UK

Robert Jenrick sends commissioners to Liverpool after ‘a serious breakdown of governance’ at council

Liverpool’s Labour city council is to be stripped of some of its powers for the next three years amid a corruption probe, it was confirmed today.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said he plans to to appoint commissioners to run some aspects of the authority after a damning report by inspectors.

A team led by Max Caller was sent in to the council in December following the arrests of five men, including elected mayor Joe Anderson, who was held on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation. He denies all wrongdoing.  

The focus of Mr Caller’s investigation was on property management, regeneration, highways, contracts and planning at the council over the past five years.

Addressing MPs today Mr Jenrick stopped short of taking over the running of the council entirely. His plan to appoint commissioners is supported by the Labour Party. 

He told the Commons the Caller report identifies ‘multiple apparent failures’ by Liverpool City Council. 

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said he plans to to appoint commissioners to run some aspects of the authority after a damning report by inspectors.

A team led by Max Caller was sent in to the council in December following the arrests of five men, including elected mayor Joe Anderson (pictured), who was held on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation. He denies all wrongdoing.

The focus of Mr Caller's investigation was on property management, regeneration, highways, contracts and planning at the council over the past five years.

The focus of Mr Caller’s investigation was on property management, regeneration, highways, contracts and planning at the council over the past five years.

He told the Commons: ‘I am also proposing that the council will, under the oversight of the commissioners, prepare and implement an improvement plan.’

Local elections, including a vote to elect a successor to Mr Anderson, are due to take place in May. 

The Communities Secretary continued: ‘As a whole, the report is unequivocal – that Liverpool City Council has failed in numerous respects to comply with its best value duty.

‘It concludes that the council consistently failed to meet its statutory and managerial responsibilities and that the pervasive culture appeared to be rule avoidance.

‘It further concludes that changes need to be radical, delivered at pace, and there was no confidence that the council itself would be able to implement these to any sensible timescale.

‘There may also be further issues of which we are not yet aware, and the report is careful not to speak to matters that might compromise the ongoing police investigation.’

Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed said: ‘Labour – both here and our leadership at the city council – accept this report in full. 

‘We support the Secretary of State’s intention to appoint commissioners, not to run the council, but to advise and support elected representatives in strengthening the council’s systems. This is a measured and sensible approach.

‘I want to reassure people in Liverpool that this does not mean Government ministers are coming in to run their city. We would never support a Tory takeover. 

‘It’s about the Government appointing independent people of the highest professional standing to help the council improve as quickly as possible, and intervening directly only if the council’s elected leaders fail to implement their own recovery plan.’

Robert Jenrick said the report into Liverpool City Council’s conduct found that some documentation had been discarded in skips.

The Communities Secretary told the Commons: ‘The report identifies multiple apparent failures by Liverpool City Council in complying with its best value duty.

‘This includes a failure of proper and due process across planning and regeneration including worrying lack of record-keeping – indeed, documentation had sometimes been created retrospectively, discarded in skips or even destroyed.

‘A lack of scrutiny and oversight across highways, including dysfunctional management practices, no coherent business plan and the awarding of dubious contracts.

‘A failure of proper process relating to property management, including compliance with the council’s own standing orders, leading to a continued failure to correctly value land and assets – meaning taxpayers frequently lost out.’

Mr Jenrick added the report found ‘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’.

Acting Liverpool mayor, Wendy Simon and its chief executive Tony Reeves, said: ‘This is a difficult day for our organisation and we take the report findings extremely seriously.

‘The inspector’s report has highlighted several failings, but there is a collective commitment from both councillors and officers to learn from these mistakes.

‘We would like to reassure all residents and businesses that we will take action to address all of the issues highlighted. We know we need to rebuild your trust.’ 


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