Too many advisers and not enough delivery at Liverpool Council

Liverpool’s Labour leadership are showing no leadership in helping the council’s officers to unravel the problems created by their Labour predecessors.

As the Council awaits the publication of the latest bombshell report from the Tory Government’s Commissioners it is obvious to me and many other seasoned players that there are too many actions being imposed on the council, at present, which means that it is incapable of thinking through the big issues and resolving them.

The total lack of effective political leadership means that the council’s officers are working in a soup of indecision as they try to sort out the mess left by Joe Anderson and his inept officer team. There are some signs of recovery in roads and transportation, in adult services and children’s services but there is no clear leadership from the Cabinet who seem merely to respond to the latest crisis rather than trying to move the council into better methodologies which will improve outcomes for residents and service users and save money.

If we take the example of the finance functions at the Council, we now have a situation where we already have had four Commissioners for a year; a financial systems review of the operations of the Resources Directorate by CIPFA; have an interim Deputy Chief Finance Officer in post now covering for the former finance boss, Mel Creighton, and three part time senior financial advisers looking at various parts of the work of the department.

Yet none of them had seen the procurement and contractual problems that have built up. Looking at contract renewal is one of the first things that I and other LGA peers suggest when we go into a Council. Yet none of the expensive big cheeses thought to do this in their work in Liverpool. The Political and managerial head of resources have gone but it must also be said that the Commissioners and all those other advisers failed to ask key questions within the council about energy when every householder and business within the UK was desperately trying to safeguard its financial position on power purchases.

In addition to that we have had staff from the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny looking at the constitution and our methods of scrutinising the Executive, someone from the LGA in two days a week and we can see that the fourth floor of the Cunard is a very crowded place. The problem is that none of these people have the credibility of having turned round a council as bad as Liverpool because there is no council as bad as Liverpool. It seems that we need a strategic implementation plan to

Staff are constrained from getting on with their job by having to second guess what this rag bag collection of expensive consultants are thinking. Attempts to bring in the permanent top team that will provide long-term stability has been stymied by the Commissioners blocking a meaningful staff appointment process. Our work in getting into post the vital Strategic Director for Neighbourhoods has been delayed by three months because of the Commissioner’s intransigence.

I can give a simple illustration from my own ward. Beechley House has been empty since 2012 when wheeler-dealer Joe Anderson bought it to try and do a land deal with Redrow. We have asked for it to be sold since 2018 when the Council realised it could not make a profit on it and lost a legal case at the High Court. In September last year the ward councillors approved its sale, and it was supposed to go on the market before Christmas. However, the Commissioners asked for a market valuation. Ignoring the fact that the best way to establish a market value is to put it up for sale openly, transparently, and professionally. In the meantime, the value of the property is declining, and it is subject to vandalism.

Now my colleague, Kris Brown the Lib Dem chair of the Audit Committee has uncovered further major problems with major problems coming with £millions of contracts coming for renewal for functions that the council must legally undertake but with no time to look at new and updated specifications or to ensure that we get a good deal. This is what Kris says about this.

“Words cannot describe how bad this blasé approach to contract renewal is. The Labour Party should hang their heads in shame.

We are talking about contracts here that impact on the most vulnerable in our city – such as children and homeless people. 

Contracts that if not renewed would have impacted our statutory and legal responsibilities as a local authority. That is before we get into whether any of these contracts are best value for money. We simply have not got time to measure that – as they are due to be renewed in a matter of weeks.

This particularly applies to children and adult services where my Lib Dem colleagues, and I have argued, at the budget meeting of the council, that the amount of private sector work needs to be controlled.

It is almost comical that Microsoft Office 365 appears on this list as an urgent renewal.  If it was not, we might not have been able to send an email again!”

Liverpool council is in the last chance saloon now. If political leadership is not shown soon by the beleaguered Labour Party, then I fear we’ll see further commissioner intervention. I know, hand on heart, there are some good officers in this council that have gone out of their way to put in new processes and take due diligence seriously. However, it is the culture that needs to change, and change soon”.

I can only hope that when the Government responds to the problems with procurement its preferred remedy is not more overpaid outsiders coming in. Council managers are already having to cope with an avalanche of outsiders whilst getting no practical support from a lame duck and hopelessly inexperienced Labour Cabinet.

Labour needs to be leading the authority and giving officers the vision and direction that they need. Commissioners and outside consultants need to prioritise areas of concern and concentrate on them rather than the whack-a-mole process they have adopted.”

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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