“Christmas is coming, the developers are getting fat,
Please put a fortune in the rich man’s hat.
If you do not have a fortune, a contract will do,
If you haven’t got a contract then a grant is good, too.”
I know, I know – I should be singing about a goose in the old Christmas song! Yet given the number of recent announcements in the run-up to Christmas, the happy days for exploitative, so-called “developers” are here to stay. Given also the tough times facing local government, income from any source and at any cost, seems to be welcome.
I thought of this when there was recent publicity about a fresh tranche of public money going into the coffers of Peel, of Manchester. Let us be clear about this company with massive land interests in the city-region, and with huge influence with government, locally and nationally. Its prime purpose is to squeeze as much profit as they can from their holdings. Their interest is those of its owner, Isle of Man tax exile, John Whittaker, NOT the interests of the city-region and its people. Peel are very good at shifting those profits offshore to tax havens, to wind up ultimately in an Isle of Man private trust. Safe from the Inland Revenue.
These are the type of people who prosper today – property speculators and self-styled developers, promising investment and a golden future. These snake-oil salesmen can be found lobbying anyone with any clout in the public sector who can help to satisfy their greed. Bankrupts and criminals can set themselves up in new companies, knowing that due diligence is currently a charade when projects are approved and money is doled out. The superficial attractions are of short-term building jobs – often given anyway to people from outside the city-region – but they mean relatively little when the wider, long term interests of the local economy are to be considered. A bubble is being inflated which will inevitably burst, but, conveniently for the get-rich-quick merchants, it will occur after they have taken their profits and gone.
Thus, the first metro-mayor will have his/her work cut out in their necessary task of guiding the local economy; for the present free-for-all must be controlled in a coherent and co-ordinated way for the good of the whole city-region. Our economy cannot be based on the interests of dodgy developers, profiteering at the expense of our hard-pressed people. Their needs and their services must come first.
Likewise, local businesses, paying their way locally and nationally, should be fostered wherever possible, rather than outside fly-by-nights being fast-tracked to indecent gain, with little input of either significance or proportion, to the local economy. For far too long, outside interests have seen this area as a place in which to make a quick quid without any concern for the wider community interest.
A recent conversation with a local political leader brought home to me a further challenge facing the victor in next May’s election. As the Combined Authority spends up the money available to it, and employs a new cohort of bureaucrats before a metro-mayor can have a say, there are still those in key positions seeking to advance their own egotistical cause with a cavalier disregard for the future of the city-region and its people.
Therefore, my wish for 2017 is that those who, to date, have refused to face future realities, have a change of heart, and recognise that the election in May of a metro-mayor is a game changer. We can all pull together and make it a success, truly giving the Liverpool city-region a fresh start. Alternatively, the political backwoodsmen can continue their silly and irrelevant manoeuvring, enabling our region’s critics to say “We told you so !”.