Government Commissioners cautiously optimistic for Liverpool City Council

Liverpool City Council has welcomed the latest update report from the Government-appointed Commissioners.

The Commissioners – who are at the halfway stage of their three-year intervention – says that the council’s political and officer leadership “have shown grip and determination to improve at pace”, and they now have “cautious optimism for the improvement journey”.

There is praise for the work of Mayor Joanne Anderson and her cabinet, as well as for the work of the interim chief executive Theresa Grant, who was appointed last August.

In a letter to the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, the Commissioners have reported that:

  • Officers have developed credible options, at pace, to meet the significant budget gap. The Mayor and cabinet have shown commendable political leadership to take the difficult decisions necessary to set a balanced budget.
  • The council has a more corporate approach to senior decision making, with a robust forward look, and with silo working now diminishing. The senior leadership team is committed to open communication with staff.
  • A new organisational structure has been agreed to improve capacity and capability, and progress is being made on recruitment.
  • A robust transformation programme has been established and is working to reduce costs and improve the quality of services.
  • Tactical improvements are starting to show, such as the increased collection of income tax, reduced lease renewal backlog and an audit plan now in place.

However, they caution that the following risks still require close management:

  • The change in political leadership with a change of governance model and all-out elections to new boundaries.
  • Changes to the senior leadership team including the appointment of a new chief executive and a new corporate director of finance.
  • Budget decision making and implementation alongside a council-wide transformation programme.
  • That service areas subject to intervention are stable.
  • Culture change, which requires sustained engagement from staff at all levels of the organisation.

The report concludes: “While not certain, if the leadership maintains the focus, energy and commitment observed in recent months, we have confidence the required progress will be made.”

Andrew Lewis is set to start as the council’s permanent chief executive in June 2023, and senior appointments have recently been made in the city development team as part of a restructure of the top team.

Mayor of Liverpool, Joanne Anderson, said: “A huge amount of energy and focus has gone into accelerating the pace of improvement at Liverpool City Council since last summer, and I am pleased that this has been recognised by the Commissioners.

“We are already a very different organisation to the one I inherited in May 2021, with a commitment to openness and transparency and work under way to deliver high quality, value for money services for our residents.

“We have made some excellent appointments to senior roles in recent weeks, with more in the pipeline, and I am expecting the new personnel to inject impetus into our improvement journey.”

She added: “My commitment to the city was always to work with senior managers and elected members to put in place solid foundations for the council’s future and we are now starting to see the results of the hard work of many people.”

Interim chief executive, Theresa Grant, said: “I have seen a significant shift in the pace, energy and commitment to delivering improvements during my time at Liverpool City Council, and it is good news that this is reflected in the latest report from the Commissioners.

“I am particularly proud of the way the whole organisation, including frontline staff and elected members, rose to the challenge of delivering a realistic balanced budget in a very short period of time to put us on a stable financial footing.”

She added: “We have also significantly upped the pace of our transformation programme with the aim of delivering services in our neighbourhoods in a much more joined-up and coherent way.

“There is a determination that the improvements we are embedding across the organisation will deliver the improvements required by Commissioners, but it is clear there is no room for complacency.”

Government Commissioners were installed within the council in June 2021, to oversee certain aspects of the authority.

The then Local Government Secretary, Robert Jenrick, decided to send in independent Commissioners to improve the running of the local authority following publication of the Max Caller report in March that year into how the council was being run following the arrest of five people linked to Operation Aloft Police investigations.

Mr Jenrick said the report outlined “multiple apparent failures” within the Labour-run authority which he said paints a “deeply concerning picture” with a “pervasive and rotten culture”.

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