Today’s Liverpool Budget Farce

LpoolTH

Today should be an important occasion in the council life of Liverpool – it’s the day that the council sets its budget. In fact a better description would be a damp squib given the way that the Labour Party runs our city.
We all know that a budget is an aspiration not necessarily what happens. In our personal lives we can resolve to watch the pennies as we can save for a holiday but if we then decide to go out drinking every night the savings will not follow. As for an individual so for the city. Too many decisions have been made on the whim of Joe Anderson with too little thought about positive alternatives and detailed principles of engagement for new circumstances.
Three years ago I went on the budget working party and what a farce it was. I was presented with £6,000,000+ of cuts with just one line headings and no explanations and told that I had to support those cuts now. I did but not for long.
There is no doubt that Liverpool like local government as a whole is getting a raw deal from the Government over its finances. We can argue that had there been a Lib Dem Government, a Labour Government or a Lib Dem/Labour Government as some of us would have liked Liverpool would have been better off. So it would but only marginally so. The past Labour Government started spending more than it was earning from 2004. It broke its own ‘golden rule’ about when to save and when to invest. Its failure to control expenditure in the good times meant it had nothing left when it had to splurge out hundreds of billions to save the banks.
We know that this situation will not change. At the last council meeting we were reminded that Labour actually plan to take £500,000,000 more out of local government than this government has done. We also see sharp divisions between people like Ed Balls and Andy Burnham about the wisdom of localising decision making in the Manchester model.
In Liverpool too much has been done in an uncoordinated knee jerk way. Let’s look at voluntary redundancies. More than £30,000,000 has been given away to staff to encourage them to leave. Much of that was unnecessary. Staff member after staff member took their large cheques and waltzed happily into new well paid jobs just days later. I was told the other day of a member of staff who got more than £200k from us and 10 days later was Chief Executive of a Social Organisation outside Liverpool earning £118,000 a year. This was not gossip it came from the mouth of the person themselves. This was a job that had been in the bag all along. Recently we have had what I believe to be an obscene decision to make a pay out to an employee whose actions whilst seconded from us are currently being investigated by the Police.
Not only did we toss the money away we had to toss more away because of the lack of coordination. £5,000,000 has been spent in the last 5 years to pay consultants because we had allowed people with specific talents and knowledge to leave us.
You will all know about the way we treat property. We sold our interest in Millennium House without going to tender. The officers try to justify this with talk of outside valuations but without testing the market we do not know what we could have got and who else might have been interested in the building for what purpose. At the other end of the property we bought the Cunard Buildings. There appears to have been no evaluation of this building against others. It is claimed that this is a good deal for the council but we did not test what was available because of a dream that the former ticketing office could be used as part of the cruise liner terminal. BUT the council had been told in 2012 that was impossible because of the nature of the needs of a terminal and the geography of the Building.
Lastly but symbolically was the decision to spend £10,000 to support a luvvies champagne event with no discernible positive outputs and outcomes. The only publicity that it received was a pasting from its star guest Kim Cattrall who savaged Joe Anderson over his Sefton Park sell off. But it is hard to see what could have been achieved from this expenditure given the fact that the event was backed by a magazine with a tiny output which appears to be published online only (I stand to be corrected about this – it’s just that no one appears to have seen a copy!)
Why is this relatively small amount of money important? After all its just £10,000 on a gross budget of £1,000,000,000. It’s because of a saying that I truly believe – “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves!” An over simplification but an important truth nevertheless.
So today I will vote against the budget proposed. It is a figure pulled out on one day which will changed by whims and decrees from the Elected Mayor throughout the year. What the council needs to do is a zero based budgeting approach which looks at everything it does and decides if it needs to do them or if other organizations could run them better and provide a better service than our often stodgy, bureaucratic delivery. A good example of this would be the library services which will be massively enhanced by the new partners coming in to work with the council.
The chances of strategy replacing knee jerk whilst Joe Anderson is the Mayor are none-existent. So why vote for a budget with no meaning just because it has to be decided for legal reasons. Labour have enough sheep in the Council Chamber to do that – they do not need any more.

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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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