Fringe Benefits

 

Image: Frank McKenna

MORE strange Murkeyside goings-on. Liverpool city council unveiled its new housing policy last month,1 including plans to find a “strategic partner” to build 1,500 homes and refurbish 1,000 more.2 It omits to mention that this is the second such procurement exercise in less than two years.

The policy – which will see smaller portfolios sold to private landlords and individual homes passed to local social housing provider, the Riverside Group – replaces a previous contract awarded to developer Leader1. It beat established social housing providers to the punch, despite having no record in the field, only being formed in October 2011.3 The deal fell through when the Liverpool Echo exposed odd claims made by a firm claiming to work on Leader1’s behalf.4

Positive Property Investments (PPI) had approached pension funds promising investors in housing refurbishments 60 percent returns – a figure it claimed was “guaranteed” by the council in the form of a lease-back agreement once refurbishment was complete. The council and Leader1 denied any such agreement existed. PPI director Chris Rowell claimed the information had been posted “in error”.

The Echo also exposed another developer making similar claims. The council scrapped talks with Fringe Development to build 1,500 new homes after it was discovered that fraudster John Andrew Shaw, named in court documents as the mastermind of a £41m “carousel” VAT fraud, had set up the firm in November 2010.5 Like PPI, Fringe had approached investors with claims that its developments were ” underpinned” by guaranteed council income – again denied.

Both Fringe and Leader1 were associated with Frank McKenna (Eyes passim), disgraced former leader-elect of Lancashire county council and boss of Liverpool’s “sexy networking” business club, Downtown Liverpool in Business (DLiB). McKenna “facilitated” meetings between council officials and Fringe,6 which displays DLiB’s logo on its website.7 McKenna’s recollection was that Fringe initially approached Liverpool’s DLiB-run investment “Embassy” in London (Eye 1339) well before July 2012,8 the month Shaw resigned his directorship.

Leader1 has been a sponsor of DLiB – director Paul lredale even sent his daughter Sophie to intern with McKenna. Small world!

First published in Private Eye Magazine, 9/8/13 Issue 1346