Liverpool Council braced for the worst ahead of huge week

Liverpool Council has been the subject of national attention in recent months for all the wrong reasons – and that will certainly be the case again this week.

It is a huge moment for the troubled local authority – and the city – as we await to hear the findings of a government investigation into the Cunard operation and what will happen next.

And reports emerging overnight in the Daily Telegraph suggest the government could well be about to hit the nuclear button by sending in commissioners to take over the entire running of the administration.

This dramatic move has only happened three times in the past 25 years.

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Instances include Northampton in 2018, Rotherham in 2015 and Towers Hamlets in 2014 – with none of those areas on the scale of Liverpool.

So how did we get here and what happens next?

After Liverpool's Elected Mayor Joe Anderson was arrested in December – the latest in a number of arrests linked to the local authority – Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick ordered a full investigation.

Mr Anderson's arrest came around a year after Nick Kavanagh, the council's Director of Regeneration, was arrested as part of the same corruption probe.

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Neither have been charged.

Following the mayor's arrest late last year, Mr Jenrick sent respected council inspector Max Caller to Liverpool at the start of the year and asked him to look closely at the council's planning, highways, regeneration and property management functions that are a key focus of the ongoing police investigation.

The ECHO understands that Mr Caller completed his time at the council at the end of this week and has sent his initial findings to Mr Jenrick.

Mr Jenrick is expected to then make a statement to Parliament this week – most likely on Wednesday – that will spell out the findings in the report and what actions he intends to take next.

He will issue what is known as a 'minded to' letter to Liverpool Council, outlining his intentions – and the authority will have the chance to respond.

According to the report in the Telegraph, this is likely to confirm plans for government to take over the day to day running of the council.

Others have suggested he may stop short of this move, instead sending officials to support the problem departments of planning, regeneration, highways and property management.

But some form of government intervention feels inevitable.

The feeling locally is that Tony Reeves, who began his role as council chief executive in 2018, may be seen as the right person to continue turning things around at the Cunard Building – but that he could perhaps be supported by the arrival of government staff to help in the specific departments mentioned.

But Mr Jenrick may wish to make a political example of Labour-run Liverpool and order a full takeover.

One thing most agree on, however, is that Mr Caller's report will be damning in its conclusions.

The city's Liberal Democrat leader Richard Kemp said: "I am expecting this report to be damning for Liverpool Council, it will be very bad."

He added: "I will be asking some people to consider whether they should still be city councillors going forward."

Mr Reeves held a tense call with city councillors last week to explain the process over the coming days.

The ECHO understands that Mr Caller's report has looked closely at a large number of city property deals that have taken place between 2015 and the present day.

He has also looked into the culture at the council and the relationships between officers and elected members and the levels of oversight and scrutiny that exist.

Others expected measures could include new mentoring and training for councillors while the future scheduled elections could be altered.

It is understood that following Mr Jenrick's statement to the Commons this week, the full inspection report into Liverpool City Council will be published for all to see.

When approached by the Echo a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: "The Secretary of State has received the independent best value inspection team’s report. This is being considered carefully and next steps will be set out shortly.”

One other crucial matter that will be dealt with this week is the future of the council's current Director of Regeneration, Nick Kavanagh.

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Mr Kavanagh was arrested as part of Merseyside Police's Operation Aloft in 2019. He remains suspended by the council and has yet to be charged.

Over the past week, the city council's Appointments and Disciplinary Committee has met for a number of days as it discusses and deliberates over Mr Kavanagh's future employment with the local authority.

A result of that hearing is expected early this week.

It has been a turbulent few months for Liverpool Council and things are expected to reach something of a crescendo this week.