Last hurdle cleared – Switch Island Link Road gets final go-ahead!

A real cause for celebration in times where virtually every story is a bad news one because of the recession and the consequently appalling savings being pursued by councils including sadly our own Sefton Council.

We needed some good news and here we have it. The final hurdle has been cleared (and that has beggared the Labour campaign which was hinged on the Coalition Government not allowing Sefton to jump it) and the Coalition Government has given the final green light to this project that I and others have been fighting for over many many years.

Labour said the Coalition Government would not back the project- they did. Labour claimed that only they would approve the project – after 13 years in Government they never did. But the real heroes here are 3 local Parish Council’s who just would not take no for an answer i.e. Thornton, Lydiate and Maghull. I say this is another victory for that form of local governance that is closest to the people; our Parish Councils.

Another stab at that ‘Big Society’ thing

Yesterday I received a call from someone whom I shall call a local (and by that I mean -Merseyside-wide) big hitter who has had a significant and positive influence on Liverpool and its surrounding Boroughs in recent times. I will not name them here but I do respect what they have done and indeed are still doing. The call was to ask about my feelings with regard to this often spoken thing but for which there is no one clear recognisable explanation. I suppose it means differing things to differing people but then again what is wrong with that? The background to the conversation was the recent news that Liverpool City Council had decided not to get involved with the ‘Big Society’ project.

My view is that ‘Big Society’ is all about us taking more individual and indeed community/neighbourhood power over our lives with Big Brothergovernment/council being less intrusive and controlling than it has been. Since the Second World War we have been centralising and controlling the lives of citizens, mainly in a benevolent way and probably for the most part with the best of intentions. However, we have somehow lost the ability to run our own communities as Big Brother has taken more responsibility and directed things – you could call it excessive micro-managing. I suppose you could also say that we have become more dependent as a society and thereby less innovative and entrepreneurial. We have lost some of that volunteer community instinct and expect ‘The Council’ or ‘The Government’ to sort things out. So to me Big Society is about lessening the influence of Big Brother whilst increasing our influence over our own lives in our own communities.

The drivers for this are that it is desirable in itself and we will not have the resources in the foreseeable future to carry on doing things the way we have been. We will need to be innovative, cost conscious and more community minded. My previous blog of 13th November 2010 looked at a local ‘Big Society’ success in Lydiate.

So what will come of that phone call? Maybe it will be the start of something and feed into discussions elsewhere. I hope some good comes of it and am willing to try to do my bit to empower citizens and communities.

36 years a trade unionist/representative/officer!

I joined my trade union the day after I started work in 1975. Everyone joined and it was very unusual to find a non-member. It was not a ‘closed shop’ and the workforce was by its very nature moderate. My manager was a member, so was my manager’s manger and so on up the chain. There was no us and them as we were all ‘us’ and it worked well with excellent industrial relations being the norm, unlike many other work places in 1970’s Britain. Within 3 years I became a union rep’ and soon after a branch officer.

I have seen many changes during that period and the trade union movement has had its high and lows. On Merseyside it was gripped by the fanciful and dangerous Militant period. Militant never quite got complete hold of the Labour Party here in Sefton but is was mighty close and some trade unionists whom I knew were a part of that attempted infiltration of Labour, which may well be sadly replicating itself now.

Being a member of a public sector trade union which has had 3 names due to mergers I have seen how the relationship with Government, of whatever colour, can be good, bad or indifferent. I think it fair to say that trade unions in the public sector dislike all governments it’s just that they dislike some governments more than others.

Blair and Brown were very unpopular and most of my fellow trade unionists that I worked with had long since left the Labour Party and were either independent socialists or members of one or another of the many left wing fringe parties. Thatcher was hated, obviously. Major was probably less unpopular than Blair or at least that is how I remember it.

As a Liberal in the trade union movement I was at first looked upon as ‘unusual’, then as Charlie Kennedy seemingly took the Lib Dems to the left of centre I was almost ‘cool’ but that was probably because no trade unionist worth a penny had anything good to say about Blair and the illegal Iraq war.

I have always seen my trade union role as very similar to my councillor position. In my community I try to help people, resolve difficulties and campaign for improvements. It is pretty much the same at work, just a smaller more focused community all working for a common employer. Helping members in difficulty, often sadly of their own making, has always been my preferred trade union activity. Yes, I have taken minutes of countless branch committee meetings, regional meetings etc. and even spent too many hours going back and forth to London for the union. The vast majority of that time has been enjoyable though.

Trade unions can be and are a force for good but at times they lose their heads and political campaigning that becomes party-political can often be their undoing. No doubt the cycle will continue but I suspect that the present track that the trade union movement is on is not going to benefit its members. Denial of economic reality and the need to make savings is dangerous (ignoring who is to blame for getting us into this state) but I fear that is exactly where the trade union movement is going. They may well march their members to the top of the hill but what do the TU leaders do when the members realise that the promised land of plenty is simply not there?

A surprising taxi journey

Yesterday I was in a taxi, in fact I was in more than one due to circumstances and taxi drivers always like to chat.

No sooner had I got in the taxi than the driver started to talk about the state of the economy, the cuts that Councils were making etc. As you can imagine I was expecting to hear that he felt the cuts were too hard too soon etc. Not a word of it, in fact the chap (who had no idea who I was) decided to treat me to why we are in the mess that we are and who was to blame for it. I could have written the script myself but kept quiet about my own views until the end of journey when I told him about my political leanings. Quick as a flash he said , good luck to you give the Labour Party hell, they got us into this mess with their mates the bankers, you lot are getting the blame for having to sort Labour’s mess out!

I should get a taxi more often.

FOCUS delivering and meeting people

Today I have been out delivering our FOCUS community newsletters and enjoyable it was in the winter sunshine.

I am often stopped by folk wanting a chat, reporting a problem or just to pass the time of day. Today I was stopped twice. The first time was by a lady I did not know but she asked me whether I was who she thought I was. I agreed that I was and she then told me how she had know my mother (who sadly died in 2008) as she had travelled to Clatterbridge Hospital in the same minibus as her for treatment. We had a good old chat about things and it was one of those occasions when you walk away thinking what a nice person that was and it puts a spring in your step.

Later I was stopped by a chap with a problem he wanted me to help with to do with the Leeds Liverpool Canal and particularly with a swing bridge that crosses it. Again, he was such a nice guy that you just want to do all you can. I always say that I will go the extra mile for people who are pleasant to me. And whilst on the subject of the canal I am indebted to a chap called Will who has put a comment on this blog in response to my pondering about the future management of our canal system. It seems that things are more advanced than I had realised with turning British Waterways into a National Trust type body.

Yes to Fair Votes

I am very keen of electoral reform and believe our present electoral system to be very poor indeed. Readers will not be surprised to hear that I will be voting YES in the Alternative Vote referendum next May and I am pleased to say that my MP will be as well! I asked Bill Esterson personally a few weeks ago and was pleased that he indicated support for fair votes as there are many in the Labour Party who do too well under the present system to want to change it.

Well done Bill but you have a big job to do with the Labour Group of Councillors on Sefton Council; they voted last week almost unanimously (I think) not to support electoral reform. Get to work on them please Bill; we must change the way we vote so that every vote counts, even in Bootle where sadly it has not for many, many years.