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”?