Joe Anderson has questioned how city council chief executive Tony Reeves avoided criticism in the damning report into mismanagement at the local authority, which he has repeatedly labelled a “smear”.
Published in March, the report by Government adviser Max Caller found evidence of mismanagement and a “dysfunctional culture” within Liverpool City Council, following a probe of its property, regeneration and highways departments.
Two months later, the former mayor of Liverpool has responded to the report’s findings, labelling many of them “lies” and claiming that some of the evidence was reported to “give a false picture to suit an agenda”.
“Quality empirical evidence is always based on the truth, facts and context, not on smears, innuendo and opinion. This report is very short on both facts and the truth,” Anderson said in a 54-page rebuttal published on his personal website.
Anderson, arrested but not charged in relation to Merseyside Police’s Operation Aloft – an investigation into suspected corruption in the award of building contracts and land sales by the city council – mentions Reeves’ name 39 times in his lengthy statement, and repeatedly questions why the chief executive escaped criticism.
“The current chief executive has been at the council three years,” Anderson said. “It seems this report wants to paint a picture in which everything prior to Tony Reeves’ arrival is bad and everything following his arrival is good.”
Caller’s report states that “Liverpool City Council continues to have a significant outstanding rent debt of £7m” owed by tenants within its let estate, something of which Anderson said he had no knowledge.
“Again, Tony Reeves escapes criticism. If I had known, I would have asked to recruit more staff or bailiffs to recoup this money. It has only come to my knowledge now and if the council is to lose £7m, then someone should be held accountable.”
Caller’s report accused the city council of failing to achieve its statutory duty of obtaining ‘best value’ from various land deals, adding that it had awarded “dubious contracts” and failed to correctly value land. But Anderson claims there are several examples not mentioned in the report where land disposals benefitted the city.
He cites the former New Heyes school site, valued at £7m and sold to Redrow for £17m, which “now brings in a council tax revenue of about £1.5m a year”.
In addition, Anderson highlighted other deals he said have boosted the council’s coffers, including the sale of the former Municipal Buildings for £11m and the acquisition of the Cunard building, bought for £10.4m but now worth more than £30m, according to the former mayor.
“The report leaves out these successful best value successes,” Anderson said.
‘No right to reply’
The former mayor also said Caller had failed to contact individuals and companies mentioned in the report’s case studies, including the council’s former director of regeneration Nick Kavanagh, “even though damning conclusions have been made about them”.
“A very important opportunity to introduce context and balance in the investigation has been lost”.
He added: “[The report] suggests that Mr Caller’s investigation focused on those who would ultimately support what many will see as a pre-determined outcome.”
Caller highlighted evidence of “patchy” record-keeping with Liverpool City Council, which Anderson blames on budget cuts. “The report does not mention the severe pressure staff were under because of department cuts advised by senior officers, including the current chief executive and finance director.”
Anderson added that there are “many examples of good practice that far outweigh those mentioned by Caller in his report. Those good examples are conveniently left out.”
The omission of these examples, Anderson added, “suits the agenda to paint a picture as bleak as [Caller] has.”
Setting the investment score
Anderson was also angered by Caller’s suggestion that areas of Liverpool outside the city centre had not received ample investment.
Areas including Anfield, Speke, Norris Green and Kensington have benefitted from £2bn of investment to date, according to Anderson.
“Once again, this report gives a false picture to suit an agenda.”
Caller stated in his report that “the mayor’s…concept of social value was best achieved by employing contractors with a Liverpool postcode base” – a a claim Anderson labelled “a blatant lie”.
“The fact that over £800m has been awarded to contractors and suppliers outside of Liverpool in the last 12 months suggests quite the opposite,” Anderson’s statement said.
Whitehall commissioners are being sent in to help supervise the running of the council, following publication of Caller’s report. Reeves has labelled the report’s findings “shocking” and listed steps the council has taken to improve operations within the relevant departments and pledged to continue working to rebuild it and the city’s reputation.
It has been asked to formalise this in an ‘improvement plan’ to be submitted to the Government next week.
A spokesperson for Liverpool City Council said in a statement to Place North West today: “[The council] is fully focussed on implementing the improvement plan, which will be debated at this evening’s annual general meeting to be then submitted to the Government on Monday.
“The 18-page plan sets out the council’s responses to the recommendations made in the Caller report.”
Meanwhile, the Merseyside Police corruption probe remains ongoing.