BRISTOL ENERGY: Liquidators appointed to begin winding-up failed firm
Liquidators have been appointed to formally wind up the city council’s failed Bristol Energy firm, it has been revealed.
Documents filed with Companies House show their appointment on June 30 to complete the final stage of the “sorry saga”, which saw £36.5million of council taxpayers’ money ploughed into the business.
Bristol Energy failed to make a profit, posting total official losses of £32.5million in the five years up to April 2020, following its launch in 2015 under former Bristol mayor George Ferguson’s cross-party cabinet.
Opposition councillors are now demanding to know from mayor Marvin Rees’s Labour administration, which devoted increasing amounts of money in an attempt to make it work, exactly how much has been lost in the “catastrophic” venture.
Last year, Bristol City Council sold the energy firm’s domestic meters to Together Energy for £14million and its business customers to Yü Energy for £1.34million.
Companies House records published this month show voluntary liquidators were appointed and four directors’ appointments were terminated on June 30, to begin the winding down of BE2020 Limited, a legal entity of the former Bristol Energy company.
The council says the process is a voluntary step that will be done in a “well-managed and controlled way” and be completed next year, and that the entity has no operational staff who will be affected.
A liquidator’s main role is to realise any assets for the best price possible and pay debts in a strict order of priority.
Conservative group leader Cllr Mark Weston said the administration should “come clean” on the full extent of the financial losses incurred by local taxpayers, as the final figure of liabilities racked up has not yet been published.
Cllr Weston said: “The winding-up of this venture is a sad, necessary but not sufficient step in drawing this sorry saga to a close.
“Bristolians rightly want to know how and why the Labour mayor was able to be so reckless with public money.
“We are familiar with his repeated complaints about financial support for local government, yet he felt entitled to gamble tens of millions on this risky business.”
The authority’s external auditors will be publishing the “full story” of Bristol Energy by the autumn as both sides of the political fence have blamed each other for the debacle.
Cllr Weston said: “I am confident that any accurate account of decision-making by the executive in this matter will show that Conservative members were arguing for withdrawal from the energy market in 2016 when it was clear that there was no realistic business case for continuing with this investment.
“When facts change, so should minds and policy.
“I hope the external auditors will make the council report the full extent of the loss in the year-end accounts, as this is a significant figure.
“Moreover, it needs to be quantified in total rather than diluted or lost over several financial years in the hope that this will not be noticed by taxpayers.
“The repeated attempts to deflect or share responsibility for Labour’s disastrous strategy in this case – that of chasing escalating losses – are cowardly and shameful.
“Even now, the public has still to learn the true scale of this financial folly and the mayor owes it to them to come clean on these catastrophic costs.”
A city council spokesperson said: “Following the sale of the Bristol Energy business in 2020 the final steps of winding down the company have begun.
“This is a voluntary step to finally wind down the legal entity in a well-managed and controlled way.
“This process is expected to complete in 2022 and will be overseen by Andrew Sheridan and Matt Higgins of FRP Advisory Trading Limited, who have been appointed as the joint liquidators in the member’s voluntary liquidation.
“The company has no operational staff at present who will be affected by this process.”
An FRP spokesperson said: “The solvent liquidation process will formally wind down BE2020 Limited, a legal entity of the former Bristol Energy business, which was sold in 2020.”
Bristol City Council’s Labour group and the mayor’s office were also given the opportunity to comment.
Words: Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter
Watch the channel on TV