Liverpool Council is set to agree to sweeping changes that will see major changes to when elections are held and how many councillors serve the city – and will potentially hold a city-wide referendum on the future of the mayoralty next year.
The city council has formally set out its response to the damning government inspection published by Max Caller in April.
That report delivered a devastating assessment of how some council departments have been run – and resulted in government commissioners being sent in to help run those troubled areas.
Mr Caller’s report also made numerous recommendations about how the council should fundamentally change some of its political and governance structures going forward.
The council – led by new Mayor Joanne Anderson – is required to create a formal response and improvement plan that will be delivered to the government before the end of this month – which will be agreed at a full council meeting next week.
A draft response from council chief executive Tony Reeves has now been published and contains details of how the council plans to fundamentally change how it operates based on Mr Caller’s recommendations.
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If agreed it will be sent to Catherine Frances, the director general at the Department for Local Government.
One of the proposed changes is to change the council’s electoral cycle to all-out elections from 2023 onward and every fourth year after that.
Currently city councillors are elected in thirds with elections taking place in three of every four years.
Mr Caller said this means the council is too regularly in election mode – and Mr Reeves said the authority will accept the move to all out elections from 2023.
Another of Mr Caller’s recommendations is to reduce the number of councillors and to elect them on a single member per ward basis.
Currently the council has 90 elected members, with three councillors serving each ward.
While some took this direction to presume a reduction to just 30 councillors, it is understood this will not be the case.
What is expected is a reduction to between 70 and 80 councillors who will be elected in a much-changed ward map.
Mr Reeves said: “One of the proposed directions is to change the council’s electoral cycle to whole elections from 2023 and every fourth year thereafter together with a reduced number of councillors, elected on a single member per ward basis.
“The council agrees to take forward the proposed direction positively and will itself consider and consult upon a new submission to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England.
“This will be based on our agreement to moving to all out elections, a reduced number of councillors on a predominantly single member ward basis. Our agreement to do this is based on our desire to take these actions ourselves in the best interests of our communities. In pursuance of this we will undertake full and robust equality impact assessments, in accordance with our statutory duty.
He added: “We also recognise that this electoral reset provides for the time and space necessary for our improvement actions to be implemented.”
“It is important that consultation with councillors is meaningful in this process and that they have proper opportunity to input their views, experience and expertise.”
The council said it will take six weeks to develop a new proposal setting out the specific number of councillors on a predominantly single member ward basis, which will be brought forward at a special council meeting.
The letter from Mr Reeves also reveals that the council is considering a motion that would bring forward the date of a referendum on the position of the City Mayor to next year.
The ruling Labour group has already agreed to hold the city-wide vote – which would ask residents whether they want to be governed by a mayor or move to a leader and cabinet or committee system – in 2023.
Mayor Anderson campaigned to remove the position she has just won and said she would do so again.
But in his letter Mr Reeves says the date could be brought forward.
He says: “The council is considering a motion to bring forward the date of the proposed referendum on a City Mayor from 2023 to 2022 allowing the Secretary of State the time to make any necessary legislative changes to align the Mayoral and all out election cycles as a result of that referendum.
“The Secretary of State may wish to give regard to extending the current electoral term for those councillors due for re-election in 2022.”
“These changes would address the recommendations of ensuring as much stability as possible during a period of significant change and support the council’s ability to take a long term view on the improvement process.”
Concluding his letter, Mr Reeves writes: “Although this is one of the most difficult periods in the council’s recent history, it is also an opportunity to reset the council as a leading local authority.
“It provides a platform to shine a light on, and remove, practices and behaviours of both officers and members which have no place in our council.
“There is cross-party commitment to this and a genuine desire to place Liverpool at the forefront of local government practice. Our work in leading the city and its citizens through Covid-19 pandemic has been seen as exemplary and we have worked hard, with our partners, to develop a comprehensive Economic Recovery Plan and a City Plan for Liverpool that launched our shared commitment to tackling all forms of inequality.
“Both of these set out our ambitions for the city moving forward and our Improvement Plan will strengthen our ability to achieve those ambitions.”