What a difference a year makes in Liverpool (or does it)!!

Tomorrow (8 December) we will be meeting here for a full council meeting for the first time since March 3rd 2020. I am not over hopeful that the return to the Chamber will lead to an outpouring of intellectual acuity!

Since the beginning of December last year, a tornado of fresh air has been sweeping through the Council and Labour Party. We have seen a senior officer summarily dismissed and another resign; the Caller Report publicly documenting the depths of the problems in the Council; Government Commissioners brought in and a new Mayor.

Whilst a promising start has been made to putting right the problems of a decade of Labour incompetence under Joe Anderson there is much to do and even more uncovered.

The most obvious failure can be seen by all in Lime Street. The so-called City Centre Movement Strategy is £13.5 million over budget plus £4.5 million on. The cost of that to council taxpayers is £706,000 a year for 25 years but we’ve just had to spend £1.5 million making the stalled works safe and are retendering for the remainder of the work. This bill will grow and grow.

The commissioners are costing £2,000,000 over three years, the improvement plan will cost a further two million.

The Labour Party nationally has taken over the local Labour Party. Labour is shedding members and support and the Lib Dems had our best elections since 2010. Labour have now chucked out Sam Gorst to add to the two people who resigned last week!

Joe Anderson may have gone but he is casting a long shadow over the finances and work of the Council and will continue to do so for a considerable time. We can see the aftermath of his tenure at tomorrow’s Council Meeting (the firs to be held in the Town Hall Chamber for almost two years).

Ahead of the 23 items Council meeting we have called on the Council to slim down it’s number of plans and decide on clear priorities around 3 key themes:

  • Delivering what the people of Liverpool have made clear that they want;
  • Creating a strong governance system whereby councillors can act as a bridge between the people, organisations and businesses of the city and ensure that the people’s priorities get delivered.
  • Creating a strong and disciplined management team to ensure that the people’s priorities can be delivered in a timely, professional, and cost-effective way.

The current Labour leadership is abdicating its responsibilities in this matter. We have a City Plan, which I will seek to amend, which is not a Plan which has ever been approved by the City Council. It is loosely based on earlier discussions with the Council but is basically an agreement of 15 Chief Executives to work together. Crucially it is a Plan largely written before the pandemic; Brexit and COP 26. It is a plan that fails to recognise fully the threats and opportunities presented by these three organisations.

 It is not the job of a bunch of bureaucrats, however well meaning, to say what overall direction our city should take. That is the job that, regrettably, has been put in the hands of the Labour Party who are not going to amend this plan but will instead produce a Council Plan!

That there is a danger for real conflict here became apparent at the first discussion meeting to consider the development of the City Plan. The meeting was attended by 6 members of the Labour Party, Me and a councillor in neither of our Parties whose nickname is the Scarlet Pimpernel from his habit of turning up late, taking phone calls and disappearing early.

There was absolute unity between the 7 of us that we needed to refocus the way that the Council, and by implication the rest of the public sector, does business. We want to have a ‘bottom-up’ approach to both policy making and the scrutiny of services. A city is a complex place. What works in parts of Liverpool 18 may not work in another part of Liverpool 18 and probably will not match the priorities of those who live in Liverpool 8.

To make the best use of the council’s resources we need to involve councillors and our communities in designing localised service which will be cost-effective. I hope that is what our Council Plan will say. However, it is not currently included in our City Plan. It will work much better if all the public sectors similarly commit to local decision making especially the NHS and housing associations.

That will mean that the Council has a City Plan which does not meet the directions of the Council Plan! Still with me? If so, it’s more than the Mayor and Cabinet of Liverpool are! I haven’t got space here to mention the Local Development Plan which will be coming to the January Council meeting or the Strategic Improvement Plan which is also on tomorrow’s agenda!

There is now a real danger that we are producing so many complex plans that they will not link up with each other properly and we will not be able to deliver them. I feel that the directions imposed on the council by the government are now hindering and not helping the actions of key staff and officers in sorting out the morass into which the Council has sunk.

We are producing complex spread sheets and GANT charts and all the other mumbo-jumbo of management speak but not addressing the key issues. We are directed not to employ staff below third tier level and then get criticised for not having enough staff in certain key functions!

We now need to produce a simplified plan of plans which can be easily understood by residents, people and businesses which explain the key priorities internally and externally for the council over the next three years so that we can all monitor the processes of change and improvement and contribute to them.

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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