Liverpool can unite to abolish the Elected Mayoral position but what comes next?

Liverpool has everything it needs to become the best City in the world. It only lacks a good system of governance to make that happen. Let’s use the consultation process started by the Council not only to get rid of the elected mayor but replace it with a fully transparent and accountable committee system

On Wednesday Liverpool Council took an important step forward and began the process which is likely to mean the abolition of the position of Elected Mayor in our City. This is not before time. I led the Lib Dem opposition in 2012 arguing that the people should decide not the politicians. No real consultation took place because Labour in the form of Joe Anderson had already decided that it was what THEY wanted.

It became clear right from the start that things were going badly, in fact, even worse than I had predicted. The Lib Dems called no less than 6 Extraordinary Council meetings and moved motions on two other occasions which called for the people of Liverpool to be involved by way of a full consultation process between 2013 and 2020. Labour always opposed this flat out until the Operation Aloft police investigations led to the arrest of the Elected Mayor and others. They changed their tack and amended the Lib Dem motion in January 2021 to become a call for a referendum in 2023.

They maintained that position at a Labour meeting in October 2021 and agreed to hold a referendum this year because of changes to the electoral cycle caused by the Caller Report. Then out of the blue they moved consultation this year. Ironically, the motion that they moved on January 26th was almost identical to that on the summons for an Extraordinary Meeting of the Council that Lib Dems had moved. We withdrew ours and then supported their motion.

There’s been a lot of talk about whether or not the council has agreed consultation because the Mayor has changed her mind and likes the job and that none-binding consultation is a way to wriggle out of change. I don’t believe that for a minute because behind the original call for a referendum lies a more sinister Labour motive.

A referendum only allows for two options to be put before the people in a referendum but since 2012 when the Localism Act was passed there have been three options. The referendum that had been suggested by Labour would have put the options of retaining the mayoralty or moving to the Cabinet/Leader system which we had to introduce in 2000 because that was all the legislation allowed at the time. The Leader system is better than the Mayoral model, but it is still one in which all the power is held within the Cabinet with limited opportunities for involvement by the rest of the Council.

The difference would be that the Leader would be answerable to the Labour Group, while they control the Council, and not to the full council. The decisions would really be taken behind the closed doors of Labour meetings rather than in open debate where all the information as given to councillors to make the decisions which are necessary on both a strategic and a day-to-day basis. That is why we will campaign for a move to the third option which would not have even been on a referendum ballot paper.

The third option is called the committee system. Without going into detail, it will mean that every elected councillor will vote, within the committees of the council that they are on, for all the major policies, spending priorities and strategies. That will mean better decision making because the experience of all councillors across all the city will be used to create the council policies that we need. It has been very obvious to us Lib Dems over the years that Labour have put programmes and money into their areas with very little happening in South Liverpool.

The fact that every councillor has more power means that every elector has more power. Now it is very easy, and factually correct for most us to say, ‘nothing to do with me guv’ because all we can do is challenge and scrutinise after a decision has been taken. Under a committee system every councillor will have to answer to their residents because all the big decisions will be taken at council.

Such a system would have stopped so much of what has gone wrong. There would have been proper debate on the land and development policies which have created so many bad buildings in the city and so many (35) developments that are unlikely to ever take place at all. It would have stopped in its tracks the idea of putting a zipwire across our City Centre which was the brainchild of one man. It would have stopped £1,000,000 being spent on examining whether the Council could provide all the money for the EC new ground, It, would have stopped the £5 million lost buying land for the Tarmacademy. Caller wouldn’t have happened, we would not have Commissioners in, and we would not have wasted £20 million on the Lime Street debacle! I could go on.

So, Lib Dems did not fall for original Labour position of a referendum because it would have replaced one sort of authoritarian system with one that is slightly better. We want a system where there is no need to shine a light into the deepest recesses of the Council because all decisions are taken openly and transparently.

We moved an amendment which would have brought more transparency to the consultation process. We wanted to involve all the political groups in both the establishment and details of the consultation process. We wanted some independent people from the faith, business and community sectors to sift through what the people of Liverpool are saying. Labour, as you might expect, voted against this very reasonable proposal.

So, Labour now wants you to give them power by the back door. They will try and persuade you to support a back door and secretive decision-making process. The Liberal Democrats, and hopefully others, will encourage you to vote for a fully functioning and transparent system which is what we believe will provide the best governance for the city and the best spend for your taxes.

We’ll be making the case on the streets and doorsteps, through the letter box and through social media. It’s clear that the people of Liverpool detest and will abolish the Elected Mayoralty. We will work to ensure that they don’t substitute it with a shadow mayoral system which simply puts power into the hands of 10 people rather than 1.

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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