Now readers of this blog may think that I don’t give credit to Labour where they got things right so here goes. The personalisation of the social care agenda whereby individuals and their families can take a budget and use it to their own discretion was a interesting move by Labour in Government. It was radical and forward thinking, it was also fundamentally meant to address the cost of social care which continues to spiral out of control as we all live longer and have greater needs as we become elderly.
Yesterday I went to briefing put on by a friend of mine who is in the process of setting up a charitable social care company which builds of the personalisation model of service delivery. Paul, who is setting the company up, is a Lib Dem Councillor as indeed is another local Lib Dem Councillor who runs another social care company that I am aware of although; the latter specialising in mental health care. Another Lib Dem Councillor locally used to be a senior officer for a local council’s Social Services Dept. Want is it with Lib Dems and their wish to develop social care? Anyway I digress……
What I learned at the briefing held in Liverpool was very much more than I had previously understood about the opportunities with personalisation, which it has to be said has hardly caught on as a delivery model as most users and their families still feel comfortable with the Council running things. However, the important point to recall is that Councils are changing from organisations that deliver a vast range of services on a one size fit all basis to organisations that facilitate us to obtain the services that we want to use. This is a cultural change that has been happening for a number of years but the financial crisis, which readers will know I hold Labour to be partly responsible for, will probably drive the personalisation agenda forward more quickly as it could well be a more cost effective way of delivering services. We will see but things are changing, of that I have no doubt.
The trick for us Liberals is to drive power out of the hands of Councils and put it into the hands of individuals and communities on the social service care agenda and in many other ways too. And that is where we fundamentally differ from socialists who still cling to the municipal socialism model of benevolent paternalism where things are done to us rather than us shaping our own lives and communities.
Today I have been at the Liverpool City Region Shadow Local Economic Partnership (LEP) Board which is a private sector led grouping that is trying to help the City Region out of the economic situation it finds itself in.
I learned a lot but one thing stuck out and that is how we encourage that group of small businesses that have real potential to grow and provide much needed jobs, to do just that. By the way I continue to be impressed with Rod Holmes from the Mersey Partnership (a business focused umbrella grouping) as he usually gets straight to the point and talks a lot of economic sense.
But getting back to small business, no sooner had I finished that meeting than I had a chat with a Sefton based businessman who wanted to tell me about his concerns. His worry is that small businesses, whom we all hope will grow, keep getting caught in well meaning new laws. In this particular case he is worried about the Government’s view about paternity leave that Nick Clegg has been speaking about recently. His concern is that his small company with around a dozen young male employees could be in a right old mess if they all start having children and sharing maternity/paternity leave with their wives/partners. Of course this paternity leave issue was started by Tony Blair, again for all the right reasons.
The difficulty this sort of situation creates is that if you say that small businesses don’t have to allow longer paternity leave you end up with double standards in the working environment i.e. work for big employer and you get more rights than if you work for a smaller one. But if you allow the same rights you potentially put some small businesses in a right old pickle!
I asked the chap to let me have his representations in writing so that I can forward them to Government although I must say I can see the problem but not necessarily the solution!
In Sefton no one party has had control of the Council since 1986 and it remains ‘balanced’ or ‘hung’ in cruder terminology. In 2000 the Cabinet system of council governance was set up under the direction of the last Labour Government. Sefton decided to have a 10 member Cabinet split proportionately on the number of seats held by the Lib Dem, Tory and Labour Parties. The present Cabinet balance is 4 Lib Dem, 4 Labour and 2 Conservative members.
Much of what the Council does has all-party agreement (which is good) and this has been the case for many years. However, every now and again the political system fails to work properly. This can be caused by party political battles, personalities getting too big for their boots or genuine disagreements. Remember May of 2008 when there was a failed attempt at a Con/Lab administration with the Lib Dems frozen out? It fell apart within 2 months and ‘normal’ service was resumed with the Lib Dems going back onto the Cabinet and consensus 3-party decision making was resumed.
The tension now is around the massive savings that Sefton Council has to make to balance its books. Obviously, the Council has to do this and play its part in rescuing the UK economy destroyed by Gordon Brown and his banking mates. But whatever the cause the books still have to be balanced. The problem is that the Labour group on the Council will not participate in balancing the books and their 4 Cabinet members have therefore become, by default, an opposition within the Cabinet. I have posted on this before but the issue is really quite straight forward; how can you sensibly manage a Council when 40% of the ruling Cabinet acts as though they are in opposition when in reality they are being well paid to manage the organisation. Would we expect the directors of a company to act and vote in such a way that they damage the viability of their company? Of course not, so why do Labour want to stay on the Cabinet of Sefton Council when their voting is damaging the viability of the organisation?
My personal view is that it is good to have a 3-party Cabinet and I have always tried to make it work but even a consensus politician like me realises that the Labour Party have to decide whether they are on the Cabinet and managing the Council (including taking the difficult decisions) or off the Cabinet being the official opposition. All I ask is that they jump one way or the other; sitting on the fence is not a credible answer.
Ed the new Labour Leader says Labour will not oppose all savings and he admits that savings have to be made (Andrew Marr TV show of Sunday last) so maybe he needs to have a word with the Bootle Labour Party sitting on Sefton Council. He may also want to remind the comrades on Sefton Council that in next door Liverpool the Labour administration is working with the Lib Dem opposition to try to agree a common budget approach.
I went to see my first 3D film at the cinema (Odeon – Switch Island) yesterday together with my daughter and a mate of mine. The film Voyage of the Dawn Treader was in 3D but we did not realise that until we paid for the tickets and the daft glasses. Paid being the word; I nearly had to take a mortgage out!
So daft glasses in hand we went to watch the film and all three of us wondered what the 3D media and advertising fuss has been all about. Interestingly, we all found the glasses uncomfortable, so all in all 3D was sadly an expensive disappointment for us.
I must admit to having had quiet a laugh when I read that Labour’s new Leader wants Lib Dems to work with him, but for a critical and well balanced assessment of how we Lib Dems react to such an ‘appeal’ check out Richard Kemp’s (our Leader on the Local Government Association) view by following the link to his blog. By the way Sefton has given notice to the LGA of its withdrawal from the organisation to save cash.
But all this made me think about why we Lib Dems are vital to British politics and then out of the blue I got talking to a young woman who gave me a very sound reason why Lib Dems are vital. She said, each Labour Government ends in economic failure and each Conservative Government ends in social failure. Her view was that the Coalition Government may well be a very positive thing as it kicks the Tory right wing into the long grass and allows the social conscience of the Lib Dems to positively influence the political compass of Government.
One further thought, if we go back to 1997 when Tony Blair swept to power even those of us very much opposed to Labour/New Labour hoped for some positive change after the Conservative’s latest ‘social failure’. At first the signs were good but of course it all went down hill and effectively ended with the appalling Iraq war, which the Tories to their shame supported whilst we Lib Dems were left to stand alone against an illegal war.
Blair was, of course, was no socialist more a mixture of Social and Christian Democrat and he realised that Labour’s history of economic failure was a millstone around their neck. He set out to change all this by being seen to be tough on the economy and getting close to the banking community. For a while it worked but when the bankers started to put the economy at risk Blair and Brown did nothing to reign them in, instead they, in effect, ‘backed the bankers’ who were in the process of destroying our economy. This together with Labour’s high levels of spending and borrowing is at the heart of why we Lib Dems hold Labour responsible for our present economic troubles. It is also why we laugh when Ed reaches out to us and why all those terrible job losses in the public sector are really Labour’s job losses!
On Thursday I was treated to a briefing about this new Act and what it means for both public and private sector organisations. The briefing was put on at Bootle Town Hall by Hill Dickinson Solicitors and whilst the subject may at face value seem quite dry the hour long event was very interesting indeed.
Many folks think that bribery and corruption are rife in public life yet in my time as a Sefton Councillor I can hardly recall it ever being issue. I do however remember a story told to me many years ago by a chap who used to be a Borough Councillor. It seems that this chap was also on the Planning Committee and some daft beggar approached him saying words to the effect that if you can get my application thorough I will do some work on your house for free. The Councillor was a little taken aback so took some advice and the next thing that happened was that the person making the offer got a call from the police!
May I thank Hill Dickinson for inviting me to their event; I am sure it will have been a useful contribution towards ensuring that public life continues to be substantially free of corruption.