Election Time

As we near the local elections in May, there are already signs of fundamental change across the six local councils of the city-region. The Labour Party dominates all six local councils and will continue to do so, but various leaders are under pressure. Halton Labour group remains divided between Widnes and Runcorn interests, which should ensure that Rob Polhill steps down only when he sees fit. That, of course, is not the case in neighbouring St Helens, where an ailing Barry Grunwald has already stood aside for Derek Long, a man of great experience on both Knowsley and St Helens councils.

Speaking of Knowsley, I am told that Gary See is the favourite to lead the council in the next year; whilst over the river in Wirral, Phil Davies is under great internal pressure, not least because of his plans for a Haringey Council-style housing deal. Presumably, Bootle councillors will continue to dominate Sefton Council. Liverpool, of course, is the largest council in the city-region, but its unique governance – with an elected mayor – complicate its electoral chances.

Control of Liverpool council cannot be changed at this election but it does not mean that there is no concern for the ruling party. As recent parliamentary and local elections tend to show, those who bother to vote in the city, vote Labour. The oddity now is that virtually total control is in the hands of the elected mayor; the council merely nods in agreement. It remains to be seen whether a disaffected electorate turns out and votes against Labour candidates in protest, or whether they opt to stay at home in apathy. There is no doubt that there will be little positive enthusiasm on behalf of most of the current council.

Frankly, it is dispiriting that the Apathy Party seems to be in the ascendancy at the local elections. Councils – and other elected representatives – need to be opposed and held to account. Otherwise, democracy is an empty word. My own view is that the Australians have it right with legally compulsory voting. The franchise is a responsibility as well as a right. After all, the voter always has the opportunity to spoil their vote if there is no candidate on offer who meets their requirements.

Meanwhile, the Liverpool mayor has offered another incredible flight of fancy to his open-ended commitment to subsidise two billionaires (the Bramley Moore stadium). He now says that he might sell the Cunard Building, and move into the derelict Pall Mall project, in order “to kick start it”. Apart from all the questions which swirl around his original purchase of the Cunard Building, he has learnt nothing about the dodgy developers behind the many failed projects in the city. Either that, or he is just brazen in his contempt for honest and hard-working Liverpool council tax payers.

These, and many other questions, will continue to be asked; perhaps some will eventually be answered by our failing authorities and regulators. At the very least, the local elections will give some indication of how well-informed and concerned local electors are.


Risk Management

In recent days, the Liverpool Echo has been critical of Wirral and Knowsley councils. The criticism of Wirral referred to its decision to appoint a new housing supremo for the borough, whilst that of Knowsley referenced the cost of a mayoral visit to the United States. I find this a little odd, given the Echo’s refusal to say anything about the cost of Liverpool’s mayor’s recent jaunt to Java, and its neutral stand towards Liverpool’s continued payment of the six-figure salary of its suspended chief executive. It seems as if there is one law for dealing with LCC and another for dealing with other councils. How else does one explain the Echo’s body swerving of the many obvious wrongs in the city of Liverpool?

It has – very belatedly – acknowledged the failure of the Quadrant project in Shaw Street; but this is only one of a whole series of such catastrophic flops, involving the same people accused of the same scams. Again, there is no press criticism – and I mean constructive criticism – of LCC’s role in this appalling mess, which has left investors and contractors owed many millions of pounds, and the council itself bereft of the fees due to it.

Perhaps the Echo could do better by looking more closely at Mayor Anderson’s madcap proposal for financing a new stadium for EFC. After all, before any work has begun, the assumed cost of such a stadium has sky rocketed, and the mayor has raised the bar on how much he proposes to borrow on behalf of the football club. This figure currently stands at £500 million, but this is merely an estimate. As with all major builds, the final cost is invariably much higher. Yet the mayor says that the Liverpool council taxpayers might borrow the lot on behalf of EFC!

The Echo could lead a campaign on this. We do not wish for Liverpool to go bust in the way that Montreal did in 1976 over its Olympic stadium. Firstly, we need to have out in the public domain, the full and detailed terms of agreement between LCC and EFC. Secondly, we also need to have out there, full and detailed costings of what is being proposed, including those for associated infrastructure works (roads, stations), along with the unexpurgated CIPFA report commissioned by the former Director of Finance(Becky Hellard) before she hurriedly left the council’s employ. Thirdly, I would like to see an independent cost/benefit analysis of the project carried out by an independent and reputable authority, wholly unconnected to LCC, EFC or Peel. The last thing that is needed is a sales pitch on behalf of the interested parties.

It is notable on social media that there is a debate going on, but there is no way of knowing where the participants live. I am myself an Everton supporter (of the armchair variety these days!) and wish the club well in its efforts to acquire a state-of-the-art stadium. However, I am also a council tax payer in Liverpool, and, as such, am one of those expected by the mayor to underwrite the financing of a stadium. It goes without saying that I and my fellow Liverpool council tax paying fellows, have a right and a need to be made fully aware of all of the implications – financial and otherwise – involved in this scheme.

It also seems fair and sensible to me to give those Liverpool council tax payers an opportunity to have a direct say on whether or not they wish to embrace the huge risks involved in what appears to be on the table. None of us knows what lies ahead, as shown by the experiences with football clubs of the cities of Coventry and Leeds (the latter a much bigger and wealthier city than Liverpool). The best way to test local Liverpool opinion is via a referendum of council tax payers, before anything is signed, but after an open debate based on disclosure of all of the facts.

I would stress here that this would not be about the merits or otherwise of a new stadium – that is for EFC’s owners, and Peel to decide. It would be about whether or not Liverpool council tax payers want to take on a potentially disastrous financial risk on behalf of two private companies –Peel and EFC – owned in turn by two billionaires.








News from Nowhere

Easter has been and gone, and the countdown to local elections in the city-region is well underway. Not that you would know it. Despite what the chattering classes would have you believe, many of our fellow citizens still rely upon local media for information, whether about their local council or anything else. The Liverpool Echo reports virtually nothing about the bulk of the city-region or about the metromayor (unless it is critical!) other than crime reports. A younger generation is more inured to social media, but that in turn is limited in terms of objective dissemination of what is actually happening in and to local communities across the city-region.

However, some matters merit wider circulation than that refused coverage by our local media. One such is the report that a Mr Tony Reeves, former Bradford City Council chief executive, has signed a further (my emphasis) consultancy with Liverpool City Council, just as it is said that the suspended LCC chief executive, Ged Fitzgerald, is about to part company with the council. Remember that he has been sitting at home for over a year on his £300,000+ salary and limousine.

It is fascinating to note that the council has such money to splash about. Without any research, other examples of council largesse bob up. The s.106 money due for the Paramount eyesore in Lord Nelson Street has still not been collected. According to its planning permission, no-one could move in to the building until that money had been paid up. Although students are now living in part of that semi-derelict carbuncle, nothing has been paid by the developer, Pinnacle. Most inconveniently, another Pinnacle proposal – for Victoria House in James Street – has gone belly up.

The past week also saw that the transfer of Ross Barkley to Chelsea, made his agent £7 million in fees (remember Mayor Anderson writing to the police about the transfer??). Well, it reminded me that the mayor would be better served – and so would the city – in dropping madcap schemes to borrow on behalf of billionaires to fund their Bramley Moore cash cow. Perhaps he might prioritise doing something about the increasing number of failed developments within the city, and deal with the real needs of its citizens before indulging his football fantasies.

I am fully aware that there have been announcements of other projects – for example, Elliot Lawless’ latest in Erskine Street and the “new” cruise liner terminal – but this is recycled stuff. Many in the city would prefer some consolidation of basic services – like the dire pothole situation, turning the city into a motorists’ version of no-man’s land.

Whilst all this is going on, our local representatives of the fourth estate maintain their Trappist silence on these issues and the ineptitude – at best – of the mayor and council. Meanwhile, whilst Cllr. Millar and others like Erika Rushton (she of the Beautiful Ideas Company) complain to the police about being harassed due to widespread concerns about what has been happening, the Echo can only offer up the wholly discredited Derek Hatton to pontificate about Labour Party troubles in London. Oh, the irony!

The Echo’s refusal and/or inability to investigate the many issues brought to its attention over recent years, speaks volumes about it, and media standards generally. Many have noted how, even when it does touch tangentially on a contentious matter about the mayor and/or city council online, it does not permit comments from readers. I assume that it is either a case of its journalists being unable to write as they must see it (the last one to do so, Marc Waddington, was sent to the North Wales gulag for journalists who do not toe the line), or it is editorial policy to back whatever comes out of the Cunard Building.  My money is on the latter.