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.
A row has broken out among Bristol’s Labour councillors over the Reverend Rees’s efforts to freeze council rents this year. The result is that crucial budget papers for the Housing Revenue Account were pulled from a Cabinet meeting at the last minute this week. Could a WAFER THIN voting majority at the Council House mean that the Reverend finally has to take some notice of his long-suffering backbenchers rather the unelected City Office business wankers and evangelicals he usually surrounds himself with?
The Reverend, having already made a song and dance in the local press about his generosity in freezing rents to help the poor, has been left high and dry by these backbenchers. The row directly pitches the LONG TERM VIABILITY of our council housing stock against short term electoral needs. The Reverend and his supporters are keen to push through this freeze believing it will ATTRACT VOTES when elections finally happen.
Another section of his party is more concerned that the freeze will create a HOLE in the Housing Revenue Account and will affect the council’s ability to build new homes; renovate old homes and meet their targets to retrofit homes to meet climate change targets. The cost of retrofitting, alone, is conservatively estimated at £0.5 BILLION
The £1.8m cost of a freeze for this year reduces the council’s ability to borrow to meet their housing commitments in the future. LESS rental income means LESS ability to borrow money. We’re told that this £1.8m actually amounts to over £50 MILLION less to spend on our council housing over the next 30 years.
There is also evidence from around the country that other authorities that have not raised enough money through rents have been forced to PRIVATISE their housing stock or seek out private ‘partnerships’ to support building and renovation plans.
As well as an effort to hoover up votes with POPULIST PLOYS, is the Reverend also trying to further lever open the door for a CORPORATE ASSAULT on our council housing through his mysterious City Leap public-private partnership programme that’s been eyeing up our city’s council housing assets?
“We should never have been in the energy business,” is the Reverend Rees’s mantra regarding Bristol Energy. The deranged energy reselling wheeze delivered courtesy of a pair of hapless elected mayors and a supporting cast of idiot senior council bosses and greedy private sector troughers that has cost the city an estimated £50 MILLION during a long period of austerity and public service cuts.
But why, if we should never have been in the energy business, is the Reverend now setting up ‘CITY LEAP‘, a “billion pound” public-private vehicle to decarbonise the city? Or is “the delivery of a local interconnected, low carbon, smart energy system in Bristol that provides long-term social, environmental and economic benefits for its residents, communities and businesses” not “the energy business”? If not, what is it?
This latest Bristol City Council energy project, which, like the last one, is promising social, environmental and economic benefits to the city is also, like the last one, shrouded in mystery. Albeit an even more EXPENSIVE mystery with the best part of £10million already shifted to the private sector to pay for legal and procurement consultants who have finally delivered a shortlist of three multinational corporate ‘partners’ for the project.
But what is this project? So far, we understand, the council will be handing over their limited number of ENERGY ASSETS – mainly some half-finished city centre heat networks and wind turbines to a multinational company to “implement competitive heat retail and competitive heat generation across the heat network”.
In English that means the multinational will be making A PROFIT from public assets by charging the competitive rate they choose to supply energy from our public infrastructure. However, this is nowhere near a “billion pound” project, which makes some recent announcements from the council’s housing department rather interesting.
They say, “Housing recently assisted the City Leap team with updating and revising documentation for the City Leap project, which included the INFORMATION ON OUR STOCK and the potential OPPORTUNITY for improvements to net zero. Housing will continue its liaison with the City Leap team and notes the significant benefits that having a pre-procured partner for project delivery and, potentially, investment could have on the rapid roll out of carbon reduction programmes.”
In other words Bristol City Council Housing Service intend to sign A CONTRACT IN ADVANCE with a multinational to retrofit all their council homes. Then should any large government grants for retrofitting council homes roll in to the council – such as through a ‘GREEN NEW DEAL‘ – they’ll roll straight out again and offshore to a corporation who can charge whatever they want and do whatever they want.
They’ll be no competitive tendering; no local opportunities; no local profit and little democratic control over any housing improvements or the public funds for them. This could, potentially, amount to tens, if not hundreds, of MILLIONS in grants.
Of further concern is another missive from the council’s housing department, “it is anticipated that the retrofit of domestic properties will be included in the program of works delivered by the City Leap Energy Partnership. The REQUIREMENT to retrofit domestic properties is essential to the decarbonisation of heat and to achieving carbon neutrality.”
Is this a reference to privately owned homes? And what is this “REQUIREMENT to retrofit domestic properties”? A project that might well cost that magic “billion pounds”. But how will home owners be “required” to retrofit their homes? Will this have to happen through the council’s multinational partner? Do homeowners pay or do the government pay? Can homeowners be FORCED in to debt to meet this new “requirement”?
Will households in the city end up INDENTURED to some faceless multinational corporation so that the council can live the green dream while delivering an extravagant pay day to a lucky corporate? Is the plan, this time, that the council’s foray into the energy business dumps the inevitable huge losses directly on to us?
The ‘Permanent Energy Centre’ on Castle Park will eventually generate some of the energy for the wider ‘OLD MARKET HEAT NETWORK’. This is a plan to supply low or zero carbon heat to connected buildings around Old Market at a cost equivalent to, or lower than, mains gas. To this end the council has now agreed to spend £9.4MILLION (plus £8.8MILLION of government money) installing a heat network around the Old Market area.
However, rather than the people of Bristol and council tax payers DIRECTLY BENEFITING in lower bills from their PUBLIC INVESTMENT into CHEAP ENERGY, the council say, “these projects are important parts of the Bristol Heat Network system and will be important assets under the CITY LEAP INITIATIVE“.
In other words, once this network has been completed at PUBLIC EXPENSE, it will be FLOGGED to the private sector so that they can extract a PROFIT from the cheap, clean energy infrastructure we’ve paid for. A similar heat network at Redcliffe, directly serving SOCIAL HOUSING, has also been put up for sale to the private sector as part of the Reverend’s energy fire sale (surely the billion pound City LEAP Prospectus? Ed).
Why can’t these heating systems REMAIN IN PUBLIC HANDS to deliver any financial and social benefits directly to the Bristolians that paid for them? Why are they being SOLD, before they’re even built, to make PROFITS for a group of global shareholders? Why are Bristol Labour Party using public money to build assets that are already on the market to global corporations?
Is there a city council news blackout about the large decline in bus passenger numbers in Bristol over the last year? Journeys are down 5.3 per cent compared to the same period last year and reveal the current administration, just prior to next year’s election, is bucking the trend of increasing bus use in the city over the last ten years. Self-styled “city leader” and “change maker”, the Reverend Rees appears to have delivered significant change in at least one important area then.
The Metrobus, which the Reverend strongly supports, contrary to all common sense, as a “first step towards an integrated rapid and mass transit network” apparently, is among services showing obvious signs of failure after just a year in service. Numbers on the M2 from Long Ashton Park and Ride are down. While the M1 service from Hengrove to the Centre has quietly had its service reduced from every 10 minutes to every 12 minutes due to a lack of passengers.
This must be classified as a significant personal failure for the Reverend who has twice taken on the cabinet transport portfolio during his reign of error. Then there was that ‘State of the City’ address last October. Remember his announcement and the accompanying gushing PR about a “flat fare” scheme in partnership with First Bus? This turned out to be a nonsensical mess, resulting in a variety of different fares and a price increase for the majority of passengers. Further compounded this summer when First hiked their prices again.
The Reverend’s current cabinet transport chief Kye “The” Dudd also remains silent on this failure. Preferring instead to waffle on about a pie-in-the-sky ‘Green New Deal’ and the “billion pound City Leap” prospectus, his sell-off of public assets to the private sector.
The Reverend, meanwhile, is now cooking up a pre-election ‘Bus Deal’ with First. Another woolly agreement between Rees and the untrustworthy corporate sharks, that commits public money to various road ‘improvements’ so that First can attempt to further increase their monopoly profits from our pockets. Meanwhile any talk of an underground or any other proper rapid transit system for the city appears to have been removed from the Reverend’s talking points by mayoral spin doctor “Slo” Kev Slocombe.
Hopefully the next stop for Rees and Dudd will be the Job Centre.
It’s trebles all round for the variety of FAILING BUSINESSES run by our council. At last month’s Cabinet meeting, politicians not only agreed a further £6MILLION HANDOUT for Bristol Energy, which has now had £37.7million of our money, but decided that Bristol Holding, the parent company for Bristol Energy, Bristol Waste and their low key data gathering firm, Bristol is Open, now needs AN EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN on a cool £150k a year.
This expensive appointment is the prelude to the council’s City LEAP energy venture where public assets and infrastructure such as wind turbines, solar panels and local heat networks will be handed over to Bristol Holding, basically A PRIVATE FIRM outside any useful public oversight. The holding company will then be able to use these assets as sweeteners to attract private sector investment. A plan that has all the characteristics of yet ANOTHER COUNCIL GIVEAWAY TO THE PRIVATE sector.
The Reverend’s finance chief, Craig “Dick” Cheney, also used City LEAP as the excuse for keeping his LOSS MAKING SHAMBLES of an energy firm afloat for reasons he didn’t make very clear. Will we end up funding this LOSS-MAKING VANITY FIRM indefinitely while the private sector gives it a wide berth and cherry picks other valuable public assets for PROFIT? It was also quietly announced at the same meeting that Bristol University was pulling out of the underperforming joint venture data gathering firm Bristol is Open. Although it’s not yet clear whether the university JUMPED or were PUSHED.
How long before our council is handing any ‘smart city data’ they’ve gathered about us over to the private sector hawks that are circling?