Sup With A Long Spoon

The spin doctors for the Liverpool mayor had a tricky week. Their task was to reconcile what might be considered irreconcilable. I am thinking of the message put out in their master’ voice concerning the mayoral line on the Cammell Laird’s dispute. Prior to this and in Trumpian fashion, the mayor had not been able to help himself in pontificating on the dispute. Never mind the fact that it is a dispute not in Liverpool ; nor perhaps should we worry overmuch that in normal circumstances, one would expect the Wirral leader to lead on this, with the active support of Members of Parliament. Such niceties have never bothered Mayor Anderson in the past.

What struck me was the careful wording used by the spin doctors.  Knowing that Unite and others were well aware of the true situation, they wished to square the circle between the mayor’s ostentatious support for the striking workers and his repeated support for Peel in their many local enterprises. The email sent to Labour Party members blithely commented that Peel “owned the land (where the shipyard is) and are a major shareholder”. It is almost as if Peel are casual bystanders in the matter. In fact, Peel  OWN  Cammell Laird’s through one of the many companies in the Peel group. Profits from the yard end up in the personal trust of John Whittaker, billionaire owner of the web of Peel companies, a man who is more of a land speculator than a shipbuilder.

Mayor Anderson appears to be doing all that he can to assist Peel in realising its Liverpool Waters investment (with a little help from Everton FC). As many will be aware, he has already bent over backwards to aid Peel in and around Prince’s Dock (not originally part of the Liverpool Waters fantasy).  In addition, one of the mayor’s financial misjudgements has been to invest in Peel-owned Liverpool Airport without the kind of scrutiny appropriate to the commitment of public money. This is the danger of dancing with the devil sometimes masquerading as a developer when they are, in fact, simple get-rich- quick merchants.

This was brought home with brutal clarity when “developer” Nigel Russell walked away from court this week when the case against him collapsed. The key witness against him was a senior council officer who was a convicted benefit fraudster. Naturally, he challenged her credibility and the CPS decided that they had no chance of securing a conviction, despite the huge concerns about Mr Russell and his activities in the city. It goes to show what can happen when you sup with the devil, but it also begs the question as to how Liverpool Council employed someone of doubtful probity in a key job. Once again, due diligence is an irrelevant phrase within the LCC.

I note too the repeated prominence of late of two other locally based “developers” – Elliot Lawless and Lawrence Kenwright. Whilst the former seems to be buying up the derelict sites deserted by the North Point Global con artists, the latter has spread his wings as far afield as Cardiff and Belfast whilst maintaining his high profile on Merseyside. Both are close to the mayor, and both appear to have come out of nowhere to success. They are well worth a study. Mr Kenwright was a bankrupt who has essentially become a property speculator. A trip to Companies House will show that his parent company pays its two directors a modest amount (the directors are Mr Kenwright and his wife). Their income as the two shareholders in the company, however, is very substantial – several hundred thousands of pounds as dividends. More than enough to pay off debts to HMRC if they so chose to do so. In the case of their contracting company, they chose not to, and, as a result, that part of their empire was wound up in July last in the High Court.

Mr Lawless is interesting in other ways. He began a few years ago – he is only in his early thirties – and rapidly rose up the developers’ ladder. Perhaps he is most notable for some of the local personalities he chose to both liaise with and to do business with. It is an old cliché that one cannot choose one’s family, but one can certainly choose one’s friends and business associates. Naturally, we must all be glad if derelict development sites are brought back on stream when they have been junked. However, the same cautionary note must be sounded if we are ever to clean out the more pernicious players bedevilling our city-region.

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