The events of the past 10 days have brought into questions two key issues in the minds of many Liverpool residents. How should Liverpool be run and who should run it.
My answer to the second question is, of course, the Liberal Democrats! On May 6, unless we can change things, you will be able to elect a City Mayor, a City Region Mayor, an elected Police Commissioner and a councillor in each of thirty wards. That list is itself an indication that our system of governance is a mess. I will be the candidate for City Mayor, Cllr Kris Brown the candidate for Police Commissioner, Cllr Andy Corkhill the Regional Mayor Candidate and many of you will already be well acquainted with your local Lib Dem candidate who may well be your Councillor already. More of that later.
So, let me put the how into greater perspective. Some things can and must be changed irrespective of the system of governance. In addition to as series of new policy initiatives which we will announce between mid-January and the election, we want to change how we do things:
- There needs to be a change in the relationships between Officers and Councillors with each understanding their role. It is not the job of Cllrs to run the Council. That is the job of officers. It is not an officer’s job to lead the City that is our job as Cllrs.
- There needs to be absolute transparency in the way that contracts and tenders are issued. Cllrs must not get involved in deciding who does things in the City. We should set the parameters for those decisions and then leave it to a due process to decide who does things.
- There needs to be effective scrutiny of what the key decision makers are doing. Our current select committees are designed not to enquire but to keep councillors thinking that they are important.
- We need to have councillors elected with a capacity and knowledge to enquire into decisions and seek out alternatives. That is sadly lacking in Liverpool.
But there are great structural issues which if addressed can make the above things more likely to work. Basically, there are three ways in which we can run ourselves:
The Mayor and Cabinet system which essentially concentrates power into the hands of one person who chooses the Cabinet and then chucks out those that disagree. We can see this in Liverpool where we basically have a very low-grade cabinet whilst those with more experience and intellect, and there aren’t many of those, languish on the back benches. This system was imposed on us without a vote just 3 days before a referendum would have been compulsory.
The Leader and Cabinet system which was what most councils have and existed in Liverpool before the great mayoral steal of 2012. At least in this system the Leader is accountable to the whole of the controlling group and can be challenged and changed.
The Committee system which has not been available to big councils like Liverpool until recently. This would mean that every councillor of every Party would be involved in decision making and policies and decisions put to scrutiny and vote. All members of the Council thus become responsible for elements of decision making. It is interesting to note that two relatively local councils, Wirral and Cheshire East will move to this system from May next year.
The are two ways that the Council could move to one of the two alternative systems:
Firstly, it could do so because it has been forced to do so. If 5% of the electors of Liverpool sign a petition, we can force a referendum. However, that is not easy to do. I cannot be an online petition. It must be physical; it can only be signed by Liverpool elector who must put their Electoral number next to it; and it must be done in a certain time scale.
This basically will need to be done door to door. To give you an idea a canvasser can talk to a maximum of about 30 people in a canvassing shift. Some of them won’t care and some won’t agree although the majority will. That means that if things go well you can get 20 signatures. That means you would need 800+ canvassing shifts to get the numbers needed. However, there is another way.
The Council could vote for change. Because the system was not introduced by a referendum it does not need a referendum to change it. We will be moving in the next few days for an Extraordinary Meeting of the Council to begin a short, sharp consultation programme with Liverpool citizens with a view to making a final decision to prevent an election for a City Mayor this coming May.
The three opposition Parties on the Council don’t have enough votes to get this through BUT we know that there are a good number of Labour Councillors who think that the system is wrong but were cowed into supporting it. There are a few who honestly believed it was the best way. But facts are facts. Cities like Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle have done better in terms of improving the situation in their area than Liverpool under a Mayor.
So, will you help us change the minds of Labour Councillors. E-mail them, tweet to them, visit their advice centres. Whatever way you can take the issue to them and don’t let them hide away. Most of you don’t know who your Labour Councillors are so infrequently do they interact with you outside an election. But you can find out who they are in the ‘Find your Councillor’ section of the Liverpool Council website at www.liverpool.gov.uk.
Now is the time for all good women and men to come to the aid of our City. Of course, another way is to join the Lib Dems and fight with the only Party in the City capable of taking Labour on. You can join or donate at http://www.liverlibdems.org.uk