Bristol PFI: my FOI request

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Copyright Joe Dunckley. Available here, reproduced under Creative Commons

I followed the steps of the Fusion tables process in my last post with Bristol City Council. I put all the .csv files together into a single Fusion table, downloaded it as a spreadsheet and had a look at it.

What caught my eye was the large sums of money being paid out for Private Finance Initiative (PFI) projects. There seem to have been three main recipients of private finance money from Bristol in 2012 – “Bristol PFI Ltd”, “Bristol PFI c/o CorLa Ltd” and “Bristol Schools Limited”.

There is also “Bristol LEP c/o CorLa Ltd” that received just shy of £12m for projects such as the amalgamation of Sea Mills Infant and Junior Schools, for which it was paid nearly £3.9m.

Together those four entities received over £41m in 2012.  The vast majority of this money is described as “payments to contractors – variable sums”, “CAP – Fees Payable” or “CAP – Conversion, Renovation and Improvement”.

Background

Back in March 2004 Bristol Council signed a PFI deal with Bristol Schools Limited. In 2006/07 it signed another one with Bristol PFI Ltd to build four more schools – Brislington Enterprise College, Bridge Learning Campus, Bristol Brunel Academy and Bristol Metropolitan Academy.

Meanwhile, CorLa merged with Mill Asset Management in April 2012 to form MAMG Infrastructure Asset Management. Skanska was the building contractor for those schools.  According to Skanska, after those four schools it signed a new £100m deal in 2009 with Bristol Council to build six more schools, although this wasn’t a PFI scheme.

What I want to know

I put in a FOI request to Bristol City Council yesterday.

It asks for:

  • Copies of the contracts with Bristol PFI Ltd and Bristol Schools Ltd
  • Who the contractors were that received money from those four recipients I mentioned at the top, and how much money each received. For example, Bristol Council paid Bristol PFI Ltd £14,556,352 in 2012, which all went in variable sums to contractors. I want to know who received that money, and how much each contractor received.

Why I want to know

Simple really, much of that money comes from Bristol council tax payers and they have a right to know who is entrusted to build the schools that many of their children attend.

Why Bristol? Because I went to university there and I’ve done work experience at The Post.

The council has also rejected a very similar FOI request from a blogger called Julian at Freesteel in 2007. Maybe they’ll change their mind this time, particularly seeing as the Information Commission ruled in 2008 that “[c]learly there is a public interest in the scrutiny of how public money is spent” and that there is a bias in favour of disclosure when applying the public interest test.

When Bristol Council responds, I’ll let you know.

How you can help

Get in touch if you have any tips or you know anything about what I’m looking into. For all I know the contractors are doing an excellent job, but hopefully the FOI response will shed some more light on who is getting what from whom.

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