Tonight, a boring but vital meeting will take place about scrutiny

Tonight (Monday) decisions will be taken which will move the Council forward into being a Council which can properly measure its performance. I hope the moves are agreed on an all-Party basis.

Tonight, a meeting of the Constitutional Issues Committee will take place which will start one of the most important steps towards recreating Liverpool as an effective council capable of leading the City forward. It will probably pass unnoticed as it relates to scrutiny and governance and will create a new scrutiny system for the Council.

This is vitally important as at the moment we have been flying blind and unable to judge our performance, be it good or bad, against our own past, the other councils on Merseyside or the other core cities. It has been this way since 2014 when the then Mayor unilaterally abolished the performance management committees and mayoral scrutiny committees. Any pretence at managing the performance of the council then disappeared altogether.

This appalling state of affairs was picked up by Max Caller in his inspection report and in the first set of directions given to the Council by the Government we were given a year to put this right. Inevitably, we missed this deadline as were supposed to be putting this into place at the last council meeting. However, better late than never and two reports have been prepared which the Liberal Democrats will support with no reservations but an acknowledgement that they are only the start.

The first report will immediately change the membership of the Performance Management Committee. It will be slightly expanded and will now include all Party Leaders within the Council and the chairs of all the other Select Committees.

These changes will mean that there will be increased coordination of all scrutiny within the council; will enable the Council to develop quick responses to challenges across the Council and to be more able to hold partner organisations within the city to account. Many of the targets within the City Plan are only partly the responsibility of the Council but we, as the only elected body for the city, must pull things together so that all the public sector joins up.

The second report proposes major changes to the number of Select Committees and the way that they work. These will be introduced from the Annual Meeting of the Council in May next year. Not will there be marginally less committees, but their work will be rationalised against the City and Council Plans to ensure that they are monitoring the things that need monitoring and not just the things that the Committee would like to see monitored!

Each of the Select Committees will be required to have an annual work programme which fits into the citywide needs. It will receive regular updates on the Key Performance Indicators within its remit so that problems can be quickly spotted, and recommendations made as to a way forward.

Those Key Performance Indicators are vital. At our last Performance Select Committee we agreed most of the suite of KPIs to be followed although there are some areas and methods of presentation that will need adjustment. For the first time for more than 8 years we will be able to make real time adjustments to what we do based on hard information.

We need to work out what the relationship would eb with our partners in two ways. How will they send representation to the Select Committees who will act as a two-way conduit for information and action back to their sector rather than just be individuals known to the Council or councillors. We must also work out how we bind in the partners, especially the public sector partners, to actions designed to deliver what will have become jointly agreed targets. For every £1 spent by the Council the rest of the public sector spends at least £5. That is why it is important that the public sector pulls together to deliver shared outputs and outcomes.

But changing the structures is only the start of what we must do. Vitally we need to change the culture as well. Most councils call their committees, scrutiny committees. At my suggestion more than 20 years ago Liverpool decided to call them Select Committees. I did so because I wanted them to emulate the parliamentary model where people from all Parties realised that it is their responsibility to do two things:

Firstly, to scrutinise the work of the Cabinet and Government in an impartial way to ensure that the polices are working and moreover working efficiently.

Secondly, to provide to the Government suitable ideas about how to produce new polices and alter existing ones based on a firm statistical base.

Unfortunately, there has been some element of breakdown in the system over the past three years, but it still works reasonably well. In Liverpool however, the position on things like call ins and objective scrutiny of the work of the Council has been partisan. Too often we have only heard about things when they are in crisis and impossible to remedy.

That is why we need a new approach from officers as well. Too often they have failed to give councillors in control or scrutiny roles real time information as they have tried to hide failures from the Council.

There are so many more things that I would have liked to say about how the problems have built up but have refrained from doing so in this period of national mourning. Perhaps that is a good thing. I hope that today we can draw a line under past problems and provide a basis of a none-partisan, cross-Party way forward to face our problems.

Governance and KPIs might sound boring but it has been the lack of them over the past 8+ years that has meant that things have gone so terribly wrong, and we are unearthing things to this day as we look at what the council is achieving or failing to achieve.

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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