New Minister Gove urged to think again about Liverpool Council reorganisation

New Secretary of State for Communities, Michael Gove, might be prepared to undo a problem cretaed by his hapless predecessor, Robert Jenrick about the way that our City should eb governed.

I have today written to the new Communities Secretary, Michael Gove, asking him to think again about a decision to alter the Governance system in Liverpool made by his predecessor, Robert Jenrick.

In my letter I give 8 reasons why the changes are wrong and point out that no-one within or outside Government has been able to evidence why these changes will be advantageous to the people of the City.

As the longest serving City Councillor and has a huge experience of local government outside the City has given 8 reasons why he thinks the changes are wrong. These include:

  1. There are many pressures on core city Councillors in terms of community leadership. This is compounded in this City by the acute problems of poverty with approximately 60% of our communities being in super output areas.
  2. It is further compounded by the reduction in staff which means that councillors have to do a lot of community work that we would normally have staff for.
  3. As a core city we have to provide a wider leadership role in the sub region than colleagues on the remaining Boroughs
  4. Our communities are ever changing with some inner-city wards having a 30% turnover in the electoral role each year.

Given that the Council is almost certain to move to a consultation with the people of Liverpool with a view to abolishing the role of elected mayor I believe that maintaining a three member ward system with elections in 3 years out of 4 will provide the maximum stability for the Council and the maximum ability for the Council to effect the changes that are needed and contained in the 95% of the Caller report which everyone agrees with.

The full letter to Secretary of State Gove is attached.

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE

Liberal Democrat Office,

Liverpool City Council,

Cunard Building,

Water Street,

Liverpool L3 1AH

0151 233 0427

Richard.Kemp@Liverpool.gov.uk

16th September 2021

Rt Hon Michael Gove,

Secretary of State for Communities,

Marsham Street,

London

Dear Secretary of State,

Re:       Please think again about governance changes in Liverpool

Congratulations on being appointed as Secretary of State for Communities.

My purpose in writing to you is to ask you to urgently review a decision made by your predecessor Mr Jenrick relating to the governance of the Council, which is being discussed by Liverpool Council next Wednesday.

Although you are new to this post as a seasoned politician I am sure that you are aware that in December last year Mr Jenrick put an Inspection team into Liverpool led by Max Caller. In March he accepted a report from the Caller team and made directions as to future actions by the Council. This has been followed up by the appointment of Commissioners.

Much of the report and direction came as so surprise. Basically, it split the work of the Council in two. It recognised the great progress, in difficult circumstances, which was being made by the Chief Executive. It went on to talk about the many problems which the Council now had to deal with caused by low quality politicians and officers and a toxic culture within the Council.

However, Mr Caller moved far beyond his knowledge base when he strayed into discussing the governance of the Council. In short, he recommended:

  • A reduction in the number of councillors to 81;
  • Largely single member wards across the City
  • Four yearly elections.

Mr Caller has never been an elected member and has never worked in as complex an environment as a core city like Liverpool. His most notable tenure as a Chief Executive was in the small London Borough of Hackney. His last substantive role was as C-Ex of the Boundaries Commission which perhaps has informed his opinion as to number and boundaries but divorced him from a wider knowledge of how they relate into systems.

I believe that his proposals are wrong and will not lead to good governance but will introduce into our governance system an untried and unproven system for which neither he or MHCLG Ministers in the Lords, MHCLG, Mr Jenrick or our Commissioners have been able to justify in terms of their ability to improve the governance of the City.

As the longest serving member of the Council, a former Leader of the Lib Dems in Local Government at the LGA, which is where I first met you personally, a former Audit Commission Inspector and now a mentor helping system change within Councils nationally I want to explain why they are wrong:

  • There are pressures on our time on committees like the licensing and planning committees because of the huge interest in the private sector doing things.
  • For the foreseeable future we are going to be heavily involved internally in the reorganisation of the Council.
  • We know that in many councils with all up elections many councillors simply go to sleep for 3.5 years only to emerge, as if from hibernation, in the 6 months prior to an election. We simply cannot afford for that to happen in Liverpool ever and specifically not at this juncture.
  • Single members wards will mean that some of the wards will not be adequately covered by local representation where their councillors perform major roles in opposition or control or take up other regional or national positions.

We have already, as a City, had to suffer from innovative forms of Government with the creation of a City Mayor which has been the fount of many of our problems. I suspect that the Council will shortly decide to move to a consultation process with the aim of removing this position permanently. We simply cannot afford to be a test case for unproven and supported changes which in the opinion of long serving public servants like myself will lead to poor governance.

This is urgent because the Council is being forced by external timetables into a decision. I would be pleased to meet you in London next week to discuss the matters generally or specifically.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Kemp

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE,

Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats

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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