As forecast here last week, pressure is mounting on Merseytravel chairman Mark Dowd to go. His vigorous response to accusations of broken contract rule has merely galvanised opposition to him within his own Labour Party ranks.

Leading the way has been Liverpool Cabinet member Joe Hanson who it is now clear is the person behind a critical report on Cllr Dowd’s record. Hanson may be the man to challenge Cllr Dowd when the authority holds its annual general meeting later this month.

The fact that he is a Liverpool councillor, and traditionally such posts are held by politicians from councils in the rest of Merseyside, may now be less of a problem. Reports suggest that St Helens councillors on the transport authority have joined the call for Cllr Dowd to go. St Helens is traditionally the council most sensitive to Liverpool dominating the city region.


Who is going to fill the gap left by the departure of Chief Executive Diana Terris? Sources suggest she found it difficult to work with the Labour administration which came into office last year. My information is that the authority will take its time to make a permanent appointment. In the meantime we can expect an announcement shortly of an experienced pair of hands to guide the authority through the transition.


Labour does want its pasty and eat it.
I mean the government changes its mind about the tax on this product and an MP called Chris Leslie is all over our screens saying the whole budget is in chaos.

He’s miffed because he won’t be able to beat the Chancellor over the head about the issue again or the tax on static caravans. The tax on church conversions is rumoured to be next.

Of course George Osborne made a mess of his budget, allowing everyone to focus on these irritating issues which are small in the great scheme of things. This has obscured his determination to keep getting the deficit down and the fact that millions of poorer people have been taken out of tax. The latter largely because of Lib Dem pressure.

So the government has changed its mind. All credit to them I say for listening. That’s what democracy is all about.


Spin, sleaze and splits. That’s the staple diet of political journalism. But should we replace some of that with substance?

That was the question that the BBC’s Political Editor Nick Robinson posed at a memorial lecture this week in honour of that great North West journalist Brian Redhead.

Partly driven by the demands of editors and also by the incessant demands of 24 hour news, political coverage does tend to concentrate on those three s-words. But Nick was asking how far this has contributed to the yawning chasm that has opened up between politicians and the people.

If the public is constantly told their politicians are on the make, if they think the reporter is being manipulated by spin doctors or is telling them about internal party squabbles that they don’t care about, then probably journalism has some responsibility for low turnout.

So Nick suggested we need to do something about the fourth s-word, substance. Perhaps we should have more coverage of how policy is made, why it is so difficult, what factors are taken into account.

The problem is who would watch it or read it? Nick feared it might be regarded as “eating your greens television.” In other words good for you but not necessarily very enjoyable after a hard day’s work.

I was privileged to host a question and answer session after Nick had spoken at the lecture in Salford Quays. Nick had first worked for me at Piccadilly Radio (now Key 103) in January 1983. He had a year to fill because he could not go to university following a terrible car crash which saw his great friend Will Redhead killed.

Nick paid tribute to Brian, who included presenting the Today programme and editing the Manchester Evening News, amongst his achievements and said he had inspired him to take up journalism.

Brian encouraged all young journalists. In the early eighties I always hoped he’d be on the mid morning train to Macclesfield after we had both finished working in London. If he was you’d be guaranteed a couple of hours of inspiring chat which was substantial but included a bit about spin, sleaze and splits too.



Mark Dowd, the man who makes the trains run on time across Merseyside, could be facing the end of his long stint as Chair of Merseytravel.

Transport sources suggest that the challenge may come from within Cllr Dowd’s own Labour party and even more controversially may come from the Liverpool Labour Group.

Any move by the city to take over the chair is likely to be viewed warily by outer boroughs that have jealously guarded key posts on the city region wide bodies that control waste, fire, police and travel.

Apart from Cllr Dowd (Sefton), the chair of the Police Authority Bill Weightman comes from Knowsley as does Cllr Tony Newman who chairs the Fire Authority. Meanwhile the Recycling and Waste Authority is headed up by the appropriately named Cllr Joe De Asha from St Helens. I hear Liverpool could be targeting his post as well. That won’t go down well with the St Helens Council leader Marie Rimmer whose relations with Mayor Joe are said to be poor.

Fears of these attempted Liverpool takeovers have been heightened by the election of Joe Anderson as mayor. He believes the post should cover the city region and may get government backing as he slowly tries to widen his influence.

Cllr Dowd may be vulnerable because a local newspaper has given extensive coverage to a report by the District Auditor questioning how millions of pounds had been spent by Merseytravel on consultants without the contracts being put out to tender.

Tory Wirral MP Esther McVey and Lib Dem peer Lord Mike Storey have now called for an investigation.

Mark Dowd, a man well used to the rough and tumble of Merseyside politics has hit back saying the District Auditor had found no substance in most of the claims and where there needed to be improvement, this was being done.

The problem for Cllr Dowd is that the District Auditor’s findings follow a highly critical report on the governance of Merseytravel under Mark Dowd by fellow Labour councillors. Perhaps this paves the way for a takeover bid at the annual meeting next month.


Manchester and Liverpool better watch out. Cheshire is tired of being depicted as the home of footballers wives and the famous cheese.

With poverty still a major problem in our big cities, it is often tempting to look at the lush acres to the south and think the county hasn’t any problems.

Liverpool, Manchester and to some extent Lancashire have been successful in drawing attention to their problems and getting investment.

Cheshire missed out on an enterprise zone although the ones in Liverpool, Daresbury and Manchester Airport are right on its borders.

Now the drive is on to get the whole of Cheshire as well as Warrington working together. At an impressive Westminster Day in the House of Commons a positive message was sent out drawing attention to the economic advantages of business locating in the county.

The Chancellor and Tatton MP George Osborne came along on his birthday. Pete Waterman (a member of the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership) gave a rousing speech in support of HS2 and a room near Westminster Hall was set aside for admiring parliamentarians to sample Cheshire fare.