I am pleased that last the Council unanimously agreed a Lib Dem amendment that will begin the process of bringing openness and transparency into our proceedings
Last night Liverpool City Council agreed an amendment that I moved on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Group which will commit the Council to creating a new standard in openness and transparency which help the citizens and journalists of Liverpool keep track of what is going on in the Council.
This is the amendment that I moved:
It welcomes the fact the both the current Mayor and City Solicitor have publicly committed themselves to greater transparency and there being a default position of publication of reports wherever possible.
It requests a report to be prepared, for the Constitutional Issues Committee, which outlines how both ‘Freedom of Information’ requests and, ‘Councillor’s Right to Know’ requests are handled and the parameters and timescales within which responses will be made and the criteria for refusing such a request or ensuring that redactions are made.
In fact, we ended up with something slightly different as we agreed a way forward with all the other Parties in the Chamber to ensure that this was passed unanimously.
I moved this amendment during a debate on the BICo project. The most amazing thing to me in this long saga is sadness that the three reports which were produced by internal audit were not published long ago. Of course, they needed some minor changes such as redactions because they were written as an internal report not one that would be published. That aside there was nothing in those reports that could not have been made public up to 4 years ago.
As I said in the Chamber yesterday, “the effect of not publishing the data has meant that a massive number of rumours and half truths has been allowed to fester and grow. There were important lessons that needed to be learnt about the way that the Council handled the issues. Some of those lessons might have been learnt and council procedures tightened up but other lessons seem to have been forced upon the Council”
During the meeting I gave credit to the persistence of independent journalist Matt O’Donoghue who doggedly pursued the matter through the Information Commissioner and eventually got the Council to come clean.
Liam Thorp the political editor of the ECHO now has an FOI request outstanding for more than a year seeking information about some Labour Councillors abused their position to get parking tickets written off. This just is not good enough.
Open and transparency need to be improved. There needs to be an assumption that reports will be publicised and that FOI and ‘Councillors Right to Know’ requests are dealt with promptly.
Such changes are not enough. The Council is changing its scrutiny processes to ensure that councillors are given up to date information to enable them to make decisions about services, especially services that are failing. This information will be available to all councillors and to the press and citizens.
We are changing the way that information comes to Council. Too many reports are presented to Cabinet at the last moment which makes scrutiny different because of time limitation. The Council is moving to a situation where many more reports will be presented to our Select Committees before they go to Cabinet. This will mean better and more informed debates with far more people knowing what is going on and given the opportunity to contribute to decision making.
Last night the four opposition groups failed to persuade the ruling Labour Group to undertake an in depth report into the BICO debacle. That task must remain with the Police and Tax authorities. But at least, and for a change, the Council listened to what and gone on and learned from its mistakes.
I look forward to seeing the report that the Officers produce for us and am hopeful that it will produce a much better system which gives the people of Liverpool the ability to see how we use their money to provide the services that they need.