Tag Archives: Bristol City Council

CUT TODAY FOR LABOUR VICTORY TOMORROW

Some excellent sleuthing by Momentum in the lead up to the Reverend’s Tory cuts budget at the end of February UNCOVERED what appeared to be an extra £9million being hosed into the council’s cash reserves for NO APPARENT REASON.

This £9million was the difference between what the council’s published financial risk assessment said was NEEDED in cash reserves and the amount of cash actually being PUT IN THERE.

But lo and behold! Just the day before the council’s budget meeting, a new risk assessment suddenly emerged, explaining the council actually needed a FURTHER £9million in cash reserves.

All very convenient, although the stench of the Reverend building a personal ELECTION WAR CHEST for 2020 at the expense of our public services now remains hanging heavily in the air.

Do look out for those Labour election treats, baubles and bribes in 2019 – 20 but try not to forget what they really cost us in terms of lost services and wrecked lives

COUNCILLORS WANT COMPANY SECRETS

Councillors, with bugger all to do since the Reverend Rees decided he didn’t want them scrutinising his work in detail any more, are finally ASKING QUESTIONS about the council’s two companies – Bristol Energy and Bristol Waste.

Councillors from all parties have been querying whether, in legal terms, Bristol Waste – a so-called ‘TECKAL COMPANY’ that can be selected to deliver council services without going through a procurement process – should be treated in the same way as a Council directorate for audit purposes. In other words, should there be FULL PUBLIC ACCESS to the company’s income and expenditure accounts like any other council department?

The Reverend and his panicky bosses have, so far, responded by trying to SHUT COUNCILLORS UP. They claim that a secret “independent review” of the companies has required Bristol Waste to establish its own audit committee while Bristol Energy had already established an audit committee. This is enough oversight argue the Reverend’s gophers.

Councillors, however, concerned at mounting LOSSES and excessive SECRECY at the companies, are reputed to be less than happy with the Reverend’s response and his insistence on constant secrecy for his failing companies. Especially as, at present, only ONE COUNCILLOR, the Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board, is permitted to attend Shareholder Group meetings and only as an observer.

Shareholder Group meetings are where the finances and management of these companies are discussed. But, “due to the commercial sensitivity of the matters discussed”, the Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board is then BANNED from SHARING any information with other councillors.

Many councillors, permanently out-of-the-loop and concerned at the LOSSES and the general CONDUCT of companies they’re responsible for, are now saying that it’s “too limiting to maintain a situation whereby only one non-executive Council member is given access to information.”

How much longer can the Reverend keep his “commercially confidential” company bandwagon on the road? It increasingly looks like pressure is mounting from both the public and councillors for exactly the kind of TRANSPARENCY the Reverend promised us during his election campaign.

Watch this space.

POTHOLED!

A cyclist was involved in a nasty ACCIDENT on the Downs recently when he rode straight into a pothole measured as 8 inches deep, 68 inches long and 26 inches wide. It was also completely SUBMERGED in water and looked like a puddle.

The bike SNAPPED in two when the cyclist hit the pothole and he was hospitalised with head and face injuries including concussion and fractured cheek, nose and hand. NUMEROUS REPORTS had been made to the council’s ‘Fix My Street’ website, especially from cyclists reporting how dangerous sections of the Downs now are. There are a series of LARGE POTHOLES there, which the council is doing sod-all about.

Meanwhile, the council and their cycling consultants are resurfacing the cycle path on Baldwin Street for the THIRD TIME, even though no one uses it. All around the city, they’re building cycle paths a few metres long, when all the evidence shows that cyclists won’t dismount, get onto the cycle path, cycle a few metres, dismount and get back on the road again.

Why are the roads so much better in South Gloucestershire and North Somerset than in Bristol? Any potholes that appear are FILLED IN. Roads that deteriorate are RESURFACED. Meanwhile, Bristol has some absolute HORROR SHOWS, many where there is very heavy cycle use. The roads around Blaise Castle are another example.

And this is supposedly a ‘Cycling City’ where Sustrans chooses to locate its headquarters?

MAT SHIT CRAZY

Just days after a string of national press reports in January highlighting the CHRONIC FINANCIAL PROBLEMS of Multi-Academy Trusts across the country, parents of Hillcrest Primary in Totterdown were informed that the school had quietly approached the Regional Schools Commissioner to form a MULTI ACADEMY TRUST (MAT) with Holymead, West Town Lane & Whitchurch Primaries.

Accompanying the announcement, a set of dubious claims were LEAKED out to parents to justify the idiot plan. Claims that include ludicrous financial assertions for MATs with little basis in reality. One claim is that academies get “MORE MONEY” than local authority schools. They do not. Funding per pupil is the SAME for both types of school.

Another claim is that the academies will “SAVE MONEY” because the school will not have to pay any money to the local authority for shared services. Partially true. Although the school will have to pay money to the MAT instead. Savings, therefore, will be somewhere between very limited, zero or more than they’re paying now depending on how the MAT and its OPAQUE and UNACCOUNTABLE trustees, members and self-styled leaders choose to set their charges (and significant personal salaries).

The only possible way academies can spend more money on your children is if they DRASTICALLY REDUCE teachers’ and staff pay and conditions – any schools’ biggest expense. This means an assault on maternity, paternity and sick pay, more use of unqualified and newly qualified teachers, less staff with larger classes, poorer SEN provision and much more. Otherwise, these academies are BARELY SOLVENT.

A glance at the accounts for West Town Lane, which is already an academy, reveals the school has just £200k in reserves and a capital buildings budget of just £25k per year. £200k is enough to pay staff for ONE MONTH. While the school is just a new roof away from BANKRUPTCY.

These schools simply aren’t financially sustainable outside local authority control. A fact confirmed by the Times Educational Supplement. They reported this month that “it would only take TWO MORE YEARS like the one that they have just had to leave the entire [MAT] sector on the verge of insolvency.”

Why are local schools rushing down this academy route then? Or more to the point, why isn’t our Labour-run authority doing more to warn NAÏVE SCHOOL GOVERNING BODIES of the dangers of this DAFT TORY INITIATIVE? And what, exactly, is the Reverend’s cabinet member for schools, Anna “The Ostrich” Keen, whose main qualification for the job appears to be that she’s the Reverend’s old geography teacher’s daughter, doing about it?

The Ostrich needs to get on top of this issue. Otherwise people might end up thinking that the Reverend and The Ostrich are launching a vicious Tory-style AUSTERITY ASSAULT on teachers’ pay and conditions in Bristol using school governing bodies as cover to deflect the blame away from themselves.

Not the kind of dishonesty the Reverend Rees’s would ever get up to, surely?

UPDATE: Since going to press, EIGHT more schools in Bristol have announced their intention to form a MAT:

Fair Furlong Primary in Withywood
Knowle Park Primary in Knowle Park
Bridge Farm Primary in Whitchurch
Whitehall Primary
Cabot Primary in St Pauls
Glenfrome Primary School in Eastville
Brunel Field Primary in Ashley Down
Ashley Down Primary

PRIVATE SECTOR EFFICIENCY WATCH

Spunkface

City Council Property Services Director, Robert “Spunkface” Orrett, finally abandoned his local authority sinking ship in September for an executive lifeboat in Filton. Here, a LUCRATIVE CONTRACT appeared with Malaysian corporate, YTL.

YTL are the firm who want to build Bristol’s arena in Filton with public money and who, no doubt, will find Spunkface’s city council CONTACT BOOK and INSIDER KNOWLEDGE of developing an arena in Bristol very useful indeed.

Those with longer memories, may recall Spunkface arrived at Bristol City Council in the autumn of 2012 from corporate property firm BNP Paribas as the man who was going to bring “private sector efficiency and discipline” to the council’s STRUGGLING and UNDER-POWERED Property Services Department.

He also brought along an UNLAWFUL private consultancy gig with BNP Paribas, which he didn’t give up for over a year, breaking all known codes of conduct for public servants. However, for some reason, this conduct was OVERLOOKED by senior council bosses and councillors who are supposed to rigorously defend the integrity of our public services.

When Spunkface departed in the autumn, his department – largely run by a revolving door of interims and consultants who couldn’t give a toss – was announcing over £7million in UNACHIEVED SAVINGS; an OVERSPEND of £2million and was engulfed in MANAGEMENT CHAOS. Meanwhile, on Spunkface’s watch, a number of financial and bullying SCANDALS had emerged across his department.

These SCANDALS in markets, security services and the Harbour Office were all brushed under the carpet by Spunkface while he SINGULARLY FAILED to make any progress in increasing income from the council’s valuable property portfolio as he had been employed to do. Although plenty of city council property was handed over FOR FREE to corporate property guardian firms to earn big money from EXPLOITING the homeless and vulnerably housed.

Now that Spunkface has departed, we learn that discussions are taking place at a senior level in the council about OUTSOURCING the management of the council’s Property Services to the PRIVATE SECTOR to bring – wait for it – “private sector efficiency and discipline” to the useless department!

Who would ever have guessed that a manager brought in from the private sector would achieve nothing except to so thoroughly trash a local authority department it needed to be outsourced to the, er, private sector?

PATH TO RUIN

SHIT IDEAS FROM REES’S CORPORATE FRIENDS pt 56

Within weeks of the Reverend Rees unveiling his PIE-IN-THE SKY underground rail plan, the BRISTOL AND BATH RAILWAY PATH is, again, being targeted as a CHEAP rapid transit option by Labour’s corporate transport consultant friends.

In an EXACT REPETITION of proposals that were ended 10 years ago by HUGE public protest, some shadowy corporate transport consultants have LEAKED a proposal to the Nazi Post to run a tram/light rail down the Railway Path as a cut-price alternative to Rees’s impossibly expensive tube dream.

The Reverend’s transport wonks have even wheeled out USEFUL IDIOT, David Redgewell, a self-appointed local transport spokesman to back their plan. Redgewell operates under the guise of the official-sounding ‘South West Transport Network’, a mystery organisation with mystery funding and no formal documents of association.

“No one is saying the cycle way will be closed, far from it, it would actually be widened and improved to allow the light rail track to run alongside it,” explains this full time UNACCOUNTABLE BUSYBODY who doesn’t even understand that the Railway Path isn’t a “cycle way” but a park and inner city wildlife corridor first and foremost.

“There is already a section of the cycle path that runs alongside the Midland railway, so it isn’t too radical,” he rambles on. Well, tell that to the THOUSANDS of residents that successfully campaigned against exactly the same stupid plan ten years ago, you dodgy transport industry gobshite.

Meanwhile the Reverend’s entirely decorative transport cabinet member, Mhairi “Bauble” Threlfall, currently overseeing the incredible £200million non-appearing Metrobus system, has tried to brush aside any plans for the Railway Path. She told the Post, a rapid transit route on the path had been “MENTIONED IN PASSING”, whatever that means.

The Post however suggests things may have gone beyond being “mentioned’. They say, “several of the UK’s top transport experts – including those involved in London Cross Rail project and the completed Strathclyde Subway – have been IN TALKS with Metro Mayor Tim Bowles, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees and leader of B&NES council Tim Warren.”

And, “It is understood the group has been advised there are only TWO OPTIONS available to running the eastern route through one of the most congested parts of the city – either building a tunnel underground from the outskirts or build a tram-like light rail system next to THE CYCLE PATH.”

Does the Reverend know what happened last time the local Labour Party tried to TRASH our Railway Path in 2008? They were STOPPED in their tracks by MASS PROTEST before slumping to their WORST election performance in a generation in 2009 when they ended up with just 16 councillors.

The Greens and the Lib Dems who SUPPORTED the Railway Path and OPPOSED Labour’s rapid transit plan, meanwhile, enjoyed an electoral boost with the Lib Dems forming a majority administration in 2009.

Rees and Threlfall should consider themselves warned.

ST-MARVIN’S-UP-THE-CREEK PARISH NEWS #13

Lucky parishioners personally invited to the premiere of my thrilling biopic film, ‘The Reverend’s Ace: a shameless hagiography’, please note that the venue has been switched from the Church Hall due to a small completion delay in its transformation process. The film, by my German friend Ms Helga Goebbels, is an enthralling documentary about my incredible journey and features fascinating interviews with friends and family as well as focussing on my lovely new garden furniture from B&Q. See you there!

More good news, this time regarding the delayed pay-as-you-go self-service tea vending solution in the vestry. The original contract with our self-service tea vending solution partner, Agresso Refreshment World, has been formally off-tabled at a commercially confidential but highly competitive settlement rate. Now, the parish’s Interim Head of Agile, Ms Beardmore from Shropshire will initiate a smart procurement process to locate a new best value self-service tea vending solution partner.

Ms Beardmore wants an integrated solution in place by as soon as next January so that we can make efficiencies in tea delivery as soon as 2021. That is a small slippage of just four years in the delivery of this complex refreshments transformation project. Ms Beardmore also assures me that a step change in biscuit provision may be walked down the decision pathway going forward.

I have now tasked Ms Beardmore with investigating further efficiencies that prioritise elasticity in our budget envelope as it is further stretched by the Diocese’s austerity plans. One proposal is to reimagine the underused parish library, where weird old religious books gather dust, as a drive-thru communion facility for an increasing number of parishioners with less time for traditional worship but with salaries that might be better reflected in the collection plate. Ms Beardmore, with her superb customer services background, also proposes installing a 24-hour self-serve telephone communion service facility with a fully integrated credit card payment option.

Both initiatives are ideal for parents seeking an easy-pay, time efficient journey for their child into the parish’s OFSTED rated ‘excellent’ St Snoot’s Academy. We have already procured a team of digital enablement consultants from London to work up a joined-up feasibility working paper and we will embark on an innovative consultation exercise to review this exciting transformation plan soon. I shall update on this agile worship programme as it progresses.

On budget, on time and on target, the church toilets are now permanently closed. Those needing toilet facilities should try the High Street where we are inviting businesses to express an interest in providing free toilet facilities for St Marvin’s worshippers

Finally, please note that places remain available on my flagship leadership programme exclusively for dull middle managers and accountants with no personality. Spaces are limited, so get in touch quickly if you wish to join the likes of Ms Beardmore and myself as inspirational parish leaders. As my mentor, the Texan psychotic preacher and notorious anti-communist homophobe, the Pastor Righteous Loon always tells me, “promote the dull, stupid and insipid for they will always do as they’re told.”

Farewell and adieu.

The Vicar

UNISON: THE SORRY STATE by The Dwarf

Despite being the union that campaigned for an end to tribunal fees and won. Despite being the union that strikes for hospital workers, wins equal pay claims for cleaners and tries to prevent the outsourcing of care workers everywhere except Bristol. Despite having nearly all the cuts in this round of austerity aimed at those areas only they really have members in – Bristol Unison still refuse to do anything to oppose the cuts. That is, unless Mayor Marvin asks them to go on a demonstration against his own cuts. In which case out comes the banner in what could only be described as a giant blow struck for irony.

The cuts are coming in social services, children’s services, libraries and community services. All areas that are almost exclusively Unison and all are areas where member engagement, information exchange and political activism are non-existent. Meetings with unions have been cancelled, barrack room lawyers silenced in staff meetings, management have denied a plan to outsource libraries but then put out an email about mutualisation.

Does anyone remember the battles of the past? When disabled residents and unions lobbied noisily on the ramps of the Counts Louse? Where day centres were occupied and workers broke the blockade passing them fish and chips through the windows? Where library workers struck for the right to a family life? Where have the activists gone? I’m reliably informed that Unison hasn’t enough activists to fill a Renault Espace when they once numbered in the hundreds. They’re voting with their feet comrades … Wake up and get a grip.

I was told that regional officers consider the cuts to have been democratically arrived at and that is that, nothing more can be done. We at The BRISTOLIAN reject that sort of democracy. We want an engaged, participatory democracy of mutual solidarity and so should the unions. If we don’t get it then protest and actions must rightfully take place.

But here we come to the nub of the matter and that is the risk social and industrial agitation poses to the electoral prospects of the Labour Party. Occupying day centres and striking for work-life balance is OK as long as the Liberal Democrats or an Independent is in charge but not when it’s Labour.

Last year there was a scandal at Unison’s AGM as to whether Unison should affiliate to the anti-cuts groups – a no-brainer in anyone’s world assolidarity with people against the cuts should be ingrained. A self-appointed standing orders committee, which no one knew existed because it didn’t, ruled the motion incompetent. This year, the union’s members ruled their own representatives’ incompetent over a scandalous redundancy pay cut ballot stitch-up. And this was in front of a firebrand assistant general secretary, from head office, who was so embarrassed he didn’t know where to look.

Sorry, Roger McKenzie, that you had to see the union in such a sorry state.

AUDITORS SLAM ENERGY SHAMBLES

Even Bristol City Council’s own external auditors, BDO, have CONDEMNED the incompetent management of Bristol Energy, the council’s laughing stock energy reselling business that started trading in 2016 and has cost us about £25million so far.

“We have NOT seen evidence that the risks and potential financial losses of this investment were fully understood by the council when the investment was made in 2015 and 2016,” say the auditors before concluding, “Bristol Energy has NOT performed in line with its original 2015 business plan.”

This business plan, signed off by Nicki “Chocolate” Beardmore, the Reverend’s golden girl senior manager on £300k a year, said they would MAKE a 12% return on investment after 5 years and 35% after 10 years. Instead, the company reported a LOSS of £3million last year and £7million this year. With 110,000 customers and an initial investment of £15.3million by Bristol City Council, this means Bristolians have SPENT £139 for each customer and then Bristol Energy has generated a further LOSS of about £70 per customer. Top work!

BDO go on to conclude that a further hurriedly rewritten business plan in 2016, which admitted NO PROFITS were in sight, was also a lot of crap. “We have some concerns that the risks around the energy company, its governance arrangements and greater than expected losses were not understood fully by the Council in the early part of 2016/17.”

The auditors are now applauding the inevitable arrival of a team of CONSULTANTS from London to pick over the bones of this CORPSE and personally cash in on the shambles. “Independent Advisors and external consultants have been commissioned to provide advice on how the governance arrangements for the Group could be improved and financial and commercial advice to optimise value in the delivery of the Council’s investment and ensure that the Council achieves the best value for money outcome,” they claim.

When are we going to get a decent, decisive politician willing to pull the plug and shut down this miserable money pit shambles devised by idiots?