Stupidity or Cupidity?

Like many people, I have often asked myself whether the many scams being perpetrated within the public domain on Merseyside, are down to avarice on the part of some of those in positions of authority, or simply ineptitude coupled with sublime ignorance. The recent farce involving the appointment to a senior post in Wirral Council, of an individual who only days prior had invoiced the council for large sums on behalf of a dissolved company, is an example of what might fall under either explanation. If it was not for the tendency of councils to be so secretive, many such scandals might be nipped in the bud. Transparency can make such a difference.

Look at Knowsley and the Kirkby town centre debacle. The preferred developer is a long established company, St.Modwen. However, the latter have failed to date to progress the long-overdue redevelopment of the town centre. My information is that the company have tried to off-load the job back on to Knowsley council.  The council has, in turn, imposed a blackout on any information for Kirkby residents, undoubtedly with an eye on this week’s elections. I cannot see how an embargo on meaningful information to those residents will do anything for the council’s standing in the town. Thursday may indicate just how disgruntled Kirkby electors are.

Meanwhile, councillors elsewhere also face the electorate across the city-region. Like their colleagues in the Wirral, they have all seen “development” and green space emerge as a major issue. The same vexed question led, last time out, to the election of an independent in Rainhill (St Helens). Will it raise its head again?  In Sefton, there are a range of proposed housing projects which have aroused the ire of electors. Even normally placid Halton has a stake in this widespread challenge, given the activity of pressure group “Save Oglet Shore”.

Naturally, Liverpool is the daddy of them all. The recent forced relocation of residents of Fox Street Village, is just the latest in a long line of failed projects, organised and criminal rip-offs, and blatant compromise of health and safety – all in the name of “development”, and all approved by the city council. Bear in mind that the Mayor setup up a scrutiny panel last year, under the chairmanship of Cllr Jane Corbett, designed to get to the bottom of this succession of scandals which have besmirched the good name of the city and of the council. This panel has met at least five times, but there have been no minutes, reports or information emanating from them. Again, I understand that there is an election due, but this is nothing less than a disgraceful abdication of civic responsibility to the people of Liverpool.

It is not as if it is the only inquiry in the council which has maintained a Trappist silence. Cast your mind back to the controversial issues raised in relation to the match day parking facilities. This was what triggered the resignation of highly respected former council leader and Lord Mayor, Frank Prendergast, from the Labour group on the council. The Mayor also set up an inquiry, to be led by the city solicitor, into the affairs of two of the parking sites. The third – the biggest and most valuable (since leased to LFC, I believe) –  was left unquestioned, for reasons one can only surmise. Once more, there has been no report back, nor an explanation for the omission of the Priory Road site from the inquiry. Is it any wonder that so many electors have such a jaundiced view of the Mayor and the council?

Meanwhile, the Echo says nothing – the three wise monkeys have nothing on our local comic. Online, it spouts about the major issues facing local politicians on Thursday. “Development” does not get a mention. I would suggest that the Echo looks at the latest manoeuvre involving Mr Kerry Tomlinson, a pivotal figure in the narrow circles of local “development”. One of his companies – Strand Plaza – is the freeholder to Mersey House on the Strand. That company has issued what are known as Section 5 notices to the leaseholders with properties in that building. The total asking price is £866,000. This is a legal requirement to give existing leaseholders first refusal on purchasing the freehold.

Meanwhile, it is worth noting that a London finance house – Amicus Finance – holds four charges against Mersey House whilst being itself in administration. Furthermore, Strand Plaza is way overdue in submitting to Companies House the legally required financial returns. I hope that I am wrong, but I wonder if I can see a perfect financial storm in the making.

If only Liverpool Council – and its cheerleaders at the Echo – got their act together, they just might provide a lead across the city-region in negating the image of cupidity and/or stupidity which has characterised so many local plans and activities in recent years.

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Elections Looming!

Well, the leaflets have started to arrive (or, in my case, leaflet in the singular, so far). The usual political platitudes are being trotted out by the major parties, in their attempts to play the blame game, in the hope of securing votes. Given the dire record of turn out in local elections, one can only speculate as to whether any more voters will be inspired to cast their ballot this year. If previous years are anything to go by, the runaway winners around the city-region will be the ever-popular Apathy Party.

Mind you, it is fair to say that all the political and media focus has now been for many months on the never-ending issue of Brexit. We are yet to see if the general national disillusion with political parties will give a further boost to Apathy in the forthcoming local elections. Equally, the current public alienation might well prove a catalyst for success for minor parties and independents. I do not doubt that Brexit will be used as a convenient excuse for failure by someone. Time will tell.

Council candidates within our city-region will face various challenges, attempting to answer serious local questions which have arisen. Widespread protests over proposals to build on green space have had a major impact. Such developments remain tough battlegrounds in Wirral, Sefton, Liverpool, St Helens and Knowsley. There have been retreats (think of Knowsley plans to flog off its parks), and court action (consider Liverpool’s mishandling of the Harthill debacle). Nevertheless, the electorate can be very unforgiving if the issue is big enough for them.

In Knowsley, it is being said that preferred developer for Kirkby town centre – St Modwen  – have tried to hand over their lease on the town centre back to Knowsley Council. The failure to redevelop the town centre as has long been promised, has been a real sore point for years with Kirkby residents. It was noted in the Daily Mirror recently that, in a survey of over one thousand shopping centres, Kirkby ranked third worst! It would be revolutionary indeed if Labour’s long time control in the town was to be over-turned, but these are strange times…

On paper, the council within the city-region in most danger of changing political hands is Wirral. I say “on paper” because these are not normal times. If they were, Wirral Labour would be facing a perfect political storm. A raft of deselections; a breakaway group of councillors, aided and abetted by local MP, Frank Field; a departing council Leader – all on top of the usual pressures like the controversy over the proposed golf course and associated development on the green belt. Yet the Tory opposition face their own problems, given the appalling profile of their national party.

I have always believed that voters have mixed motives at every election, covering local and national issues. There are the tribal voters who vote for their party come what may; but an increasing number of those who do vote are becoming more selective, voting against a party rather than for one. Just look at the price paid by the Lib Dems in local and national elections when people voted against them because of their coalition support for an extremely unpopular Tory party.

Meanwhile, Liverpool is definitely in election mode – or, at least, the council is. There has been a big surge in extensive road surfacing works, after years of neglect. This top dressing of some of the city’s busiest roads is welcome, although I hesitate to say what the outcome will be in the ballot box. Some of the Labour candidates are distancing themselves on the doorstep and on social media, from Joe and all of his works. Perhaps they are getting messages which they are yet to share with the rest of us.

At least some of the more senior councillors seem somewhat detached from the fray. I was bemused by the apparent preoccupation of Cllr Gary Millar with a perceived threat to our salad supplies if Brexit was to go ahead. I do not know whether he has his finger on the pulse of what really matters in the city, or whether the pressure of the unanswered questions to him about his involvement in Chinatown and other developments, is finally getting to him. Perhaps he is distracted by Cllr Corbett’s inquiry into development scams around the city. When, incidentally, will she report on this?

Speaking of development, the Echo is still at it, trying to take credit for other people’s investigations. The latest concerns the dreadful Fox Street Village, a death trap development similar to the Paramount building off London Road. The Echo jumped on the bandwagon of concern about this disgrace after Granada TV did a piece on it. They, along with various council entities, sat on the information made available to them and did and said absolutely nothing for the best part of two years! It is sad to see a once renowned newspaper fall so low.