Friday, July 31, 2009

A "Legacy" Issue From Culture Year

Wasn't culture year great? We had Ringo on the roof as part of his £90,000 stay in the city, courtesy of Phil Redmond & his "clever" expense system of payment for the drummer from the Dingle. Pity about that Jonathan Ross business a few days later, but there you go.
And then, of course, there was Macca's concert, you know, the one that was billed as Liverpool Sound, featuring Sir Thumbs-Up himself, The Zutons &, er, Leeds' Kaiserchiefs, &, er, that was it. Pity it didn't go ahead, as planned, at the Salthouse Dock, drained of water, fish humanely stunned for the duration & then returned to their dockside home. Hence the venue change of Anfield, with its narrow access roads, decidedly threadbare nearby ameneties & inconvenienced local residents.
Well, it's all history now, the unsold DVDs acting as useful coasters at the 08 Place on Whitechapel.
Ah, yes, the 08 Place; what, you may ask, is it used for, now that the greatest year in the history of the city (copyright, Oldham Echo) has passed into the footnotes section of the record books?
Well, not even the city's Lib Dem misrulers can ignore that poser any longer ( ), & all credit to David Bartlett -- one of the few journos on Oldham Hall Street to hold the banner of serious journalism aloft -- for turning over the stone on this unedifying spectacle:
"The rent on the 08Place is £220,000 a year and its high-tech TV screens cost £60,000 to run annually.
"Controversially, the council signed a 10-year lease on the Whitechapel building which does not expire until November 2013, and has an option to extend it until 2018."
Anything involving the city council wouldn't be complete without an element of farce, & on this occasion it's supplied by the decision to appoint Richard Kemp as the inquiry's head. Yes, that Richard Kemp; the Richard Kemp who, as the city council's executive member for housing, was supposed to oversee the transformation of the notorious Boot Estate in Norris Green. When the transformation failed to materialise, even the Echo fingered Kemp as being at fault & he was obliged to quit. Speaking to the Guardian at the time, Kemp tried to explain himself, but ended up offering a hostage to fortune ( ):
"We were overtaken by events, particularly the rise in land values and house prices, which went up 40% in two years in Liverpool. But I'm confident that in five years [2008] there will be a first-class estate built by a unique public-private venture."
So much for the farce, now for the corruption. Bartlett reports:
"[The 08 Place] has been controversial from the start after the £1.4m Neighbourhood Renewal Fund -- cash intended to help regenerate the city's poorest areas -- was used to help pay for the £2.2m fit-out and furnishing of the building.
"When concerns were raised in February, 2005, then council leader Mike Storey insisted: 'This will not be a cost on the council tax payer.'
"Months later, a council report revealed the 08 Place would notch up a deficit of £161,000 a year, a total of £800,000 between then and 2010."
Bartlett also relates:
"A website, the Liverpool Evil Cabal, fuelled speculation by levelling a number of unsubstantiated accusations at senior council officials over business dealings."
The Evil Cabal website blew the lid off the corruption going on within the council during the run-up to culture year. It's claims were largely ignored by the local media. Occasionally, it would be dismissed as lurid fiction in the space of a single paragraph on the inside pages of the Echo. Its claims are now being vindicated, as the local media grudgingly admits.
Kemp says the inquiry won't go over the past, which will come as welcome news to Councillor Storey, I'm sure. He also admitted he didn't know whether the 08 Place is an asset or a liability to the city. What an indictment of the Lib-Dem reign in Liverpool!
He's even reduced to musing:
"Could [the 08 Place] be a showcase for Liverpool products?"
A showcase for local products? At £220,000 per annum? Value for money, wouldn't you say? The council tax payers should be delighted.

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