City Region Handouts

Like many people, I did a double take when I saw the recent announcement in the name of the Liverpool City Region that a grant of £15,000,000 was to be made, together with a loan of £30,000,000, in support of the planned new stadium for Everton Football Club (EFC). The grant is for infrastructure investment around the stadium (to be paid to whom I am not sure), and the loan is towards the actual stadium build. For many observers, it seems like a watered down version of Joe Anderson’s ill-conceived plan for the city of Liverpool to borrow £300,000,000 to lend in turn to EFC for the construction of the new stadium on Bramley Moore Dock. Clearly, the scale is different but there are still questions to be raised.

Do not misunderstand me. As a lifelong Everton supporter, I want to see Everton playing in a suitable stadium, appropriate to the 21st century; but that is not the issue. EFC is a private company, owned by a foreign billionaire. If the club could pay, for example, £45,000,000 for Sigurdsson, why does it need a £30,000,000 loan courtesy of the council tax payers of the city-region? After all, I am certain that there are more immediate investment needs across the city-region in different communities – notwithstanding the support for this loan from the leaderships of its six constituent boroughs.

This concern has been expressed to me by a cross section of our fellow citizens – and not just supporters of Liverpool Football Club!! To be fair to the Combined Authority, it is a difficult one, given the persuasive case that can be made for investment in the long-time neglected North Liverpool and South Bootle area. Some kind of stimulus is long overdue and other than the proposed stadium, nothing else seems to be on offer. Think of the Tarmacademy disaster and the exaggerated Liverpool Waters scheme. Perhaps the latter is the key to what is really going on.

Liverpool Waters, and its cross-river twin, Wirral Waters, have been flagged up for years by Peel as the cure-all for development across the Mersey. They have simply not happened. For many of us, the flannel of the Peel Group did not wash. The boundaries/plans of their proposals changed with the wind. What did not change was Peel’s need to maintain or increase the value of their land bank along the Mersey littoral with which they could underpin their massive loan commitments. I have to acknowledge two things about Peel. Firstly, they have been masters at creating images of their “plans” way over and above the reality. Secondly, they have finessed a very successful ability to secure large amounts of public money, the ultimate beneficiary of which is billionaire Peel owner, John Whittaker, safely ensconced in the Isle of Man tax haven with his Billown Trust.

The Peel Group has an even bigger potential stake in North Liverpool then EFC. It certainly needs something big to make any of its grandiose plans come to fruition. EFC’s proposed move to Bramley Moore will certainly give them a profit, but more importantly, it would, in the eyes of Peel, kick start a big return on their wider docks estate. Moreover, they have had a very successful local funding stream here on Merseyside, extracting huge sums from the public purse. One of their directors chaired the Local Enterprise Partnership, obtaining millions in grants (Peel was one of the first three recipients of that particular tranche of public largesse). The same man – Mancunian Robert Hough – maintained his influence as an early member of the Combined Authority, despite having been elected by nobody.

These people sure know how to get onto funding decision making bodies. Our position on Merseyside is further complicated by the servicing body for the Combined Authority. It still remains a direct descendant of Merseytravel and of the Local Enterprise Partnership. These were bodies inured to the culture which has deepened the stagnation of public life on Merseyside. I cannot see the dynamism and original thinking needed to break out from the introspection which has long characterised that culture.

Incidentally, a number of correspondents have asked why I have dealt overwhelmingly with Liverpool issues. Well, Liverpool is the core of the city-region, and what happens there affects us all. Secondly, local print media – virtually all owned by Reach plc – say little or nothing of note about their respective councils. Thirdly, very little seems to leak out of other councils via councillors, an otherwise genuine source of what is really happening within those councils. Liverpool has been an exception because of the scale of wrong-doing and the brazenness of the councillors involved. Perhaps a switch to the Combined Authority – a body without real democratic accountability – is in order. A smaller body, served by local government leftovers, who knows what we might find. We must wait and see.

PS. Curious that the former Liverpool Riverside MP Louise Ellman should announce that she is rejoining the Labour Party. Is it because she believes that anti-semitism has been eradicated from the Labour Party, or does she believe that Jeremy Corbyn has been “purged”?

A Never Ending Story

One or two councillors who regularly read my blog have asked me to send the blog to their private email address. They mistakenly believe (I think!!) that their council emails are being compromised in some way. I know that this has happened in the past due to technical difficulties, but I do not believe it is the case currently. Rather, the reality is that my blogs have become sporadic through choice on my part. The reason for that is simple: nothing seems to be changing for the better yet. The recent revelation that a host of complaints against some Liverpool councillors have been chucked out without investigation, underlines the scepticism that many have about the much-trumpeted clean-up of the city council.

However, this does not mean that things are either better or worse than they have been in that benighted local authority. If you need a victim’s view of the reality on the ground, check out the cri-de coeur of Cormac Murphy in response to my blog  “The Same Old Story”. He gives a very personal perspective of how he and countless others have been ripped off. The perpetrators, and those who facilitated their criminal activities, appear to have acted with impunity. In most cases, these crooks are still at it now.

Only recently, another company – registered at a terraced house in Snowdrop Street in Kirkdale – went bust, owing over £41 million to investors. Another went bust with new-build properties on “Millionaires’ Row” in Formby. Of course, when there is a loser, there is also a winner. In this case of the latter, it was the ubiquitous Terry Riley of the Ascot Group who was the ultimate winner. An interesting character, Mr Riley has a very colourful history. At various stages, he has been a champion ABA boxing champ, a pub owner, and a property speculator. Apart from trying to buy Leeds United football club, he entered the public eye in what I can only describe as a feud with the drug-dealing Clarke brothers, now happily serving long stretches at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. As the French are likely to say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.

Incidentally, it appears that the council officer who has been adjudicating complaints against Liverpool councillors (and throwing over half of them out) is none other than Jeanette McLaughlin. This is the woman who was both City Solicitor and Monitoring Officer during Joe Anderson’s heyday as Mayor. If nothing else could be more likely to heighten people’s cynicism about change in the city council, surely this does the trick.

Meanwhile, official Opposition leader on the council, Cllr Kemp, is calling for the new Secretary of State for Communities to pull back on the proposed changes which his predecessor had outlined for the future shape of the city council. I could not disagree more. I do not believe that there is either a need or a demand for three councillors for every ward. Nor do we need as many wards. For a start, idle hands on a council can easily make mischief in a variety of ways – sometimes out of boredom, sometimes out of malice, sometimes out of greed. In my view, that has been the case for the last fifty years or so, since the last great overhaul of local government in the wake of the Redcliffe-Maud review.

If councillors are to be paid a proper salary, then they should do a proper job. In my experience, there have been too many jobsworths and party hacks on councils, far more interested in picking up extra income via superfluous outside bodies rather than in looking after the interests of their constituents and of the city. I am well aware that there are, and always have been, dedicated public servants on councils who do work hard for their constituents. However, there are far too many – as in Parliament – seeking to feather their own nest rather than looking after the interests of their hard-pressed constituents.