Now we’ll never know the truths behind the Beautiful Ideas Company

Our ability to properly review the work of the Beautiful Ideas Company has been scuppered by people not understanding the basic methods for running our Council that they had agreed to months before

At the start of every municipal year without exception the Council agrees its standing orders for the year at its Annual Meeting. The standing orders provide the framework against which decisions are taken and against which questions can be laid down. In addition, the Council also agrees its structure with the number of select committees and their roles laid out.

The Council then assigns members to those committees, notes the Cabinet Members appointed to the Cabinet, appoints the Lord Mayor, and does all the technical stuff needed to provide a proper framework for open and honest decision making.

This year was slightly different. There were some changes to the way that we have always done things which had been discussed and agreed on an all-Party basis at the Constitutional Affairs Committee. The changes and the new standing orders were received and unanimously voted through with next to no discussion in Council. But although all councillors voted for the changes and structures it would appear that many of them did not know what they had voted for.

In a way that has come to a head with the discussions that are taking place around the Beautiful Ideas Company. If you recall the former Labour councillors and the so-called Liberal Group have requisitioned an Extraordinary Council Meeting calling for an external review of the BICo. The Liberal Democrats didn’t support that call but as it has been tabled, we will vote for it, but we know that the call is doomed to failure because the Labour Party will either vote it down or will move an amendment which will water it down.

We know that because that is what Labour always does at Council meetings. The former Labour members should know that because they have been on the side of the council that has always voted against or watered-down motions for enquiries and reviews that the Liberal Democrats have asked for.

The chances of an independent enquiry into BICo are somewhere between zero and nil! Nothing lost there then you might say the Council can continue to investigate through its Audit Committee and Select Committees. I am afraid that is not the case. All audit committee members have been told by the legal staff of the Council that questions submitted to Audit Committee on this issue fall outside the responsibilities of the Committee as agreed at the annual meeting.

Furthermore, a condition imposed by the Lord Mayor, presumably on legal advice, is that as we are discussing this issue at full council there can be no further discussion of it at Select Committees. That is where the discussion, probing and questioning should be taking place but where it will not now happen.

Liberal Democrats wanted the opportunity to try and get Cllrs Like Ann O’Byrne, Nick Small and Steve Munby to tell us more about what happened. I wanted to invite people from Flanagan’s into the relevant Select Committees to give their side of the story. I wanted relevant officers who oversaw, or failed to oversee, the work of BICo to tell us what they knew or didn’t know.

But none of that can now happen because of the way that the Independent Group blundered into Labour’s trap by choosing a methodology that they should have known would allow Labour to close down the review and investigation into something that should have been properly looked at.

The Independents were so desperate to say something that what they said did not make sense. Or perhaps they really don’t know what they voted for in May when they agreed the remits of Committees and the role of Council and questioning. Or again perhaps they had not thought that the tactics they voted for when they were in the Labour Party would now be used against them as they are no longer in the Labour Party.

Our inability to question these people will now be felt even more keenly as the Police have told me that they are not investigating BICo as part of Operation Aloft. I have not heard from the tax office yet, but I am surprised that the Police are not taking this further given the strength of the allegations made. However, there is nothing that I can do about this. The Police are, if you will forgive the expression, a law unto themselves!

Of course, if the Independent Group had only talked to us instead of shooting off by themselves and inviting other opposition parties in after the event, we might have found a joint way forward.

I feel strongly that an investigation needs to be made not only into BICo but into the consistent flouting of Freedom of Information laws by The Council. I have just worked with journalists on another case where the Council has not responded to an FOI in more than a year. In the BICo case I can see absolutely no reason why the Council could not have released its original report, perhaps with some minor redactions because of the nature of the report, when it was first produced 4 years ago.

That would have enabled a contemporary review of why the problem with systems and the poor handling of money occurred and learning could have been dealt with quickly.

So, the chance to investigate and learn from what has clearly been an appalling mess on the part of the Council and its partners has been squandered. The clever work done by journalists, especially Matt O’Donoghue, has been wasted because a group of councillors do not know the basic rules by which all councils work.

Their “heavy lifting” which will have taken all of 15 minutes to write out and dispatch a motion to the Lord Mayor, would have been better spent spending some time thinking about the processes and about how to get at the truth instead of the headline.

Of course, I could be wrong. The Labour Party could be about to have a change of heart and will happily support the opposition parties in calling for an independent enquiry. But I wouldn’t count on it. I believe that we will now fail to learn from this mess and that some people may have benefited from tax evasion and theft because of sloppy processes. Unfortunately, we will never now know.

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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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1 Response to Now we’ll never know the truths behind the Beautiful Ideas Company

  1. Paul Traynor says:

    Virtually every day, there are more and more signs that those who have been named and shamed, are growing in confidence that they have evaded justice, the car parks rip-off Until some of those involved are held to account, nothing will fundamentally change in Liverpool City Council, whether there are commissioners in there or not

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