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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Liam Thorp

7 things we learnt as Liverpool Councillors clash on fiery night at town hall

Liverpool Town Hall has had its fair share of tempestuous nights in recent years - and tonight was no different.

The full Liverpool City Council met against a backdrop of crippling budget pressures, government intervention and a major row that has played out for years. That last issue formed the basis of an extraordinary hour-long debate that preceded the main meeting and saw tempers flare and accusations fly.

Here we take a look at ? things we learnt at the town hall tonight.

1. Beautiful Ideas saga blows up

As mentioned, ahead of tonight's main council meeting, a special debate was held over the long-running saga of the Beautiful Ideas Company (BICO) and its activities over the years. For the uninitiated, BICO was a Community Interest Company that ran car parks for Liverpool and Everton fans with the aim of raising funds for the local community. It has been the subject of a number of complaints and subsequent council audit investigations. Tonight's meetings saw allegations, arguments and fierce debate over the BICO affair.

READ MORE: Speaker Lindsay Hoyle steps in to rebuke Rishi Sunak during tense Prime Minister's Questions

2. Councillors cleared

It was confirmed at the council, as reported earlier today by the ECHO, that three councillors who were involved with BICO - Cllr Nick Small, Ann O'Byrne and Steve Munby had seen complaints against them dismissed by the council's solicitor on the basis that there was insufficient evidence of wrongdoing.; At tonight's meeting, Mayor Joanne Anderson confirmed a fourth councillor had also been cleared while an investigation into a fifth councillor was ongoing.

3. Opposition anger

As expected, the decision of the city solicitor was not welcomed by the council's opposition groups, who continue to call for a wider, independent investigation into BICO. The Liverpool Independents Group, who led the calls for an investigation were especially outspoken in their anger.

Cllr Alfie Hincks said: "The Beautiful Ideas Company (BICO) scandal paints a picture of mismanagement, misuse of public funds and sleaze. We must not have a whitewash," while fellow group member Cllr Anna Rothery added: "Every penny lost to corruption or mismanagement is a penny that should be spent on public services. If you have nothing to hide then prove it."

As pointed out by Green leader Tom Crone, all opposition groups - including the Liberals, The Lib Dems, the Greens and the Independents group were fairly united on the matter. He said there remains a clear public interest in getting to the bottom of the matter.

4. Labour hit back

There has been a lot of noise around the BICO affair and for their part, the Labour benches sought to tackle some of this. Mayor Anderson pointed out that a third party report into the company, sometimes cited as a Labour report, was in no way an official report by either the city council or the Labour Party.

Cllr Paul Brant said that three separate audit reports carried out by the council did not show any criminality or rule breaking. He added: "There have been five independent investigations and none have revealed any law breaches", adding: "The audit reports "did not bear out the allegations that were being made on social media."

Mayor Anderson added that she had “exhausted all the avenues available to her” and called on anyone with evidence of wrongdoing to report it to the authority, or in the case of criminality to the police.

5. Compromise motion

After a dramatic debate, there was some confusion about what the council actually voted for. In the end it transpired that the council voted for a compromise motion that will see a report created into the actions of the council and how it better handles information in the future.

6. Budget crisis

Following the heated BICO debate, the council moved onto the subject of its deepening budget crisis. Last week it was confirmed that a number of jobs and services could be at risk as the local authority faces further cuts of £73m next year.

Outlining the perilous position, Mayor Anderson pointed out that the latest cuts will take the amount taken from the council by government since 2010 to half a billion pounds. She said: "This is a government without a moral compass. This situation is now untenable and cannot go on, the people of Liverpool deserve more."

7. Council failures

However, the opposition benches were keen to point out the role the ruling Labour group has played in that budget position in recent years. An animated Lib Dem leader Richard Kemp said: "You have all done what you can to try and confuse the people of Liverpool that you have done nothing to add to this appalling financial situation in the city."

He pointed to the damning revelations of the Caller Report into how the council was run and the costly arrival of Whitehall commissioners that followed, he also made reference to a £16m energy bill fiasco earlier this year. Cllr Kemp added: "Yes we have had bad times from government but so has every other major urban council - which council is the only one with five government commissioners? It's Liverpool."

Liberal leader Steve Radford said he found it hard to reconcile statements from the Mayor that said the council was making progress in its improvement journey while also announcing the arrival of a fifth government commissioner to look after its finances.


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