Friday, 26 October 2012

Say No to 'Beecroft by the back door' and reclaim Employee Ownership

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
I've been away for a few days but emails have kept me in touch with the debate that has been going on about Osborne's proposal to sully Employee Ownership. It will have escaped few readers notice that Martin Horwood MP has signed the open letter published on LibDem Voice which was very critical of the idea that employees should swap their rights for minimal ownership options. I am confident that Martin is not the only Lib Dem parliamentarian to oppose this nonsense.

I posted yesterday that there would be a parliamentary vote on this matter and I thought it worthwhile to give  a separate posting to a comment I received from Carole:

New status of employee owner? What about the existing 100 000+ employee owners in the UK? All with an ownership stake in their companies and full employment contracts. The proposal is quite insulting to these employee owners and I hope the Lib Dems - always so vocal in their support of the model - make their voices heard and shape this policy into something that will deliver benefit to the sector.

Osborne's proposals miss the basic principle that underpins the success of employee owned businesses. Because there is no external shareholders to pander to, the firm can focus on building a prosperous business for the future. It is this long term view that leads to increased innovation, investment in people and employee and customer satisfaction. The proposal as it stands ignores this completely and actually encourages hire and fire which is the antipathy of longtermism.

There is a place for the proposed model in British business, and I can see its merits, perhaps for high tech start ups. But let's be quite clear, it's not employee ownership.

Carole Leslie has written more about this on her blog

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Older Savers proposals for action

The plight of older savers is very real. They have been amongst the biggest loosers of the financial crash. Low interest rates may have helped those who are borrowing but for the thrifty elderly it has been a disaster. This issue has been debated at Sefton Council on several occasion and a number of ideas have been advanced. Chief amongst these has been the idea that the ISA allowance for shares etc should be reformed to allow pensioners to use all their allowance in safer savings products. Personally I would like to see something for pensioners on low incomes -maybe something around Credit Unions. 

A report has been published by the  Ageing and Older Peoples Group into older savers at the Groups AGM .
The report details the issues faced by older savers and shows the need for the Government to do more to help them to maximise their incomes and prepare for retirement.
Research by consumer group 'Which?' suggests that around £13bn each year is lost by UK savers due to the switching of interest rates on accounts they struggle to keep track of highlighting that 2 in 5 savings accounts and cash ISA's pay 0.1% interest or less. These figures demonstrate that the system at present isn't working for a large proportion of customers and more must be done to support older workers.
"Figures from consumer group Which? suggesting that £13billion is lost each year by UK savers indicates that the system at present simply isn't working for a large proportion of older people who are coming under ever increasing financial pressures.
"The report presents an excellent opportunity to enhance the support in place for older savers and ensure that help is available for them to maximise their incomes and prepare for retirement. This is an extremely important issue and it is only right that MPs should have the opportunity to debate the issue on the floor of the House."
Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General of Age UK said,
"We support the All Party Group's call that the Government should do more to ensure that saving is made simpler so people can prepare more effectively for their retirement and maximise their income when they do eventually retire.
"This is an issue that really matters to older people as they come under ever increasing financial pressure. Loyalty should be rewarded rather than penalised by the financial services industry. A market which constantly chases new blood to the detriment of loyal savers does little to encourage a culture of saving"

Parliament get to scrutinise Osborne's toxification of Employee Ownership

That Lib Dems have been angry about Osborne's attempt to 'toxify' the whole idea of employee ownership with his perverse and foolish proposal to swap minimal ownership rights with employee rights is well testified. The open letter on Lib Dem Voice is just one manifestation of that...

Others in the field were equally outspoken. :

Commenting on the new BIS consultation on workplace rights “Implementing Employee Owner Status”, Employee Ownership Association CEO Iain Hasdell:
There is absolutely no need to dilute the rights of workers in order to grow employee ownership and no data to suggest that doing so would significantly boost employee ownership.
“Indeed all of the evidence is that employee ownership in the UK is growing and the businesses concerned thriving, because they enhance not dilute the working conditions and entitlements of the workforce...

It is a tad embarrassing that the consultation on these proposals is being done, as it were, in Jo Swinson's name, as the EOA website reports:

The document, introduced by new Employment Minister Jo Swinson MP, consults on a series of measures impacting on workplace rights including unfair dismissal and maternity rights in exchange for CGT relief on shares issued to employees and share ownership. The accompanying press notice says:  “Government is creating a new employment status: “employee owner”. This will give businesses greater choice about the contracts they can offer to individuals, whilst ensuring appropriate levels of protection are maintained.”
 I am sure that by now BIS has received many representations about this proposal. I have just sought clarification - the tax element of the so called ' Employee Owners' will amend the finance and tax bill... so the Lords WILL be able to scrutinise the Growth and Infrastructure Bill which will contain the EO measure -which is good news.

So if any noble Lords are reading this can I suggest some reading:

John Pugh and Hillsborough debate

Parliament debated the tragedy at Hillsborough this week. Southport's MP spoke and you can read his contribution below. The full debate can be found here John speaks at 5.47pm

Let us consider this: it took very little time for South Yorkshire police’s version of events to be established, broadcast and embedded in the public mind; it took 23 years for the families to do the same, and without their efforts the truth would be lost to history. As my hon. Friend John Hemming said, that tells us something about this country. It tells us that there is a huge inequality, not of wealth, but of power—power to get a fair press, power to get information, power to get justice—and that raises big questions for Parliament. In this case, Parliament has been the last resort of the powerless, but we cannot be content with a world in which power is so badly and unequally distributed.

John Pugh (Southport, Liberal Democrat)
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, praise the panel for its work and express my profound respect for the Hillsborough families.
Despite successive reports, it is unlikely that everyone will agree on every detail of the awful events of 15 April 1989. Each person, depending on how they were placed and why they were there, will have their own slightly different perspective, but I am sure that they would all agree on one thing. No one, whether supporter, player, steward, policeman, or council or FA official, whether partly responsible or utterly blameless, would not if they could go back in time do absolutely everything they could to prevent something like from this happening. That is because the victims, as we know now, were not ticketless or drunken or badly behaved, but those to whom all owed a duty of care. It simply should not have happened, and we now know that, for a whole range of different reasons, it could have been prevented from happening.
When the story was told, people saw different things and offered different explanations, and obviously some had a different agenda other than simply to get the facts out in the open. The South Yorkshire police, for example, were aware from the start that potential civil and criminal liability was an issue, and they got the lawyers in. What shocked me most reading the report was the tampering with the evidence of their own officers and their apparent complicity with misrepresentation in the media. The tampering was of a very formal kind; we have heard some horrific examples, but it was more institutional than that. They drew explicitly and openly on an unclear distinction that they made between opinion and fact, and then eliminated, with the knowledge of the West Midlands police and the assistance of their lawyers, a stream of inconvenient statements they had had from their own officers, including the plentiful references to
“panic”, “chaos” and “disorganisation”. They were all eliminated as “just opinion”. They even changed evidence of “non-existent” radio communication to “hard to hear” radio communication. In other words, they engaged in an organised rewrite or editing of history. It was a clear institutional strategy. Admittedly, officers signed the amended scripts, but it would have been hard to insist on the re-inclusion of items that criticised their superiors and police performance, once they had been eliminated higher up—not exactly a smart career move.
I do not believe that the world is peopled by saints and sinners—as we have all learned, there are many shades of grey—and I dare say that some in South Yorkshire police thought they were doing the right thing. Many of us have met a lot of people involved on that day. I think, for example, of Norman Bettison, then chief constable for Merseyside, with whom many of us are acquainted in other contexts. Everyone needs a fair hearing, and there has to be a huge moral gulf between someone putting a good gloss on their own actions and those of their police force, and incriminating others, particularly those who can no longer defend themselves. That has to be reflected in any subsequent judgment.
Let us consider this: it took very little time for South Yorkshire police’s version of events to be established, broadcast and embedded in the public mind; it took 23 years for the families to do the same, and without their efforts the truth would be lost to history. As my hon. Friend John Hemming said, that tells us something about this country. It tells us that there is a huge inequality, not of wealth, but of power—power to get a fair press, power to get information, power to get justice—and that raises big questions for Parliament. In this case, Parliament has been the last resort of the powerless, but we cannot be content with a world in which power is so badly and unequally distributed.
Liverpool people have a reputation for being stroppy—I do not know why—and for looking askance at the world. We do not need to go back many generations in any Liverpool family to come across an engrained vein of grim Irish or Welsh fatalism and the belief that the world is not a fair place. The Hillsborough families have shown that that is not something we need put up with.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Southport Starbuck protest

Sign the petition here

We staged a demo outside Starbuck in Lord Street today. Tony Dawson designed the banner and we turned up outside a deserted Starbucks. We were a little taken aback when a member of the public came up to congratulate us. He was a small businessman who was in the catering trade. He was angry as he had been paying his tax and had to compete with the likes of Starbucks who had not.

Bristol MP Stephen Williams has also taken up the campaign

Boycott Starbucks and back local independent coffee shops
After revelations that Starbucks has been dodging millions of pounds worth of tax Lib Dem leader Cllr Iain Brodie Browne has called on Southport residents to boycott the coffee chain until it pays up.
Iain said: It is grossly unfair that small Independent coffee shops in the town land up paying more tax that muti million, multi national companies. How are local traders meant to cope with that unfair competition?
Starbucks are not only clobbering the small traders they are also 'ripping off' every citizen who pays their tax .
Starbucks are not the only multi national corporation who behaves in this way and greater co-operation is needed between nations so that we put an end to this reprehensible behavior
Southport is lucky to have some excellent independent coffee shops and I urge everyone to make sure that is where they buy their coffee. I believe that we can shame Starbucks into making a proper contribution to this country.

We are lucky in Southport to have lots of quality local coffee shops. Here are just a few:

Video of Vince Cable at Southport-Green technology, apprenticeships and Higher Education

Brian Rimmer with Vince Cable at Southport College

Long serving Liberal Councillor Brian Rimmer, who was first elected to the former Southport Borough Council, was introduced to Vince Cable during the Secretary of State's visit to Southport College today. Brian -who was an engineer with British Rail and who prides himself and his extensive knowledge of all things concerning bridges -is still a Governor of the College.

I printed off a copy of this photo for Brian at a local photo shop. The lady picked it up and said: 'that's John Pugh my MP but who are the other two?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

sign up to the 'Stop the Badger Cull' campaign

I have written to my MP John Pugh today asking him to sign the Early Day motion on the badger cull. The motion has been sponsored by, among others, Adrian Sanders (pictured here with Brian May) and reads:

That this House opposes the mass cull of badgers; urges the Environment Minister to follow the lead of the Welsh Assembly by implementing a vaccination programme with increased levels of testing and improved bio-security as a more effective way to tackle bovine tuberculosis long-term; notes that vaccination is the more sustainable and humane solution which has already been shown to significantly reduce the potential transmission of tuberculosis and that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' own advisory body, Natural England, has said that it has little confidence in the cull delivering the predicted long-term benefits; and further urges the Minister to halt the imminent cull which could make the situation worse and lead to the badger population in some areas being entirely wiped out.

Stop the badger cull

Responsible department: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
We, the undersigned, call on the government to stop the planned cull of badgers on the following grounds: 

· Over 70% of the badger population in large areas of the country will be killed, many of them healthy.
· The method of free-shooting badgers could cause severe to many thousands of badgers. 

· Independent scientific studies have shown that culling would be of little help in reducing bovine TB, and even suggest that it could make things worse in some areas. 

We urge the government to stop the cull and implement the more sustainable and humane solution of both a vaccination programme for badgers and cattle, along with improved testing and biosecurity. 

This e-petition has received the following response:

This e-petition has now passed the threshold of 100 000 signatures.
The Leader of the House of Commons has written to the Backbench Business Committee, who are responsible for the scheduling of debates on e-petitions, informing them that the petition has reached 100 000 signatures.
The Backbench Business Committee meets weekly to hear representations from MPs for debates in backbench time. The Committee can consider any subject for debate, including those raised in e-petitions, but an MP must make the case for their consideration. More information about the Committee is available on its website
A futher response from the Government on this e-petition will be published in due course.

photo stolen from Liberal England

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Birkdale Library

Birkdale Library issued over 150,000 items for the last year we have figures, Netherton issued 35,000. Guess which is on Labour's closure list?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Radicals, Soggies and Free Market Liberals

Last week saw the celebration of  Nation Poetry Day so let us start with a poem. It is often said that the poems you learn by heart as a child stay with you. So here is the beginning one my English teacher, Mr Russell, made me memorise:

WHY is it that the poet tells
So little of the sense of smell?
These are the odours I love well:

The smell of coffee freshly ground;
Or rich plum pudding, holly crowned;
Or onions fried and deeply browned.

Those words came to mind when I was reflecting on the Lib Dem Conference. Why is it that the media tell so little of the Radical tradition? There is almost a conscious effort to erase all mention. Of course it suits some to do so. By far the tiniest strand within the party is the small state/low tax/market /individualistic folk that cluster round LiberalVision.  They like to pretend that the main debate is between themselves and social democrats. The Westminster media have heard of both and it suits the narrative into which they wish to squeeze the Party

This was graphically illustrated by the reporting of the Social Liberal Forum Conference. Take for example AllegraStratton:

On Saturday, Mr Clegg will be paying homage to the left of his party, the social democratic group Social Liberal Forum, when he delivers the annual Beveridge lecture on the "five giant evils" - squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease.

This set off a flurry of indignation and much shaking of heads at that Conference. The Disgruntled Radical has written about this and the noble Lord at Liberal England has asked the question: What is the difference between Social Liberals (Radicals) and Social Democracy.

 I ask the question again because I believe that the Radical tradition within our Party, which is the largest grouping, is punching well below its weight and the party is the poorer because of that.

I will rehearse some of the history later but for now let us assert that there has always been a Radical/Advanced Liberal movement. In its modern guise it dates back to the movement led at the end of the C19 Century by the likes of T H Green, L T Hobhouse, J Hobson etc. They turned their back on classical Liberalism seeking to make the pursuit of liberty relevant and meaningful to everyone. Intellectually they laid the foundations of the 1906 Government. Their ideas and approach attracted and sustained the Radicals of the difficult years between the wars: Keynes, Beveridge, Ramsey Muir, E D Simon, Eliot Dodds etc.

The party was very small in the days after WW2 and easily prey to a small band of well funded free market Liberals. In response to this threat Desmond Banks et al set up the RadicalReform Group (RRG) defined as:

The founding members were concerned that, in the years after the Second World War, under the leadership of Clement Davies, the party was falling unduly under the sway of classical, free-market liberals and was drifting to the right[2]. Under the influence of economic Liberals such as Oliver Smedley and Arthur Seldon who helped establish the Institute of Economic Affairs, the think tank which was to later become an engine of Thatcherism, the Liberal ship was coming loose from the New Liberal anchors it had adopted from the 1890s and reinforced in the 1920s with the Lloyd George, Keynes and Beveridge inspired coloured books

William Wallace wrote to the Liberal History Journal making much the same point:

The group of free-trade Liberals that included S.W.Alexander and Oliver Smedley had drive, financial resources, and a clear sense of Liberalism in a libertarian, minimum-state interpretation. The almost anarchic structure of party assemblies allowed for such groups to exert real influence.

RRG, as I recall, provided the most coherent alternative definition of Liberalism – much closer to the radical Liberal tradition, and to the nonconformist beliefs which a high proportion of its members held. It helped enormously that Jo Grimond as leader was naturally sympathetic to the RRG perspective; but the existence and activities of RRG, and the arguments of its members on the Party Executive, made Grimond’s task in reorienting the party much easier.

Joining the party in 1960, I caught only echoes of the arguments that had convulsed the then-tiny part in the 1950s. My future father-in-law, Edward Rushworth, had for many years been both a member of RRG and of the party executive.

He made little distinction between being a Liberal and being a teetotal nonconformist; his instincts were anti authoritarian and socially egalitarian.

All of this sound familiar?- a well funded group of free market believers taking over a party. Thatcher, New Labour, Orange Book........................

The Radical Reform Group won through and the free marketers took their money off to found the IEA and influence Thatcherism, allowing Grimond’s Liberal party to flourish.

The Radical flames was well and truly alight and taken up by many including the YL’s. When Thorpe became Leader and the ferment of ideas died down and so  Radical Bulletin came along and Liberator

Today groups like Liberal Left and Social Liberal Forum (SLF) exist and certainly the latter has a fair claim to represent the mainstream of the Party.

In the next posting I will attempt to answer the question : what can Radicals bring to the party that Social Democrats and Free Market minority cannot- other than the smell of  printer's ink on the Riso

New Gladstone statue for his Sefton Childhood home

That Gladstone moved from Rodney St in Liverpool to Seaforth is well known. The indefatigable local historian Brenda Murray has wanted a statue erected in Seaforth for sometime and being Miss Murray has not just dreamed about she has got on and done something.

Tom Murphy, the Liverpool sculptor has designed the statue and Miss Murray has got on with the fundraising. Am initial target of £19k is now achievable and at the last count only three thousand pounds is needed.

The statue will stand in the grounds of the Star of the Sea Church in Seaforth looking out towards where the CofE church of St Thomas formerly stood. This is the church of which a very young Gladstone wanted his Father to grant him the living.

The statue will stand about 8 foot high. Tom Murphy's bust will stand on a 5 foot high column  and plinth. So all that remains is the outstanding money. If you would like to contribute or know someone who might please get in touch so I can pass your details to Brenda Murray

David Howarth speaking up for the majority

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

To judge by the delegates I met at Confrence David Howarth's demolition of Richard Reeve's arguments at  a fringe meeting was most welcome. Reeves-who it must be said wrote an excellent biography of J S Mill - has been peddling some odd ideas since he left Clegg employ.  He has produced a pamphlet and that was the basis of the discussion at the fringe meeting. Howarth had the advantage that he had read the pamphlet in advance and so was able to un-pick the argument. to make sense of the rest of this posting you will need to watch the video of David

Reeves central position is that Clegg is transforming the party from an alliance of social liberals and social democrats to a more European Classical (Dutch VVD) Liberal Party. He insists on believing that this is a sensible strategy. It is scarcely necessary to  remark that it is bunkum. He is the sort of person who rather thinks the party is available as a vehicle for his ideas, he fails to recognise that this party rebuilt itself after the last bunch of classical Liberal tried to take it over and those who have stuck to the project for some or all of the past 60 odd yrs are not about to roll over and give up just to suit him.

David Marquand made similar observations about the small clique of classical Liberals   :

Why did they succumb so easily to the establishment embrace? … The terrible answer, I believe, is that their birthrights were no longer to their taste. The Liberal Democrat leaders still talked social liberalism, but as they had foreshadowed in the notorious Orange Book, they walked economic liberalism. The tradition of Beveridge, Keynes, Lloyd George and Asquith, and for that matter of David Steel, Paddy Ashdown and Menzies Campbell – the tradition that stood for a synthesis of freedom and solidarity, procured by a strong, but not oppressive state – no longer spoke to them. They were liberals in the continental mode, not in the British one.

The harsh truth was that many of us were just too nice and polite. We are liberals and share concerns about the oppressive nature of concentration of power-whether in public or private hands. David amply demonstrates that the prescriptions of Reeves do little to combat that concentration and may will make it worse transferring the power to unaccountable private institutions and bolstering the power of officialdom-and in the case of Education and Health the London based state. It is interesting that Reeves quotes Grimond. Most of these folks do but they only cherry pick their quotes. Grimond advocated a political strategy of re-aligning the Left. A Left Party with a Left programme. For him the Left in Britain under Labour leadership had taken the wrong turning and gone down the state collectivist route. 

It is nonsense to say that those who left us after the coalition can't come back. The bulk of the party would identify themselves as Social Liberals. They were at home in a party led by Grimond, Steel, Campbell and Ashdown. We want to attract back those who were repelled by a Tory led government  People who have dedicated their lives to relatively low paid public service, who believe in Community, in society, are part of our natural constituency. Listen carefully to Howarth's dissection of Reeve's attempt to split social justice from equality of opportunity.

Of course until you read the policy initiatives Reeves likes: Lansley's Health Bill. the unaccountable schools cock ups, elected Mayors and Police Commissioners etc you might believe that this approach is about dispersing power. In practice it is not. Inevitably after years of New Labour Government we all had a heightened awareness of our Liberal critique of state power as Reeves said in the New Statesman article :'the creeping paternalism and the insularity ... (e.g. Blair-style micro-management, fiddly proposals for minimum alcohol pricing and the Communications Data Bill checking individual email and web use) The bland generalities about being 'more liberal' are beguiling against that backdrop until you read the detail of his policy proposals for the future and realise that we have had a lucky escape thanks to Reeves leaving. 

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Labour move to axe three Southport Libraries?


Southport Lib Dem councillors have hit out at plans by Labour controlled Sefton Council to shut down Ainsdale, Birkdale and Churchtown Libraries.

Birkdale councillor and leader of the 20-strong Lib Dem opposition group on the council, Iain Brodie Browne has attacked the proposal as “completely unacceptable”.

Sefton Council’s ruling Cabinet comprises seven Labour councillors, all from Bootle, and is due to consider the report “Review of Library Service” at its meeting on Thursday 11 October.

The Cabinet is recommended to agree “Option B” for formal consultation.  This would mean the closure of the majority of Sefton’s libraries, including three out of the four in Southport.

The report refers to “a programmed closure of 7 libraries over two years”, leaving just six libraries still open.  Southport would retain only the central library, due to reopen within the renovated Atkinson.

Councillor Brodie Browne said: “The four libraries in Southport are some of the busiest in the borough.  To close three of them is completely unacceptable.”

“The current libraries in Southport had 510,000 book issues between them last year.  The four in Bootle made just 190,000 issues.”

”So I am particularly appalled at the suggestion that Bootle will keep two libraries (Bootle and Netherton), whereas Southport is being cut down to just one.”

"Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised as Sefton Council is now run by Bootle Labour.  12 out of the 14 senior positions on the Council are now taken by Bootle Labour, including all of the Cabinet members," said Cllr Brodie Browne.

Councillor Haydn Preece is a founder member of Friends of Ainsdale Library and has pledged to fight the plan to shut the village’s library.

“Ainsdale Library is a central part of our village community.  I will fight tooth and nail to save what is one of our key facilities.”
Councillor Nigel Ashton, who represents Churchtown and Crossens, has also condemned the proposal to close Churchtown Library.

Cllr Ashton said "Churchtown is an efficient, friendly library which lends out over 110,000 books a year. Closing such a well used library is an act of cultural vandalism"



Notes to Editor:

1.  Photograph attached.  “Liberal Democrat councillors campaigning against a previous threat to Southport Library – December 2009”

item of 5 at the top
  • Supplementary Agenda PDF 5MB

3.  Two key parts of that report are:

Recommendation (f)
consider the options contained in this report and approve Option B for consultation and engagement with the community, staff, partners, including businesses, voluntary, community and faith sectors, to transform the way Sefton delivers its library service”

and Option B
“6.8 This option proposes that there will be a library in each of the five townships of Sefton plus the existing co-located facility in Netherton. This option would involve a programmed closure of 7 libraries over two years with the possibility of developing a network of book collection & return points across the Borough in other Council & partner buildings, plus a review of the home visits service for the most vulnerable as mitigation for closed libraries and an extension in other areas where there is currently no provision. There would remain a library service building in the following locations/areas:

§         Bootle. Operated either from the existing Bootle library or another location within the town centre.
§         Crosby. Operated from either the existing Crosby library, or the College Road library, or co-located with another Council, community or private facility within the area, or a re-developed facility in the area.  The provision of a library service within the Crosby area will need to consider the future of the local history and information service, the stock services unit and office space for specialist staff currently based at Crosby library. The local history service occupies a considerable amount of storage for its archives and other material, which have to be kept in certain environmental conditions, and options for this service will need to be developed.
§         Formby. Operated either from the existing Formby library or another location within Formby.
§         Maghull. Operated from the existing co-located library at Meadows
§         Netherton. Operated from the existing co-located library at Netherton Activity Centre
§         Southport. Operated from the imminent co-located library in the Atkinson in Southport

4.  Page 146 of the report includes the following table:

5.       Summarising the “Items Issued” column in the above table:

2011-12 Issues ranked in order












College Road