Max Caller, appointed by Government to inspect procurement practices at Liverpool City Council, is due to report his findings by 31 March.
Caller, formerly an electoral commissioner and chief executive of London boroughs Hackney and Barnet, now works as a strategic adviser, and has previously been tasked by Government with local authority inspections in Tower Hamlets and Northampton.
Catherine Frances, director general of local government, strategy and analysis at the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, contacted Liverpool City Council chief executive Tony Reeves on 8 December setting out concerns over council activities.
The Government’s actions followed high profile arrests, including that of city mayor Joe Anderson, made the previous week, relating to thel ong-running Operation Aloft corruption probe.
Reeves was asked to provide full information on any proposals or plans the council has in relation to land disposals; along with information on what stpes have been traken and are proposed to secure effective governance around property, highways and regeneration, adding a request that MHCLG be regularly updated on the council’s efforts.
Although Frances said following Reevers’ response that Secretary of State Robert Jenrick “recognises the steps the council has taken to improve governance and assurance processes” the seriousness of the police investigations meant that Caller would be appointed to carry out a full inspection, to offer Jenrick “direct, independent assurance that the council is complying with its Best Value Duty”.
Frances’ letter said that Caller “is directed to consider whether the authority has effective arrangements in place for securing best value in its planning, highways, regeneration and property management functions and the strength of associated audit and governance arrangements”.
In a joint statement, Reeves and acting mayor Wendy Simon said they welcomed the opportunity to work closely with Government in a “spirit of openness and collaboration,” adding:
“We are immensely proud of our staff and our work on growing the city’s economy and improving the life of all our residents. For the last 18 months, we have worked hard to strengthen our governance.”
The full timeline of Operation Aloft goes back to arrests made in December 2019.