Kris Donaldson, the head of the company charged with delivering Bristol’s year as European Green Capital, has been axed from the £100,000 a year role.
With less than 100 days to go before Bristol takes on the title of green capital, the man who was described last year as by the city’s mayor as the “best person in the world” to run the event has been replaced.
Stepping up to be the new chief executive is Bristol City Council’s City Director Nicola Yates, who will take on a revised role … but only in her spare time.
Meanwhile the long-awaited programme of events for 2015 is now expected to be unveiled in the next week to 10 days.
The news comes a fortnight after I revealed how a reshuffle of roles had taken place at Bristol 2015, after a source close to the team leading the green capital programme told me of “organisational chaos” and a “summer of tension” in which communications broke down between groups involved in showcasing the city’s green credentials.
In a briefing for journalists, Bristol 2015 Ltd chair Andrew Garrad and mayor George Ferguson attempted to paint a picture of a natural development for the company, and were fulsome in their praise for Donaldson’s work.
“We are very grateful to Kris for his hard work in preparing an exciting programme and attracting some excellent Government and private sector sponsorship and funding which will help make our vision for 2015 a reality,” said Garrad, who helped to found Garrad Hassan Ltd which became one of the world’s leading renewable energy consultancies.
“But different skill sets are now required to deliver the programme.
“Nicola is a great addition to the company, bringing with her some excellent management experience and a valuable rigour and discipline to apply in the back-office.
“This will allow me, the Board and the company staff to focus on delivering the ambitious programme and getting everyone involved in an exciting year. We’re clear that this will be a temporary appointment as our needs may change in future, for example if we need a full time employee once the 2015 programme is fully underway.”
The mayor added it made “absolute sense” for Yates to take over the chief executive role, saying it was the “right move at the right moment”.
“What has been achieved is absolutely staggering, compared to previous green capitals around Europe that have gone before us,” he said.
However, both men alluded to a sense that there has been a lack of transparency in the way the green capital programme has been run so far.
Ferguson added: “As the year approaches we’ll be focussing more on engaging people, getting the wider Bristol community involved and bringing the plans to life.”
Donaldson was brought in to take charge of Bristol’s green capital year last November. At the time, he was hailed as the best man for the job by the mayor who said at the time: “European Green Capital is one of Bristol’s greatest opportunities and I wanted to find the best person in the world to run it. I am confident that Kris is that person.”
There had been no indication that Donaldson’s role could change or may come to a premature end before 2015 had even begun. When pressed yesterday about the apparent U-turn, Garrad insisted the move was a “natural part of the evolution” of the company.
“In business, you are never going to find one person who is able to deliver on every single part of what a business does,” he said. “We are now entering a phase where we need these different skills to take this forward.”
He confirmed the decision to replace Donaldson had been taken at a board meeting of the Bristol 2015 company, which he said had given them the chance to “review the state of play”.
Opposition politicians were quick to jump on the announcement, with one of Ferguson’s most vocal critics, Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Gary Hopkins, saying the mayor had to “take personal responsibility for this embarrassing and expensive shambles”.
He added his party had “warned from the very start that the decision to appoint Kris Donaldson was not the right decision”, adding Donaldson had “shown an arrogant disregard for councillors and the residents of Bristol, keeping us all in the dark for months”.
Labour group leader Helen Holland said the news was “very concerning” and urged a new focus for green capital year on improving the quality of life in the city’s communities.
“By improving insulation and lowering energy costs for those in the poorest homes, making sure that children in the inner city have better air to breathe, making getting round the city on public transport or on foot easier, giving local communities the chance to have fresh food at affordable prices,” she said.
“These are the things – not just parties on Park Street – that will make Bristol a greener, better place to live long after the European Year is forgotten.”
Green Party group leader Daniella Radice confirmed concerns had been raised with the mayor about the direction of the green capital organisation “some time ago”, but urged all parties in the city to come together to make the 2015 year a success.
“We don’t want to get bogged down on criticising individuals, although it is clear that there has been a level of unhappiness with the Green Capital company for some time, and Kris Donaldson has clearly taken the rap,” she said.
“As individuals who are working with many of the Green capital partnership groups we raised our concerns with the mayor some time ago.
“We hope that all the city’s politicians come together to support all the green and environmental groups in the city who are trying to make the year happen. These people – many of whom are working for little or no reward to themselves – are the ‘true green champions’ of Bristol.”