“Billion pound” City Leap was finally signed off by the Reverend and his cabinet of donkeys in December. Turns out the 20 year public-private energy partnership is not worth a billion in private investment at all but £424m with a “hope” that it becomes worth over £600m in the five years.
It’s not £424m of private investment in Bristol either. Half of the so-called decarbonising projects branded ‘City Leap’ are public sector projects with public finance in place such as plans announced at the last budget to spend £84m from the Housing Revenue Account making council homes energy efficient to an unambitious Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ‘C’ rating.
The only new money coming from the private sector is potential investment in the city’s heat network system. And this money only arrives after council bosses handed our publicly-owned network to Swedish government-owned multinational Vattenfall at a knockdown price kept top secret for “commercial reasons”.
Although it’s an open secret that our heat networks were shifted to Vattenfall “at cost” rather than “current value”. Meaning we only charged them what it cost us to install the network rather than what it’s worth as a going business concern. A considerably smaller sum. Ask yourself if Jeff Bezos would sell Amazon at the price it cost him to build the warehouses and website?
Add this latest loss to the £10m we spent procuring the whole farrago and it looks like City Leap is really City Loss.
It’s getting murkier and murkier at Stepping Up, Asher “The Slasher” Craig and the Reverend’s scheme to promote more black people into management at the council.
The council-run project, run by generously remunerated Christine “Wonky” Bamford, paid through a Byzantine tax efficient route involving a procurement firm and a recruitment agency, has been quietly outsourced since March 2022 to Stepping Up Leadership CIC. A new firm that conveniently shares an address with genuine council firm, Bristol Waste.
The new company has two directors, “Wonky” Bamford and Asher the Slasher. The Slasher, as a member of the cabinet, has, therefore, effectively outsourced a council service to her own company with zero democratic oversight.
Instead, Bristol City Council’s departed Chief Chump, Mike “Billie Jean” Jackson has personally signed off all the arrangements relating to Stepping Up for Slasher since the project’s inception.
Procurement information at the council reveals that Jacko has arranged no framework, no tender, and no competition for Stepping Up’s transfer out of the council “for technical reasons”. Instead, Jacko appears just to have let Slasher grab a council funded project and then procured its services back from her for a fee!
Since being called out on Twitter over the summer about this personal financial arrangement with council resources, the Slasher has, after calling her critics “Karens”, ceased any ‘significant control’ in the firm for now.
Even so, what a totally bent way for a council, its chief executive and a cabinet member to be carrying on with public assets.
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?
An old FoI request about the dodgy Bristol City Council/L&G Arena island deal catches the eye. It reveals L&G execs operating inside Number 10 [Downing Street] in 2015 and meeting Bristol City council property bosses who were supposed to be building an arena on the controversial site:
The bizarre deal The Reverend has now struck with L&G execs is that they get the prime Arena Island site after £32m of public investment and BCC get a 40 year lease on one of the proposed L&G corporate office slabs proposed for the site … And both sides get to avoid any procurement or open sale that might upset the cosy arrangement.
But what the hell were L&G execs doing in Downing Street at the heart of power in 2015? The answer is John Godfrey, L&G’s longtime Corporate Affairs Director – basically their chief political lobbyist. The former Tory Parliamentary candidate worked at Number Ten as Head of Policy for Prime Minister Theresa May from 2015-17. At the time, this L&G/Downing Street revolving door generated headlines in the Financial Times like, “Legal & General gives Toryism a reboot“.
At the same time the Legal & General CEO was musing on his blog that “UK cities are not overbuilt but under-demolished”. The company also developed an interest in fiscal policy (basically government spending money on infrastructure); called on taxpayers to invest with savings groups such as, er, L&G and argued that planning laws should be eased to defeat ‘Nimbies’.
Alongside L&G’s political capture of Downing Street, another front opened. In 2016, John Kingman was appointed Group Chairman of Legal and General plc. Prior to this, Kingman was a senior Treasury official and, among other things, led a research project looking at the tax treatment of buy-to-let property, which led to major policy changes in the 2015 Budget.
The specific change was Section 24 of the Finance Act 2015-16, setting mortgage tax allowance for individual landlords to 20 per cent. A change that didn’t apply to corporate landlords or property rental companies. Corporates, effectively, were allowed to operate at a state-engineered advantage to smaller competitors in the property market.
With the political and legal environment in place to fill their boots, L&G now required gullible twerps from the provinces who think they’re big shot property players with access to public land. Please step forward on 12 December 2017 Marvin’s £1.5k a day ‘property expert’ Colin Molton.
He walked into L&G’s offices in London desperate to offload Arena Island quickly so that the Reverend’s favoured multinational, YTL, could dodge the ‘sequential test‘ designed to favour inner city sites over out-of-town and get planning permission for an arena in Filton. L&G were happy to oblige with a self-serving deal and advice on how BCC could dodge procurement regulations and hand them the land.
As an added sweetener May’s L&G-friendly Downing Street operation stepped up, hinting to the Reverend and Molton that £100m of government money was on the table towards the Temple Quarter regeneration.
However, since the demise of May in 2019, L&G’s influence in the corridors of power has waned and the Johnson government with its levelling-up agenda focussed on the Red Wall seems uninterested in handing over £100m to the Reverend to regenerate Temple Meads.
In fact, they’ve now knocked back two funding applications from Bristol. Leaving the people of Bristol shortchanged and Tory L&G with a prime piece of public land in Bristol to cash in on.
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?
How many thefts must an auditor ignore With their head in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the public pay Before they’re finally paid?
The answer, my friend, is whisleblowin’ in the wind The answer is whistleblowin’ in the wind
(With apologies to Dylan)
An interesting document emerges from their Audit Committee about whistleblowing at Bristol City Council last year.
It reveals that eight decent workers stepped forward between April 2020 and March 2021 with serious allegations that met the legal criteria for formal whistleblowing. These criteria are
– a criminal offence has been committed; – someone’s health and safety is in danger; – there’s a risk or actual damage to the environment; – there’s a miscarriage of justice; – the organisation is breaking the law; – you believe someone is covering up wrongdoing;
So far so good but then we learn from the council’s report that the result of seven of these complaints was that the claims were “unsubstantiated” while the other one was “not considered a whistleblowing matter”. Which raises the question of what is it doing in a whistleblowing report then?
Five of the eight complaints emerged from the Growth and Regeneration department, run for much of the year by the second highest paid local government officer in the country. That’s our dear old friend, Colin “Head Boy” Molton, and the complaints about his department included allegations of, er fraud, corruption, perjury and drug abuse!
However, we are told that in a couple of cases that “control issues [were] identified, and internal audit review commissioned,” which sounds just like something has been substantiated doesn’t it?
The question that needs to be asked here, then, is what was done to substantiate these whistleblowing claims and who was responsible? For example, if you don’t investigate a complaint then it will remain unsubstantiated won’t it?
Or if, as the council often does, a claim of wrongdoing is investigated by the manager directly responsible for the matter in question, an investigation will fail to substantiate perfectly reasonable and evidenced claims.
Alas, the report put before the Audit Committee contains no detail about how these whistleblowing complaints were dealt with other than to announce they were all “unsubstantiated” and therefore no boss at the council appears to have done anything wrong (again) in any of the cases.
It’s nothing short of risible that this is the case for eight separate whistleblowing claims and this does nothing to encourage whistleblowing at the council. Why bother to potentially ruin your career to get a sentence in an obscure report stating your claims are “unsubstantiated” without explanation?
”Yes ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head pretending he just doesn’t see?”
The Reverend’s FAILED EFFORT to put a ‘corrective plaque’ on the statue of Colston to highlight the dodgy merchant’s leadership role in the slave trade was managed by Peter “Arse” Insole, the council’s architectural officer. Initially Arsehole let local historian Madge “The Doc” Dresser devise some words for the new plaque with the help of children from COTHAM GARDENS PRIMARY SCHOOL (formerly Colston’s Primary).
However, left entirely UNSUPERVISED to do what the hell he liked, Arsehole soon went over to the dark side and allowed the Merchant Venturers and their arselicking friends in Clifton to DRASTICALLY REWRITE The Doc’s plaque until it became a MEANINGLESS PIECE OF MUMBO JUMBO that the Reverend finally had to bin as not fit-for-purpose.
Now it’s come to our attention, that in order to assist the Doc with her pointless work with local children, Arsehole PERSONALLY PROCURED a specialist private education firm, MYERS-INSOLE LOCAL LEARNING COMMUNITY INTEREST COMPANY. And, by amazing coincidence, the SECRETARY and DIRECTOR of the firm, according to Companies House, just happens to be, er, Peter Insole while the only other director is one Ruth Myers, Arseholes partner! How convenient for his personal bank account that Arsehole’s RIGOROUS PROCUREMENT PROCESS should throw up his own firm as best placed to do the job.
Although it’s a shame that it’s not only against all known council rules for Arsehole to procure his own company for his own financial benefit but also against the law.
Paul Arrogant: “procurement rules are for the little people”
Big shout out to PERFORM GREEN LTD, the lucky recipient of a number of lucrative IT contracts with Bristol City Council. The main one being a contract with the council’s brand spanking new snooping operation (surely state-of-the-art CCTV Traffic Control Centre? Ed.).
This lucky company have scooped £248k so far this year for their selfless public service efforts. Big shout out too to PAUL ARRIGONI, appointed a director of Perform Green Ltd last November, just six months after starting work with the firm in May 2016.
And what remarkable progress this star employee’s made. Unbelievably, since he began employment with the firm, their earnings from the city council have LEAPED from around £5k a month to £28k a month!
But hang on, Paul “Arrogant” Arrigoni? Wasn’t he the Service Director, Business Change and ICT at Bristol City Council until April 2016 when he scarpered in DISGRACE? The man at the centre of the Bundred scandal after his useless Business Change department missed their savings target by a cool £30million and then created an UNLAWFUL BUDGET in 2016 to disguise the losses?
Indeed, so perspicacious was Arrogant in covering his tracks while at Bristol City Council, he even went to the effort of REWRITING an Internal Audit Report for councillors in autumn 2015 assuring them all was well with his savings efforts when it wasn’t.
Adding to this sense of OUTRIGHT CORRUPTION at the heart of Bristol City Council and its endless merry-go-round of bent bosses filling their boots, we’re reliably informed that NO procurement process was undertaken before Perform Green Ltd were awarded their six-figure sum control centre deal with the city council.
Shouldn’t someone be calling Inspector Knacker? (He may even be spending some time at Arrigoni’s control centre …)
Adding to the sense of surrealism surrounding city council procurement deals, comes the COUNCILLORS of the Business Change and Resources Scrutiny Commission.
While their legal boss Sanjay “Under” Prashar, his lawyers and procurement oafs are running up and down to London spending TENS OF THOUSANDS to justify handing a local contract to an organisation in London, the committee members held an all-important Procurement Scrutiny Enquiry day.
What was that for then? Er, to “look at ways to improve Bristol City Council’s procurement process for local small businesses and social enterprises”!
Obviously this day of mutual backslapping, pompous speeches, empty promises and fluffy PR rounded off with a FREE BUFFET is far more useful to our councillors than doing their jobs and dragging Sanjay and his oafs in front of their committee for a bollocking.
Council officer arses could then get KICKED and loads of money SAVED in relation to an actual unfolding local PROCUREMENT DISASTER that these councillors are directly responsible for overseeing.