is most definitely not well.

Today I read in the Echo that the council has been successfully taken to the High Court by the owners of retail properties to the south of Edge Lane who have lost business following the closing of access points across the central reservation.

Three roads, Douro Place, Henry Street and Binns Road are no longer accessible for east-bound traffic and apparently one business has already been forced to close because of the changes.

I believe the LibDem council has set its face against the owners of Edge Lane retail properties and has also failed in its efforts to persuade home-owners in Edge Lane (west) to sell up in favour of redevelopment.

And so we are left with the street of shame, or should I call it the Lane of Lament?

The letters page of the Echo regularly contains missives from people who are ashamed of this, our major entrance into the city.

So, to coin a phrase, Come on Liverpool LibDems, get it sorted!

Musical Melodies

After last night's councillors' surgery in the Fairfield Centre, I hotfooted it along the M62 and up the A1 and A19 to Eaglescliffe, Stockton to see my family. Burdened down with Santa gifts I got to Mum's at about 9pm and enjoyed a relaxing evening with her and Roger, gossiping and watching bits of TV.

This morning we went to a school in Middlesbrough which was hosting the Musical Melodies music school annual presentation for the young children they teach to play the recorder, percussion and key board as they progress through five classes.

My nephew Alex (9) graduated (complete with cap and gown would you believe!) today from class 5, proficient in recorder and keyboard. He goes forward now to learn to play the piano, euphonium and guitar, while his brother Joel (6) has been promoted to class 4 having mastered the recorder and glockenspiel. It was so lovely to see them performing with other boys and girls from across the county and I had to keep taking my tissue out to dab my tears.

The older children did a great song "Kids" with all the instruments and some singing, which explored how kids get a bad name, whilst making it quite clear that in this case, these kids are all disciplined musicians who have worked really hard to achieve their musical successes. I can almost feel a letter to the Echo (or the Evening Gazette) coming on.

The other wonderful thing that happened was that I recognised a man in the audience, Duncan, who back in 1991-1994 was one of my best friends. We worked together for the same firm and worked very closely on all of our work. It was fantastic to see him with his wife Jackie (I remember them meeting and here they were, a long established married couple with two kids!). It made a great day even better, I do hope we keep in touch - particularly as I contacted our boss Denise last week through Facebook after years of silence.

It was the icing on the cake of a great day

A big Christmas kiss for David Prentice from the Echo

- who predicted a 1-1 draw at the Riverside Stadium today between the Boro and Arsenal.

Well done mate, please can you predict lots more points for my team over the rest of the season!

Happy Christmas! Dylan is better and at home

I went to see Dylan at home in York today and am delighted to report that not only has he finally been sent home from hospital but he was singing and eating cake and running to the window to see Farmer Christmas go past on his (Lions) sleigh!
I helped him decorate the Christmas tree too. It was terrific to see him for myself and check out just how well he really is.

My sister Maxine had the same infection when she was 18 (I checked it out with her today) and it has never come back, so fingers crossed Dylan will never have to go through anything this awful ever again either

Alice was looking her usual gorgeous self, that girl is so beautiful. I put her down on the carpet and she rolled this way and that, right across the rug, grabbing at toys and pushing herself up on her tummy, she will be crawling within the next couple of weeks I reckon. I was desperate for it to be today while I was watching but sadly she was only teasing me.

I am going to see them again in a few weeks time at New Year and I am hoping to see two lovely children full of beans and festive cheer - and crawling!

Gerard Woodhouse wins again

- the Christmas card competition that is.

On my birthday he sent me a great card via Moonpig, and now the postman has brought me a smashing Christmas card from him too. It is a formal card, with Victorian Flower Fairies and incorporates a photo of him and me at a Labour Party fundraising dinner as part of the design. I was thrilled, it really makes you feel special to have someone take such care for you.

Another Moonpig/Woodhouse success story.

I know Gerard reads the blog, so thanks mate!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Manchester says no to the congestion charge

Hot off the press - all 10 boroughs say NO to the congestion charge for Manchester for 2013

They also therefore have said no to £3billion public transport improvements and the Government have said there is no plan B so I am not sure where that leaves Manchester or the other cities said to be waiting for this result to decide whether to try the same things themselves.

Myself I am agnostic, I would like to see less car use but I know how reliant on cars we all have become over the last 100 years - since they were invented in fact. For many of us, we are going to need a bus stop outside our house and a bus stop outside our destination and one bus running between the two before we get on public transport very often. It is always easier to find an excuse for why we need to travel by car. And I count myself with the guilty there.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Good news - we have saved the spire!

I have been keeping this story under my hat until the ArchDeacon gave me the nod to let you know, but together, we in the church and in the community have saved the church of St John the Divine, Holly Road, Fairfield -and the spire that everyone was so keen to keep.

And it is all thanks to the local congregation who had to dig deep to find the £25k shortfall that would save the spire themselves after Kensington Regeneration turned them down for a grant and the council wouldn't help.

It has been a funny old week - some you win and some you lose - but I always had a good feeling about this particular fight.

A great way to end the year, and takes a tiny fraction of the pain of Prescot Road and Drive away....

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Jane Kennedy's new website

Jane Kennedy MP has a new website which she introduces here on YouTube. Have a look, see what you think!

Manchester Congestion Charge vote

The referendum closes on Thursday, here is a video from the Yes Campaign that I have been asked to share with anyone who lives in Greater Manchester or travels there fairly regularly.


Dylan in hospital but getting better

Little Dylan has been in hospital for a week now, and we were all really hoping he was coming home today, but sadly not. The poison has not all cleared up yet.

He has had an abscess on one of his lymph nodes in his neck - lymphadenitis - I have just read on Wikipedia that it might have been caused by a cat stratch. I would be interested to learn whether Jasper had scratched him! Otherwise it is caused by tonsilitis often in children, and he did have that a few weeks ago.

It has been a terrible time for his family, worrying about him, living at the hospital, looking after baby Alice, struggling through snow on a couple of occasions. And he is so little, only 3. They have been so strong. He had to have an operation with general anaesthetic to lance and clean the abscess, and it is taking a long time to clear up. He is much more lively and a lot less listless than he was though, thankfully

Anyway, send him positive thoughts that he will get well and come home soon, tomorrow would be good!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Total betrayal - it's all over for Prescot Road and Drive

Louise Baldock press release on Thursday 4th December 2008.

Dozens of houses on Prescot Road and Prescot Drive in Fairfield, the subject of controversy for years after Liverpool City Council mothballed them in 2000 with the intention of 'one day' coming up with a plan for them, will now face the wrecker's ball.

Today the worst possible outcome has been achieved as the council has recognised that mass demolition is the only answer left.

Back in 2000, some of these homes were empty and boarded up when residents drawing up the Blue Print plan for the renewal area identified them as key to renewal, saying they were blighting the area. Back then however many were still being lived in and the problems only related to a proportion of the properties.

In December 2005 a villa on Prescot Drive burnt down after a murderous arson attack.

A few months later, the Council leader, Firefighter Councillor Warren Bradley, promised local residents that he would give the issue of the empty homes his personal attention after visiting the site and seeing the fire damage. He set up a working group to tackle the problem.

In 2006, in election week, local Liberal Democrat Councillors who were in charge of these renewal plans (local Councillor Frank Doran was Assistant Executive Member for Housing and chair of this new working group) were talking of an imminent plan to tackle the blight.

A majority of houses by this time were empty and boarded up.

That same week, May 2006, Labour took the first seat from the Liberal Democrats in Kensington and Fairfield

In June 2006 the Friends of Newsham Park applied to the Secretary of State to force the council to sell particular of the houses it owned on Prescot Drive, rather than see them rot. The council managed to delay this until such time as the conditions became impossible to honour this order. In fact they remain in public ownership.

In 2007, after a second serious but thankfully not fatal house fire, this time on Prescot Road, Liberal Democrat Councillors repeated their intention to tackle this Liverpool disgrace.

In May 2007 Labour took the second seat from the Liberal Democrats

In October 2007 Liberal Democrat Councillors were talking about "a vital breakthrough to tackle the problems"

In May 2008 the final Liberal Democrat Councillor, Frank Doran, lost his seat to Labour.

Councillor Louise Baldock took over the chair of the working group in July this year with the firm intention of saving as many of the properties as possible, with the emphasis clearly on refurbishment rather than demolition.

However, in December 2008, nearly 9 years after concerns were first raised, a Liverpool City Council meeting (of the Newsham Park Steering Group) has very reluctantly agreed the necessity to demolish them all.

Labour Councillor Louise Baldock who said in August 2007 "If I could only sort one thing out as a councillor this year, this would be it!" has had to admit defeat after battling for nearly three years.

She told the Echo "These splendid Victorian villas on Prescot Drive overlooking the park, and the large family houses on Prescot Road could have been saved in 2000 when their condition was first raised. They could have been saved many times over since too, but the council has been absolutely delinquent in its failure to act. I have long since lost count of the times that they have promised us one wonderful scheme or another. And now here we are, a mountain of professional surveys and marketing exercises having made it absolutely clear that we cannot any longer save any of them.
The delays have lead to terrible deterioration and they will all have to be knocked down.

And this, believe it or not, is a conservation area!

It is nearly 3 years since Councillor Warren Bradley, the leader of Liverpool City Council promised us his personal commitment to preserve our heritage. What price that commitment now?

The council's total betrayal has left me breathless. I don’t mind admitting that I wept after the meeting. The people of Fairfield and the heritage lovers of Liverpool who have fought so hard to save these houses have been treated with utter contempt and disdain.

And to add insult to this injury, current financial conditions in the housing market are such that there will not be any money for a new scheme to be built on what will be the clearance area. We are essentially going to get a grassed over area, with a wish and a prayer that one day someone somewhere will find some money to build something suitable to replace our lost homes."

Entries from the internet which relate

December 2005 - a house is burnt down in an arson attack which costs the life of a resident - arsonists on charge of murder

April 2006 - my blog - before I was elected -

June 2006 - Friends of Newsham Park persuade Secretary of State to take some action

January 2007 - matter is discussed in Parliament

April 2007 - I call for action after serious house fires - and resident says "“Maybe they are hoping that if they wait long enough they will fall down on their own. The council doesn’t give a damn about us. They are using delaying tactic after delaying tactic.”

April 2007 - more about the latest fire

August 2007 - my blog - and still it drags on - good detail and five comments on the entry

October 2007 - promises from the LibDems of "a vital breakthrough to sort out the problem."

March 2008 - now the council is talking about selling those houses it has failed to repair

New Pavilion for Newsham Park

Councillor Louise Baldock has welcomed news of a permanent Pavilion for Newsham Park.

Liverpool City Council intend to provide two permanent football pitches on the south side of Newsham Park to help replace pitches elsewhere on land where a new school is We have also reminded the council that Newsham Park is a conservation area and any new pavillion must be in keeping with the park's 140 year-old be built.

When the plans were first introduced by the council, they included temporary changing rooms for Newsham Park which could then be picked up and moved to a new site when the school works were finished and replacement pitches could be provided in the West Derby area.

Louise Baldock told the Echo "Our residents were unhappy that we only merited temporary changing rooms which would be taken away from us just as we were making the most of them. We are all very keen to have new pitches, there is nowhere to play football in our area. But we were very unhappy that we would only have the changing rooms 'for now' and afterwards our footballers would have to change in their cars. Labour Councillors in Kensington and Fairfield have lobbied the council hard for a better deal and we are delighted that they have seen sense. Not only have we won the victory that the temporary changing rooms will now in fact be permanent, but the building will now be extended to include a much needed community room, a base for our park rangers and public toilets."

The debate has now moved on to a discussion about where in the park the pavillion should go and what it should look like.

Louise said "It needs to be reasonably close to the new pitches but far enough away from neighbouring residents so as not to disturb them. We have insisted on full consultation with residents when looking at the design and the location."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Councillor Steve Hurst has resigned as Executive Member for Corporate Performance

- in order to "fight to clear his name".

See more here and here

This comes 24 hours after a Liverpool Echo editorial called for his resignation

There is no news at present about who will be asked to take over, but my money is on one of the 26 - or maybe Colin Eldridge who has been missing the campaigning opportunities afforded to him by LCC by being an EM.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Secret Santa's little helpers required

I shall be buying a gift for a very fashionable and very trendy 21 year-old man I work with because I drew his name out in the Secret Santa draw. I was going to Next for Men, then someone suggested Top Man might be more fashionable. Can anyone point me in the right direction? I need to spend about £10 and was toying with the idea of cufflinks from Next as he wears them to work, but apparently another young man has been bought cufflinks in the draw already by someone a bit faster off the block than me, and I dont want them to have the same gift.


Liverpool Nat West Bank customer?

I just popped into Nat West bank on Castle Street to drop off a deposit for my boss and the place was full of film crews with all the accompanying chuck wagons etc.

They were looking for customers they could chat to and film about their accounts, particularly business customers.

If you are a business customer and you fancy being in the limelight, get yourself down there right now!

Councillor Steve Hurst - what the newspapers say

This report from the Liverpool Daily Post contains details of the damning comments from the Judge, and suggests the possibility of a byelection.

It also makes a couple of errors, by talking about councillors in the plural in the headline and by illustrating the story with a photo of Councillor Warren Bradley. Or perhaps they were referring to the fact that Councillor Bradley spoke up for Councillor Hurst at the hearing.

The Echo contains details of the supporting statements that fellow councillors gave in court on behalf of Councillor Hurst.

I will let you arrive at your own conclusions!

Christmas card posting dates

Please see below latest posting dates for Christmas post:

Friday 5 December South & Central America, Caribbean, Africa, Middle East, Far East, Asia, New Zealand & Australia

Wednesday 10 December Japan, USA, Canada & Eastern Europe

Friday 12 December Western Europe

Thursday 18 December UK 2nd Class

Saturday 20 December UK 1st Class

Monday, December 01, 2008

Liberal-Democrat Councillor found guilty of Electoral Offence today

Councillor Steve Hurst who represents Wavertree ward on Liverpool City Council has today been found guilty of an election offence.

I believe the charge was of distributing a leaflet which did not bear an imprint. Councillor Steve Hurst was found putting this leaflet through letter boxes. It was not a LibDem leaflet, it was put out in the name of a minor socialist party in the Belle Vale ward but without their knowledge or input. It carried highly personal and critical attacks on a Labour councillor and her husband, a fireman. (Councillor Steve Hurst also works for the fire service and was critical of his actions during a strike.)

Councillor Steve Hurst, who was the LibDem Chief Whip at the time of the offence (April or May 2007) is now the Executive Member for Corporate Services on Liverpool City Council.

I understand that he was fined £500 with £750 costs.

Representatives of the Fire Service and of the Standards Board were present in court for the 3 day hearing. I would expect this story to be carried in the Liverpool Daily Post and the Liverpool Echo tomorrow.

Isn't it time to turn some of those yellow wards back to white?

I was just having a look at the Liverpool Libdem website and I noticed that they are still showing Kensington and Fairfield and Speke and Belle Vale wards in yellow and their note says "Liberal Democrats hold all of the wards coloured yellow on the map opposite."

Ooops! Not any more they don't

Of course they could always wait until 2010 and change the colours of the Yew Tree ward and the Warbreck ward at the same time as they become LibDem free zones too.

Kensington and Fairfield Police December Newsletter

Our boys and girls in blue have published a newsletter which I thought I would link to as it is quite informative.

Well done for this new initiative Linda in particular - and we look forward to working with you in particular on the prostitution problem which has raised its ugly head again. We are meeting in a few weeks to see how we can help fund a project - although it might want to be from a renamed "Not Working any more round here thank you Neighbourhood Fund"

One out and one in

Suzanne went home on Sunday afternoon after a lazy morning and a good old gossip, then Pat arrived in the afternoon, hot from a visit to the Le Corbusier exhibition in the crypt of the RC Cathedral.

We had a Sunday dinner in the Halfway on Woolton Road and then more lazy gossiping with a glass of wine ensued for the rest of the evening. I put her on a train back to Huddersfield this morning. Apparently their station is being improved outside, just as ours is here, so it will be interesting to make that journey in a year's time to spot the difference.

I am glad I got my leafletting done on Saturday morning as apart from a lot of dancing on Saturday night, I had a very restful weekend and hardly stirred.

Back to the grindstone today though!

Sheila Murphy's Surprise Party in Parr Street

Suzanne came over on Saturday and we had a lovely evening in Parr Street at a surprise party for Sheila Murphy, senior regional director, who has left the employ of the Labour Party after 10 years to spend more time with her grandson. Colleagues came from across the north and two in particular, Steve and Jude came from the South-West which I thought was a real tribute to her. Great food and lots of dancing, I had a wonderful time, seeing lots of old and new friends. Thankfully for us, Sheila is now going to concentrate on Liverpool as a lay member so we will be able to take full use of her skills and experience. Hurrah! Welcome home!

Friday, November 28, 2008

And the second Polish event

This email came from Andy who Liam and I met last year and who has set up a website for Poles in Liverpool and established a magazine.

He may send me a Polish translation in which case I will add it to the foot of this post later.

"Next Sunday we are organising a Christmas party for Polish families in Liverpool. This will be our first such Polish event in Liverpool and will have a traditional Christmas atmosphere. There will be a Santa Clause, children's games, competitions, a buffet and other attractions.

We will be glad if you could come and spend with us this evening. We believe it will be for all of us new experience and good time.

Event will take place in Kensington Police Club, Prescot Rd, L7 0JD at 5pm on 7th December. Looking forward to see you."

Dnia 7 grudnia 2008 r. redakcja portalu organizuje specjalne świąteczne spotkanie, dla dzieci i rodziców. Spotkanie jakiego jeszcze nie było!
Świątecznej atmosfery kupić nie można, ale pewne jest ze sami ją budujemy. Organizatorzy zadbają o nią w każdym calu tego roku.
Smaku imprezie z pewnością doda bufet pełen słodkości i owoców. Stół świętami pachnący z aromatem pomarańczy, smakowitym makowcem i innymi wigilijnymi rarytasami na słodko. Zdobiony owocowym przepychem.

Pachnąca świerkiem i ozdobiona lampkami sala zadba o klimat spotkania, a sam Św. Mikołaj prócz prezentów przyniesie nam dużo śmiechu, zabawy i Świąteczną paczkę dla każdego dziecka. Sponsorzy zadbają o to, by świąteczne konkursy i ich nagrody przypomniały wszystkim zabranym, tę szczególną radość z otrzymanych prezentów.

Więcej informacji na
Andzej and Agnieszka

An invite to a couple of Polish events in Fairfield and Kensington

Email from the lovely Gosia. I have a PDF I can email to you but I cannot upload PDFs on to my website sadly. Please note what sounds like a FABULOUS event, which I cannot go to as it is our Labour Group Christmas Party, but otherwise I would have been there like a shot.

Dear Friends

This is the first one

We would like to invite you for the next Merseyside Polonia event that will take place on 5th December 2008. It will start at 6.30 pm (end by 9 pm) at the Academy of St. Francis of Assisi (by Newsham Park), Gardner’s Drive, Liverpool L6 7UR. The events are free, open to everybody and will be translated in English and Polish.

We are very happy with the success of previous events. We received many positive comments and the group that is helping in organizing the meetings grew larger. Please have a look at our website to see photographs from the previous events:

Next Merseyside Polonia event will be with Christmas theme and along set points of the evening program of introducing local services, there will be an opportunity to try Polish Christmas Eve dishes, find out more about Christmas traditions and sing Christmas Carols.

The aim of Merseyside Polonia is to develop positive relations between the Polish community and local residents through presentations about Poland and its culture, information related to life in England and the creation of new initiatives.

See you at the next event

Best wishes

Gosia McKane

Drodzy Przyjaciele

Chcielibyśmy Was zaprosić na kolejne ze spotkań Merseyside Polonia, które odbędzie się 5 grudnia 2008. Początek 18.30 (zakonczenie okolo 21.00) w Academy of St. Francis of Assisi (przy Newsham Park), Gardner’s Drive, Liverpool, L6 7UR. Wstęp wolny dla każdego oraz zapewnione tłumaczenie na polski i angielski.

Jesteśmy bardzo zadowoleni z tego, jak przebiegły ostatnie spotkania. Otrzymaliśmy wiele pozytywnych komentarzy oraz powiększyła się grupa osób chętnych do wlączenia się w organizowanie spotkań. Zapraszamy na naszą stronę internetową, gdzie można obejrzeć zdjęcia z poprzednich spotkań:

Kolejne ze spotkan Merseyside Polonia będzie zainspirowane Świętami Bożego Narodzenia i oprócz stałych już punktów programu związanych z przedstawieniem lokalnych organizacji, okazją do spróbowania wigilijnych przysmaków, prezentacji tradycji zwiazanych ze świętami oraz wspólnym śpiewaniem kolęd.

Celem projektu Merseyside Polonia jest zbudowanie pozytywnych relacji pomiędzy polską społecznością i lokalnymi mieszkańcami poprzez prezentacje o Polsce i jej kulturze, informacje związane z życiem w Anglii oraz tworzenie wspólnie nowych inicjatyw.

Do zobaczenia na spotkaniu

Serdeczne pozdrownienia

Gosia McKane

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Labour North West Regional Conference - Southport

Last weekend I was in Southport with a fragile Wendy for the Labour North West Regional Conference.

I wont go on about it, suffice it to say that we had a good time, some good debates and workshops and it was all very useful - and great to see old friends.

Some things I will say that were of interest

Alastair Campbell spoke at the Friday night fundraising dinner which was enjoyable and one of my friends will be benefitting from my encounter with him, any day now. No names no pack drill, but she will know what I mean when the postman comes with a parcel for her.

I took the opportunity to talk to John Healey, Minister for Local Government, during a work-shop for councillors, about the lack of democratic input in Licensing matters, and he asked me to mail him the stuff over, which I have done and which he has now promised to look into. Readers will recall my indignation at learning that local councillors are not deemed "interested parties" and therefore are not allowed to comment on licensing applications for off-licences, pubs etc. I will let you know how that progresses.

I asked a question during Q&A of my old friend Ivan Lewis, now PUSS at Department of International Development about changing the rules to ensure that failed Asylum Seekers from the Congo are not sent back - he has also promised to get back to me about that.

John Prescott held a rally as part of his "Go Fourth" tour, to urge us on to campaign for a fourth term in Government. It was great and we all went off enthused.

But the highlight of the weekend was when I bumped into Marc Almond coming out of a hotel as I was going in. I recognised him immediately, he has not aged or changed at all. I am rather embarassed to say that I caught his sleeve, gushed about how marvellous I think he is and reminded that him that he had given me his autograph at the Kirk in 1982 (Kirklevington Country Club) and we briefly reminisced about what a really great club that was, sadly it has since been demolished and replaced with a small housing estate. I was absolutely "over the giggy" about seeing him.

Later that night I saw Stevie G in the hotel bar, but was unmoved in comparison.

A great weekend where we were joined by 100 Young Labour members having their own regional conference, but dipping into ours from time to time.

The future feels much brighter than it did six months ago.

Carbon Monoxide Awareness week - Liverpool is centre of the national stage

Lynn Griffiths, the President of CO Awareness asked me earlier this year if I thought we could pull off a special day in Liverpool as part of this year's National CO Awareness Week.

The first four days are traditionally held in the Parliaments/Assemblies of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but the fifth day, the Friday is in a town or city within the Union. Last year we were in Dewsbury for instance, where a lot of work has gone into CO awareness following the tragic death of 10 year old Dominic Rodgers in Huddersfield.

Lynn is from Runcorn and has done some great work with Halton Housing Trust and felt that between us, we could do something special in Liverpool. With the support of Liverpool City Council and particularly Fred Pye who works in the Healthy Homes Initiative Team and with the support of Merseyside Fire Service, Liverpool Student Homes and various other organisations - the Private Landlord Accreditation Scheme and some great help from the local PCT, we put on a really good event.

I booked the Town Hall and asked city council leader, Councillor Warren Bradley to speak about LCC intitiatives by people like Fred and his colleagues, to show the commitment of the city to CO Awareness. Lynn had persuaded the Health and Safety Minister, Lord McKenzie of Luton to come up for the event and had lots of other key speakers lined up too.

I was responsible for issuing the invites and was petrified that nobody would come but on the day we had about 80-100 people, from RSLs, the fire service, the ambulance service, people who fit gas appliances, people who design and sell detectors, people who provide student accomodation, private landlords, hoteliers, all sorts of people. And several came over to me afterwards to tell me about action points they were taking away.

I was thrilled to hear that Merseyside Fire Service have offered CO Awareness an office in their Aintree premises and I look forward to a really productive relationship with them.

I was also delighted that Rapid, on Renshaw Street, had sold loads of detectors in a special campaign, during the week, to reduce the price, while advertising in the Echo and on the radio, about the awareness campaign. Thanks a million to everyone at Rapid!

All in all it was a really big success and we raised an awful lot of awareness, which is what it is all about after all. I had invited Michael's parents but they wrote and said they are getting too old now to travel but wished us all well with the day. 50 people die every single year, of a completely unneccessary and totally preventable cause, and thousands more live but with serious health implications. We have to get that awareness much further up people's agenda and this, for Liverpool, was a real step in the right direction

Very moving citizenship ceremony

My latest citizenship ceremony was really moving and there were quite a lot of tears. I always enjoy them and there is always a good feeling, but this one was for some reason particularly special. There were 17 new citizens, only one from Africa this time, whereas often there is a good number. They were from Asian countries in the main, rather than African ones, and a couple of Eastern Europeans too.

I met a lovely middle-aged lady from the Ukraine who I shared a few tears with and a very nice man from perhaps Poland or Bulgaria who was marrying his British girlfriend this weekend. (I do read the certificates which detail where people were born but I cannot recall in this case where he was from). We shared a few tears too. There were a few Indians, with lots of gorgeous children and a couple from Kensington too who came over after the ceremony to chat to me.

I don't know why it is that some weeks it is very nice but not overly emotive and other weeks we all feel particularly uplifted and moved?

Colin came me with me on this occasion as he had not sat in on a ceremony before and I think he really enjoyed it.

We go through the service, the registrar officiates, people pledge or affirm allegiance, I make a speech as the "dignatory" of the day, then hand out each certificate to each new citizen, individually, and now we are also giving them a passport application form, a form to go on the electoral register and a silver medal/coin to commemorate the conferring of their British Citizenship in Liverpool. They are really good, I would be made up to get one of those, I am very impressed with them.

Then we stand for the national anthem. Then when the service is concluded I bring the flag, on a stand, out into the middle of the room and we do lots of photos, me with the new citizens and the flag, and then me with them and their families and then them without me (which I expect they are quite glad of by that point), and them with the registrar staff. This time the queue went on for a good while and one lady asked me if my cheeks were aching with all the smiling.

Actually I was too busy holding back tears.

I have done about 8 ceremonies this year and have enjoyed every single one but this one was my favourite so far. I am very happy for anyone to come with me, to see what it is all about, get in touch if you would like to join me, Lisa and little green Isaac are coming to my next one in a fortnight.

Medium - truth or fiction?

My work colleagues booked a medium to come to our office and I was one of the 6 people who consulted her late one afternoon, a week or two ago (it was not one of my days to work there I should say, this was done in my own time, in case you were wondering).

When Michael died I consulted lots of mediums, it is a fairly standard thing for the recently bereaved, and by and large they were all pretty poor, generalising and getting a lot of stuff wrong and asking too many leading questions. But I thought I would give it another go, just out of interest.

Was this one any better? It is hard to tell really. She threw out a lot of names, about half of which I could recognise and half of which meant nothing to me. But some of the things she said were accurate. I wish there was a way of knowing how much of it is guess work. And how much of it is down to my wanting to "own" things she said, or twist them to suit my fact. I think we would all like to think that there is a medium out there who is genuine and effective, but I am still not convinced.

Anyway, I will give you a bit of a taste of some of what she said. She asked me first if I had a partner, and I said no. So she asked me if my partner had died. I conceded that he had and she said a shadow had walked in with me. That was a bit spooky, I was not sure how I felt about shadows following me about. And I was quite impressed that she would know that he had died, I cannot think there are lots of women my age who would have replied in the affirmative to that question.

She then asked me who "Chris" was and I said I didnt know anyone of that name. Although a few minutes later when she had moved on to something else, I suddenly realised that Chris was the name of my beloved Nana, but of course I never called her by her name so it had completely passed me by. We didnt talk about her any further. But that was quite impressive for a first stab actually, in hindsight.

She asked me who was the diabetic (Colin came straight to mind) and who has very sore eyes (Colin again). She asked me three times about someone who had an amputated leg but I told her that no-one in my circle of family or friends had ever had an amputation, I said I would have noticed. I dont know what that was all about and she kept coming back to it.

She asked me who died of a brain tumour (Roger's brother) but did not name him, coincidence?

She asked me who died of liver disease - my ex-husband - and got into quite a lot of detail about him. His name, that he played cards a lot, that he drank a lot (pretty obvious of course for someone with a liver disease), that he had two children, whose names she mentioned during the rest of the session but not immediately at that point, and didnt identify them as his children. Coincidence?

She told me I helped people for a living - I think this is a reasonable explanation of a councillor, which she did not know about and I never told her, but not something she would presumably expect to say to someone who she understood to work in a firm of accountants.

She then named in sequence five of my colleagues in the office, although did not say they worked with me, she just threw their names out. Coincidence? Could she have read the signing in sheet?

She named two of my cousins (and I dont have a huge amount), both on the one side, Anita and Donna. Coincidence?

She asked me who had a bad neck - no-one that I could think of, although Wendy has a very bad neck now, having had a fall while we were out leafletting and really hurt herself, two days later. We have debated whether this was ill-wished upon her. Coincidence?

And then she went into a mass of detail about a man who I am going to have a long lasting relationship with. In fact she told me more or less everything about him bar his address. And apparently I should be well esconced with him within three years. So it will be fairly clear in three years whether there is anything in this or not.

His name is Francis, first name or surname, he is self-employed, possibly to do with cars, he has a blue car, (she asked me if my car was blue too - it is - and said if I didnt mind her saying, his car was rather better than mine!) and that he likes war films. I was not very impressed by this but she said he wouldnt make me watch them. She said he has relatives named Maureen and Ethel and that he was associated with Ireland, which was great, I must say. And his dad might well have been a bin-man. All I can say is, if someone comes forward who fits those credentials I will definitely be a convert!

She told me I needed to go out more, socially, and then asked me who Rachel was. I said she was my mate who had coincidetally invited me out that weekend so she said I had better go in that case!

She also asked me whether my parents came from South Africa. I said no, certainly not, they were from the West Midlands, but she was quite insistent that this was relevant. It was only afterwards that I recalled that my Gran was actually born in South Africa, in Winberg.

Perhaps mediums should ask for better sitters, I am afraid I was rather rubbish really.

And I am to accept with alacrity any offers of a long weekend in Ireland (as if I would refuse!!)

She did not mention Michael at all, not his name or anything associated with him. And she did not say my Grandad was now willing to accept the concept of an after-life, something we occasionally discussed where I said he would know that there was a heaven, which he didn't believe in, once he was there.

And she did not give me any tips about any of my genealogical dead-ends either. I would have loved to have known what happened to Great Great Gran Eliza Lister's first husband for instance.

So as things currently stand it was interesting, but not conclusive.

Traffic and pedestrian management - Prescot Road/Laurel Road junction

Residents raise the issue of the Prescot Road/Laurel Road junction at practically every meeting of FARA and every meeting of Latham Court

I had a site visit in June with an officer from LCC but it did not come to anything and so I organised a second visit this month with a different set of officers to find out whether we can do something on this dangerous junction.

There are two issues, one, the perennial one, is where the money would come from. The other is about whether such a scheme is possible, given that there is a social club with its entrance in the middle of what would be a controlled junction. And it is in a conservation area so there are issues about how we manage that. But we had a productive site visit. The conservation officer thought we could manage a scheme that would satisfy her, the highways officers thought they might have a solution, so I have asked them to go away and clarify all that.

If we can get a scheme that will allow cars to come into and out of Laurel Road safely and that will allow pedestrians to cross without fear of being knocked over, then we can start to work on where the money would come from.

I will keep you posted about this

Stop the Rot

I sat in the Stop the Rot meeting for Councillor Joe Anderson this month, very interesting stuff! This campaign, fronted by the Liverpool Echo and chaired by the Bishop is designed to save certain important historic buildings in the city centre mainly, from being lost, falling down etc. We had a presentation on some of the success stories since the campaign began and also talked about some of the buildings still to be saved. They are doing some good work, it is important that there is a focus on preserving our heritage and I think we gain from having all the interested parties round the table together.

I took the opportunity to mention Deane Road Jewish Cemetery and am pleased to report that the conservation officers and buildings at risk officers from LCC are keen to meet us to discuss how they can support our HLF bid. Watch this space.

Your community matters - Kensington and Fairfield

I think we had about 80 people at our Your Community Matters event at St Francis of Assisi Academy this month. Everyone really enjoyed it - from the bowl of scouse or vegetable curry through to the free draw for a ceramic superlambanana! We had a good mixed community representation, young and old, black and white, men and women, and local resident Natalie from the OBV scheme even brought her baby in his pushchair. The feedback from youth services, the police and neighbourhood management services was good, lots of progress on issues raised last time (Larry Murphy from LCC came in to give his feedback despite being on holiday, so thanks to him). I'm thinking I missed one, who was it? Residents came up with some good issues for the next quarter. I find them really useful events and we always get new faces there.

I did the feedback for the items that don't quite fit into the main themes, having taken forward the action points myself. I have not yet been able to put together the leaflet advertising community space but I live in hope - I am just waiting for the organisations to feed me their details so that I can do it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

National Justice Awards - Kenny Police are honoured

Kensington Community Police team were nominated for another award as part of the National Justice Awards

Sergeant Simon Joyce told me that they had been Highly Commended for their ‘Outstanding contribution to engaging local communities’

Well done to all the team, we are all very proud of you!

In defence of Jim Murphy - just in case!

Reporters at the BBC deserve a very serious telling off for their coverage of Question Time

Admittedly I did not watch it, but the article makes is clear that a member of the audience asked the panel about John Sergeant's resignation from Strictly Come Dancing.

Jim Murphy, Scottish Minister, apparently said that in his view it was the judges that should have gone, not John. He said he and his family watched the show and etc. Anyway you can see what he said for yourself by reading the link.

What are the odds that Jim will now join a list that already contains Andy Burnham as someone who should not be commenting on celebrity TV. What is a Question Time guest supposed to do? Refuse to answer questions that might be deemed insufficiently serious and too light-weight in case of criticism?

And how dare the BBC take this line about a BBC programme!!

Of course I might be overreacting and there might be no such further reporting, but it is currently a headline on the politics section of the BBC and until you read the story you think that someone has gone out of their way to issue a statement on this.


PS I never watch strictly because I dont like formal dancing but I have always liked John Sergeant since I read his autobiography a few years back, which I can lend to any friends who would like it

Venture Housing defends Audit Commission rating

As readers of the blog will know, I joined the board of Venture Housing Association in September after becoming a co-optee in June.

June also saw the Audit Commission come in to carry out their inspection and their findings have been reported today.

The Daily Post and Liverpool Echo (I cannot find a link to this on their site) have both covered the story.

As has Housing News - I cannot link to that as it entails letting you see the password and email address we used to register for the newsletter, but I have recreated it below.

My own thoughts are that, like the Chief Executive I am very disappointed in the star rating and I have told him and the board that I would not have taken the step of joining if I did not believe in them and the service they offer. After all, I am not remunerated for my time or expenses and I am not a council nominee, I am a member in my own right. I think they deserved a much better rating.

As far as I am concerned I am proud to be a member of VHA, proud of the 90% satisfaction ratings of the tenants, proud of the current campaign to recruit new members, proud of the new chair (our last chair sadly died in the summer), proud of our training last week on Equality and Diversity Impact Assessments, proud of the advances we have made in obtainings gas certificates for our properties, despite the difficulties of some tenants in allowing access to gas engineers, and proud most of all of the overwhelming desire to improve and to put into action the recommendations of the Audit Commission.

It is clear that the partnership working is making a real difference to the community and obvious the staff are dedicated to that community and show that by their own volunteering for clean-up days for instance.

Here's looking to the next inspection!


Satisfied tenants, customer focused staff and a firm handle on anti-social behaviour are among the strengths highlighted by Audit Commission inspectors following a visit to Liverpool-based Venture Housing Association.

The Audit Commission also commented positively on Venture’s support for vulnerable tenants, including victims of anti-social behaviour.

Despite this positive practice, the Audit Commission has today awarded Venture a zero star, ‘poor’ rating. Inspectors did, however, give the association a vote of confidence by rating its prospects for improvement as ‘promising’.

A series of recommendations has been made to enable the organisation to build on its strengths and improve its weaker areas. These recommendations have been accepted unreservedly and work to make changes for the better is already underway.

Chief executive John Tolen said the rating was extremely disappointing.

He added: “We do not feel the judgement reflects what we have achieved in, what are, some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country.

“Having said that, our prime focus now is to improve the aspects of our service which did attract criticism to ensure our tenants receive the very best provision across the board.”

Recent survey results show tenants are highly satisfied, in a number of cases above the national average, with the service Venture provides. In 2007/08, 90% of those who completed a questionnaire following repair work rated the service as either ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

And 88% of tenants said they were satisfied with customer service, compared to 79% nationally. In their report, inspectors’ state: “Customers receive a personal service due to the small nature of the organisation.”

Venture HA is on track to meet Government’s Decent Homes Standard by the 2010 deadline while ‘diversity champions’ have been appointed at management and board level to widen the established focus from race equality to also include age, gender, religious beliefs, disability and sexuality.

Yvonne Davies, Head of Housing, Northern region, for the Audit Commission, said: “The services provided by Venture Housing Association are below the acceptable standard that we would expect to see. Services have not been developed in line with changing expectations, with a slow pace of improvement in a number of key service areas.

“However there is now a drive within the organisation to improve services, with a positive change seen in some areas such as income management and estate management in recent months.”

Mr Tolen added: “It’s very important at Venture to provide tenants with a high standard of service. The feedback we have from our customers and community partners tells us satisfaction levels are already high but it is our absolute aim to now raise that bar higher still.”

Leaked BNP list

I note a lot of chatter in the blogosphere about the need to protect BNP members from hatred and retaliation from members of the public. I was reminded about some far-right web sites I have seen in the past, I forget the names, wouldnt link to them anyway, when they published photos, names and addresses of ANL members they had researched, seen at rallies and demos etc and people who more generally opposed the BNP, websites which actually did (and probably still do) incite people to go round to their house and do them some damage. I have a vague recollection that a certain ex Labour and LibDem councillor was on such a site, and also a young guy I used to know back in Huddersfield who was in Socialist Labour. I am deliberately not mentioning their names.

Incidentally, BNP candidates have their names and addresses printed on ballot papers in every election where they stand. They dont worry about getting their houses or selves attacked, why is this being raised now?

I dont advocate any physical action against any of them, just for the record but I find the strength of reaction about ensuring there are no witch-hunts interesting in contrast to what I have said above.

I have checked the list to see if it includes anyone I know. There were no real surprises, although one is a constituent of mine that I have always known held strong racist views and who I sometimes have to sit by in meetings. Also I saw the address of someone in the next street to me, but I dont know them.

I wonder what would happen if all political parties published their membership lists? That would make for very interesting reading!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lord Mayor's Children's Christmas Party

I have a few days left to find two children who would like to attend the Lord Mayor's Christmas Party on 16th December in the Town Hall.

I am particularly grateful to Councillor Eddie Clein for asking the town hall staff to give his allocation to me so that an extra Kensington and Fairfield child can enjoy a lovely time with city children and our Lord Mayor. I think that was a really selfless gesture and I have told him that our kids will really appreciate it.

I have a few families in mind to approach, but if you have any thoughts yourself about children between the ages of 6 and 11 who might enjoy this great party, then please get in touch, they will need to live in Kensington or Fairfield and can each bring an adult with them.

Email me or phone me, I have Monday to confirm names.

Royal Mail getting ready for Christmas

I have had a letter from Royal Mail today, as an anonymous householder, telling me about their Christmas postage plans.

I have to say that I am quite impressed

There are pledges to try harder to deliver packages to me during the festive period, including Sundays and evening deliveries - all those gifts from far away!

The collection offices will be open for longer and they wont charge for Local Collect during December.

Pretty good customer service I would say, from an organisation that sometimes falls short, given that they often push "sorry you were out" cards through without actually waiting to see if I am in.

But I should say that I do hope the RM staff will get a financial benefit from these longer hours, otherwise it will be Ebenezer Scrooge writ large.

Kensington dressmaker dresses Leona Lewis for the MTV awards

I have just read in tonight's Liverpool Echo that Kensington dress-maker, Mary Spendlove, adjusted the star's outfit so that she could look gorgeous in pink for the MTV awards

How proud are we!

Ku Design by Spendlove on Kensington have really done us all proud, who says that nothing good comes out of our neighbourhood?


Remembrance Sunday

There is something very special about being a councillor on Remembrance Sunday. We are invited to take part in a civic ceremony to remember the glorious fallen, in company with veterans of all conflicts and with members of the public and with school children from every senior school in the city.

Sadly it rained a lot towards the end of the ceremony and our Lord Mayor, Councillor Steve Rotheram and his wife were dripping wet before they were allowed to come back into St George's Hall at the end of the service - but at least they had umbrellas, we had only our skin to keep us dry!

It was as always a moving ceremony although frankly I could have done without being asked to maintain a three minute silence in order to listen to some cheesy pop song named Heroes which was performed by some previous X factor group. Good for them for giving the proceeds to the Royal Legion, but really, it did not merit the intense listening we were obliged to give it, to the extent that I felt uncomfortable about eating my lunch while it was playing. It was hardly the Flowers of the Forest.

Later in the day Colin and I decided to visit Abercrombie Square to see the new statue, a tribute to the city's VC recipients, including, unbelievably, Noel Chavasse who won not 1 but 2 VCs, truly awesome, and was the son of the then Bishop of Liverpool. I am attaching the photos but sadly I do not know how to turn them so that they are the right way up. I took them with my camera phone. Maybe it is something to do with the settings that wont let me save flipped photos? Answers would be welcome, solutions even more so. They are not great pics, it was raining and getting dark by the time we found the sculpture.

One of Colin's Great Uncles, or maybe Great Great Uncles, was a VC winner, David Samuel Anthony Lord and we took some time to think about him during the day, as well as our grandfathers, greatgrandfathers and other family members whose contributions to the wars have been so precious.

I look forward to ceremonies that celebrate those that served from home, including the women but at least I know that many of us hold them in our minds during the service anyway.

Only the weather depressed what was otherwise a really important day of reflection and I was once again very proud to be taking part in the remembrance.

Labour Party North West Regional Board (and Wendy's birthday)

Wendy and I are both on the Labour Party Regional North West Board, by happy chance. She is a UNISON delegate and I represent Labour Party constituencies on Merseyside.

We had a regional board on 8th November where we discussed plans for our Regional LP conference in Southport this weekend and then we came back to Liverpool and had a lovely lunch in Vinci's to celebrate Wendy's birthday.

Apparently Alastair Campbell is going to be the speaker at the gala dinner on the Friday night, I cannot wait for that!!

Merseyside Polonia - 2nd event

I was delighted to attend the second meeting of Merseyside Polonia, designed to bring together Polish people and their neighbours across the county. It was held in St Francis of Assisi Academy, as will all the meetings in the series of 8, and I would guestimate that perhaps 80 people were there.

We had short presentations from various public organisations, the fire service, Venture Housing, C7 wardens and a local solicitor with a Polish translator. We then had a presentation from a Polish man and his wife about their home town and we all laughed when he told us how he had been asked whether there were Polar Bears in Poland. It was a great looking town, sadly I cannot recall its name, but it began with an "O" and I wanted to visit there by the end of the promotion.

We had some lovely Polish food, essentially a bread and cold meat buffet with some fruit salad, before watching some scenes from George McKane's favourite Polish Films.

I am really looking forward to the next 6 meetings!

Gosia McKane is achieving great things with this project and we are absolutely delighted to financially support her and her friends to even greater success.

Phythian Pub at planning

Good news and bad news really, were the order of the day at the Planning Committee on 4th November.

I went to speak against plans to do up the Phythian Pub on Farnworth Street - not in their entirety, I am all in favour of bringing empty pubs back into use and also happy with plans for residential use on the upper floors, what was the real sticking point was the plan for a shop on part of the ground floor.

I should say I dont make a habit of going to Planning Committees, indeed this may have been only my second visit since being elected, so that shows just how important this decision was for our residents. More than 80 of them had written individual letters against plans for a shop in the old pub, because they were deeply anxious about attracting anti-social behaviour, groups hanging about outside, something that has become a huge problem in our area.

I also explained about our concurrent bid for alleygates to surround the pub, something which has support from all residents and from the owner himself. I said that I thought we needed to consider the impact of these gates on the plans, limiting for example the access to parking.

A Labour councillor, John McIntosh, proposed that they should have a site visit befor deciding on the merits of the application but it seemed to me that it then became politicised as the other Labour members of the committee supported him and the LibDems voted to accept the application without such a factfinding visit.

It came down in the end to the casting vote of the Chair of Planning - a LibDem and he voted to okay the plans without bothering to find out whether alleygates would affect access or egress to the site.

I was deeply disappointed, as are all of the residents, and we feel we have been hard done to, not in the decision to accept the plans necessarily, but in the decision not to bottom out the detail. I cannot help but feel it was shabby not to insist on being in posession of all the facts before taking a decision

The good news is that the Planning Officers have listened to some degree and the shop would have to close by 8pm at the latest, so not a victory but a concession in the right direction at least.

Liverpool Mural Project launch at the Picket

The official launch at the Picket was fantastic.

The speakers were great, Peter Morrison explaining how the project was developed through his passion, the author Michael Kelly explaining the significance of those who appear in the mural - Kitty Wilkinson, James Larkin and Agnes Jones, and Professor Bill Rolston, University of Ulster, talking about the history of murals.

It was so inspiring, Liam and I were delighted to give up our lunch hour to join the other guests all celebrating a fantastic artistic achievement.

What we really want now is to host the next Liverpool mural in Kensington and Fairfield - and we particularly look forward to welcome artists Danny and Mark to our neighbourhood.

Training to help me with visits to LCC children's homes

I have been doing some training to help me to be effective when I visit some of the 5 children's homes in our city.

All councillors are what is known as "corporate parents" for the children in care in the authority, whether they are in children's homes or more usually in foster care.

And there is a legal responsibility on us councillors to visit the children's homes monthly to ensure that our children are being properly cared for, particularly considering the five areas within the Labour Government Policy of Every Child Matters.

Wendy, Claire and I and a LibDem, Councillor Graham Hulme, spent a day learning more about the strategy to work constructively with children in difficulty, children expressing anger and frustration etc. It was very useful, particularly because we shared the training with foster carers so we heard some of their issues and problems first hand.

Today those of us councillors who have agreed to undertake CRB checks with a view to becoming formal visitors of our children's homes met and heard from the different children's homes managers about the nature of their homes and what we should be looking for on our visits.

I find it all very interesting. For instance, if you did not know about children's homes you might imagine that they house 100 kids each, whereas in reality most are more like family homes with half a dozen children living there with approximately the same number of staff.

We have five such homes and two of those specialise in respite care for children with profound learning difficulties or profound physical disabilities that mean their families need a rest periodically while they are looking after them.

The other homes tend to include children who have had difficult placements elsewhere in the system, for whom for instance foster care has not been the answer.

I am going to be visiting a home in Fairfield, which I wont mention because the children deserve their privacy and I am pleased that I now have a clear idea about what I should be looking for when I get there, to ensure that they are having the best possible care and the best possible outcomes.

It is an extremely important responsibility, more so than any other that a councillor undertakes and I am glad that I have an expert in Wendy to guide me.

Stop the Rot and Deane Road Jewish Cemetery

I sat in for Labour Leader Councillor Joe Anderson at a Stop the Rot meeting a few weeks back. It is a working group set up by the Liverpool Echo with the support of the Bishop of Liverpool, Rt Rev James Jones, to tackle certain important buildings in the city that are being allowed to fall down.

We looked at current and ongoing plans for buildings in Seel Street, for the Florrie, for the pub with the Banksy artwork, all sorts and it was all very useful, and some of the battles are immense. All power to everyone on the group, from LCC and numerous other partners.

I took the opportunity to mention our Deane Road Jewish Cemetery project and got the agreement from the Buildings at Risk person that he and a colleague will meet with us and advise us and hopefully support us in our bid for Heritage Lottery Funds to restore this jewel in our neighbourhood.

I will keep you updated with this, next job is to find a date that we can all manage to show off the cemtery and explain our plans.

Black History Month Black Achievers Awards

I did say in an earlier entry that I wanted to say something about the black achievers' awards at the fabulous night out at the Crowne Plaza last month.

I had a wonderful time, sitting with LCC staff, Andrew Nembhard and his wife Liz who works for one of our RSLs, and some of his staff from the Equality and Diversity Unit at LCC, Peter Cosgrove another lead officer from LCC and various engaging friends and relatives.

We even managed to dance, now what more could you ask for from a night out than good company, good food and a dance?

I was most particularly thrilled though when my friend Siddi Majuba won an award for Sports in the Community for his work with Liver World.

I am showing a photo of me and Siddi with Judith Greensmith, the High Sheriff of Merseyside, which we had taken at the occasion of the 90th birthday celebrations for Nelson Mandela in the Town Hall.

I am so proud of him and all the great work he does, he is truly (albeit the self-proclaimed) the new Duke of Kensington

Monday, November 10, 2008

Kensington and Fairfield Respect Week October 2008

We had our second Respect week of the year in October 2008, and it was another great success. Please have a look at how hard everyone worked to put Kensington and Fairfield at the heart of everything they did that week.

Safer & Stronger Communities

Our fantastic Police Inspector, Dave Charnock has told us that 73 people were arrested or issued with Fixed Penalty Notices for crimes. 227 people were stopped and searched during the week, police were on the lookout for knives and weapons. Only 2 people were found carrying weapons. High visibility controls were in place and the knife arch (metal detector) was in use.

32 litres of alcohol were confiscated from youths in the park. Licensed premises and outlets where knives were sold received police visits and test purchasing with an underage volunteer was carried out. 25 checks were carried out throughout the week and 2 premises received warnings for failing to comply with the conditions of their licence. 8 people were arrested for outstanding court warrants within the area.

Drugs & Theft Act Warrants - A property in Adelaide Road, L7 was raided under the Misuse of Drugs Act. A cannabis cultivation farm was discovered, plants were removed and the farm was dismantled. Forensic enquiries continue to identify the offender.

A Theft Act warrant was executed in Holland Street, L7 and the suspect was caught throwing drugs out of his window and was arrested for possession of cannabis with intent to supply.

Misuse of Drugs Warrant was executed in Albert Edward Road, L7. The suspect attempted to flush away drugs however, the police recovered £200 worth of crack cocaine and heroin and £800 cash was seized as proceeds of crime.

Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service - A chip pan demonstration was carried out in the Lidl car park. Community Fire Safety & Fire Support Net generated 50-60 referrals from the events. 300 properties were called at and 80 home fire safety checks carried out and 100 alarms were fitted.

Advocates attended St Francis of Assisi School and conducted firework misuse presentations and attended the Market Place.

600 wheelie bin leaflets were distributed through Streets Ahead regarding wheelie bin fires. A tile warehouse was advised to remove wooden pallets from the pavement in the lead up to bonfire night.

Roads Policing Operations - Operations ran 3 days from early morning to late evening. Police worked alongside representatives from VOSA, HMRI, LCC Taxi Licensing and Enterprise Liverpool. Roadside checks were carried out and 282 vehicles were stopped at check points by all agencies, results included, 6 vehicles being seized for insurance and driving offences, 39 none endorsable fixed penalty notices were issued and 3 child seat belt warnings were issued.

Taxi Licensing involved 98 cabs being stopped. 6 defect notices were issued and 5 suspension notices were issued.

VOSA – 28 vehicles were checked and 3 prohibition notices issued (defective tyres).

Customs & Excise – 54 vehicles stopped and checked for red diesel, 4 were found to have red diesel.

Liverpool City Council Parking Services - 38 fixed penalties issued for parking offences and 8 verbal warnings given.

Liverpool Anti-Social Behaviour Unit/C7 Housing Association – LASBU/C7 conducted an ASB presentation/lesson at the Phoenix School. A bird feeding session was held with Sure Start.

Operation Cube-It – 18 offending vehicles were dealt with. 2 vehicles were seized for having no tax.

Merseyside Police Off Road Bike Units – 8 reports of vehicle nuisance reported whilst on patrol.

Tackling Crime & Anti-Social Behaviour on Public Transport (Operation Snowball) – Merseyside Police worked closely with Revenue Protection Officers, Arriva Bus Company and Mersey Travel to tackle anti-social behaviour. 196 buses were stopped, 1897 passengers spoken to throughout the operation, 1 male was found to be in the country illegally, 56 people were searched, 23 tickets withdrawn and 36 people summonsed for fraud offences.

Crime Prevention – Andy Drummond and a team of Community Support Officers delivered: burglary and auto crime presentation, mobile telephone marking, crime prevention advice booklets and personal safety advice. A Crime Reduction stand was placed at a community event in Sheil Road Community Event. Approximately 220 people were spoken to during the week and 15 further referrals taken.

Trading Standards / Police Test Purchase Operations – An underage volunteer attempted to purchase alcohol from Licensed premises and knives from outlets. 2 Licensed premises sold the volunteer alcohol and these received fixed penalty notices.

City Watch Warden Team – Warden team patrolled alongside the police and concentrated on: litter prosecutions, street furniture reports, lighting, truancy referrals and untaxed motor vehicle reports amongst other things. Alley dumping – 4 incidents, fly tipping locations – 24 referrals, street furniture – 22 referrals as well as sharps (needles), truants, littering and dog fouling.

Larry Murphy, our wonderful dedicated neighbourhood officer lead the work done by Neighbourhood Management Services – areas were monitored i.e. alleyways and letters were issued to residents who were found dumping rubbish in alleys prior to refuse collection day. 1022 skip leaflets were distributed to 15 roads. Bonfire material was removed from Coleridge Street with MFRS. Tour of area by Hillingdon Borough Council.

NEAT Team – trade waste visits to shops, 21 businesses with a contract, 6 businesses without contracts (Sec 34 notices being served) as well as fly tipping issues with no evidence.

Veolia – Regular bin and bag collections, cleansing of alleyways, emptying of blue contaminated recycling bins from Sheil Road for Kensington Clean Team to remove and store.

Enterprise Liverpool – General cleansing of all roads in area. 5 skips were placed out in Gloucester Court, Schomberg Street, Mallow Road, Morden Street and Upper Baker Street. 16 fly tipping jobs were cleared and 5 lots of offensive graffiti were cleared.

Kensington Wardens – Anti-Social Behaviour Workshop at Phoenix Primary School. Walk for Health – 100 pupils from Sacred Heart School attended. Bird Feeder Workshop with Surestart. 2500 newsletters were delivered. Regular patrols and void property checking was carried out.

Probation Service – Cutting back overhanging trees and shrubs from pathways in Newsham Park, cutting back ivy and bushes from walls in alleyways allowing clear access and refuse collection at 12 sites.

Kensington Clean Team/Morrisons Plc – Identification of white goods and gas bottles in alleyways, removal of remnants from abandoned cannabis factory, washing of pavements – removal of dog fouling, removal of large chest freezer full of rubbish, enhanced sweeping of area.

Healthier Communities & Older People

We had a good inter-generational event offering activities such as football, badminton, Wii Fit, salsa and massage to those attending as well as agencies such as Addaction, Psst and Fagends and Citysafe on hand to offer advice and support.

11 people accessed the Beat The Goalie competition, 10 people accessed the badminton and 12 people accessed the salsa and Wii Fit. All of these events were held at St Francis of Assisi School. Other organisations involved were SFA, Sports Alliance, PCT, Age Concern and Healing Space.

Children & Young People

Children & Young People – Tracey Ramsey from the Youth Service was great in co-ordinating the activities held for children and young people. For instance, a media workshop, climbing wall, beat the goalie, circus skills and market place were all well attended.

71 hours of activities were held in that week over 3 youth clubs in the area. Some extra sessions were funded for vulnerable groups. School sessions went well, Merseyside Fire & Rescue attended as well as Fag Ends and other agencies. Worked with 200 young people during the week. Children were taken out to parks for walks etc. Tracy raised the need to work with older children too i.e. 10 and above. Youth clubs need new children joining and more children need to know about the facilities and events available to them.

Children attended school assembly workshops with Merseyside Police and Fire and Merseytravel with regards to good behaviour. These projects will continue as a direct result of Respect Week. We paid for them out of our Working Neighbourhood Fund.

Positive feedback was received about the cooking sessions. The specialist make up workshop went well and we were able to hold some extra sessions due to extra funding. Question Time event at the town hall was very well attended with 120 young people from across the city taking park. The young people were found to be open to conversation, engaging and willing to take part and to think about the topics raised. Some young people felt that respect was very important, but they felt that it had to be shown to them first before they would show respect back. Louise particularly enjoyed this event which she took part in this year.

The Market Place involved 200 people, this involved presenting stalls i.e. Addaction, Connexions, Merseyside Fire and Rescue, FAG Ends and V Liverpool.

Economy & Enterprise

Lynn Debbazzi who is taking the lead on this, confirmed that 735 leaflets were distributed and that it was the best ever attendance for a job fair. 170 residents, 10 employers attended and bowls of scouse went down very well indeed.

As a result of this, Sony have said that they will do a ‘skills passport’ for local applicants and they will attend three times a year to similar events.

40 applications were received for vacancies at Matalan and 35 people came in to complete the career pathfinder. As a result of Respect Week, Job Café’s will now be held on a fortnightly basis within the local community. Venture Housing was an ideal location. Initial dates will be 13 Nov, 27 Nov, 11 Dec, 8 Jan, 22 Jan

Number of referrals to JET 69
Number of leaflets delivered 5,000
Number of Employers attending 10
Number of agencies attending 7

50 clients attending pre-screening events and interviews for:
Carlisle Security
Renown Rail
Taxi Drivers (self employment)
20 vacancies in total

35 residents interested in care vacancies awaiting outcomes from employers.

25 residents interested in a career at Sony

Sony have confirmed their support for RESPECT Weeks and have informed us they would attend up to 2 events a year and would donate goods for raffles etc. Sony are also considering a Skills passport to encourage more local people to apply for positions within their organisation.

15 residents were supported via career pathfinder identifying what job roles would be suitable

15 residents offered welfare benefits advice

10 residents had reflexology sessions

All in all Respect Week has been a tremendous success and we have written to everyone who worked so hard to make this week a success, thanks again!