No sooner had I posted my blog “Investment Blues” than fresh information was made available to me, illustrating some of the points which I had tried to make. The information to which I refer, comes from Liverpool City Council’s NDR debtors list, which shows what they are – and, as yet, are not – seeking to recover.
I have two entries before me naming member companies of the Signature Living Group. You might recall that I was showing that many of these “developers“ sit atop a hydra-like collection of companies. In this case, there are two in question. The Signature Living Arthouse Square Ltd is in default with the council to the tune of £79,629, and has been summonsed for that sum. Signature Living Hotel Ltd has an outstanding debt of £89,439, for which no summons has yet been issued.
The latter figure is particularly interesting as I understand that the debt relates to the car park at what was once known as Millennium House, and is now the flagship Shankly Hotel. It is worth recalling the sale of the then council headquarters to Signature Living. Its sale value at the time was twice reduced to a knockdown price. What few understood was that the sale price included two cash cows – a refurbished (at council expense) gymnasium, and a car park. Interestingly, the current debt is listed as a retrospective charge. This, of itself, raises questions as to what exactly the debt is for, when was it incurred, and why it has now surfaced as an “unsummonsed outstanding debt”?
Now, far be it for me to suggest the Signature Living have done anything illegal. It is common practice for some businesses to run up debts and to be late payers. Nor is it unusual – if regrettable – that member-companies of a group go into forced liquidation as has Signature Living Contractors. However, I have a hearty detestation of those who cynically collect profits from an insolvent company whilst genuine investors, suppliers, sub-contractors, and employees pay the price. What concerns me even more is the interaction such scoundrels have with public bodies like Liverpool City Council.
When Millennium House was originally sold, I raised questions with the district auditor (Grant Thornton’s), the then chief constable, and the police and crime commissioner. I was struck by the sublime indifference of each to the concerns expressed; so much so that I questioned my own judgement in querying these matters at all. However, subsequent experience and events have convinced me that I was right to do so.
Groups like North Point Global, PHD 1, Pinnacle, Bilt, and others still active, have all shown that senior council figures are either unable to deal with them, indifferent to them, or conniving at their activities, at the expense of the tax payer and legitimate business. Much of this is in turn due to the lack of transparency and accountability in the council and its dealings. After all, the figures I have quoted refer to just one of the council’s partners (I nearly added “in crime” but that may be considered libellous!!). We know that the total amount of recognised debt to the council is huge without knowing the true cost of the depredations of these companies. I must note, however, that the ordinary citizen would be persecuted for a parking fine or for a missed council tax payment.
We all know that it is in the nature of our society that there will be rogues – and rogue outfits – who will constantly try it on, in both the public and the private sectors. Indeed, there are those who will abuse the voluntary sector – just look at the unresolved scandal of the council-owned football car parks. However, most councils try to ensure that the public purse is protected as if it is their own personal funds involved. Liverpool’s administration gives the opposite impression, treating public funds as the private spends of a drunken sailor.