Change?? What Change??

No one should be surprised that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has dropped its investigations into the major property scams visited upon Liverpool. For many years, “Private Eye” has ridiculed this agency, describing it as the “Serious Farce Office” because of its repeated failures in dealing with major fraud cases. The reason given in the case of Liverpool – that there was insufficient evidence – strikes seasoned observers as absurd. However, what is done is done. We now must look to Merseyside Police for action. The prognosis is not good.

Local police are pursuing Operation Aloft, looking at corruption in the city council. Whether that will stretch to covering frauds which have primarily fleeced investors and contractors remains to be seen. After all, the original arrests under Operation Aloft involved Joe Anderson and a range of senior council officers none of whom have, to date, been prosecuted, never mind convicted. Given that there are twenty staff on Operation Aloft, one must wonder where this investigation is now headed.

It is worth considering another investigation, this one conducted by Lancashire Police, and known as Operation Sheridan. Their findings were, I believe, submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for a decision on prosecution, over three years ago. There is still no confirmation as to what is to happen in that case.  It was this precursor to Aloft which led to the arrest of four people, three of whom had strong links at a very senior level, to Liverpool City Council, including former chief executive Ged Fitzgerald, together with Phil Halsall and David McIlhenny. As with the suspects in Operation Aloft, those involved also lost their highly paid jobs (except Tory Councillor Driver, leader of Lancashire County Council!) They all appear to be in a juridical limbo.

I have repeatedly pointed out that the push for resolving the mess in Liverpool City Council has been fragmented into three areas. We don’t know, as we have seen, where, if anywhere, the criminal justice path will lead us in effecting prosecutions and, hopefully, convictions. The national government’s intentions are wholly unclear. Jenrick has gone and Gove has taken his place as the responsible minister. Only the Caller Report remains as a blueprint for future action. Will that action be forthcoming? Then we have the Labour Party.

In some ways, the Labour Party reaction has been the most disappointing of all. It began with the fact-finding Hanson inquiry. Then came the less than enthusiastic noises off about Caller’s case for a radical overhaul of the number of wards and of councillors in the city. Liverpool Labour turkeys will not vote for Christmas. Even during this past week, many were disturbed at the outcome of the selection of candidates for vacancies in three safe Labour wards. Two of the three went to former councillors, dashing the hopes of those who hoped for an infusion of fresh political talent. There is nothing new in this merry-go-round for seats on the council, but there were expectations post Caller that a message had gone to Labour to get its own house in order. This has been seen as business as usual.

More telling of the atrophied Labour Party thinking was the appointment of Sheila Murphy to oversee local Labour parties in the city. A former party hack (I was one myself!) prior to retirement, she ended up working for former MP, Luciana Berger, and along with her apostate boss, defected from the Labour Party. Such an anti-Corbyn gesture will be long remembered by a traditionally “left” Liverpool Labour Party. As a result, there will be little faith in Ms Murphy’s political impartiality.

As Liverpool staggers on, I note that Peel’s much-vaunted Wirral Waters is now welcoming “prefabs” on site. This is far removed from the grandiose claims that were being made for this alleged Wirral showpiece. I have nothing against prefabs; I do have an objection to gross exaggeration of development claims. Also, I hear that Andy Moorhead – close political ally of Joe Anderson and former leader of Knowsley Council – has resigned his seat on Knowsley Council. Finally, the “Echo” – principally through the work of journalists Tom Duffy and Nick Tyrell – is now starting to look seriously at Scam City issues. It is a pity that the so-called political editor, Liam Thorpe, has abysmally failed to do so.

City Region Handouts

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”?

A Never Ending Story

One or two councillors who regularly read my blog have asked me to send the blog to their private email address. They mistakenly believe (I think!!) that their council emails are being compromised in some way. I know that this has happened in the past due to technical difficulties, but I do not believe it is the case currently. Rather, the reality is that my blogs have become sporadic through choice on my part. The reason for that is simple: nothing seems to be changing for the better yet. The recent revelation that a host of complaints against some Liverpool councillors have been chucked out without investigation, underlines the scepticism that many have about the much-trumpeted clean-up of the city council.

However, this does not mean that things are either better or worse than they have been in that benighted local authority. If you need a victim’s view of the reality on the ground, check out the cri-de coeur of Cormac Murphy in response to my blog  “The Same Old Story”. He gives a very personal perspective of how he and countless others have been ripped off. The perpetrators, and those who facilitated their criminal activities, appear to have acted with impunity. In most cases, these crooks are still at it now.

Only recently, another company – registered at a terraced house in Snowdrop Street in Kirkdale – went bust, owing over £41 million to investors. Another went bust with new-build properties on “Millionaires’ Row” in Formby. Of course, when there is a loser, there is also a winner. In this case of the latter, it was the ubiquitous Terry Riley of the Ascot Group who was the ultimate winner. An interesting character, Mr Riley has a very colourful history. At various stages, he has been a champion ABA boxing champ, a pub owner, and a property speculator. Apart from trying to buy Leeds United football club, he entered the public eye in what I can only describe as a feud with the drug-dealing Clarke brothers, now happily serving long stretches at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. As the French are likely to say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.

Incidentally, it appears that the council officer who has been adjudicating complaints against Liverpool councillors (and throwing over half of them out) is none other than Jeanette McLaughlin. This is the woman who was both City Solicitor and Monitoring Officer during Joe Anderson’s heyday as Mayor. If nothing else could be more likely to heighten people’s cynicism about change in the city council, surely this does the trick.

Meanwhile, official Opposition leader on the council, Cllr Kemp, is calling for the new Secretary of State for Communities to pull back on the proposed changes which his predecessor had outlined for the future shape of the city council. I could not disagree more. I do not believe that there is either a need or a demand for three councillors for every ward. Nor do we need as many wards. For a start, idle hands on a council can easily make mischief in a variety of ways – sometimes out of boredom, sometimes out of malice, sometimes out of greed. In my view, that has been the case for the last fifty years or so, since the last great overhaul of local government in the wake of the Redcliffe-Maud review.

If councillors are to be paid a proper salary, then they should do a proper job. In my experience, there have been too many jobsworths and party hacks on councils, far more interested in picking up extra income via superfluous outside bodies rather than in looking after the interests of their constituents and of the city. I am well aware that there are, and always have been, dedicated public servants on councils who do work hard for their constituents. However, there are far too many – as in Parliament – seeking to feather their own nest rather than looking after the interests of their hard-pressed constituents.

The Same Old Song

One of the many problems associated with Liverpool City Council (LCC) is the sheer number and scale of the unanswered questions which are outstanding, concerning how it has been conducted over the last ten years or so. The Caller Report dealt with some rather narrow areas of council activity, but its findings were shocking to many. The police are plodding along with Operation Aloft – they have twenty officers full time on the case – investigating a relatively small number of nefarious transactions involving the council. The Labour Party is yet to show what it will do about those councillors who have, either by their actions or their complicit silence, brought the party into disrepute.

I thought of these matters when I read that Alistair Machray, former editor of the Liverpool Echo, had been appointed a board member of the Liverpool Arena and Conference Centre (ACC). The ACC is wholly owned by LCC, so someone in the council has obviously made a decision to appoint him. Remember that as editor of the Echo, he was responsible for its policy of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” when it came to LCC, depriving its readers of the truth of what was happening in their council. Equally important is the question of directors’ fees for those sitting on the ACC board.

Way back on 20/3/2018, I submitted an FoI request on these fees, having discovered that over £500,000 had been shelled out to the board in the previous year. Having heard nothing by 20/4/2018, I did a follow-up to LCC. Still, there was no response. In exasperation, I wrote again on the 19/5/2018, threatening LCC with the Information Commissioner. I received a brief and equivocal response, stating that no councillor or council officer on the board received these fees. There was nothing about who did get the fees, but there were only three directors left. That meant an average “earner” of £170,000 each for 3 or4 meetings per year. Yet another scandal – the then chief executive, the then mayor and the then deputy mayor all agreed this outrageous payout.

I have chanted the mantra about transparency and accountability for years. Latterly, I have added the need for prosecutions and convictions. Yet when I look at LCC, very little has changed. By and large, the same players continue to drag the city down. Allow me to run through just a sample of the outstanding issues which need resolution:

  1. The scams at the football ground car parks.
  2. The New Chinatown debacle.
  3. Fox Street Village and the Paramount Building, which although unsafe, still have people living in them.
  4. Tarmacademy – need I say more?
  5. North Liverpool Regeneration Company. Receiving £3.5 million from the public purse whilst being blacklisted by Ofsted for the “misuse” of £600,000 of taxpayers funding.

I could go on – we can each make our own list of priorities – but these are just a handful of the wholly dubious deals which have not, to my knowledge, been properly investigated as yet. Perhaps it is hoped that they might just fade away. No change in attitude there!

Yet we have Joe Anderson once again brazenly seeking legal fees from the council tax payers. In the course of his legal submission, he was linked with career criminal Thomas Mee! As a result, questions are now being asked about the connections between Anderson, Mee, Elliot Lawless, Andy Barr, Cllr Ann O’Byrne and Samuel Beilin. What a collection!

The latest individual to come under the microscope is eager self-publicist Kate Stewart, owner of the Sandon complex facing LFC’s Anfield stadium. There is a mystery as to how she allegedly became an unlisted tenant in the Cunard Building. This is taking her expressed wish to work with Joe Anderson too far, although links are being made between her and Cllr Joanne Calvert, daughter of Anderson.

Meanwhile, the news items continue to flow thick and fast. The city centre road works are running at £13 million over budget (think: Andy Barr and King Construction). North Point Global, with the Serious Fraud Office on their tail, owe the taxman £1.7million and investors £40 million (think: Peter McInnes). Regional press awards again feature the hapless Liam Thorpe (think: staunch defender of Joe Anderson’s administration). The new mayor is named as one of the most influential women in the United Kingdom (think: who she?!?).

Last Tuesday, the role of a “senior officer” in the council was discussed by a handpicked group of councillors. The meeting was held in camera – no press or public were allowed in. Is it, therefore, any wonder that respected NGO Transparency International placed LCC in category 5 of secretive public bodies (the range is from 1 to 6)?

Sodom?

In response to a recent blog, Stevie B. posed a question to me: “Has Liverpool become the British Naples?” It is a difficult one to answer, particularly if one was ignorant of the appalling level of corruption within that particular Italian city and its hinterland. That area, known as Campania, is wholly dominated by the Camorra, one of four regionally based criminal organisations which have bedevilled southern Italy (the other four are  the Mafia in Sicily; the ’Ndrangheta in Calabria; and the Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia).

I took the opportunity to reread “Gomorrah”, written by Campania local Roberto Saviano. It is a brilliant and disturbing account of what happens when criminality has a grip on the council chamber, the boardroom, and the street. The whole spectrum of public and private morality becomes distorted to a degree where for so many, wrong becomes right so long as it brings in money for those profiting in such circumstances. I recommend Saviano’s real life account to anyone who is interested in the almost apocalyptic situation where ethics and morality are distorted at such terrible human cost in the pursuit of money.

Towards the end of his book, Saviano devotes a chapter to the successful years spent in Aberdeen (of all places!) by leading Camorra compare (godfather) Antonio La Torre, and his business empire. Now, you may say that this is all very interesting but irrelevant to the troubles of Liverpool. Think again! Students of our home grown criminal elite will be well aware of the international dimension to their activities. Indeed, until relatively recently, the Home Office recognised, by way of a Merseyside Police special funding allocation, the fact that uniquely, outside of London, Liverpool was the British city with the most extensive organised crime dimension, both home and abroad. Curtis “Cocky” Warren sourced his cocaine imports from Colombia via Venezuela; John Haase’s importation of heroin came from Afghanistan via Turkey. Ask yourself why, today, a veritable army of Liverpool criminals have bases in Amsterdam, Marbella and Dubai.

The reality is, and has been for a very long time, that crime knows no borders. On the contrary, it is most productive with the help of foreign organised gangs. They may well provide Class “A” drugs or contraband cigarettes, or involve themselves in people smuggling. On the other hand, they have been quick to exploit the rapidly growing area of white collar crime, providing money for dodgy development deals as they launder illegal money offshore, all behind a facade of legitimate business. Hence, Signor La Torre’s successful sojourn in Aberdeen. That image of business propriety is a valuable asset in the modern criminal’s armoury. They are all company directors now.

Naturally, this is where regular business and politics come in. Criminals seek businessmen who will accept their investments with no questions asked. Too many fall into that trap. Criminals have also learnt to set up their own bogus companies, an area where the law is notoriously weak. This option cuts out the inconvenience of regular business partners, although in many instances, regular businesses can be turned into additional income streams whereby both clients and sub-contractors can be ripped off.

In our own city, like Naples, the role of politicians appears to be two-fold. Firstly, we have our own code of omerta. Questions which should be uppermost in the minds of politicians are simply not asked. Those that are, are simply ignored. Local media is silent on the substance of corruption. Therein lies the death of the concept of due diligence. Secondly, that most precious resource – land – lies within the gift of politicians. It may take the form of preferential sales (or gifts) of publicly owned land, or it may be an accommodating planning regime which fails in its duties to the people of the city. One marker I should put down here. I personally know of two former chairs of planning in Liverpool who got out of the job and out of politics, due to the threats and intimidation which they received from well known local crime families. Indeed, one left town altogether as did a well respected former “Echo” crime reporter. It is to prevent such outrages that we desperately need to see criminal prosecutions and convictions of those responsible for the current round of corruption. We might then truly turn things around in this once great city.

Is Liverpool Britain’s Naples? We share many characteristics, both positive and negative, but not yet to the degree which has blighted this former Italian jewel. Although there are violent men involved in our own criminal demi-monde, there is nothing to quite match the ruthless brutality of the Camorra. Can we go that way? I do not think so as things stand – I like to believe that the average Scouser is far too savvy to tolerate the degree of violence commonplace on the streets of Naples and Campania… but I could be wrong.

What Next?

Each day, there are snippets of news concerning the ongoing drama that is public life in Liverpool. However, it was still a disturbing surprise to hear that one of those arrested under Operation Aloft had attempted suicide. Happily, it was unsuccessful – I am sure that most people have no wish to hear of such an extreme degree of self-harm, no matter who the individual might be.

Less of a shock was to see that Joe Anderson’s crowd-funding page had raised exactly zero funds as contributions in aid of his action against the city council. You may recall that he sued his former employers – at a cost of over £100,000 to the city’s council taxpayers – in a failed attempt to obtain more money from them. On this occasion, he appears to believe that the council taxpayer should again pay for whatever legal actions he now wishes to take against Liverpool City Council. It could be that in the last few days, he has secured a paltry sum in that crowd-funding account. What is clear is that his erstwhile “friends and supporters” have deserted him, conscious that he is no longer of any use to them, and that association with the former mayor may prove toxic.

A later piece of news was the repeated threat to the city’s World Heritage Status. I hope that this does not materialise, but it does reflect the council’s continuing failure to address the issues raised by the council’s cavalier disregard for the city’s truly outstanding built environment. Will the council never collectively wake up to itself? Perhaps we should not be surprised by its hitherto failure to act radically and immediately. Let us take the “new” deputy mayor, Cllr. Corbett, previously a member of the Joe Anderson cabinet. Her attitude to transparency was exemplified by the fact that she sat on a report into the Fox Street debacle, which happened to be in her ward. Transparency can hardly be said to be her by-word, although it is the key to good governance.

I am also told that the refurbishment of a grand house is underway in the leafy village of Rainford, in the borough of St Helens. The property, bought for the princely sum of £850,000, is undergoing extensive alterations which will bring the final cost to around £1,250,000. The ultimate buyer is Mr Peter McInnes, late of Dubai. Remember him and his company, PHD! This heavily embroiled him in the Paramount development scam (between Lord Nelson Street and London Road) as well as the New Chinatown development fiasco. He was also the man named by the police as a money launderer for drug importers, in open court at Preston Crown Court.

All of these relate to what has become a mantra for me – that is, without prosecutions and convictions, nothing will change. That is simply because those who have been major contributors to the mess that is Liverpool City council today, have yet to be held to account. The council leadership is said to be working in tandem to do its bit in correcting the failings of the past, but all we have to date is some proposals to juggle the number of council wards and the number of councillors, promised for 2023. Equally, I remind you that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are yet to act on the findings of Operation Sheridan, five years after its inception. Lastly, the national Labour Party is currently beset by other priorities than Liverpool Labour’s condition. I am not hopeful that we will see soon any of these undertake the radical action which the city’s recent experiences demand.

I would hope that right minded local elected representatives will be asking of the various agencies, just what they intend to do, and how expeditious any action might be. The fear is that, as in so many similar and previous situations, the local and national Establishments will hope that people will forget, and the whole sorry mess can be shunted into the “too inconvenient/too difficult” file. I do not believe that that will wash, especially with those few people whose diligence in rooting out the truth about council operations gave the real impetus behind the limited action to date. They, above everyone, know that there is a very long way to go.

Joe the Blow

Joe the Blow was a nickname once ascribed to Cllr Joe Hanson, but which might equally be applicable to former Liverpool mayor, Joe Anderson. His rambling and windy attempt on his new website, of a rebuttal of the Caller Report, underlines just how far from political reality he is. In the opening shots of his new campaign seeking exoneration, the former mayor at no point admits to anything other than the unbridled success of the city under his leadership. Thus, there is no apology for the many instances of mismanagement or misconduct which proliferated during his watch.

Rather, he is falling back on a tried and tested (and failed) strategy of litigation. Who can forget that the city forked out over £100,000 to pay for his legal action against his former employers, Chesterfield High School in Sefton? Now he believes that the city should once again subsidise his legal fantasies, a claim for legal largesse which city Labour group leader, Cllr Rasmussen, described as “outrageous”. The former mayor has declared his intention to sue both Merseyside Police and Her Majesty’s Government. Our intrepid “victim” is now said to be looking to crowd funding to finance his legal assault on his detractors. Perhaps there is a friendly trade union ready to feed his dreams. Has the man learnt nothing? Does he not realise the contempt in which he is held across the city?

Nevertheless, it remains the case that the police inquiry into council dealings – Operation Aloft – has yet to lead to any formal prosecutions of those arrested in the early stages of that police operation, including the former mayor. One can only hope that Merseyside Police are keen to avoid the mistakes of Operation Cheetah in the 1980s. This included two failed attempts to convict former deputy council leader, Derek Hatton. Coincidentally, Mr Hatton is now one of those, alongside the former mayor, who was arrested in connection with charges including intimidation, conspiracy and bribery, in the initial phase of Operation Aloft.

Mind you, amidst all of Mr Anderson’s nonsensical attempts at self-justification, he does touch on one issue which, although centred on Lancashire County Council, leads right back into the heart of Liverpool City Council and Mr Anderson’s role in the failed Liverpool Direct arrangement with BT. That issue is a Lancashire Police investigation into corruption at County Hall, Preston, and known as Operation Sheridan. This has been underway for over four years, and it is my understanding that the Lancashire Police have presented their findings to the Crown Prosecution Service. The latter must decide if, and with what, to charge the defendants (all of whom, with one exception, had strong links with the very top of Liverpool City Council).The lesson is that we should not hold our collective breath waiting for the courts to pass judgement on Messrs. Anderson, Hatton, et al.

Meanwhile, as the other five boroughs within the city-region react to the outcomes of the recent local elections, refreshing their respective cabinets, Liverpool Council seems to march to a different tune. Many members seem to be in denial about what might be learned from the election results, including opposition parties who have missed out on a glorious opportunity to radically advance their fortunes. However, the new mayor has made a radical change at the top. Liverpool’s new cabinet has, as its only experienced member, Cllr Corbett. The rest are literally unknown quantities, yet to show their mettle. Yet was not Cllr Corbett a shining light in ex-mayor Anderson’s firmament? Was it not she who sat on the publication of the report into the Fox Street scam? Has she ever questioned the connections between Cllr Knibb and the sale of land for the new Merseyside Police headquarters in her own ward? Does she not bear some responsibility (if only by her silence) for the transgressions and lack of transparency during the Joe Anderson years?

There is such a long way to go that I can only repeat what is becoming my mantra. Until there are prosecutions and convictions in Liverpool, nothing will change. My fear is that the reality of recent years will become yet another “inconvenient truth” and will be quietly air brushed out of the record. It has happened before and it can happen again unless people maintain pressure on the relevant bodies to act.

Groundhog Day

The Americans speak of a phenomenon where events continually repeat themselves – they call it groundhog day. I have pondered on this since last week’s elections since when little appears to have changed. There is still a Labour Party hegemony across the city-region despite some small losses (Sefton council excepted). Liverpool still has a former bankrupt named Anderson charged with steering the city out of its slough of despond. The “Echo” continues to fantasise about its contribution to civic transparency. Cllr Woodhouse is again involved in a rather tawdry twitter exchange……oh, and developer Elliot Lawless remains a subject of police investigation.

Back to the elections – it is true to say that, with one notable exception, all of the candidates for the job of city mayor under performed. That exception was independent candidate Stephen Yip. He came from nowhere (politically speaking) to take a very creditable second place without hardly any resources or a city-wide campaign. The real winner was Apathy, aided and abetted by its close relations, Cynicism and Ignorance. We can only speculate about what might happen next year when there will be many more council seats at stake, and interest might be higher.

The two unknowns for Liverpool in the short term are any actions that the Labour Party might take in the wake of its panel hearings; and the effects of the Caller Report recommendations that there be fewer council seats in Liverpool City Council. The honest truth is that neither the government nor the Labour Party  are quite sure what they CAN do about what appears to many outside observers to be an irredeemably bolshie city. They suffer the kind of exasperation which arose in both the national Conservative and the national Labour parties in the early eighties. Whether that suggests echoes of Geoffrey Howe’s “managed decline” approach, or the more muscular resolution of Neil Kinnock, only time will tell.

Of more immediate concern to many in the city-region – those who appreciate Liverpool city’s position as the key economic driver for the area –is the source of the stimulus necessary to prompt real economic revival. The most likely bet is the city’s chief executive. The new mayor has neither the knowledge nor the experience to provide the necessary initiative. Mr Reeves, on the other hand, will be working in collusion with the government’s appointed commissioners. My money is on him as the de facto mayor. However, even if the combined wisdom of the CEO and the commissioners sets the city council on the path to revival, reconstruction and renewal, I cannot see how that, of itself, will rejuvenate the city’s prospects, attracting the level of outside investment that the city will need. Let us face it – the government is not going to come in with an open cheque book.

I do not believe that the battering which the city’s reputation has suffered, is fully understood. Much of this is down to the extent of the corruption endemic in the city, and the numbers of investors – both individual and institutional – who have had their fingers burnt. It is absolutely imperative that there are prosecutions and convictions of those responsible for the civic criminality which has tragically become synonymous with Liverpool. Otherwise, it is perfectly reasonable for people to assume that nothing has changed.

Certainly, I for one could not vouch that Liverpool City Council has been cleansed of its problems by the arrest of the former mayor. Incidentally, he has now called Max Caller a liar in the Independent newspaper. He also says that he was no “don”. That is true – more a useful idiot, hinting at a possible, if unlikely, political comeback. What messages do such comments send to the outside world? Is it simply that it is business as usual – Liverpool City Council style? Sadly, the initial statements of the city’s new mayor and the region’s new police and crime commissioner, suggest a preoccupation with identity politics, as if the scourge of corruption has gone, and is not on their agendas. They should rectify this omission immediately, giving it the priority it deserves.

Elections Looming

With less than two weeks before some of the most telling local elections ever to be held across the city-region, I have had some election material on the candidates sent to me. To be more precise, I have had two Labour leaflets, one in support of both the local council candidate AND the mayoral candidate; and another solely supporting the Labour mayoral candidate for Liverpool.

I have also had a booklet from Liverpool City Council, extolling the virtues of all of the candidates wishing to be Liverpool mayor. Having read many leaflets and manifestos in my long political life, I cannot say that I have read anything which might incline me to alter my pre-existing views on the mayoralty. Nor have I been impressed by the little I have seen on the aspirants for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). No one could be worse than the outgoing PCC, presumably more preoccupied with the gendarmerie in France than Merseyside Police. However, I was astonished to see that Labour’s candidate – a Liverpool councillor! – had nothing to say about the corruption that is rife within the city council.

I should not be surprised – little appears to have been learnt since the Caller Report was published. A councillor resigns from cabinet, not over the dreadful state of affairs therein, but ostensibly over some disagreement concerning the reconfiguration of Lime Street. Not a word about the sorry state of what is widely perceived as a criminally inclined council. Another goes because of a foul-mouthed rant online about the dead Prince Phillip. One does not have to be a royalist to recognize the unacceptability of such behavior in any circumstances.

The attempts by councillors to regularize their entries on the register of interests, raise more questions. For example, the inept political editor of the Liverpool “Echo” listed the revised register without pointing out the incongruities in it. For example, the acting mayor had indeed updated her entries, as did her colleagues. However, she does not include her two directorships for the Liverpool Arena and the associated hotel. Given the appalling record of the  “Echo”, I rechecked this. Councillor Simon lists all of her unpaid interests but there is no mention of the two appointments in question. I noted this because I have tried – and failed – to discover which of the directors shared in a pot of over £500,000 declared to Companies House as directors’ emoluments. I simply cannot get an answer from the council.

This is the crux of the problem facing Liverpool voters at the ballot box in May. Has anything really changed? Have lessons been learned or is it business as usual? I find it difficult to believe that there has been any substantial change in the council culture. Nor do I anticipate any such change until there is some shock therapy. That means prosecutions followed by convictions.

Therefore, in this context, what does the Labour Party hope to achieve with its investigation panel; and what part might it play in the reform and rehabilitation of Liverpool City Council? Remember – the panel is restricted to looking at Labour Party issues. As the panel recognizes, council issues and police matters are beyond its remit. Thus, it is hard to envisage what changes will eventuate from the panel’s hearings which might dramatically impact on the culture of the council.

We seem to have been here so many times before. Now I read that Liverpool and Wirral are being dragged more and more into the Unite financial controversy. We all know that the present general secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, is from Liverpool. We also know that the Flanagan Group and Joe Anderson’s son, David, have been embroiled in the Birmingham building project for Unite, where the costs have risen from an initial £7 million to a colossal £98 million! Now it seems that two Wirral figures were involved in this deal. One is Mike Ryder of Purple Apple Management; the other is McCluskey’s predecessor, Tony Woodley (now, would you believe, in the House of Lords!). They both had parts to play at different stages. Now I read also that Mr Ryder was the link for McCluskey’s preferred successor, Howard Beckett, to join the union’s hierarchy. What a crazy world we are in.

One last snippet before I go into purdah until after the elections. It appears that Knowsley Contractors/King Construction, central to the Tarmacademy controversy which has been of great interest to the police under Operation Aloft, has changed its name to VIAM Ltd. All of its current contracts have been suspended until the police investigations have been completed. Over now to the electors.

A Recap

It is becoming more and more difficult to keep track of the many failings of Liverpool City Council (LCC) over recent years. Quite apart from a now widespread understanding that many millions have been lost to council coffers, the devil is most certainly in the details – details which are now in danger of being overlooked or forgotten. I was reminded of this when I read that Banksy’s “Rat” – which once adorned the side of the White House pub in Duke Street – was up for auction in the Netherlands. How? Its recent history and whereabouts has been clouded in mystery since the White House fell into the hands of developers, the Ascot Group.

I confess to have forgotten about this; but who now remembers the deliberate destruction of a listed building in Wolstenholme Square by developers the Lawless Group? A council spokesman said at the time that it was a “criminal” act but that the council would be taking no action against the developers. We can refer to so-called developments galore, to exemplify the failure of LCC to secure on these projects, Section 106 monies which developers were obligated to pay the council for general environmental improvements. One can only hope that these issues and many others will be pursued under Operation Aloft. Although there are too many to itemise here, each one deserves to be investigated.

Nevertheless, the council ploughs on in its own way, with the same people, by and large. At least, the city solicitor is going, reportedly of her own volition. She will have a substantial pay-off and a secure pension, despite having been responsible for signing off so many of the council’s deals now under investigation. She will not be a loss to the council’s senior officer corps. Incidentally, speaking of pensions, during 2019, I raised twice in my blog concerns which had been raised about the conduct of the Merseyside Pension Fund (MPF), then chaired by Wirral councillor, Paul Doughty. It now appears that the transfer of the ownership of the Cunard Building – now owned by LCC – cost the MPF million of pounds in losses. Perhaps that is yet another deal which requires closer consideration.

Speaking of deals, we know that Merseyside Police were well aware of the conflicts of interests involving those who ran two of the match day car parks via the Beautiful Ideas Company. The internal council report on this, compiled by Councillor Kushner, highlighted the involvement of Councillor O’Byrne in this matter, and the role of her daughter, a former councillor. However, it was extremely sketchy about the biggest cash cow – the Priory Road car park – which was run for some years by the Flanagan Group.

Is it not, to say the least, curious that the same names repeatedly occur in so many of these sorry tales? Much has been made of late of the involvement of Councillor Anderson’s son, David, in the award of controversial contracts to a firm which he owned. Little has been said of the ex-mayor’s daughter, Councillor Joanne Calvert. She, like many of her council colleagues, hastily updated her register of interests when her father was arrested. On this, she was shown to be an “administrator” for a company called Bike2Work Scheme, Ltd. Coincidentally, one of that company’s directors resigned as a director at the same time. His name? Derek Hatton. It is important to note that the company had received a £500,000 grant from LCC courtesy of then Mayor Anderson.

Predictably, none of this will figure in any way in the Labour Party’s inquiry into itself. The Labour Party will concern itself solely with constitutional issues and failings. The logic is that they must not look at or do anything which might in any way undermine or prejudice the police inquiries and potential prosecutions. It is reasonable, therefore, to wonder what effect the Labour Party Inquiry Team can have on the wider problems afflicting a Labour-dominated city like Liverpool.

On an equally sombre note, I read with sincere sadness of the death of veteran GMB Branch 5 leader, Ian Lowes. I was always of the belief that he had seen Militant Tendency for what it was. He remained committed, however, to giving the best possible service to his union members. Sometimes, he got it right, and sometimes he got it wrong, just like the rest of us. I bumped into him on occasion in our local supermarket, and, as an ex-chef, he would volunteer advice on the best meat to buy. Fancying himself as something of a wine buff, he would also recommend a nice (cheap!) red to go with it. Not for Ian the trade union career path: he left that for other contemporaries who, to this day, too often give trade unionism a bad name.