Chief executive pledges Liverpool Council will turn fortunes around

Liverpool Council has been told it has nowhere to hide as it attempts to rectify the embedded practice that led to multiple contract failings.

Chief executive Tony Reeves told a meeting of the authority’s cabinet the only way for the authority to turn its fortunes around was to bring these things out into the open as members agreed to a costly renewal of 13 contracts that had either run out or were on the brink of expiring.

It was revealed last week that a series of agreements had been allowed to end or are perilously close to being void following a review of all the council’s procurement deals after the expensive energy contract debacle.

These included community based help for people at risk of homelessness, supporting more than 1,000 households.

Liverpool Town Hall

The failure to extend high value and high impact contracts marked a low point, according to the government commissioners appointed to oversee Liverpool Council.

Mayor Joanne Anderson called on the authority to get its house in order, saying contracts were something it needed to get a grip of.

Speaking via videolink at the meeting, Mr Reeves admitted: "This is a difficult report. Let's not that's not beat about the bush with this.

"But what we've uncovered is the extent of embedded practice in departments where we've rolled contracts forward using exemptions in the past. That isn't good practice.

"The only way we put that right is to bring these things out into the open."

The chief executive, who has faced pressure on his position for his role in the contract handling, said the council had "nowhere to hide in getting this right".

He added: "This is uncomfortable. We're surfacing issues that have been here for a very long time and embedded in the organisation."

Liverpool Council is based at the Cunard Building on the city's waterfront

New roles are being created at the council in a bid to better manage its finances and contracts, with the position of chief procurement officer being set up, earning up to £101,000 a year.

Following the resignation of Mel Creighton, former deputy chief executive and director of finance, a new role is to be created in its stead - Strategic Director of Finance and Resources - earning up to £150,000 a year.

According to reports circulated relating to the new positions, securing individuals to fill the roles will cost £27,000, through the appointment of an executive search agency support at the cost of £25,000 and an additional £2,000 to advertise the role externally.

The handling of contracts and lack of central log of agreements was a source of consternation for lead commissioner Mike Cunningham, who is said to have told a meeting of the finance and resources select committee, that further failings were “conceivable, if not likely.

Deputy Mayor Jane Corbett told the meeting “it is very difficult but it does show we’re moving forward” and added that for the council to progress, “everything needs to come out.”

She said the decision to make finance a priority across all the directorates within the Cunard Building was “something we should have done a long time ago.”

An extension of a card payment contract worth £400,000 was agreed at the start of the meeting, something

Cllr Corbett said “shouldn’t have happened like this” while it was reported on Thursday 23 June that debt collectors are to be in post for at least another two years after contracts were renewed in the nick of time.

Contracts with four enforcement agents began on 21 June 2019, for three years, with the option to extend for a further two.

That agreement was scheduled to run out on Tuesday, the same day new terms were arranged.

Cllr Harry Doyle, assistant mayor and cabinet member for culture and visitor economy, the report “isn’t a shock, we expected this” and opposition parties have tried to capitalise on it but it shows the council’s commitment to transparency and turning the ship around.

He added that the report was “a positive step forward” and a “sign of the direction we’re going in”.

There will be more to come, he said, but “the Labour Party, Mayor and cabinet are absolutely committed to making sure we get this right for the city.”

The contracts were agreed to be renewed by cabinet members by assent.