What Next?

Today’s news that Liverpool’s Kirkdale Ward Labour Party has been suspended is at the very least intriguing. A political war has been simmering for some time within the problematic Vauxhall part of the ward, between the controlling clique at the Eldonians, and the heartily disliked local councillor, Joe Hanson. Hanson was once a close confederate of Joe Anderson but fell out with him as he seems to do with most people. Those now in charge of the Eldonians have caused great concerns amongst local people with their activities. The victims of this bickering are residents in the area. They are already upset at the quality of their representation (remember Cllr Malcolm Kennedy, resident in Spain although still collecting council allowances?) on the one hand; and the takeover of a once proud co-operative by a clutch of people far removed from the interests of the community.

Naturally, it will take time to unravel the scheming which is bedevilling a part of the city which deserves better. One can assume that complaints have been made within the Labour Party about the conduct of the Kirkdale ward branch. Nevertheless, this suspension might be the harbinger of the changes which the Labour Party needs to make if it is to put its own house in order, as we approach the promised shake-up of local government in the city.

Incidentally, I noted the unholy mess which Warrington Council has got itself into. Apparently, the failure of its energy joint venture may cost the town around £100 million. It reminded me of the shambles which was Liverpool Foundation Homes, a brainwave of Joe Anderson. An even more telling comparison is with a situation which arose thirty years ago. At that time, the tiny Western Isles Council (that is, the Outer Hebrides!) tried to play the capitalist game, sinking its reserves into the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).

This was actually a massive scam which drew in both public and private investors – and fleeced them all. The point is surely that local authorities are generally ill-equipped to deal with the sharks of the private sector. Moreover, even if a council is not directly involved with scam artists, it is clear in so many instances that they are out of their depth in so many of their dealings with the private sector. They should surely stick to doing those things for which they were designed, like providing essential services so desperately needed by over-burdened council tax payers. Too often, council officers and councillors see themselves as business high rollers. They are not. Leave business to business.

These cases highlight a key part of the breakdown within Liverpool City Council. Sure, it is right to point out all cases of corruption at whatever level; but we should not ignore the other side of the coin – downright incompetence. Far too often, those same councillors and council officers arrogate to themselves skills and abilities which they simply do not have. This of itself is a recipe for financial disaster, regardless of any corruption. I know that there are exceptions to this, but they are very few and far between.

Mind you, I do wonder to whom one might turn for dependable, informed and objective advice in those areas where it is required in local government. Huge amounts are spent by councils on consultants, as it is in national bodies. I am mindful of one definition of consultants as ”the kind of people who borrow your watch to tell you what time it is, and then charge you for the privilege”.

In my view, the worst consultants are the major ones (about six in number) who dominate what are often referred to as “the bean counters”. They deal in billions and operate at every level in both the public and the private sectors. One of their many “earners” is to act as auditors for public bodies. Locally, the dominant outfit is Grant Thornton. As district auditors for LCC, they have now summoned up the courage post-Caller, to demand a deeper and wider analysis of the city council’s finances (at a huge extra fee, of course!). Yet seven years ago, I met with two of their senior people in their Pier Head offices, to express my concerns about how the council was being run. Needless to say, they brushed aside my concerns. Are these really the best guardians of financial probity in local government?

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