It seems to me that the people of Liverpool are now caught between two levels of hapless incompetence. On the one hand we have a hapless crash and burn Primer Minister who will clearly, if she survives, do what she is told by her Chancellor and who might be gone by the end of the week. In Liverpool we have a hapless Mayor clearly doing what she is told by her officials and the Government’s Commissioners and with her own exit plan scheduled for May next year.
The whole relationship between the Government and the Council is a complete shamble. The senior members of the Council, the Commissioners and our partners are waiting for a final response from the Government to the letter that the Commissioners submitted on June 10th.
This is the timetable:
- Jun 10th Report outlining concerns submitted to Government by Commissioners
- End of August the then Secretary of State, Greg Clark responds with a letter saying what he is ‘minded to do.’
- Early September the Council responds by throwing up the white flag and agreeing everything
- 16th October. No final set of instructions have been received from the Government.
- Mid November the Commissioners must start drafting their next report to the Government
- Mid December the Commissioners must submit their third report to the Government.
In other words, we are 4 months into a 6-month cycle where the Commissioners will have to start drafting their report in one month’s time whilst waiting for a government decision on a way forward for a period that is almost over.
During that 6-month period there have been three Secretaries of State for local government. Gove got sacked by Johnson; Greg Clark got sacked by Truss. The latest one appointed by Truss, Simon Clarke, is likely to have a short shelf life because he is a Trussonomics supporter. He came out early and decisively in favour of cuts which have now been repudiated by the new Chancellor and de facto Prime Minister Jeremy Hunt.
So, although my headline to this blog may seem fatuous there is a powerful sense in which I can discern that the lack of leadership in the Government is leading to a slow down in reactions in Liverpool.
We have interim officers and consultants and advisers all over the place who are costing an absolute fortune. Because they have no sense of permanency and because they are coming in cold to our problems, they cannot be part of the long-term solutions our city needs. A new Chief Executive can cut down some of the problems, but the role of an interim Chief Executive is not to create the solutions for the future but to remove the impediments of the past.
To add to all this the new Chancellor is implying that public sector growth will not be as fast as has originally been allowed for. This at a time when council, schools, the NHS are facing pay claims where unions are rightly insisting that wages must at least keep up with inflation. They are facing the same appalling rises in power bills that everyone else and they are facing an increase in demand as more people succumb to loneliness and illness caused by poverty. Be under no doubt that there will be a reduction in public sector services over the next few years as the Tories try to balance the books.
The Government has wasted more than £50 billion in the last three years while the Council has wasted, failed to collect, or just misused £165,000,000. The Council shared under Joe Anderson the same problems that the Government has now. A misguided and ill thought through set of polices without ensuring that sound money was in place to deliver them.
Back in Liverpool meanwhile we urgently need a new vision and direction for the city. For the past three years we have been muddling along with a short term so called ‘City Plan’ which had no buy in from the people of Liverpool and only a limited buy in from other parts of the public sector.
Steve Rotheram has been charged with setting up a ‘Liverpool Future Strategy Group’ to address this issue. Or has he? Since the announcement of this mysterious new body at the end of August we have seen no announcement at all from Mayor Steve Rotheram. This is not his fault. Just as the Council and Commissioners are waiting for guidance so is he.
This matters because it affects our day-to-day work and short-term planning. We are currently looking at the establishment of a new performance management framework which will enable us to deliver our Council Plan. The Council Plan is supposed to deliver, amongst other things, the council elements of the City Plan. But we do not have a City Plan!
Any Council needs a three-year financial strategy to enable it to plan effectively and use its resources to best effect. Liverpool needs it more than most, but it is almost impossible for us to plan three months ahead given the chop and change nature of the Government.
Liverpool will suffer more than most because of the chaos. Our population is the third poorest in England. Our Council is still in a turmoil as it tries to redress 12 years of appalling monetary management and an almost total absence of decision making based of a pragmatic use of facts.
Next March the taxpayers of our city will see their bill rise by at least 3% at a time when their services are reduced. We need two elections. Only the Council elections next May can sweep out the Labour dross that has led us down a decade long cul-de-sac. Only a General Election can sweep out the Tories whose malevolent mischief has so severely affected your household budget as it has affected mine.