This article was published on Bristol24/7.
Picture this. An energy company to challenge the big six. A company that puts its profits back into Bristol rather than the back pocket of its shareholders. A company that sees the city’s most vulnerable as those it most needs to help, not an opportunity to exploit for marginal profits. A company set up and is wholly owned by the council but is given an arm’s length structure to be able to operate commercially. An energy company that makes international headlines by working locally to turn local sewage into gas to then heat thousands of local homes.
This is a vision for Bristol that won plaudits internationally. Bristol was seen as a leader in creative thinking and potential answers to the impossible austerity question posed by successive governments: could a council raise crucial revenue through private council-owned companies while at the same time tackling the core issues like poverty and climate change?
This is a question that today I fear we may never know the answer to. When you have an idea that is this ambitious, this trailblazing, this bold, you need to throw your whole weight behind it. You need unequivocal political support. You need political leadership.
Today we heard the devastatingly sad news that Bristol Energy will no longer supply the city council – its whole owner – which is switching to a British Gas, one of the ‘Big Six’ energy companies. The current Labour administration who made this decision will tell us that they are “obliged to competitively tender our utility contracts” and this is of course, partially, true.
But as Eleanor Combley, the leader of the Green Councillors said today, “Just a few months ago Full Council voted through an updated policy on social value, committing to promote our local economy and environmental sustainability in the Council’s procurement rules”. Despite this, the Council have now chosen one of the Big Six over their own company to supply their energy.
Combley hits the metaphorical nail on the head when she says, “value for money isn’t just about choosing what is cheapest”.
I have no doubt that in the regimented form filling nature of council procurement British Gas ticked more boxes. But this move is the antithesis to the bold alternative vision outlined at the start of this article. It is a regressive move that will see Bristol tax payer’s money going not to the city but to the shareholders in British Gas. It will see our money going to a company that thrives on charging more to the poorest rather than one whose core aim is to support them.
This in and of itself is worrying. But when framed in the context of the choppy seas of cuts to local councils it becomes deeply worrying. What vision does this administration have for steering us as a city through these devastating cuts? Millions are being stripped from council front-line services in short-term budget-balancing moves but the lack of long-term action coming from the Mayor’s Office is deafening. Bristol wants to know if this administration is bold enough in their remaining 2 years to think big and deliver on projects to take forward the anti-austerity vision that it supposedly stands for.
Today’s news that the Council isn’t standing by its own energy company strongly suggests this administration isn’t.
The simple satisfaction of cycling into work along the River Frome into Bristol
My daily commute follows the River Frome into the centre of Bristol. Or I should say, as close as the modern infrastructure built around the river allows. Every day I pass the same weir, the same log spanning from one bank to another, the same bridge where the river finally disappears below the concrete centre forever from sight.
There is a simple satisfaction in observing how the river responds to the weather and countryside that feeds it. After heavy rains the weir can almost disappear under surging dirty brown water washed from ploughed farmers’ fields. A few days of no rain later, and you will be left with a clear trickle struggling to make it down its shallow path.
On days like today, when the temperature drops below freezing, this slow flowing river begins to freeze over altogether leaving sheets of ice floating in the river’s eddies.
Wrapped in thick coats, scarves and hats, the red flushed faces look out as the dog walkers crunch over the frozen muddy puddles. On one section of path, just south of Broom Hill the puddles perpetually sit never normally fully draining. Today though, they are iced over leaving a crisp brown path slicing through the centre of a frost filled field. The small wooden picnic bench which normally sits opposite a small outcrop of limestone perfect for some climbing in warmer months is today frozen white.
About 2 kilometres north of the city centre the River Frome emerges from the steep valley in which it has been travelling and my commute cuts up through the open expanse of Eastville Park. In these winter months, the sun rises directly to my left, beaming gently through the historic horse chestnut trees that cast long shadows over the frozen ground.
As the river fights its way through the monstrosity of modern out of town shopping my route slips alongside the equally awful piece of urban engineering – the M32, the first real reminder that you’re heading into a major city centre. From here the river dips below concrete in places and the off-road cycle route weaves between skate parks, railway bridges and underpasses.
The embedded heat in the concrete on this stage of the commute means that despite the air temperature being close to minus 4, nothing is frozen. The concrete is grey, the grass green and the sky blue.
Nothing of the surroundings for the last bit of this commute gives any hint of the weather or countryside that surrounds the city. It is then that I feel a huge sense of privilege to have such a commute. Also though, I feel a sadness that for most people, even those whose daily commute is outside of their cars, most people in Bristol would not have seen the frozen field that I cycled through this morning.
As I arrive in the office buoyed by the beauty of the seasons, I can’t help but to wonder what impact it is having on us as a society for most of us to never fully experience or appreciate the changing of the weather, seasons and nature that will always sit beyond our control.
Be one of the cool kids and share this article
Leave a comment
Filed under Blogging, Bristol, Outdoors, Photography, Social comment
Tagged as Bristol, Broom Hill, Climbing, Commute, cycling, Eastville Park, Frome Valley, photography, River Frome, Snuff Mills