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?
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?
“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?