Former Labour councillors who quit party over Starmerites’ eagerness to cut vital services call for suspension of right-wing trio linked to ‘dodgy’ cash-cow parking company – local and national media ignore
The Liverpool Community Independents (LCI) group on the city’s council have called for the party to suspend three councillors who held roles with the Beautiful Ideas Company (BICo), a cash-run company set up by the council to manage match-day car parks near Liverpool’s two Premier League football grounds.
An official report on BICo’s activity has long been held back from publication by the city council, but is expected to be published now that the Information Commissioner ruled against the council for withholding it – but the mayor’s team have said it will be redacted before publication and no clarity has been provided about what will be removed.
However, an internal report compiled by a local councillor for the mayor revealed, among other worrying aspects, that:
- the car parks had been run with no documentation of the amount of cash taken
- BICo had doled out more than £160,000 to organisations with close links to the company’s directors and £190,000 to companies that were either not trading or barely staying afloat
- sums included £20,000 to an organisation to provide a job for the daughter of one of the councillors (O’Byrne)
- most of the recipients of the cash were not involved in activities with a social impact
- the number of cars reported as parking in the car parks was significantly lower than the figure believed to be real
The LCI group sent press releases to local and national media calling for findings of the report to be published in full and for the suspension of the three councillors who held senior roles in BICo – right-wingers Nick Small, Steve Munby and Ann O’Byrne – and notifying the media that they have called for police action, but say that the media have assiduously ignored them.
The first statement reads:
Time for complete transparency.
That is the message from Independent councillors who have been campaigning for the findings of an internal audit report into the Beautiful Ideas CIC to be made public.
Three Labour councillors, Nick Small, Ann O’Byrne and Steve Munby, were linked to BiCo in the past. Small acted as a director from 2014 to 2018 and O’Byrne and Munby were advisors.
Everton Councillor Alfie Hincks, who raised the report at the council’s influential Finance Committee, said:
“It should not have taken four years for the findings to come to light. Questions were initially raised by then councillor Frank Prendergast about the unticketed collection of money at two Anfield car parks. The persistence of investigative journalist Matt O’Donohue eventually persuaded the Information Commissioners Office to act and force transparency.”
Warbreck Councillor Alan Gibbons said:
“We welcome the Mayor’s decision to end the scandalous delay in revealing what is in the report. There was no need for redaction. It is time the council earned a reputation for openness and honesty. There are important questions of governance and probity. The internal audit report, combined with the internal Labour report, raise significant questions. The three councillors should be suspended pending the outcome of investigations.”
Councillor Hincks said:
“I have referred this matter to the police Action Fraud unit to determine if there is cause for criminal investigation. There are too many examples of opaque and questionable dealings in this city.”
Councillor Gibbons added:
“BICo is the tip of the iceberg. We have seen fractional sales such as the Vauxhall Road development, the Chinatown scandal, the handing over of property for a nominal fee or even for nothing including nine acres of land granted for nothing to Julian Flanagan, then a BICo director, the failure to collect rent from property developer Elliot Lawless for the running of the Beetham Plaza car park, shocking conditions at a property and more. It is time to clean up this city.”
A follow-up noted that city mayor Joanne Anderson had promised a full investigation and action against any wrongdoers – but that the three BICo councillors had been removed or omitted from the report when it was finally released:
Independent councillors call for complete transparency over Beautiful Ideas and for the suspension of three councillors involved, pending investigation
Liverpool Community Independent Councillors Alan Gibbons and Alfie Hincks this morning wrote to the Liverpool City Council Chief Solicitor, Mayor, Commissioners and Labour group Chief Whip, expressing concern over the findings of three reports released after a ruling by the Information Commissioners Office.
The councillors have called for the suspension of three councillors associated with the Beautiful Ideas CIC pending the conclusion of the investigation promised by the Mayor on September 15th.
The letter reads:
In a statement released to the press on September 15th, Mayor Joanne promised: “a thorough investigation to identify any behaviour in this report which demonstrates a breach of procedures or codes of conduct” and promised that appropriate action would be taken.
The 2015 report, released yesterday, highlights weaknesses with regards to the administration of the collection of income, inconsistencies in records of money banked, the lack of an audit trail to identify recipients of free spaces, a lack of reconciliations, performed or recorded by the Flanagan Group, lack of transparency and accountability regarding the use of car park generated funds, and conflicts of interest regarding LCC officers.
The 2017 report highlights the lack of proper records of accounts, failures to pay business rates, a failure to pay moneys to community causes, cash payments giving cause for concern, lack of VAT registration, takings not independently verified and reconciled and a lack of signed declarations for audit review.
The 2019 report highlights poor record-keeping, lack of information on monitoring of funds raised from car park activity, use of car park income to award seasonal bonuses in possible contravention of the agreement with the Council that profits would be reinvested in the local community, lack of written records of pitching events, a failure to distribute money to communities, organisations receiving funding going out of business, lack of paper audit trails, the possibility of money spent without proper scrutiny, insufficient controls to abide by HMRC rules and possible poor investment decisions.
In terms of transparency, it seems strange that the three councillors associated with the Beautiful Ideas CIC are not named and that there are a number of redactions. Are they related to this?
Could you let us know how much progress has been made on the promised investigation and what kind of timescale there is on the release of its findings? Councillors are elected representatives and should be held accountable, particularly when there is any suggestion of misuse of public funds. We believe it would be appropriate to suspend the three councillors involved, pending the conclusion of the investigation.”
Liverpool council is currently under the supervision of extremely expensive Tory-appointed commissioners. The commissioners seem to have done nothing to promote scrutiny or transparency or to prevent the withholding of information despite the Information Commissioner’s ruling.
Councillors Small, Munby and O’Byrne were all contacted for comment last week but did not respond.
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