It is that time of the year – a few weeks before local elections – when councils across the country fall over themselves in their attempts to place the rosiest picture possible before the electorate. That is natural enough in the quest for votes, and it is a rule of thumb for councils regardless of their political complexion. At the same time, a variety of bogeymen are pushed forward, generally including local opposition parties and national government.
Liverpool council has set a new standard in its opening shots. Unable to rid itself of its reputation for incompetence, and its disturbingly cosy yet slack relationship with its favoured developers, it delivered a pre-emptive strike to its critics. It is, we are told, in negotiations over the vexed New Chinatown site. These involve a company called Great George Street Developments, who wish to take the albatross site over, promising all sorts of goodies.
Never mind that existing investors are understandably unhappy about this – they just want their money back. A cursory examination of Companies House records should have raised alarm bells in the council. This off-the-shelf company with a start-up capital of just ONE POUND, was first set up on the 20th July, 2017, under the name of CT Developments (Liverpool). It subsequently changed its name to its present title on the 26th February, 2018, retaining its business address in Wolverhampton. There is but one director who previously ran three similar companies which all went bust.
You could not make this up!! Where is the council’s due diligence? Who on the “ECHO” has published uncritically the public relations bilge about this outfit? How can it possibly be billed as a viable option for New Chinatown? Remember that behind this charade, the council is still supposedly in litigation with the previous leaseholders for the site, and still evading any responsibility to the outraged prior investors.
Contemporaneously, Granada Television has revived the old crusading spirit of “World in Action”, using its televisual skills to expose the incredible situation whereby Liverpool council and its mayor repeatedly deal with “developers” who are blatantly refusing to pay to the council the monies known as Section 106 fees. The cumulative total of this debt is now running at £7.5 million and rising. Failure to pay council tax in Liverpool leads to prosecution. Failure of developers to pay THEIR way and… nothing. Who will forget the council’s description of the demolition of a listed building by the Elliot Group as a “criminal act”? Action taken? None.
Meanwhile, Cllr. Frank Prendergast is dismissed as an embittered man as he resigns the Labour whip on the council. Vastly experienced, a former council leader and lord mayor, Frank was chair of the Audit and Governance Committee of the council. For two years, he tried to find out where hundreds of thousands of pounds income from council-owned car parks had gone. His enquiries centred on the Beautiful Ideas Company, and its precursor, the Beautiful North Company. The matter also involved senior councillors and former council employees.
For the initial two years at least of the car parks operation, there were no accounts and no audit – there could not be as it was a cash operation with no records. The sites were on the old Anfield Comp and Major Lester school sites, close to the two football grounds. This proximity, and visual evidence, suggests annual income well into six figures. One of the sites was in the ward which Frank represented, but his reward in asking difficult questions was to be dumped as chairman of the Audit and Governance Committee by the cabal which runs Liverpool City Council.
It is really about time that the council backbenchers took back control from a clique which seems hell-bent on council chaos. Since the Director of Finance went, there is no proper section 151 monitoring officer at the council to ensure that the council acts responsibly – I have already pointed this out in relation to the mayor’s madcap scheme to borrow on behalf of billionaires. However, councillors still remain jointly and severally liable in law for irresponsible actions for which they vote if they cause the city a loss. If I was a councillor, I would not allow the maladministration of the ruling cabal to be in my name.