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.