Monday, August 27, 2007

Ian and Emma's wedding in Hessle

I was in Hessle, Humberside, late last week, at the marriage of Ian Hardy and his lovely bride Emma Mattinson.

It was mainly a family affair, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, mum, dad and gran, aunts and uncles in abundance. It was so nice to be with such a warm and happy gathering. The bride and groom both looked fabulous, the bridesmaids were all gorgeous, even my mate Colin who was the best man, scrubbed up quite well in his lavender waistcoat!

The Methodist service was great and we sang some of my favourite hymns - When a knight won his spurs in the stories of old (which Emma's Dad didn't like as he is an Arsenal fan), Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning and Lord of all Hopefulness (which the minister announced as Lord of all Hopelessness, I guess he is that too).

I will stick a couple of photos up, I took lots so that I can share them with Emma and some of her guests - the official ones always cost such a lot of money.

I also took some nice photos of the Humber bridge - we were staying in its shadow.

The weather was hot and sunny and beautiful, probably the nicest day we have had since May 3rd. A good omen for a happy future I am sure.

Football-mad Rhys Jones

It doesn't seem appropriate to ignore the fact that a lovely 11 year old boy has been shot dead on the suburban streets of Liverpool, but then again I didnt know him and I dont know the detail of the circumstances, so I dont want to say too much about this terrible situation either. We dont want to turn his death into a political band-wagon.

So I shall limit my comments to these; One of the special children in my life, the son of a close friend, my relationship with whom has helped make up for my own inability to have children, is also called Rhys Jones, although he is much older than 11 now. If it had been him that we had lost I would have been inconsolable.

So I send lots of love and support to Rhys' family and friends, football mates and school mates. My advice to Rhys' friends is this, write down all your memories of him as soon as you can, while they are still sharp in your mind, because although he will always be in your heart, some of the littler memories fade and you will appreciate having the notes to look at again when you are bigger and want to remember them all.

It is unimaginable that the police are looking for a child of 13-15 for shooting and killing a child of 11. Society is going to have a lot of thinking to do.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Putting OUR Neighbourhood First

Conversely a really exciting and positive meeting this afternoon at Venture Housing in Boaler Street.

This was the meeting I have dreamt of for about 21 months! And it was as good as I had hoped for, if there had not been the heartbreak of the Prescot Road/Drive meeting, this would be a really gold star day in my councillor career.

I think the first thing a resident of L6 (Kensington and Fairfield North I shall call it) said to me on my first door knocking in November 2005 when I was selected as Labour candidate for the ward, was "It all happens in L7 where they are in a multi-million pound New Deal area, but as a result, nothing at all happens in L6, where we are the forgotten".

I listened with great interest as this was repeated over and over again. I took note and started researching and soon learnt that K&F North was continually overlooked by the council and the partners and the agencies because they all somehow thought that the whole ward was party to the regeneration riches and so did not provide any special services in the north, nor indeed in some cases even the statutory basics.

I started going to Tenants and Residents Association (TRA) meetings all over the ward, as a candidate, and there were lots on the south side, all well organised and supported by the New Deal vehicle - Kensington Regeneration - with a full complement of agencies and partners present at every meeting.

There were fewer TRAs on the north side and none had any agencies or partners, usually there were a handful of residents and me, and very occasionally a LibDem councillor.

Once I was elected and became part of the full round of meetings and committees and received all the various correspondences about work plans and funding regimes, I realised how deep the problem went.

Basically, if you live north of Kensington/Prescot Road and south of West Derby Road, you get nothing from anyone and nobody loves you, you are nobody's child.

Well I couldn't allow this to go on and once I was elected the fight back began.

I am proud to say that today Wendy and I were finally invited to a meeting that is co-ordinated by Venture Housing Association on Boaler Street in the heart of the Molyneux area, covering the Molyneux and Elm Park in name - but my probing questions demonstrated that they cover the Phythian, Elm Vale and Prospect Vale too. The meetings have been going on a while and according to their minutes have slowly stagnated as neither residents nor partners were showing up in very large numbers.

I learnt about this meeting from Peter Rogers of Venture Housing in March 2007 when I had my first ever meeting with Venture. I asked him to include me in future meetings because I thought this had the potential, once reinvigorated, to take up the regeneration slack in the area. I dont know how it has taken until August for my invite to arrive but thank God it has.

I was sent the minutes of the last meeting and could clearly see the gaps in partners and agencies, and from the apologies too that this was not being taken as seriously as we would want. So I contacted the local Police Inspector, Dave Charnock and told him I wanted him to prioritise these meetings in future. Two officers were there today in consequence. I wrote to Karen Lewis our very capable council Neighbourhood Services Manager, and told her how important it was that her team was represented (they were there today too). I wrote to Environmental Services and said I wanted them to be there - Ian Watson arrived with us.

It was a good turnout although only Margaret Smith from Elm Park was there from the residents. This will be different next meeting as I will be ensuring we have a big turnout from local people. I know them, I meet them, I know what they want, and what they want is being a part of the new and exciting group that we are about to become.

This Forum is going to become a very powerful and all encompassing body and we are going to kick ass and make huge progress in the area, we are going to tackle blight, improve advice facilities, enhance the green spaces, work with young people, tackle anti-social behaviour, we will have green and colourful pocket parks instead of fly-tipping, we will have traffic calmed streets, we will have zero tolerance of drug dealing and prostitution, we will have the schools on board, the businesses on board, Dream High, Friends of Newsham Park, you name it.

I am going to invite everyone with something to offer and together we are going to make the biggest difference to L6 since records began.

Thank you Venture Housing for being the catalyst, we needed you, we salute you and we wont let you down, you will not find us wanting. L6 is moving forward.
And it all began today.

Prescot Road and Prescot Drive steering group update

A very emotive meeting this afternoon.

After several years of delay since first the issue of these houses were raised - Councillor Warren Bradley called it 2 years, Councillor Steve Radford called it 27 years, we have had a meeting to discuss further progress with the Prescot Road and Prescot Drive Houses in Fairfield.

Local readers will be only too familiar with the terrible situation here but for the benefit of my national and international readers, these houses have been neglected and left to fall down and be burnt down by Liverpool City Council who identified the area as suitable for redevelopment some 7 years ago but have so far failed to come up with a plan. Living in the midst of this wanton dereliction are some 1o home owners who cannot sell their houses on the open market due to the uncertainty and which the council is even now not ready to commit to purchasing from them. Some of the individual cases are truly heartbreaking but I dont want to go into detail about them outside of our meetings.

We met today for a progress report, our first since last November, and I am fairly sure the meeting was only called because I wrote last month to all the great and the good condemning the delays and decay in no uncertain terms.

We learnt that the current plan was to call another meeting in mid October to look at the plans from the consultants for this area. We were as one, for a change, in agreeing that this was too far in the future. For once I was able to agree with Councillor Warren Bradley when he said that this had gone on far too long since his personal promise two years ago to sort this out. He said he could not condemn local people to pushing the boulder back up the hill. And speaking as a fireman he said he knew and understood how desperate the situation was.

Councillor Radford reminded him, and Councillor Doran, local ward councillor and Assistant Executive member for Housing who chairs this steering group that rarely meets, that they are in fact the administration so blaming someone else was hardly an option.

Anyway, we pushed for a timescale that ends in mid September, not mid October and left officers in no doubt that we need progress now.

The interim report (that is probably interim to the power of 5 by now) talks about a mixed response to the area, some demolition, some refurb and has engaged in lots of agencies and partners so I do feel very vaguely hopeful that we might in the end get something near what we want.

I would like to say I am confident however, it has dragged on long past that point.

I dont really know who to point the finger at, officers for not making this the top of their work pile every day until it is sorted, or the administration LibDems for not asking them to. All I know is that I have asked nicely, and then more firmly and then shouted and put my foot down with a firm hand and finally today became emotional and more or less begged for some progress, as my residents are living in the sort of circumstances that would be familiar in Basra.

Hopefully that message has now got through, please God we can finally take some action. If I could only sort one thing out as a councillor this year, this would be it!

Slavery Remembrance Day events 2007

Thursday 23 August 2007 is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. It is 200 years since the abolition.

Liverpool is planning a host of activities - click on the title of this blog to reach the Liverpool Museums website which tell you all about them, but hurry, it is this Thursday, it is probably today in fact as you read this.

Get down to Otterspool and give your support!

The new International Slavery museum in Liverpool in the old Granada building at Albert Dock opens on Thursday too. Edit - I was told that was where it was going to be but I think in reality it is still in the Maritime museum, I have not been there yet. Does anyone know precisely where it is? This recognises that the slave trade is alive and well and in particular in terms of prostitution - using my words with care so that I dont fall foul of people's filters, as well as looking back to the slavery of Africans.

Lots of opportunity for you to celebrate and show solidarity.

Thanks to the museum for sharing the information with me about all of the events and for helping me to help you to learn about them too

Monday, August 20, 2007

Kensington United Community Football - AGM

I have just had notice of the Kensington United Community Football AGM to be held on Thursday from 6pm on 6th September 2007 at Fairfield Police Club, Prescot Road, Kensington

It is hoped that the AGM business will take approx 45 minutes and this will be followed by 3 guest speakers (from Kick it Out, U19 Palestine National team and the Football Association) who will talk about their experience in football.

This will be followed by food and entertainment and prize draws.

They particularly welcome attendance from anyone who has played in leagues or tournaments or accessed any of the training they have provided. But I am sure they would be happy to see anyone who is interested, particularly in the excellent speakers.

See you there!

Check out the KUCF website at

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Warbreck byelection date announced (Liverpool City Council)

Following the very sad death of Councillor Joan Lang (edited spelling of surname), our excellent Lord Mayor until May this year, there will now be a byelection in Liverpool, in Warbreck ward, on September 13th 2007.

Joan was a LibDem, the first of the three seats was taken this year by Labour's Ann O'Byrne and Labour are hoping to take the second in September.

Unfortunately, because Joan was due to fight this seat in May 2008 (or retire, her choice, we dont know which she would have chosen), the winner will have to fight again in 8 short months.

Last week I might have said that it would be an interesting and close fight, given the personal and sad circumstances surrounding the vacancy, this week I would not put any money on the LibDems.

The cancellation of the Mathew Street Festival has thrown the city of Liverpool and all its citizens into despair. It is the ultimate demonstration and proof, should proof be needed, of the failure of this authority to manage its way out of a paper bag.

If you are interested in helping Liverpool Labour Party take its tenth seat from the LibDems in what will then be 16 months (and yes we also lost one), then please get in touch. It will be a very labour intensive campaign, lots of doors to knock, lots of phoning, lots of leaflets and letters, lots of engagement.

Labour's candidate is a highly respected local man who is very big in the local residents association and also works in an important role with people with disabilities. He will be very hard to beat and will do a very good job, very thoroughly and with huge commitment, once elected. I will do a potted biography for you in future entries.

We need you, please get in touch.

As One - fighting anti-social behaviour in Kensington and Fairfield (south)

Today was another meeting of the As One group who have three main aims

To make sure that local residents can recognise anti-social behaviour
To make sure they know what to do when it happens
To identify diversionary activities that will prevent anti-social behaviour.

It is a group set up by the Chamber of Commerce and headed by former police officer of some 30 years, Frank Richardson.

We talked as usual about a variety of activities, one of our main discussion items each meeting. I am interested to hear from local people with ideas about how to divert in particular teenage girls from anti-social behaviour. There are lots of plans and ideas and schemes already in place for the lads, particularly lots of football and other sports, but nothing yet for the girls.

I think I told you a few weeks ago about the disturbing incidence of girls as young as 13 staggering round drunk on a Friday night.

What can we find for them to do that they will enjoy and that will keep them safe?

We are always looking for residents to get involved and come along, might you be interested?

I took away about four action points, but I dont mind for this group because they achieve a lot and I really like working with them.

Joint wards Neighbourhood Committee

Last night was the first meeting of the new cycle of the joint six wards Neighbourhood Committee. Our committee, Kensington and Fairfield, Everton and Picton is joined up with Kirkdale, Riverside and Central wards for a "super" committee. It was actually only our second ever meeting and I was pleased to be nominated again as the Deputy Chair.

We talked about how the new structure, with its emphasis on double devolution - solving local problems at a local level, might actually work.

After a couple of hours of debate with both politicians, council officers and partners, we agreed that in future our meetings will have the usual agenda of information provision and discussion about wider matters but will also have a local neighbourhood forum element. We have agreed that our six wards will split in geographical ways that make sense into five smaller groups. Our group is Kensington and Fairfield with Picton. We have very similar wards, similar housing issues, similar retail issues, similar environmental issues, Smithdown Road and Wavertree Road have a lot in common with Kensington and Prescot Road, we share Edge Lane, the CPOs and the Kensington Regeneration area. I think it makes sense.

So what it means is that when the cycle of meetings of either the three ward set-up or the six ward set-up meet in either Kensington or Picton (we have never met in Fairfield, perhaps we should, the police club would be ideal) then we will focus on Kensington and Picton issues.

Conversely, when we meet in Everton, Kirkdale, the city centre, the Dingle and the Waterfront we will talk about their issues.

We agreed a whole raft of routes whereby problems can be solved and where interested partners, residents groups, community groups (issue based or geography based) can come together to resolve things.

Now we have to work out what the priorities are for each area - things like the physical environment (fly-tipping, graffiti, litter, broken stuff etc), health, jobs, training, housing, old people, young people, community safety, but in detail.

If you have not yet had an input into what you think really matters at a micro level in Kensington and Fairfield, please contact me or post a message here and I will see that it is considered.

I am really looking forward to see how it works.

Facebook concerns

My brother told me about this online video expressing some concerns about Facebook. Click the title of this entry to go to the film

Should we be worried? Should we come off the site?

Thoughts please

Kensington Regeneration Board

I have been to my first Kensington Regeneration Board meeting, having taken over former Cllr Marbrow's place as a local authority (the accountable body) representative, along with Frank Doran.

I dont know how much I am allowed to tell you about our discussions, I will have to take advice, but we had a long talk about the proposals for the new neighbourhood centre. Once I know what I can tell you and what I cannot, it will be here for you to see, watch this space.

I have also had an induction session although to be honest I know quite a lot about Kenny Regen already as I go to lots of their meetings and events.

I have promised to make some approaches about examining the positioning of Kenny Regen within the council. More on this later too I hope.

I must just tell you about when I got in touch with a journalist from the Echo to ask him if he had heard from Kenny Regen about the community garden at St Sebs in Fairfield. He wrote back to say he had not, but that if I saw him, I was to ask him to get in touch, LOL

Friday, August 03, 2007

My Labour Party milestone

Tuesday 31st July 2007 was a very special day for me, although ironically I only noticed it today.

It was the fifteenth anniversary of my joining the Labour Party.

How well I remember the occasion.

In March 1992 John Major went to Buckingham Palace to tell her Majesty the Queen that he intended to call a general election on April 9th.

I shouted at the TV, maybe even threw something at it, although it was probably only a slipper, I wouldnt actually want to buy a new TV just because his statement revulsed me....

I remember vividly thinking that if I was so exorcised about his announcement, if I truly thought the end of the world might be nigh if the Tories were re-elected then I ought to be doing something practical about it.

I had no idea at all about local organisation of politics although I had voted in every election that I could since I was old enough. But I was sure that there must be some small thing I could do. I knew I didnt have any Labour Councillors (we had two LibDem local councillors and a Tory county councillor I think in Grangefield ward, Stockton on Tees at that time). But I thought perhaps if I looked in the phone book for the nearest Labour politician I could call them. We had a Tory MP in Stockton South (Tim Devlin) but I found out that Frank Cook was the Labour MP for Stockton North so I called his office.

His staff suggested I call Eileen Johnson who was the Grangefield ward organiser for the Labour Party at the General Election. She asked me to come to her house and I took away a pile of leaflets to deliver and she even found me a new friend to help me. For the next four weeks I turned up every evening after work and did my bit and on polling day I took numbers at my local primary school. It was heady stuff and everyone I met was lovely and encouraging.

Sadly we lost in the constituency and in the country but I had got the bug. They asked me to come along to the party after the election, which I did although it was not a very happy event and then they asked me to come to the local Labour Party branch meeting in the pub just up the road from my house. I turned up to the meeting and by my second meeting was the Branch Secretary and elected on to the Constituency committees, the European committees, was the new Constituency Women's Officer and probably even more things that I have now forgotten.

But it was July before anyone got round to giving me an application form (in case any of you have been doing the maths!)

So, my fifteen years membership began on 31st July 1992.

Within a year or so we had become a key marginal parliamentary constituency with our own Labour Party organiser who was a professional member of the Labour Party staff in the region, one Bryan Thistlethwaite. Within three years my intensive local activity and campaigning working with him and with local members (three times a week every week, week in and week out) had lead to the securing of a full-time post in the then North and Yorkshire Regional Labour Party Office. Years later I managed the campaign when Sheffield Labour Party took the city back from the LibDems and I also had a year on the prestigious Labour Party National Executive Committee and National Policy Forum. The rest as they say is history...

Interestingly, I was a natural Labour supporter because I had been a good attender at Methodist Sunday school where they taught us of the importance of the story of the Good Samaritan who had stopped to help a fellow human being even though he was from a different and despised group. Ironically, Ann Widdecombe for whom I reserve the largest part of my scorn, once told the Today Programme that she became a Tory because of the story of the Good Samaritan because he couldnt have helped had he not been a man of personal wealth. Funny really, if it was not so chilling.

Anyway, I look back on those 15 years with intense pride. I organised in West Yorkshire where we won so many seats in 1997 and retained them in 2001 and in fact kept all of "mine" in 2005. I worked in numerous parliamentary by-elections, beginning in the snow in Hemsworth in 1996, and travelling all round the country with the legendary John Braggins.

And now I am an elected representative myself, staunchly working for local constituents and being as bolshy and interventionist where it is required as ever. I have been in all sorts of clubs and societies over the years, a member of the brownies and guides, the Boro supporters club, the National Trust, you name it, but the Labour Party has captured me totally. I could never be a blue (or a yellow), I will always be a red.

I am so proud to recognise this milestone as our new Prime Minister reinvigorates the party and the country and the red party's star ascends yet again.

Littlewoods Building on Edge Lane

I met Rob and John from LLDC today to have a look round the wonderful and iconic Littlewoods Building on Edge Lane, easily my most favourite building in the whole city.

Their plans are really exciting, this is going to be the top address in the whole city if the plans to convert this empty building into apartments goes ahead.

Generally I am antipathetic about the throwing up of apartment blocks all over Liverpool while so few already in existence are occupied. But I am positively certain that these apartments will be so desirable that they will be queuing round the block to get one when the time comes. In fact it would be my dream to have one myself!

It was really strange to walk through the vast empty spaces where hundreds of women used to open the pools coupons and check the entries to find a winner and where hundreds of men worked the printing presses printing the coupons and the Littlewoods catalogues. Here and there are some of the old signs advising staff of various instructions, the Quality Assurance office is clearly marked, the coupon number, the date of the draw still fixed to the wall. The clocking in cards are still there, the vast strong rooms are silent and empty now but as you walk around you can hear the chattering of the staff, the noise of the printing machines, and you can sense the heady excitement of a winner coming in for their big cheque.

I adore Art Deco design, whether it be in buildings, furniture or china for instance. This scheme is going to blow people's socks off, much more so than the endless competitions planned for the river front about whose blocks are taller. The park and gardens (some there and some still to come) will set this development in a wonderful green space, frankly I cannot wait. Bring it on!

Message to Cains Brewery

Are you quite sure you want to be an official sponsor of the 08 celebrations?

Given this LibDem shower in charge, shouldn't you be seriously scared about that familiar phrase concerning incompetence coming true?

Councillor Warren Bradley "in the dark"

Liberal Democrat Leader of Liverpool City Councillor, currently on holiday abroad, has told the Liverpool Echo and the Liverpool Daily Post that he didnt know anything about the axing of the Mathew Street Festival until the day before it got in the paper. He also said he has no intention of resigning.

It transpires that the select committee met on Monday night and nobody mentioned it there either.

Jason Harborow, Cheif man at the Culture Company (really an extension of the Council but with a wee bit of autonomy) has said he is relaxed about his decision to axe the festival and has no intention of resigning.

We have just seen the worst PR disaster in Liverpool in a very long time.

Yet neither of them feel that their failures, either to be aware of such serious decisions being made on one hand or cocking up the whole management of the event on the other hand, merit them taking any personal responsibility.

Well my message to Cllr Bradley (and I know you read my blog) is this. You are meant to be in charge, that is the essence of leadership. Your vision and strategic planning should be directing your officers. You have let Jason Harborow become too important, you have let him lead, you have let him be in charge. You have let him make decisions that he is "relaxed about" while every other citizen of this city is horrified, embarassed and angry with that decision.

I don't think there is anything wrong with you going on holiday, in fact I totally support your right to do that, as I support Government Ministers having a break too (although I cannot count the amount of times the LibDems have criticised them for so doing) but you ought to have checked that everything was on schedule before you left.

I am sorry to say this really, because even though you are the leader for the other side and I believe Joe Anderson would be much more effective, I still respect your democratic right to be the leader. But you have failed the city by allowing officers to make such hugely significant decisions without even bringing you into the picture. I am sure you are also angry and embarassed and I am sure you are blaming them for keeping you in the dark, but you have allowed this by your failure to have a real grip on events.

I wonder if now is the time for you to consider the practicalities of having a job as a fire-fighter while also trying to run one of the biggest and best cities in the country.

What would you think I wonder if Gordon Brown was doubling up his Prime Ministerial role with being a fire-fighter? Would you wonder if he could manage two such important jobs at the same time? How would you react if you found out that he went on holiday four weeks before the UK Olympics in 2012 without bothering to check that all was in hand, that no-one was going to cancel it at the last minute? I think we know the answer to those questions.

Unfortunately we do not have the capacity in local government to call snap elections, we have to stick with the LibDem leadership of the city until next May, so I suggest that in the meantime, if you really are refusing to resign, you get yourself back into your office and you take control, it is what Government is all about.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Mathew Street Festival axed!

Below you can read the Labour Group press release issued today, what a total shambles. This crew are totally incapable of organising, managing, negotiating anything at all. It is so awful, I dont really know how to respond to this, so many people will be angry and disappointed...

Echo story available by clicking title of this entry.

Liverpool Labour Group calls Mathew Street Cancellation a catastrophe for the city

Liverpool City Council’s last minute decision to cancel the Liverpool Mathew Street festival is a catastrophe for the city’s national and international reputation to deliver public events leading up to the city’s year of Capital of Culture 2008.

Says Councillor Paul Brant, acting Leader of the Labour Group “millions of pounds will be lost to the city’s economy and this last minute cancellation will come too late for many of the travel plans for visitors from as far away as Japan and America.”

Councillor Paul Brant said “the construction work at the Pier Head has been planned and known about by the City Council for years and the decision to cancel the Mathew Street festival because of the resulting crowd control and safety issues demonstrate an appalling ability to properly foresee the consequences. Many thousands of visitors and local businesses will pay the price for the Council’s incompetence.

The holidays of many thousands of people will be ruined by this decision and I am calling on Councillor Warren Bradley, the Leader of the City Council, who has responsibility for this issue to return to the city and sort out the mess”.