WALTER CRONXITE uncovers Croydon’s latest big spend on its supposedly ‘private’ housing company
Croydon Council is recruiting four staff on publicly funded salaries of up to £50,000 a year each – to work on behalf of a private housing developer.
The council recruitment ad appeared in the past week for four “development manager” positions, one full-time permanent, one job share “to support an existing job shareholder – hours to be confirmed”, and two fixed-term positions for 12 months.
The advertisement describes the roles thus: “Reporting to the head of development, you will manage a wide range of regionally significant development projects delivered by the council and the council’s new development company Brick by Brick”.
Brick by Brick was set up by Jo Negrini, now Croydon’s CEO, with her planning department deputy, Colm Lacey, and with the backing of the Town Hall leadership to spend council money building homes on council property.
Spun-off from the council, Brick by Brick – increasingly known as “Block by Block” – is not subject to public scrutiny, and its board of directors does not include a single elected councillor or residents’ representative, all in an effort to avoid the developed properties being subject to the government’s Right to Buy scheme.
But that does not appear to prevent the private company from benefiting from being handed even more public money through council staffing costs.
“It’s the latest outrage from Negrini’s empire-building,” one furious councillor told Inside Croydon today. “After running down the planning department by making experienced staff redundant to the point where the department cannot handle its workload, now they have gone out and started recruiting, openly stating it is for her pet project, what’s supposed to be a private company.
“Is this a sign that their sums don’t add up?
“Where are the guarantees that Brick by Brick will deliver the 50 per cent ‘affordable’ housing that Negrini and Labour’s deputy leader Alison Butler promised that it would? Where are the guarantees in the public domain that the people of Croydon will ever see the profits from this privately listed company’s use of public assets?
“And what arrangements have been made for Brick by Brick to make a contribution towards the cost of these new staff, which in the next year will cost the Council Tax-payers of Croydon the thick end of £250,000?”
Those Brick by Brick developments which have been subject to scrutiny by the planning committee so far have been criticised for misleading applications and been described by the Croydon North MP, Steve Reed OBE, as “over-development”, with “in-fill” blocks to be built on small pockets of green space between existing council flats.
The council’s recruitment ad for Cheek by Jowl gushes with all the bullshit normally associated with a Negrini-inspired project.
“Croydon hasn’t seen expansion like we are currently experiencing since the 1960s. We’re already well underway with some £5billion of investment that will be completed over the next few years. New offices, new retail and new homes will provide well-paid jobs and high-quality accommodation for our rapidly growing population.
“Croydon is a naturally ambitious council – so we’re looking for inspirational leaders who share our passion for supporting business growth and responding to local needs.” Notice how “business growth” is prioritised over “local needs” in this advertisement for what is supposed to be a Labour-run council.
The ad continues: “Strong partnerships are the foundation for the future. That’s why we’re constantly looking forward. We need to find creative new ways of working together with other agencies and the private sector to deal with the financial challenges ahead.
“Because with growth comes increased demand – but also huge opportunity.” It reads like an extract from the dialogue given to Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, rather than a recruitment post for a middle-manager in a suburban local authority.
“Chances like this only come along once in a generation, and our task, and maybe yours, is to shape a positive future for Croydon’s residents and businesses alike.
“It is on the cusp of an unprecedented period of growth and revitalisation and over the next five years…”, they say, without mentioning Westfield, which has been promised for five years, and still not a single brick has been laid.
“This is your opportunity to be at the heart of this exciting regeneration programme, developing and delivering projects which will transform the borough. Reporting to the head of development, you will manage a wide range of regionally significant development projects delivered by the council and the council’s new development company Brick by Brick, and a wide range of regeneration and cultural interventions which support our growth and placemaking ambitions.”
And not a single mention of building any council housing.
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No minimum qualifications required for the Development Manager job! Mighty odd given the emphasis the government puts on obtaining qualifications.
That’s probably because they have already made up their mind who is going to get the job!
And not forgetting that all these ‘projects’ are being passed through the Planning Committee by Alison Butler’s husband, talk about a conflict of interest!!!
In the 1970’s , many councils had a progressive programme of building decent new estates and blocks, designed, specified, tendered and managed by council officers, all of whom were recruited via open advertisements, interviews, and were appointed to grades laid down by national negotiation between employers and unions. Councillors used to sit on recruitment panels, so were involved. In those days, bigger councils had a Borough Architect, Planning Officer, and Engineer.
Thatcher came along and stopped all that building, leading without any doubt to the current housing crisis, as the numbers built by the local authorities exactly matched the current annual deficit in new home completions.(if averaged over the years since Maggie’s ban). Tory voters should remember that this is why many of their sons and daughters can’t get on the housing ladder, as she burned one of the ladders.
The council development departments closed, amalgamated, and dwindled over the years, and those who worked on those programmes are now mainly retired.
It would seem that the current Labour administration have taken an innovative / aka desperate step to set up a development company that is 100% supported by the council tax payer but which is private and totally unaccountable to them and their elected representatives. Wonder wheeze, to dodge the nasty Tory-imposed rules, but Is it legal?
It is a truly Kafkaesque scenario, and may be found to be a house of cards, built on quicksand.
Will it end in tears? Quite possibly, but probably only for the council tax payer, as the Teflon personalities that populate the upper levels of some councils have this uncanny ability to escape from their roles with a nice exit bonus, just before the s…t hits the fan. At least, certain things in local authorities of a certain type don’t change, for some.