David Cameron and Gideon Osborne, the Tory Prime Minister and his Chancellor, have been described as “two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk”.
Croydon’s own career politician, Gavin Barwell, the MP for the Whitgift Foundation, has himself struggled to guess correctly the price of a typical loaf of bread.
Now it is a Labour politician, the council leader Tony Newman, who is struggling with his valuation figures.
Our Brave Leader does not know the price of a public swimming pool.
At last night’s Town Hall scrutiny meeting, he was asked how much it cost to build the Waddon Leisure Centre, which opened in January 2013. Newman did not know. He had to turn to senior council official Richard Simpson for the figure: “Just over £15 million.”
Waddon’s pool, gym and sports halls were built under the previous Tory council administration’s CCURV scheme – an urban regeneration vehicle joint “partnership” with the building firm John Laing. It was a partnership insofar that our council paid for Laing to develop public property, and the builders made a profit.
Public enquiries as to the costs of various projects under CCURV have tended to be rebutted by council officials on the secretive grounds of “commercial confidentiality”, even though the schemes were undertaken using hundreds of millions of pounds of public money.
Newman and his elected Labour colleagues, when in opposition, were denied access to CCURV agreements and excluded from key meetings on similarly secretive grounds, making any scrutiny of the costs of the various Laing builds on public property impossible. For the best part of the last eight years, denied vital information by the previous Tory council, it has not been possible to form any real judgement on whether the Council Tax-payers of Croydon are getting value for money from CCURV.
Many of the financial arrangements with CCURV will have come across the desk of the council’s finance director, the entrepreneurial Nathan Elvery, who this year was confirmed in the position as the borough’s chief executive by Newman, without the job ever being advertised nor the council’s equality procedures being followed.
Being able to find out whether Croydon Council is doing its job and getting real value for our money seems unlikely to change any time soon. Since taking office in June, Labour’s Newman has refused any public inquiry and forensic audit into how, for instance, Fisher’s Folly, the council’s new offices, managed to cost Croydon £144 million, plus a hefty £80million in additional borrowing.
For a cash-strapped local authority which is contemplating making redundant another 500 staff – “real people, and real people’s jobs”, to quote Newman last night – surely getting best value for any multi-million-pound project ought to be a priority?
Now Newman and his finance chief, Councillor Simon Hall, have included in the council’s next budget a £17 million spend on a new swimming pool for New Addington.
£17 million? So that’s £2 million more than it cost to build Waddon Leisure Centre – or a 13per cent price hike in the cost of a public pool in the space of two years when inflationary pressures have been keeping wages low and the cost of a loaf of bread or pint of milk hardly changed. Is this best value?
How can we tell? There’s no public access to the detailing of the costs on this new build, just as access to the vital figures for Fisher’s Folly and the Waddon Leisure Centre were kept a closely guarded secret and denied to opposition councillors and Council Tax-payers until it was all too late. The builders have long ago waddled off into the sunset with the council cash in their back pockets…
In any case, what’s the “going rate” for a public pool or leisure complex?
This is not a pint of milk or a loaf of bread. There’s no off-the-peg design for a leisure centre, and there will be variations such as land costs to consider.
Even so, a 30-second Google search shows that the suggestion that Croydon Council might have paid vastly over the odds for Waddon Leisure Centre and is about to be turned over again on New Addington’s pool has much credence. We readily found a recent report that another London borough, Labour-controlled Redbridge, is about to build a 25-metre pool (the standard public offering) with a 40-station gym facility in Ilford all for the grand total of £3.25 million.
Or nearly £14 million less than Newman intends to allow Croydon Council to pay for a public pool in New Addington.
Of course, there may be local variations in the costs of a build which sees some differences in the delivery cost. But even if that amounted to another two or three mill, it looks as if Croydon is spending at least £10 million more than the going rate.
Is anyone else beginning to wonder whether Croydon Council – and therefore ratepayers – got taken for a multi-million-pound ride?
When Newman and his puppet-master, Elvery, have finished coming up with various excuses why they won’t meet the maintenance costs required to keep Purley Pool open, perhaps they would like to explain why at Waddon and then New Addington, Croydon is paying well over the odds.
When they’ve done that, maybe we might start to get closer to discovering how much profit margin was built-in to the costs of building Fisher’s Folly, and all at public expense.
- The real reason for abandoning Purley Pool emerged at last night’s meeting: Like the borough’s school playing fields, the council is looking at the potential of selling the site for retail, housing and leisure development, bringing an income to the borough’s coffers, rather than the prospect of spending up to £1 million a year on refurbishment. This was always the intention under the Tories, who in 2010 announced that Purley would close in 2014 – as we reported here at the time. And let’s not forget who was the finance director at the council under the Conservatives: none other than N Elvery.
- Pool closure leaves Labour candidate Emily Benn high and dry
- Flip! Flop! Labour’s shambles over school playing fields keeps rolling on
Coming to Croydon
- David Lean Cinema, Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief, Dec 29
- David Lean Cinema, The Beat Beneath My Feet, Dec 30
- David Lean Cinema, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Jan 3
- David Lean Cinema, Mr Turner, Jan 8
- David Lean Cinema, Leviathan, Jan 13
- Norwood Society talk: Penge, the making of a suburb, Jan 15
- David Lean Cinema, The 78 Project Movie, Jan 15
- David Lean Cinema, Hannah Arendt, Jan 20
- David Lean Cinema, The Imitation Game, Jan 22
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
- David Lean Cinema, Night Will Fall, Jan 27 (Holocaust Memorial Day)
- David Lean Cinema, Kon-Tiki, Jan 29
- Norwood Society talk: Crystal Palace and Dulwich, Feb 19
- Norwood Society talk: Charlies Dickens in Norwood, Mar 19
- Norwood Society: Balloons and airships at Crystal Palace, Apr 16
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