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.