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Mr Jenrick sends the commissioners in


By Vincent Carroll-Battaglino

Liverpool is in a mess. And I’m not on about the six losses in a row at Anfield. In the latest chapter of the current saga, the government has moved to “send in the commissioners”, and the way councillors are elected may change too.

The crisis unfolded like this…Joe Anderson, city mayor since creation of the role in 2012, was arrested in December on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation in relation to development contracts in the city. He and five others remain under investigation, though yesterday Merseyside Police withdrew an application to extend their bail. Joe Anderson is now taking legal action, claiming the arrest was unlawful.

In any case, it was quickly apparent he couldn’t remain the candidate for mayor for the election this May, so the Labour Party started the process for selection. An initial shortlist of three women councillors was ripped up in February with no reason given, and none of those three appeared on the new shortlist of two announced in early March. Naturally, all factions are pointing fingers at each other and the national party.

But an arrest of a major city mayor obviously has consequences nationally too. The government ordered a report by public finance specialist Max Caller CBE, who also headed the Northamptonshire County Council investigation in 2018, was a government commissioner in Tower Hamlets from 2014 to 2017, and led Hackney out of bankruptcy as Chief Exec from 2000-2004. Liverpool is the largest authority to “have the commissioners sent in”.

When things get like this, options range from government commissioners in charge of all day-to-day decisions, just those departments facing scrutiny, or present in an oversight role with the chief executive staying in overall charge.

Today we got a statement from Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick in response to the Caller report. Jenrick told MPs of a “deeply concerning picture of mismanagement”, of a failure of proper and due process, audit trails, and scrutiny; of failure to value land and assets accurately; of decision-making in which “the city’s best interest was not on the agenda”. And of a culture in which “the way to survive was to do things as told without question, with no reference to professional standards.”

Jenrick has gone for the mid-point option: commissioners will be empowered to control all executive functions of the regeneration and highways department, and will have to sign off on all property transactions.