Standards in Public Life

Seeing Liam Fox squirm on the hook is not good for the image of Government but these things just keep on happening year in, year out no matter who is forming the Government. I suppose it shows that we are all capable of failings and should we think otherwise we are clearly heading for a fall.

Trying to ensure that all your interests are declared, that you don’t speak to a member of the public in a way that could cause offence and that you always behave in the way expected of an elected person, be that an MP or councillor, can be hard. You sometimes don’t see the conflict of interest until too late or even at all. Sometimes folks take offence because they want to take offence, not because you have offended them. No matter what you do someone will say you have behaved inappropriately. This is all the day to day stuff of holding an elected position and across the political parties people are always falling foul of such things.

Of course the Standards Board for England was set up, probably with the best of Labour intentions, but it has been a disaster with councillors that I know being found guilty of doing nothing or politicians using it to complain about other politicians over trivial matters. So the Standards Board is in the process of being abolished thank goodness.

You really can’t regulate behaviour because, except in serious cases where the ‘crime” is clear to all, the matter will be viewed very differently by different people.

And what of the spurious complaints made simply for spite or party political advantage or maybe worse the investigations into alleged wrong being voted upon by politicians with a motive to find another person from another political party guilty whether they did anything wrong or not! I am sure this has happened under the the guise of ‘Standards’.

Recently, I have even felt it right to report myself to the local Standards Monitoring Officer as it has been suggested to me that I have of behaved in a way that supports those who want to break the law whilst I have been dealing with a local highway matter. I don’t think I have done anything of the kind but I am expected to report myself if I am of the view that others think I have behaved inappropriately! So report the matter I have.

Sadly all this nonsense probably makes those who are considering standing for public office think twice about doing so. I hope not and I hope that when we get rid of the Standards Board that common sense prevails rather than Big Brother regulation of human behaviour that simply can’t be controlled by rules.

Sefton Council & its £20m savings plans

Sefton Council has now published its plan to consult residents, special interest groups and other organisations/partners on the savings it will have to make to balance its books for the 2012/13 municipal year.

Last year we Lib Dems were the lead Party and we took our responsibility seriously. We published a list of savings and took the bullets that were fired at us. The Labour Group on the Council refused to engage sensibly in the process, unlike virtually every Labour Group on Councils across the Country, and voted against almost all the savings. They also gave special interest groups in particular the very definite impression that they would not have made the savings or would reinstate them if they were running the Council.

Well, running the Council is what Labour are now doing as they are the lead political party with direct responsibility for proposing a Council budget. Now, so far, Labour are engaging sensibly and they have published their list of areas where they see the potential to make savings. The list totals over £25m. After last year’s Labour financial farce their willingness to sensibly engage this time has to be welcomed. (You see we Lib Dems are not so tribal that we can’t give credit to other parties where it is due)

However, what Labour have not so far mentioned is how they intend to reinstate the savings that they voted and campaigned against last time. Clearly, they have an obligation to put back the funding for Youth Centres and Children’s Centres, for example, as they marched people around the streets of Maghull and said they would not have made the savings that were proposed at the time. So we await their proposals to reinstate funding for these areas in the 2012/13 budget as well as their proposals to make savings in 2012/13. Young people in particular were made some big promises by Labour and it would be very wrong to walk away from those promises.

Our position is that we will scrutinise the savings proposals put forward by Labour and respond to them accordingly. We welcome the views of Sefton residents, community groups and organisations representing special interest groups.

We do not see our job, this year, as leading the Council’s budget consultations as, according to Sefton Council’s constitution it is for the Leader of the Council to propose a budget. That was me last year but for the 2012/13 budget it is the responsibility of the new Labour Leader.

Bill Bryson – Notes from a small island

I am rereading this excellent book some fifteen years since I first picked it up. Bryson’s take on Liverpool then was spot on and having visited other places that Bill commented on (Manchester, Wigan, Ludlow etc.) his take on them, in my view, was unerringly accurate. Now, many years later, I step out of my home in Maghull and the first words out of my mouth were ‘we must be having a festival of litter’! The infamous phrase ‘festival of litter’ was one of Bill’s comments on Liverpool and yesterday my part of Liverpool Road North, Maghull brought such a comment straight to mind.

Fortunately Bill likes Liverpool and said in the book it was his favourite English City, yet he was visiting/commenting on it at one of its lowest points. The fact that now Liverpool has picked itself up, brushed itself down and had a huguely successful year as Capital of Culture is a testament to what can be done and what we all should be proud of.

My litter problem was not of the same kind at all, it had most probably been caused by the high winds combined with a dog or urban fox opening up a waste bin bag left out for collection. A few moments picking up the mess that had blown into my property and things were soon looking better but ‘festival of litter’ has always stuck in my mind as a wonderful phrase.

Banging the Environmental drum

Over recent years a number of sites across the East Parishes part of Sefton have have their grass verges protected from vehicles driving on to them via the use of post and shrub planting.

This is me at Eastway/Deyes Lane, Maghull a while ago when such post and shrub planting was taking place

In the right places this can work quite well and it looks far better than concrete bollards. I think the idea for them came from my dear old mate and former local councillor Roy Connell, he certainly developed it if he did not originally dream up this solution up.

The snag is that last winter the cold snap killed off a number of the shrubs and dead ones can be seen in Maghull’s St Andrew’s Conservation Area and at Poverty Lane to name but two sites. Earlier this year I started looking for a way to replace the shrubs and whilst realising that Sefton Council would obviously have no money due to Council budget cuts I did occur to me that Maghull Town Council may well be able to fund the replacements from its Environmental Fund.

The Town Council’s Environmental fund was set up to fund any type of environmental improvement in the Town whether the project be promoted by the Town Council itself, the Borough Council or a community Group. And what’s more the Town Council helped Roy with money from this fund before with such projects. 

So I have asked Sefton Council’s Neighbourhood Officer who looks after the East Parishes to ask the Town Council to assist with some funding to replace the dead shrubs. I am hoping for a positive response.

Kris Brown joins the Lib Dems

Kris Brown, until recently a member of the Labour Party, and who worked for Labour MP Bill Esterson has joined the Lib Dems.

When things like this come out of the blue it is both surprising and enjoyable. In the past few days I have spent time talking to Kris and of course welcoming him to the Lib Dem fold. He has already been out in Formby campaigning for us.

Whilst it is not for me to put words into Kris’s mouth I have picked up one very clear message from my discussions with him. The steady drift of Labour to the left and away from the more Social Democratic positioning of New Labour has clearly been a big factor in his political move.

Ironically Kris stood against me in May as the Labour candidate in Park Ward and he came very close to unseating me! I am sure that he must have wondered how I would react to him joining the Lib Dems but in reality he had nothing to be concerned about; we are a friendly bunch of community activists and Kris is very welcome amongst us.

He will be taking up employment in London in the very near future so the real Lib Dem gain of having a talented person like Kris will be had by the party in London.

Merseytravel & Reputational Damage!

Merseytravel told us all a few weeks ago that they were to fund (i.e. to use public money) legal action against one of their own (opposition) members who had issued a press release that the Chairman of Merseytravel did not like. The reason for funding the action, we were told, in defence of the Authority’s Labour Chairman, was due to reputational damage to Merseytravel allegedly caused by a Lib Dem member’s press release.

I have heard some daft things in my time but is it not the case that the reputational damage done to Merseytravel has been caused by the action of the Autority? Merseytravel have put themselves in more tight corners than you can shake a stick at. They have:-

* spent tens of millions on the infamous failed merseytram project

* made utter fools of themselves by backing out of a pilot study to reintegrate the local rail network just as their wish had been granted and having spent, we are told, £1.5m getting Government to agree to the pilot.

* had to reduce their many, many committees to a handful in the face of being ridiculed for their bloated bureaucracy.

* paid more special responsibility allowances to Labour councillors than any other Integrated Transport Authority by miles and miles, until that is their very recent retreat on this.

* been in the local and national press over corporate credit cards.

Reputational damage; just as if a single press statement from a Lib Dem Councillor could do anything close to the damage the Labour run Authority has done to itself! Oh and by the way Merseytravel are now saying that they are not going to fund the legal action. I wonder why? Could it be that the penny has finally dropped that public money is scarce and should not be spent in a way that adds to the the Authority’s tattered reputation?