A hasty missive from Mayor Anderson to Labour Party members in Liverpool ensured that he was associated with the latest round of Labour group disciplinary action. It repeated the news that two members of his cabinet – Barry Kushner and Lynnie Hinnegan – were suspended due to their breach of the coronavirus guidelines concerning social distancing. In both instances, the councillors stood accused of having a party at home. Given the times that we are in, few will take issue with the chief whip’s decision on this. After the Dominic Cummings fiasco, nothing else would suffice, even on a local level. All the more surprising, then, that the mayor has yet to see fit to say anything from his Old Swan redoubt about the ballooning concern regarding so-called developers in the city.
To recap, just before Christmas, Elliot Lawless was arrested along with the city’s director of regeneration, Nick Kavanagh. Since then, several of his projects have collapsed as his companies have gone bust, leaving him struggling to stay afloat. His “success” had been remarkable, given his age and apparent lack of real business experience. In themselves, his difficulties came as no surprise to keen observers of the exploitation of the city in the name of development. However, more was to come.
Another favoured pal of the mayor, Lawrence Kenwright (he even co- hosted one of the mayor’s political fundraisers) has watched helplessly as one after another of his companies has failed – as have his attempts to flog off his properties to raise cash. Kenwright had a remarkable resurrection from bankrupt in 2010 (the year Anderson came to power) to self-styled success story although sensible business figures saw that his business model was unsustainable. Promised returns to investors were grossly exaggerated and now the chickens have come home to roost. I think of his approach as akin to a Ponzi scheme. His most recent news appearance was related to a Belfast property of his planned for conversion to a hotel, but which police say has been torched in an arson attack.
Now we come to the Fox Street development. Like the Paramount project in the city centre, it was shown to be a firetrap. The developers went bust owing £10 million but having let the properties to unsuspecting tenants. Apparently, the council undertook to monitor the development until the necessary repairs could be effected. According to residents, the monitoring consisted of two men in high visibility jackets keeping a weather eye on the property like a modern pair of “cocky watchmen”. The council is showing the cost of this exercise as £340,000! This was for a period of eight months! Figure out the hourly rate for that nice little earner!
You may recall that LCC has already established an investigative committee under the chairmanship of Cllr Corbett (another cabinet member) to look at the Fox Street scam. Unfortunately, it operated in total secrecy with no published committee minutes, no published concluding report and no answers to questions from council tax payers. Is this surprising when the whole culture of the council is dedicated to avoiding any kind of legitimate scrutiny? Sadly, the answer is no.
I could go on (some think that I go on too much already!!) and I have done so for years; but it would add little or nothing to a prevailing view that there is something rotten at the heart of Liverpool City Council. The mayor remains silent – he has nothing to say about these matters which is remarkable if only because of the huge amount of money owing to the council by these dodgy developers. Remember, too, that this should not just be a worry for the good burghers of Liverpool. The city is the principal driver for the whole city-region. Thus, when things go awry in the city, there is a ripple effect which is felt in one way or another in each of the neighbouring boroughs. The sorry state of affairs in Liverpool should, therefore, be a matter of concern for each of the five neighbouring boroughs as well as for the people of the city itself.
As I said earlier, these are difficult times. They will get worse as the full effects of the extended lockdown and any renewed surge in coronavirus cases kick in. In addition, we have still to begin to feel the full ramifications of Brexit. I can see little immediate relief from austerity. The Public Works Loan Board appears to feel the same, given its recent hike in interest rates (thank goodness EFC turned down the mayor’s offer of a loan from the Board in the name of the city). Higher education looks likely to take a big hit with fewer students including those from overseas. A drop in numbers will mean fewer student flats occupied and reduced employment at the universities and a reduced night time economy. Given the city’s questionable standing with investors, we can only speculate as to the source of necessary future investment. Yet still, the mayor has only platitudes to offer the city and its neighbours.
I believe that we all realise that there are indeed tougher times ahead, perhaps of a magnitude outside of the experience of virtually all living people. The dilemmas facing policy makers and those charged with applying policy will be many and complex, far more challenging than those of recent years. It cannot be done without taking people with you in meeting those looming demands. Will that not entail a level of leadership and a degree of transparency and accountability too often missing in the local political arena?