Skip to content

Bristol green capital enquiry report is a limewash…at least on the finances

January 9, 2017

The report of the independent enquiry into Bristol’s year as European Green Capital is a big disappointment. In fact it could be described as limewash, covering over the cracks in the financial credibility of the council and the company it set up to deliver the programme of events in 2015.

It was a year ago that I first started asking questions about how the council and its company, Bristol 2015 Limited, had spent over £8million pounds of taxpayers’ money. I was alerted to the fact that various people had been rebuffed when making quite routine freedom of information requests about the awarding of contracts by the company. The company and the council were refusing to disclose details of expenditure. The vast bulk of the expenditure was financed by a £7m grant from the coalition government. As I had been instrumental in obtaining this grant for Bristol, I had a legitimate reason for putting my own questions to the council. But I got stonewalled too. But I persisted and I was pleased when the new Mayor, Marvin Rees, announced he would appoint an independent person to look at the issues.

Mayor Rees was as good as his word and last November I gave oral and written evidence to retired senior civil servant Steve Bundred. I stressed that my sole concern was the lack of financial transparency. I was always a keen supporter of Bristol Green Capital and the hundreds of activities that it spawned. I just wanted all the facts out in the open.

Unfortunately, today’s report does nothing to clear up concerns about the spending of our money. This may not be Mr Bundred’s fault. He was hampered by terms of reference that did not include the company’s financial practices. In the most telling phrase in the report Bundred admits that his focus was not on the finances but rather it was on “learning from successes.” In other words, he was pronouncing the year itself a great achievement, which I have never doubted, with the finances just a minor issue. Bizarrely, he asserts that “suspicions were wholly unfounded, as the council has subsequently established.” He offers no evidence for the council’s finding that all was sound on the money front.

Bundred does acknowledge the central point of my complaint, that the company should have anticipated requests for transparency. He goes on to say that he beleives that “avoidance of freedom of information responsibilities can never be a legitimate objective of a public body.” This rather leaves hanging in the air the question whether the company was set up expressly to avoid financial scrutiny. He does at least say that future big projects that involve the private sector should have transparency embedded from the start.

So what have we learned? Not very much. We still don’t know who were the beneficiaries of some very lucrative contracts for PR and digital comms. If the money had been spent directly by the council then we would know about every £500. As it is, we are still in the dark. Bundred’s report could have shone a light, recommending that the council publish all the information that it holds. But he didn’t, so all we can hope for now is that some public spirited whistle blower does the right thing.

This is all a great shame. I am proud of the fact that Bristol won the award of green capital. Some great things were done in 2015. Thousands of school children know more about how to live in a sustainable city. Many community groups delivered great local projects. Thousands of people volunteered their time. Sustainability and transparency should go hand in hand. The public expect both from their political leaders. But in 2015 only one of them was delivered.

NOTE

You can read more about the questions I asked in my blogs in January, February, March and June 2016.
This is the link to Bundred’s report https://www.bristol.gov.uk/bristol-green-capital

Advertisements
5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2017 12:06 pm

    Well done for trying to get to the Truth D.

  2. January 10, 2017 1:02 pm

    I think we have learned that when it comes to inquiries and Labour it’s all about the Terms of Reference…..as was the controversy voiced, by many, on the ToR with the Hutton and Chilcot Inquiries. Similarly the Labour set ToR for this Green Capital Inquiry appear to be limited in scope and very narrow – they would never result in a complete picture or settle on any culpability for expenditure or provide an accurate picture of how, who, what happened to the money, legacy, engagement etc. It’s ruinous to the credibility of public projects, in Bristol, if all we are left with from the few invoices released is an impression that vast amounts were spent on consultants advising us on how to spend the money whilst sipping champagne and snacking down canapes instead of being confident that we can trust that our money will always be spent wisely and be publicly accountable and open to scrutiny. Many mates made mincemeat of millions.

    The report excludes any examination/investigation into the finances and the expenditure – no critical consideration of the value for money and on what,who,how money was spent. Transparency should have started at scrutiny within the council by councillors but as this former councillor knows GF & officers removed from scrutiny Green Capital from the committee I chaired and obfuscated, obstructed and obscured any opportunity to get answers to questions hence the multiple FOIs that had to be made, that ultimately resulted in Marvin having to release the invoices a year after their submission under the old regime. Furthermore officers were repeatedly asked for the ‘budget’ line by line before the year was even launched. This was refused, ignored or we were informed there was no budget available because they hadn’t confirmed the programme! When ultimately a budget was published it was merely headlines under generalised headings – had the budget been published and provided for scrutiny before commitment to spend then the year long battle to see the finances wouldn’t have resulted in negative connotations for GF or raised suspicions and most certainly probably would have resulted in councillors raising the alarm bells much earlier on the vast quantities of money, hundreds of thousands of pounds being spent on consultants – it was only after the fact that councillors were informed at Oversight & Management Board committee that over £200,000 had been spent on a pretty flat and non dynamic,non-interactive website….£200,000!! This report, within the constraints of it’s terms of reference, can only conclude that it was a success but it by no means lifts suspicions or blows away the stench (equal in potency to the rotten smell emitted from an uncollected Bristol Waste Company food waste box) that hangs around over where the money went!

  3. Robin Bowers permalink
    January 10, 2017 7:42 pm

    Hi.

    How can we get this independently investigated ? It seems to me that whoever gets voted in as Mayor has the power to do just what they want and are not accountable to anyone , if this is the case then its criminal and the Government must get involved and sort it out !

    Robin

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. roger.opie@ablazebristol.org permalink
    January 12, 2017 5:15 pm

    Please amend my address to rogeropie@googlemail.com

  5. talulah horan permalink
    January 19, 2017 11:33 am

    i agree with your statement b :))))

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: