I could not believe it. I had caught a quick glimpse in a newsagent of an Echo banner headline. “Bordering on CRIMINAL”, it screamed, alongside a picture of Joe Anderson in his Bob the Builder outfit. What can it be, I wondered? Is it suggesting that the mayor has been apprehended up to no good? Have I been hard on the Echo, and its failure to date to do some genuine investigative journalism instead of plagiarising the work of others? For once, I willingly forked out 85p to feast on a possible Echo exclusive.
Not for the first time, I was wrong and disappointed. It was effectively a rehash of the ongoing scandal that is the new Royal Hospital building. As I recall, it was the late Sam Semoff who had initiated the campaign against the outsourcing under PFI of this project to Carillion. I do not recall any comment from Joe Anderson at the time, certainly nothing to compare with this week’s declaration of the blindingly obvious that “it is bordering on the criminal and that is why we need a full public inquiry”.
Strangely, there are a whole series of new build scandals which directly involve Liverpool City Council – and that special breed so close to Joe’s heart, so-called developers. Yet I still await some kind of mayoral commitment to have a “full public inquiry” into that series of failed projects which have defrauded investors and contractors, and besmirched the good name of the city. The mayor also claimed that “Government took away the rights of local authorities to have building control inspections of buildings”. If that is so, how come that the city council building control inspected the new Alder Hey hospital as it was built?
Possibly his really outrageous comment was that “if you give the private sector free rein within the public sector, then profit comes before quality, and that is exactly what we have ended up with”. What a cheek! In my long experience, I have never known a city leader so willing to make any sort of accommodation with (or “give free rein to”) the private sector, even at the expense of the city’s reserves, its green spaces, and – potentially – its World Heritage status, for the sake of profit to the likes of Redrow and Peel.
Meanwhile, deep inside the pages of the Echo (which these days seems to consist primarily of adverts and quiz games), there was a business item giving a free bit of PR for the council’s Foundations company. You may recall that this company was set up to provide social housing for which there is a desperate need. Established with much fanfare on the 7th March, 2018, it appears to have accomplished nothing to date. However, it had raised enough concern at Companies House for the Registrar to formally threaten to strike the company off the companies register! That was on May 28th just gone. Foundations were obviously shaken by this, and appear to have taken the necessary action to persuade the registrar to row back, although reading the Echo, you would not know about this.
Here we are, fifteen months after this quango’s incorporation, and it is finally proposing to actually do something. Fourteen homes are planned. Fourteen! Once again, it is a case of hyperbolic promises for tomorrow, but little action to date. A statement was put out (and slavishly promoted by the Echo) in the name of the company’s chief executive, Mark Kitts. His day job is deputy chief of regeneration in the council, taking over the Foundations role from his council boss, the vastly unpopular Nick Cavanagh. The real mystery is what has happened to the Foundations chairman, Joe’s chum, ex-councillor Frank Hont. Was he sold a pup with this non-job, or is there some other explanation for his invisibility?
Lastly, it is gratifying to see that the Echo jobsworths were dropped from contention in “Private Eye’s” Paul Foot Awards. This followed a barrage of objections from angry complainants, upset that the Echo could wangle their way onto the Awards long list in the first place. There is some justice in the world, after all.