Yesterday I wrote to James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to ask him to order a review of the governance of Liverpool City Council. In my request I cited three things as an example of what is going wrong in the city.
Firstly, the large number of Labour Councillors who are in receipt of Special Responsibility Allowances which is far more than any other comparable city.
Secondly, is the failure of the Council to respond to the recommendations of the Peer Review of the Council by the LGA to involve opposition Councillors more in the running of the scrutiny process by which the Elected Mayor and Cabinet are held to account.
But what has brought my anger to boiling point is the rejection of a valid request for an Extraordinary Meeting of the Council to discuss whether or not to begin the process of removing the position of Elected Mayor. We all know that there is widespread disquiet in the City about the position of Elected Mayor. This unease has spread to the Labour Party with Constituency Labour Parties demanding an end to this wasteful undemocratic position. The Mayor’s response to this is to get the Labour Party to conduct an internal review of the position involving all parts of the Labour Party.
This is not, however, Labour’s City. It is a City and a Council which belongs to its people. The debate about the way the City is run should take place in public and not inside the fractured debates of the Labour Party where the issue will be used to settle scores rather than in consideration of the wishes of the people.
The Council have blocked a public debate on the procedural grounds that the Elected Mayor has now asked for a report on this issue. When I pressed for a timescale on the production and reporting of the report, I got no reply. This is not a complicated matter. There are only three options open to the Council and the Officers could report on these and the consultation process within a week on three or four sheets of paper.
What the Council has now done is to stop an open and honest democratic debate on the issue at an early moment in the Council’s year and sent the whole issue off into the long grass.
This is technically legal but morally indefensible. It makes it highly likely that we will now have an elected mayor until 2024 no matter what the people say as if a Mayor is elected in 2020 they will stay in place for the whole of the 4 year period.
Liberal Democrats will now launch our own consultation on the Elected Mayoralty within the next two weeks. We will give the people of Liverpool a voice even if the Labour controlled council will not.
I attach here the entire letter that I have written to the Secretary of State.
Dear Secretary of State,
Re: Liverpool Council
I am writing to you to ask you to conduct and immediate and high-level enquiry into the governance of Liverpool City Council.
My immediate concern is the Council’s failure to senstively act within its own standing orders and in doing so preventing a full and proper discussion of the desire shared by many people in Liverpool to remove the position of Elected Mayor.
On 22nd May my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I gave to the Chief Officers of the Council a requisition for an Extraordinary Council Meeting to set in train the process of consultation required to abolish the elected mayoral position. I should explain that in Liverpool a referendum is not required because the council decided in a council meeting to establish the position.
The Council failed to respond to this in the requisite time so, but explained to me that they were seeking a meeting with the Lord Mayor to set the date. They then further explained to me that they had agreed that the Council’s Chief Executive would write a report to be presented, at some unspecified time to a special council meeting. Under our standing orders I had the right to summon a council meeting to consider our motion and exercised that right. The officers have now told me that because a report has been asked for they will not call the Council meeting.
I would explain that there is some disquiet within the controlling Labour group on the Council about the Elected Mayoralty and they have set up an internal consultation process to look at the issue. I have no doubt at all that my motion for a full public debate has been side-tracked to allow the Labour Party to spin out these discussions. I also have no doubt that this has been done at the behest of those who seek to keep the position in place.
The position of Elected Mayor is highly contentious in the City. Many residents object to the fact that they were denied a referendum on the issue in the first place and many want to see the position abolished. At the end of the day the City of Liverpool and its governance is not a matter for any one Party who control the city at any one time but a decision that should be made by the City’s owners, the people of Liverpool.
This is the most high profile and urgent issue but it is not the only one. We have concerns at the fact that all scrutiny is led by Labour councillors despite the fact that 20% of the Council are now opposition councillors. This being in contradiction of a recommendation from the LGA’s Peer Review Team last year. We are also deeply concerned at the number of Labour councillors who receive special responsibility allowances with no clear indication of the work that they do!
I would be pleased to discuss this regrettable state of affairs with your officials and look forward to doing so.
Cllr Richard Kemp CBE,
Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats