Why Liverpool is not returning to 1980s style politics after city pulls plug on Big Society
When David Cameron decided to launch his Big Society vanguards in Liverpool in the summer many saw it as a new chapter in relations between a city and a Conservative party that have not always seen eye to eye.
Despite the fact Joe Anderson had to sit in the audience at the launch he decided to go along with it, desperate to show that a Labour council could work with a Conservative government,
In the run up to both the local and general elections last year, both the Labour party and the Conservatives were at pains to say that should both win the respective elections there would be no repeat of the 80s showdowns.
Fast forward a few months and Cllr Anderson is delivering a bloody nose to the Prime Minister by sensationally pulling out of his Big Society vanguard.
Some are privately questioning whether Cllr Anderson was right, what type of message will it send out?
Clearly Downing Street was taken aback, issuing a statement that basically said 'we are gathering our thoughts'.
Cameron knows his Big Society vanguards are achieving little.
Indeed his advisor Big Society Lord Wei has announced he will reduce the amount of days he spends each week working on the project so he can earn more money in the private sector.
His post is unpaid, and his decision is totally understandable. But it goes to show how unrealistic it is for the government to to fill the gap left by axed public sector services.
It is easy for opponents to dismiss Cllr Anderson's intervention as a retro step back to the 80s, but it is not.
Cllr Anderson's decision clearly annoyed Mr Cameron and his colleagues, immigration minister Damian Green dismissed it as a political gesture.
And there is an issue that because of where the message comes from it will be easy for the Conservatives to dismiss this as a Liverpool Labour leader reverting to type.
But this is the easy interpretation. Liverpool is not returning to 1980s style politics.
For one thing the city council will not refuse to set a legal budget like it did in the 80s. Indeed such is the level of the cuts that for the first time ALL parties on the council are working to set a joint budget.
The city is also working well with the Department for Transport to create a full turnaround facility at the Pier Head for cruise liners. At present liners can only stop off, they are not allowed to start or finish their voyages.
Cllr Anderson's letter to the PM was respectful, carefully crafted and avoided going over the top.
Sure he wanted to make a point, and was happy to take the headlines that came with it. But Cllr Anderson does not want or expect a breakdown in the relationship with government.
Cllr Anderson's main point when he pulled the plug: "The level of cuts will significantly impact on council services, including the funding of many of our voluntary and community groups. How can the city council support the Big Society and its aim to help communities do more for themselves, when we will have to cut the lifeline to hundreds of these vital and worthwhile groups?"
It is a simple and powerful point.
The government promised to "bust barriers" to the Big Society, but did not respond to all requests from the city. I've been supplied with a full list (I'll blog on that at a later point).
For the Big Society vanguards to have worked, Mr Cameron should have backed it up with a bit of cash. It cannot be done on the cheap, or in the face of huge and deep cuts.
But instead no cash was put on the table, and pleas for more help fell on deaf ears says Liverpool's council leader.
Indeed local government up and down the country has so far shown great dignity in the face of great provocation from the Department for Communities and Local Government.
As Eric Pickles has laid waste to council services, local authorities have had to put up with disingenuous lecture after lecture.
My colleague Rob Merrick made the point eloquently in his column last week:
Take the most recent - and most offensive. Last week, Liverpool City Council told 1,500 workers they will lose their jobs, just as the economy teeters on the brink of a fresh recession.
That is 1,500 lives turned upside down, a dark day for the city. Meanwhile, the axe hangs over vital services for the young, elderly and disabled, as well as over libraries and leisure centres.
Yet, it was on that very day that Mr Pickles's department chose to issue a "waste dossier", listing examples of alleged profligacy by council chiefs in Liverpool and elsewhere.
It was so feeble, it defied belief, listing tiny sums spent on bottled water (Â£15,000), leaflets (Â£20,000) and trips to China (Â£6,647) - at a time when the city must slash a terrifying Â£91m from its budget.
Read his full column HERE.
Cllr Anderson's decision to leave the Big Society vanguard was the culmination of a number of issues, mainly that you cannot turn off the tap to local councils and expect the voluntary sector to step into the breach.
And secondly when you are the government that is imposing huge cuts, do not sit on the sidelines and goad the very people that have to implement them.