There has been a flurry of announcements from local government in this first week of the new year, each impacting on council tax payers across the whole of the Liverpool City Region. The proposals also further lock in whoever wins the metro-mayoral election next May, to an agenda not of their making.
The first announcement, of a major housing initiative, came from Whitehall. Included was a plan for a new urban village in Knowsley. Now, we all recognise the need for new housing; but what caught the eye was the official Knowsley Council statement that they would be making a bid for £17 million towards the scheme, from the Combined Authority. Thus, the new metro-mayor may well be committed in terms of both planning AND finance to a scheme in which s/he has had no say.
This proposal was quickly followed by a Liverpool Council plan to spend £20 million on a small new link road near Prince’s Dock, and a claim by the mayor that, in April, a further £6 million would be committed. Oh, and he tells us a new rail station is to be built near Bramley Moor Dock! (Has Merseytravel agreed? The last time a similar plan was mooted by EFC, Merseytravel, under Mark Dowd, kicked it into touch).There will also be huge compensation and relocation costs due to existing businesses affected. All of this, before a metro-mayor is elected in May.
There are many issues arising from these grand plans, not least, where the money is coming from. This is quite apart from the now standard Gadarene rush to pre-empt the freedom and flexibility of a new metro-mayor to apply priorities validated in an election, and in the very areas set out in statute within the jurisdiction of that metro-mayor.
The Knowsley bid is a guide as to one source of the funding involved in these proposals. Another source will be Merseytravel, although I fear that borrowing will be part of the mix, as well as further fire sales of council assets, at giveaway prices to the same dodgy developers. Remember that money from Merseytravel and from the Combined Authority is money intended to benefit ALL of the city-region, not just Liverpool. The biggest question is why the developers/beneficiaries of these schemes are not paying for the infrastructure improvements under s.106 agreements. Why, instead, are they being subsidised?
These beneficiaries, by the way, are principally our old friends, the Peel Group, and Everton Football Club. Peel are a private company run by a billionaire whose companies use off-shore tax havens. Everton is also a private company, half-owned by a billionaire. Most of its players also ship their wealth overseas. Peel have had subsidies from Liverpool Council for its airport business and its port business. EFC have had subsidy for its Finch Farm training ground. Now both Peel and EFC will again be given a huge lift by Mayor Anderson for a questionable return to the communities of the city-region.
How DOES Mayor Anderson explain these decisions of his when he is making, by his own admission, massive cuts across services? Cuts might be explained by the Government’s parsimony, but that will not wash with his choice of spending priorities. Liverpool Council has lost its Labour sense of purpose if it places the interests of rich, private companies before the interests of the poorest sections of the community and their dire needs.