Council’s £140m offices are to become a glorified Job Centre

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.

Fisher’s Folly: a £140m ill-conceived and poor-value building

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.

It works out that floorspace in Fisher’s Folly was more expensive to build than The Shard.

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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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Bernard Weatherill House, Croydon Council, Jo Negrini, Jon Rouse, Nathan Elvery, Planning, URV and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Council’s £140m offices are to become a glorified Job Centre

  1. Pingback: Council’s £140m offices are to become a glorified Job Centre | LondonBiz WordPress Blog

  2. farmersboy says:

    Yes hot desking works so well that Davis House is full of council workers

    Like

  3. croydonres says:

    Hot desking works if there are enough desks. If there aren’t, the latecomer council officer will have to go walkabout until they find one. Oh, nearly forgot, it may well be that the remaining desk is vacant because its computer, or phone, are dead—- a tediously common occurrence in local authorities where the IT service has been outsourced to Crapita or similar.

    Fisher’s Folly’s madly expensive price tag is a product of today’s local authorities where individuals without technical knowledge or experience end up in charge of complex technical projects.

    Some 25 years ago, the building would have been designed in-house by the Borough Architect, or an appointed consultant architect, tendered competitively and then supervised by council staff or the same consultant. A quantity Surveyor and cost consultant would have advised re the expected cost and the tendered prices, which should have avoided a collision with the rocks of wild financial exorbitance.

    The CCURV nonsense was clearly bad for the pesky council tax payers, but probs. v good for shareholders of John Laing,

    Unless Tony Newman spills the beans, it is unlikely that the Fisher’s Folly costings page in the dusty e-ledger of Croydon Council Finance dept. will be released for public viewing 50 years from now, or maybe it never will, as it will get accidentally wiped when the council relocate its remaining hundred or so staff from the Folly to a redundant set of old sea containers abandoned in the late 2020’s by some fly-by night caterers up by the station. Fly by night , as they legged it without repaying a penny of the loan lent by the council in ……….

    Like

    • Rod Davies says:

      If only it were true that in-house public sector architects delivered value for money projects. Unfortunately they were pretty much as self-serving as the private sector. My own experience as an internal client was that local authority architects structured their charges to strip budgets to protect themselves. But more seriously when things went wrong, unlike the private sector they couldn’t be compelled to pay compensation or make good their mistakes.
      The most common problem is that public sector project teams are often naive, composed of too narrow a range of professions, out of touch tight the market and beguiled by the sales pitches. Also too often senior strategic management has very short term objectives that do not include the delivery of the build solution; and what they want is the media attention for starting the hi-profile project. (Sign up a high profile deal and within weeks / months you can be employed in a new higher post in another authority.)
      With Bernard Weatherill house (or whatever it is called) the current administration have to service debts from an ever sharing budget. So leasing out space to DWP and other organisations that can & will pay a commercial rent makes absolute sense.

      Like

  4. farmersboy says:

    I know, let’s build a tiny glass edifice to replace a huge concrete edifice cos glass is funkier and cooler than concrete. And then let’s have meeting rooms named after the wards in the borough that are so boiling hot no one can stand more than 10 minutes whatever the subject. And then let’s give half of it to the CCG and other bits to private enterprise and move the council staff to Davis House which is worse than Taberner House ever was. Only £140 million, get them quick before they run out…

    Like

  5. croydonres says:

    Thinking about the need for council staff accommodation, it does seem very sad to build a shiny new HQ building, then have to move out to a 1950s (?) office block, Davis House, in a desperate attempt to offset some of the HQ costs.

    I am wondering why one of Croydon’s many empty office blocks could not have been purchased, or Taberner House refurbished? The loss of this lozenge-shaped Croydon icon was a pity, in my view, for it was a keynote building in the 1960s Mini Manhattan town centre.

    Like

    • Taberner House was demolished because the then CEO, Jon Rouse, and the Tory leadership of the council withheld information about the costs of refurbishment, and then lied about it, which gave reason for their CCURV scheme.

      Liked by 1 person

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