Liverpool City Council Named As Worst In Country

LIVERPOOL was today named and shamed the worst performing council in the country. The city finished bottom of the national list.

It was one of just two authorities across the whole of England to receive a one-star “inadequate” rating.

The only other one-star council, Rutland, finished above Liverpool because its prospects for improvement were better.

Liverpool’s humiliating performance in this year’s comprehensive performance assessment (CPA) was blamed on the council’s handling of taxpayers’ money.

Last week Audit Commission inspectors said the council’s use of cash resources was the worst in the country.

That damning verdict was enough to send it crashing to the bottom of the national CPA list, even though five of its seven departments, notably education and social services, were said to be performing “well” or “strongly”.

At the end of the day, serious financial problems – such as the missing £20m to pay for Capital of Culture – were the overriding factor.

Embarrassingly for Liverpool, Sefton and St Helens councils received the top four-star mark while Wirral was given two. Knowsley is still waiting for its final rating.

The Liverpool report said: “There is a significant risk that the council will not be able to maintain an adequate level of improvement given the financial pressures it is currently facing, most notably, but not exclusively, meeting Capital of Culture funding commitments.

“The continuing weaknesses in the council’s governance arrangements are also a concern.”

Politicians today claimed the strong performance of the council’s other departments meant it did not deserve its position at the foot of the national list.

But opposition councillors voiced fears about some “tough decisions” over the next few weeks as officials try to get a grip on the town hall’s financial problems.

Last month it was revealed the council must make £60m savings in next month’s budget – including finding the £20m needed to pay for Capital of Culture.

Council leader Warren Bradley said he was “very disappointed” with the one-star score.

He said: “Capital of Culture is putting pressure on our finances. But we are determined to make this special year a success.

“I have been working with the chief executive to draw up a plan to put our finances on a firm footing while keeping the next council tax increase to a minimum.

“We have received much better scores for many services we deliver with education, social services, benefits and the environment all performing very well.

“It is disappointing that the star system’s rules, particularly around the use of resources, should effectively label Liverpool as one of the worst performers in the country when that is clearly not the case.”

But opposition leader Joe Anderson said: “This blows apart the Liberal Democrats’ claim that they took Liverpool to the top of the premier league of councils.

“The evidence is there to see – we are struggling in the relegation zone after 10 years of incompetence.

“This council could not even plan the finances for Capital of Culture despite having five years to do so.

“The city must now brace itself for more of the same.

“That is why I am glad the chief executive has heeded my calls to bring in outside bodies to help draw up a plan to take us out of this financial mess.”

The council’s action plan is aimed at improving its financial performance and possibly lifting next year’s CPA rating back up to the two stars it received last year.

Local authority bosses hope next month’s budget, due to be approved on March 5, will finally answer the Capital of Culture funding question.

Cllr Bradley and chief executive Colin Hilton will appoint a panel of independent experts, known as the Liverpool Strategic Improvement Partnership, to help them put together an improvement programme.

Despite the embarrassing one-star rating overall there were some highlights in this year’s CPA report.

The benefits department received four stars, while education, social services and environment were all given three, meaning they were performing well.

Culture, which covers libraries, parks and leisure facilities rather than the Capital of Culture programme, got a two-star, “adequate” rating.

The housing department was also handed a one-star verdict.

But Liverpool’s council homes are in line for £300m of improvements when they are handed over to a new housing association in April.

Even thought the council dropped from two stars to one the Audit Commission decided it was “improving adequately”.

The report said: “The council has continued to make improvements to many of its key services, such as education and social care, and is working well with partners on issues such as crime reduction and improving health.

“The council is beginning to address poor recycling levels and the condition of housing although this is still a major challenge for future years.

“The council is continuing to promote the economic regeneration of the city.

“Significant schemes such as transforming the docks, the arena and convention centre, the cruise liner facility, waterfront developments and retail centres are progressing well.”

Today Mr Hilton challenged the one-star rating saying Liverpool had fallen victim to tough Audit Commission criteria.

He said: “The overall one-star rating is a direct result of the council being awarded just one star for use of resources.

“Audit Commission rules state a one-star score in this category automatically leads to an overall one-star rating. This is despite the fact the council is characterised as either performing well or strongly in five out of seven categories.

“We are already taking action on a range of measures to improve our performance in the use of resources including a new system for more effective management of the council’s assets.

“The council has put in place steps to develop more robust financial planning.

“But this has not been helped by historic problems such as a lack of reserves.”