Events, Dear Boy, Events

Former Tory Prime Minister, Harold McMillan, once summed up the challenges facing a political leader, as “events, dear boy, events“. The accuracy of his epigram has been well illustrated in recent days across the city-region. Wirral faces a crisis concerning child protection: St Helens has witnessed a council helter skelter in forming a new administration; even normally quiet Halton has suffered fall-out with its IT system, due to the recent ubiquitous virus infection. It just shows that one can never predict every political pitfall one might encounter, although some might be foreseen.

Take the changes at Liverpool council. It has been a given for a long time that members have been manoeuvring  in anticipation of Mayor Anderson going, either voluntarily or otherwise. Whilst most of the group would wish to revert to the traditional council leader arrangement, the mayor remains an obstacle.  On the back of the mayor’s recent (and repeated) faux pas, some moved precipitately to change the political furniture in the Cunard Building.

Remember, that not only has the mayor failed again in his increasingly desperate attempts to job swop, but he has once more taken to abusing Labour colleagues. He has over time ranted that he would not work with other leaders on the Combined Authority, with Steve Rotheram or Dan Carden – even I had the doubtful privilege of the mayor’s rejection. He is not a team player, and the council team seems to be recognising that fact.

The changes in Liverpool are in two critical positions – planning, and audit. I presume that the new chair of planning will look again at the council’s dismal record on green spaces. As for the new audit chief – Cllr. Tootle (a twitter supporter of the mayor’s unfulfilled ambitions) –  I would suggest an early project if he really has the stomach for the job. After all, it is a maxim of good governance to exhibit transparency; and a key way to do this is to “follow the money”.

As Liverpool FC expanded its Anfield presence, there was a demand for more parking for fans. Two sites came to hand which were ideal for the purpose – the land on which two former local schools had stood, Anfield Comprehensive and Major Lester Primary. Eventually, control of the sites was given to a community interest company (CIC), the Beautiful Ideas company. That control began in March, 2015.

An interesting company, based in Liverpool 8 in a building housing a number of housing associations. Directors included city councillor Nick Small; local builder Julian Flanagan; former Halton councillor Jon Egan; Anfield licensee, Gemma McGowan; and housing officer, Erika Rushton. The beneficiaries of the money raised on the sites were to be Anfield-based charities and community groups.

However, there is a mystery. These money-spinning sites operated for four years before the CIC took responsibility for them. It has been impossible for interested parties to get accurate and complete financial information for this period, during which these council-owned sites were run by the Flanagan building group. Let me illustrate why there is concern within the community by looking at the Anfield site.

It has a capacity of about 800 cars at a fee of £10 each match day. That is a potential gross income of £8000 for each game. In any season, there are about 50 games (give or take a few), including cup and Euro fixtures. Potentially, that is about £400,000 income per year from ONE car park, assuming it is filled to capacity. Profits were to be dispersed within the area via the Anfield-Breckside Community Company-the ABCC (now in administration). So where did the money go?

An email from the CIC suggested a gross income for the period in question was around £205,000 – far different from a notional income of about £1.6 million. It also suggested that ABCC had given out about £55,000. What happened to the rest? After all, the site was said to be operated by volunteers. What other costs were there? The council in an FOI answer on January 7th, 2014, had given an income figure of £131,312 for the two years from 2011 to 2013. By July 8th, 2015, the Liverpool Echo was reporting a running total of £186,000 income for the site.

None of these figures add up – it does not take an accountancy qualification to see that. The council had a report drawn up on this whole matter which has never been made publicly available. It is always a real challenge to audit, as in this case, a cash flow where there are no receipts, no records, and apparently, little sense of responsibility. One thing is certain, however. The bulk of the money raised never went on the local community.

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