Thursday, 29 July 2010

Schools delegation to London

Yesterday I was part of the cross-party delegation that went down to London to lobby Lord Hill of the education department about schools funding in Liverpool.

When I say cross party, I was the only non Labour politician there but there's not a lot I can do about the fact that all the Liverpool MPs are currently Labour! (Well not till 2015 anyway)

I don't have a lot of experience of lobbying ministers (well none actually) but it seemed to go well. We got a hearing and some commitments to let us input into the Government's capital spending review.

The Council has an alternative funding plan. It still needs public money but it also includes some borrowing and some private sector investment. I haven't actually seen this plan but the Lib Dems have committed to working to take the ideas forward in a cross party way.

There are two new academies - one in South Liverpool - waiting for news about their building funding situation. They are in a slightly different situation as they weren't included in the earlier BSF announcement. The minister said we should hear about this very soon. So watch this space.


A rather belated update. The news earlier this month (I mean August not July) was that the funding is coming through for the South Liverpool Academy (the one that effectively combines New Heys and St Benedicts).

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Education - why rush the decision.

I am the first to admit that I am not 100 percent informed about Academies.

But it must be wrong to rush the legislation through the way it has been.

Lib Dem MP John Pugh wanted to amend it so that, if the governing body of a school was split on whether to go for Academy status, there would be a ballot of parents. This seems eminently sensible. It wouldn't necessarily stop the process (although if there was a lot of opposition it could) but it would give those most associated with the school a chance to have a say and give the governing body a chance to take the temperature of parents.

His attempt to amend the Bill failed though.

I've pasted below an extract from Hansard (the official record of what is said in Parliament) which covers part of his speech.

Dr John Pugh (Southport) (LD): When were elected this May-God, it seems years ago-we all knew that there was some prospect that politics in this place might never be quite the same again. Many of us, frankly, welcomed that. The huge and welcome influx of new Members gave us all hope that things could possibly be different. That, along with the odd arithmetic of this place and the challenging nature of the country’s problems, seemed to dictate that the way ahead would be through rational consensus and for a while-all too short a while-it appeared that tribalism and command-and-control politics were dead; the Chamber and Committees would be important and the policy would have to be evidence-led, much to the disappointment of the media, whose preference is always for a good scrap.

What do we have with amendments to the Bill, however? We have the spectacle of Ministers who have already told us that they will accept no amendment, period, and the sight of Whips new and old cracking their knuckles off-stage and perfecting basilisk-like stares in the mirror, persuading people not to vote for amendments such as amendment 8 and others that, it could be argued, align with the spirit and improve the detail of the Bill. Paradoxically, they are doing that because they assume that is how coalition politics work. I say paradoxically, because the amendment-denying Ministers in front of us, whose agents the Whips are, seem to be the most mature, civilised and benign advocates of the new politics. I personally cannot associate myself with the recent comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron); (Tim Farron referred to Tories as "toxic) nor can I afford to drink in the Boot and Flogger (this is the pub in which David Davies the Conservative was overheard saying some uncomplimentary things about the Coalition) . I am simply moving an amendment with which the Committee should be comfortable and, frankly, which any Member of any party can and should be free to support.

In the event of a governing body being divided, amendment 8 obliges a school to hold a ballot if a governor or a minority of governors object to an application for academy status. It therefore provides a restraint on a motivated group of governors misrepresenting or riding roughshod over parents’ wishes.

Mr Evans, you might recall that under Mrs Thatcher, in the Education Reform Act 1988, a parental ballot was an essential precondition of the change to grant-maintained status in any school. There were votes across the country on those matters. Sadly, subsequent Governments seem to have lost interests in the views of parents and, in my view, have disempowered parents, with one exception. Tony Blair insisted that the change from grammar school status required a parental ballot and that condition survives and is effectively incorporated in this Bill.

Can anyone in this Chamber give me an argument for why grammar school parents should be balloted before the status of their school changes and parents of children at other schools should not? I am at a loss to find such an argument. Why should grammar school parents have a right that primary school parents, comprehensive school parents and special school parents do not have? Will anyone agree with the former and present me with a good argument for voting against the latter?

Friday, 23 July 2010

Spending money on the right things

The Labour Cabinet this morning agreed to spend nearly £400,000 on a "Liverpool Day" at the Shanghai Expo.

The decision is being "called in" by the Lib Dems and (I understand) also by the Liberal Party.

The "call in" is a sort of request to the Cabinet to think again. It'll be discussed at the Regeneration and Transport Committee next week.

The reason we're challenging this is that we don't think this is the right time for extra spending (and this is extra spending) on events in Shanghai.

Significantly the money allocated to this could instead save the free swimming scheme for children and young people.

I thought people would be interested in exactly what they plan to spend the money on.

Pasted below is a list of the items. It doesn't add up to the full amount but I assume the rest goes on Councillor/officer travel to the event as I know some Labour Councillors are down to go.

Spending list from Cabinet Paperwork.

RLPO Travel & Subsistence Costs 1 60,000.00 Not Contracted Currently

Scaffold & MD Travel & Subsistence Costs 1 2,500.00 Not Contracted Currently

Orchestral Manoeuvre in the Dark Travel & Subsistence Costs 9 ,050.00 Not Contracted Currently

Pagoda Travel & Subsistence Costs 1 2,000.00 Not Contracted Currently

Roger Phillips Travel & Subsistence Costs 3 ,000.00 Not Contracted Currently

Wombats Travel & Subsistence Costs 6 ,000.00 Not Contracted Currently

McCartney 6ix Toys Attendance 7 ,500.00 Not Contracted Currently

Sound City Music Event and Sound Rig from Capital Sound 3 0,000.00 Not Contracted Currently

Liverpool Day Events Overheads 3 7,000.00 Not Contracted Currently

250,000 Lapel Badge Giveaways 2 5,000.00 Not Contracted Currently

Legacy Gift For Expo Museum 1 0,000.00 Not Contracted Currently

Shanghai Side PR 3 7,000.00 Not Contracted Currently


Edge Hill PR success

Three of my PR students who graduated this week are already in jobs in the PR industry. It's great news for them and I'm really pleased they've been able to do well despite scary stories about lack of jobs for graduates.

The University Press team have interviewed the successful trio. This is a link to a story about their fantastic achievements.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

He started it!!!

It's with some apprehension that I write this as I can feel the (not particularly nice) comments coming already!

Last night's Full Council meeting was quite.. well .. lively. There were actually some good debates but a fair amount of name calling and insults as well.

However the thing that struck me was that there seems to be an awful lot of countering an argument by saying something like "well we won't do that because back in (insert year) you didn't do this". The political equivalent of the children's cry of "he started it".

Now I am not saying that sometimes people don't have a point. Obviously it's annoying if you think someone has been rude in the past or done something you don't approve of.

But do we really have to use that in our arguments today? Surely if you don't agree with something the grown up thing to do is to disagree with it for valid current day reasons not because of something no longer relevant that happened in the past. A bizarre example was when I was arguing for the retention of the councillors' question time and one of the arguments against this was to do with how opposition members in the past had been forced to use a sub standard office!

It got me thinking that it would be quite illuminating to categorise the types of arguments and statements made in a typical council meeting and then analyse the proportion of each. Obviously we'd hope that the highest proportion would be serious discussion of an issue based on evidence. My fear is that this would come somewhere near the bottom. (Co incidentally I am looking for a new research topic but I may well give this one a miss!)

We've suggested in the past that we webcast our meetings. I suspect the budget cuts going on will see the end of that. But I do feel that a webcast which was recorded and then played back to people may well change the way some of us speak and argue.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Flooding and downpours - what next?

Did you get stuck in all that rain and flooding yesterday? Parts of Liverpool seemed to grind to a halt. We had road closures, school closures and the predictable closure of the rail service to Hunts Cross.

Obviously there's nothing organisations like Councils can do about the fact that it's raining. But they can make sure that whatever systems exist actually are capable of dealing with downpours... and after yesterday I am not sure that all of ours are.

I'm told the Environment agency is saying that we can expect more of this sort of weather linked to climate change. The Met Office certainly says that downpours like yesterdays are not uncommon.

So, apart from having a moan, what can we do?

I'm keen that Liverpool City Council does what it can to make sure that we (and by that I mean the City area not just the Council) has the best possible systems for dealing with weather like this.

So I've asked the Chair of the Regeneration and Transport Committee, which meets next week, if we can add this as a special item.

Here's the e mail I sent last night.


Dear Beatrice

Today (tues 2oth) Liverpool has seen severe transport and other problems caused by a failure of existing systems to deal with the heavy rain.

This has included road closures, school closures and other problems. .many commuters have found it difficult to travel and its clear that commercial activities have been hit.

While the City Council clearly isn't responsible for every single system, I believe it does have a duty to ensure that roads are passable and that citizens and businesses can get around.

I am therefore asking for a special item to be added to the agenda for the regeneration and transport select committee. I believe we need to seriously enquire if in Liverpool we are equipped to deal with heavy rain incidents like this and if we are not we have a duty to work with partners and others to improve the situation.

I believe the regeneration and transport select committee is exactly the right body to do this and hope you will agree to place this on the agenda, and ensure attendance by the relevant people, for the meeting on 29th July.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Full Council tomorrow

Tomorrow (21st July) it's Full Council.

I've got some questions in - one on a Labour budget pledge, a couple on democracy related issues, one about fire safety and deafness (that's to the Fire Authority rep) and one on the DNA database (that's to the police authority rep).

Sometimes you get the written bit of your answers in advance. I've had some of mine although in at least one case to call it an "answer" is stretching the English language quite a bit. It'll be interesting to see if I get any further with it.

The written bits of the answers do, I think, get published on line but if I am wrong about that I'll publish them, plus anything else I glean, on this blog.

Cycling in Speke

A quick reminder about the Cycle Speke dates. If you have a bike this is a good way of meeting people and getting a bit of exercise.

Join in cycle rides, starting at 2 p.m and lasting about 2 hours. Depart
from Lifestyles, Austin Rawlinson, Parklands, Speke.
Participants must have a roadworthy bike. Free bike safety check
available before each ride.

Dates: 1st August
5th September
3rd October
7th November
5th December

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Getting ready for snow... again!

I've got a motion down for Full Council on Wednesday (21st).

It may seem odd to want to discuss snow etc in the middle of summer but I'm thinking back to the bad snow and what happened as a result last winter, and how we might do better this time.

We don't know yet whether this motion will be discussed on Wednesday nignt (only five get picked) But if it isn't it'll either be discussed at Committee or the Cabinet members will respond.


Council notes the review work already done by officers who have looked at the effects of the severe weather in January this year and what lessons can be learned about dealing with such a situation in future.

Council however believes that more needs to be done in terms of including partners and elected members to make sure not just that we are prepared for snow but for other weather linked crises.

Council believes that more could be done in engaging community groups, communities and residents in planning and reviewing. Communities have large amounts of local knowledge and are often rich with suggestions that could make planning for, and dealing with, crises much easier in future.

Council also believes that there are groups in our communities which would welcome a more formal or organised role in dealing with crises – whether this be acting as storage points for grit and equipment or acting as co ordinators for volunteers.

Council therefore requests the Cabinet Members for Regeneration and Transport and Environment and Climate Change to ensure a plan is produced which results in communication with and engagement with communities and community groups so that we are all more resilient should there be severe weather this winter. Council further requests that this plan be tabled for discussion at both the Regeneration and Environment and Climate Change Select Committees.

Picking up Litter

Saturday was the first of our Friends of Garston Park "litter picks". A small group of us set out from the Leisure Centre to clear the park of any litter lying around.

First impressions - no much litter at all. Second impressions - fly tipping central at a couple of areas near Garston Old Road.

We wanted Friends of Garston Park to be more than a talking shop. So we've got a commitment to do some litter picking every two months.

If you want to get involved - either in the litter picks or our meetings - please get in touch. We've got our own website at

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Read this book!

I buy books all the time and the house feels like a library... but the other day I came across one that literally had me laughing on the train all the way home.

Robin Ince's Bad Book Club is what it sounds like

Robin Ince has gathered up bargain books from charity shops all over the country and takes a look at genres from romance to autobiography, from science to self help.

It's an absolute hoot so if you want a really amusing read, with some extra insights thrown in , do get it.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

"Paying" politicians

Earlier this week I was in one of those meetings I would really rather not have to do.

At Full Council next week we are being asked to approve the recommendation for an effective doubling of the Council Leaders' pay. I'm not going into the pros and cons here as they've been well rehearsed.

As a result of the earlier debate however, Warren Bradley, Steve Radford and I met the panel of individuals who make the recommendations to ask some questions.

I was very concerned that what we are being asked to support is based on a report with virtually no evidence. Even those who support a pay hike would, I hope, believe that councillors ought to be considering reports with statements backed up by evidence and in which statements have clear relevance. I hope they would also believe that this should be considered without reference to the individual circumstances of the people involved (difficult though that is). We were promised the back up information to evidence the arguments, so hopefully that will arrive by Wednesday.

But we went on from talking about this one example to discussing how this whole issue of payments to elected members ought to be treated.

At the moment it seems to be rather ad hoc. Individuals or groups apply to the panel about particular circumstances and the panel then consider and either agree or don't with what's being said.

I have to say I felt very uncomfortable with this . I suspect that even if I felt I was hugely underpaid I would never as an indvidual feel easy about asking them to look into it. If this was my actual employment, I wouldn't hesitate. But because we are talking about public service I just wouldn't want to make an approach, and I am sure others would feel the same. After all you don't stand for election as a Councillor in order to earn money and there is a blurring between career and public service here that is quite worrying.

It also makes little sense to do this in an ad hoc way. It means the independent panel can't really control their workload as who's to say what level of contact or requests they will get. It could be none.. or it could be something that suddenly needs a lot of research and it's not really fair on them to put them in that position.

The idea came up that the panel ought to take a complete look at everyone's roles, and perhaps carry out a series of interviews to really understand what elected members do. The assumption in the past that it is all about turning up to meetings is false now as I reckon for every hour I spend at an official meeting I spend many more doing other councillor stuff. There was quite a bit of enthusiasm for a proper review so I expect we'll see that happening. If everything is looked at at once it will at least seem fair and depersonalised.

It's one of these topics that is quite hard to discuss. We need to make sure that people who are not independently wealthy can still be Councillors and that does mean some money. But we also need to make sure that we don't turn it into just another career option because surely it's about more than that.

I don't have the answers and this might be one of those subjects where actually there are no easy answers. But we need to sort out a way of doing this that doesn't end up revolving around personalities.

Things to say about housing?

The City Council is doing a survey about housing in Liverpool. They'll be making some phone calls to selected people but anyone can take part in the survey on line, so if you have views to give it's a good way to make sure you can give them.

The survey is here.

Footpath Campaign

Some time ago I discussed, with a local resident, the problems of the two footpaths that run to Cressington Station (either side of the railway line). We spent a bit of money on improving the surface, and Merseyrail have said they'll keep an eye out for litter.

However the potentially bigger problem is the lack of light. Ok there is light at the end but the paths themselves are pretty dark which at night,especially in winter, is a problem.

Residents said they wanted to campaign for improvements, so as part of that Peter, Richard and I have kicked off a petition which is aimed at the landowner Network Rail.

We haven't finished collecting signatures yet, but expect to soon.

As part of the efforts to get something done we also wrote a motion on this and got it passed at the South Liverpool District Committee last night (well Peter and I did - because Richard works for Merseytravel and the motion also mentions Merseytravel he couldn't put his name on it).

The text is below. I'll update on how we get on on this issue but I suspect this is something that's going to take time and persistence.

Motion Text from Agenda - 13th July 2010.

South Liverpool District Committee acknowledges residents’ concerns about the dark and threatening nature of the Network Rail owned passageways connecting Eastern Drive and Broughton Drive with Knowsley Road and Cressington railway station (all in Liverpool 19) at night-time.

This is evidenced by support from residents in the area for a petition being collected locally.

The district Committee further believes that the lack of lighting and feeling of lack of safety is a deterrent to local people wishing to use public transport.

The Committee therefore instructs the clerk of the Committee to write to Network Rail on its behalf asking them to acknowledge the very real concerns of residents and councillors and to look into how it can install lighting on these footpaths.

The Committee further instructs the clerk to send the terms of this motion to MITA to ensure that that public body is aware of the situation facing its customers.

The committee further calls for an update on the progress of this request to the next relevant neighbourhood partnership working group and the next District Committee.

Garston Park update

The Friends of Garston Park are organising a litter pick this Saturday (17th) meeting at 10 30 at the Leisure Centre. Litter picks, bags etc all provided. Anyone who wants to help out is welcome.

There's also a meeting of the Friends of Garston Park at 6 30 on Friday 16th at Long Lane Church. Again anyone interested is very welcome to come along.

As part of their work, the Friends are carrying out a survey about the park. I have mentioned this before but if you haven't already taken the survey, do please do so. It takes a few minutes if that and will help the Friends decide on their priorities.

The survey is here Click here to take survey

Monday, 12 July 2010

More information for citizens?

The Daily Post, and to a lesser extent the Liverpool Echo, have today published a story about my call for recorded votes in the Council Chamber and for more transparency on the part of organisations taking decisions affecting citizens.

Here's a link to the story in the Daily Post.

I'll gloss over the comment from Cllr Anderson (although Joe you really do need to speak to your own staff and team before making an assumption like that) and focus on the absolutely dismissive response from Merseytravel.

What I asked for was for organisations, like the Transport Authority, which are making decisions affecting citizens to at the very least put their meeting minutes and agendas on-line.

We are told that agendas and minutes are provided to the local media and to relevant councils but when it comes to members of the public (citizens and taxpayers)
"Agendas and minutes are.. available on request to anyone who applies through the appropriate channel". So in other words anyone wanting information first has to find out what the appropriate channel is (we are not told) and then find out how to apply through it! They would also have to know in advance the date, time and name of the meeting so that they could phrase their request. It would be hard to be less transparent than this!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Building Schools for the Future - Special Council meeting

The Liberal Democrats on the City Council have put in a request for a special Council meeting to discuss and agree actions on Building Schools for the Future.

We've written a motion, and collected signatures (you need five but obviously we have more)

We don't think the reaction to this announcement should be an administration thing alone. It's important that all councillors can play a part and that there is a genuine cross party lobbying attempt to get either a change of mind or an arrangement that delivers what we need for the schools in Liverpool.

Obviously a special council meeting will still see us with a minority of votes and so there's an element of political risk here.

But this is one of those subjects that we feel is too important to be part of party political posturing.

The rules are that the request goes to the Lord Mayor who has a certain period of time in which to call the meeting. It may well be that a special meeting on just this topic would run on the same day as the next full council but earlier in the day. But the timing is not up to us.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

LMH tenant?

Along with the other Cressington Lib Dem Councillors - Peter Millea and Richard Oglethorpe - I've got a meeting with some top bods at Liverpool Mutual Homes on Monday next week.

We've already got some things to go through with them, but if you are an LMH tenant or are in an area which LMH has some responsibility for and you have an issue, please let me have it.

I can't check this blog every day so can you e mail me at if you have something. You can also give a call to the office on 0151 225 2354 and leave a message about the issue if I am not in.

Saving water

The stories about the hosepipe ban coming on Friday have led to loads of others about how to save water.

One of them is to make sure rainwater is properly used by, for example, collecting in in a water butt and using it for your garden (I'm told plants prefer this to tap water anyway)

Even if there wasn't a shortage and a hosepipe ban, looking at ways of using less water makes a whole load of sense environmentally.

The City Council has in the past offered people composters at reduced rates as part of its commitment to the environment. Perhaps we could do the same with water butts?

I've written a motion about this for the next Environment and Climate Change committee which is later this month so hopefully I can get some progress on this.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Home Educated Children and the Schools Parliament

Back in May I wrote a Council motion to get the City Council Schools' Parliament to include Home Educated Children. The motion wasn't selected for debate but the system here is that when that happens it gets considered by either the Cabinet Member or a committee and so it doesn't just go away.

Anyway, today I had the response to the motion which says that Home Educated Children will be offered the chance to take part.

I am posting both the motion and the reply below.

Motion Text:

“Council recognises the excellent work done by the Liverpool Schools Parliament. Council believes that the Parliament gives a chance for children from across Liverpool to take part in, and experience, democratic discussion and decision making.

Some children in the City are however excluded from any possibility of taking part in the Schools Parliament. These are children who are being educated at home.

Council believes that a number of representatives of “home educated children” ought to be allowed to take part in Schools Parliament debates and events.

Council understands that there is a network of parents involved in home education in the City and that through them it would be possible to organise a selection process for representatives for the Upper and Lower Houses of the Parliament.

Council therefore requests the relevant Executive Member to ensure arrangements are made to recruit home educated children to the Parliament in time for the next academic year.

Council also requests the relevant select committee to review this arrangement after one year of operation.”

Reply from Committee Services on behalf of Cabinet Member:

Councillor Corbett as Cabinet Member has received a detailed briefing on this matter and asked me to advise you that the following actions are planned:

The first training days for new members of the Schools’ Parliament are taking place on Wednesday 29th September 2010 for those aged 11+ and on Monday 4th October 2010 for those of primary school age. Both are taking place at Liverpool Town Hall with a 10.00a.m. start. Those children and young people presently educated at home will be invited to attend the relevant training day. If they wish they can be accompanied by a member of their family or a carer.

Between now and then those children and young people who are educated at home will be contacted through the THEN (The Home Education Network) website and the Merseyside branch of Red Balloon, an organisation providing education and support for pupils who have suffered bullying to the point that they self harm and can not currently face the school environment. Information will be placed on the THEN website and with Red Balloon describing the work of the Schools’ Parliament and the advantages to individuals by being involved with the Parliament.

This will be accompanied by the contact details for Jeff Dunne, the Coordinator of the Schools’ Parliament, and it will therefore be possible for those interested to contact him directly prior to the training days to answer any questions or queries that might arise.

The Cabinet Member has asked to be kept informed of what progress is made in this matter and will provide any further updates to you in due course.