Note: this post is a mixture of items written originally and items edited later when new information emerged.
Via a private arm of the City Council, Peterborough recently bid for £20 million funding from the Technology Strategy Board to develop a Future Cities project. As a runner up to Glasgow Peterborough was given £3 million to develop their ideas.
Their original bid document is here:
Feasibility Study Peterborough City Council.
On page 24 it lists potential risks. The 4th most severe risk reads:
“Delays in delivery of EfW plant; heat network enhancements may not be possible.” Risk: High Probability 0.9
The suggested mitigation reads:
“Early engagement with Viridor, inclusion of proposals in feasibility study for District Heat Network. Engage with PREL to investigate options for linking project to PREL EfW plant.”
We learn on page 29 Appendix B that this strand of district heat network enhancement accounts for £1.6 million of the £20 million funding requested.
The company PREL (Peterborough Renewable Energy Ltd) which has no physical presence but is ever in the process of raising investment, is owned by the Leader of Peterborough City Council, the same person who signed off this bid. The company is mentioned six times in the bidding document.
It is very difficult to understand how the person signing this bid document, pictured on Page 36, the Leader of Peterborough City Council, who is also Chairman of Opportunity Peterborough, who are the direct authors of the bid document, has omitted to point out in that document that he is Chairman of the nascent private company PREL, which would naturally be seen to be one of the companies that might benefit from any such engagement, were the bid to be successful.
The signature on page 36, which is followed by a list of companies including at least one of which the signer has an unstated interest, is not enough to amount to a declaration. The connection is not stated.
It would have been very simple to add a list of all relevant interests after the signature, or simply “local business owner”. In fact it is not clear why the councillor felt it necessary to be the signer of the document, adding a picture for good measure. There are other architects who could have performed this role.
It is not enough to assume that the Technology Strategy Board can themselves exhaustively research all of the backgrounds to all of the people involved in Opportunity Peterborough, should they have the capacity to do so. The signer of the bid is a councillor, and a full statement of interests can be found at Peterborough City Council website, but this fact is not explicitly stated within the bid document. The relationship with PREL is information that needs to be proactively provided within the text of the application, in order that everyone who reads it within and without the TSB can see it, and evaluate it according to their own understanding. Without this, the bid document is incomplete.
And in any case, had the Technology Strategy Board taken the trouble to perform due diligence, and follow the trail to Cllr Cereste’s business interests, they may have found nothing of any significance at all. This is because of a number of changes made to that register last year, when many business interests including PREL were removed for a period of time, and then re-added later, after the bid had been resolved.
Many entries have been deleted. Several of them relate to business interests of a green energy nature, and may well have been be involved in the delivery of the project. Here is a flavour of the work.
It may be that all of these companies were sold and reacquired, or temporarily transferred across to other vehicles, for reasons not yet explained. I am sure, if this is the case, this fact will be recorded at Companies House.
There must surely be a simple explanation for the wholesale editing of the Register of Interests at a time when public monies were being sought, and the people of Peterborough look forward to hearing it, as will anyone involved in the bidding who relies on the fairness of the process.
Conclusion: A close examination shows that the PREL entry was removed or perhaps subsumed under Energy Parks, or “Energy Path” as sometime stated. That means that the declaration may have appeared to fulfill the requirements of declaration, since PREL is pictured on the web page of Green Energy Parks. The scrutiny required on the part of the awarding body would have been more exhaustive, since it would have been necessary to investigate Energy Parks on the Internet to locate the apparent presence of PREL within that organisation. It could well be that they failed to locate the relevant entry, in which case one assumes that it is they rather than the signer who takes the responsibility. PREL itself was re-entered as a discrete entry on the Council register in the following April.
And a look at companies information shows that PREL, or Peterborough Renewable Energy Limited, which is the company named in the bid and recommended for business, does not in fact appear to be a sub-entity of Green Energy Parks, but trades as an active company in its own right. The fact that it is pictured on the front page of the Green Energy Parks website is another mystery.
There are several other bewildering edits, misspellings and replacements that remain unexplained. And the evident potential conflict of interest is still present.
Meanwhile it is still the case that Peterborough City Council requirements of declaration will have been unfulfilled, which remains their responsibility.
And the signer has not yet been invited to explain publicly why such comprehensive editing of the Register of Interests took place redacting large tranches of information at a time when public money was being sought.
Comments received 5th June 2013 from Opportunity Peterborough deserve the following qualification. It repeats what was said above about the undoubted strengths of the bid.
Nothing is known from published documents about the conduct of the bid project itself. It is fair to assume that all correct procedures were carried out during the construction of the bid. There is nothing stated here to suggest otherwise. The flaw, if it exists, rests in the fact that the person who signed off the project appears to have relevant business interests which were missing from the Council Register of Interests during the bidding process.
And since this is clearly evident to anyone looking into this bid who knows the local situation, it unfortunately casts a long shadow over the entire process. That does not imply in any way that the officers who put the bid together failed in their proper duties. Indeed they certainly may have done a very good job indeed. They will be unhappy to see any criticism of their project, having worked on it for so long. Writing on such a very local project, involving people who depend for their livelihood on the success of their efforts, will always prove unpopular. It is not the intention of this post to threaten those livelihoods. It is just unfortunate that a full picture was not apparently provided of the background facts, and that no explanation exists for this omission at the time of writing.
Update 20th June – A communication was received on 13th June 2013 from the Peterborough City Council Monitoring Officer citing administrative delays in entering information on the Register of Interests, and giving assurances that all decisions were carefully scrutinised by that department, and that the Council takes its responsibilities most seriously.
Since these questions do not refer to a decision but an action, a reply was sent on 14th June asking for clarification on this particular question regarding this particular action.
At the time of writing, 20th June 2013, no response has been received.
A further response has been received from the Monitoring Officer dated 28th June repeating the information stated earlier, that the Register was subject to modifications, due to the introduction of a new system of reporting, and that this caused delays resulting in items not appearing on the Register.
The Officer also points out that there were many companies featured in the bid document. It has not been decided whether any individual company will or will not benefit from the bid. For this reason there can be no conflict of interest. Should there be a decision taken that any one company will benefit from the bid, that decision if and when it occurs, will be subject to normal scrutiny processes.
The decision to proceed with the plan outlined in the Board bid using the £3 million awarded will be reaffirmed by Executive Decision to be taken by Cllr Cereste Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Growth, Strategic Planning, Housing, Economic Development and Business Engagement not before 11th July 2013.
As part of the disbursement of the £3million, £50,000 was awarded to Mario D’Andrea to work on producing ‘good-looking wind turbines.” Co-incidentally Mario D’Andrea is Marco Cereste’s next door neighbour and long-term business partner.
Opportunity Peterborough have been asked to deliver a list of recipients of grants from the fund. This is still awaited.