The world really does seem upside down, and not just because of the current pandemic. I looked with astonishment at the list of the most recent additions to that well known place of privilege – the House of Lords. Whilst some of the former Labour leader’s nominations were blackballed against convention, his political enemies and a row of carpetbaggers were ennobled. There was even a hint of the infamous “lavender list”, penned by Marcia Falkender on behalf of Harold Wilson, in the nomination of former Unite leader, Tony Woodley. He has never displayed to my knowledge any interest in politics, but Unite had people placed in powerful places in the last Labour leadership.
Meanwhile, here in our city-region, much continues as before despite the warnings of respected NGO, Transparency International. Highlighting the unresolved scandal of the New Chinatown debacle, they have issued a report on corruption in local government. In this, they place Liverpool in category five (out of six) in councils open to corruption. This is hardly surprising when even the failing Echo headlines the approval given to “an unnamed investor” for a seven storey block of flats in the city centre. Little wonder observers presume this is because it is the same set of crooks who have already besmirched the good name of the city with bogus developments.
Speaking of crooks, Thomas Mee, who, we are told by the Echo, is “a well-known local businessman” (what a euphemism!), has been imprisoned for his role in the burglary of the homes of high profile sports and show business stars. This “well-known local businessman” has already done time for, amongst other things, firearms offences. This same man “worked” with disgraced developer Elliot Lawless on the murky deal done with Liverpool Council back in 2016, on the Percy Street project.
In fact, it does not take much digging to make official connections of Mr Mee to other “well-known businessmen” hereabouts, such figures as Samuel Beilin (Liverpool), Billy Kearns (Knowsley) and Terry Reilly (Sefton). It is of no surprise to those who seek to ferret out the truth of civic probity, that there are tight circles of such “business” personalities repeatedly flagged up for their involvement in controversial proposals.
The interest of many concerned citizens is in discovering whether or not fair and equitable deals are being negotiated by authorities on their behalf. Looking at the history of one such project – Fox Street – it is impossible to say, despite a special council committee having been set up to examine the sorry affair. That committee’s final report has just come into the public domain, after the council sat on it for a year. There are worthy recommendations about how the council ought to proceed in future, but most of them ought to be current good practice in any decent council. However, we are yet to discover who – if anyone – is to be held responsible for creating the problems at Fox Street; and this is just one of the dodgy deals and developments.
Meanwhile, other financial issues raise their heads over and above the usual headaches. Halton is being questioned over the extraordinary amount being spent by the borough council on behalf of staff crossing the Mersey between Widnes and Runcorn. We are told that Mayor Anderson is tearful at having to pull out of support for Liverpool to host a Special Olympics National Games in 2022. What a letdown that is, especially given the Section 106 monies which the council has failed to collect from developers.
Sadly, the malaise seems to be spreading. The Combined Authority has voted a £34 million loan to a failing Liverpool Airport, a private company where Mayor Anderson sits on the board. Of course, its owner is actually Peel, which in turn is owned by tax-dodging billionaire John Whittaker. A resident of the Isle of Man, Mr Whittaker has almost turned dipping into the public purse for private profit an art form. I wonder just how many small and medium companies on in the city-region might have benefitted from such largesse. Unfortunately, they will not have the clout in accessing public funds which Peel does.