Money for Old Rope

The Liverpool City Council soap opera would be absorbing if it was not so sad for the city. After the arrest of developer Elliot Lawless and City Director of Regeneration Nick Kavanagh, we are now being told that Lawless expects to retrieve the near £350,000 that the police had confiscated. It reminds me of the case of a well-known underworld figure – Philly Glennon – who had buried £1million in his garden, only for the police to find it and confiscate it, only to eventually have to return it.

Hot on the heels of this “development story”, fresh questions are being raised concerning the site of the new police headquarters. The deal was presumably signed off by the Police Commissioner, Jane Kennedy, on the basis of due diligence. The significant piece of land involved in this proposal was owned by the North Liverpool Regeneration Company. Closely linked with this outfit are current councillors George Knibb and Barry Kushner, and former councillor and Hatton associate, John Nelson.

Ah, well, said I, what else is there to add? Then I thought of the disgraceful decision to hire out the Liverpool Arena for an international arms fair. There can be few more despicable occupations than trading in the tools of death and destruction, often to third world despots, for use against their own people. I never thought that I would witness a Labour council, no matter how cash strapped, welcoming these dreadful people to our city-region.

Make no mistake – it is down to the mayor and the city council who uses the arena. The Arena and Convention Centre Group (ACC) is wholly owned by the city council. It is well worth looking at the background to this very profitable company. I have in the past, but drew something of a blank about its details. Still, there is enough information available to give us an idea of yet another facet to the council which deserves close examination.

The ACC has a board of six directors – Robert Prattey (CEO); Faye Dyer (Deputy CEO); Max Steinberg (Commercial Director); Tony Reeves (LCC Chief Executive); Mayor Anderson; and Cllr Wendy Simon. Until last year, Steinberg had a major role in Anderson’s administration (I do not know if he still has a role), and now he chairs the board of this company. Joe has a habit of putting his confidantes into choice positions – do you remember Frank Hont’s pension of a new housing company for him to chair when the electorate kicked him out? I assume that Prattey, Dyer and Steinburg are all full-time employees of the ACC, and paid accordingly.

This is important when you look at the most recent official accounts, lodged with Companies House. These set out the “emoluments” paid to the six directors. They specify that the highest paid director was paid £266,120 last year, together with a pension top-up of £27,656. The total amount of “emoluments” paid to the directors totalled £501,493. Somebody is making good money, but exactly who, we are not told. We do not even know if these amounts are on top of salaries in the case of the three ACC employees.

However, there is another dimension to this. The Arena and Convention Centre Hotel is an entirely separate company with separate accounts. The same six people sit on its board of directors. Who gets paid what by which company is impossible to see. Last year, according to Companies House, it did not file “a directors’ report, statement of income and retained earnings, or the audit report”. Apparently, this is legal under the Companies Act, but I should point out that £224,626 was paid out to “key management personnel” as some kind of bonus. One wonders whether or not we are talking here of manager/directors. Demonstrating the Hotel’s generosity, pension contributions on behalf of their sixty five staff (a figure which includes the six directors!) were paid, totalling £31,944. Omit the directors and then do the maths:  one board member gets £27,656 in pension contributions, whilst fifty nine workers get £31,944 between them at best. Where is the socialism there?

Naturally, I went to see what Mayor Anderson and Cllr Simon registered as interests in all this. The answer was nothing. Rather, Cllr Simon registered seven worthy directorships of charitable causes and the like, but Mayor Anderson has no interests which he feels merit inclusion on his register of interests. Companies House list five active directorships in his name, including the Liverpool Land Development Company. This is curious in so far as it has had thirty directors but Joe is the only one left standing. On another, Joe gives his occupation as a “social Inclusion manager“. I have never come across that one before!

One can only speculate on the webs woven, and the reasons for the failure to be fully transparent. At the very least, such a situation frustrates, and denies people their full rights of access to information about what is being done in their name, with their money, and by whom. At worst – well, make your own mind up.

A Turning Point

To those of us who take an interest in civic affairs across the city-region, the recent spate of arrests linking local business personalities with senior council figures, comes as no surprise. The only question for most of us is why it has taken the police so long to act. This is more than can be said for the local rag – the Echo – where its resident clown prince, in true Trumpian style, seeks to credit himself and his colleagues for exposing issues which they have studiously ignored for literally years.

This is truly culpable on their part. The readership, dwindling although it may be, has been denied the true extent of the corrupt practices which have been dominant in Liverpool in recent years, as they have been left in the dark over calls for Mayor Anderson to go. Indeed, the unwary reader has had a rosy picture of everything which Mayor Anderson and his developer friends have done or said. So much which needed to be said has been airbrushed from the record. The recent case of the concern of local taxi drivers over an influx of “out of town” car hire drivers has been ignored. I am unaware of other than superficial coverage of the catalogue of complaints from stall holders in St. John’s Market. The true picture of the scams of developers has been skirted around. However, the recent arrests – covered extensively by national media – was obviously too big to ignore.

To recap – Merseyside Police is investigating city council activities, including property deals. Similarly, Lancashire Police remain deeply committed to Operation Sheridan, in which, among others, the former council chief executive and the mayor have been involved. There is yet to be an announcement on the case involving Liverpool Direct and the role of senior officers. Meanwhile, the Serious Fraud Office, the North West Serious Crime unit and Greater Manchester Police are all involved in the property scams which have proliferated in Liverpool, and have spread from here to Manchester and elsewhere. Now, I am told, local trade union figures are being pulled into the investigations. All of this during Mayor Anderson’s term of office.

Quite apart from this appalling record of alleged corruption and criminality, we should remind ourselves of the general inefficiency of the city council within its “Invest to Earn” policy. We were told that this is the way forward for a modern council; but its history in Liverpool says something else. That is, that people with no knowledge or experience of the pitfalls of investment programmes should not be let loose on the civic purse. It is akin to setting a first aider to conduct a brain operation. Let me remind you of a few examples.

Money has been invested in Peel’s airport despite it losing money. It ranks alongside Edinburgh Airport across all UK airports for unused, excess capacity. What will fill that gap?  What about the absurd proposal to borrow hundreds of millions to lend to Everton FC? Do you recall the purchase of the Cunard Building for use as a passenger terminus for the proposed new cruise liner terminal? We can now add to these (and many others) the three new care centres, closed down after less than a year in use.

You may now wish to consider the council’s partnership with Robin Hood Electricity. This company has a similar partnership with Nottingham Council. After a report was published on their enterprise, the council leaders were profuse in their apologies for the venture’s performance. This was not surprising, given that council’s £34.4 million losses and the potential liabilities of over £60 million. This came into the public domain via a scathing report by the council’s district auditor, Grant Thornton. This is the same firm which has refused to sign off the accounts of LCC for five years. Goodness knows what they could report on our own entrepreneurial mayoralty.

The overall financial situation at LCC can be partly attributed to the massive government cuts which have occurred, but not the examples quoted above. It is illuminating to think that the city council of thirty five years ago was held to account for a notional loss of £106,000. Forty nine councillors were surcharged and banned from holding office for five years. Will we have a repeat performance?