Liverpool City Council still faces issues around leadership, governance, competence and its finances, a new report by Government commissioners says. Tony McDonough reports
A new report written by Government commissioners sent in to help fix the ‘dysfunctional culture’ within Liverpool City Council has laid bare the scale of the task.
In March, a damning report by Government inspector Max Caller identified a “fundamental failure of audit and governance” with the authority and “a lack of scrutiny and oversight” across its highways department.
Weeks after the publication of the report the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, sent in four commissioners to oversee and overhaul the city’s regeneration, highways, procurement, and governance and audit functions.
Mr Caller’s report was commissioned after following a police investigation into corruption in the city’s property sector linked to the city council. That investigation saw the arrest, and subsequent release, of former elected mayor Joe Anderson. Mr Anderson has not been charged with any offences and denies any wrongdoing.
Now, months after the commissioners arrived in the city they have published their first report which will make uncomfortable reading for both current Mayor Joanne Anderson, who was elected in May, and chief executive Tony Reeves. Their response is published in full at the bottom of this article.
In their statement the commissioners acknowledge the “hard work and ambition of dedicated and talented staff” in supporting the turnaround strategy. However they add there remains issues around leadership, governance, competence and its finances and say “there is a great deal to do in the next three years”.
They said the initial response to the problems identified in the Caller report have been “frenetic” rather than “purposeful and targeted”, adding there has been a rush to make improvements too quickly.
Their report says: “We have been troubled by the standards of core competencies such as report writing, forward planning for decision making and customer service. We are pleased that the council has developed plans for improvement in these areas.
“Officers and councillors have been welcoming. Initially there was a lack of understanding and recognition of the significance of our role by senior officers which has hampered progress and impacted on officers ability to grasp the seriousness of the Intervention. This is being addressed by the chief executive.”
There is particular concern over the council’s finances, a worry shared by the city’s leaders who are grappling with more than a decade of austerity cuts imposed by the Government. Liverpool needs to make significant revenue savings over the next three years with £34m of savings needing to be made in the 2022/23 budget.
The commissioner team, led by the former chief executive of the College of Policing Mike Cunningham, is supported by a team of three others: the current chief executive of Surrey Council, Joanna Killian (Local Government Commissioner); Neil Gibson (Highways Commissioner) and Deborah McLaughlin (Regeneration Commissioner).
Their next commissioners’ report is due to be published in the spring of 2022. Click here to read today’s report
Full joint statement from Mayor Joanne Anderson and chief executive Tony Reeves in response to the report:
A huge amount of work is underway to develop the Council Plan and the Strategic Improvement Plan which will go a long way to addressing many of the concerns raised both within the ‘Best Value’ report and this first report from the Commissioners.
“Many changes have taken place at the council since the ‘Best Value’ report and we acknowledge that there is still a lot to do. This is a complex journey and the council needs to find the right balance between implementing improvements and building capacity, whilst managing a very difficult budget.
“The well-publicised issues within the Highways and Regeneration teams are being tackled head on. These teams both have a new head of service to instigate the necessary changes to drive up standards, including a new business plan for the Highways department.
“Where the council has failed in the past to address a culture of bullying and intimidation, that is now being tackled through an intensive programme to make the workplace more inclusive and caring. We have clear processes for staff to raise concerns and these are acted on and dealt with in a consistent way. These behaviours have no place in our organisation.
“The council has a huge number of dedicated, professional and talented staff who care deeply about the service they provide and it is our job to ensure they have the right support to deliver best value.
“Training programmes are being delivered to support staff and councillors, a new customer feedback process is being implemented and a new process of consultation and engagement has been launched.
“A restructure of the senior management team is underway, with key posts such as the Monitoring Officer and Chief Operations Officer being filled.
“The scrutiny process has been strengthened with independent professionals being appointed to the Audit and the Standards and Ethics Committee. Work is underway to meet all of the Directions which the Secretary of State placed on the council including a review of the constitution and scrutiny arrangements of the council and the development of a submission to the Boundary Commission on a revised pattern of wards for the city.
“Our commitment to working with the Commissioners, to supporting our staff, and to delivering an improved service for tax payers is unwavering.
“We care immensely for our city and its people and we are determined to provide the best opportunities for all.”