Money To Burn

Speke has not been very well served by Liverpool City Council down the years. Surrounded by the airport, river and industrial/commercial areas, it has always felt itself isolated – rather remote from the rest of the city. The council has always been uncertain how best to cater for the needs of the Speke community. Money put into Peel’s failing John Lennon Airport has not been a game changer for Speke residents. Indeed, the closure of a large chunk of adjacent greenbelt in favour of the airport’s owners has cut off Speke people from their own magical eco-reserve at Oglet.

The secondary school built as a Private Finance Initiative, and intended to cater for Speke secondary pupils, was a total failure. This hugely expensive white elephant lies empty, costing the council millions, whilst secondary pupils have to travel out of the area for their education, whether they like it or not. A massive waste of tax payers’ money and an uninspiring tale of council inefficiency.

Now we can add to these a third calamitous council “investment”. In its wisdom, LCC spent £24 million on three new residential centres for the elderly, one of which was sited in Speke. Some genius in the Cunard Building contracted the Shaw Healthcare Group to run these centres. This company has now pulled the pin on their “commitment” to Liverpool, leaving desperate families in search of an alternative care setting for their loved ones. So much, you may think, for the city council’s ability to negotiate anything worthwhile. Who negotiated the deal with Shaw, and how, after less than a year, can they simply pull out with impunity?

This joins a very long list of poor decisions which illustrate the fecklessness of the council as an institution. Its failure to collect Section 106 fees from scam developers has been well documented. I and many others still bridle at claims made on behalf of the “Invest to Earn” programme, a misnomer if ever there was one. Smaller schemes indicate just how profligate the council has been, notwithstanding ten years of austerity. The list is long, and generally remains unexplained as to why the council always seems to be on the wrong end of its financial dealings.

For example, large sums of money were expended on “cocky watchmen” at the dangerous Fox Street development when its failings were exposed. Now it appears that “marshals” (or glorified lollipop men) were employed at Byrom Street as the overpass came down, at a cost of £338,000 over six months. Do the maths, noting the low pay rates for the people employed, and figure out the bloated profit returns for the company given the contract.

Whilst you are at it, you may wish to look at the alterations to Prince’s Road in Toxteth (where I believe the mayor’s son is employed as a safety consultant). I am told that that particular project is running at £1 million over its budget. Is it , therefore, any wonder that with this kind of record, the council’s auditors – Grant Thornton – have refused to sign off the council’s accounts for the last five years? If that was the case for a company in the private sector, the authorities would have taken drastic action by now.

The list goes on and on. Admittedly, Liverpool City Council has been hit by ten years of government cuts, but so have most other local councils. Yet the examples which I have highlighted do not relate directly to those cuts. They relate directly to the failure of Liverpool City Council to manage its expenditure and its pre-existing revenue streams, and the inadequacy of the much vaunted entrepreneurial culture which the mayor has foisted upon the council. Deal after deal has cost the city funds it can ill afford, whilst being talked up as a commercial success.

In the midst of all this, one would suppose that a Labour council would at least try to reflect the core beliefs of the majority of the city’s Labour Party members. I refer to a forthcoming event at the Arena and Convention Centre. The latter has taken a booking for a massive International arms fair, a jamboree which will attract despots and their arms suppliers, from around the globe. This “exhibition” would, at one time, have aroused huge opposition, but now, questions to the arena’s owners – Liverpool City Council – are redirected to the Arena and Convention Centre Group Liverpool, Ltd. It is well to note that the six directors of that company include four from Liverpool City Council – Mayor Anderson, Deputy Mayor Cllr Simon, CEO Reeves, and commercial director Steinberg. Need I say any more?

Transparency International

The world really does seem upside down, and not just because of the current pandemic. I looked with astonishment at the list of the most recent additions to that well known place of privilege – the House of Lords. Whilst some of the former Labour leader’s nominations were blackballed against convention, his political enemies and a row of carpetbaggers were ennobled. There was even a hint of the infamous “lavender list”, penned by Marcia Falkender on behalf of Harold Wilson, in the nomination of former Unite leader, Tony Woodley. He has never displayed to my knowledge any interest in politics, but Unite had people placed in powerful places in the last Labour leadership.

Meanwhile, here in our city-region, much continues as before despite the warnings of respected NGO, Transparency International. Highlighting the unresolved scandal of the New Chinatown debacle, they have issued a report on corruption in local government. In this, they place Liverpool in category five (out of six) in councils open to corruption. This is hardly surprising when even the failing Echo headlines the approval given to “an unnamed investor” for a seven storey block of flats in the city centre. Little wonder observers presume this is because it is the same set of crooks who have already besmirched the good name of the city with bogus developments.

Speaking of crooks, Thomas Mee, who, we are told by the Echo, is “a well-known local businessman” (what a euphemism!), has been imprisoned for his role in the burglary of the homes of high profile sports and show business stars. This “well-known local businessman” has already done time for, amongst other things, firearms offences. This same man “worked” with disgraced developer Elliot Lawless on the murky deal done with Liverpool Council back in 2016, on the Percy Street project.

In fact, it does not take much digging to make official connections of Mr Mee to other “well-known businessmen” hereabouts, such figures as Samuel Beilin (Liverpool), Billy Kearns (Knowsley) and Terry Reilly (Sefton). It is of no surprise to those who seek to ferret out the truth of civic probity, that there are tight circles of such “business” personalities repeatedly flagged up for their involvement in controversial proposals.

The interest of many concerned citizens is in discovering whether or not fair and equitable deals are being negotiated by authorities on their behalf. Looking at the history of one such project – Fox Street – it is impossible to say, despite a special council committee having been set up to examine the sorry affair. That committee’s final report has just come into the public domain, after the council sat on it for a year. There are worthy recommendations about how the council ought to proceed in future, but most of them ought to be current good practice in any decent council. However, we are yet to discover who – if anyone – is to be held responsible for creating the problems at Fox Street; and this is just one of the dodgy deals and developments.

Meanwhile, other financial issues raise their heads over and above the usual headaches. Halton is being questioned over the extraordinary amount being spent by the borough council on behalf of staff crossing the Mersey between Widnes and Runcorn. We are told that Mayor Anderson is tearful at having to pull out of support for Liverpool to host a Special Olympics National Games in 2022. What a letdown that is, especially given the Section 106 monies which the council has failed to collect from developers.

Sadly, the malaise seems to be spreading. The Combined Authority has voted a £34 million loan to a failing Liverpool Airport, a private company where Mayor Anderson sits on the board. Of course, its owner is actually Peel, which in turn is owned by tax-dodging billionaire John Whittaker. A resident of the Isle of Man, Mr Whittaker has almost turned dipping into the public purse for private profit an art form. I wonder just how many small and medium companies on in the city-region might have benefitted from such largesse. Unfortunately, they will not have the clout in accessing public funds which Peel does.