Tuesday, January 10, 2012
A look back on 2011
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!