Whitehall is to take full control of Liverpool city council with city region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram also heading a new strategic panel to get the city council back on track. Tony McDonough reports
Liverpool City Council will come under full Government control as a new report says the authority still has “serious shortcomings” more than a year after the damning Max Caller report.
Early in 2021 publication of the Max Caller report identified a “fundamental failure of governance” saw Government commissioners take over three council departments – property, regeneration and highways.
However, despite some improvements in the governance of the city the commissioners say not enough progress has been made. A debacle over the council’s energy supply deals earlier this year eventually led to the resignation of chief executive Tony Reeves in July.
On Friday the authority unveiled its interim chief executive Theresa Grant. Ms Grant has had a long career in local government. She was chief Executive at Trafford Council and Chief Accountable Officer for Trafford Clinical Commissioning Group until 2018.
However, Levelling Up Secretary Greg Clark says Government control over the council is to be extended. This means Whitehall is effectively taking full control. He said a new strategic panel, chaired by city region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, would work with the council on its future plans.
In his latest report, lead commissioner Mike Cunningham, said: “Liverpool City Council has been through a turbulent time recently. We know substantial events, such as the resignation of the chief executive and the publication of the audit report into the handling of the energy contract, will have been unsettling.
“However, we are clear that the Council has a strong, capable leadership team, and very many committed staff members who do good work on behalf of the people of Liverpool to meet these challenges, with the support and oversight of Commissioners.
“We have asked for a widening of our powers as Commissioners which is a recommendation now going through a consultation process. By implementing the recommendations set out in our report, we are confident that Liverpool City Council will make progress at pace.”
As part of this process the new Liverpool Strategic Futures Advisory Panel will work with Mayor Joanne Anderson on a long-term strategy for the council.
Mr Rotheram will be joined on the panel by former chief executive of Manchester City Council, Sir Howard Bernstein, as well as Baroness Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds City Council from 2015 to 2021. They will also look to recruit an experienced business leader.
Mr Rotheram said: “The Caller Report was a watershed moment for Liverpool. Everyone recognised that there was an enormous job of work to do to get the council back where it belongs.
“The Commissioners’ Report is clear that they do not believe there has been as much progress as they would have hoped to see since they were appointed. That’s not a criticism of any individual or group of people – but a recognition that the council might benefit from a different approach.
“We (the panel) aren’t being asked to take control of the council or the running of its day-to-day activities. But we will be working with the commissioners and the council itself to develop a long-term plan for success.
“Crucially, this means that we will be setting the strategic plans and priorities for our area locally – not in Whitehall or Westminster.”
On the appointment of the interim chief executive, Joanne Anderson said: “Her experience will bring fresh energy, positivity and a relentless focus on the challenges that lie ahead, so we become the council, the city and our residents deserve.”