Business As Usual

When David Henshaw was chief executive of Liverpool Council he tried to secure funding for a new stadium at King’s Dock. He failed because he could not get a vital European funding element. This was, in turn, because of exaggerated claims of the number of jobs that would be created by the scheme. Very simply, the figures were plucked from thin air without any demonstrable evidential base, and neither the North West Development Agency nor the European Commission would wear it.

I thought of this as a series of fatuous claims were published in the “Echo” about proposed dockside developments. The first inflated claims were made on behalf of the proposed Bramley Moore stadium. They were in a report made by CBRE – estate agents and partners in the scheme. Naturally, they will put the most advantageous spin on the matter, given that they stand to make handsome profits from the plans. However, I remain entirely unconvinced either by the mayor’s unique financial approach to this scheme, or by CBRE’s bloated figures which appear to be – at least, in part – a rehash of Peel’s now dated plan for Liverpool Waters.

Peel  – regular and close partners with Mayor Anderson – also figure prominently in the second example of exaggerated possible job figures .This relates to the proposed new passenger terminal at Prince’s Dock. This, of course, depends on funding. Peel own the land, and are notoriously adept at securing public funding. Many questions arise – what are the financial arrangements between the council and Peel, for example? Why is the mayor again pledging assistance to John Whittaker, Peel’s billionaire owner? The mayor persists in using the city’s money in support of major private businesses – for example, Peel and Everton Football Club – when core services are desperately underfunded.

In the case of the terminal, we also must consider the distorted estimates of what such a terminal might mean to the city (as opposed to what it might mean to Peel). Interestingly, Venice – a far bigger tourist port than Liverpool – is currently considering banning cruise ships from docking there. The issue is whether these ships and their passengers add to the wider local economy. Liverpool’s own plans need closer and objective scrutiny, especially the financial dimension. Is it worth what is claimed?

Now we have another spin – this time that the Ten Streets project will create 2500 jobs. I believe that this figure, like those projected for the Bramley Dock and the passenger terminal, are entirely bogus. Moreover, if these schemes were to materialise, there would need to be massive relocation of existing businesses along the northern docks. Where to and at what cost?

Remember, too, that the mayor says that the city goes over a financial cliff in 2018. Yet one notes the profligate losses of the council – Chinatown (£1 million?); the Hope and Glory festival (£900k); the failed Commonwealth games bid (£1.2 million). These are just the tip of the iceberg, and raise serious concerns about the mayor and council’s priorities and financial competence. It is vital that any further plans to commit the city’s funds are intensively monitored, and prioritise and protect core services.

Finally, a pointer as to why so much legitimate business avoids Liverpool but hastens to Manchester, Leeds et al. Proposals were called for the site at the bottom of Mount Pleasant and Brownlow Hill where the 051 nightclub operated and where the municipal car park stands. A final date for submissions was published and established developers with a track record were keen. Plans were lodged with the council by the due date. Then, at the eleventh hour, the mayor has a private meeting with a well-known local personality (a man with no business record as a developer or builder).The outcome was an extension of the tendering time by six months so that this personality might submit a bid. What message does that send?

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