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 http://www.northwestlibdems.org.uk/conference

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 sue@bluefountain.com 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.


Conclusion
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 pj.rowen@ntlworld.com

New books, new shoes and sharp pencils

Regular visitors to this blog will have noticed a distinct lack of postings over summer for which I apologise.  The seasons and months mean different things to different people and I'm sure each of us have our favourites.  Summer to me is children and picnics whilst my favourite season must be Autumn with its approach heralded by the month of September.

To many people the start of Autumn hints at the approaching year end but to me September represents the start of a new phase of your life.  I think it must be related to the start of the new school term which is hard coded into most peoples psyche and although school finished a long time ago for me, the start of September always makes me think of new exercise books, new shiny shoes and sharp pencils. 

To me the very best description of Autumn can be found John Keats Ode to Autumn which again is probably my favourite poem.

Ode to Autumn
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'erbrimmed their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.