Day by day, we are assailed by “fake news” emanating from Downing Street or the White House. Unfortunately, we have our own local imitators practising what we generally refer to as “spin”. There is a distinction between the two, and not just based on scale. The local variation is very much identified by what is not said, rather than the gush of claims constantly pushed out concerning local government “achievements”. These are usually dressed up – especially on behalf of Liverpool City Council – by the Echo in particular. Yet all people want is some semblance of transparency from their representatives so that, in due course, we might have some accountability based on facts rather than fiction.
Perhaps LCC, for example, could clear up the mystery of the Tarmacademy. Council tax payers are getting nowhere in the search for the truth about Fox Street, Chinatown, and numerous other disastrous projects. They are, however, increasingly aware of the very real problems with alleged developers, and the blatant scams associated with them. It would seem as if the Tarmacademy issue is (unlike some of the others which are subject to police investigation) virtually wholly within LCC’s competence to investigate. After all, the bulk of this scandal lies within LCC’s remit. Firstly, a little background.
Amid much fanfare, land was bought by LCC in Brunswick Place, for the purpose of a joint venture involving King Construction and Cemex. The rent payable was to be £500,000 pa, but the first year was to be rent free. The promise was great. The site was to be home to Liverpool Highways Training Ltd. This “Tarmacademy” was to provide training and jobs for 1000 young people from north Liverpool over five years. The courses offered were all to be related to the highway construction and repair business.
The link man between LCC and King Construction was Mr Mark Doyle, a senior figure with the latter. King Construction (trading as Knowsley Contractors) is actually based in Goodlass Road, Speke. According to Companies House, so is the Liverpool Highways Training Academy. Unfortunately, the latter is a dormant company. This leaves outstanding questions concerning the £3.5 million loan made to the Academy by the council. No one seems to be either able or willing to account for this money.
Mr Doyle is listed as a director at Kings. The assistant director for Highways and Planning at LCC – Mr Andy Barr – is also connected to Kings through his stepson who has a senior position in the company. Surely with such good relations between the two parties it would be simple to establish where the £3.5 million has gone. Instead of straight answers, we are bombarded with often spurious claims about the council’s – or rather, the mayor’s – successes in handling the city’s budget.
Voters are not stupid. Brassed off, perhaps, but very tuned in to some of the more silly claims which they are force fed. For example, we are told the LCC has built “over 12,000 homes in the last ten years” (the mayor’s latest missive). This is palpably untrue as the mayor seems to agree in the same piece when he says “We can once again include council housing in our growing provision”. The 12,000 figure – if it is accurate – is a total figure for housing associations and the private sector, which itself would consist to a great degree of student accommodation, buy to let, and yuppy apartments. We should not think of it in relation to those areas where there is most need – the low earners and the homeless.
This repeated exaggeration or spin does nothing for the council’s or the mayor’s credibility. Another small example. Not long ago, you will recall that the council had acquired £1.7 million pounds worth of missing PPE, making up for the government’s failure to adequately supply our local needs in combating the coronavirus. Where has that fresh supply gone? To whom, and on what basis? I hope we can get an answer to that one.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention my favourite bugbear of developers. You may have noticed that Peel Land and Property had a big fanfare last week over a planned new skyscraper on Prince’s Dock. Goodness knows what such a building would mean for our World Heritage Status. Note it is planned and publicised as Peel go cap in hand to the delayed MIPIM annual knees up. As we know, they are on their uppers as a conglomerate, in dire financial straits. Is there a connection between Peel’s latest promise and the pressing need for investors? Time will tell as their bankers come knocking in June.