On Wednesday we are holding the budget meeting of the Council to set the Council tax for next year. The Lib Dem Group will be announcing what we are doing on Wednesday afternoon prior to the meeting.
As you would expect Cllr Andrew Makinson and I have raised a series of questions with the Council’s Resources Department to assist us in understanding how we should proceed.
Two items have immediately caught my eye:
- That in the financial year 2017 and the year to date the Council has spent £705,000 on consultancy fees with regard to the possible investment of the Council in the Everton Football Club project at Bramley Moore Dock. The officers of the Council have told me, “Any repayments towards these fees are subject to ongoing discussions”. So, we may or may not get some of that back but we don’t know. If we are getting it back why isn’t Everton FC paying us back now? Quite simply we need the money! £705,000 is the equivalent of 70 medium level care packages for the elderly. It is the equivalent of the contribution to our tax income made by about 650 taxpayers.
We welcome the idea of EFC having a new Stadium. We think that the public sector should help with all the infrastructure costs associated with the transport etc needed to make the new Stadium viable. We just don’t think that we should invest in a private sector activity of this sort.
- That in the last financial year and in this one the Council has paid out £565,000 a year in costs for St Johns Market but the traders are still not paying any rent or service charges for their occupancy of the building. This is just as well because the footfall at the Market is so low that most of the traders would probably have to close if a rent and service charge was levied. That loss is the equivalent of about 50 medium level care packages for the elderly. It’s the equivalent of the contribution made to our council tax income made by about 500 taxpayers.
We want St John’s Market to work, it used to be a great place and still has some good stalls down there, but do not feel that the Council has the knowledge or skills to make it work.
Both of these statements above show a fatal weakness in our ability to undertake commercial activity. We have within the Council a great ability to do public sector things. We do clean the streets quite well; we do provide excellent services to the elderly; our bins do get emptied on time. These are things that Councils have been doing a long time.
When we move into the commercial sector, we are not so capable. Although Councils must be run in a business-like way, they are not businesses. Councillors and our staff are not usually entrepreneurs. We don’t have a great feel for commercial activity. We don’t have a ‘nose’ for business.
As I look through other items that I will reveal at the Council meeting I see the same story. This is not only a problem for Liverpool Council but will be a national story. All over England Councils have been rushing into commercial arrangements, buying commercial property, creating trading partnerships and similar activities. Many of these will unravel and fold.
Even where we did not enter formal partnerships, or other legal relationships we have been consistently fooled by some of the more unworthy elements of the private sector. Just look at the way that we gleefully but ignorantly helped developers flog fractional investment residential opportunities around the Globe which have caused immense damage to the Council’s reputation.
There’s an old and wise saying, “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves”. When times are hard most of keep all our pennies as prisoners until we absolutely have to spend them. That is not the way with our council. For the current political leadership of the Council think that those pennies are your pennies and so do not need to be spent carefully.
Let’s see what they have to say on Wednesday!”