In response to the issuing of regulations by the Government giving details of new ways of working by councils to keep the democratic process intact, I have written to the City Solicitor, Chief Executive and Labour, Green and Liberal Leaders making suggestions about changes in the short and medium term on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Group.
Having participated in the virtual planning committee last week I think that this is perfectly possible. The committee was able to see everything that we needed to see, discuss things and make a decision. This was not as good as a real committee because were unable to listen to the applicants and objectors but we did OK!
The other clear drawback was that the press and public could not see and hear although full details of voting record etc will be published. It is presumably technically possible to do this and I think we should look at this.
In some way we are echoing the call by the new Shadow Chancellor for transparency. This is not an attempt to reintroduce party politics at a time of crisis but an attempt to ensure proper scrutiny and discussion ‘in public’ of the massive decisions that are being made on our behalf.
We are not suggesting that every committee of the Council , as currently constituted, should simply carry on meeting but that in the short term we have regular updates ‘in public’ of the key areas of health and social care, the Liverpool Economy, the Liverpool Community and Liverpool Children’s services.
The Lib Dem proposals are given below.
Short term proposals
In the short term I think we should look at what we want to do for the next, say, three months. I don’t think that it should be business as usual but we should be aiming to have a degree of normality by informing each other and through us the people and businesses of Liverpool about what the Council is doing and the effects of those decisions.
Lib Dem recommendation would be to establish the following meetings on a monthly basis:
- ‘Public’ meetings of the Group Leaders plus the two deputy Mayors where the big aims of the Council and how we are responding to local needs and government schemes is discussed.
- The Health & Wellbeing Board should meet, publicly, and have the same sort of meetings as the two COVID facing Boards that we held in recent weeks. This would involve the sort of partner reporting which I, and I know many others, felt reassuring.
- A business panel, which reviews the measures being taken to minimise the effects on our economy. This could have people like the Chamber and the Port reporting in.
- A community panel which looks at the social effects of the Coronavirus and how the council and voluntary sector is responding to them. LCVS would be a key player in such a panel.
- None of these would be decision making bodies but would function more as a select committee for information and discussion with simple reports designed to open up discussion
The decision making would stay with:
The regulatory Committees of planning and licensing. With planning meeting in ‘public’ as normal.
The Cabinet which would meet in ‘in public’ but really only deal with urgent issues for the next three months.
Plans for the middle and long term
We should also consider how we can work more smartly in future. Many of the small meetings that I and presumably others, hold could be met by phone or teleconferencing. Even better if we could get more used to using facetime, Skype for business etc so that we have better meetings and discussion but with a minimum of travel.
We also think that this goes us a wider opportunity to look at our Select committees and work out how many of them actually add to the work of the Council and how many are just used to keep councillors busy? Are the reports that go to them effective? Should they be punchier and give a clearer view of situations rather than, as often occurs, well meaning waffle from officers and partners?