Like very many local authorities in the UK, Liverpool City Council is facing tough times as it looks to deal with a serious funding deficit.
On its website, it lays out the stark facts of the challenge: On top of the £91 million it has to save this year, an additional £50m must be found in 2012/13. While the council is dealing with the first year (it says through cutting inefficiencies, removing performance-related pay, reducing senior managers and offering voluntary redundancy to more than 900 staff), it is now turning its attention to finding that further £50 million.
Council Leader Joe Anderson said it has led Liverpool to the conclude it now needs an even greater level of transparency in how it deals with its budget – and it has taken the unprecedented step of webcasting meetings between councillors and officers, which the public would never normally have the chance of seeing.
He says: “I feel it is essential to make sure that the public have access to these meetings at this time. Given the level of cuts that have to be found as a result of the government’s allocation, the decisions that are going to be made are going to be very difficult and we need to make sure that people can see the care being taken to ensure the council arrives at reasonable decisions.
Liverpool has launched what it’s calling the ‘Your Services, Your Say’ budget consultation and has decided to screen live and in archive all the budget working groups and elected-member briefings that the council holds as part of this process. Up to 10 meetings in total will be webcast, over the next few months.
“As well as that there are the other meetings that will already be public, including question times, stakeholder events and consultation events that will be taking place as part of the formal process,” Cllr Anderson says.
So far, Liverpool has webcast two meetings – a members’ briefing and a working group. While the viewing figures are modest – more than a thousand in total – both meetings are available to watch and make particularly interesting viewing. As Cllr Anderson makes clear at the beginning of the first councillors’ briefing webcast, there is a determination to ensure the process can be viewed in full by everyone in Liverpool.
Obviously, at Public-i we think this is a courageous move – and there’s a forthright exchange of views on the implications of this from Cllr Anderson and Cllr Steve Radford, leader of the Liberal Party group on the council about the decision to do this in full public view (which is within the webcast below). But what is of greatest importance to the council is the impact this will have on public engagement in the budget process – at a very sensitive time for Liverpool – and the council is also using a ‘Your Choice’ game to help people understand the decision-making process.
Cllr Anderson says that he thinks interest from the public will grow – as the process develops over the next few months and he’s very pleased with how this initiative can help the council with its reputation and in retaining the public’s confidence in its ability to deal with a difficult times. “I think it opens up a different line of communication for us because, while we’re still holding meetings it is available to a much wider audience and we are [therefore] making ourselves very accessible.”
He also says the council is so pleased with the impact that it is already having that it has led to conversations about how webcasting might be used by the council in the future, finances permitting.
We will let you know how things go…