Down the Tubes with Joe

The old saying tells us to “follow the money”. Well, a lot of it goes into our universities; and some, at Liverpool University, goes into the Heseltine Institute.  Its advisory board chairman is Ged Fitzgerald, sidekick to Joe and the council’s chief executive. Thus, when the council wants a report to sing its praises, its first call is to its virtual in-house “experts” at the institute.

Their recent report is, however, more notable for what it does not mention. You will recall that Joe had launched a Mayoral Development Corporation, billed as a “multi-billion pound” model to drive regeneration. Yet it is one of the more striking omissions from the report, given its fanfare as a major initiative. Presumably, this is because, as the report suggests, Joe’s history is to make grandiose announcements which never come to pass. To quote a previous institute report – “excellent on paper but not a development corporation in the sense that it links through to delivery”.

So when Joe talks about creating ten new development zones, we should take it with a large pinch of salt! After all, he has repeatedly failed to deliver on his previous commitments. Empty promises and failure to deliver – perhaps that will be Joe’s political epitaph.

Bill Clinton’s electoral clarion call – with justification – was “It’s the economy, stupid!”  Well, official and unspun figures suggest Joe has never taken that sage advice in the stewardship of Liverpool’s economy. The following figures come from the Office of National Statistics, and refer to their most up-to-date research covering the years 2009 to 2014. Joe had responsibility for the Liverpool economy for the last four of that five year period. The statistics are alarming.

Whilst the economies of all other cities in the country have grown, between 7.25% (Nottingham) and 19.23% (Bristol), with Manchester on 17.65%, only Liverpool’s economy has shrunk by 0.78%! Looking simply at the growth rate year on year, Manchester has left Liverpool for dead whilst Joe has been in charge.  Perhaps even more remarkable, as Liverpool shrank, the economies of all of the other Merseyside local authorities, including Halton, have achieved substantial growth.

The moral is that Joe would be a disaster for the economy of the city region. His record in Liverpool is demonstrably a failure, particularly on delivery. Just as the city-region will need to expand its business rate base, to finance region-wide services, the Liverpool council audit report tells us that Liverpool City Council will be broke in 2018. According to Joe, the city will be “looking over the abyss…….in 2017, we fall in“. What chance then of attracting investment to the city-region and what chance of growth?

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Mendacity Unbound

As fresh controversy rages around the sale of Millennium House (this time over planning permission – or lack of it), further information has come to light about the methods of one of Joe’s favoured developers, Signature Living. This, in turn, stems from revelations in Parliament concerning Signature Living’s dealings with Cardiff City Council.

The question now being asked is whether, as in the Cardiff case, Liverpool City Council – courtesy of the mayor – financed the sale of their own asset to a private developer. If so, why, and under what terms? After all, there are already so many unanswered questions concerning what has been characterised as the “car boot sale” of Millennium House.

Why, for example, did the sale not go out to tender? What was the sale price, and what was the independent valuation? How did the deal cater for the cost of the upgrade given to the gymnasium, and what consideration covered the valuable city-centre car parking at the site? Until these questions and others are answered satisfactorily by the mayor, the deal will haunt him.

He already has enough to answer for with his bragging claims of success in the city. They do not add up. TeamJoe publishes ever more contradictory claims in his name and the inconsistencies mount, especially with regard to housing and job creation. Look at the following claims, and official figures:

2016 mayoral manifesto:  claimed 31000 jobs created since 2012

2016 metro mayoral manifesto:  claims 20000 jobs created

NOMIS (the Office of National Statistics) says that 600 jobs were created in 2012/3

That suggests an increase in the rate of job creation of anywhere between 3200% and 5000% over the last three years – utter nonsense.  Equally bizarre are the claims on housing –

2016 mayoral manifesto:  claimed 5045 houses built

2016 metro mayoral manifesto:  claims 8000 built

DCLG figures say that 1810 were built.

It is clear that TeamJoe are making it up as they go along. To think that there are MPS and council leaders supporting this rubbish.

Hard Times

It was absolutely right of Steve Rotheram to attack the bloated bureaucracy being foisted on the metromayoralty by Joe Anderson, in anticipation of him getting the job. For this arrogant man to dismiss the cost as “only £7 million” shows just how out of touch he is with the real world.

His confederate in setting up this superfluous team of bag carriers, was his chief executive, Ged Fitzgerald. It was the latter who actually commissioned the report which delivered this unnecessary extra layer of bureaucrats, each on an average salary of £100,000. Joe, in turn, pushed the plan through the Combined Authority.

The firm commissioned by Fitzgerald to produce the report was Amion Consulting, chaired by Mr Timothy Johnston. He and Fitzgerald are both directors of new company, The Big Trust Limited. I am sure that they will have plenty of time together there to discuss Joe’s hoped-for future support. After all, Fitzgerald is hotly tipped to head it up if Joe eventually gets the job.

However, it may be premature of those who think the Anderson/Fitzgerald partnership will move onwards and upwards. Fitzgerald still has police investigations hanging over his head. These involve Liverpool Direct, of which he was a director (as was Joe) and Rotherham Council, where he was chief executive.

At least Joe is looking more his real self – snarling and shouting at the selection hustings. TeamJoe should keep him out of view – the more that people see and hear him, the more they dislike him! Additionally, loss of his Tory contacts from government, pull from under him the only advantage he could claim with central government.

Any doubts on this were swept away in a debate on the LCR metromayoralty held in the Grand Committee of the House of Lords this week. It was emphatically pointed out that Joe had rid Liverpool of scrutiny and accountability. Answering the criticism, the government minister made it perfectly clear that such conduct was wholly unacceptable and would not be tolerated in the metromayoralty. Joe’s autocratic approach will be no more.

Campaign Woes

Poor old Teamjoe – they have had a rough time of late.  A leaking ferry put Joe’s notion of a new boat into a fresh perspective.  Meanwhile, his claim that Frodsham was part of the Liverpool City Region showed remarkable ignorance of communities outside of Liverpool.

Since then, things have got steadily worse for Joe’s dysfunctional campaign team. One of their latest faux pas was a claim that Jamie Carragher was on board with Teamjoe. The former Liverpool idol had already publicly declared his support for Steve Rotheram. What looked even sillier was their aping of the Rotheram-Burnham accord with a thoroughly unconvincing Anderson-Lloyd link-up.

Yet surely the biggest blow to their case has been the demise of Joe’s connections in the Tory government. His privileged pals have gone – Osborne altogether, and Clarke to another department. He is left only with the aged Heseltine – made a freeman of the city of Liverpool by Joe to the dismay of many.  Heseltine has no traction with the new government of Theresa May.  More than ever, IF the Northern Powerhouse policy is continued by the new government, it will be in new hands; and the Liverpool City Region’s interests will need to be pressed by a metromayor with experience of Westminster and Whitehall.

More than in anything else, Joe is found wanting here – he just does not cut the mustard. He would be like a bull in a china shop. The new metromayor will need skills which Joe simply does not have. Anyway, he has been elected to do a job in Liverpool, a city whose economic performance has been the worst in the country since 2009.

This is bad news for those Liverpool councillors desperate for Joe to move on so that they might fill his shoes. Wannabe leaders like councillors O’Byrne, Crofts, Kushner et al long hopefully to sit atop the grubby hill that the Liverpool Council has become.  Others, of course, just wish to be free of the sterile atmosphere currently debilitating the Town Hall. We must all await the outcome of the ballot.

Perceptions Matter

I’ve said it before and I say it again – whoever advises Mayor Anderson does him no favours. Recent days have clearly illustrated this. As he and Wirral leader, Phil Davies, are being lambasted over low wage carers, the mayor announces that the city council is to “invest” in luxury training facilities for Everton Football Club.

Despite the argument put forward that there will be an increase in income to the council from the new facilities, there is a tremendous mismatch between a perceived subsidy for a multi-million private company, and a perceived failure to help low paid staff. This is on top of the mayor’s dismissal of the cost of his new bloated, highly paid bureaucracy, as “only £7 million” (a telling remark  which the local media again failed to pursue).

Meanwhile, in the contest for the Labour nomination for the new metro mayoralty, feedback from Labour members suggests there is a real contest underway. Initially, odds were on Mayor Anderson. He has had a free run from the local media, and he had a huge war chest bolstered by twenty thousand pounds courtesy of Liverpool Labour Group, plus money via fundraising through his developer friends. The glossy emails and fawning support letters flooding out from Liverpool Labour HQ evidence the resources at his disposal.

However, many members have commented to me about this, and are distinctly unhappy with our local personality cult. Their concerns are about character, probity, priorities, and interpersonal skills. What the final outcome will be to the selection, no one knows. Furthermore, whilst the eventual Labour nominee will begin as favourite to win next year’s election, nothing is certain.

We are currently in a very volatile political environment. We do not know what the agenda of the next Tory Prime Minister will be, and nor do we know what will result from the stand-off between the Labour leader and the Parliamentary Labour Party. It brings to mind that oft-quoted remark of one-time (and local) Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson that “a week is a long time in politics”. By that measure, the time between now and the ultimate election of a metro mayo, is a veritable eternity.

Chilcot

When Blair embarked upon the Iraq tragedy, he was at the height of his potential power. He had led Labour to two record, landslide general election wins, and seemed to have total command of the political landscape.

He knew perfectly well that the reckless path he was about to take posed grave dangers; but still he persisted. I knew from first-hand experience how stubborn he was, and how weak his cabinet colleagues were.  Furthermore, on Iraq, those challenging Blair knew that the bulk of the Tories were more gung-ho than he was.

My first hurdle in marshalling parliamentary opposition was to persuade the Speaker to allow a back bench amendment to be taken – I managed to get his agreement. Then there was the task of rallying support from other parties.  The Lib Dems were on board as were the Scots Nats.  The Tories and Ulster Unionists were with Blair, other than a handful of independently-minded Conservatives.  The crunch was how the Labour Party members would go.

I drew up a rather bland amendment to encourage as much parliamentary support as possible, and dissuaded the Campaign Group – John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, in effect – from tabling a rival amendment. On the day – March 18th, 2003 – the Speaker called me to move the amendment after Blair had moved his resolution, and then Tory leader Iain Duncan-Smith had wholeheartedly supported him.

Naturally, as the two principal party leaders, they had as long as they wished to make their case. As a backbencher, the rules allowed me only eight minutes (Blair had spoken to a carefully crafted speech for three-quarters of an hour) to make the case against war.  The outcome of that debate is now history, and Chilcot has established the truth of the case against the war.

The political lesson is to take “leaders” with a huge pinch of salt. Decide for yourself what is right and wrong on the basis of the evidence available, and act accordingly.  At the very least, you will be at ease with yourself and able to sleep at night.  Moreover, you will be surprised just how much support you get from displaying political integrity.  Failure to do so, on the other hand, can bring down contempt on you – just ask Tony Blair.

Media Malfunction

Back in the 80s, Liverpool Labour Party was so frustrated with the perceived bias of local media, that they distributed their own publication – “ Not the Liverpool Echo “. I recalled this as I pondered the all time low which its namesake has reached. I cannot recall a time when the editorial staff of the local paper was either so biased or so ignorant of local political events.

This struck home when I saw a piece in the online version of the Echo detailing Steve Rotheram’s withering attack on Mayor Anderson’s proposal for a bloated bureaucracy costing £7million (It is only £7 million, answered profligate Joe). In no time, the issue was off the website, and the printed Echo did not even mention it.

Why is it that all the local media fail to hold this man to account? Gaffe after gaffe, waste upon waste is passed over whilst Joe’s extensive public relations team get positive coverage for every madcap, uncosted proposal they come up with. Needless to say, many people are not fooled by this media failure. Indeed, this farcical support for the ego trips of the mayor is a contributory factor in people turning off in their droves form the puerile reporting of the Echo, as well as from once-popular phone-in shows like Roger Phillips.

Much is said about politicians being out of touch, especially by the media. Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn have both shown that there are now possibilities beyond mainstream radio, television and papers. Social media can do much to get at the truth of things. Hopefully, that will be the case in electing a metromayor because it is a dead cert it will not be the case with our hopelessly uncritical local mainstream media.