Friday, January 29, 2010

She Said What?!

People say the strangest things when they're trying to defend the indefensible (just look at Blair's offerings to The Iraq Inquiry today). Sly Bailey, chief executive of Trinity Mirror, publisher of the Daily Ghost & Oldham Echo, last week railed against the proliferation of council-run competitors to local papers. She described such competitors as "mini Pravdas" ( ).
Yes, the woman ultimately responsible for the "content" that goes into the Daily Ghost & Oldham Echo had the gall to dismiss council-run efforts as propaganda. Of course, there wouldn't be a need for the city council to compete with both papers, seeing that press releases are republished verbatim, statements by the Fib Dem leaders are quoted unquestioningly & dissenting voices are conspicuous by their absence in Trinity Mirror's rags.
The words, pot, kettle & black come to mind.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hotel Reservations

Somewhere in the increasingly understaffed & dispirited offices on Oldham Hall Street the penny is finally beginning to drop among at least a couple of hitherto deluded saps about what's happened to the city's waterfront with the blessing of Trinity Mirror.
Typically late to cotton on to a story about possible corruption & fraud concerning the land value of Mann Island, a story that Wayne had previously informed them of ( ), they've also only just realised that the grotesque botoxification of the waterfront featuring many hotel developments may not be the saving grace for an entire city (their usual editorial line). Instead, & brace yourselves here, a small, still note of doubt has permeated their dense skulls concerning a proposed Travelodge on the Strand, near the corner with James Street ( ).
Its editorial begins:
"It goes without saying that Liverpool is extremely proud of its world-famous waterfront."
Ah, yes, that "world-famous waterfront", whose disfigurement has been presented by the Daily Ghost & Oldham Echo as "progress".
It should be noted, however, that the editorial questions rather than openly opposes the proposed development (got to remain "pro-business", eh, guys?).
The piece continues:
"During this time of regeneration [ha!], we have welcomed many new and varied hotels to the city -- but things are looking a little less varied than they could be on the waterfront."
Message to Big Al & his minion Mark: it's nice to see you've finally woken up & smelled the coffee, but I'm afraid the damage is done, & the binge cheerleading you did for "developing" the waterfront has sadly left its mark.
Oh, well, be grateful for small mercies, I suppose; it's the nearest approximation of a mea culpa we'll get from Oldham Hall Street. That said, the editorial can't help concluding on a characteristically "where there's a space, let's build apace" note:
"There is obviously a need for more budget hotels in Liverpool, but surely there isn't a need for another one to be built slap bang in the middle of our World Heritage Site."
Absolutely, let's keep "our World Heritage Site" (when's that next UNESCO inspection, btw?) for the Hilton Hotels of this world, where nightly charges for most of the rooms exceed the average weekly wage on Merseyside.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Rules & Regulations? Irrelevant!

Carbuncle by the Mersey, notorious venue whose management encourage the punters to get legless, overrated, over-hyped barn masquerading as a 21st century conference facility. Yes, the Oldham Echo & Convention Centre has certainly made its mark during its brief existence. It now appears that its genesis was notable for a cavalier disregard of European regulations, which doesn't really surprise anyone familiar with grandiose & dubious projects in the city pre & post-08 ( ).
The Oldham Echo's piece (without a byline, btw) sheepishly admits:
"Officials in Europe have raised concern that the awarding of contracts for the complex was 'anti-competitive'."
There seems to be a pattern emerging of local schemes which we're informed will transform Merseyside being mooted &, indeed, embarked upon, without anyone bothering to check if it's all above board. First the cruise liner terminal debacle which fell foul of clearly defined & understood regulations on the use of European money, now this.
At the heart of the Arena & Convention Centre fiasco is the issue of "design & build" contracts. Again, let's leave it to the Oldham Echo to mumble reluctantly what that means:
"The issue arose after the EU Court began to investigate whether 'design and build' schemes could be at odds with fair competition.
"The Arena project is one where the design and construction of the project was undertaken as one contract.
"The council has put £4.1m aside in its reserves for unspecified clawback but admits the final figure is 'unknown'."
The rank incompetence & jaw-dropping ignorance of building projects shown by the council would beggar belief were it not for the dismal track record of Warren Bradley's merry men & women. It also speaks volumes for their inability to adequately manage the city's finances that they can't say with any certainty that the final figure won't exceed four million quid.
There are brave, bullish words from Flo Clucas, clearly, erm, designed to win over the gullible, saying there's enough cash in reserve to pay the money back. However, she undermines her own argument when she says:
"The situation is we did a design and build on the Arena, which was a contractual situation which local government right across the UK does, and it means you know what the thing is going to cost, can say 'that's what we want', agree your design and it goes from there.
"The European Court of Auditors has said that such a scheme is not able to be done in the EU without interference from competition.
"This has meant that the UK is having to reconsider what has happened on those types of schemes and unfortunately the Arena has got caught up in it."
As far as I'm aware (& I'm willing to be corrected on this), no other council in the UK has committed Liverpool's error. Moreover, Cllr Clucas' contention that design & build schemes allow you to keep a check on cost is odd given that she & her colleagues can't say whether a £4.1m bill will be the end of the matter. Oh, & the description of competition as "interference" sits oddly with a council which, through its mouthpieces on Oldham Hall Street, never tires of telling us that it is "pro-business".
Cllr Clucas goes on to tie herself up in even more knots, acknowledging that design & build "did not give other designers a chance", yet maintaining that the council did "shop around" for other contractors, & rounding off her muddled thinking (let's be somewhat charitable here) by declaring that, according to the Echo piece, "she thought design and build was a 'reasonable way' to progress schemes."
She "thought"? She's a councillor. Didn't she get the final word on the matter from the lawyers? Then again, this is the Fib Dem city council with its "let's try it this way & hope no one picks up on it" approach.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

History Repeats Itself

Mention Istanbul to most people in Liverpool &, depending on their footballing allegiance, memories will come flooding back of either the greatest comeback seen in any European Cup final, or the biggest fluke in the history of football. I belong firmly in the former camp (nice to see the back of Tom Hicks jnr., btw, for that charming email to a fan -- no more unannounced & unwelcome visits to the Sandon, eh, Tom ( )? -- now if only his dad & Gillett would follow suit). However, I digress.
The University of Liverpool's Impacts08 site ( ) picks up on an article in the UAE-based The National paper about Istanbul's status as a capital of culture for 2010 ( ).
The more you read down Claire Berlinski's piece, the more you find yourself thinking, this sounds familiar. It begins with an observation you'll never find in the Daily Ghost or Oldham Echo:
"As officials at Istanbul's European Capital of Culture Agency know all too well, once you've been named a capital of culture, it's only a matter of time before all the 'capital of corruption' jokes start."
A couple of paragraphs on, the parallels with the Lib Dems' Bread & Circus charade (aka Liverpool08) start to appear with astonishing similarity:
"A study that the international cultural advisers Palmer/Rae Associates prepared for the [European Culture] commission noted that 'almost all cities' selected thus far 'reported that there were problems with their governance structures'. The most commonly noted issues were 'domination of political interests, relationship difficulties between board members and with the operational management team, the absence of representation of cultural interests and the size of the governance structure'. Moreover, it noted, 'personality clashes, communication problems, inappropriate experience of personnel and unclear responsibilities and job descriptions' were ubiquitous."
Berlinski goes on to report that amid claims & accusations of embezzlement & incompetence is the charge "that Istanbul's culture is being destroyed by rapacious development faster than it can be promoted."
Sound familiar?
Then there's this gem with which to compare & contrast Istanbul 2010 & Liverpool08:
"Some of the projects supported by the [Istanbul] agency certainly do leave the organisation open to the charge that the selection process was made with something other than cultural significance in mind. The most notorious has been the nine-million-lira [£3.7m] contract awarded to a residential construction company to re-enact the 52-day circumcision ceremony of the son of Sultan Murad III. Contracts for the restoration of the city's historic walls, it is said, have been given to bidders so unqualified that archeologists are in convulsions; some hint that as a result, Istanbul could be thrown off Unesco's World Heritage List."
I'm not sure about circumcisions, but a growing number of people would happily administer a medical procedure, sans anaesthetic, to the same part of the male anatomy of the chancers, shirkers, propagandists & charlatans whose grandiose claims about culture year's lasting legacy for Merseyside have been shown to be bollo-, sorry, false.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Frozen Frolics

While the grown-ups have struggled & cursed their way through the elements over the last few days, the kids have taken advantage of the opportunity for some winter sports on Everton Brow, as the Augean Stabletalk blog vividly demonstrates: .

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Roads To Nowhere

A couple of the local blogs have reflected the Big Freeze which reduced the flow of traffic out of the city centre yesterday to an imperceptible, sclerotic crawl. Scouse in the House pithily lays the blame where it should be apportioned, ie., the council ( ). Robin Brown on the Liverpool Culture Blog relates a hair-raising account of his journey from the city centre to Lark Lane, featuring some dramatic photographs, too ( ). There's also a striking photographic record of conditions on the A Lack of Imagination blog ( ).
On a more juvenile level, Oldham Hall Street's let Nick Peet out again so he can breathlessly tell us all how he put on weight over the festive break & hates driving to work in the snow ( ).
Nick, you really should have stayed at home.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Self-Congratulation: A Case Study

It may be the start of a new year but you can be sure that the Oldham Echo will continue to work hand in glove with the Fib-Dems on Dale Street in civic delusion. Take today's soft-focus piece by Catherine Jones in which she allows Claire McColgan to deploy the sort of jargon & bollockese that would've made my old English teacher explode ( ):
" 'My role is to steer for the city council but obviously to work in partnership with people,' she explains. 'I'm not the artistic director for the city, I'm facilitating and driving the cultural work which is very different.
" 'It's about making the connections both within the city but also nationally and internationally.' "
Jones serves up yet another wasn't-culture-year-great piece & is happy to let McColgan spew forth even more drivel; clearly Jones forgets the old journalistic rule that a little scepticism should be injected to counterbalance a torrent of PR bilge.
McColgan trills that she wants the city's waterfront to be "the South Bank of the north."
The South Bank may have its weaknesses, yet it hasn't allowed its most distinguished features & landmarks to be overshadowed by vulgar & crass additions.
She goes on to exhume the old cliche about culture year rescuing the city from the dark days of decline & adds:
" 'In 08 we all came together. There was just one voice that came out of Liverpool that said "look at us, we're fantastic".
" 'Nobody who lives in this city wants it to fail. You want it to be the thing that's the success story in the country.'....
" 'Our main job is to engage with that kid in Croxteth who doesn't feel the city centre is for them,' " McColgan opines.
There's so much nonsense in that passage that warrants attention. Firstly, we didn't all come together & pat ourselves on the back; long before Ringo warbled on the roof of St George's Hall some of us were sounding the alarm bells. Secondly, saying that nobody wants the city to fail is such an inane truism that it shouldn't even be uttered. Thirdly, "that kid in Croxteth" has good reason to feel that it's no longer his or her city centre -- look at the monstosity that is Grosvenor-pool. No amount of engagement will alter that.
Jones goes on to reflect in awe-struck tones:
"Capital of Culture is, amazingly, two years ago now."
Yes, Catherine, it is amazing. It may have something to do with the fact that the gap between 2008 & 2010 is, "amazingly", two years.
However, let's leave the final word in this apologia for journalism to McColgan as she says in her cosy chat with Jones:
" 'As a city council first and foremost we need to deliver for the people of the city, that's why we're here.' "
Give me strength.

Snow In January Shock

It's both amusing & pathetic to view the media treatment of weather conditions which are a regular feature of life in other northern European countries. As a few sagacious observers have noted, those who protest about a shortage of salt & grit for the conditions that have turned most of the UK into a giant ice rink over the last couple of days tend to be the same individuals who normally moan about having to pay council tax.
That said, yesterday's tales of traffic chaos all over Merseyside becauseof the snow & ice ( ) did reveal an alarming level of panic & incompetence from both Merseytravel & the city council.
Merseytravel made no meaningful attempt to inform the widest possible number of commuters about the cancellation of bus services across the whole region. Informing Radio Merseyside is all very well, but thousands of would-be bus passengers were still waiting at bus stops a couple of hours after the cancellation, not so blissfully unaware of the news.
The city council's sheepish mumble that it had run out of grit was of a piece with other cock-ups by the Fib-Dem regime. As a postie based at Copperas Hill said to me today, it's typical of the Bradley administration's faith in a bread & circus approach when it comes to running one of the UK's major cities; no expense was spared for culture year (especially not with the £90,000 Ringo & his entourage got through during their stay), yet the city's thoroughfares are viewed as an afterthought in the midst of adverse weather conditions.