Wednesday, 31 August 2011

I predict a screetching U Turn from the one party state that is Merseytravel

Arif Ansari the man from the BBC who has valiantly been covering the shenanigans at Merseytravel has penned posting in his blo which is well worth a look. (Mind you he has not done much better than we have in getting answers out of Mark Dowd.)

Part of his piece which compared how Greater Manchester and Merseyside Labour have dealt with a similar problem reads:

As I've reported before, Merseytravel has institutional problems.

It's the only local authority where councillors set their own allowances, and very generous they are too.

Thirteen Labour councillors share out 31 paid posts between them.

Merseytravel has announced an independent review of its allowances system Merseytravel has finally announced an independent review of the system. But one wonders why its chairman, Mark Dowd, has not sorted this out years ago.

Meanwhile questions have been raised about his own expenses. Why has he been regularly attending the annual Labour party conference on expenses?

He's consistently refused to discuss any of this, but Merseytravel has defended the arrangement saying he was lobbying on behalf of the organisation.

Maybe he was, but surely as a Labour politician he would want to financially support his own party?

Also, this will be the first year he attends the Conservative party conference and he has never attended the Lib Dem conference, even though it was held in Liverpool last year.

This hardly smacks of competent lobbying.

Concerted action

So those are the issues. Now consider Labour's response.

There are six councils in the Merseytravel area, all are Labour-led.

There is very little public, or even private, criticism of Mr Dowd.

20 is plenty

I had an email this morning from the local 20 is plent campaign which I have copied below. I know Lib Dem colleagues in Portsmouth have been enthusiastic about this campaign and Fred Weavers and the Kew Lib Dems have been very keen to introduce a 20mile an hour limit around the Porttland St / Duke St area in Southport

The 20s Plenty campaign will be hosting a public meeting on Monday 5th September, 7pm in the Grace Baptist Church Hall,to further explain the benefits of widespread 20 mph limits, see attached flyer. The key speaker at the meeting will be Rod King the national leader of the campaign and I would like to personally invite you to this meeting.

I understand that a report on 20mph limits is going to the Southport Area Committee on 28th September. At this stage I am not aware of the contents of the report, but I believe it will be regarding extension of 20mph zones rather than widespread adoption of 20 mph limits in all residential areas, which is the aim of the 20s Plenty for Us Campaign (see I should point out that the 20sPlenty for Us Campaign advocates 20mph limits without physical calming, so relative costs are very much less than those associated with 20mph zones. The success of the limits rely on community commitment and the sort of cultural shift, which has made drink driving a taboo, moving us away from speed.

I hope you may have seen the article in the Visiter of 16th June calling for 20mph speed limits in all residential areas of Sefton. A growing number of towns and cities across the UK have implemented these limits and, in the case of Portsmouth, this has resulted in a reduction of accidents by 22% over 2 years according to an independent study on behalf of the Department of Transport (DfT). This is not only a significant success for the many injuries which have been avoided, but represents a real financial saving to the local authority, emergency services and health service, given that a serious accident leads to major costs for all those bodies.

At the beginning of the year the North West Directors for Public Health called for the adoption of 20mph limits in residential areas as a public health measure and what would be a major step in reducing serious injury and death, particularly to children.

It is worth remembering that a child hit at 40 mph has a 90% chance of being killed, at 30 mph it is 50% and at 20 mph it is 10%.

Recently the DfT revised regulations allowing for simpler signing for 20mph limits, and also simplified the process for adopting blanket limits across a local authority area.

In June the EU Committee on Transport and Tourism recommended 20mph (30kph) limits in all residential areas as a key element of improving road safety in Europe.

Locally we have recently carried out two short street surveys of 100 people in each of Southport and Crosby. Support for 20mph limits was 87% in Southport and 85% in Crosby.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

a little Sunday music..........

When I was a lad singing in a church choir this anthem by Thomas Weekles or Thomas Mudd was one of our most frequently performed pieces. I alway thought it was by Weekles but I learn that manuscripts at Durham Cathedral show it is by Mudd. It came to mind today as the words are from a collect which I see the C of E has assigned to this Sunday. 

Friday, 26 August 2011

Daily Post column: Time for answers from Merseytravel about legal bill

Daily Post column: Time for answers from Merseytravel about legal biIt seems that Cllr Dowd
David Barlett writes:
.......Merseytravel did not like the wording in a press release about the chairman's authorised personal spending on the authority's credit card.

But what sets this case apart is that the taxpayer (you and I) are picking up part of Cllr Dowd's bill.

How much will the taxpayer pay? We don't know because Merseytravel refuses to discuss it, ironically until the legal case is complete.

The transport authority has seemingly made a decision about this, yet refuses to explain it. Why?

Excuses about not wanting to interfere with the legal process do not hold water.

All we know is what Merseytravel's senior legal officer, Tony Fitzpatrick, told Cllr Makinson in an email by way of explanation: "As Cllr Dowd is chair of the authority, it was felt that the press reports had harmed the reputation of the authority, and on this basis it was considered that the authority should fund the legal costs associated with protecting the organisation's reputation.

"The expenditure for the legal advice is within Neil Scales's expenditure limit approvals as chief executive of the authority, and so no further approvals were necessary to approve this expenditure."

It is worth pointing out that it is not possible in law to defame a public authority.

In 1993 (Derbyshire County Council v Times Newspapers) the House of Lords ruled that local government or central government institutions could not sue for defamation because this would place an undesirable fetter on freedom of  speech

...............he concludes:

This story now has legs, and will continue to run and run. And those very reputations that the action was intended to protect will be eroded with each outing it gets

Thursday, 25 August 2011

MEP challenges Merseytravel over legal action

It was good to hear Chris Davis stepping up to the plate to challenge Merseytravel over its taxpayer funded legal action.

He gave an interview to the BBC today which should make offiocers and Labour politicans think again about how they are using public money. More to follow


Nick Clegg paid us a visit today and confirmed to the media that all the files relating to the Hillsborough tragedy would be released. The families have been campaigning to see these files for many years but despite being in power for 13years Labour failed to instruct civil servants to publish the documents. Well done Nick Clegg. 

We were also pleased to learn that despite the baying of the right wing press and some Tories the Government is not going to take powers to close down social media. Can you just imagine what a Labour Home Secretary would have done? Straw, Reid or Blunkett faced with that decision  could not be relied on to defend free speech.  You may recall the Labour Government planned to legislate to invade the privacy of our emails.  

There was a private meeting between Clegg and some party members. It is good to belong to a party where members have the opportunity to directly debate with their leaders important matters. Richard Kemp-who cannot help himself when it comes to a quote-said the meeting 'put a spring in his step and lead in his pencil' . 

I have always thought the sycophancy is amongst  the worst of all political vices 

Two excellent posts on the Manor Ward Blog

Please take a look at the Manor Ward Blog. There are two excellent posts there today including this video by money guru Martin Lewis

Labour Councillor Dowd and legal action funded by the taxpayer

The Daily Post has more on this story:

More to follow. This is not going to go away. Rex Makin reckons that Merseytravel may be in for tens of thousands of pounds to defend Labour Councillor..................................

Ainsdale residents-what do you think about Pontins being used as student accommodation

My colleague Haydn Preece has written to Ainsdale residents to find out what they think about the new owners of the Pontins Holiday park being used as student accommodation Dear Ainsdale Resident. Here is the letter he has sent out:

Dear Ainsdale Resident

I was informed by the Southport Visiter on Wednesday that the owners of Pontins, Britannia Hotels are proposing to utilise the site as college student accommodation for Edge Hill University students.

As your local councillor I would like to seek your views on this proposal. Please do not hesitate in contacting me.

My immediate reactions are:

We have had major issues of noise from the site in the past and  noise would need to be carefully monitored.

Traffic flow from the site would be very different than it is at the moment.

Is the accommodation suitable for permanent residence?

Who will manage the site-especially concerning the relationship with Ainsdale residents?

On a positive note a cohort of students would boost the local village economy.

I have contacted Sefton Planning Officers who are yet to be officially informed and the proposals would be a change of use of premise which would therefore involve the Planning Department.

I look forward to hearing from you and representing you on this issue.

Your Ainsdale Councillor

Haydn Preece BA (Hons) PGCE, MA, Cert PDE, NPQH, MIfL

Thursday, 11 August 2011

a plug

It is that time again. Please vote for our blog this year. Many thanks.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

synchronised progress through the locks on the Grand Union Canal

Making our way down the double locks on the Grand Union canal from Napton to Leamington. A neat bit of tiller work from Mr Grace and some real Lock labouring from Elspeth got us thro to the pub at Bishop's Itchington. (Dawn Mist on the right)

Monday, 8 August 2011

more on: Time for more radical measures-our economic /industrial policy lacks hope and vision

Politics does not 'smell of hope and generosity' as it should for Liberals. The coalition policies for sustainable growth are predicated on a financing model that was -in large part -the cause of the market collapse that we are suffering.  No generation of  Liberals in the last century would have left out of their plans the radical restructuring of the ownership and control in industry. It is a prerequisite for sustainable growth as well as a crucial policy in spreading wealth, democracy and power in society.

As the resolution passed at the Liberal Joint Assembly of 1968 (reproduced below) asserts; the Party  'reject the traditional conception of the company or enterprise as being responsible to the interests of shareholders alone.  It believes that it must be replaced by a system in which employees become legal members of their companies.....                 

The second resolution passed the following year confirmed the Liberal Party view that this measure should be introduced compulsorily.
That workers should own and control their companies is a notion that goes back in Liberal thinking at least as far back as J S Mill. The Yellow Book (1928) has a whole chapter on the Diffusion of Ownership. This was a 'signature policy of the Liberal party'-it was about the only policy that the public knew, apart from PR.

In 1948 at the Blackpool Assembly the party had embraced the compulsory introduction of co-ownership. This redistribution of wealth was no longer to be voluntary or dependent on a benevolent owner giving the enterprise to their workers (as in the Scott Bader model)  It was proposed that  Company Law should be changed to give employee the right to be treated at least as equals of investors.

The man who promoted this policy more than most was Robert Oakeshott. I got an email from Michael Meadowcroft this week pointing me to Oakeshott's obituary in the Guardian.The blog has previously covered the obituaries in the Economist, Times and Telegraph. The Guardian recalls:

Robert Oakeshott, who has died aged 77, was the founder and for many years chief executive of Job Ownership Ltd (JOL), now the Employee Ownership Association. He championed the cause of worker co-operatives and employee ownership in the UK and around the world.
In the 1970s, Robert visited the successful Mondragón network of co-operatives in the Basque region of Spain. He recognised that Mondragón's success was due in part to the bank at the centre of its network, Caja Laboral, and particularly its consultancy division, the Empresarial. With this in mind, he founded, in 1979, the consultancy business JOL, a company limited by guarantee...................
JOL had a board of unpaid supporters and, for chairman, Robert's friend and admirer Lord (Jo) Grimond. In 1978, Robert published The Case for Workers' Co-ops, which Grimond described as "a book which all Liberals should read". The book identified successful co-ops across Europe. Robert was convinced that their strength was the motivation that comes from workers owning a share of equity. Teamwork, he said, calls for shared objectives, which is not the case where one part of income goes to labour in fixed wages and salaries, and the rest to capital. "It is surely impossible to believe," he wrote, "that rational and intelligent people, starting from scratch, would choose such a structure, when organising activities which depend on teamwork for their success."

Today when hedge funds and venture capitalists borrow vast sums of cash to take over companies, asset strip them and sell them on to the detriment of their work force and the local economy-look at Kraft and Cadbury's or BAA etc., we need to assert that it is absurd that our Industry should be run only in the interest of Investors. It is time to re-adopt the Liberal Party policy of employee ownership.

Now local Government is getting in on the act in an article on the Employee Ownership Association it writes:

The organisation was the brainchild of journalist, Robert Oakeshott, who died in June this year, aged 77, but who championed the cause of worker co-operatives.

His book entitled Jobs And Fairness is generally acknowledged as the definitive study on employee ownership in the UK and overseas. Educated at Tonbridge School, Kent, Mr Oakeshott won an exhibition to Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied classics, and graduated in 1957. His career as a journalist started on the Sunderland Echo, and he later moved to the Financial Times.

In the 1970s, he visited the highly-successful Mondragón network of co-operatives in the Basque region of Spain, and in 1978 published The Case For Workers’ Co-ops, which the former Liberal Party leader, Jo Grimond, described as ‘a book all Liberals should read’.

Resolutions reproduced from the Gladstone Club book 1978 compiled by Ian Hopton

Sunday, 7 August 2011


Concerns have been raised about BT cabinets over 5 feet tall which have appeared in front of a number of houses in the Birkdale area.

One local resident affected is Mrs Karen Nightingall of Upper Aughton Road who now has a 1.6 metre high BT cabinet on the pavement outside her house.

“I think it is totally unacceptable that BT Openreach are allowed to put this monstrosity in front of our house without our agreement.  It displays a total disregard for our home,” says Mrs Nightingall.

I am calling for new safeguards before even more cabinets are installed throughout Southport and Formby.

Around 20 of these DSLAM cabinets have appeared in recent months all around the Birkdale telephone exchange area

The problem is that under the present law BT Openreach do not need to carry out any consultation with residents affected or with the local Planning Department.  This seems totally wrong and I have asked our MP, John Pugh to help press for a change in the rules.

My fellow Birkdale Ward councillor Simon Shaw has also voiced his concerns.

“Although most of these cabinets have been sited reasonably well, we know of at least three cases out of the twenty where residents have got serious concerns,” said Cllr Shaw.

“It seems that there could be something like another 100 of these cabinets appearing all over the Southport and Formby area over the next couple of years.”

“One of my complaints is that BT Openreach claim that they notify the Chief Executive’s Office in the local council before starting work in an area.  From enquiries I’ve made that does not seem to have happened here.”

Cllr Dowd use of Authority credit card

So often when the question of the run away expenses of the Labour Chair of Merseyside ITA (Merseytravel to you and me) are raised Cllr Dowd is not available for comment. When a national broadsheet did a story on Merseyside he was not available, when the BBC was asking questions about his mega claims he was not available so iy was with some delight that he was actually tracked down this week.

And once again he declined to comment

It appears that Councillor Dowd uses the Merseytravel credit card for meals, hotels, theatres, Labour Party conferences etc

The Liverpool Post reports:

Cllr Dowd has come under fire for using the transport authority’s credit card to pay for his attendance at Labour party conferences, theatre tickets, and a trip to Alcatraz in the USA.
Merseytravel last night said all personal spending on the credit card had been reimbursed under a pre-existing agreement.

I am intrigued. I may be wrong but it does read as if Cllr Dowd is allowed to use the Authoriry's credit card as a loan facility. He can spend on it for all manner of things which it is not appropriate for the ITA to fund and then 'repay' the loan.  The man does claim in excess of £65k for being a Councillor this does strike me as beyond what is appropriate