13th March 2017 -  PANTS ON FIRE! - they didn't tell us the truth

Lurking in the complexity...

The Javelin Park incinerator contract [1] is incredibly complex, but specialist lawyers and consultants have been teasing it apart and a number of things are emerging. The simplest is this:


The small cabal of councillors and officers who knew the contents of the contract did not tell the truth.  Neither to us, nor to the press, nor to the rest of the council including those in their own party.  

This is summed up very simply by looking at the official minutes from the Extraordinary meeting of the County Council on 18th February 2015 [2] where Labour councillors motioned to cancel the contract.

What the meeting was told:

1. "advice from officers was that it would cost between £60 million-£100 million to cancel the contract"

2. [Cllr Theodoulou said Javelin Park] "would provide £150 million worth of savings [3] and ... these were challenging times with savings of £75 million needing to be found by the Council over the next 3 years."

What the contract tells us:

1. Cancellation at planning refusal (2013) would have cost somewhere between £15-16m. Voluntary cancellation now would be likely to cost around £36m. 

2. The first 12-13 years of the contract involve GCC paying well over the odds for incinerating waste. Any savings - which do not and never were likely to reach as much as £150m, let alone the £190m mentioned in the press [4] - would only accrue in the latter years of the contract, and then only 

a) in comparison with a landfill contract [5] and 

b) if predictions of waste - and what is likely to be done with it - prove accurate for 2032-44 [6] 

A false dilemma

The contract was not cancelled at that meeting. Why?  Could it be because councillors were presented by Leader of the Council Mark Hawthorne with "a simple choice between £150 million of savings or cancelling the contract and incurring up to a £100 million in costs"? 

The reality

The "Javelin Park cabal" did not tell the truth about key financial information. This contract locks the council into a deal it might never have upheld if the truth had been available, a deal that skews substantial public funds away from where they are most needed (housing, education, social care) for at least a decade, on the promise of un-guaranteed benefits in 20 years time when the landscape of waste may have changed completely. It also actively discourages recycling - which would have been obvious had the pricing information been in the open.[7] And they used hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money in lawyers' fees to keep the truth hidden.  If there were ever proof that public contracts should be transparent, this is it. [8]

Getting some answers, and making some noise

There is one more full council meeting of GCC, at 10am on Wednesday 22nd March, before the "purdah" period prior to elections in May [9]. This is our last chance to get some answers from GCC in its current political form. We propose two things:

1. Asking questions: to ensure an answer is forthcoming, public and councillors' questions must be submitted in writing (eg email) by 10am this Wednesday 15th March. Some questions are already planned and you can submit your own if you can come along on 22nd to ask it at the meeting - please see note [10] below. 

2. Making noise: join the PANTS ON FIRE DEMONSTRATION at Shire Hall in Gloucester at 9.15am on Wednesday 22nd March, i.e. immediately before the Council meeting. Click here for details.[11] 

How can our representatives possibly be expected to do the right thing if they are not told the truth?

See you there - with bells on, and whistles

PS And of course, none of the above changes the following:

  • The incinerator isn't needed (there will be overcapacity of incineration in the UK by 2020)
  • Incineration is deeply climate unfriendly, and commissioning one runs counter to our Paris Agreement obligations
  • We should be doing more useful and less polluting things with our waste, not least according to our own UK regulations (2011).


[1] Unredacted contract documents can be viewed here https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B0dczcPGuR0FVk42cjk1X3dqejg

[2] Full minutes of that meeting are here: http://glostext.gloucestershire.gov.uk/mgAi.aspx?ID=10282 

[3] Also stated to the press here: http://www.stroudnewsandjournal.co.uk/news/11707163.Javelin_Park_decision___county_cabinet_member_for_waste_welcomes_go_ahead/

[4] http://www.stroudnewsandjournal.co.uk/news/10308665.JUST_IN__UBB_to_consider_appeal_against_incinerator_decision/

[5] It remains a mystery why the "Javelin Park cabal" have always compared contract costs to landfill, as if there were no other way of processing waste.  Even setting healthier, more environmentally friendly solutions aside, just using neighbouring incinerators - which have plenty of capacity! - would be cheaper than building and commissioning Javelin Park.

[6] Many things may be very different by then: 

[7] The contract discourages recycling in a number of ways:

  • by setting a minimum tonnage of waste that must be delivered to the incinerator every year at a very elevated price (or paid for regardless), and
  • by making subsequent tonnages much cheaper than the cost of recycling, which in turn may 
  • affect the value of recycling credits for district councils, creating a further disincentive

[8] The Green Party proposed a motion to GCC recently requesting that in future public contracts are made public - http://glostext.gloucestershire.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=333&MId=8126&Ver=4 (see motion 783).  The Green Party is also hosting an event on open contracting on Tuesday 21st March at 7.30pm at the Imperial Hotel, Station Road, Stroud for anyone interested.

[9] During "purdah" the Council cannot issue any official statements that may be construed as supporting a particular political party.

[10] Email your questions to stephen.bace@gloucestershire.gov.uk by 10am on Wednesday 15th March. You will be called up to a microphone in the Council meeting andyou may insist on reading out your question rather than "taking it as read" (useful in case not all councillors have read it in the agenda). Answers will be pre-prepared bythe council and stated aloud, after which you get to ask a follow-up question in response.

[11] https://you.38degrees.org.uk/events/pants-on-fire-public-demonstration-before-council-meeting

Jojo Mehta