Commissioners will oversee parts of Liverpool City Council, the local government secretary says.
Government-appointed commissioners will oversee parts of Liverpool City Council following a critical report, the local government secretary has said.
Robert Jenrick told the House of Commons a “serious breakdown of governance” and “multiple apparent failures” meant he had to take action.
The authority has been under scrutiny since police began investigating building and development contracts.
The probe has seen five men, including then mayor Joe Anderson, arrested.
Mr Jenrick said the “Best Value inspection”, commissioned in December, had found “multiple apparent failures” and a “deeply concerning picture of mismanagement” in some functions at the Labour-run authority.
In a statement to the House of Commons, he said:
- Inspectors had found failings in planning and regeneration, including a “worrying lack of record-keeping” and documents “created retrospectively, discarded in skips or even destroyed”
- There had been a lack of scrutiny in the highways department, with dysfunctional management, “no coherent business plan” and “dubious” contract deals
- There had been issues in property management that had led to “a continued failure to correctly value land and assets”, meaning taxpayers had “frequently lost out”
- There was a “fundamental failure… to understand and appreciate the basic standards governing those in public service” and “no established way to hold those falling below those acceptable standards to account”
“Given the gravity of the inspection findings, I must consider what would happen if the council fails to deliver the necessary changes at the necessary speed,” he said.
He said he was proposing to appoint commissioners to run some aspects at the city council for a minimum of three years.
He added that it was only the fifth time a “statutory intervention” had happened, as the move was regarded as a “last resort”.
“I want to underline the report is not a verdict on all the staff working at Liverpool City Council – in fact, [it] commends the hard work and dedication of many,” Mr Jenrick said.
Shadow local government secretary Steve Reed said the Labour party accepted the report “in full” and would hold a review into “severe institutional weaknesses”.
He welcomed Mr Jenrick’s “measured and appropriate approach” to the council’s problems and said he wanted “to reassure people in Liverpool that this does not mean government ministers are coming in to run their city directly”.
“This is not, as some would put it, a Tory takeover,” he added.
In a statement, a Liverpool City Council spokesman said the authority took the report’s findings into its highways, regeneration and property management functions “extremely seriously” and was committed to addressing “all the concerns raised”.
He added that the report made it clear that since the arrival of chief executive Tony Reeves in 2018, the council had “already taken steps to address the issues”.
Mr Reeves told the BBC the public would be “rightly shocked” about the report, but that the “serious wrongdoing” had been “carried out by a small number of people”.
He said Mr Jenrick made it clear that the “vast majority” of the council’s politicians and staff were “honest hard-working, dedicated public servants”.
He added that he was “determined to make sure the council continues to run its own business,” adding: “We do not want this to define the council or the city.”
Councillor Richard Kemp, the leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition at the council, said the inspection had “exposed grotesque practices” which his party had “continually raised” over the past decade.
He said the Liberal Democrats had “continually warned” about land transactions, the “lack of proper governance and the failure of the scrutiny process” and had been “vindicated” by the report.
Councillor Tom Crone, the leader of the council’s Green Party group, said the city’s Labour leaders should “resign as one”, as there was a need to “sweep the stable clean”.
“Any administration with even an ounce of shame would resign immediately and allow the city to start afresh,” he added.
Inspectors were sent in by the local government secretary following allegations of fraud, bribery, corruption, misconduct in public office and witness intimidation at the council.
All five men who were arrested deny any wrongdoing and have not been charged with any offence.
Merseyside Police said the men were no longer on bail, but remained under investigation.
Mr Jenrick reiterated elections will go ahead in Liverpool in May.
Candidates for Liverpool mayor announced so far:
- Roger Bannister (TUSC)
- Katie Burgess (Conservative)
- Tom Crone (Green)
- Richard Kemp (Liberal Democrat)
- Steve Radford (Liberal Party)
- Stephen Yip (Independent)
The Labour party is due to announce its candidate on 29 March.
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