There are only 4 Lib Dem councillors in Liverpool at the moment (but we can’t wait for elections to add to this). Every single one of us was name called and abused at the last meeting of the Council. Well done colleagues for standing firm!
I’ve been around as a councillor in Liverpool for a long time. With 34 years’ service in the bag I am easily the longest serving councillor here. I was also put in by the Audit Commission to inspect the worst urban councils and the IDeA to help repair them! As leader of the Lib Dems in Local Government for 7.5 years I was able to see all sorts of councils and all sorts of things. I can say in all honesty that I have never seen anything like the behaviour in the City Council generally and as exhibited at the council meeting on Wednesday.
When the council created the mayoralty in 2012 I warned, having seen other mayoral councils in England, that the system led to the creation of a ‘king’ with an attendant court of cronies and obsequious servants. It doesn’t have to be that way but it seemed to me inevitable that in a place like Liverpool that is what would happen. It has! All power goes back to one person – the Mayor. Councillors depend on him for patronage with no less than 34 of the 80 Labour councillors getting in a Special Responsibility Allowance. Officers seem to have lost their professional distance and increasingly do what they are told.
A superb example of this is my request to get information about the background for the Mayor’s offer to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games. As I made clear I am in favour of the Games coming to Liverpool in 2026 and will do anything required to support it. BUT the offer has gone to the Government to host the 2022 Games. I can see no preparation for this; no report; no decision of Cabinet or Council. So not unreasonably I have asked for information about the potential costs and liabilities for this decision. A Commonwealth Games could cost up to £1 billion. No small change then!
I have been told by officers that I cannot have this information because it would breach commercial confidences. What nonsense. When public money and actions are being bandied about councillors and through them the public have a right to know what they might end up being faced with. Of course I suspect I know why the Mayor is forbidding them to send me information. The answer is highly likely to be that there is no information. The Mayor has ‘gone off on one’ without any idea of the practicalities involved. But whether that is or is not true is irrelevant. Officers have a duty in their Code of Conduct to work for all councillors and cannot have their discretion limited by the controlling Party. Liverpool’s officers are failing in that respect and will be held answerable.
But all this pales into insignificance compared to the charade of a council meeting last Wednesday. Let me take you through it.
Firstly the Mayor gave a 40 minute presentation. The presentation was interesting but very misleading. It included some things were incorrect; the information given was partial and included only one side of the argument For example a long rant was given about the debts that the Mayor had to clear up when Labour took control of the Council. He totally forgot to tell his audience of nodding dog Labour members of the substantial balances that were in place to deal with them.
But Lib Dems sat through that. We also sat through the Green Party amendment. Frankly it was drivel so I spoke and in polite terms said why it was drivel.
Then all hell let loose when we started to move our amendment. Any amendment to the budget must be legal and must be certified by the Director of Resources (the section 151 officer) as being legal before it can be put. That certification had been given in writing to all Councillors. But that did not stop three points of order being raised about the legality of my amendment.
You may wonder why there was such appalling behaviour. It’s quite simple really. They always behave badly when we point out the falsehoods and the half-truths behind what they are doing. But this was very personal to them. What we were trying to do in our amendment was cut down the gravy train (or should it be gravy boat in a port!) which runs right through the council at present.
Liberal Democrats throughout the Liverpool City Region area believe that the election of a City Region Mayor on May 4th should change everything we do and how we do it. Liverpool has been the key council inside the City Region. That role will disappear when the new Mayor takes office. WE do not believe that we need the same number of chief officers as some of the functions move to the City Region. We do not believe we need as big a Cabinet or as many Select Committees, Mayoral Leads and all the other ways in which silence is rewarded within the council.
During my speech I was continually heckled and comments were made about me, my history and my record. When my colleague Cllr Juarez tried to speak to our amendment and raised the fact that since Christmas 3 homeless people had died on the streets of Liverpool and that Labour as the controlling party must take some responsibility she was howled down and could not continue her speech. She only raised this matter because of the vicious attack (one of two) on the Liverpool Echo for reporting these facts and drawing the public’s attentions to them.
My seconder our Deputy Leader, Cllr Andrew Makinson, was called a ‘slimeball’ by a Labour Cllr who is a former Lord Mayor when he raised the fact that officers had been buying sports cars with our taxes. This was widely reported in the Echo and never refuted by the Council or the officers named in the Echo report. When he tried to read out some of the comments made by members of the public in regard to the council tax setting he was interrupted by Labour moving “The question be put” and the vote being taken. Of course our standing orders make clear that such a request and vote can only be taken at the end of a speech and not during it.
But Poor Old Joe couldn’t contain himself any longer. From absolutely nowhere and for absolutely no related reason he shouted across the Council that I had sold a house in London for £850,000 which had been paid for by way of a grant from the Local Government Association. This is totally untrue! Mr Anderson has an anal obsession with my expenses and allowances from the LGA. Every single penny that I have ever had from the LGA or the Council or any other public body I have ever been on has been properly earned, claimed and accounted for. It can be seen on the website of the bodies on which I have served as are the terms and conditions under which I and other elected members serve.
At the January meeting the Mayor told the Council that LGA earnings were bungs which implied that they were illicit, illegal or immoral. That moved the Lord Mayor to observe that she too had, on that basis, been given ‘bungs’ because she was doing some work for the IDeA. In fact I understand that no less than 6 Labour Cllrs have also been getting ‘bungs’. One of the 6 is no less a person than the Mayor himself who for 3 years has taken a ‘bung’ as a member of the Cities Board of the LGA and is an approved peer of the IDeA and therefore eligible to do work for them.
Of course I don’t think that either I, the Lord Mayor, or the Mayor get ‘bungs’ we need to have a modicum of income and our expenses paid in order for us to be able to assist other councils and the local government movement as a whole.
The idea that anyone would have paid me enough for anything that would have enabled me to buy a house for £850,000 is laughable. I shall be dealing that in another way. We are consulting those people known in Private Eye as ‘My Learned Friends’ and are making complaints to our Standards Committee about the conduct of some Labour councillors. Time will see whether the Standards Committee agree with us.
In the meantime I do have a solution for clearing up Dodge City. Get more Lib Dems elected! There are no elections to the City Council this year. That’s sad because last year we had a major improvement in our vote in the City. Since then things have only got better for our Party. Our membership is three times what it was in Liverpool in May 2015. We have keen competition for people wishing to become councillors and are pulling in lots of small donations from the public and contributions from members. Next year our Council group will almost treble on our most pessimistic assessment and already Labour Cllrs are beginning to politically ‘dodge the bullet’ and leave the council before they are voted out.
Will you come and help us? Our City deserves better than this. In 1998 we took control of the worst council in the Country and delivered real change. What we did then we can do again. Come and join us. You can do so on our website www.libdems.org.uk. Or you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to me at 16, Dovedale Road, Liverpool L18 1DW. Our City is a great place; too great to be left in the hands of this shower.