Property Speculation

What a strange world we now live in. It is as if Alice-in-Wonderland thinking is the order of the day. We have had the farcical Brexit referendum which has seen the spectacular demise of Cameron and Osborne, closely followed by the end of the prominence of Gove and Farage. The oddity is the inexplicable rise of leading anti-European campaigner, Boris Johnson, to the heady heights of Foreign Secretary, of all things.

Here on Merseyside, we have had our own version of political turmoil. Mayor Anderson had finally obtained the chairmanship of the LCR Combined Authority as a supposed precursor to being the Labour candidate for metro-mayor. It was not to be, after he was soundly beaten for the Labour nomination. Such are the ups and downs of politics at both a local and a national level.

If this roller coaster had halted there, local politics may have trundled on in the time-honoured fashion. Yet in Liverpool, another puzzling situation has arisen. The Municipal Buildings have been unsurprisingly put up for sale (Is there anything that the council will not flog off?). At the same time, it appears that the council is looking to buy the Liver Buildings. Where the money will come from, God only knows; but it is the council’s perception of its core purpose which I find disturbing.

Speaking to the media, Mayor Anderson’s  partner in enterprise – chief executive Ged Fitzgerald – talked of their ambition to buy the Liver Buildings, wondering if  “other investors” (my emphasis) would beat them to it. Quite apart from whether it is the role of a highly paid public servant to brief the media in this way, I was struck by the clear implication that Mr Fitzgerald saw himself (and presumably, the mayor) as an investor. It betrays a mindset. I rather thought that such senior people in the council were there to cater for public service, rather than see themselves as some type of property speculators.

It is little wonder that so many people assume that the sale of the Municipal Buildings was “boxed off” a long time ago, and now, it is merely a case of managing the public impact of that decision. After all, the “investor” mindset operates in that way. In the public mind, the idea that public servants and politicians might collude in such a way, is of little surprise, given the record of Liverpool City Council in recent years.

However, I did manage a wry smile when I read the figures given to the media in order to illustrate the council’s business acumen. Using the purchase of the Cunard Building as a comparator can only be done by once again conjuring up bogus valuations (as shown by various FOI answers). Given the mayor’s public claim that the city will go broke in 2018, it will be fascinating – to put it mildly – to see whether the city will end up broke, or simply burdened with over-valued vanity projects.

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