It always seems to take me a day to recover from a Liverpool City Council full meeting. Last night’s is no exception. It seemed to me that for 95% of the time we were all agreeing 95% of the agenda but spending 95% of the time finding ways to convince each other that we weren’t in agreement. We then voted unanimously, or almost so, on most votes!
Let me give you the example of the airport. I moved an amendment to the Local Plan about the airport which looked at the future of land zonings throughout the city along with a series of strengthening measures so that we can better control of student lets, housing in multiple occupation, building quality, strategic transport links. This plan, incidentally, was started in 2004 and should have been adopted and implemented by 2013 so we are 9 years late. This delay has allowed all the bad design and fractional development plans to flourish which I have commented on so many times.
Unbelievably, former Deputy Mayor, Nick Small, tried to blame the Lib Dems for this although Labour have controlled the council in the whole of that time. As I said I don’t know whether the delays were caused by incompetence or a desire by some officers and members to cause chaos so that they could profit from it. Perhaps the police investigations will tell us!!
My amendment basically accepted the vast majority of the Plan but concentrated on the airport. The new plan which we adopted yesterday allows a zoning of some land for airport expansion. We all agreed that an airport expansion is unlikely because of Brexit, Covid and COP 26. We wanted the council to look at how we could do things with the land so that it wasn’t stuck in limbo. We were suggesting a range of uses which would help the mental and physical wellbeing of the city.
However, Labour voted against the amendment. Then, later on, they moved an amendment to a motion from the two Greens which, in a much longer and worthy way said basically the same thing as was in our amendment. The Greens accepted that, so it wasn’t really debated but why did Labour vote two different ways within an hour for or against a basic principle?
That, however, wasn’t as bad as the Greens on the Local Plan. Although this was a plan which affected the whole of the city and with which they were in 95+% agreement they voted against it! What can their planning spokesperson say now about HMOs in Greenbank or St Michaels or any other planning issue when the Greens voted against the measures designed to improve the position.
The other substantive debate was that relating to the retention or not of the mayoralty. Every single member of the Council claims to want to abolish the position of elected mayor. But we spent a lot of time discussing how we might move to abolish it.
If you recall 10 years ago Joe Anderson moved us to a mayoral system without any consultation with the people of Liverpool and no referendum. I warned then of problems to come but my crystal ball failed to show how bad those problems would be.
On behalf of the Lib Dems, I had submitted a request for a consultation on the matter for two main reasons. One is cost with a referendum costing at least £350,000 more than a consultation coming in at £120,000. That may be small beer compared to the £135 million we have seen squandered by the last Mayor or evens set against the £34 million we are having t find for next year but it’s worth having.
More important than that though is the fact that a referendum will not allow the people of Liverpool to express their view on all three options available to them. A referendum only allows a choice between two options. Labour would have supported a Mayor against a Leader/Cabinet referendum. We would support the third option which is a return to a committee system which provides the maximum decentralisation of power and the maximum involvement of all councillors in decision making.
We withdrew our motion because Joanne Anderson’s was almost identical. However, we moved an amendment to meet some of the concerns that people had expressed about whether or not the consultation was for real and whether it could be done for £120,000. Of course, Labour voted against the safeguard. I suspect that they will implement what comes out of the consultation and we will certainly hold them to that. If not, they will look incredibly stupid. Mind you that has never prevented some of their actions and polices in the past!!
Once again, the two Greens confused everyone. They voted for a referendum whereby if their amendment had been passed, they then would not have been able to campaign for the committee system which is also their preferred option. Confused? So are they!
Of all the things that I do as a Councillor the time I spend in full Council meetings is probably the least useful although most people see it as the most important thing that councillors do. I have just had someone round who is having real problems after her husband of 62 years has gone into a care home. It was a pleasure and a privilege to help her. I go to and enjoy Select Committees where we can really get things done because the party-political boxing gloves are largely left behind and where we can work cross-Party.
That’s the real work of councillors, or should be, community work and cooperation wherever possible. Let’s oppose each other when we must but support each other when we can. For too long, over the past decade, Liverpool Council has been the place for unnecessary politicking and posturing. I pledge on behalf of the Liverpool Liberal Democrats to do my utmost to ensure that those bad days do not return.