During the election Liverpool Greens put out a press release saying how people should vote for them because they were the only Party with a 100% attendance record at committees within the Council. To be fair to them they did point out that the Lib Dem and Labour attendances were above 90% and only the Liberal Group had a poor attendance record.
Well that was not such a good record as it looked because they had chosen either to not go on committees like the Planning Committee, or were not on other committees like the Appointments and Disciplinary committee, which are hugely time consuming. To put it into perspective the average select committee if you are an ordinary member takes just 2 hours each time or about 12 hours a year.
Council meets 6 times a year so if you go on 2 Select Committees and attend full Council meetings it is a commitment of about 44 hours a year. Of course, on top of that it would help if people read and thought about the agendas! So, the formal commitment to the internal processes of the Council are about 1 hour per week for a back-bench councillor.
The planning committee, which the Greens have only now put forward a member on, can do 10 hours in a month. The Appointments and Disciplinary Committee, which I sit on recently had one meeting which lasted 51 hours over 6 consecutive days.
As we approached the Annual Meeting of the Council the Labour Party made a very generous offer in response to the Caller Report to increase the size of the Committees and some others so that each opposition Party could have 1 member on each of the 12 main committees. To do this we needed to suspend the normal proportionality rules. The law says that unless we do this the majority of committees outside the Cabinet must be proportionately balanced so that they represent the number of councillors that each Party has.
That made little difference to the Lib Dems because we are already big enough to have 1 member on a range of committees and bodies. It did, however, increase the committee places and workload for the other two opposition Parties. The Radford Party immediately agreed to a place on everything although given their attendance record whether they will turn up is a different matter.
The Greens approached us to say that as they couldn’t take up their seats would we take some of them because we didn’t have as many places per member as they did. Unfortunately, that is not true. As the main opposition Party, we have places on a wide range of committees that they are simply not on at all and some of those committees have sub committees!
For example, Lib Dems are on the Appointments & Disciplinary Committee; Health & Wellbeing Board, Port Health Authority and Fire Authority. We carry a much bigger workload on complex committees than any other Party as Labour have more people to share places amongst and the other two opposition Parties are too small to be on a lot of committees. We haven’t moaned about that. We accepted our responsibilities because that’s what we had told the electorate that we do – play a full part in the Council and hold Labour to account.
There was another problem with taking their unwanted seats – it would have been illegal! As the Council papers made clear if any opposition party did not take up their seats, they would have to go to Labour under the proportionality laws. That is precisely what happened with the Greens not taking up their positions on 4 main committees – they automatically went to Labour.
The Greens new Councillor in St Michaels went on to defend the Greens position on two grounds:
Firstly, that we were discriminating against them because 3 out of 4 of them have child care responsibilities. No one could be more aware of those difficulties than me. When Erica and I were young councillors we too had childcare responsibilities and somehow managed to juggle a two councillor, two child household with two jobs and a ward to look after and major roles within the Council. The difference now from then is that councillors with childcare or other caring responsibilities can claim an allowance to buy in support and we all get paid £10,500 a year.
It is entirely right that this support should be available. If we did not provide it, we would indeed be discriminating against certain categories of resident which would prevent them becoming councillors.
Secondly, she claimed that, “we are all very dedicated to our communities and sit on a number of outside panels and bodies”. Well that is not unique to the Greens. The hallmark of being a Lib Dem councillor, which is acknowledged even by our opponents, is the hard work we do within our Wards. It is also true of many councillors in other Parties.
Normally, I ignore the Greens because they make no impact within the Council and we can see how, although the Greens made modest advances throughout England, they have maintained the same number of seats in Liverpool since 2014 whilst our numbers are 6 times the number in 2014. I’ve made a point of responding to their latest position because of the sanctimonious press release they put out prior to the elections.
The simple fact is that the Greens were not prepared to take up positions which would have meant, with the exception of the Leader, just 1 hour per week on average per Councillor. They asked us to do something that would be illegal and therefore would have been ruled out by the Council’s legal officers.
We will be reminding people of this repeatedly whenever the Greens pipe up in council or elsewhere about issues that arise in subject areas that they chose not to cover. The electorate gave them a job to do and they have shirked that responsibility.