Some of the faces on this new Labour cabinet are horrifyingly familiar from just two years back. The unholy alliance of Holland, Hammond and Bees are exactly the team that plunged the city into a financial crisis in the autumn of 2004 as they sat back and let the social services department overspend by £18m.
The ridiculous triumvirate’s response to this crisis was to pay four people – two consultants and two officers – a director of social services’ salary each for three months and then implement a budget in March 2005 operating at the outer limits of human reason.
In order to balance the books Peter Hammond, assisted by Bees, announced – apropos of nothing – that their social services debt was just £7.1m, despite the council’s own Public Accounts Committee rejecting this figure and claiming it was impossible to quantify the debt at that time.
Hammond then offset this made-up figure by claiming that the city council would be receiving £7m more from central government that year – despite no such announcement from central government – because of an increase in the city’s population figures. In other words, Hammond’s budget consisted of a made-up debt figure offset by a back-of-the-fag-packet made-up guestimate.
When it came time for Hammond to present this fictitious budget to the full council, the cowardly little slime ball immediately threw a sickie and left it to his deputy, Helen Holland, to present this nonsense-on-stilts to the city.
That budget meeting famously culminated in a near-riot as elderly and disabled day care service users forcibly and vocally protested about the withdrawal of their services in order to balance Hammond’s cock-eyed books.
Morale in the social services department is said to have already hit rock bottom at the news that Hammond – no doubt sharpened pencil and fag packet at the ready – is back to run the social services show. One senior officer told The Blogger he fully expects an exodus of senior managers and finance officers who will not be prepared to attempt to implement Hammond’s potty demands and preposterous plans.
So much for the Labour’s old cabinet faces…
But some of the new faces in cabinet catch The Blogger’s eye too. Starting with Derek Pickup who’s been put in charge of the city’s politically sensitive education department.
Pickup has a long and not very distinguished history in Bristol. During the mid-nineties he worked in the grants section of Bristol City Council until he was mysteriously “moved aside” into Personnel at the same time as a corruption investigation into Filwood Community Centre was launched, resulting in the hasty departure of community work cronies Yvonne Edwards and Dan Lloyd to France to run a holiday villa business.
He then worked his ticket back through the council and the usual collection of voluntary sector quangos like Business in the Community to the directorship of Easton Community Centre and a safe Labour seat.
Just prior to being elected to the council in 2005, Pickup was appointed Director of Easton Community Centre where within a month he was announcing its bankruptcy and claiming that the organisation’s accounts were a total mess that had been inexplicably dumped into boxes in a corner of his office.
This financial quagmire may have proved useful in terms of accountability for the revolving door of Labour activists, councillors and their cronies that had sat on the management committee of the organisation over the previous ten years. But it also sheds a lot of light on Pickup’s peculiar set of talents. Why would anyone with even simple management skills and a basic level of financial acumen take on the directorship of an already bankrupt company?
Just the man to run the city’s crisis-ridden education department then.
The other new cabinet member that catches the eye is Councillor Mark Bradshaw. He’s selling sitting on the board of @Bristol as the jewel in the crown of his CV. Er… Yes that is the Harbourside financial basketcase that’s recently shut two-thirds of its operation and made most of its work force redundant.
So it seems the main qualification needed for a seat on a Labour cabinet now is to have been sat staring gormlessly at a balance sheet in the red and doing fuck all about it except continuing to implement a flawed and failing business plan until you go bust.
Bradshaw takes control of a department called ‘Access and Environment’. It looks like we could be in for a rough ride on the transport agenda then.