Council chiefs have denied wasting time and money on City Leap despite having to restart the search for a partner “from scratch”.
The city council project, which aims to attract £1billion of investment in energy infrastructure to help Bristol become carbon neutral, has had to be halted following legal advice.
Changes need to be made to the ambitious scheme’s procurement process which, as a result, must now begin afresh in the wake of feedback from eight shortlisted bidders.
The local authority has spent £4.2million so far on City Leap and will pump in another £2.3million by the time it awards a contract to form a joint venture in mid-2021.
Bristol City Council overview and scrutiny management board members expressed frustration that commercial sensitivity meant they had not been told exactly why the procurement was having to be relaunched.
Cllr Stephen Clarke said he could not be certain whether a “real cock-up” was being covered up or legal advice had been carefully considered and followed.
He told members: “I have no idea which of those it is until I see what the reasons are. We just don’t know.
“My basic problem is I am not able to form an opinion of what has happened because I haven’t got the information.”
Council officers told the meeting on Wednesday, July 8, that because the procurement process was being restarted, other companies could bid for City Leap contracts.
Cllr Clarke said: “I am slightly taken aback that having whittled it down to the eight, we are now going to open it up again, because that really is starting the process from scratch.
“This is going back to square one.”
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City council head of energy services David White said: “The legal advice is that the changes we are contemplating add up to a material change and we need to err on the side of caution and end the first procurement.
“I am happy to share the detailed changes, just not in a public forum.”
Cllr Anthony Negus asked whether the last year had been “largely a waste of time”.
Mr White said: “We are going back to square one in terms of the process but clearly we are starting at a much further forward point.
“We are able to build on the substantial progress we made previously.
“The revised procurement will be less complex and streamlined.”
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Cabinet member for energy Cllr Kye Dudd said: “We are not going back to square one.
“There is 18 months’ worth of work on the project and we are just going back to a certain stage of the process.”
Cllr Anthony Negus said the eight bidders would be “miffed” that other companies could now join the race.
He said: “It does not seem very fair that the poor so and sos have had to put up with a year of all of these shenanigans and being put on the rack and then somebody comes in at the last moment.”
Mr White said the initial procurement had to cease because the changes being made would leave the council open to a challenge from a company which would have bid in the first place.
Asked by Cllr Clarke whether the impending sale of council-owned, debt-ridden Bristol Energy was behind it, Mr White said revealing the changes could give the eight previously shortlisted bidders an unfair advantage as they already knew more about the project than competitors.
Committee chairman Cllr Geoff Gollop said: “The difficulty is that if everything is kept under wraps because of commercial confidentiality, we cannot actually do the assessment we need to do.”
Council chief executive Mike Jackson promised to share what information they could.
Cabinet is set to approve the new procurement at a meeting this afternoon (Tuesday).