Where does Liverpool go now after Council’s consultation debacle

At the Council meeting on 20th July I will be in full flow attacking Labour’s consultation incompetence. trying to put forward practical ideas to get us out of this mess.

So now we have it. Liverpool’s consultation on the Mayoralty was a farce. Poorly run, inadequately supervised, badly designed, and largely ignored. I always hate people who say, “I told you so but, in this case, “I TOLD YOU SO!” This is what I moved in the Council when we agreed a consultation process at the January full Council meeting:

“The Mayor be requested to establish a Governance Working Party comprising all group leaders to enable cross-party comment on the form and method of consultation, including supporting materials with each Group Leader to provide feedback from their respective groups, to give confidence to the residents of Liverpool that the consultation is full and meaningful. Details of the proposed full and meaningful consultation, including costings, will then be submitted to, and agreed by Cabinet.

Following the conclusion of the consultation process, a report to be presented to both the Electoral Committee and Audit Committees and thereafter Full Council, containing the results of the consultation which will be taken into consideration by council in deciding its future governance model.”

In moving the First Amendment, Councillor Richard Kemp CBE addressed Full Council advising that its purpose was to offer further reassurance on the process of consultation and to ensure that all three governance model options were explored”.

Only the Liberal Democrats voted for this amendment. Everyone else was prepared to let the Labour motion pass including the Liberals and those who are now in the Independent Party. Only the 2 Greens present moved that there should be a referendum with everyone else voting for consultation including all those that are now in the Independent Group.

It always seemed clear to me that Labour’s warped view on consultation would provide difficulties in implementation. I believe that they wanted the consultation to fail which is why they tried to keep control over the process.

Within the consultation only the Lib Dems campaigned on the issues and explained why we believed that the ‘committee system’ was the best option. I saw no leaflet, blog, or social messaging from the other Parties while we put out 60,000 newspapers and put out regular messages on social media. That effort is probably why those that want to move from a Mayoralty heavily favoured the committee system way forward.

My fears were confirmed when the process was taken away from our professional communications staff. The most money spent was on a letter in a brown envelope which looked like some sort of legal letter and which I suspect went straight in the bin! Farce followed farce and there was little regular messaging from the Council or debates held in the community and truly little media discussion. It was a consultation designed to fail.

So where are we going now that Labour have basically condemned their own £140,000 farce and will push through the least popular option at the July Council meeting. This is what they always wanted to do and will leave us with a Leader Cabinet model. This is better than a Mayoral model but has many of its inbuilt disadvantages.

There are some calls from defeated mayoral candidates and the so-called Liberals to push for a referendum. But they either ignore or do not know the practicalities of this or the process by which change would be affected.

Firstly, they could try and get the Labour Party to change their mind and vote to hold a referendum. That vote would fail but even if it was successful my understanding of the process would mean that the earliest that a referendum could take place would be the late autumn.

But the implementation process post referendum is complicated. Holding a referendum needs several practical and legal steps and then there is a procedural delay afterwards. For example, in Bristol there will be no change until 2024 because change is always linked to the next election in the cycle.

The other option would be for people to raise the 16,500 names needed on a petition to force a referendum. That can be done but is exceedingly difficult. It has been tried before. Jon Egan, now apparently an adviser to Mr Yip, spent a year working for some sort of constitutional convention in which Lord Alton played a role. It failed to get the names.

All the names have to be on a paper-based petition. The questions must be in a particular format. The names must be accompanied by the electoral register details of the person concerned who must therefore be a Liverpool citizen. You cannot just stand in Church Street getting names from people stopped at random. This process is hugely time consuming. Political parties cannot do it most of whose leading members are councillors and need to get on with all the tasks inherent in that position.

I consider it highly unlikely that a referendum could be held before the local elections scheduled for May 2023. If a referendum were held on that day and the binding vote was for change it would not take place until the end of that electoral cycle in 2027. But a referendum held just before or after Christmas would probably not be able to be implemented before the local election result with the same long implementation delay.

We also have a range of practical and financial problems. Let us start with money. It has been quoted that a free-standing referendum would cost £500,000 and a referendum which coincided with a local election would cost £250,000. In these circumstances they would cost a lot more because our legal and democratic services team are already fully stretched preparing for an entire revision of ward boundaries and going up from the established thirty wards to just under seventy. This means a huge effort in developing everything from new polling stations to revised electoral registers. We would have to buy in help for this. This would, I guesstimate, cost at least £100,000 of extra staff costs for both options.

The council itself is in the process of huge change. Staff and some councillors who are prepared to engage are heavily involved in this work. There is so much to do to move the council from its appalling methodologies and structures to a place where the people of Liverpool can be sure they are getting value for money, and the services they need. I cannot see the capacity within the Council for doing anything now but concentrating on what the people of Liverpool and the Commissioners will be demanding from us in these respects.

We should not forget the eagle eyes of the commissioners being upon us now. As soon as next week we expect to see their latest report publicly presented to Parliament and it will be dreadful. All responsible politicians must carefully consider the effects of everything that we do and the way it will be perceived. There will be at least one more Commissioner and a further erosion of the council’s freedoms announced. It is not good news! The buggers cost a lot of money!!

My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I will meet on 11th July to consider what we will do on 20th July. My recommendation will be threefold to them:

  1. Move to introduce the committee system which is the favoured choice of those who advocated change. If that fails:
  2. Start to work on proposals with the Cabinet Leader model to increase scrutiny of decisions and involve all councillors in decision making and policy development which is more possible under a Leader system than a Mayoral one. Whether that fails or not:
  3. Consider over the next four years when the appropriate time would be to try and move to a referendum in good time for the 2027 elections.

Of course, there is something that we intend to do that the people of Liverpool could help us with. We intend to put up one hell of a fight to try and stop Labour getting re-elected. Every Liberal Democrat Councillor elected next year will be a person who will vote for good political and managerial systems. They will vote for good services and value for money. They will involve the people of Liverpool in the running of Liverpool.

Will you help us? Only the Lib Dems can take Labour on across the City. We can do even more with your help. Do not just wring your hands from the side-lines in your anguish over the way Labour behave in our City. Contact me at richardkemp68@yahoo.co.uk or sign up to the Lib Dems at www.liverlibdems.org.uk and help us bring good government to the City of Liverpool.

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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