After the problems we faced with keeping Kingsway House open, we now have proof that the council tried to close down a Liverpool company that employs 800 people. This article covers and sheds light on:
- How Liverpool City Council tried to close down a Liverpool business
- How they tried to close down a shelter that only tried to fill the gap left by their inadequate system
- Closing down 30 James Street restaurant
- Councillors clustering together to cause harm to a Liverpool business
- Due to actions of various Councillors, they stopped investment of at least £6 million over a two month period
- Threatened with corporate manslaughter if anyone passed in our shelter and yet they pass in every shelter with no alarm or issue
- Liverpool has to change the way it is run
The heading to this narrative equates to human behaviour. It means that when you encounter a well-orchestrated system that has been measured by tick boxes and not by achievements, you end up with a homeless epidemic fuelled by an insincere Government that is closing the doors on society’s most vulnerable.
The Beginnings of Kingsway House
At Signature Living, during -5 temperatures, we pioneered a different approach, which didn’t sit well with the political and media establishment. To say we started to meander around another individual’s garden is an understatement – a garden with privets so high you could not see what lay inside. I opened the door to that garden last year on December 4th, with what I have to state was never what I intended it to be.
The winter had been drawing in and with it came the need for our homeless to seek much needed shelter. Everyday my staff were throwing out our city’s homeless from our various sites, but they just kept on finding a way back in. On the 2nd December I decided, rather than fight them, I would give them a humane alternative. I had plenty of office space within Kingsway House and certainly enough food given we employ 60 chefs. So, on the 4th December 2017, Kingsway House was born.
Our objective was for it act as a sticking plaster, a short-term crisis shelter and not to be misunderstood with the Government/Council-funded operations that reside within our city. The people we housed, which peaked at over 80 people of a night, were mostly barred from the local shelters due to their mental health and their drug and alcohol dependency, not to mention the 150 human beings that we were providing three meals a day, seven days a week. In crisis shelters, it is protocol to put homeless people back on the streets at 6am, but Kingsway helped change it to 8am. However, we made a decision to keep our shelter open 24/7.
Merseyside Police visited on many occasions. Officers on the beat were amazing, bringing people who they had found on the streets to our shelter and yet we were threatened with what can only be described as a cease and desist notice. They stated that if anyone lost their lives in our shelter, that I personally would be hit with a corporate manslaughter charge and yet homeless people die in their shelters every year, in fact one died last week and yet there will be no case to be answered.
Sadly what this now means is that you can leave a man in a doorway to die of hypothermia, but if you dare bring him inside you are taking on the full responsibility and will be ultimately answerable. We now have a red tape-heavy system where the human needs of rough sleepers are sorely missed.
Singled Out by the Powers That Be
However, I feel we were singled out – we calculated that the powers that be hit us with everything they had. In total, we had over 50 visits from our city’s gatekeepers. I believe the city council sent them in and yet all we wanted to do was provide some respite for our homeless.
When we finally closed it was due to a deal that I made with Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson, who in fairness had to battle internally with the Three Amigos who are now no longer at the main table and will not be able to cause the same underhand attacks on our shelter or indeed Signature living. I stated that I would close on the 28th February 2018, but when we came to that date our weather had taken a turn for the worse and I had no other option but to keep the shelter open.
It is interesting that every one of our building sites were being hit with frequent visits by the powers that be such as Health and Safety, the fire department and for our hotels they were hit even harder by Environmental Health. This was also proven in the very public closure of 30 James Street’s restaurant Carpathia, which is another amazing beacon for our city. It is one of the highest occupied of its kind, which is an amazing accomplishment as it lay their forlorn for 20 plus years with one of the last occupiers being a drug rehab centre.
As we all know, this building sits on reclaimed land and has for sometime had a building next door going through a refurbishment programme. The noise that emanates from this site caused mice to leave that building and try to create a new home within 30 James Street. We followed the right procedures until one day I received a call from a very high ranking individual to warn me of an imminent EHO closure of our restaurant, but the issue here is they still hadn’t turned up. The Liverpool Echo had been tipped off by a Councillor who had told them that 30 James Street’s restaurant was to be closed that very day and that they should get a reporter there immediately. Sure enough, the reporter was there before EHO.
After 4 hours of the EHO team turning up at 30 James Street, they stated that if we did not close that they would close us down by putting yellow tape around the restaurant, which to me came across as a threat and so we closed our doors. The Echo, or indeed any other media outlet, should not be informed of any closures for 21 days. It gives firms a 21 day cooling off period to regroup and come back with a fighting chance of keeping the business open and yet here I was faced with getting a call to state that we were getting closed down long before EHO had turned up and an Echo reporter waiting at our doors to pick up a story that she should not have known about for at least 21 days after closure.
I knew we were getting hit and I felt it was worth the onslaught, as I had no intention of closing down our homeless shelter. I also knew that if I did close it down it would stop this very damaging attack, not only for our trading but also the obvious damage to a Liverpool business that that screams from the rooftops of how very proud it is of our city’s cultural, economic and sporting heritage. My mind-set at the time was that I had to do what was right and ensure that even though I had promised Mayor Anderson that I would close on the 28th Feb, I simply could not due to the extreme temperatures. The Council came after me on two fronts that almost forced Signature Living, a business that employs 800 people and will soon rise to 2200 people, to close.
The Effects of Liverpool Council
As a company, we create not only hotels but apartments and each one of these hotel units or apartments are sold just like you do with any home that you buy. However, the difference here is that with hotel rooms and apartments, we have an agreement with our 1500 investors from all over the world that we will trade these units for them and in return they gain an assured ROI. Before the Echo story broke, our monthly revenue for these sales were in the region of £3.5 million pounds. When it was plastered on the front page, it tumbled to just £500k – giving my company a loss of £3 million a month for two months. This loss of revenue, which equated to £6 million, almost closed our business down – a company that gives Liverpool almost £1 million per annum in rates, a company that was for a period of time not able to pay its commitments due to how elected members of the Council were treating us and so the Council sent in the bailiffs.
Thankfully we were trading extremely well and the year before we had posted profits of £7.5 million so we were in a position to replace the funding we had lost. We paid our business rates bill in full, but believe me when I say that with the council coming after us in the way that they did almost closed us down and once they had me on the ropes they showed no mercy – they saw blood on the canvas and wanted to finish the job.
As we had promised to close down our shelter on the 28th Feb, we thought it was best to at least close down part of the shelter, which actually made sense to us as we only wanted to stay open until the end of March. We had emailed an officer Chris Lomax, who is still to this day Head of Procurement, and he assured my team that all boxed remnants from the shelter which were stored on my land would be picked up no later than 8 hours from receipt of emails. Sadly, they came to pick up these boxes some 36 hours later and due to the nature of our homeless they did what they always do and they rummaged and threw the contents all over the car park.
A Strong Negative Message
When the Council finally came to pick up our boxes, they actually took pictures of the debris left and sent these visuals to the council’s head office and from that office they sent them directly to the Echo. I was then placed on the front page of the Echo, with pictures supplied by the Council, stating in various forms that we do not know what we are doing and implying that our crisis shelter is not only a sham but that we condone drug abuse.
So here I was with a shelter that I had created, due to filling the void left by a council that spends £11.7 million pounds a year, but still we have an unprecedented number of homeless on our streets and may I just point out here it is not about how much you give it is how you use it. I was getting beaten up by a council that I give almost £1 million a year to in rates, which is collaborating with the Echo to send out a very strong negative message, which then in turn hits our investors, which stops them investing. The council then send in the bailiffs after they have turned my world upside down.
The problem with our city is that councillors have far too much power and they should leave officers who are experts in their field to get on with their day to day jobs but instead they get pulled by the politicians to pursue their political endeavours. Liverpool has to change how it is run – we need a mixture of politicians and business leaders, business captains who understand how to gain value, who understand how to lead, but most importantly understand how to help our most vulnerable. How can it be right that 30% of children are born below the poverty line?
My experience is just a small snapshot of why I think the way Liverpool is governed has to change, and I know lots of Liverpool people feel the same.