Outsourced park café scheme meant to earn us money costs Bristolians in excess of £300k; redfaced councillors & officials brush it under the carpet
As the cuts keep on coming, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the people making the ‘tough choices’ are invariably the idiots who caused the problems in the first place. A case in point: KIOSKGATE.
No one in the council wants to talk about it, yet this ill-thought out plan to increase revenue from Bristol’s parks actually ended up COSTING US MORE THAN £300,000.
The whole sorry saga begins in 2010, when the council decided to BOOT OUT small licensed food and drink concessions from a number of city-run parks, and replace them with custom-built new kiosks, to be operated by whoever offered the most money.
Licensees were not told about this. Christophe Moron, who had sold freshly-made pancakes from his ‘La Bonne Crêpe’ van in Castle Park for more than three years, only found out in early 2011 because local Parks Project Manager, ALBERTO PALMERIO, came round to measure up for a shiny new café kiosk.
The trader subsequently discovered that the lease for his pitch had been quietly re-advertised, and that he had only a few weeks to put in a new bid. Predictably, he was not able to meet the higher offer put in by the council’s preferred bidder, the Gloucester-based DIAMOND CATERING.
Diamond had applied to take on all four of the new kiosks – in Castle Park, St George Park, Oldbury Court Estate and Canford Park – and won them all in a five-year contract. It also took over the pre-existing café at Ashton Court Estate when a previous caterer pulled out, and was poised to run the snack bar at Blaise Estate as well.
The new deal, which was supposed to put the council quids-in, was heralded with a splash story in the Evening Post in March 2011. Councillor GARY ‘HEFTY’ HOPKINS – himself no stranger to a cheeky slice of cake and a four sugars coffee – gurned for the camera whilst declaiming that “these kiosks will provide a range of high-quality drinks and snacks [and] provide an important income for reinvestment in parks.”
One slight problem – Diamond Catering went bust in October of that year, and within a month had GONE INTO LIQUIDATION, leaving unpaid counter staff locked out of their workplaces, and creditors out of pocket – Bristol City Council to the tune of more than £92,000. The cafés then stayed empty for more than seven months until the following summer, when they were brought ‘in-house’ and operated directly by the council – though Castle Park kiosk remains shuttered.
So what went wrong? Well, a good person to ask is the Environment & Leisure Service Director ‘LAZY’ TRACEY MORGAN, for whom Alberto Palmerio worked. She appears to have authorised Palmerio to fly to Rome (on council expenses) in June 2009 to research the kiosks made by Asteco Industria Srl, “Italy’s leading designer and manufacturer of bespoke steel kiosks and modular buildings” – and coincidentally a company to which he had family connections.
Whether Lazy Morgan knew that Palmerio was RUMOURED TO BE RELATED TO KEY PEOPLE IN ASTECO is not clear, but either way – whether she knew about the conflict of interest and ignored it, or if she failed to find out about it and was negligent – it doesn’t say a lot for her abilities as a manager. In which case, she has a bright future in the upper echelons of Shitty Hall!
On Palmerio’s recommendation, four kiosks were purchased, at a cost of £54,000 each. Then came the deal with Diamond Catering – a company which boasted of working “on a global scale, having fed members of The British and Foreign Royal Families, provided banquets and intimate dinner parties in a multitude of settings, operating multi million pound budgets.” That is slightly at odds with the words of council spokesman James Easey, who in trying to manage the fallout from the Moron eviction in February 2011 claimed that Diamond was a “small business” in a bid to reverse the perception of BCC siding with Goliath against David.
Quite why Diamond collapsed so spectacularly and so soon after securing the sweetheart deal for running refreshment kiosks in Bristol’s parks isn’t clear – not least because, as the Legal Services department claims, “THERE IS NO WRITTEN RECORD”.
But whatever the reasons, Diamond’s directors were certainly more fortunate than the workers they put out of jobs. Both RAY CHISHOLM and JEFFREY BAYNE set up their own new catering companies (Chiz’s Catering and A&J Catering & Cleaning Solutions) in September 2011 – a whole month before Diamond went under.
Alberto Palmerio was similarly fortunate. Privately educated in Dorset, he joined Bristol City Council in 2002, and there he stayed until October 2011 – around the time Diamond went under. Like the Diamond directors, he too had planned ahead, and had just the previous month set up his own company, AP2 (2011) Ltd, a “consultancy and agency service” of which he is sole director.
Oh, and in November 2011 Palmerio became an authorised UK agent for Prestige Kiosks Limited, “the exclusive distributor in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland for Asteco Industria Srl” …Now there’s a turn up for the books!
Naturally, with so many people implicated in the mess, including council managers, senior directors and elected councillors, all of whom signed off on Diamond’s tender bid and on the Asteco deal, no one is especially keen to revisit it in public. How fortunate for the then-ruling Lib Dems, on whose watch it happened, that their ever-reliable Councillor SIMON COOK caught the Leisure brief in Fergo’s ‘rainbow cabinet’.
Because it would be mighty embarrassing for this one to leak out…