Memorandum by Liverpool City Council (LAG
1.1 This evidence to the inquiry is submitted
by Liverpool City Council, which is the fifth largest Metropolitan
Authority in the UK, serving a population of approximately 468,000.
The City has experienced considerable decline in the last few
decades, and this has been accompanied and, believed by some to
have been partially caused, by a poor history in the governance
of the City Council, and low quality and high cost services. After
the election of the Liberal Democrat administration in 1998, a
series of changes were initiated which have subsequently fundamentally
changed the governance of the City and the approach to service
delivery. The new Liberal Democrat administration decided to bring
into the City Council an external review team under the auspices
of the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA). The team, which
visited the City in March 1999, produced a report which was damning
in relation to the way in which the City Council was being run.
The report's main conclusions can be summarised as follows:
Weak and on occasions non-existent
corporate management of key strategic issues.
Hostility and mutual distrust between
councillors and senior officers.
An excessive number of member-level
committees, sub-committees, task groups and working parties which
detracts from the effective participation of members in strategic
decision-making and community representation.
Poor communications, especially with
High cost. Poor quality services.
Disengagement by the council from
the real interests of local people.
1.2 Liverpool City Council was one of the
first councils and the largest unitary council to introduce new
political management arrangements, at the earliest possible date
of May 1999. At this point the Liberal Democrat Group had been
in control of the council for just one year, following many years
of Labour majority and minority control. The ruling party's majority
increased in May 1999 elections and now stands at 70 (Labour 20
Other parties nine).
1.3 The previous arrangements were enormously
bureaucratic, with a myriad of meetings and multiple levels of
decision-making. In addition, the chronic departmentalism founded
upon chair/chief officer empires, was another cause of overwhelming
inertia. The new political leadership moved to make fundamental
changes to the political management arrangements at the first
opportunity, aiming to dissipate the old culture. Another strong
motivator for change was the desire to signal a move away from
old-style confrontational politics for which the city was known.
In addition, levels of electoral turnout (in local and national
elections) were, and continue to be, amongst the lowest in the
country. There was an obvious need to take action to address this.
Latterly at least, the old system could not be said to have engaged
any but a small minority of the local population. Whether this
was because of the system itself or other factors, there was no
reason not to try a new approach.
2.1 The new arrangements established (open
to press and public) a single party Executive Board with 11 members.
After many years of bitter struggle between the main parties,
power sharing so soon after assuming control would have been difficult.
Similarly, a further transitional element was that whilst the
size of the Executive is larger than the limit now imposed by
the 2000 Act, it was important to be inclusive. Each executive
portfolio covers a service grouping. These seek to encourage a
cross cutting approach which was in 1999, new to Liverpool City
Council eg Lifelong Learning, Supported Living. The standard responsibilities
of Executive Members emphasise their strategic role, their responsibility
for making cross-cutting links within and outside the council,
and for ensuring that resources are allocated appropriately and
2.2 Members appointed a new Chief Executive
in June 1999 whose brief included the need to design new officer
management arrangements, which dismantled the departmental silos
and reflected and meshed with the political management arrangements.
The senior officer structure now comprises, in addition to the
chief executive, five executive directors. Executive directors
have responsibility for a portfolio of functions and services
and their roles are, similarly, strategically focused on crosscutting.
This replaces a previous management team of 11. Decisions are
effected by Executive Member recommendations.
2.3 A Select Committee (Scrutiny Committee)
mirrors each Executive Portfolio. There are 12 Select Committees
and each has 10 members proportionally balanced, and one, Performance
Review, chaired by the Leader of the Labour Opposition. The responsibilities
of the Select Committees are broad, including policy development
and monitoring and review. There are also call-in arrangements
on executive member recommendations whereby the Select Committees
can hold the Executive to account in respect of individual decisions
prior to their formal ratification. There is also a call up to
Council provision. A small, politically balanced Ratification
Committee formally considers decisions of the Executive. It has
full delegated powers to ratify all decisions of the Executive
which have not been called in, without further reference to council.
2.4 The Council has also established Area
Committees, a Standards Committee, and has committees to undertake
regulatory and licensing functions. The Area Committees are at
the cornerstone of the governance. Liverpool, like many other
authorities, had a highly centralised decision making structure,
and indeed service provision. The major focus of Liberal Democrat
policies, sought to being effected by the administration, relates
to the widest possible delegation of decision making, to areas
and indeed neighbourhood levels Eleven Area Committees have been
established, and whilst there has been something of a slow start,
arrangements are now in place whereby these Area Committees are
earning enhanced powers as a result of more effective functioning,
and are already beginning to debate Council and other services
to help prioritise services using local knowledge of Councillors
and Advisory Committee Members, who have been appointed following
local advertisements. This de-centralisation of governance is
a critical issue in the rebuilding of the City Council. There
are currently pilot projects in respect of neighbourhoods, which
have at core the proposition that it is at neighbourhood level
that residents most wish to be involved, both to advise on the
services, and ultimately to become more involved through, for
example, the provision of social businesses. Again, there is a
long way to go in these areas, particularly as it is essential
to achieve a quality of service and appropriate in cost our mainstream
service delivery, so it is amongst the leading local authorities
before full decentralisation can be secured with confidence.
2.5 The new governance arrangements are
aligned with the spirit of the legislation, under the Local Government
Act 2000, by focusing Executive Member and Cabinet efforts at
the strategic and cost-cutting level, particularly with the intention
of moving away from an obsession with the provided dominated culture
that exists in many local authorities, to one which seeks to embrace
the tackling of the wicked issues of todaycommunity safety,
sustainability, environment and the rest through a myriad of partnerships
with private public voluntary and not for profit sectors.
3.1 A special council meeting was held on
11 January 2001 to initiate the transition. The Council agreed
to prepare and implement, in accordance with statutory requirements,
a consultation process on the three prescribed models for executive
arrangements. The intention will be to:
As fully as possible engage all members
of the community in the debate on future governance.
Provide information to every home
in the City on the alternative options.
Provide information packs on the
alternatives to stimulate debate in schools, colleges, community
groups, residents groups and other appropriate venues.
Involve members of the Council in
the information giving and consultation process.
3.2 The Council has also asked for a revisit
of the Improvement Team from the IDeA in June 2001 to specifically
review and report publicly on the changes in governance already
introduced and improvements in service delivery. Further, the
council has established a cross-party review group to consider:
The development of the Council's
current democratic process.
The performance of Area Committees
and their development.
The review of the Select Committee
4. THE ELECTED
4.1 There has been considerable debate already
about whether the governance arrangements in Liverpool should
feature an elected mayor. This was initiated by the Liverpool
Democracy Commission established independently of the City Council
in 1999 but supported by the Leader of the Council (Councillor
Mike Storey) and by the Leaders of the Labour opposition group
(Councillor Frank Prendergast, former, and current Councillor
Gideon Ben-Tovim). All these individuals submitted evidence to
4.2 In its report, the Democracy Commission
strongly advocated the mayoral model. The view of the Liberal
Democratic administration on the council is that the current arrangements
with a Leader and Cabinet are working well and are growing in
their effectiveness as members become more familiar with their
new roles and the public become more used to the arrangements.
The election of a mayor would be a distraction from the very necessary
work the council is currently under-taking to improve its performance
as a corporate organisation and of its individual functions and
services. There is also concern about funding being provided by
organisations external to the city with the object of stimulating
a referendum. The future governance of Liverpool is a matter for
local people to decide.
5. THE OPERATION
5.1 General preparation for the implementation
of the new structure included the development of role specifications
for all the future individual roles ie Leader, Executive Member,
Select Committee Member, Area Committee Member, Community Councillor.
There were also seminars and training days for all members and
briefings for officers in the Council.
5.2 The Executive Arrangements
Executive arrangements are working well at both
an individual and collective level. There are excellent working
relationships between the Executive Board (Members) and the Executive
Management team (Officers). Substantial investment has been made
to achieve this through joint development away-days and regular
strategic policy discussions. An effective local authority depends
upon the existence of a strong and effective partnership between
senior officers and leading elected members. This does not happen
by chance, it has to be worked at.
The Executive Board meets once a fortnight in
public. On the intervening weeks it meets with the Executive Management
Team to receive briefings on different aspects of policy and its
work programme. It is essential that there is an opportunity for
Executive Members collectively, to receive and discuss the implications
of officer briefings in private. The more prescriptive the arrangements
for meetings of any executive (ie not only in Liverpool) become,
the more likely this is to produce the negative effect of driving
political discussions underground, distanced from a source of
independent, professional advice.
5.3 Area Committees
There are 11 Area Committees based on ward boundaries.
These committees meet on a five weekly cycle. They are an important
symbol of the council's commitment to local decision-making. The
core role of Area Committees is to ensure the effective use of
scarce resources by encouraging local needs to be identified and
services delivered in accordance with local priorities.
The membership of the committees is comprised
of the local ward members and independent advisory representatives.
The latter are volunteers whose role is to ensure that local people
and communities have more say about local issues through the Area
Committees. The independent roles were widely advertised, job
descriptions and person specifications were prepared and applicants
were selected through an open recruitment process that involved
completion of an application form and an interview by a panel
of two councillors and an officer. Advisory members are not paid
for their time but are reimbursed expenses eg for travel to meetings.
Between May 1999 and January 2001, the total public attendance
at Area Committees has been 3,510 spread over 154 separate meetings.
The main issues considered at meetings have been environmental,
anti-social behaviour, planning and housing.
Last autumn there was an internal review of
the operation of Area Committees. This led to a number of developments
including discussion and clarification of their role through a
number of special seminars for all council members. Officer support
for the Area Committees was increased. There is a group of designated
officers to support each committee who undertake this role in
addition to their core roles. There are now also regular meetings
for the Chairs of Area Committees to develop consistency and good
practice in the way the committees operate and deal with issues.
An event was also held recently for the Independent Advisory Representatives
with the objectives of acknowledging their contribution, gathering
feedback on their experiences and clarifying any concerns they
have about their role.
5.4 Overview and Scrutiny
As in many councils that have introduced an
Executive and Scrutiny structure, the development of effective
overview and scrutiny arrangements is producing the most difficulty.
There were two main reasons for this. First, when the new structure
came into effect, it was essential that the Executive operated
effectively from the outset so that there was no hiatus in the
conduct of essential council business. Inevitably this meant the
focus of attention and support was on the Executive arrangements.
Second, the scrutiny role is significantly different from the
roles most councillors have played previously. Consequently, it
takes longer to understand the new role and how it must be performed
and also and most important, how power can be exercised indirectly
rather than directly.
In Liverpool there is, possibly, an additional
factor. The new ruling group is determined to see change. It has
set itself very bold aims that will involve the transformation
of Liverpool into a world-class city (from sea-port to e-port)
and the transformation of the council into one that is highly
performing. Given recent history and current levels of performance
the achievement of these aims will require radical and speedy
change. The operation of scrutiny can be seen by some as a means
of slowing the pace of change and holding up radical proposals
simply because the need for them is not comprehended by everyone
and the details and the implications are not fully understood.
The role of the Select Committees was identified
from the point of introducing the new arrangements in broad terms
including policy advice to the executive and the Council as well
as calling the executive to account in respect of the conduct
of current business. To enable the latter responsibilities to
be undertaken, a call-in procedure was established whereby Select
Committee members are able to hold up the ratification of decisions
pending further discussion.
The council has recently commissioned a review
of its scrutiny arrangements by an external consultant because
it is clear that the effectiveness of the Select Committees is
patchy and some members are becoming dissatisfied. The review
has been deliberately designed to give members the opportunity
to speak directly and in confidence to the consultant about their
experience. The review has concluded that there are high aspirations
for scrutiny but there is a lack of clarity about how it should
be undertaken. There has, perhaps, been too much emphasis on "calling-in"
executive decisions but this is probably because there is more
clarity about how to do this than how to perform other aspects
of scrutiny. And although a significant number of decisions have
been "called-in", in hardly any cases has this led,
after further discussion, to the decision being over-turned.
The council is now embarking on a programme
of further activities to develop the operation of scrutiny arrangements
Clarifying the aims of Select Committees
and gaining agreement to them for all council members whether
they are executive or select committee members.
Establishing a programme of further
training for Select Committee members, including special training
for the Chairs.
Introducing arrangements for regular
meetings of Chairs to co-ordinate the work of the 12 Select Committees.
Developing best practice guidance
for operating Select Committees including a protocol for hearing
evidence and asking questions.
Holding discussions between the political
parties in order to establish an environment in which party politics
are acknowledged to exist but are not allowed to interfere with
an objective approach to scrutiny, if at all possible.
Establishing appropriate officer
support for the Select Committees. This is likely to be linked
with the council's best value arrangements and a very senior officer,
reporting directly to the chief executive, will be responsible
for resourcing (by providing effective officer support) select
committee reviews and investigations.
In addition to the development of the scrutiny
function, there is also a major issue in relation to the role
of councillors outside the Executive Member Chair of Committees
responsibilities. One of the unintended consequences of the new
system in halting committees, meetings, and the rest has been
the distancing of Members at both an informal and formal level
from what was widely to be perceived as the decision making forums.
But in addition to the former role of Committees there was the
sense of inclusion in the agenda and the opportunity to form a
network between other Members of the same party, of other parties,
and perhaps equally importantly, officers thereby enabling a growing
dialogue to be sustained on issues of major constituency and ward
matters. The Chief Executive of the City Council has reflected
that his main engagement with Members now, apart from those in
Executive Member Scrutiny responsibilities, has been at the Council
meeting and during ward walkabouts. There is no longer the opportunity
to meet and just network with Councillors in the margins of Committee
meetings and the rest of the formal governance arrangements that
previously existed. This has led to the term "backbench Councillor"
becoming felt to be something of a pejorative phrase, and the
Leader of the Council, together with senior colleagues has been
very clear in re-designating colleagues with these sorts of responsibilities,
as frontbench Councillors who will be far better supported with
the development of Area Committees, One Stop Shops throughout
the City and casework by officers. This remains a huge dilemma
and particularly so given the 99 Members of the City Council and
the level and scale of their relative involvements.
5.5 The Council Meeting
The formal Council meeting on a six-weekly cycle
remains a major dilemma. One level, which is recognised particularly
by the political leaderships is that there has to be a "set
piece" event in a City like Liverpool where there is a public
debate of the big issues, and indeed the small issues of the moment
and times, when in theory anyway the press and media, the public,
and other interested groups, have the opportunity to see democracy
in action. Some changes have been made to the formal agenda of
the meeting by including a question time by Executive Members,
and there have been other developments alongside such as the introduction
of public question time outside the formal meetings of the City
Council, and indeed a growing accessibility of officers through
the question time process extending to schools, voluntary bodies,
and the rest. But the challenge of getting widespread and fully
representative involvement with the public in the Council meetings
remains a major challenge.
5.6 The Role and Development of Members
In the past, the role of Members in Liverpool
has been focused on operational issues rather than at a strategic
level. Members have sought involvement at a detailed level. The
lack of trust between members and officers is both a symptom and
a cause of this.
The new arrangements encourage all members to
step back from that level of operational detail. But this is seen
by some as a loss of power. They see all power now lying with
the Executive Members and have yet to come to terms with and fully
comprehend a role which enables them to have influence through
overview and scrutiny at a distance from the point at which decisions
are taken. This has led to disengagement by some with council
work. Whilst they remain active in their wards, their attendance
at meetings of Select Committees, Regulatory committees, training
sessions, special meetings, etc. is sometimes not reliable. A
Member Development Working Party convened to look at all aspects
of member development, is currently discussing ways to incentivise
attendance and generate positive engagement by all members in
the affairs of the council. This will include extending the programme
of training and development for members based on a training needs
analysis along with the possibility of finding ways to make some
elements of the training compulsory.
5.7 The Role and Development of Officers
The role of officers has changed at least to
the same extent as the members' roles. For those in senior positions,
they have had to come to terms with the ability of individual
members to take decisions. It is essential for officers to find
ways to provide regular, in-depth briefings and to ensure there
are regular discussions at a strategic policy level. Developing
a close but healthily independent and professional relationship
of trust between leading members and senior officers becomes even
more essential than before. The Chief Executive and the Leader
have key responsibilities in setting both the tone and style for
this and also ensuring that all executive members and all senior
managers play their part.
The change for officers in respect of the overview
and scrutiny role is only latterly beginning to be fully recognised.
It is clear that there is a need for specific officer support
for scrutiny but this is not to imply that a separate officer
structure needs to be developed. The key role is one of ensuring
that scrutiny reviews are conducted and supported by an appropriate
level of effective officer resource which is assembled at the
point at which the need for it is identified in a Select Committee's
Officers need to relate to members in a very
different way in an overview and scrutiny context. They are there
to support the members' inquiries and not to give them recommendations
about how they should think and act. Joint training, including
role-play, is being organised to help both members and officers
to understand these differences.
5.8 Adequacy of Guidance from Government
Whilst it has been valuable to have guidance
in draft, the significant changes between drafts and final guidance
have inevitably led to confusion. This says more about the lack
of thought at the outset about how all of the proposals are meant
to work in practice than the guidance itself.
In general, however, it is not possible to prescribe
the process for achieving effective governance. The outcomes can
be prescribed but the means have to be worked out locally according
to the specific situation and context.
Liverpool City Council has embraced the Modernising
Agenda because of the particular congruence of change in political
control, the widely accepted need for a step change in the quality
of service, delivery and cost reduction, and most importantly
a realisation that the governance of the City had become a very
ineffective, inefficient and non-representative vehicle of exercising
local democracy. That said there have been some major successes
in relation to the quick embrace. There is no question that the
new formal governance has enabled the newly appointment Chief
Executive and Executive Team, with a very large degree of delegation,
to quickly address major problems in service delivery. There is
no question that if the previous arrangements has sustained, in
terms of formal committees, the change agenda would have been
very much slower, and indeed not achieved the critical mass which
is now forcing the new Liverpool to emerge. So the new modernisation
arrangements have been a major vehicle in enabling change. There
have been issues in that process, some which have been rehearsed
in this evidence. But it is important to consider the wider context,
and particularly the inherently centralising tendency of government
in the United Kingdom, which appears to have at times, the overriding
objectives of centralising power and decentralising blame. Without
an accompanying devolution in power and responsibilities to local
government, alongside the new modernised arrangements, it is unlikely
that there will be the conditions within which local governance
can thrive, particularly evidenced by scale and depth of involvement
in local politics, either by the turn out in local elections or
party political involvement. Governments, central and local, do
not create a vibrate local governance, but they can create the
conditions within which vibrant local governance can be achieved.