Frankly Speaking


First published in Private Eye Magazine, 7/03/13, Issue 1335

Frankly Speaking

Liverpool Waters, a conceptual visualisation. Photo: Rust Studios


CRONYISM is alive and well on Murkeyside, where the city’s leaders are not that bothered about the prospect of Liverpool losing its World Heritage Site status as long as a gigantic riverside tower blocks, flats ‘n’ car parks scheme gets the go-ahead.

Unesco put the city on its World Heritage in Danger list after the council gave Peel Holdings’ vast £5.5bn Liverpool Waters docklands project, which would change the city’s skyline forever, outline planning permission last year. Communities secretary Eric Pickles is taking his time deciding whether there should be a public inquiry.

Liverpool’s bloated regeneration sector will soon be consolidated into a single Mayoral Development Corporation (MDC), doing the bidding of elected Labour mayor Joe Anderson, to oversee the delivery of Peel’s scheme. The board will include Robert Hough, a director of, er, Peel Holdings, Sir Howard Newby, vice-chancellor of Liverpool University, and rag trade millionaire David Wade-Smith, an unelected cabinet member for business. Eye readers may remember Newby’s tenure as VC of the University of the West of England, where he came under fire after contracts went to a private consultancy firm, Carter & Carter, of which he was a non-executive director (Eye 1185).(1, 2)

Frankly Speaking

Professor Sir Howard Newby. Photo: Academy of Social Sciences

Wade-Smith is chairman of Downtown Liverpool in Business (DLiB), a business club which describes its modus operandi as “sexy networking”. DLiB makes a virtue out of cronyism: as founder Frank McKenna likes to say, “It’s not what you know, it’s who we know.”(3)

McKenna’s name may ring a bell. In 2000, when deputy leader of Lancashire county council, he was arrested after the Eye revealed serious discrepancies in the financial records of West Lancashire constituency Labour party and the 1997 election expenses of the then West Lanes MP, Colin Pickthall, for whom McKenna had acted as election agent (Eye 986 et seq).(4)

Frankly Speaking

Wade-Smith (left) receiving a DLiB “business award” from McKenna (2nd from left). Photo: Liverpool Daily Post

McKenna was charged with conspiracy to defraud party accounts and perjury, but in 2003 a judge “stayed” the case on the grounds that a fair trial was impossible given the time elapsed since the alleged offences.(5)

Frankly Speaking

McKenna, Liverpool’s Godfather? Photo: Liverpool Preservation Trust

DLiB, which has more than 400 corporate members, claims to have facilitated deals worth more than £550m since its formation in 2004.(6) According to McKenna, the World Heritage status is a vanity badge anyway(7) – sentiments echoed by Mayor Anderson.(8)

Could such views have anything to do with Peel being a member of DLiB? And could the supportive local coverage which the scheme has received in the Liverpool Daily Post have anything to do with DLiB sponsoring its opinion section – which includes the editor’s blog?(9) Perish both thoughts!