Is it fair to name and shame councillors over council tax debts?
Plus: an update in the Showcase Cinema shooting and a social services shake-up
Dear readers — welcome to your first Monday briefing of 2024, in which we dig into revelations that two councillors were summonsed to court after failing to pay their council tax. Elsewhere, we’ve got trouble at Pontins and a gorgeous 1930s house in Huyton.
In case you missed it, over the weekend Jack published a fantastic piece about what comes next for Liverpool now that HS2 has been thrown on the scrap heap. Here’s a little taster:
Whether or not HS2 benefitted or didn’t benefit Liverpool — respective to whoever else — is mostly irrelevant now anyway. What isn’t irrelevant is what comes next. “There was a plan, we could have leveraged some of that money,” Morris says. “We could have said we have spade-ready plans to solve regional and national connectivity issues.” There’s that word once again — ‘could’.
“A must read for everyone interested in transport infrastructure,” one of you wrote on X. We got some lovely comments on the article too: “This article alone's worth the cost of the Post subscription. Great job.”
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This week’s weather
Tuesday ☀️ Sunny intervals and a moderate breeze with highs of 4°C
Wednesday ☀️ Sunny with a gentle breeze with highs of 6°C
Thursday ☁️ Light cloud and a gentle breeze with highs of 7°C
Friday ☁️ Light cloud and light winds with highs of 6°C
Weekend 🌧️ Drizzle and a moderate breeze with highs of 7°C
This week’s weather forecast is sourced from BBC Weather and it’s for Liverpool.
The big story: Should we be naming and shaming councillors over their council tax debts?
Top Line: A row has erupted over Liverpool City Council’s refusal to name two councillors who owed council tax in the last five years. This follows a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Echo, which revealed there were two sitting councillors who received court summons for non-payment during the period. The council refuses to name the individuals, citing data protection regulations.
Context: It’s not the first time councillors have been in arrears with their council tax. A similar FOI request in 2017 led to eight councillors who had received court summons for non-payment being named by the council.
While there are no rules against councillors having arrears, those who owe more than two months are not allowed to vote on issues such as council tax rises. If they do, they could face prosecution.
It is not clear whether either of the two councillors summonsed to court in the last five years voted on council tax or budget issues while they owed money.
The reaction: Several local politicians have said the councillors should be named in the interests of transparency, regardless of whether any rules have been broken. Liberal Democrat leader Carl Cashman went a step further, claiming those who owe money should “pack up and resign.”
Zoom in: In a 2016 tribunal case involving the Bolton Times and the ICO, the data regulator, the court ruled that names should be disclosed when FOI requests are submitted about councillors who owe council tax, stating that the public interest outweighs the need to protect personal data. Councillors are not like ordinary citizens because they have special responsibilities for spending public money and administering council tax. By releasing their names, the public can scrutinise whether they’re following the rules.
Zoom out: There are exceptional circumstances according to the ICO when it might not be appropriate to release councillors names — although in an ICO appeal ruling in March, these were not clarified and it’s not known if such exceptions could apply to the two councillors.
In mitigation: Some argue that naming them would be unfair because councils don’t always bill council tax correctly.
Back in 2017, one of the councillors at the centre of that council tax furore did not receive a court judgement against her although she had been summonsed. Sharon Ross said this was because she was in dispute with the council over the debt.
One former council candidate who stood locally in recent years and asked not to be named told The Post they were in arrears while campaigning for a seat, claiming this was due to a benefit processing error by the council which had left them in severe hardship for a period of time.
Rising bills: Council tax levels have been increasing fast in recent years as local authorities try to offset enormous cuts in their funding from central government. Liverpool has higher rates of arrears compared with elsewhere in the UK with around just 86% of council tax collected compared with 96% nationally.
In that context, is insisting on naming councillors struggling with debts effectively a form of “poverty shaming”? Could this put people off from participating in local politics or is it justified in the name of transparency and accountability?
Your Post briefing
The Tory candidate for Wirral West has defended sharing conspiracy theory social media posts after facing backlash online. Jennifer Johnson — who is currently a councillor for West Kirby and works at the University of Liverpool’s Management School — retweeted claims to reveal the “truth about 15-minute cities slavery” in reference to the 15-minute city neighbourhood planning concept. Johnson has since defended the posts, stating that as an academic she is “trained to consider that counter narrative”. There have been numerous protests over 15-minute cities across the UK, including one in Liverpool that we attended last year. Read our piece on that here.
The man allegedly responsible for last week’s Showcase Cinema shooting appeared at Liverpool Magistrates Court over the weekend. The shooting — which saw shots fired outside the cinema, in a newsagents and in a house nearby — led to the arrest of 49-year-old Leslie Garrett in the early hours of Thursday morning. He has since been charged with two counts of possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, as well as one count of attempted robbery and possession of ammunition without a certificate. He is expected to appear at Liverpool Crown Court next month.
Liverpool City Council has moved forward with a huge shake-up of its social services department following “the most challenging time in living memory”, putting staff at risk of redundancy and forcing colleagues to interview against each other for limited positions. The council has started what will eventually be a three-year major reconstruction of the adult social care and health department, which will move away from Careline: the council’s front-door service for information and support. Almost 60 full time roles will be impacted by the changes, with 27 of those deleted vacancies. Know more about this story? Email email@example.com.
The owner of Pontins in Southport has refused to apologise to staff who claim they were “laid off without notice” from the resort. Pontins has been a part of Southport’s offering for more than 50 years; its sudden closure earlier last week was made by the owner, Britannia Hotels, after “assessing the future viability” of the park. Staff at the resort claimed they were “sacked over text” by bosses. Alex Langsam, Britannia’s CEO, was confronted last week at his 10-bedroom mansion in Cheshire. But when asked if he had anything to say to the workers who left in tears this week, he said: “It’s nothing to do with me, I am nothing to do with Pontins.” Back in 2022, Jack paid Pontins a visit after it was dubbed one of the worst holiday parks in the UK online. Read that fantastic piece here.
🍷 Take an evening lesson in wine tasting this Friday with the Liverpool School of Wine. Tickets are available for £35 per person here.
🧘 Leaf Yoga by Denise is offering a rejuvenating experience at Rise Fitness Studios in Liverpool. The course runs every Sunday evening from 14th January until 18th February 5.30-7pm with tickets available here
🎨 On Saturday head over to Zap Graffiti Arts on Kings Dock Street, Liverpool’s unique graffiti arts-focused venue. Work as a team to learn the skills and techniques of a professional graffiti artist, design your own work and then get busy designing your own poster to take away. Classes are £20 per person with tickets available here
🎸 Go and see The Vaccines Saturday at CONTENT Liverpool on Stanhope Street. The band is in town celebrating the release of their new album, Pick-Up Full Of Pink Carnations. Tickets are available here from £16.50.
Home of the week
This traditional 1930s semi-detached house is on the market for £380,000. With quirky interiors and a good sized garden, the property is located in the heart of Huyton with great transport links to the city centre. Find out more here.
Our favourite reads
A fascinating story in the New York Times about how a 1980s Italo disco hit was adopted to become an anthem of Anfield Road. “It is a story about the power of YouTube, about the internationalisation of the fan experience and about how a melancholy song about the pain of growing up has, three decades on, been given a new life by soccer’s digital culture,” writer Rory Smith says of L’Estate Sta Finendo by Italian disco duo Righeira — perhaps better known to Liverpool FC fans as the ever-famous Allez, Allez, Allez.
A lovely read from the BBC over the weekend chronicling the success of Luke Littler, the 16-year-old darts prodigy. "By the time he was 12, he was hitting 180s, nine-darters, and averaging 90," says Karl, one of the coaches at St Helens Darts Shop who taught Littler. “That's when I realised he was too good.” Littler has had blanket media coverage this month after falling just one win short of becoming the youngest world champion in his match against 28-year-old Luke Humphries at the PDC World Championships.
Letters from readers
Excellent article and summary. So many feasible opportunities for Liverpool to improve the railway network if the people in charge have the vision,passion and determination to make them happen. ‘Train in vain: what does a future without HS2 look like?’, Kop
I have long felt that the cancellation of HS2 was beneficial to Liverpool, not because of any small-minded hostility to Manchester (I agree that our interests often coincide) but because it would clearly put us at a disadvantage in securing investments etc. I think the analysis of our existing rail system and ways it could be improved was excellent. ‘Train in vain: what does a future without HS2 look like?’, Terry Phillips
Correction: An earlier version of this briefing made an error in how it described the man charged with a shooting at the Showcase. We have corrected the mistake and apologise for the error.