Analysis Breaking Exclusive

Exclusive: Liverpool moves to recover car park cash held by council co linked to right-wing councillors

But council does not intend to publish its report on BICo’s activities – and Labour is protecting Cllr Ann O’Byrne from deselection despite her and other right-wing councillors’ connections with cash-run car park company

A car entering the cash-only car park that was run by Beautiful Ideas Company

At a recent Audit Select Committee session, Liverpool City Council revealed that it is taking legal steps to recover money from the Beautiful Ideas Company (BICo) account as part of its long-running investigation into the company.

The company was set up by the council in 2015 and ran two car parks near Liverpool and Everton’s football grounds on match days, collecting payments in cash. The money collected was intended to be invested for the benefit of local communities.

Right-wing city centre councillor Nick Small was a director of the company until he resigned in 2018. Fellow Labour councillors Ann O’Byrne and Steve Munby were advisors to the board. Some £20,000 of the cash raised was paid to a third party to employ Cllr O’Byrne’s daughter, then also a councillor. The council’s poor response to the situation is said to have been part of the Tory government’s excuse for imposing exorbitantly-paid commissioners to cut the city’s budgets.

The council’s internal audit team launched a probe in 2018 in response to allegations of an opaque audit trail, lack of due diligence and conflicts of interest. That process is ongoing. Skwawkbox raised concerns last year about the use of BICo funds and other issues. The Labour party under Keir Starmer used the issues as an excuse to cancel the shortlist for last year’s mayoral contest to exclude popular left-wing councillor Anna Rothery, despite Rothery having no links to the company.

Everton councillor Alfie Hincks, part of the recently-formed Liverpool Community Independents group, asked for an update on the investigation and whether the findings would be made public.

He continued:

There is something like £78,000 lying in that account, which should be given to the three areas [County, Anfield and Everton wards] that it was committed to. How can we get hold of it for these communities, and can we have the official report brought into light?”

In response, Liverpool Council’s Head of Democratic & Information Services said the findings of the council’s internal investigation into BICo are:

not intended for publication [but] continue to be actioned by officers, and that includes but is not limited to legal steps to recover those monies.

Should the money be recovered through the legal proceedings, the council will then take steps to re-allocate those funds using the relevant criteria in the areas concerned.

Cllr Hincks said:

There must be a conclusion to this Labour Party report on how Councillors conducted themselves in public office .The most important issue is getting the much needed funds back in to the three wards that have been identified in the report.

In the past few weeks, Skwawkbox revealed that Cllr Ann O’Byrne was ‘triggered’ by local members in the city’s Warbreck ward, with many attributing the result to concerns over O’Byrne’s links with BICo and many Labour members voicing fears that the party would move to stitch up the ensuing selection contest to ensure O’Byrne was not challenged.

Sure enough, Skwawkbox also revealed last week that the party was giving members only a single prospective candidate to vote for to stand at next year’s election in the ward: Cllr Ann O’Byrne.

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