Today is one of the most important in Liverpool's modern history but many won't realise

Today marks one of the most important moments in the modern history of Liverpool yet it's likely many won't actually realise it.

Three years ago, Liverpool Council was plunged into darkness in the aftermath of the excoriating Caller Report, leading to the introduction of government appointed commissioners. The four-strong team, which would become five owing to further failures, effectively took over the running of the city.

After years of turmoil, political chaos and an arduous journey forward, today marks the end of the official intervention meaning major decision making powers are now fully back in the hands of the people you elected to serve at the Cunard Building.

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There will be no fanfare, no fireworks, but make no mistake, this is a landmark moment for the city on its journey to what leaders want to be: an exemplar council. How then, did we get here?

The commissioners were brought in from June 2021 following the damning Best Value inspection by Max Caller and the damaging report he published which shone a light on the failings within Liverpool Council. A team of four officials - led by former College of Policing chief Mike Cunningham - was put in direct control of areas such as highways, finance and regeneration.

Following a lack of progress, a fifth commissioner was appointed in November 2022, with Stephen Hughes overseeing the council’s financial performance. In December last year, the commissioners confirmed such was the improvement in the 12 months since, they were able to hand back key powers to the council, including finance, highways and transport ahead of schedule.

This was completed in March, with confirmation coming last month that the formal intervention - by which all decisions must be considered by officials before being taken - would end this weekend. A fifth report by Whitehall mandated officials did recommend however that support for the council should continue on a more informal basis.

As a result, a strategic improvement board is to be set up for a period of nine months to advise the authority. Cllr Liam Robinson, leader of Liverpool Council, said the move was a “really significant stage” for the city.

Speaking following the publication of their fifth and final report Mr Cunningham said he and his team now had “confidence the council is operating at the level that they can be.” He said: “In terms of financial planning, resilience and financial management, the council is in an unrecognisably better place than when the intervention began.

“It has strong processes in place, very good leadership and plans much more comprehensively for future challenges. This is not to say there won’t be future financial challenges at Liverpool Council, like any other local government, there is a lot in the offing but what I would say is Liverpool is better placed to deal with those than it was at the start of the intervention.”

It is expected Mr Cunningham will be appointed chair of the statutory improvement board once a consultation process by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. However this could be delayed by the forthcoming general election but there are hopes it could convene as early as the end of this month.

Mr Cunningham said the board - which is a step down from full government intervention - will oversee continued progress within the Cunard Building and report back to Whitehall accordingly and aims for Spring for Liverpool Council to be left to manage matters on its own. Commissioners had said previously their remit meant the council had to be able to stand on its own two feet for them to be satisfied the intervention could end accordingly.

Labour group leader Cllr Robinson said he wanted to go further than that. He said: “This is Liverpool and people deserve the very best and it has to be a continuous improvement approach; how do we not just be good enough as a council but ultimately aspire to be an exemplar. It’s something that unites us all at the council.

“I see the improvement board process, which we support, as an opportunity in order to keep a strong link with Whitehall and Westminster, which I think with a change of government we can turn to our advantage. All too often, we’ve been a bit too distant.

“A nine month process is certainly proportionate, it gives us the opportunity to keep the right relationship in place but doing it in a way that we make the final decisions but working in a methodical way, getting through the next budget cycle.”

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