I have today written to the Chief Executive of Liverpool Council to ask him to re-establish a light touch system of discussion and scrutiny of key decisions with the Council relating to the Coronavirus pandemic
It is now three weeks since the Government said that we could have ‘virtual decisions making’ and almost two since they issued the regulations and I wrote to officers and other Party Leaders suggesting a light touch approach to democracy and scrutiny. Apart from an acknowledgement by the City Solicitor, I have received no response from the political or managerial leadership of the Council. Since then Parliament has been ‘virtually’ recalled for 21st April following pressure from the Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties and many councils have also started to call meetings.
I have suggested an urgent virtual meeting of senior staff and politicians to discuss this and a virtual meeting of the Health & Wellbeing Board to flush out into the open the full facts behind the pandemic in Liverpool and what Council and NHS responses are. Both of these meetings should be monitored by the media to ensure that full information goes out through them to the people of our City.
A full set of the suggestions that I have made can be found on my blog in an earlier posting.
The full email to the Chief Executive is attached below:
Getting the democratic processes moving again.
It is now more than 3 weeks since the Government informed us that they would be publishing new regulations to allow for remote council meetings and the Council held its first planning committee by Skype.
Two Fridays ago, the Government published its new regulations and I wrote to you the City Solicitor, the Head of Democratic Services and the three other Party Leaders within the Council and gave some cogent ideas about how we could proceed to return the work of the Council to democratic and public scrutiny. To date I have had no response other than an acknowledgement of my email from the City Solicitor.
We now have the situation where Parliamentary Select Committees are meeting regularly and where Parliament will be virtually recalled on 21st April to allow proper questioning of Ministers by the MPs and Peers. This was called for by the Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties and is as it should be. Many councils have already started to call virtual meetings including one small council that managed to hold a full council meeting by Zoom!
That is why I find the response from the Council so shameful. The Council officers using delegated powers, but presumably with the support of the Mayor, are taking huge decisions that will affect the way that we do business for a long time. They will affect the way we run many services but especially the way that health and social care services will be delivered in future.
One of the key elements that will be affected is the budget of the Council. Three weeks ago, I asked for an early and very outline assessment of the budgetary position of the Council. I have had no reply. As I have made clear to the Mayor I support him in spending what is needed to protect lives but we do need to keep a tally of what we are spending as I fear that Government generosity will not survive an ending of the pandemic.
I do not want a complete move back to what we had. I have suggested a very slimmed down version of our system which will look at the key elements of coronavirus action in health & social care; education; and business. I have made clear that I am not looking for long reports, which would tie up the time of our senior professional staff but 3 or 4 page documents that would enable insight into decisions and discussions of the consequences.
This is all eminently deliverable within a democracy but clearly is not being delivered. We know we have the IT kit to do this because we successfully used it for the planning committee.
This is not just a decision for one Party or the officers. This is a decision that affects all Councillors in the City. For that reason, I am asking you to convene as a matter of urgency a virtual meeting of the Mayor, Deputy Mayors and Group Leaders with appropriate officers to consider either my suggestions or suggestions emanating from you and colleagues.
I also think it vital that we hold a virtual meeting of the Health & Wellbeing Board. Frankly, we do not know the full position relating to infections, deaths, provisions of PPE, problems with social care delivery and the forward planning that officers are considering to remedy problems. It is still our responsibility to find out such information from the NHS so that the people of our City can be made fully aware of the health and care environment in which we all live.
I believe that both these meetings should be accessible by representatives of the media so that they can brief the citizens of Liverpool additionally to the information that the Council can give out.
I look forward to hearing from you, and would be pleased to discuss matters with you or the other Party Leaders, to whom I am copying this email.