Bish at his desk with attentive middle managers (still from Jan
Ormondroyd’s 2008 production of ‘No Questions Please, We’re Incompetent’)
It’s a competitive field, but I think my Bristol City Council story of the year is shaping up to be Vowlsie’s attempt to make a complaint to the council that he’s now had to make a complaint about.
It’s all a bit like something out of Kafka although we’re talking about Bristol City Council here not the Stasi. Does Kafka’s brand of bleak alienation really have much in common with our soppy little council and its pant wetting bosses? They’re more a tired old English farce performed in provincial rep with Brian Rix’s understudy constantly fluffing the lines than high-end Eastern European existential literature aren’t they?
Act One of this tragi-comedy finds Vowlsie asking Bristol City Council for a couple of simple answers to a couple of straightforward questions that most of us could have sorted out in a couple of days.
All he wanted to know was why the council’s own procedures on green space disposal appear not to have been applied to the sell off of park land to developers, Square Peg, at Greenbank on the Bristol to Bath Railway Path and why this strip of land now proposed for development has not been subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as apparently required by an EU Directive.
Now you might have thought that the council would be able to answer these two questions quite easily. In both cases the council simply has to assess a set of fairly objective circumstances regarding the land against a fixed set of written criteria they have to adhere to.
Indeed, here in the boring old conventional world outside the Council House, this kind of straightforward box-ticking exercise might be handed to a junior member of staff along with a simple checklist. They could then assess the land in question against the written criteria contained in the council’s own policy and in the EU directive and reach a preliminary conclusion as to whether the land can be sold and whether an EIA is necessary.
Having done this they could then perhaps produce something like a report or maybe take their conclusion to a meeting where it could be minuted or they even could have – in this age of increasing informality where senior officers have been known to loosen their ties in hot weather – emailed their bosses for a formal confirmation of their conclusion.
The joy of this approach is that when an enquiry such as Vowlsie’s comes in, an officer can go to the computer folder where the report, minute or email is stored; copy the relevant material out of the document; paste it into a letter to Vowlsie; print it; put it in an envelope; stick a stamp on it and put it in the post to him. That’s the job done in a couple of hours and then they could get on with what we’re actually paying them to do.
So why has it taken Bristol City Council over a month to not perform a straightforward task that takes a couple of hours?
The answer might lie in the undated email that planning boss, David Bishop, sent to the council’s Property Services Department instructing them to sell the park land.
It says: “we can now proceed to sell some of our land to the developer to facilitate the cycling possibilities they wish to promote, as this aspiration sits well with our own sustainable transport plans.”
Well isn’t that nice? Bald Bish’s stated reasons for selling the land are because the cycling possibilities sit well with his sustainable transport plans.
Only there’s a teensie-weensie little problem with this. If you actually read Bald Bish’s Parks and Green Spaces Strategy nowhere is there any mention that the council can sell off park land because of either “cycling possibilities” or because it might “sit well with our own sustainable transport plans.”
Has Bald Bish, by any chance, been making it up as he goes along? Has he ignored his own council’s policy in order to sell land to a local developer fronted by a certain red trousered Merchant Venturer? Has he similarly ignored an EU directive as a personal favour too? And has he now effectively binned his obligations under the corporate complaints procedure to cover his arse?
I think we should be told.
And we may well be, what with pantomime season fast approaching and the curtain raising on Act 2 of our farce with Vowlsie writing to Chief Exec Jan Ormondroyd to get his questions answered.
Yes that’s right. We’re now paying Chief Exec Bum Disease £700 a day to deal with simple questions. What a bargain.
Now what will she do? Will she be backing the Bish – part of the new, supposedly 5 star, senior management team she personally selected – and ditch her corporate complaints procedure and her own council’s policies to save his sorry arse and his £120k a year salary or will she be revealing what’s really been going on with the Greenbank land sale and planning application?
There will now be a brief interval. Drinks and refreshments are available at the bar.