Liverpool Town Hall – Home of a democratic deficit
I’ve heard Joe Anderson being called all sorts of names in the past few years but the one that springs to my mind now is Baron Anderson. His astounding ignorance after the signing of the somewhat limited ‘devolution’ deal as the ‘Greatest thing to happen for democracy since Magna Carta’ showed either a limited view of British history or a woefully inadequate view of the limited success of his negotiations with the Government.
What we got was a useful step forward to bring some authority for local actions back to local politicians. It is no more than that and certainly nothing to match the scale of what has been achieved in Manchester. But even if we had got the full Manchester monte from the Government it would still not have been as big as The Great Reform Act; Universal Suffrage for Men; Universal Suffrage for Women; secret ballots; the abolition of rotten boroughs etc; etc; etc.
But Joe’s problem is that he genuinely believes this hyperbolic nonsense and much else besides because there is nowhere in the system that he can be challenged. A Council Leader can be challenged within the controlling group. But not in Liverpool where all jobs depend on the largess of the Mayor. Now more than half the Labour Group get a Special Responsibility Allowance and every single one of them needs Joe’s approval. Money talks in today’s Labour Party.
The people of Liverpool cannot challenge him anywhere because he has no external engagements where he just goes out to streets, neighbourhoods or shopping centres to talk and more importantly listen. Most Mayors have a weekly or fortnightly ‘meet the People’ session to do just that. Most mayors have a “Questions to the Mayor” session fortnightly or monthly where local people; businesses or interest groups can come and ask the Mayor or senior officers any questions. Fat chance of that in Liverpool.
And perhaps an even greater affront in a democracy is that he cannot even be held to account by other elected representatives. He has a section of the Council set aside for him called ‘Mayoral Announcements’. Two council meetings ago that was set aside almost completely for an attack on the Lib Dems regarding his appalling decision to stick the taxpayers of Liverpool with his legal fees. During that he made all sorts of allegations about Erica and I which we were totally unable to question or even to demand the truth be told. No-one can challenge the Mayor in any way on that section of the agenda.
Last year we had two Select Committees that could hold the Mayor to account. One was a Mayoral Select Committee and the other was the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. I stopped going to them because they were poorly chaired and had no work programme. This was partly the fault of the chairs but also the fault of the way that the Mayor and officers responded in the Committees.
Liverpool Council does not compare itself with any other similar council when it comes to performance management. The excuses made were the standard ones when people resist proper scrutiny; the information isn’t there; it would take too much of our time; it would cost too much money. None of these were true and any costs would be well exceeded by the amount of challenge it would put into our system to ensure that we got better results for the things we pay for. The fact is that both officers and politicians are scared of comparison with other cities because we are not doing a very good job in many areas of activity.
So I have tabled the following motion to our Constitutional Issues Committee:
Democratic Deficit in Liverpool
Being concerned at the lack of scrutiny of the Mayor and senior management in Liverpool this Committee:
1. Resolves that after the Mayoral Announcements section of the Council meeting the Mayor should receive and answer questions on that statement from:
Opposition Group Leaders
2. The Chief Executive be instructed to provide a report on the establishment of a bench marking system for Liverpool so that our outputs and outcomes can be compared with other core cities.
3. The Mayoral Select Committee be reconstituted to:
i) Consider in detail any Mayoral announcements made at council
ii) The performance of the Council against other comparable authorities
iii) The Mayoral Pledges made at the preceding election
iv) Resolutions from council members about areas of concern
4. Arrangements be made to hold a monthly one hour session in the Town Hall at which the Mayor would answer questions from any member of the public or local business or organisation wishing to raise issues about the work of the Council or any other body which would impact on the welfare of the people of the City.
I suspect that Baron Anderson and the knights of his Round Table will reject all of these ideas. However, I am equally sure that a Lib Dem Mayoral Candidate will put matters of openness and transparency of this nature at the very heart of a campaign in May.
Will Baron Anderson be standing in this election? Will he stand in May hoping to get elected then try to get elected as the City Region Mayor in May 2017. Would this cause a by-election for the City Mayor in June 2017 or will Joe want two jobs (let’s face it for 2 years he did have two jobs!) Who knows? Only Mystic Meg and Baron Anderson have the answers to these very interesting questions.