Friday evening saw news break that the Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson had been arrested as part of an investigation into building and development contracts in the city. The news will have shocked, but not entirely surprised, many scousers as general stories of backhanders and dodgy deals have been circulating for some time now.
Of course, Socialist Alternative members, like other scousers are not privy to the details of the investigation, so we can only be general in our comments. We are also mindful that Joe Anderson has not been charged with any offence, let alone convicted. Nevertheless, it does focus the spotlight on property developments and contracting procedures, not just in Liverpool but at councils up and down the country.
The mayor was arrested for bribery and witness intimidation and questioned for six hours before being released. Four other men were arrested alongside the mayor, these included his son and the council’s Assistant Director of Highways and Planning.
Joe Anderson has been happy to implement austerity on behalf of the Tories; latterly alongside Steve Rotherham the Liverpool City Region Mayor (it’s true: we have two cathedrals, two football teams and two mayors!) and he has been praised by the government for his cooperation over Covid restrictions. Joe Anderson has been adept at garnering media coverage, criticising the government cuts loudly one day, then implementing them quietly the next day. The truth is he has always been more concerned about his own position than defending our community. Tony Mulhearn, who played a key role in the council struggles of the 80’s and was truly incorruptible, rightly took offence at the posturings and self-congratulatory mutterings of the mayor when he said, “I’m not New Labour, I’m not Old Labour, I’m Joe Labour”. Perhaps we are beginning to find out exactly what ‘Joe Labour’ stands for.
For more than a year Merseyside Police have been looking into allegations that property planning applications have been fast tracked through the council’s planning process. Their investigation, Operation Aloft, is looking into property developers, consultants, and council officers. The stench of corruption has drifted through the city for some time now. The Chief Executive was arrested in 2017 as part of a different and still ongoing investigation around alleged financial impropriety surrounding the creation of the ‘Liverpool Direct’ initiative. Joe Anderson has been interviewed under caution as part of this investigation. The Director of Regeneration has also been arrested and had some of his finances seized as part of this operation.
Trade unions representing council workers and communities will rightly be concerned at the suspected levels of corruption whilst jobs and services are being cut. We are sure trade unions will be asking questions and be demanding answers as to how the corruption has been allowed to continue. Of course corruption doesn’t just exist in local authorities, and we will take no lessons from any self-righteous Tories, who grease the palms of ‘chums’ with contracts worth £billions.
Liverpool of course is not and will not be an isolated example amongst councils. The ‘Strong Leader’, and mayoral models of local government, remove much of the transparency and accountability that should surround how our money is spent. The outsourcing and commissioning models also encourage and facilitate the opportunity for financial mismanagement and corruption. Operating council services as a business leaves the door open for some of the more murky, but common, business practices to make their presence felt. Council unions will need to take a more proactive stance on these issues, calling for services to be brought back in house, and for trade union oversight of contract and commissioning processes. Fundamentally the method of operating local government needs to change – for a social, council-owned model to predominate, with no more dishing out of valuable contracts.
Of course when individuals are culpable, they must be held to account. We will not speculate on how ‘friendly’ Joe Anderson may be with property developers, but we can say clearly that he is no friend of the working class.