by Stephen Tall on January 29, 2008
The Guardian carries the fairly stark headline today, ‘Liverpool council bottom of league’, reporting the verdict of the Audit Commission that the unitary City Council is the worst financially managed local authority in England. Lib Dem Voice got in touch with Paul Clein, Lib Dem executive member for children’s services in Liverpool, to ask for his views. Here’s what he told us:
Liverpool’s poor ranking by the Audit Commission for financial management has some justification measured against the criteria used in their inspection regime. I would be first to concede that there is considerable room for improvement. However three significant issues need to be taken into account.
Firstly, the scale of the mess we inherited from Labour in 1998 was unbelievable. People tend to think saying this was the standard political rhetoric of an incoming administration. It wasn’t. The Education Service was on the brink of privatisation within 9 months and Social Services was even worse. Housing was awful and it was hard to find a single service functioning as it should. We had the toxic combination of the highest Council Tax in the land and the third worst basket of services. You cannot prioritise everything, even over a 9 year period. We have made significant progress on nearly every front since 1999.
Secondly, context is crucial. The achievement of winning 2008 Capital of Culture status, with the consequent commitment to find 55% of the projected funding (which has turned out to be over 60%) has inevitably skewed Council spending temporarily and diverted some of the administration’s focus of attention from other priorities. This unique set of circumstances will pass in 11 months time.
Finally two issues have become conflated by the partisan comments of John Healey. Whilst not decrying the efforts of other authorities with their own challenges, if a 13% increase in Council Tax over 10 years, removal of £150 million from the base budget of the most deprived – but not best funded – city in England whilst simultaneously improving most services against a backdrop of constantly moving goalposts and (unlike the Government) delivering real Gershon savings represents inefficiency, then words fail me.
PS: and before any political opponents rush in to say “typical Lib Dems, they can’t be trusted with money”, it’s also worth pointing out that the Audit Commission reckons the best financially managed council in the country is Cambridge… run by the Lib Dems.