Bad look for snooty community newspaper Bristol Cobblers (surely Cable? ed) as local freelancer Joe Banks breaks cover to reveal that they pulled him off a story last year. Then rewrote it themselves under close supervision from the paper’s Labour Party-friendly directors!
Joe was investigating planning permission granted to MEPC, part of US corporate investment giant Federated Hermes, to develop the sensitive St Mary-le-Port site at Castle Park. He was especially interested in the role of a fake community group ‘The Friends of Castle Park’ who vigorously supported the development at planning committee claiming to represent the local community.
Joe’s enquiries seemed to upset Nicola “La La” Beech, Labour Cabinet member for planning, who went directly to the Cobbler’s directors – that conveniently included cabinet colleague, Tom “Plasticine Man” Renhard’s, partner – and accused Joe of “harassment”. Joe was unceremoniously dumped off the story, which was rewritten more to Labour Party tastes by one of the Cobbler’s useful idiots.
So much for speaking truth to power.
Shocked Bristolians listened in increasing horror as Shereena Abbassi, a director at The Bristol Cable, suggested on BBC Radio Four’s’ ‘Rethink’ programme on 2 August that vulnerable minorities should stay at home in order to avoid workplace ‘micro/macro aggressions’.
If you are a victim of any discrimination at work just crawl away and hide under the nearest rock says the former Worldwide Head of Culture and Inclusion at M&C Saatchi.
According to this ‘equity and Inclusion practitioner’, ‘black and brown folks’ are not adequately protected by the Equality Act and therefore should ‘exclude’ themselves from the workplace if they experience racial abuse!
Maybe she should ‘rethink’ her job title?
PUBLIC ARE A TURN OFF FOR NAZI POST JOURNO SNOBS
In May, the Nazi Post turned all comments beneath their articles off without explanation. Although sneering by its middle class graduate journalists at public comments below the line had been a feature of local social media for years.
Between the crazies and conspiracy nuts – still generally a brighter and more entertaining read than actual Post articles, mainly nicked off Reddit, by the ‘professionals’ – the majority of public comments were highly critical of the Reverend Rees and Bristol City Council.
Was this some sort of an editorial effort to reduce trenchant public criticism of Bristol City Council? A little local establishment help to prop up a bent shambles of a local public institution?
Whatever the reason, it seems to have failed. By the summer holidays comments under articles magically reappeared. With plenty of slagging of the Reverend and his council of fuckwits back in force.
Unilaterally censored by their local paper without explanation, did the Bristolian public start to vote with their feet?
A gushing press release from Bristol City Council announces that “a gap in a major cycling route through Bristol city centre will be filled in over a nine-month project, which is about to start. The £1.2-million plan to fill in the ‘Old Market gap’ begins on Monday, September 11, and is expected to be completed next April.”
The ‘Old Market gap’ will be a length of cycle path about 20 metres long. That works out at about £60k per metre for tarmac, kerb stones and white paint.
If you’re wondering why you pay so much tax for so few services, maybe blame the corporate civil engineering industry? They’re robbing us blind with the assistance of our country’s idiot political class.
Now into his fourth year of being bullied by Reverend Rees’s henchman “Slo” Kev Slocombe and virtually everyone else at City Hall, all is not well for local authority legal eagle ‘Li’l’ Tim O’Gara, Bristol City Council’s underperforming and underwhelming Monitoring Officer.
For it seems this senior council boss whose job is to make sure the council doesn’t break the law has been, er, breaking the law! Residents have discovered that his councillor complaints process that should involve advice from an ‘independent person’, publicly appointed by councillors, has instead involved a top secret ‘independent person’ personally appointed by L’il Tim contrary to the Localism Act.
Happily, this mystery ‘independent person’ has entirely agreed with Li’l Tim that complaints about councillors during Tim’s watch don’t need much investigating and complaints could be dismissed either without action or with pathetic actions that councillors were welcome to ignore without sanction. This unknown mystery person also agreed with Tim whenever he summarily dismissed troublesome complaints as ‘politically motivated’ or ‘vexatious’.
Residents, however, are not happy with Li’l Tim’s bollocks even if councillors are. What could be better for our dubious local political class than a broken complaints process perfectly designed to let them off the hook regardless of how bent, bullying, rude or useless they are?
As the rest of the local press are reluctant to do much reporting on this bent senior Bristol City Council manager running a bent process to let bent councillors (and Mayors!) off the hook, here’s the latest set of public statements delivered to mute councillors on the council’s ‘fraudbusting’ Audit Committee.
Note how residents are now pointing out how Li’l Tim is further breaking the law by refusing to issue the ‘section 5 report’ he’s legally obliged to. The law requires he publicly report to councillors any unlawful activity by his local authority. Even if it’s the Monitoring Officer breaking the law.
Of course, Li’l Tim has a huge conflict of interest in outrightly refusing to issue such a public report into his own law breaking activities. A simple fact that Bristol’s dim councillors appear oblivious to.
Here’s the statements. Enjoy …
Statement to Value and Ethics Committee 3 November 2023 (1)
I’m sharing my concerns about governance failures apparent from my attendance at the Value & Ethics sub-committee of the Audit Committee.
It’s clear that the Monitoring Officer (Tim O’Gara) has acted unlawfully (together with the Head of Legal Services, Nancy Rollason) in his “appointment” of Independent Persons to the members’ complaints process.
My concern is that the Council appears to be attempting to cover up this unlawful activity (or “regularise” it, as Councillor Brown has suggested in his statement to the(cancelled) Full Council Meeting on 14 November. How can councillors responsible for proper governance of the authority be apparently attempting to avoid any mention of unlawful activity by the Monitoring Officer and not call for an investigation into what has gone wrong at the City Council?
There have evidently been serious failings in the Member’s complaints process, that have not been subject to appropriate levels of scrutiny by members sitting on V&E:
• the actions of M[onitoring] O[fficer] & H[ead] O[f] L[egal] S[ervice] to take upon themselves the role of selection and appointment of I[ndependent] P[erson]s, thereby failing to meet the requirements of s28 of the Localism Act, and usurping the role of members in appointments, since the last lawful appointment in 2013.
• Refusal to even provide dates of appointments of I[ndependent] P[erson]s, and an absolute refusal to provide their names (this is a public appointment. What sort of country are we living in where people can make decisions with complete anonymity?).
• the lack of openness and honesty from the M[onitoring] O[fficer] and H[ead] O[f] L[egal] S[ervice] in answering public questions (We have to date received no answers to our questions to the Monitoring Officer from V&E on 3 November (when both the M[onitoring] O[fficer] and the Independent Member (Mr Adebayo) failed to attend)
• An insistence on imposing confidentiality on members of the public, when the Local Government Association (LGA) makes it clear that this is not practical (or ethical)
• The irony that given this insistence on confidentiality the H[ead] O[f] L[egal] S[ervice] and M[onitoring] O[fficer] may have acted unlawfully and breached GDPR by sharing information with so-called “Independent Persons” they themselves appointed unlawfully
• Constant censoring of public questions and statements, always at the “11th hour”, with no clear explanations given. Statements critical of the M[onitoring] O[fficer] Hor H[ead] O[f] L[egal] S[ervice] are pulled. Statements critical of the Independent Member on V[alues] &E[thics Committee] (Mr Adebayo) are pulled
• Refusal to publish “public interest” test criteria, despite this being LGA best practice
• The issue of whether payments made to these unlawfully appointed “I[ndependent] P[erson]s,” are lawful items of account.
• A process governed by secrecy on the grounds of “confidentiality”. Poor quality management reports, with key information omitted. The H[ead] O[f] L[egal] S[ervice] has misled members by telling them that reports this year were in the same format as prior years. This is categorically untrue. This year she omitted the dates claims were received, thereby obscuring the length of time taken to decide on complaints
• Failing to report on key Local Government Ombudsman complaints findings that noted unacceptable delays in deciding complaints (over 5 months in some cases) and that required a revised Member Complaints Code to be prepared by the Council.
The Full Council meeting on 14 November planned to push ahead with the “ratification” of 3 I[ndependent] P[erson]s, following what the Monitoring Officer described as a “robust “process. Members need to be clear exactly what that process was and whether it met the full requirements of the Localism Act. The public should also have a right to know the backgrounds of these individuals. These 3 I[ndependent] P[erson]s should not be appointed if they have had any dealings with any complaints to date.
I would ask Members of the Audit Committee, in accordance with their responsibility for governance matters, to consider:
• whether the M[onitoring] O[fficer] and H[ead] O[f] L[egal] S[ervice] have met the standards of Honesty, Openness, Integrity, Accountability and Leadership in their management of the members complaints process, their reporting to V&E, and their responses to public scrutiny.
• what steps you need to take to restore full public confidence in the role of the Monitoring Officer, given that the current post holder Mr Tim O’Gara has acted unlawfully but refuses to take responsibility for his actions and refuses to issue a section 5 report (LGHA 1989) to report unlawful activity by a local authority.
• Whether the attempt to “ratify” I[ndependent] P[erson]s appointments at Full Council meets the legal requirements of the Localism Act 2011 in full.
• Why the scrutiny process of Audit and Values & Ethics committees failed to pick up failings in the members’ complaints process. Most significantly the unlawful appointments of I[ndependent] P[erson]s (possibly over the last 7 years).
Statement to Value and Ethics Committee 3 November 2023 (2)
It is clear that members of the public who have made complaints about Councillors already felt badly let down by the process. Now that we know the Monitoring Officer himself has acted unlawfully and still refuses to admit to this, or follow due process as set out in LGHA 1989, how can we have any trust in governance at Bristol City Council?
Due to the unfortunate events that led to the Full Council meeting being postponed, Bristol City Council is still in breach of the Localism Act 2011, by not having any lawfully appointed “Independent Persons”.
Since this has been the case since about 2017, another week of this situation isn’t going to make a significant difference, but it is very disappointing that the Monitoring Officer is failing to provide clear information about what has happened.
Not only is he not coming forward to volunteer information, he is also failing to give responses to questions asked formally.
On the 3rd of November, myself and another member of the public submitted written supplementary questions as part of the Value & Ethics committee as the Monitoring Officer didn’t attend that meeting. I have not had any response and I do not believe the other member of the public has had any response either.
I was led to expect a response by the 6th November to a formal complaint (attached below) I submitted to Bristol City Council on the 16th of October about the “Independent Persons” situation. I did not receive a response.
On a separate matter, the Monitoring Officer said in full council on the 31st of October that he would give a written explanation of why the minutes Extraordinary Full Council were not recorded accurately in line with current Council policy. I have not had a response.
I do not find it acceptable that the Monitoring Officer is refusing to answer questions that have been properly submitted.
I still believe that the “Independent Persons” matter requires a ‘Section 5 report’ as per the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 which puts a personal public duty on a Monitoring Officer to write a report if “any proposal, decision or omission by the authority…constitutes, has given rise to or is likely to or would give rise to a contravention by the authority…of any…rule of law’.
I believe a failure to write a report is also in breach of section A13.03(b) of Bristol City Councils Constitution, which reads:
“(b) Ensuring lawfulness and fairness of decision making
After consulting with the Head of Paid Service and Chief Finance Officer, the Monitoring Officer will report to the Full Council or to the Mayor in relation to an executive function if he or she considers that any proposal, decision or omission would give rise to unlawfulness or if any decision or omission has given rise to maladministration. Such a report will have the effect of stopping the proposal or decision being implemented until the report has been considered.”
It is understandable that mistakes happen and things get missed. It is not acceptable that the Officer who is meant to be promoting high standards in the rest of the Council is refusing to answer questions, and refusing to carry out the public duty imposed on him as Monitoring Officer.
Please will you write to the Monitoring Officer and tell him he does need to actually follow the law and BCC constitution, even if it’s embarrassing for himself. Or he could explain why he doesn’t need to do those things, which is one of the supplementary questions I asked on the 3rd of November.
Text of complaint ref: 40910847 made on 16th October 2023
I wish to make two complaints with regard to how complaints about Member Code of Conduct have been handled.
Under Section 28 of the Localism Act 2011 there is a very clear requirement that the independent persons involved in the process are required to be approved by a vote of the councillors: “a person may not be appointed under the provision required by subsection (7) unless the person’s appointment has been approved by a majority of the members of the authority”
My understanding is that the last time that happened in Bristol City Council was in 2013. Further, my understanding is that unfortunately that independent person passed away in 2016.
My first complaint is that any of the independent persons who have been appointed without having been approved by the required vote, have been appointed unlawfully. By implication, that means none of the complaints that have been handled since 2016, including my own complaint, have been handled in a lawful manner.
Under Section 5 of Local Government and Housing Act 1989 which lists the duties of a Monitoring Officer: “it shall be the duty of a relevant authority’s monitoring officer, if it at any time appears to him that any proposal, decision or omission by the authority, by any committee, or sub-committee of the authority, by any person holding any office or employment under the authority or by any joint committee on which the authority are represented constitutes, has given rise to or is likely to or would give rise to …a contravention by the authority, by any committee, or sub-committee of the authority, by any person holding any office or employment under the authority or by any such joint committee of any enactment or rule of law or of any code of practice made or approved by or under any enactment…to prepare a report to the authority with respect to that proposal, decision or omission.”
Which basically says if the council breaks the law, or are considering an action that would break the law, the Monitoring Officer is required to give a report that gives full details of that unlawfullness.
My second complaint is that this report has not been written. I believe a failure to write this report, which is a required public duty, is by itself an unlawful act.
What a concerning (but unsurprising) mess this Barton House disaster is:
1. When building professionals assess a commercial building’s condition we – in my work life experience – work on an expected ‘life’ of 60 years.
2. Commercial organisations and public bodies with corporate manslaughter / public safety accountability have a duty of care. They therefore would want to evidence they had carried out regular (no more than 5 years apart in my experience) condition surveys to assess cyclical maintenance need / cost rate and ‘life remaining’ of the structure and fabric.
3. When end of life was approaching, they would want to commence contingency plans to replace the building OR (preferably) assess what is needed to retain it in a safe condition for x more years, allowing for planned major spend as necessary. It’s called good building management, professional responsibility and life cycle estate planning! Oh! And duty of care!
4. In the NHS, in my experience working for multiple NHS Trusts, we (every NHS organisation) were mandated to have a Major Incident Plan (MIP) for everything we could conceivably expect to go wrong (yup, including a pandemic) and have a ‘plan’ in place. This would be documented, regularly updated and occasionally acted out along with major responders. A real example being a suspected bomb being unearthed in work around the Haymarket leading to the wholescale evacuation of the BRI. I wonder what the BCC MIP was for a Grenfell etc type disaster?
4). The above said, 3 questions:
A. If a similarly constructie (I believe, I’m still investigating) building started to collapse (Ronan Point) in 1968, 10 yrs after Barton House was constructed, I’d assume VERY regular surveys would be carried out to asses and determine any movement or other concerns. If something went wrong, you would want to assure the public, the courts etc that you were on top of the issues and ‘managing’ one’s estate to assure of being in control, of professional estate management competence.
B. On a 60 year expected life this building was past its expected life in 2018. So what’s happened since? What was documented as BCC’s ‘plan’ for Barton House?
C) How many other Large Panel System (LPS) exist in Bristol? Or indeed around the country?
One has to conclude that it appears, from current revelations, that BCC has not / is not competently managing its estate which, after experiences such as Ronan, Grenfall etc, is a grave public concern.
FOIs will be submitted as above. Those poor tenants / occupants deserve so much better especially from a council which has introduced a licensing system to ensure private landlords provide adequate safe accommodation.
On 5 September 2017 Tamara Finkelstein, Director General for the Building Safety Programme and Department of Communities and Local Government, wrote to all local authorities. This was after 3cm-wide cracks between concrete panels were identified in large panel system (LPS) buildings on the Ledbury estate in Peckham, south-east London.
Finkelstein told local authorities:
“It is important with all large panel system buildings that their structural history is known, and that their condition and continued structural integrity are understood and monitored. This should include desktop studies where necessary to establish what strengthening work has been undertaken, and to assess the original design of the building. In undertaking desktop studies, building owners may not be able to rely solely on their own records. They may also need to explore records prior to them taking ownership of the building and explore the accuracy of them. Depending on the records available and findings from non-intrusive investigations, building owners may wish to commission more intrusive forms of investigation to check condition and strength of critical connections.”
So how come Peter Apps and Robert Booth at the Guardian report today:
“Bristol city council said there was no record of any structural surveys of Barton House after remedial works were carried out around 1970.”
Why did the Rees administration disregard government advice for six years and allow one of their buildings to deteriorate to the point where its 400 residents need to be evacuated at a few hours notice and made homeless?
Council tower block, Barton House in Barton Hill was urgently evacuated last night due to mysterious “structural issues” that emerged, apparently, out of nowhere. And it hasn’t taken long for private sector vultures to spot a lucrative business opportunity. This email was sent to councillors today:
From: Carole Wingrove <CWingrove@lsh.co.uk> Sent: Wednesday, November 15, 2023 4:12:19 PM To: Carole Wingrove <CWingrove@lsh.co.uk> Subject: Barton House Bristol – Assistance with Alternative Accommodation
We are sorry to hear of the challenge at Barton House in Bristol where 400 residents were evacuated as a precautionary measure while inspections are carried out.
We understand temporary rest centres have been equipped for residents in need.
I wanted to reach out to offer our assistance should you need temporary accommodation for residents who have not been able to stay with family or friends or if, for any reason residents are unable to return for a period of time.
Please let us know should you need assistance, our team of relocation experts are here to help. We have relocated over 100,000 people into cost effective alternative accommodation since 1999.
We would also like to offer the renowned and trusted expert Lambert Smith Hampton service as one of many solutions for the Temporary and Emergency Housing crisis that is gripping councils across the UK.
We understand today, there are about 575 social housing blocks that used Large Panel System as a construction method in England. According to Tower Blocks UK, this was used widely in the post-war housing boom and there have been problems on many different council estates, leading to residents being moved out and buildings demolished.
Whilst this is only speculative at Barton House, we understand there are other social housing blocks, Charleton House, John Cozens House, Haviland House and Langton House in Bristol.
Our expert teams of Asset and Property Management alongside procurement services include:
Leasing stock for short to long term requirements (which could comprise individual housing units or property suitable for conversion)
Entering into JV with a housing delivery partner
Innovative Pod and Grey Site accommodation
Acquisition or development of new stock
Emergency Pre-Funded Decant and relocation solutions
There are a small number of councillors supporting the requests for City Hall to be lit in the cause of Palestine and the demand for a ceasefire on November 14th. Ask your councillor to support an open letter requesting the same:
Dear Councillor X,
Thank you if you have already signed the BCC ePetition on the Israel Gaza Conflict (https://democracy.bristol.gov.uk/mgEPetitionDisplay.aspx?ID=290…) and shared it with others. The online signatures have now reached 3,500 people in less than a week and many hundreds more have signed printed petitions which will also be submitted.
I would also like to encourage you to sign the BCC Councillors’ open letter that has been sent to your councillor email address. It is important that our elected politicians demonstrate that they have empathy with the people of Gaza and demand a ceasefire now.
No sign of the private sector cash that’s supposed to pour into the City Leap public-private partnership to decarbonise the city.
One new project is “an £11m programme of energy efficient upgrades for fuel poor homes”, funded by the Department for Energy for just 150 homes across WECA.
Another project will spend £890k on heat decarbonisation plans and designs for council buildings. Funded by the, er, taxpayer through the Department for Energy. The plan is then to grab more government grants to fund the work.
Despite the smalltime public money approach, local journalists breathlessly report that shadowy ‘council bosses’ have told them “City Leap would lead to a massive extra 180 megawatts of renewable energy generation in Bristol.”
Bristol City Council’s wind turbines and solar farm in Avonmouth currently generate about 4.3 megawatts so that’s a 42 fold increase then.