Two things have happened, and one has not happened, which tell us all that we need to know about the state of play in the ongoing tragedy that is Liverpool City Council. You will be aware that I have been commentating on the sorry state of affairs at the Cunard Building for years, always hoping that change might come. In recent months, however, I must confess to having been more preoccupied by the challenges of Covid, rather than the comic opera that the council became. Yet there are issues that force themselves again to the forefront of one’s thinking.
Such was the recent planning committee meeting which approved a reduction in the s.106 money payable by a developer, from a figure of £767,000 to a comparatively paltry £149,000. The argument put forward on behalf of the developers was that building costs had shot up. Thus, they felt that they should pay the council nothing at all? Incidentally, the two companies concerned are both listed in London. One was set up earlier this year, whilst the other is part of the multi-billion empire of Barings Bank!
Most astonishing were the comments of Cllrs Hanson and Concepcion, members of the planning committee, who sought to justify this gift to developers who were applying to build over 250 riverside apartments. Their political naivety is incredible. Are they not aware that developers have already scammed this city in recent years of literally millions of pounds of unpaid s.106 money? Do they not recognise that any developer will now feel entitled to the same kind of largesse from the city council? What is their answer to hard pressed council taxpayers who say that they, too, face exploding living costs? Will they be moving reductions in the level of council tax payable? I think not.
Of course, the second significant event of late was the round of council by-elections held last week. Despite all of the bad news gushing out of the Cunard Building on an almost daily basis, the results suggest that none of this has had any effect on the voting habits of those in the traditionally Labour voting seats up for grabs last week. Once again, the red rose was enough. Admittedly, the turn out in those by-elections, was, as usual, appalling. There is no reason at this stage to believe that there will be much difference in those red wards at the next city-wide elections. Thus, in themselves, these latest results speak volumes about the state of politics within Liverpool.
Equally worrying has been what has not been happening in Liverpool – that is , any prosecutions or convictions of the malefactors who have polluted the city’s political structures, causing so much damage to the city of Liverpool, and – through that hub – to the wider city-region. What has been telling for me has been information gleaned through Freedom of Information queries relating to Operation Sheridan. To recap, this was carried out by Lancashire Police, and three of the four principals arrested in this investigation were strongly connected to Liverpool, including former council chief executive Ged Fitzgerald. Indeed, this investigation leads to the corrupted heart of Liverpool City Council.
Yet despite a very long and thorough investigation by Lancashire Police, costing over £2 million, it has entered the black hole of the Crown Prosecution Service. This body has, in turn, spent over £1 million on external lawyers in its consideration of this case. Goodness knows what the eventual total cost will be, and there is still no movement to the courts. My fear is that Operation Aloft – the investigation into Liverpool City Council by Merseyside Police – will follow the same trajectory as that of Operation Sheridan, and be quietly dumped. I hope not, but that is how it looks to me.
Virtually every day, there are more and more signs that those who have been named and shamed, are growing in confidence that they have evaded justice. Whether it is the ongoing scandal of Chinatown; the repeated scams under fractional selling; the criminal allegations concerning North Point Global; the car parks rip-off; the involvement of councillors in various enterprises; and the many other examples of the criminalisation – the list goes on. Until some of those involved are held to account, nothing will fundamentally change in Liverpool City Council, whether there are commissioners in there or not.