At last night's Council meeting I tried to get some straight answers from the Council Leader about the costs related to the £38 million pound purchase of the Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle.
For a moment let us leaving aside the wisdom of spend such a large sum on retail property at a time when High Streets are in decline due to the Internet and this particular sight is problematical because of the near presence of Liverpool ONE- the council has been forced to agree reductions in rates because of the impact. (Added to which 3000 near by jobs are being relocated to Liverpool. The DEMOS report outlines the impact of Liverpool on the surrounding economies) Instead let us pick away an the unnecessary secrecy. Question have been dodged about the Luxembourg Company the Council bought and the tax implications. Last night I was trying to get to the bottom of the fees another area clounded in secrecy and where the council have not responded openly to press inquires.
Here is the statement I released this morning:
Senior Lib Dem councillor Iain Brodie Browne has expressed his concern at the refusal of Sefton Council Leader Ian Maher to come clean over the cost of professional advisors employed over the controversial £32 million purchase of the Bootle Strand Shopping Centre.
Cllr Brodie Browne submitted a formal written question to Thursday evening’s (16th November) council meeting held at Southport Town Hall.
His question asked ‘would the Leader please supply, in table form, details of professional and similar charges incurred so far, to include the following: Name of Supplier, a brief description of the services supplied and the amount invoiced to date’.
However the Labour Leader declined to do so on the night, saying merely that it would be available ‘in due course’.
“There’s no excuse for the Labour Party to try and conceal this information at the present time,” says Cllr Brodie Browne. “The public, as well as opposition councillors, have a right to know how public money has been spent.”
“To try and kick this into the long grass is simply unacceptable.”
However Southport Lib Dem councillors have carried out their own investigation, using freely published data, and think they have found the answer – which is that at least £684,000 has been spent on outside advisors.
“What Cllr Maher appears to have forgotten is that all councils are required to regularly publish details of all invoices over £500. In fact Sefton Council does this on its own website in a section called ‘Transparency Reports’,” explains Cllr Brodie Browne.
“What we have found is that there are a number of enormous invoices from firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers, Addleshaw Goddard and Lambert Smith Hampton, all charged to a particular cost centre UA25. These are Tax Accountants, lawyers and property consultants respectively.”
“We’ve even managed to get hold of a copy of the largest invoice – for £205,950 + VAT – from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and when you see that includes ‘Tax Structuring and Due Diligence’, then even more suspicions are raised.”
“So what we now know is that over two-thirds of a million pounds has been spent, and that was only to the end of August. That will almost certainly have risen even more.”
“This lack of openness from Sefton Council’s Labour leadership is simply unacceptable.”