Over the past few weeks, I have come under criticism from a few people because I am not hard enough in opposing Mayor Anderson. One even went so far as to say that it was because Joe Anderson was my best friend! Neither of us would take it that far but as the Mayor of Liverpool and the Leader of the Opposition we have to work together when we can and oppose each other only when we have to. That’s grown up politics. It’s more difficult in some ways than just slagging each other off but it’s not so useful for the people of Liverpool as no Party has all the right ideas or policies. I personally believe that this is what the people of our City want in this time of crisis for our City.
Lib Dems have been very active lately in exposing some of the flaws of the Council:
Our Education Spokesperson, Liz Makinson has only this week drawn attention to the appalling state of our education service – the worst of any core City.
Cllr Carole Storey has introduced wide-ranging suggestions for a new tourism policy.
All 10 Lib Dem Councillors have requisitioned a special meeting of the Council.
I have continued to be highly critical of the way that the council has and is treating property development in the City which has, far more than in the rest of the UK, left half completed or dangerous buildings throughout the City and left investors with anything up to a £billion which has disappeared.
So, there are clear areas where we disagree with Joe Anderson and the Labour Group. However, all that palls into insignificance when compared with the budget position which the Council is now in for the past two years and the severity of which has been added to by the effects of the coronavirus.
In March the Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick told all councils to do what it takes to deal with the emerging crisis caused by the Coronavirus Covid-19. All councils including Liverpool took the man at his word. In my discussion with the Mayor we agreed that this gave us the green light to do what it takes to keep the people of Liverpool safe. The Council spent what needed to be spent and I supported. Mistakes were made because everything was being done in a hurry but who knows a Lib Dem administration might have made the same or different mistakes as it grappled with these unprecedented circumstances.
The Government then started to shift some money towards us amounting to approximately £32.5 million of core funding. To this was added other sums as we became part of the national initiative on things like ‘track and trace. It did this in two tranches with the 2nd tranche being a much smaller sharing of the national pot.
This third, and possibly, final tranche of the money from the Government to help Liverpool deal with funding problems due to the coronavirus is a travesty. This amount is only about 10% of what Liverpool needs now as it battles with increased expenditure to look after our most needy citizens and a loss in income caused by the lockdown.
The problem is that, with the blessing of the Government we have spent about £60 million and have lost a huge amount of income from things like planning applications, parking fees, licences and other fees. Rent income will be down as will council tax and business rate income. The current estimate is that even allowing for this we are about £50 million adrift.
Unless more money comes the Council will be unable to avoid cuts in services later this year which will impact on all our none-statutory but vital services like parks, libraries and sports centres. We will have to cut the things that our people most need to keep them mentally and physically healthy as we move through and out of lockdown.
The idea that we might be able to spread our losses for this year also through the next two financial years will just spread the pain and damage our vital services. Normally we cannot carry for ward a loss so the idea that we might be able to split this year’s losses in three and only find a third of them this year is attractive to Government BUT it totally ignores the fact that things will not be back to normal next year or the year after. So, one third of this year’s shortfall will need to be added to further shortfalls in the next two years.
Hard decisions will need to be made at the planned September Council meeting. So Lib Dems have had to consider what we should do. We can either make cheap political points and move an amendment which might get us good headlines and stuff for our leaflets or we can work with the Administration, make suggestions publicly and privately to try and improve what Labour are suggest and be positive.
That has the added advantage that we can prevent a united front to the Government when the Government asks for the money it so desperately needs. This course of action is the one that the Lib Dem group reaffirmed at a recent group meeting. We will continue to expose what we think are deficiencies in Labour’s approach but will continue to support most of the actions of the Mayor in this time of crisis for the Council and our City.
We hope that all reasonable people within the City will agree that this is the right approach at the present time. Normal service will be resumed with more robust political debate when we reach the delayed local elections next May.