The jolly in the south of France hosted by MIPIM – for and by developers and property speculators – is over for another year. The council leaders have had to drag themselves away and back to the harsher realities of running their councils. This is particularly challenging for them as they head into a round of local elections. All leaders – local and national – take joy in getting away from the sheer grind of their domestic worries, particularly when they do not have to pay for the privilege.
I am mindful that way back in 2010, Liverpool’s then new council leader (not yet mayor) told the Daily Post that he could not justify the council’s attendance at the MIPIM bash, and that he intended to give up on its annual jamboree. At the same time, long-term Joe sidekick, Frank McKenna of Downtown Liverpool in Business (DLIB), was agreeing with him, stating that his time was better spent lobbying for investment in London.
Incidentally, what does DLIB actually do? It seems to specialise in staging receptions (jollies?) where hopeful business types can mingle and have a fine old time. I have always thought of it as a commercialised rival to the local Chamber of Commerce. It must be exhausting for chairman McKenna who also chairs the same kind of confection in Manchester, Preston and Lancaster (note the acronyms – DMIB,DPIB,DLIB).
Nevertheless, how times change. Fresh from the French follies of MIPIM, there was a plush reception at Liverpool’s Malmaison Hotel, hosted by the ubiquitous Mr. McKenna, designed to give the chief executive of EFC , Robert Elstone, and Mayor Anderson a platform from which to spin yet again the outrageous proposal to finance a new stadium in the name of the Liverpool council tax payers. Remember that this would in effect be a subsidy to two billionaires – Whittaker of Peel, and Moshiri of EFC.
The figures churned out were fast and furious – and, to my mind, false. The aphorism of Disraeli comes to mind: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”. Perhaps an independent and objective review of whatever financial arrangement is proposed will give us an honest assessment of a scheme whereby some of the poorest people in the land will carry the risk on behalf of some of the richest.
We know a great deal about some of these players, particularly Mayor Anderson. Elstone is of little account – the only person at EFC whose views carry weight are those of Moshiri. His name appeared recently in the so-called Paradise Papers which revealed the tax dodging antics of the super-rich. These papers also suggested that Moshiri may have been acting as proxy in the purchase of EFC for his partner, Alisher Usmanov, a Russian oligarch named today as a man not to be trusted. Whittaker is well documented as a tax exile, operating through his extensive network of off-shore companies.
Frank McKenna, of course, is simply a bloke from Skem trying to make good. Once deputy leader of Lancashire County Council with high political ambitions, his world came tumbling down when he was charged with forgery. Although the judge threw out the case, his political career was finished .He tried a think tank – Aurora – with two other local names, Jon Egan and Matt Finnegan. The former has recently found himself dragged into a local controversy over his past involvement in the Beautiful Ideas Company, responsible for match day car parks, and now facing questions about receipts unaccounted for. Mr. Finnegan was deeply embroiled in a huge spat between former council leader Mike Storey and his then chief executive, David Henshaw. Mr McKenna moved on to set up Downtown Liverpool as a think tank, but this quickly morphed into DLIB.
Liverpool is really a rather small place and two things about its public life strike me. Firstly , the same people bob up repeatedly, very often being rewarded for failure in one sphere with a well-paid position in another. Very often, they crop up in questionable circumstances. Secondly, we often seem unable to produce from within, the right people to run things. In this short piece, I can point to Whittaker (Isle of Man); Moshiri (Monaco); Elstone (West Yorkshire) – none of them local tax-payers. McKenna – now a councillor on West Lancs Borough Council and sitting on our Combined Authority – lives in Upholland, whilst I believe that Finnegan still lives in Manchester.
These, and others like them, pull many of the strings, both commercial and political, in Liverpool. This, I know, is not a new phenomenon, but it does not say a great deal for our local political and business classes, does it?