Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Councillors meet with Highways officers over gritting mayhem

I, together with a number of other Southport councillors, met with senior Council officers today to try and get answers on why there has been such poor performance locally in clearing main roads and town centre pavements of snow and ice.

The councillors including both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives asked a wide range of questions about the Council's response to the severe weather including why no snow ploughs were sent to the main roads in Southport, why Chapel Street and Lord Street were left like ice rinks, why the large snow fall didn't appear to be classed as an emergency, why there was a delay in redeploying staff  to clearing pavements, for full details on the activities of the gritting vehicles and many more. 

I will try to detail the answers in another post shortly but I must give one answer to a question which many people have been asking - Sefton did not sell or give any grit to Liverpool Council.

The Officers will be providing a report at next weeks Southport Area Committee meeting (5th January at 6:30pm at Southport town Hall)

Thursday, 23 December 2010

When the going gets tough

Last year a number of people spoke to me about the possibility of being sued if they cleared the snow and ice from the pavement outside their homes. In fact, the "You and Yours" program on Radio 4 actually did a report on this very subject.  So given the situation we now find ourselves in I am pleased to pass on some information I have received from the Government courtesy of the North Meols Civic Society

There's no law stopping you from clearing snow and ice on the pavement outside your home or from public spaces. It's unlikely you'll be sued or held legally responsible for any injuries on the path if you havecleared it carefully. Follow the snow code when clearing snow and ice safely.

The snow code - tips on clearing snow and ice from pavements or public spaces

Prevent slips

Pay extra attention to clear snow and ice from steps and steep pathways - you might need to use more salt on these areas. If you clear snow and ice yourself, be careful - don’t make the pathways more dangerous by causing them to refreeze. But don’t be put off clearing paths because you’re afraid someone will get injured.
Remember, people walking on snow and ice have responsibility to be careful themselves. Follow the advice below to make sure you clear the pathway safely and effectively.

Clear the snow or ice early in the day

It’s easier to move fresh, loose snow rather than hard snow that has packed together from people walking on it. So if possible, start removing the snow and ice in the morning. If you remove the top layer of snow in the morning, any sunshine during the day will help melt any ice beneath. You can then cover the path with salt before nightfall to stop it refreezing overnight.

Use salt or sand - not water

If you use water to melt the snow, it may refreeze and turn to black ice. Black ice increases the risk of injuries as it is invisible and very slippery. You can prevent black ice by spreading some salt on the area you have cleared. You can use ordinary table or dishwasher salt - a tablespoon for each square metre you clear should work. Don’t use the salt found in salting bins - this will be needed to keep the roads clear.
Be careful not to spread salt on plants or grass as it may cause them damage. If you don’t have enough salt, you can also use sand or ash. These won’t stop the path icing over as well as salt, but will provide good grip under foot.

Take care where you move the snow

When you’re shovelling snow, take care where you put it so it doesn’t block people’s paths or drains. Make sure you make a path down the middle of the area to be cleared first, so you have a clear surface to walk on. Then shovel the snow from the centre of the path to the sides.

Offer to clear your neighbours’ paths

If your neighbour will have difficulty getting in and out of their home, offer to clear snow and ice around their property as well. Check that any elderly or disabled neighbours are alright in the cold weather. If you’re worried about them, contact your local council.

Wrong kind of Snow !

Many many residents have contacted me to express their shock and dismay that the roads and footpaths show absolutely no improvement almost a week after the snow fell.

I have asked officers from the Highways Team to attend the Southport Area Committee meeting on the 5th January to report on how they have handled the current situation and to answer questions from councillors and residents. 

I am sure that the current procedures and protocols used may be adequate to deal with frost or light snow fall but I think they need to be reviewed in light of this the second year of heavy snow fall.

Any review must also recognise the demographics of the population in Southport specifically the large number of elderly people who have in effect been housebound since the cold weather arrived.  I will also be asking why the main shopping areas are almost impassable in what is the busiest period in the run up to Christmas.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Southport Courts set to close

Southport Magistrates and County Courts are set to close as a result of recent review which looked at court usage and costs.  This is despite John Pugh MP and Cllr Sue McGuire, together with local lawyers, submitting arguments against the proposed closure which cited inaccurate facts given about the status of the Courts and the distance people would have to travel for justice.

"I am disappointed that the final decision has been taken to close the court here in Southport. I worry that this will have an impact on the number of cases going trial since it may well be that witnesses will be forced to travel on the same train as the defendant or the defendants family. It is quite possible to see witnesses leaving the train if faced with the possibility of travelling with the defendant or defendants family. In many cases it may be that the witnesses chose not to testify at all rather than face any chance of possible intimidation. Similar arguments can also be made in the cases of domestic violence and family court cases."

John Pugh MP has written to Ken Clarke, Justice Secretary, following this closure announcement questioning the decisions to continue to seek additional magistrates court capacity in Liverpool and close down a purpose built magistrate court in Southport.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Taking a walk on the green side - DAY 1

I broke the news to the family last night that we are now going greener.  As I suspected my plan was met with a certain amount of derision - my husband looked slightly puzzled and then smiled in a positive manner. Child number 1 nodded in a rather sagely way having experienced some of my other more radical initiatives and said with a sigh in his voice "Whatever you say, Mum".  Child number 2 however, dealt with the suggestion in a less welcoming manner with dark mutterings which included phrases such as "if you think I'm walking, my bike has a flat tyre and as a final shot "what about my warm towels".

So onto day 1 of the new greener (and hopefully leaner) McGuire clan.  Children off to school, dog walked no problem.  Then off to a meeting with Sefton NHS to discuss children's health services in Southport and Formby.  Normally I would drive to Bootle and use the time to catch up on phone calls (hands free of course) but today I chose to cycle to the train station, travel with my bike to Bootle and then cycle to my meeting.  I made a rather dramatic entrance to the meeting declaring rather smugly that I had cycled to the meeting.  This smugness was quickly lost when I was forced to admit that I had in fact only pedalled about 1.5 miles. But the blood was pumping and I felt good. Journey home was of less interest apart from the fact that I was very cold and much less jubilant.

Miles NOT driven 40
Miles Cycled 3

Market Hall refurbishment grinds to a halt

ROK, the company contracted to work on the Southport Market refurbishment, have been placed in administration following reported losses of £3.8million.  For more details please see the Southport Visiter site or the Birkdale Blogspot.

It seems somewhat ironic therefore that there is a report on the Agenda for Southport Area Committee meeting next week which gives details of the Southport Market Gateway Features (Public Art).  The report requests approval from the Southport Councillors for moving to stage 2 of this commissioning process with an overall cost of £111,750 including £26,400 for 3 granite seats.

I think its madness to consider spending this amount of money when we are trying to reduce budgets. We are facing the prospect of at least 1,000 employees of Sefton Council losing their jobs as a result of necessary spending cuts and so it seems unjustifiable and incredibly insensitive for Labour and Conservative Councillors to have voted for a scheme that allows large sums of money to be spent on items such as granite seats.

As Tony Robertson, Lib Dem Leader of Sefton Council explained “It displays a complete lack of any grasp of the economic realities that we are facing.  It also indicates that both parties do not see how investment in market redevelopment should be directed. It’s all very well having expensive seats, but if the market traders cannot afford the inevitably higher rents, then who will be there to sit on the granite seats?”

Councillor Simon Shaw has already voiced concerns about where money for this project is being spent. “At a recent Council meeting I asked how much money had so far been spent: the answer was that over £250,000 had been spent on external Consultants, while just £15,000 has been spent on building work.”

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Taking a walk on the green side

During my daily stroll around the park this morning, I got to thinking about all the "green" things lib dems stand for.  In the course of my deliberations I considered how we live life specifically "how green am I" so on the second circuit of the park I set myself (& family) a challenge - to go green.

Now there are certain things that we won't be able to do - like install solar panels, put up a wind turbine or buy an electric car but apart from these there are areas of our lives which could be made more environmentally friendly if only we made a bit of an effort so here goes.

For the next 12 months the McGuire family promise to:
1. Only put the central heating on when the temperature outside falls below 0
2. Think twice before using the car and use our bikes as much as possible
3. Shop locally and only do the family "big" shop at Co-operative stores
4. Buy as much organic food as possible and swap to environmentally friendly products
5. Recycle more

That all sounds pretty straightforward -  Follow my exploits on Twitter

I should add that I haven't shared this "Damascus moment" with either the children or my husband yet so maybe that will be my first challenge.

Tackling anti social behaviour

A number of residents have contacted the Focus Team to report an increase in youths congregating around the shops on Churchcill Avenue.  The incidents have been reported to the police and I have spoken to Inspector Tony Jones and the Community Support Officers regarding this issue.  Both ask for residents to contact the Police Control Room on 0151 709 6010 directly so that all incidents can be logged and the police can take the necessary action to get the situation resolved.  All calls can be made anonymously

We have also been in contact with the Council to see if an alcohol banning order can be put in place in the area which would mean that anyone caught drinking alcohol on the street would have the alcohol taken from them.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Latest Application for a Phone Mast

An application seeking planning permission to erect a mobile phone mast on Slaidburn Crescent has been submitted to Sefton Council.

The mast design is known as monopole which is similar to a lamp post, only not as slim, and about 5 metres taller. It is not like the monstrous box-type mast looming over Seacroft Crescent which, many years ago now, we succeeded in getting the Planning Committee to refuse. But that democratic local decision was subsequently overturned by an independent Planning Inspector on appeal, as sadly very frequently happens, and whose decision is final. So the eyesore was built to the distress of residents. Mobile phone companies have the automatic right to appeal against local planning committee decisions.

The monopole mast would be on the pavement on the first right hand bend that you meet after turning into Slaidburn Crescent from Fylde Road. It would be approx. 100 metres from the nearest house on Coyford Drive and visibly shielded by the intervening commercial buildings on the estate.

Mobile phone companies, like other utilities such as gas and electricity, have the automatic right to use pavements for equipment without any payment. All they need is planning permission. Councils cannot stop them using the pavement itself. That’s a national law.

We have demanded, and made sure, that this planning application is properly considered by the full Sefton Council planning committee of councillors because of concerns expressed by some local residents.

The meeting takes place on 10 November at Southport Town Hall at 6.30pm.
To object, write to Sefton Council’s Planning Department, Magdalen House, 30 Trinity Road, Bootle L20
3NJ or use the on-line comments form at The deadline for receipt of objections is 10am Friday 5 November. A petition from a minimum of 25 residents and signed/supported by a local councillor (which we, of course, would agree to do) gives one of the petitioners the opportunity to speak for 5 minutes at the planning committee meeting.

We should tell you, in all honesty, that the legally valid reasons for turning down such an application are
limited. Councillors on the Planning Committee are required to work within national planning legislation.
For example, health concerns are technically not lawful reasons for rejection, although that does not, of
course, stop you saying what you feel. Issues worth mentioning include things like loss of visual amenity
and over concentration of masts in the area and, of course, anything that you personally think is important.
It would be misleading of us to suggest or forecast the outcome or build up hopes of refusal given the fact
that whatever the planning committee decides, the phone company usually appeals and an independent
Planning Inspector subsequently gives permission. And that decision is final with no further right of appeal.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Give Rogue Traders the Cold Shoulder

Trading Standards officers in Sefton are backing a national campaign which highlights rogue doorstep traders offering winter home improvement services.

 The Office of Fair Trading and Age UK have joined forces to warn people, particularly those in later life, the vulnerable and their friends and family, of the problem as winter approaches.

The awareness drive highlights the financial risks of being scammed and the emotional toll it can take. It is being supported by resident agony aunt at ITV's 'This Morning', Denise Robertson.  She said: "I receive many letters from people who have been swindled by illegitimate doorstep handymen.

 "They often feel too embarrassed to talk about it, even with their closest family and friends. I hope that by bringing this issue into the open, people will feel more comfortable to talk about it and also more confident, if they are approached, to say no or ask for time to consider, rather than agree to work on the spot."

 While canvassing on the doorstep is not illegal and there are many legitimate businesses selling to people in the home, rogue doorstep trading is an ongoing problem in the UK.

 Last year, advice service Consumer Direct received more than 5,300 complaints about traders offering home maintenance work on the doorstep, a 16 per cent rise from the previous year.

 Sefton Council Trading Standards manager, Andrew Naisbitt, said: "Only in the past couple of weeks we have had complaints from residents in relation to callers turning up on the doorstep offering services. Some residents have also been contacted over the phone.

 "These have been in relation to roofing repairs and selling alarm systems, the type of services people consider as winter approaches.

 "Work or service carried out by these traders is sometimes unnecessary, of a poor standard, much more expensive than originally quoted or not done at all. Our advice is to try and ignore such sellers.

 "If in doubt, call Consumer Direct on 08454 040506 or visit"

Advice for residents:
* If a trader knocks at your door do not agree to on-the-spot house repairs, or sign anything on the spot.
* Be wary of special offers or warnings that your house is unsafe.
* Do not make snap decisions. Take time to talk to someone you trust before you make a decision. 

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Girls, Football and Politics

The role of football mum is becoming one I am switching to more and more often, as my daughter plays football for three teams with matches almost everyday - its just a good job she's the goalie - although washing the kit is becoming a bit of a chore.

After one match this week, which I had supported rather enthusiastically from the sidelines, my daughter proudly announced that she was going to be on the school council.  My ears pricked up and seeing an opening for an election edition of a FOCUS leaflet, I was keen for more details. So I asked rather casually if, in fact, there would be an election for the positions and what things will she would like to be  responsible for.   My daughter looked at me sideways and replied "Responsible for Mum - I'm going to be the chair so I can tell everyone else what their responsibilities should be"

Some people, who know me, may say like mother like daughter but I prefer to think this exchange shows very clearly that girls are keen to get involved in politics and campaigning - the question is how do we keep them involved?

Work begins on Hesketh Park Lake

Regular users of Hesketh Park may have noticed something a little amiss with the lake this week, as work begins to repair the lower lake bank.  The work will involve lowering the lake level (retaining sufficient for wildfowl) together with closing sections of the lakeside path.  In addition the lake edge treatment will also be upgraded with some extra planting at the lake edge.
The cost of this work is being met by the contractor who undertook the original work as part of the refurbishment of the park in 2008.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Have Your Say!

As you may be aware, the North East Police Team have a meeting once a month for residents to discuss any local policing issues they may have with police officers and PCSO's.

These priority setting meetings have now been given the far snappier title of 'Have your Say.'

The next meeting is going to be held at Eton Court on Park Road West on the 14th October, starting at 7pm and will be chaired by PC Steve Keefe.

Current priorities that local police are looking at include speeding traffic in Park Avenue, Park Crescent and Fylde Road.

Please come along and let us know about any issues that you have. These meetings are a great way to air problems and to meet your local policing team!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Fish, Chips and Lib Dem diners

Your Lib Dem Team, are delighted to say that last nights Fish & Chip supper at Fylde Fish Bar was again a huge success.  So many people came that the chippy ran out of chairs but I'm happy to say not of fish or chips.

Lord Ronnie Fearn gives a helping hand with chef Banico and staff
The evening was a great opportunity for our new members to meet and chat to some of our councillors from the ward but also from across Sefton with diners including John Pugh MP, Tony Roberston, Leader of Sefton Council and the one and only Lord Fearn of Southport.

Sefton Council Leader Tony Robertson pictured with owner Banico and John Pugh MP
It was also a great opportunity to support a new and thriving local business.  Our thanks and appreciation go, as always, to Banico and his staff for the excellent food and service we received last night.

 We are planning another event here shortly so anyone who wants to have fish and chips by the sea in Southport is more than welcome to join us although given the quality of food tickets sell out fast.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Newsnight and the parallel universe

I think I must have entered some sort of parallel universe last night whilst watching Newsnight.  There I was, merrily watching Paxman doing what he does best, when up popped Conservative MP Phil Hammond  arguing the case for the removal of child benefit.  Then in response to a challenge by Polly Tonybee, Hammond moved swiftly onto the steps the government had already or planned to take to help the low paid and children in deprived areas.

Then, like one of those slow motion delays, as I began to open my mouth to shout at the telly that these were Lib Dem policies, my brain re-engaged and I realised that yes indeed these are our Lib Dem policies but we are part of the coalition government.

Now I know I know this - I was at the conference in Liverpool but even so it is still taking time to sink in and I can't believe I am the only one who keeps forgetting.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Get ready for REAL progressive politics..

I, along with Sue and a delegation from the Southport Liberal Democrats, attended a mega training day put on by Chris Davies our regional MEP. It was a great day, with lots of training events to keep us all up to date with the latest campaigning techniques and messages.

The highlight for me was listening to Andrew Stunell, MP for Hazel Grove and our party's Minister in Government for Communities and Local Government (pictured). He was also one of our negotiating MP's who helped to formulate the Coalition Government agreement.

The word 'revolutionary' is often overused in politics, but I think it can truly be applied to the localism agenda that will form a key feature of this Parliament.

Localism is all about decentralising and detaching the strangling tendrils of central Government. Its about realising that different areas have individual needs and priorities and that Whitehall diktats are not the best way to govern. One example of this was the Regional Spatial Strategies, housebuilding targets imposed from the centre on to communities. These gave no leeway to local opinion. RSS has now been abolished by the new government.

The concept of Localism is relevant to all of us. It will mean that town, parish and local Councils will all be able to have a say about local budgets and local services.

We need look no further locally than the stalemate over the Childrens Walk in Centre for Southport. Its clearly a service that local people want and need, yet nothing is happening.

There is nothing that will invoke electoral apathy than this sort of situation. You can understand why people are turned off voting if they think that they are powerless. This is even further entrenched if people also feel disillusioned with their ability to enact any change through their votes. Its not hard to see how people then think, ' well whats the point voting, I cant change anything can I?' Or, 'well, i really like that candidate and that party, but they cant win here, so my vote will just be a wasted one.'

A new and progressive politics has to challenge and eradicate the 'whats the point,' and 'why bother' attitudes that the Labour Government certainly didn't tackle. Localism and political reform in the shape of fairer votes, will truly radicalise the political system as we know it.

Next years referendum on introducing a better voting system will be an exciting opportunity, not just for Liberal Democrats, but for people who feel they dont have a voice.

Its time to shout loudly!

Friday, 1 October 2010

Musings of a football (& rugby) mum

When I first got involved in politics my children were very young and so it was easy to find a baby sitter (usually my brother) all I had to do was give them a kiss and put them to bed. Then lipstick on and away I went merrily to council, community or local party meetings.

I naively thought, that, as the children got older the need for babysitters would be reduced and things would be easier.  How wrong I was. I am now a fully fledged football (& rugby) mum and all that this role entails - coach, taxi driver, catering manager, laundry operative, provider of hugs and the teams biggest fan.

The interesting point here is that this group of women (aka as soccer or hockey mums) are recognised as a politically significant category in their own rights in the USA and now being a fully fledged member of this group I can understand why. These people are generally  the lynch pins of the family, time management is a way of life, together with diplomacy and advanced driving.  Politics for these women is very real and this should be recognised by campaigners and politicians alike.

By the way - the lipstick before meetings bit the dust many years ago now I'm lucky if I remember my reading glasses !

Thursday, 30 September 2010

North West Regional Conference on Saturday 16th October

The North West Lib Dems Autumn Conference will be held at the ACE Centre, Nelson, Lancs, on 16th October.

It will bring the regional party’s members together for our first conference since the General Election.

With the new coalition government having an ambitious plan for many of the reforms we have campaigned for - electoral change, an elected House of Lords, and more - it will be a chance to consider the new political
landscape here in our region and to plan for the referendum on the new voting system anticipated in May 2011.

The registration form, and exhibitor’s booking form, are ready to download now - the motions and agenda will be online soon. Conference also includes the Annual General Meeting of the North West Liberal Democrats.

Conference is open to all members, not just ‘the great and the good’, and as well as speakers and policy debates, offers a range of excellent training to help you learn about the party, our values, campaigning and more.

Advance registration closes on October 5th.

Find out more at

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Love at First Sign

Showing Lauren the new sign
(we had to wait until a speeding car went past)
I know I have posted before about variable speed sign but I'm absolutely over the moon that the two signs I recently campaigned for have now finally been installed on Marshside Road and Fylde Road. And I'm delighted to say they are both working well flashing away like billy-oh at drivers going over 30mph on these roads.

I especially like the one on Marshide Road since, as there are no street lights where it is located, it flashes like this great beacon in the darkness which I think probably gives the drivers a bit of a shock !

New Lamps Columns on Hawkshead Street

We reported recently that Hawkshead Street will soon be getting new lighting columns to replace the old fashioned cast iron columns.  A number of residents responded to ask why the original columns cannot be retained and renovated, many commenting that this may be a more cost effective option.  I passed the question on to the Highway Team and received the following response:
Unfortunately, the short answer is they are beyond repair for the following reasons:

1)   They are structurally unstable due to dissimilar metals being used in the upper section of the column.
2)   Electrically, this equipment does not meet current safety regulations.
3)   The poor spacings and the height of the existing equipment make it impossible to attain any reasonable lighting uniformity from the installation.
So now you know. 

A Walk in the Park

Just finished my regular circuit of the park and was delighted to bump into one of this wards Community Support and Traffic Officers.  It was a great opportunity to catch up and share information on any issues that have come up.  In particular, I was able to ask about the "Have Your Say" meeting which took place recently.  These meetings are designed to give local residents the opportunity to meet up with the police teams for their area to talk about any things of concern.  The meetings are also used to decide those things the police will be targeting for that month.  In the case of Cambridge Ward, it has been decided that the team will be focussing on speeding traffic particularly on Park Crescent, Park Avenue, and Fylde Road.  I also asked for Cambridge Road and Argyle Road to be added to the list.

If you have any issues of concern or if you feel that your road has a problem with speeding traffic then please let your FOCUS team know.

Monday, 27 September 2010

History, Hollywood and the Battle of Thermopylae

The family sat griped last night as the story of 300 unfolded on the big screen.  Now don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with the film, although it was difficult at times to tell what was real and what was computer generated, what does bother me however is the rewriting of history according to Hollywood.

The film 300 tells the story of King Leonides of Sparta who fought to hold off the Persian invasion of Greece in 480BC. This is accurate up to a point, but the film does not give the context of this in relation to the history of Europe or the impact that this battle had on the world we live in today.

The Battle of Thermopylae, is in  fact, a well known fight both historicallyand militarily as it illustrates how important training, equipment and the use of the terrain is in warfare.  Indeed, it has become a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds.

Full details of the battle can be found on Wikipedia at Battle of Thermopylae

But this is only an example I worry that people, especially our children, will get a very distorted understanding of history if all they see is the Hollywood version.  History will become a series of glorified snap shots with nothing linking them to the real events.  So I was absolutely delighted to find the book "A Little History of the World" written in 1935 by Ernst Gombich which chronicles human development from the inventions of cavemen to the end results of the First World War. The book is a pleasure to read and since it was written originally for children, it manages to present the information in a way that is both interesting and detailed.

So, if your history is like mine which starts with the Italian Renaissance, skips through the Tudors and ends with Charles II, then I really recommend reading this book.

More details can be found on Wikipedia at A Little History of the World

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Local PCSO's work recognised

I was delighted recently to learn that two of the Community Support & Traffic Officers for our area have recently received the "WOW Award" for customer service.  The officers were nominated for the award by a resident of Hornby Road in recognition of the help given to reduce damage to property and for restoring quality of life.

PCSO's Chris Ward and Trevor Vearncombe with their awards presented by ACC Gallan at Police Headquarters.
More details on the award and on policing in our area can be found at Cambridge Ward page of the Merseyside Police Website. 

Community Pay Back Working in Our Area

People found guilty of crimes spent a total of 280,750 hours doing community service work to pay back for their crimes on Merseyside, according to the latest just-published annual police report. Instead of fines or other measures, courts  sentence offenders to do community work, such as removing graffiti, picking up litter and other worthwhile neighbourhood clean-up and improvement projects.

In Sefton, the Community Pay Back team visit Southport on a regular basis - if you know of anywhere around you that has litter or graffiti or that could do with a tidy up please let your Lib Dem Team know by emailing so that we can get pass it on to the Community Payback.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Southport scoops national party award

Suffolk Coastal, Nigel Ashton and myself accept the
Penhaligon Award from Party Presidnet Baroness Ros Scot
Conference is over and its back to work as usually.  I was delighted that so many members from Southport Lib Dems made the trip to Liverpool, 25 at last count, to attend what was an excellent conference.  The atmosphere was electric as Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Simon Hughes gave detailed accounts of the current situation and what we as Liberal Democrats want to deliver in government.

The week ended on an high note for Southport as we became joint winners of the national party award - The Penhaligon Award.  This trophy is presented annually to the local party which demonstrates an increase in party membership together with activities to develop and involve members and activist alike. This year, for the first time in the awards history, the prize was shared by two local parties ourselves and Suffolk Coastal.

Nigel Ashton, the current chair person of Southport Liberal Democrats, gave a great presentation to the judges and should be congratulated for the effort and commitment he has put into getting the local party so far.  I was absolutely delighted to accompany Nigel onto the main conference stage to receive the trophy from part president Baroness Ross Scott.

The media and labour party pundits are making claims that people are leaving  the Lib Dems "like rats from a sinking ship" but that's not what the membership figures show - in fact there has been an overall increase in membership of over 6,500 this year with many joining since the formation of the coalition.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Off to Conference

Saturday morning and I'm on my way to the Liberal Democrat Conference in Liverpool.

The conference promises to be the busiest yet with registrations up by 40% on previous years.  Security is much tighter as well body scanners and sniffer dogs.  The most we normally get is a quick look in your hand bag by venue staff so I think some conference goers are in for a shock.

I have a whole list of events I want to go to and then a whole list of events I have to go to.  On top of that I am, as Chairperson of the North West Liberal Democrats, hosting a regional reception tonight which has been sponsored by Northern Rail.  We hope to give everyone who comes a warm welcome from the North West.  I'm also making a presentation to NW MEP Chris Davies which may cause a bit of a stir (more of that later).

Follow me at conference on Twitter

Friday, 17 September 2010

STITCH UP - the future of the Walk in Centre (WIC)

Myself, John Pugh MP, Cllr Brenda Porter and Cllr Barry Griffiths
before our meeting with Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health.

But how did we get to this when the future seemed so rosy ?

I have been campaigning since 2003 for the return of children's services to Southport, initially as a mother with 2 small children but also now as a councillor for Southport, so I was incensed and very disappointed at a report, recently produced by Sefton PCT, into the provision of a WIC for children in Southport.  This report followed a series of meetings spanning two and a half years and was, the campaigners believed, going to rubber stamp the WIC proposal.

I could rant for England on this particular subject but will limit myself to what, I believe, are the key failings in the report specifically the absolute lack of detail and understanding of the local situation in Southport.

Examples include :
  • no reference whatsoever to the fact that Southport is a holiday destination for families,
  • no details regarding the number of children from Southport & Formby being taken to Alderhey Hospital rather than Ormsirk Childrens' A&E, 
  • no mention of the very successful Children's MIU centre at Smithdown Road or to the WIC at Litherland Town Hall which also provides a service for children backed informally by Alderhey staff.
  • no definition or description to the actual services the WIC would provide
  • vague costings which vary by £500,000 and give no details as to what they cover to.
  • lots of details regarding problems with recruitment of trained staff but no clear details of the number of staff that would be involved with the WIC
  •  and one of my favourites - there is a problem with transport between the two hospitals. 
The list does go on but that should give you an  idea.  It became obvious in a recent meeting with hospital and PCT executives that they saw no problem with the report and felt it gave ample justification as to why Southport should not have the WIC it needs and our children deserve.  A position of stalemate had been reached between Sefton PCT, Southport & Ormskirk Hospital and local campaigners but no way was this the end of the road as the campaigners are concerned.

Local MP John Pugh, who has been involved in this from the start, arranged a meeting with Andrew Lansley, the Secretary of State for Health to which myself, and Councillors Brenda Porter and Barry Griffiths attended.  It was a very helpful meeting with the Minsiter listening to our points.  

What will happen - its difficult to say at this stage but Sefton PCT have been told in no uncertain terms to go back to the drawing board as far as this particular report is concerned. But watch this space !

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Working to keep the Courts in Southport

The proposed closure of both the Magistrates and County Courts in Southport has been in the news recently and the consultation on this closed at 5pm yesterday.  Your Liberal Democrat Team are very concerned about the planned move of our court service to Bootle and Liverpool as we believe it will have a detrimental effect on access to local justice.  Both John Pugh MP and myself have met with a number of solicitors and the court users group to try and respond to the consultation.

Some residents feel that it will only effect those people who are defendants and so travelling out of Southport may not be a bad thing however I believe that the impact of the proposed closure will be much wider.

The following text has been submitted as my response as Liberal Democrat Ward Councillor for the Magistrates Court to the consultation.
Arguments against the closure of both the Magistrates and the County Courts of Southport
The consultation document makes it very clear that cost savings and under utilisation of the current Magistrates court are the main reasons behind the proposed closure in Southport. However both of these reasons must be considered in the wider context of direct and indirect impact to the Court Service in the future.

The information contained with the consultation document lays out in very broad brush terms the supposed benefits of moving the whole court provision in Southport to Bootle and Liverpool however this approach overlooks much of the detail which, when considered, undermines the proposed closure and move of the courts from Southport.

Proposed Cost Savings
Southport currently has both a Magistrates Court and a County Court which operate out of separate locations. It would make most logical sense if the two courts were operated out of one location. This would in the long term provide a cost saving which would meet one of the key criteria for closure. Although there will be an initial capital cost to this move this would be offset in the long term by the reduced overhead costs of the second site on Houghton Street quoted in the Consultation document as £162,819 annually and remove the need for maintenance of £50,000.

Improved Utilisation
The co-location would also increase the usage of the court building which would meet the second key criteria of utilisation. The Magistrates Court has more than enough capacity to support co-location with a separate entrance with lift access available. In fact the consultation document clearly states that the Magistrates Court has vacant space on the ground floor and at least one free court room.

A previous attempt to co-locate the two courts is referred to in the consultation paper but insufficient detail is given on this as to the full reason for refusal. The Court Users Group did attempt to get an updated costing for possible co-location of the two courts however access to the Magistrate's court building was prevented by HMRC. Again it is impossible to make a reasoned decision if inadequate up to date information is not available for in-depth consideration.

Southport County Court is acknowledged within the consultation document as being open five days a week with 1.5 judges sitting which equates to 7.5 days of court time. This level of work must raise concerns regarding the proposed move to Liverpool Family Court. No details are given as to how the current court timetable at Liverpool Family Court will be managed to accommodate the additional timetable of a full time court in Southport.

As a final point on co-location, the consultation document refers to the fact that the Magistrates Court is joined the the police station. In fact this connection goes further with both premises accessing a shared heating system. The close proximity of the the police station and the neighbouring fire station would make this purpose built court house unattractive as a possible development site in future and would ultimately leave HMRC with an on-going financial commitment to a large unused building.

Increased risk of mistrials
The current legal system has an on-going issue with mistrials and trials falling through, the cost of which is increasing annually. By moving both courts from Southport there is an almost guaranteed probability that the number of mistrials will increase. The additional travel time for defendants, witnesses and/or claimants will have a direct impact on the outcome of many trails with many of these people choosing simply not to attend court.

Specific attention must be given to the demographics of Southport. The town has one of the largest populations of over 65 in the UK with this set to increase in the future as Southport is, and markets itself as, a destination to retire. Having a population which has a predominance of people over 65 does however bring with it associated issues one of which is the fear of crime. With the removal of the court services it may well be that witnesses will be forced to travel on the same train as the defendant or the defendants family. The Northern Line trains which link Southport to Bootle and Liverpool are modern walk through carriages which allow free movement of passengers. It is quite possible to see witnesses leaving the train if faced with the possibility of travelling with the defendant or defendants family. In many cases it may be that the witnesses chose not to testify at all rather than face any chance of possible intimidation. Similar arguments can also be made in the cases of domestic violence and family court cases.

To draw a further conclusion from the above it could be that Southport becomes a destination for criminals as it becomes known that witnesses are not likely to testify.

Economic Impact
Southport as a town is the 14th biggest population centre in the North West. The presence of the courts here have allowed a large number of solicitor practices to open in the town (approx. 30) which supports the local economy. This support is not only in terms of solicitors employed but also in terms of support staff and in the wider context of local shops, caf├ęs and restaurants. If the courts move to Bootle and Liverpool there is every likelihood that the accompanying legal firms will also be forced to move which would have a direct impact on the economic viability of the town. This may be a longer term issue but one that must be considered as part of the initial decision.

Whilst everyone understands the need for cost reductions, they also recognise that when important decision are made which effect a large number of people those decisions must be made with access to all the facts and relevant details including:

  • capital/revenue and on-going maintenance costs,

  • operational details of not only the courts threatened with closure but also the courts set to receive their workload,

  • the direct and indirect impact on the local community

  • and finally the right of everyone for access to local justice.

Penny wise, pound foolish”

Councillor Sue McGuire
Cambridge Ward, Southport,
Metropolitan Borough of Sefton

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The saga of the grass on Preesall Close

Once upon a time in Marshside, two different companies had responsibility for cutting the grassed areas - Sefton Council and One Vision Housing.  This may not strike you as a particular issue however problems arise when the two companies involved have different grass cutting standards.  To make matters worse, the areas of grass managed by each company where situated opposite each other which made the difference in performance very very noticeable.

Things came to a head when residents in Preesall Close began to notice that their area of grass always seemed to be a bit longer, had more weeds and most importantly was always covered with grass cuttings whilst the grass verges across the road were almost bowling green quality. But what could be done ?  Requests were made to the Council but the Council were doing their job it was just that they worked to a different (less expensive) criteria than One Vision Housing grass cutting team.

Residents then approached the Lib Dem Team who considered the situation long and hard.  Maybe, they suggested, the grass being cut by  the council was not actually the council's responsibility, maybe the grass on Preesall Close was under the control of One Vision  If this was the case then the grass in question should be maintained and managed by One Vision rather than the Council.  After some consideration One Vision Housing agreed with the suggestion whilst the Council thought it was a marvellous idea and readily agreed.

So the moral of the story - the grass doesn't always have to be greener on the opposite side.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Green Fayre in Hesketh Park

The rain didn't stop visitors to last Saturday's Green Fayre in Hesketh Park, and it appears lots of Southport residents are keen to find out more about making their lives just a little bit more greener..

The Fayre was organised by Transition Southport and the Sefton Leisure and Tourism Department.

I was volunteering at a stand, and was impressed with the amount of people wanting to make their homes more energy efficient and sustainable.

Being free for both exhibitors and the visiting public was a great chance for businesses who may not be able to afford bigger exhibitions to market their products, and for the public to look at the options available to make their lives greener.

This is just the sort of event that we should see more of in our town. Its also a fantastic way to make use of Southport's parks as it encourages people who wouldn't normally use or visit them to make the most of what they offer.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Campaign for Real Ale

For 3 nights only, the 11th Sandgrounder Beer Festival is in action at the Scarisbrick Hotel.

Southport and District CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) have organised this wonderful event which includes over 50 different beers, fruit wines and ciders, and at only £3 entrance (or free for CAMRA members) it's an event not to be missed.

CAMRA campaigns for real ale, real pubs and consumer rights. Their overall aims include protecting and improving consumer rights, seeking improvements in all licensed premises and promoting quality, choice and value for money.

This great event is open noon-11pm Friday and Saturday, and my best advice is go along, support local and independent breweries and most of all, have fun!

For a list of the available beers please see here.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Remembering Sir Cyril Smith - 28 June 1928 - 3 September 2010

Sir Cyril Smith pictured with Paul Rowen (former MP for Rochdale) and Charles Kennedy MP
As most of you reading this will already know, former Liberal and Liberal Democrat MP for Rochdale, Sir Cyril Smith, has died on Friday 3rd September aged 82.

Our first thoughts must be with Sir Cyril’s family at this sad time. The people of Rochdale have lost a formidable champion today and the Liberal Democrats have lost someone who has been an outstanding influence on the party locally, regionally and nationally for over 40 years.

North West Euro-MP Chris Davies knew Cyril Smith for more than 30 years. He represented the Littleborough and Saddleworth constituency next to Rochdale, and Cyril Smith acted as his campaign manager in the 1999
European election campaign.

Chris Davies said, “Although he was never a European enthusiast he campaigned for me in 1999.  I spent happy days travelling across the North West with Cyril, his brother Norman, and his former agent Rodney
Stables.  The car we used had been strengthened to bear their formidable collective weight and I was like the filling in a sandwich.

Cyril wore his heart on his sleeve and was passionate about two things,Rochdale and politics.  He could be a formidable foe, and the most loyal of friends.  I have had experience of both.

He was proud of what he had achieved and passionate about two things, Rochdale and politics.

“Everyone knew him, absolutely everyone.  He was forthright, and blunt,and people trusted him as an honest politician.  But no-one should forget his total commitment to the political process with all its flaws.

“Liberal leaders over the years lived in trepidation of the next missive from Emma Street, but he rarely did less than provide a huge boost for our party across the country.”

More information on the life and achievements of Cyril Smith can be found at this Wikipedia page

For anyone who may wish to attend: the funeral will take place at 12 noon on Monday 13th September in the town hall in Rochdale.

There will be a memorial service the following Sunday 19th September at 10.30 in the Unitarian Church.

Further details or requests for car parking should be passed on to Paul Rowen at