I have not posted anything here for a long time – not since tidying it up entirely, having intended to use it to track my various areas of interest, such as Freedom of Information requests. Things have been, s one might say, rather busy.
No matter, I now have the opportunity to post an article which I originally began writing back in 2011, fleshing it out with some FoI digging. It seemed like a bigger story than I could handle on my own, so I asked around other local bloggers, some of whom were generous in their help. Still time-poor, I passed on all my materials in case something positive might come out of it – and lo, the story has been updated and rewritten for The Bristolian, a local Private Eye-style newspaper.
Here is my original version. I also wrote a follow-up story, which again was reworked in The Bristolian but which I have not previously published – I shall post this up in the near future, along with a summary of the related FoI requests.
The Great Bristol Park Kiosk Scandal of 2011
Talking of the throwing of bungs by commercial interests at elected representatives [at the time I was also perturbed about some other shady business going on the at the council, which I suspect it wise not to go into here], just what was the story behind The Great Bristol Park Kiosk Scandal of 2011?
There used to be a snack van called La Bonne Crepe working the Union Street side of Castle Park. It offered freshly made coffee and tea and pancakes and other such things. There were tables and chairs in front of it, and it was licensed by Bristol City Council, to whom proprietor Christophe Moron (hey, he’s French) paid rent. It was an arrangement that worked well for more than three years.
Park kiosks – a brave new world for Bristol
Then one day in early 2011 Monsieur Moron discovered that Bristol City Council didn’t want him there any longer. They didn’t actually tell him, mind; they just quietly readvertised the lease. He found out when a council project manager came around to his pitch on Castle Park to measure up for the new, semi-permanent kiosk the council planned on erecting there – one of several it intended to put up across its parks portfolio.
Despite having only a few short weeks to prepare, Christophe decided put in a bid for the new lease – but he was unsuccessful.
As council spokesman James Easey was quoted as saying by the Evening Post in an article published on 17th February 2011:
The lease on this site was coming to an end, so as is standard practice, we have to go out to tender.
The parks team took the opportunity to improve the location by creating a kiosk facility.
Unfortunately the existing tenant was not successful in winning the tender, but we believe that the small business now taking over is in discussion with him about working together in the future.
Fast-forward a couple of weeks and it is mid-March 2011. The council was back in the Evening Post boasting about the completion of its three new snack kiosks – one each in Castle Park, St George Park and Canford Park.
Complete with classic local rag photo featuring two men in suits and a typically sweaty-looking Councillor Gary Hopkins mugging for the camera whilst raising paper coffee cups, the Post‘s report notes that the kiosks, whilst “owned by the council, [will be] managed by Diamond Catering for the next five years”.
BCC: supporting local business (in the Midlands)
That’s Diamond Catering & Cleaning Management Ltd, registered in Northamptonshire, but based in Gloucester. That’s the same Diamond Catering which also won contracts for the council’s cafés at Blaise Castle, Ashton Court Estate and Oldbury Court Estate.
According to their (now defunct) website, Diamond’s management team worked on a “global scale, having fed members of The British and Foreign Royal Families, provided banquets and intimate dinner parties in a multitude of settings, operating multi million pound budgets”.
Which is interesting, given the choice of words used by the council’s James Easey last February. What was it he described Diamond as? Ah yes, a “small business”. And yet the facts suggest otherwise.
But then that is often the way when the council is involved. Councillor Hopkins, in the puff piece celebrating the opening of the Diamond units, had claimed “these kiosks will not only provide a range of high-quality drinks and snacks”, which makes him, as anyone who tried anything from any of them will attest, either a liar or (sorry, Christophe) a moron.
Fast-forward again to October 2011, and just eight months after Councillor Hopkins, his colleagues and his council officers made such a sterling, strategic decision in selecting Diamond as preferred purveyor of overpriced, press-button beverages in the city’s parks, the Diamond kiosks shut down. Within another month, and Diamond was in liquidation. [for some reason you cannot link directly to entries on the Companies House WebCheck website – you need to do a search on company number 06883163].
The council now has six empty catering facilities across its parks [note: since I first wrote this article the cafés – apart from Castle Park – have been reopened; two new ones, doubling the number at each Blaise Castle and Ashton Court estates, have also been added to the portfolio]. Six locations where it has lost us, the people of Bristol, revenue. Six locations where low wage workers have been laid off.
That’s great work, Gary. Now, remind us why Diamond won the contract in the first place?
I know you are probably fretting about the men behind Diamond – “Oh, those poor dears, I do hope they are alright!” I hear you wail.
Well, fret not, dear reader, each of them is now sole director of his own catering company.
That’s right, they opened two new catering companies. Within two days of each other. About a month before Diamond was shuttered, its workers locked out (and owed wages), and the council stiffed for four years and three months’ worth of contract. All’s well that ends well.