WALTER CRONXITE on how the local council has been forced to take in more lodgers in its “prestige” £140m office building
Tonight’s council cabinet meeting at the Town Hall is unlikely to uncover quite how the costs of building the new leisure centre in New Addington have soared by 50 per cent in less than a year.
But at least those councillors bothering to turn up for the last big set-piece public meeting in the chamber for eight long weeks of summer will be told how Tony “Soprano” Newman and council CEO Jo Negrini aim to raise some of that extra £8million price tag.
Because tonight, it will be announced that they are turning the ground floor of the council offices at Fisher’s Folly into a glorified employment exchange.
Tonight’s cabinet meeting will hear that yet more floor space in the council offices is to be rented out, in this case some to the Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions.
In the case of the DWP, the move is going ahead as the organisation which is supposed to put people into jobs is… making thousands of its own staff across the country redundant. The DWP is reducing its own staff numbers in Croydon by shutting down the Jobcentre Plus on Dingwall Road. Many of the Dingwall Road office’s functions will be moved to the ground floor of the council HQ Fisher’s Folly, located in the town centre on Cost A Mint Walk.
The council’s Labour administration has already rented out four of Fisher’s Folly’s 14 floors, as they have boldly embraced the role of commercial landlords in a forlorn effort to rake back some – any – of the extortionate costs of the building which has saddled the borough’s residents with massive debts for years to come.
The latest leasing arrangements on what is sometimes called Bernard Wetherill House only further underline what an ill-conceived and poor-value building it is.
It was opened in September 2013 with no-expense-spared plush new furnishings and fully fitted with flooding executive toilets and a holes in the roof.
The building project had been the brainchild of the then council CEO Jon Rouse and the Tory council under Mike “WadGate” Fisher.
Fisher’s Folly was built by Laings under CCURV ostensibly as a “hub” – ha! – which would accommodate all council services under one (leaking) roof.
That concept has long since been abandoned, as hundreds more council staff have been axed, while others still fortunate enough to be on the pay-roll have been moved to alternative, less expensive office accommodation.
Council officials arriving for work at Fisher’s Folly often have to queue to get access to a desk or telephone under “hot-desking” arrangements implemented more recently by Negrini’s senior managers, but which leave staff frustrated and “customers” – council residents – often hanging on the phone for lengthy periods waiting for answers to their enquiries and complaints. Usually in vain.
No one’s ever explained why this office building, which typically might have cost less than £50million if developed elsewhere in London, somehow ended up costing Croydon £140million.
Newman did mention at one point – when he wanted to get elected – that he would see what he could do to find out where that additional spend of £90million of much-needed public funds had gone… But since taking up office alongside some of the senior council officials who saddled Croydon with that huge bill, he’s gone quiet on the matter.
It seems very likely that someone, somewhere, has made some very juicy profits out of Croydon Council Tax-payers over the whole sordid mess. And politicians from either side of Croydon’s Town Hall duopoly have proved unwilling, or unable, to offer any real clarity on how the procurement and contract processes were handled by the council’s senior staff under Rouse and his immediate successor, Nathan Elvery.
No amount of taking in lodgers on a few of the floors will recover quickly the tens of millions of pounds spent on this extravagant and unnecessary white elephant. And the £140million – plus financing costs – for Fisher’s Folly will hang around the necks of local tax-payers for decades to come. All unexplained by the likes of Newman and Negrini.
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