Roll on 2022

As I reflect on 2021, I cannot but think of the Covid roller coaster we have all been on. It explains many things which came to pass (often tragically), and many things which did not. Through my blog, I have attempted in my small way, to keep people aware of the many wrongs within our city-region (particularly within Liverpool), wrongs which desperately need to be righted. As this year’s end approaches, I am also mindful of what needs to be flagged up in the New Year.

Like many people, I still wait to see what action, if any, will be taken against those who have betrayed and besmirched the city of Liverpool, and through that hub of the city-region (CA), damaged the wider conurbation. My hopes are not high when I look at how slow the wheels of the criminal justice system turn. I have flagged up before Operation Sheridan which has waited literally years for a decision on prosecutions. This case may be centred on events in Lancashire, but the personalities involved were mostly at the heart of LCC where the same people stand accused of similar malpractice. I would hate to think that Sheridan – and Aloft, its Liverpool simulacrum – would simply be allowed to wither on the vine.

There is much still to add to the catalogue of woes which have defined the city over the last decade or so. We cannot just raise questions repeatedly about the activities of the same councillors (necessary although that may be) without looking at others who may have dipped into the mire. After all, it was no coincidence that immediately as ex-mayor Joe Anderson et al were arrested, Liverpool councillors made a Gadarene rush to pad out their previously flimsy entries in the LCC declaration of interests. Much came to light which might merit further examination. Let us take just one example, the wide “interests” of Cllr Peter Mitchell. He runs an organisation called the Big Help Group. This consists of mainly property-connected entities, and even includes an Essex-based holiday arm. Its real emphasis is on Liverpool and Knowsley. Of the fourteen companies which Companies House list in the name of Cllr Mitchell, eleven are still active. In most, Cllr Mitchell is the sole director. One wonders how he manages to find the time to be a full time city councillor. Perhaps that is why he has reportedly employed the former (and disgraced) LCC highways chief, Andy Barr.

However, it is not just individual councillors who require closer examination. We need to revisit some of those organisations which hide behind a veneer of community involvement. The appropriate authorities have failed to do so hitherto. For example, residents of the Eldonian estate are complaining about what they believe to be happening in what was once emblematic of community based activism. Just one of the claims is that there are very striking conflicts of interest relating to those involved in the sale of Eldonian properties for as little as £1 to anonymous companies registered in the British Virgin Islands tax haven.

Other correspondents have raised with me the ambiguous relationship between the Liverpool City-Region Combined Authority and Frank McKenna’s Downtown in Business (DIB). This hybrid entity is at least in part, a lobbying organisation, which has been given £300,000 by the CA, money from the European Regional Development Fund. Why would a branch of local government give money to lobbyists? What bothers some is the fact that Mr McKenna spent time on the CA with “observer status” on behalf of West Lancashire District Council. Would that not also suggest a conflict of interests? This positioning is not new, of course, in the relatively short history of the CA. For some years, Mr Robert Hough of Peel, was co-opted onto the CA as the only unelected member of that body, during which time, it gave large grants of public money to Peel.

Another gem which might appeal to those of an inquisitive bent might be the south Liverpool landmark, the Woolton Cinema. It is certainly the case that the local councillors seem to smell a rat. Despite assurances to the contrary, there are widespread fears the cinema site is being lined up as a development project and the cinema scrapped. The current owner, Mr Kenneth Carmichael, has a whole string of property companies. As a virtual one-man band, he does not have any discernible experience of, or commitment to the cinema arts. What he has had, I am told, is over £20,000 of publicly raised money to keep the cinema open.

Perhaps 2022 will also see a clear monitoring of the role and activities of the Police and Crime Commissioner. The last one was, in my view, an unmitigated disaster. The current incumbent will most certainly please the “woke” generation, given the emphases of the report she has just sent out to Labour Party members. To my dismay, there is no reference to the cancerous corruption which, to date, has bedevilled attempts to reset standards in the public life of the city.

An easy way to begin in the new year might be an admittedly tedious trawl through what was the “Mayor’s Fund” which became the “City Fund”. Dishing out up to £1 million plus per annum to a most extraordinary array of bodies across the city (and beyond!), this money was virtually unaccountable. At some point, council tax payers should be made truly aware of what was meant by the old saying – “spending like a drunken sailor”.

Merry Christmas and a transparent New Year!!!

Community Entrepreneurs

Liverpool City Council’s auditors are Grant Thornton, the bean counters of choice across most of the city-region. On September 21st last, they sent a report to the council’s chief executive, Tony Reeves, seeking an enormous amount of information about the council. I welcome this although I have two reservations. Firstly, it seems to be focussed on the last two years of the council’s operations, when we know that its problems go back much further. Secondly, the Grant Thornton letter contains an extraordinary statement on page 3 of its queries, and I quote:

          “…since the governance and alleged bribery and corruption came to light in 2019”.

This is patently untrue. A range of concerned citizens have been flagging up the situation at LCC for years prior to 2019. For example, I met with two senior executives of Grant Thornton over six years ago (2015), to alert them about the issues which have “come to light”. At the same time, I met with the then chief constable and the then police and crime commissioner about the same matters. No-one saw fit to do anything.

Incidentally, whilst trawling through my records, I could not miss the name of the ubiquitous Peter McInnes. This man has been repeatedly associated with some of the biggest property failures/scams in the city in recent years. He was also named in open court in Preston by the police as a man involved in the laundering of drug money. Thus, I was surprised to see that one of his interests involved the Eldonian community organisation via a company called SABP(Eldonians) Ltd.

I noted this because of a series of allegations which have been circulated regarding the business affairs of the Eldonians. The group has been held up for forty years as an exemplar of good practice of a community in action. However, it is now alleged that parcels of land belonging to the community have been sold off arbitrarily for as little as £1 each. Worse still, it is charged that the property in question have been sold to off-shore companies with strong connections to leading lights within what has long been billed as a member-led co-operative. I am currently trying to make sense of the situation.

I am not surprised at this new outbreak of controversy within the area. For far too long, there has been a stench emanating from north Liverpool political circles. I am, of course, aware that the Eldonians have long been synonymous with the Labour Party in the Vauxhall/Kirkdale area of the city. Next door, we have the unanswered questions concerning the North Liverpool Regeneration Company (NLRC). I have written about this entity before with regard to the £3 million receipt from the sale of land to Merseyside Police for the site of its new headquarters. There was also the question as to how the NLRC acquired from the council new premises in Mount Pleasant. This is a body, remember, whose training arm was rejected by government inspectors after an Ofsted inspection found that it was doing nothing discernible of worth.

The same familiar names are involved in one way or another. Ex-councillor John Nelson, former bag carrier for Derek Hatton; Pauline Connolly who runs the nearby Vauxhall Neighbourhood Council; current councillor and paid consultant to NLRC, Barry Kushner; and key man, councillor George Knibb, another acolyte of Derek Hatton. What qualifies Kushner to advise on anything is a very moot point whilst Knibb is now in the background of the NLRC, but is thought to still be the controlling influence.

Whilst councillor Knibb is said to remain a guiding light for the NLRC and its off-shoots, his brother Phil has also taken the community route to sharpen his business skills and build up quite a portfolio of interests. Although a new generation of Knibbs is coming through, Phil’s interests are what we might call extensive. He has had sixteen appointments to various boards, covering farming, property, pubs, catering, social care and education. These range from Walton hall Park sports centre to Randles Bridge farm in Knowsley, to an educational business in the Ribble Valley! A busy man, you might say….

Meanwhile, two more developments in the London Road/Islington area, have gone bust, owing £7.2 million. Ah,well….