A Semantic Issue

For your information, I attach below the official council response to my Freedom of Information request. I had sought to discover how much the Liverpool council taxpayers were shelling out to cover the legal costs of suspended chief executive, Ged Fitzgerald. These costs are being incurred, not for his time and deeds in Liverpool, but for the period when he was chief executive in Rotherham, whilst the child abuse scandal was in full drive.

Strictly speaking, one might say that the council reply to me is correct. I had asked how much his legal fees had cost us to date. According to today’s Echo, nothing has been paid YET to his lawyers – Eversheds – because their bills are yet to be finalised. What is unarguable is that the council is involved in Fitzgerald’s legal situation covering his time at Rotherham. Their defence appears to be remarkably similar to that used In Mayor Anderson’s notorious use of public funds (over £100,000) on a private matter. That is, it is somehow a principle relevant to LCC which justifies the legal largesse – in the case of Fitzgerald, as much as £300,000, I am told.

I just wonder when these people who use our city’s funds as a personal treasure trove, will be held to account. Is it the case that all of those in authority are devoid of any moral compass; are they cowed by the bullying atmosphere which pervades LCC;  or are they complicit in a politically corrupt cabal which is running things in Liverpool?

LCC FOI RESPONSE

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Manic Management

When Paul Brant resigned as a councillor, Mayor Anderson took over his role as the city’s finance guru. When Ged Fitzgerald had his collar felt by the old bill, our illustrious mayor declared that he would fill the gap as Liverpool Council’s chief executive. Now that Malcolm Kennedy has been demoted from the cabinet, it seems that our man for all seasons has added the regeneration brief to his onerous responsibilities. A stupefied citizenry asks: is there no limit to the man’s talents?

Er, it appears that there is, difficult although it may be to believe. In one of his usual spats of ill temper, the mayor has withdrawn those Liverpool Council staff who were seconded to the Combined Authority. Their role was to work on new funding for Liverpool, so it seems that hizzoner has shot himself – or, rather, the city of Liverpool – in both feet.

Still, this is small potatoes when compared to UNESCO’s looming decision on the city’s World Heritage status. Only one other World Heritage award has ever been rescinded – we can only hope we are not the second. Mind you, UNESCO have been deliberating since before the mayor added to difficulties with his proposal for a stadium at Bramley Moore dock. We should not be surprised by the mayor’s indifference given the his publicly expressed contempt for World Heritage status. It would be doubly ironic if we were to lose it in Liverpool just as Wirral Council seek the coveted status for Birkenhead Park and Sunlight Village.

The silence of the Liverpool Labour group on this is deafening. One would have expected some effort on their part to rein in the mayor and his flights of fancy. This tendency of the mayor to chase his fantasies (Cunard Building, Everton’s training ground, the International Garden Festival site) is costing the city dearly – and will cost many of them their council seats eventually. Who, for example, has questioned a Commonwealth Games bid that will “only” cost us £137 million? Who has sought guarantees that the money will be recouped? Of course, there are no guarantees despite the mayor’s bluster. Who has asked Everton if they have agreed to their proposed new stadium doubling up as an athletics track? Indeed, who will really own that stadium – EFC or LCC?

Catchy press releases and public relation gimmicks do not add up to a row of beans. I can see some small advantage to a politician whose vision is limited to a sycophantic report in “The Echo”. I can also anticipate the predictable support of the mayor’s hotelier and developer friends – there can be nice pay days in the mayor’s “bread and circuses” approach to running the city. Me? I would rather that the mayor concentrated on the legitimate interests of the many in Liverpool rather than the self-interest of the few.

Health and Safety

No-one can have failed to have been horrified by the death and destruction of the London tower block blaze.  Now, questions are being asked as to why concerns already registered with the authorities, were not met.  The tragedy naturally leads to questions elsewhere about similar buildings.

There are major problems with regulation, especially health and safety, and their enforcement.  Too often, a culture develops which seeks to avoid responsibility rather than meeting the needs of people.  I was an invited witness to a recent meeting concerning the Paramount flats complex in Liverpool.  This involved the Fire and Rescue Authority, Liverpool Council Building Control, and building experts.  The latter say that the building is unsafe, despite it already housing over 150 students.  I was struck by the urgency of the experts in contrast to the nonchalance of the two regulatory bodies.

These concerns about the quality of buildings overlap with the question of due diligence of companies with no track record which are prominent in Liverpool.  The Paramount building to which I have referred was in the hands of developers alleged to be involved in money laundering and sales scams.  Yet these outfits still seem to prosper in Liverpool.

I noted another development in the Baltic Triangle, involving yet more flats.  One partner is the Elliot Group – a firm much favoured by the Council, but which in a few years, has risen from nowhere to a multi-million pound organisation.  The other partner is Ibrahim Seytanpir, a London-based Turk, who has gone from chef to contracts manager to property developer at an equally rapid pace.  Who does due diligence on these firms and their principals?

It is not a new phenomenon.  Signature Living has appeared to prosper via Liverpool Council in the last few years.  Its principal, Laurence Kenwright, is a good friend of the Liverpool mayor.  In Cardiff, he is a friend of the Tories, having attacked a local Cardiff MP and Jeremy Corbyn during the recent campaign whilst hobnobbing with what he presumably saw as Tory winners!

It stands to reason that on any new build, there should be responsible professional practice by reputable people with a proven track record.  This means stringent regulation in building to ensure the health and safety of all.  Otherwise, there will be more Grenfell Towers. In addition , developers should be more than mere property speculators.

For thirty years, there has been acquiescence by government after government to the pressure of business demanding less regulation.  That became an end in itself, reflected in the decimation of the Health and Safety Executive, and the demoralisation of local regulators.  For the health and wellbeing of our people, this must change – and dramatically.

In Liverpool, we could begin by re-instating due diligence on mickey mouse firms.  Hopefully, this would minimise the proliferation of scam artists who damage the city’s reputation in the eyes of investors as well as raising building standards.

Electoral Lessons

Reading the newspapers and watching television since the election, I recalled reading St. Paul’s injunction to “hate the act but love the man”. It struck me that it would be extremely hard for Jeremy Corbyn to follow that advice. Having been subjected to an even more scurrilous and defamatory media than that visited on Neil Kinnock in Thatcher’s heyday, and despite Jeremy’s astounding election campaign, the self-righteous commentators of the London chatterati are still – at best – damning him with faint praise  when they are not vilifying him.

However, there are profound lessons to be learnt from the events of the past few weeks and Labour’s performance. The bilious bias of a toxic media can be overcome. The advances in the use of social media, for example, connect far more effectively, particularly with younger voters, than do the fake news of conventional media. We saw the result of this last Thursday. Of course, communication tools, of themselves, are not enough – the message is vital. As the Tories discovered, if the message jars with the audience, you have failed. Happily, Labour had a manifesto which reflected the political priorities of a wide range of voters and the election results showed that.

For many, it was the messenger who was the biggest surprise. As an MP, I would never have nominated Jeremy for leader. Nothing personal – I have always got on rather well with him. I just did not think he had the inter-personal skills I believe a leader should have. Nor was I inspired by some of his political friends. Nevertheless, I had no idea that he was capable of connecting with so many voters – especially the young – in the way in which he did. All credit to him. Now, we must await developments in Westminster.

What lessons, then, can be learnt here in the Liverpool City Region from the national campaign outcomes? Firstly, we must NEVER underestimate the electorate’s ability to see through spin and deceit. Voters know what they want. Offer it to them where you can, in an honest and realistic way, and they will turn out to vote for you. Give them flannel, and they will, if you are lucky, ignore you.

Secondly, we need to understand what leadership is and is not. It is NOT shouting and bullying to get your own way; nor is it, like Theresa May, keeping everything within a tight little circle of cronies. (she even kept her manifesto from her cabinet colleagues). Look what has happened to the Tories. They have gone from political power to political paralysis in a matter of days, despite the overwhelming support of the right-wing media. Politics MUST be open and consensual.

Thirdly, Labour locally must recognise that politics have changed, with a new dynamic spearheaded by young voters and activists who have no interest in the old political cabals. I was asked by one such enthused individual about Labour of old. I said that the best government in my lifetime was that of Clem Atlee.

A quiet, modest and unprepossessing man, he was not afraid to surround himself with the best talents around, and give them their head. He offered a war-weary electorate their priorities – health, welfare housing, education, and public ownership of key industries. People power responded with a parliament to deliver the welfare state which we now take for granted. Surely there are lessons therein to inspire a satisfactory local disposition – traditional values in a modern setting?

A Tough Task

Immediately after Andy Burnham was elected metromayor for Greater Manchester, he was greeted by a full turnout of supportive staff. Like an incoming minister at Westminster, his manifesto had been analysed, and that same staff had prepared policy options from which he might choose. He hit the ground running. I can guarantee that our own metromayor was not met with the same state of preparedness and enthusiasm.

I thought of this when I saw the distribution of portfolios within our own metromayor’s “cabinet”. As I have written repeatedly, there have been mistaken expectations of what he might achieve, principally because of the stacked deck which has been dealt him. The constitution of the Combined Authority – the “cabinet” which he chairs – sets out that the leader of each of the six constituent local authorities must be given at least one portfolio. They then, as a body, must agree who gets what. So, for example, I understand that the metromayor was turned over on his housing portfolio nomination, which ended up with Mayor Anderson, on the vote of the other leaders.

We must remember that, although we have an elected metromayor, there are five council leaders whose only real mandate is in the ward which they represent.  Their political party group makes them leader; and that, in turn, puts them on the Combined Authority.  Mayor Anderson was elected mayor in Liverpool, but, again, holds no direct mandate on the Combined Authority.  Unlike the Greater London Authority, it is a very flawed system which can hamstring the elected metromayor repeatedly.  It will take patience and extreme political skill to overcome these built-in barriers.

After all, the same people populate the Combined Authority as did before Steve Rotheram’s election.  They are not the experts in a given field which many mistakenly believed would be recruited by an incoming metromayor.  In fact, he is stuck with a constitution which requires radical surgery,if the metromayor is to be other than a rubber stamp for the same tired approach which an elected metromayor was supposed to energise.

There is one major change which was instigated by Her Majesty’s constabulary – that is, the removal of Ged Fitzgerald (LCC chief executive) as lead officer for the Combined Authority.  In my view, this position requires an outside individual – that is, outside the cosy cabal of senior officers which has bedevilled politics on Merseyside for far too long.  Whether, in fact, we get a totally new broom to sweep the Combined Authority clean, time will tell.  It is an early challenge – amongst many – for the metromayor.

Meanwhile, there appears to be a tightening of the net around alleged corruption in Liverpool.  At the moment, there is a focus on the scam selling of apartments to gullible clients in the Middle East and the Far East.  The question repeatedly asked is how the planning approval of the construction of so many flats fits in with the city council’s strategic objectives.  Furthermore, serious  questions are being raised with regard to the quality and the safety of those which have been built.

It ought to bother everyone concerned with the longer term prospects of the city (and the city-region) that we are being associated with fraud on an industrial scale. In an age of fierce competition for investment, very little will come our way unless we can underline our bona fides as a city.  As one very successful Liverpool businessman told me, he had not invested in Liverpool for over seventeen years. When asked why, he said simply that “I do not wish to sit in the same room as the people involved”. For me, that comment speaks volumes and sends out a clear warning about the danger to our city’s reputation.