Development

A beguiling story emerges from a press report yesterday.  A Grade 2 listed building goes up in flames on a prestigious and expensive site in Woolton. No one yet knows how the mystery blaze began, whether by accident or arson; but the rumour mill turns. The developers had high hopes for top end luxury homes on the sought-after site. Their names? North Point Global.

The name rang a bell whilst reading this tale of woe. Checking back, I saw where I had come across this firm. The business-to-business website “Place North West Place“ had featured the company as “the development arm of PHD1” and quoted its chairman, Peter McInnes.

According to press reports last January, Mr McInnes was accused by the police of money laundering in a Proceeds of Crime hearing in Preston.  Shortly after this hearing, the PHD1 Group of companies was wound up, and the Bilt group was registered to take its place. “Place North West“ had also billed Mr McInnes as chairman of the PHD1 group, although he was never registered at Companies House as an officer or director of the group. However, director of the new Bilt group was Julie McInnes who, I am told, is the sister of Peter McInnes. He apparently now resides in Dubai from where he directs his business interests.

Curiously, I understand that the interests of PHD1 in various projects were transferred seamlessly to Bilt companies. They include massive projects at Chinatown and Pall Mall. Coincidentally, North Point Global list these same sites on their website, as part of their portfolio. It raises a simple question: how does this happen? The principal of a company is accused in court by the police of money laundering; the court is reminded that his previous business partner was convicted of drug importation; yet his business interests seem to flourish unhindered.

The question of due diligence arises amongst those who allow this to happen. Now, I know that the mayor and council in Liverpool rate transparency and accountability as rather low on their scale of priorities (remember, they abolished their own scrutiny panel!); but when contracts for development appear to be falling like confetti, surely someone, somewhere, should be looking at the bona-fides  of the self-styled “developers“ involved.  At present, bankrupts, con men and convicted criminals appear to be flourishing without anyone batting an eye lid. Is that the city we want?

Muscle in the City-Region

If you have half an hour to kill, get onto the Companies House website and check out the LCR Local Enterprise Partnership. This body has been overseeing government grants on Merseyside and Halton, of hundreds of millions of pounds for over twenty years, most intensively over recent times. It is classed as a development agency, but is listed as a private company, limited by guarantee. It was initiated by the Major government in 1992.

In those 26 years, this company – known familiarly as the LEP – at one time or another has had 90 directors, of whom about 15 have been local authority councillors. The latter have only ever been a token presence, always heavily outnumbered by the rest of the board who are mainly members of what I refer to as the local magistracy. They are appointed – never elected – on behalf of the local establishment although few are what we would normally describe as local. This group of people, responsible to no-one but themselves, make for interesting reading.

Their addresses are listed, ranging from Scotland to Bristol, and as far east as East Yorkshire. The bulk of them appear to live in leafy Cheshire, far removed from the LCR conurbation. Naturally, they include representatives of businesses with investments in the area like Peel and Stobart’s, and others represent business through various chambers of commerce. There is also a fair number of quangocrats and former civil servants.  Marianne Neville-Rolfe, for example, headed up the Government Office for London.

Even a chief constable and university vice-chancellors kept seats warm. Despite being elected by no-one, these worthies decided where investment would be made. Unsurprisingly, those on the board represented interests which were recipients of huge benefits through the LEP. It is true to say that democratically elected local representatives on the LEP board were mere window dressing. The real decisions were made by the local establishment.

This situation sums up what I consider to be at the root of the current political malaise at both a local and a national level. An illusion persists that power resides with our elected representatives; but it is an illusion, and explains why little seems to change with a change of government or of a council. Of course, we can all point to relatively minor adjustments made by new administrations. Worthy although they might be, they do not address the fundamental question of where power lies, as opposed to where it should lie. Hopefully, a younger generation are waking up to this and will demand the transfer of power to where it should reside – with the people and their elected representatives.

Our own local privileged minority has been well represented on the LEP and benefitted from it. They continue to do so. I wonder why our local political leaders continue to give it credibility when it seems to prioritise the interests of a clique who arrogantly ignore the ballot box, circumventing accountability behind the smokescreen of local authority participation.

Incidentally, the LEP staff is, if Mayor Anderson was to have his way, to metamorphose into a third incarnation, as the support staff for the Combined Authority and the new metro-mayor. This staff began life as the Merseyside Tourist Board before transforming into the LEP. Now, Mayor Anderson and his familiar, Ged Fitzgerald, propose that they take up this new role at an average salary of £100,000 pa under the leadership of ….Ged Fitzgerald!! Thank goodness Steve Rotheram has already forewarned that such arrangements would be unacceptable to him as metro-mayor.

Areas of Concern

Two matters rearing their heads in the media recently, create alarm in many quarters. The first issue is a “report” into alleged infiltration into the Liverpool Riverside CLP. I am no expert on that particular party, nor would I claim specific information relevant to it. However, I do have extensive knowledge and experience of entrism in the Labour Party, and of evidential reports supporting claims of it.

Having read the “report” quoted (originally in “The Guardian”), I have concluded that it has no merit whatsoever. It is a farrago of smears, unsubstantiated allegations, insinuations, and imputations. When the Labour Party was trying to excise Militant entrists from its midst, this “report” would have been laughed out of court. It simply fails to make the most basic case that there is a takeover of Liverpool Riverside CLP underway.

In fact, what has been described has been the experience of most constituency parties for as long as I can remember, with some members aspiring to run a constituency party differently from the incumbents. Accusations of anti-Semitism (in more than fifty years in the party, I have never witnessed an instance of it) or of aggressive debate (rather, passionate debate) are unsustainable and unsubstantiated, and certainly bear no resemblance to the days of Militant’s influence. I trust that Labour’s National Executive Committee will waste no time discussing this document.

The second issue to arise comes courtesy of trade journal “Place North West”, a must read for property developers. It is calling on interested parties – i.e. businesses – to bid for projects to be financed from the Single Investment Fund. This is supposed to be under the authority of the Combined Authority and the metro mayor. It is worth £257 million over the next five years, and bidding for the first round closes on December 9th, 2016.

The missing piece in this jigsaw is the metro mayor – we do not yet have on! However, it illustrates how the Combined Authority under the current chairmanship of Mayor Anderson, and serviced by his familiar, Ged Fitzgerald, appears to be committing the funding available in advance of the election of a metro mayor. Whilst what is being done is perfectly within the scope of existing agreements with government, is it within the spirit of the putative role of an elected metro mayor? The latter is in grave danger of being shackled into someone else’s agenda. Is that what we are to vote for next May?

Scrutiny

Just before the start of the summer recess, an interesting letter of clarification was put by a government minister into the House of Lords library – a regular way for the government of the day to express its authority. Lord Bourne’s letter set out the government’s view on mayoral scrutiny, initially referring to existing legislation.

He repeated what we know – that the chair of a given mayoral scrutiny panel must not be of the same party as the mayor in question. In the case of Liverpool, the position was held by then Liberal Party councillor, Hazel Williams. No longer a councillor since 2015, she was not an effective chair of the scrutiny panel. In fact, she was so ineffective, that Liverpool’s mayor was able to scrap the scrutiny panel altogether without any problem whatsoever. One wonders what the minister’s view is on that affront to transparency and accountability.

However, Lord Bourne does refer in his letter to the position of incoming metro mayors. He is unequivocal in stating the present government’s intention to tighten up via secondary legislation this autumn. The independent chair of each scrutiny panel will be recruited via “an open, competitive process…..in response to a public advertisement”.

Whilst his intention is clear, I will not hold my breath, having witnessed the cavalier disregard for scrutiny in Liverpool. When the actual legislation is tabled will be the time to judge. The minister also reiterated the government’s commitment to the city-region of £30 million per year of devolved funding, for thirty years. It seems to me that the Combined Authority is hell-bent on committing those monies to their pet schemes before an elected metro mayor takes up the reins of office!!

Effective scrutiny now might help to ensure that an incoming metro mayor is not hogtied even before taking office. It would be unforgivable for Labour leaders to be party to such a mean-minded strategy, particularly as the Labour nominee is the favourite to be the successful candidate next May.

Facing Reality

Phillip Blond is a well-connected Tory from Liverpool.  He owns a private company – ResPublica – often wrongly described as a think tank.  It is, in fact, better termed a consultancy – set him an agenda and he will give you an acceptable answer….for a price. Mayor Anderson paid him on behalf of the Combined Authority, £100,000 for a report on HS2. In today’s paper, ResPublica describes itself as “centre/right “.

I thought of Mayor Anderson’s fondness for such Tories (remember Heseltine’s freedom of the city?) whilst watching  television footage of a Northern Powerhouse panel held in Manchester, where Mayor Anderson was sitting alongside another Tory – the apostle of austerity, the sacked chancellor, George Osborne.  As they swapped jokes, they announced how they were to be joined in their endeavours to promote Osborne’s agenda, by Michael Bloomberg, billionaire former mayor of New York. Apparently, they are collectively intending to advise the new metro mayors in Liverpool and Manchester, on how to run their new fiefdoms.

Had they, I wondered, bothered to ask if their advice was required or welcomed?  Of course, the answer is no – the metro mayors do not come in until next May. It is, however, another sign of the determination of, frankly, losers to embed their own agenda in the north west, pre-empting the options facing the eventual elected city-region mayors. These kinds of pressure foreshadow an extremely difficult challenge for incoming metro mayors when they come to establish their own priorities.

The political myopia of Mayor Anderson in all of this is puzzling. The incoming metro mayor for the Liverpool City Region will have a bigger personal mandate than his own as elected mayor of Liverpool. When it comes to numbers and powers at the Combined Authority, Mayor Anderson cannot win. The new powers given to the metro mayor are not yet fully measurable: but a canny political operator with wide support will, without doubt, be able to counter any attempt to shackle the office of metro mayor.

Manoeuvring of this sort would be in no one’s political interests; but the sense remains that Joe Anderson is not yet ready to accept the inevitable – i.e. that he is not going to be king of the LCR political castle. As of May, there will be a new figure leading the Combined Authority.  It will not be a time for ego, but a time to recognise that the progress of the LCR as a whole will be led and inspired by the metro mayor, not by the leader of one component authority within it.

Frustrated Ambition

Has a collective madness overwhelmed the Labour Party? The national farce is bad enough as it staggers from crisis to crisis; but there are suggestions of a more localised infection. The latest Liverpool snippet is that mayor Anderson has considered standing as an independent in next year’s metromayoral election.

I do not know the truth of this, but I would not be surprised. Ever the poor loser, nevertheless Joe would be mad to go down this route.  Having been clearly rejected by Labour Party members as their candidate next May, he would garner little support amongst the wider electorate. However, he has always been determined to be king of the castle. Remember his threat to withdraw Liverpool from the Combined Authority when the other leaders failed to make him its chairman?

This is where a more immediate worry creeps in. It appears that Mayor Anderson and his Liverpool acolytes are trying to pre-empt where they can, any future decisions by an elected metromayor. The Labour candidate for the role – Steve Rotheram – is the favourite for the job in May. He has already made it clear that he will not be bound by decisions made in advance of May’s election, which would have the effect of restricting his freedom of manoeuvre if elected metromayor .

The leaders of the five other councils will be vital in ensuring that the spirit and the letter of the legislation covering the Combined Authority and the metromayoralty are kept. Whilst they can do little to restrain Mayor Anderson from acting pre-emptively in his Liverpool  barony, they can ensure that nothing is done via the Combined Authority which would attempt to shackle the future metromayor.

I am sure that they are astute enough to recognise that failure to control Mayor Anderson on the Combined Authority would guarantee conflict in the city-region post May, 2017. That would not be in either the boroughs’ interests or in those of the Labour Party. One man’s frustrated ambition cannot be allowed to create a future confrontation with an elected metromayor.

Protecting our Young

A shocking report was listed online by the Echo on Saturday evening. This is neither the best day nor the best way to inform the people of Liverpool of how they are being let down. The report stems from a joint inspection under the Children’s Act, and was compiled by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation.

These  high-powered and authoritative  bodies are highly critical of the multi-agency response in Liverpool, to the abuse and neglect of children and young people.They identified “serious and widespread deficits“, including “failings to protect some children and young people from harm…..including those at risk of being sexually exploited and who are missing from home and care”.

Areas identified as needing improvement include leadership and management; identification and managing risk of harm; and responding to children missing and at risk of sexual exploitation. There are some crumbs of comfort in the report, identifying what the inspectors describe as key strengths. However, the focus of the people of Liverpool will be on the failing areas.

Councillor Barry Kushner, as the ostensible Cabinet member responsible for children’s services, admits that the council and its partners “clearly have more to do“ and commits to plans to tackle the deficiencies. However, the buck stops higher up the ladder, with the mayor and his chief executive. This week’s “Private Eye “ carries a story  about Mayor Anderson’s own professional experience of these challenges  when he worked at Chesterfield High School. The chief executive was in charge of Rotherham Council during the period when child abuse was endemic there, and which is still the subject of investigation.

One would think that, given their respective experiences, the two men who dominate all decision making in Liverpool Council,would have ensured that such matters would never be a cause for concern in Liverpool. To me, it is truly incredible that they appear to have sat on their hands, while key agencies, led by the Council, have so miserably failed to meet their obligations to vulnerable children and young people.

Political Amnesia

Local comic (once a real newspaper) The Echo has given prominence to a letter written by Frank Field, MP, to authoress JK Rowling. In this he sings her praises for her attacks on Jeremy Corbyn. Field – who was often referred to in the House of Commons as” Flaky Frank” –  appears to have forgotten that he was one of those who  initially nominated Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership. Even more startling is his confusion at the huge increase In Labour Party membership. Like many, he seems afraid of the influx of new blood.

I am not surprised. In a former function as Labour party regional organiser, I oversaw the 1989 reselection contest in Birkenhead wherein, I have no doubt, he was beaten fairly and squarely by challenger Paul Davies. Unfortunately, Frank would not accept the result and was believed to be ready to trigger a by-election, standing as an independent. As the officiating party official, I was pressed to find a reason to overturn the result but I would not. The solution decided by the party in London was to await my going to parliament, and having my successor as regional organiser rerun the selection.

I do not know what was done to ensure Frank won this “rerun” but he did. Interestingly, there was a legal action as a sequel to this. It involved the then chair of Birkenhead CLP, a former supporter of Frank’s and a solicitor by profession. I gave her a sworn statement as the conduct of the selection, expressing the same view which I had put to Labour’s National Executive. One of Frank’s leading acolytes in Birkenhead had the temerity to ring me up and try to persuade me to withdraw my statement. Naturally, I would not.

Not only was I mindful of the truth of the matter, but I recalled how Frank had publicly urged voters not to vote for the Labour candidate in neighbouring Wallasey in 1987, Lol Duffy, but to support  Tory incumbent at the time, Lynda Chalker. I was appalled by the party’s refusal to do anything about such disloyalty. Ironically, Labour Party members have always misunderstood Frank’s politics. When he was selected to replace his very reactionary predecessor, Edmund Dell, it was assumed that he was “on the left” in politics because of his job with the charity, the Child Poverty Action Group. How wrong they were to be shown to have been!

Too many in parliament believe that they have a God-given right, not only to be there, but to have a spell in government as part of the deal. Representing their constituents and their communities , too often takes a poor second place to satisfying their personal ambition, whether that be a desire for high office , or simply the satisfaction of an inflated ego. If a local Labour Party demands something more of its candidates in elections and beyond, is that so revolutionary?

Transfer Window

I am being that told the Everton Football Club have signed a deal with the Peel Group, for a riverside site for a new stadium. The reported cost is £20 million. If this is true, then it goes a long way to explain the roadworks on Great Howard street, and the increasingly curious project to re-order traffic along the Strand. I am not suggesting that in both instances of traffic difficulties, there is no need for the council to effect some positive changes; but it speaks volumes about the priorities of the council, and the all-pervading influence of the Peel group.

Obviously, this would, if true, be a deal between two private businesses – EFC and the Peel Group – but the impact would be enormous. The concentration of Council resources to make this viable would be extensive, meaning a lower priority at least, for other demands for council intervention. The effect on traffic would be only one immediate outcome. For those who are concerned about current plans and their effect on, say, Liverpool Arena, an even bigger attraction north of the Pier Head will blow their minds.

Needless to say, the council – or, rather, the mayor – would try to take some credit for such a move, and possibly would succeed with some Everton fans (perhaps not so readily with miffed LFC supporters!). I, as a lifelong Everton supporter, would not be so sanguine. Such a new stadium would need to be paid for, and it is always fans that ultimately carry such costs. Besides, I would want to know what the wider ramifications for the city and its residents would be. What effect would it have on the many small businesses in the north docks area? Would existing jobs there – and there are many – be affected?

Most intriguingly, what impact would such a sale have on the much-hyped Liverpool Waters proposals of Peel? Their earlier fanfare for Wirral Waters collapsed with their “withdrawal” from an alleged partnership with a phony Chinese outfit. The site remains by-and- large an industrial wasteland. Will the grandiose claims projected for Liverpool Waters go the same way? I know they spoke nonsense about having a fifty year plan; but in fifty years, most people reading this will be dead and gone. I reckon that the bulk of the Liverpool Waters proposals will precede us.