State of Play

Regardless of one’s personal political leanings, there is one incontrovertible fact about our city-region. That is, it is currently dominated from top to bottom by the Labour Party. Therefore, whether one identifies with any particular political party or none at all, there is a need to understand what is happening within local Labour parties if you are to have any real understanding of current political developments within the Liverpool city-region.

This is quite apart from the many questions which you may have about national politics, and where Labour stands on national – and international – issues of the day. It can be argued that our local brand of Labour often stands outside of the Labour mainstream. Such political exceptionalism is a phenomenon which has marked out our conurbation historically. Where else, for example, has returned an Irish nationalist as a Member of Parliament?

Let me begin with Momentum. I raise this because I am often asked if this is a revived Militant Tendency by another name, reappearing zombie-like from its political grave. My repeated answer is that it is not. I am fully aware that former members and supporters of Militant have re-applied for Labour Party membership of local Labour parties. Militant as a political organisation, however, collapsed thirty years ago. It was a small but disciplined and well-organised sect in those days, hell bent on subverting Labour. It failed; and there is no evidence of an equivalent group, either within Momentum or elsewhere, ready to replicate it.

Momentum is, in my view, a much broader movement, seeking to shake the Labour party out of its embedded complacency. Whilst there are , I am sure, within its ranks, those who seek  to use Momentum for their own personal or political purposes, the sheer number of members, their energy, and their diversity of views, make Momentum a unique political development, an entirely different proposition to the malignancy that was Militant. It is, it seems, dedicated to the reinvigoration of Labour, rather than bleed it to death as Militant tried to do. Remember, too, that long before the infection of Militant, a Stalinist Communist Party was unsuccessful in its attempts to undermine the Labour Party.

I have more concerns about literal corruption locally rather than fear ideological corruption, with good reason. In my fifty-four years in the Labour Party, I have witnessed three cycles of corruption within local government. They invariably have involved planning consents and building contracts. Such corruption rots the body politic whenever, and wherever, complacency is the order of the day, with politicians taking themselves and their positions for granted. This is self-evident, with many sound elected representatives, and many activists, throughout the city-region, fuming with frustration at recent local events. Most importantly, there is a widely held view amongst the electorate that all of their local representatives are either corrupt themselves or willing to turn a Nelsonian blind eye to those who are.

This was a major factor in recent local upheavals. It was of little surprise to me to see the steady deselection of sitting councillors and lay officers by local Labour parties. Rightly or wrongly, old hands are viewed as out of touch with the priorities of both rank and file members and their electorates. An internal political tide has turned, scouring out some local parties of the detritus of yesteryear. Only time will tell whether or not these changes will be enough to effect the required change in the local political culture.

I have long believed that there is a need to change our local political culture if we are to see real, sustainable change in local government. I always felt that this was particularly problematic in Liverpool, probably because I knew the city best. However, I know that the problem is far wider than one borough. In a nutshell, it is a culture which looks first and foremost after the interests – political and personal – of those tied into a council and its dependent bodies (residuaries, community interest companies and the like).Thus, it is more than elected members but also officers (another senior LCC officer will be shown to be corrupt in court this Friday) and anyone reliant for income through the local council. The last person in the queue is the local council tax payer – and they know it!

I have argued before for structural change within the LCR. We have gone some way with a metromayor; but do we need a city mayor (especially given the performance of the current incumbent)? Do we need a bloated Police and Crime Commissioner’s office? Manchester has subsumed theirs into their metromayor’s set up. Do we, in fact, need so many councillors with so little to do? Fewer of them with more responsibility could be the order of the day. Above all, we need that cultural change, based on transparency and accountability, with the public interest placed first, foremost and last. Then we might hope to reawaken the support of the wider electorate for those elected to represent them.

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Corruption in Councils?

Having taken a break from writing my blog, I felt compelled to quickly resume now so that I might share some information. It concerns a long-standing issue which draws together so many worrying aspects of current local government, and the opportunities available to those in positions of trust, to betray that trust. Although the issue at hand is a Liverpool one, many of the questions raised could be asked within councils across the country.

You may recall that I have previously raised the highly questionable arrangements surrounding parking on three city council sites which service the Anfield and Goodison Park football grounds. Large amounts of income was generated on these sites on match days, but the vague figures garnered in regard to them did not seem to tally in any way with the actual usage of that car parking. Despite the efforts of individual councillors, community groups, and local residents, there was never a meaningful response from the city council leadership. I understand, however, that there was an internal report some years ago, but access to it has always been denied to those seeking to view it.

For some reason, Mayor Anderson has belatedly commissioned another report on two of the sites, authored by a member of his cabinet. He has apparently separated out a review of the third site – the old Anfield Comprehensive site on Priory Road – for himself to conduct. The first report has been completed, and it raises very, very serious questions which demand speedy and unambiguous answers.

At the core of the completed report is the disparity between the declared income for the car parks in question, and what has been computed to be the actual income. Questions are also raised about the declared costs of staffing the car parks, and the monies said to have been distributed to local community groups. Specifically, three senior councillors face trenchant criticism for their role in relation to the sites and the CIC (community interest company) overseeing them. The CIC concerned – run by a former council employee – is also in the frame.

Of course, Liverpool City Council is notorious for its lack of transparency, so we must wait and see if this report is published – unexpurgated, and complete with its recommendations. I suspect it is for the eyes of the Labour group only. The report also throws a light on the sometimes dubious nature of CICs and their stewardship. After all, it is public money which is at the heart of their operation. How effectively are these bodies monitored? How responsibly are they audited? How, at their outset, does a council – any council –ensure due diligence of these CICs and the people who run them?

There still remains the second report on the Priory Road site which is in the hands of Mayor Anderson. Whether he has done anything on this is highly unlikely. There is sometimes method in his madness. For three years or more, this site was run by a private company very closely associated with the mayor. There is, therefore, an immediate conflict of interest for him. During the period in which that company were custodians of the site, there were no receipts to cover its usage. It was a straightforward cash business, and there were no audited accounts. Staff on the site were paid cash in hand (as was the case on the other two car parks) against all council procedures. Once again, the notional income raised – never evidenced in any way to date – bore no relation to the capacity of the site and the parking fees charged.

One must be aware that there has been an extremely partial approach to this disgraceful situation, in an area of the city crying out for any realistic investment it can get. Perhaps the real motive behind the first report is a wish to settle political scores within the Labour group on the council. In addition, it is hard to imagine a readiness of the current regime to come clean about the Priory Road site, now that it is in the hands of Liverpool Football Club.

Nevertheless, this is surely a case crying out for those two bulwarks of local democracy – transparency and accountability. Where they are denied, corruption creeps in.