Liverpool Council chief admits commissioners were ‘necessary step’

Commissioner oversight of Liverpool Council was a “necessary step” to allow the city to turn its fortunes around, the authority’s chief executive has said.

In a rare interview, Andrew Lewis said government-appointed officials ending their formal intervention into the city council on time next month was “an important step”.

Mr Lewis, who has been in post for 12 months, said he was optimistic about Liverpool’s future but acknowledged work lay ahead.

It was confirmed earlier today that after three years, the Whitehall officers installed at the Cunard Building to oversee improvement would end their work on time in June, transitioning to an advisory position for nine months.

Speaking following the publication of the fifth and final report by the five-strong team, Mr Lewis said it was clear Liverpool needed “firm leadership” at the start of the intervention three summers ago. He said: “What we experienced back in 2020/21 was a pretty catastrophic failure of governance by the council and that’s well documented.

“Coming in a year ago, I could see there was progress being made and there was optimism about the future that we could build on but there was still a huge amount of work to do. There still is and nobody can ever be satisfied with the progress we’ve made even though today is an important step with the commissioners standing down.

“We’re looking to the long term and this was never just about resolving the immediate governance issues, this is about building better public services for the people of Liverpool.”

With formal intervention coming to an end, a strategic improvement board is to be set up for a period of nine months to advise the authority but will not have any hand in formal decision making any longer. It is expected lead commissioner Mike Cunningham will be appointed chair of the statutory improvement board once a consultation process by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Mr Cunningham said the board – which is a step down from full government intervention – will oversee continued progress within the Cunard Building and report back to Whitehall accordingly. Council chief Mr Lewis said Liverpool taking back control of its own destiny was vital in terms of delivering improved services for the city.

He said, “Nobody can ever be satisfied with the progress we’ve made even though today is an important step with the commissioners standing down. We’re looking to the long term and this was never just about resolving the immediate governance issues, this is about building better public services for the people of Liverpool.

“Nobody wants their council to be under government intervention, it’s a terrible place for any council to be. We vote for our councillors because we want them to take decisions on our behalf and to have unelected commissioners be appointed by the government is absolutely not where anyone would want to be.

“It is now recognised it was a necessary step to take, what it’s enabled us to do has given us the space to make the improvements we needed to make within the council.”

Reflecting on his first 12 months in post, Mr Lewis paid tribute to the changed political leadership at the top of the organisation but said there was “still a long way to go to become the outstanding council people demand”.

He said, “I think it’s been an incredibly busy period and it started last May with the local elections, which changed the leadership of the council, but more particularly was the end of the Mayoral model, the creation of the cabinet and leader system following on from a period when Joanne Anderson and my predecessor, Theresa Grant, made really important progress.

“We had a really difficult budget round, we needed to save a substantial amount of resources but we’ve done it by creating the most substantial transformation programme in local government at the moment. A lot of that is about improving services, not about cuts to services that will affect residents, it’s actually about finding more resources, being more efficient and changing the way which we deliver services.

“That’s not something that’s done overnight but I think we’re beginning to see the fruits of that, not least in the decision that’s been made today.”

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