Councillors must be like Caesar’s wife!!

Chamber

When we meet in the Council Chamber every Councillor must be absolutely sure that they are obeying the law about financial declarations

The Liverpool Echo ran a story about 3 months ago that 8 councillors – 7 Labour and one Liberal – had been in serious council tax arrears and may have been voting illegally in the council.

Two weeks ago, they produced a further report which said that 2 0f them – one Labour and the one Liberal (not Lib Dem) had been totally exonerated leaving 6 Labour Councillors in the frame. It is still not clear whether or not they voted illegally. The law says that you must abstain from voting if you are two months or more in arrears. None of the 6 declared such an interest.

As a result, my Lib Dem colleagues, Mirna Juarez and Andrew Makinson have tabled this motion to the Council:

Payment of Council Tax by Councillors by Councillors Mirna Juarez and Andrew Makinson

Council notes with concern the recent media coverage in respect of none or late payment of Council Tax by Councillors. Whilst recognising that Councillors have the same problems as any other citizen of the City we have a duty to set a good example to all tax-payers to pay Council Tax on time.

Council therefore undertakes to continue to offer the opportunity to all Councillors to voluntarily agree the deduction of Council Tax at source from their Councillor’s allowances to ensure that such problems are not repeated.

This is not actually the motion that they wanted to move. In their original motion, the City Council would have had the right to deduct unpaid tax from councillor’s allowances.

Councillors are ordinary people. We too have our divorces; our problems; our emergencies and the plethora of other things that deflect every individual family and individual from a quiet life. Councillors will, inevitably, at some time fall into council tax and other arrears. But there the similarity ends. There are three differences between a Councillor and the electorate in this regard:

  1. We have a specific law which controls part of our behaviour. The law does not say that you cannot get into arrears but that if you do you should not vote.
  2. We should know how the system works and seek the help that is available to every citizen in difficulties to get help from the council in slowing down payments and seeking further income sources through a benefits appraisal.
  3. We devise the systems. If the system is so bad that councillors cannot cope with it they should design a system, in so far as they can, that will work for them and everyone else.

People who have contacted me have been outraged at the behaviour of this small handful of councillors. They agree that councillors have problems but like me feel that as elected representatives we should be more aware and know how to deal with our problems.

Like Caesar’s wife all elected representatives must be beyond reproach!

 

 

 

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Fitzgerald’s suspension calls into question Anderson’s judgement

anderson

Liverpool’s spare Mayor must consider his position after his appalling lack of judgement in this matter

At 17.25 tonight all councillors in Liverpool received the notice below that the Chief Executive of Liverpool, Ged Fitzgerald, has finally been suspended from office 4 months after he was first arrested on serious criminal charges.

Dear colleague,

I am sorry for sending this message late in the day, but I wanted to ensure staff received this information without delay. Please see below the latest update in relation to Chief Executive, Ged Fitzgerald.

With best wishes

Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool

 ‘We can confirm that a meeting of the City Council’s Appointments and Disciplinary Panel met today to discuss the circumstances surrounding the Chief Executive, Ged Fitzgerald.

After deliberating carefully, the Panel took the decision to suspend him.

We must stress this is a neutral act to allow an independent investigation into issues, including potential reputational impacts on the City Council at the current time, to proceed.

It is important for the City Council, the Panel and the Chief Executive that the investigator is able to make an objective assessment and therefore we are not able to make any further comment at this stage.’

The timing, of course is very interesting. As my press statement said it is timed to do two things.

  1. Get to Labour Councillors before they started their group meeting at 6 pm. We know that there has been considerable disquiet in the Labour Group about this and a whole range of other issues.
  2. To avoid press scrutiny. The timing means means that most of the press had gone home. We are not a rolling news 24/7/365 kind of place these days!

My comment was,

“a full investigation into Mr Fitzgerald and Rotherham should have taken place four years ago when the problems first became public. He should have been suspended without prejudice as soon as he was arrested on serious criminal charges.

The Mayor of Liverpool must explain why no full investigation was held 4 years ago and why 4 months ago he refused to take the action that he has today and instead claimed that if he took that action it would be prejudicial. 

I can only assume that this action has been taken today to head off the increasing criticism of the Mayor in his own Party who are holding their pre-council group meeting tonight.

Joe Anderson should consider his own appalling lack of judgement in this matter and resign”.                                                                                                                                 

The Mayor has had two opportunities to do the right thing.

4 years ago, I challenged him to have a clear and public review of the work of Mr Fitzgerald in Rotherham. That would have both cleared the air and allowed us to benefit from a knowledge of the mistakes that had been made to enable us to properly protect our children from sexual exploitation. Instead I was offered a private chat with Joe and Mr Fitzgerald.

4 months ago, I challenged Mayor Anderson to invoke proper personnel procedures and suspend Mr Fitzgerald without prejudice. He responded that to suspend someone without prejudice is itself prejudicial. This is, of course a nonsense. It is, of course, precisely what he has done today. Perhaps now I will be permitted to see the legal opinion on this matter and discover what information the person giving the opinion was given to lead them to such a crass interpretation of the law.

Who on earth is advising Mr Anderson? What on earth is Mr Anderson doing to accept such appalling advice? If it is a council officer who has been advising Mr Anderson then that person too should be considering their own position. If it is a member of the Labour Party from outside the Council they are just incompetent and inept.

At last the right thing is being done BUT the Mayor must go further. As scandal follows scandal and problem follows problem it is absolutely clear that Liverpool needs help. We need a peer review and then officers from other more competent authorities to plug the hole on the ship’s bottom and get us back on track. Why nor e-mail the Mayor and ask him to seek help? As with all elected members his e-mail is joe.anderson@liverpool.gov.uk

 

 

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Lib Dems Flock to Bournemouth

lib-dem-conference

Every Lib Dem Member  can vote on policy at our national and regional conferences. That’s why there will loads of us invading Bournemouth this weekend

Yes, it’s that time of year again. The Party Conference season is with us again and as usual the season is started with the Lib Dem Conference which is meeting in Bournemouth. I understand that this will be a bumper year for delegates. This is hardly surprising as we have more members than ever before in our history. Many Liverpool delegates, however, have decided that the trip to Bournemouth is too long and are saving themselves for the Spring Conference which will be coming to Southport next year.

In many ways, as with most Party Conferences the agenda within the Party is largely none contentious. In fact, the most heated discussion is likely to be not if but how we oppose Brexit. The debate will centre around whether or not we should just oppose it or whether we support the existing policy as laid out in our manifesto that we should call for a referendum on the terms of the deal that has been negotiated. There will be no debate about the substance of Brexit because unlike the other Parties there is almost total unity on the issue.

One of our first debates is about the natural environment and how timely this is. It is coming with days of two super hurricanes laying waste to parts of the Caribbean and the South-eastern USA. Donald Trump still denies that climate change is manmade. No-one else thinks anything else except a variety of self-blinded or self-interested people who think that they know more than 97%+ of the scientific community. Indeed, some of these people think that the world was created some 6,000 years ago and that man and the dinosaurs co-existed.

Our motion does not just warn about or bleat about the consequences of climate change but sets out hard and deliverable actions to slow and down and then prevent it. We need changes in agricultural policy, transport policy, housing policy and legally binding targets for bio-diversity. The World is in the last-chance saloon and we must act now.

The debate about Grenfell Tower is the one of most interest to councillors. We have to consider the problem in two parts. Firstly, what caused the problem. Here we have to concede that the fire was not necessarily the Council’s fault. The building safety checks have been privatised and research into materials has lagged well behind the development of new building materials and techniques. It is the aftermath of the fire where the Council is clearly at fault. The Council was incapable of taking any action for at least 48 hours and even then had to depend on other councils just coming in; ignoring them and taking charge of vital services to look after the homeless; wounded and destitute.

Kensington and Chelsea is a pariah council. When its new Tory Leader tells the World that she has never been in a tower block in her own Borough you can see it all. This was a wealthy council who chose to bribe the electorate with its own money and no councillor should seek to defend them. Fortunately, they will now be getting a new Chief Executive who is one of the best in the business. I have no doubt that Barry Quirk will be supported by the Government as he seeks to pout right the blundering incompetence of the Tory Council and its staff.

I will, as usual, be busy on the fringe of the Conference. Most outside observers think that the Conference is what happens just on the Conference floor in front of the TV cameras. This is just a small part of the event. The Lib Dems, in particular, have a huge number of training events and fringe meetings. Then, of course, there is some serious drinking and plotting to be done!

I will be speaking at three of these fringes. The first is at a discussion to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our Councillor’s organisation ALDC. I will be discussing the role of community politics in the life of a councillor. This is very important to me as I believe that involvement in, with and through the community is a vital part of the work of a councillor. The least important bit is pontificating in the Council Chamber. I will be following my old friend Lord Greaves of Pendle who, unbelievably, has been a councillor for even longer than me.

The other two are about the health service and especially mental health. I will be attending a small, closed meeting with the Royal College of Psychiatrists looking at the problems of mental health and the fact that the mentally ill are still not treated as well as the physically ill. I will then be doing an event with the Community Pharmacists Association highlighting the fact that almost 40% of the drugs issued by the health service are wasted. That’s £8 billion, often literally, going down the toilet.

The highlight of the conference is, as ever, the Speech by the Leader. I won’t be there for that as I have to leave early to attend a funeral. This week I have attended two meetings with Vince and have a good idea what he will be talking about. Europe will of course be part of the speech but new proposals to replace student loans with a graduate tax; thoughts about housing and education and social justice will also feature heavily.

I am really looking forward to it. The opportunity to meet old friends and to have some real discussion about policy always charge my batteries. Unfortunately, all that may well be blown away on Wednesday night when Labour Councillors will again be bleating and moaning in the Council when there are many things that they could be doing to take on the problems of Liverpool. I suspect the debates will not be as rational and orderly in the Council Chamber as they are at Conference.

 

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Liverpool Council does not have to be a mess. There are better ways.

lpool-logo

The City of Liverpool is poorly led and poorly managed. But even under Labour it could be a better council if we did the 5 things suggested here.

In my last but one blog, I indicated a whole series of problems that Liverpool Council has with openness, transparency, governance and political and managerial leadership. This was exemplified to me by the fact that Liverpool is one of the few councils that has failed to take up the offer of a free ‘Peer Challenge’ from the Local Government Association.

I have asked the council on a number of occasions to take advantage of this free service to no avail. The Peer Challenge is not an inspection but a review by councillors and officials from other, similar councils who hold up a mirror to the work of the council that they are visiting; review the council and make recommendations as to how that council could improve. The reviews can be about the whole council or part of it. It can be a week or three days depending on the subject area to be looked at.

Good councils have had a number of these and even pay for them when their free allocation is used up. They do so because every council can learn how to do things better. The good councils want to be the best councils. The mediocre councils hope to pick up a few tips and the poor councils, and Liverpool is definitely one of those, hope that no-one will notice them.

A challenge would be good but we don’t have to wait that long. There are things that we could put in place quickly:

  1. Abolish the position of Elected Mayor of Liverpool. Lib Dems do not believe that one was ever necessary. The whole of Liverpool now knows that! The creation of a City Region Mayor has changed the dynamics for the political and governance processes throughout the City Region. We have an influential Mayor at Regional level able to take the lead in key issues of inward investment, infrastructure, transport and training. He should have more power over police and the health service as well. That integration of service and strategic delivery which Liverpool Council needed to lead has now gone from our hands. Even Joe Anderson knows that the game is up. He has applied for two other jobs in the past year and got neither of them!

 

  1. Make the Political Leadership of the Council more accountable to the people of Liverpool. Whether it is a Mayor or a Council Leader there need to be far more opportunities whereby they can be questioned by the taxpayers and businesses of Liverpool. As far as I can see the Mayor cannot even be scrutinised by Councillors as he attends on a regular basis no scrutiny committees. There is little engagement with ordinary people but lots of meeting with vested interests and cronies

 

  1. Make Council meetings useful. Fortunately, we only have 6 a year but with the exception of the formal Annual Meeting the other 5 are a complete waste of time. The sole outputs from these apart from the Budget, and occasionally a key strategy is to listen to political rants. Every meeting we pass at least 6 motions and they all have just about the same ending. Requests the Chief Executive (or Mayor) to write to…. The reply is usually the same. A polite reply from a junior minister saying why the Government is really already doing what the Council wants and thanks for the letter. We all normally agree these motions unanimously so there is no real exchange of views. What if every motion had to conclude with a suggestion about things that the Council could actually do!!

 

  1. Reform the Scrutiny process. As well as the 6 council meetings, we are all a member of at least one Select Committee which is supposed to have three main purposes:

 

  1. To scrutinise the work of the Mayor, Cabinet and Council as a whole.
  2. To review Cabinet decisions that have been called in by councillors for review.
  • To make positive suggestions about things that can be done within their reemit.

I went to four of the Select Committees during the last cycle of meetings. One was totally useless, one was very useful and the other two were of marginal use. The useless one was the Regeneration Select Committee which, like most of the Select Committees was poorly chaired and the agenda of which was a plethora of PowerPoints which did not enable members to get to the heart of issues.

The really good one was the ETS Select Committee. Here the Chair and Cabinet Member (Patrick Hurley and Lana Orr) have overthrown the suggested programme and involved all the members of the Committee and officers in a free ranging discussion about what could be looked at and what the Committee could seek to lead on for the Cabinet Member. Every single member of that Committee said it was the best Select Committee that they had been to.

  1. Reform the Managerial Team. Just as the political structure needs reviewing in the light of the creation of the LCR so does the management team. At the budget meeting, we suggested the deletion of the post of Chief Executive. Little did we know that our suggestion that we did not need one would be so quickly put into practice as we have managed for months with Mr Fitzgerald absent from the office. We should not fill this post, recognise that we only need 4 chief officers, create a new post of Head of the Paid Service and Regeneration and focus our work better and save money.

If the Council put into effect the things suggested here supported by a Peer Challenge from experienced members and officers there would be three immediate consequences:

  • We would save up to £1million a year on bureaucracy and unnecessary staff.
  • We would focus better and use the experience of both Officers and members in a better way to address the problems of the City.
  • We would be much better informed both by a better scrutiny process and the active involvement of local people in decision making.

The sad fact is that most Labour Members have no experience of other Councils or our Council when it was controlled by anyone other than Joe Anderson. They think that what goes on here is good practice at best or the normal at worst. Neither of these things is true. My simple request to Labour members? Get out a bit, talk to and visit other councils and let the scales fall from your eyes!

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Making our City Centre Safe at Night

taxi

Liverpool must do more about the problems facing good private hire and hackney carriage drivers as they struggle to do business in our City Centre

Readers of my blog and the Liverpool Echo will be aware that on two occasions recently I have gone out I the small hours of the morning to look at the problems of taxis and parking in the City Centre. The first time I went out with taxi drivers and the second with our own council licensing staff.

It is quite clear that there are huge problems. Private hire vehicles waiting for people to approach them as if they were a taxi and then accepting the fare; unlicensed private hire vehicles; uninsured private hire vehicles; dangerous private hire and hackney cabs; hackney cabs from other areas waiting on taxi ranks and picking up fares in the street; parking on taxi ranks meaning that taxis have nowhere to wait for fares.

There are a number of reasons for this some of which are not in our control. For example, if our taxi licensing staff want to put on a fixed penalty notice for illegal parking of a private car they have to change their uniform to do it. There are just too many private hire and taxis being licensed – a fault of the Government in 2013.

I have discussed this with our licensing spokesperson Cllr Malcolm Kelly who has been dealing with these issues for years and as a result of this he has tabled the resolution below to the next meeting of the City Council.

But there are many things that we could do something about. In Liverpool, we do not need a change in policies and partners – we just need the people to implement them! On at Thursday; Friday; Saturday and Sunday night there can be up to 2,500 vehicles in the City Centre looking for fares. We usually have just two people dealing with them and other things as well. The result is that they just cannot cope no matter how good they are because of the volume of complaints. We can do something about this by taking on more staff. These would be self-financing from the fines that they could generate for illegal parking and other more serious offences. We are asking the City Mayor to do just this.

The Local Government Association has suggested that there needs to be a common and consistent licensing and training system for private hire and hackney carriages nationally. That needs legislative change but we could do something about this in the Liverpool City Region. There have already been some discussions at this level to try and introduce a standard, consistent and high-quality training and licensing regime in the LCR. This could be done quickly by joint agreement between the 6 councils of the City Region if they were brought together by Mayor Rotheram. We are asking him to do just that.

You might think that we are being over prescriptive in this. Our reply is that taxis and private hire vehicles are an important part of our visitor and leisure attraction. We need to have properly trained and licenses drivers in vehicles that are properly maintained and insured. We want our drivers to be ambassadors for the City, knowledgeable about the city and able to help people. We do not want people who can only navigate by app and who cannot communicate the values and places of Liverpool to visitors.

Normally, our motions just get voted down. We hope that the Labour Party will realise that this is a matter of huge concern and public safety and that they will work with us to deliver the safe and helpful service which is so badly need.

Here is the resolution that will be moved by Cllr Malcolm Kelly

Private Hire and Hackney Carriages in Liverpool

Council welcomes the statement from the Local Government Association that there needs to be minimum standards and a common licensing framework for all Taxis and private hire vehicles.

It notes the immediate problems in the Liverpool City Region where vast numbers of licences are being granted with inconsistent ‘knowledge’ tests and that many of the licensees then try to make their money in the Liverpool City Centre. This can lead to situations where the public are entering uninsured and unsafe vehicles as revealed earlier this year in a Liverpool Echo report and video.

It believes that public vehicle drivers should know more than just the way to get from one place to another using Apps. These people are often the first people to meet people coming to the City and the last to see them and it is, therefore crucial, that they are knowledgeable about the city and able to act as our internal ambassadors in many ways.

It notes that on busy nights there can be up to 2,500 PH and Hackney vehicles looking for business in the City and that on most nights there are only two licensing staff on duty. These staff then sometimes have to change uniform to issue FPN tickets for offender parking in taxi bays.

Accordingly, it requests –

  • City Mayor to consider increasing the number of licensing and taxi enforcement staff on duty on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights on the basis that this should be self-financing from fine income; and

 

  • the Liverpool City Region Mayor to speed up the suggestion already being made of a common licensing standard, training mechanism and control mechanisms which operates throughout the City Region and combining the Taxi function as one seamless operation in the City Region.

 

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Liverpool – A City that would make North Korea proud

North Korea (2)

This is, of course, a scene from North Korea. It could however, be equally a picture from Liverpool today!

E-mails to councillors intercepted by staff; officers told not to answer questions from opposition councillors by leading Labour politicians; disciplinary action against officers requested by politicians through the appropriate mechanisms of the council totally ignored; 4 officers failing to reply to simple requests on 4 occasions; the withholding of information about the Council’s capital budget. Do these things sound like the sort of thing that would happen in a totalitarian regime like North Korea? Of course, they do BUT in fact they are all things that are happening today in Liverpool.

In the past, I have complained about these things quietly but the fact that the Council have admitted intercepting mail to our Deputy Leader Cllr Makinson and suggested the line that he should take in replying to it is the last straw. Constituents and anyone else must be able to feel that they can talk to the elected representatives of Liverpool in complete confidence.

I have therefore instructed all Lib Dem councillors and our Party officials to cease to use the Council’s e-mail addresses with immediate effect and use instead our Liberal Democrat e-mail addresses which will be forwarded to our personal accounts. So, you can contact us in future as follows:

Richard.kemp@liverlibdems.org.uk

Andrww.makinson@liverlibdems.org.uk

Mirna.juarez@liverlibdems.org.uk

Malcolm.kelly@liverlibdems.org.uk

So, what about some of the other issues? At the last council meeting I was informed that the costs for relocation of Beechley Riding Stables; the model railway and Calder Kids would be met from within the Council’s budget. I was surprised at this as I would have thoughts that some costs could have been found from lottery and other sources. So, I asked two simple questions. How much is Redrow going to pay for the land at Harthill Road and what is included within our capital programme for the three relocations?

After 4 weeks having got no response I was told by a senior officer that I could see the information but only if I agreed to see it privately and confidentially. No reason was given for this. Since then I have on 4 occasions asked 4 senior officers of the Council two more questions. 1. Why they are keeping the purchase price of the land secret when it will, eventually, have to be displayed on the Land Registry; and 2. Why are they keeping the costs of the relocation secret when, as part of the council’s capital programme they should be freely available?  It’s not that I got a reply that I didn’t like but I didn’t get a reply at all.

So, I am going to complain to the Chief Executive!  Err no hang on a minute we haven’t actually got one! This is another monumental mistake by the Council in the way that they have handled two issues regarding our Chief Executive. Firstly, when Mr Fitzgerald was named in the first report regarding Rotherham there should have been a full and public review of what happened there and crucially what lessons could be learned from it.

This was precisely what happened in Doncaster where another serving officer who formerly worked in Doncaster was named in the report. There was a full and external public review and practices were changed. In Liverpool, the ‘investigation’ consisted of me and the other Group Leaders being invited to a cosy chat. I wouldn’t take part in such a charade. Two years later a report on Child Sexual Exploitation in Liverpool by a range of inspectorates produced an almost identical wording of the problems here as the report into Doncaster. If only we had conducted a proper review and learned the lessons from Doncaster.

Secondly, of course, we treated the Chief Executive differently than any other employee when he was arrested and bailed on three occasions. I have said enough about that elsewhere.

Lastly, now that we know that we have not been successful in our Commonwealth games bid I can tell you about the behaviour of the Mayor and 4 senior council officers earlier this year. You will recall that the Mayor immediately when it was revealed that the Country which had been awarded the Games in 2022 could not run them told the Government that Liverpool could host them. I publicly applauded that as a direction and an aim. I am a firm believer in the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Games.

However, as a responsible councillor I wanted to know what homework had been done before the Mayor had made the offer. So that was a question I asked the officers. What work had been done to give confidence that we could afford and manage the Games. Much to my surprise the Mayor told officers that they were not to reply to my questions. To my even greater surprise the officers complied with that.  That is in clear breach of the Officer code of Conduct to which they sign up when they are employed by us.

After again trying to get them to reply I reported them to the Head of Democratic Services and asked for the disciplinary processes to review what had happened and if they saw fit to take action on it. To this day that request for action has been ignored by the Council.

Lastly, I want to tell you another way in which Liverpool Council is almost unique. It is one of the few councils not to take advantage of a programme run by the Local Government Association goes into a council to provide a ‘Peer Challenge’. This is free of charge and involves experienced officers and councillors coming into a council to give them advice on moving things forward based on what they see there. This can be for the Council as a whole or for specific services.

Some councils, usually the best in England have had several reviews and Challenges as they open themselves to scrutiny because they strive to be the best. Some councils have had no reviews as they lack the confidence to hold themselves open to scrutiny and change. In the past councils like these would have been held to account by the Audit Commission. I have no doubt at all that if the Audit Commission still existed Liverpool would have been the subject of the most serious level of inspection a ‘Corporate Governance Inspection’. Why do I think that?  Because there were only 10 ever undertaken at this level and I was part of the team on 6 of them.

The Governance of Liverpool is a disgrace secretive, furtive and stumbling, BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. In the next Blog, I write in a couple of days I will tell you what we will do differently when, in time, we control the Council and what we will press for in the meantime.

 

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The Rotherham Council report and why it matters to Liverpool

anderson

The buck stops with the the Mayor and the Labour Party as to why the questions raised in today’s Rotherham report and its implications for Liverpool were not investigated properly after the first Rotherham report

So today we have the long-awaited report into the actions of Rotherham Council and its officers during almost two decades when there were serious child abuse problems in that Town. In fact, there were 6 reports but only one concerns Liverpool because it is about the senior Officers of the Council post 2,000 and, of course, our Chief Executive Ged Fitz Gerald was one of them.

The report is highly disturbing and shows a situation in which for a long period of time senior managers at the Council either:

  • Knew about the serious problems in the Borough and did nothing about them; or
  • Did not know about the problems and should have done

Below this are some extracts from the Executive Summary to the report which I think are important for the people of Liverpool to know. I have tried to be impartial in my selection of these quotes and be fair to all concerned but in case you think that I have been biased you can see the Executive Summary and the full report which can both be downloaded, on the website of Rotherham Council. I have highlighted in bold italics the parts that I think are crucial.

“The preparation of this report was hampered by two key factors: the first was that a number of former senior officers chose not to engage with the process (and cannot be compelled to do so); and the second was that some of the contemporaneous documentation we had hoped to review was limited or now appeared to be missing despite the best efforts of the Council to try and track it down.

Ultimately the senior officers who were responsible for ensuring that the Council met its duty to respond to CSE were the Chief Executive and the relevant Directors and senior managers in Education, Culture and Leisure and Social Services/Children’s Services across the Relevant Period”.

“We have summarised our findings in relation to the individuals who filled these key roles at the Council across the Relevant Period.  We have not found evidence to support any notion that any individual ‘turned a blind eye’ to CSE in Rotherham. But neither is there much evidence of ‘inquiring minds’ or a purposive approach when evidence of what was happening did come to their attention.

As the ‘Head of Paid Service’ the Chief Executives did not have lead operational responsibility for the work of the directorates.  None of them had nor should be expected to have had, day-to-day oversight of the many projects and initiatives that officers would be working on across the Council.  However, Chief Executives do have ultimate responsibility for the coordination of the Council’s functions, and for allocating resources to meet specific circumstances when they come to their attention”.

“The work of the Risky Business project had, however, come to the attention of Mr Fitzgerald by late 2001. He had contact with senior Police officers and met with senior managers about specific issues relevant to a pilot project, connected with the Home Office, concerning matters we would now recognise as CSE in Rotherham. There is little evidence available about who else was involved in those meetings, the discussions they had, or any actions identified by or taken by or at the behest of Mr Fitzgerald, as a result of his involvement.  Mr Fitzgerald recalls that events were ‘downplayed’ and he did not raise the issue with Members. The pilot project ended in 2002.  Correspondence from a partner of the pilot project, CROP (now PACE), at the end of 2002 and into 2003, culminated in a letter to Mr Fitzgerald in February 2003 asserting that the Council “obstructed significant planned research”.  We could find no evidence of an investigation into that claim, or of any response to that letter from Mr Fitzgerald, although he says such a letter would have been passed to the Director of Education, Culture and Leisure (Ms Billups) for a response.  We have not seen any evidence which substantiates that such a response was made.  In our view concerns of this nature deserved a response from the Chief Executive, but there is no reason to believe the absence of such was a deliberate strategy or that Mr Fitzgerald was involved in, or aware of any ‘cover up.  Mr Fitzgerald says he relied on the professional expertise of others around him; but there is no documentary evidence of such advice being sought or obtained.  It is clear that opportunities to look into the position in more detail in 2001, when Mr Fitzgerald had personal dealings with the Police and again when he received external correspondence in 2002/2003, were missed.  Had a more rigorous approach been taken by him then, or if he had looked to establish the reasons behind the issues raised with the Police or in the correspondence, his understanding of the issues and response by the Council might have been very different”.

“We have been told that the current employers of Mr Fitzgerald and Ms Allen have already conducted investigations of their own – but we have not been provided with any details of the evidence considered or the conclusions reached.  We make no comment as to the adequacy or robustness of those processes or their findings”.

“we recommend that the Council refers this report and its findings to the current employer of Mr Fitzgerald and Ms Wilson.  It is important to be clear that we have not found that either of these people were uniquely culpable for the Council’s response to emerging evidence of CSE.  But there are points at which each missed opportunities to have changed the outcomes.  We recommend that those employers consider whether they wish to raise any of these matters with their employee in light of the content of this report, the findings of any internal investigation already conducted and the nature of the role and responsibilities now undertaken by the employee in their current role, to satisfy themselves that the learning has been adequately captured.

We are mindful of the conclusions of the House of Commons Select Committee for Communities and Local Government in its Report dated 18 November 2014 (Reference HC 648) which concluded that it is for the current employers to be satisfied that each has confidence in the individuals in their employment and their ability to perform their current role and whether they consider that any conduct on the part of the employee has brought the new employer into disrepute”. 

So why is all this important to Liverpool?

Firstly, The Council should have conducted its own enquiry into what happened and the lessons to be learnt from this at the time of the publication of the first report. The claim is made in one of the paragraphs above that Liverpool investigated the situation. I know of no such investigation so this is the e-mail that I have sent the council this afternoon:

“I am not aware of any investigations into this. The only action that I am aware of was Group Leaders being invited to ask questions of Mr Fitzgerald in a private session chaired by Prof Newby.

So, could you let me know:

  1.    Was a report prepared?
  2.    Who prepared it?
  3.    Where did it go?
  4.    Can I see it if there is one?”

Secondly, Liverpool Council was heavily criticised, along with other agencies in Liverpool about its response to Child Sexual Exploitation two years after we could have learned the lessons from Rotherham.

In my mind, the council has demonstrated it was only looking to align itself with Mr Fitzgerald at whatever cost to obstruct and delay the inquiry, clearly not having actually carried out any kind of investigation but claiming to have done.

The council shows no indication it is remotely interested in holding the chief exec to account. It is even more galling that two years after the council took him at his word and brushed the issue under the carpet, similar failings in leadership and management were detected in how authorities – including the council – handled CSE in Liverpool. If the council had taken the Rotherham allegations more seriously, maybe there would not have been identified so many failings in the protection of children from sexual exploitation in Liverpool in the report in 2016 by HMIC.

Lastly, this report calls into judgement the behaviour of the Mayor of Liverpool. When a member of staff of Doncaster Council was named in the Jay Report that Council arranged an external review of the evidence of the behaviour of the member of that staff member and that report was openly presented to the council. Contrast that with the Liverpool situation where if a report was done it has not been made public.

Add to that the extraordinary behaviour of Mr Anderson in creating a new method of dealing with the Chief Executive which is different from that used by any other member of staff in the second lot of problems relating to OCL and LDL and you must ask three key questions:

  1. Why does the Mayor of Liverpool treat Mr Fitzgerald differently than any other employee; and
  2. Why does the Council as a whole treat Mr Fitzgerald differently than any other employee?
  3. Why has the Council paid solicitors £9,000 to protect the council’s interests in the course of the enquiry? What on earth does the council need to defend itself action for actions taken in another council 15 years ago

At least now the Council has agreed to take action to bring Mr Fitzgerald into the same system which is employed for other staff and he will be questioned by a small group composed only of Labour members on Monday.

There are also issues relating to the original appointment of Mr Fitzgerald but as I understand that these are part of the ongoing Police enquiry I will make no further comment on these.

I don’t know what the Council will do next. It lost a major opportunity to do things 4 years ago and has made little effort to do things since. We are now paying the Chief Executive £20,000 a month in salary and costs to do nothing. This situation is untenable. The Mayor and Labour Councillors must now act.

 

 

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