Wednesday, January 30, 2008

District Auditor says Liverpool worst council in country for financial management

Warren Bradley's interview with Roger Phillips yesterday on BBC Radio Merseyside. My comments in itallics


RP This is not a good report for us is it Warren?

WB Well Roger we’ve got to put it into perspective really haven’t we and remember where Liverpool was and that’s not thinking back 10 years. Liverpool has come an awful long way. The people of Liverpool were asking for lower Council Tax and the Liberal Democrats have delivered that and they also wanted better services and you look at the services that are now delivered by Liverpool City Council. If we look at the most vulnerable either elderly or the Children’s Services the social care we are now delivering at a level that Liverpool has never delivered before (absolutely true, never in the history of the city have elderly people's services been delivered at a level quite this low. Home helps laid off, people left with a poor service, prices increased, homes shut, day centres shut....) We also look at the bread and butter your schools, your sports centres, your libraries (like the one in Lister Drive? Shut now for 12 months), One Stop Shops in communities (like the one in Kensington that we never got because the then Cllr Richard Marbrow siphoned the monies off to build the 08 place tourist information office in town), our parks, we’ve got 13 green flag parks.

It’s like a new home to me when you get an old dilapidated derelict building you’ve got to bring it up to a standard and I think Liverpool City Council under the Liberal Democrats have certainly done that (although not in Prescot Road or Prescot Drive where they have left people living in dangerous dereliction for 6 years now) and I am certain. If we did a survey of people in the City do you want Liverpool City Council to sit on £20m worth of reserves or do you want the City Council delivering front line services that affect the most vulnerable and people’s lives in the City. I think that they would vote with their feet and say that we support the policies of Liverpool City Council. (I think if you put that choice to them they would say the LibDems do not deliver such services, and it is to be wished that they did).

We’ve got to look at the financial regulations put in by Government and if you want my opinion about this Roger it is purely political.

RP Well come on you know the Audit Commission is not a political body

WB Well with respect Roger and I would beg to differ on that

This is exactly the same line they take about the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol calling it "Labour nationally" and any other organisation that dares to criticise them. That they are political appointees. This is terribly damaging to the concept of democracy and governance, but hey, they are Liberal Democrats, what interest do they have in that? I wonder why the Audit Commission don't try to sue them or report them to the Standards Board for this type of comment.

RP Well how can it be a political it’s an independent organisation?

WB We can say everything is independent to a certain extent but you know you look at what we’ve got at the moment in Liverpool and we’re delivering top quality services….

Roger should have kept on a bit more with this, there is no way on earth that John Humphries would have let WB get away with this.

In 2003 the Liberal Democrats' "End of Year Report" said of Liverpool "An independent report has rated Liverpool as a "good local authority" which has made significant improvement in services in the last year". It explains how the Audit Commission ranks councils according to how well they are run and says "it is based upon a thorough and in-depth assessment of each of the council's 'core' services.". So when the score is a good one, the Audit Commission are "independent" and "thorough" with "in-depth assessments" and when it is a bad score the Audit Commission are "purely political".

RP But the problem with this is that you’ve got an overall score rating of 2 which was adequate performance into 05, overall score in 06 was 2 which is adequate performance. This year it is down to 1 below minimum requirements inadequate performance.

WB Based around financial regulations…

RP Yes I’m talking about the financial…..

WB .. Laid down by government. I mean that’s what you’ve got to remember Don’t try and muddy the waters and say oh this is about Liverpool City Council and their overall performance. It’s not. (Oh really? How funny, I thought that was EXACTLY what it was about.) You look at the issue that we’ve done about achievements. Liverpool scoring 3-4 on achievement at the moment through the Audit Commission.

RP I didn’t know that.

WB and we do seem to always go to the negatives when we’re looking for something like this.

RP The District Auditor was pretty negative about you wasn’t he and…

WB No, I have got to say Roger I would love to have £50m in reserves. I would also love not to have to put additions of £7m into adult social care and £2-3m into children’s social care. The facts are we have got to do that because of the pressures that are on Liverpool at the moment.

RP So are other Councils….

WB I’m not willing as Leader of this Council to take away care to the most vulnerable to allow it to sit in reserve. I am not willing to do that and I will go to the stake on that (that should draw the crowds) the people of the City. Liverpool now is only one of a handful of Councils up and down the country that is providing moderate care to the most vulnerable people in the City. Now to give people an idea of what moderate care is that is home care. These people who’ve got no family to support them and require a visit in the morning or a visit in the evening to make sure they’re ok to help them to take the pills, to make sure that they’ve got the food. Most Councils up and down this country have removed that care. Liverpool City Council is still allowing our most vulnerable people our sort of care. Now is that wrong, is that wrong?

RP Now no one would argue that’s wrong but everyone. But many people are affected by housing. Housing is really poor isn’t it. I mean you are so poor you’ve had to hand it over to a different group to run it.

WB Well with respect Roger, with respect, you’ve got to know what the Housing Corporation have done and in partnership with the Government again it’s easy to say it’s the Council, in partnership with the Government we’ve tackled head on through the Pathfinder areas of the inner core of the City some of the housing inefficiencies of the City. That hasn’t happened over the last five years that’s happened over 30 or 40 years. The problems in Norris Green in housing were prevalent 30 or 40 years ago and weren’t tackled. As an Authority we’ve challenged what wasn’t tackled and we’ve challenged it head on and I opened a couple of weeks ago with Flo Clucas and Marilyn Fielding with Cobalt Housing the first phase of Norris Green. We’ve transformed that area and its got houses for sale and social housing in Norris Green that people are seeking to live in now. We’ve got in a core Edge Hill, Kensington, Kirkdale the same issues that have been there for 30 or 40 years that we’re tackling now hand in hand with the Government. I’m not taking the credit for it and the Government isn’t. We’ve got a schools’ programme that is second to none. Liverpool’s young people are now achieving at the national average. I want it higher than national average to give new opportunity but again I’ll say I’m not going to suit accountants’ financial regulations in London and leave £millions sitting in reserve while we have still got the challenges Liverpool has got and I think people you know.

RP Do you think it was a mistake to keep Council Tax down or freeze it over the past few years?

WB Well isn’t it ironic Roger how last week John Healey said how Liverpool is charging £101 a head..

RP Because its inefficiencies….

WB Well we have taken £150m worth of inefficiencies out of our budget over the last 10 years. We’ve kept Council tax down which is exactly what Government policy is and is exactly what John Healey is saying. Councillor Joe Anderson is saying something completely different to the people of Liverpool that he will put taxes up to build reserves to put in reserve well again this administration this Lib Dem administration is not going to tax for the sake of taxing to leave money sitting in reserve. We will build up the reserves over a period of years and then we will be able to tackle some of the other issues that we’ve got to do. We recognise the health inequalities. To improve health inequalities we’ve got to have a real stable economy offering real opportunity and raising the aspirations in them poorer communities. You cannot do that leaving millions and millions of pounds laying in reserves and this administration will continue the robust financial management that we’ve done. We’ll carry on delivering…

RP If it was that robust we wouldn’t have this problem of £20m overdrawn on Capital of Culture.

WB Roger, lets put things into hindsight (Yes good idea Warren, lets put the whole lot of you into hindsight, as far behind us as possible). We are still delivering front line services. We are still…

RP It’s about £20m overall that we’re short this year – now that’s not robust management

WB But Roger we are going through a budget setting process. Every Local Authority up and down the country is in the same process as us. I remember reading about Wirral being £50m short. Other Local Authorities. I meet the core city leaders who are £40-£50m short exactly the same as Liverpool . And let’s not forget I haven’t come on here to knock the Government I’ve come on here to say that I believe we’ve got a robust financial programme in place that is going to deal with the shortfall. We’ve delivered year on year but I’ll say again I am not going to allow millions and millions of pounds to lay in reserve. Cut front line services to the most vulnerable and then say that’s acceptable. Nor as Leader of this Council am I going to allow Council Tax to go through the roof again which will drive the inability to bring further investment into this City. While the Lib Dems have been in control we’ve brought Council Tax down, we’ve brought renewed confidence and we’ve brought real investment that will bring opportunities to the most vulnerable and I think that is the most important and I think the people of this City will stand full square with us on that. I’m proud of what we’ve delivered in this City over the last 10 years and Capital of Culture is part of that."

I cannot go on, I have had to go off and take a cold bath as my blood pressure has soared reading this terrible drivel. I am also concerned that it went uninterrupted, had Roger gone off for a cold bath too?

How can this man, this party, be allowed to govern our city for another moment?

Roll on May!


J said...

The only thing that was politically motivated was keeping the Council tax down as well as underfunding of social care and housing. During the tie of this Lib Dem administration we have seen them pulled up by watchdogs in precisely those areas Bradley wants to crow about.
And let's not forget that the Auditor's report is not only about where they spent the money but also how. Anyone who cares to look through the guidelines to the Audit Commission's Use of Resources (believe me I am used to it and it is useful for insomnia) will see that it covers a huge area. To be labelled as below minimum requirements is truly appalling.
Where else was considered "below minimum requirements"? Was it the other great cities? Those most affected by the same problems as Liverpool as Warren would have us expect? Err...not exactly:
Dacorum (Tory),
Great Yarmouth (Tory),
Hart (NOC with Lib Dem and Tory),
Mid Devon (NOC with Lib Dem and Tory),
Northampton, (Lib Dem)
Norwich, (NOC Labour/Lib Dem/Green)
Waveney (Tory
West Somerset (Independent).

My, what company Liverpool keeps!

Anonymous said...

(scouseboy) incompitent, inept and corrupt, what a legacy Bradley/Storey have given us!!!

Anonymous said...

At least they can spell, scouseboy. You give us scousers a bad name.

Louise Baldock said...

Pedants are not particularly welcome on this site, anonymous. Especially not anonymous ones.

Paula said...

Louise.. obviously you are entitled to your views but the remark about a former councillor and money being siphoned is potentially libellous and should the individual concerned choose to sue I don't think you would have a defence. It is best to be really careful about language when commenting. You would not have the defence of "fair comment" which is editorialising as you have written this as a fact. Can you find proof of every interpretation of the factual statement? Thought not. I am going to assume that you are a fair minded individual and will remove this. I write with some level of expertise as I teach trainee journalists.

Louise Baldock said...

Hi Paula

I am not going to remove that comment without at least a discussion on the matter.

I have copies of papers that show the money for the OSS in Kensington was used instead for the 08 place in Town. I have papers that show that Richard Marbrow was the Executive Member at the time the decision was made.

I have papers that show LibDems saying that on reflection we did not need an OSS in Kensington because people could travel to Old Swan or into town if they needed access to one.

I could replace the word "siphon" with the word "divert" if that would be better, but the facts as I understand them speak for themselves.

Labour also made this point in literature in 2006 and 2007 I think I am right in recollecting, and this was not challenged at the time.

Cllr Corbett has brought it up several times too including in the council chamber and it has never been challenged there either.

Obviously it was a political decision, one about priorities, and the LibDems chose to spend the money on a tourist information office instead of a One Stop Shop.

Wrongly in my view of course.

I didnt say he had done anything illegal, and will say here and now in black and white that if anyone has read it that way then I want them to be corrected.

Although it is true to say that NRF monies are intended for wards in deprived areas, and not meant to be spent on city centre tourist initiatives, this was not a criminal act.

What grounds do you think he would have for suing me?

Paula said...

It's entirely up to him whether he does or not - he has grounds - but more importantly for you you do not have a firm defence. It is up to you if you want to leave it lying and assume he won't take action. Just take it from me that this was meant as a friendly warning and that I am a lot more knowledgeable on libel law than you have assumed.

Louise Baldock said...

Hi Paula, I have not said you dont know your onions. I asked you a question, perhaps it didnt sound like a question to you when you read it.

I asked you what grounds you think Richard Marbrow would have for suing me.

As I said, I thought it was a fact. There was evidence which was passed to the Labour Party by a third party.

It is all a while ago now but from memory, papers were put through our office door containing all sorts of memos and transcripts of phone calls and various other stuff detailing the finances of the 08 place. I think it was all also passed to the papers at the time by the same source although I am not sure they were sufficiently interested to print it.

The subject of the monies for the 08 place having been taken from the fund for the One Stop in Shop in Kensington has as far as I know never been denied.

I think we have put leaflets out stating that this has happened which were not challenged by Richard at the time when he was a Councillor.

I cannot swear to this because I dont have all the old leaflets but I do seem to recollect that we did.

I always appreciate friendly warnings and of course I would not want to be sued, by Richard or anyone else.

I guess I am saying that the decision to move the funds from the OSS to the 08 place is a matter of public record, so far as I know.

So I dont see what Richard would sue me over, other than using emotive language to describe this.

Of course if Richard wants to contact me and tell me that this is not a matter of public record and that he does dispute that the money for the 08 place came in part from the OSS funds while he was the Exec Member for that portfolio then I will be happy to reflect that and give him the room to put the record straight.

I certainly would not want to mislead about this, there is no need to. There are lots of genuine criticisms I can make without resorting to using spurious ones.

Could it be that it did happen but that you were not aware of it. Therefore it is not actually the issue that you think it is?

Anyway, thanks for the heads-up and friendly warning. If it becomes an issue then of course I will act accordingly and appropriately and will set any record straight.