What went wrong at Liverpool City Council?

Liverpool City Council Annual Budget Meeting 3rd March 2021
Liverpool City Council Annual Budget Meeting 3rd March 2021

What went wrong at Liverpool City Council?

                                    

By John Brace (Editor)
and
Leonora Brace (Co-Editor)

First publication date: 25th March 2021, 9:00 (GMT).

What went wrong at Liverpool City Council?
What went wrong at Liverpool City Council?

Regular readers of this blog (who have presumably read my previous articles on Liverpool City Council since August 2014) won’t be entirely surprised by Max Caller’s report, the statement made yesterday or indeed a further letter to Liverpool City Council.

There has also been over time the legitimate question of why didn’t the local media (including this blog) bring these matters to light first? The short answer is most newsrooms operate on a risk averse basis (there are a lot of laws preventing what you can publish in the UK), even stories I write are sometimes spiked and that unfortunately to a certain degree allows some of what happened to happen. The other point to make is the right to reply process (especially in politics) can allow information that is downright misleading to end up in the public domain.

Indeed some may see myself as having faced a backlash from Liverpool City Council, so let’s start this piece with what happened four years ago (it started earlier but for the sake of narrative this is as good a place as any to start).

Ged Fitzgerald (former Chief Executive of Liverpool City Council) is arrested on suspicion of both conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and witness intimidation. His counterpart on Wirral Council refused us both press accreditation for the election count (on the Wirral) in 2017. Although no connection between these two events are implied.

Being somewhat stubborn, I just reported from the footpath outside instead and taking it out of Wirral Council’s hands by going to the 2017 general election count later that year as an election observer. Below are some video clips from that time.

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Councillor Phil Davies (Labour)

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Councillor Stuart Kelly (Lib Dem)

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Councillor Lesley Rennie (Conservative)

Ged Fitzgerald then took the police to a judicial review both over his arrest and associated search warrants and lost. Oh dear!

Meanwhile, an opposition councillor called Councillor Richard Kemp engages in if I was to be diplomatic a “robust exchange of views” with Mayor Joe Anderson at a public meeting of all Liverpool City Council councillors.

Mayor Joe Anderson, very unusually as in other councils an interim or temporary Chief Executive would be appointed, in all but name becomes both Mayor and Chief Executive. If his statements at the time were to be taken at face value, he believed that Ged Fitzgerald would return, but by August 2018 it all got so extremely embarrassing that a new Chief Executive Tony Reeves was appointed by Liverpool City Council councillors.

I will point out at this stage that the alleged criminality being investigated then as part of Lancashire Constabulary’s Operation Sheridan involved both Liverpool City Council and Wirral Council (as the latter runs Merseyside Pension Fund).

However going back to Mayor Joe Anderson, who is now both Mayor and effectively Acting Chief Executive. This is a situation that shouldn’t happen! It concentrates too much power in one person’s hands (although some was done in his name without his knowledge).

In the years since that time, I report (thankfully later abandoned plans) for Liverpool City Council to set up a £50 million fund in commercial property, although joint plans of Liverpool City Council, Wirral Council and Preston City Council to set up a bank go ahead.

After an outbreak of revolutionary singing on the ground floor of the Cunard Building, Liverpool City Council (who unusually insist on searches of people going to its public meetings for items such as flags and banners) started getting even more worried. At times it was easier to enter a military base or a custody suite then actually be in the room to film its public meetings!

Indeed only last year 2020, the protest outside got so noisy the Lord Mayor adjourned the public meeting.

Whereas a roughly two hundred person protest at Mann Island was large enough to change Liverpool City Region Combined Authority policy, similar and larger protests outside Liverpool Town Hall, met with resistance against the people of Liverpool from inside Liverpool City Council.

Even as far back as 2015 Liverpool City Council had the atmosphere of being under siege by its residents.

Something went terribly wrong at Liverpool City Council, whereas I may look back now and have a sense of humour about it all, the working atmosphere at Liverpool City Council was extremely damaging to the mental health of those that worked there.

As bullying and intimidation became part of the working culture, employees started bullying councillors.

When people blew the whistle, what had happened was denied, then if someone was lucky or persistent a partial hangout and a mealy mouthed apology – but no actual change.

In the end there was no other option left but to send in Commissioners.

On a more human level though, I feel sorry for a lot of individuals that tried their best and were on the receiving end of Liverpool City Council’s wrath. There have been times that Liverpool City Council has been extremely trying of anyone’s patience.

It is a sad tale of power, cover ups, fiascos, trust and betrayal. The way I have put it above has been (unusually for me) is just a rather mild factual recounting of some of what happened, although when the Guardian headline becomes Liverpool braced for government to intervene in city council I am somewhat bemused.

But then, que sera sera.

I realise that now 800 words in, I have barely scratched the surface.

For those who’ve read this blog since I started it in October 2010, you’ll have seen some running themes of it being about the political process, monitoring elections, human rights and the rule of law.

I have been somewhat robust in my criticism of Liverpool City Council over the years.

There are enough stories out of this saga to lead to a thousand stories (including the global damage to Liverpool’s reputation over property investments), but I hope everyone involved will reflect on their part and I am tempted to finish with, “Filleann an feall ar an bhfeallaire”.

Continues at What went wrong at Liverpool City Council (part 2)?

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By John Brace

New media journalist from Birkenhead, England who writes about Wirral Council. Published and promoted by John Brace, 134 Boundary Road, Bidston, CH43 7PH. Printed by UK Webhosting Ltd t/a Tsohost, 113-114 Buckingham Avenue, Slough, Berkshire, England, SL1 4PF.

2 comments

  1. It’s frightening, the level of misdemeanour a local authority must stoop to before it is finally exposed. This should have happened at WBC but I guess the withdrawal of support for Phil Davies was the final turn of the rudder before the ship hit the rocks.

    “Where there’s scrutiny there’s mutiny!”

    Or something like that.

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      As you know Wirral Council in 2012 agreed the compromise of LGA involvement, the Improvement Board etc, in the end Councillor Phil Davies’ support for the Hoylake Golf Resort (or Celtic Manor Resort) project and the associated greenbelt issues in the Local Plan led to a lack of support among the local population.

      Now if somebody had just offered Wirral Council the option to cancel or postpone the local elections this might have been taken up! 😀

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