Contractual Contortions

Mayor Anderson is extremely close to a tight group of “developers”, none more so than Lawrence Kenwright. Mr. Kenwright, you might recall, bought Millennium House at a knock down (but unrevealed) price from the mayor.  This was despite the fact that Mr. Kenwright had been banned as a company director, after an insolvency left debts of almost £2 million.

Stephen Doughty M.P. raised Mr. Kenwright and his financial arrangements in Parliament recently, in relation to another foggy deal, this time involving Cardiff council (https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2016-04-20/debates/16042033000002/CardiffCoalExchange#contribution-16042033000225). In both cases, one would have expected “due diligence” to have been exercised on the sales. Interestingly, accountants Grant Thornton did a “basic” check (whatever that means) on the Cardiff deal.  The same firm are district auditors to Liverpool Council, but it is not clear what checks, if any, were done on the Millennium House sale.

It also transpires that in the past year, 545 contracts have been entered into by Liverpool Council without going out to tender. That is, over ten contracts every week without any way of members of the public being able to assess whether, at the very least, there is value-for-money in the way in which their council tax is spent.

Similarly, for small local businesses, there appears to be little information upon which they can assess their chances of doing business with the council. I well recall urging the council twenty years ago, to break open what were cosy cartels who divided work between themselves with the council’s blessings.  The current lack of transparency in much the council’s dealing under Mayor Anderson, suggest the possibility of a return to the bad old days.

This was when “Private Eye” devoted a regular feature to a region they characterised as “Murkeyside”. Of course, they were referring principally to Liverpool and its too often grubby political manoeuvring.  The question before us all now is whether we wish to see that lack of transparency and accountability spread once again across the whole of the city-region, or whether the new metro mayoralty will truly be a fresh start.

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Joe’s Referees

Interesting to see the efforts of TeamJoe to influence votes. One tactic is to send ghost-written paeans of praise of Liverpool’s own Dear Leader, usually authored by his campaign manager – and would-be successor – Nick Crofts on behalf of various people. Nice try, Nick, but as we have said before, you can put lipstick on a pig but it is still a pig.

However, one did have a ring of authenticity to it. It was the sober support offered by Tony Jennings and Phil Knibb. Many members will not know who they are but they are comparatively recent recruits having been earlier expelled from the Labour Party. Like Derek Hatton, they are warmly welcomed by Joe.

They have reason to be grateful to Joe. Although based in Croxteth, Joe has given them the Walton Park leisure centre and the Dovecot multi-activity centre, neither of which is in their normal area of operation. It means that the asset value of their organisation has soared. Next time you park at the Walton park site for an Everton match, remember the good cause to whom the parking fee goes!

Oh, by the way, Nick – Joe’s mayoral manifesto made the fatuous claim that he was responsible for creating 31,000 jobs. I note his metromayoral claim is down to 20,000 jobs. I have heard rumours of deflation but this is ridiculous… When will you learn that spin is so yesterday?

Random Thoughts

I received Mayor Anderson’s invitation to a Sunday Brexit “Remain” party on Sunday. My initial reaction was: really, after the Remain vote went down? Then, of course, reality kicked in – there is still a selection for Joe to contest, and he will let no opportunity pass to win more votes.

Strange, isn’t it? The Tories staged a referendum in order to settle their internal party squabbles on this long-running sore. Whether the wider population wanted one or not, we got a referendum. It has meant the resignation of the Prime Minister. What odds are there on Osborne going, too? What does that mean for English devolution and the so-called Northern Powerhouse?

Cast your mind back to a newly-elected Labour council in Liverpool in 2010. Unlike other major cities, Joe did a deal with the Tory-led Coalition to introduce a mayoral system without the inconvenience of consulting the people of Liverpool. Despite the evidence of the votes in the other major English cities where mayors were rejected, local people in Liverpool were simply told to like it or lump it.

Now local Labour parties are having to make yet another decision, this time to decide who will be the Labour candidate (and favourite) to be a brand-new metromayor. It will be fascinating to see if that selection is won by spin and favours, or by a considered appraisal of the merits of the candidates.

Jobs for the Boys

On Friday, June 17th, the Combined Authority, chaired by Joe Anderson, agreed a report on “executive capacity”.  Joe and his sidekick at Liverpool Council – Ged Fitzgerald – have come up with proposals to create seventy three senior officer and support jobs, costing £6.8m.  That is nearly £100,000 per head on average.

Of course, the more senior jobs will pay much more – upwards of £250,000 for the Head of Paid Services (this is currently Fitzgerald, chief executive at Liverpool Council). These people will deliver no services of any sort; and the report is careful to point out that “the budget will subsequently be revised” – upwards, naturally. Nor does it cover the costs of the metromayoral staff.

The report has been done by consultants Amion in the name of Ged Fitzgerald. Amazingly, it plans to start interviewing and recruiting new bureaucrats in July.  The interviewing panel will consist of Mayor Anderson and two of the council leaders on the Combined Authority (no prizes for guessing who!). Urgency is stressed, in part to hasten “public service reform”, otherwise known as jobs for the boys.

Hidden in this gem of a report is the requirement of local authorities to finance scrutiny of the new arrangements. It appears that our six local authorities will soon have to pay in order to know what is being doing in their name.  How did local authority leaders sign up to that nonsense?  Are we all to be kept in the dark even more than we are at present?

All of this has been agreed by Labour politicians without any reference to anyone else.  No council, no constituency Labour Party, no rank and file member has been consulted on these proposals to lock a future metromayor into this bloated bureaucracy.  The supposition is that the new metromayor will be one of the report’s driving forces, Mayor Anderson.

The document claims that the Combined Authority is a “democratic public body”. It is not.  It also claims that “it will be the public face of the Liverpool City Region”.  No, it will not.  It is a carve up in the very narrow interests of the few, paid for by the many. It is also a blatant attempt to pre-empt the election as metromayor of anyone but Joe .

Link to report:

http://councillors.knowsley.gov.uk/documents/s43088/Report%20-%20Executive%20Capacity.pdf?StyleType=standard&StyleSize=none

Jokenomics

I never cease to be astonished by the claims made in politics. The underlying assumption too often is that all voters are naive. When will people learn that overstating the case often undermines their own credibility? Thus it was in the 80s when otherwise laudable achievements became lost in exaggerated numbers which people quickly saw as nonsense.

I thought of this whilst reading once again the spin put on Liverpool Council’s otherwise sound record in some areas. Like the school-build programme – always a potential vote winner, you might think. Political credit in abundance for those improving the future for our young; but you would possibly be wrong.

Take the south end of Liverpool. We know that Mayor Anderson’s disregard for green spaces was a major factor in losing seats there earlier this year. Yet that mishandling did not stop with antagonising those who do value green spaces. The mayor gave the go- ahead for a replacement school for St. Julie’s to go on open space in Woolton. Yet in next door Speke, about 2 miles away, there is a state of the art secondary school – just 12 years old and built for 900 pupils – in pristine condition and lying empty. Why, say puzzled citizens, do we build a new school on green space when we already have an empty school nearby?

Moreover, the empty school was built under PFI, meaning that it still carries a total debt, with interest, of £58 million. This is costing the Liverpool council tax payer £12000 per day! This has been the case for the last two years. At the time, the mayor said it would cost the council £25 million to buy out the contract, but the council did not have the money. Fair enough, but why then spend £13 million buying Everton’s training ground, and spending over £20 million (the council refuses to confirm the final cost) on the vanity project of the Cunard Building?

These are the economic priorities of the madhouse, inappropriate to Liverpool, and inappropriate to the city-region. Hopefully, Labour members will bear this in mind when they choose their candidate for metromayor.

 

Odds and Sods

I have been asked by a range of councillors why I think some of the ruling Labour cabal on the Combined Authority have had a Pauline conversion on the road to their meetings at Mann Island. After all, those who, not so long ago, were calling for Joe’s head, now want him preserved in aspic (well, it was good enough for Stalin!).

Their follow-up question is invariably: what is in it for them? Who knows? We can only speculate as to why people who should know better now seek to foist on the rest of us what they, until recently, found intolerable. Why, for example, does Andy Moorhead attribute to Joe, road infrastructure improvements paid for by Knowsley Council? Why does he try to influence the vote of every Knowsley member with a leaflet in his name, but paid for and printed in the Liverpool Labour office?

Why does Phil Davies demean himself by playing the support act to Joe’s attempts to show an interest in the Wirral? He saw close up Joe’s wilful behaviour and threats to walk out, when he was chair of the Combined Authority – why roll over now to give Joe a leg up at every opportunity?

I know that the cynics among you will say that deals have been done –and you will be right. Remember that everyone has their price, but we often deal in different currencies.  It is amazing what people will do for a title or a promise, no matter how inconsequential. This is even more the case when a sizeable salary is involved.

Meanwhile, the mayor’s cronies are inviting him to every opportunity where he might meet potential voters and procure their support. I presume that they are aware of the rules governing selections; or is it the case in these brazen times, that they do not give a damn?

That is why councillors are crucial in the run-up to this vital selection. Their considered views can ensure a fair go for all three candidates for the metromayoral nomination. After all, given Mayor Anderson’s past utterances on the subject, there is every chance if he was to succeed, that there is a limited time span for most existing councillors. The shrinkage of Knowsley Council representation is only a beginning.

Another Day, Another Dollar

This week has seen a novel departure from the norm at Liverpool City Council. Cllr Munby has publicly taken issue with a favoured developer. In this instance, it was the fatuous idea to put a “centre parc” in the middle of historic Croxteth Park. The proposer was Mr. Lawrence Kenwright of Signature Living.

An interesting entrepreneur is Mr. Kenwright.  His meteoric rise from bankruptcy to ostentatious business success has paralleled that of his good friend Mayor Anderson in local government. He even sponsors Mayor Anderson’s personal political fund-raising events.  He is an avid supporter of the mayor who sold to him the former council headquarters (Millennium House).

Mr Kenwright got this bargain at a knockdown price after Mayor Anderson twice devalued this prized city centre building. So taken is Mr Kenwright with Mayor Anderson that he has his public relations people compose paeans of praise to the Great Leader.

One, in the form of a video, is included in a nauseatingly servile Facebook offering from Cllr Crofts, another potential successor to the leadership of Liverpool. Right-hand man to Joe supporter Stephen Twigg MP, and head honcho of Teamjoe, Cllr Crofts has exceeded himself in his obsequiousness on Facebook.

Thus, there appears to be no shortage of Liverpool councillors who are desperate to see Joe kicked upstairs. However, the quality of choice from which his putative successor would come, is extremely limited, giving Liverpool Labour councillors a tough decision if that situation arose. Of course, his would-be successors fail to see that even if they were to succeed in getting Joe into the metro mayor role, there is no chance of him letting go his grip on Liverpool.  It is the goose that lays the golden political egg.