The gaping hole at the heart of Liverpool Council


The Councillors who debate and discuss in the Town Hall do not ‘run’ Liverpool they ‘lead’ it. That’s why getting the right management team in place must be a vital priority for our city

In the council’s budget meeting in 2017 the Lib Dem Group proposed major changes in the way that the senior management team operated. We argued that the election of a City Region Mayor should change not only the way politicians work but also the way that our senior management team will work.

For obvious reasons we have concentrated on the political side of things. We believe that Joe Anderson is a spare mayor and that this position with attendant hangers on and political and staff appointees is both costing about £300,000 and is halting the development of crucial economic development functions which are now really the domain of the City Region Mayor.

We saw this quite clearly at the MIPIM bash in Cannes when we sent over two Mayors. You could see from the pictures displayed both in the Echo and on Twitter that this was not a successful tag time fighting in partnership for Liverpool but were uncomfortable with each other. This was confirmed by others who went to the event from the private sector. The most common question asked of them is ‘what do the Mayors do?” followed by, “which Mayor do we talk to?”

But we now need to look at the managerial side of the Council where there are huge holes at the level where managerial and technical acumen is most needed.

As is well known we have no Chief Executive! Do we need one now? Well we argued that the post should be deleted because of the creation of the LCR and that the key function which was needed should be an enhanced regeneration role. We therefore proposed that a new post be created which would combine the position of Regeneration Director with that of the Head of the Paid Service.

Since May last year we have had a ‘Head of the Paid Service’. This is because the Council must legally have one. I have not yet on any occasion since last May seen the Head of the Paid Service at anything and can only assume that the appointment at present is a fig leaf.

We do however, have Tony Reeves working for us and he has been with us since October. All the reports that I have seen indicate that he was an excellent Chief Executive of Bradford and we are lucky to have him working for us. That may well be the case but since he arrived in the autumn I have not met him or seen him. I have no idea what he is doing and I have no idea what we are paying him. I do know that whatever it is that he is doing he is going to be doing it for at least three more months!

Is he acting as a quasi-Chief Executive? If he is than Liverpool is clearly breaking the law because all such appointments temporary or otherwise must be made by full Council. He has left Deloittes (I think but certainly one of the big firm of advisory sharks) to set up his own businesses. Is he now being paid through a management company which is the device used by the BBC to avoid tax? I don’t know because none of us have been told.

The person who would normally step up and be an interim Head of the Paid Service is the Director of Resources. A slight problem here because we don’t have one! As is well known she left us abruptly after being off ill. No steps have been taken to replace her yet. A more junior officer is currently filling the role of 151 officer and Director of Resources. The 151 position is an important one because this post holder has a statutory duty to prevent illegal or over spending. So, this is a position that must be filled and given the prospective deals for up to £500,000,000 in EFC and other potential investments in the mind of the Mayor it needs to be followed by a highly competent and respected person.

Our other main amendment at the 2017 budget meeting was the creation of a new post of Director of People Services which would combine the positions of Adult and Children’s Services. Legally we must have a senior staff member named in these two positions. But in almost half upper tier authorities these posts have been combined into what is basically a social services department.

This is the right thing to do. The education element has become a relatively small part of our work since the creation of Free Schools, Academies and Local Management of Schools. Our education service is a poor one in Liverpool and its improvement would best be served by the creation of a strong position of ‘Director of Education’ in an enhanced post of Assistant Executive Director.

The social services element is important. Between them Children’s and Adult Services take up approximately 75% of our budget. They often deal with the same people and the same dysfunctional families. Take someone, for example, who has severe mental or physical problems. We deal with them through Children’s Services until they are 18 (slightly different ages for some circumstances) when they move to Adult Services. It’s the same people in the same council. Why not just put them together? Similarly, with dysfunctional families where we are dealing with people of all ages and we need and do look after them on a whole family basis.

We have the opportunity to make this change now because our excellent interim Director of Adult Services is, apparently, leaving us next year and we have recently appointed a top-level Children’s Services Director.

Together these changes would save more than £600,000 which would be better directed at front line services. More importantly they could be used to create a strong and vibrant top team capable of taking us through the shark infested waters which lie ahead.

A little bit of this appears in our election manifesto which you can find at But this is not the stuff that excites people on the doorstep. However, we know that if you do not get the basic structures of management right you cannot deliver cost effective and efficient services. As politicians we need to grapple with the creation of this top team as a matter of urgency.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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