This week I have taken the very unusual step of asking for two independent enquiries into activities of Liverpool City Council. The cases are related and refer to the tangled web of relationships which surround the Liverpool/Liverpool Direct Ltd/Lancashire/One Call Ltd/BT activities.
In the first instance I have asked that the Lancashire Police extend their Lancashire investigation into Liverpool. In the second I have asked the Information Commissioner to look at the appalling record of the council in responding to freedom of information requests about any matter relating to LDL.
I have called for these two enquiries for two main reasons:
Firstly, it is simply highly unlikely that the council can continue with its claim that they do not know what a senior member of staff is doing and what that member of staff gets paid.
Secondly, there is a clear disparity between the way that the council has been treating FOI requests regarding LDL and any other type of FOI request.
The replies to questions that I and many have asked have lacked clarity if they have been replied to at all. The recent report from EXURBE shows that the Council has an excellent record of replying to FOI requests but a terrible record when replying to FOI requests about LDL related activities. When I raised this with the Mayor at the Mayoral Select Committee I didn’t get any answers (nothing new there) but a string of abuse directed at former Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle who is a Trustee of EXURBE.
Within my own authority I have simply not got answers to many questions that I have asked. I find it absolutely unbelievable, for example, that I have not been notified as a Group Leader that the home of a senior council employee has been searched under warrant by the Police. I find it amazing that I have been told that no contract exists between Liverpool, Lancashire and BT only to find that there is a legal agreement! As a layman I am unclear as to what the difference is between these two positions!
We now need external scrutiny and investigation to examine these tangled relationships and work out not only who agreed what and when but also whether Liverpool and Lancashire tax payers are getting value for money for this deal. In a system where there is no internal scrutiny, Liverpool Labour Members have to ask permission to raise issues in the scrutiny process, I feel that I have no alternative but to ask for help in looking at these affairs outside the council.
In my career I have not only been a councillor for a long time but also asked to work in other councils which were in severe difficulties with their governance structures. Liverpool feels as bad as any council that I have worked in. There is no clear definition of Member and Officer roles. No effective challenges exist within the system and a centralised almost Stalinist decision making process pertains in which the only vote that counts in the City is that of the Mayor.
If the Audit Commission still existed I have no doubt that they would have used their powers to hold a Corporate Governance Inspection in Liverpool by now. This is not democracy but shamocracy. I hope that these external investigations will take place and then that they force change in this secretive and opaque council.