Saturday, 26 May 2007


Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton, Labour) | Hansard source

As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have long been a strong advocate of the city of Liverpool, and tonight will be no exception. Even though I take issue with the conduct and procedures of Liverpool city council, I wish to place on the record the fact that Liverpool as a city is making tremendous progress in its regeneration, which is due in no small measure to initiatives emanating from this House and the present Government. That is to its credit. I also give credit—[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord (Central Suffolk & North Ipswich, Deputy-Speaker) | Hansard source

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but will all hon. Members who are not taking part in the debate please leave the Chamber now, quickly and quietly? We must listen to the debate.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton, Labour) | Hansard source

I pay credit to the many local businesses and organisations that have taken advantage of the opportunities presented by Government initiatives and our status as an objective 1 area to reinvent themselves and turn the city's image and substance around over the past 20 years so that it is now a 21st-century city that, to use a cliché, is meeting all the challenges of a modern economy. The House may therefore wish to know why I have taken issue with the city council. I have many reasons for doing so, but I am particularly concerned about the way in which it conducts itself. While it is doing very good work in some areas—no one can take that away from it—it is manifestly failing the people of Liverpool in other areas. I shall give a few examples, focusing on people who most need the city council's help, including the poor, the homeless, council tenants, and voluntary sector organisations that depend on the council's assistance.

There is a litany of mismanagement so that, in local eyes, the city has changed from a city of culture—a role that Liverpool will officially play under the present Administration in 2008—into a city about which the council could not care less. That tendency is particularly marked in the areas that I have the privilege to represent. I wish to put it on the record that two of the most deprived SOAs—super output areas—in the matrix of indices of deprivation produced by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister are in my constituency. The whole constituency is in the top 1 per cent. of combined deprivation indicators, and it relies extremely heavily on council intervention and Government initiatives to ensure that the people there can share in the opportunities enjoyed by many people in Liverpool and on Merseyside as a whole.

The council continues to treat shabbily the people who most need its help. I shall give a few categories of people it ought to target, and pick out one or two recent examples to demonstrate the way in which they have been treated. This week, we learned of the classic case of Mrs. Janet Whalley, a badly disabled lady who dropped off her severely disabled son outside an after-school club—an initiative that the Government are rightly promoting. Because of a technical dispute over her blue-badge entitlement to disabled parking she was hauled before the courts. The magistrates were outraged, and threw the case out, saying that it should never have been brought. Mrs. Whalley was awarded £500 costs. That was not good enough for the council, which sacked her for gross misconduct—behaviour which no one in their right mind would attribute to a fair-minded employer.

I came across the even better example of Nicola Foster, whose case falls into the homeless category. The homeless are always under pressure, but they are under particular pressure in Liverpool because of the city's regeneration, including new build and the Pathfinder project. The city is going through a period of transition, so we need to deal sensitively with cases at the margins or at the extremes that deserve help. Nicola Foster, unbelievably in modern times, has nine children. For two and a half years, she lived in a hostel near Sefton park. The council offered to rehouse the family in a hostel in Inverness. It wanted to deport a father, a mother and nine children to Inverness, because for two and a half years it had failed miserably to fulfil its duty of care towards those children. By the way, one of the children was offered a place at a local school where my wife used to teach, St. Finbar's, but because of the domestic situation the child has not been to school for two years. We should not be surprised at the indifference of Liverpool city council towards the child's schooling.

Another area in which the council abuses the sensible procedures set up by central Government is in the statementing of children with special needs. Each Liverpool MP has a caseload that would stretch from one side of the Chamber to the other concerning people who cannot get a statement of their child's special needs. What makes the situation even more pernicious is that the council argues that there is no demand for special needs places in special schools, and closes down special schools so that it can realise the capital assets. The Government's policy has always been that children with special needs ought to be catered for in a setting appropriate to them. If inclusion is appropriate, that option should be chosen and we would not dissent from it. But if a special needs place in a special school is the appropriate setting, that is what should be offered.

Many of our children are not getting that. I am dealing with the case of the child of a drug addict brought up by the grandmother, who got him into a secondary school. Because of his special needs, the school could not handle him—not that he was a bad kid, but he was hyperactive. That kid is now in a pupil referral unit for two hours a day, so not only is he not getting help from the very people to whom he ought to look for help, but his condition is being worsened daily by their neglect.

I mentioned council tenants when I referred to Nicola Foster's case. Sometimes I despair of a city council that fails lamentably to look after its own stock and fiddles its figures by transferring the stock out and then claiming great success in upgrading the homes in its council stock. Government policies were designed to encourage more tenant involvement. No doubt the Minister would agree that we all want tenants to have—metaphorically, if not literally—a sense of ownership of the changes going on around them. We had a longstanding Liverpool Federation of Council Tenants and Residents Associations, which sent out a letter—I assume to my colleagues, as well as to me—on 17 June. The letter announces the closure of the federation and states:

"This is a serious decision taken by our tenant members and tenant management board as it considered that tenant participation is currently so gravely undervalued by our city council that it severely impacts upon the wellbeing and functioning of a vibrant, independent tenant federation."

The letter goes on to list the manifold problems that the federation has faced. It continues:

"A strong, vibrant, informed and independent tenants movement is an asset to any city"—

I say amen to that. However, the letter goes on:

"The climate in this city does not foster a spirit of empowerment but relies upon a culture of repeated rhetoric of 'intentions' without ever considering the means by which 'intentions' are merely the first step of the organic process of change".

That is eloquently put. That ought to be the case but, sadly, it is not so under Liverpool city council.

The council has done some good things and there have been some good investments. There have also been some terrible failures, from the millennium centre on Chavasse park to the King's dock project to the Fourth Grace. Everywhere that the dead hand of the Liberal Democrat city council rests itself, one can guarantee that there will be confusion leading to failure. My great fear, which is shared by people in Liverpool, including business leaders, is that that will bring about the stagnation of ongoing projects.

Indeed, only today, a newspaper headline read "Paradise 'Delayed'". It refers to the Paradise street project, which is the biggest of its kind in the country. It is a regeneration scheme into which Grosvenor—no mean operator in its own right—is putting £920 million. However, the man in charge of Grosvenor is now asking, "How can you deal with a council that repeatedly obfuscates and delays?" Those are the sentiments of a developer who has put a massive amount of money into the city.

To show how far the city has come, I say in passing that I recall the Duke of Westminster commenting that he was happy for his daughters to go on a night out in Liverpool because he felt that they were safe there. That is another nail in the coffin of the myths about Liverpool that prevailed for many years. Happily, we have disposed of them. Liverpool is a relatively safe city. It is a good city for business to invest in and it is a prosperous city, which is evolving rapidly. However, the council is acting as a brake on such progress.

That brake is felt most keenly in the areas where the good citizens of Liverpool who are least able to look after themselves could, in the past, turn to the council for succour. I wanted to be objective about the matter and I examined Liverpool city council's document "Improving performance—leading to excellence". It is subtitled "Achievements in 2004/05 against the corporate plan published in June 2004".

I do not want to say that none of the objectives was met. Many of the council's objectives—not mine or the Government's—have been achieved. However, I have been through page after page headed "Well services, safe and sustainable neighbourhoods with optimum local accountability and influence over service management". That is the interface between council services and an efficient, well run council.

The first example reads:

"We did not achieve our target."

The second example states:

"We did not achieve our target."

The third example contains a little bit of spin:

"We have shown significant improvements in delays and narrowly missed our target."

The fourth example reads:

"We did not achieve our target".

The fifth example states:

"We marginally failed our target".

The sixth example also involves spin:

"Although we have significantly improved the actual numbers of carers who received a carer's assessment . . . the improvement has not been as pronounced."

In other words, they failed. The final example reads:

"We have not increased the take-up in the short-term break schemes."

Social services had damning reports on the sort of social provision that they should make as opposed to the provision that they make.

Alone, that might simply be another record of a poor council, whose position should be resolved at the ballot box. The citizens of Liverpool will have the opportunity to turn those people out—as they undoubtedly will—for their ineptitude in many aspects of their alleged competence. However, there is another phenomenon, on which the Minister, I hope, can throw some light.

There was an extraordinary turn of events, involving the publication of a dossier, which the chief executive compiled on the manoeuvrings of the leader of the council and one of his spin doctors to force out the chief executive. It is an extraordinary document. In all my long time in politics, I have never known such an obvious conspiracy to force somebody out. The leader of the council made a de facto admission by reporting to the Standards Board. His actions were completely out of order.

In the past week, the chief executive and the leader of the council have publicly kissed and made up. However, anyone who thinks that that is more than an Elastoplast on a rupture at the top of the council is much mistaken. My concern is not about those two people falling out but about the outcomes for the people and city of Liverpool. How can the matter be resolved? How can we ensure that the city council is operating according to the rules, and according to expectations, not only of the people as citizens, but those that the Government rightly hold of a council?

I am mindful of the fact that, more than 20 years ago—I never thought I would hear myself say this—49 councillors were debarred and surcharged for the notional loss of £106,000. That became something of a cause célèbre at the time. Yet here we have a council wasting money by the bucketload on a daily basis, and whose two leading lights cannot agree on anything in the public arena. This is letting down the people of Liverpool, and I want to find out from the Minister what redress we have, through central Government, to ensure that it stops.

No comments:




Council leader Warren Bradley said that some individual councillors’ behaviour was “appalling” and not fitting of a democratic society.




Roger: This is not a good report for us is it Warren?
Fireman:Well Roger we’ve got to put it into perspective really haven’t we and remember where Liverpool was and that’s not thinking back 10 years. Liverpool has come an awful long way. The people of Liverpool were asking for lower Council Tax and the Liberal Democrats have delivered that and they also wanted better services and you look at the services that are now delivered by Liverpool City Council. If we look at the most vulnerable either elderly or the Children’s Services the social care we are now delivering at a level that Liverpool has never delivered before. We also look at the bread and butter your schools, your sports centres, your libraries, One Stop Shops in communities, our parks, we’ve got 13 green flag parks. It’s like a new home to me when you get an old dilapidated derelict building you’ve got to bring it up to a standard and I think Liverpool City Council under the Liberal Democrats have certainly done that and I am certain if we did a survey of people in the City do you want Liverpool City Council to sit on £20m worth of reserves or do you want the City Council delivering front line services that affect the most vulnerable and people’s lives in the City. I think that they would vote with their feet and say that we support the policies of Liverpool City Council. We’ve got to look at the financial regulations put in by Government and if you want my opinion about this Roger it is purely political.
Roger: Well come on, you know the Audit Commission is not a political body
Fireman: Well with respect Roger and I would beg to differ on that
Roger: Well how can it be a political, it’s an independent organisation?
Fireman: We can say everything is independent to a certain extent but you know you look at what we’ve got at the moment in Liverpool and we’re delivering top quality services.
Roger: But the problem with this is that you’ve got an overall score rating of 2 which was adequate performance into 05, overall score in 06 was 2 which is adequate performance.
This year it is down to 1 below minimum requirements inadequate performance.
Fireman: Based around financial regulations…
Roger: Yes I’m talking about the financial…..
Fireman: Laid down by government. I mean that’s what you’ve got to remember. Don’t try and muddy the waters and say oh this is about Liverpool City Council and their overall performance. It’s not. You look at the issue that we’ve done about achievements. Liverpool scoring 3-4 on achievement at the moment through the Audit Commission.
Roger: I didn’t know that.
(EDs: Pitiful, just pitiful.)
Fireman: And we do seem to always go to the negatives when we’re looking for something like this.
Roger: The District Auditor was pretty negative about you wasn’t he and…
Fireman: No, I have got to say Roger I would love to have £50m in reserves. I would also love not to have to put additions of £7m into adult social care and £2-3m into children’s social care. The facts are we have got to do that because of the pressures that are on Liverpool at the moment.
Roger: So are other Councils….
Fireman: I’m not willing as Leader of this Council to take away care to the most vulnerable to allow it to sit in reserve. I am not willing to do that and I will go to the stake on that the people of the City. Liverpool now is only one of a handful of Councils up and down the country that is providing moderate care to the most vulnerable people in the City. Now to give people an idea of what moderate care is that is home care. These people who’ve got no family to support them and require a visit in the morning or a visit in the evening to make sure they’re ok to help them to take the pills, to make sure that they’ve got the food. Most Councils up and down this country have removed that care. Liverpool City Council is still allowing our most vulnerable people our sort of care. Now is that wrong, is that wrong?
Roger: Now no one would argue that’s wrong but everyone. But many people are affected by housing. Housing is really poor isn’t it. I mean you are so poor you’ve had to hand it over to a different group to run it.
Fireman: Well with respect Roger, with respect, you’ve got to know what the Housing Corporation have done and in partnership with the Government again it’s easy to say it’s the Council, in partnership with the Government we’ve tackled head on through the Pathfinder areas of the inner core of the City some of the housing inefficiencies of the City. That hasn’t happened over the last five years that’s happened over 30 or 40 years. The problems in Norris Green in housing were prevalent 30 or 40 years ago and weren’t tackled. As an Authority we’ve challenged what wasn’t tackled and we’ve challenged it head on and I opened a couple of weeks ago with Flo Clucas and Marilyn Fielding with Cobalt Housing the first phase of Norris Green. We’ve transformed that area and its got houses for sale and social housing in Norris Green that people are seeking to live in now. We’ve got in a core Edge Hill, Kensington, Kirkdale the same issues that have been there for 30 or 40 years that we’re tackling now hand in hand with the Government. I’m not taking the credit for it and the Government isn’t. We’ve got a schools’ programme that is second to none. Liverpool’s young people are now achieving at the national average. I want it higher than national average to give new opportunity but again I’ll say I’m not going to suit accountants’ financial regulations in London and leave £millions sitting in reserve while we have still got the challenges Liverpool has got and I think people you know.
Roger: Do you think it was a mistake to keep Council Tax down or freeze it over the past few years?
Fireman: Well isn’t it ironic Roger how last week John Healey said how Liverpool is charging £101 a head...
Roger: Because its inefficiencies….
Fireman: Well we have taken £150m worth of inefficiencies out of our budget over the last 10 years. We’ve kept Council tax down which is exactly what Government policy is and is exactly what John Healey is saying. Councillor Joe Anderson is saying something completely different to the people of Liverpool that he will put taxes up to build reserves to put in reserve well again this administration this Lib Dem administration is not going to tax for the sake of taxing to leave money sitting in reserve. We will build up the reserves over a period of years and then we will be able to tackle some of the other issues that we’ve got to do. We recognise the health inequalities. To improve health inequalities we’ve got to have a real stable economy offering real opportunity and raising the aspirations in them poorer communities. You cannot do that leaving millions and millions of pounds laying in reserves and this administration will continue the robust financial management that we’ve done. We’ll carry on delivering…
Roger: If it was that robust we wouldn’t have this problem of £20m overdrawn on Capital of Culture.
Fireman: Roger, lets put things into hindsight. We are still delivering front line services. We are still…
Roger: It’s about £20m overall that we’re short this year – now that’s not robust management
Fireman: But Roger we are going through a budget setting process. Every Local Authority up and down the country is in the same process as us. I remember reading about Wirral being £50m short. Other Local Authorities. I meet the core city leaders who are £40-£50m short exactly the same as Liverpool . And let’s not forget I haven’t come on here to knock the Government I’ve come on here to say that I believe we’ve got a robust financial programme in place that is going to deal with the shortfall. We’ve delivered year on year but I’ll say again I am not going to allow millions and millions of pounds to lay in reserve. Cut front line services to the most vulnerable and then say that’s acceptable. Nor as Leader of this Council am I going to allow Council Tax to go through the roof again which will drive the inability to bring further investment into this City. While the Lib Dems have been in control we’ve brought Council Tax down, we’ve brought renewed confidence and we’ve brought real investment that will bring opportunities to the most vulnerable and I think that is the most important and I think the people of this City will stand full square with us on that. I’m proud of what we’ve delivered in this City over the last 10 years and Capital of Culture is part of that."