The Week that was in Bristol politics
Greening the Bearpit, Thangam's embarrassment, a private dinner with the mayor for £1500, Cheney's complaints, and who owns the Colston statue...
How green is your Bearpit?
The council awarded £58,000 to a roofing company from Newbury, Berkshire, to build two roof gardens on disused toilets in the Bearpit. The council says this will “help soften the landscape around the Bearpit and add to the more welcoming environment being developed."
Just days earlier, Sara Venn, founder of Incredible Edible Bristol, had written about being told to stop working at the Bearpit in March, even as they’d just received funding. The council told them they had a better plan for the site.
Venn continued, “The plants are all overgrown, it’s covered in litter and filth, and it feels immensely disrespectful that a space that had been worked on entirely voluntarily, and which over the years had only cost Bristol City Council £7,500 in funding in the first year, has been left to rack and ruin.”
The work from volunteers over the years has added up to over 4,500 hours, valued at £11.06/hr. That doesn’t include Venn’s time or volunteer coordinator time — Venn would volunteer for about a day a week over 3/4 years. This all adds up to over £50,000.
The council also relied on their insurance and tools.
“This is a call to return the Bearpit to us, and fund us to do the work to recreate a garden that had international acclaim, brought in visitors from far and wide, and added to the culture in the city centre.”
Instead, the council hired roofers from Newbury who for a 13 month contract are costing more than Incredible Edible Bristol spent in time and resources over the last four years.
Venn has pointed out that not only does she have experience with roof gardens but that such an amount of money could have funded five years worth of support. No one from the council asked them to help.
A roof garden is not something that can just be planted and left. “I know that space,” Venn tells me. “It dries out in a second.”
No word yet on whether they plan on re-opening the toilets.
Thangam still in hiding
Bristol West MP, Thangam Debbonaire, was shown cringing by hiding her face on a colleague’s shoulder when Zarah Sultana MP refused to withdraw the comment ‘dodgy’ about the Conservative government. Debbonaire has not issued a comment, and according to Sultana, has not apologised.
Operation Cupcake @PhillipsBarrieZarah Sultana: “I haven’t had a single word of solidarity from the current leadership” As a young Muslim woman, Zarah is treated differently, not only by those who send abusive emails and letters, but also by her own colleagues. #StarmerOut #FordeReport https://t.co/b9B8JvPCv8
It was audit that got it wrong, not me, implies Cheney
Cabinet minister for finance, Craig Cheney, who signed off on the business plan for Bristol Energy, said the auditors didn’t know about private things said in cabinet meetings because they were unminuted. He was found by the external auditors to have ignored recommendations from the independent adviser to not go ahead with approving the business plan, and had not ‘formally’ informed Cabinet about the state of things at Bristol Energy.
The losses from Bristol Energy’s sale and liquidation so far are estimated at £46m.
Cheney said, “I act as the council shareholder representative yeah, on behalf of Marvin.”
The mayor has previously said he quickly stopped going to meetings because they were “almost once a month”.
Cheney continued, “I mean, I don’t want to get too much into that. So if you can imagine, all that Grant Thornton have access to are the public meetings. What they don’t have access to are the conversations that, you know, me and Marvin and cabinet may have in private session. So, you know, it’s difficult to…”
“Well, it’s just impossible for them to know really.
“But what they did point out was because the public meetings were exempt, they weren’t able to see them and we hadn’t minuted those meetings. So some of that stuff was actually mentioned in the publicly exempt meetings because we are very thorough, we do have a legal team, we do go through these these things in advance, you know.”
In fact, the auditors made sure to note that Cabinet were not updated “formally” by Cheney. This is an important legal point because the council lost a judicial review on cuts to SEND when then-cabinet member Anna Keen, did not inform cabinet (formally) of the warnings and concerns issued by Schools Forum.
There were far more criticisms of Cheney in the auditor’s report than just updating Cabinet.
“In January 2020 Cabinet approved BE’s 2020/21 business plan, which according to the auditor’s report, provided “an overly unrealistic view of how BE might perform.” Six days after Cabinet the energy company said it could not meet its financial objectives (auditor’s report on Bristol Energy).
Cheney seems to have dismissed this idea that he hid the failings. He seems to imply that it is his job to hide the failings of companies.
“I think the problem is when you’re in a business like the energy business, the public face of it has to be positive. You have to be, you know, you’re a salesman, whenever you stand up, and you talk on behalf of the company.”
Cheney knew “that both BE and Bristol Holding Limited remained concerned that it would not take much to drive the company into a situation that would require additional shareholder funding and/or collateral.”
“Cabinet was not provided with a risk assessment.”
The confidential finance report, was out of date when presented to Cabinet,
This significantly undermined the quality of this advice and should have been updated for Cabinet.
Cheney’s criticisms of the report by the auditor are based on whether Cabinet were informed. The auditor’s said:
Cabinet was not formally made aware of concerns raised at the Shareholder Group, including the fact that the Independent Shareholder Advisor was recorded as being unable to support the business plan;
He does not seem to dispute the fact that he knew all of the above. He signed off on the decision to approve the business plan while knowing that the Independent Shareholder Advisor was “unable to support the business plan” and while knowing that it would not take much to drive the company into a situation that would require additional shareholder funding and/or collateral.”
The election was meant to be held just four months later.
Dinner with the mayor
It was recently revealed that the mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, took part in a dinner with property developers, including YTL, where a £1500 sponsorship package was available and tickets cost £350. The UK’s Real Estate Investment & Infrastructure Forum “VIP dinner” was held on 13 October at Riverstation so that developers and the public sector could team up to help deliver over £2bn of major development projects in the area.
“Attendees to this unique dinner include:
Western Gateway – Jo Dally, Director
University of Bristol – Professor Phil Taylor, Pro Vice Chancellor
Bristol City Council – Mayor Marvin Rees
Cubex – Sarah Trahair-Williams, Associate Director
Gleeds – Matthew Quirk, Senior Director
YTL Developments – Colin Skellett, Chairman
First Base – Olaide Oboh, Director of Partnerships
Stride Treglown – John Wright, Director
This is Gravity – Claire Pearce, Director of Planning and Economic Development
Grimshaw Architects – Keith Brewis, Managing Partner – International Operations
Entry to this event was available through either purchasing one of the limited tickets or by becoming the VIP Dinner Sponsor. The benefits of this package include:
Speaking opportunity during the dinner – share a 10-minute talk to open the discussion during the dinner.
2 x pop-up banners at the dinner and promotional material and literature placement on the dinner tables.
2 x tickets to the VIP Dinner
Inclusion within the evening dinner programme with your logo placed on the front of the brochure
Additional marketing activation and branding: including on the website, emails, social media and editorial content
It is currently unknown who took advantage of the sponsorship's benefits.
Who owns the statue of Colston
A question at Public Forum has raised the question again of who owns the Colston Statue. This is a vital point because it determines whether people can be prosecuted for helping it splash in the harbour. Some have already been through the courts and asked to fill out a survey, pay reparations, and do community service, while others are facing trial next month:
In June 2020, the mayor refused to answer whether the topplers should be prosecuted.
Rees: “Ownership has not yet 100 per cent been confirmed… We are open to anyone who wants to come forward and claim ownership, to come forward and claim ownership, but as yet they haven’t.”
To him it was “irrelevant” because Colston would now rest in a museum.
To those facing prosecution, it might matter.
Question 1: Who were the decision makers in relation to the statue?
Answer 1: The administration are the decision makers.
Question 2: A statement of fact was submitted to the police following the felling of the statue, who made the decisions regarding content and to issue this statement?
Answer 2: The administration, in consultation with the council’s senior leadership team and Monitoring Office, provided a factual statement.
The word ‘administration’ as a noun, doesn’t come up in the council’s constitution so I’m not sure who they are meant to be.
What the Constitution explains is that:
The Council is led by a Mayor who is elected directly by the people of Bristol for a fixed four year term.
The Mayor and the Executive
The Mayor shall appoint a Deputy Mayor and between one and eight Executive Members from the 70 Councillors, to work with them.
Together they are described in this Constitution as the Executive.
“The Mayor will decide how executive functions are to be exercised. They may be discharged by: (i) the Mayor (ii) the executive as a whole (i.e. by the cabinet); (iii) a committee of the executive (i.e. a committee of the cabinet); (iv) an individual member of the executive; (v) an officer; (vi) an area committee; (vii) joint arrangements; or (viii) another local authority.”
All roads lead back to the mayor, according to the Constitution, and the answers at public forum.