Analysis comment

Independent councillor reacts to Labour right-winger’s complaint re use of ‘dodgy’

Unrepentant councillor who quit Labour over party’s plan for cruel cuts in Liverpool responds to complaint after he called for transparency over whitewashed council company that took large amounts of unreceipted cash and doled out support for councillors’ friends and family

Liverpool Community Independent Councillor Alfie Hincks, who was one of several to leave the Labour party last year over the notionally-Labour council’s implementation of massive Tory cuts to services, has responded with derision to a code of conduct complaint by a right-wing Labour councillor about him using the word ‘dodgy’ to describe the shady company she and other councillors ran.

Cllr Ann O’Byrne is one of three Labour councillors in the city associated with the shady ‘Beautiful Ideas Co’ (BICo) – the councillor-run ‘community’ company that took large amounts of unreceipted cash for two match-day car parks and was heavily criticised by a report before the current council regime decided to declare there had been no wrongdoing despite police concerns about fraud, after delaying the release of their investigation for many months and allegedly removing references to the councillors from the report.

We now know what Liverpool Labour thinks of transparency

In a statement, Hincks described the complaint and his reaction:

We now know how much Liverpool Labour prizes transparency in public life. One of three councillors involved in the controversial Beautiful Ideas (BICo) affair, Councillor Ann O’Byrne has lodged a complaint under Liverpool City Council’s code of conduct because I used the word ‘dodgy’ about the company’s affairs.

BICo used unticketed cash takings at two match day car parks to fund ‘good causes’ [editor’s note: the ‘good causes’ included £20,000 to provide a job for O’Byrne’s daughter, along with cash to many companies and projects in the Manchester/Salford area, despite existing to help the local Liverpool community]. Three Audit reports list a series of failings in BICo’s operations. The company has now dissolved.

On the 23rd December 2022 I received an email from the council’s Assistant Monitoring Officer regarding a complaint that has been lodged against me.

This is after they were stung by allegations of possible wrong-doing. The City Solicitor concluded that there was insufficient evidence to sanction the three councillors involved in BICo – Nick Small, Steve Munby and Ann O’Byrne – but questions remain about the company’s conduct. ‘Insufficient evidence’ means just that. It does not mean the company was run properly.

The ruling Labour group voted down a motion for an independent inquiry.

The people of Liverpool deserve to know where the money generated by the car parks went because it certainly did not go back into the communities they promised would benefit.

It is pathetic and concerning that the councillors’ only response to demands for scrutiny is making unsubstantiated complaints against the very people who are trying to clean this city up.

‘I will not be making any apology’

Hincks added:

I have been asked to remove three tweets on the subject of the Beautiful Ideas (BICo) affair and to apologise to three councillors involved in the company, a director Councillor Nick Small and two advisors, Councillor Ann O’Byrne and Steve Munby.

I have looked up some dictionary definitions of ‘dodgy.’

Here are some of them: questionable, not sound or reliable, dishonest or unreliable, likely to fail or cause problems, evasive, shifty.

I would argue that some of these definitions do indeed describe the BICo company and, by definition, three councillors closely involved in it.

The 2015 internal Liverpool City Council report found that there were weaknesses with regards to the administration of income, monies did not exactly correspond to the amount banked for that date, no reconciliations were performed or recorded, income received from Liverpool Football Club for 137 spaces could not be found on the financial system, there was no formalised governance with regards to funds generated from car parking activities, approval for expenditure totalling £7, 488 could not be located.

Furthermore, there was no audit trail for free spaces and there were inconsistencies in banking. There was not adequate guidance to support decision making and help provide value for money through use of the funds.

Much here is questionable, not sound or reliable, likely to fail or cause problems and could, it might be argued, be dishonest.

The 2017 report highlights the lack of proper records, the failure to distribute £32,521 net income in the local community, cash payments to attendants, a lack of detailed records of payments to attendants, risks in making cash payments, non-registration for VAT, and a lack of independent verification and reconciliation to the number of vehicles parked on each match day.

Again, much here is questionable, not sound or reliable, likely to fail or cause problems and could, it might be argued, be dishonest.

The 2019 report says record keeping of car park income was very poor and in need of improvement, related companies became insolvent, investments intended for the north Liverpool community were not made, the use of car park income to award seasonal bonuses might contravene the agreement with the Council that profits be reinvested in the local community, records for ‘Dragons Den’ pitches were not kept, £20,000 was awarded to Stanley Park CIC via Hestia Careers, outside the Launchpad time frame and criteria.

Payments to Stanley Park contravened the statement made to the BICo Board that their directors are ‘ineligible to apply for investment for the fund’ and there was no proper audit trail that all of the investments were made in a transparent manner.

There were possible poor investment decisions relating to financially unstable companies including companies no longer trading and therefore unable to provide monetary repayment of any kind.

I believe this catalogue of questionable, unsound, unreliable decisions and actions increased the likelihood of BICo to fail or cause problems and there could, it might be argued, be dishonesty involved.

Finally, Rachael O’Byrne, formerly a councillor, was employed at Stanley Park from BICo’s operations. Her mother is Councillor Ann O’Byrne, an advisor to BICo and a former Deputy Mayor. Rachael O’Byrne’s £20,000 appointment could be considered a cause for concern.

For the reasons set out above, I believe I was acting in the public interest and attempting to shed light on the BICo affair, kept opaque for years and only subjected to scrutiny by the intervention of the Information Commissioners’ Office.

I will therefore not be making any apology.

I would be happy to redraft the tweets in order to be absolutely forensic and accurate in the concerns I was raising. I will participate willingly in any investigation because I am confident that I have acted in a manner consistent with both the Code of Conduct and the Nolan Principles.

Cllrs Munby, Small and O’Byrne have not responded to multiple enquiries about matters concerning BICo.

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