At last, some transparency on green capital cash
Bristol’s new Mayor has ordered the publication of a tranche of invoices held by the council, shedding new light on the secretive spending of green capital millions. After bumping into a 40 day legal deadline for a freedom of information request from my Lib Dem colleague and former councillor Christian Martin the council has published “about 600” invoices held by its accounts department.
I welcome this move but more needs to be done. The invoices have been published without any context. We don’t know how they relate to the broad account headings referred to in my previous blog posts and questions to the council. It’s like being given a big box of jigsaw pieces, without the lid giving you the picture you’re trying to put together. But it’s a start.
The invoices make for interesting and eye brow raising reading. See for yourself here https://www.bristol.gov.uk/documents/20182/33519/Bristol+Green+Capital+Invoices+-+redacted+pt1.pdf/24afca97-afe7-4f5c-add9-cff42af0d047
Inevitably there will be lots more questions about whether some of the expenditure was good value for taxpayers’ money. Some of the projects have a tenuous relationship to making Bristol more sustainable and an exemplar for the rest of Europe. I thought the foggy footbridge in the harbour was pretty naff but am now outraged to see invoices from an organisation called In Between Time charging £41,000 for puffing some smoke.
The real scandal is the trousering of tens of thousands of pounds by lots of consultants on a variety of generous day rates. They also racked up quite a lot of car and taxi expenses, including one £50 taxi ride from a cafe on Whiteladies Road to Weston Super Mare. Presumably it was after the trains stopped running from Clifton Down…
There was also a media merry go round. Some media outlets were paid for their coverage and a London based agency was paid huge fees for monitoring the level of coverage.
Quite a lot of information is clearly missing. Personal details have been redacted from the invoices. So we don’t know the identity of some of the people who charged up to £5,000 for their motivational speeches on city governance…plus their 4 star hotel stays.
I’m glad Mayor Rees intends to appoint an independent body to review the year. We need to know the full story and there will be lessons for future big events. What is a real shame is that some of this wasteful expenditure could have been better spent on local projects that would have had immediate as well as lasting community impact. A lot of good work was done by schools and community groups and some more of that £8million of taxpayers could have increased their impact.
I am proud that my Lib Dem colleagues on Bristol Council put in place the policies on recycling, energy and transport that made a bid for green capital status credible. I’m glad we won and were able to showcase Bristol. But it’s a shame that some peoples eyes clearly lit up at the prospect of spending lots of free cash. This would not have happened if there had been an open procurement process and real time openness on spending. In future transparency and sustainability must go together.