Well, well, well! The arrests of Joe Anderson, Derek Hatton et al have really stirred up a hornets’ nest; but who should be surprised? We have all been aware that there has been something rotten at the heart of Liverpool City Council for a very long time. Yet, as with Donald Trump, there were so many gutless people in positions able to do something about it who chose to remain silent. Let us see where this latest twist in the sorry tale of Liverpool’s own Tammany Hall takes us.
National media are biting on this latest revelation because of its sensationalist nature, involving high profile “personalities”. Where have they been when the extensive series of property scams were revealed? I know that some of those scams are still subject to various on-going investigations; and because of their size (think of New Chinatown) some do attract wider, if passing, attention. Yet all of these scams have shared features which include – the involvement of known career criminals; the fleecing of contractors and of investors; and the failure of the council to fulfil its duties towards them. Perhaps it is worth looking again at some smaller council ventures to gain an insight into how the council operates (generally in the dark!).
For example, the council owns the riverside arena and convention centre, along with its associated hotel. In fact, there are two separate companies involved, one for the arena and convention centre and one for the hotel. To all intents and purposes, they are one and the same, with the same board of directors. Both companies have been highly profitable with what are, to the layman, confusing accounts (are not they all, you might say?). For example, the last published accounts for the arena company show total payments to its six directors of £501,493. Two of these directors are Mayor Anderson and his deputy Cllr Wendy Simon. Neither of these lists any payment in their register of interests so we might discount them from the directors’ pay equation. Similarly, council chief executive Tony Reeves is a third director, and is also presumably content with his hefty council salary (more than that of the Prime Minister). That leaves us with three remaining directors.
These are company CEO, Bob Prattey; his deputy, Faye Dyer; and commercial director, Max Steinberg (formerly a long-term senior adviser to the mayor). The accounts show that one of these three received from the directors’ pot in the last financial year, the sum of £266,120, together with £27,658 in pension contributions. That leaves £235,373 between the other two. Remember that these are payments as directors. Whether or not they are also paid as senior executives by either company is wholly unclear.
Complicating the ability to cross reference with the hotel company is the decision of the directors (the same six people) to decline to publish a directors’ report (as company law permits). However, the published accounts for the hotel note the payment of £224,626 to “key management personnel”. Who exactly are these? Are they the directors identified above? A little chink of light is shown by the pension contributions on behalf of the hotel’s 65 employees which amount to £32,000. Not the highest paid group of people and reflective of the huge disparities between a select few and the mass of workers under the council’s wing.
Let us look at another council-sponsored initiative which shows the council’s Byzantine approach to its responsibilities. Liverpool Foundation Homes was set up in 2018 as what many saw as a job creation project for beaten councillor and mayoral favourite, Frank Hont (who has since departed from the company). It was given a kick start grant of £750,000, followed by a further grant of £170,000. In turn, this was followed by a loan of £1,717,690 with which “to buy property”. This flying start was so dynamic that by 09/08/19, Companies House had it listed as a dormant company. Its three directors are Mark Kitts of the city council; Angela Forshaw whose background is in sports centres; and Darrell Mercer who Companies House ties in to fifteen other companies, fourteen in London and one in the north-east!
This company employs eight people as far as I can ascertain, including Kitts on a salary of between £110,000 and £115,000. His deputy, Charles Jarvis, gets between £90,000 and £95,000. Below him, Louise Davies and Liam Knowles are in the £76,000 to £79,000 range. Finally, there are four juniors on good salaries for their respective roles. The question must be: what do these people do for their comfortable salaries? What is the evidence of “the development of building projects and the construction of domestic buildings” which is claimed to be its raison d’etre? Nothing that I can see, but I am happy to be corrected.
Back to where we came in. I often wonder what happens to many people at the top of the council tree. Lots end up stigmatised as they bring the city into disrepute. The latest round began with the arrests of former chief executive Ged Fitzgerald along with former senior council officers Phil Halsall and David McElhinney under police investigation Operation Sheridan. Next came director of regeneration Nick Kavanagh, lifted along with developer Elliot Lawless. Now we have Mayor Anderson together with deputy planning and highways chief, Andy Barr. Coincidentally, abrasive former city head of regeneration, Charlie Parker, along with former staff he recruited from Liverpool, is highlighted in the current issue of “Private Eye”. Now chief executive for the Jersey Government, he has been forced to resign over his lucrative moonlighting (£50,000 p.a.) for a property company, on top of his £250,000 salary. You can take the boy out of Liverpool…..
It is some years now since I took my concerns about the council to the relevant authorities who, I thought, might do something about it. I went to the then chief constable, John Murphy; to the district auditors, Grant Thornton; and to the now invisible police commissioner, Jane Kennedy. Nothing was done, and things grew progressively worse as the major players in this situation became ever more emboldened, thinking they were beyond being brought to account. Perhaps my timing was wrong or perhaps the authorities were just not interested; but there can be no dodging the harsh reality of corruption now.
Drain the swamp!