What a Shambles

Just when Liverpool Labour supporters thought that things were on the mend, party bosses cock things up once again. The past week or so has been a trial and a tribulation for loyal Labourites in Liverpool as the nomination of potential Labour candidates for the city’s mayoralty went from the sublime to the ridiculous. It is almost as if the Labour hierarchy wanted to rid themselves of the responsibility for clearing up the mess at Liverpool City council (LCC). Let me recap.

Nominations were called from amongst Labour Party members to carry the party’s flag in the election of a new mayor in May. Three were shortlisted, and they were quick off the mark in sending out promotional literature in support of themselves. No sooner was this done than the Labour Party hierarchy suspended its own timetable and recalled the three candidates for further interview. As a result, it was decided to disbar their own choices from standing, and seek alternative candidates. No explanations were offered for this extraordinary turn of events. All of this was done at incredibly short notice, but these party officials (none of whom was from Liverpool, or knew anything of its politics) amazed everyone with their new shortlist.

Now let me say at the outset that I have never met or spoken with either of the two candidates put forward. They have no political record of which I am aware, one having gone onto the council in 2016, and the other in 2019. One is a member of Unison and the other is a member of Unite.  The conspiracy theorists (see the Sqwarkbox website) went into overdrive, weaving their weird and wonderful webs, aimed at the selection panel. I find it more realistic to view such panels as incompetent rather than conspiratorial (although they can be both on occasion). It is the end product which counts; and Labour members are being asked to choose between two nondescript backbench councillors with less than six years low level experience between them.

Is the Labour Party serious about a new mayor to clean up the politics of the city council? Perhaps there are skills and talents in the candidates which are yet to be revealed. I fear not, especially given the new allegations which have surfaced suggesting that one of the candidates has been bankrupted, not once but twice. Where was the due diligence in checking this out? The once improbable chance of Labour foregoing a powerful elected position in Liverpool has become much more real.

Now put yourself in the place of serious candidates from other political parties. We can discount Tories – nothing can change their hopes in Liverpool. I assume that Lib Dem Richard Kemp and Tom Crone of the Greens will fancy their chances given the chaos of Labour’s search for a candidate. Add another twist with Cllr Rothery’s reported legal action against the Labour Party (financed, I assume, by Unite), and they can hope for a radical shift away from Labour by Liverpool voters. However, I do not believe that those voters will necessarily swap one political party for another – I hear people saying “A plague on all your houses”. Yet there might be an alternative strategy. Step forward Stephen Yip.

Stephen is the only independent candidate to throw their hat into the ring to date. His back story for Liverpool is excellent. Born and raised in Liverpool 8, he is one of ten children of a Chinese seaman father and a Scouse mother. He founded his own charity for kids (KIND) 37 years ago, which he has run very effectively over that period. He is well known and widely respected, honest and hardworking – just what Liverpool needs. Imagine him as a mayor seeking the Chinese investment that always seems to go to Manchester rather than Liverpool.

What he needs is a strong campaign to get him across to the electorate as a viable candidate. Remember that, due to covid, there will be no door knocking or events in this election. It will be done by leaflets, and that requires some knowledge of campaigning and public relations. Of course, it also requires finance.

If rival parties want to see the end of Labour hegemony in Liverpool, they could do worse than throwing their weight behind Mr Yip. He could spring quite a surprise on the local political establishment, all of whom are seen by many as having failed the city. Stranger things have happened.

Mayoral Rewind

It appears that Labour’s ruling national body has belatedly got the message about the possible Labour nomination for the post of elected mayor. As trade unions precipitately rushed to support one candidate or another, I wonder whether they gave much thought to the needs of either the Labour Party or the city of Liverpool.  There needs to be such a change in a civic culture which either has condoned the manifest corruption which has taken hold in recent years, or has, in some cases, apparently taken advantage of the “opportunities” available in a council which has foregone either transparency or real accountability. 

There is nothing much for me to say which I have not been saying in this blog for years. However, I should point out that there is a misguided belief that any aspiring mayoral candidate must come from within the massed ranks of councillors. That is simply not the case. I presume that Labour’s National Executive is looking for a wider range of potential candidates, given that those who have put themselves forward to date have been found unacceptable. I am equally sure that there are individuals within the Liverpool Labour Party with the requisite skills and background to put themselves forward with confidence.

Hopefully, those whose ambition far exceeds their capabilities will not waste the party’s time. We have had ten years of mismanagement at the top – we need no more. It will initially be a tough row to hoe for whoever takes over in May. If it is the Labour candidate, there will be fulsome support at hand from the party, along with goodwill and practical help. What no-one can inject is the political courage and Labour values which will be prerequisites for the successful candidate. We all wait with bated breath!!

Union Relations

Not for the first time, local politics hereabouts take me into inexplicable corners.  Take Unite, the union.  As most people will realise, it is a national union, generally dealing with national issues. However, Unite, under its last two general secretaries, has taken an inordinate interest in Merseyside politics.  Thirty-five years ago, the then TGWU official – Len McCluskey – spent a lot of his time stirring up difficulties for both his union and for the Labour Party.  Some people called this militancy; others described it as trouble making.  Thus, it should come as no surprise to find that the same culture still exists within the union.

The regional executive of the union met this week, to consider, amongst other things, Unite’s position on the Labour candidates for the Liverpool mayoralty.  Two other unions, Unison and Usdaw, had already made clear their support for Cllr Wendy Simon, a former Unison official. The Unite regional politbureau decided not to support anyone, but to remain neutral.  This was the cue for an almighty online executive row, with the union hierarchy demanding support for Cllr Anna Rothery.  It will be of more than passing interest how this will be resolved.  It does appear, however, that vested interests within the Labour movement are lining up in a self-defined “left/right” battle.  It is telling that Cllr Anne O’Byrne appears to hold no attraction, at least for the brothers and sisters of the union movement.

There is nothing new in the involvement of trade unions in the Labour Party’s selection processes at all levels.  Sometimes it has been a virtuous phenomenon, saving the Labour Party from itself and its inclination towards fratricidal civil war.  On other occasions, union activity – at least at a local level – has been part of the problem rather than the answer.  Such was the case in the 1980s when Len McCluskey’s machinations in the north west were a headache for the Labour Party.  However, what strikes me now is the way in which now the national level of Unite should be so involved in the current difficulties being experienced in Liverpool City Council.

This possibly relates to the controversy surrounding a building project in (of all places) Birmingham.  This was the project originally said to cost £7m which became one costing £96m.  Needless to say, this is a matter of great interest to members of Unite.  What interests those looking at the financial affairs of Liverpool City Council, is the appointment of a Liverpool company – the Flanagan Group – as main contractors.  It appears that at an early stage in this project, Unite had refused to appoint a main contractor approved by Birmingham City Council, insisting on the appointment of the Flanagan Group.

The Flanagan Group is known to Liverpool Council watchers because its principal was arrested along with Mayor Anderson and others in the police anti-corruption drive, Operation Aloft.  Why would such a relatively small and diverse company figure in at least two controversial development cases?  After all, this company was multi-faceted, with a variety of other developments over time in Liverpool, from the Sir Thomas Hotel to the Newz Bar.  The Birmingham development was on a  totally  different scale.

To understand this, one needs to go back to Len McCluskey’s predecessor, Tony Woodley, based in the Wirral.  He struck a deal with a very small Wirral-based company called Purple Apple.  After a series of amalgamations of unions, the expanding TGWU/Unite super union had surplus buildings and land in its property portfolio, in need of rationalisation and/or repair.  This led to a three way, loose partnership, with Purple Apple assessing the properties and Flanagan’s doing any work required (just look at the renewal of Jack Jones’s house in Islington).

Even as Woodley retired as general secretary (and McCluskey took his place), the tidy arrangement continued. McCluskey created a post-retirement job for Woodley, looking after the property portfolio of Unite.  Purple Apple and Flanagans continued to sell their services to the union, liaising through Woodley, now in the House of Lords!.  At the same time, Purple Apple and Flanagans were making large donations to Liverpool Labour Party, as was Unite.  It seems as if everyone remained happy with their cosy arrangements until the police in Liverpool and Unite’s national executive, began to stick their noses in. Where the recent controversy will lead us, we can only hazard a guess. I am sure, however, that there is much more yet to be revealed.

Hobson’s Choice

On Monday, Labour’s regional office emailed a notice referencing today’s hustings for the three Labour hopefuls for the nomination as candidate for Liverpool mayor. The notice says that there is a maximum of 1000 members who can participate in this on-line event. There has already been one set of hustings, I am told, which managed to attract about 100 participants. Think about these figures for a minute, in the context of about 5000 Labour members in the city.

It seems as if the bulk of Labour members in the city will have no opportunity to hear the candidates live, or to put questions to them. If you have not been invited, you simply cannot do so. Admittedly, this is hardly surprising, given the limitations on the hustings, and the shortness of the timetable. Granted also that, given the impact of the pandemic, it is difficult to see how else there might be some semblance of a selection process. Nevertheless, it does raise questions about the internal democracy of the Labour Party.

For example, who exactly has been made aware of these hustings? Presumably it was only those members who can be contacted on-line. Even then, doubts are raised. I am on-line, and I regularly am notified of my branch and constituency meetings but I have no recollection of anything concerning hustings from the regional office. What of those members who are not on-line? There are such members out there, believe it or not. Surely they have a right to be fully involved in such an important selection.

Mind you, one must wonder whether improved communication necessarily leads to increased participation. The poor on-line turn out at the first hustings might suggest that, once again, apathy rules the day, even amongst those honoured with an invitation. Perhaps they had heard that the person invited to chair the event was the council’s in-house apologist at “The Echo” – its laughingly designated “political” editor, Liam Thorpe.

All else aside, these are serious issues. Ballots will be issued on February 17th, closing on March 5th.  My fear is that once again, ballots will be cast in ignorance by a minority of Labour Party members in the city. In my view, the national and regional executives of the Labour Party have once again exhibited remarkable ignorance and disregard for the Liverpool Labour party, and for the city itself. After all, we are in the middle of intensive police and government inquiries into how the council has been mismanaged and corrupted in recent years. Yet we have a choice from between three candidates who have sat by like the fabled three wise monkeys, at the very least oblivious to the malfeasance occurring whilst they were senior councillors. Now we are told to select one of them. Is it to be the one said to be left wing, the one said to be right wing, or the one said to be chasing “ching-ching”? Frankly, I see no clear politics between the three of them.

I emphasise, too, the importance of this to the other boroughs within the city-region. It is not just that Liverpool is the major driver borough within that collective; it has also been a very awkward partner at times to other members of the Combined Authority. There needs to be a responsible and constructive spokesperson for Liverpool on the Combined Authority. Remember, too, that there have been bilateral spill-overs of Liverpool’s corruption, affecting chunks of the city-region. We all have a stake in getting a workable solution to Liverpool Council’s ills, starting with the mayoralty if we must continue the post.

Step Forward

Before I get underway, I must apologise for repeating myself. However, I truly believe that the city of Liverpool – indeed, the entire city region – is at a critical juncture in its often turbulent history. I mention the city region because, in the words of the old cliché, when Liverpool sneezes, the city region catches a cold. The pivotal point is the approaching selection of a Labour candidate for the forthcoming mayoral election.

The people of Liverpool (unlike other comparable English cities) have never been given a say on whether or not they wanted an elected mayor in the first place. Moreover, there is little likelihood of that situation changing before 2023 at the earliest. Technically, enough local electors (about 16,500) could band together to demand a referendum as of right, but such an eventuality is highly improbable. The organisations which might be able to gather the names required – that is, the political parties – are unwilling to do so. The end result is a city mayor whether we like it or not.

That brings us directly to the Labour Party’s impending selection of a candidate to succeed Joe Anderson. Consider the background to this. Anderson, senior council officials and “businessmen” (I call them crooks) have been arrested and face a bewildering array of charges.  Many more within the “magic circle” are yet to have their collars felt. The reputation of the city is at a new low just as the city faces some of the most difficult challenges in its long history. It would seem to me that any aspiring candidate for the mayoralty would have to be purer than Caesar’s wife to have any credibility in the eyes of the local electorate or those who might consider legitimate investment in the city.

The reality is that the Labour candidate will be the favourite to win the actual mayoral election. A glance at the electoral records and the current composition of representation across the city explains why. The question is: who? We have all seen various names flagged up but I remain wholly unconvinced by all of them. Those who have been in the mayor’s cabinet during the past ten years leave me particularly unmoved. They fall into two broad camps. Given their privileged access to the council’s highest deliberations and decision making, they either saw what was happening and said or did nothing, or they were oblivious to the machinations which were occurring around them on a daily basis. The first group were therefore complicit, and the second group were incompetent. I suspect that some were both. Either way, they are unfit to fill the role of mayor, in my view.

Politically, I do not believe that the present government would choose radical surgery on Liverpool City Council, but they will watch carefully to see who the runners and riders are in the mayoral handicap race. If they have no faith in the capabilities of whoever is on offer, they might well decide that commissioners would be the lesser of two evils. That would mean three years of indirect rule of the city from Whitehall. Thus, you will appreciate the importance of getting a Labour candidate far removed from the charge of “guilt by association” with the administration of Mayor Anderson.

I know there are many good people out there, in the Labour Party and elsewhere, but there is little opportunity for them to project themselves as a potential candidate in the tightly-controlled environment of Liverpool local politics. Remember that candidates do not have to be councillors – in many cities, they have not been. Yet time is of the essence, given that the government inspector must report back within weeks so that the Secretary of State might decide what to do before local government elections purdah kicks in. Who, if anyone, will step forward?

Decisions, Decisions

As we begin the new year, it is hoped that in every way, it will be an improvement on the last one. The signs are not good. Covid rages and the government reveals staggering indecision in dealing with it. Ironically, covid has moved focus away from the previously dreaded nightmare of Brexit, which is certain to hit areas like the Liverpool City Region disproportionately. Notwithstanding these concerns, and predictably, the long arm of the law is finally reaching into the darker recesses of local government, particularly Liverpool.

A series of reports in “The Times” have opened up a fresh line of enquiry which potentially reaches back to Mayor Anderson. It is a saga concerning mega-union Unite which has strong local connections and traditions. The last two leaders of the union – Woodley and McCluskey – hail respectively from the Wirral and from Liverpool. What their legendary predecessor, Jack Jones (also from Liverpool) would make of the allegations being made about his beloved union can only be imagined. The whole sorry tale revolves around the award of a huge union building contract in Birmingham to Liverpudlian Paul Flanagan, a close friend of Joe Anderson and Len McCluskey.

Moreover, a sub-contract on the project was awarded to a company owned by Anderson’s son, David. He, in turn, had appointed as managing director of his company (Safety Support Consultants) a man fresh out of prison after being sent down for ten years for slashing someone with a Stanley knife. One can only hazard a guess as to what view of Liverpool and the wider city-region results from such connections.

Of course, a great deal depends on matters being considered and resolved far away from the banks of the Mersey. Firstly, the national executive committee of Unite will undoubtedly be scrutinising the Liverpool connection to the Birmingham project which is alleged to have cost their members millions of pounds . An upcoming election of a successor to McCluskey as Unite’s general secretary, is certain to see the issue weaponised against McCluskey’s favoured candidate, another man from the Wirral. Yet this issue will not remain in Birmingham. It goes to the heart of deals done in the Liverpool City Region.

In direct and practical political terms, the considerations of the national Labour Party leadership will have an even greater impact on the future prospects of the city-region. The scandals afflicting Liverpool have a toxic effect on the Labour “brand” across all six boroughs of the city-region, and beyond. The national party will not be unaware of that fact. It seems to me – and probably to them – that the Labour group on the city council is either unwilling or unable to rectify matters. In my view, they ought to have pre-empted the Lib Dem call for consultation on the city’s governance structure, with a straightforward move for a referendum on the future of the mayoralty. The idea that a current councillor might simply pick up where Anderson has left off, is unacceptable. The alleged leading lights on the council have either turned a Nelsonian blind eye to what has been happening, or were so inept as to fail to recognise the consistent malfeasance. Now I see that Labour List is suggesting a potential woman candidate whose last council activity was hallmarked by her breaking every rule and standing order governing Labour councillors!! Whatever the case, they are all unfit for the role. Does the city need a new mayor, never mind want one? It may end up as a decision for Keir Starmer.

Above all else, Mr Max Caller is reviewing the key operations of the city council on behalf of the government. It might well be that he finds the problems so entrenched that the council needs major surgery. After all, it is difficult to see simple solutions to changing the corrupted culture embedded within the higher echelons of the city council. A band aid will not suffice when the rot is so deep. I dread to think what the outcome of Mr Caller’s review might be if he makes the wrong call (no pun intended!).

I am not naive. I recognise that there are major problems in a number of local authorities around the country. That has always been the case and will continue to be so. It is the price that we pay for our imperfect form of local democracy; but there is nowhere as blighted by the scale of malpractice that we witness here in Liverpool. I also recognise that other councils have, like Liverpool, have suffered from incessant government funding cuts. However, I know of nowhere where the council tax payers, investors and local contractors have been ripped off as they have been in Liverpool, due to the complicity of senior public servants.

Deja Vu – Again

I read recently that a Wirral solicitor, Mr David Hayhurst, had been hauled up before a tribunal of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. He had been charged with taking money from clients for extremely speculative building projects without explaining the risks involved. The tribunal was kind – he was only fined £10,000 with £15,000 costs. I say “kind” because of the huge total sums involved in these scam projects. Moreover, he has now set himself up in the heart of Birkenhead as a consultant.

I mention this because it illustrates the context in which so many people appear to operate schemes and scams with little or no regulation until, on the odd occasion, the long arm of the law intervenes. This is despite the colossal amount of money lost to investors, contractors and local authorities. On a par with the lack of effective regulation is the ease with which malefactors can re-invent themselves with yet another sham company via which they can employ the same wholly unacceptable “business” practices.

Attempts to run local authorities as businesses only exacerbate such problems. By and large, councillors across our city-region are not business people. Furthermore, local authorities exist to provide services, not to dabble in the risk-taking that is part of business life. By the same token, business is about turning a profit. It does not take a genius to see the contradictions in the so-called “entrepreneurial” council. A very small example is found in my old constituency among the “Cobra” houses around Bala Street in Anfield. About three years ago, many of them were put up for sale by LCC. A number were kept back and the remainder were sold on condition that they were substantially improved within six months. Owner-occupiers and investors duly complied, only to watch the council-owned properties sink further and further into dereliction. Why, three years on, is there such a double standard between the council and everyone else? I cannot explain it.

I was checking a spreadsheet of LCC-owned properties. There are literally thousands of them, primarily older housing stock requiring upgrading and renewal. It strikes me that that it would be far more sensible for them to put into hands which might improve them, rather than leaving them to further degenerate by the day, especially those which are empty and derelict. After all, the council owned housing company – Liverpool Foundation Homes – appears to be either incapable or unwilling to address this massive problem. Sadly, LCC seems more interested in enabling property speculators’ fancies for blocks of flats rather than rejuvenating family homes.

Mind you, I am increasingly susceptible to the old suggestion that there is something problematic in the city-region’s water supply. How else does one explain the area’s characteristics of chaos, argument, and trouble? These traits seem to follow people from Merseyside around the country. I recall that when Lawrence Kenwright obtained ownership of the local council’s Coal Exchange in Cardiff, he did so with a loan/grant from Cardiff Council facilitated by a council official who had learned his trade in Liverpool! There was a major dingdong in Cardiff as a result. More recently, there was the case of former Knowsley officer, Mike Fagan. He insisted that he had been forced to take early retirement because he had been a whistleblower over a case of nepotism in council employment. When former CEO Sheena Ramsay moved to the West Country, he doggedly pursued her with his grievance, briefing local councillors down there on his charges. This led in turn to a three way stand off, involving council officers, Mr Fagan and the Information Commissioner. The winner? Mr Fagan. Happily truth often does win out; too often dishonesty prevails.

However, the electors of Liverpool were – unlike all the other cities of England – denied a say on how the city should be run. Is it not now the time for the council to organise a referendum before we get into election mode for a new city mayor? We now have a metromayor, whilst for so many people, the city mayor has been a failed experiment. A referendum on their view is long overdue. Prevarication by the council just will not wash.

This leads me to the gross dishonesty which surrounded the establishment of a mayoral system in Liverpool. It is easy to forget that this came about through a series of untruths. At the time, Cameron’s government pushed hard for mayoral systems in England’s major cities. Other than Liverpool, all of those cities had a referendum on the issue; and, with the exception of Bristol, all rejected the offer. Joe Anderson persuaded the council to forego a referendum – “only political anoraks would want a referendum”, he asserted. The principal argument was that by following Anderson’s lead, the city would get an enhanced City Deal. It was also suggested that the city could end up with no City Deal at all without a mayoral settlement. Both of these arguments were false.

In February, 2012 the BBC quoted then Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg: “No City Deal, including Liverpool’s proposal is contingent on having an elected mayor”. Fast forward to the 9/12/20 and an FoI response from the Communities Secretary on the same subject: “The requirement to have a City Mayoral Model was not a pre-requisite for agreeing a City Deal with government”. Digest those quotes for a moment. The role of city mayor was decided on the basis of a false prospectus. There was no extra cash, and the City Deal was coming regardless.

Happy New Year?

“And so this is Christmas; and what have you done?”, sang John Lennon fifty years ago. It is a question that several bodies need to answer, given recent events, as we try to assess the state of play in Liverpool. The record of those with the power and the responsibility to play a part in correcting the serious mismanagement of the city’s finances, is not a distinguished one to date. Let us begin with the council itself. As a body, it has failed to hold to account those who have been systematically corrupting the council’s dealings over a period of years. They cannot but accept a degree of blame for the way in which council taxpayers’ money has been brazenly plundered; but they are not alone. Others have looked on in magisterial inactivity.

Take the council’s auditors. I approached them in person years ago to ask how and why the council was not exercising due diligence in their property transactions. They did nothing. The local newspaper was also missing in action – it could (or would) not see the wood for the trees when it came to the council. It was a betrayal of its own traditions and of its readers. Worse still, it became habituated to stealing credit for exposing council malfeasance long after brave individuals had made the case on social media. Instead, they published every bit of false news emanating from the council public relations unit and from developers keen to promote their latest money-grubbing project. Its investigative journalism was non-existent.

Although there have recently been high profile arrests, I remain puzzled at the slow response of Merseyside Police to what has been apparent to any observer of the local council scene. I put the question directly to the previous chief constable, only to receive a delphic reply. I have spoken to other members of our finest. I have even raised it directly with the Police and Crime Commissioner, who, unlike her peers across the country, appears to have taken no interest in her responsibilities. It is no surprise, if regrettable, that she has gained a reputation as the Invisible Woman.

I know that there are still ongoing inquiries like Operation Sheridan. This led to the downfall of the previous chief executive amongst others, but it appears to be stuck within the machinery of the Crown Prosecution Service. Lancashire Police led this inquiry, and have done their bit.  However, once it is before the courts, it leads right into the heart of Liverpool and the Liverpool Direct set-up.  This remains one of the many areas where there are serious questions to be answered.

The government bears its own responsibility.  It has hidden behind the argument that it is for the electors of Liverpool to decide who they have as mayor, judging the latter’s performance for good or ill.  There are obvious problems with this view.  Firstly, in a virtually one-party city like Liverpool, it is very difficult to challenge the dominant party’s choice of candidate.  Secondly, there is an assumption that all issues can be resolved with a change at the top.  This is wrong when there is a deeply-embedded culture of corruption wider than one individual and one administration.  Thirdly, the city is being run under a model which resulted from a stitch-up between ex-Chancellor, George Osborne, and a present mayor.  The people of Liverpool, unlike other cities, were not given a say in this via a referendum.

So what can be done?  The use of commissioners should be extended to a root and branch excision within the council, and wholesale change (e.g. delegated powers) of practices which facilitate abuse.  Secondly, I would like the people of Liverpool to be given a choice – in line with other cities – as to the system of governance they would like.  If that was not to happen, the Labour Party must step in to ensure that their candidate for mayor next May, is purer than Caesar’s wife.  That would exclude all of those in the council who have been closely identified with the present mayor.  Rightly or wrongly, people’s attitudes towards anyone within the mayor’s circle of associates will be viewed through jaundiced eyes.

This coming year will be a really telling one for the city of Liverpool and the other members of the city-region.  We all know that if Liverpool sneezes, they will each catch a cold.  It will not be easy to get the city back on track, but it is incumbent on us all, at every level, to give it our best shorts.

Happy New Year!

What Next?

A recent blog of mine (see “Stay Alert”) raised an issue concerning  confusion over the identity of one of the partners in a company – Midia – which is, in turn, party to a bid to develop the International Garden Festival site. The company is adamant that “their” man is most definitely not the fraudster in question. Moreover, they believe that confusion was deliberately sown in an attempt by rival interests to scuttle their bid. I knew that politics could be a dirty game, but it appears that business suffers from a similar affliction. In this instance, it is the use of the phenomenon known as “fake news”.

More telling is the company’s intention to withdraw from the Liverpool investment scene altogether, given the way the city appears to operate. This is far from the first time that this view has been expressed. Indeed, I have commented on it in the past, based on both personal and anecdotal experience. Recent events involving the criminal justice system and leading lights within the city’s administration, do nothing to dispel the mistrust towards the city council which increasing numbers of people have.

Nevertheless, we are where we are. The city mayor has said that he is stepping down, at least for the duration of his bail period. Frankly, he had little choice in the matter, given the seriousness of the potential charges which might include conspiracy, bribery and intimidation – hardly minor traffic offences. He joins an increasing list of senior city officials, past and present, who await the outcome of various police investigations and Crown Prosecution Service deliberations. To put it mildly, this is a most unhappy state of affairs.

However, the Labour group on Liverpool City Council has decided that Cllr Wendy Simons should act pro tem as Mayor. In itself, this raises a number of questions. I should say at the outset that I have never met or communicated in any way with Cllr Simons. I understand that she has been a councillor for thirteen years, and has had long experience both as a trade union official and as a lay Labour Party officer. Yet she was elected to the council to represent her ward, not to a mayoral post. She is, along with members of the Mayor’s cabinet, where she is as a result of the mayor’s patronage. Does this give democratic legitimacy to her elevation? I think not.

The sorry saga of the mayor’s situation – arrested on bail and suspended by the Labour Party – flags up weaknesses in both the government legislation covering elected mayors, and the Labour Party rules covering their members who become elected mayors. The nearest comparison to Mayor Anderson’s predicament of which I am aware, was that of Luftur Rahman, elected mayor in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. However, the charges which led to his downfall all related to electoral fraud. Serious charges, but I believe that what the police are suggesting, including criminal fraud, is even more serious.

I do not know what the answer is in the short term, but I would think that a combination of the current chief executive and government commissioners might provide some reassurance and help restore flagging confidence in the city, its governance, and its finances. Presumably, there will be an opportunity next May for the city’s electorate to give its own judgement on the way in which the city has, at best, been mismanaged.

Meanwhile, we must wait and see what the future holds for Mayor Anderson. As long as the police investigation hangs over his head, there is no chance of him being the Labour mayoral candidate again. Even if he was to be the candidate, I find it impossible to believe that the electors of Liverpool would vote for him. Of course, if charges are laid and secured in court, he will disappear from the political scene completely. The question then is: who and what comes after?

Proceed with Caution

Whenever one attempts to shine a light on the activities in Liverpool which have gained such notoriety, one must be extremely careful.  It is not just the potential for libel actions, but also the right of natural justice for people who might anyway not be to one’s liking.  Sometimes the people in question in my blogs are not known personally to me, but many are.  Take two names from my last blog.

Angela Forshaw of Liverpool Foundation Homes does have some background in housing, I am told, although she is listed with Companies House as being involved with sports centres.  Likewise, Frank Hont is a former union official with no background in housing.  Nor was it germane to my piece, as some of his former council colleagues suggested, that he had recently moved into a Redrow home.  The point of my blog was to show how the council did its business.

It does not stop with the council.  Obviously, there is a slice of the private sector which is not too fussy about the people with whom they deal.  I am always mindful of one local big investor who told me some time ago, that he had not invested in Liverpool for over seventeen years.  When I asked him why that was, given his loyalty to the city, he replied that he did not want to sit in the same room as some of the people who would necessarily be involved. 

There is no doubt that the city’s reputation is being tarnished. New Chinatown and other failed projects illustrated just how badly our reputation has been damaged internationally. Meanwhile, other cities like Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham have taken up the slack.  Speaking of Birmingham, another curious mention of Liverpool companies came to my attention recently.

The Unite mega-union has a national executive.  We all know that its current general secretary is scouser Lennie McCluskey.  His predecessor from the Wirral, Tony Woodley, is now in the House of Lords.  There was a seamless transition from one to the other.  Now there is an intra-union battle on for who succeeds Lenny.  I believe that this is where Liverpool has been dragged into the current scheming.

At a recent meeting of its executive, the London region raised questions about the participation of two Liverpool companies in the vastly inflated cost of a new union education centre built in Birmingham.  These two companies are consultants Purple Apple and builders, the Flanagan Group.  These were recruited by former general secretary Woodley.  How they connect with the Liverpool political scene is through Mayor Anderson.  Electoral records show that in his run-up to power in the city, these two firms were the biggest contributors to Anderson’s campaign funds, donating many thousands of pounds. A recently circulated photograph was taken at a Labour Party fundraiser, with Anderson, Derek Hatton and Flanagan’s principal, Paul Flanagan, having a convivial time.  Mr Flanagan is a regular at Labour events in the city. 

However, when the two companies were named at the Unite executive meeting, it was ruled out of order by national Unite chairman, Tony Woodhouse.  Mr Woodhouse, brother of Liverpool councillor General Woodhouse, is very close to both Woodley and McCluskey.  What is going on, I can only speculate, but the last thing Liverpool needs is to be dragged into the union’s mire.