Government commissioners will be sent in to take over some of Liverpool City Council’s responsibilities for at least three years, due to concerns about corruption and a “serious breakdown of governance”
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick announced on 24 March that Whitehall figures would be sent to run “certain and limited functions” of the authority, including regeneration, highways and property.
The move comes as a result of a report into the council which found a number of areas of concern, and “paints a deeply concerning picture of mismanagement” according to Mr Jenrick.
Labour have come out in support of the government’s decision, though have been keen to play down the scale of government involvement, saying it is not a “Tory takeover”.
What does this mean for the council?
The government will now send civil servants to run certain functions of the council, and report back to the government every six months, for the next three years.
This could also result in the council seeing the total number of councillors reduced from the current total of 90.
Mr Jenrick said he will ask the council to respond to the report and the “proposed intervention package”.
He said: ”This package is centred on putting in place commissioners who I will appoint to exercise certain and limited functions of the council, as required, for a minimum of three years.”
“Given the gravity of the inspection findings, I must consider what would happen should the council fail to deliver the necessary changes at the necessary speed.
“I’m consequently proposing to direct the transfer of all executive functions associated with regeneration, highways and property management at the authority to the commissioners. These are for use should the council not satisfy the commissioners in their improvement processes.
“I hope it won’t be necessary for the commissioners to use these powers, but they must – in my view – be empowered to do so to deliver the reforms that are required.”
This will be only the fifth time that government commissioners will be sent to run parts of a council.
Labour’s shadow communities secretary, Steve Reed, said: “The council will respond to the secretary of state’s letter in detail, but we support his intention to appoint commissioners – not at this stage to run the council, as he says, but to advise and support elected representatives in strengthening the council’s systems.”
“I want to reassure people in Liverpool that this does not mean government ministers are coming in to run their city directly. This is not – as some would put it – a Tory takeover.”
What was in the report?
The report was commissioned late last year after Liverpool’s mayor Joe Anderson was among 12 people to be detained in relation to accusations of intimidation and conspiracy to commit bribery.
Mr Anderson denies the claims against him and has not been charged, but has stepped down from his mayoral role and will be replaced in May.
Max Caller, a former local government chief executive, carried out the report, which found evidence of a number of issues within some of the council’s departments.
Describing the contents of the report to MPs yesterday, Mr Jenrick said it found evidence of “awarding of dubious contracts”, a “worrying lack of record-keeping” and a “continued failure to correctly value land and assets” among other issues.
Mr Jenrick also said there was an “overall environment of intimidation, described as one in which the only way to survive was to do what was requested without asking too many questions or applying normal professional standards”.
The report also found that in some instances staff had to retrieve files relating to property issues from skips, and there was “no coherent property-based filing system, nor even a project-based case file.”
What did the report say about Tony Reeves?
Despite concerns over some aspects of the council’s activities, Mr Jenrick stressed that the report and the subsequent decision to take over aspects of the councils’ responsibilities “is not a verdict on all the staff”.
He also singled out the council’s current Chief Executive and statutory officers for praise.
He said: ”I want to underline the report is not a verdict on all the staff working at Liverpool City Council – in fact, the report commends the hard work and dedication of many.
“The report is also clear that the current Chief Executive Tony Reeves and statutory officers have taken positive remedial steps – and I wish to thank Tony for his dedication and service.
“Neither does it comment on the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, on Mayor Steve Rotheram, or other councils in Merseyside.
“Despite the good work undertaken by Mr Reeves, there is a clear picture that there has been a serious breakdown of governance at the council.”