Botches; boobs and U-Turns. The story of Labour in Liverpool

We need to convert this building into a place where there is continued dialogue with the people and businesses of Liverpool. At the moment the Council is performing more U turns than a Learner driver the day before their practical driving test!!

In the past few weeks Labour, led by Joe Anderson, has committed three huge U-turns in Liverpool. In all three of them Mayor Anderson finally made the right decision but only after creating much misery, upset and annoyance in the City which, given his later decisions were unnecessary. All three of them were a long time in the making but the U-turn to the right decisions was rapid. The key factor in all three was the rapid and public action of concerned citizens of Liverpool. In all three cases we were pleased as a Party to get behind the efforts of those citizens. We did so because, as Joe Anderson finally agreed, those citizens were right.

The three issues had different roots and we don’t fully know what those roots are. The issues were the reopening of St. Johns Market; the potential for a Zipwire over the commemorative area for our war dead at St John’s Gardens and the potential closure of Millvana and Brushwood Care Homes.

If we take these one by one we see another common future. A failure to involve the people of Liverpool generally and the users of services specifically.

The St John’s Market problems go back about 5 years. The decision was taken to refurbish the Market which was in need of some tender, loving care. We all agree that but we don’t agree on the way the Council went about it. A decision was taken to appoint an architect with no experience of markets. To compound the problem absolutely no consultation took place with market traders or shoppers. No reason was given for the market to exist other than that it had always existed.

The result was the development of a sterile, tedious environment which was loathed by people who had been regular market users from day one. The traders did their best but it soon became clear that people did not want to visit the Market no matter how good were the bargains on offer (and there are some real bargains to be had there). The Council refused to listen and so the Traders turned to Cllr Juarez and me to intervene. It worked, we thought, the Mayor did visit and listen and promised to make improvements and not to collect rent and charges for 6 months. But the improvements were not made until very recently and no income has been received for two+ years. The terms on which the market was going to reopen post Covid lockdown would have crippled the traders until I intervened on their behalf.

The Zipwire is a story also long in the making. It appears that two years ago some levels of assurances were given that the Council would welcome the proposal for the Zipwire from St John’s Beacon to the Central Library. It only really came to a head when planning permission was granted. I launched a petition and on behalf of the Lib Dem Group requisitioned a Council meeting which would have taken place on 30th September. More importantly Engage CIC and the Victorian Society took a keen interest in the proposal and we happily ‘pulled back’ because they could provide a better professional and community campaign than we could as a Political Party.

Every effort was made to persuade the people of Liverpool that the Zipwire was a good idea. Pressure was put on Labour Cllrs and professional lobbyist Frank McKenna led a spirited, but ill-informed campaign that this would actually create jobs although no justification was given for the tourism claims made. One day the Mayor was furiously defending the idea and then suddenly the idea was dropped! The right decision but only after our City had been made a laughing stock in national media for our ‘Disneyfication’ process for our City Centre.

The last case, Brushwood & Millvana is, in many ways the worst of these cases because it affects 83 very fragile people and their relatives who love them and care about their welfare. Out of the blue Liverpool was informed that the care homes would close and that the residents would be moved to other locations by the end of October. The homes were not full enough to be viable apparently because of Covid was the claim made. This claim lacks credibility. All over the Country there are short term problems with care homes caused by the Coronavirus. What we do know, however, is that in the mid to long term the number fo people who will be affected by dementia will rise. At present 30% of us will have some element of dementia before we die and increasingly many will need the intensive care needed at these two homes.

As a Lib Dem I welcomed what Paul Brant and Mayor Anderson had done in building the homes which are state of the art and provided accommodation which we should all aspire to for our relatives. When the closure was mooted I wanted to know more and immediately called for a report to go to special meetings the Health & Wellbeing Board and the Social Care and Health Select Committee. That never happened. Instead a group of friends and relatives set up a great community campaign to save the homes. As with other campaigns we did not take a leading role because that would have politicised the campaign. However, we did provide the support that was asked of us as the main opposition Party in the City.

When Cllrs Juarez, Kris Brown and I turned up on Monday at the request of relatives we were bowled over with the sheer determination of these people and were able to give our support to those who were able to safely gather together in the vigil. We were delighted that the speaker after me, Ian Byrne, brought to the meeting a message from the Mayor that new options were being looked at and that people should not either look for new jobs or new homes for their loved ones. The right thing to say and do by Mayor Anderson but why had he only been supporting the closure days before?

So the three things that they have in common area:

  • A failure to adequately research projects in early stages;
  • A failure to involve the people of Liverpool and service users at the right time; and
  • A failure to talk to affected people when the going got tough.

There are still questions to be answered about what happened in the Cunard to bring these three sets of ideas forward. We continue to ask those questions although getting answers is not easy.

But two of these fights are not yet over. The Zipwire cannot be resuscitated. St John’s Market Traders still don’t have a fair and reasonable contract to base their livelihoods on. We still don’t have firm proposals for Brushwood and Millvana, only a suggestion that alternatives are now being looked.

We need to change the system; we need to have a council leadership that is accessible and will listen to people rather than arrogantly pushing ahead with daft ideas.

That’s the alternative which my Party and I hope to create for the hard-pressed citizens of this City.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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