A Liberal Democrat Conversation with the people of Liverpool

October 2011
Dear Friend,

The Liberal Democrats in Liverpool believe that now is the right time for us and the city as a whole to embark on a major discussion on the future direction that the city needs to take.

On the one hand we have major financial difficulties, caused by over borrowing by the former Labour government. Therefore changes must be made in the way we deliver services to ensure that we deliver the services which communities need within council tax levels Liverpool citizens can afford to pay.

On the other hand, we have a massive drive for localism, being pushed by the coalition government with three major Bills before Parliament and other measures designed to allow all councils the opportunity to shape their own destiny with less interference from Whitehall.

These bills include:

• The Localism Bill
• The Police Reform Bill (now an Act)
• The Health Service Bill

Attached to this letter you will find a short discussion document which sets out our views on some of the key issues facing our city and some key questions that flow from them.

We want to know what you think. More importantly we want to listen to your views on how we can build a new vision for a sustainable future for our City and how we can meet the challenges of the future.

Fancy talking this over face to face? We would be delighted to send a speaker to a meeting or event to talk about some of our ideas. Please do not hesitate to contact us with your views and opinions or to arrange a speaker for a meeting. You can send your thoughts to us at libdemlistening@liverlibdems.org.uk or go to http://www.liverlibdems.org.uk . Alternatively you can write to us at Lib Dem Listening, 75 Canterbury Street, Garston, Liverpool, L19 8LQ.

I hope that you find the document interesting. We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Paula Keaveney Cllr Richard Kemp CBE,
Leader Deputy Leader,
Liverpool Liberal Democrats Liverpool Liberal Democrats

A conversation with the community of Liverpool

A Liberal Democrat ‘Listening’ Initiative

October 2011


In the early years of this century there can be no doubt that there was a massive sense of purpose in the city of Liverpool. Key objectives had been decided on by the City Council and key delivery mechanisms had been identified to deliver those objectives.

• The then Liberal Democrat run City Council set out to be a major European City and Liverpool became the European Capital of Culture and had its water front designated a World Heritage Site.

• It set out to reform the way it delivered its services with a transformation in service delivery and the adoption of one stop shops and a 24/7/365 Liverpool Direct contact system.

• It set out to deliver value for money with the council tax falling from a position where it was 20% higher than the next authority to where it was well amongst the average for major city authorities.

• It realised that education was the most important need in the city where there had been many years of under performance and made a major change in the way that the schools delivered services. This years results mean that for the first time ever Liverpool has performed above the national average.

Of course the Council did not do this by itself but in partnership with:

• Central Government who were prepared to back imaginative and well founded ideas with cash because they could see that it would be well used.

• The Private Sector who responded to the sense of vision with major capital inputs, especially in the city centre, where at one point there was more than £2billion of private sector build on site at the same time.

• The voluntary and community sectors and especially social enterprises, which responded to the needs of the city with a variety of value for money new initiatives.

All went well until 2005/2006, when we have to admit that we Lib Dems as an administration took our eye off the long term development activity that any city needs. We were so overwhelmed with the massive tasks of delivering the UNESCO site, the Liverpool One and Arena developments and of course the Capital of Culture year that we failed to look any further ahead and future proof our city.

We believe that our city now has no central direction. Since that time and including the change of administration the city has failed to look forward to provide the long term planning against which its own activities and the activities of central government, the private sector and the third sector can harness their own enthusiasm and initiatives into a cohesive plan for the city.

It is true that plans exist – hundreds of them! But it is hard to find a blue print for the future, to find long term ideas for the city which can be believed in and invested in by everyone. In 2000 there was no one clear idea of what ‘Being a Major European City’ actually meant. That was great. Everyone had their own ideas and enthusiastically set about doing their bit in delivering the big picture story.

Now the Liverpool Liberal Democrats are embarking on a major exercise in listening to the people, businesses and communities of Liverpool to develop once again a major cohesive set of proposals that can drive the City towards prosperity.

The core of Liberal Democrat Beliefs:

Any political Party in control of anything has to be pragmatic and deal with the circumstances in which they govern and the opportunities and threats which exist at the time of government. Politicians have to be practical. They have an underpinning philosophy which is what draws people into the Party in the first place but then must deal with the cards they are given.

The underlying philosophy of the Lib Dems can be summed up in the following words from the preamble to our Party constitution:

“The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”.

The National Picture:

Clearly the national picture is dominated by the need to balance the books. Despite political posturing there is greater agreement to this than meets the eye. For every £8 that the current government has cut the previous Labour government announced that there would be £7 of cuts. That means that there is a difference of about .03% in the budget of the current government and what Alistair Darling as Chancellor said that he would spend this year.

It is important that the long-term implications of this are understood. Although there is disagreement about the speed of the cut backs and who is most affected by them there is no political party in this country which is advocating that we keep public spending at the current level of 50% of GDP. The current government intends to reduce it over the next 4 years to 41% of GDP – the same level as pertained in the tax year 2006/07 presided over by Blair as PM and Brown as Chancellor. In that year there was already a structural imbalance in the economy with expenditure on day to day spending out stripping the taxes to pay for them. The Country was already maxing out on the credit card.

Under any future government Liverpool and its citizens will have to stand on its own two feet much more than it has in the past. Tellingly the way forward can be seen in what happened in the last decade. The Government has announced that it intends to allow councils to keep the business rate which they currently collect and pass on to central government. If that law had been introduced 10 years ago Liverpool would have gained more from the massive boost to our economy from the city centre developments than it would from increased hand outs from central government. The way forward is clear; we need to grow our economy and ensure that those who benefit from that growth want to remain in the city.

The Government is introducing many measures which will enable the city to shape its own future. These can be brought together under the general heading ‘localism’.

From 2007 onwards the previous Labour government realised that the increasing centralisation of decision making by Whitehall civil servants was counterproductive. Decisions were being taken which meant that targets were being set which were of little or no value to the people of any community never mind our own.

Those targets have been largely scrapped with the Government agreeing to back and support local plans produced by local people using local evidence. The 80+ ring fenced sources of money which enabled civil servants to exercise budgetary control have been largely removed and the council has greater freedom to spend the reduced amount of money it gets on its own local objectives.

Regional schemes have been scrapped; regional targets have been scrapped; and regional bodies have been scrapped with a consequent saving of bureaucracy and cash. Sub regional bodies have been encouraged and the new Local Enterprise Partnership (LEPs) replaces the Regional Development Agency and builds on successful work from the former Merseyside Coordinating Committee.

Three Bills are coming forward which will massively enhance this:

• The Localism Bill
• The Police Reform Bill
• The Health Service Bill

Lib Dems do not approve of all elements of all these Bills and will for instance campaign against the idea of a Mayor for Liverpool, but we do support much of these Bills, which will ensure the much more effective use of public money around local need.

The Coalition Government has also embraced the idea of ‘community budgeting’. Put simply it is not that any one public agency is inefficient but the way that a combination of public agencies fail to come together to meet needs of individuals or communities where the problems occur. We need to look again at what we spend collectively across the City and how we can work more efficiently together, pooling resources to deliver better services to our communities. National figures produced by the LGA and the Treasury in 2009 indicated that between 10% and 20% of the costs of public service delivery can be saved if we do things differently.

Our Listening Exercise:

In exercises like this political parties are always caught between a rock and a hard place! Say too much about we believe and we can be accused of not wanting to hear what people say. Say too little and we are accused of having no ideas of our own.

We have big ideas but most of those ideas are not massively party political. Built within the framework of Liberal Democracy outlined above they are an attempt to look at the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats facing Liverpool today. Our response must be pragmatic because politicians in Liverpool or indeed nationally do not have all the power we need or that people think we have. The future cannot be shaped by politicians alone but we have a key role to play, as we seek a mandate, for our views from the people, we can be the ‘glue’ which binds transformative action together. So in the following sections we put our views forward and then ask a series of questions which we want to share with Liverpool so that together we can find solutions to problems and map out a way forward.

The Big Picture for Liverpool:

The Lib Dem view

Liverpool should set out proposals over the next 10 years for becoming the “European Green Capital”. It should harness:

• The elements of tide, wind and river to become self sufficient in energy needs and a base for ongoing research development and delivery of green objectives throughout Europe.

• The intellectual ability of our four educational institutions to develop practical research and implementation programmes around green issues.

• The business acumen of our industrial and commercial sector to manufacture and plan activities

• The reach of our third sector to take green initiatives such as raising thermal efficiency in our homes and communities.

Questions about the big picture:

1. Bearing in mind that any city or area needs more than one idea to develop, is this the right big picture for Liverpool? If not what is the unique point or points behind which we can seek to develop the city?

2. Do we have enough businesses in this sector to provide a way forward or do we have to attract them in?

3. Are our universities strong enough in these fields to be an effective partner and do they work sufficiently well with each other and the city to provide research and practical opportunities? If not, what’s stopping us?

4. Is our third sector sufficiently attuned to green ideas to add a community element to the necessary commercial and industrial activity?

5. Is the LEP, the city region or the council strong enough to develop the partnership without which major advances in this or any field are impossible?

6. Would the area be helped by having a city-region Mayor with a Merseyside Assembly in the way that London has?

The Physical nature of Liverpool:

The Lib Dem View

The Localism Bill gives the council and its citizens the opportunities to look afresh at what our city looks and feels like. The power of regional strategies and the over influence of the Planning Inspectorate have been broken. Every neighbourhood will be able to contribute its views on the future of its area and a binding referendum can be held on those views. Those views can then be brought together in a ‘Top Down meets Bottom Up strategy’ where the city and sub regional objectives are merged with those of the communities.

Questions about the physical nature of Liverpool:

1. How can we make sure that the council is ready to undertake this major public planning exercise?
2. Are the specialist organisations such as the Civic Society ready to engage in this process? If not, what are the barriers?
3. Are communities aware of the new opportunities for community planning contained in the Bill? If not, why not?
4. Is the private sector ready and able to engage in these discussions at both a city wide and neighbourhood level? What needs to be done to make this easier?

Housing in Liverpool:

The Lib Dem View:

The new community planning powers give the opportunity to rethink the way that our communities develop. Too many people are still leaving the city because the housing mix does not provide the types of property and tenure that they require. They take their wealth with them. We believe that Liverpool should be seen as a series of urban villages where there is the opportunity to rent or buy different types of property at different sizes at different stages of a person’s life. All these villages should have basic community assets such as primary schools and Post Offices linked with easy access to bigger neighbourhood centres such as Old Swan and Allerton Road.

Questions about housing in Liverpool:

1. Is the Council acting sufficiently well as the strategic housing authority to develop a vision and partnerships to deliver better housing in a better mix of housing? How can we deliver proper housing for real families?
2. Is the council using its own assets and future funding methods such as the New Homes Bonus to stimulate new housing in both public and private sectors?
3. Do the housing associations in Liverpool understand their role as delivery partners to the council? If not, how can we engage better on this?
4. What single step or steps would make the development of environmentally sustainable high quality housing in both public and private sectors deliverable in the City?

Delivering Services in Liverpool:

The Liberal Democrat view

Liberal Democrats believe that more needs to be done to join up service delivery across the City in order to meet the needs of individuals and communities that need them most. We welcome the ‘Our Beautiful North’ campaign which builds on the Total Place for Neighbourhoods activity in Princes Park initiated by the previous Lib Dem council. We however regret that only housing associations are currently being asked to become key neighbourhood partners in the recent report accepted by the Council. We believe that the Council should take the lead in offering to the Government to be a major partner in joining up service delivery at both a neighbourhood and a city wide level.

Questions about Service Delivery in Liverpool

1. Is the council taking a sufficient lead in bringing together service delivery from all public sector agencies? If not, how can we improve?
2. Are the council and the PCT working well enough together on the possibilities presented by the Health Bill to localise targets and bring together enhanced joint working? If not, what opportunities are we missing?
3. Are the police and council working well enough together, to deliver enhanced neighbourhood policing and to take advantage of the change in licensing laws, which will strengthen the hands of councillors and communities? What could we do differently if we removed the red tape?
4. Should all communities and not just the most deprived ones be the subject of ‘Total Place for Neighbourhood’ activity?
5. Does Liverpool need a public sector asset management strategy to bring together all the buildings owned by central and local government and their supported organisations?

Building Skills in Liverpool

Education in Liverpool has come along way since the 1990s and the threat of state control of our then failing schools. Back then we had one of the worst performances at GCSE examinations in the Country. Now we are above average and certainly beat handsomely most councils that are similar in background and demography to our own.

This complete U-turn in Educational attainment was achieved by investment in our schools and the dedication of teachers, pupils and parents alike. Today the City faces different skills challenges. To secure the long term future for the City we need to provide our children with the opportunity to gain the skills fit for purpose in a 21st century business world. We need to meet the needs of employers as well as pushing the aspirations of our young people and break the long-term unemployment and benefits culture. Failure to do so will result in a shrinking population and reduced opportunities for all. We believe we need to look beyond the bricks and mortar to innovative approaches to education.

Questions about skills building in Liverpool

1. What needs to be done to improve educational attainment in the City still further?
2. What are the barriers which prevent young people in deprived areas for achieving more?
3. What skills do we need as a modern City to boost business and deliver the business people, engineers, researchers and medical professionals etc of the future?
4. How do we engage more effectively with parents and families with long term unemployment?
5. How do we encourage talented young people to get involved in their communities? Is it about more than just volunteering?

Developing Culture and Tourism in Liverpool

Liverpool has invested heavily in culture and tourism in the last decade most notably during 08 and the run up to this historic year. The City has reaped the benefits of this emphasis on culture, not just by putting the City back on the world map and bringing much needed investment and regeneration in the City, but it also acted as a buffer to the recession and most importantly boosted community pride and a sense of belonging. A sense of cultural identity has always been strong in Liverpool and we believe investment in culture not solely for tourism is essential to community cohesion in the future.

We believe that despite national cuts, locally we should be working with community groups to continue this development which both benefits the city’s economy and stimulates the city’s residents.

1. What should we be doing more of?
2. How do we get communities more engaged in the arts?
3. What shouldn’t we be doing anymore? Is it time to stop doing particular events or supporting particular groups?

What else should we be doing?

The above six areas are together the ones which we think are most crucial to the long-term recovery of our city but they are not the only important questions for us. You might wish to talk to us about other areas where there are opportunities for improvement.

These include:

Health where the changes produced by the Bill will give great opportunities to try and remedy the massive disparity in life expectancy between our richest and poorest areas and between the city as a whole and the nation.

Policing/Community Safety: The Police Reform Bill will introduce Elected Police Commissioners which will be almost an irrelevance in dealing with criminal issues. More importantly the Police authorities are being abolished and more councillors will be involved in both scrutinising and supporting the Police service. There are strong links between the Police and the Council and between the Police and neighbourhoods in Liverpool. How might we build on these links?

Transport. The Government has really helped by approving the upgrading of Merseyrail, the building of the 2nd Runcorn Bridge and the upgrading of the West Coast main line but are there more local measures that need to be introduced?
In Fact. We would be pleased to listen to your views on any subject which relates to life in our city and how we might improve upon it.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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