Basu writes about how the media have managed a near total media amnesia about the 2008 financial crisis and its causes. She identifies three factors at play: a narrow range of elite perspectives, a lack of historical context and a lack of global context.

We can see similar at the local level. We see it not only the media but also in the narratives used by the local councillors.

One example is of the city council partnering with a company or consortium of companies to deliver a way for those companies to make a profit.

Or, as the brochure tells us, they are partnering with a multinational company in order to ‘drive’ Bristol’s decarbonisation. This project is called City Leap and initially contained the loss-making Bristol Energy (BE) company as well. BE, however, was sold off with losses at over £20m.

How has the setup of City Leap been described in the local press? [further research needed but there has been no mention of a transfer of wealth at all]

One of the first things that comes up about City Leap is about how confusing it is — this shows a lack of global context. These neoliberal structures of helping corporations profit at the cost of communities, and the very deep pockets of local and national governments. In England, local councils are so underfunded that much of their revenue comes from having to apply for grants for different streams of work.

I don’t know, but I assume and need to check, that the council are counting on money from the government for renewable energy and decarbonisation. This is also what corporations are waiting for as well. Someone with deep pockets — whether that be residents (shallower pockets but over the longer term) or government funding (deeper pockets of public tax payers’ money).

In the meeting of the overview and scrutiny management board, the executive director seemed to have a much clearer understanding of global context. In fact, with barely a relevant question from the councillors, he came up with the following points.

  • the companies themselves have been asked to draft the terms;
    • Stephen Peacock said, “what we have effectively done is given bidders and, to an extent, members, the opportunity to input into what is actually a draft document now”
  • The companies want to make a profit from this investment. The council wants the work done, is quite happy (note they’ve lost £20m in BE and no one has been fired) to use other people’s money to do this, but want to keep some control.
    • Stephen Peacock: “the challenge is the balance between allowing the commercial partners to have the freedom to operate and for this to be an attractive opportunity; whilst also keeping a level of control over those things that the council feels it needs to but obviously the way to get a billion pounds of investment in is to make this an attractive as an opportunity for, you know, some serious heavyweight companies so they will um you know I’m sure looking very closely at those issues of control to make sure that they can see a pathway to in effect making some money whilst hopefully decarbonising our energy system

The global context is very clear. There are few heavyweight companies with billions to invest. There are instead countries with this kind of funding but the Conservative government has shown that it does not intend to fund infrastructure from the public purse in situations where corporations could be benefitting from the profit instead.

This is standard neoliberal ideology. In global neoliberal critiques this would be followed-up by asking how much of the state and council’s wealth will be transferring upwards to the 1% — i.e. those who control corporations big enough to have a £1 billion to invest. For how long would Bristol be paying? The partnership would be for 20 years but as we saw with PFI, will the payments continue on past that?

No one asked about these things.

The questions were about the following points — with no one mentioning Bristol Energy and the £20m loss. I wonder if with a £1billion cooperation, what kind of public funding would be involved.

  1. Question about governance. What oversight will the council have of the work these companies/consortiums will be doing? How will the risk be managed seeing as the costs have gone up? [Paula O’Rourke Green Party]
    1. Stephen Peacock: a balance needs to be struck between control by the council and an opportunity for ‘heavyweight’ corporations to profit.
  2. What kind of companies are these — can they be checked since the council will be in partnership with them for 20 years. (this question was from Labour cllr Jo Sergeant);
    1. The answer was that along with checking how much money they have and if they can invest in Bristol £1b, are they involved with any criminal charges, modern slavery etc.
      • “as a councillor I don’t want my council personally associated with people who don’t run a good ship and aren’t decent employers”
    2. No one brought up the fact that Sumitomo corporation own a coalmine in Australia (81%), that they manipulated metal futures in London between 1991 and 1997; “The Sumitomo Corporation manipulated the London Metal Exchange (LME) copper price, which forms the pricing basis for the world copper market” [link] — they only recently sold their copper mine to Mazda; etc.
  3. The third question was how to make sure the huge corporation wasn’t stifled in its ‘innovation’ by the council [LibDem cllr Negus]

I don’t know long the councillors had to research City Leap but these are not questions the scrutinise very deeply and they will not have made any of the dangers more visible, at least not to a great extent.

Tomorrow: The Racket by Matt Kennard. Why we need to understand what has happened previously (historical context — what have other councils done? also BE) and around the world (global context — Latin America), to see that this very narrow perspective of how to proceed has no alternative options.

Note that no one suggested the government might fund this; in fact, Labour MPs and the mayor and his cabinet in Bristol pretty much seem to espouse anti-socialism as a way of getting ‘stuff done’. They were happy when Starmer became leader. Socialism does not come up at all as an option. Now, maybe that’s rational because this government would never fund it, but there has been no mention (sources) of how this would be a cheaper option for tax payers and with less risk.

At the end of the OSMB meeting, the cllrs all seemed to be agreed that this was a positive project with potential but needed some oversight.

pumpkin house

Published by Joanna

A collection of fleeting thoughts that tend to focus around Bristol, food, movies, music and photography.

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