Thursday, 15 October 2009

Eco Buses Not So Friendly

The bad news just continues coming for Reading Buses.

The company has declared that fuel prices are forcing them to convert their much-heralded eco-friendly buses from bio-ethanol to the less friendly bio-diesel in order to make £1/4m savings.

But this isn't what has aroused anger among local blogging commentators.

Linda Fort reports that an investigation is to be undertaken into why the eco-fuel was made from wood pulp and imported from Sweden rather than from sugar beet from East Anglia.

RBC deputy leader, Labour's Cllr Tony Page said, "It would appear that the council has been grossly misled over this issue."

Cllr Swaine mocks Labour's inability to accept responsibility, stating that it 'beggars belief' that Cllr Page knew nothing about this scandal considering he has held the chair of the publicly-owned company, was a director of it at the time the decisions were taken and kept fully-informed as a long-serving member of the RBC cabinet.

The LibDem asks: "Is [Cllr Page] incompetent or simply refusing to give us the full story?"

The Green Party's Matt Blackall is no less shocked, calling it a shame and saying it "goes beyond belief" and "makes a mockery" of their flagship service.

He also questions the economic understanding of those who set Reading Buses business plan.

Meanwhile Cllr Willis somewhat oddly claims to have the exclusive on the story.

He does note that the bio-ethanol fuel was 40% less efficient while also being less reliable, and feels this vindicates his party's earlier scepticism of the technological and economic benefits.


Update: Gideon Mack is typically scathing: he says the Labour-led RBC have now "proven... that they’re incompetent, that they document that they’re incompetent and that they’re consistently incompetent."

Further information comes to light about Cllr Singleton-White's professional connection with the company that supplied the fuel.

Oranjepan says:
This is not just a dirty smudge against Labour's ability to run the council, but a humiliating concession of their inability to implement management controls, run a budget and live up to their promises.

This affair seriously undermines Labour's credibility on environmental and economic issues - it is the blackest day their local party has suffered yet.


  1. *i'd like to point out that although i am a Green Party member, i am not an active member in Reading- not for any negative reasons, just in case anyone gets confused*

  2. Hi Matt, I should explain that I felt it was important to mention because it shows the feeling across the political spectrum on this issue.

  3. Oh, i have no problem whatsoever with being described as a Green Party member, just don't want people to think that i am speaking for the Reading or West Berks groups when i am not. Keep up the good work.

  4. Sorry I'm a bit late to the party, I've been away but I'm totally surprised on returning to read that Reading Buses and Council had "only just" found out that their fuel was not what they thought - because I told them this in June 2008!

    After getting no-where asking direct questions to Reading Buses, I spoke to Peter Watson of British Sugar on 24th June 2008, and he followed up with an email clarifying that it was never "sugar waste".

    I then forwarded this to Reading Buses and Reading Borough Council - about 3 days later I got a very, let's say "robust", phone call from Sam Simpson from Reading Buses. He proceeded to launch into a hatchet job on Dr Paul Bardos (more on him later) basically saying he was Tory and therefore biased and incorrect and he hated the environment and wanted to kill fluffy bunnies and kittens with hoses run from exhaust pipes into their warrens etc (or something along those lines), and that bioethanol was definitely a waste by-product of growing sugar beet.

    Also in June 2008 I had the following reply from Reading Buses board member Warren Swaine in reply to "were Reading Buses conning us?":
    "As far as RTL is concerned, conned is not the right word. There was a misunderstanding which wasn't cleared up until after the initial publicity had gone out. Reading Buses acted in good faith when putting together the publicity as they were under the impression at the time that it was actually waste product."

    Also, in the Reading Forum, on 24th June 2008, he also wrote in reply to further questioning on this:
    "I will ask. They cannot lie, spin or whatever you wish to call it to me... I'm a director!"

    It appears they were always going to be safe though - when I contacted the Advertising Standards Authority explaining that I felt this "sugar waste" claim to be misleading, I received a reply dated 22nd July 2008 explaining that they do not cover:
    "statutory, public, police and other official notices/information, as opposed to marketing communications, produced by public authorities and the like".

    I did try and persue this explaining that I felt the sign was a marketing communication, but they we steadfast.

    I got a reply from Reading Trading Standards with an almost identical position - as Reading Buses was a council owned company, they could do nothing. (continues in second post)

  5. Around this time, I also made contact with this Paul Bardos who Sam Simpson had mentioned. Dr Bardos appeared to have had a similar experience to me - asking lots of questions but getting a lot of brush-offs in the process.
    All of this, multiple emails etc, happening across June and July 2008 - unfortunately I moved and changed jobs at around that time, and having tried the best I could, this got pushed to the back of my mind.

    But I don't believe for one second that this is a "surprise" to anyone at RTL or RBC - unless they had a two month long "flash forward" style amnesia moment during June and July 2008!

    If anyone wants copies of the relevant notes and emails, feel free to ask.


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