Referendum Ruse

Everybody in the Liverpool City Region understands that government funding for local authorities has been slashed to the bone. Hereabouts, some councils appear to have dealt with this situation better than others; but all have suffered, nevertheless, none more than the area’s largest authority, Liverpool. As district auditors Grant Thornton have said of Liverpool “the council will no longer have sufficient funds to deliver any discretionary services“ (my emphasis).

Up bobs Joltin’ Joe to tell us that Liverpool Council (i.e. him) is taking an “entrepreneurial approach“ to earn extra income. That is, buying properties like Cunard Building and possibly, the Liver Buildings; buying Finch Farm (and improving it) for the use of Everton F.C.; and investing in Peel-owned Liverpool Airport. Now, it can be argued that in the longer term, there may be a return on these; but the council is about public service, not speculation. The financial crunch for the city comes next year, not ten or twenty years hence.

To the general public, these priorities are bewildering.  If there is money to be had – as the Mayor constantly announces cash gains – where does it go, they ask? If money is borrowed to finance vanity projects, how does this enhance the city’s financial health? It is perfectly understandable that Joe Public is disturbed by the mixed messages on the health of public finances coming out of the council and the mayor.

Furthermore, Mayor Anderson’s cri-de-coeur is that “I can’t make this decision on my own” about further cuts. This is strange on two counts. Firstly, he is perfectly capable of making other decisions without reference to anyone else. It appears that only the tough ones are beyond him!  Secondly, he sought the mayoralty (without a referendum, remember) precisely so that he could make decisions on his own.

Thus, it seems that we are to have a referendum on whether or not he will raise council tax by 10% (but will his councillors, like the proverbial turkeys, vote for it?)This vote will be on the same day that, across the city region, we will elect a metromayor. That does no favours for the Labour candidate who could well face the wrath of voters in Liverpool incensed at the prospect of such a council tax rise. The referendum will also be after council tax notices have been printed for 2017/18.

This whole exercise may well cost Liverpool about £500,000, in order to state the blindingly obvious. Presumably, Mayor Anderson, whilst confidently seeking nomination for the post of metromayor, had thought that by now, the city’s finances would have been someone else’s problem. Unfortunately for him, the Labour parties of the city region preferred Steve Rotheram as their candidate.  Not that you would know it, given the way that Mayor Anderson, as temporary chairman of the Liverpool Combined Authority, is doing his best to box in the future metromayor.  His two latest “temporary” additions to the Combined Authority bureaucracy are costing £200,000!

It simply underlines the lack of real leadership in Liverpool and the city region, delivering something more than sideshows and student flats. Turn the “Echo” page from the mayor’s inadequate defence of his ill-considered referendum, and you have a heavily spun report on the “HS2” announcement. Despite giving Tory-boy Phillip Blond £100,000 for his “expert “ assistance on “HS2”, Joe and co. have got precisely nothing of any substance for the city region. We do not even show on the map of this ultimate vanity project (all for a time save, if connected, of 45 minutes between Liverpool and London). The line – if you rate it – will predictably, like everything else, end up in Manchester.

Perhaps, to squeeze some good from the mayor’s proposed referendum, two other questions ought to be on the paper:

  1. Now a metromayor is in place, do you want an elected city mayor?
  2. Do you want a 10% cut in the mayor’s salary and in all council allowances?

The responses to these would be interesting, to put it mildly.

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