There I was, like most people, bored out of my wits, when, for want of something better to do, I read one of Liam Thorpe’s messages to Merseyside. In case you do not know, he is what is laughingly titled political editor of the “Echo”. What grabbed me in his piece was the outrageous – and demonstrably false – claim that “we will keep asking the difficult questions”. Most people see him as more or less cheerleader-in-chief for the Liverpool mayor, with little or nothing to say about the other five boroughs in our city-region. Perhaps we should remind him of some of the most recent difficult questions which have been put to the mayor and the city council, but which remain unanswered. Invariably, these have been posed by disgruntled council tax payers. If Mr Thorpe and his colleagues had anything to say on these matters, it has been a bland echo of the council’s line of the day. Very often, our local media have failed to speak truth unto power.
Obviously, the current pandemic has overwhelmed all other issues facing the people of our city-region, but we must not forget that the urgency of local politics still demands a critical appraisal. Even these past four weeks have thrown up the same systemic failures repeatedly exhibited in our area, most graphically within the city of Liverpool. Let me remind you of some examples about which I would have expected some searching questions from the local media.
LCC describes itself – at least the mayor does – as an entrepreneurial council. If that was the case, it would have been deemed a failure long before now. Let us take its approach to land and property. In the last ten years, LCC has undertaken 1417 deals concerning land and property, yet it apparently has been unable to establish a central data base collating these many and varied deals. Whilst many will relate to the sale of individual houses, for example, there will be some expensive gems amongst this massive sell-off. However, the LCC culture remains obdurate in making it as difficult as possible for citizens to have a clear picture of this sale of the century.
What about the local media demanding clarity on the council’s recent purchase of PPE? No right-minded person would object to such a purchase but they have every right to know how the purchase was effected. Assiduous research has revealed that two of the three contracts awarded for this purpose are questionable. One firm was a fashion wholesaler; the other was a redundant electronics firm using an accommodation address. They were contracted to supply LCC with masks and gowns. On the figures available, it seems that the masks cost £1.29 per item for a product that normally sold for 19p each. Thus, one contracted supplier was paid £256,000 for items costing £46,000 at source in China (remember Liverpool’s close relationship with its twin city, Shanghai). Why was LCC so incredibly slack?
Of course, LCC has always avoided transparency as if it was itself a virus. It is not – it is one of the best antidotes to corruption and inefficiency. Nevertheless, the council remains steadfast in maintaining its secretive ways. It refuses to publish the salaries paid to the board members of wholly owned businesses like the ACC and Liverpool Foundation Homes. The latter, for example, was launched with a grant of £900,000 and a loan of £1.7million, all from the city’s coffers. Why then do we not know what we are paying the cosy little groups who sit on their respective boards?
Perhaps some searching questions from the “Echo” might open up the ongoing scandal of the links between the mayor, the council and various developers? A passing reference to the fact that the Merseyside fraud squad is looking at LCC’s property deals is not enough. Why not try to pin down the absentee landlord that is our invisible (but highly paid) Police and Crime Commissioner on these matters? Whilst the Echo’s finest are at it, can they not look in depth at the extremely dubious financing of council land occupied by King Construction, Cemex and the fabled Tarmacademy? Indeed, those same on-the-spot reporters might examine the curious case of the hugely expensive Fire Marshals (once known to we older observers as cocky watchmen!) employed by Tory billionaire tax exile, Lord Ashcroft, to monitor the Fox Street fire trap.
The list goes on; there is much for our brave local fourth estate to question. They may choose to consider the sale of the Wishing Well apartments in Bootle; the link between our home grown coronavirus spike, and the Atletico Madrid-Liverpool match; and many others. There are so many serious questions which ought to put to those in power, but beginning with one to itself. Why has the “Echo” failed so abysmally in exposing the corrupt culture which has overwhelmed so much of local “regeneration”?