Liverpool City Council: Commissioner vows to 'root out bullying'

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Liverpool City Council was criticised for its failures in a report earlier this year

There are "still elements of bullying and intimidation" at Liverpool City Council, a government-appointed commissioner has said.

Mike Cunningham said improvements had been made but there were "remnants of the old culture" of bullying.

Commissioners have published their first report into the council's progress since being brought in to oversee departments.

Mr Cunningham vowed to "root out bullying".

Housing Secretary Michael Gove said the council faced a "significant challenge ahead" to provide the services that residents in the city deserve.

He said there was a backlog of planning applications which was constraining development in Liverpool.

The local authority has been under scrutiny since the arrest of 11 men - including the former Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson - and one woman.

It follows an investigation by Merseyside Police into allegations of fraud, bribery, corruption and misconduct in public office linked to building and development contracts in the city.

Mr Anderson, who denies any wrongdoing and has not been charged, subsequently stepped down from his role as the city's mayor.

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Following the allegations, the government announced an investigation into the council's planning, highways, regeneration and property management departments.

Inspectors found "multiple apparent failures" within the council which led to the government appointing four commissioners to oversee a three-year improvement plan.

In their first report, the commissioners highlighted how the council had a "great deal to do in the next three years".

Recent whistle-blowing in the highways department suggested that "pockets of inappropriate behaviours" still existed, it said.

'Toxic times'

Mr Cunningham said: "We can put new processes and structures in place but the thing that is most challenging is culture.

"There are remnants of the old culture still in parts of the council," he said.

"There are still elements of bullying."

He encouraged people to report these behaviours which, he said, were "not acceptable" and vowed to root it out.

"It is the sign of a healthy organisation when they have the confidence to report what they see as misconduct or bullying... and confidence something will be done about it," he said.

Mr Cunningham praised the "thousands of diligent, honest and dedicated" staff who have had to work under "very trying and toxic" times and were now working hard to make the necessary improvements.

Mr Gove says his department is ready to support commissioners to secure the "transformation" of the council

Mr Gove, the Secretary for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, said he was pleased to "hear about the steps the council have taken to expose and stop wrong-doing".

"It is vital for Liverpool's transformation that a clear line is drawn between the council of the past and the council of the future," he added.

He added commissioners had shared their concerns about the "council's financial resilience" and welcomed a review by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, which was expected to be completed before Christmas.

Mr Cunningham said the backlog of 300 planning applications was down to both "capacity and capability issues" in the department.

He said "basics" must "be put right" such as report writing and decision-making, before "big improvements" could be made.

In a joint statement, the city's mayor Joanne Anderson, who is no relation to Mr Anderson, and chief executive Tony Reeves said an "immense amount of work" was under way to bring in changes.

They added that "the culture of bullying and intimidation" that had existed in parts of the organisation was also being tackled.

"We care immensely for our city and its people and we are determined to provide the best opportunities for all," they added.

Ms Anderson also told BBC Radio Merseyside it had been a "learning curve for everyone and it wasn't going to be fixed overnight but [there] certainly has been progress".

She also acknowledged customer feedback and service was another area "we need to fix".

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