One of the many problems associated with Liverpool City Council (LCC) is the sheer number and scale of the unanswered questions which are outstanding, concerning how it has been conducted over the last ten years or so. The Caller Report dealt with some rather narrow areas of council activity, but its findings were shocking to many. The police are plodding along with Operation Aloft – they have twenty officers full time on the case – investigating a relatively small number of nefarious transactions involving the council. The Labour Party is yet to show what it will do about those councillors who have, either by their actions or their complicit silence, brought the party into disrepute.
I thought of these matters when I read that Alistair Machray, former editor of the Liverpool Echo, had been appointed a board member of the Liverpool Arena and Conference Centre (ACC). The ACC is wholly owned by LCC, so someone in the council has obviously made a decision to appoint him. Remember that as editor of the Echo, he was responsible for its policy of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” when it came to LCC, depriving its readers of the truth of what was happening in their council. Equally important is the question of directors’ fees for those sitting on the ACC board.
Way back on 20/3/2018, I submitted an FoI request on these fees, having discovered that over £500,000 had been shelled out to the board in the previous year. Having heard nothing by 20/4/2018, I did a follow-up to LCC. Still, there was no response. In exasperation, I wrote again on the 19/5/2018, threatening LCC with the Information Commissioner. I received a brief and equivocal response, stating that no councillor or council officer on the board received these fees. There was nothing about who did get the fees, but there were only three directors left. That meant an average “earner” of £170,000 each for 3 or4 meetings per year. Yet another scandal – the then chief executive, the then mayor and the then deputy mayor all agreed this outrageous payout.
I have chanted the mantra about transparency and accountability for years. Latterly, I have added the need for prosecutions and convictions. Yet when I look at LCC, very little has changed. By and large, the same players continue to drag the city down. Allow me to run through just a sample of the outstanding issues which need resolution:
- The scams at the football ground car parks.
- The New Chinatown debacle.
- Fox Street Village and the Paramount Building, which although unsafe, still have people living in them.
- Tarmacademy – need I say more?
- North Liverpool Regeneration Company. Receiving £3.5 million from the public purse whilst being blacklisted by Ofsted for the “misuse” of £600,000 of taxpayers funding.
I could go on – we can each make our own list of priorities – but these are just a handful of the wholly dubious deals which have not, to my knowledge, been properly investigated as yet. Perhaps it is hoped that they might just fade away. No change in attitude there!
Yet we have Joe Anderson once again brazenly seeking legal fees from the council tax payers. In the course of his legal submission, he was linked with career criminal Thomas Mee! As a result, questions are now being asked about the connections between Anderson, Mee, Elliot Lawless, Andy Barr, Cllr Ann O’Byrne and Samuel Beilin. What a collection!
The latest individual to come under the microscope is eager self-publicist Kate Stewart, owner of the Sandon complex facing LFC’s Anfield stadium. There is a mystery as to how she allegedly became an unlisted tenant in the Cunard Building. This is taking her expressed wish to work with Joe Anderson too far, although links are being made between her and Cllr Joanne Calvert, daughter of Anderson.
Meanwhile, the news items continue to flow thick and fast. The city centre road works are running at £13 million over budget (think: Andy Barr and King Construction). North Point Global, with the Serious Fraud Office on their tail, owe the taxman £1.7million and investors £40 million (think: Peter McInnes). Regional press awards again feature the hapless Liam Thorpe (think: staunch defender of Joe Anderson’s administration). The new mayor is named as one of the most influential women in the United Kingdom (think: who she?!?).
Last Tuesday, the role of a “senior officer” in the council was discussed by a handpicked group of councillors. The meeting was held in camera – no press or public were allowed in. Is it, therefore, any wonder that respected NGO Transparency International placed LCC in category 5 of secretive public bodies (the range is from 1 to 6)?