What Next?

Today’s news that Liverpool’s Kirkdale Ward Labour Party has been suspended is at the very least intriguing. A political war has been simmering for some time within the problematic Vauxhall part of the ward, between the controlling clique at the Eldonians, and the heartily disliked local councillor, Joe Hanson. Hanson was once a close confederate of Joe Anderson but fell out with him as he seems to do with most people. Those now in charge of the Eldonians have caused great concerns amongst local people with their activities. The victims of this bickering are residents in the area. They are already upset at the quality of their representation (remember Cllr Malcolm Kennedy, resident in Spain although still collecting council allowances?) on the one hand; and the takeover of a once proud co-operative by a clutch of people far removed from the interests of the community.

Naturally, it will take time to unravel the scheming which is bedevilling a part of the city which deserves better. One can assume that complaints have been made within the Labour Party about the conduct of the Kirkdale ward branch. Nevertheless, this suspension might be the harbinger of the changes which the Labour Party needs to make if it is to put its own house in order, as we approach the promised shake-up of local government in the city.

Incidentally, I noted the unholy mess which Warrington Council has got itself into. Apparently, the failure of its energy joint venture may cost the town around £100 million. It reminded me of the shambles which was Liverpool Foundation Homes, a brainwave of Joe Anderson. An even more telling comparison is with a situation which arose thirty years ago. At that time, the tiny Western Isles Council (that is, the Outer Hebrides!) tried to play the capitalist game, sinking its reserves into the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).

This was actually a massive scam which drew in both public and private investors – and fleeced them all. The point is surely that local authorities are generally ill-equipped to deal with the sharks of the private sector. Moreover, even if a council is not directly involved with scam artists, it is clear in so many instances that they are out of their depth in so many of their dealings with the private sector. They should surely stick to doing those things for which they were designed, like providing essential services so desperately needed by over-burdened council tax payers. Too often, council officers and councillors see themselves as business high rollers. They are not. Leave business to business.

These cases highlight a key part of the breakdown within Liverpool City Council. Sure, it is right to point out all cases of corruption at whatever level; but we should not ignore the other side of the coin – downright incompetence. Far too often, those same councillors and council officers arrogate to themselves skills and abilities which they simply do not have. This of itself is a recipe for financial disaster, regardless of any corruption. I know that there are exceptions to this, but they are very few and far between.

Mind you, I do wonder to whom one might turn for dependable, informed and objective advice in those areas where it is required in local government. Huge amounts are spent by councils on consultants, as it is in national bodies. I am mindful of one definition of consultants as ”the kind of people who borrow your watch to tell you what time it is, and then charge you for the privilege”.

In my view, the worst consultants are the major ones (about six in number) who dominate what are often referred to as “the bean counters”. They deal in billions and operate at every level in both the public and the private sectors. One of their many “earners” is to act as auditors for public bodies. Locally, the dominant outfit is Grant Thornton. As district auditors for LCC, they have now summoned up the courage post-Caller, to demand a deeper and wider analysis of the city council’s finances (at a huge extra fee, of course!). Yet seven years ago, I met with two of their senior people in their Pier Head offices, to express my concerns about how the council was being run. Needless to say, they brushed aside my concerns. Are these really the best guardians of financial probity in local government?

New Year; Same Questions

One might have thought that after the Caller Report, there would have been real signs of change at Liverpool City Council and beyond, come the new year. So far, I have only seen public relations releases about various plans which are envisaged for some future date. Meanwhile, it is business as usual. Perhaps I am being unfair; but what I am not unfair about are the facts on the ground as we embark upon 2022.

1) We can now confirm that Liverpool Foundation Housing – a company set up to deliver “10,000 homes” – came (and went) at a cost. In its wisdom, the council approved salaries for its board of £45,000 per annum. Its chair was former councillor and pal of Joe Anderson, Frank Hont, appointed after he lost his council seat. There were, of course, “employer on-costs” further to this figure. Not bad for a totally failed venture.

2) We also now have it confirmed that around £1 million per annum was dished out to individuals and organisations at the whim of the mayor. This so-called “Mayor’s Fund” was transmuted into the “City Fund” as Joe Anderson’s star imploded. It might interest some council tax payers to look at the lists of recipients on the “What Do They Know” website. You never can tell what gems lie therein.

3) Of wider interest within the city-region is the on-going ladling of cash to the Peel organisation. One of its many local interest (about which I have written before) is John Lennon Airport. It continues to be a loss-making operation. These losses were £19.7 million in 2020 and £16.14 million in 2021. Covid has been something of a factor of late, but the airport had been going downhill long before Covid was an issue. It faces major challenges in the future which emanate largely from national commitments. These include a national passenger cap, reducing the numbers of passengers across the country, and a move towards zero aircraft emissions by 2050. Perhaps Peel will move to rid itself of the airport as it did once before. Besides, they have an uncanny knack of sustaining losses whilst building up their reserves off-shore. Why, therefore, would the Combined Authority “lend” £34 million to the airport, effectively giving Peel yet another bail out?

4) Put your mind to this one. Between 12/01/2012 and 21/12/2021, the Liverpool City Council sold off 759 properties. Some were single sites or houses; others were multiple dwellings. That has been a steady series of tasters for property speculators but where did the proceeds go? We already know that councillors have argued for a reduction in the Section 106 monies due to the council from some developers. We also know that other developers have simply failed to stump up with impunity. Is the city a scam artist’s dream or what?

5) I recently mentioned concerns expressed about the future of the iconic Woolton Cinema. Now another Woolton landmark has been brought to my attention – Woolton Baths. Key figures in its promised restoration were Peter Eustace and television personality Simon O’Brien. More importantly, funds were raised by public donations for the restoration of the baths. Now it is said to be used as a location for a popular day-time television programme – not, I believe, what donors had in mind.

6) Look at the photo above. You might recall that I outlined troubles in the once highly regarded Eldonians’ initiative. Imagine getting up on Christmas Day to find that you had been stigmatised as a “grass” on the walls of your home. This, as you can see, was the Christmas gift from some demented idiot to the chairwoman of the Eldonian Residents Association. Its clear intention was to intimidate her. Her crime was, in the view of the warped person responsible, to do exactly what residents had elected her to do – to speak up for their interests.

Tony McGann was the original driving force behind the Eldonians. Love him or hate him – he got things done. Now retired, a new generation is now responsible for the clutch of companies within the Eldonian collective. The key figures now appear to be younger members of the McGann family, along with their associates, especially members of the Gwynne family. Interestingly, the latter all appear to list their address as one in Aigburth, south Liverpool, far from the streets of Vauxhall, home to the Eldonians.

New times, a new generation of leaders, you may say, but also a time when Eldonian properties have been virtually given away to anonymous companies based in overseas tax havens. Even an agreement with Merseyside Police for neighbourhood policing has been rescinded, replaced with what elderly residents see as an intimidatory private security firm making forays onto the Eldonian estate.

Not a happy situation.