Local Democracy – Who investigates the goings on in local government these days?

I recently came across a scheme funded by the BBC (or more to the point more probably by its licence fee payers) to address a matter I have long had concerns about – see the link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2017/local-democracy-reporters

Having been a councillor since 1985 I have watched the demise of local reporting on local government with increasing concern. The demise has followed the loss of many local newspapers but even where the local newspapers do exist there is rarely any serious investigative journalism going on these days. I can recall 3 former newspapers that served my community from the not so distant past – The Maghull & Aintree Star, The Maghull Times & The Maghull & Aintree Advertiser and of course we have also lost the regional Daily Post too. This loss of local newspapers is sadly replicated across most communities.

I recall the days when the Maghull reporter for the Maghull & Aintree Advertiser would sit through most meetings of Maghull Town Council listening to and reporting on the debates that went on. Every year or so the reporters would change as new trainees were taken on. Nowadays you would be hard pressed to see local reporters at any meeting of Sefton Borough Council (or Merseytravel, the Fire Authority, NHS decision making bodies etc. etc.) unless a big issue is already on the agenda and even then the reporting is usually of ‘x’ said this and ‘y’ said that nature. You might say the local media often just passes on opinions these days. My point is there is little in the way of getting behind the politicians/officials spin.

A local paper on the warpath would once have been as worrying to a local council as the District Auditor if things were going wrong; now neither pay much attention to what a Council does so who is uncovering the goings on within local government and indeed within the other local decision making bodies that affect the lives of us all? Putting it bluntly no one the vast majority of the time.

Yes we see local government stories in the local press but they are virtually always built upon press releases from councils or the politicians who run the councils, or they are about party political spats between opposing politicians.

Is the issue that the remaining local media is not training young journalists to get to the heart of what is going on in local government? Is it that they can’t afford to pay the kind of wages required to bring on good investigative journalists? A good and experienced local government reporter would once have been expected to know as much or indeed more than the local political bigwigs they were reporting on so that they could take on the spin and expose the facts.

The problem is of course a national one, of that I have little doubt. I wonder how many uncomfortable moments that councils and publicly accountable local bodies across the land should have had (and would have had in the days when the local media was a force to contend with) are not being picked up at all these days, unless the matter is so bad that it reaches the national press/media such as the Rotten Boroughs page of Private Eye?

This challenge is, I think, what the BBC scheme is trying to address but will it have any effect? Are a new generation of independently minded investigative journalists going to be created via it? Is the present day poor reporting by the BBC a reflection of too few good investigative journalists coming through the system and is that why the BBC has launched the scheme?

As the majority of journalists will have started at the bottom of the journalistic ladder reporting on the goings on of the local parish councils will we once again see bored young reporters sat listening to the debates of Little Twittering Parish Council awaiting a juicy story?

In a functioning healthy democracy well informed investigative journalists are a big part of keeping the powerful on their toes and I fear the demise of them at a local level is doing us all a disservice.

BBC – Why it’s lost it and become the Brexit Broadcasting Company

Like many I have long been one who has defended the BBC but because of it’s appalling coverage of the EU Referendum and subsequently it becoming little more than the Brexit Broadcasting Company I have lost all confidence in it. It’s obsession with Nigel Farage has done it great harm so as a consequence those of us who voted Remain and who were once backers of the BBC have just about given up all hope of it ever returning to informative and independent reporting.

And why do I say this now? Well the Radio Times 1st – 7th September edition carries a ‘Viewpoint’ article in the name of well known BBC reporter John Simpson and frankly it made me very angry.

Whether John was asked to write the piece or volunteered it, due to the pressure the BBC has been coming under?, I don’t know but he clearly and utterly fails to understand why the BBC is now looked upon in a very negative way by the very people who used to defend it from attacks of the mad right or left of UK politics.

John says in effect that the BBC has not changed but that those of who have turned against it have. In other words we are the problem and the BBC is not! No John, it’s not that we are upset because the BBC is presenting arguments that we disagree with, we are upset because the balance of the BBC’s news and current affairs output is heavily pro Brexit. That some of the BBC’s prominent presenters are seemingly pro-Brexit simply makes things worse from our perspective. Ignoring some pro-Remain events, attended by big crowds also mitigates against the BBC.

I’m sorry John but from my point of view and I suspect from many others too you are sadly defending the indefensible.

We don’t want a BBC that presents big issues on a one side says this the other says the opposite basis. We want the lies and the liars exposed, no matter who they are.

American railways – Amtrak’s first 40 years – Ludovic Kennedy & Bill Withers

www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYQcpD1XXiE

Amtrak has a video – accessible via the link above – about it’s first 40 years of operation

I first started to take an interest in US railways as a consequence of seeing Ludovic Kennedy’s Great Railway Journey program ‘Coast to Coast'(New York City to Los Angeles). It was a part of the original and classic series of BBC railway journeys that launched a whole new career for Micheal Palin.

Railways have always been in my blood because I was brought up in a Nottinghamshire mining town where railways were everywhere around you. The writing of Ludovic Kennedy, who penned many books in his long and fascinating life, has also been another great interest of mine, so bringing railways and Kennedy together in the classic first series of Great Railway Journeys of the World was a treat not to be missed. The series was first aired in 1980 and this particular episode opened my eyes to the American Railroad.

Most folks who remember this BBC series will probably recall the journey of Michael Palin from London to Kyle of Lochalsh by train but for me Kennedy’s journey across America on the recently formed Amtrak was a delight (not least because Bill Withers great song – Lovely Day – was a part of the soundtrack and Kennedy was a great Liberal thinker, writer and activist) and I became hooked on the railways of the USA. Here’s a part of the program on You Tube – sadly its rather poor quality both in sound and picture. And even more sadly the episode has never been released on video/dvd.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Y8axp_kD3I&t=307s

Oddly, and I’m not sure why, I have yet to ride on Amtrak or indeed any American train. The nearest I have got is riding on Via Rail in Canada.

Bizarrely, I actually encountered Ludovic Kennedy at a Liberal Democrat conference on one occasion when he was a very old man confined to a wheelchair. I say encounter as I literally fell over his wheelchair in a crush of people in the foyer of the conference venue. If memory serves this happened in Southport’s Floral Hall.

Maghull – Hornby – Portillo – Watch the Maghull/Hornby edition on You Tube

Getting off the train from Liverpool

In case you missed the January screening of the BBC TV programme Great British Railway Journeys with Michael Portillo, which visited Maghull because it was the home of world famous toy manufacturer Frank Hornby, here’s a link to it on You Tube:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHv-kkL4rqsMy apologies as the link to the video has been removed due to a copyright issue it seems.

In the Hornby Room at Meadows Leisure Centre

Following the programme being broadcast the Frank Hornby Trust held an open day at Meadows Leisure Centre and Library in Maghull on 21st January and it was a great success with around 500 visitors on the day. The visiting Hornby tinplate ‘O’ Gauge railway layout (the same one as seen in the TV programme) was very popular with young and old.

FRANK HORNBY ROOM AT MEADOWS LEISURE CENTRE

Since then the Trust, on which Les French (as seen in the TV programme) and I are 2 of the trustees, has been getting enquiries about when our display cases are available for viewing. Presently there’s no easy answer because the Frank Hornby Room at the Leisure Centre is multi-use so it has a wide range of bookings for activities. On that basis we recommend that anyone wanting to see the display of Hornby related artifacts (Meccano, Hornby Trains, Dinky Toys etc.) contacts the Leisure Centre first to find out when viewing will be possible.

However, this situation should soon change as our display cases are to be moved within the Leisure Centre and following this they should be accessible whenever Maghull Library is open. The move is likely to take place within the next 2 to 3 months and we will ensure that when all is in place again that the opening hours/days are made well known.

THE ATKINSON – SOUTHPORT HAS A GOOD HORNBY DISPLAY

By the way The Atkinson in Southport has a decent display of Hornby items too if you are out that way. Sadly The Museum of Liverpool is far more limited in its displays of Hornby products.

Pacers are thankfully on their last legs or is that wheels

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-42937218

The BBC has the story on its web site – see link above

An alternative title for this posting could ‘Well John Pugh are you happy now?’ because during his time as MP for Southport John fought to get the appalling Pacer Trains replaced. To be fair many, many other people were on a similar track (sorry about the pun) but John made it onto a BBC North West TV programme about his fight to rid the rails of Pacers.

John has now returned to his political roots as a Sefton Councillor and leads the opposition on Sefton Council.

My previous relevant posting (amongst many!) about Pacers, because it links to the BBC TV programme that John Pugh appeared in, is accessible via the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2013/01/01/calling-for-the-end-to-the-use-of-class-142-pacer-trains-on-our-railways/

John’s contribution to the programme is at about the 12 minute mark.

And here’s a video of the new trains being built in Spain:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-42946339/northern-to-replace-pacers-with-21st-century-trains

BBC – John Humphrys dealt with by Hogan-Howe

I stopped listening to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 in the mornings quite a while back as I got sick to hearing the hectoring confrontational interviews that some of the presenters seemed to revel in.

I got the impression that the BBC was just out to create a row rather to get to the bottom of the subject at hand and before breakfast particularly it was just too much.

But recently I have drifted back and generally it has been a bit better, that is until I came across John Humphrys interviewing Bernard Hogan-Howe the Met Police Commissioner a few days ago.

There was no doubt that they were debating a very serious issue but in my view the interviewer seemingly had just one objective i.e. not to let Hogan-Howe get a word in edgeways! But Hogan-Howe was having none of it and gave back as good if not better than he got.

I met Hogan-Howe a few times when his time as Chief Constable of Merseyside and even to me as a Liberal who takes the view that you should never trust anyone in power he came across as impressive. I know other people who were members of the former Merseyside Police Authority who were impressed by him too.

I have also met numerous other policemen and women during my 30 plus years in public life. In some cases I wondered what on earth they were doing working for the police as they seemed most unsuited to the role, controlling authoritarian types if you get my drift. But many others have been great people doing a tough job in difficult circumstances and Hogan-Howe is I think one of those.

The Met must be almost impossible to manage. It is huge and I would be surprised if some of the people working for it are ones that the Commissioner despairs of. Hogan-Howe was very good at rooting our poor and bad coppers when he ran the Merseyside Force and I can’t but think he took those attitudes to his new job.

So I was pleased that he stood for no journalistic nonsense on the Today programme and did not allow what seemed to me to be an overly aggressive interviewer to grind him down.