City Leap lottery winners Ameresco took on their first project in December. An existing £1.2m entirely publicly funded plan to install an air-source heat-pump in Blaise Primary School to replace an aging gas system that can be replaced for about £0.5m.
Accompanying the low-profile news that Ameresco were taking on this year old project was a senior officer decision to up the budget by 25 per cent to £1.5m due to ‘inflation’. This is despite the project having a 35 per cent contingency built into it when it was set-up in February 2022.
This extra money will come from this year’s school maintenance budget. Bad luck if your kids’ school needs any repairs then. The money’s been earmarked for a US corporation.
Any cynic suggesting Ameresco have upped the price by 25 per cent to extract a profit would, of course, be speculating.
Before the City Leap deal ascended to the Reverend and his cabinet of all the chumps for rubberstamping, a cross party scrutiny committee got to take look at some of it.
Comments by councillors at this meeting were not positive. Among the complaints: * That the committee’s comments and questions over a period of years have not received adequate answers; * Every scrutiny meeting listed in the final report was either delayed, deferred or cancelled and reorganised; * Money spent on advice and procurement has been around £10million dwarfing the concession payments of £2.3m we may receive over five years from City Leap; * Scrutiny members were denied access to the detailed agreement with private partner Ameresco. How do you scrutinise something you can’t see? Enormous complexity’s involved. If something goes wrong, trying to enforce a secret agreement is difficult; * What happens to the loss in Bristol Heat Networks? Up to 31 March 2022 there was a £1m loss according to documents at Companies House. No member has been briefed on the loss. Who’s paying? The council taxpayer? Private sector partners?
Councillors got no answers. Instead cabinet member, Kye “The” Dudd openly laughed in their faces.
An announcement in March that the council’s £7.3m City Leap procurement process had finally come to an end and US firm Ameresco had got the contract to ‘decarbonise’ the city by 2030 was accompanied by a lovely Thatcherite kick in the teeth from Labour. As it was also revealed that the city’s heat network assets would be handed to Ameresco’s partner, Vattenfall to run.
Vattenfall is an energy multinational owned by the Swedish state. So we’re in the odd position of handing some of the city’s publicly owned energy assets over to the Swedish people to financially benefit from. Go figure. The announcement of this giveaway – that’s not even a sell-off as no price tag is attached – comes after claims as recently as February that the networks would be put into a joint venture company owned by the council and the private partner.
Bristol Holding boss, Peter Beange assured councillors at a scrutiny meeting on February 9 that the heat networks would be part of “a successful share sale to the winning City Leap joint venture.”
Not any more. The brand new networks of underground pipes and heat centres built with public money over the last seven years will now be fully privatised so that Bristolians can be squeezed for profit for heating their homes and businesses in an unregulated energy market.
The news didn’t seem to bother councillors at a scrutiny meeting on 28 March when the u-turn was revealed. Instead they engaged in another round of cheerleading for the private sector. Strange, because Labour, Green and Lib Dem politicians have all called for the Tories to nationalise energy providers in the face of the cost of living crisis and huge energy price hikes.
It’s like politicians come out with any old populist bollocks that they have no intention of really fighting for isn’t it?
To Tuesday’s Overview and Scrutiny Commission meeting on Tuesday where the horrifying City Leap privatisation project was being discussed. The £7m two year procurement process is now over and US firm Ameresco has got the winning bid with state-owned Swedish firm, Vattenfall, as a partner.
The headline news is that the city’s heat networks, built and funded by council taxpayers and the government since 2015, are to be handed over to Vattenfall to run. This generous award of public assets to a private firm appears to have no price tag attached.
Not that this seemed to concern councillors on Tuesday, who appeared intensely relaxed at news of a multi-million pound public asset being given away to the private sector.
However one exchange between the council’s City Leap kingpin Executive Director Stephen “Preening” Peacock and Lib Dem Councillor Tim “Little Asshat” Kent caught the eye.
Councillor Kent had the temerity to ask the preening Peacock what a cost of £1.2m (which may not have been unattached to a bung to Bristol Energy) was for in Peacock’s exorbitant procurement costs. The exchange went something like this:
KENT: “What was the cost of Energy Innovation Services in 2019 for?”
PEACOCK: “It’s a historic number We don’t have anything more to say on that today”
KENT: “OK I don’t recall that. So what was it”?
PEACOCK: “I don’t have the Information today”
KENT: “Can anyone recall what that is. It’s £1.2m and nobody knows what it is. It’s about 15 per cent of the budget”
PEACOCK: “I’m not saying we don’t remember. I’m saying it’s not relevant … If you’re trying to allude to Bristol Energy. It’s that. It’s been dealt with at previous meetings.”
KENT: “I wasn’t a member of [the committee] then so it doesn’t stop me from asking questions. Even if you don’t like the questions.
PEACOCK: “I’m simply saying this meeting is to talk about the outcome of a procurement and if you want to discuss the outcome of a conversation we had two years ago we’re very happy to do that.”
KENT: “What I’m discussing is the figures that are presented to us here in the room I just asked a simple question. I had a suspicion. I wasn’t actually sure but that figure particularly stood out. My real question about that then – what was it? Because it was a lot of money?”
PEACOCK: “We’ll write to you afterwards if you like? We have been focussing today on City Leap procurement. This is just merely a restatement of a budget that’s been in there with the only additions and changes being the information you’ve now seen to close out that period,. Which effectively, I think, we’re about £100,000 within the budget and then we’re looking for a fresh approval to get into the mobilisation and transition phase. All I’m saying is we’re not in possession of that information today because it’s a historic matter.”
KENT: “I think that the budget was reported about 18 months ago that it would be no more than £6.5m. [it’s now £7.3m]. I thought my question was perfectly reasonable. I see you don’t.. Anyway I’m done. Thank you.”
In the space of a couple of minutes, Peacock variously says: “we don’t have anything more to say on that”; “I don’t have the information”; “it’s not relevant”; “it’s a historic matter”.
Would you trust this man to sell your heat network to a multinational corporation?
A strong rumour rumbles through the Bristolian newswire that never sleeps … One of the three multinational corporates bidding to become a partner in the ‘billion pound City Leap’ neighbourhood heat network joint venture with Bristol City Council has thrown in the towel.
So it’s farewell, then, to ENGIE Services Holding UK Ltd and Sumitomo Corporation (as a consortium). Have they decided that Bristol City Council’s “billion pound’ golden egg may well end up all over their faces? This leaves E ON and Ameresco to battle it out for the grand prize in a procurement race that has so far burned through £7million of council taxpayers cash for no useful reason.
Engie’s decision may not be unrelated to a cabinet paper released this week that reveals the council has just received £11million from the government to build a heat network in Bedminster. This, the paper explains, will connect to eleven new blocks of flats in the Bedminster Green area. In other words, the cost, at present, of connecting one block to a neighbourhood heat network is a million quid.
Never mind any profit, Engie probably figured out not losing a small fortune in this expensive business was probably unavoidable. How much would you have to charge punters to get a million quid back while “implement[ing] competitive heat retail and competitive heat generation across the heat network”?
Not a question Bristol’s cabinet or councillors have so far asked while signing away £7million of our money on their latest daft energy business.