Despite a promise to let councillors know, after a scrutiny meeting in June, senior council boss Stephen “Weak Man” Peacock has still failed to explain what a payment of £1.2m to Bristol Energy from his City Leap procurement fund was actually for.
The City Leap money was signed over to Bristol Energy by the council’s Section 151 Officer under the heading ‘Innovation Services’ in January 2020. At the precise time the failed council energy reseller had a cashflow crisis.
The Bristolian has obtained a copy of the contract between the city council and Bristol Energy for the £1.2m. It has an appendix where ‘Services Supplied’ should be listed but the page is blank.
To the untrained eye, this £1.2m, paid in an emergency to a collapsing firm, has all the characteristics of a public money ‘bung’ designed to keep a bellyflopping company afloat prior to an election later in the year. An election that, subsequently, never happened due to Covid.
Meanwhile, Weak Man, despite being unable to explain to councillors or the public what he spent £1.2m of public money on, has been promoted and given a pay rise! Now that Chief Exec Billie Jean Jackson has done Bristol a favour and fucked off to London, his interim replacement is … the inexperienced and underqualified Weak Man!
Is Weak Man being rewarded by Rees for bent payments rendered?
Anyone heard anything lately about Bristol Heat Networks Ltd, the council company with no business plan and no recorded assets that’s supposed to be managing all of the city’s heat network assets?
The company is supposed to be handed over to Swedish multinational Vattenfall for free as a crucial part of the City Leap deal that will see the private sector decarbonising the city for fat undisclosed fees. A cabinet report in April assured us that “this asset transfer will be sought via a separate cabinet report currently anticipated to be coming forward in June 2022.”
So where is it? What’s the delay? Because without this asset transfer the whole City Leap project, which has cost us around £7.3m in procurement fees so far, goes tits-up. Are those “gaps and financial and operational risks” in relation to Bristol Heat Networks that the council’s Bristol Holding Company execs warned us about back in February still an issue?
Indeed, some people tell us that the city’s heat networks funded by central government aren’t the council’s to give away to a Swedish multinational. Let’s hope that isn’t the case.
After all, we don’t want another Bristol Energy shambles do we?
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?
From: Bristol Unison Sent: 14 February 2022 07:58 To: All councillors Cc: Bristol Unison; Branch Secretary; Branch Secretary, Unite Subject: full council and collective disputes
Good Morning Councillor
I am emailing you regarding the budget proposals for Full Council on February 15th.
I am unsure if we are allowed to speak, but even if we are if will only a minute. Hardly sufficient.
I have to inform you that we have raised two collective disputes. One regarding museums, is by UNISON, the other one is unsurprisingly regarding the cut to trade union facility time. With the latter, we are joined by UNITE.
The collective dispute regarding museums relates to the paperwork that was submitted to Cabinet and scrutiny prior to the full council. The equalities impact assessment ( EQIA) was wrong and out of date. Full details of this, is within out statements. Furthermore, on meeting with Senior officers they confirmed this and apologised.
The EQIA should not be a paper exercise, but a robust evaluation. I would suggest that this is especially important within culture and particularly in relation to museums and archives. This remains the last free event that a low waged family can undertake on a rainy day. With the cost of living increases and the low wage economy this is essential to many of your citizens.
The cuts in the papers suggested only £85k, when the true figure of nearer £420k has now arisen. This will decimate the staff group.
There are other issues, but with the speed of the consultative process prior to budget setting and inaccuracies within the paperwork, we are unable to engage properly. We are asking for this report to be withdrawn, so it can be written properly and we can engage with our ideas on raising revenue to offset damage to this service. Furthermore, has Cabinet been misled?
Our other collective dispute with UNITE, involves the intention to cut trade union facility time. We expect that the intention is to hamper us being able to represent member’s views in situations like this, and allow budgets and similar to pass through unmolested by democracy.
I have spent days trying to get to the bottom of this, unsuccessfully. I was first directed to the office of Kevin Slocombe, after a few days. He engaged for a bit, and then handed me and our collective queries to John Walsh. I have only received platitudes, not concrete assurances that this cut will not decimate trade union’s ability to function. I have been told that this not a cut, but a realignment of funds. If that is the case, then why is it in the budget proposals dealing specifically with cuts?
We ask you to vote against this and withdraw it for proper consultation. If it is not a cut, then it can be dealt with at the HR committee. We will be discussing these collective disputes at this afternoon’s CJCC, with a view to them being heard at the next HR committee.
We have also been informed from other sources that Councillors have been told to vote this budget through, or fall foul of the Code of Conduct. There is a letter circulating on social media, showing this. We believe that this undermines democracy in our city further. We would support any councillor who votes with their conscience on the 15th. The press would be interested in such a threat, as would the citizens of Bristol. Who voted you in, to represent their wards and constituencies.
Lastly, I need to make a point about waste of finances. We are told about Central Government reducing funding and putting us in such a position, that we need to cut services and outsource. However, it is our opinion that BCC has not been entirely prudent with the budget. For example the recent giving away of land at Temple Island to L and G, with a further £34m in improvement works. To our knowledge, there was not a procurement process or open market tendering. We are unclear what benefits there are for BCC or Bristol citizens. City Leap has cost £7.4m, with a further £3m in reserves. Bristol Energy lost £43m. Colston Hall has now cost the council tax payer £54.4m. I could go on, with salary increases for senior officers being one example. We are in the process of collating evidence of this type of possible financial mismanagement. If you are interested, then please get back to me and I can provide the list.
We firmly believe that our City should not be subjected to cut after cut and revenue should be more carefully managed, and utilised to deliver services.
Thank you for taking time to read this email and we hope you join us in defending our city. It deserves much better.
Business West – where that pair of old Merchant Venturer public sector looters, Colin “Toryboy” Skellett and John “Ignoble” Savage, have recently joined the board – announce that this whole ‘net zero’ schtick could provide a £9.2bn “opportunity” for local business.
What are these “biggest opportunities since the coming of the railway” for the wealthy then? One of them is the council’s City Leap programme where a lucky multinational get’s to build and own unregulated heat networks in the city and charge customers – who are forced by planning regulations to sign up – what they decide.
Horror stories about heat networks are already emerging. At Sutton Council’s SDEN heat network, residents who paid up to £600k for new homes were promised cheap, clean and reliable heat and hot water.
Instead they are paying twice the price of any other heating on the market for a gas powered system that broke down twelve times in a year!
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.
Why were an unholy alliance of council bosses so keen to prevent a meeting of councillors scrutinising the fatcats’ confusing and secretive “Billion Pound” City Leap plan last week? Who do these clowns really work for?
City Leap is the latest senior officer brainchild to emerge out of Bristol City Council and they’re spending £10m of our money on it. The money’s being spent on procuring a multinational corporation as a ‘joint venture partner’ in, er, wait for it … An energy business!
This time the business is aimed at cashing in on ‘net zero’ by, among other things, building and running unregulated neighbourhood heat networks across the city to “‘up the pace’ in reaching carbon neutrality targets”,
Chief Exec Mike “Billie Jean” Jackson; Exec Director for Growth and Regeneration, Stephen “Preening” Peacock and Energy Services boss David “Payday” White all told councillors at a scrutiny meeting last week that there was absolutely no role for them in City Leap until their secretive high stakes procurement process was finished in February.
The officers explained they would then generously allow councillors a couple of hours to rubberstamp their extraordinarily expensive done deal a few days before it goes to cabinet to get signed off by the Reverend, a Yale-trained corporate puppet.
The unscrupulous threesome explained that any attempt now at democratic scrutiny of this latest council energy scheme would have a ‘material impact on the procurement’.
Bizarre reasoning asserting that the council’s constitution and the right of councillors to scrutinise the executive like any normal functioning democracy should be suspended. On the basis that it might upset any multinational corporation lining up at the trough these officers are generously setting up for them.
All highly irregular. Surely any multinational that wants to work with Bristol City council needs to understand from the get-go that they’re working in a democratic environment where public scrutiny of their work is likely to be regular and detailed? And if they don’t like our democracy in Bristol? Well, they can fuck off to any of the many dictatorships around the world with their money can’t they?
Why are Bristol City Council bosses, whose jobs should directly involve upholding the constitution of Bristol City Council to the letter, creating an environment where the city’s democratic norms need to be ignored because corporate interests are waving some money around? Isn’t this exactly the time democratic scrutiny is needed?
A similar fiasco unfolded with Bristol Energy. Scrutiny and opposition councillors were persistently refused access to vital company information by officers. Councillors were unable to scrutinise what was going on at the company and the result was an estimated £50m loss to council taxpayers.
Is it acceptable for officers to set up yet another energy business shrouded in secrecy that can repeat exactly the same mistakes all over again?
Eighteen days after his election and the Reverend Rees still hasn’t managed to find a full cabinet for his second term.
Despite reappointing his ‘Infamous Five’, the two deputy mayors – Craig “Dick” Cheney and Asher “The Slasher” Craig – his anointed successor – Helen “Oh My” Godwin – court favourite – Nicola “La La” Beech – and aging makeweight – HRH Helen of Holland – Rees still has no cabinet members to run Transport, Housing or Education.
Neither is the Reverend intending, it seems, to reach out to the Greens by giving them some cabinet seats after they decimated his councillors and destroyed his majority at the election.
What is his plan then? Is the Reverend going to end all pretence of democracy in Bristol and simply let council managers and appointed One City business wankers run these departments any way they see fit?
Questions are also being asked about the appointment of La La Beech to the Climate, Ecology, Waste and Energy brief. Here, among other things, she’ll nursemaid through Rees’s deranged City Leap public asset sell-off to a multinational company. This may result in the burning of as much shit as possible in Avonmouth to generate loads of lucrative dirty (surely clean? Ed.) energy.
Alas, it turns out that La La Beech, in her day job as a corporate PR consultant, lists one of her clients as the National Grid. is there a conflict of interest here at all?
The first of the manifestoesfor the mayoral elections crashes on to the internet. It’s from the Green Party’s “Squire” Sandy Hore-Ruthven “Bufton-Tufton” who marked this auspicious occasion by standing on a street in Broadmead yesterday and reading out a poorly drafted script from an iPad.
His manifesto gets underway by claiming, “Sandy’s not a politician”! Something only a politician would need to say, before proceeding to unload the not-so-great man’s not-so-great plans for Bristol.
Bufton-Tufton’s effort is actually highly reminiscent of The Reverend Rees’s manifesto of 2016. Back then we said of Rees’s slightly deranged effort:
The Labour manifesto consists of around 180 COMMITMENTS. These roughly break down to 78 UNCOSTED PROMISES ranging from an arena – a snip at around £150m – to “Promoting the role of Bristol Credit Union as an ethical means of accessing financial services” – at a cost of, I dunno (and neither does he, Ed), £150k? So fuck knows how much this little lot would cost us in its entirety.
Our research team haven’t managed quite the same level of detail as they managed back in 2016 mainly because they lost the will to live halfway through that project. However, they assure us that Squire Bufton-Tufton has managed to come up with over 50 uncosted promises himself.
These range from some promises that appear at first sight to be costed: “Halve the price of bus fares for under-21s” and “Invest £600,000 in information, advice and guidance for young people this year”. To vague big-ticket items notable for a high risk and the lack of any multi-million price tag: “support the development of local and regional banking”; “address flooding risks”.
A large majority of Bufton-Tufton’s promises, however, are considerably more small scale: “Celebrate our local high streets with events and festivals led by our creative and arts organisations”; “revitalise South Bristol’s industrial estates”; “create a repair and reuse industry in the city”; “continue installing electric vehicle charging points”; “maintain bus shelters and install universal real-time information”; “invest in specific services for marginalised groups”; “introduce seamless ticketing across the West of England region”; “improve support for families and young people seeking asylum”; “protect and provide more allotments”; “introduce free bulky-waste collection on doorsteps”; “write a Mental Health Charter for Bristol”; “set up a register of ‘meanwhile’ temporary spaces available to help arts and cultural organisations”.
The list of shit Bufton-Tufton intends to deliver just goes on and on and on … Just like Rees’s 2016 manifesto. The detailed promises from which remain robustly undelivered five years later. Is history repeating?
What super-experienced expert Chief Executive Bufton-Tufton appears to fail to understand is that every promise he makes requires a substantial resource to deliver. Unless he thinks that the Council House is full of council officers hanging around doing nothing while sitting on a large pot of unspent money marked ‘vanity projects for incoming mayor’?
Let’s take just one example – “set up a register of ‘meanwhile’ temporary spaces available to help arts and cultural organisations”. This has actually been tried before and does not come for free. You need to identify the properties, set up a register; run a register; run an application process; complete due diligence; run an allocation process; survey the building to ensure they’re safe for public use; monitor the spaces; act as a good landlord; this list goes on.
A highly conservative estimate of the cost over Sandy’s three years in office to run “a register of ‘meanwhile’ temporary spaces” would be £300k if you managed to do it with a couple of staff working their arses off unmanaged with few resources. Multiply that figure by 50 to cover Bufton-Tufton’s various promises and you have a spending commitments averaging, at least, £15m. Although the cost of say, “seamless ticketing across the West of England region” would probably cost more than £15m on its own.
This from a council that can’t afford lollipop ladies, public toilets, SEND provision and has had to outsource their own low paid jobs to their private companies to save a few quid.
So much for the undeliverable small stuff designed to attract the foolish voter who likes ‘a good idea’ and believes anything they’re told. But what of the headline items? The ones that tell us what Bufton-Tufton is really all about and where the money’s really going?
Bufton-Tufton’s big announcement is on housing. He promises to “build 2,000 new council homes by 2030 and “insulate every council house in Bristol by 2030, reducing carbon emissions and fuel bills by 40%”. There’s some debate as to whether the funding exists to both build the houses and retrofit the existing stock, which may be why Bufton-Tufton has downgraded to a cheaper option of insulating homes rather than the a full retofit extravanganza of heat pumps, solar panels etc. Let’s just hope he’s got his sums right on this or his legacy may be a bankrupt Housing Revenue Account for the city.
2,000 council homes is also a fairly small promise if you consider we’re losing homes at a rate of about 150 a year through Right to Buy. He’s actually promising just 500 homes to tackle a council house waiting list of 12,000 and a projected population increase of around 70,000, which makes you wonder why anyone would expend so much political capital on so little? Maybe it’s all about having a big swinging dick my-numbers-are-bigger-your-numbers game with the Reverend Rees during the election?
Also on housing, having explained we have a ‘housing crisis’, Bufton-Tufton proposes, to “charge a carbon levy of £75 per tonne of emitted carbon in all new domestic and commercial developments, to generate income to offset carbon emissions from new developments.”
We’re reliably informed this could cost somewhere between £3k – £5k on a new three bed house. Yes, in the middle of a housing affordability crisis, the Greens are proposing to put house prices up! Who thinks this shit up?
Another big issue is the Reverend’s proposed corporate redevelopment of the Cumberland Basin, which involves renaming the area ‘Western Harbour’ and moving the Brunel Way flyover and existing road into Hotwells to free up land with views of the Suspension Bridge so that corporate developers can cash in while trashing Ashton Park.
Bufton-Tufton has very little to say about this. The man who’s assured interviewers he can take “tough decisions” weakly proclaims he will, “reappraise the Western Harbour development, consulting with residents and businesses first.”
Quite how yet another bloody consultation on a corporate road building scheme – few people outside the business community want – squares with his promise elsewhere in his manifesto to “oppose plans for major road building” isn’t explained. Although the absence of a simple “tough decision” contrary to multinational corporate interests screams out at you.
Of another harebrained council corporate scheme, designed to hand huge amounts of our public assets to the private sector with poor oversight and little discussion or useful scrutiny, Bufton-Tufton comfortably adopts one the council’s many examples of dubious Reespeak. Cheerily repeating news of the “£1 billion City Leap programme,” Bufton-Tufton promises, “We will accelerate the City Leap project and increase investment beyond the £1 billion currently committed.”
His explanation for this dodgy public asset firesale and corporate sell-out helpfully reveals Bufton-Tufton’s true ideological colours, “the climate emergency dictates that speed is more essential than public ownership,” he says.
There you have it. The Bristol Green Party in a nutshell. We must urgently give our public assets away as quickly as possible to corporations because “climate emergency”. Public ownership is now an unaffordable luxury according to the Green Party in Bristol
Anyone telling you this right wing, free market, corporate crap is in any way ‘left wing’ is a liar. We suggest you (don’t) vote accordingly.