Developers really are shameless, especially in Liverpool. For example, as Signature Living seeks planning approval to turn Kingsway House in Hatton garden into yet more flats, Her Majesty’s Custom and Excise petitions to have Signature Living Contractors wound up, on the basis of their failure to meet their tax commitments. Needless to say, the Signature Living Group without doubt will continue to pay handsome dividends to its directors.
It is no accident that such companies are generally part of a “group” or partnership, or party to a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV). They have many faces, and more lives than the proverbial black cat. Legally, each company may be seen as an independent concern, although they and others in their group share the same directors, the same accountants, the same lawyers, the same offices. To the layman, they are the same entity. What their owners and/or directors know –and rely on – is that they are not the same entity in the eyes of the law. Far too often, one arm of these deceptive octopuses is chopped off, only for the rest to carry on, and their operators to cruise on without a care in the world. Those who suffer are gullible investors and unwary sub-contractors who are left to carry the financial can for such unscrupulous con artists.
Yet it is not just the private sector which is without shame. This week has seen in Liverpool the annual jamboree known as the International Business Festival. To listen to the mayor, his faithful sidekick, Gary Millar, and his senior salesman, Max Steinberg, Liverpool is an investors’ paradise. Try telling that to those conned over the many failed projects in the city, including New Chinatown. The biggest investor in Liverpool appears to be the council tax payer, via the funds poured into Liverpool Airport, the Finch Farm training ground, the Cunard Building, and riverside terminal facilities. If the mayor has his way, we could even end up as the major investor in EFC’s proposed new stadium.
Investment from elsewhere? Well, this past week has seen the annual report into foreign investment into the various towns and cities of the UK which is published by EY (Ernst Young), one of the world’s big five “bean counters”. Each year, they list the success stories in the competition to attract overseas investment; for Liverpool, the 2017 report does not make the best of reading, despite the steady stream of guff spewed out of the mayor’s office and fed to the public by the Echo.
Liverpool came seventeenth in the national league table for direct foreign investment in 2017, behind such places as Coventry, Barnsley, Reading and Warrington. The north west region as a whole increased foreign investment by 17%, led by the ever successful Manchester which was, in turn, second only to London. Liverpool, however, fell back by 10% on its 2016 figure. Warrington, just fifteen miles away, increased its foreign investment in the same period by a massive 400%!
As I recall, the mayor and his mouthpieces have “bigged up” Liverpool’s economic success for years now, although the data to justify the claims is hard to come by. What, for example, has resulted from the mayor’s trip to Birmingham, Alabama? How about his freebee to Surabaya in Indonesia? What of the many trips by him and Cllr Millar to China? The only result of the latter seems to have been a host of angry and disenchanted investors who have been ripped off by so-called developers.
It is one thing to be positive about the city and what it has to offer, presenting it to the world with the objective of attracting investment and thus creating jobs and prosperity across the whole city-region. It is quite another to fly in the face of reality, promoting a false prospectus. Currently, in cahoots with the Echo, every plan, dream or aspiration is trumpeted as a done deal. Inflated figures and unrealised objectives inevitably lead to disillusionment and cynicism in the local community, in business, and in potential investors.
It would serve the city better if the mayor’s office and his acolytes, together with his allies in the local media, were to leave bloated and unrealistic claims to the snake oil salesmen who seem to have proliferated in the city in recent years. When the mayor spoke to the IBF about the threat of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to jobs, perhaps he was thinking of his own future and that of his colleagues. After all, even a crude form of AI in the Cunard Building is better than none at all.
A city-wide clear out is required, and ought to be initiated within the city before outside agencies feel compelled to do it for us. A healthy start to a fundamental change of approach would be the release, in full, of the CIPFA report commissioned by the former Finance Director, into the mayor’s proposals for the city council’s involvement in the financing of a Bramley Moore stadium.