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.

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