Jesus wept, now we've got mystery consultants and moonlighting PRs

Willard: Who’s in charge here?
Soldier: In charge? I don’t know man. I thought you were in charge…
Apocalpyse Now

If you’re looking for any hard news about the city these days – as opposed to articles about what the weather’s like or what local cancer charities are doing to raise money over the weekend – why not try page 53 of the Cancer?

Last Friday found our old friend, Merchant Venturer and unelected SWRDA board member John Savage, slipping a highly partisan article under the radar on the advantages of Bristol Airport expansion. It seems he’s even gone to the expense of forking out for his own economists to discredit Stop Bristol Airport Expansion’s economic research.

And today on page 53 we have something that appears suspiciously like a planted article about the Railway Path headlined ‘Green protest could cost us’ in which “an expert” who refuses to be named claims that “green protesters could lose Bristol millions in transport investment“.

Obviously no so-called “green protestor” is invited to reply to these claims and provide some balance to the article. Instead we get a comment from “West of England Partnership spokesman Simon Caplan”.

Caplan, by sheer coincidence, happens to run Bristol City Council’s communication department, despite Labour Councillor Faruk Choudhury recently assuring us that they – along with West of England Partnership – have nothing to do with the BRT proposal. The BRT plan says Choudhury “is only a consultant’s report prepared for the West of England Partnership.”

Not according to their new spokesman Caplan it’s not: “the West of England Partnership is committed to developing a network of state-of-the art rapid transit routes to deliver a step-change to public transport in the sub-region. The partnership is determined to secure government funding for the critical schemes that will form that network,” he says.

Not a mention of consultants there. So who is in charge of these BRT plans? Consultants? The West of England Partnership? Bristol City Council? The responsibility and accountability seems to be shifting on a daily basis now.

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5 Responses to Jesus wept, now we've got mystery consultants and moonlighting PRs

  1. BristleKRS says:

    How is it that two (or more) of BCC’s press officers are also press officers for the WEP – is this an official, paid-for secondment by a local authority in the area of the partnership?

    Or are they independently hired by the WEP based on their experience in public relations?

    Or are they volunteering their time and expertise to the WEP freely?

    If it’s the first, does this mean we people of Bristol are at risk of being understaffed on the flannel front? How long can we hope to endure such a cruel labour shortage? More to the point, are they neglecting their contracted service to us?

    If it’s the second, should any conflict of interest between BCC and the WEP arise, what happens then? Will Caplan and chums end up briefing against themselves, leaking line-by-line rebuttals of their own press releases and getting trapped in some Escher-like vortex of breathlessly enthusiastic yet constantly contradictory prose?

    And if it’s the third, why? What’s in it for them? Are there any private, personal or prejudicial interests either (any) of them might wish to disclose?

    Given that the ‘Partnership’ consists of a further three local authorities other than BCC, whose interests do not always match those of us here in Bristol, as well as numerous, unaccountable “social, economic and environmental partners”, is it really appropriate that servants of the people of Bristol are permitted (or even directed) to carry out work which may well go against the interests of the people of Bristol?

  2. Chris Hutt says:

    The “expert”, who understandably declined to be named, seems to be rather clueless about the realities of public transport patronage. He claims that “the BRT would provide an alternative for 48,000 car users every day. But he neglects to explain how he comes by this extraordinary figure.

    By chance, if we assume 24 BRT buses passing along the route in each direction every hour (2.5 minute intervals) for 10 hours a day, with each bus having a maximum capacity of 100 (mostly standing), then that would give us a maximum theoretical capacity of 48,000 passengers.

    So in theory, if every bus was packed to capacity throughout it’s journey, even when running against the peak flow, and if only those who would otherwise have driven were allowed on, then BRT could indeed provide an alternative for 48,000 car trips per 10 hour day (actually equivalent to 24,000 car users making return journeys, but let’s assume the guy meant trips, not users).

    You don’t need to be a transport expert to realise that such conditions are utterly unrealistic. BRT buses are only likely to operate anywhere near peak capacity for an hour or two each day in each direction, and then only around 20% of users are likely to transfer from driving, so a more realistic figure for the peak period, assuming similar service levels (which may well not be viable) might be in the order of 1,000 car users transferring to BRT (or 2,000 car trips per day).

    Now if the BRT route costs £50 million to construct, with interest on that sum of say 5% p.a., the interest charges per working day would be £10,000 or £10 per car user transferring. Which raises the question of what might be achieved if we offered car drivers £10 a day to cycle instead!

  3. Paul Smith says:


    it also assumes that the cattle on this route have all transfered from their cars and none from the showcase bus route and other bus routes on the way

  4. Chris Hutt says:

    Paul, I know, that’s why I included “and if only those who would otherwise have driven were allowed on”.

    WEP’s consultant’s actually give figures of around 20% of patronage transferring from car trips for the Emerson’s Green route. Most passengers will transfer (along with their buses in some cases) from other bus routes, others will make journeys that they wouldn’t otherwise have made (generated journeys) and only a small proportion will switch from driving.

    What’s more, new car trips will be generated at Park & Ride sites, some of which might transfer from bus only journeys (e.g. Downend commuter drives out to Emerson’s Green P&R whereas he/she currently gets the bus directly from Downend). Studies of P&Rs around other towns have shown that this sort of thing does happen.

  5. Gary Hopkins says:

    The possible conflict of interest issue raised by KRS is very pertinant. This applies not just with communications staff but at many levels. This is all part of the blurring of edges and lack of accountability that has mushroomed since 1997.
    With the refusal of BANES to have anything to do with the awful incinerator planned for Avonmouth we are left with the very real possibility of South Glos and North Somerset Tories overruling Bristol and demanding that they be allowed to ship their rubbish to Bristol for burning. Oh and by the way Bristolians will all be helping to pay the bill.
    At a recent scrutiny meeting Cllr Bradshaw was asked if we could get an assurance that Bristol would be allowed to pull out of the incinerator plan without penalty after he has signed the governance arrangements.
    His long waffle in which he tried to pretend that there was no commitment could be translated as NO.
    Officers are already getting concerned about the potential conflicts here but the good ship “Bristol new Labour(with Tory support)” heads us inexorably for the rocks.

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