Friday, 16 November 2007

Mathew Street Festival Coverup Revealed


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REVEALED: How Mathew Street fiasco began a year ago

Mathew Street festival

A long-awaited report into the Mathew Street fiasco today lifted the lid on what went wrong in the months leading up to the event’s shock cancellation on safety grounds just weeks before it was due to take place.

As the Daily Post revealed today, event manager Lee Forde and Culture Company operations director Chris Green are blamed.

Both would have faced disciplinary action if they had not already resigned.

But the chain of events appears to have started in February when council leader Warren Bradley and regeneration boss councillor Mike Storey took money from the festival’s budget to help pay for a son et lumiere show and enhanced 800th birthday celebrations

Opposition councillors today branded the report a “political cover-up” saying officers no longer employed by the council were being used as scapegoats.

The report says:

  • £400,000 was allocated for this year’s festival, £200,000 less than the cost of the 2006 event, after council leaders diverted funds.
  • Mr Forde blamed staffing and budget issues for not making progress with the festival plan but a definite budget was not agreed with Mr Green at an early stage.
  • Early warning signs that Mr Forde’s work was not up to scratch were not identified or acted on by Mr Green.
  • Mr Green did not act quickly enough to replace Mr Forde when he handed in his notice on June 4 even though he was due to quit the Culture Company days before the Mathew Street Festival.
  • Council chief executive Colin Hilton and Culture Company chief executive Jason Harborow were not told of the police’s concerns and the work needed to hold the event until July 11.
  • Mr Hilton says he told Cllr Bradley of police concerns before he went on holiday on July 21 although the council leader disputes this.

The report reveals it was “widely known” in November 2006 that the Pier Head - previously the main stage site - was no longer available.

But the problems with this year’s festival appear to have stemmed from an un-minuted meeting on February 21 – attended by Warren Bradley, Mike Storey, council chief executive Colin Hilton and Chris Green.

Evidence suggests “Chris Green proposed either cancelling the Mathew Street Festival altogether or holding it as a one-day event (with five stages) in order to produce some of the savings required to fund the son et lumiere and birthday celebrations”.

Mr Green’s recollection is that the suggestion was rejected by Cllr Bradley who said it “had to be held over three days”.

Cllr Bradley’s recollection is that he and Cllr Storey agreed a two-day festival could be held.

The report says: “With previous year’s costs at £600,000 Lee Forde put in a budget proposal of £600,000 for Mathew Street festival but received an initial allocation of £500,000.

“The councillors’ subsequent requirement that it was run as a two to three day event and then Cllr Storey’s insistence in March that an unfunded event be funded by savings being made from the festival and 800th birthday fireworks display budgets rather reduced the ability to deliver the festival to the scale required by councillors.”

It adds: “Cllr Storey insisted upon the funding of the son et lumiere event in the knowledge that such funding would result in a reduction of the funds available for the 800th birthday fireworks display and the Mathew Street festival.”

“Chris Green updated Cllr Bradley and Cllr Storey separately in May with a relatively detailed outline of the proposal.

“No evidence of any further communication to members of issues and concerns with the festival was found.”

But the budget changes were not properly discussed between Mr Forde and Mr Green.

The report says: “Without this revised budget Mr Forde claims that he could not proceed with planning the event by way of completion of the event document.

“Given the seniority of Lee Forde it is reasonable to expect that he would bring this issue to Chris Green as an example of one of the budget issues Chris Green had asked to be told about.

“At the same time Chris Green should have ensured that Lee Forde had clear information as to what his budget was and to what extent, if any, it could be exceeded.”

The report then alleges Mr Forde had “clear instructions” from the police and councillors by mid- April of what was expected but “failed to progress the plans”.

It says: “It is around May that one would expect the pace of the planning to increase, but instead it seems to have slowed down.

“Lee Forde used the budget issues as a reason for not progressing the plans, but he failed to communicate this to Chris Green, who could reasonably expect Lee Forde to have been finalising the plans.

“At the same time, given Cllr Bradley and Cllr Storey’s requirements, which Chris Green was fully aware of, one would expect Chris Green to be taking a more active role in planning for the event.

“He failed to do this and Lee Forde was left largely to his own devices.”

The report speaks of “early warning signs” that Mr Forde was “not fully focused and committed to delivering a successful Mathew Street festival”.

It says: “Chris Green failed to act on those signs even after Lee Forde resigned on June 4. “Chris Green took too long in starting the recruitment process for a replacement and should have been more decisive with Lee Forde immediately following his resignation.”

The report reveals that as early as May 2007 police were concerned enough to be considering commissioning an “independent inspection”.

But Chris Green suggested they did not proceed because the Culture Company “already used an independent safety adviser for Mathew Street”.

The cancellation could even have been avoided if action had been taken in early June, the report claims, and work requested by the police on June 5 had been done.

It says: “It was a month later when Chris Green started to appreciate the amount of work to be done. His failure to get a replacement event manager appointed, adequately resourced and briefed in time was a significant factor that led to the eventual cancellation.”

Lack of communication between Mr Forde and Mr Green is criticised by the report.

It says: “It was not until July 4 that Chris Green was fully aware of the significant amount of work to be done and the level of concern the other agencies, predominantly the police, had about the festival. He should have been aware of those problems far earlier and alerted Jason Harborow, but he failed to do so.”

Mr Hilton and Mr Harborow found out about police concerns on July 11 and took “appropriate action based partially on information given to them by Chris Green at the time”.

In late July, consultants Capita Symonds were commissioned to look at safety plans for the event amid police and Culture Company concerns.

They recommended delaying the event by six months, effectively forcing its cancellation.

The report says: “Allegedly, Colin Hilton alerted Cllr Bradley about the police concerns and that officers were taking action to deal with them before Cllr Bradley went on holiday on July 21.

“At this stage, Colin Hilton understood the concerns were not of a degree that could not be dealt with or that subsequently might force a cancellation. Cllr Bradley’s recollection of this differs.”

The report ends by saying Mr Green and Mr Ford would both face disciplinary investigations if they had not both resigned from the council already.

It also recommends the Culture Company’s communications process is reviewed “as a matter of urgency”.

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."