City council responds to second damning commissioners’ report into local authority

Mayor of Liverpool, Joanne Anderson

Liverpool City Council has acknowledged the need for better governance and the need to work with government commissioners to achieve this.

The authority has issued its formal response to a second report by the commissioners, who were installed within the council last June after a damning report into the running of the Labour-controlled administration by government inspector, Max Caller.

The second report last month highlighted “systemic and whole-council failure” as well as an estimated budget gap of £98.2m over the next four years.

It proposed further powers for the commissioners, and Secretary of State for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, Greg Clark, announced the setting up of a Liverpool Strategic Futures Panel, to guide the city’s improvements, chaired by Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram and supported by political and business leaders, including former Manchester City Council chief executive, Sir Howard Bernstein.

Publication of the second report followed the resignation of former council chief executive, Tony Reeves, on July 18, who was replaced by interim CEO Theresa Grant last month.

Mr Clark invited the council to respond to the report, and, in a letter, Mayor Joanne Anderson, together with interim head of paid service, Anne Marie Lubanski, acknowledge that the pace and impact of improvement at Liverpool City Council has not met the commissioners’ requirements, or the expectations of residents.

They said the authority recognises the scale of the challenge facing it and is confident that the reset of the intervention provides an opportunity to build on the positive and collaborative working relationship that now exists with commissioners, enabling it to move forward and address their recommendations at pace.

They outline the progress since the report was submitted in June, which includes: Further steps in the delivery of the council’s Strategic Improvement Plan; improving governance, strengthening corporate capacity through appointments to key posts in property, finance, procurement and audit; the appointment of an interim chief executive, Theresa Grant, who has a strong track record on improvement; and they note that commissioners have not been called on to use the existing powers they have, and that the council will work hard to ensure this is the case for any new powers they may be granted.

The council has appealed to Mr Clark for the Strategic Futures Panel’s terms of reference to be co-designed with Mayor Anderson, and for a collaborative exercise to clarify the scope of the new powers for commissioners, for example through the agreement of a protocol or other arrangement.

It is also asking for the powers of a new commissioner for finance to be reviewed at the earliest opportunity and that clear boundaries are set, especially on the meaning of “governance”, “scrutiny” and “strategic decision making” and that, in practice, these powers continue to be exercised by members and officers where at all possible.

The letter to Mr Clark concludes: “We have held a number of positive joint planning sessions with the commissioners designed to agree council priorities over the next 12 months. Those priorities reflect the commissioners’ recommendations to the council, and we are confident of making good progress over the course of the next reporting period.

“Thank you for giving the council the opportunity to make representations on your proposals. We accept the need for further improvement at a greater pace. Our intention in our representations is to seek greater clarity and definition to enable the commissioners and council to continue to work collaboratively and improve the council at pace.

“For the avoidance of any doubt, we can assure you that Liverpool City Council is a resilient organisation with committed, hardworking and dedicated staff and elected members and we will deliver the directions you consider necessary. With cabinet, the new chief executive and the officer leadership team, we will turn this council around so that it delivers best value for the residents of Liverpool and the social value commitments made by the administration.”

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