As we begin the new year, it is hoped that in every way, it will be an improvement on the last one. The signs are not good. Covid rages and the government reveals staggering indecision in dealing with it. Ironically, covid has moved focus away from the previously dreaded nightmare of Brexit, which is certain to hit areas like the Liverpool City Region disproportionately. Notwithstanding these concerns, and predictably, the long arm of the law is finally reaching into the darker recesses of local government, particularly Liverpool.
A series of reports in “The Times” have opened up a fresh line of enquiry which potentially reaches back to Mayor Anderson. It is a saga concerning mega-union Unite which has strong local connections and traditions. The last two leaders of the union – Woodley and McCluskey – hail respectively from the Wirral and from Liverpool. What their legendary predecessor, Jack Jones (also from Liverpool) would make of the allegations being made about his beloved union can only be imagined. The whole sorry tale revolves around the award of a huge union building contract in Birmingham to Liverpudlian Paul Flanagan, a close friend of Joe Anderson and Len McCluskey.
Moreover, a sub-contract on the project was awarded to a company owned by Anderson’s son, David. He, in turn, had appointed as managing director of his company (Safety Support Consultants) a man fresh out of prison after being sent down for ten years for slashing someone with a Stanley knife. One can only hazard a guess as to what view of Liverpool and the wider city-region results from such connections.
Of course, a great deal depends on matters being considered and resolved far away from the banks of the Mersey. Firstly, the national executive committee of Unite will undoubtedly be scrutinising the Liverpool connection to the Birmingham project which is alleged to have cost their members millions of pounds . An upcoming election of a successor to McCluskey as Unite’s general secretary, is certain to see the issue weaponised against McCluskey’s favoured candidate, another man from the Wirral. Yet this issue will not remain in Birmingham. It goes to the heart of deals done in the Liverpool City Region.
In direct and practical political terms, the considerations of the national Labour Party leadership will have an even greater impact on the future prospects of the city-region. The scandals afflicting Liverpool have a toxic effect on the Labour “brand” across all six boroughs of the city-region, and beyond. The national party will not be unaware of that fact. It seems to me – and probably to them – that the Labour group on the city council is either unwilling or unable to rectify matters. In my view, they ought to have pre-empted the Lib Dem call for consultation on the city’s governance structure, with a straightforward move for a referendum on the future of the mayoralty. The idea that a current councillor might simply pick up where Anderson has left off, is unacceptable. The alleged leading lights on the council have either turned a Nelsonian blind eye to what has been happening, or were so inept as to fail to recognise the consistent malfeasance. Now I see that Labour List is suggesting a potential woman candidate whose last council activity was hallmarked by her breaking every rule and standing order governing Labour councillors!! Whatever the case, they are all unfit for the role. Does the city need a new mayor, never mind want one? It may end up as a decision for Keir Starmer.
Above all else, Mr Max Caller is reviewing the key operations of the city council on behalf of the government. It might well be that he finds the problems so entrenched that the council needs major surgery. After all, it is difficult to see simple solutions to changing the corrupted culture embedded within the higher echelons of the city council. A band aid will not suffice when the rot is so deep. I dread to think what the outcome of Mr Caller’s review might be if he makes the wrong call (no pun intended!).
I am not naive. I recognise that there are major problems in a number of local authorities around the country. That has always been the case and will continue to be so. It is the price that we pay for our imperfect form of local democracy; but there is nowhere as blighted by the scale of malpractice that we witness here in Liverpool. I also recognise that other councils have, like Liverpool, have suffered from incessant government funding cuts. However, I know of nowhere where the council tax payers, investors and local contractors have been ripped off as they have been in Liverpool, due to the complicity of senior public servants.