There’s at least one event not to be missed at this year’s ‘Festival of Ideas’ – Bristol Harbourside’s upmarket wafflefest for Guardian readers.
Next Monday at The Watershed the festival is screening the inarguably excellent ‘Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room’ – the film version of Fortune reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind’s book about the collapse of the notorious Enron Corporation, one of the greatest scandals in corporate history.
So who have the festival organisers invited to introduce this film and perhaps deliver some heartfelt and tasteful moral homilies on corporate responsibility? Um, er… Wessex Water Chairman Colin Skellett!
Multi-millionaire Skellett originally filled his boots courtesy of Thatcherite high-priest Nick Ridley’s very clubbable approach to water privatisation in the 80s and since then Colin’s not really had to look back.
The Merchant Venturer should be able to tell us a thing or two about Enron anyway as he was a well remunerated Executive Director of Enron’s European subsidary Azurix – owners of Wessex Water until 2002 – working right alongside the Enron super-crooks Jeffery Skilling and Kenneth Lay as well as fellow Merchant Venturer Nicholas Hood.
Hood – who used to like styling himself as ‘a friend of Prince Charles’ to the local press – was the vice-Chairman of Azurix and was also the original Chairman of @Bristol until the Enron scandal broke in 2002 and he resigned and scarpered very sharpish indeed.
Whilst at @Bristol Hood negotiated a £13m government subsidy towards the cost of developing the complex from the SWRDA where – presumably coincidentally – his Azurix colleague and fellow Venturer Skellett conveniently sits on the board disbursing public money on our behalf.
It’s a shame then that these two captains of local industry didn’t see fit to spend some of the taxpayers money they were sharing out on a decent business plan for @bristol isn’t it? The complex, of course, recently made staff redundant and closed two-thirds of its operation to avoid bankruptcy. Not that any of this is Skellett’s or Hood’s responsibility. Oh no.
Unfortunately it’s not clear – as yet – if as part of his introduction to the film Skellett will also be providing an exclusive insider’s account of being investigated for bribery. In 2002 he was arrested by the SFO after £1m was discovered in his personal bank account that had been placed there by Malaysian Company YTL.
YTL had purchased Wessex Water from Azurix earlier that year and the SFO were investigating whether Skellett had received the money as a sweetner to favour the Malaysians during the Wessex Water post-Enron sell-off.
The matter was resolved when Skellett explained that the £1m was in fact a consultancy fee paid in advance for the next five years… Nice work if you can get it!
And a few more conflicts of interest whilst we’re at it… The Festival of Ideas is organised by Bristol Cultural Development Partnership – a ‘public-private’ quango awash with public money and based at Business West’s Leigh Woods HQ. The board of BCDP includes Venturers such as John Savage – Business West boss and now an SWRDA board member alongside Skellett – and Louis Sherwood – a non-Executive Director of merchant bank HBOS and a Director of… Wait for it… Wessex Water… Right there alongside Skellett! Phew what a small world! Very cosy indeed up there in corporate-quango-land with the public money innit?
You can see for yourself just how cosy on Monday at 6.00pm at The Watershed – themselves recently the recipients of Skellett’s largesse with public money. His SWRDA recently handing the cinema with a bar £6m for Bristol’s ‘creative industries’. Mind you it’ll take some creative industry to sell this dodgy old corporate pimp as some kind of commentator on business ethics.
See you there!