Sunday, November 27, 2016

Ros in the Lords: National Citizens Service Bill (Second Reading)

It isn't that often that I appear in Hansard. Ros has occasionally referred to me in terms of rural transport, but I'm not the Liberal Democrat equivalent of Mrs Bone. But, in this instance, my colleagues and I (or at least some of them) receive a little bit of praise, as Ros calls for proper focus by the new scheme on hard-to-reach, under-represented groups...

Baroness Scott of Needham Market (LD)

My Lords, I join in the thanks to the Minister for introducing this short but important Bill. In doing so, I declare an interest as a member of the advisory council of NCVO. I am also a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I have spent most of the past 30 years in various forms of public service, and in different ways, most of the people I know are also involved: they are active in their communities and they volunteer. I think that we would all agree that our lives are enriched by that experience. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, is right to say that the benefits of public service work both ways. So if the creation of NCS opens that sort of opportunity for more of our young people, that is, of course, to be heartily welcomed.

However, this large project, serving some 300,000 young people, will come at a cost of £1 billion in the forthcoming five years. That is not a reason not to do it, but it is a reason why we should look very carefully at all aspects of the scheme—starting, of course, with the legislation that establishes it. Having set budgets in local authorities for some years, I am always acutely aware that expenditure on one thing means that you do not have that money to spend on something else, so it is simply not good enough to say we should do ​something because it is a good thing to do; the question is whether it is the best thing we can do. In its briefing, the LGA points out that this investment is being made at a time when most local authorities have spent the past few years cutting services under their youth budgets because of cuts in their own financial settlements, and we have heard from my noble friend Lady Barker about the quite stringent conditions under which many charities are operating.

It is interesting that there has been quite a sea change in the past few years in that more young people are volunteering. I have seen reports that there has been a 52% rise in youth volunteering. To some extent, social media and on-line tools make certain sorts of voluntary engagement easier than they have ever been. For that reason, it is important for this scheme to have a relentless focus on those who are hard to reach or disadvantaged through poverty, disability, dysfunctional family lives and so on because they are the ones who potentially have the most to gain. For people with serious disadvantage, a cost of £50 is a big hurdle, so I was pleased to hear the Minister comment on ways of making that affordable. That should be one of the key indicators when Parliament carries out its scrutiny.

The National Deaf Children’s Society raised very important points about the cost of delivering the programme to young people with particular needs, such as British sign language interpreters or speech-to-text reporting, It is currently left to NCS providers to meet the cost of supporting disabled young people, and they are concerned that this funding will not be forthcoming. I am sure that similar issues would arise with visually impaired young people and those with other disabilities. I have a close family member dealing with ME. I hope that there will be enough flexibility in the scheme to manage those sorts of difficult intermittent conditions.

It is very important that we focus on how this scheme is to be promoted within hard-to-reach groups. I am a bit concerned about the emphasis being put on mailings from HMRC to promote it as that seems rather dependent on parents receiving mailings and then acting on them. In dysfunctional families, this may very well not happen, and those who need it most may be passed by.

I was also very taken with the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, that young people do not like government schemes. If they do not like government schemes generally, something coming from HMRC might be particularly problematic for them. I know that there are wonderful people in HMRC - indeed, I am married to someone who works for HMRC - but there is a question about the tone of that very first engagement coming from HMRC. It also seems odd that in a scheme designed to transition young people into adulthood, the first engagement is through their parents. I am not entirely sure that we have got that right. I know that local authorities have fought very shy of becoming too closely involved with this, but they certainly need to be involved in a whole range of ways. I also wonder whether there is an opportunity to work with local authorities on voter registration in the context of this scheme because it seems to me that a great part of becoming a citizen later in life is to vote when you have the opportunity.​

To a large extent the success of this scheme will depend on the providers, so I have been interested to hear from a whole range of people who have been involved so far as well as from NCVO and other parties. While there are some areas of disagreement, they are not significant and there is widespread consensus on a number of things. The first is that the scheme must sit firmly within the context of the whole of a young person’s life from the age of five to 25 and not be about just this brief period. Secondly, we need to ensure that the whole experience is of high quality and, as Justin Davis Smith, formerly of NCVO, put it, that the programme becomes the,
must-do choice for young people.
I think that is right.

Thirdly, the programme needs to sit within the wider volunteering system and make effective use of the knowledge and expertise of specialist charities, social enterprises and providers, especially in their localities. The scale of this programme could mean that smaller providers get frozen out of the commissioning process, as is often the case. The social action part of the programme should be not just a one-off but the start of a long-term involvement with volunteering and social action. However, finding meaningful voluntary activity is not always easy. Voluntary organisations themselves need more resources to manage an influx of volunteers; without them young people either cannot participate or will receive a poorer quality experience as volunteers. Fourthly, partner organisations need to be effectively and adequately resourced. One of the existing providers, The Challenge, explained how it provides personal coaches for young people who have been involved with the criminal justice system or who have been in care. This is almost certainly effective, but, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, it is very expensive.

The Bill also makes a number of provisions to make the NCS Trust accountable to Parliament and the public, which is welcome. We have to think acknowledge and, perhaps in later stages of the Bill, think about how we manage the tension between the sort of independence which the noble Lord, Lord Maude, talked about and the need to manage a very large sum of taxpayers’ money. I got slightly nervous at the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Maude, about the morass of public appointments. As boring as process sometimes might be, it usually ensures that you get a solid outcome in which people can have trust. With Kids Company we saw what happens when you have exuberant, charismatic leadership. It does not necessarily work well. We need to learn those lessons.

Conventional reporting - the annual report, the accounts and so on - can be of limited use. Charities now quite rightly focus on the impact they have, and NCS reporting should be exactly the same. Some of it will be qualitative, drawn on the experience of participants, but given this amount of public money, I expect to see a lot of data about the numbers of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, those who complete the programme rather just start it and those with disabilities. Over time, I expect some outcomes with regard to those who remain involved with voluntary service and to whether there have been impacts on employment, reductions in crime and so on, both on a personal level and in aggregate.​

It is no longer good enough for something to mean well; we have to get it right. I cannot put it better than the youth social action charity City Year UK. In its briefing it said that it is vital, now more than ever, to give the next generation the chance to play their part in shaping our country and themselves through service to others and that NCS at 16 should be the beginning and not the end of those opportunities to serve.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A big beast breathes his last. Fidel Castro's legacy isn't as black or white as is being painted...

The news that Fidel Castro has died shouldn't really have come as a huge surprise, even if you did begin to wonder if he was ever going. He had retreated from public life for the most part, and I suspect that the obituary writers had edited their drafts more often than for most people. But he is gone, and the opinion makers are off and running.

For the left, Fidel is a hero of the anti-imperialist movement, for the right, an authoritarian who impoverished his people, repressed dissidents and was a threat to world peace. And it's easy for those whose experience is limited to foreign reporting filtered through their own cultural bias.

For me, it's a bit more complex. One should bear in mind that Cuba in the 1950's was a corrupt dictatorship, where freedom only really extended to the Mob and to the wealthy, and where the influence of a foreign power acted to cement that dictatorship in place. Most of us, had we had much knowledge of what was going on, would have sided with the freedom fighters, rather than the regime. 

After all, Fidel and his freedom fighters won, against an entrenched military dictatorship, which could only have been possible with the support of much of the population at large. The fact that the Americans immediately tried to overthrow his government and replace it with something far more amenable to their interests, could only act to reinforce him in power. You could almost excuse the missile crisis that then followed, given that a superpower was threatening them. Under those circumstances, pairing up with the other superpower becomes an attractive option, and it did deter the Americans from making another serious attempt.

The problem was that he adopted a political creed that was doomed to failure, handcuffed to a superpower that was purely a military one rather than an economic one. And, whilst he created a society that was far more equal than the one it had replaced, that equality wasn't terribly good at delivering for the people of Cuba.

He also orchestrated the repression of those who had other opinions on the future of the country, arresting and detaining the likes of Armando Valladares, and kept an authoritarian eye on his people. And interfering in the internal affairs of other countries merely demonstrated a sense of hypocrisy that his nation couldn't really afford, acting as a surrogate for the Soviet Union in exchange for a market for their sugar.

Ironically, it is his brother, Raul, who has gradually loosened the apron strings, introducing rights and freedoms that are bottom-up rather than top-down, allowing ordinary Cubans to enter the market economy whilst the big international corporations are held at arms length. And, having been to Cuba recently, there are all the signs of an entrepreneurial culture that has lain latent for a long time.

Fidel Castro was an imperfect man, a hero in some way, a villain in others. As a liberal, I tend to the view that, in the round, he probably did more harm to the people of Cuba than good, but that they might not all necessarily see it that way. After all, I'm not a Cuban, nor did I live through the events of the fifties and sixties. My view is a theoretical one, rather than lived experience.

In short, he was a creature of his time who, given a choice between giving his people freedom or controlling them, he chose the latter. He wasn't alone, nor was it a choice taken solely by the left, but it was still the wrong one from the perspective of a liberal.

What happens next is a bit of a mystery. Raul is, of course, no spring chicken, and the senior ranks of the Cuban Communist Party are little known. Would new leadership try to reverse the faltering steps towards a market economy? Is that even possible following President Obama's moves towards liberalising relations between the two countries?

Life is going to be interesting in the Caribbean's largest nation over the next few years...

EU Associate Membership? I can see why that might annoy the authoritarian right...

I see that the Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, Andrew Bridgen, is unhappy about suggestions that British citizens might be offered the option of some form of associate membership of the European Union. Diddums.

By throwing his toys out of the pram in such an ostentatious manner, he demonstrates what I have always suspected about Conservatives, which is that when they talk about choice, it is the choice to do things that they approve of (not that much, after all, they are conservatives), and that when they talk about freedom, it is with the caveat that they are to define the limits of that freedom.

In truth, the concept of associate membership is an interesting one, albeit one that I would want to have far more information about before I committed myself. But, for those who feel that it brings advantage and opportunity, I can see no reason why it shouldn't be on the table. It is, after all, about individual liberty, freedom and choice.

Mr Bridgen also demonstrates another feature of the Brexiteer mentality, which is to look at the relationship between Britain and the European Union through the wrong end of a telescope, discounting their views in favour of his desires. It is, for him and his friends, all about us. The nasty Europeans should give us everything we want, regardless of the cost to them. It is a selfish, narrow-minded view of international relations that impoverishes us all. Well, except people like him, of course.

So, remember, when Andrew Bridgen and his ilk talk about liberty and choice, they don't mean it. What they mean is that those that have should get to keep it, and that the world should cast itself in their image. They don't care about you, unless you agree with them, and even then, it's conditional. Their commitment to freedom is that of a mayfly.

So, I say this to Mr Bridgen, if the European Union wants to make me an offer, and it's an offer that I wish to take up, I'll take it up. And if you want to take it away from me, you'll have to make me a better offer. And frankly, bacon sandwiches are likely to grow on trees before you can come up with one.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Ros in the Lords: Bus Services Bill (Report Stage, Day 2)... again...

Ros was back again, later in the debate, supporting a Labour amendment on a subject close to the heart of Liberal Democrats everywhere...

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

My Lords, I offer the support of these Benches for the amendment. It would be rather strange if we did not, because the ​Social Value Act 2012 was a Private Member’s Bill taken through this House by my noble friend Lord Newby. I raised the question of the use of this Act in Committee, so I am grateful to the Labour Benches for picking this up and transferring it into an amendment.

As we have heard, the Social Value Act allows public bodies to take a much broader range of issues into account than conventional procurement practices do, so they can think about the environment, community well-being and the local economy. It actually goes one stage further, because the Act makes people think about the considerable financial power of public procurement in an area and is a way of local authorities and local health authorities harnessing their own commissioning power for the benefit of their communities.

As we have heard, the evaluation last year by the noble Lord, Lord Young, was that, while there had been some real success stories, the Social Value Act was not being used enough and was not sufficiently understood. I have a lot of sympathy with an amendment which puts this on the face of the Bill because it forces commissioning authorities to really think about whether they have given sufficient consideration to this. Overall, it is a way of ensuring that compliance improves.

I was very taken with the conversations I had on this matter with HCT, formerly Hackney Community Transport, which is a social enterprise that provides bus services in a range of areas as diverse as London boroughs and Jersey. It feels very strongly—and made the point to me—that current procurement practices often freeze out smaller businesses. That is a great pity because some of the best bus operators in the country are the small, local ones. It is important to find ways to strengthen this aspect of the Bill and really help local authorities, in their various forms, to make the most of this considerable new power.

In response, the Minister noted that the guidance associated with the Bill would include appropriate references to the 2012 Social Value Act, which seemed to provide sufficient reassurance to allow the withdrawal of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch's amendment.

Ros in the Lords: Bus Services Bill (Report Stage, 2nd Day)

Ros has been a part of the Liberal Democrat Bill Team on this relatively unremarked upon piece of legislation, and was keen to make sure that the Government's proposals to allow franchising schemes for Mayoral authorities were properly monitored...

Baroness Scott of Needham Market (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, Amendment 28 returns to the question of an independent audit of proposals for new franchising schemes. I thank the Minister for meeting me in September to discuss this matter and for his subsequent letter. The purpose of the amendment is to provide the House with an opportunity to look again at the question of an independent audit and for the Minister to elaborate and build on the letter that he sent me.

The issue here is protecting the public against the careless use of local taxpayers’ money. I have always believed in devolution; indeed, I have long thought it was a scandal that our major cities constantly have to go cap-in-hand to government whenever they want to undertake a capital programme. But I am also a great believer in democratic accountability, and there is a real problem in mayoral models in that the very concentration of power in the hands of one individual that makes it such an attractive option to government also runs a significant risk of poor decision-making because it is untested by debates in traditional committees or through effective scrutiny.

The Public Accounts Committee published a report in July in which it said:

“There has been insufficient consideration by central government of local scrutiny arrangements, of accountability to the taxpayer and of the capacity and capability needs of local and central government as a result of devolution”.

The committee went on to talk more about its concerns about capacity issues, particularly financial and technical skills, which have been exacerbated by budget cuts. Providing a requirement for a mayor to give information that proposed new schemes, potentially worth millions of pounds, have been independently audited is an important safeguard. The auditor usually engaged by a local authority may very well have their independence compromised by their wish to hold on to the contract.

Equally importantly in terms of public confidence is that the audit should be seen to be independent. The Public Accounts Committee had this to say:

“Robust and independent scrutiny of the value for money of devolved activities is essential to safeguarding taxpayers’ money, particularly given the abolition of the Audit Commission … Currently, local auditors focus on individual bodies’ financial statements and arrangements for securing value for money, rather than assessing value for money itself”.

In his letter to me, the Minister referred to the guidance on the matter that he had agreed to develop, and I would be grateful to hear more about that today. He referred to the availability of freedom of information as a means of achieving transparency. I wonder whether he can confirm today that such freedom of information requests will not be met with commerciality exemptions. I beg to move.

The Minister, Lord Ahmed, was sympathetic, but felt that existing safeguards would be sufficient. I'm not sure that he's right, but only time will tell, as Ros then withdrew her amendment in the light of Government opposition.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Suffolk's Parish councillors meet - nobody dead...

Back on the Parish Council after a few years in self-imposed exile, I have to some extent picked up where I left off, representing the Council to an unsuspecting outside world. And, in that capacity, I was called upon to attend the Annual General Meeting of the Suffolk Association of Local Councils (SALC) last week.

Our new Chair, Machala, had also decided to come along to find out how valuable (or otherwise) SALC is. And so, on a cold, drab evening, we made our way to Elmswell. The Community Centre there was our venue, and it was nice to see that they had managed to find somewhere within easy walking distance of a railway station - past meetings seemed to be held in Haughley, virtually impossible for non-drivers.

Having glanced at the agenda, one thing did stand out, the absence of women in senior positions amongst the elected members. The Chair, the President, all four Vice-Presidents, even the Auditor and Deputy Chairman - all men. I wasn't going to let that go unchallenged.

And so, at the point whereby the Vice-Presidents were to be adopted by acclaim, I sought the floor. "May I say, before I continue, that the slate of candidates are a fine body of men. Which is rather the problem, they're all men. Couldn't the Executive Committee do something about that?".

Apparently, they had approached all seven Suffolk MPs (all Conservatives, one notes), and neither of the women (Therese Coffey and Jo Churchill) apparently wanted to serve. It appeared not to have occurred to them that some of the excellent women in local government across the county might have been an option.

There was a promise to try harder next year and, as I'm not one to labour a point, I'll give them an opportunity to do better next year. I'm not terribly optimistic, if the truth be told, but why not give them a chance?

The reports were informative, if not exciting, before we moved on to our guest speaker, John Connell, who is the Head of Neighbourhood Policy at the Department of Communities and Local Government.

John appears to have an interesting view of the level of capacity at our tier of government and talked enthusiastically about the opportunities to take on responsibilities for social care and the like. One wonders whether he has ever experienced life in a small parish like Creeting St Peter, or spoken directly to parish councillors from communities like ours. We have no capacity, no budget, and no means to obtain either from our population of 275.

I can't say that I was impressed by him either, especially after he made a number of slightly cheap jokes at the expense of civil servants - you can always tell the ones who have come straight into the higher echelons from the private sector.

Finally, we had some motions to discuss. Leiston-cum-Sizewell wanted to enforce a satellite navigation system on lorry drivers to make up for police failings to enforce 7.5 tonne limits. Machala and I were opposed, as we couldn't really see how it was enforceable, but were nonetheless surprised when it was defeated.

Somersham wanted more support for Neighbourhood Watch organisations, which we supported and was passed overwhelmingly, whilst Claydon and Whitton Rural were opposed to automatic precept referendums - we, and the meeting as a whole, didn't need persuading there.

Finally, a poorly phrased motion from Hadleigh urged Government to make it easier to decriminalise parking enforcement. Initially, what they really wanted was unclear, but it emerged that they wanted district councils to have the power to enforce parking regulations. We were supportive of that, and I added an amendment to allow local councils to do so should they wish, something that towns like Haverhill, Stowmarket and Bury St Edmunds might well be interested in.

Awards for best newsletters and websites were handed out, before the meeting came to an end.

Was it worth going? I'm not so sure. It is useful to make contacts with nearby parishes, but we can do that at our area meetings, and given that the National Association of Local Councils needs to do far better at lobbying, given my recent experiences of it, it is not obvious what the benefits of participation are at that level. It also looks a bit like a closed shop.

We'll see though, and if they pick an accessible venue next year, I might even go again...

Monday, November 14, 2016

"I vow to thee, my country..."

Yesterday morning, in my capacity as a parish councillor, I was on duty, laying a wreath on behalf of the Parish Council prior to the Remembrance Sunday service at St Peter's Church. Ours is a small village, and always has been, yet there are eight names on the memorial, six from World War 1 and two from World War 2, whilst there was one other casualty of the Great War whose name is missing from it.

Their names were read and remembered in the customary two minute silence that followed and, after a few words from our vicar, a former RAF officer, we returned to the church for the service of remembrance. Hymns were sung, the sermon given, readings made and prayers said.

It was a scene doubtless played out in small villages up and down the country, a opportunity to reflect upon the sacrifices made by others so that we might enjoy the freedoms that we too often take for granted.

I found myself reminded that, as something of an ersatz Englishman, I am, quietly, something of a patriot. I believe passionately in my country, for all its faults and idiosyncrasies, and in the values that go to make it, if not great, then a place I am proud to call home... most of the time. I believe in the ability of the British people to demonstrate compassion, ingenuity, heroism - some of the facets that make a nation potentially great.

And yet, there are people who would call me traitor, quisling, apologist, for I believe that Britain is better served by pooling some of its sovereignty with our neighbours for the greater good. They call themselves patriots too, and I presume that they think that they have the country's best interests at heart. And that, perhaps, is where our senses of patriotism diverge.

I think that their view of the world is defensive, exclusionary, negative. it presumes that we can wholly control our own destiny, denying the need to make arrangements with our neighbours that offer something to both parties. And maybe they're right, even if I doubt it with every fibre of my being.

And that makes my being a supposed member of the "liberal elite" rather a trial. You see, whilst I acknowledge their right to hold the views they do, even if I don't like them, they deny my right to disagree with them for, too often, their patriotism expresses itself in anger against those who don't share their world view.

I am told that I must understand their sense of anger, of frustration. There is no sense of quid pro quo though, no meeting part way over my fears that we will become isolated in the world, that our thinly veiled desire to exclude others will weaken our influence globally, that by denouncing this week's scapegoats (as designated by the Daily Mail) we deny minorities the hard-won freedoms that have enriched their lives and ours.

In short, I oppose the narrow nationalism that is this Government, waved on its way by Murdoch, Rothermere and Desmond and their friends, hailed by the UKIP leadership and endorsed by a sizeable chunk of the population who have no idea yet how little respect will be shown to them now that they've cast their vote.

And, out of the gutter, the racists have emerged. Don't get me wrong, I assume that most of the people who voted for Brexit aren't racists, or homophobes, or fascists. It's just that those who are think that they're the majority now, that their views are widely held. That gives them the confidence to express openly what was only said in secretive internet chatrooms by like-minded people.

Don't ask me to understand them. Don't ask me to meet them part way. I'm not going to. I believe in the values that made this country great, in an outward-looking, positive nation that plays its part in building a better world for everyone in it. I believe in freedom of expression, in the right to dissent and that people should be allowed to live their lives in peace. I believe that people should not be discriminated against because of their ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, or for any other reason, by individuals or, especially, by the state.

For I am an Englishman, and proud of it, and the nationalists will never take that away from me.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

So, why the @ALDEParty Council delegation?...

Yesterday, I wrote about what I offer in terms of the International Relations Committee. Today, it's the turn of the Party's delegation to the ALDE Party Council...

Traditionally, candidates for the delegation have talked about their commitment to the European idea, about their belief in policy ideas. And, equally traditionally, I mutter darkly about the small matter that the ALDE Party Council doesn't have much to do with policy making. I tend to focus on what the Council is for, monitoring the work of the Bureau and the Secretariat, considering new membership applications and the Statutes, querying expenditure and debating recommendations for future activities.

And the curious thing is that, for all the enthusiasm that some candidates bring to the contest, I'm still one of the relatively few who take a keen interest in the papers in advance of the meeting, and add my comments as and when I feel that they are of help.

There are even fewer who spend as much time on the inner workings of the ALDE Party as I do, given that I serve on its Financial Advisory Committee (think 'audit and compliance function'), and offer an initial view on such things as proposals for membership subscription levels, revised representation structures and ethical fundraising guidelines.

For, after thirty years as a Party bureaucrat, I have a pretty good idea where I would bury the bodies, were I so inclined. I know how organisations work, how decisions get taken, who is responsible and who should be. And, more importantly, I understand that process matters. I also have an acute understanding of what is possible, and what level of administrative burden is appropriate or even manageable. I'd say that this all goes to make me a good person to scrutinise the work of the Bureau and the Secretariat on your behalf.

I've managed, I think, to establish credibility with all concerned as being fair, reasonable and, above all, constructive. I want things to work for everyone, so I don't take a narrow view based on what is best solely for my Party.

Over the past six years as a member of our delegation, I've drafted those ethical fundraising guidelines, campaigned for a membership fee structure that reflects the ability of smaller parties to pay, picked budgets apart and supported innovative projects designed to add value to both the ALDE Party and its member parties. I've also reported back, via my blog and Liberal Democrat Voice, so that you have a chance to find out what is happening.

Why? Because effective political parties, be they national or pan-European, matter. They are the means by which the individual can influence the political agenda and, in a contest of ideas, you want yours to have a solid foundation for propagation.

So, I ask you to vote for me - for efficient bureaucracy, for keen scrutiny and for better governance.

Thank you.

Monday, November 07, 2016

It's time to announce my candidature for International Relations Committee and the ALDE Party Council delegation...

A bureaucrat (right) seeks policy compromise
that works for (nearly) everyone...
... the nomination papers are in, and accepted, the manifestos designed and submitted, and all that is left is the campaign.

So, why am I running, and why should you vote for me?

Let's start with the International Relations Committee...

I ran two years ago more in hope than expectation. Yes, I felt that I could contribute, but there are lots of Liberal Democrats who have an interest in international politics, and who are better known than I am, so I didn't set my sights much beyond making a decent showing. Coming fourth was a bit of a surprise...

Since then, I've rather thrown myself into the role, bringing to the table my knowledge of the inner workings of the ALDE Party gleaned from five years as a member of its Financial Advisory Committee, a firm grasp of constitutions and an awareness of when and how to keep meetings moving.

Earlier this year, in anticipation of the outcome of the Party's Governance Review, I assumed the role of Committee Secretary, thus taking a little of the pressure off of the professional Party staff. It will become a key role within the workings of the committee, as communication between our committee and, in particular, the Federal Policy Committee will become more important given the IRC's new responsibilities in policy making. The relationship between the two committees will need to be developed, so as to ensure a harmonious partnership rather than a turf war. As a bureaucrat with an eye for the important of stakeholders, I think that I have much to contribute here.

One thing that I think will be important over the next year or so is to evolve our approach towards our European sister parties in the light of Brexit. Assuming that Article 50 is invoked, our delegation to ALDE Party Congresses will have no formal say over the manifesto for the 2019 European Parliamentary elections. That means that we need to take a more conciliatory view, looking to take a more broadly European than narrowly British view. It also means showing a little more self-awareness than some of our delegates have in the past. We need to be seen as helpful, not obstructive.

I am also keen to see us use our international links to explore new policy ideas, sometimes simply referring them onto Federal Policy Committee for their consideration, in appropriate instances developing them further ourselves.

Finally, I am of the view that we need to do much more to engage the wider Party. We've just recruited 20,000 or so new members who joined because of our pro-European, internationalist philosophy. If the International Relations Committee isn't engaging with them, what is it for? I would want the new Committee to be much more visible, speaking at Conference, proposing motions for debate, writing pieces for Party publications and websites such as Liberal Democrat Voice. I have a record of engagement, and am proud of that.

Tomorrow, I'll write about the ALDE Party Council...