When people look at the good things that the Lib Dems did for Liverpool in our 12 years of control they can clearly see the tangible things such as £1 billion for housing; £2.5billion in the city Centre; Capital of culture. All those council led physical things are important and constant as are the private sector investment that went alongside.
Bur what people often forget is the hidden things. The worst education service of any major authority which had underperformed for 20+ years; social services that were rampantly ineffective and failing many needy people. Do you remember that Liverpool had 458 reception points ranging from council offices to housing offices to environmental health offices? No-one including the council knew when they were open; how long they stayed open or in some cases what they actually did.
Then in 1999 the Lib Dem controlling group undertook its most important single action. It decided to treat the people of Liverpool as its customers and not its captives. We decided that having a council tax 20% higher than the next council and the third worst bundle of services was not good enough for the people of Liverpool. We decided that incremental improvement was not enough and that a big jump was needed to leapfrog a raft of complacent councils and become a champion authority.
At the heart of doing that was the establishment of Liverpool Direct Ltd a joint venture between the council and BT. Some the things we did then were thought to be ridiculous. Telephone contact available every hour of the day and everyday of the year – preposterous. Multi-purpose one stop shops available with extended hours in every community – ludicrous. But that is what the council did and its services provided through LDL regularly beat competition from private’s sector equivalent contact points and call centres.
Crucially not only did service improve but costs plummeted. It would have been impossible to have kept council tax down year after year if LDL had not helped by looking at every back office process within the council.
I have been reminded of all this by looking at their recently issued annual report for 2011/2012. For things like benefits maximisation; benefits collection; council tax collection; business rates collection the council through LDL is still one of the best in the country especially when considers the highly mobile population in a major city like ours.
In some ways they are too good. Compare crude figures on bad debt provision and Liverpool’s figures look frightful. There is a good reason for that. Many councils take the easy option and effectively write off bad debt after 6 to 12 months. Not in Liverpool. Last year they collected £287,000 of unpaid community charge a tax that has not even existed for 19 years!
Is LDL perfect? Of course there are improvements that they can and should make. But compare us with many authorities and Liverpool is still light years ahead. There are still councils with switchboards’ that close at 4.30 on Friday and are uncontactable until 9 on Monday. There are still councils without integrated HR, IT and payrolls systems. There are still councils with appalling records on income collection and debt write off.
Not in Liverpool where LDL goes from strength to strength and long may it do so.