Plans and sales literature have been published of the new 3 bedroom homes at William Jessop Way, Hartcliffe near Bridge Learning Campus that we are now invited to call ‘Jessop Park’. According to the blurb these homes are “ideal for first time buyers and growing families”. And the cost to first time buyers and growing families” in south Bristol? A snip at just £307,950!
The development by Keepmoat Homes is on former council land and the Reverend Rees gushed to the press when his plans for the land were announced: “We are delighted to be involved with a project that addresses one of our city’s most urgent priorities – building more housing, particularly affordable homes in areas that need it the most. We want to make Bristol a city where everyone has a safe roof over their heads, and we cannot do that without developments like this.”
Look out for much more ridiculously expensive “developments like this” on council land when the council’s housing company Goram Homes in partnership with private developers gets building near you.
What do you get if you combine a committee of snooty academics from the University of Bristol with a committee of time-serving Labour Party Hacks? THE BRISTOL HISTORY COMMISSION!
This ongoing FARCE, set up by the Reverend Rees in the wake of the Colston statue dethroning, has lurched from PRCOCK-UP to PR DISASTER and now seems to be aiming to achieve all-out city-wide LAUGHING STOCK status.
The Commission got off to bad start with lots of people from across the city when its newly appointed Chair – who no one had ever heard of – University of Bristol History Professor Tim “OWN GOAL” Cole, decided, after a phone call with the CPS over the summer, that his Commission would COLLABORATE with the Avon & Somerset Police and become part of the criminal justice system.
Own Goal, we learn, UNILATERALLY made the dubious decision – of questionable academic ethics – that his commission would be part of the PUNISHMENT for protestors who hauled down the Colston statue and got conditionally cautioned by police for criminal damage. Prof Own Goal agreed to oversee a questionnaire where protestors would set out their reasons for their actions. Remarkably, most members of the commission only learned of Own Goal’s dodgy decision when they read about it in the Guardian on 18 September!
Own Goal’s next brilliant wheeze was to get some interns in to do the commission’s work for them because all these very important people are “TOO BUSY“. Own Goal personally advertised the internships – exclusively for University of Bristol post grads – at £10 PER HOUR funded by his Brigstowe Institute who, we’re told, receive money from, er … Wait for it … the MERCHANT VENTURERS, the city’s loathsome Colston cultists and dodgy statue enthusiasts!
Own Goal’s ad immediately came to the attention of #shitjobwatch, who monitor “very precarious or exploitative University of Bristol jobs”. They described the four internships as a “FIRST CHOICE” example of such practices. What does History Commission member and head of the South West TUC Nigel Costley have to say about that then?
And finally, when is Own Goal going to get off the phone to the Guardian, get his arse in gear and answer the simple set of questions about his commission sent to him last August by the Bristol Radical History Group?
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?
News that the Reverend Rees has decided to ‘co-source’ (that’s the same as out-sourcing but with ‘out’ replaced with ‘co’ to fool the very gullible indeed) security and cleaning jobs at the council out to one of their badly governed and unaccountable private company arms, Bristol Waste, has been met with dismay from just about everyone. Even the city’s number one raving proto-fascist, Richard “Bunter” Eddy, Tory Councillor for Auschwitz (surely Bishopsworth? Ed.) has criticised the move.
Our man on the picket line, “I’m all right” Jack Stalin, tells us, “The only possible reason for doing this is, in the long term, to cut the terms and conditions of low paid cleaners and security staff and outsource the council’s risk to a third party who can operate public services without being accountable to the public. The simple fact is that these low paid staff will be forced on to Bristol Waste contracts where terms and conditions are not as good as at the council.
“They also lose any democratic oversight of their terms and conditions. Instead, they’re now part of the private sector and subject to the whims of the council’s shadowy unaccountable company directors, corporate bean counters and highly paid consultants who want to squeeze every last penny out of the workforce while awarding themselves fat fees as a reward for their ‘efficiencies.'”
Is the council’s new “Build Back Better” post-Covid plan to put all their staff on crap “Built Much Worse” contracts? How many Labour supporters in Bristol voted for this latest piece of right wing toxic Tory shit from the Reverend Rees?
Unison, the GMB and the Unite unions have all raised a formal dispute with the council about this latest assault on the lowest paid by the highest paid. It’s one of ELEVEN separate disputes the unions now have with our shambolic Labour-run council. Security staff, meanwhile, have already managed to collar Rees and ask “How would you like it”?
They got no useful response from this bosses’ lackey, we’re told.
In the week that the ridiculous Guardian newspaper ran a story funded by a bank – ‘Meet the man who was part of a social housing revolution‘ – featuring Paul ‘Wolfie’ Smith, the Reverend Rees’s housing supremo who ran away, a new banner appears on Hengrove Way. The latest attempt to sell glamorous new build flats next to a dual carriageway?
Buy-to-let flats? How revolutionary. By strange coincidence, the other side of Creswicke Road, overlooking this new banner lies the Reverend’s new corporate chipboard housing project courtesy of Ikea:
The 3 bedroom homes here are currently listed on Rightmove at a price point of £275K.
A worker that delivers to the treatment tanks at the Wessex Water plant in Avonmouth, one of which blew up today, has told The BRISTOLIAN, “Wessex Water workers there have been complaining for ages that the tanks were in disrepair but the company would not shut down the process. It will have been a methane gas explosion.”
Wessex Water is owned by Malaysian multi-national YTL who are developing the arena at Filton along with a load of unaffordable housing there. The Chief Executive of Wessex Water is Tory donor and Merchant Venturer, Colin Skellett.
YTL paid for the Reverend Rees to fly from China to Malaysia in December 2017 and stay overnight in the Ritz Carlton, Kuala Lumpur. they also paid for all his meals on the trip and a flight back to Bristol. The Reverend then set about cancelling the arena at Temple Meads and promoting an arena by YTL in Filton.
More problems for Bristol City Council’s beleaguered and failing Director of Workforce, John “Bedwetter” Walsh?
However, as further oppressive practices and anti-union activity against council staff by Tory-boy bully boy Bedwetter and his HR team emerges, a question arises. Is Bedwetter actually the Reverend Rees and his administration’s personal workforce enforcer? Employed on a handsome six-figure salary to shaft the council’s workforce?
The evidence from a leaked letter from Unison suggests Bedwetter is no maverick looney but, instead, is implementing an agreed suite of right wing employment policies on the instructions of his political masters. Read this letter to Labour councillors from the Secretary of the Bristol Branch of Unison and weep:
It is a matter for regret for me that the links between this council’s senior union branch and the city’s Labour Party are as wafer-thin as they are and I suppose it is not going to get better anytime soon. However, in the hope of getting a better deal for our members, I still need to try to steer discussion to somewhere that coincides with our priorities and matches your aims and objectives. Here are some matters of concern for us.
Yes, we are setting up some sort of work programme with Helen regarding the sick pay situation for care workers that work for organisations contracted by the council. The latest news on this was welcome. However, the mere fact of outsourcing has at best coincided, and at worst has led to, reductions in what we think are basic protections for staff who, ultimately, work for an organisation that is led by the Labour Party.
So, regardless of efforts to improve the sick pay for care staff we still have Bristol Waste who mostly do not receive occupational sick pay (some might have it because of TUPE) and who have suffered loss of pay over this trying period. Some are scared rigid putting themselves in danger each day; and we now see further moves to set up arms-length organisations (or contract out) where terms and conditions are pegged only to legal minimums.
There seems to be an accepted view that the public sector cannot run services as efficiently as arms’ length companies and contractors. We disagree with this. But even if we accepted your privatising agenda there should be no reason to suppose that a Labour administration making these decisions would not protect and uphold decent standards for those organisations’ staff.
We stand for public services delivered by local government and it is within local government that decent standards can be maintained for staff (notwithstanding the problems being faced by council staff). In English law, labour protections are so small and regulation is so light that organisations that proudly say that they are upholding legal standards are really only upholding basic just-above-poverty entitlements.
The unions have struggled to lift people from poverty but there is a constant traction that draws wages down to minimum wage and reduces other benefits such as redundancy pay to statutory minimums. Management made an “offer” two years ago whereby we saw no tangible offer to compensate us for a loss of redundancy pay. We balloted and rejected it, but we shouldn’t have had to if there had been someone at a senior level who was prepared to stick up for ordinary staff. Decent redundancy pay does two things: it compensates the staff member and makes the employer think more carefully before letting people go, which is what we in the Labour movement should be supporting, not undermining.
Our staff are frustrated because they know they can deliver in-house (they already are) and are worried about being spun out to another third-party organisation where the risk of failure can appear as likely as it was before. Please see my points about outsourcing and sick pay above. UNISON remains opposed to TUPE transfers and outsourcing. This position was not decided on by this branch but by conference and is the national position of the union.
It is not my place to put pressure on you to find someone not guilty but I respectfully request that you listen to the evidence and make a just decision. I have, however, been placed in farcical situations that were unjust. The last time was before three Labour councillors.
It goes on to say that employers should “look at new evidence, if there is any”. Unfortunately, Bristol City council’s position is that new evidence is not allowed at appeals and this was upheld by three Labour councillors – a position that is below the basic standards of Acas. It is fair to say I was taken aback. If we are not allowed to present new evidence what is the point?
Breach of Contract
With a section of our surveyors, management freely entered into a new contract, in writing, with our members to pay a ‘market forces supplement’ for between one and three years. A few months later, they then withdrew from that contract, which of course we are unwilling to allow them to do. We, alongside Unite the Union, have entered a dispute with BCC.
Management realising that this may end up in county court seem to have consulted a solicitor or two who know that they may be allowed to argue that three months wages is the award for breaking a contract such as this. We argue that it has a fixed term (at least one year) and we will see who wins.
In the meantime this places BCC’s commitment to honour its agreements in doubt. Again, it is not my role to press you to make decisions, but I want you to know that BCC is not a playground utopia for hard-leftists (as it is presented, I am told) but a battleground over basic bourgeois rights such as upholding a contract of employment.
Unilateral Policy Changes
I have been arguing for months now that BCC needs to put its policies back to the last position where it was agreed with the unions. HR are attempting to reduce our employment rights further. Management have insisted that none of this is part of our contract and they can do this but when it coincides with dismissal (and other matters such as appointments) then we have insisted it is and they can’t.
None of this is minor: the sickness policy now says that you no longer have to be taken through the warnings consecutively – they can jump straight to the last stage (and dismissal) if they want. And there are no longer minimum periods for consultations.
We recently saw a one-week consultation that led to a contract change, which means restructures can be rushed through. There are many more minor changes that staff relied upon to get fairness at work. I can’t find anyone who will admit to okaying any of this so why is it still up?
The number of complaints I have are much greater than what I have set out above, but further matters will have to come later. It is fair to say, I can’t understand why our members are under attack like this but we are now going to start campaigning over these issues.
Thanks, Tom Merchant, Branch secretary, Bristol UNISON
Heard the one about Bristol City Council pointlessly hiring an expensive HR consultant to run a disciplinary against a member of staff the great all-powerful Reverend Rees decided he wanted sacked? A disciplinary is normally a straightforward job any competent middle manager would do at the council. Was there, maybe, something a little abnormal about this particular process then?
Possibly, as they had to hire another HR consultant to hear a grievance regarding the conduct of the first consultant’s investigation! Now, we’re told by our trade union brothers, the council is hiring yet another consultant to investigate the conduct of both of the previous consultants! Will this deranged cycle of HR consultants at our expense ever end?
More to the point, after all this huge expenditure, did the Reverend get his man?
Unlike our own pathetic version of a ‘socialist’ Mayor here in Bristol, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo of the tiny town of Marinaleda (population of less than 3000) in Andalusia, Spain, gets up every morning to take control of yet another piece of privately-owned but idle property with his fellow townsfolk, or redistributes produce to those in need by immediate requisition from city supermarket chains. And he also succeeds, simply by using the principle of “from each according to their means, to each according to their needs”, relentlessly using militant direct action and leading by example from the front.
In a poverty-stricken region of Spain with 35% unemployment – the people of Marinaleda have only 5% due to local initiatives. The once idle, privately owned land is now owned communally (seized originally through land occupation) and farmed collectively. They also now have their own democratically-run primary and secondary schools for the kids, their own community radio station, and best of all, the hated local police force are not allowed into town.
Now compare and contrast with the wealthy metropolitan city of Bristol where you can’t get a council house for love nor money: but in Marinaleda you get a full grant to build your own high quality council house to any specs you like, getting expert help and the building materials for free, and then afterwards you pay onlythe equivalent of £13.50 a month! ___________________________________________________________________
IN FEBRUARY of this year, two activists from Bristol (Y and Z) travelled to Marinaleda on spec, hoping to interview this inspiring character. “We were starting to despair of the mayor having any time for us,” said Activist Y, “as he was so busy with his work for the community”. However, the day before their arrival they finally managed to contact him on the phone, where according to Activist Z, “he said only two words: ‘Diga me’ (tell me), and once he’d heard what we were about, he boomed out just one extra word: ‘Venga!’ (come!)”.
Below is the transcript of their interview with a very different sort of Mayor:
Activist Y – How did the Marinaleda socialist project start?
Mayor Gordillo – It started with a struggle against unemployment. Fighting land ownership was the best way forward for solving unemployment, because in rural Andalusia just 2% own 50% of the cultivatable land and we realised that we were not going to get anything through charity. We had to seize the initiative by taking direct control of the land and the means of production. So we fought continuously for 12 years and did many things from hunger strike to occupation to get the land back. King Juan Carlos and those other rich scum haven’t forgiven us, because for the first time in the history of Andalusia we managed to get back our land and to keep it. So there we were, the forgotten poor, facing off against the government, the judges, the police and the landowners, and we got our land back.
Activist Y – What approach was in your opinion the most successful?
Mayor Gordillo – The success came from fighting; each struggle never stopped until we got a victory no matter how small it was. That made people motivated enough to struggle on for the following success and then the one after that. It helped people to forget what they hadn’t been able to get, and to remember what they had gained.
Activist Y – What problems have the community encountered, and how have they resolved them?
Mayor Gordillo – The problem is that when people start getting land and the government or the landowner concedes a few crumbs from the table, they start feeling like masters – without actually being masters. Peasants who didn’t have anything before now have some rights, but it can breed complacency. Another problem is the concept of work. If one person has a wage and another hasn’t one at all, this creates division. The other problem is maintaining people’s unity amidst a constant barrage of consumer culture. We have been gaining ground slowly, recently discussing with people for example how we can possibly pay the [central government] taxes, or whether we could even stop paying them at all, so this is how the battle continues. But the capitalist system is always a thief, and is exploiting us more than ever before.
Activist Y – Have the ideas of Marinaleda had any influence across the region, or even into any other parts of Spain?
Mayor Gordillo – In some places yes, but I wish we had more influence across Spain and in the world, and that people paid proper attention to what we say instead of seeing us as a freak show. It’s terrible how the public is deceived – they don’t seem to realise that by buying things, they get bought. But people like us who don’t buy this con and who’d rather spend our lives fighting don’t have to follow that life. Through struggle, you learn not to be afraid of anything.
Activist Y – How do you plan out the allocation of land and housing in Marinaleda?
Mayor Gordillo – Those who don’t have a home receive the materials to build them. 350 houses have been built in this way in the town centre. They are each 90 metres square, and each has a further 100 square metres of courtyard. A typical council house here has three bedrooms. Except that they cannot sell it, the house is effectively owned by its residential household, who pay 15 euros a month into the community housing fund.
Activist Z – In my city we have many homeless people, so if someone became homeless here, how would you support that person?
Mayor Gordillo – There should not be anyone without housing or food, but if somebody ever needs it, they’ll get it. We can provide all of our people with economic assistance – I don’t think there’s anyone homeless in Marinaleda.
Activist Y – How does wages and money work here?
Mayor Gordillo – Same as everywhere in the world. The ideal was to have our own currency and our own bank, but money works the same as in any other country. What we earn here is more than the standard [over double the Spanish minimal wage], and way over what people generally earn for labouring in the countryside of Andalusia. There are no poor people, but there are no very rich people either. In terms of indirect taxes for sustaining what we have, everyone pays the same. There are no direct taxes that are charged on wealth, as everyone in the village is more or less on the same level economically.
Activist Y – Do you have a TV station for the town?
Mayor Gordillo – We had one, but we had to close it in the end. TV is only good in that it gives you a voice, and that’s very important because mainstream media is run by big capital. Most Spanish channels serve as the voice of the rich. There is no public TV in Spain. We do still have a radio station.
Activist Y – In Bristol, our mayor pretends to be a socialist but he is really just another self-serving careerist and blind follower of the market ideology. For a ‘wealthy’ city, there are many homeless people and much poverty, while the council hires inefficient private companies and high-fee charging consultants to make things worse. The council runs along happily under the model of ‘austerity’.
Mayor Gordillo – There are far too many people who call themselves socialists, but in reality they are capitalists. These things do not sit well together, or at all. Energy, water and housing should be expropriated and turned into public assets. Small businesses can be kept private, but large businesses and the means of production must always be made public, run directly by the workers. TV and radio too. Austerity is driven by the endless search for low production costs. The cheapest labour costs for capitalism currently come from Africa and Asia. Take Amancio Ortega – the richest man in Spain – his textile companies are in Bangladesh and India. There he pays a euro and a half for 10 hours labour without paying any taxes, then he sells on at a huge profit in the US and Europe. Austerity is just a tool to drive the working class everywhere down to the same level of total exploitation and misery. Ortega is a multi-millionaire. If a person gets very rich, then he is a thief. He does not get rich through his own work, but by stealing. Under capitalism the workers always fail, while the idle rich always succeed.
Activist Z – What solutions do you think we could achieve in Bristol? Is there a message we can take back to our own council, or even better to the people they are supposed to represent?
Mayor Gordillo – You won’t get socialism by accepting how things are. You can only achieve what they always tell you is impossible through direct action – by struggling for it, just as we are doing here. Every single city, town or village in the world has the land and resources that can sustain it. Get out there and take back control!
This transcript was translated from the original Spanish recording by two Bristolians: Activist Z (see above), and Activist X, a native speaker.
The Reverend Rees’s highly regarded Cabinet Member for Housing has sensationally QUIT the council. Paul “Wolfie” Smith resigned from Rees’s cabinet on Tuesday and also QUIT as a councillor to take up a lucrative £90k (plus bonus) a year position as Chief Exec at Elim Housing Association. The resignation leaves the Reverend without a majority at Bristol City Council.
According to social media, Wolfie was a great champion of social housing and has had some success over the last few years getting homes built and tackling homelessness. However, over the last year some increasingly erratic policies have emerged from Wolfie’s housing department where Jez Sweetland, who runs the Bristol Housing Festival and happens to be a prominent member of the Reverend’s Church at the Hope Chapel, Howells has become increasingly influential.
Harebrained initiatives emerging from Sweetland have included a plan to build 173 IKEA chipboard homes on the verge of the A4174 Airport Road and another madcap idea to build ‘Hope Rise’. Tiny modular flats for young people over the car park at St George Park. This week the council even started a queue jumping ‘super tenancy’ opportunity for these properties, directly offering a shared council home to applicants in exchange for voluntary work with vulnerable young people. A plan that is unlikely to comply with law.
Wolfie’s department also announced their intention last month to create the slums of the future. They will house 200 homeless people and families in the shoddily converted Parkview office complex in Hartcliffe. Homes that do not meet national space standards. The owner of the flats, Caridon, are also one of the country’s most notorious slum landlords.
Has Wolfie thrown in the towel? Has he quit while he was ahead? But how ahead was he anyway? Despite all the promises of council housing from the Rees administration and Wolfie’s regular assurances that his projections to meet a manifesto promise of 2,500 homes, 500 affordable, a year were ‘on target’, the stats say something quite different. In March 2016, there were 27,402 council homes in Bristol. By March 2020 there were 26,833. A net reduction of 469 council homes.
Of course, Wolfie can’t be held to blame for the Tory ‘Right to Buy’ policy, which has led to this reduction in council homes. But he can be blamed for spending four years delivering half-arsed market solutions and supporting timid private sector responses to the city’s housing crisis. These solutions have simply failed to deliver and were never going to deliver the quantity of council homes required to turn around a housing crisis.
Wolfie can also be blamed for entertaining Sweetland and his weirdo ideas for the last few years. The evangelical nutter is now left free to dominate the show with his Victorian Christian charity message and fill the city up with his cheap shit housing for the poor and vulnerable.
Are we in more of a housing mess than when Wolfie started?