The greatest album ever?

Well to me it’s always been a toss-up between Isaac hayes – To be Continued and Lamont Dozier – Black Bach with Hayes usually winning out.

Of Course, most folk who recall Hayes will do so because of his legendary film score Shaft but he was far more than a writer of music for films.

Both the Hayes and Dozier albums are all but perfect with no duff tracks at all, but To Be Continued is just that little bit more perfect to me. It was released in late 1970 (this is confirmed by my LP copy although my CD copy says 1971) with just 4 long tracks including significant instrumental segments. The tracks?

* You’ve lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ – probably the best track – www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzj1y4cXEZk
* The Look Of Love
* Our Day Will Come
* Runnnin’ Out Of Fools

Hayes was a pioneer in bringing together strings and horns to create a deeper more soulful sound. His long instrumental segments were unique back in the day and no one has really managed to copy his style many years later.

I first heard the album in Andrew Beattie’s Pimbley Grove West, Maghull house back in 1971 or 72 and it blew me away. Andrew was a big lover of music, particularly soul but he had quite a wide range of musical tastes actually. He’s no doubt responsible for my love of soul and smooth jazz. Andrew would spend his last penny on buying albums as a teenager and well into his working years and I recall that his Mum Audrey would be telling him off for buying so many records. It led to him squirrelling new albums away so she would not know!

Anyway, back to Hayes and To Be Continued. Andrew had heard the album being played on BBC Radio 1 and it being raved about by the DJ. Of course he had to have it and it started a love of Isaac Hayes music in both Andrew and me. Andrew died in 1999 and I have his LP copy (see photo above) as a treasured momento of our friendship.

It topped the R&B charts for 11 weeks and for my money it represents Ike at his very best.

Note: I’m indebted to the book ‘All Music Guide to SOUL and Jason Birchmeier who reviewed the album

Sefton Borough – Back to the old days & ways!

The East Parishes (Park, Sudell and Molyneux wards) of this Merseyside Borough played second fiddle (or even 3rd) to the coastal communities – Bootle, Crosby, Formby & Southport – from day one of the Borough’s creation in 1974. And after a period when this injustice was righted it seems that the old way of doing things in Sefton has been adopted again.

I raise this as things have been stirring in the Labour Party grasses in recent times as some of their East Parishes Borough and indeed Parish Councillors have found themselves at odds with the Labour-run Borough. It’s led, as far as I can see, to 3 Labour Borough councillors either leaving, being chucked out or deselected.

Obviously, I don’t know the detail of the troubles as I’m not a Labour member and indeed am an opponent of Labour as a Social Liberal of the left. However, recent events have brought me to the conclusion that things have reverted to how they were before I set about changing things back in 1999.

I won a seat on Sefton Council in 1999 in Molyneux ward and it did not take me long to realise that Sefton was all about its coastal communities and the East Parishes were just a bit of an irritant. My view was that this approach was both within the political parties and senior officers of the Council too; it looked to me like settled opinion and nothing would move it, or so it seemed. And then via a run of unrelated political events something that had never happened before took place – a Sefton Council Leader was elected from the East Parishes and it was me! Well if this was not the time to rebalance the Borough then it would never happen.

So I set about challenging the old political and senior officer outlook and at every opportunity banged away along the lines of ‘and what about the East Parishes’ when proposals came forward that excluded them. This approach slowly turned around the oil tanker that was Sefton Council and as a consequence we got Meadows Leisure Centre built and opened in 2010. I think I got what was then a balanced council (no political party with a majority) to look at the East Parishes as an equal partner. However, I stood down as Council Leader in May 2011 having done the job since 2004 and it did not take long for the old ways to start to regain traction. This happened because the Council was going back to the days of its leaders coming from one of the Borough’s political power bases (these had always been Bootle or Southport) and ever since I’ve felt the influence of the East Parishes slipping away. I would add that it was never my wish to make the East Parishes dominant, just simply to ensure they got their fair share.

I ‘left’ Sefton Council in 2015 at the invitation of the Park ward electorate (I’d moved East Parishes wards in 2011) as they’d had enough of me but that movement, back to the old ways, has sadly gained even more traction since and its the cause of the present difficulties. In my view, the 3 East Parishes wards need Borough Councillors who are a pain in the leadership’s neck otherwise the area will not be heard. It may well have taken rather too long for this penny to drop again but clearly, it has now! However, the big problem that the areas 9 Borough Councillors face now is that they don’t have the advantage which I did. That advantage was the then balanced council where the 9 (then Lib Dem members) could be an effective awkward squad with one being the Council Leader!

I wish those who are challenging not only Sefton Council but the political leaders of their own former party well and I hope they find a way to recreate the kind of rebalancing of the Borough that I managed back in the day.

Council tax is an unfair tax

Well, of course, no one has ever been able to say it’s a fair tax but the Northern Agenda article, linked below, makes the unfairness point only too clearly:-

e.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/interface/external_view_email.php?RJ71505719662298712zzzzz64c68a4d3e1794bc99a33b43250a6a9c232f6ba71613cef4688be9e3596964a40e&varId=

Anyone would think that a more fair and equitable way of funding local government had never been thought of or proposed. Oh but hang on, wasn’t it those pesky Liberal Democrats who found what they thought at the time (Charles Kennedy era) was a solution – Local Income Tax – based on the ability to pay? Think it may well have been! Here’s a link about LIT from Institute for Fiscal Studies:-

ifs.org.uk/publications/14006

Now the Lib Dems are not so keen on LIT as the solution to local government financing but, apart from a little tinkering around the rough edges of Council tax, there’s not really much of a political push from any direction to find a local taxation methodology that’s fairer, particularly towards the less well off/less affluent parts of the country.

Too difficult a nut to crack? Fear of the political consequences of proposing a fairer system, if the middle classes don’t like it? Too many memories about the Poll Tax?

Ormskirk Station – 2nd most used in Lancs

Ormskirk’s Station where Merseyrail and Northern trains meet.

Well, this surprised me – Ormskirk Station so well used – see link below:-

www.lancashiretelegraph.co.uk/news/19967441.lancashires-least-used-railway-stations/?ref=rss

A 502 EMU at Ormskirk back in the day.

Quote from the article – ‘The county’s second most used station is Ormskirk which saw an impressive 549,410 entries and exists in 2021/2021.’

The entrance/exit of Ormskirk Station at night.

The Times – Undercover at the DVLA

My old friend Bob Robinson brought my attention to this particular piece of undercover journalism:-

www.thetimes.co.uk/podcasts/stories-of-our-times *

Now those who know me well will recall that I was a trade union officer within PCS but not, I might add, in this particular government department. However, what struck me was that in the years prior to my retirement (4 years ago now) I was hearing about the strained industrial relations at DVLA. On that basis, my guess is that some of the underlying issues pre-date Covid 19 and in many ways, if industrial relations are poor things will only get worse until good relations are established.

Is PCS at least partly to blame for this unfortunate situation as I think the podcast is questioning? In my experience poor industrial relations nearly always come about because of poor management and a failure to reasonably consult with the elected union representatives of a workforce. I saw some ups and downs in the government department I worked within and ups were created by good senior managers and downs by bad senior managers. The tone is set at the top of the management tree and if it’s an inclusive tone based on wanting to consult a workforce and take them along a journey of change then the chances are things will go reasonably well. Set a dictatorial tone and the opposite will happen.

Many senior managers I worked/negotiated with consulted me about changes and potentially difficult matters at a very early stage and I encouraged them to do so. They did it because they knew I’d give them considered answers and issues that may create difficulties could then be headed off at the pass so to speak. Of course, if the difficulties came from a governmental edict then senior managers were sometimes as challenged as much the union would be.

* Scroll through the list of podcasts to find ‘Undercover at the DVLA’

Community ‘Fair Deal Campaign’ pits Maghull Labour v Sefton Labour

Having been involved in politics here on Merseyside since 1980, one of the many things I’ve learned is that whilst the Labour Party fight like ferrets in a sack internally they always, always try to put forward a united front in public.

But hey, things may be changing as Maghull Labour are rightly trying to turn the screw on big brother Sefton Labour. You’d expect it to end in tears for Maghull Labour but let’s give them credit for standing up to Sefton Labour. I have a feeling that the Maghull Town Council/Sefton Borough Council relationship may be getting a little fractious.

So what’s the conflict all about? Well, a community ‘Fair Deal campaign’, with Labour-run Maghull Town Council taking the lead, has been launched because, well to put it bluntly, Sefton Council (also Labour controlled) has in my view been diddling the communities of Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village* for a few years now

And by the way, for the benefit of any doubt, I’m very much supportive of the campaign. My recent blog posting regarding ‘Double Rating’ makes the point and here’s a link to it:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2022/02/14/double-rating-maghull-lydiate-aintree-a-history-of-ups-and-downs/

I also had a letter published in the North Liverpool Champion newspaper on 16th March on the same subject.

Here are some scans of the campaign leaflet that’s presently being delivered around Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village (you’ll need to click on each scan to enlarge for reading):-

As I pointed out in both my blog posting (linked above) and in my letter to the Champion Newspaper, whilst austerity was the reason given for the ‘Double Rating’ being withdrawn in reality the formula for it simply needed adjusting to take into account Sefton Borough Council’s reduced expenditure on its own parks and gardens. The total withdrawal of DR was simply wrong and I opposed Labour’s move to do that when I was a Sefton Councillor because it meant Maghull, Lydiate & Aintree Village council taxpayers were being disadvantaged. Here’s the relevant part of the submission made by Lydiate Parish Council explaining that very fact:-

a) To continue to make the payments but at a lower level commensurate with the reduced standards of grounds maintenance that the Borough has already budgeted for and may well budget for in the future. This option would mean that all of Sefton’s communities would be treated the same by the Borough Council no matter whether the parks and gardens are run by Borough or Parish Council.

Looking at the party politics is interesting because the area of Sefton Borough covered by this campaign is known as the East Parishes and it has 3 Borough Council wards – Park, Sudell and Molyneux. Until recently these 3 wards had 3 Labour members in each (total of 9) but 2 of the councillors (1 in Park, 1 in Molyneux) have parted company with Labour, sitting now as Independents. I suppose the question is what will the 7 East Parishes wards Labour members of Sefton Council do if the issue comes to a vote on the Borough Council? This question assumes, of course, that Labour-run Sefton Council doesn’t capitulate and pay up, which I hope they will.

Anyway, back to the campaign. You’ll have noticed the reference to the ‘New Homes Bonus’, ‘Section 106’ and the 1700 new homes to be built in Maghull from the scanned leaflet. The issue for me here is that as a former Maghull Town Councillor myself, I ran the successful campaign to stop the very same ‘Land East of Maghull’ being developed back in 1998**. I didn’t see Labour-run Maghull Town Council opposing/campaigning against Sefton Council’s most recent and successful bid to build on the land, which they (Sefton) won, almost without a shot being fired! In other words, there’s a certain amount of shutting stable doors after the horse has bolted going on here.

So there you have it, the party political tectonic plates are shifting in Labour-run Sefton and in ways that would have seemed inconceivable not so long ago. My feeling is that all may not be well with Keir Starmer’s seeming bid to take the Labour Party to a centre-right position in UK politics and this may be causing some of the local Labour Party unrest. If all this unrest resolves a great injustice for the East Parishes council taxpayers of Sefton Borough then some good will have come from it.

* I note Melling Parish Council is seemingly not involved in this campaign and wonder why. I say this as at one time Melling PC did get some Double Rating money for the wild-flower meadow they maintained on Melling Rock. Maybe they no longer have responsibility for it?

** That was during the development of what was then called the Sefton’s Unitary Development Plan. The new plan, which this time has approved the building on this vast piece of high-grade agricultural land, is called the Sefton Local Plan. I opposed the Local Plan as a Sefton Councillor (and after I’d been invited to leave the council by the electorate) as this piece of land is high-grade agricultural land that grows the food we eat.