With Liverpool City Council CEO Tony Reeves now gone, business leader Frank McKenna urges the Government to take action to shake the authority out of its ‘zombified state’. Tony McDonough reports
“Liverpool has gone backwards” and the city council’s planning department is stuck in a “zombified state”, claims business leader Frank McKenna.
Now Mr McKenna, chief executive of private lobbying group Downtown in Business (DIB), has written to new Levelling up minister Greg Clark. He is demanding urgent Government action to address what he is calling “mismanaged decline”.
Liverpool BID Company chief executive, Bill Addy also warned the city could not be “left to drift” and needed to be seen as “a viable place for investors”.
Following heavy pressure from councillors, city council chief executive Tony Reeves resigned on Monday with immediate effect. He had been in the role for four years. His tenure saw the publication of the Max Caller report which identified a “fundamental failure of governance” saw Government commissioners take over three council departments.
Mr Reeves came under more pressure in recent weeks when a series of errors over the city council’s electricity contract emerged. It could lead to an extra £16m being added to the authority’s annual power bill.
The commissioners have now been in the authority for more than a year. Mr McKenna, who represents 500 local businesses, is urging Mr Clark to bring in new faces to shake things up. He suggests former council leader Lord Storey, who led the city’s economic renaissance in the early 2000s, would be an ideal candidate.
Mr Kenna also suggested former Riverside Labour MP Louise Ellman and Phil Redmond, who took a key role in Capital of Culture in 2008, could offer invaluable expertise.
“When Robert Jenrick (then minister) announced that Liverpool City Council was going into special measures 18 months ago, he gave an assurance that the growth momentum that the city had enjoyed since hosting the European Capital of Culture in 2008 would not be halted,” said Mr McKenna.
“Unfortunately, that has nor been the case. The city has gone backwards. Investment has dried up. The planning department has been in a zombified state for two years, meaning that little or no new developments are taking place.
“The business community, which enjoyed a strong relationship with the council and had built positive partnerships with the authority prior to the commissioners taking over, has been ignored.
“The executive team, from the top down, has been decimated. There are few Liverpool voices within the leadership team now, and that is a major problem for the city.”
Downtown was launched in Liverpool in 2003 and Mr McKenna says the current period is the worst he has seen in terms of business confidence. He added: “We are frustrated, concerned, and pessimistic about where the city is going.
“We must now have a reset, with the commissioners looking beyond the walls of the Town Hall, and genuinely engaging with businesses once again.”
He claims the “London-centric” executive team of commissioners was not helping the city. He explained: “We need to remove the huge Whitehall thumb that has been pressed on Liverpool. It is damaging our city not just in the short-term, but the long-term too.
“And we need a business summit where commissioners can spell out directly to commerce what next for Liverpool. Other cities where DIB operates, Manchester, Birmingham, and Leeds, have all bounced back since the pandemic.
“In the early 1980s the then Chancellor Geoffrey Howe suggested that Liverpool was put into ‘managed decline’. What we are witnessing now is ‘mismanaged decline’ – and it needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
Liverpool BID Company chief executive, Bill Addy, also weighed in on Tuesday. The BID represents more than 1,000 levy-paying businesses in the city centre.
He said: “The private sector should not and does not have a say in the running of a democratically elected local authority, yet we would urge stability and security. Recovery is not taken for granted. We are not out of the woods yet. Liverpool has to be seen as a viable for investors, a place they can trust to do business.
“We would urge the commissioners not to treat the city as a closed door, but to recognise that Liverpool is strongest when it works together. Communication is vital. The culture of Liverpool is one of collaboration, of pooling knowledge and resources.
“That is a key strength and it is one we have had to hone. The city cannot be left to drift with big decisions to be made by business, across all sectors, and investors.”