This is, of course, a scene from North Korea. It could however, be equally a picture from Liverpool today!
E-mails to councillors intercepted by staff; officers told not to answer questions from opposition councillors by leading Labour politicians; disciplinary action against officers requested by politicians through the appropriate mechanisms of the council totally ignored; 4 officers failing to reply to simple requests on 4 occasions; the withholding of information about the Council’s capital budget. Do these things sound like the sort of thing that would happen in a totalitarian regime like North Korea? Of course, they do BUT in fact they are all things that are happening today in Liverpool.
In the past, I have complained about these things quietly but the fact that the Council have admitted intercepting mail to our Deputy Leader Cllr Makinson and suggested the line that he should take in replying to it is the last straw. Constituents and anyone else must be able to feel that they can talk to the elected representatives of Liverpool in complete confidence.
I have therefore instructed all Lib Dem councillors and our Party officials to cease to use the Council’s e-mail addresses with immediate effect and use instead our Liberal Democrat e-mail addresses which will be forwarded to our personal accounts. So, you can contact us in future as follows:
So, what about some of the other issues? At the last council meeting I was informed that the costs for relocation of Beechley Riding Stables; the model railway and Calder Kids would be met from within the Council’s budget. I was surprised at this as I would have thoughts that some costs could have been found from lottery and other sources. So, I asked two simple questions. How much is Redrow going to pay for the land at Harthill Road and what is included within our capital programme for the three relocations?
After 4 weeks having got no response I was told by a senior officer that I could see the information but only if I agreed to see it privately and confidentially. No reason was given for this. Since then I have on 4 occasions asked 4 senior officers of the Council two more questions. 1. Why they are keeping the purchase price of the land secret when it will, eventually, have to be displayed on the Land Registry; and 2. Why are they keeping the costs of the relocation secret when, as part of the council’s capital programme they should be freely available? It’s not that I got a reply that I didn’t like but I didn’t get a reply at all.
So, I am going to complain to the Chief Executive! Err no hang on a minute we haven’t actually got one! This is another monumental mistake by the Council in the way that they have handled two issues regarding our Chief Executive. Firstly, when Mr Fitzgerald was named in the first report regarding Rotherham there should have been a full and public review of what happened there and crucially what lessons could be learned from it.
This was precisely what happened in Doncaster where another serving officer who formerly worked in Doncaster was named in the report. There was a full and external public review and practices were changed. In Liverpool, the ‘investigation’ consisted of me and the other Group Leaders being invited to a cosy chat. I wouldn’t take part in such a charade. Two years later a report on Child Sexual Exploitation in Liverpool by a range of inspectorates produced an almost identical wording of the problems here as the report into Doncaster. If only we had conducted a proper review and learned the lessons from Doncaster.
Secondly, of course, we treated the Chief Executive differently than any other employee when he was arrested and bailed on three occasions. I have said enough about that elsewhere.
Lastly, now that we know that we have not been successful in our Commonwealth games bid I can tell you about the behaviour of the Mayor and 4 senior council officers earlier this year. You will recall that the Mayor immediately when it was revealed that the Country which had been awarded the Games in 2022 could not run them told the Government that Liverpool could host them. I publicly applauded that as a direction and an aim. I am a firm believer in the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Games.
However, as a responsible councillor I wanted to know what homework had been done before the Mayor had made the offer. So that was a question I asked the officers. What work had been done to give confidence that we could afford and manage the Games. Much to my surprise the Mayor told officers that they were not to reply to my questions. To my even greater surprise the officers complied with that. That is in clear breach of the Officer code of Conduct to which they sign up when they are employed by us.
After again trying to get them to reply I reported them to the Head of Democratic Services and asked for the disciplinary processes to review what had happened and if they saw fit to take action on it. To this day that request for action has been ignored by the Council.
Lastly, I want to tell you another way in which Liverpool Council is almost unique. It is one of the few councils not to take advantage of a programme run by the Local Government Association goes into a council to provide a ‘Peer Challenge’. This is free of charge and involves experienced officers and councillors coming into a council to give them advice on moving things forward based on what they see there. This can be for the Council as a whole or for specific services.
Some councils, usually the best in England have had several reviews and Challenges as they open themselves to scrutiny because they strive to be the best. Some councils have had no reviews as they lack the confidence to hold themselves open to scrutiny and change. In the past councils like these would have been held to account by the Audit Commission. I have no doubt at all that if the Audit Commission still existed Liverpool would have been the subject of the most serious level of inspection a ‘Corporate Governance Inspection’. Why do I think that? Because there were only 10 ever undertaken at this level and I was part of the team on 6 of them.
The Governance of Liverpool is a disgrace secretive, furtive and stumbling, BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. In the next Blog, I write in a couple of days I will tell you what we will do differently when, in time, we control the Council and what we will press for in the meantime.