Okay let me admit it from the start. I am in trouble with the Mayor of Liverpool again. I knew this when within minutes of putting out a tweet saying he should repay the £89,950 I got from him a vitriolic and abusive e-mail. He always claims that if the situation was reversed he would not ask the sort of questions that I do. He forgets that he did frequently and whenever he could before he became the leader of the council and then Mayor.
This all refers, of course, to the FOI request from Audrey O’Keefe that Mayor Anderson’s legal fees had cost liverpool tax payers £89,950. Let me pay tribute to Audrey who is not a Lib Dem but is a devoted mother and a doughty fighter for the people of Liverpool. Audrey kept on going at the strange case of Chesterfield School when I had given up. I thought it wrong that our legal department should have been involved in the matter but basically thought that it’s only cost a bit of time so no real harm done.
Audrey stuck at it and through her persistence has found that the original statements from the council are incorrect and that we have been stung for a large amount of money which in my view and that of everyone else who has commented is entirely wrong.
It seems to me that there are six questions that need to be answered three by officers and three by Joe himself.
The questions that I have sent to the officers are:
1. If you were concerned about any constitutional issues affecting the running of the council why did you not clear these up by a phone call or letter to DCLG before spending any money. The legislation under which councillors and Mayors are elected is absolutely clear and any concerns could have been rapidly cleared up.
2. This is not a new and unique situation. The legislation which put the mayors in place has created about 18 Mayoral authorities and more than 24 Mayors. Why did not our officers get advice from their opposite numbers in those authorities? Indeed two Chief Executives of Mayoral authorities have been on to me in amazement that Liverpool should have got itself into such a situation.
3. Why has the story changed so much since the Spring? When all this came into the open the officers must have been aware roughly how much the council would be paying out under the indemnity. Yet we were told that this was a matter of a few letters and no expense with the Mayor picking up the legal costs.
But the real questions need to be answered by the Mayor himself:
1. Isn’t your £80,000 a year salary enough? This is about 3.5 times the median wage in the City Region and itself has an additional hefty pension entitlement. It also more than I have ever earned in a year but as I have said repeatedly I am very happy with what I have earned.
2. Why did you think that you should earn £4,000 from another part of the public sector for doing no work? You wouldn’t lose your pension although it would not added to. That’s what happens when you change jobs!
3. Why do you think it right that the taxpayers of Liverpool should pay your legal fees for a dispute with a former employer. The attempt to say that there are constitutional issues at play here is nonsense. The fact is that you pushed through an elected Mayoralty with no referendum because you know that the people of Liverpool would not have voted for it. You should have found out for yourself what effects that would have on you before you took the job!
Joe Anderson probably will not believe this but I do not like having to raise things through the media in the way that I frequently have done. That is because there is no valid scrutiny process available in the council. We used to have a mayoral scrutiny committee and an overview scrutiny committee. Neither of these were very good which is why I did not go to them very often. BUT they could have been combined and given a viable work programme which might just have held officers and members to account.
I will be devoting my next blog to this subject which is not a remote one of governance but an urgent and pressing one to ensure that we get value for money for our taxes.
So let me make an offer to both council officers and to Joe. If you want to respond to this blog please do so. Your response will be unedited (unless it contains things which could be considered libellous or in other ways personally offensive). If you choose to respond elsewhere let me know and I will do my best to direct people to those replies.
If there is nothing to hide you should be absolutely open about this. At the end of the day all of us are accountable directly or indirectly to the people of Liverpool. They have a right to know what is done on their behalf.