Sorry its dollars I couldn’t find a Sterling sink hole!!
Today a national survey was published which recorded how councils use gagging orders in relation to staff being paid off for whatever reason. I would like to tell you how many times that had been done in Liverpool but I cannot. Liverpool was one of the 10% of councils in England who failed to reply to the very reasonable request and then found a way, with the ICO, to avoid responding at all. As far as I can see no reason was advanced by Liverpool for this.
Am I surprised or shocked by this? No just appalled as I am almost every time when the Masonic tendencies of the Council are exposed in public. I have my own story to tell this week.
My bloggies will know that I have been in an ongoing dispute with the Council about providing me with information about the selloff of parts of Calderstones Park.
The Chronology is roughly this:
Mid November I wrote to the Council and said I wanted certain information. If they were not prepared to give it to me I wanted my request dealt with as an FOI
Mid December. I pressed the council on this and they told me they were dealing with it as an FOI
Early February (after chasing the Council a couple of times) I wrote to the Information Commissioner saying that they were in breach of FOI legislation.
Mid-February the Information Commissioner wrote to the Council giving them a length of time to comply with the FOI legislation
Last Week in February I asked the council again for the information and was told it was being prepared.
March 2nd I raised the matter in Full Council and asked the Mayor to take action.
March 7th I received a letter from the Council saying that they were not treating it as an FOI but as part of a ‘Councillor’s Right to Know’. This was, of course what I asked them to do in Mid-November!
So after 3.5 months I will get the information that they have agreed I have a right to know!
The council complains that it is spending £330,000 on FOIs and that this is a waste of money. I agree with them. They would not have to spend this money if they regarded it as right and proper to swiftly answer questions from taxpayers and public. Of course there are things that they cannot reveal. The council deals with a lot of information that is either commercially sensitive or relates to specific people about things which should not be in the public domain. Most people would accept this provided a swift reply was given which explained why information as being refused.
In my view this is typical of the approach of the Council. The public of Liverpool and most councillors are there to serve the council. I believe that the council is there to serve its public, businesses and visitors, at times through its Councillors. Who pays for the Council? You do. Who votes for the Council? You do. It is your City not mine and not theirs.
Interestingly I have tried to involve the local media in this story. I didn’t get the tiniest response from them. It is part of the role of the ‘fourth estate’ to publicly shine a light on the doings and affairs of those in power. This seems to be lamentably missing in Greater Liverpool these days.
I hope that I have already made clear what I would do about the secrecy of the council. If elected as Mayor I will immediately set in place an external review both of information policy and our legal department. I think we would benefit from external expertise in this regard. I can save a lot of money by spending a small amount on improved systems and having a policy of greater transparency.
I would also ask for much better reports to be presented to Cabinet. For example we have a approved a report on the partnership between the FA and the Council on the football hubs. This is a total scheme which will cost £17 million and to which we are immediately committing more than £1 million. There is no explanation about how the money is made up. Last night I was told that final decisions have yet to be made about any of the four sites. If that is the case how do they know that £17 million is required rather than 16 or 18 million?
Nowhere have I seen authority to spend £181,000 on Respublica. An initial agreement was made but there has been no transparency about what they have been commissioned to do; by whom and for what cost. £181,000 to produce next to nothing when we are desperate for cash does not seem a good use of money. Yet at no time has this expenditure been challenged because at no time has it been made public.
At the end of the day transparency, openness and a realisation that the public are the masters does not depend on a system but on a state of mind. If you accept these things, and I hope that you will accept that I do, you will set in place systems to bring your principles into action.
Openness, transparency and an involvement of the people of Liverpool and users of our services will bring better value from our spending because it will lead to better decision making. Perhaps that is why so many of the council’s decisions are bad one. What’s not to like about having principles of openness and saving cash at the same time?!