Liverpool Aerial
Property and highways have been in focus for Liverpool's commissioners

‘Commercial awareness’ needed as Liverpool inspectors report

Neil Tague

The commissioners appointed to the city council following March’s Best Value Inspection have published their first report on the leadership team and its work.

Led by Mike Cunningham, supported by Joanna Killian, Neil Gibson and Deborah McLaughlin, the commissioners concluded that the council is “at the beginning of a long improvement journey and has a great deal to do in the next three years”.

Lead inspector Cunningham said: “The entire organisation needs to focus on getting its core work right and build from there.

“In particular, we have identified that best value has not been achieved in a number of existing property transactions, and the regeneration and property management teams need to develop commercial awareness.”

Cunningham continued: “In Highways, it will take at least another 12-18 months to put improvements in place, and five years to become a top performer.

“The council needs to invest in additional capacity and capability and become a learning organisation that embraces support, development and challenge.

“A great deal of work is under way, and improvements are already being made, but there is no doubt that this is going to be a long road.”

The inspectors, who were appointed in June, noted a clear desire to see “change at pace,” although this has as times contributed to a “somewhat frenetic rather than purposeful and targeted approach demonstrated in a lack of prioritisation and planning”.

This first report has been published after being submitted to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities and covers the first three months of the inspection.

A special effort has been made to build relationships with officers working in property & regeneration, the report said, with the inspectors being “cognisant of the unprofessional and bullying culture in which many officers had been forced to operate previously”.

Efforts will be made in those areas that will improve the council’s finances, such as consolidating the operational estate, strengthening repairs programmes to cut the level of reactive work, and adding resource to tackle a backlog of rent and lease renewals.

The regeneration team is described in the report as “needing a complete rebuild,” something understood by the interim director of regeneration & economy.

Council-wide, although much of the leadership lack experience, this is itself an opportunity, said the report: “The fresh eyes and renewed energy of this new Cabinet presents an opportunity for the Council and the City.

“To take full advantage of this opportunity, the Cabinet must use the next six months to focus on agreed critical priorities: making tough decisions, especially on budget and service delivery matters, and, above all, owning the intervention.”

Priorities set out for LCC over the next six months include:

  • Developing a Strategic Improvement Plan
  • Addressing capacity and capability gaps in corporate functions
  • Developing a finance improvement plan and interim medium term financial strategy
  • Producing and reforming the constitution, including scrutiny
  • Strengthening leadership capacity

The next report will be issued in six months and will provide findings about wider council services.

In response, mayor Joanne Anderson and chief executive Tony Reeves issued a joint statement:

“A huge amount of work is underway to develop the Council Plan and the Strategic Improvement Plan which will go a long way to addressing many of the concerns raised both within the ‘Best Value’ report and this first report from the Commissioners.

“Many changes have taken place at the council since the ‘Best Value’ report and we acknowledge that there is still a lot do. This is a complex journey and the council needs to find the right balance between implementing improvements and building capacity, whilst managing a very difficult budget.

“The well-publicised issues within the Highways and Regeneration teams are being tackled head on.”

Of the workplace culture issue, the pair said: “Where the council has failed in the past to address a culture of bullying and intimidation, that is now being tackled through an intensive programme to make the workplace more inclusive and caring.

“We have clear processes for staff to raise concerns and these are acted on and dealt with in a consistent way. These behaviours have no place in our organisation.”

Key posts now filled include monitoring officer and chief operating officer, while the scrutiny process has been strengthened with independent professionals being appointed to both audit and standards & ethics committees.

March’s Best Value Inspection was led by government appointee Max Caller, in response to the issues uncovered at the council by Operation Aloft.

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In terms of regeneration there needs to be better, larger scale planning and higher standards of design, especially in housing , where too many characterless , rabbit hutch type semis are being built instead of quality,good looking properties fit for a major city.
However the problems aren`t all caused by the council officers eg a currently planned ,large scale scheme in the inner city, called Grovelands, is being altered because locals and their councillors object to building heights, even though it is not high-rise, and is high quality design and materials.
This a big factor as to why the city is being held back ie due to residents with little vision or awarerness, and councillors only too happy to dismiss good schemes in order not to upset the local nimbys.

By Anonymous