On Tuesday a precedent was set which I hope will be followed by other Labour Councillors in Liverpool. Cllr Robertson-Collins resigned as Cabinet member for the Environment and Climate Change on Tuesday in protest at Labour’s plans for the Strand and Lime Street. One could be churlish to point that she voted for them both and they are almost complete at a cost of some £90 million.
I often don’t agree with Laura but I do recognise that she is a woman or tremendous integrity and honour. I noted recently that she and Cllr James Roberts in her Greenbank Ward have been the only Labour Councillors that I have seen who have apologised to the people of Liverpool for the problems highlighted in the Caller report and being investigated by the Police. She is someone I could work with and I know that when she says something, I might not always agree with it but she is enunciating a well thought out argument from her political perspective.
Cllr Leon Tootle has stood down from the Council after the Caller Report showed that the audit functions of the Council, for which he was responsible, just were not working.
So, what of the rest of them?
It seems to me that there are three other lots of people who should be considering their position as Councillors given what has been revealed.
Firstly, anyone who has been Deputy Mayor since 2012, step forward Cllrs Brant, O’Byrne and Simon. As Deputy Mayor they are the number two in the political side of the organisation. I repeat the questions that I have already asked of them but which they have all failed to answer:
- Did you know what was going on in regeneration? If so, what did you do about it?
- If you didn’t know why didn’t you, given your position of huge power and influence?
Deputy Mayors are well paid. About £42,000 in total. That is more than 1.5 times the median wage on Merseyside. For that much cash they should have been putting the hours in! They should have made it their full time job.
Secondly, anyone who held the post of Cabinet Member for Regeneration. This is a little bit complicated because different parts of the regeneration work have come under different cabinet members with different titles. I think there are 6 in all. Again, we can ask the same questions as raised above. Again, we can point out the more than adequate payments that they get of about £27k per year which is a reasonable wedge to oversee one department.
Thirdly, most of the people who have been ‘Mayoral Leads’. I say most because some of them, I think particularly of Jane Corbett who is a passionate advocate for fairness and equality, have earned their money. Others seem to have had no job description and done very little. It seems that they were paid to watch Joe’s back and be loyal supporters rather than true advocates of their topic.
Perhaps, we should then ask all of Liverpool’s Labour Councillors to do the honourable thing! Did they know what was going on; did they like getting any of the other 18 paid posts which the Mayor dished out to his favourites? Could they really not understand what was happening? Those who have wards like Kirkdale, Central and Everton must surely have seen the evidence of corruption which are the stalled sites in their area.
As part of the Improvement Plan that I am recommending we adopt to respond to the Caller Report I have put a great emphasis on systems and training. Too many councillors have little understanding of the way the Council works. In a way that’s understandable. The Council is a complex operation with about 10,000 staff and a gross budget in the order of £1 billion a year when you add in all the income and specific and general grants that we get in addition to what we bill to our residents and businesses in the form of taxation.
But ignorance is not bliss. Not knowing isn’t good enough. Some councillors will say, “I don’t understand all that sort of thing I’m just there to represent my ward”. That answer just isn’t good enough. They get paid, at minimum, £10,500 a year to act as the equivalent of None-Executive Directors. They get paid to make decisions which affect every single person in Liverpool. If they don’t know how the system worked, they need to find out pronto.
That might then leave a major question for all the Parties on the Council. How do we ensure that the people we put up are both competent and committed? How do we monitor their performance in their ward, committee and Council? This is a relatively easy job for me with a small group of 10 all of whom are highly committed to their ward, our cause and the City.
However, we are already putting in place actions to ensure that we get the right people into place with the right support and commitment. In the past when we were a big group, we made some of the same mistakes that Labour have made, although no-one ever accused us of corruption or Malfeasance in Public Office.
If elected as the Council’s Leader on May 6th I will personally lead the actions to improve the quality, role and understanding by councillors of the organisation that they lead. This will be helped by new systems of transparency and probity that I will introduce.
The people of Liverpool deserve nothing less than a 100% commitment from knowledgeable and hard-working councillors. The situation that we are in demands that we should work both hard and, wherever possible, unitedly minimising political controversy and uniting behand key objectives.
That’s my ambition for our new Council. I hope that it is yours as well.