Monday, July 31, 2006

Fighting for a free cashpoint machine

Labour Councillor Louise Baldock is calling on the Kensington community to make suggestions for the best location for a new charge-free cash dispensing machine in the area.

It has been announced today that the Royal Bank of Scotland is going to install 300 free-to-use cash machines in some of Britain's poorest locations after a report said many of those areas were becoming free ATM "deserts".

Louise said "I have been campaigning for a long time for a free-to-use cash machine in Kensington so this is great news. I am confident that if we find a good location, Royal Bank of Scotland will choose it as one of its 300. I want local people, businesses and community groups to come up with suggestions that I can propose to the bank."

Currently Kensington and Fairfield residents are typically having to pay £1.50 every time they need to withdraw money or face a trip to the city centre or Old Swan.

Although L6 and L7 are not on the list RBS have currently identified as likely sites for their machines, the scheme says it will consider applications from communities which are in the top 10% most deprived area and 1km away from the nearest free machine.

Louise holds an advice surgery every Friday evening where people can come and see her, July 28th, August 11th and 25th at 108 Prescot Road or August 4th and 18th at the Fairfield Community Centre on Sheil Road from 5.30pm - 7.00pm.

Monday, July 24, 2006

National Labour Women's Forum

The first meeting of the new National Labour Women's Forum took place on Saturday in Derby.

There must have been about a hundred women there, although I did not count them.

We were addressed by some top women politicians, Margaret Beckett our first female Foreign Secretary (and local Derby MP) updated us on the situation in the middle-East and talked too about global warming. There was a full and frank discussion on the Lebanon and all views were openly given.

I wont go into a lot of detail but Margaret did explain how Hezbolah (forgive my spelling, I don't think I have ever written it down before) were very aggressive in their unprompted interference in the Israel/Palestine troubles. She talked about a comparison with Northern Ireland and how there are always dissident groups who want to destabilise peace-talks and plans for peace. She did not defend the Israel government and explained what moves the UK was taking to help the situation, talking about the number of diplomatic missions that we were facilitating as a country, for all sides. Safely taking people in for talks on all sides and safely bringing them out again.

I cannot pretend to be an expert in foreign policy, I am all on just dealing with the local wars in my own ward, we have murderers, dealers, gangs, prostitutes and all sorts, enough to keep several peace-keepers in full-time employment, but I think most of us were reassured that as both a woman and an ethical politician she is neither blind to the pressure points nor blinkered in her views. It was one of those sessions that you wish could be shared with the entire population during a TV blackout, so that they would all have to listen.

My old boss Meg Munn MP, Deputy Minister for Women and Harriet Harman QC MP both gave useful contributions on the ongoing work to sort out things like equal pay and improved child-care and financial support for families. Several good points were made from the floor about neighbourhood childcare centres for instance, and threats over funding and the importance of recognising women's particular difficulties in those areas where they are in the minority at work, like train drivers for instance. The ASLEF representative certainly opened a few eyes!

Hazel Blears, the Chair of the Labour Party made some good general points about reaching out to communities and to women in particular in our need to become a bigger party with tentacles reaching out into every neighbourhood.

We were joined by women Councillors, MPs, MEPs, Ministers, NEC members, Union representatives, Consituency representatives, black and ethnic minorities, young women, you name it, we were all there, it was quite powerful, despite the smallish numbers.

I am sure I am forgetting both women and contributions, but I know we were all impressed with the work that our National Women's Officer, Sue, has been putting in. She has created a new women's website on the national Labour Party website, which is terrific, and she was joined by Alicia, Melanie and several women Organisers who took part in all the workshops.

The workshop I chaired was about women campaigning with and for women and we came up with both interesting and challenging organisation questions as well as solutions.

The thing that struck me the most I think during the workshops, was the general level of ignorance amongst the women about what is and what is not "allowed" within the rulebook for our organising. It is clear to me that men are still scaring women with the rule book, when in actual fact the rule book allows for women's networks and support groups outside of formal structures. One woman asked whether she had to invite all 200 women in her Constituency Labour Party to every event a women's network might hold, even if they weren't a bit interested. I told her that there was nothing in the party rule book to preclude any of us from inviting our friends to our house for coffee and cake if we wanted to, members or not, and I stand by that.

Another woman expressed surprise that she could, if she wanted to, put herself forward as a Labour Party candidate for Parliament, and that the only thing stopping her from being the next candidate was her ability to attract local support.

I do hope we can get this message out there, you can be a parliamentary candidate providing you have the necessary membership, which is either one year or two, I cant remember which. Other than that, there is nothing stopping you. You dont have to be on a list (although if you are the chosen one and not on a list, then you will have to be assessed by the NEC, but as a rule we dont chuck people out), what you need is local support, errr, that is it.

The same woman then said she did not feel confident as a public speaker so daren't be a candidate for Parliament (or the council).

I hear this all the time, we can arrange masses of training, but in actual fact most politicians dont do an awful lot of public speeches so it should not be a barrier for a bright interested woman, and neither is your age.

I am desperate for women to start thinking about why they should stand instead of why they couldn't possibly! Men don't have those doubts, they really don't.

Anyway, we had a great day, spoilt only by our having to leave in a storm.

I am happy to take forward any questions from those who weren't there

Friday, July 21, 2006

Selective licensing - not the sexiest phrase in the book but the impact is huge

I took the opportunity of my maiden speech at my first proper full council meeting to call for "selective licensing" of landlords in Kensington and Fairfield.

Did you know that the 2004 Housing Act allows for licensing of landlords in areas of low housing demand and/or high anti-social behaviour? No, neither did I.

In a nutshell, local councils have the power, should they choose to take it, to agree to licence private landlords in a given area and oblige them to think about the impact of the behaviour of their tenants in the local community.

Now if you, like me, represent a ward with high levels of ASB and little demand for housing, your ears will be pricking up about now.

Imagine it, those bad landlords who dont give a monkeys who they let their properties to, let alone what happens after the rent is paid, being made to manage their tenants. It is fantastic. I am only sorry I did not hear about it before!

Equally wonderful is the idea that said landlords should provide safety checks on their white goods, a working smoke alarm and a safe environment for their tenants.

I am going to work as hard as I can to bring this "selective licensing of landlords" to Kensington and Fairfield, local people are crying out for a move like this, how great it is that our Labour government is ahead of us in putting the law in place. Now we have to bring it here and make it happen!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Fairfield signs - update

The LibDems are at it again

You will recall several mentions of the need for new signs in the ward that say "Fairfield" rather than "Kensington" which is the next place along. I had some good publicity in the local papers too.

I laid a motion down at a full council meeting last week on this issue. Both of my co-councillors voted with me, they could hardly do otherwise really, but clearly as the rest of their group voted against me, the idea was that I would not be successful in my bid so would have nothing to celebrate with residents, but also I could not lay the blame at their door.

Their plan backfired badly because with the support of a few dissident LibDems who actually happen to live in Fairfield, the vote was passed. I was of course delighted

I was particularly pleased to learn that this was the first vote we had won in a very long time in the chamber (not allowing for the stuff that goes through on the nod).

My spies tell me that the LibDem who is due for re-election in the ward next year then went out into the corridoor behind the chamber and ranted and shouted and kicked up a proper big fuss, saying it had been mismanaged.

But guess what? The LibDems have already put a leaflet out claiming credit for new signs, they must have done it straightaway.

I am now obliged to shame them and expose them. In fact I might set up a "LibDem watch" section in all future leaflets where we keep pointing out such disgraceful actions, people need to know what they are dealing with.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Equality statement

Judging by some of the questions that are being put to me by individual members of the Labour Party who are working out how to cast their votes, my commitment to Equality and Diversity is not clear. I think this is because I have said that I am a member of the Christian Socialist Movement. For some people this would seem to equate to being intolerant and even worse, others think this means I support their fight to hold back progress.

For the avoidance of any doubt, and to prevent any homophobes from imagining that I might be a good person for them to vote for, let me put the record straight.

I am a strong supporter of the rights of gay, lesbian and transexual people. I shed a few tears when I saw the first couples joining together in civil partnership, I was so pleased for them to finally have the chance to celebrate their love for each other, although would have preferred it if they could have been offered a full marriage like their straight counterparts.

I am totally in favour of equal pension rights, equal adoption and fostering rights, equal death-bed rights, equal everything.

Incidentally, I am positive that Jesus never took sides, whatever the Church of England or the Roman Catholic church might think!

I was proud to work for Kali Mountford MP when she introduced the bill to bring about the abolition of clause 28 and for Meg Munn MP who introduced the Act to allow for civil partnerships in her capacity as Equalities Minister.

I was proud too when, as the Women's Officer for Stockton South CLP in 1995, we agreed to an all-women short-list in our constituency, by 7 votes to nil (all the principal officers of the GC).

Barbara Belcher

It is with a very heavy heart that I report the death last night of Barbara Belcher.

Barbara was a Labour Councillor in Sheffield, representing first Broomhill ward from 1996 - 2000 and then Mosborough ward from 2000-2004.

She was also a very active member of the South Yorkshire Fire Authority

She battled her illness right to the end, which is exactly how she was throughout her life, fighting injustice and standing up for people in need, whether they were in South Yorkshire, South America or South Africa.

Barbara was much loved with many friends and I am sure many will want to pay their respects so as soon as I have details of her funeral I will add them to this entry.

17th July 2006 - 2.45pm, Grenoside Crematorium, Sheffield

Friday, July 07, 2006

A busy Friday afternoon

This is a quick post for those local residents who I know read the blog from time to time.

It has been a busy afternoon.

At 12. 45 I met a few of the officers from the neighbourhood management team, Mark from Parks (that is how he described himself which I thought was great) and JB from the Friends of Newsham Park on Pythian Park.
The place is a total disgrace, the rear of the Royal Arch and other shops in that block on Kensington is covered in graffiti, including a swastika. I reported the graffiti three weeks ago but it is still there, despite promises to tackle racist graffiti fast. The place is also knee deep in bin bags, some still tied up, some set on fire. There were two burnt out cars removed this morning, just before I got there - fortunate for the officers!
I was so angry that nothing had been done and that the place still looks so terrible, despite so many of us ringing it in.
But we did agree some action and hopefully we should see a big improvement before the kids start their summer holidays and want to play there.

I then had a tour round the city centre One-Stop-Shop, always useful to see a facility that your own ward has been denied, just so you know what it is you need to campaign for. I was very impressed with the place, they have made it light, airy and pleasant with waiting times down to ten minutes. I had a go on one of the info-pods, it was good, but "could do better" on some fronts, so I promised to write up some thoughts and send them over. I think they were pleased that I had taken the initiative to get myself invited over, in my experience people appreciate members taking a bit of notice of the work they do.

I followed this by a tour round the Town Hall, it is mainly a place for holding functions, weddings, parties, except of course for the council chamber and room of remembrance. But I was interested to learn that I could arrange for my residents to take tea with the Lord Mayor, perhaps we can find a way of rewarding stalwarts of our residents assocation with a civic event like that. Or do you think that is a naff idea?

At 5pm I met the developers who are planning the highway works on Edge Lane to see their designs. I was mainly interested in the location of the pedestrian crossing near Deane Road but the digital tour along the whole road was fascinating, I have not seen models like that before. It was like a computer game.

Then I had my surgery, not many people come, I think they prefer to phone me or write, but I find it useful to catch up on my casework while I wait for them to come.

See you at the Kensington Regeneration Fun Day tomorrow!

Fairfield signage

Although technically, the engineers have already agreed to do this, I thought it worth making it official!

Council notes that Fairfield is a historic part of Liverpool, indeed there are
houses on Fairfield Crescent that were built in the 1700s.

Council further notes the recent exercise in district boundary signage.
Council believes that the placing of a sign on Prescot Road, at the Fairfield
border, reading "Kensington" instead of "Fairfield" is inappropriate and ill-judged.
Council recognises the strength of public feeling amongst Fairfield residents who
feel their neighbourhood has been overlooked and ignored.

Council therefore calls upon the Executive Member for Regeneration and
Transport to refer this matter back to the relevant neighbourhood committeewhere local people can have their say and overturn this poor decision

Graffiti "contracts" with utilities


This Council notes the agreement between Swindon Borough Council, Thames
Water and Royal Mail which has been signed. It commits both companies to
removing graffiti from their on-street property within 28 days of it being reported,
or within 24 hours if it is obscene or racist in nature. It is hoped that the charter
could be extended to include other utility companies and service providers and
cover items such as electricity sub-stations and on-street electrical cabinets.

Until recently, local authorities had no powers to remove graffiti on utility
company infrastructure, but changes to the law in April this year means that
Councils can issue a legally-enforceable removal notice on the owners.

However, the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 says that all
local authorities must try to reach voluntary service agreements with telecom
and utility companies before resorting to enforcement. A similar agreement
launched in Sheffield in 2004 now has more than 100 participants, including
national as well as local companies.

This Council requests that in light of the Clean Neighbourhoods and
Environment Act 2005 and the agreements set up between Sheffield and
Swindon Councils and utility companies for a partnership programme for graffiti
and fly poster removal from utility street furniture, that the Executive Member for
Environment and Heritage looks into Liverpool City Council entering intodiscussion with the utility companies to get a similar agreement in place

Friends of Liverpool Parks - motion to Liverpool City Council

One of the ways in which Councillors can raise issues that matter to local people is by laying down a motion to the City Council. You then have to keep your fingers crossed that you get to debate it and vote on it, maybe get it passed and make a difference.
I have put three down for this my first proper council meeting, this was the one I wanted to make my maiden speech about, but it has ended up further down the list than my other two, so I am not sure how that will work out.
Anyway, this is what it says

Council notes the many parks and public open spaces in Liverpool, as well as
the voluntary organisations that exist to promote, protect and enhance individual
parks and public open spaces, such as Friends of Newsham Park, Friends of
Sefton Park and Friends of Croxteth Park.

Council further notes the Draft Parks Strategy, which sets direction for the
management of the City's parks and public open spaces.

Council believes that these voluntary Friends of organisations carry out
invaluable work and that the City's parks as a whole would benefit from the
establishment of a Friends of Liverpool Parks group. This would bring together
the voluntary parks organisations, council officers and other stakeholders to
share best practice and promote, protect and enhance the City's parks as a
whole, to feed into the development of the City's Draft Parks Strategy and to
become an advocate for those parks and open spaces which currently do not
have a Friends of organisation.

Council therefore calls upon the Executive Member for Environment and
Heritage to bring a report to the relevant select committee dealing with the feasibility of this proposal.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Your voice at the heart of the Party

Remember - if you want me to keep working on your behalf on the NEC, you, your friends, family and everyone else you know in the Labour Party must vote for me.

July sees the biannual election for 6 ordinary party members to represent your interests on the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party.

I came onto the NEC 12 months ago when Shahid Malik became the MP for Dewsbury, taking his vacant seat.

It is almost unheard of for ordinary party members to be elected to the NEC on their first attempt, I put my success down to two things;

1. my work right across the country in 14 active years of membership has brought me into contact with thousands of ordinary party members like me, many of you I count as personal friends.

2. I do not stand on a slate, I don't vote in a block, I don't go on the Today programme or in The Guardian criticising our Party or our members, I work hard in the community and respect others who do the same, in that sense I am entirely independent.

An active party member, in the General election last year, I took holidays so that I could work in key marginal seats across West Yorkshire. I had a very busy autumn conference in Brighton, delivering training in "Fighting the LibDems" and was thrilled to present the NEC general election report to the conference, making my maiden speech between Ken Livingston and Dennis Skinner - what a billing!

In February in Blackpool at the centenary conference, I chaired a session on involving women in politics with my old boss, Meg Munn MP, the Minister for Women. I delivered training in "How to get members active" As as member of the Education Policy Commission I sat in on key policy forums with party members during the debate on the Education Bill and fed in your views.

I also gave training on behalf of the North West Regional Party to St Helens and Warrington Labour Group in "Fighting the LibDems" - a favourite topic of mine as you know.

I have fought strenuously to promote our sister party, the Co-operative Party at every opportunity within the NEC, links need to be strengthened and I believe that holding our annual conference in Manchester this year, where the Co-op is very strong, will really help with that. I went to their fundraising dinner early in the year to raise funds for the City's very successful local election campaign.

I am also now a Councillor on Liverpool City Councillor, having defeated a LibDem with 19 years service. May 5th 2006 was one of the proudest days of my life. (I fully expect my next training on Fighting the LibDems to be a sell-out with standing room only!)

Being a Councillor in one of the most deprived wards in the country means I am ideally placed to see how Labour proposals will affect those who really rely on us to deliver strong policies for them.

The Labour Party will not let me have a list of the names and addresses of every LP member so representing you has its challenges! I cannot come and knock on your door on polling day, or phone you up from the phone bank, and ask you if you have voted yet.

So this blog entry has to take the place of that door-knock or phone call.

If you want me to carry on my work for you and if you want to give me the opportunity this time to serve the full two year term instead of just half of it, you must search out the ballot paper that the Party will be sending you week beginning July 3rd, fill it in and send it back - or phone your vote in.

As the posters said in the 2001 General Election, if you value it, vote for it!