By Colm Howard-Lloyd, Director of Public Affairs
The government has announced that they are sending Commissioners into Liverpool City Council to oversee some of the council’s functions. A damning report by Max Caller, who has a long history of turning around failing boroughs, found catastrophic failings with Liverpool’s planning, regeneration, highways, housing, and property management functions.
It’s not the first time that the great beasts of Whitehall have been sent to Merseyside. When Michael Heseltine (who you can hear from at our upcoming event) went to see for himself what was wrong on the Mersey, he famously became the only Tory Liverpool has ever really taken to. He proposed bold reform, and urged that people bring him solutions and not just problems.
This time though, the fix seems a little more modest. Initially, the council has been asked to mark its own homework and must present an improvement plan within six months. If the plan is not satisfactory then executive power will transfer to the commissioners.
Liverpool’s highways function, or dysfunction as the report seems to imply, came under particular scrutiny with a demand for structure and strategy, and a relatively innocuous-sounding call for reform of “culture” and “file management system”. Any company with its eye on managing highways projects on behalf of the council can expect scrutiny at a level only US airport security normally provides.
A possible Trojan Horse in the report is a proposal to reform the number of councillors, with a desire to move to single-member wards, and the election timetable which is currently thirds. The assertion is that having an election almost every year means the council is always in election-mode and never gets to think long term. A reform on the council constitution or just being seen to do so.
One area that was definitely out of bounds for the report was the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, Mayor Steve Rotheram or other councils in Merseyside. You can’t help but wonder though, whether a revived Liverpool City Council is expected to diminish the influence of the other players.
Heseltine produced a report with Tesco’s Terry Leahy for the Coalition Government, proposing more bold reform for the region. It seems to have fallen into the amnesia of history, and while this probably isn’t to blame for the failing of LCC, you can’t help but wonder if it might have helped. The Merseyside city-region and the people of Merseyside need investment and political backing from Westminster. They deserve not just levelling-up but reaching beyond. Are they going to have to rely on a former Conversative cabinet minister to go into battle again?