An official call for disciplinary action has been made against elected Liverpool councillors named today in a Liverpool ECHO investigation exposing an "unacceptable culture" around parking tickets at the local authority.
Today the ECHO has published the results of a 16-month investigation into how parking fines for elected politicians were dealt with over a period of years at Liverpool City Council. We found that between 2015 and 2020 there were 51 Penalty Charge Notices incurred by elected members that were cancelled by council officers without going through the official channels.
In its response to the ECHO's Freedom of Information investigation, the council "despite conducting extensive searches of its records, the council has not been able to locate any formal council records detailing why parking services cancelled the 51 PCNs referred to above."
The council's current chief executive said the information we have uncovered is "an example of the unacceptable culture that pervaded parts of the council in the past", while the lead government commissioner overseeing improvements at the council said the revelations "shine a light on the poor practices that have been all too common in Liverpool City Council."
All those named in our investigation today have provided full responses and explanations for why they say they had their parking tickets rescinded and we are reporting these in full here. A number said they were acting in good faith based on advice and guidance from senior officers and believe they have done nothing wrong.
Our investigation names 14 current and former elected members, ten of whom are still on the council. The city's main opposition leader has now officially called for disciplinary action to be taken against those still in office.
In a letter to city solicitor Dan Fenwick following our story today, Cllr Richard Kemp wrote: "I am sure that you are aware that the Liverpool Echo has published an article today that makes clear that 14 elected members of the Council have used a back door route to avoid paying for parking fines that they have incurred.
"I am now asking you to consider taking those members who are still on the Council and who are intending to stand again in May through the disciplinary process for Members."
Cllr Kemp said he is asking for this action on two grounds, adding: "One claim that they have made i- that it was custom and practice for councillors to be able to avoid paying parking fines if they arose in the course of their public duties - is simply untrue. As the council’s longest serving member, I would have known of such a practice. It simply existed only in the minds of some councillors. The Council makes parking provision for Councillors who are on official business, and they should always have used this.
"Two is the response by a former employee Andy Barr to the Echo investigation is that he told councillors what the proper procedure was but that they made clear what the consequences to him would be if he did not cancel the fines. This can only be described as threatening and bullying and is certainly prohibited in our officer/member relationship protocols."
Cllr Kemp has also made a formal request to the council for information as to whether the Labour Party or any Labour officials sought to block the council from responding to the ECHO's Freedom of Information response.
The details and revelations of the ECHO's investigation have been strongly criticised by those currently in charge at Liverpool City Council, which is currently under the intervention of a team of government commissioners following recent troubles.
Theresa Grant, the council's Interim Chief Executive said: “We have released historic information about parking penalty charge notices issued to elected members that were cancelled between 2015 and 2020.
“It highlights previous poor practice, relating to past processes and scrutiny of the way the council used to be run. It is, sadly, an example of the unacceptable culture that pervaded parts of the council in the past, as documented in the Best Value inspection report.
“I want to be clear that what happened historically is no reflection of the council’s current Parking Services staff nor management team. It is important to remember that much has changed at Liverpool City Council and we are now a more mature organisation, one that is open and transparent about decision-making.
“As part of transforming the council, so it is fit for purpose and well-run, we have made many changes to our culture, our management, our governance, and our systems and processes. We are determined to give our residents complete confidence that our services offer best value and operate with the highest standards of integrity, transparency and professionalism.
“The council’s Internal Audit team are carrying out an objective assessment of Parking Services’ systems – to give all of us – residents included – complete confidence in how the service is currently run.”
Mike Cunningham is the lead commissioner at the council, he and his team were installed to oversee improvements after a damning inspection in 2021.
He said: "The information released today shines a light on the poor practices that have been all too common in Liverpool City Council. However, it is information that the public have a right to know and, although it has taken too long for this information to be shared, we welcome the transparent approach the council is now taking to publishing it. It demonstrates the positive steps being taken to improve the Council’s handling of freedom of information requests.
“We will continue to work with the council to root out poor practices and build on the improvements that we now see emerging.”
In her own comments, current Mayor of Liverpool Joanne Anderson explained that she requested a review of the parking situation when concerns were raised.
She said: "In 2021, I was made aware that a number of parking tickets received by members had been cancelled from central council systems. Having been made aware of this, in August 2021 I formally wrote to the Council’s Audit team to request a review.
"I asked for information relating to all council members who had parking tickets removed and whether there had been a breach of the Member Code of Conduct
"In October 2021 I pursued this via the council complaints process and I was not satisfied with the Council’s response. I then reported this information to the Labour Party; following a Labour Party investigation I was informed that after investigation any members thought to have had tickets written off inappropriately would be sanctioned. I pursued all avenues available to me as Mayor.
"As an authority we are still very much on an improvement journey. Being a more open, transparent organisation is a key part of this, and something I will continue to work on during my tenure as Mayor."