The Times, They are a-Changin’

Well, there you have it. A man repeatedly tells us that he has “the best job in the world” as Mayor of Liverpool. He is, he insists, devoted to a mission to rejuvenate the city; and, apparently, only he is able to lead Liverpool onwards and upwards. Opposition to him in any form is treated, not just with contempt, but with abusive hostility. Thus stands the developers’ friend, and lover of vanity projects.

Then along comes the new position of metro mayor. Notwithstanding his claimed devotion to the cause of Liverpool, he puts himself forward as the Labour candidate for the new post, ready and willing to dump responsibility for Liverpool in the greater cause of his massive ego. However, Labour Party members across the city-region saw through his insincerity, and gave him a political bloody nose. Steve Rotheram won the Labour nomination hands down.

Now this ego on speed has plumbed new depths. In anticipation of a vacancy for a Labour candidate in Walton at the forthcoming general election, he has brazenly put himself forward as a potential Labour candidate. Thus, for the second time, he is attempting to jump ship from the Liverpool mayoralty, despite his claimed commitment to the job.

The man who gave Heseltine the freedom of the city and who joined Cameron in the failed “Big Society” now says he wants to look the Tories in the eye in Westminster, and reproach them for their austerity policies. What, then, has he been doing these last seven years? Of course, his timing is also significant. Has he not repeatedly claimed that the finances of Liverpool fall off the cliff in 2018?

Nevertheless, his bloated ambition might be restrained by Labour Party processes. Any qualified Labour Party member is entitled to seek nomination as a Labour parliamentary candidate. However, the time scale engendered by this shock general election is very short. Labour Party rules empower its National Executive to take emergency action over a candidate in situations like Walton (four weeks before the general election, the Walton MP – Steve Rotheram – is hot favourite to be elected metro mayor). That means the National Executive can impose a candidate of their choosing.

They may well choose one of the local members who has expressed an interest in the nomination. On the other hand, their choice could be anyone from anywhere who, they believed, added some extra quality to the collective abilities of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Then again, internal party politics at the highest level may determine who will inherit one of Labour’s safest seats in the country.

So what if Mayor Anderson is once again unsuccessful in his “chicken run” for a venue big enough to accommodate his ego? His position as Mayor of Liverpool will surely be holed below the waterline. If he cannot get support within his party for nominations, what would hold the Liverpool Labour Group to him? His desperate attempts to do a moonlight flit from the Cunard Building evokes images of those other seamen who scrambled out of the Titanic. One must assume that the Liverpool Labour group will, in such circumstances, view him as a busted flush.

On the other hand, if he was to be successful and win Walton, the effects would be equally profound. I believe that Westminster would very quickly shatter his ego – it has done so repeatedly to council leaders who have sought the bigger parliamentary stage without success. More importantly, it would open up Liverpool Council to a bitter succession battle, and a huge argument over whether the discredited city mayoral position ought to be discarded. Either way, there are troubling times ahead.

The State of Play

When a Liverpool councillor, Steve Munby, sent an extremely negative email to his Liverpool council colleagues, it spoke volumes about the true state of Labour within the council.  His sublime ignorance of the traumatic effect of the 1980s on the collective psyche of the city is perhaps forgivable.  After all, he was not around for many of the key events of that decade, having come to Liverpool as an official of the dying Communist Party towards the end of the decade.

What is unforgiveable is the lack of discipline in circulating such an inflammatory email, and an attempt to subvert the campaign of the Labour candidate for metro-mayor, Steve Rotheram.  This combination of ignorance, disloyalty and poor judgement by a cabinet member has become a metaphor for the cavalier way in which the city is being run.

This sad diversion was paralleled by a report published by, of all organisations, the Tax Payers Alliance.  Remarkably, for a city under the cosh from central government, we have a clique of senior local government officers who are being paid what are, to the average citizen, astronomical salaries.

It appears that when David McElhinney left the failed Liverpool Direct, he trousered nearly £462,000.  That cost was ultimately down to the Liverpool council taxpayer.  At the same time – the year of 2015/16 – the council’s chief executive, Ged Fitzgerald, took away nearly £236,000.  Not to be outdone, five directors were given more than £150,000 that year, followed by another fourteen officers receiving in excess of £100,000.  All have since had more increases. Welcome to the trough!

Do you remember the Mayor discounting criticism of his planned bureaucracy for the Combined Authority as “only” £6 million?  It might not be much to hizzoner and his familiars, but it is a huge amount to hard pressed, hard working council taxpayers.  This disregard across the council for the sensitivities of voters is almost certain to create a backlash at some stage.  For there is a real disconnect between headlines claiming massive investments across the city – often involving thoroughly disreputable individuals – and the repeated cries of poverty from the council when it comes to essential public services.

Joe Public – as opposed to Joe Anderson – does not give a toss for vanity projects, or the profits of those speculating in the city.  He wants to see real improvements in his everyday life.  Every time a new tower block of apartments is promoted, he rightly asks:  “Who is going to live in them all?”  That is, assuming they are not student flats.  Where, he asks, is the social housing for people to rent – those with no hope of a house purchase?

One wonders who, in the cabinet, speaks for the real people of Liverpool?  It is a certainty that it is not the likes of Munby, still lost in an obsolete politics dedicated to scoring foul political points, rather than advancing the case for the city’s silent majority.  There must, as some point, be a restoration of their interests over those of the parasites currently bleeding the city dry.

A Cautionary Note

I am not a financier or a businessman, nor am I one of those rabid, alleged football “fans” who view their club as a sacrosanct institution, beyond criticism. I am, however, a council tax payer who is being told (not asked, I emphasise) that I and the rest of the local citizenry are to underwrite a speculative building project on behalf of two private companies. It is reasonable to question such an arrangement.

I refer, of course, to the riverside stadium project, involving the Peel organisation and Everton Football Club. The complex proposal being touted is that LCC form a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to facilitate the construction of such a stadium, with LCC acting as guarantor for the finances. The first question which comes to mind is why LCC is getting involved at all in a deal which is essentially between two private companies.

The principal shareholder in EFC is a billionaire who has recently bought the Liver Building. The owner of Peel is another billionaire, a tax exile resident in the Isle of Man. Surely these people – the main beneficiaries of the council’s largesse – have the resources, the business credibility and the financial acumen to proceed on this deal. There is, of course, one caveat. Like many “successful” wheeler-dealers, their success has been made using other people’s money, with little risk to themselves.

We do not know from where the finance for the project will come; but we are told that LCC’s credit is rock solid for it to act as guarantor. This begs a question: if the deal is so sound, why should it require LCC to act as guarantor? We are also told that LCC is bound to make money on the deal (We were told the same tosh about the money poured into Finch Farm). Is this really the case? Many investing councils said similar things about the Bank of Credit and Commerce International before it went bust with over £10 billion of debts. Even a small council like that of the Western Isles suffered big losses, in their case £24 million.

 Are we to trust the judgement of civic leaders who have taken us into the as yet unresolved financial scandal of the LCC-BT partnership of Liverpool Direct? I think not – their record of financial management is woeful.  They are wholly unqualified for this kind of deal, and, frankly, out of their league with the likes of Whittaker (Peel), and Moshiri (EFC) and his shady Russian partner Usmanov.

Nevertheless, our armchair financiers will retort that there is no risk in the deal, with money rolling in to Premiership clubs. That has a superficial validity; but, if that is the case, again I ask: why does EFC need LCC? Are the future finances of EFC themselves guaranteed? The experience of Leeds United is instructive.

The only club in that bigger and wealthier Yorkshire city, they were a headlining Premiership club. EFC legend, Peter Reid, described their fanatically loyal fan base as the best he had ever experienced. Wealth, size, support – all of the ingredients for success as a club; and, indeed, they had it for a while. That is, until they were relegated, soon followed by the club going into administration. Ten years on, they are still struggling to recapture their Premiership place.

When next you read that there is no risk involved in this deal, think of Leeds United and Western Isles Council. Think of the calibre and record of people potentially placing the credit of the council in harm’s way as you think of the private companies who stand to profit. Billionaires not dipping into their own pockets, whilst ours could well be picked. It is right to be cautious.

Don’t Get Fooled!

About twenty months ago, yet another new company – Astutus – was formed (it has since been dissolved). The only thing of note about it was the fact that within TWO DAYS of its formation, it had secured an agreement with the Mayor of Liverpool for developments within the Cunard Building. Amid much publicity and photographs of its principals with the Mayor, Cunard Building was to be transformed by two major, high-class restaurants.

Last week, it was quietly announced that neither will go ahead. The two restaurant chains concerned have pulled out, concentrating instead on Edinburgh, London and Manchester. Promises of “world class dining” and 150 jobs have gone out of the window. It is suggested – again – that the mayor’s chum, former bankrupt Lawrence Kenwright, may fill the gap.

I only mention this tale of commercial contortion as a caution to apply to all of the hyperbolic hype surrounding the Bramley Moore proposal for EFC. Anyone who says they have a sure fire arrangement at this stage, is talking nonsense. Like all major projects which are proposed, there are so many questions which need to be answered. Peel and EFC are private businesses, and have their own priorities; but there are particular concerns for Liverpool council tax payers, with a knock on risk for the other boroughs. For example, the Mayor has said that there will be a rail station built. Paid for by whom, one might ask? Transport arrangements are in the court of the new metro mayor and the Combined Authority. What would an extra station (other stations have been prioritised for investment in the other boroughs) mean for the rail system? What effect would the cost have on transport budgets and tunnel fees?

Frankly, it needs a lot more than we have heard to date, to justify any transfer of risk on behalf of a private company with a billionaire major shareholder.  Too many PFI projects were sold on a false prospectus, and have ended up costing a fortune to the tax payer. What will be the real cost to council taxpayers? What is the true risk? Are we really meant to believe that Liverpool City Council will have first call on Everton’s income streams?  I find that hard to believe. What I have read seems to be built on a highly optimistic set of assumptions. Tellingly, EFC have said little compared to LCC.

There are other issues, including planning, which an incoming metro mayor will need to consider. The effect on traffic in the north end of Liverpool and Bootle will be immense. There is already a major problem concerning docks traffic. This proposal will make it worse. The new Metro Mayor may also want to consider the application of S.106 to this project. This arrangement allows for a local authority to levy charges on a developer for infrastructure improvements. Listening to Mayor Anderson, Liverpool City Council has things back to front! They are planning to put millions into associated infrastructure in the area, and the developers (who are they anyway – EFC? LCC? the Special Purpose Vehicle??) are presumably paying nothing for those necessary infrastructure improvements.

As an Everton supporter, I agree it would be good for EFC to have a modern stadium; but I am unconvinced that this is the right site. It would have the river on one side, and industrial and commercial premises on the other. It will cost a fortune to relocate these – and their jobs – if that is the plan. At Stonebridge, the motorway is very handy, as is the East Lancs Road. It is a site which could catalyse the job situation in Croxteth, Kirkby, and Norris Green. As the proposal stands, it seems the only beneficiaries are Peel (leasing off a chunk of land) and EFC (a subsidised stadium). Once again, the council tax payers are at the back of the queue.

Another Day, Another Dollar

Another day, another dodgy deal! The people of Liverpool have historically been taken for a ride by moneyed interests resident just about anywhere but in the city of Liverpool. Nowadays they are aided and abetted by the very people who are supposed to look out for the public’s interests. Do the councillors understand what is happening, or are they so focussed on their immediate and narrow self-interest, that they cannot see the wood for the trees?

Take the much-heralded Bramley Moore scheme. Everton’s previous plans for a new stadium – first, at King’s Dock, and then at Kirkby – foundered for one essential reason. They were unable to raise the necessary finance without the involvement of a major partner. That is the current role of the city council – much more than a guarantor. The crux of this deal is the arrangement between the council and Peel. As with the costly Private Finance Initiative, the financial risk associated with this deal is passed to the council, not to EFC or its billionaire head, Mr Moshiri.

It is another example of how the council tax payer is subsidising outside exploitative interests. We are also being told that Mayor Anderson is quoting a £50 million spend on associated roadwork, having already promised a new Merseyrail station (another headache for the incoming metromayor and the leaders of the other five boroughs). Remember that all of this subsidy is additional to the millions already spent buying and improving EFC’s training ground, and many more millions used underwriting Peel’s airport. These two private businesses must love the mayor.

Yet the mayor’s fan club is bigger than two members. How about developers, the Elliott Group? A council report described their unapproved demolition of an old building in a conservation area as a “criminal act”. The council under Joe has decided to take no action. The building had been deliberately torched although the police have made no arrests.

Meanwhile, at MIPIM over in sunny Cannes, mayoral favourite – developer Lawrence Kenwright – trumpeted his plans for the city-owned Cunard Building. Having previously touted the iconic building as an office space initiative, Mr Kenwright is now promoting it as a venue for weddings, and as the site of yet another restaurant. Surely this is a fan of the mayor, given that he sponsors the mayor’s fundraising dinners? Indeed, the mayor reciprocates with an appointment as an Advisory Member of the Council’s grandly titled “Culture and Leisure Select Committee Scrutiny Panel”!

Naturally, the mayor has other concerns than his fan base. Business groupies apart, he is considering the effects of diesel engines in the city centre. However, this does not seem to fit with his demonstrable anti-green credentials and his expensive closure of bus-only lanes. He must also have been distracted when, as chair of the Combined Authority, he led the purchase of one-man trains. As a former active member of the RMT union, he was blissfully unaware of that union’s long campaign against these trains (built overseas, incidentally, rather than in the UK), and the repeated strike action over them down south. Thank goodness for the Mayor’s comprehensive appreciation of what really matters.

He should, perhaps, tear himself away from dreams of the Commonwealth Games and other glories, although he cannot have what he really wanted – the metromayoral crown. He could rekindle his connection with real issues, like the next round of planning applications saddling the city with yet more blocks of flats. Silly me – the applications come from paid up members of his fan club like the Iliad Group and the Elliott Group. Hey ho – what was I thinking of??

Fact or Fiction?

Like any sane person, I have been flabbergasted and outraged by Donald Trump’s chutzpah. He has adopted the style of George Orwell’s “Big Brother” where fantasy is reality, and lies become truth. Amazingly, there are so many prepared to buy into this line, whether out of self-interest or stupidity. Trump’s core support has remained unwavering to date, although as their tax dollars are redirected to the rich, and their medical support is slashed, that support might move away. Perhaps it is simply the case that many people literally cannot distinguish between fact and fiction.

Impetus behind this phenomenon is provided by fake news – stories which are pushed as gospel when they are merely the figments of someone’s over fertile imagination. Nothing new in that, you might say. “New Labour“ was famous for its spin. Yet this is more than spin (i.e. putting a positive face on facts). It is the fabrication of a story, underscored by the ability of those concerned to believe their own publicity. Certainly, Trump’s ego enables him to view himself as embodying truth, preposterous as that may seem to the objective observer.

I was mindful of this when I read of Mayor Anderson’s absurd assertion that he was closing his twitter account because of the “abuse” he receives from respondents. The old adage about pots and kettles comes to mind. He is, in my experience, the most coarse and abusive politician I have ever come across – and that is saying something. Perhaps he too sees himself as subject to a different order to the rest of us.

Fake news increasingly dominates the Merseyside political scene, enhanced by its unquestioning repetition by what passes for local media. Take the MIPIM jolly in the south of France. This glorified auction of local authority assets to the parasites who gather there in the hope of easy profits, has been the source in the past week of a stream of fake news which needs to be taken with a large bucket of salt. Fed to a gullible Merseyside public deprived of the information with which to form an objective view, these stories need to be put into perspective.

Some of this disinformation is put about by developers in the hope of obtaining investment, and some from local authorities, desperate to plug gaps in local authority finances. I understand these needs, but hope that public representatives sup with a long spoon when negotiating with business sharks whose only motive is private profit. One can easily convince oneself of a mutuality of interest with private and predatory capital. The honeyed words of the latter can be tempting, but remember, for example, how the public purse continues to be ripped off under the guise of the Public Finance Initiative. There is nothing for nothing.

Thus, we have a proposal for a huge regeneration of central Birkenhead, capitalising on its incredible cross-river views. However, despite the blurb, it remains another item on a wish list. Wirral residents will be mindful of Peel’s promises for Wirral Waters. To date, the only real investment attraction, after the fiasco partnership with Stella Shiu and the failed International Trade Centre, was a college facility courtesy of Wirral Council. Peel’s promises of a mini-Manhattan are yet to materialise. Current spin for Woodside suggests a reality which does not yet actually exist.

Likewise, there continue to be similar projects floated on the eastern littoral of the Mersey. On the central docks site, a promised residential development has been transmuted into a possible football stadium, bordered by a cultural neighbourhood. Do not misunderstand me – we all want to see meaningful development and investment across Merseyside. What we do not want is for our representatives to buy into the get-rich-quick schemes of the likes of Peel and Signature Living. Developers are in the business of squeezing finance from wherever and whomever they can. Local authorities exist to service their communities, not the private interests of buccaneering businessmen.

That is why it is so important for the wider public not to be seduced by the false news and public relations gimmicks put to them either by unscrupulous politicians or the private sector, aided and abetted by their media mouthpieces. At some point, the snake oil salesmen bedevilling our sub-region must be held to account.

In the Political Playpen

The MIPIM bash in Cannes has become something of a regular jolly for many local authority leaders, including Liverpool’s Mayor Anderson. It occurs next week when developers importune their guests to flog off council assets at giveaway prices. It is amazing how persuasive free drinks and canapés can be.

This expensive car-boot sale in the south of France came to mind when I saw a “business” report in the “Echo” confirming the imminent purchase of a large chunk of King’s Dock by Liverpool Council.  “Purchase” did you ask? Yes – cash-strapped Liverpool Council is bidding £4.1 million. Apparently, the council hopes to get a grant from our parsimonious national government. Failing that, they will borrow the cash. Once again, having cried poverty, the council has the appearance of a drunken sailor on a spending spree. Why?

The giveaway is in the report going to cabinet to be rubber-stamped. It says – “In advance of the acquisition of the land, the council has been proactively engaged in detailed discussions with a potential developer consortium”. In short, it is a done deal. Joe has agreed it, and his supine cabinet will do what he tells them. One or more of the mayor’s closest allies – the ubiquitous “developers” –are lined up for another big payday, courtesy of the council’s largesse.

The site has long been earmarked as a “visitor destination”. Remember the abortive plan to build a stadium there? How about Joe’s much-vaunted daydream of an Olympic ice rink? Goodness knows what the mayor’s developer confederates have in mind. We can only be sure of one thing – they will make stacks of cash whilst council tax payers lose out.

It is questionable whether or not we need more visitor attractions. Perhaps we should widely market council meetings as a spectator event, although a bigger venue than the Town Hall would be needed. This week’s meeting suggests that they might plug an entertainment gap between cage fighting and Jeremy Kyle. Events this week reveal the low point which the council – and, especially, the mayor – has reached in the conduct of meetings. These people are supposed to represent us and the city, but they are nothing short of a disgrace. As a Labour Party member, I was appalled at the ignorant and abusive excuse for a debate. They certainly do not speak for, or act like, the people of Liverpool.

 All representatives should keep in mind one of politics’ truest maxims: oppositions do not win elections; governing parties lose them! Generally, the electorate is reasonably forgiving of those in power until a tipping point is reached. Beyond this, loyalty and trust is lost, and the party concerned gets its just desserts – political oblivion. There is one thing of which we can be sure. No matter how solid one’s political position is at a given point, you can be sure that, as night follows day, it will be overturned at some point.

Incidentally, how craven is the “Echo”? During his Town Hall rant, Mayor Anderson whinged away about what he considered to be his pet journal’s poor coverage of his difficulties. Within two days, the “Echo” has a long piece on “How the Tory cuts have hit city”. No mention of the other boroughs facing similar cuts, by the way, and how they are coping. Perhaps now, its editor will order some investigative reporting on the very real and widely held concerns about the role of “developers” in the city.