Is Liverpool becoming a banana republic?

Over the years I have worked in, inspected and reviewed many poorly performing councils. Some of them were failing catastrophically and delivering terrible services to residents such as Hull and Islington in the early 00’s. There are many reasons that councils and other public bodies fail but one of them is a disregard for proper rules of governance. How a council is run vitally affects its decision making process which vitally affects the quality of the services delivered by the Council

In my view Liverpool is perched on the brink of a slippery slope that could lead to poor governance and even poorer services. I have already given some examples of this:

  • 60% of meetings getting late reports;
  • The Labour Chief Whip telling the chairs of Scrutiny Committees that they had been appointed by the Mayor as his spokespersons and must do his bidding
  • The Mayoral Scrutiny Committee having no real purpose.
  • The Mayor making decisions on the hoof which have caught out his own cabinet members.
  • Meetings being changed without proper consultation through the Party whips.

But disrespect for proper rules of engagement is now becoming endemic and the poor decisions are already flowing so let me give you an example. In an earlier blog I gave details of a resolution on private landlords which the Lib Dem group had tabled to council. The Group had considered the resolution carefully and used the evidence provided to the national party on this subject in the preparation of the housing policy document approved by our Conference last week.

Our standing orders give roughly three weeks between the council and our date for submitting a motion for council.

However the Labour Party were determined not to give us the lead on this important area although they had done nothing for 2.5 years since taking power. They commissioned a report which was publicised at 17.05 on the 7th September to be discussed at a cabinet meeting on 8th September at 9.00. This was to pre-empt the council meeting on 12th September. This report did not appear in the 3 month forward plan which the law at the time, said be used to prevent abuse of procedure. Not only did they do this but they used an arcane procedure to prevent us calling in the report and recommendations for full scrutiny. They did so on the grounds that they wanted to start the new policy off “as soon as possible.” I am sure that every council wants to introduce every policy as soon as possible. That is why the law demands that proper scrutiny can take place if there are concerns about those policies.

So no forward plan, no opportunity to scrutinise, no proper debate – in fact no debate on this matter at all. So why does this matter? Because the report was rubbish! I obtained an opinion on it from a leading housing solicitor who had advised the party. She warned about its implementation. Even though I forwarded this free advice to Labour they either ignored it or didn’t understand it. Even now they refuse to enter into a proper debate and recognise their mistakes. The policy they have embarked on is one that is already being subject to legal procedures in Thanet and it is likely that the Newham actions will also end up in costly judicial review and other proceedings.

The methodology being employed by the council is badly flawed. As someone who believes in the regulation of private landlords I know we must follow a proper methodology. In 2005 when the current legislation was approved I fought on behalf of the LGA to try and get councils a right to insist on compulsory licensing but the then Labour Government turned it down. It can only be achieved by piecemeal activity which addresses problems of anti-social behaviour which is hard to prove or low demand which is easy to prove.

This really matters. What Liverpool has done does not actually need a judicial review. Good landlords will, of course, continue to work with the council. Bad landlords will just ignore the council and get away with it because of the methodology that the council has chosen. Bad landlords exploit people financially and often let out properties which are at best unhealthy and at worst unsafe.

Time after time proper rules of conduct are being ignored. The Mayoral system encourages this with all power being held not by one Party – not by a majority of councillors but by one person. Liverpool has enough external problems to face without having to deal with self-scored goals which inhibit proper scrutiny and proper debate.

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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5 Responses to Is Liverpool becoming a banana republic?

  1. Greg Stone says:

    We are experiencing similar serious issues in Newcastle. There is a very dangerous democratic deficit in the way the council is being run, with everything going through the leader and his inner circle alone. The chief executive has been forced out and it is strongly rumoured that other senior officers are to follow. There is utter contempt for constitutional process, scrutiny is failing, and earlier this week we were told that the administration could not answer a tabled question on the night, despite having had plenty of notice. Meanwhile the council’s “fairness agenda” is leading to thousands of redundancies to pay for their “living wage” for low paid staff, local budgets are being transferred to 5 Labour “super-wards”, and we are being warned to expect 50% budget cuts next year. Meanwhile the leader has just announced his intention to seek to take over rail services on the East Coast Main Line. It is very very troubling.

  2. Hypocritical says:

    Yet yours was the party that gave control of Merseytravel to the same labour group you criticise, whose strategy and finance committee is run by the same chief whip you are so critical of.
    You did this to support them in their review of governance!!!!!!!
    Politics is one thing, but your duplicity is a complete Joke.

  3. Pingback: Deteriorating governance in Liverpool? | Bristol Civic Leadership Project

  4. Anthony Siebenthaler says:

    Liverpool now functions more like a corrupt West African country. Continuing poverty and deriliction are now essential for our elites and institutions, as this keeps their finance on stream.

    I keep on looking into that massive black hole that is the North End, which has been almost entirely created by masses of public funds, all in the name of ‘improvement’ and/or ‘regeneration’. The rest of the city is slowly collapsing into it.

    As the grants get bigger the problems get more intractible. Correlation or is there some cause and effect at play there?

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