The Lib Dems enduring legacy for Liverpool

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.

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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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One Response to The Lib Dems enduring legacy for Liverpool

  1. Catherine Byrne says:

    Richard, no-one doubts for a second that the services that LDL provides are a vast improvement over the previous system, or that we have better services than many other local authorities. And the idea of a joint venture that provides services to Liverpool and then uses its expertise to win “outside” business, earning profits that could then be ploughed back into Liverpool was and is a brilliant one. Absolutely true. But totally beside the point.
    The problem is the completely bizarre governance. The weird accounts. The undue and improper influence on council policy. You were there when this was negotiated. You must know it was not supposed to be like this. Please look again at the annual report, and look at the 2012/13 business plan as well.
    And then please think about this:
    First, the money. How on earth can they boast about revenues of over 82 million in their recently published ‘business plan’, but report over 8 million less than this in the accounts they submit to companies house? Boast about work done for lots of customers, and then leave every single one of them, bar LCC itself, out of the accounts? Brag about investments – which LCC pays for, but does not own – and LDL does not own either?? They do not make a penny in profit, according to the accounts, but are now offering a small percentage of the revenue they earn from third party business to the city council. How generous – putting the council on commission. Have you ever heard of any business, large or small, whereby the people who own it do not get a share of the profits, but get commission?? LCC owns 40% of LDL, which means they are entitled to 40% of the profits that the company undoubtedly generates from the third party business it does. And are clearly entitled to know what the company earns, and what it spends the money on. It operates the business with LCC-seconded staff, using equipment that LCC has paid for, in premises that belong to LCC, using utilities paid for by LCC. But LCC gets commission on revenue (although of course it doesn’t actually know what this revenue really is – and appears unable and/or unwilling to find this out). It’s like some kind of parallel universe.
    Second, the influence on ICT policy – LDL appears to dictate it. However knowledgeable they are, their interests are not the same as LCC’s – and nor should they be. Their corporate aim is to generate business (i.e. sales of goods and services), increase their revenue, etc. While LCC has a statutory obligation to obtain value for money. It cannot demonstrate this, and does not want to provide proper information, which implies that what we are getting is not value for money at all, however wonderful it may be. No business cases, no scrutiny. So we have, for instance, a vast programme to replace equipment without a business case (which may well not have stood up, given the implementation of cloud computing, which makes wholesale replacement of old equipment unnecessary – or far far less pressing, at the very least). And ipads and iphones for council staff (in the 212/13 business plan) – I’m sure they’ll really enjoy them, but is this really what LCC should be spending its money on? Who on earth decided to do this, at a time when all sorts of essential services are being cut to the bone? Obscene.
    These two issues – the appalling governance, and the undue influence on LCC policy and decision-making, are the two aspects of this that every external report has highlighted, time and time again. Every single one – KPMG in 2006, IdEA in 2008, Cosgrove and external consultants in 2010. Even Ernst & Young raised this issue in their very cursory appraisal of the refresh. It is not going to go away until they actually start implementing the provisions of the JVA – proper robust corporate governance, regular price benchmarking, transparent pricing, arms length transactions, real accounting information, etc etc. The usual stuff, in other words. Everywhere except at LDL – which appears to exist in a weird parallel universe composed of silly initiatives (gonks, LDL stars, slogans in silly fonts) and unsubstantiated bragging.

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