Joe’s Launch

Joe is seeing more launches these days than Cammell Laird’s slipway but it is appropriate that the next official launch of his bid to be Labour nominee for metro-mayor should be at the Hugh Baird Port Academy. After all, he was a seafarer before his career change into pub management. He has also prided himself on his attempts to boost Liverpool’s maritime links whilst he has been in office.

It was, I think, nostalgia for his merchant marine days which helped persuade him into the folly of using the city’s hard pressed reserves to buy the Cunard Building as a cruise terminal. Of course, it was not to be. Instead, we are paying for a new cruise terminal on land owned by his good friends at Peel (major sponsors of the mayor’s launch venue, the as yet unopened Port Academy – a posh name for a training school).

It may be apt at the launch to raise some questions about the aforementioned cruise terminal. I have traced at least six contracts which the mayor has made in connection to it. Nowhere is landlord Peel mentioned other than as a recipient of “Duchy Turnover “ money – possibly some arcane dues from yesteryear. Are Peel to be paid rental on their land? One would imagine so. More interesting are two contracts awarded to Southampton Cargo Handling. Remember how Southampton fought tooth and nail to stop Liverpool’s cruise terminal? Now they are given “stevedore services” and “rope handling “ contracts. Are these not skills upon which Liverpool docks built its name?

The launch might also be an opportunity for the mayor to explain why Liverpool’s municipal borrowing is at its upper limit. Is it the case that he hopes if he becomes metro-mayor in the future to spread the cost of his extravagant borrowing across Merseyside? Liverpool’s borrowing has exceeded that of Sefton, Knowsley and Sefton put together, and runs at double that of Wirral. These are important indicators of the kind of financial regime which might eventuate across the six boroughs under an Anderson metro-mayoralty. It could have dire consequences for the city-region.

Of course, launches – at least, official ones – are generally seen as an opportunity to set out a candidate’s values and principles which underpin his/her approach to an elected position. Issues like inclusivity and transparency, accountability and consultation are vital to the selection of the right candidate to be the Labour flag-bearer in 2017. Hopefully, there will be some clues forthcoming at Joe’s launch based on facts rather than flannel.

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Metromayoral Candidates

We should all be absolutely clear. Metro-mayor in the city-region is a new post. Any Labour Party member who is qualified may stand for Labour’s nomination – it belongs to no-one. Anybody who thinks differently is living in the past. Free and unfettered electoral choice is what democracy is all about. Labour Party members across six boroughs will decide who the nominee will be, not some self-seeking cabal, wishing to impose their views on the rest of the party.

Already there are those seeking to use dirty tricks in their determination to deny members a fair go. I am told that one possible candidate has been told that she cannot attend a meeting to which she had been invited as a speaker. This is because she may be a candidate for the nomination; but apparently the Liverpool mayor can attend the same event!

It is a long time since we have seen these machinations taking place in our local politics. However, it appears that the Liverpool Council Labour group has agreed to fund out of group funds, the Liverpool mayor’s campaign to be nominee. Perhaps they are eager to kick him upstairs, or at least out of their way. It remains an outrageous decision which could well poison relations between a future metro-mayor and combined authority, and a group within Liverpool City Council without either the sense or the backbone to stay out of a constitutional selection of a Labour candidate.

Those who are trying to skew what ought to be a fair and open contest will be in for a shock. The party will not tolerate attempts to prejudice the democratic choice of city-region members. Whilst it is certainly possible to pressurise a narrow number of colleagues with positions to protect, heavy handed attempts to force one candidate on 10,000 members across the city-region just will not wash.

Forced endorsements, or compulsory attendance at one candidate’s events, will fool no-one. Yet already people are fearful of what may eventuate for those who fail to support the “right” ticket. They should rest assured that no-one should be afraid to honestly express their view on who would best represent the interests of all of the people of the city-region. The idea that an unrepresentative clique should gainsay the opinion of the wider membership is simply intolerable.

Breaking News

The announcement in the media was brief. There would be no new stadium for EFC on Walton Hall Park. This was no surprise to the club who had formerly been led to believe that there was a deal on offer from the city to provide the Blues with a new home. However, to their dismay, the club had been told some time ago that the offer was off. To say that the current “economic climate” was the decisive factor was misleading. A major factor was purely political.

There has been very vocal local opposition to plans to build on yet another city park. This background noise to an impending metro-mayoral election would have been disconcerting, to put it mildly. After the very negative electoral reaction in the south of the city to the degradation of green space, it was obvious that a cavalier approach to parks was naive at best. Walton was saved!

Perhaps the more intriguing announcement in the same media was speculation that two local Members of Parliament were considering seeking the Labour nomination for metro-mayor. Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson has already stated his intention to go for the post. Now, if the media have it right, we might also see Luciana Berger and/or Steve Rotheram going for the job.

Steve is well known to many, especially in Liverpool. Formerly on the city council, he was raised in Knowsley where his father had also been a councillor. His year as Lord Mayor of Liverpool coincided with the city’s highly successful Capital of Culture year. Perhaps for many outside of Liverpool, he is best known as a leading supporter of the Hillsborough families.

Luciana, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer locally. She was the surprise successor to Jane Kennedy as Wavertree MP in 2010. She is difficult to appraise as a potential metro-mayoral candidate as she has not yet had much opportunity to demonstrate her worth. To my knowledge, she has no local government experience, although this may be seen in some quarters as an advantage. Similarly, in these days of emphasis on gender balance, some may regard her as doubly advantaged.

Of course, we do not yet know whether the media reports will be followed by actual nominations. It might be an exercise in kite-flying. Nor do we know if other Labour figures are preparing to throw their hats into the ring. What does seem certain is that we will have a real contest to select the best possible Labour candidate for this new role of metro-mayor.

That will be so important for this new role. It will be a function requiring a very different skill-set in the successful candidate. That candidate must offer a new approach across all of the city-region. That new approach must be fully inclusive; fully transparent; wholly accountable; broadly consultative. Bluster and spin will not wash, if we are to make up ground on the other city-regions, and bring prosperity to all of our communities.

Cunard Building: Bargain or Folly?

Whenever a council makes a decision, there is invariably a cost involved. The bigger the decision, the bigger the cost. It follows that it is just plain common sense to look at a major decision in this context, and to evaluate a cost-benefit analysis of that decision.

The move from Millennium House to the Cunard Building was such a major issue for Liverpool City Council. The sale of the former was itself contentious. Firstly, was its real value obtained? It is claimed within the council that its true valuation was downgraded internally, not once but twice, before it was sold. Secondly, it is said that, prior to its sale, parts of the building were unnecessarily upgraded at considerable cost without any sale benefit to the council. This is not the best way for a council – or anyone else – to sell a prime asset.

Nevertheless, if it could have been shown that the Cunard Building deal gave a net benefit to the council’s coffers, perhaps none of this would have been such a cause for concern. The problem arises when trying to objectively assess the council’s move. For example, we are told officially that the current value of the Cunard Building is now £27 million. Yet Freedom of Information (FoI) requests reveal that this is a figure written on the back of a fag packet. No current evaluation has been done! The council has no record of any valuation ever having been done!

Cunard Building has cost a king’s ransom, helping to push the city’s debts to their maximum limits (I am told it is now nearly £1 billion but I have no idea of the actual level of debt. It is a state secret!). Its initial cost has been increased by the cost of refurbishment. An acquired council spreadsheet shows early expenditure on refurbishment (via the chief executive’s office) running at nearly £3 million, of which £1.4 million went to St Helens office fitters, Jennor. A more recent contract awarded to Jennor shows the cost of just one office suite (3B) refurbishment in the Cunard is now £762,000. According to the relevant planning application for this contract, it covers “removal of partition walls, construct new stud walls, doors, suspended ceilings, and sanitary ware”. Perhaps the taps are gold-plated!

We must remember that the big selling point of the purchase of the Cunard Building to a sceptical electorate, was its projected use, in part, as a cruise passenger terminal. This option was shown to be a risible myth. A temporary terminal was constructed near the landing stage, but now there is said to be a need for a bigger facility. This will be built on Princes Parade on land owned by Peel.

This is fascinating in itself as Peel’s website still shows a separate cruise terminal in their own plans for Liverpool Waters. Presumably, Peel cannot lose out because building a terminal on their land will undoubtedly entail a lease cost to the council for the cruise terminal. One must also assume that the terminal will be managed – at a cost – by Peel for the council. After all, the council is not a docks company, and has no expertise in this field.

Arguably, this situation is implicitly recognised in a series of contracts which the council has awarded. Ove Arup has been commissioned to report on a new terminal project at a cost of £100,000. Meanwhile, our old seaport rivals from Southampton get in on the act. Two contracts have gone to Southampton Cargo Handlers, one for stevedoring services (£740,000) and one for rope handling (£600,000). Others have gone to Svitzer (£74,750) for tugboat docking; Rapiscan (£9099) for security scanner maintenance; and one for signage at the terminal for £20,000. Curiously, the council pay the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company (now defunct but part of Peel) £20,000 for “Duchy Turnover” – whatever that is, perhaps an archaic harbour due of some sort.

All of these costs ought to be considered alongside the distorted values attributed to Millennium House and the Cunard Building before an honest assessment might be made of the decision to move the council headquarters to the Pier Head. Of course, there may be other factors which affected the decision to do so, factors to which the council tax payer is not privy. We all want to see an efficient and forward-looking council in Liverpool, and a successful port and cruise terminal. But we all also want to know the true costs of those flights of fancy to which we are unwittingly being committed.

Electoral Lessons

I recall, as a young Labour Party member, when Liverpool council had but one Liberal member, Cyril Carr. Within a few short years, because of Labour complacency, a squad of young Liberals – Alton, Storey et al – had a majority on the council and were running the city. Some disturbing election results this year have brought this to mind.

St Helens , Wirral and Halton have held the line, losing no seats and maintaining control of their respective councils . Sefton Labour have suffered the loss of seats far from the Labour redoubt of Bootle.  In Knowsley, the one party state is no more, as the Lib Dems – successors to the Liberals of Cyril Carr – re-emerge in Prescot.  However, both Knowsley and Sefton have had a history of   “cultural”  differences with those areas where seats were lost . They are accustomed to these challenges.

Liverpool, however, strikes me as being of a different order, primarily because, unlike its neighbours, it also had a mayoral election.  Let me congratulate at the outset those councillors who were successful in winning their seats; and my commiserations go to those who lost theirs. The campaign itself suggested a degree of that dreaded  complacency of yesteryear – the manifesto, for example, was only published shortly before the election, after the postal votes had been returned. It was also a highly personalised campaign centred on the mayor, with his election dominating leaflets.

One political outcome was the high profile of mayoral mistakes like the proposals to build on the city’s parks.  More than any other issue, it contributed to the loss of seats to the Lib Dems, giving them hope of a resurgence. Yet it does not stop there.  Mayor Anderson dropped 7% of his vote share compared to his last outing, whilst the Lib Dem candidate trebled his vote, and the Green doubled his.

Perhaps most alarming is the fall in turnout for the mayoral election.  One must assume that the election strategy was based on the belief that the mayor was a draw to the ballot box.  If so, it was mistaken.  The turnout was down by 13% on 201.  What this figure hides is telling. Whilst the total votes for Labour council candidates was just shy of 56500, only  51300 voted for Mayor Anderson. That is, 10% of committed Labour voters would not support  him for mayor. Put another way, despite the much-vaunted profile of Mayor Anderson in Liverpool and beyond, only roughly 16.5% of the electorate in the city would vote for him.

That being the case , and Mayor Anderson’s expressed determination to seek the Labour nomination  for mayor of the city-region, will his “appeal”  reach into the other five boroughs , or would his hypothetical candidacy be a liability in an election almost bound to attract a high calibre field?

I recall, as a young Labour Party member, when Liverpool council had but one Liberal member, Cyril Carr. Within a few short years, because of Labour complacency, a squad of young Liberals – Alton, Storey et al – had a majority on the council and were running the city. Some disturbing election results this year have brought this to mind.

St Helens , Wirral and Halton have held the line, losing no seats and maintaining control of their respective councils . Sefton Labour have suffered the loss of seats far from the Labour redoubt of Bootle.  In Knowsley, the one party state is no more, as the Lib Dems – successors to the Liberals of Cyril Carr – re-emerge in Prescot.  However, both Knowsley and Sefton have had a history of   “cultural”  differences with those areas where seats were lost . They are accustomed to these challenges.

Liverpool, however, strikes me as being of a different order, primarily because, unlike its neighbours, it also had a mayoral election.  Let me congratulate at the outset those councillors who were successful in winning their seats; and my commiserations go to those who lost theirs. The campaign itself suggested a degree of that dreaded  complacency of yesteryear – the manifesto, for example, was only published shortly before the election, after the postal votes had been returned. It was also a highly personalised campaign centred on the mayor, with his election dominating leaflets.

One political outcome was the high profile of mayoral mistakes like the proposals to build on the city’s parks.  More than any other issue, it contributed to the loss of seats to the Lib Dems, giving them hope of a resurgence. Yet it does not stop there.  Mayor Anderson dropped 7% of his vote share compared to his last outing, whilst the Lib Dem candidate trebled his vote, and the Green doubled his.

Perhaps most alarming is the fall in turnout for the mayoral election.  One must assume that the election strategy was based on the belief that the mayor was a draw to the ballot box.  If so, it was mistaken.  The turnout was down by 13% on 201.  What this figure hides is telling. Whilst the total votes for Labour council candidates was just shy of 56500, only  51300 voted for Mayor Anderson. That is, 10% of committed Labour voters would not support  him for mayor. Put another way, despite the much-vaunted profile of Mayor Anderson in Liverpool and beyond, only roughly 16.5% of the electorate in the city would vote for him.

That being the case , and Mayor Anderson’s expressed determination to seek the Labour nomination  for mayor of the city-region, will his “appeal”  reach into the other five boroughs , or would his hypothetical candidacy be a liability in an election almost bound to attract a high calibre field?