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?

3 thoughts on “A Turning Point

  1. Perhaps you can find out how much due diligence was conducted by the LCR in respect of its recent £34m ‘loan’ to LJLA? Is it aware of Peel’s involvement in the Intu property collapse? Is it aware of Peel’s involvement in the Teesside debacle where Peel had received planning permission to build 350 houses on airport land – before it was sold back to the respective councils? What kind of conditions have been imposed on this loan? Does one assume the proposed expansion of LJLA is now dead in the water, given the Paris Climate agreement is legally binding? Is the LCR aware that the family of one airport hangar owner is valued at £4.7bn in the Sunday Times Rich List? Was this owner approached for a loan? If the long-term loss making airport is so confident of its future, then why can’t it raise money from the private sector? The scandal over the loss of 52 acres of Green Belt land surrounding Hale Road, Bailey’s lane and the – now closed – Dungeon Lane is another story.

    Why don’t any of these bright undergraduates studying law at university take an interest in some of these local scandals? Even Rumpole of the Bailey’s jaw would have dropped if he’d cast his eye over some of the episodes you have described.

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  2. A multipicity of police agencies investigating the council, all need to be handed over to the Natioanl Crime Agency so no local vested interests can influence the investigation. Merseyside Police should not be carrying out any investigation into the council.

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    1. Replying to Bob.

      I thought the National Crime Agency was investigating some of these matters? However, even the most competent forensic accountants would struggle to resolve some of these matters, let alone anyone concluding a crime has been committed.

      Take two hypothetical cases: a council purchases a mixture of ordinary and preference shares in an airport as a supposed long-term investment. The council disposes half of its shares 3 years later, claiming a significant profit – presumably from the dividend paid on the preference shares (bear in mind the airport hosts a significant debt and has never made a profit over recent years). Intellectual alley cats inspect the subsequent FOI’s in an attempt to work out where the supposed profit came from and discover all the relevant info. is redacted. How does anyone investigate?

      Second hypothetical case: a national building company – which is a preferred developer in this hypothetical city – builds houses on Green Wedge land that was the subject of a public inquiry. The inspector finds in favour of the building company. A councillor (with witnesses present) informs one of the campaigners opposing the development– after the decision – that the council threw the inquiry deliberately. When the relevant authorities become involved, the councillor et al deny their original statements. How on earth does anyone conclude if a crime has been committed – or discover the actual truth behind the inquiry?

      Two potential topics for Mr. Joshua Rozenberg and BBC Radio 4’s excellent ‘Law in Action’ or ‘File on 4’.

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