The caller report
The Liverpool of today has changed out of all recognition from the derelict hopelessness of the 1980s. The infrastructure has been transformed, the private sector is seen as a friend not an enemy and the legacy of Capital of Culture has been strong.
However, the damning Caller Report on the council has revealed a major thing that has not changed, the political culture. As a reporter on the city’s politics for many years, I have enjoyed the “robust” nature of its politics. People in Liverpool are interested in current affairs and have strong opinions. But there was, and is, a dark side to all that. Bullying and intimidation can replace reasoned debate, a disregard for rules and procedures. Crucially Caller reveals a breakdown in the relationship between officers and members on the council.
Officers and politicians have completely different roles on well run authorities. Council staff must be allowed to proffer their advice and administer the services free from fear. It is one of the most disturbing revelations that Caller has not been able to list the people who have contributed their views, as is his usual practice, because people were afraid to be identified. So, the sadness is that the report will allow some to claim that nothing much has changed in turbulent Liverpool. But they would be wrong…
Business will need to be reassured following this report. Firms want to deal with a council that handles planning and other issues fairly and transparently.
There are bright signs in this respect. Major developments are underway. The £1bn Paddington Village Project to boost the health, life science and technology jobs of the future is just one of these. Approval is awaited on the Everton Stadium project and the city won praise for its handling of the pandemic.
Crucially business has the reassuring presence of the Chief Executive, Tony Reeves. The government clearly see him having a pivotal role working with the Commissioners on problems he has himself identified in the planning, highways, regeneration, and property departments.
Political hard nut
Finally, we come to the politics. There is to be a major shake up in the way the council is elected. There will be all out elections once every four years from single member wards with the number of councillors reduced. Some, including our MD Frank McKenna, would like to see proportional representation introduced to prevent the one-party dominance (first Lib Dem then Labour) that we have seen recently.
The mayoral election will go ahead this May but will the referendum on abolishing the post take place in 2023?
The official Labour Party line has been to accept the report and the imposition of commissioners, but it will be interesting to see what happens when the General Secretary’s review takes place.
Amongst some MPs, councillors, and party members in the city there is still support for the policies of former leader Jeremy Corbyn. Will party chiefs be met with claims that they are selling out to the Tory government? Will there be a move to impose moderate candidates? Will current Labour officials have the same courage that was required in the eighties to root out Militant? Because without that you can reform the election structure all you like, but the same people will be back.