You must wonder whether women are merely more perceptive than men; or whether, in a manner of speaking, they have more cajones. Perhaps it is both. Locally, we have seen how successful they have been in using Freedom of Information legislation to wrest from an extremely reluctant Liverpool council, that which ought to be readily placed in the public domain. Local women Catherine Byrne, Josie Mullin and Audrey O’Keefe have each been outstandingly adept in extracting the truth about council activities, despite vehement opposition.
The latest example of their fortitude was Audrey’s determination that council officials should not shunt her legitimate questions into an information cul-de-sac on spurious grounds, as they have tried to do with Josie. After a successful appeal to the Information Commissioner, the following interesting facts were established about council trips to China taken by elected representatives between October, 2014 and May, 2017.
These trips were particularly relevant to charges laid against the council concerning the alleged scams swirling around the failed New Chinatown debacle. As yet, no one has been held to account over this, despite the losses to investors and contractors, and the huge damage to the city’s reputation as a place in which to do business. Indeed, the only related court action to date ended in an ignominious defeat of the council.
The information now released suggests that Cllr Gary Millar is the council’s point man on all things pertaining to China. He has travelled to China within the given time frame no less than seven times at the city’s expense. The cost of his flights totalled £6729, whilst his hotel accommodation came to £5270.The key question which arises is: what benefit accrued to the city as a result of his travels, and how might they be evaluated?
Overseas investors insist in their on-line missives that Cllr Millar’s oriental odyssey lent credibility to the public relations campaign which duped them into investing in scam developments in Liverpool. In fact, the city council seems to agree in part, writing that his objective was to “provide outline information on all major projects to those interested in investing in, for example, infrastructure and housing”. Anyway, I would have thought that “outline information” might have been conveyed far more cheaply via email, rather than by a grand tour of the vast country that is China.
Cllr Millar’s expenses are not the only ones listed, although at least thirteen trips by accompanying officials were not listed. Presumably they did not pay their own way. No – one other elected individual did accompany the tireless Cllr Millar on one two week jolly – the indefatigable mayor, Joe Anderson. Oddly, the mayor’s air tickets on this specific journey, at £2241.16, cost nearly double those of Cllr Millar (£1139.37), although they travelled together on the same airlines on the same days. Perhaps the mayor flew a different class. Furthermore, despite staying in the same hotels, the mayor’s bills came in at £1143.57 compared to those of Cllr Millar (£737.83). Again, the mayor may have had an upgraded room.
No matter what, the whole episode reveals just how averse the council is to the electorate knowing what, in these times of austerity, is being spent on the overseas jaunts of local luminaries. It also illuminates how the council doggedly persists in refusing to lift the cloak of secrecy which hides so many of their activities. This is the very antithesis of transparency without which there can be no true local democracy, and serves to reinforce the low opinion of local authorities already held by so many.