Liverpool city council can find money for a new Everton Stadium. So why can’t it build homes or offices?

Everton’s current grounds, Goodison Park. Image: Getty.

One Saturday night earlier this year, I was quietly entertaining myself by reading some Liverpool City Council minutes on the internet (don’t tell my wife), when I was very disappointed to read something attributed to one of our more prominent local politicians.

Stephen Munby is a Labour Party councillor in the Riverside ward of the City of Liverpool. He was speaking in his capacity as cabinet member for highway & city services, an important and senior role on the council. 

What he said shocked me so much that I immediately decided I would fire off an email to Munby and our seven Liverpool City Region leaders, under the subject line of “BUILD MORE BLOODY OFFICES”. (I blame Jonn Elledge for that; he’s a bad influence on me.) Here’s an extract.

I was shocked by the defeatist attitude publicly displayed by Councillor Munby in these minutes dated 19 December 2017:

For example, it is minuted that he said: “But let’s face it, while we have a duty to improve all our basic services and infrastructure, it could be many years before we ‘catch-up’ with the conventional economies of other core cities like Leeds and Manchester and we are unlikely ever to compete for high paid jobs in financial services.”

I pointed out that, when measured using equivalent criteria, Liverpool already has a much higher population and GVA than Leeds and Greater Liverpool, and already has a very similar GVA per head to Greater Manchester, before adding:

I really hope that this attitude is not prevalent within our civic leadership, for the sake of us all.

Maybe Councillor Munby could positively and publicly lobby for more offices in Liverpool instead. As well as helping to fund Everton Football Club’s new stadium, could Liverpool City Council not also help to fund eight high-rise state-of-the-art Grade A office blocks along Pall Mall? The site is adjacent to Moorfields underground station, served by where 38 trains per hour – a train every 95 seconds – from across Greater Liverpool. Such a development would employ tens of thousands of Liverpool City Region residents in well paid jobs.

Just in case I wasn’t angry enough already, councillor Munby replied to me, and everyone else, 32 minutes later. (I’m guessing he may have been angry too.) Here’s his full reply:


To be fair, when I fire off an angry email I usually don’t get any reply at all, so I am a bit torn about this one. I mean, it is a reply after all. 

I was intrigued as to who this person was, so I had a look on the internet. On the council’s official website, in the ‘Register of interests’ section, it states that he is a part time case worker for Stephen Twigg, the MP for Liverpool West Derby, and a member of the Unite trade union.  According to a Facebook page​, he has been a Liverpool City Council councillor since 1998​; his home town is Cambridge; and he read History at the University of York in the class of 1976. 

I also found some online documents, which suggest that he may have been an intellectual punk rocker, as well as the editor of a Young Communist League publication called Challenge. Here’s an example of an article he wrote for Marxism Today way back in 1978.

With all that behind him, I must admit that I now felt a bit disappointed at the brevity of the reply that I received.

Anyway, I suspect you want more details of the Everton story I referred to in the last paragraph of my angry email. The Guardian recently reported that Liverpool City Council intends to borrow £280m to loan to Everton Football Club, to help to fund its new £500m stadium, at Bramley Moore Dock, within the £5bn Liverpool Waters development – all with the encouragement of city mayor, and Everton fan, Joe Anderson. 

It makes sense to me that, if Liverpool City Council can borrow £280m to help fund a relatively little used football stadium for a (surely) wealthy Premier League football club, then surely it could borrow a bit more to incentivise the construction of lots of relatively heavily used top class office space for tens of thousands of Liverpolitans to work in full time, too? (I made the case for that back in October.)

Meanwhile, Channel 4 has recently been looking again at the consequences to Liverpool of the last Labour government’s Housing Market Renewal Initiative - the flawed scheme which ‘regenerated’ (read: demolished) about 400,000 homes across the Midlands and the north, as described by SAVE here​. Channel 4 stated that it costs on average £35,000 to renovate one of the condemned properties to an acceptable standard.

So – just to make the sums easy, so that I can keep up – let’s say that the city council decided to renovate 100 of the houses at a total cost of £3.5m. They could then rent out the properties at, say, £500 per month, plus council tax of about £100 per month.

That means that the £3.5m loan would be paid off in about five years, providing a healthy income of £720,000 a year for the council thereafter. Sounds good, doesn’t it? After all, “invest to earn” is a catchphrase of mayor Anderson.

Perhaps the council could even use the new Liverpool City Council house building company called ‘Foundations’, announced in December 2017, to do it?  Or am I tilting at dinosaurs and giant puppets  ?

One last thing. According to Councillor Munby on the official ​Invest Liverpool website, Liverpool is

…one of the UK’s leading financial centres hosting key facilities for Santander, Barclaycard, Handelsbanken, RSA and Bibby Financial Services. Wealth management is a particular strength and Liverpool is ranked as the leading location outside of London, with global firms such as Pershing (subsidiary of The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation) and Investec Wealth and Investment, as well as Rathbones Investment Management.

Just so you know.

Dave Mail is CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.


What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.