WALTER CRONXITE reports on a secretive multi-million pound deal to come out of the Town Hall
At lunchtime today, one of Croydon’s most senior executive officers got a “key decision” passed, without any discussion by our elected representatives at any council meetings, which will allow her to spend up to £3.68million on consultants to do work that she and her staff are paid to do.
And to throw a touch of additional intrigue into the melting pot, the council has decided to keep the identity of the successful bidder a secret, at least for now.
The council report allows Croydon to go ahead initially with a five-year contract with the unnamed bidder to look after the council’s relationships with contractors who are responsible for the maintenance and repairs of the borough’s housing stock and properties.
Worth £120,000 a year, the contract has options to extend until 2031 and could cost “a total maximum contract value” of £3.68million.
Laughably, the council report says that the multi-million-pound contract will “provide value for money to its residents through the delivery of the planned maintenance and improvements programme to the council’s housing stock”.
The delegated decision paper has the name of Alison Butler, the cabinet member for housing, on it, but it is undoubtedly the handiwork of Shifa Mustafa, the “executive director, Place”.
Mustafa was appointed to her £150,000 job in Croydon last October by Jo Negrini, soon after Negrini had been promoted from that same role to become council chief executive.
Among the items sitting in Mustafa’s in tray when she moved into Fisher’s Folly was the council’s £30million Fairfield Halls redevelopment, an overview of the planning process for the stalled £1.4billion Hammersfield regeneration scheme, as well responsibilities for the council’s private house builders, Brick by Brick, and the planning department.
None of which, it is not unreasonable to say, have been going entirely smoothly lately.
When announcing the appointment of her successor in the “Place” department, Negrini said Mustafa had “a proven track record of successfully delivering the services that matter most to residents”.
What Negrini failed to mention was that Mustafa had left a previous senior council post, at Waltham Forest, in a bit of a rush and with a £140,000 pay-off, and not long after there was a police investigation into the council’s failure to properly manage grant payments to a business improvement district.
Mustafa had maintained that Waltham Forest council payments to the BID “were monitored to ensure that the services agreed to were delivered”. Other regeneration projects in Waltham Forest on her watch, with costs running into tens of millions of pounds, also failed to be completed on time, if at all.
Nevertheless, in Croydon Mustafa has been allowed to initiate a tendering process for a “Partnering Adviser”, whose services represent another outsourcing of some aspect of the council’s management of its services to its residents. The Partnering Adviser will be expected to work with six different contractors who work on various aspects of repairs and maintenance of council properties: Axis (repairs to council housing), Mulalley (building works and decorations), Guideline (lifts), AJS (electrics), Clairglow (mechanical services) and Anglian (window repairs and replacements).
These are all areas of work where, without close control and supervision, there is some scope for what are euphemistically called “cost over-runs”.
The council report states: “Partnering Adviser is distinct from contract delivery and formal contract management and is intended to provide full impartial support and advice to the Partnering Teams (comprising contractors and the council).”
It then gets their excuses in first, as it adds in typical councilspeak, “It is worth noting that the recent procurement approach adopted for the new partnering contracts is a step change from previous practice for Croydon and will entail a steep learning curve for the organisation, for individual members of staff and for the contractors in the partnering relationships.
“Therefore the council considers that it will require not only professional support, guidance and advice, but also a Partnering Adviser with the ability to work with and contribute to the development of Croydon’s needs, contract management structures, resources and skill sets and of all partners to ensure an excellent organisational and cultural fit.”
This new outlay of public cash comes after several rounds of redundancies among the council staff, when Negrini was regarded as enthusiastic for cutting the number of employees in her department. Among rank and file council staff, there has long been a view that the council has lost too many staff, and especially too many experienced and knowledgeable staff from key positions.
The £3.6million Partnering Adviser report (which can be seen in pdf format here) seems to underline that view.
“So they’ve introduced a new ‘approach’ with council contractors that they reckon they cannot cope with?” one astonished senior councillor said today. “Isn’t that admitting that they are not actually up to the job?
“So what are we paying the officers for?”
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