In a moment of frustration last week Mayor Anderson told the city that he was considering not setting a budget next year and letting the Government set one.
I understand his frustration. Liverpool has suffered more than its fair share of cuts since 2010 and yes the Lib Dems were in coalition with the Tories for the first of those 5 years.
All Parties must share responsibility for cuts. 80% of the cuts made in the first three years of the Coalition were in fact put in place by the last budget of Gordon Brown’s Government. Just as we must all take some responsibility for the cuts, we must all rally round with the solutions and do our best to defend the City which is why I’m off to a meeting with the Mayor later today.
I have been around a long time now and I remember the circumstances of the last Government defiance. 33,000 people were issued with redundancy notices which caused a real and lasting shock to some people even though the redundancy notices were swiftly withdrawn. The budget which followed was declared to be illegal. Neil Kinnock ensured that the 47 were removed from the Labour Party and the Courts ensured that the Councillors were removed from office for breaking the law.
But the effects were much, much longer lasting than that. For more than 2 decades the only tiem a crane visited the city it had a wrecking ball on the end. That and the ‘Boys from the Black Stuff typified in people’s mind an attitude of Liverpool which was hard to shift. ‘Whinge City’ and ‘watch your hubcaps there’s a Scouser about’, were the prevailing sentiments that dragged our City down.
In fact, it took the application to become European Capital of Culture to sort out Liverpool’s credibility problem. Only when people had some confidence in the future of the City would they want to visit here, invest here or decide to live here. Give a dog a bad name and sticks for ages.
In political terms the way our City would be damned for another decade or two and its associated loss of jobs and growth would simply not be worth the gesture.
However, what we should all recollect is that there will not be an illegal budget set in Liverpool unless our three Chief Officers, the Chief Executive, Director of Resources and City Solicitor failed to do their job properly. They have their own legal duty to ensure that a legal budget is set. They are all three highly competent officers and would do what needed to be done to preserve the City’s financial position. This si not Northamptonshire where there was a clear break in due process within the political and officer structures within the Council.
If the politicians do not set a budget and allow our officers to do it then the Government Commissioners would come in, largely expert hands from local government, who would have the ultimate power to decide what happens in Liverpool for the following 2 or 3 years.
There is another way and Mayor Anderson knows what it is. We held a special council meeting in September and He, I and the Chief Executive all spoke about the same thing. The need to bring all public sector spending together in one coherent spending programme. Liverpool has a gross budget of about £500,000,000 when all the special grants and one-offs are added to our base budgets of business rate, council tax and charges. This is but a small part of the total spend in Liverpool which I estimate to be about 10 times that amount. It comes in the form of the NHS; DWP; Police; Fire; Waste Disposal; transport; Regional Mayor budgets etc, etc, etc.
The money comes in silos. Dribbled out by the Government in a bit here and a bit there. Governments always talk of the need to get value for money but they always seek to do so in terms of their particular range fo activities. The end result is a lot of wasteful expenditure not because any one part of the public sector is inefficient or incompetent but because the public sector as a whole does not join up its services ina logivcal way.
This is not only financially wasteful but has a poor impact on the loves of the people we serve. If we look at the ageing process, we can see people moving in a bewildered way from social care provided by the Council; to voluntary care to NHS care with lots of people taking separate decisions about the lives of those people who seem to have little input into the decision making themselves.
Take the problems of children in care. Up to 8 agencies can get together to look at the needs of families and children with problems with no one agency able to take key decisions about the future of a child. That is why we now have a record number of children in care which is rarely the best outcome for a child with problems.
Our offer to the Government must be that we can sort this out if they give us the authority to do so. This is not about creating new structures or organisations. Such actions would cost more than they would save and would take years to put into effect. Our action should be about joining up existing services in such a way that waste is abolished and the quality of service is improved.
Mayor Anderson and the Labour Party are not alone in this. At the special council meeting in September Lib Dems promised to support the process whilst reserving our right to tackle issues where we believe Labour are doing things wrongly. That offer still stands. To work together with all the partners in the City and make the Government an offer they cannot refuse, to finally bring common sense to bear on the provision of services and to join up service delivery in such a way as to improve outputs and reduce costs.