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!!!