Worry among supporters of left candidate that concerns about rival may be used by party as opportunity to undermine
The selection process to choose Labour’s mayoral candidate in Liverpool has been delayed after the party decided to re-interview the three candidates. Ballots to allow local Labour members to choose their preferred representative were due to land on doormats this morning, but have not been sent pending re-interviews on Friday.
The SKWAWKBOX understands from party sources that one of the reasons for the delay – and one of the topics to be brought up on Friday – is Cllr Ann O’Byrne’s involvement with the ‘Beautiful Ideas Company’ (BICo) car-parking and loan/investment business.
Serious concerns were raised in a 2018 report to the city council about BICo’s cash transactions, investments, loans and accounting, including:
- a sum of £20,000 authorised by a right-wing councillor when he was a director of the company and O’Byrne was an adviser – which was used to employ O’Byrne’s daughter
- unreceipted cash transactions into and out of the company
- a cash-only car park surprisingly reported as far from full on match days, despite being one of the closest to the city’s two main football stadiums
- investments and loans to companies that then rapidly ceased trading
- conflicts of interest as cash went to companies with close links to BICo directors
- no checks on cash expenses and improper accounting
BICo also reportedly spent £241,000 on ‘admin’.
Two of the city’s more notoriously right-wing Labour councillors were closely involved with BICo at the same time as Cllr O’Byrne, with one authorising all the businesses loans and investments and the other, like O’Byrne, acting as an adviser to the BICo board.
Despite their political position and O’Byrne’s pitch to the left of the party, both councillors are reportedly involved in O’Byrne’s campaign. SKWAWKBOX covered these concerns almost two weeks ago and contacted Cllr O’Byrne for comment, but despite a promise that she would call back to discuss the issues the call was never returned. An intermediary who then made contact subsequently declared himself unable to provide answers, except that he was sure that O’Byrne had nothing to hide.
SKWAWKBOX has again tried to reach Cllr O’Byrne today to ask about the party’s reported intention to raise these issues with her on Friday and to ask whether she would now finally put a comment on the record. She had not responded by the time of publication.
Supporters of left-wing candidate Anna Rothery – whose strong campaign, local popularity and endorsements by former party leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Unite union and a string of other high-profile figures from the left of the movement appear to have taken her rivals by surprise – fear that the national party will nonetheless try to use the delay and repeated interview process to undermine Rothery, even as they address the unresolved questions about O’Byrne’s BICo involvement.
The third prospective candidate in the all-woman shortlist for the Labour candidacy is Wendy Simon, who as deputy mayor to Joe Anderson became the city’s acting mayor when he stepped down after his arrest on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation.
A government investigation into the council’s financial dealings is expected to be released before the city’s residents vote in a new mayor. Labour has now begun to email members advising that ballots will be received on Monday 22 February. The emails do not explain the delay.
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