The “softening-up” process has begun, as councils’ spin doctors do their level best to “sell” the more palatable proposals of their particular council as budget time approaches. Equally, there is a “soft sell” of more contentious measures thought to probably irk voters, whether or not the ultimate culprit is government-inspired austerity. For example, I would not be surprised if the move of Liverpool Football Club from Melwood to Kirkby is flagged as a great triumph for Knowsley Council, in an attempt to silence the arguments of KRAG supporters who decry the steady erosion of Kirkby town centre.
We have also had floated, the sale of the Parklands School white elephant in Speke. In itself, a sensible move if it lifts the huge burden of this hugely expensive PFI on Liverpool council tax payers. What remains to be seen is whether or not it is sold, and at what loss to council tax payers. Residents of Speke will also have a keen interest in who the buyer is, and the proposed future use of this modern but empty building.
I am sure that right across the city-region, councils will put the most positive spin which they can on a rather gloomy picture. That is natural enough. Last year, one widely publicised boast was a successful city-region wide bid for funding from the European Social Fund, worth £42 million. This was for the years 2016 to 2018.The largest sum – £13 million – went to Liverpool, although funding went across all authorities, much of it to the voluntary sector.
For example, the Merseyside Youth Association received £3.6 million to help 2237 youngsters with travel to work costs. Liverpool Hope University was given £751,000 to “assist” 170 graduates (no – I do not know how!). The Alt Valley Community Trust (AVCT ) was given a whopping £4.3 million to “create” 803 jobs through its Access to Work scheme. Just how an organisation that was nearly half-a-million pounds in deficit at the time, managed to do that, is beyond me!
Moreover, this body – AVCT– has again come into focus in the aftermath of Liverpool Council’s insistence on giving Redrow priceless green space at Calderstones Park. Apparently, that same council is feared to be about to shed its responsibility for the jewel in the crown of Liverpool’s green space – the magnificent Croxteth Estate. The park, the farm and the hall are to be transferred to the AVCT, as originally mooted last year. it would be leased at a peppercorn rent, and AVCT given £200,000 to run it.
Having already transferred Walton Sports Centre (together with its lucrative match-day parking income) and the Dovecot Multi-Activity Centre to AVCT on similar terms, it is shocking that LCC should shirk its responsibilities in this way. It is crazy to expect the necessary level of guardianship from a community trust that is evidently already struggling to pay its way, despite grants.
It is reminiscent of the ludicrous situation on the International Garden Festival site when the mayor inexplicably bailed out developers Langtree. On that occasion, the site was similarly given to a trust which had neither the money or other resources to revive it. It is little wonder that so many Liverpool voters fear for the city’s green spaces, given the council’s determination to either sell them to builders or give them to trusts.