Why is Liverpool Council scared of Challenge?


Liverpool Town Hall

Last Thursday we had our regular meeting of the ‘Mayoral Scrutiny Committee’. Actually it ended up being the Assistant Mayor’s Select Committee as neither the Mayor nor his Deputy were there. It was as they say about the beautiful game a ‘game of two halves’.
The first half was a really useful interim and oral presentation of the work being done by Baroness Morris’ Education Commission. This Commission which was established by the Mayor of Liverpool produced a really useful report last year and Estelle has been looking at how the report is being implemented. One of the key elements of the report was the use that the Commission had made in the report of comparisons with the other core cities. This clearly indicated how Liverpool was doing against those councils who are most like our own. It gave valuable areas to explore where our performance could be improved.
I asked her if her interim report would continue to make those comparisons. Her reply was that it would but she went further to say that she will know that her work in Liverpool is done when Liverpool has performance management in its DNA.
Well she will have a long time to wait. Just an hour later Labour members chucked out an amendment that I moved supported by the Green and Liberal Leaders, that Liverpool should, where possible, benchmark ourselves against those self-same core cities. In fact that was the second time that week that they had done so.
The reasons given were to say the last spurious:
1. We don’t actually care how well Manchester, Bristol etc were doing. That is true in absolute terms. Their futures must be decided by their councils. But what benchmarking does is to recognise trends and indicate where we should examine what similar cities are doing to see if they are doing things better than us.

2. That there is no City like Liverpool. That of course is partly true. Every council and its SWOT analysis is a little different from every other council. But for the last 20 years we have recognised that the core cities have a massive amount of problems and opportunities in common and therefore could work together to share those opportunities and problems and the solutions to them. That is what benchmarking is all about. Clearly there are some things that cannot be measured across all core cities, for example we would look very good on cruise liners visiting us against the record of Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham but most things are worth reviewing.

3. That the information doesn’t exist because the old ‘Audit Commission’ regime of benchmarking and performance indicators had disappeared. Actually the regime was not that of the Audit Commission – they simply measured the stats. The regime was that of New Labour who until 2008 made us measure up to 1,400 indicators. No-one wants to go back to a system like that and the clear intent of my amendment was only to make a comparison where it would be both useful and possible. The information doesn’t exist anyway we were told but that is clearly not true. Most of the information we need about education, employment, the economy, housing and health are collected across the Country in a common way and therefore a comparison, with interpretation could be made.

4. That it would cost too much. That is clearly untrue. The information is there, it is accessible and it is free. Of course we would have to spend minimal amounts of officer time collating it but as the old saying goes the cost of acquiring knowledge is as nothing to the cost of remaining ignorant!

Of course we know why the Leadership doesn’t want to be compared – it is because they do not compare well with other Cities. Instead of real information we get fatuous ‘Performance Reports’ which make little attempt to measure the performance of the Council but simply record what is happening in the City. So it’s great that the Government is providing the resource to provide a new Royal Hospital; a new Children’s Hospital and a new A & E at Fazakerley but that spending of almost £1 billion has absolutely nothing to do with the Council.
So instead of getting information we can use we get drivel which is of next to no use in measuring the performance of ourselves, our council and our officers.
But are we really surprised when Labour councillors have been told not to ask questions of the ‘Executive’ without permission and where Labour councillors think they have spent a useful evening consuming vast numbers of PowerPoint presentations.
PowerPoint, the opiate of the chattering classes!


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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