The chief executive of Knowsley Borough Council Sheena Ramsey left her post this week with little or no fanfare.
Her departure was officially said to be driven by ‘cost cutting’ although speculation around child care services, or even a fall out between her and the council’s leadership have been rife.
Whatever the reason, the reality of financial pressures across the city regions local authorities is acute – and is set to get worse with further budget reductions on the way.
Largely behind the scenes, Liverpool councils have done deals to share back office services, and despite the many fall outs that are usually very publically aired at Combined Authority level, there has been genuine progress in administrative co-ordination and savings.
This still doesn’t get local councils anywhere near meeting the reductions that have been demanded by the austerity agenda embarked upon by the coalition government and, it has to be said, likely to be continued by whichever party wins power at the General Election next year.
Library closures, community and leisure centres disappearing and the third sector decimated, how long will it be before even the statutory provision that councils are duty bound to provide begin to be a thing of the past? Already many such services are said to be at breaking point.
The arguments about a more co-ordinated, streamlined organisational structure at city region level have been well made by Downtown and many others in recent years. The multiple layers of governance seem at best unnecessary and at worst wasteful.
But with the removal of a chief executive on the grounds of ‘cost cutting’, has the agenda and debate about simply stacking the existing deckchairs more effectively and efficiently moved on?
If Knowsley cannot afford a chief officer then how long before Sefton or even Liverpool is in the same boat? Could these three separate local authorities share a chief executive? Could they share a chief Education Officer, a head of social services? Indeed, is it time to seriously debate merging Liverpool, Knowsley and Sefton and creating a Greater Liverpool council – resulting in not only millions of pounds worth of savings, but a more coherent model of governance.
Including Wirral, St Helens and Halton in the recently established Combined Authority model is proving just as hard as all other previous ‘Merseyside’ coalitions have been. A lack of cultural consistency, genuine community connectivity and the politics of personalities have all been part of the problem in working together.
But where people in St Helens fail to fully accept that there town is a part of Liverpool, Sefton’s community fails to accept that it isn’t a part of the city. Wirral winces at the prospect of being a cog in the Liverpool wheel. Knowsley already thinks it is.
A Greater Liverpool Council? It’s worth a discussion, surely.
It’s Liverpool: the Business Conference – A Manifesto for Liverpool takes place at the Hilton Hotel, Liverpool on Wednesday 26th November. CLICK HERE for further details.