These are truly hard times for the bulk of the people within the city-region and beyond. Whether as individuals living in the shadow of coronavirus, or as those front-line workers, battling against the disease in order to keep us as safe as they are able to do so, it is a desperate period in time. Many have already suffered and, indeed, died in the pandemic. We are all charged with doing our bit to defeat this most vicious and pernicious of viruses.
Many are those who are suffering financially, from the huge numbers of employees who have been furloughed, to those slipping through the cracks of emergency government support. There are also the multitude of small businesses (which employ the majority of the workforce) which are struggling for survival. We must hope for an early breakthrough in dealing with the disease; it is vital that it comes sooner rather than later – for it will certainly come eventually. It is simply a matter of time. Whether or not that will be at an even greater human cost, we can only speculate.
This is a battle being fought on many fronts, and local authorities and agencies have their part to play in it. However, I must say that I believe that it is inappropriate that press releases on everything from lectures on hairdressers to pointless petitions and letters to government ministers, should be the order of the day. They have as little relevance as promises of VE-day style street parties. I also wonder how threats to close massive, unfenced parks like Sefton and Newsham Parks in Liverpool will be effective against people determined to use them despite advice to the contrary. Is it the best current use of Merseyside Police to patrol the parks, or to clear the beaches of Sefton and Wirral? Regular policing demands continue, even in these strange times, as do the demands of governing. Reflect on my repeated reports on the “developers” bedevilling this city-region.
In recent weeks, we have seen one of Mayor Anderson’s favourite entrepreneurs, Peel, in deep trouble. They are desperately trying to flog off the Port of Liverpool and John Lennon Airport as their creditors close in on them. Of course, whatever the outcome, it will have no effect on Peel owner John Whittaker’s Isle of Man trust fund. It may, however, affect many workers at the airport and the docks. Then there is Lawrence Kenwright, a close confederate of the mayor. His flagship Shankly Hotel has hit the rocks and gone into receivership as he simultaneously tries to off-load his James Street property. Perhaps the most visible sign of the mismanagement of development in Liverpool was the sight of builders Vermont dismantling their huge cranes on the crashed Infinity project of Elliot Lawless.
It is instructive, to say the least, to look at the meteoric rise of Mr Lawless, who has attained multi-millionaire status in less than a decade. Back in 2012, he became a co-director with a well-known North Merseyside “developer”, Terry Riley, in a company titled “EMR Columbus Quay, Ltd”. After that, he appeared to branch out on his own with a variety of companies although they were not all quite as they seemed to be. Although these companies listed him as a director, it was – and remains – unclear as to who actually controlled some of them. Nevertheless, as his business interests expanded, his name became more prominent in the city, until it morphed into a hallmark for development in Liverpool, Manchester, and beyond. Then came the crash.
Last December, Elliot Lawless was arrested, together with Liverpool City Council’s Director of Regeneration, Nick Kavanagh, in a corruption investigation. Three of his major developments went into administration (in a perverse way, these events may have stimulated Mayor Anderson to write in one of his publicity releases “I have been concerned by the sight of many building sites where construction continues…”!!). Yet, presumably, all has not yet been lost to Mr Lawless. He had had the foresight to set up the Equity Group “at the request of a business associate” (believed to be Mr Riley), as the Echo (unusually) reported.
This is interesting in itself, for it is based in the Seychelles, a tax haven. The Equity Group holds huge charges against the Lawless projects which are now in administration, and these add up to many millions of pounds. Furthermore, a spokesman for the Equity Group was quoted on April 6th last, as saying that Mr Lawless was “the sole director and shareholder” in the Equity Group. This is at odds with Companies House which lists one director for the Equity Group, a company named 1QD Ltd. This company was itself incorporated on the same day as the Equity Group (March 5th,2019) and with the same registered office (a business accommodation address in Liverpool). It had two developers as its directors – John Morley and Terry Riley.
It might appear that Mr Lawless had been taking steps for some time to protect his interests, both here in the United Kingdom, and in the Seychelles. He had had a long association with Mr Riley, so it is unsurprising that after the arrest of Mr Lawless last December, Mr Riley should take up board positions on two of Mr Lawless’ companies, Elliot Group Paramount Ltd and Sefton Street Developments. How these fit in to the chess game that developers play is yet to be divined. One can, however, be sure that there will be large sums of money at stake.
Meanwhile, Liverpool City Council still fails to publish anything meaningful about the Fox Street fiasco, another development rip-off. One would think that this ongoing problem with development and corruption would be a priority for the council. There are obviously honest businesses working in the field but there is ample evidence of a shed load of scam artists dragging the city down. By extension, this situation has a ripple effect across the whole city-region. I would expect the mayor to have something to say about this instead of his more fatuous comments made like a poor man’s Donald Trump.
Lastly, two comments arise from my last blog. I am happy to note that Sefton, Knowsley and Halton have maintained their green bin collections. Thus, I wonder why they manage it whilst Liverpool, Wirral, and St Helens cannot. Secondly, the Combined Authority wrote to me to say “There is no cost to the collaboration with the Heseltine Institute”. I am reminded of the old saw that there is no such thing as a free lunch.