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”?

4 thoughts on “City Region Handouts

  1. Is Louise Ellman returning to the Labour Party a way for Ikeir to use her as a point of action to purge the dysfunctional and corrupt CLPs in Liverpool, in particular with the next council elections being ‘whole’ council ones.

    Kemp as usual is on his hind legs blathering away but saying very little of consequence as he like Liverpool CLPs are talking to their echo chamber.

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  2. There’s also the issue of the LCR £34m ‘loan’ to Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Why was the LCR issuing a loan to a facility that is 90% privately owned? Equity ownership: 45% Peel, 45% Ancala. 10% LCC. The collapse of Intu property, with the Peel group (or family), owning 27% of the equity should have made the LCR extremely wary of lending this organisation any money.

    I am not aware the terms of this loan have been made public, but given the disturbing levels of indebtedness hosted by the airport, I believe an explanation should be given and it should include the details of the airport company receiving this money, especially if it’s one of Peel’s airport ‘Shell’ companies.

    Like many, I spent 3 hours, recently, filling in the LCR environmental/climate change questionnaire. An element of hypocrisy here when HBC, LCC and LCR are all supporting the destruction of 120 acres of Green Belt (52 acres already lost with a deeply disturbing planning application – took this poster 6 hours to spot the flaws after going through all the documents) for the proposed airport expansion. Labour councillors and MPs are by far and away the worst offenders with their full support for this environmental destruction. No surprise really after listening to a recent interview with Sir Keir Starmer and his apparent support (or just hedging his bets?) for airport expansion [1]. So much for Ms. Rachel Reeves’ announcement of the £28bn/year plan for tackling the climate and biodiversity emergency.

    Reference
    [1] see: https://www.itv.com/news/calendar/2021-09-23/starmer-labour-absolutely-has-future-in-lincolnshire-despite-election-results

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  3. While you acknowledge, Peter, that that the £15M grant is for infrastructure investment around the stadium – actually towards the cost of infrastructure work to public spaces and preserving heritage assets around the site – you fail to mention that Everton plan to spend as much as £55M on preserving heritage assets. Further the £30M loan helps towards the extensive preparatory work. The fact is Everton are not getting a site on which they can just build their stadium. The preparatory and preservation work is unusual and exceptional. It was always clear that the City, Everton and other bodies would need to work together in partnership to realise the project in an area that has been pretty much derelict for most of the last 75 years. In these circumstances I think it’s not at all unusual for the city council to find ways of helping to ensure that the project moves forward smoothly.
    Just because Everton’s owner is a billionaire that doesn’t mean that he can stump up millions in readies now the project is kicking off. But the Echo article makes clear that the loan is repayable, the council expect to earn useful interest on it and that the proposal (as that is what it is at this stage) would come with conditions attached concerning benefits the council want to see. Benefits which Everton could not justify paying out for.
    I am not surprised that the council’s investment and loan would go via the project rather than be directly spent on aspects of the work. It would be very difficult to co-ordinate the project otherwise.
    You also fail to acknowledge that Everton and its owners face significant risks in the project. Obviously there could be cost and time overruns but covid has just revealed that the future income streams may not be certain.
    I am not sure what the transfer fee of any particular player has to do with any of this., but the business needs to keep operating as normal through the project. After all, if the club were to be relegated the project could be thrown into jeopardy which would benefit no-one in the city. And the fact that Everton could only muster transfer fees of under £2M this summer shows that, whatever has been paid for players in the past, the situation is different currently. I accept this is probably more a financial fair play constraint rather than availability of funding, but I wouldn’t assume that Everton could necessarily find the £45M on the timescale needed for the project to move forward promptly after the hiatus of the last 18 months.
    While accepting that questions can be asked about priorities, I think it’s good to see the council working in partnership with owners of assets and potential assets that are beneficial to the city. Otherwise the city stands still at best, but in practice would decline rather than moving forward.

    On your PS Louise Elliman isn’t the only one to think Labour has made progress on antisemitism and has marginalised Jeremy Corbyn: Dame Margaret Hodge has given Starmer a “big tick – with a but” on both points (the but being that Labour is still at the starting gate on rebuilding trust).

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