Deja Vu – Again

I read recently that a Wirral solicitor, Mr David Hayhurst, had been hauled up before a tribunal of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. He had been charged with taking money from clients for extremely speculative building projects without explaining the risks involved. The tribunal was kind – he was only fined £10,000 with £15,000 costs. I say “kind” because of the huge total sums involved in these scam projects. Moreover, he has now set himself up in the heart of Birkenhead as a consultant.

I mention this because it illustrates the context in which so many people appear to operate schemes and scams with little or no regulation until, on the odd occasion, the long arm of the law intervenes. This is despite the colossal amount of money lost to investors, contractors and local authorities. On a par with the lack of effective regulation is the ease with which malefactors can re-invent themselves with yet another sham company via which they can employ the same wholly unacceptable “business” practices.

Attempts to run local authorities as businesses only exacerbate such problems. By and large, councillors across our city-region are not business people. Furthermore, local authorities exist to provide services, not to dabble in the risk-taking that is part of business life. By the same token, business is about turning a profit. It does not take a genius to see the contradictions in the so-called “entrepreneurial” council. A very small example is found in my old constituency among the “Cobra” houses around Bala Street in Anfield. About three years ago, many of them were put up for sale by LCC. A number were kept back and the remainder were sold on condition that they were substantially improved within six months. Owner-occupiers and investors duly complied, only to watch the council-owned properties sink further and further into dereliction. Why, three years on, is there such a double standard between the council and everyone else? I cannot explain it.

I was checking a spreadsheet of LCC-owned properties. There are literally thousands of them, primarily older housing stock requiring upgrading and renewal. It strikes me that that it would be far more sensible for them to put into hands which might improve them, rather than leaving them to further degenerate by the day, especially those which are empty and derelict. After all, the council owned housing company – Liverpool Foundation Homes – appears to be either incapable or unwilling to address this massive problem. Sadly, LCC seems more interested in enabling property speculators’ fancies for blocks of flats rather than rejuvenating family homes.

Mind you, I am increasingly susceptible to the old suggestion that there is something problematic in the city-region’s water supply. How else does one explain the area’s characteristics of chaos, argument, and trouble? These traits seem to follow people from Merseyside around the country. I recall that when Lawrence Kenwright obtained ownership of the local council’s Coal Exchange in Cardiff, he did so with a loan/grant from Cardiff Council facilitated by a council official who had learned his trade in Liverpool! There was a major dingdong in Cardiff as a result. More recently, there was the case of former Knowsley officer, Mike Fagan. He insisted that he had been forced to take early retirement because he had been a whistleblower over a case of nepotism in council employment. When former CEO Sheena Ramsay moved to the West Country, he doggedly pursued her with his grievance, briefing local councillors down there on his charges. This led in turn to a three way stand off, involving council officers, Mr Fagan and the Information Commissioner. The winner? Mr Fagan. Happily truth often does win out; too often dishonesty prevails.

However, the electors of Liverpool were – unlike all the other cities of England – denied a say on how the city should be run. Is it not now the time for the council to organise a referendum before we get into election mode for a new city mayor? We now have a metromayor, whilst for so many people, the city mayor has been a failed experiment. A referendum on their view is long overdue. Prevarication by the council just will not wash.

This leads me to the gross dishonesty which surrounded the establishment of a mayoral system in Liverpool. It is easy to forget that this came about through a series of untruths. At the time, Cameron’s government pushed hard for mayoral systems in England’s major cities. Other than Liverpool, all of those cities had a referendum on the issue; and, with the exception of Bristol, all rejected the offer. Joe Anderson persuaded the council to forego a referendum – “only political anoraks would want a referendum”, he asserted. The principal argument was that by following Anderson’s lead, the city would get an enhanced City Deal. It was also suggested that the city could end up with no City Deal at all without a mayoral settlement. Both of these arguments were false.

In February, 2012 the BBC quoted then Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg: “No City Deal, including Liverpool’s proposal is contingent on having an elected mayor”. Fast forward to the 9/12/20 and an FoI response from the Communities Secretary on the same subject: “The requirement to have a City Mayoral Model was not a pre-requisite for agreeing a City Deal with government”. Digest those quotes for a moment. The role of city mayor was decided on the basis of a false prospectus. There was no extra cash, and the City Deal was coming regardless.

8 thoughts on “Deja Vu – Again

  1. Clegg lied, what’s new. He lied about a european army, he lied about the direction of the eu now morphing into the eussr. You just have to look at the words of the person leading the Lib Dems in Liverpool, would you buy a used car from him or his cohorts, remember Kemp was around at the time of fireman Bradley and Henshaw as the chief exec of LCC. that’s not to say Liverpool Labour are any better. Just look at Wavertree CLP!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What’s your point Bob? What has me being a Fire Officer got to do with anything Peter has stated? You seem to have very little knowledge, but just like to rant for the sake of it…….constructive comments are far more useful 🤯

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    2. A bold claim made without evidence. What happened elsewhere in the country would suggest he was telling the truth.

      As for the “city deal” we got, it consisted of little more than money to build new schools – money that everywhere else got (and thus we would have got) as a matter of course.

      At best, the man is a seriously bad negotiator. On behalf of the city, at least.

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  2. Like

  3. Following Simon taking over the mayor role, I read the “constitution” that this was carried out under. Indeed, should the mayor be unable to fulfill his duties responsibility does fall to the deputy.

    Of course, however, we in true Anderson style have more than one deputy. Two that I can confirm officially, however noting at least one other has termed himself so.

    Nowhere in the constitution is this provided for, does it state who should take over, how they should be chosen, or by who. This could only have been resolved by the resignations of all other deputy mayors, but did not happen.

    Which I believe raises the question: is Simon lawfully in charge, and subsequently are the decisions she makes legal?

    Like

  4. It looks like any pondering which, if any, deputy mayor has a right to lead might have been premature pedantics.

    Browsing the Manchester Evening News yesterday I was astonished to read what the author claims are comments by “Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson”, responding to a government announcement that day.

    https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/transport-for-north-funding-slashed-19624615

    Perhaps this is just a rather strange attribution error on the part of the author and the paper’s fact checkers.

    If it isn’t an error, I think we have a right to know what on earth is going on.

    Like

  5. From the Times today, more connections to people in Liverpool concerning UNITE and personalities that Merseyside Police have an intherest in? I have posted the article below for those who don’t have access behind the paywall.

    Andrew Norfolk IIRC blew open the Rotherham child grooming scandel, something Fitzgerald must have known about and if he didn’t why didn’t he?

    Oh and Bradley I take no lessons from a convicted criminal!

    TIMES INVESTIGATION
    Unite has links to companies investigated for bribery
    Long-standing ties led to a £50m project at the union’s ‘go-to’ building firm
    Andrew Norfolk, Louisa Clarence-Smith, Matt O’Donoghue
    Saturday January 16 2021, 12.01am, The Times
    Len McCluskey has been the general secretary of Unite since 2011
    Len McCluskey has been the general secretary of Unite since 2011
    ANDREW AITCHISON/GETTY IMAGES
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    Britain’s most powerful trade union gave multimillion-pound contracts to a company whose owner is under criminal investigation for alleged bribery, it is revealed today.

    Construction projects across Britain were awarded by Unite to the Flanagan Group, a Liverpool company run by an associate of Len McCluskey, the union’s general secretary.

    The union’s property manager handed another contract on a £50 million Unite project to a company owned by the son of Joe Anderson, Liverpool’s mayor.

    The Flanagan Group is under investigation by Merseyside police in connection with Operation Aloft, a long-running inquiry into the sale of council-owned land in Liverpool to developers. Paul Flanagan, head of the group, was arrested in September on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery. He was released under investigation pending further inquiries.

    Mr Anderson and his son, David, were arrested last month on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation in connection with the same criminal inquiry. They remain on bail.

    Mr McCluskey and Mr Flanagan share many Liverpool connections, including Mr Anderson senior and Derek Hatton, the former Militant firebrand who was once the city council’s deputy leader. Mr Hatton was also arrested last month in connection with Operation Aloft.

    Unite is the biggest funder of the Labour Party. The largest Flanagan contract with the union by far was to build a seven-storey hotel and national conference centre in Birmingham.
    Joe Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, Derek Hatton, the former deputy leader of Liverpool city council, and Paul Flanagan, far right, head of the Flanagan Group
    Joe Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, Derek Hatton, the former deputy leader of Liverpool city council, and Paul Flanagan, far right, head of the Flanagan Group

    Health and safety advisers on the flagship project were Safety Support Consultants, a Liverpool company wholly owned by David Anderson, 33.

    Senior members of the union, which had 1.3 million members and an income of £213 million in 2018, were told in 2012 that the total cost of the Birmingham development would be £7 million. Within four years, however, the estimated cost soared to £50 million. The complex was finally completed last year, significantly late and over budget. The final cost has not yet been revealed.

    A union spokesman disputed the accuracy of those figures. He said costs were subject to scrutiny at every stage by independent professional quantity surveyors and were regularly reported to the union’s ruling executive council. He said the project would “save millions of pounds for the union as regards future conference and hotel expenses”.

    Unite has not yet submitted its accounts for 2019, which are overdue.

    Gerard Coyne, a contender to succeed Mr McCluskey when he retires next year, said the Birmingham project was “an appalling misuse of members’ money”. He added: “The leadership of Unite appears to have created a poisonous culture of cronyism.”

    Since Mr McCluskey became Unite’s general secretary in 2011, the union has awarded construction contracts to the Flanagan Group in Swansea, Liverpool, Stoke and Birmingham. The union has previously described the company as its “go-to firm” for the maintenance of Unite premises. In 2014, Mr McCluskey said the company was “a working-class family who have made good and never forgotten their roots”.

    A union spokesman said that every contract awarded by the union to Flanagan was “subject to the strictest of competitive tendering process”. He stressed that over the past ten years the union has used at least 12 different main contractors on various projects.

    The Times asked Unite to confirm that other companies were given an opportunity to tender for the Birmingham contract. A spokesman said the union would “not be drawn into providing lists of contractors”.

    Strong Merseyside ties feature prominently among the leadership of Unite. Lord Woodley, the previous head of the union, is from the Wirral and Mr McCluskey began his working life on the docks. Howard Beckett, the assistant general secretary and believed to be Mr McCluskey’s preferred successor, was a partner in a Wirral solicitors’ firm before being made Unite’s legal director after Mr McCluskey took office.

    Since Sir Keir Starmer took over as Labour leader from Jeremy Corbyn, Mr McCluskey has threatened to reduce Unite’s funding of the party.

    A Unite spokesman said it would be false to suggest that the union’s tendering process for property transactions was “in any way influenced” by Mr McCluskey. He had no oversight on the costings of tendered contracts.

    The spokesman said that although the Flanagan Group was the primary contractor for the Birmingham centre, more than 40 subcontractors worked on the project. He added: “Any suggestion that the Flanagan Group is somehow a preferred contractor is false.”
    Paul Flanagan, the head of Flanagan Group, with Len McCluskey at an event in Liverpool in 2014
    Paul Flanagan, the head of Flanagan Group, with Len McCluskey at an event in Liverpool in 2014

    Ducks’ feet, big deals and the ‘go-to’ building firm
    The curious story of how a relatively small Liverpool building company became the “go-to firm” for Britain’s most powerful trade union begins with a self-made multimillionaire who earned his first fortune selling ducks’ feet to the Far East.

    From him spread a web of connections between Merseyside businessmen, politicians and trade unionists that spans decades and has proved, for some, highly beneficial.

    Those links culminated in Unite’s decision to use the Flanagan Group as its primary contractor on a flagship £50 million construction project in Birmingham that will remain a lasting, and costly, legacy of Len McCluskey’s leadership of the union.

    The former Liverpool docks worker took office as Unite’s general secretary in January 2011. Within a year, he told the union’s executive council of plans to site a new “national training centre” in the West Midlands. In December 2012 the executive was informed that “substantial progress has been made on the plan to build a new centre as well as a new West Midlands regional office in the Eastside Locks area of Birmingham”. A purchase price for the site, in a development zone, had been agreed in principle with the local authority.

    The plans by then involved not only an office and a national conference, training and education centre but also the construction of a hotel.“The total cost of this project would be in the region of £7 million,” state the official minutes of the union’s December 2012 executive council meeting.

    Negotiations with Birmingham city council continued and in November 2013 the union made a formal offer to buy the site but within weeks the deal fell through for reasons that are disputed by the different parties.
    The cost of Unite’s West Midlands project rose from £7 million to £50 million
    The cost of Unite’s West Midlands project rose from £7 million to £50 million

    Sources closely involved in the discussions claim it became clear that instead of using the council’s chosen developer for the site, Unite was determined to use its own property manager, a small Liverpool company called Purple Apple Management, to oversee the construction project. Since that company was incorporated in 2010 it has averaged a total of four employees each year. Its head office is a business centre where serviced office space costs from £125 per person per month.

    Other parties involved in the negotiations warned Unite in writing that Purple Apple Management lacked the skills and resources to take responsibility for the project and complete it “to a fixed time and price”.

    The union insists those claims are false and says the proposed deal for the first site fell through because the completed building would not have been solely owned by Unite. The union claims it was decided that the proposal was “a bad investment for the union”.

    Anxious not to lose Unite’s business, the local authority swiftly offered the union an alternative site. This was a few streets away in a science park outside the development zone. Here, Unite was able to use Purple Apple Management as project manager and to bring in Flanagan as the primary contractor. Full planning permission for the new site was granted in the summer of 2015. The union says Flanagan won the main construction contract after a strict competitive tendering process that was reported to its executive council.

    More than 40 sub-contractors also worked on the project. One was a Liverpool company called Safety Support Consultants, appointed by Purple Apple to oversee health and safety compliance. Safety Support Consultants was wholly owned by David Anderson, 33, the son of Liverpool’s mayor, Joe Anderson.

    By 2015, the estimated cost of the development had climbed to £35 million. By December 2016, Tony Woodley, the former Unite general secretary, was telling colleagues it had reached £50 million. The complex was finally completed late last year.

    Since Mr McCluskey became Unite’s boss in 2011, Flanagan has also been awarded union construction contracts in Swansea, Stoke and Liverpool.

    The Flanagan company website carries a testimonial in which Unite describes it as a team of “experienced professionals” and “our go-to firm for the maintenance and modernisation of Unite premises across the UK”.
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    Some Unite members have asked why a wealthy union with property assets across the UK chose to hand such a key role in the management and construction of its Birmingham complex to two Liverpool companies.

    Anyone wanting to know how those companies came to have such a close relationship with Unite could start on the Wirral. Here, the ducks’ feet trader enters the picture. After Gerry White’s death aged 64 in 2008, an obituary in the Liverpool Daily Post described a “larger than life” character who owned his first butcher’s shop aged 23. He was said to have “made a fortune selling ducks’ feet to the Far East and trading in lobsters”, later owning two factories “supplying cooked meats and biscuits to Britain’s major retailers, as well as owning enormous warehousing and property interests in the Mersey docks”. On the Wirral, whose chamber of commerce he chaired, Mr White headed a consortium that bought the former Cammell Laird shipyard for a reported £24 million in 2003 and sold it four years later for £100 million. He was reported to have once said: “I like to do deals. In this country, I do some of the biggest deals for people.”

    One company owned by Mr White was Purple Apple Ltd, which he formed in 2004. Unite says it became the property manager to the Transport and General Workers’ Union in 2005. The TGWU merged with another union, Amicus, to form Unite in 2007. The 2005 appointment of Purple Apple followed a presentation by several companies to the TGWU executive council, Unite said. It was not a decision made by Mr Woodley, then head of the TGWU, or Mr McCluskey.

    Purple Apple was first publicly described as Unite’s property manager in 2008 after the company spent £990,000 buying a building in London.

    A tenant there was Mr Woodley, by then Unite’s joint general secretary. Mr Woodley had been living at the building for 15 years in a two-bedroom flat at a subsidised rate of £200 a month, courtesy of another union that was doing him a favour. When that union decided to sell the building to a Scottish development company, Mr Woodley refused to move out unless he was paid almost £100,000 compensation. A stand-off was resolved when Mr White, on behalf of Purple Apple, outbid the Scottish company and paid almost £1 million to buy the building.

    A Unite spokesman explained that Mr Woodley was an “old acquaintance” of Mr White. They “knew each other through Vauxhall Motors football club”. The club had strong links to the Vauxhall car plant in Ellesmere Port, on the Wirral, where Mr Woodley was once a shop-floor worker and later became the plant’s union convener.

    He was by no means the only beneficiary of Mr White’s generosity. Notably, Mr White’s 2008 obituary also carried a tribute from his “long-time friend” Paul Flanagan, head of the Flanagan Group. Describing the businessman as “a strong supporter of the Labour Party and the unions”, Mr Flanagan said that “from a personal viewpoint, the help Gerry White gave Flanagan Group was tremendous”.

    The businessman’s death ended Purple Apple’s involvement with Unite. A new company was formed, Purple Apple Management Ltd, whose sole owner and director is Mike Ryder, a former business partner of Mr White.

    Purple Apple Management’s most valuable tangible assets, according to its most recent annual accounts, were motor vehicles worth £153,000.

    It was the company of Mr Ryder, a former Liverpool joiner, that oversaw the Birmingham project on behalf of the union, with the Flanagan Group brought in as the main contractor.

    An admirer once quoted Mr White saying that a key to success was “being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right people”. A chance to test that came in March 2019 when Mr McCluskey was the guest speaker at a Labour fundraiser in the Liverpool Walton constituency. A photograph of one table, booked by the Flanagan Group, shows Mr Flanagan with the mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, and Derek Hatton, the deputy leader of Liverpool city council when it was under Trotskyist control in the 1980s.

    Before the end of 2019 came the first arrests in connection with Operation Aloft, a police inquiry into alleged bribery and corruption over the sale of council-owned land in Liverpool to property developers that is unconnected to the Unite contracts. Mr Flanagan was arrested in September on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery. He was released pending further inquiries. Mr Anderson and his son, David, the owner of Safety Support Consultants, were arrested last month on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation in connection with the same inquiry. Mr Hatton was arrested on the same day. He was questioned on suspicion of witness intimidation. He and the Andersons remain on bail.
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    Mr McCluskey has previously described Mr Hatton as a “close friend”. In August last year, Mr Hatton told readers of the Liverpool Echo that the “continuing partnership between Len McCluskey and Joe Anderson” was “absolutely crucial” to the city’s future.

    One of the police inquiry’s first arrests in December 2019 was of Nick Kavanagh, the local authority head of regeneration. Council records show that he had 50 meetings with Mr Flanagan between 2016 and 2019.

    Flanagan Group is one of several Liverpool construction companies being investigated under Operation Aloft.

    A union spokesman told The Times that Flanagan was one of a number of building contractors used by Unite. Any suggestion that “the Flanagan Group is somehow a preferred contractor” was false. Its new Birmingham complex would save the union millions of pounds in future conference and hotel expenses, he added.

    None of the Unite contracts awarded to Flanagan Group, nor the one given to Safety Support Consultants by Purple Apple, is connected to the Merseyside police inquiry and there is no suggestion of any criminal wrongdoing in the union’s dealings with either company, nor in its property manager’s appointment of Mr Anderson’s company.

    The Times invited comments last month from Mr Flanagan, Mr Ryder and Mr Woodley after sending them detailed questions about their involvement in the Birmingham project. They offered no response. David Anderson declined to comment.

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