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The mystery of Liverpool Direct

Thousands of computers need replacing, and millions of pounds have been spent on consultants

Published on November 26th 2009.

The mystery of Liverpool Direct

THE arrival of Liverpool Direct, in 2001, was intended to usher in a new era of communication between the city council and its citizens.

The council’s battle cry over the years is that it pays the best salaries to attract the best people. Some may therefore wonder why those highly paid public servants, the best money can buy, aren't doing the work instead of consultants

It was, at least on paper, a trailblazer, offering contact to the council 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The icing on the cake for council taxpayers was that the joint venture, established with BT, would enrich the City Treasury coffers with loads of much needed dosh.

Like many people, I have had cause to contact LDL over the years, to pay the occasional parking ticket (sometimes issued for parking on privately owned land, but that’s another story), to report broken street lights or potholes in the road.

It seems to me that the usually polite LDL call-centre staff work from a pre-prepared repertoire of responses. They won’t put you through to “real” people who can actually respond to queries or complaints.

Eight years on, the multi-award winning LDL has not delivered a penny of the promised profits to the council and now a damning report says thousands of computers need to be replaced.

Rrough maths tells me replacing up to 4,000 PCs and laptops would cost around £2m, assuming they popped into PC World, or even Tesco's, where they could earn a load of Clubcard points.

Computers do not have a long lifespan and it came as a surprise there was no apparent clause in the LDL contract to have a continuous programme of upgrading.

To add to the woes of the city council comes the revelation the council has spent millions of pounds on hiring consultants.

There’s nothing wrong with using consultants if nobody in-house is equipped to do the job.

But the council’s battle cry over the years is that it pays the best salaries to attract the best people. Some may therefore wonder why those highly paid public servants, the best money can buy, aren't doing the work instead.

Indeed, the cost of consultants to carefully examine the LDL contract currently exceeds £200,000. So here we have a company, jointly owned by the council and BT, and taxpayers have to foot the bill to bring in outsiders to put the situation under the microscope.

All of this is rich ammunition for the opposition parties on the scent of victory in next year’s local elections.

There’s an analogy with the expenses scandal at Westminster. The vast majority of Labour MPs have not misused or squandered taxpayers money, but it seems Gordon Brown and Labour will be blamed by an angry electorate.

Similarly in Liverpool the more the political leadership attempts to explain itself for issues surrounding LDL the worse it sounds.

Until the 1970s, local government was steeped in secrecy and, in 1974, the doors were thrown wide open and a new era of openness was ushered in.

With the 21st century system of democracy, elite cabinets running things and super-powers of decision making handed to council executives, those doors are gradually closing. And politicians of all parties wonder why the citizens are revolting.

Larry Neild

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16 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

ObserverNovember 23rd 2009.

It sounds to me like LDL is running so many services that this could be the first case of a municipal authority being run privately and for profit. No wonder the city council has no money and yet LDL is minted.

AnonymousNovember 23rd 2009.

Can anyone tell me if it's true that a high profile Executive member was given an internal report showing at the time how the business case for transferring certain services to LDL was phoney, quoting non existant telephone numbers and fake figures to justify enquiries going to careline and the LDL call centre? Is it true they sat on this and steered though the transfer of services knowing the business case was made-up? is it true that anyone who challenged the phoney business case was met with threats or intimidation ? Is it true that LDL then banned direct internal calls between officers across the council so they could add a call handling charge, and to make sure deleted all direct numbers ? Is it true that managers later secretly advised staff to use their mobiles to save money on the rip-off call handling costs of LDL? Is it true that, without warning, to grab the call handling profit from services,in one example, LDL cut all phone lines to Sheltered accomodation blocks housing vulnerable elderly people and it was hushed up that in doing so they left them without the emergency/panic line service line from a thursday night until monday the following week, and that the managers of the service knew nothing about it until the following week, when for all they knew, the houses could have been full of corpses? And this is also only scratching the surface.

Inspector Fester BestertesterNovember 23rd 2009.

The problem is that the councillors are in this up to their necks, and if they really try and deal with it there are only two possible outcomes. Either exposing their own gross incompetence or Inspector Knacker being called in. Then again, there could be a case for both outcomes, who knows?

Nik16November 23rd 2009.

U r never able to walk thru the back enrty with the alliegates all over streets in Liverpool like a rash an u ring up the Liverpool direct and tell them an they are not interested. I apply for some job there an I never get NO LETTER back so u r no gud Liverpool Direct an letting people like Baby P get away with it

AnonymousNovember 23rd 2009.

Liverpool we have a problem. The report set up to investigate LDL has been commissioned by some of the people who set up LDL in the first place. Shouldn't there be an inquiry by an outside body, such as the DA, sadly in this case that stands for District Auditor. I suppose we'll never get near the real facts.

Under the doctorNovember 23rd 2009.

The workers in the LDL call centre are dropping like flies through stress. LDL may have won lots of awards for the outside contracts it has answering the calls of tenants on London boroughs, for example, which all means that Liverpool council taxpayers are not the priority.

One Stop FlopNovember 23rd 2009.

It should be made clear that the "highly-paid public servants" who are responsible are not the same low-paid, poor wretches who have to answer the phones, put up with abuse and aren't allowed to put calls through to those responsible for the mess.

AnonymousNovember 23rd 2009.

The council has become so secretive since it started Liverpool Direct. They are like a brick wall and won't let you speak direct to people able to resolve issues. It all sounds so good on paper, but it is just annoying, and now we read, its so expensive and that makes it even more annoying.

anon3November 23rd 2009.

This doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the scandal

DigNovember 23rd 2009.

Aah. Now I understand y u asked if I'm that other person Mrs. Grill!!

AnonymousNovember 23rd 2009.

Oh I wouldn't say that!

Top SecretNovember 23rd 2009.

Surely LDL would use commercial confidentiality as a means of avoiding answering difficult questions raised under FoI requests. What is truly amazing is we have a company, part-owned by the city council, working for the city council, and a council made up of elected councillors who are themselves unable to get to the bottom of all this.What we need are councillors with real teeth, able to crawl inside organisations such as LDL and extract the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The annoying thing is we, the taxpayers, are the council but we have no rights at all.

HossNovember 23rd 2009.

I don't know why a council taxpayer just doesn't make an official complaint to the cops? Daylight robbery would be the obvious offence committed.

RickyNovember 23rd 2009.

who let the idiot in?

AnonymousNovember 23rd 2009.

Bent in the extreme

Woof TradeNovember 23rd 2009.

The Lib dems voted for the idiot as leader after Storey, who gave us LDL was forced to resign over the Henshaw spat. Sorry did you mean another idiot?

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