Politics

Liverpool City Council: What does the future hold?


By Lauren Hirst
BBC News Online

image copyrightPA Media
image captionLabour has controlled Liverpool City Council for a decade

Liverpool City Council has been under intense scrutiny from the government since five men, including the city’s mayor, were arrested in a bribery probe.

Following the allegations, the government announced an investigation into the council’s planning, highways, regeneration and property management, which has now been completed.

Speculation has been mounting that the Tory government will take over the running of the Labour-run council by appointing commissioners when it unveils its plans for the city on Wednesday.

How does Liverpool City Council operate?

Local authorities are democratically-elected bodies, which are independent from central government but are subject to external scrutiny from government bodies.

In 2012, Liverpool was among 11 of England’s biggest cities to introduce a directly-elected mayor model.

The mayor is elected for a four-year period and is responsible for the day-to-day running of the council.

If there is evidence that a council is failing to carry out its duties, the government has the power to appoint a person to inspect an authority and to intervene if necessary.

What is the current situation in Liverpool?

In December, inspectors were sent in by Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick following the arrest of five men, including Mr Anderson.

It follows an investigation by Merseyside Police into building and development contracts in the city.

A report by local government inspector Max Caller is expected to be published on Wednesday.

image copyrightPA Media
image captionJoe Anderson was elected as Liverpool mayor in 2012

Mr Anderson, 63, who denies any wrongdoing and has not been charged, was held on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation.

Analysis

By Claire Hamilton, BBC Merseyside political reporter

The last time Liverpool was mentioned by a Secretary in State in Parliament, it was to praise its mass coronavirus testing programme back in November.

This week, the city will be highlighted in the Commons in a very different context.

There hasn’t been a Conservative councillor elected in Liverpool for decades.

It’s an understatement to say the suggestion that a Conservative government could “take over” – or intervene in the running of the council – has gone down badly with many in the city.

But the situation is potentially extremely serious. We don’t yet know what the inspectors report will say, or how the Secretary of State will respond.

Sending commissioners to run the council is a worst case scenario and would have huge ramifications for Liverpool and its reputation.

The fact that local elections are only weeks away accelerates opposition party’s criticisms of the Labour administration, which has controlled the council for a decade.

It’s going to be a bumpy week to say the least.

What action could be taken?

  • No further action needed following the investigation
  • Statutory intervention – this will involve the Secretary of State taking control either directly or by appointing a commissioner or commissioners
  • Non-statutory intervention – this typically involves the appointment of an improvement panel or taskforce to provide guidance and challenge to an authority

Who would be selected as a commissioner?

Installing commissioners – an action taken just four times in the past 25 years in England – is among various options available to ministers.

The commissioner is personally appointed by the Secretary of State.

It’s likely the selection process would have already been completed if necessary as commissioners need to be in place as soon as the intervention is announced.

What will happen to the elections in May?

The elections will still go ahead even if commissioners take over the running of the city council.

The following candidates are so far in the running to become the next mayor of Liverpool.

  • Richard Kemp – Liberal Democrats
  • Tom Crone – Green Party
  • Katie Burgess – Conservative
  • Steve Radford – Liberal Party
  • Roger Bannister – TUSC
  • Stephen Yip – Independent
  • The Labour Party’s three original candidates were later told by the party not to apply and the process was reopened. Labour is due to announce its candidate on 29 March.
image copyrightPA Media
image captionThe mayoral election is due to take place on 6 May

What does it mean for local democracy if commissioners take over?

“That would render the elected mayor and councillors powerless,” he said.

Independent candidate Mr Yip said imposing commissioners to run Liverpool would deepen the city’s political crisis and penalise ordinary people.

In a letter to Mr Jenrick, he said “sending in commissioners to run council services would inevitably be seen locally as a takeover by Whitehall and inflict more damage”.

Where have commissioners been appointed in the past?

The government has previously appointed commissioners to oversee four councils – Doncaster, Tower Hamlets, Rotherham and Northamptonshire.

It intervened at Doncaster Council in 2010 after a report found it was not capable of making improvements after a series of crises.

Government-appointed commissioners took over some services at Tower Hamlets Council in 2014 after a report revealed a “culture of cronyism”.

In 2015, Rotherham Council was put under government control after a report revealed 1,400 girls had been abused in the town.

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