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Sunday, 20 December 2015

Joe Anderson seeking alibi from Tory ministers

I have a long delayed Freedom of Information request trying to reveal what the government is saying in response to Mayor Anderson's plea to help save his embarrassment - his letter to Greg Clark MP of 20th July, here.

I believe there is no justification for the use of Council resources in pursuit of his employment tribunal and then appeal tribunal claim against Chesterfield High School.  I believe that the letter to the Tory Secretary of State looks like an attempt to distract attention from the misuse of those Council resources by claiming a bogus public interest in clarifying the employment protection rights of elected mayors.

I think the continued delay in releasing the government correspondence, under Freedom of Information (FoI), shows a reluctance to reveal the embarrassing position the Mayor has put himself in by writing his shoddy letter and by his previous conduct in relation to Chesterfield High School. 

In the absence of a reply to the FoI request from government, we can draw conclusions from the falsehoods and special pleading in the Mayor's letter itself, as I will explain below.

Firstly, we have the timing of the letter, sent on 22 July 2015 - the day before the release of the response to a FoI request here that would reveal the Council had paid the Mayor's legal bills.   That response contains the Council's justification for paying the Mayor's bills.  It says
"...The City Council are currently in discussion with the Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) as to the possibility of the reimbursement of cost to the City Council given the issue arose as a result of the adoption of a new governance model..."

Those "discussions" had only commenced the previous day, in the form of that mayoral letter.  But the Employment Appeal Tribunal had handed down it's judgement back in April 2015 - April 14th judgement here.  Why wait three months to start those "discussions" with government?  Was there a need to create a justification just the day before the truth came out about who paid the Mayor's legal bills?  But let us look now at the evidence of the letter itself.

Crass and confused - Mayor's letter to Tory chums

First, some context: love him or loathe him, Joe Anderson is the political representative of the City of Liverpool in discussions and negotiations with government.  And way beyond any mayoral misdeeds, we depend on him to have a clear channel to government so that government understands the consequences of the brutal cuts they are making to the funding for our vital services.  There should be no room for any doubt about the effects that those cuts will have and are having.  It is important that the Mayor has credibility with government, that he is believed.

So it is very disappointing when he jettisons that credibility and sends a shoddy and self-serving letter to a government Secretary of State.

Start with one example.  Joe Anderson says "...the damages were reduced by an Employment Appeal Tribunal ...".  Not so.  It was he who made the appeal against the original Employment Tribunal's judgement.  The appeal was dismissed.  The Employment Tribunal had decided he was not entitled to any compensation, or "damages".  The Appeal Tribunal simply upheld that decision.   I think that only somebody writing in haste and being reckless with the truth would have made such an error.

More seriously, the letter relies on the mistaken, or perhaps disingenuous, assertion that the Tribunal, and then Appeal Tribunal, cases engaged with the interpretation of Section 10 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989.

He talks about "receiving payment for the equivalent rate of 208 hours per year which is a facility laid down in statute."  No.  There is no right to paid leave of absence from an employer in order to perform the duties of an elected member of a local authority.  The 1989 Act which Joe Anderson refers to does not give ANY rights.  Instead it imposes a cap, or limit, on any authority that wishes to give an employee paid time off to fulfil duties as an elected member of a local authority.  (The limit is 208 hours per year.)

And the record of the Employment Tribunal and of the Employment Appeal Tribunal show that the claim from Joe Anderson had nothing to do with the limit of the paid time off which he had been granted.  The issue was whether the school had the right to terminate his employment.  Both tribunals agreed the school governors would have been  justified in terminating his employment (although the school got the procedure wrong)  and their reasons had nothing to do with the 1989 Act and had nothing directly to do with Anderson's change of status from Leader to Mayor.

Anderson's letter claims that "The school had taken this unilateral decision to dismiss me based SOLELY (my emphasis) on the grounds that I had become Mayor of Liverpool."  Yet paragraph 28 of the Appeal Tribunal judgement contains the more substantial reason for dismissal, that "It does not appear to be an appropriate use of school funds to pay you additional money, particularly where you have not provided any services to the school since May 2010."

The only relevance of the 1989 Act (the one that puts a cap on paid time off) is that it appears to have been misunderstood by the school governors.  Although they had already decided, on 23 May 2011, that they wanted to terminate Anderson's contract (paragraph 19), it appears that they had the mistaken belief that his employment was protected by the 1989 Local Government and Housing Act.

When the City Solicitor wrote to the school on 3rd July 2012, suggesting that the cap of 208 hours no longer applied as Anderson was the Elected Mayor - an implicit request for more cash for the Mayor - the school appears to have been prompted to conclude that they no longer had any obligation to continue the employment.  That would have been the correct conclusion, but from the wrong interpretation of the law.

Yet we have the Mayor of Liverpool, in his letter to government, seriously claiming that "a precedent has been set whereby an employer can terminate employment solely on the grounds of an individual being elected to the office of Mayor..."  And then "...the ruling essentially now sits as a test case with implications for all of local government...".  So he thinks DCLG should share the legal costs.

This is a very strange picture which the Mayor and his officers are trying to portray:  in the public interest, the Council has taken necessary steps to fight in the tribunals for the clarification of the law so that the employment rights of elected mayors are tested and, now and only now, the government is called on to pay the bills and make corrections to the law.

To entertain that picture would require a massive suspension of disbelief.  Firstly, the tribunals themselves saw no ambiguity in the law and, indeed, the reported grounds of Anderson's appeal did not contain any challenges to the 1989 Act - instead he challenged the conclusion that he was entitled to no compensation because the school would have had the right to terminate his employment if only they had got the procedure right.  The principal justification for that dismissal was that it was an "inequitable" arrangement: Anderson was receiving payment for no value to the school.  That would have applied whether he had been Mayor or just Leader of the Council.

And the picture of a necessary journey through the  tribunals to clarify the law is spoiled by the fact that the Mayor and his officers did not, at first, seek to clarify the law - the application of the 1989 Act to elected mayors.  They sought to bypass it.  The City Solicitor's letter of 3rd July 2012 claimed that the 1989 Act did NOT apply.  It would follow that the school could pay more cash to Joe Anderson.  If there ever had been a reason to seek legal clarification of that Act with government, then the right time to do so was then, in July 2012.

After the event, we know that the attempt to extract more cash from the school to give to the Mayor was misjudged: the school, quite rightly, wanted to terminate the arrangement, not be given permission to increase the size of its investment!  But if the school had been willing to pay up, would we have heard any more about the need to bring a "test case" on behalf of the employment rights of all once and future elected mayors?

So will the Tory chums provide that alibi?

So far, the DCLG continues to delay a decision on handing over any details of its response to Anderson's letter of 22 July.  They say they are consulting a "third party" over disclosure.  I think that third party can only be Liverpool City Council. 
Now, I can see reasons why DCLG would like to keep Mayor Anderson sweet: he has delivered for them on the constitutional changes they wanted for Liverpool and for Liverpool City Region.
Even so, it would take an incredibly skilled and creative Spin Doctor to fashion a credible and favourable narrative out of the deeds and words of our elected mayor.  In due course we will see if such talents are deployed to help him out. 

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Joe Anderson - the Mayor's undisclosed earnings

In my last posting I looked at the, then, Council Leader's strenuous attempts to get more cash than he was entitled to receive.  We now move on to Joe Anderson's earnings as Mayor of Liverpool.

It was a puzzle to me about why would the Mayor go to such lengths to try to hold onto a few thousand pounds of earnings from Chesterfield High School (where he worked zero hours but was paid for four hours per week).  Surely, I thought, if he was short of a few bob he could just increase the drawdown from his allowance as Mayor of Liverpool.  He had been awarded £79,500 but, we were told, he was only drawing down £66,000 p.a.  Why couldn't he just tweak up the drawdown and leave the School in peace?  Why did more than £100,000 of public money have to be wasted on a fruitless legal action against that school?

Until very recently I had thought that the only reason for not drawing down the missing few thousand quid would have been to avoid the political embarrassment of changing his mind about how much salary he thought he was entitled to take as Mayor.

I was wrong: despite declaring he was going to "reject" the £79,500 salary and only take £66,000, persistent questioning - here - has now revealed that he has been taking the full whack of £79,500 since being elected as Mayor in 2012.  So it looks like Mayor Anderson's peak earnings would have been approximately  £84,000 p.a. - a discrepancy of about £18,000 p.a. above his disclosed earnings of £66,000.

How did that come about?  Let's pick up the thread in April 2012.

2012: Lack of transparency on past and future Mayoral earnings

I was the Green candidate in 2012 and as we approached the first mayoral elections I called on all candidates to disclose their tax returns - Echo report here.  At the time I thought it would actually help clarify the debate: the controversy over the Leader's increased earnings from 2010 was still current.  If Joe Anderson had published his tax return - I thought - he could prove his claim that he was no better off as Leader than he had been when he worked for Sefton Borough Council.

At the time I had no way of knowing that his tax return (year end 5th April 2011) would have shown a completely different picture.  In my last posting I estimated that he would have received paid leave from Chesterfield High School for 1005 hours in that financial year as well as his allowances of £52,000.   So I can see now why he might not have wanted to publish his tax returns.

 Joe Anderson was again making a virtue of his modest salary aspirations as soon as he was elected as mayor.   In this BBC report he was quoted as follows.
"When I stood for elected mayor I made it clear that I was not seeking a pay rise ... what motivates me is making a difference to people's lives, not financial reward.  It is for that reason that I have decided that the allowance I take will be no more than the salary I received two years ago when a social work manager at a school in Sefton and my allowance as opposition leader."

And the Echo report  had a similar story with the headline "Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson rejects £80,000 salary recommendation for lower wage"

At the City Council meeting where the Mayor's allowance was agreed, we still had no knowledge about his extra pay coming through Chesterfield High School.  That factor only emerged much later when his employment tribunal case entered the public domain.  We have already seen that Council officers had been involved in his arguments with Chesterfield school and Sefton Borough Council.  Officers knew about that money.  So it is a mystery why they did not appear to have recognised the need to let councillors know.  In effect the Council meeting was setting his pay at approximately £84,000 but we did not know that at the time.

Joe's incredible money memory

Looking back at 2012, I reproach myself for allowing him to get away with the above nonsense.  For one thing, we have a politician who is taking a pay rise of £14,000 and getting public credit for not taking a pay rise.. 

More significantly, we all failed to check his sums.  In 2012 he is saying he needs to take £66,000 to match his old earnings as Leader of the Opposition and senior social worker.  But in 2010 he was saying he needed (only) £52,000 to match those same earnings.  Recall the  BBC report from 2010! 

Even more important, though, is the recently discovered failure for him to follow through with his "rejection" of the full allowance of £79,500 in favour of a lower £66,000.  He has been trousering the full amount since 2012.

But what about Joe's charitable giving? 

If you look again at my letter to Joe, posted here, you will see I asked him if there were any mitigating circumstances.  In the absence of a reply I can only make a conjecture.

Perhaps he will argue that he has made donations to charities.  It would be interesting to see if he reports his donations; interesting too if any of the donations are ones which help burnish his image and reputation.

And returning to the dispute with Chesterfield school and his legal case to hold on to his extra earnings, surely it would be hard to justify taking money from a school which is then passed on to any charity of the Mayor's choice?  If the Mayor was short of a few bob, perhaps he could have eased up a bit on his charitable giving and left the School in peace.

Maybe the Mayor will enlighten us about that.

Other questions remain and I will develop those further in future posts.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Unlawful payments received by Joe Anderson

I will start this post by reproducing an email I sent to Joe Anderson, copied to senior Council officers on 20th October.

The Employment Tribunal record shows me that Joe Anderson received unlawful payments in the financial year ending 5th April 2011.  I think this is a serious allegation.  It is also a serious matter if senior Council officers were aware of those payments and condoned them.  That is why I had given the Mayor, and officers, an opportunity to correct any errors rather than have a false allegation go forward and cause reputational damage.

I have sent a series of such emails to the Mayor and to the Chief Executive and City Solicitor.   I know these emails are arriving because I have had one acknowledgement from the CEX and one from the Mayor's office before both of those channels fell silent.  Also I copy each email to my ward councillor's email address so that I know they have all passed through the City Council's mail system.

Here is the text of my email on unlawful payments.

Dear Joe,
Further to my email below and in the absence of any reply disputing the accuracy of the ET report, I am writing now to ask about the receipt by you of remuneration from Sefton MBC in the financial year ending 5th April 2011.  You may be able to correct any facts before I make any public comment.

According to Section 10 of the 1989 Local Government and Housing Act, it would have been "unlawful" for the authority (Sefton MBC) to have paid you for more than 208 hours for the purpose of performing your public duties as a councillor in that financial year.

Yet the Employment Tribunal record, paragraphs 29 to 33, shows that you would have received the following remuneration during that financial year:-

  • by implication, 4 hours per week paid time off for the month of April 2010 while still working at the school;
  • 36 hours per week paid, while no longer working at the school, for the months of May to September (full time); and
  • 8 hours per week paid time off while remaining away from the school for the months of October 2010 to March 2011.
I calculate that you would have received remuneration for approximately (4 + 36*5 + 8*6) * 52/12, i.e 1,005 hours during that financial year.
Have you been given any advice that it would have been unlawful for you to have been paid for some 800 excess hours during the financial year ending 5th April 2011?  Or, on the contrary, were you given advice that Section 10 did not apply to you and if so by whom?

Have you repaid the excess remuneration to Sefton MBC or do you intend to repay that money now?

I am copying this message to the City Solicitor and CEX.  I am also copying it to the former City Solicitor as it may appear that he should have been in a position to advise you about unlawful remuneration from Sefton and he may wish to clarify whether such advice was given or indeed whether he was aware of your continuing income coming through Chesterfield High School.

John Coyne
The relevant law - the 1989 Local Government and Housing Act - is here.  My calculations show that Joe Anderson received paid time off which was unlawful because, by some 800 hours, it would have exceeded the limit of 208 hours which a local government employer is allowed to grant in any one financial year.

Paragraph 30 of the Tribunal report contains the significant letter of 4 August 2010 from Sefton Borough Council to the new Leader of Liverpool City Council, Joe Anderson.   The letter refers to "considerable discussion" that had already taken place and had involved the former Chief Executive of Liverpool City Council.  It thus shows that at least one senior officer was already engaged in the cause of protecting the external pay of the Leader.

The letter makes clear the relatively simple legal position: "the school is bound to give no more than 208 hours of paid time in any one financial year."

However, having explained the law, it appears that Sefton Borough Council proceeded to misunderstand it.  They appear to have overlooked the paid time off already given in the first half of the financial year (April to September 2010) when they applied the 208 hours limit to the second half of the financial year (October 2010 to March 2011).

Attempting to break through the legal limit of paid time off

If the Leader had understood the legal position, he might have realised that he was already receiving over-generous treatment with his paid leave.  Instead of demanding more, he should have been repaying money already given in excess of 208 hours for that financial year.  Instead of that he deployed two arguments to try to break through the principle of the 208-hour cap.  Paragraph 32 of the Tribunal report describes his letter of 8th September 2010.

Firstly, he claimed that other local authority leaders in Merseyside had been granted additional time off (notwithstanding what the law says) so the local precedent should apply to him in all reasonableness, fairness and consistency.  I have to express an opinion here: that seems to be a completely brazen disregard of the law; if other leaders have received unlawful payments the remedy is to ask for them to repay those sums, not to copy them!

Secondly, he claimed that, as Leader, his post was effectively Chairman of the Council.  Section 10(1)(b) of the Act exempts the "chairman of the council" from the 208 hour limit.  Of course, he is completely wrong.  In Liverpool it is the Lord Mayor who is the chair of the council and that post rotates each year. The Lord Mayors (or similar mayors or chairs for other authorities) have a demanding schedule of ceremonial and civic visits during their year of appointment.  The role of leader of the council is completely different.  It can also be a demanding role, but that is recognised by the Special Responsibility Allowance which is paid by the Council to the Leader.

Neither of his arguments prevailed, but paragraph 42 of the Tribunal report   describes his return to the attack with an email to the Chief Executive of Sefton on 11 May 2011.  He was "extremely disappointed" with his situation.  By implication (we don't have the full text) he continued to challenge the 208 hour legal limit.  He also is "shocked" not to be getting pension contributions from his employer based on his full time salary rather than his current eligible remuneration.  And he asks for voluntary redundancy from his job.

I will return to that letter in future posts.  His expectations for pension contributions are very interesting.  And his application for a redundancy pay off casts light on his subsequent self portrayal as a victim of a "sacking".  But the most significant point in that letter is the following sentence.  (My emphasis added.)
"I have now decided to ask LCC to go down the route of putting in a grievance or look at unfair dismissal on my behalf which they are willing to do..."
So here we have the evidence that the Leader is claiming to have "willing" City Council resources available to pursue a legal case for him against his employer.

I think that claim is very serious.  Senior officers should not have been willing to be used in that way.  Instead they should have been advising the Leader to moderate his demands so that they complied with the law.  They should have pointed out that he had already received unlawful payments in excess of the 208 hour limit for the financial year ending 5th April 2011.

To be continued.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Chesterfield school: What did the Mayor do wrong

It's proving very difficult and very slow to get information from Liverpool City Council on the deeds of the Mayor in pursuing his legal case against Chesterfield High School and other related questions.  But I believe I have enough information, so far, to draw some important conclusions.

I believe the Mayor has a case to answer and his political supporters also have a case to answer for applauding him in his misdeeds rather than holding him to account.

The issues are complex and extensive.  They will need more than one blog posting.  Today I will look at the events in the year following his appointment at Leader of the Council in 2010.

Before I do that, here is my suggestion of what the Mayor would need to do now to put right what he has done wrong.

Putting it right - what the Mayor should do

  • pay the legal costs incurred by the City Council in pursuing his case against Chesterfield High School, i.e. £89,549.;
  • pay the legal costs incurred by the School , i.e. £41,692;
  • repay the money he received unlawfully in the financial year 2010/2011 in excess of the limit of 208 hours prescribed by the Local Government and Housing Act 1989;
  • recognise that two employment judges, at Tribunal and then at Appeal found his payments from the School to be an "inequitable" arrangement - money for no value - and repay all the money he received from the School in return for zero work since May 2010;
  • apologise to the City Council for failing to disclose his Chesterfield school earnings when the Council set his allowance in 2010 and again in 2012;
  • apologise for his misconduct in seeking to persuade Sefton Borough Council to make unlawful payments to him;
  • recognise that he has exposed senior officers to suspicion of misconduct in acting to advance his personal interests and wishes, and take steps to ensure there can be no recurrence;
  • provide full and frank disclosure of all documents and information relating to the origin and handling of the legal case against Chesterfield High School; and
  • if those documents confirm that there was never any possibility of a public interest in pursuing the case, he should apologise for the misuse of Council resources. 
I think it is unlikely that the Mayor will redeem himself by doing any or all of the items in that list, but he could.  If he fails to make amends and recognise that he has been a chump, I think it is very possible that the Labour Party will remove him as the mayoral candidate for May 2016.

As a Green Party supporter I have mixed feelings about keeping Joe Anderson as the Labour candidate.  It has been very much in our interests to have him as Mayor as his unpopular decisions and abrasive personal style have driven support away from him and towards us.  However, as a citizen of Liverpool I think it is vital that he is replaced by a more capable and rational candidate, even though that might make it harder for the Green Party to win.  But, now to turn to the interesting events of 2010 ...

2010 - the New Leader, his undisclosed earnings and his attempts to get more cash

This BBC report explains Joe Anderson's intention to take an increased allowance, totalling £52,000 as a full time Leader of the Council.  A key quote was 
"Although my allowance will increase, I will not be any better off financially than I was as Leader of the Opposition because I have given up my previous full time job."
The Employment Tribunal records make clear that the Mayor's statement was untrue.  When the City Council meeting raised his allowance, accepting the argument that his pay should match the total of his earnings as a senior social worker plus his previous allowance as Leader of the Opposition, we were not told that he intended to hold on to his job at Chesterfield High School and to continue to receive a salary from that job.  He had not "given up" that job.

You could argue that this was a private matter, but there are problems with that.
  • The pay that he received from his old job was paid time off to fulfil his duties as a member of the council.  So he would be paid twice for the same thing - money from the public purse to compensate him for being a councillor.  
  • In addition, if the Mayor had thought his Chesterfield employment was a private matter, then why would he be able, later on, to require the Council to involve Council officers in arguments about his remuneration and, of course, to pay his legal costs.
Or you could argue that four thousand pounds on top of his new £52,000 p.a. was not a big deal.  Again, there are problems with that. 
  • Firstly, he was receiving a lot more than four thousand pounds.  The Employment Tribunal record, paragraphs 29 to 33, explains that he continued to receive his full salary for the five months from May to September.  After that he received pay for 8 hours off per week, not 4 hours, until 31 March 2011.  (I think that level of payment was actually unlawful, but I'll return to that in a subsequent blog posting.)
  • Secondly, even if he had been paid just an extra four thousand pounds, that is a lot of money to be paid out for no reason by any school which may also try to raise extra money from time to time by parents' fund raising.
So, if the additional pay from Chesterfield school was not a private matter and if it was not insignificant, could it just have slipped the Mayor's mind when he was in the Council meeting on 21July 2010 which awarded him the increased allowance?

In other words, was this just an accidental non-disclosure of a relevant fact rather than a deliberate concealment?  The Employment Tribunal record helps us.  Again at paragraph 29 we see that on the very same date - 21 July 2010 - the Leader was emailing the School and also Sefton Borough Council asking for his salary to continue at 50%.  So he would have had £52,000 from Liverpool City Council and, I estimate, an additional £14,500 from Sefton if he had had his way.

A future Freedom of Request for the full disclosure of the timing of his email of 21 July 2010 may help determine whether he was asking for the extra cash before the Council meeting, or after it, or perhaps even during the meeting at a quiet moment?

For the record, I have written to Joe Anderson to give him the opportunity to explain this non-disclosure and also to dispute any facts reported in the Tribunal judgement.  (I know the email arrived as it was copied, through the Council's email server to my ward councillor, Cllr Tom Crone.)

In my next blog posting I will look at the question of unlawful payments to the Mayor and his attempt to procure such unlawful payment.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Councillors against austerity

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader has led to new speculation about a wave of councils and councillors leading a resistance campaign against government cuts by refusing to vote through balanced budgets.  Some Green Party members have, indeed, criticised the minority Green administration in Brighton for failing to be the vanguard of such a wave, in the past.

In Liverpool, the Green council group has, previously, rejected such a path as not being in the interests of the people of Liverpool and having a vanishingly small chance of a successful outcome.

What would Jeremy do?

But some people are expecting or hoping for Jeremy Corbyn to back such a strategy.  As far as I can find out, Jeremy Corbyn as a local MP for Islington has held back from criticising his local Labour council when they have voted through balanced budgets which take account of cuts to the money that central government has taken from the council's bank account. 
I would expect him to be consistent with that and to agree that it is central government - and only central government - that is responsible for the vicious austerity regime from which we are all suffering.

At the AGM of Liverpool Green Party on 23rd September, we debated this issue and passed the following resolution which, for the time being, informs our campaigning up to the mayoral and council elections in May.  The door remains open to further debate, however.
Liverpool Green Party needs to decide on its position on how to campaign against cuts to council services.

Up till now, we have taken the position that the responsibility for cuts to services lies with the national government which is cutting the funding to the city council.  Each year, the Green group on the council has proposed budget amendments which have sought to mitigate the cuts to services, for example by proposing council tax increases, and to argue for some different spending priorities.

Because we have not seen any way in which the council can force government to restore the money it has taken away from the council's bank account, we have not proposed any budget amendment which would spend money which the council does not have.  If our amendments had been accepted, the budget would still have balanced.

Also, we have moderated our criticism of the local Labour administration.  To be fair to them - even though this fairness is seldom reciprocated - we have not blamed them for trying to manage with depleted resources and making cuts.  Our campaign against cuts has been targeted on central government.

There is an alternative position, advocated by parties such as TUSC, which does place blame on local councils for passing on the spending cuts that follow from cuts to government funding.

This meeting requests the Green Party council group to continue to hold the position of mitigating cuts locally and resolves to continue to campaign against national government cuts to local authorities.


Saturday, 19 September 2015

New perspectives

I'm very happy to see the new Green Party team on the City Council settle down following my successful replacement by Cllr Anna Key.  Anna made her maiden speech and gained cross party support for her council motion on Wednesday.

To have a proper (possibly permanent) break from positions of responsibility, I've shed my roles on Green Party national executive, chair of the Association of Green Councillors, leader of Liverpool Green Party, St Michaels ward councillor and, finally, as a school governor.

With this new freedom, I can devote some time to writing, such as this blog, without worrying about taking time away from urgent work directly helping people.

Corbyn and the New Politics

The emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader is interesting and very hopeful.  It is part of a shake up of politics showing that the politics of the future does not have to be like the politics of the past.

There is a lot of convergence between Green Party policy and Corbyn's platform, but there are important differences too.  One of the most hopeful signs is his wish to engage positively with opponents and debate ideas.  Much more to be said on this.

But same old politics in Liverpool City Council

I hesitate before suggesting people look at the video of last week's Council meeting.  Corbyn culture has not yet taken hold in Liverpool Labour. For example, instead of engaging with the Green proposals on recycling we hear a repeat of the falsehood that "Greens opposed fortnightly bin collections".  They know we didn't, but if a brazen falsehood is repeated often enough it sometimes sticks.   (For the true record on Greens and fortnightly collection see here.)

Nine minutes into the Council meeting we have a classic example of the Mayor's response to scrutiny and criticism - a 15 minute rant against his evil accusers, particularly in the form of LibDem councillor Richard Kemp.  According to the judge in Anderson's Employment Appeal Tribunal, which dismissed his appeal, the Mayor's conduct "can reasonably be regarded as culpable or blameworthy".

The judge had also said "It is unclear to me why the legal department of Liverpool should have been acting on behalf of the Claimant in his private capacity." and that has encouraged some people to demand the Mayor pays back the £89k legal fees that Liverpool council tax payers have stumped up.

For me, the most troubling aspect of his behaviour in calling his critics "liars" is that he appears totally sincere about it and unshakable in his self belief.  To avoid any dissenting voices being heard, he would not permit any questions as if there is only one true point of view that should be heard.

From my reading of that Tribunal judgement, I think the Mayor is seriously misinforming himself.  Also the press and local BBC coverage has so far failed to drill down into the essentials of this case.  I hope to do that drilling down in a future blog post.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Handing over to a very worthy successor

After 13 years as a city councillor (9 of those as a Green), my term of office is coming to an end.  On Thursday the voters of St Michaels ward in Liverpool will decide if I will be succeeded by local resident Anna Key for the Green Party or by her Labour Party challenger.

I know Anna well from her work with local resident communities and as a fellow school governor in the school where we both have children.  I am impressed.  Despite not having English as her first language (she was born in Poland), she has a strong grasp of local issues and concerns as well as the radical Green Party philosophy.

Of course, with a simultaneous general election, the result of the council elections are more uncertain.  Last time the Green vote was twice the size of the Labour vote, but we cannot take that margin for granted: it may be very close.

What do we know about the Labour candidate?  We're told he has experience as a councillor at a senior level in the past.  And I'm told he made a decent fist of that role.  What's incomplete is that his leaflets don't tell which party he represented when he was last on the Council (it wasn't Labour).

Over the years, the Green Party has had to deal with negative campaigning from both Lib Dems and Labour.  I am disappointed that this continues and does not bode well if we had a Labour councillor sitting alongside the continuing Greens.

The latest example includes a misinformed or malicious personal smear on our candidate Anna Key.  Anna has acted on professional advice to remove some unsafe overcrowded poplar trees from her garden in order to plant some more suitable specimens.

There was a not very well informed press report here.  Labour seized on this and exaggerated it.  I find it really creepy that the Labour agent thought it was legitimate to try to stir up ill feeling by calling on her neighbours behind her back.  in fact the people who actually live near her house know about the reasons for the tree removal and welcome it.  Anna describes the full story below.

When we bought our house we were advised by our solicitors that we would potentially be liable for the pavement damage as well as any injuries or damage falling branches may cause. The trees were also interfering with the street lighting. After seeking advice from several tree surgeons we decided that the best course of action would be to get rid of them as if they were to be reduced it would make them weaker (their branches 'panic grow') which would render them even more prone to snapping.
Our potential liabilities were one of our main reasons to have them removed but potential damage to the house also played a big part. Some were very close to the house and we were told their roots might be  interfering with the house's foundations. Some of them were over 60 feet tall and less than 10 feet away from the house. Several insurance companies have told us our insurance premium would be significantly higher if the trees were to stay.
These are not the right trees for town gardens as they grow too tall too quickly. Due to their enormous height they were making our garden and house as well as the garden of our next door neighbour very dark. Our next door neighbour was delighted to hear that we were getting rid of them and helped with the works himself. Due to density of their branches they generated heavy leaf fall both into our and our neighbours' gardens but also onto the pavement of Promenade Gardens making it slippery and dangerous.
We will replace them with more sustainable and appropriate trees that will be here to stay for many years to come.

It's worth noting, too, that the Riverside Gardens area has contained many other copses of trees left over from the 1984 garden festival.  For that event, many fast-growing trees were planted close together to create an immediate effect: they were never intended to be a permanent plantation.  Indeed, local councillors have helped residents in Floral Wood and Cottonwood to remove and/or reduce a stand of overcrowded trees left over and unmaintained since 1984.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Mayoral welcome ... and some confusion,

Publishing here, a reply to an "open letter" from Mayor Joe Anderson.

Dear Joe,
It's is always useful to have our policies tested whether by friend or foe.  As we emerge as a contender for government we will increasingly be called on to review and refine our policies.  Our underlying values and principles will remain the same.

The answer to your question "What do we stand for" lies in the general election manifesto which will be released in a few weeks' time.  That manifesto, like its predecessor for the 2010 election, is informed by the large body of policies maintained on our web site.  Some of those polices apply to the long term, some are applicable sooner. 

I will respond to the particular ones you have chosen to highlight.  The headings you have placed above each of our policies, though, are not accurate.  (My comments are in green.)

"1.       Legal protection for the right to join or support terrorist groups"
Policies for A Sustainable Society PD433 "It should not be a crime simply to belong to an organisation or have sympathy with its aims, though it should be a crime to aid and abet criminal acts or deliberately fund such acts."

There is no "right to join a terrorist group".  You've picked the wrong policy, anyway, as PD433 relates to the arms trade.  Perhaps you were in a hurry.
You probably meant to criticise policy PD443 and you should quote it in full and consider it together with the other policies in the section which take a strong line on Terrorism. 
PD443 says Those accused or found guilty of atrocities, or planning to commit, aid or abet in their execution, should be dealt with under the same principles as those accused of more conventional criminal activities. In particular, those accused of supporting terrorist acts should have normal rights against arbitrary arrest or imprisonment. It should not be a crime simply to belong to an organisation or have sympathy with its aims, though it should be a crime to aid and abet criminal acts or deliberately fund such acts.
So raising money for and encouraging people to fight for Islamic State, for example, would be against PD443 and are criminal.

"2.       Stop Funding Faith-Schools"
Policies for a Sustainable Society ED176 “No publicly-funded school shall be run by a religious organisation. Schools may teach about religions, comparing examples which originated in each continent, but are prohibited from delivering religious instruction in any form or encouraging adherence to any particular religious belief.”

This policy relates to the long term.  It did not appear in the 2010 manifesto and is unlikely to be in the 2015 manifesto, but the secular principle is a good one.
Before it appeared in a future manifesto I believe we would need to refine and extend this policy  to show how schools would be supported by good local authorities through a gradual transition,  respecting their ethos and traditions.

"3.       Ending school places for 5 year olds"
Policies for Sustainable Society ED023 “We will move towards a system in which early years education extends until the age of 6. This will mean that academic learning is not introduced until the age of 6.”
You misunderstand.  This does not mean "Ending school places for 5 year olds".  It relates to research that shows that children can benefit if academic learning in schools is delayed until children are a bit older; meanwhile they should receive early years education.  The principle operates well in Finland.

"4.       Propose a “zero-growth” economy"
Policies for Sustainable Society EC201 “Allow the current dependence on economic growth to cease, and allow zero or negative growth to be feasible without individual hardship should this be necessary on the grounds of sustainability.”

I think you misunderstand the difference between "economic growth" and "dependence on economic growth".  The policy advocates an economy which is strong enough to provide for people's needs and flexible enough to grow or shrink as necessary from time to time without individual hardship, as it says.

"5.       Dismantle UK borders and ditch immigration controls"
Policies for Sustainable Society MG300 “We will work to achieve greater equity between the UK and non-Western countries. In step with this, we will progressively reduce UK immigration controls.”
Your heading misrepresents this medium-term policy.   We do not propose to open UK borders.  We need effective immigration controls.

If you believe in greater equality, and I understand you may have described yourself as a socialist at one time, then you would applaud the aim for greater equality between Western and non-Western countries.

As that aim is achieved, progressively, the incentive for migration would reduce.  As that incentive progressively reduces, and in step with that, the UK immigration controls could be progressively reduced.

John Coyne
Leader, Liverpool Green Party

-------- Forwarded Message --------
Subject: Open letter to the Green Party - What do you stand for?
Date: Thu, 5 Mar 2015 17:11:19 +0000
From: Anderson, Joe (Mayor of Liverpool) <>
To: <>, Coyne, John <>

Open Letter to Green Party Councillors and candidates.  Addressed to national and local leaders Natalie Bennett and Cllr John Coyne
First, welcome to Liverpool.
The venue you have chosen for your Spring Conference 2015 is a world class facility in a world famous city. As Labour Mayor of Liverpool, I am pleased you appreciate the investment we have made in our city, will experience the unrivalled hospitality of our people and will enjoy the business friendly attitude of our city. We are also a sustainable city and I’m sure our success in tackling carbon issues, supporting our residents with quality services and the growth of our economy were all factors in your decision to come to Liverpool this week.
As we approach the 2015 General Election and important local elections here in Liverpool, we are all looking forward to the various debates and discussions that will help inform voters’ decisions. During your conference you will no doubt raise these issues.
Like many Liverpool residents, I watched and listened to recent interviews with Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett on BBCTV, Radio 4 and LBC.
Frankly, I was left surprised and a little confused about the policies of the Green Party as we head into May’s elections.
To clear up any misunderstandings amongst Liverpool city residents, I thought it would be helpful for you to put on record your position on the range of policies Ms. Bennett raised on national TV and radio and proposes for your manifesto. I have listed the most eye-catching of your policies and, helpfully, added the reference to the relevant section of your policy document – Policies For A Sustainable Society.
1.       Legal protection for the right to join or support terrorist groups
Policies for A Sustainable Society PD433 "It should not be a crime simply to belong to an organisation or have sympathy with its aims, though it should be a crime to aid and abet criminal acts or deliberately fund such acts."
2.       Stop Funding Faith-Schools
Policies for a Sustainable Society ED176 “No publicly-funded school shall be run by a religious organisation. Schools may teach about religions, comparing examples which originated in each continent, but are prohibited from delivering religious instruction in any form or encouraging adherence to any particular religious belief.”
3.       Ending school places for 5 year olds
Policies for Sustainable Society ED023 “We will move towards a system in which early years education extends until the age of 6. This will mean that academic learning is not introduced until the age of 6.”
4.       Propose a “zero-growth” economy
Policies for Sustainable Society EC201 “Allow the current dependence on economic growth to cease, and allow zero or negative growth to be feasible without individual hardship should this be necessary on the grounds of sustainability.”
5.       Dismantle UK borders and ditch immigration controls
Policies for Sustainable Society MG300 “We will work to achieve greater equity between the UK and non-Western countries. In step with this, we will progressively reduce UK immigration controls.”

Enjoy your time in Liverpool and I look forward to you sharing your policy positions with me and the people of this great city.

Joe Anderson
Mayor of Liverpool

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Civilising Smithdown Road

The council is borrowing £80m to resurface some of the city's main roads.  As the work progresses, this could be an opportunity to make changes.  Traffic could be tamed; local centres could be brought back to life and made better places to live, work and socialise.
There are some well-established principles that can be applied to make that happen, but the current political leadership of the city council disagrees.  The biggest single change that could be made, at little cost, would be to put a 20mph speed limit on the roads as they pass through local centres.
Unfortunately the council has a special Liverpool policy against a 20mph speed limit on any main road - even the main roads where people live and shop.  Other local authorities have overtaken Liverpool and look at each section of each road on its merits.

So what's special about Smithdown Road for the Green Party?

There are many local centres in Liverpool which are bisected by main roads and we believe that each of them should be looked at to see if slower speeds and design changes can make them better places - like urban villages.  The part of Smithdown Road between Grant Avenue and Gainsborough Road is a very good example.
© OpenStreetMap 
You could make a case for extending the area of this "urban village", but the section between Gainsborough Road and Grant Avenue has the greatest potential for improvement, given some progressive changes to the way the highway is used.
There are a lot of good ideas in the government's guidance "Manual for Streets".

Manual for Streets explains an important way of looking at streets, recognising that they are not just highways.  As well as a "movement" function they also have a "place" function.

The Green Party is trying to get the council to recognise this way of thinking.  We will be paying off the £80m debt for years to come so it is worth getting the maximum value from that investment and seizing any opportunity to make our high streets better places.

Therefore we put a motion to the committee that scrutinises transport - here.  It was not well received - see the bottom section of this post.

Slowing Down, Saving Lives

This section of Smithdown Road is just over half a mile, at 850 metres.  What would be the impact on journey times if we slow traffic to 20mph?  There are three sets of traffic lights involved so most of the traffic is subject to slowing down or stopping and then accelerating again.  A 20mph limit would reduce the emissions and air pollution caused by those accelerations.  Time lost would be small, but the reduction in road danger could be very important.  With a 20mph speed limit there is less pressure on drivers to take risks and speed up.  Cyclists can more easily cross the lanes of traffic, particularly going between Arundel Avenue and Gainsborough Road.

On the rare occasions where all the traffic lights are green it would take 32 seconds longer to travel between Grant Avenue and Gainsborough Road at 20mph compared to a steady 30mph.  Is that too much of a sacrifice?

So let the people decide.

Manual for Streets has a lot to say about the balance between the movement function and the place function of a street.

People who drive along Smithdown Road may not appreciate that they are entering an important "place".  But the people who live in the area, use the local shops and walk to school etc will see it differently.  Slowing traffic will reduce noise as well as road danger and pollution, making this local centre a more valuable place to inhabit.

The Green Party thinks that local people should be asked and the expert guidance would agree with us on that:- 
2.4.11     In many situations it will be possible to determine the place status of existing streets by consulting with the people living there. Such community consultation is encouraged.
Nobody would deny that this part of Smithdown has to provide for the movement of traffic.  A 20mph speed limit is a "quick win" - a painless improvement to the quality of this local centre, but it will not be an easy challenge to find further, achievable design changes that will reduce the dominance of traffic while allowing necessary traffic to pass through. Nevertheless it is a challenge which should be taken up.

_But what does Labour say?_

The councillor in charge of transport is Cabinet Member Malcolm Kennedy.  he has ruled out putting a 20mph speed limit on any 'A' or 'B' road in Liverpool.  That is a view we are seeking to change.  Most of the collisions and casualties on Liverpool's roads occur on these roads and other local authorities are now much more willing to extend the benefit of slower speeds to the main roads that they control.  Liverpool is being left behind.

Malcolm Kennedy's other problem is that his regime doesn't "get" the idea of redesigning streets so they are fit for people.  At the committee meeting he rejected the use of the guidance in "Manual for Streets".  He misdirected the committee by asserting that Manual for Streets is only applicable to lightly-trafficked residential streets and lightly-trafficked lanes in rural areas.  But the guidance itself says the following. (Emphasis added).

MfS focuses on lightly-trafficked residential
streets, but many of its key principles may be
applicable to other types of stree
t, for example
high streets and lightly-trafficked lanes in rural
areas. It is the responsibility of users of MfS
to ensure that its application to the design of
streets not specifically covered is appropriate.
Malcolm left out the mention of "high streets".  And a main road passing through a local centre indeed acts as a high street.

Malcolm also appears to have forgotten, or perhaps never understood, that the applicability of these principles was put beyond doubt by the publication in 2010 of "Manual for Streets 2".
‘Manual for streets 2’ builds on the philosophies set out in ‘Manual for streets’ and demonstrates through guidance and case studies how they can be extended beyond residential streets to encompass both urban and rural situations. It fills the perceived gap in design advice that lies between ‘Manual for streets’ and the design standards for trunk roads as set out in the ‘Design manual for roads and bridges’.

Of course, guidance is only guidance.  Any local authority can disregard this best practice.  The depressing thing is that a scrutiny committee, which is supposed to apply critical thought to the policies of the administration, instead lets itself turn into a celebration of ignorance.