I know that many people, including me, are getting frustrated at the length of time enquiries into the work of Liverpool’s regeneration department are taking at the moment. I get loads of emails almost every day telling me of new things to be investigated and telling me I should be doing more publicly to expose what has happened.
My answer to those understandable requests is to urge patience. Liverpool Council is unique at the moment – in fact its unique in modern times – in having two enquiries going onto into what politicians and officers have done in the past as well as the present.
Ongoing now since the summer of 2019 is the police investigation. This investigation is huge going back over thousands of transactions, thousands of meetings and looking at things some of which are on the public record and some of which are not but should be. There have already been 12 arrests of 11 people in connections with this. I strongly suspect that there are more to come.
At the same time the Government Inspection team are in the Cunard. Max Caller is a seasoned professional and he leads a team which is well used to examining bad practice inside councils. It was Max and his team who got to the bottom of crises in both Northamptonshire and Nottingham councils.
Max and his team have some thing that the Police don’t have, and this is not a criticism. They understand how local government works. I have done very similar work to this when I was an Inspector for the Audit Commission. I joined teams in some of the most problematic councils in the Country and made proposals for change. However, I was never in a team that worked alongside the Police who were looking at criminal activities.
I can only assume that there is some element of cooperation between these two investigations. If I had been up to shady practice within the Council either as a politician or an officer, I would be very worried about this. This investigation team are seeing huge numbers of people and are looking at mountains of documents. The ability of Max Caller to absorb information is legendary. I suspect that this research will add hugely to the efforts of the Police.
There is an end game to all this. We know that the results of the Caller investigation will be made public by the end of March. Unlike other reports and reviews this will not be discussed with the Council but issued publicly as a report to the Secretary of State with the Council being copied into it. I strongly suspect that the team will insist on an ongoing presence within the Council. This, on the officer side, will largely be to supplement and support the good work started by the Chief Executive.
On the officer side this will be more problematical. At the last Council meeting I suggested some changes to our scrutiny, performance management and role and actions of councillors. Labour voted them down in favour of an anodyne motion which basically went on in Liverpool Labour’s typical la-la land fashion to say that every was either good or being done. I warned at the Council meeting that if they did not vote for the Lib Dem motion and its changes then it would end up dealing with them at the Annual Meeting of the Council.
Change is on its way and Labour will be forced kicking and screaming into it. Incidentally, if I was a Labour Member in Liverpool, I would think very carefully of who might be in the sights of the Inspector or the Police in this set of investigations. It would be tragic for Liverpool to have an election for a Mayor and then a bye-election for another one soon after!
Alongside all this the Council is going through its own processes of looking at the culpability of staff and there will perhaps be some action on this front relatively soon.
My role in this is threefold. Firstly, to provide information into the two investigations and add to their efforts. You might have seen a big article in the Echo recently about some of the people affected by the Fractional Investment scam. That article happened because I introduced the people concerned to Liam Thorp. It is vital at the moment that we hear the human story because what has happened in Liverpool are not victimless crimes but crimes in which people have lost their savings and the money they were keeping back for a pension.
Secondly, I am also working with parliamentarians of both the Commons and Lords to try and get national action on the property scams which have taken place here. We might not be able to get compensation for what has gone wrong but we might be able to ensure that those who indulge in their reckless development activity are in future regulated and exposed.
Lastly, I am continuing to push new information into the investigations. I have been able to look at a number of things recently in terms of the investment practices of the Council and have been able to take action myself and get the actions looked at by people who have powers that I don’t.
But I am being very, very careful about what I say publicly. If some things are made too public at the moment it could affect not only the investigations with people being able to try and cover things up but could well affect future trials. If you want justice to be done then the old saying, “least said, soonest mended” comes to mind.
I have no doubt that my patience and yours will soon be rewarded. Since 2015 Lib Dems have bashed away at the fractional investment scandal whilst our Labour led Council did nothing. We shone a light at the ‘invest to save projects’ which became ‘invest to lose projects’. We championed those that were losing out because of poor Labour thinking like the market traders at St John’s Market and the carers and residents of Brushwood and Millvina Homes.
But we can wait just a little longer because justice will soon be done, our work will be exonerated, bad practices will be exposed and changed and a proper judicial process will take place to either clear or convict people who currently have been arrested but not charged.