Between the incompetent liar in the White House and the lying crackpot in 10, Downing Street, it would seem as if that politics across the globe has gone mad. Yet it is not just at that level that politics appears to have detached itself from the real world, and the concerns of a wider public. It is well worth while devoting attention to our local political organisations to appreciate how the electorate becomes disillusioned. Nor is it simply elected representatives who are at fault, although responsibility ultimately rests in their hands.
A practical example relies in Knowsley. I am told that a relative of a former senior council officer is involved in a £280,000 fraud in the council. Apparently, the scam in question ran for over ten years, but was only discovered when a double payment was mistakenly sent to an honest person, who promptly returned it to the council. The obvious question is: how was this missed for so long on the audit trail? If the auditors are so inept, how often do such corrupt practices occur?
Across the river in Wirral, the mysterious activities of former councillor and former chair of the Merseyside Pension Fund – Paul Doughty – remain a puzzle. Merseyside Police were given extensive evidence regarding allegations made against Mr Doughty, but they decided not to prosecute. To date, the council has made no comment on his case to my knowledge. Whilst a councillor, Mr Doughty was alleged, amongst other things, to have shown favours to senior officers of the council and the pension fund. He is now believed to be involved in plans for a community savings bank.
Meanwhile, Halton Borough Council’s planning department has taken another beating, having been taken to court successfully for the third time. Its plans for a waste facility in Hale Bank were successfully challenged in the High Court by the local parish council. The chair of the latter declared (with some justification!!) that the borough’s planning department was “not fit for purpose”. This follows hard on the heels of the department’s roll over to Peel’s John Lennon Airport in the unnecessary surrender of 21 hectares of green space at Hale, for Peel’s commercial interests.
Speaking of Peel, it is now ten months since “The Times” first flagged up in detail the big financial problems facing Peel owner, John Whittaker, and his flagship “Intu” company. These were part of the reason for the car boot sale by Peel and Deutsche Bank, of shares in the John Lennon Airport. They were joined in this by Liverpool City Council, courtesy of self-declared financial whizz-kid, Mayor Anderson. Despite the latter’s claims, the airport continues to operate at a loss. Incidentally, the mayor’s lamentations over the recent hike of interest rates from 1.8% to 2.8% by the Public Works Loan Board, has a hollow ring. When he was rambling on about financing Everton’s new stadium with a PWLB loan, he blithely ignored the reality that interest rates fluctuate up and down. Plainly, he did not understand what “risk” means when it comes to such financial deals.
The mayor should be more aware of such matters – his developer friends certainly do. One correspondent has pointed out that the ubiquitous Elliot Lawless has an entry in the infamous Panama Papers. These list those using tax havens to stow their profits and their legal responsibilities. Thus, my correspondent insists that Mr Lawless registered Baltic Developments in the Seychelles, enabling him to avoid litigation by investors who have not been paid their “guaranteed” rental return on their investments.
Back in Blighty – or rather Bootle – I was dismayed to hear a Seaforth resident on the radio this week. A former docker and a grandfather, he was expressing his own desperation over traffic pollution problems he claimed were endemic in one of the poorest neighbourhood in Sefton. As we all know, there have been continuous protests about the volume of traffic passing through the town to access the motorway network; and we have heard Sefton Council’s responses to those protests. There does not seem to be an obvious solution acceptable to all concerned.
Finally, I am being told that there is a degree of toxicity between individual councillors in St Helens not seen since the days of Gerry Caughey, Brian Green et al. It would be a tragedy if that was the case, as it took a long time and a concentrated effort to lance the boil of those venomous times. Let us hope that such enmities can be overcome for the sake of the borough.
If any of you are interested in a case study of the interface between the worlds of politics and criminality, you may like to look at my book “The Gangster, the Judge, and the Politician” available on Amazon. It is wholly factual, and gives an insight as to why it ill behoves any of us to ignore wrongdoing in public life.