When the vote is taken on Liverpool Council’s Budget tonight Lib Dems will vote against it. I explain why below
Today the Liberal Democrats will do something that we have never done before in the 35 years that I have been on the Council. Normally, even if it’s not our budget we vote for the budget even if our amendments have not been accepted. We do so because we recognise that at the end of the day the Council must have a budget or it would have no money to spend.
We will however, ignore that today for three reasons.
Firstly, we have no confidence in the way that this budget has been produced. I would remind council that we have had no Chief Executive for nearly a year; no Director of Resources for nearly three months and no Cabinet Member for Finance for about 4 years.
The Chief Executive has been replaced on an interim basis by a Head of Paid Service who I have seen at no council meeting since last May. The Director of Resources has, we were informed last week, been replaced on an interim basis by an AED. Apparently, this has been the case for some time although we were not informed of this. The Cabinet Member for resources has been replaced by the Mayor who looks after all financial matters. Unusually I was not invited to meet the Interim Director of Resources to discuss budget options although I assume that if I had known that an interim post existed I might have chosen to do so.
We had tabled questions to this Council meeting about certain aspects of the council’s finances but were told that we could not do so. That leads me to my second point.
I have no confidence in how the figures contained in the budget reports have been arrived at. Let me give you an example. Last November I asked a question about the losses that had been made at St John’s Market after its disastrous redevelopment. I received no answer to the question except a load of knock about nonsense designed to do anything except let me know what is happening. Well I do know what is happening and I know that the Market has lost almost £1 million since its reopening. What I do not know is how and where that appears in this document given that the markets are in theory operated by our own arm’s length company Liverpool markets Ltd.
Let’s look at the vast number consultants employed by the Council. We have had an ex-Chief Executive from Bradford in doing some work on reorganisation or at least that is what we are told. This, of course is normally work that would be done by a resident Chief Executive. We have yet to see in any recognisable form any report suggesting changes. So how much we paid and for what is a mystery to us all.
Let’s look at financial advice. The Mayor was kind enough to invite me to a meeting with a former Director of Resources from Yorkshire about the way we do budgeting and control our finances. I was unable to attend but did have a long phone conversation with him. He is doing work that I would expect to be done by our own Director of Resources. How much we are paying, why we need this work to be done and where the work will go is absolutely unclear.
Let’s look at legal advice. Here I can only hope that the quality of organisational and financial advice that we get is better than the legal advice. We went to court over China Town and our case was rejected out of hand by the Judge. That’s £50,000 down the river. I received a letter from an external solicitor. The letter was so poor that my own legal advisers did not know whether to be outraged or fall into laughter. Instead they advised me to report it to the Lancashire Police where I can tell you it is being treated much more seriously than the Mayor’s complaint to the Merseyside Police over a transfer fee!
We have different legal and business advisers in looking at our potential deal with Everton FC. Of course, we already have a report from CIPFA outlining the major issues that need to be overcome if the deal is to be proceeded with. The reservations in the report from CIPFA are manifest but of course we cannot see the report because it is held to be ‘in commercial confidence’.
Hold on though. The council has today conceded that the report has already been seen by Everton who are the people we are supposed to be keeping it from! They further conceded that it was the Council who gave it to them . So we have a situation where I as a Councillor cannot see a report and the people of Liverpool who will underwrite at least £280,000,000 cannot see the report but the other side can! I have been told that both sides have included things to each other that they would not want to see go further. I accept that so I once again challenge the Council to redact those items and let us see the rest of the report showing the principal concerns that CIPFA have relating to this deal.
But the third reason that we will vote against the budget today is because we have no confidence in how the Council will manage whatever money it gets. Let’s give just some examples of how the money disappears.
- £1,000,000 lost on the St John’s market
- £80,000 lost on the ‘Hopeless and lacking in Glory’ Festival
- £950,000 which may or may not be paid to the Council following the welcome news today that a new and more responsible developer has taken over the China Town Development but which should have been received before the council released land to a developer.
- £4.5 million of unpaid Section 106 agreements much of which is unlikely to be recoverable.
- £500,000 to pay for a spare mayor and entourage and an officer structure which has not recognised the fact that we have now have a City Region Mayor. Why does the Mayor need a press officer and Chief of Staff? After all Cllr Makinson ensures that he is regularly featured in Private Eye.
- Borrowing up by 63% to pay for the 4 new football hubs and this increase was made in just the nine months between March last year and January this year.
- The consultant fees which I have already mentioned.
I could go on.
At the end of the day a budget is not what you do on one day but what you do on every day of the year.
This budget always brings the opportunity for Labour members to have a go at the coalition. They forget the extent of cuts that were contained within the last Labour Government’s budgets. They either forget or do not know how that would affect the City. They always forget the way that things like the pupil premium; old age pensions improving in real terms for the first time for 25 years and the tax savings to very low income tax payers began to redistribute scarce resources to some of the neediest members of our society. They forget or don’t know that the so-called bedroom tax was implemented swiftly because it had already been done for private sector housing benefits by Chancellor Brown. They forget that we have major housing problems because the number of social homes reduced by 330,000 in England alone in the 13 years of the Blair and Brown Governments.
There is no white knight on the horizon. Those who think that Prime Minister Corbyn will deliver more money for Liverpool’s needs are sadly deluding themselves. Jeremy Corbyn has created a dreadful coalition with the Tories to take us out of the Single Market and Customs Union. Only yesterday we heard of another threat to car manufacturing jobs in Ellesmere Port because of BREXIT.
If we leave the single market and customs union the growth that this Country needs to fund any public services will not be there. In two years this Country has gone from the fastest growing economy in the EU to the slowest growing. The demographic pressures of health and social care needs an increased spending of 4% a year. This will not be found by any political Party with a growth rate in the general economy of 1.5% a year. All public services will suffer and because the poor depend most on public service it will be the most deprived members of society which will bear the brunt of the May/Corbyn coalition to destroy our relationship with our closest and best partners in Continental Europe.
What we now need is a Director of Resources with the power and authority to control wasteful expenditure and a Cabinet Member who actually understand finance and borrowing and the budget as a whole.
The process of removing an unwanted and enforced mayoralty and bringing sense to our finances will be enhanced on May 3 and at our next meeting I can assure you that I will be here with more members and you will be here with less.