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Don't reject external help - it could be your salvation, says Richard Kemp ...
Don't reject external help - it could be your salvation, says Richard Kemp

Four years ago Liverpool City Council was in a mess. The worst services were being delivered to the poorest people in the country 25% more expensively than anywhere else.

We have not yet got to the point where all our problems are sorted out - far from it. Turning round a big operation takes time, leadership, a talented officer cadre and some help from the outside.

The external help was particularly important. We asked the Improvement & Development Agency to put us on to the first list of pilots for peer review . We were visited by Ofsted within weeks of taking control of the council. Other inspectorates and advisers followed.

What they told us did not make comfortable reading. The solutions and recommendations they came up with challenged our determination and drive. There was no quick fix.

We took what they said and implemented much of it. This was not slavish obedience to external bodies but a reasoned response based on their experience and ideas and our own political priorities and needs.

External inspection and review alone would not have enabled such extensive change to take place but, without external help, our drive, determination and enthusiasm would have been rapidly quenched.

That is why I found the article about comprehensive performance assessments by an anonymous director inward-looking, backward-thinking and generally pathetic (LGC, 12 April).

I have been involved in two IDeA peer group reviews, two corporate governance inspections and am now undertaking one of the comprehensive performance assessment pathfinders.

In all the councils I have visited there were people doing excellent jobs and people doing poor jobs. In many cases the excellent was not being talked up and the mediocre was being defended.

There is no council that cannot do better. Really good councils know that and go out to look at best practice and continually innovate and improve. Mediocre councils measure themselves against their own past and are smugly reassured. Really bad councils arrogantly claim a democratic mandate and keep their head down.

I am delighted councils are queuing up for a CPA. It means local government generally is far more outward-looking and bold than your anonymous director. Liverpool is grateful for external help. That is why we have offered an executive director and four councillors to CPA teams. We got something out and are proud to be putting something back.

Richard Kemp (Lib Dem)

Executive member for housing, neighbourhoods & community safety, Liverpool City Council

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