I’m about to go on holiday and whilst I am away we will ‘celebrate’ the first year since the crowning of Joe Anderson as the Mayor of Liverpool. So I thought that it would be worth stimulating a debate before I leave that can be carried on by people throughout the city.
I make no bones about it this year has not been successful for Liverpool largely because before the vote Mr Anderson raised expectations far too high. He actually did believe two things that no-one else believed:
1. That Liverpool would get loads more money than anyone else if they adopted a Mayoralty early on without the people choosing.
2. That Liverpool would get far more powers under a Mayoralty than any other model.
Why did he think that? Because the Tories caught him hook, line and sinker. Beguiled by the smooth words of Steve Hilton who was then Mr Cameron’s chief thinker, enthused by the silky words of Cities Minister Greg Clark I am sure that he did honestly believe that great things would happen. There was only one problem with the proposition- it couldn’t happen!
The Council was told very clearly before it decided to go for the Mayoral model that it would not get extra cash over and above any other council by choosing the Mayoral model. DPM Nick Clegg made that clear on two occasions one of which was on the day of the council vote itself. As the dust settled it was clear that Liverpool had not done anything like as well as other major councils. Manchester scooped the pool with an allocation almost 10 times that achieved by Liverpool because it could coordinate the City Region.
Worse was to come. So sure was the council that they were on the path to riches that they submitted a Regional Growth Fund application that was not only way over the top in terms of quantity but also ell below the standards that were acceptable in an application for government funds. The result was that Liverpool blew it and received little from this fund. They have learned the lesson and will, I understand be putting in a bid that is way, way lower than the last one.
So what about the new powers? Well it was obvious to everyone (well almost everyone) that Liverpool could not get more powers because that would involve new primary legislation which had not been included in the Queen’s Speech.
So if what Joe said would come true has not done so what about what we said? Well we made it absolutely clear that the powers and money would not come though so we have been proved right. But those are only two of the consequences of what is going wrong. Perhaps more worryingly is the total lack of control of the Council over what the Mayor is doing both inside the Council itself and within the Labour Group.
The year got off to a bad start when the Labour Chief Whip reminded all Labour Councillors that they could not raise things through the scrutiny process unless they has sought permission so to do. There’s openness and transparency for you! In practice the Select Committees are almost a waste of time. Dominated not by questioning and observation of the role and work of the Mayor and Cabinet but fed saccharine spoonfuls of PowerPoint presentations to give the members of council something to do.
There may be 91 votes in the council but only 15 opposition councillors try to exercise any sort of scrutiny role. The 74 Labour councillors are either harangued into submission or dare not offend the Great One because they fear for their positions.
What has happened in the last year happens in all oppressive regimes. The Mayor has become surrounded by fawning courtiers who tell the mayor what he wants to hear. That means a blind ear and eye is being turned to the opinions and wishes of the people of Liverpool.
“I am not listening to you”, the Mayor screamed at the public gallery at the special council meeting, “You’re all NIMBYs”. The audience included groups of people from a wide range of backgrounds including 2 Nuns! The fact that they had a different opinion of the way forward for our city didn’t matter to Joe – he is used to no opposition at all.
Just as worrying was his announcement before the meeting heard a statement from a member of the public that the person about to speak was a member of the Green Party. So what? Greens, Liberal Democrats, Tories even can get up a petition if they want – that is what democracy is all about.
The sad fact is that only one person makes any sort of decision in the City and that is the Mayor. Some may think that is strong leadership – in fact it is increasingly obvious that it is weak leadership. Ideas and documents are not looked at thoroughly – even the cabinet fails to exercise any sort of scrutiny function properly. Everything waits everywhere for the Mayor to make a pronouncement. Just look at the recent consultation document on the land available for housing. An inconsistent mish-mash of unlikely plots of land and implausible developments that no-one had read before it was put into general circulation and caused much upset and harm throughout the city.
Real decisions take place behind closed doors. Mayoral Commissions do the work that should be done by Select Committees who are then basically presented with a report that is a fait accompli. Dodgy partners are chosen for a range of programmes and projects. The excellent work of the private sector within the Liverpool Vision Board was choked off within weeks of the Mayoral election.
This situation can only get worse. The Labour Group is not a happy group of people. I was even getting reports of how bad the last Labour Group meeting was whilst it was going on. Harangue seems to be a word that is often used to describe the Labour meetings! But the people of Liverpool are turning and it is the weaknesses of the Mayor that they are concentrating on. “Richie you have to get him out”, I was told by a man, who I did not know, shouting at me across the road last week. “Him” of course being the Mayor.
Well we have three long years until we can have a go at removing the Mayor but roll on local elections next year when we can, at least, start to weaken his power base and get people with a bit of spine and conviction into the council.