Government appoints financial commissioner at Liverpool City Council as expanded takeover confirmed

A new finance commissioner has been appointed by the government to oversee the work of Liverpool City Council as an expanded takeover of the "turbulent" local authority moves forward.

Stephen Hughes has been appointed by returning Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove, to oversee the financial management of the council.

The role is entirely new, Mr Gove said, created to assist Liverpool Council.

The Levelling Up Minister also confirmed government commissioners at the Cunard Building will also be handed new powers over governance, recruitment and financial decision-making.

A team of four commissioners has been overseeing the work of key Liverpool Council departments since the damning findings of Max Caller's government inspection were revealed in the middle of 2021.

It highlighted long-standing issues within the council such as bullying, “dubious” deals and a "worrying lack of record keeping".

That commissioners team will now be beefed up in terms of personnel and powers as the department seizes more control of how Liverpool is run.

The expansion comes after a report on the progress of the council's improvement plan in the summer revealed serious shortcomings and issues remained - particularly around financial management and senior leadership.

The report was also critical of the time it was taking to drive improvements at the local authority.

That report came shortly after more chaos at the council, which saw chief executive Tony Reeves resign. Weeks earlier his deputy chief executive and finance director Mel Creighton had left the local authority.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said: “I am committed to helping Liverpool City Council come out of this intervention as a stronger organisation and that is why I am taking further steps to put the Council on a firmer footing.

“Liverpool is a city of fantastic potential and under the guidance of the new Finance Commissioner I am confident they will be able to rebuild trust with those they serve and deliver for the taxpayer.”

The department described new Finance Commissioner Mr Hughes as an "experienced finance officer" who has recently worked as a finance and management consultant and previously worked as interim chief executive at Bristol Council.

The department said the new Finance Commissioner will "use his expertise to ensure that the council sets a balanced budget and uses its money wisely."

This includes strengthening financial resilience, management and accountability across the council and "ultimately rebuilding trust between the people of Liverpool and their council and helping level up the area further."

Mr Hughes will join a team of commissioners headed up by Mike Cunningham and including Joanne Killian, Neil Gibson and Deborah McLaughlin.

As well as the expanded commissioners' intervention, a new Liverpool Strategic Futures Panel is to be created to set out a vision for the future of the city.

It was announced the panel would be lead by Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram who would be joined by former Manchester City Council chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein and ex-Leeds Council leader Judith Blake.

The department said further information on the Liverpool Strategic Futures Panel will be announced shortly.

Responding to the news, Mayor of Liverpool Joanne Anderson, said: “Stephen Hughes is an experienced local government leader. His appointment comes at a time of great challenge for us as we prepare to set out our 2023/2024 budget proposals.

His experience will be helpful at this time.

“It is worth noting that the Lead Commissioner, Mike Cunningham, has recognised that we are continuing to improve as an organisation and that there is a huge amount of work ongoing to change systems, processes and our culture.

“The additional intervention is no reflection on the hard work of teams and individuals across the organisation who are delivering improvements and making a positive difference to the lives of residents.”

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