The most frequent request that I have had in the last few days is to explain why I was unable to respond to the tissue of half truths, misleading information and dissembling which was the basis of Anderson’s speech to council last Wednesday. You may recall that in a recent blog I said I would tell you about how badly the council was led and managed and how pointless much of the work if councillors was so I will put both things together.
Back to Wednesdays’ Council meeting. We had some new members there and I told them beforehand that Anderson would spend 20 minutes attacking the Liberal Democrats whilst simultaneously saying how irrelevant we are. I was wrong – he spent 22 minutes doing it. What he said was inaccurate and in most cases a total distortion of the facts. Most of it was his justification of his decision to take £90,000 of the council’s money to settle a personal Indutrial Tribunal case. The IT case could not have dealt with the issue in hand because, as the Government has told Liverpool it requires legislation. Anderson hides behind officers decisions but the ultimate decisions are his. He decided to become the Labour candidate for Mayor, he decided that he wanted to get paid for doing no work and he decided to let the council pay when any decent person would have paid themselves.
The important thing from this rambling discourse is that the standing orders of the Council do NOT allow any other council to ask questions, make comments or in any way challenge what the Mayor has said. But that is not all. Labour abolished two committees where the Mayor in particular and the Cabinet generally could be held to account. No admittedly these committees had not in the past been well led. In fact I stopped going to one. But the answer was not abolition but their replacement by one committee with proper opposition leadership and a proper work programme.
But it still gets worse. Last year we received a report from Baroness Estelle Morris in which she said that she would think her job done if she left within our education service the concept of bench marking and comparison with other councils. We warmly welcomed her report. The next item was a motion from me about establishing such a bench-marking across the the council and comparing ourselves with other similar authorities, namely the core cities. Labour voted against the move with both councillors and officers coming up with excuses such as the statistics are not available and that it would cost too much to collate them. Neither of these statements is true. Most of these comparators are readily available and it would take a member of staff an afternoon to collate them.
The fact is that both politicians and officers in Liverpool are scared of a performance management culture and afraid of comparison with other cities who in truth are doing much better than us.
So the summary that I can give to the people of Liverpool is that there is no mechanism anywhere within the council where I can challenge the Mayor on your behalf. That means in the true style of a coward he can talk whatever bluster and bollocks he wants secure in the fact that no-one can challenge him. As many people know you cannot challenge him outside the council either. Ask him a question on his Twitter account and he blocks you.
The rest of the council is no better. Agendas for the ‘scrutiny’ committees are written to ensure that Labour councillors ate given something to do. A rich diet of PowerPoint presentations with pretty pictures makes them feel important but the real meat of their work to challenge the Cabinet and senior officers is left left totally undone.
So we have a council where the political and managerial executive cannot be challenged and where openness and transparency are transparently missing!
This will always be the case whilst Anderson is Mayor. There is an obvious conclusion to this issue which I invite you to remember at the Mayoral elections next May!
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Coincidentally I have been talking to both the Lib Dem elected Mayors at Conference.
Both of them can be questioned on any issue at Council, without warning, by any councillor. Both of them have regular ‘Meet the Mayor’ sessions both in their Town Hall and also in the community. Would you believe it some Mayors don’t hide away but regularly appear in shopping and community centres to meet their residents and hear from them their concerns at first hand. In both councils there is a full scrutiny programme with councillors being asked to help in policy making and not just choosing to listen to bland presentations.
At the end of the day this is not Anderson’s city – it is not the council’s city – it is the people’s city. We need to have a Mayor and council that understands that.