Unmitigated Greed of the Liverpool Commissioners and unmitigated stupidity by the Government

When Liverpool Council meets to ratify its budget in March it will face a huge overhang of costs from Joe Anderson’s tenure of the Council. A 50% increased cost for our 4 commissioners is just one of them

Today I have asked the House of Commons Select Committee that scrutinises the work of the department for Levelling Up and Housing to investigate the 50% increase in fees charged to the Council for the work of the Commissioners.

Let us be under no illusion. The greed may be that of the Commissioners, but the problems have been caused by the incompetence of Joe Anderson and those he chose to employ in senior positions over a decade. It’s actually impossible to tell the full cost of his period of office which started with the council paying £100,000 for his legal fees to try and keep a pension for a salary that he wasn’t earning!  but it must be approaching £135 million, lost, frittered away or not collected. We’ll be paying for Joe Anderson for a long, long time.

I’m extremely angry about the Commissioners though! There’s a report on the agenda for the next Cabinet meeting that after just 6 months the Government commissioners working inside the Council have had a huge pay increase whilst the rest of the public sector has increases that are falling behind inflation. Independently a little sleuthing has told me what those costs are.

The Council had been told that the Commissioners would be paid £800 a day for the Chief Commissioner and £700 a day for the other 3 commissioners. Now they have been told they must pay the commissioners £1,200 for the Lead Commissioner and £1,100 a day for the other 3. This means that at the expected number of days being 150 per Commissioner the Lead Commissioner will earn up to £180,000 and the other commissioners £165,000.

This is unmitigated greed by the Commissioners in accepting accept a 50% increase at a time of pay restraint in the public sector where staff are being offered between 0 and 1.5%, an increase which is leaving them worse off after the current inflation rate of 5%+. This means that a commissioner will earn more for a 3-day week month than a senior nurse will make in a month. One Commissioner is the cost of the average annual care package for  9 elderly people.

The Government should hang their heads in shame for allowing this. How can they look a nurse or a refuse collector in the eye and ask for restraint when they allow this loathsome increase in pay?”

Now I have asked the Levelling up Select Committee led by former Council Leader, Clive Betts MP, and the Chief Executive of the LGA Mark Lloyd to investigate not only this increase but the work and pay of Commissioners in leading sector-led intervention more generally.

In my own experience of 39 years as a Councillor and being involved in intervention of various sorts in more than 40 councils I believes that it is right that there should be a full review. Some councils need support, but the question is, “what is the most cost effective and lasting way to support the improvement that is needed?” It is important that the intervention is done in a way that leaves learning and skills behind in the Council, and within both the sector as a whole and local government.

My letter to Clive Betts is appended in full

Clive Betts MP

Chair, Levelling up & Housing Select Committee,

House of Commons,

London SW1A 0AA

10th January 2022

Dear Clive,

As you will be aware Liverpool has had imposed on it by the Government 4 commissioners. The Government is increasingly looking at the use of Commissioners and similar interventions in other councils.

Whilst I do not agree with the principle of Commissioners, I would prefer sector led improvement by the LGA and associated bodies, I am not objecting to the use of them in current circumstances in Liverpool. Liverpool Council has run right off the rails over the past decade and external help is needed to assist the new Council staff and Leadership to move forward.

What prompts me to write to you now is the fact that having been told that we would have to pay £800 a day for the Chief Commissioner and £700 a day for the other Commissioners Liverpool Council has been informed that these rates have been increased to £1,200 a day and £1,100 I can only describe this as unmitigated greed on behalf of the Commissioners and unmitigated stupidity on behalf of the Government.

I am familiar with improvement work in Councils. Over the past 39 years as a Councillor, including being our Leader for 7 years at the Local Government Association, I have been involved with 40+ councils. I have inspected them for the Audit Commission, reviewed them for the LGA and supported them, often in extreme circumstances for the LGA, Leadership Centre for Local Government and other bodies.

I believe that now is the time for both your Select Committee and the LGA to look at how the Commissioner system is working and whether it adds value to the improvement journey faced by Councils like Liverpool.

I believe that there are a number of areas which need looking at:

  1. What is the justification for very high fee levels?
  • How do the Commissioners get chosen? As a former core city leader, you will be aware of the specific problems and circumstances of core cities. In Liverpool’s case only one of the Commissioners has a fleeting experience of working within a major urban council and one has no experience of councils at all having been a Chief Constable.
  • How should the Commissioners relate to the Council? In our case we have a new high quality Chief Executive who has been successfully beginning to overhaul in difficult circumstances since he arrived in the Summer of 2018. He has big city experience, in Bradford, but is being prevented in doing the things that he thinks should be done. I support him in those things as does the new Labour Mayor.
  • How does the Government monitor and regulate their work other than by the formal report back letters that are required?
  • How does the Government support their work by making other expertise to them as well as in the formal sense of providing admin support?
  • How does Parliament, where statements are made, get to monitor and evaluate the work being done globally and council by council by the Commissioners and other imposed regimes?
  • Is this the best way to bring about improvement or would an approach where sector-led improvement could be applied at the apex of the work be more useful to both the council and to local government as a whole?
  • How are the lessons of Commissioners inside councils being learned and disseminated within central and local government?

There are other questions that could be put and sub questions to these, but I forbear from providing all these in the form of a letter.

You and I have both been committed to local government for a goodly number of years. I ask these questions because I believe that local government sometimes gets it wrong and needs advice support and help in number of ways to improve. The question that must be asked, and I am asking you to ask it is, “what is the most cost effective and lasting way to support the improvement that is needed?”

I would be pleased to talk to you about these issues. I am copying this letter to the Chief Executive of the Local Government Association, who I also believe should be asking these questions.

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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