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?