Monday, January 23, 2012

Sea Odyssey - Save the Date!

Visitors wishing to stay with me need to let me know very soon for this exciting event, I expect beds to be booked up very early.

A real and tangible North/South divide in terms of Local Government spending

This graphic illustrates the Government's own figures showing how it has attempted to rebalance the spending on Local Government since coming to power. The pink and red areas show those councils where cuts have been implemented and the green ones are where more money has been put into Town Halls.

Town Halls fund adult social care (care for older people and disabled people), children and family services, particularly children in care, transport, highways, waste disposal, regeneration projects, business and economic development and support, planning, sport, culture, leisure, libraries, street cleansing, gritting, lamp-posts, pot holes, licensing of pubs and taxis, and loads more besides.... so it is stuff that really matters to local people.

It doesn't take a geographical genius to work out that the poorer areas in the industrial North and Midlands have suffered at the hands of the richer home counties and Tory shires.

We keep saying it but is anyone really listening?

The Tories look after their own and penalise Labour areas which they don't care about - and the LibDems are propping them up in this despicable behaviour.

This is exactly what Labour supporters expected and feared would happen and is mainly why they went out to vote in larger than usual numbers in those areas in the General Election in 2010.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

2012 - blog spring-cleaning and redecorating

After nearly 6 years, 1500 posts and 150,000 visitors, I thought it was time for a refresh. I have not changed the display layout hugely, I want it to feel broadly familiar, but a new colour scheme was definitely called for. I did start to look at "redecorating" 12 months ago but the template design interface defeated me, I think I have mastered it this time though.

So this is not like the big changes at the Liverpool Daily Post where they are going from daily to weekly and launched their first edition on Friday (good luck to them). Rather, it is more like a new masthead and a different font perhaps. I hope you still enjoy your visits but am sure you will let me know if you don't.

Passing on the baton

When I was elected as Chair of Labour North West two years ago I said I would serve only for a couple of years. The two previous chairs had clocked up 25 years between them and I took the view that we need regular change and new focus if we are to be an effective region.

So yesterday at the AGM I told members that I was retiring from the post and that I hoped they would choose someone new to continue to develop the role and the work programme. They voted for Manchester's Sue Pugh as Chair. I am particularly pleased that the Board chose another woman for the role, and I wish her all the best during her term in office.

Theresa Griffin was re-elected to support Sue as Vice Chair. Sue represents the Greater Manchester CLPs on the Board and with Theresa being from Liverpool that gives us arguably a better geographical spread.

Theresa holds a particularly special place within the Labour North West region as she is the first reserve on the European MEP list, such that should Arlene or Brian not serve out their full term, she would step in, until the next election.  Her role as Vice Chair gives her the opportunity to create and develop European Policy Forums, chair the European session at Regional Conference and take a role in the EPLP report back to the board.

I have really enjoyed my period in office, although it has been hard work at times. We have had a number of successes, notably back to back national annual conferences in the region - with the new leader being announced in Manchester in 2010. We have had two great regional conferences, particularly this year in Blackpool which was addressed by the leader of the party and several shadow cabinet members, as well as the new General Secretary (chief of staff). 400 delegates and 100 young members engaged in a whole weekend of debate, policy consultation and training.

We had a tremendous success in Oldham East and Saddleworth 12 months ago, despite extremely inauspicious circumstances, and our regional staff were magnificent, enthusing over 500 members to campaign in the depths of a snowy winter.

The local elections in both 2010 and 2011 saw many councils come back to Labour, including of course Liverpool, and I am very satisfied that both of our major cities remain Tory free. We had a pretty good General election too, returning increased majorities in many Labour seats as the voters demonstrated their determination not to see a Tory government, sadly our victories were not repeated throughout the country, and the results are plain for all to see. Alison McGovern's Wirral South victory was the result of the night for the region and I know she will become a real star in the PLP over the coming  years.

As chair, I have been involved in training members in campaigning skills, all over the region, whether that was the Young Labour  members in the Wirral or Lancashire local election candidates, many of whom are now really embracing Labour doorstep activities. We have improved our financial position over the last year, having been somewhat depleted as a result of the byelection, and we have maintained a good Organiser base to ensure that we are focussed on our target councils for 2012. We also played a full and active part in the consultations with the Boundary Commission about new Parliamentary Constituencies across the North West, but I wont be holding my breath to see whether our sensible voices were actually heard.

I will continue to carry out investigations, hear appeals and perform other constitutional work as a Board member and intend to play a full part in the new Working Parties we have established to concentrate on membership, fundraising, campaignign and training.

This year the Regional Chair will need to get to grips with referendums and possible elections for City Mayors as well as the elections for Police Commissioners - neither of which are things I am greatly in favour of to be honest - although I will of course get behind Labour candidates if and when such elections take place.  They are tasks I wont regret not having to help sort out administratively....although that has only just occurred to me, and was not part of my thinking about why it is good to limit the term of office of the Chair, in case you were wondering!

I have enjoyed the role very much and I know that Board meetings in particular have been more friendly and good humoured in recent years, we have had a real sense of unity and have achieved some fantastic results, electorally and in policy campaign terms, holding our leaders to account. I would like to thank all board members, past and present for their support and commitment to the Labour cause. Perhaps I will organise a small party at the next Regional Conference, the location of which will be another task for the new Chair to oversee!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A special meeting of Finance and Resources Scrutiny Committee

This blog entry is not going to be very well read, I realise that, the technicalities of scrutiny will leave most people cold, and even the most enthusiastic of scrutineers will find Finance not really to their taste, but that was the subject under discussion this evening. However, for the tiny few anoraks in the blogosphere who might be interested, I thought I would say a few things about tonight's committee meeting.

We held another special meeting of the Finance and Resources Scrutiny Committee on Liverpool City Council, which I chair.

Its purpose was to look at the next round of proposed budget cuts in some detail. This municipal year for the first time in my memory, although surely not for the first time in history, budget decisions have been scrutinised and brought to council in a staged way, rather than all at once at the end of the year in March. This means that we have been agreeing the cuts we need to make as a council in stages, easiest first, in order to balance the books, and to work out how the dramatically decreasing cake can be most fairly shared out. This will give council officers (the staff) the opportunity to start to plan cuts (I refuse to call them "savings") as soon as possible,  so helping our partners and ourselves to be as prepared as possible.

Tonight was our second special meeting, we held one on December 5th too. It was agreed after discussion with my committee clerks and with the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, Councillor Paul Brant who it is our role to scrutinise that we hold this meeting in the Town Hall to facilitate the maximum possible attendance. It is a much bigger venue than the committee rooms we usually use in Millenium House on Victoria Street.

Unusually, we invited all 90 councillors in case they wanted to get into detail ahead of the Full council tomorrow, and we anticipated some keen members of the public and those in campaign groupings to perhaps also come to hear more of what they could expect tomorrow. But really I suspected that most people would prefer to turn up tomorrow night to a much more charged atmosphere where decisions would be made rather than picked through, and in the end that was pretty much the case. We could have managed in our usual room, but at least we facilitated their opportunity, should they have wanted to take it up.

For those of you who operate outside of the minutae of Local Government, a scrutiny committee meeting is designed to be an opportunity for councillors and members of the public to pick over the options and suggest alternatives, to ask questions and to draw the maximum understanding of the detail before we go into the council meeting.

The difference between the two meetings is that tonight gave councillors the chance to ask simple questions and engage in a one-to-one with the Cabinet Member for Finance, the Leader and the Finance team, where in the Full Council meetings, only a limited number of people can speak because of sheer numbers and they tend to make political speeches rather than ask about line three of the table at paragraph 2.4 etc.

Generally speaking a Scrutiny Committee meeting should be apolitical, or at least polite, and there should be no grandstanding, it is an opportunity to probe and question and challenge the detail rather than to point fingers. But it is inevitable that on such a huge issue as massive cuts to public services, passions will be raised and some of the contributors do blur those boundaries. Obviously above all things, councillors are politicians and this is a very political subject, deciding what needs to be cut and what might be cut instead, so tempers do sometimes flare, but attendees do try to keep it measured and so it was tonight by and large.

What was interesting for me was that because the meeting was held in the Town Hall, rather than the usual committee rooms, we were very tempted on several occasions to fall into Town Hall mode. So there were a few moments when I had to remind members and myself that we were not in a council meeting, despite the Leader of the Council accidentally calling me "Lord Mayor" at one point. The Lord Mayor - who chairs all meetings of the full council, was present in the chamber at that point and we exchanged grins.

So there was a bit of a muddle about whether we were taking amendments and counter amendments and addendums, but then attendees (and I) were able to grasp that we were not debating, we were discussing and we managed to stay broadly on track. Thank heavens for being sandwiched between my Deputy, Councillor Pam Thomas and Dave Jones, the Committee Clerk, so that we could keep whispering to each other about the right way to progress...

I do find chairing these meetings a bit of a challenge sometimes. Not by any means because of the subject matter, passions can and should rise at the Full Council meetings, and believe me they do beat strongly within me on those occasions, but because councillors need to be facilitated and supported into feeling that scrutiny is a real opportunity to delve, and to feel the confidence to do that. And that is not always easy. Sometimes it becomes a little heated and I feel my chin dropping towards my chest.

The ordinary business of the committee is very easy to deal with, it is the novel and the new that can be more tricky. I could understand in my own mind how it was sensible to invite the councillors of the opposition parties to talk about the budget amendments that they planned to introduce at the Full Council tomorrow and to use those alternatives as an opportunity to engage in the discussion about the options on the table. But I found it hard to articulate that in a way that everyone would understand and buy into so there was a bit of confusion in places.

As a new Chair I clearly need more lessons and I am actively seeking that out.

Anyway the good news is that nobody died and we all came out of the meeting hopefully feeling that we had ample chance to ask whatever we needed to ask, or to delve into those areas that merited it.

I still wish I was the Chair of my lovely City and North Liverpool Neighbourhood Committee instead, but I am siezing the thorny, prickly holly bush of scrutiny all the same.

Decorating solutions needed

I am looking for some help with a decorating quandry, I know you will help, if not here then on FB or Twitter where I will send this blog in due course.
My kitchen is decorated with a vinyl wallpaper - not by me - it was already there. It is not to my taste and I would like to redecorate. However, I don't know how to deal with the existing paper. The last decorator I asked to call said he thought it might be laid onto polystyrene, and that stripping it would be difficult and would result possibly in an uneven surface as the underlying layer would be damaged by the removal process. He also said stripping it might reveal things I wouldn't want to have to deal with. I don't think he meant  bodies in alcoves, more that it may have been put up to hide some defects.

He said it would be hard to paint over as the paint would not want to stick and anyway because the pattern is dark in places - like the piece shown above, as well as being embossed or in relief, you would still be able to see the pattern showing through. He didn't seem keen on the idea of papering over the top either - even with lining paper - as he said it might not stick very well.

As a matter of fact he didn't want to touch the job, if I am quite honest, it was definitely one of those "rubbing the chin, sucking teeth and head-shaking" affairs.

It seems vinyl wallpaper is not just for Christmas, it is for life!

But I really don't like it and I want a change. What do you suggest?

Friday, January 13, 2012

My Style Guru

Yes, it is time to admit it. I take my style tips from an early 1970s boy popstar. Donny loved to wear velvet and cord caps, in purples, reds and browns. In fact purple was his most favourite colour. This information I absorbed at the age of 8 and it would seem it has never left me.
So now you know why there was something vaguely familiar about me the first time we met!  I am now the proud owner of 7 lovely caps. I had an 8th  but I left it in the Sir Thomas Hotel after our works Christmas lunch last month.
This particularly splendid hat, with purple flower over my right ear, is in fact the one that has been lost. Maybe a lucky seeker still might find it in the bar if they cared to go and look for it. The brim is a bit less firm now than it was a few years ago (pictured) when the lovely Claire Wilner and I went doorknocking on Beech Street. Rain and snow whilst out campaigning in the ensuing years made the cardboard lining a bit soggy and it started to break up.
Luckily other friends have stepped into the breach to help out. Elaine gave me a very similar but sparklier hat for Christmas (pictured centre) which is my new favourite and a female Labour councillor who shall remain nameless at her own request, gave me the black one and the grey one because she doesn't wear hats and they were unwanted gifts. I bought three in charity shops and the fourth on a market in Berlin, sadly that one is a bit too big and it may have to be given away. 

I do love my caps! Surely Donny would be so proud to know his influence has stretched so far through the decades?

Dale Street Blues blog - homophobic comments

I am very cross at the homophobic comments that have been published on this story

I trust that the powers that be at the Liverpool Daily Post - and David Bartlett in particular will remove the comments, and report the people who left them to the police.

This would be the correct course of action.

I look forward to hearing how they have tackled this in due course.

We are fighting a badge of racism in the city at the moment with our footballers and their fans, we don't need to add homophobia to the list.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A look back on 2011

It's time once again for my annual reflection on the year that has passed.

On the whole a happy year, politically things have developed well for me personally and also for the Labour Party in Liverpool, we have made some great strides with key priorities in Kensington and Fairfield, the North West Region of the Labour Party goes from strength to strength, my marketing business is really beginning to reap results and some difficult private and family issues have been largely resolved (I am not going to tell you anything about the latter though, as I am sure you will understand). But it has not all been a bed of Labour roses, there have been challenges too, so here is a look at the highlights and lowlights of 2011.

Here is a look at some of my best bits

One of the very best things to happen for me in 2011 was my work for the Local Government Association, the initially named IDEA, which morphed into the LGD and is now the LGID (I think), it was certainly a busy year for their marketing people, wouldn't you say? As a Labour peer, I have been visiting councils and housing associations across the country to assess their work in various key areas (principally but not exclusively Equality and Diversity). I have also recently taken on a facilitation role for the Leadership Academy, helping leaders of local authorities across the country, from different political parties, to get the most out of their LGA training. It is an excellent opportunity not just to help those authorities and individuals to be the best they can within local government, but also to bring back some good practice to my work here in Liverpool whether as a councillor or a member of a Housing Association board. I have simply loved every minute of it. It has also given me an opportunity to meet relatives I have not seen in years, because of regular trips to Coventry - so yet another benefit there!

Then there was the Oldham East and Saddleworth byelection, brought about through a little used piece of legislation, where the LibDems had the election called again because they were not happy with a leaflet put out by the Labour MP (and my friend) Phil Woolas. Despite sub zero temperatures and a short campaign including the dead time over Christmas, Labour NW staff worked incredibly hard, led by Noel Hutchinson. A record 500 volunteers turned up in the week before polling day alone -including members from all over the country, I will forever cherish the photo I have of the "signing-in wall" with all their signatures, and we returned an old colleague, Debbie Abrahams (former Labour candidate for the neighbouring Colne Valley) as the new Member of Parliament for the constituency. Chris Davies, LibDem MEP and former MP for the area put it well when he explained on his blog that "The mere fact that we were in coalition with the Conservatives was repellent to some, the impression of broken trust over tuition fees saw off the rest. Each time I would return to the campaign HQ feeling that a few more grains of sand had slipped through our fingers." It's a bugger isn't it Chris, losing, but you will need to get used to it as the rest of the year showed....

Liverpool Remembers was the swan song for the local initiative originally supported by Martin Pinder of Kensington Regeneration, now sadly moved on, to commemorate the Holocaust and other atrocities. With the help of Tracy Ramsey, Nathalie Nicholas, AimeClaude Ndongozi, Lisa and Gareth and the staff of St Francis of Assisi Academy, the SIGMA police team, a Klezmer duo from Manchester, Rev Stanley Cohen, Alun Parry, and many more, we held a wonderful afternoon of commemoration and reflection, thinking about the Shoah but also about more current forms of Hate Crime and genocide. Sadly funding pots are no longer available for such important work so I am concentrating in 2012 on the civic event at the Town Hall and ensuring that some of the same topics are covered to a wider than usual audience. If you want a ticket please let me know and I will ensure the Lord Mayor's office sends one, but you will need to say very soon as it will be on January 26th.

Like Wat Tyler, whose birthday it was last week, I did quite a lot of marching and revolting in 2011. There was the Liverpool Against the Cuts march in February lead by the wonderful Lord Mayor for 2010/2011 Councillor Hazel Williams, and the March in London on March 26th where I gate crashed a UNISON bus at the last minute when other plans for getting down there fell through, great marching with Babs and co! And of course there was the huge public rally and march on November 30th where I walked round the route with Councillor Tim Beaumont, Assistant Cabinet Member for the Environment and members of our excellent Environmental Enforcement team. It's only a shame that this *%^£"! coaltion Government continues to press on regardless with its public sector cuts and takes absolutely no notice of its workers or their grievances.

We had a very well attended Youth Hate Crime Conference early in the year on the upper floors of the Maritime Museum, allowing the very many young people who gave up a Saturday to learn more about the many ways in which people abuse each other because of perceived difference to take the opportunity to look into the Slavery museum too. Thanks to everyone at LCC Community Safety, Youth Service, Homotopia, Daisy UK, Anthony Walker Foundation and others for all their hard work in pulling off this sensitive but important event.

In a similar vein, I spoke once again at the annual UAF (United Against Facism) conference, this year held at UNITEs newly refurbished offices at the top of Walker Square, and named after Jack Jones, one of Liverpool's most determined campaigners. I only wish more comrades would engage. If you leave a vaccuum of this nature, then the SWP will inevitably fill it.

In Kensington, it has been the most exciting year for Deane Road Jewish Cemetery. We have employed two members of staff to manage our restoration project, I line manage both of them, and they are doing great work in ensuring that the construction and building work progresses while we grow our group of enthusiastic volunteers, thanks to Annette Birch and Carol Ramsay for all their work on our behalf. We handed the cemetery over to the builders on Halloween (which I thought most apt) and have already made huge progress. We also had a fabulous art exhibition hosted by our new friends at Kensington Methodist Church showing some of the great works created by artist visitors. But most poignant of all was the stone setting ceremony attended by upwards of 50 people, to honour a man who died 160 years ago, paid for by his descendants.

2011 was also the year I was retired from my post as Chair of the wonderful City and North Neighbourhood boooooh!) but installed as the new Chair of Finance and Resources Scrutiny Committee (a muted hurrah, it is not the easiest of roles in the current climate). We have been involved in some of the most detailed and intensive scrutinies I have ever taken part in, particularly that relating to the Government's proposed changes in the way it will collect and redistribute business rates (a huge booooh to those plans from everyone in Liverpool, business and residential alike). I am trying really hard to bring a degree of transparency and openness and readiness to be challenged to the scrutiny of the portfolio, if you care enough to ask then we should care enough to answer.

In a business capacity, I have loved being part of the new, emerging and growing East Liverpool Business Forum whose members come from many different local businesses and meet fortnightly in Wavertree to work together and support each other, helping to find new leads and make sure we are all successful in our endeavours. We have had some great speakers this year too, including two cabinet members talking about Regeneration, Business and Enterprise Skills, as well as the head of Liverpool Vision and a representative from the planning group behind the Global Entrepreneurs Congress heading to the city in 2012, to name but a few. I am meant to be giving a presentation at 7am in the morning on the services my business offers, so I hope this blog doesn't take much longer to write, otherwise I will be nodding off into my bacon sandwich at the crucial moment!

It would be remiss of me not to mention the April defection to Labour from the Liberal Democrats of a key member of their outgoing cabinet, Gary Millar, councillor for Old Swan who is playing a full part as the Leader's unpaid Assistant Cabinet Member, a welcome addition to our group. Along with Lynnie Williams who should never have stood for the LibDems in the first place, I think we have taken the best of the opposition now. Richard Kemp need not apply!

And of course the Local election results in May were outstanding for Liverpool Labour, were they not? We took seats that we only had on our radar late in the campaign, and our group of 63 now has an amazing mix of young and old, gay and straight, sadly not so many black, but two more than we had before, disabled, young parents (Louise and Abdul welcoming babies during this year) and grandparents, and the marvellous singing talents of Bill Jones, this year's winner of Councillor Pop Idol at the Labour Party Christmas Party at the Eldonians. When I think that I was the 27th Labour Councillor in 2006 and we now have 63, against a pitiful (and falling) LibDem group of 20, I have to shake my head in disbelief and delight.

I have particularly enjoyed being part of the KVFM reading room - an online reading group who read and debate a different book each month. I am currently reading Annabel by Kathleen Winter in readiness for February's programme. Do tune in! We have a great time meeting readers from other book groups at events to celebrate the Orange Prize or the Man Booker prize too. This year I was honoured to take part in the latter by reading from one of the shortlisted novels, Jamrach's Menagerie at the event in Garston Library. I didn't like it much and was glad when Julian Barnes won with his Sense of an Ending.

It was great to spend more time with Alun Parry this year, helping him to develop his own business and his political folk singing work (and I have his encouragement to say so!). I hope we can do more together in 2012. His songs about today's struggles including Oh Mr Cameron and Greedy Fingers have provided the much loved soundtrack to this year's protests and marches.

I was incredibly proud to pilot Liverpool City Council's new Equality and Diversity Policy through the many hurdles and processes it needed to pass through this year, as chair of the Equality and Diversity Scrutiny Panel, and this year we will do the same with the Single Equality Scheme. By the time the legal deadline arrives in April I believe we will have one of the best policies and action plans of any authority anywhere in the country. So many thanks are owed to the councillors and council officers who have supported me every step of the way in that long overdue journey - and owed not just by me, but by all the disenfrachised citizens of our wonderful city whose lives will be benefitted immeasurably by our work.

I have been to some wonderful events on Liverpool's waterfront this year, thanks in no small part to the work of my joined-at-the-hip, Co-councillor Wendy Simon, like the jaw-dropping light show to celebrate the 100th birthday of our wonderful Liver Building and Beverley Knight performing free to a crowd of thousands at a free stage at the Pier  Head. And while I am thanking and praising Wendy, I should also mention my other great co-councillor Liam Robinson who has done brilliant things with the Number 10 bus route to help our constituents - and both of them have done much else besides of course.

Another fabulous event that culminated at the water front was this year's Liverpool Pride which drew thousands of LGBT people with their friends and family in August. Liverpool Labour was out in force and pretty much the whole of the group joined me and other LGBT Labour Councillors to show  support for the wider community. The two football teams that Labour put together to play LGBT local teams were awesome in terms of their enthusiasm, if not hugely effective, despite ringers, in their actual playing efforts. You were all great, thanks so much for joining in. I am not going to let a few disgruntled members of other parties who were vocally cross at our sizeable Labour turnout distract from what was a very fab event and so well supported by everyone.

I was particularly delighted this year when Dolly Parton agreed to play the Arena in honour of my birthday. She was bloody brilliant too, and every penny of the £75 my mates and I paid for our tickets was well spent. What wonderful news that her reading  project will be developed in Everton this year too, we love you Dolly!

Another highlight for me was hosting the Alastair Campbell dinner for Labour North West in Crewe, we will draw a veil over the result of the ensuing football match between Burnley and the Boro, the fact that I persuaded him into an impromptu bagpipe performance will go down in history in Labour Party circles. It was a terrific night.

And also terrific was the national Labour Party conference in Liverpool and the regional Labour Party conference in Blackpool. I have said so much about both of these before, that I don't want to rave about them all over again, but they were two of the political highlights of the year, without a doubt!

I really enjoyed setting the annual Wilson Henry treasure hunt in 2011, it is always a challenge but this year I was encouraged to take competitors into our two magnificent cathedrals (yes we have one to spare) and I know all the participants had a great time. I do love showing off all the best bits of our city, I am only sorry that on the day the Hardman National Trust house closed before some of my colleagues got there - best laid plans of mice and men, and all that...

Councillor Gerard Woodhouse's Pride of County awards which I also covered at the time, were awesome. The residents of this often neglected part of the city clearly felt a huge warm glow as they celebrated their achievements in the Isla Gladstone Conservatory in Stanley Park. If you look back through this blog you will find a long article giving all the results of the award with some photographs.

Another great thing about 2011 was the long awaited opening of the new museum of Liverpool. I really loved the old museum, sited next to the new one, on the dock side and wondered how a new one could ever be as good, but it surpassed even my wildest dreams, a wonderful museum, open in stages and each one adding an exciting new dimension to the whole. I have been so many times already, and each time I see something different. I loved the small exhibition about newcomers to Liverpool which I quietly stood in front of and discovered that both Cllr Jane Corbett and Pam Thomas had contributed to. Now if that is not proper Liverpool life, I don't know what is!

And finally, I could not let a list of the joys of 2011 conclude without mention of The Middle Bedroom (note the capital letters!) It was the depository of all sorts of unknown and unknowable detritus, slowly building up into a huge pile of menacing and near to toppling blue plastic storage boxes. It had got so bad that just opening the door in the wistful hope that I might be able to access my passport had become a holiday adventure in itself. But it is no more! With the help and dedication of various roped-in friends, and with the beckoning of a Labour Party  jumble sale, I finally got on top of it. Now I am the proud owner of a wonderful room with neat and tidy filing cabinets, everything exactly where it should be, lots of floor space and an all-round feel-good factor. You really have to live through the menace of a job not done to know the glory of a task accomplished. Wonderful!

So, on to my Worst bits

Liverpool City Council has seen the departure of some wonderful officers this year, far too many to mention, the list would go on and on, but I do feel the need to mention a few in particular who I have worked so closely with and who have given so much, quietly and without praise, to the good people of our city. Fred Pye who has supported all of my work around raising awareness of the dangers of Carbon Monoxide; Paul Scragg, who was a fantastically dedicated and committed Head of our Park service, without whom much of the work at Newsham Park would never have been achieved (I am keeping my powder dry on the detail of that); Lesley Thompson whose terrific work supporting our neighbourhoods has reaped tremendous rewards for the inner suburbs in particular and of course I do have to mention the lovely Peter Wallace from the Library Service who brought the joy of reading to so many book groups across the city. And to all the other unnamed officers, I salute you for your unstinting efforts. It is a travesty that this Tory LibDem Government's cuts has, in one form or another, seen  your departure. I wish for all of you, a long and  happy future.

Yes, the cuts in local government spending. There is so much I could say about that, so many millions of pounds of reasons why our city has been badly served and is struggling to maintain a service for its residents; £90million last year, £50million this year and probably another £50million for the subsequent two years. This is surely the worst part of the story of 2011. The only tiny ray of sunshine is that it is a Labour council's priorities that determine what must be protected at all costs, rather than a discredited and out of touch LibDem one. I am regularly brought low, as are we all, by the decisions we have had to make to eke out the much reduced funding that we now receive, to try to do the greatest good with what is left to spend. Local LibDems can only whine through self interest about services in the last few wards they represent, as though they alone should be entirely protected from the cuts which, ironically, have been made necessary only by the actions of their own party propping up a vindictive Tory Government. Once again they have refused to take part in any discussions about how exactly we are to make these swingeing cuts, saying they need to be the voice of opposition. It would make a stone statue weep, to see such opportunism. Liverpool is the city in the country with the most need, that is a fact. And under the Labour Government Liverpool received the most extra funding to support that. The Tory LibDem coalition has given Liverpool the biggest cuts and taken all that special and much  needed money away, I will leave you to your own conclusions on why that might be.

The Parliamentary Constituency Boundary Review was another terrible axe to fall this year. Like it or not (and we don't!), one of the 5 Members of Parliament for Liverpool will go at the next General Election. And it is not a question of saving Luciana, Louise, Maria, Steve or Stephen, although I cannot deny that is an issue for the Labour Party internally, but for the residents it is about how we can guarantee a quality service for the people MPs serve with a 20% cut in representation. The queues for help and support grow bigger day by day, but the people available to help you, to speak up on your behalf, will be fewer and you will share your MP with many more people than you have before.  And this in a city which is experiencing massive cuts in Government money. Revenge? You decide.

Another low for the year, and probably connected to the cuts in public money, is the growing number of street drinkers on the streets of Kensington and Fairfield and particularly Prescot Road. There has been a real upsurge in the growth of people with drink problems who sit off in bus shelters and on low walls in the area, drinking alcohol from early in the morning until late at night when they go back to their private flats and bedsits. We are currently working with the police, local landlords, wardens, council staff, the Whitechapel Centre and the Basement Project to help take them off the streets - and ideally into some kind of help and support. Local people are intimidated by their presence and sometimes agressive behaviour, and this coupled with the life threatening consequences of this way of life, makes it one of our main priorities in the area.

A review of the miseries of the year would not be complete without mention of the ongoing costs of running my car. The  MOT was about £500 and the wishbone went - don't ask - in glorious scary fashion on the Phythian estate earlier in the year. I am getting close to the need to perform the equation to discover whether it would be cheaper to buy a replacement than it is to keep this one on the road, but whisper it carefully, I don't want the car to hear, it might get much worse, on purpose, to punish me!

And finally, I could not let a review of the year go by without mentioning something really rubbish.
Imagine my amazement when I spotted an exhibition in the new Museum of Liverpool of our colourful wheely bins for all of our visitors to see.

Happy New Year!