Take action now to regulate property development industry Chancellor urged

The Parliament Residence in the Baltic area where a lot of people seem to have lost a lot of money. We need regulation to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

In a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and the Chair of the Financial Conduct Authority, Charles Randell I have demanded that action be taken to regulate the property development market which he describes as being like, “the Wild West”.

In a letter to them asking them to consider the regulation of various aspects of the property market I said,

“The UK’s reputation as a place to invest has taken a global hit because of property scams which have seen people all over the World lose money in investments where extravagant promises were made and projects abandoned in some cases without a foundation being laid.

I am also copying this to Parliamentarians and asking them to do what they can through an All Party Parliamentary Group or through the Select Committee system to highlight these injustices.

I am ready at any time to assist you in this work should you choose to do as I hope and bring regulation to bear into the this ‘Wild West’ part of the UK’s economy”.

As you know that through what I have done and said on this issue over the past 5 years I believe that the problem has its epicentre in Liverpool and have asked them to regulate this complex industry which many are trying to use for pensions and other long-term investments.

I have also asked MPs and Peers from all Parties to take action through the use of Select Committees and the development of an All-Party Parliamentary Group to take action on behalf of the thousands of people who have lost between £1 and £2 billion and possibly more.

The full letter is attached here:

Charles Randell,

Chair,

Financial Conduct Authority,

12, Endeavour Square,

London E20 1JN

2nd February 2021

Dear Sir,

Re: Investment in properties using property bonds, fractional investment and similar devices.

Attached to this letter please find an article form our local newspaper, the Liverpool Echo, which shows the serious losses made by on investor in Liverpool’s murky property scene. I put Mr Hopkisson in touch with the Echo because I wanted to show the human cost of the investments which have failed so miserably. I could have put hundreds of similar cases before you from people from all over the World who have lost their hard-earned savings because they have entered into a market which they assumed to be operating transparently and lawfully and found quite the reverse.

I don’t know how much has been lost in Liverpool because there are two lots of losses:

Firstly, from people whose block was never completed or part completed. The report attached from the City Council showed that in mid-November there were 39 stalled developments in the City involving up to 7,500 separate apartments. Some of those may be completed most will not.

Secondly, those in blocks that have been part completed or completed where original investors had had their investments scraped off by preferential creditors who have acquired the blocks or in some cases hotels, where the blocks need completing or where debts were so high that new money had to be brought in.

In this latter set of cases, and every block and development is different, the original developer or a developer that acquired the block as preferential creditors are contacting original investors to demand a reduction the value of their completed property to accrue profit to that developer.

In most cases this has meant not only is all or part of the original capital been lost but so has the lucrative guarantees of income which have not been lived up to.

You may think that this is political hyperbole from a local politician but you should be aware of two enquiries into this matter:

Firstly, The Police launched ‘Operation Aloft’ into the work of the regeneration department of the Council and those preferred developers it was working with. So far 12 arrests have been made have been made of politicians, developers, contractors and staff although I would stress that none have yet been charged. This operation is ongoing.

Secondly, a Government Inspection Team led by Max Caller, has been put into the Council on the instructions of The Secretary of State at MHCLG. This inspection is looking in fine detail into the work of the Council’s regeneration department over the past decade.

However, it seems quite likely that a low estimate of the amount of money that has gone missing, been misapplied, lost or wasted would be between £1 billion and £2billion in Liverpool alone.

Clearly, there is interaction between the two enquiries. Liverpool is without a doubt the epicentre of this activity but reports from the Panorama Programme, Granada, BBC North West, Guardian, Times and Daily Mail have shown that this is a problem nationwide.

It has occurred because of a lack of regulation over this work from a number of bodies:

  • Solicitors, recommended by the Developer have acted for both side of the purchase
  • Surveyors have provided artificially high values
  • Estate Agents, especially London based ones, have misled buyers about the Market
  • Developers have moved money from one scheme toa another is a clear Ponzi style set of actions in which the first buyers get something and the last buyers lose the lot!

The Council wittingly or unwittingly have given credence to the market especially in the Far East where Governments such as Singapore and Hong Kong have looked askance at the money lost to their citizens by ‘Liverpool Investments.’

My belief is that as these developments have been sold for investment and in many cases recommended as investments for old age they need to be regulated.

People need to be able to have confidence that when they invest in a development there has been official oversight of the way that the development has been planned and carried out.

So, I am now asking the Financial Conduct Authority to step up to the crease and look urgently into ways these types of trading activities can be regulated. The view pertains in many parts of the world and indeed in this Country that the UK is an honourable place to do business. Regrettably, many people now know differently!

The Government should look I to great detail about the way that false promises about investment opportunities are causing global concern about UK investment generally with different types of problems emerging in parts of central London where property values are declining faster anywhere else in the UK.

I am hoping to persuade MPs and Peers to establish an All Party Parliamentary Group to look at these issues and for the relevant Select Committees to look again at what has happened, especially as the two afore mention investigations come to fruition and begin to give hard facts about what has and is happening in Liverpool and elsewhere.

I would of course be pleased to give further information to you in support of this suggestion.

Thousands of people globally have lost money because of a variety of property-based scams. It is now time to act on what has happened, bring the guilty to justice and to ensure that this type of behaviour cannot be repeated.

I look forward to hearing from you that you intend to take up this issue with the vigour that I believe is necessary.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE

Lib Dem Leader,

Liverpool City Council

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Silence should be golden in Liverpool at the moment

Only time will tell how many cases in connection with activities in Liverpool’s regeneration department will end up here in the Crown Court but please be patient. Lots of things are happening which will come to fruition soon. Remember no-one has yet been charged with anything and enquiries are proceeding.

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.

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Reach PLC survey shows most people support most lockdown measures

Yesterday I got a very interesting email from Reach PLC the owner of the Echo, Mirror and a host of other local and national newspapers. A couple of weeks ago I filled an online survey about lockdown. I assume thousands of others must have done but the report back from Reach PLC did not say how many.

What this survey did show, however, was the huge support from within the UK community for most of the lockdown rules and regulations. Yes, I know these are irksome. I really want to go for a pint and have all my freedoms back just as you do all do. But more important to all that for most people is the knowledge that we can’t have anything like a normal life until we have beaten the virus or at least got it under control.

It is possible that like flu or the common cold we will never beat Covid-19. Perhaps we will have to have an annual Covid vaccine alongside an annual flu jab as we get older. In the short term, however, we can reduce infections now and keep the NHS operative until enough of us have been inoculated to give us wide-scale community protection.

I am proud of my City of Liverpool as we have responded together to the problems. We went for testing in the first mass testing project in the UK. There has been a high level of mask wearing, distance keeping and other basic health precautions like washing out hands. The anti- vaxers have had little traction with local people when they came up with their rumours and said things like, “the vaccines have a microchip in them”.

Our infection rates at 473 per 100,000 population a week are less that half the 1020 which were the levels at its peak. We must not be complacent as there is still a long way to go.

Our City has done its best as a community to look after the food needs of children and those on low pay. It has tried to ensure that people have not been lonely or depressed. Our Council has worked well both with targeting action to specific parts of the City were there were and stubborn rates of infection. The Council also very quickly got grants out to local businesses to give them heart and hope during the lockdowns which have particularly hit hard at the hospitality, leisure and specialist retail sectors.

Any way these are the figures that Reach PLC reported. It was a great effort to do this and I suspect that there was an added benefit from people thinking through some of the issues for the first time. I don’t like all the answers. Although I haven’t and wouldn’t break the law, I would be in a minority on two of the issues!

The responses to REACH

The vast majority of you felt the current lockdown was needed, although 13% did not agree. There was a little less support for shutting schools, with 20% not backing the return to virtual lessons. When it came to exams, 78% said this summer’s tests should be cancelled. 

On other aspects of the lockdown: 

  • 53% disagreed with nurseries staying open, with 33% backing the decision
  • 86% agreed with university students being told to stay put
  • 68% backed an individual being allowed to meet one other person for exercise but 28% disagreed
  • 70% agreed outdoor pools and gyms should shut
  • 65% backed the ban on pubs serving takeaway pints but 31% disagreed
  • 59% disagreed with elite sport continuing, with 33% backing it
  • 74% agreed weddings should only be allowed in exceptional circumstances
  • 74% agreed funerals should continue with up to 30 people
  • 39% backed places of worship being allowed to continue to hold services, but 53% disagreed
  • 60% backed parks and playgrounds staying open and other outdoor attractions shutting, but 36% disagreed
  • When it comes to people who break the rules, 44% thought a £200 fine for a first offence was about right, with 23% saying it was too much and 33% not enough.

What do you think of these questions and how are you adapting to lockdown to have a good life but keeping to the rules?

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Foundations: Established to build 10,000 homes it built just 18!

In 2018 Liverpool submitted plans to build new homes at Ackers Hall Avenue. Foundations who were to run them has been sidelined and, as yet, subsidy has not been found to make the scheme work. If it does work it will take more than 300 years for the Council to deliver Mayor Anderson’s housing promises at the current rate of progress.

Formally established by Liverpool Council in January 2018, Foundations Ltd aimed to deliver 10,000 new homes over the coming decade with a focus on creating properties for the homeless, foster carers, large families, the elderly and people with a disability.

Many people thought that this was an attempt to start to build new Council houses but Mayor Anderson wanted to use the company to rebalance Liverpool’s social housing economy by revolutionising the rent to buy sector.

Speaking about the homes, that he promised to be of good quality and affordable, Mayor Anderson said in Spring 2018: “I’m delighted at the progress that is being made to get Foundations active in the housing market so we can start to change the lives for thousands of families across this city”.

However, the Company is now being quietly sidelined with just 2 directors left, one of whom is leaving the Council next Month and one member of staff working 1 day a week. It has provided just 18 homes on a rent to buy basis. Best estimates are that more than £500,000 has been spent on providing these homes ignoring the capital costs of building or refurbishing them.

Already gone are all the initial Board Directors announced with a fanfare and pictures led by former Cllr Frank Hont. They went last summer with no fanfare. The Notice Board on floor 6 of the Cunard still points the way to the Foundations office – but there’s no-one in them! Amusingly for us the Labour Group were turned out of the space into much more cramped accommodation. Perhaps they will come back!?

If you look at the Company’s accounts at Companies House you will see that that Company has only filed one notice of accounts when it was claimed that this is a dormant company.

That has not stopped extravagant claims being made about housing progress in the City. When Mayor Anderson, and he is still the Mayor, said that he was not seeking re-election as the Mayor he told us that one of the best things he had done was to get almost £800 million of housing debt to the Government written off. That just is not true. Almost 20 years ago I negotiated with the Labour Government the write off of the debts. Without that write off the Housing Associations could not have afforded to take over the housing stock of the Council. The then Labour Government agreed to the write off on the condition that we didn’t reopen the Housing Revenue Account.

That’s a technical way of saying we couldn’t build council houses. This did not just apply to Liverpool – only a handful of council houses were built in 13 years of Labour rule. All the money available to social housing went to housing associations. So, the only reason for asking the Government to write the money off again would be to build council houses. This is an idea that I am all in favour of. So, I asked how many council houses to be let at social rents are currently being built in Liverpool. The answer from the Council is a round one, 0!

I am trying to find out how much this farce has cost and I still don’t know. The published accounts are already running very late and the officers have yet to let me know what has been spent on staff, admin costs, Board costs, company costs and legal costs. I would also be interested to know what has been spent on the PR firm that was hired no doubt after a full and objective tendering process. Given that for at least part of the time the Company had six staff seconded to it and the Chief Executive was at Assistant Director level. I am assuming that £500,000 is a low estimate.

Why has it all gone wrong? I can only guess. Although it was announced with a fanfare it hasn’t even been allowed to close with a whimper. Reports to Cabinet last autumn hinted at the winding up of the Company when it established a strategic housing team but only if you read between the lines.

My guess then is that they couldn’t find a way of making the finances stack up. All social housing needs some element of subsidy. In an established organisation like a council housing department the rent on older, paid for homes goes to pay for new homes which in time become the older homes. This then needs supplementing by grants usually from the national government and by carefully costed borrowing.

At least that was the way and is still partly the way for housing associations. It was then broken by Thatcher’s Right to Buy which was slavishly followed by the Blair and Government Governments who continued with exactly the same restrictions of discounts to purchasers and the use of capital receipts from sales which they inherited from the Tories.

In fact, there are some plans proceeding in Denford Road in the Yew Tree area. If this does proceed the Council will get 75 homes but because of the subsidy needed no decision has yet been made on the split between rent to buy, affordable rent, (80% of market rent) and social rent (60% of market rent). No source for this subsidy has yet been agreed. It is entirely possible therefore that this scheme will not proceed. If it does go ahead with no other sites being processed it would take 300 years at the current rate of building to meet Mayor Anderson’s target of 10,000 properties!!

So, these are not social homes. Almost by definition they will be homes for people had a good enough earnings potential so that the end of 5 years, they could get a mortgage but who didn’t have enough money for a deposit. So, it appears that the only way that a subsidy will be provided would be from the hard-pressed taxpayers of Liverpool. Helping relatively well-off people by charging higher Council tax to the very poor doesn’t seem fair to me.

So, like the refurbishment of St Johns Market, investment in consultants over the possibility of completely funding Everton’s move which was never going to happen, and a range of ‘Invest to Gain’ schemes we have spent a lot of money achieving very, very little. Perhaps that’s why Joe Anderson’s political epitaph should be ‘talked big, delivered small!’

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Liverpool Labour never fail to underwhelm!!

Yesterday I led the Lib Dem charge at the Council Meeting in Liverpool. We now know that it’s business as usual for Liverpool Labour Party. They rejected all three requests for sensible change in the way the Council does business that we asked for.

Yesterday’s Council meeting was one in which Liverpool’s rag, tag and bobtail group of Labour Councillors never failed to underwhelm.

On three occasions they totally failed to rise to the challenges faced by a Council which is absolutely the best in the Country in the league table for arrests! In 4 years, 16 arrests have been made in connections with Council contracts and developments in the City. This is absolutely unprecedented. I can think of no time in the 54 years that I have been connected with local politics there has ever before been the arrest of a political head of the Council as there has been of the Labour Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson.

This has led to systemic failure across the services of the Council. Shady and lost investments by the Council. £billions lost by shady developments. A poor education service which is the worst of any core city in the Council. Invest to save projects that became invest to lose. I could go on.

All this, of course, means that we have a Government Inspection Team in the City. We are the only Council in the Country with this unenviable status. The last two councils were Northamptonshire and Nottingham, where the Councils were teetering on the brink of insolvency. That is not the situation in Liverpool. We’re in the dock for the way we have conducted the regeneration, or should we say degeneration, in the City.

Yesterday Liberal Democrats moved three major items of debate written in such a way that they were none-partisan, attacked no-one but would have moved the Council and therefore Liverpool forward. Labour voted against all of them.

Firstly, we moved an amendment that would have brought some basic and common-sense practices into the council. It should be absolutely clear to everyone that politicians and officers should not have private 1:1 meetings with developers and contractors. We wanted to see proper scrutiny of all decisions taken. We wanted to see Cllrs who are clearly unskilled received training support so that they can do their job properly. Common sense to your and me.

Rejected by Labour whose motion tried to convince us that everything was already being done to correct this situation. So why are the Inspectors in Wendy Simon?

Secondly, we moved a motion asking for the urgent development of a task force to deal what has clearly become a major problem – the future of the City Centre. It is absolutely clear that all major City and Town Centres will be subject to major change. More office workers will work from home for all or part of the week.

That means we have to consider what to do with those offices. Less workers in the City Centre means less purchasing power and less shoppers. Retail will also be affected by changes in the way we shop. People have more interest in on-line shopping for ever. So, what are we going to do with all those retail outlets?

We believe that urgent action is needed so we asked for it. We also suggested that these moves might benefit District Centres like Woolton Village, Allerton Road and centres in Childwall, Allerton, Hunts Cross and Aigburth.

Labour’s response was to say that this organisation is doing this and that organisation is doing that. A total mumble jumble of dithering with no accountability back to the people of Liverpool. At the same time of course, they are trying to extort rents and service charges from the traders in St John’s Market based on a 2016 footfall.

Lastly, we returned once again to the question of the Mayoralty. My email inbox and Twitter feeds are full of people demanding change. We agree but Labour didn’t. Lib Dems argued that many of the problems that the Council is facing are caused by the way we run ourselves. All power is concentrated in one pair of hands and there is little scrutiny of decisions that are made by a Mayor dominated Cabinet and Set of Scrutiny Chairs.

We wanted consultation now to ensure that there would be no wasteful election for a City Mayor in May. Labour kicked this into the long grass with an amendment that there will be consultation but in September. This means that there will an Elected Mayor in place until May 2024. That is not what the people of Liverpool want but perhaps there too many Labour snouts in the trough to expect them to want to create a better system.

So, what we need is more Lib Dem Councillors! If Labour don’t want a strong and well led council that conducts its business in an open and transparent way, the Lib Dems do. Every vote that we get, every extra Councillor that we get means that your voice will be heard more in the council chamber and that a corrupt Labour Party can be held more accountable.

A lot of people challenge me to ask me why the Lib Dems don’t do more to take on Labour and all the corrupt practices. The fact is that there is only so much that 10 Lib Dem Cllrs can do. If everyone who moaned about Liverpool Labour on Twitter or Facebook actually spent an hour a week working with the Lib Dems, we could quickly sweep Labour from power.

That’s my challenge to you. Stop moaning and do something. Join us or become a supporter on our website http://www.liverlibdems.org.uk.

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Liverpool Labour sell the City short with pathetic response to the current political situation

Tonight’s Council Meetings will not be taking place in the Town but, apart from a small number of us who will be in a safe space in the Cunard, will be conducted virtually.. Cllr Makinson and I will be moving an amendment which should be supported by all Parties to recognise the problems of the Council and do something about them

Liberal Democrats will move an amendment to a motion by the acting Mayor at tonight’s Council Meeting describing it as a weedy and insignificant response from a Council in crisis.

The amendment suggests that the Council must recognise the difficult situation in which it finds itself with 15 arrests being made in 4 years of 14 people who are or have been staff of the Council associated with procurement or development activities of the Council or are politicians within the Council.

It says that the Council should recognise that this unenviable record means that Liverpool’s reputation has been the subject of huge adverse commentary and criticism in media globally, nationally and locally and that this criticism is in danger of damaging public and private investment in the City.

It goes on to suggest a series of actions which Lib Dems believe would improve Liverpool’s standing and the way that it does business. These include:

  • A review of all scrutiny processes
  • A review of all standing order and policy documents relating to development and contracting by an outside Party.
  • A ban on either politicians or officers holding one to one meetings with potential contractors or developers
  • Providing the public diary of all cabinet Members and keeping a contemporaneous record of all meetings held by a council officer
  • Mentoring support for all leading councillors and the political groups on the Council.

Cllr Kemp, who is the longest serving City Councillors says, “we have a very weak council and the way that Liverpool has failed to take up loads of free training and support from the Local Government Association and other bodies is one of the reasons for the weakness. As a Council we must learn from the best councils and up our game. To do that we need to make sure that Council procedures are strong and that they have been externally recognised as being strong. We can then move forward with Councillor training to build on a firm base of transparency and openness”.

Attached below is the amendment which will be moved as an addendum at the end of Cllr Simon’s motion.

Cllr Kemp can be contacted on 07885 626913

11. Fairness, Equality, Integrity and Transparency in Liverpool City Council by Councillor Wendy Simon

Amendment by Cllr Richard Kemp and Cllr Andrew Makinson

However, Council recognises the difficult situation in which it finds itself with 15 arrests being made in 4 years of 14 people who are or have been staff of the Council associated with procurement or development activities of the Council or are politicians within the Council.

It recognises that this unenviable record means that Liverpool’s reputation has been the subject of huge adverse commentary and criticism in media globally, nationally and locally and that this criticism is in danger of damaging public and private investment in the City.

It believes that words are not enough and that the Council agrees the following actions:

  1. To immediately secure external support to review all its procurement and contractual standing orders and its internal procedures related to the sale of land and the signing of contracts with the private sector.
  2. To review its Member and Officer codes of Conduct to make absolutely clear whatever the role being followed by the councillor or officer the restrictions on them in engaging with the private sector.
  3. That details of the diaries of The Mayor and Cabinet Members whilst on their official duties should be made available on the Council’s website.
  4. The immediate banning of any meetings or discussions by politicians with developers or potential investors in the City or suppliers of services to the Council or potential companies into which the Council might make an investment unless those meetings are properly established by the Council and supported by officers being present.
  5. That contemporaneous notes be made and recorded by officers of any such meeting held by the Mayor and members of the Cabinet and that these should be available for any enquiry made about the contacts and conversations that ensued.
  6. The development of protocols and training for Councillors to enable them to properly relate to planning applications and those that submit them within their wards.
  7. That  mentoring support be requested from the LGA for all leading members of the controlling group and opposition groups and their respective Parties to improve the levels of knowledge of Liverpool members which are often confined to knowledge only of how Liverpool does business, and opportunity be given to observe other councils in action and work with them on the development of good practice in the City.
  8. That the Centre for Scrutiny or a Peer Challenge Team of the LGA be asked to review the make up and terms of responsibility of the Council’s Select Committees and help the Council develop select committees as a place of responsible challenge and the developers of good policies and programmes for the Council. In particular to examine the role of the Audit & Governance Committee and Companies Committee in examining financial and audit work of the Council
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Lib Dems call for May elections to be deferred

This is what an election count normally looks like. We would have to make major changes to the ways in which the Parties and the Council operate to make a May election safe..

Liverpool’s Liberal Democrats have written to the Home Secretary asking for a two-month deferment of the elections due on 6 May to the first Thursday in July instead.

In my letter I said “to have the elections on the current date would make them unsafe and liable to fail to reflect the views of the population. Delaying them for 2 months, subject to any other problem that might arise in the medium term, will make them safe and with a good level of participation.

The problem will start in March when each Party will have to make more than 300 house calls to get necessary forms filled in. In some cases, people will be asked to fill in 4 sets of forms. This will inevitably mean close contact inside people’s homes”.

Liverpool Lib Dems have currently voluntarily stopped all external campaigning although there are some external things that we could clearly do under the Government’s regulations. Things would be allowed because we are a voluntary body and can take exercise in our locality which are two specific exemptions under the Government’s regulations. We choose not to do this at the current time because although some things would be safe, we would not be sending out a clear message about staying at home to the communities that we serve.

However, there is no way that we could contemplate the door to door conversations that we believe are a vital part of democracy. We wouldn’t want to do it and we certainly would not be well received. We believe that these elections are the most important local elections in Liverpool for many years. With 15 arrests in 4 years of people in or around the Council and Government Inspectors in and about to make mandatory recommendations we believe that politicians should be on the doorstep and in public meetings able to answer the many questions that we know people have. Such actions will eb totally impossible ina May election.

There will also be huge problems for the Council. The polling stations will clog up. Filling in four ballots with inevitable queries about which ballot to put where will slow down the process. Not all our current polling stations can be made Covid-secure and we are not clear how social distancing and regular cleansing would work between voters and between voters and staff. We know that the Council is undertaking a Covid based risk assessment of polling stations but some just cannot be made safe.

Many will choose to stay away and no matter what we do many voters and polling and counting staff would be put at risk. The turnout will be down at an election at which we need a huge turnout to accurately pronounce judgement on the politicians of our City.

What we are suggesting is not a political point but a health point. Politically we don’t want a delay because all the signs are that we will get an increased vote and more councillors elected. That will mean that we will be able to hold the Labour Party to account in a more comprehensive fashion. In the meantime, the Council can begin the process of carrying out the instructions that will come from the Government’s skilled inspectors.

We want an early election but it should only take place when it can also be a safe election. By July, unless things go badly wrong with vaccination controls, we should be able to have a proper election and the people of our City will be able to give a full response to the mess that their Council is in.

Letter to Priti Patel in full:

Rt Hon Priti Patel,

Home Secretary,

London

By email

18th January 2021

Dear Ms Patel,

Here in Liverpool the Liberal Democrats are very keen to see that the local and sub-regional elections deferred last May are held as soon as possible. Every voter in Liverpool will be able to vote 4 times for a councillor, a City Mayor, a Liverpool City Region Mayor and a Merseyside Elected Police Commissioner. We want to expand our team of Lib Dem Cllrs and are confident that we would have done so last year and will be able to do so this year.

However, we are also concerned that elections should be safe and accurately reflect the wishes of the electorate. We doubt that this can happen if the elections take place on May 6 as planned. Although the Country will be well on with the vaccination process by then the process starts much sooner.

Every Party in Liverpool will have to knock on 300+ doors to get our nomination and consent forms filled in. These are usually done inside the house because they are complicated and, in some cases, will be asking people to sign four forms. Given the number of candidates in Liverpool across all Parties and independents this means up to 1,500 house visits well before the vaccination has a full reach and especially a full reach with the second dose.

Liverpool Lib Dems have currently voluntarily stopped all external campaigning although there are some external things that we could clearly do under the Government’s regulations.

However, there is no way that we could contemplate the door to door conversations that we believe are a vital part of democracy. We wouldn’t want to do it and we certainly would not be well received.

The polling stations will clog up. Filling in four ballots with inevitable queries about which ballot to put where will slow down the process. Not all our polling stations can be made Covid-secure and we are not clear how social distancing and regular cleansing would work between voters and between voters and staff. Many will choose to stay away and no matter what we do would put voters and polling and counting staff would be put at risk.

We have a simple solution. Delay the elections for two months so that they take place on the first Thursday in July. This would mean that the vaccination programme would have reached into the vast majority of the adult community. Warm nights would enable us to deliver and door knock safely providing suitable protocols were put in place by the political parties.

To have the elections on the current date would make them unsafe and liable to fail to reflect the views of the population. Delaying them for 2 months, subject to any other problem that might arise in the medium term, will make them safe and with a good level of participation.

I realise that your probably don’t really care about in elections in Liverpool where the Tory Party just doesn’t exist in any meaningful way. However, we think that our call here for a deferment should happen because the impact that the virus will have on all elections in England.

My colleagues and I would be pleased to discuss this matter with your staff at any time.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kemp sig

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE

Lib Dem Leader,

Liverpool City Council

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The stalled developments in Liverpool that will cost £billions to put right

Happily Norfolk Street was completed after it stalled for a year or so. There are now 39 developments in Liverpool that may never be completed and hundreds of £millions may be lost from unfortunate investors.

In September last year I called for a task force to be established within the Council to look at the size and complexity of the stalled development scene in Liverpool. I also asked for a report under the ‘Councillor’s Right to Know’ about these stalled developments. That task force was set up and I have just received an edited version of the report it has produced. The edits arise because many of the facts within the main report are clearly commercially confidential. Making them public would make tackling the problems even harder.

If you had asked me 6 months ago how many sites there were I would have said 16 or 17, but the report compiled by the Task Force working throughout the Autumn has indicated that there are up to 39 stalled sites in the City Centre and immediately adjacent to it and that the solution to dealing with them will be complex and involve a range of national and local agencies in addition to the Combined Authority, City Council and the private sector. In total this probably means between 5,000 and 7,000 units of accommodation which are part completed and which have been sold with guaranteed returns to investors looking for a high rate of return on their investments.

I am pleased that the Council is clearly getting to grips with 10 years of problems within its regeneration department and that the new regime and methods introduced by the Chief Executive are both showing the problem’s extent but also beginning to search out solutions for the derelict sites which are littering our City Centre and the areas immediately adjacent.

When I asked for this report to be produced, I had no idea that the scale of the problem was a great as is revealed by this work. The problems of some of them such as the Rise development and the Paramount development on Lime Street are well known but the fact that the Paramount site has now been half completed for 4.5 years indicates just how difficult the problem is to deal with.

This is particularly true of sites built using the fractional investment model where there is now doubt about who owns what. On one development the individual investors have taken out more than 200 individual charges against an incomplete building which might, in practice, have no value. In others there may be a private sector solution with a simpler debt structure whereby administrators can seek a take over of assets and a disposal to a competent developer. Dealing with this will be a tremendously complex legal and financial task which may well take years.

In either case, I cannot see how on most sites the private sector can get there money back. In some cases, there is a little money in the hands of administrators but if there had been enough money to finish the sites they would have been finished. In other cases, large amounts or work needs doing and all the money has been used up or is just missing.

That means that in the vast majority of cases there is clearly going to be public sector money needed to either finish off or demolish half completed buildings and remediate the land for sale. We cannot yet begin to put a price on this but it will be huge, probably £1 billion+ and it is right that the Council keeps the Government fully informed of the progress being made because the Council clearly has not got all the cash required.

The Council is having to find money in the short term to pay for a semi-permanent team to pursue these issues on a site by site basis. It is applying to the Liverpool Combined Authority for the cash for this short to medium term work. Most sites will need structural reports to indicate what is saveable; legal reports which indicate what the current ownership structures are. Then financial reports will need to be produced which indicate who owns what and what assets there are available. Only then can a way forward be found for these sites. It is likely that some of these sites will take years to sort out others might be dealt with quickly with the backing of the Council.

Where will the money come from? The Council has no spare cash although in some cases it may be possible to invest in these sites if the eventual quality will meet the quality and type that the Council wants to see developed.  Basically, we don’t need more one bed apartments or student pods. We need family accommodation some of which could be in blocks but most of which needs to be provided at a lower level than a tower.

In addition, there are numerous other sites where litigation is in play on developed sites where there are physical problems, such as Fox Street, or other sites where the developers are in dispute with investors about a failure to deliver promised returns.

I was contacted recently by an investor from a small development in Liverpool 18. In this case although the retail units on the ground floor are occupied and paying rent to the developer none of the student rooms have been let since the Council closed them 3 years ago on safety grounds. Investors have received no payment for 3 years and the whole project is now in administration. This site is not a stalled development

At least now the Council is acknowledging the scale of the problem but it will take a lot of time and money to build out, or demolish for more appropriate family development, some of these stalled sites. I know that a lot of you want to see action and indeed, despite the fact that I have been battling these developments and seeking answers for 6 years, some think that I have been dragging my heels on the issues.

I feel however, that we are beginning to bottom this out and that we need to proceed cautiously rather than speedily. If money has been taken illegally, I want people to be brought to justice. If money has been used badly, I want those people never again to be able to run companies that fleece people. If investors money can be saved in all or part by patient negotiation, I want it to be saved. If we can get money from the Government or the private sector because we methodically prepare the ground for receiving such money, I want to be patient.

As citizens we should never forget and never forgive the problems that have been caused to so many small investors all over the world who have been fleeced in our City. Nor should we forget the role of the Council in allowing to happen and in many cases encouraging to happen developments that were at best reckless and at worst totally fraudulent. What is certain is that this is a set of actions that will weigh the City down for many years to come and that those who allowed it to happen must pay an electoral price.

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Ethical investment – greenwash or something that has real meaning

You might wonder how a Company which is committed to disinvestment from fossil fuels can invest in a coal burning power plant like this. But they are doing!

One of the things that I do that occupies a lot of my time but which I talk about rarely is to be the chair of LAMIT. This is the short version of the Local Authority Mutual Investment Trust. This is basically a series of funds which enables local authorities to effectively and safely invest in funds for the short, medium and long term.

Those funds are managed for us by a ‘City’ Company called CCLA. This in turn stands for Churches, Charities and Local Authorities. In other words, they manage funds for the various none-profit making sectors in the UK and currently have about £11 billion of funds in our control. This sounds a lot but is relatively small within the ‘City’ of London where some funds have £trillions invested.

Our investment funds are directed by Boards which are composed of people from the respective sectors. In the case of Councils 8 of the 12 directors are nominated by the UK’s 4 LGAs and the remaining Board members have direct local government experience. When we set investment aims, we set them in ways that are consistent with what we know to be the ethical requirements of the LGAs who in turn understand the requirements of their member councils.

Our Church funds are largely held for the Church of England where the Board is guided by active partnership with the Church’s own fund managers. We are about to launch a fund for the Catholic Church which is based on extensive discussion with the UK’s Catholic Bishops and their advisers.

Our ownership structure means that we, and CCLA who act for us, take ethical investment seriously. It is the very cause of our existence and is the central tenet of the way that we do business.

I have been delighted recently that more and more people that I talk are talking to me about how they want their money to properly invested. They don’t want to invest in companies that despoil the environment, who invest in cheap or slave labour; who don’t take women’s and labour rights as a part of their work or who are exploitative in other ways. You might think that this has nothing to do with you because you are not an investor. I bet you are! Anyone who pays into a private pension or many public sector pensions like council ones, are effectively share or bond holders because that’s where your money is invested until you need it.

The big pension and insurance companies are aware of these conversations and are increasingly marketing their products as having an ethical framework and basis. The question is, “do they really mean it or is it just a marketing ploy?”

BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, holds investments worth $85bn in coal companies, a year after it promised to sell most of its shares in producers of the fossil fuel.

A loophole in the asset manager’s policy means it is still allowed to hold shares in companies that earn less than a quarter of their revenues from coal, meaning it has held on to shares or bonds from some of the world’s biggest coalminers and polluters. Those companies included the Indian conglomerate Adani, the UK-listed commodities companies BHP and Glencore, and the German energy company RWE, according to research by Reclaim Finance and Urgewald, two campaign groups.

Coal production is seen as one of the dirtiest ways of generating power, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculated that coal-fired power generation would have to be all but eliminated by 2050 to prevent global heating of more than 1.5°C.

Investors have gradually taken note, and BlackRock’s coal divestment pledge, first made in January 2020, was hailed by activists as a victory. Environmental groups hoped that other asset managers would follow the lead of BlackRock, which managed assets worth $7.8tn (£5.7tn) at the end of September.

The campaigners who carried out the latest research have now called for the CEO of BlackRock, Larry Fink, to divest fully from coal, including from its $24bn in assets in companies planning to expand coal production, such as Japan’s Sumitomo and Korea’s Kepco.

“One year on, it’s hard to see Larry Fink’s sustainability commitment as anything other than greenwashing,” said Lara Cuvelier, a campaigner at Reclaim Finance. “If he really wants BlackRock to be a climate leader instead of a climate pariah, he needs to start aligning green words with green deeds, and direct BlackRock’s awesome financial power towards a sustainable future. After the hottest year on record, the bare minimum for BlackRock is to get out of coal once and for all.”

BlackRock said it has completely divested all companies with more than a quarter of thermal coal revenues from active investment strategies, and that it offers clients the choice of excluding coal in its index products, which track lists of companies such as London’s FTSE 100.

Just compare that with the practical actions of CCLA.

It is working extensively not only in its own work but by leading actions on behalf of much bigger investment firms to deal with issues ranging from modern slavery to the mental health of employees. This work on mental health started in 2019 but has really come to the fore in the pandemic circumstances within which firms have been operating for the past year. The following part of this blog has been written for an investment forum, Room 101, by one of CCLAs ethical leads, Amy Brown

The development of CCLA’s mental health benchmark

We are living through a public health emergency in more ways than one. Physical health and safety may be consuming current public discourse, but we are also facing an unprecedented mental health crisis.

Pre-pandemic research showed that poor mental health costs the government between £24bn and £27bn per year. That was before Covid-19. Government-enforced lockdowns, rigorous social distancing measures and strict quarantine rules have resulted in a new era of unique psychological distress. A report by Simetrica-Jacobs and the London School of Economics estimates the daily wellbeing cost to adults during this time at £2.25bn. Or £43 per adult per day.

So many of us are now under a cloud as we struggle through the pandemic. Companies need to be aware of the problems faced by their staff.

Why is this relevant to investors?

As investors, we want the companies in which we invest to be successful. Poor mental health in the workplace costs employers in the private sector an average of £1,652 per employee. This is for every employee. Sickness absence, combined with “presenteeism”, staff turnover, and “leaveism” all contribute.

We believe that poor mental health represents an obstacle to corporate success. Put simply, employers are losing billions of pounds because employees are less productive, off sick or leaving work all together.

What is the opportunity?

Local authorities play a key remedial role in supporting those with poor mental health in their communities. They also have a duty to safeguard the mental wellbeing of their own two million-strong workforce. Yet there is a third avenue—frequently forgotten—that can help to address the problem from the ground.

As investors, with circa £46bn collectively, local authorities have an opportunity to use their influence as stakeholders to improve the way that businesses approach the health of their people.

Why take this opportunity? Because as guardians of public money, they have a moral and economic duty to push for positive change. Because irrespective of its cause, the workplace is a setting that can assist in the identification of mental illness and facilitation of proper treatment. Because creating a positive environment for mental health costs less than failing to do so: the average return to employers for every £1 spent is £5.

CCLA’s mental health engagement work

We began our mental health programme in February 2019. Using the recommendations set out by the government commissioned Thriving at work report, and the input of an advisory committee, we created a set of best-practice measures for companies to address. On discussing these with some of our investee companies, it quickly became clear that we were the only investors asking questions about workplace wellbeing.

In April 2020, in the thick of the first Covid-19 outbreak, we built a coalition of investors with £2.2trn in assets under management and wrote on their behalf to the CEO of every FTSE 100 company. The letter urged these 100 leaders to protect the mental health of their 4.7 million employees during the pandemic.

The value of positive influence

Of the 100 companies targeted, 74 responded. We were encouraged in many ways; though there was little commonality in approach, insufficient monitoring, and a lack of commitment by senior leaders. Our work confirmed our belief that poor mental health is a systemic—rather than company-specific— problem. It requires greater pressure from stakeholders.

In response, we are building the CCLA Corporate Mental Health Benchmark. The benchmark will act as a framework for investors to assess how companies compare on safeguarding the wellbeing of their workforce. By introducing a new element of competition, it will also incentivise companies to address poor workplace mental health head on.

CCLA would love to hear from you

We are working in partnership with Chronos Sustainability in building the benchmark and are delighted to have the support of mental health charity, Mind, and Lord Dennis Stevenson as we take our next steps.

We are running a public consultation into the design and scope of the benchmark, which will be live until the end of January 2021. If you would like to contribute, or for more information, please visit CCLA.

My Plea to you!

Just to make clear I don’t get paid for my work with CCLA which I do on behalf of the LGA. So when I ask you to consider the following two things I won’t be getting a commission if you follow the first piece of advice!!

Firstly, if you are someone who works within the Church, Charity or local authority sectors please find out whether or not your organisation is rising to the investment challenges of good ethical investment. Does it really mean it – is it as good as probing the organisations it invests with a s CCLA is. Of course, the next question has to be:

Secondly, is your organisation invested within CCLA already and if not why not. This is particularly true for this within the Catholic Church whose funds will be launched in April.

On top of these two there is a further question for us as individuals. Are the bits of money that we have for savings and pensions doing the right things for us and the communities we live in. The little bit of cash that Erica and I have is kept with the Lodge Lane Credit Union. We make a decent return on it by way of dividend but just as importantly for us that money is lent to people in deprived parts of Liverpool as easily accessible and relatively cheap loans which release them from the fear of loan sharks and spivs.

Please note that this blog is a personal one and all thoughts in it, unless attributed to someone else, are my own and not necessarily those of LAMIT or CCLA.

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Keir Starmer’s Labour Party rats out on European ideals

Keir Starmer has become Johnson’s little helper in delivering a dreadful Brexit for the British people despite what his Party said at the last election and what he said when he was looking for votes in the Labour leadership contest

I wasn’t surprised but I was upset to hear Keir Starmer break with Labour’s General Election manifesto commitments and indeed the motions passed by the Labour Conference regarding Europe.

Keir Starmer has abandoned the commitment of free movement in the EU, a promise he made to Labour members during the party’s leadership contest. He said that Labour had to be honest with the public and added that if it won the next general election a major renegotiation of the Brexit treaty would not be possible.

When he was standing for the Labour leadership, Starmer had said that he would “defend free movement” as the UK left the EU. Back in 2019, he had also said that he would bring back free movement of EU citizens in the UK. However, now Starmer has ruled out the sort of extensive renegotiation of the Brexit that would be required to restore free movement. 

When speaking to BBC, Starmer said he doesn’t think there’s scope for major renegotiation. He said that after four years, the UK has arrived at a treaty and now they’ve got to make that deal work. He added that there were, however, aspects of the agreement that might be improved on, including how it covered the creative industries and what it did for the service sector, which he said had largely been left out. 

The Labour leader said that it was not realistic to pretend that the EU would want to negotiate a new Brexit agreement with the UK. He said that whether his party members like it or not, it is going to be the treaty that an incoming Labour government inherits and has to make work. It is worth noting that free movement became an issue in the leadership campaign after the party conference backed the principle in autumn 2019. The commitment was linked to defending migrants’ rights, but it also contradicted previous party comments saying free movements would end if the UK left the EU. 

I disagree with Starmer on this matter. There are many in Europe who would welcome back the UK if we came with open minds and a willingness to engage properly with the EU’s principles and commitments.

I wasn’t surprised by Starmer’s statements because Labour has always been two faced about Europe. Corbyn and his clique clearly saw it as a capitalist conspiracy conspiring to bring down workers wages and condition. In the real world however, it did just the opposite. It began to bring decent worker’s rights to the workers of the UK and gave protection around a host of environmental and health and safety concerns.

Labour refused to join with the other pro-Europe Parties such as the Lib Dems and the Greens in a united Remain campaign at the referendum. Indeed, Corbyn went on holiday during a crucial week long period of campaigning. On more than 20 occasions since 2016 when they could have made a stand and in some cases brought the Government down on EU issues alongside the Lib Dems, Nationalists and Tory dissidents they sat on their hands allowed retrograde EU measures through.

I can think of no good reason for Starmer ignoring his own and his Party’s pledges at this time. Everyone is beginning to see the effects of this reckless Brexit. Northern Ireland particularly is facing shortages of basic supplies. After an initial build-up of stock in a whole range of activities the increased and uncertain problems of bureaucracy is preventing everything from car components to fresh food from getting through.

Twitter and radio call shows are full of complaints from people who have found that the cost of importing and exporting to and from continental Europe has doubled or trebled delivery charges to make some elements of trade unsustainable even though there is no duty payable.

Cheese makers and fishing folk have found that despite the no tariffs of the agreement a whole range of regulations, many of them almost incomprehensible, have prevented them making cost effective deliveries of products not just to continental Europe but to the rest of the world as well.

Now is the time to put that awareness to god effect and recruit people to the cause of internationalism. Instead Starmer does a ‘Grand old Duke of York’ impersonation and, having marched his troops to the top of the hill has marched them down again. He and the majority of his Party voted for Brexit on 30 December. Now they must own Brexit alongside their Tory mates.

During the period between the referendum and last December I was pleased to go to meeting after meeting and speak alongside Labour people like Theresa Griffin, Maria Eagle, Louise Ellman, Cllr Nick Small and many more. I know that people like Cllr Paul Brant feel as passionately about Erasmus, the free movement of Labour and the opportunities and benefits of European Union membership as I do.

What they will do about it is up to them. Will they work within their Party to try and change what is a fundamental movement away from a basic Labour principle or will they just roll over?

I know what I and my Party will do. At our Conference last September, we overwhelmingly backed a Rejoin motion. Because our policy is made by our Party members that is what we will do, say and campaign for. I expect that ‘Rejoin’ will be part of our manifesto whenever the next General Election is held.

In Liverpool, Lib Dems will continue to ensure that we examine and support the relationships between the City and Europe in any way possible. We know and will always remember that we are a major European City. We are now outside the EU but would do much better inside it. That is a fact that more and more people are beginning to see.

If we have to take on the Liverpool Labour Party as well as Starmer’s Tory mates to do that – so be it!

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