New Year; Same Questions

One might have thought that after the Caller Report, there would have been real signs of change at Liverpool City Council and beyond, come the new year. So far, I have only seen public relations releases about various plans which are envisaged for some future date. Meanwhile, it is business as usual. Perhaps I am being unfair; but what I am not unfair about are the facts on the ground as we embark upon 2022.

1) We can now confirm that Liverpool Foundation Housing – a company set up to deliver “10,000 homes” – came (and went) at a cost. In its wisdom, the council approved salaries for its board of £45,000 per annum. Its chair was former councillor and pal of Joe Anderson, Frank Hont, appointed after he lost his council seat. There were, of course, “employer on-costs” further to this figure. Not bad for a totally failed venture.

2) We also now have it confirmed that around £1 million per annum was dished out to individuals and organisations at the whim of the mayor. This so-called “Mayor’s Fund” was transmuted into the “City Fund” as Joe Anderson’s star imploded. It might interest some council tax payers to look at the lists of recipients on the “What Do They Know” website. You never can tell what gems lie therein.

3) Of wider interest within the city-region is the on-going ladling of cash to the Peel organisation. One of its many local interest (about which I have written before) is John Lennon Airport. It continues to be a loss-making operation. These losses were £19.7 million in 2020 and £16.14 million in 2021. Covid has been something of a factor of late, but the airport had been going downhill long before Covid was an issue. It faces major challenges in the future which emanate largely from national commitments. These include a national passenger cap, reducing the numbers of passengers across the country, and a move towards zero aircraft emissions by 2050. Perhaps Peel will move to rid itself of the airport as it did once before. Besides, they have an uncanny knack of sustaining losses whilst building up their reserves off-shore. Why, therefore, would the Combined Authority “lend” £34 million to the airport, effectively giving Peel yet another bail out?

4) Put your mind to this one. Between 12/01/2012 and 21/12/2021, the Liverpool City Council sold off 759 properties. Some were single sites or houses; others were multiple dwellings. That has been a steady series of tasters for property speculators but where did the proceeds go? We already know that councillors have argued for a reduction in the Section 106 monies due to the council from some developers. We also know that other developers have simply failed to stump up with impunity. Is the city a scam artist’s dream or what?

5) I recently mentioned concerns expressed about the future of the iconic Woolton Cinema. Now another Woolton landmark has been brought to my attention – Woolton Baths. Key figures in its promised restoration were Peter Eustace and television personality Simon O’Brien. More importantly, funds were raised by public donations for the restoration of the baths. Now it is said to be used as a location for a popular day-time television programme – not, I believe, what donors had in mind.

6) Look at the photo above. You might recall that I outlined troubles in the once highly regarded Eldonians’ initiative. Imagine getting up on Christmas Day to find that you had been stigmatised as a “grass” on the walls of your home. This, as you can see, was the Christmas gift from some demented idiot to the chairwoman of the Eldonian Residents Association. Its clear intention was to intimidate her. Her crime was, in the view of the warped person responsible, to do exactly what residents had elected her to do – to speak up for their interests.

Tony McGann was the original driving force behind the Eldonians. Love him or hate him – he got things done. Now retired, a new generation is now responsible for the clutch of companies within the Eldonian collective. The key figures now appear to be younger members of the McGann family, along with their associates, especially members of the Gwynne family. Interestingly, the latter all appear to list their address as one in Aigburth, south Liverpool, far from the streets of Vauxhall, home to the Eldonians.

New times, a new generation of leaders, you may say, but also a time when Eldonian properties have been virtually given away to anonymous companies based in overseas tax havens. Even an agreement with Merseyside Police for neighbourhood policing has been rescinded, replaced with what elderly residents see as an intimidatory private security firm making forays onto the Eldonian estate.

Not a happy situation.

Roll on 2022

As I reflect on 2021, I cannot but think of the Covid roller coaster we have all been on. It explains many things which came to pass (often tragically), and many things which did not. Through my blog, I have attempted in my small way, to keep people aware of the many wrongs within our city-region (particularly within Liverpool), wrongs which desperately need to be righted. As this year’s end approaches, I am also mindful of what needs to be flagged up in the New Year.

Like many people, I still wait to see what action, if any, will be taken against those who have betrayed and besmirched the city of Liverpool, and through that hub of the city-region (CA), damaged the wider conurbation. My hopes are not high when I look at how slow the wheels of the criminal justice system turn. I have flagged up before Operation Sheridan which has waited literally years for a decision on prosecutions. This case may be centred on events in Lancashire, but the personalities involved were mostly at the heart of LCC where the same people stand accused of similar malpractice. I would hate to think that Sheridan – and Aloft, its Liverpool simulacrum – would simply be allowed to wither on the vine.

There is much still to add to the catalogue of woes which have defined the city over the last decade or so. We cannot just raise questions repeatedly about the activities of the same councillors (necessary although that may be) without looking at others who may have dipped into the mire. After all, it was no coincidence that immediately as ex-mayor Joe Anderson et al were arrested, Liverpool councillors made a Gadarene rush to pad out their previously flimsy entries in the LCC declaration of interests. Much came to light which might merit further examination. Let us take just one example, the wide “interests” of Cllr Peter Mitchell. He runs an organisation called the Big Help Group. This consists of mainly property-connected entities, and even includes an Essex-based holiday arm. Its real emphasis is on Liverpool and Knowsley. Of the fourteen companies which Companies House list in the name of Cllr Mitchell, eleven are still active. In most, Cllr Mitchell is the sole director. One wonders how he manages to find the time to be a full time city councillor. Perhaps that is why he has reportedly employed the former (and disgraced) LCC highways chief, Andy Barr.

However, it is not just individual councillors who require closer examination. We need to revisit some of those organisations which hide behind a veneer of community involvement. The appropriate authorities have failed to do so hitherto. For example, residents of the Eldonian estate are complaining about what they believe to be happening in what was once emblematic of community based activism. Just one of the claims is that there are very striking conflicts of interest relating to those involved in the sale of Eldonian properties for as little as £1 to anonymous companies registered in the British Virgin Islands tax haven.

Other correspondents have raised with me the ambiguous relationship between the Liverpool City-Region Combined Authority and Frank McKenna’s Downtown in Business (DIB). This hybrid entity is at least in part, a lobbying organisation, which has been given £300,000 by the CA, money from the European Regional Development Fund. Why would a branch of local government give money to lobbyists? What bothers some is the fact that Mr McKenna spent time on the CA with “observer status” on behalf of West Lancashire District Council. Would that not also suggest a conflict of interests? This positioning is not new, of course, in the relatively short history of the CA. For some years, Mr Robert Hough of Peel, was co-opted onto the CA as the only unelected member of that body, during which time, it gave large grants of public money to Peel.

Another gem which might appeal to those of an inquisitive bent might be the south Liverpool landmark, the Woolton Cinema. It is certainly the case that the local councillors seem to smell a rat. Despite assurances to the contrary, there are widespread fears the cinema site is being lined up as a development project and the cinema scrapped. The current owner, Mr Kenneth Carmichael, has a whole string of property companies. As a virtual one-man band, he does not have any discernible experience of, or commitment to the cinema arts. What he has had, I am told, is over £20,000 of publicly raised money to keep the cinema open.

Perhaps 2022 will also see a clear monitoring of the role and activities of the Police and Crime Commissioner. The last one was, in my view, an unmitigated disaster. The current incumbent will most certainly please the “woke” generation, given the emphases of the report she has just sent out to Labour Party members. To my dismay, there is no reference to the cancerous corruption which, to date, has bedevilled attempts to reset standards in the public life of the city.

An easy way to begin in the new year might be an admittedly tedious trawl through what was the “Mayor’s Fund” which became the “City Fund”. Dishing out up to £1 million plus per annum to a most extraordinary array of bodies across the city (and beyond!), this money was virtually unaccountable. At some point, council tax payers should be made truly aware of what was meant by the old saying – “spending like a drunken sailor”.

Merry Christmas and a transparent New Year!!!

Community Entrepreneurs

Liverpool City Council’s auditors are Grant Thornton, the bean counters of choice across most of the city-region. On September 21st last, they sent a report to the council’s chief executive, Tony Reeves, seeking an enormous amount of information about the council. I welcome this although I have two reservations. Firstly, it seems to be focussed on the last two years of the council’s operations, when we know that its problems go back much further. Secondly, the Grant Thornton letter contains an extraordinary statement on page 3 of its queries, and I quote:

          “…since the governance and alleged bribery and corruption came to light in 2019”.

This is patently untrue. A range of concerned citizens have been flagging up the situation at LCC for years prior to 2019. For example, I met with two senior executives of Grant Thornton over six years ago (2015), to alert them about the issues which have “come to light”. At the same time, I met with the then chief constable and the then police and crime commissioner about the same matters. No-one saw fit to do anything.

Incidentally, whilst trawling through my records, I could not miss the name of the ubiquitous Peter McInnes. This man has been repeatedly associated with some of the biggest property failures/scams in the city in recent years. He was also named in open court in Preston by the police as a man involved in the laundering of drug money. Thus, I was surprised to see that one of his interests involved the Eldonian community organisation via a company called SABP(Eldonians) Ltd.

I noted this because of a series of allegations which have been circulated regarding the business affairs of the Eldonians. The group has been held up for forty years as an exemplar of good practice of a community in action. However, it is now alleged that parcels of land belonging to the community have been sold off arbitrarily for as little as £1 each. Worse still, it is charged that the property in question have been sold to off-shore companies with strong connections to leading lights within what has long been billed as a member-led co-operative. I am currently trying to make sense of the situation.

I am not surprised at this new outbreak of controversy within the area. For far too long, there has been a stench emanating from north Liverpool political circles. I am, of course, aware that the Eldonians have long been synonymous with the Labour Party in the Vauxhall/Kirkdale area of the city. Next door, we have the unanswered questions concerning the North Liverpool Regeneration Company (NLRC). I have written about this entity before with regard to the £3 million receipt from the sale of land to Merseyside Police for the site of its new headquarters. There was also the question as to how the NLRC acquired from the council new premises in Mount Pleasant. This is a body, remember, whose training arm was rejected by government inspectors after an Ofsted inspection found that it was doing nothing discernible of worth.

The same familiar names are involved in one way or another. Ex-councillor John Nelson, former bag carrier for Derek Hatton; Pauline Connolly who runs the nearby Vauxhall Neighbourhood Council; current councillor and paid consultant to NLRC, Barry Kushner; and key man, councillor George Knibb, another acolyte of Derek Hatton. What qualifies Kushner to advise on anything is a very moot point whilst Knibb is now in the background of the NLRC, but is thought to still be the controlling influence.

Whilst councillor Knibb is said to remain a guiding light for the NLRC and its off-shoots, his brother Phil has also taken the community route to sharpen his business skills and build up quite a portfolio of interests. Although a new generation of Knibbs is coming through, Phil’s interests are what we might call extensive. He has had sixteen appointments to various boards, covering farming, property, pubs, catering, social care and education. These range from Walton hall Park sports centre to Randles Bridge farm in Knowsley, to an educational business in the Ribble Valley! A busy man, you might say….

Meanwhile, two more developments in the London Road/Islington area, have gone bust, owing £7.2 million. Ah,well….

Where are we going?

Two things have happened, and one has not happened, which tell us all that we need to know about the state of play in the ongoing tragedy that is Liverpool City Council. You will be aware that I have been commentating on the sorry state of affairs at the Cunard Building for years, always hoping that change might come. In recent months, however, I must confess to having been more preoccupied by the challenges of Covid, rather than the comic opera that the council became. Yet there are issues that force themselves again to the forefront of one’s thinking.

Such was the recent planning committee meeting which approved a reduction in the s.106 money payable by a developer, from a figure of £767,000 to a comparatively paltry £149,000. The argument put forward on behalf of the developers was that building costs had shot up. Thus, they felt that they should pay the council nothing at all? Incidentally, the two companies concerned are both listed in London. One was set up earlier this year, whilst the other is part of the multi-billion empire of Barings Bank!

Most astonishing were the comments of Cllrs Hanson and Concepcion, members of the planning committee, who sought to justify this gift to developers who were applying to build over 250 riverside apartments. Their political naivety is incredible. Are they not aware that developers have already scammed this city in recent years of literally millions of pounds of unpaid s.106 money? Do they not recognise that any developer will now feel entitled to the same kind of largesse from the city council? What is their answer to hard pressed council taxpayers who say that they, too, face exploding living costs? Will they be moving reductions in the level of council tax payable? I think not.

Of course, the second significant event of late was the round of council by-elections held last week. Despite all of the bad news gushing out of the Cunard Building on an almost daily basis, the results suggest that none of this has had any effect on the voting habits of those in the traditionally Labour voting seats up for grabs last week. Once again, the red rose was enough. Admittedly, the turn out in those by-elections, was, as usual, appalling. There is no reason at this stage to believe that there will be much difference in those red wards at the next city-wide elections. Thus, in themselves, these latest results speak volumes about the state of politics within Liverpool.

Equally worrying has been what has not been happening in Liverpool – that is , any prosecutions or convictions of the malefactors who have polluted the city’s political structures, causing so much damage to the city of Liverpool, and – through that hub – to the wider city-region. What has been telling for me has been information gleaned through Freedom of Information queries relating to Operation Sheridan. To recap, this was carried out by Lancashire Police, and three of the four principals arrested in this investigation were strongly connected to Liverpool, including former council chief executive Ged Fitzgerald. Indeed, this investigation leads to the corrupted heart of Liverpool City Council.

Yet despite a very long and thorough investigation by Lancashire Police, costing over £2 million, it has entered the black hole of the Crown Prosecution Service. This body has, in turn, spent over £1 million on external lawyers in its consideration of this case. Goodness knows what the eventual total cost will be, and there is still no movement to the courts. My fear is that Operation Aloft – the investigation into Liverpool City Council by Merseyside Police – will follow the same trajectory as that of Operation Sheridan, and be quietly dumped. I hope not, but that is how it looks to me.

Virtually every day, there are more and more signs that those who have been named and shamed, are growing in confidence that they have evaded justice. Whether it is the ongoing scandal of Chinatown; the repeated scams under fractional selling; the criminal allegations concerning North Point Global; the car parks rip-off; the involvement of councillors in various enterprises; and the many other examples of the criminalisation – the list goes on. Until some of those involved are held to account, nothing will fundamentally change in Liverpool City Council, whether there are commissioners in there or not.

Change?? What Change??

No one should be surprised that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has dropped its investigations into the major property scams visited upon Liverpool. For many years, “Private Eye” has ridiculed this agency, describing it as the “Serious Farce Office” because of its repeated failures in dealing with major fraud cases. The reason given in the case of Liverpool – that there was insufficient evidence – strikes seasoned observers as absurd. However, what is done is done. We now must look to Merseyside Police for action. The prognosis is not good.

Local police are pursuing Operation Aloft, looking at corruption in the city council. Whether that will stretch to covering frauds which have primarily fleeced investors and contractors remains to be seen. After all, the original arrests under Operation Aloft involved Joe Anderson and a range of senior council officers none of whom have, to date, been prosecuted, never mind convicted. Given that there are twenty staff on Operation Aloft, one must wonder where this investigation is now headed.

It is worth considering another investigation, this one conducted by Lancashire Police, and known as Operation Sheridan. Their findings were, I believe, submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for a decision on prosecution, over three years ago. There is still no confirmation as to what is to happen in that case.  It was this precursor to Aloft which led to the arrest of four people, three of whom had strong links at a very senior level, to Liverpool City Council, including former chief executive Ged Fitzgerald, together with Phil Halsall and David McIlhenny. As with the suspects in Operation Aloft, those involved also lost their highly paid jobs (except Tory Councillor Driver, leader of Lancashire County Council!) They all appear to be in a juridical limbo.

I have repeatedly pointed out that the push for resolving the mess in Liverpool City Council has been fragmented into three areas. We don’t know, as we have seen, where, if anywhere, the criminal justice path will lead us in effecting prosecutions and, hopefully, convictions. The national government’s intentions are wholly unclear. Jenrick has gone and Gove has taken his place as the responsible minister. Only the Caller Report remains as a blueprint for future action. Will that action be forthcoming? Then we have the Labour Party.

In some ways, the Labour Party reaction has been the most disappointing of all. It began with the fact-finding Hanson inquiry. Then came the less than enthusiastic noises off about Caller’s case for a radical overhaul of the number of wards and of councillors in the city. Liverpool Labour turkeys will not vote for Christmas. Even during this past week, many were disturbed at the outcome of the selection of candidates for vacancies in three safe Labour wards. Two of the three went to former councillors, dashing the hopes of those who hoped for an infusion of fresh political talent. There is nothing new in this merry-go-round for seats on the council, but there were expectations post Caller that a message had gone to Labour to get its own house in order. This has been seen as business as usual.

More telling of the atrophied Labour Party thinking was the appointment of Sheila Murphy to oversee local Labour parties in the city. A former party hack (I was one myself!) prior to retirement, she ended up working for former MP, Luciana Berger, and along with her apostate boss, defected from the Labour Party. Such an anti-Corbyn gesture will be long remembered by a traditionally “left” Liverpool Labour Party. As a result, there will be little faith in Ms Murphy’s political impartiality.

As Liverpool staggers on, I note that Peel’s much-vaunted Wirral Waters is now welcoming “prefabs” on site. This is far removed from the grandiose claims that were being made for this alleged Wirral showpiece. I have nothing against prefabs; I do have an objection to gross exaggeration of development claims. Also, I hear that Andy Moorhead – close political ally of Joe Anderson and former leader of Knowsley Council – has resigned his seat on Knowsley Council. Finally, the “Echo” – principally through the work of journalists Tom Duffy and Nick Tyrell – is now starting to look seriously at Scam City issues. It is a pity that the so-called political editor, Liam Thorpe, has abysmally failed to do so.

City Region Handouts

Like many people, I did a double take when I saw the recent announcement in the name of the Liverpool City Region that a grant of £15,000,000 was to be made, together with a loan of £30,000,000, in support of the planned new stadium for Everton Football Club (EFC). The grant is for infrastructure investment around the stadium (to be paid to whom I am not sure), and the loan is towards the actual stadium build. For many observers, it seems like a watered down version of Joe Anderson’s ill-conceived plan for the city of Liverpool to borrow £300,000,000 to lend in turn to EFC for the construction of the new stadium on Bramley Moore Dock. Clearly, the scale is different but there are still questions to be raised.

Do not misunderstand me. As a lifelong Everton supporter, I want to see Everton playing in a suitable stadium, appropriate to the 21st century; but that is not the issue. EFC is a private company, owned by a foreign billionaire. If the club could pay, for example, £45,000,000 for Sigurdsson, why does it need a £30,000,000 loan courtesy of the council tax payers of the city-region? After all, I am certain that there are more immediate investment needs across the city-region in different communities – notwithstanding the support for this loan from the leaderships of its six constituent boroughs.

This concern has been expressed to me by a cross section of our fellow citizens – and not just supporters of Liverpool Football Club!! To be fair to the Combined Authority, it is a difficult one, given the persuasive case that can be made for investment in the long-time neglected North Liverpool and South Bootle area. Some kind of stimulus is long overdue and other than the proposed stadium, nothing else seems to be on offer. Think of the Tarmacademy disaster and the exaggerated Liverpool Waters scheme. Perhaps the latter is the key to what is really going on.

Liverpool Waters, and its cross-river twin, Wirral Waters, have been flagged up for years by Peel as the cure-all for development across the Mersey. They have simply not happened. For many of us, the flannel of the Peel Group did not wash. The boundaries/plans of their proposals changed with the wind. What did not change was Peel’s need to maintain or increase the value of their land bank along the Mersey littoral with which they could underpin their massive loan commitments. I have to acknowledge two things about Peel. Firstly, they have been masters at creating images of their “plans” way over and above the reality. Secondly, they have finessed a very successful ability to secure large amounts of public money, the ultimate beneficiary of which is billionaire Peel owner, John Whittaker, safely ensconced in the Isle of Man tax haven with his Billown Trust.

The Peel Group has an even bigger potential stake in North Liverpool then EFC. It certainly needs something big to make any of its grandiose plans come to fruition. EFC’s proposed move to Bramley Moore will certainly give them a profit, but more importantly, it would, in the eyes of Peel, kick start a big return on their wider docks estate. Moreover, they have had a very successful local funding stream here on Merseyside, extracting huge sums from the public purse. One of their directors chaired the Local Enterprise Partnership, obtaining millions in grants (Peel was one of the first three recipients of that particular tranche of public largesse). The same man – Mancunian Robert Hough – maintained his influence as an early member of the Combined Authority, despite having been elected by nobody.

These people sure know how to get onto funding decision making bodies. Our position on Merseyside is further complicated by the servicing body for the Combined Authority. It still remains a direct descendant of Merseytravel and of the Local Enterprise Partnership. These were bodies inured to the culture which has deepened the stagnation of public life on Merseyside. I cannot see the dynamism and original thinking needed to break out from the introspection which has long characterised that culture.

Incidentally, a number of correspondents have asked why I have dealt overwhelmingly with Liverpool issues. Well, Liverpool is the core of the city-region, and what happens there affects us all. Secondly, local print media – virtually all owned by Reach plc – say little or nothing of note about their respective councils. Thirdly, very little seems to leak out of other councils via councillors, an otherwise genuine source of what is really happening within those councils. Liverpool has been an exception because of the scale of wrong-doing and the brazenness of the councillors involved. Perhaps a switch to the Combined Authority – a body without real democratic accountability – is in order. A smaller body, served by local government leftovers, who knows what we might find. We must wait and see.

PS. Curious that the former Liverpool Riverside MP Louise Ellman should announce that she is rejoining the Labour Party. Is it because she believes that anti-semitism has been eradicated from the Labour Party, or does she believe that Jeremy Corbyn has been “purged”?

A Never Ending Story

One or two councillors who regularly read my blog have asked me to send the blog to their private email address. They mistakenly believe (I think!!) that their council emails are being compromised in some way. I know that this has happened in the past due to technical difficulties, but I do not believe it is the case currently. Rather, the reality is that my blogs have become sporadic through choice on my part. The reason for that is simple: nothing seems to be changing for the better yet. The recent revelation that a host of complaints against some Liverpool councillors have been chucked out without investigation, underlines the scepticism that many have about the much-trumpeted clean-up of the city council.

However, this does not mean that things are either better or worse than they have been in that benighted local authority. If you need a victim’s view of the reality on the ground, check out the cri-de coeur of Cormac Murphy in response to my blog  “The Same Old Story”. He gives a very personal perspective of how he and countless others have been ripped off. The perpetrators, and those who facilitated their criminal activities, appear to have acted with impunity. In most cases, these crooks are still at it now.

Only recently, another company – registered at a terraced house in Snowdrop Street in Kirkdale – went bust, owing over £41 million to investors. Another went bust with new-build properties on “Millionaires’ Row” in Formby. Of course, when there is a loser, there is also a winner. In this case of the latter, it was the ubiquitous Terry Riley of the Ascot Group who was the ultimate winner. An interesting character, Mr Riley has a very colourful history. At various stages, he has been a champion ABA boxing champ, a pub owner, and a property speculator. Apart from trying to buy Leeds United football club, he entered the public eye in what I can only describe as a feud with the drug-dealing Clarke brothers, now happily serving long stretches at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. As the French are likely to say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.

Incidentally, it appears that the council officer who has been adjudicating complaints against Liverpool councillors (and throwing over half of them out) is none other than Jeanette McLaughlin. This is the woman who was both City Solicitor and Monitoring Officer during Joe Anderson’s heyday as Mayor. If nothing else could be more likely to heighten people’s cynicism about change in the city council, surely this does the trick.

Meanwhile, official Opposition leader on the council, Cllr Kemp, is calling for the new Secretary of State for Communities to pull back on the proposed changes which his predecessor had outlined for the future shape of the city council. I could not disagree more. I do not believe that there is either a need or a demand for three councillors for every ward. Nor do we need as many wards. For a start, idle hands on a council can easily make mischief in a variety of ways – sometimes out of boredom, sometimes out of malice, sometimes out of greed. In my view, that has been the case for the last fifty years or so, since the last great overhaul of local government in the wake of the Redcliffe-Maud review.

If councillors are to be paid a proper salary, then they should do a proper job. In my experience, there have been too many jobsworths and party hacks on councils, far more interested in picking up extra income via superfluous outside bodies rather than in looking after the interests of their constituents and of the city. I am well aware that there are, and always have been, dedicated public servants on councils who do work hard for their constituents. However, there are far too many – as in Parliament – seeking to feather their own nest rather than looking after the interests of their hard-pressed constituents.

The Same Old Song

One of the many problems associated with Liverpool City Council (LCC) is the sheer number and scale of the unanswered questions which are outstanding, concerning how it has been conducted over the last ten years or so. The Caller Report dealt with some rather narrow areas of council activity, but its findings were shocking to many. The police are plodding along with Operation Aloft – they have twenty officers full time on the case – investigating a relatively small number of nefarious transactions involving the council. The Labour Party is yet to show what it will do about those councillors who have, either by their actions or their complicit silence, brought the party into disrepute.

I thought of these matters when I read that Alistair Machray, former editor of the Liverpool Echo, had been appointed a board member of the Liverpool Arena and Conference Centre (ACC). The ACC is wholly owned by LCC, so someone in the council has obviously made a decision to appoint him. Remember that as editor of the Echo, he was responsible for its policy of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” when it came to LCC, depriving its readers of the truth of what was happening in their council. Equally important is the question of directors’ fees for those sitting on the ACC board.

Way back on 20/3/2018, I submitted an FoI request on these fees, having discovered that over £500,000 had been shelled out to the board in the previous year. Having heard nothing by 20/4/2018, I did a follow-up to LCC. Still, there was no response. In exasperation, I wrote again on the 19/5/2018, threatening LCC with the Information Commissioner. I received a brief and equivocal response, stating that no councillor or council officer on the board received these fees. There was nothing about who did get the fees, but there were only three directors left. That meant an average “earner” of £170,000 each for 3 or4 meetings per year. Yet another scandal – the then chief executive, the then mayor and the then deputy mayor all agreed this outrageous payout.

I have chanted the mantra about transparency and accountability for years. Latterly, I have added the need for prosecutions and convictions. Yet when I look at LCC, very little has changed. By and large, the same players continue to drag the city down. Allow me to run through just a sample of the outstanding issues which need resolution:

  1. The scams at the football ground car parks.
  2. The New Chinatown debacle.
  3. Fox Street Village and the Paramount Building, which although unsafe, still have people living in them.
  4. Tarmacademy – need I say more?
  5. North Liverpool Regeneration Company. Receiving £3.5 million from the public purse whilst being blacklisted by Ofsted for the “misuse” of £600,000 of taxpayers funding.

I could go on – we can each make our own list of priorities – but these are just a handful of the wholly dubious deals which have not, to my knowledge, been properly investigated as yet. Perhaps it is hoped that they might just fade away. No change in attitude there!

Yet we have Joe Anderson once again brazenly seeking legal fees from the council tax payers. In the course of his legal submission, he was linked with career criminal Thomas Mee! As a result, questions are now being asked about the connections between Anderson, Mee, Elliot Lawless, Andy Barr, Cllr Ann O’Byrne and Samuel Beilin. What a collection!

The latest individual to come under the microscope is eager self-publicist Kate Stewart, owner of the Sandon complex facing LFC’s Anfield stadium. There is a mystery as to how she allegedly became an unlisted tenant in the Cunard Building. This is taking her expressed wish to work with Joe Anderson too far, although links are being made between her and Cllr Joanne Calvert, daughter of Anderson.

Meanwhile, the news items continue to flow thick and fast. The city centre road works are running at £13 million over budget (think: Andy Barr and King Construction). North Point Global, with the Serious Fraud Office on their tail, owe the taxman £1.7million and investors £40 million (think: Peter McInnes). Regional press awards again feature the hapless Liam Thorpe (think: staunch defender of Joe Anderson’s administration). The new mayor is named as one of the most influential women in the United Kingdom (think: who she?!?).

Last Tuesday, the role of a “senior officer” in the council was discussed by a handpicked group of councillors. The meeting was held in camera – no press or public were allowed in. Is it, therefore, any wonder that respected NGO Transparency International placed LCC in category 5 of secretive public bodies (the range is from 1 to 6)?

Sodom?

In response to a recent blog, Stevie B. posed a question to me: “Has Liverpool become the British Naples?” It is a difficult one to answer, particularly if one was ignorant of the appalling level of corruption within that particular Italian city and its hinterland. That area, known as Campania, is wholly dominated by the Camorra, one of four regionally based criminal organisations which have bedevilled southern Italy (the other four are  the Mafia in Sicily; the ’Ndrangheta in Calabria; and the Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia).

I took the opportunity to reread “Gomorrah”, written by Campania local Roberto Saviano. It is a brilliant and disturbing account of what happens when criminality has a grip on the council chamber, the boardroom, and the street. The whole spectrum of public and private morality becomes distorted to a degree where for so many, wrong becomes right so long as it brings in money for those profiting in such circumstances. I recommend Saviano’s real life account to anyone who is interested in the almost apocalyptic situation where ethics and morality are distorted at such terrible human cost in the pursuit of money.

Towards the end of his book, Saviano devotes a chapter to the successful years spent in Aberdeen (of all places!) by leading Camorra compare (godfather) Antonio La Torre, and his business empire. Now, you may say that this is all very interesting but irrelevant to the troubles of Liverpool. Think again! Students of our home grown criminal elite will be well aware of the international dimension to their activities. Indeed, until relatively recently, the Home Office recognised, by way of a Merseyside Police special funding allocation, the fact that uniquely, outside of London, Liverpool was the British city with the most extensive organised crime dimension, both home and abroad. Curtis “Cocky” Warren sourced his cocaine imports from Colombia via Venezuela; John Haase’s importation of heroin came from Afghanistan via Turkey. Ask yourself why, today, a veritable army of Liverpool criminals have bases in Amsterdam, Marbella and Dubai.

The reality is, and has been for a very long time, that crime knows no borders. On the contrary, it is most productive with the help of foreign organised gangs. They may well provide Class “A” drugs or contraband cigarettes, or involve themselves in people smuggling. On the other hand, they have been quick to exploit the rapidly growing area of white collar crime, providing money for dodgy development deals as they launder illegal money offshore, all behind a facade of legitimate business. Hence, Signor La Torre’s successful sojourn in Aberdeen. That image of business propriety is a valuable asset in the modern criminal’s armoury. They are all company directors now.

Naturally, this is where regular business and politics come in. Criminals seek businessmen who will accept their investments with no questions asked. Too many fall into that trap. Criminals have also learnt to set up their own bogus companies, an area where the law is notoriously weak. This option cuts out the inconvenience of regular business partners, although in many instances, regular businesses can be turned into additional income streams whereby both clients and sub-contractors can be ripped off.

In our own city, like Naples, the role of politicians appears to be two-fold. Firstly, we have our own code of omerta. Questions which should be uppermost in the minds of politicians are simply not asked. Those that are, are simply ignored. Local media is silent on the substance of corruption. Therein lies the death of the concept of due diligence. Secondly, that most precious resource – land – lies within the gift of politicians. It may take the form of preferential sales (or gifts) of publicly owned land, or it may be an accommodating planning regime which fails in its duties to the people of the city. One marker I should put down here. I personally know of two former chairs of planning in Liverpool who got out of the job and out of politics, due to the threats and intimidation which they received from well known local crime families. Indeed, one left town altogether as did a well respected former “Echo” crime reporter. It is to prevent such outrages that we desperately need to see criminal prosecutions and convictions of those responsible for the current round of corruption. We might then truly turn things around in this once great city.

Is Liverpool Britain’s Naples? We share many characteristics, both positive and negative, but not yet to the degree which has blighted this former Italian jewel. Although there are violent men involved in our own criminal demi-monde, there is nothing to quite match the ruthless brutality of the Camorra. Can we go that way? I do not think so as things stand – I like to believe that the average Scouser is far too savvy to tolerate the degree of violence commonplace on the streets of Naples and Campania… but I could be wrong.

What Next?

Each day, there are snippets of news concerning the ongoing drama that is public life in Liverpool. However, it was still a disturbing surprise to hear that one of those arrested under Operation Aloft had attempted suicide. Happily, it was unsuccessful – I am sure that most people have no wish to hear of such an extreme degree of self-harm, no matter who the individual might be.

Less of a shock was to see that Joe Anderson’s crowd-funding page had raised exactly zero funds as contributions in aid of his action against the city council. You may recall that he sued his former employers – at a cost of over £100,000 to the city’s council taxpayers – in a failed attempt to obtain more money from them. On this occasion, he appears to believe that the council taxpayer should again pay for whatever legal actions he now wishes to take against Liverpool City Council. It could be that in the last few days, he has secured a paltry sum in that crowd-funding account. What is clear is that his erstwhile “friends and supporters” have deserted him, conscious that he is no longer of any use to them, and that association with the former mayor may prove toxic.

A later piece of news was the repeated threat to the city’s World Heritage Status. I hope that this does not materialise, but it does reflect the council’s continuing failure to address the issues raised by the council’s cavalier disregard for the city’s truly outstanding built environment. Will the council never collectively wake up to itself? Perhaps we should not be surprised by its hitherto failure to act radically and immediately. Let us take the “new” deputy mayor, Cllr. Corbett, previously a member of the Joe Anderson cabinet. Her attitude to transparency was exemplified by the fact that she sat on a report into the Fox Street debacle, which happened to be in her ward. Transparency can hardly be said to be her by-word, although it is the key to good governance.

I am also told that the refurbishment of a grand house is underway in the leafy village of Rainford, in the borough of St Helens. The property, bought for the princely sum of £850,000, is undergoing extensive alterations which will bring the final cost to around £1,250,000. The ultimate buyer is Mr Peter McInnes, late of Dubai. Remember him and his company, PHD! This heavily embroiled him in the Paramount development scam (between Lord Nelson Street and London Road) as well as the New Chinatown development fiasco. He was also the man named by the police as a money launderer for drug importers, in open court at Preston Crown Court.

All of these relate to what has become a mantra for me – that is, without prosecutions and convictions, nothing will change. That is simply because those who have been major contributors to the mess that is Liverpool City council today, have yet to be held to account. The council leadership is said to be working in tandem to do its bit in correcting the failings of the past, but all we have to date is some proposals to juggle the number of council wards and the number of councillors, promised for 2023. Equally, I remind you that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are yet to act on the findings of Operation Sheridan, five years after its inception. Lastly, the national Labour Party is currently beset by other priorities than Liverpool Labour’s condition. I am not hopeful that we will see soon any of these undertake the radical action which the city’s recent experiences demand.

I would hope that right minded local elected representatives will be asking of the various agencies, just what they intend to do, and how expeditious any action might be. The fear is that, as in so many similar and previous situations, the local and national Establishments will hope that people will forget, and the whole sorry mess can be shunted into the “too inconvenient/too difficult” file. I do not believe that that will wash, especially with those few people whose diligence in rooting out the truth about council operations gave the real impetus behind the limited action to date. They, above everyone, know that there is a very long way to go.