KEN LEE, our foreign travel on someone else’s budget correspondent, reports on the proliferation of consultants who are getting their expense accounts paid for out of Croydon Council Tax at MIPIM’s junket next week
Senior officials from Croydon Council and their wholly owned house-building company Brick by Brick will be heading off to the South of France next week for the “booze and hookerfest” that is MIPIM, where they will be accompanied not by one firm of consultants… not by two sets of sharp suits… but with executives in tow from at least three agencies.
In fact, if you include the role played at the event by Develop Croydon, the business lobby group (membership fee: a cool £1,250 per year) which exerts undue, undemocratic influence over the running of the council, then you could say that there will be four agencies working with the council at the event in Cannes.
In effect, Croydon Council is using Council Tax-payers’ cash to help fund the expense accounts of an unspecified number of PR flunkies to spend two or three days at MIPIM, the world’s largest property speculator conference.
MIPIM is what Croydon Labour’s council leader Tony Newman once described as a “junket”. But that was in his time as opposition leader, so those sort of scruples don’t appear to apply to Big Tone any longer.
The council has refused to answer a series of detailed questions about its participation in MIPIM this year, although we do know that in 2017, when council chief exec Jo Negrini took a couple of days out of her busy schedule of self-promotion to sip cocktails by the Med on your behalf, the council admitted to spending £12,500. Then, they worked under the slogan “Urban Edge”. Indeed…
A couple of the firms involved in Croydon’s participation at this year’s MIPIM bunfight will already be familiar to Inside Croydon’s loyal reader, while the very well-paid third agency has proved extremely reluctant to answer any questions about its work for Croydon or Brick by Brick.
The first agency to be tripping off to the South of France for some early spring sunshine is Grey Label, the Croydon-based agency formed by former ad sales executives from a local newspaper.
Grey Label’s job for Croydon at MIPIM will be to make sure that the stand is assembled and posters plastered to the walls the right way up.
Talking of getting plastered, Grey Label’s main task will be to export crates of Croydon beer to France to provide free booze for various delegates at “The Cronx Beer on The Beach” on Wednesday, laying on the lubrication after exhausting sessions of schmoozing Russian oligarchs, Qatari royals and Hong Kong property speculators.
The event follows the 30-minute scheduled Croydon panel discussion in the grandly titled “London Pavilion”.
“Come and enjoy a taste of the Cronx as you sample a selection of Croydon-produced craft beers on the beach in an informal opportunity to network and meet the Develop Croydon partners and key players in Croydon’s regeneration,” the organisers say, surely in the knowledge that the only thing that will really matter will be the offer of free beer.
“It’s all happening in Croydon, join us to find out how,” say Develop Croydon, hopeful that anyone will remember anything about Croydon after an evening on the lash.
One of Grey Label’s directors, Katharine Glass, happens to be on Develop Croydon’s committee, which might explain why they get to do so much work for… Develop Croydon.
Another on that committee is Toby Fox, of 3Fox International, based in Croydon town centre and who made such a name for themselves over MIPIM last year, when they got various developers who wanted planning permission on schemes in Sutton to… well, stump up money so that Sutton Council officials could traipse off to the South of France.
Toby Fox claims to be a co-founder of Develop Croydon. On their website, 3Fox say that they work on regeneration schemes between the public and private sectors. Among the company’s most recent boasts is helping Southwark Council over its social cleansing of the Elephant and Castle, where multi-national developers LendLease have bulldozed in.
3Fox often have a close working relationship with Croydon Council, too, and they will be in Cannes again next week and are expected to have a presence on the Croydon stand, though they claim on their website that they will be working only for five other London authorities.
The other agency working with Croydon in Cannes next week is 31Ten.
31Ten is based in offices just off the Blackfriars Road (handy, perhaps, for any quick meetings with partners at nearby architects TP Bennett).
They appear to be doing a lot of business with Croydon Council. According to the council’s own records, they have been latched on to the civic teat since at least 2015.
In the past 12 months for which records are available, to January this year, Croydon Council has made payments to 31Ten amounting to at least £188,145, for a variety of “consultancy services” provided either to the council or to the supposedly independent, arm’s-length housing company Brick by Brick.
Yet ask any elected councillor, even senior front-bench councillors, who 31Ten are and what they do for the benefit of the people of Croydon, and you draw a blank (well, at least Inside Croydon did, and we asked six councillors, three of them members of the cabinet or shadow cabinet).
Croydon Council operates a system of “delegated authority”, under which council officers – such as Jo Negrini or finance executive Richard Simpson – are able to authorise contracts with third parties up to a value of £500,000 without any scrutiny from the democratically elected members of the council – our councillors.
And the council only has to make public details of payments to a value of £500 or more, which they do each month, though with scandalously abbreviated detail.
This means that invoices listed for 31Ten over the past year or more tend to be described as being for “Consultancy services” or “Consultancy fees”. It’s a meaningless catch-all phrase, which makes the supposedly transparent publication of council spending accounts wholly opaque.
Thus, it is impossible to say with any certainty what 31Ten did in June last year to warrant being paid £56,800 in just one month.
Certainly, none of the councilors we spoke to – both Labour and Conservative – were aware of the part which 31Ten is playing in the development and planning of our borough.
Even experienced, been-round-the-block-a-few-times public relations consultants who have been working on the Croydon development market for two decades had never heard of 31Ten.
“It sounds like a bunch of parasitic property finance consultants advising on public private partnerships,” they said. “Thought that kind of thing died a death with Gordon Brown and the Carillon nail in the coffin.”
Ha! But we’re in Blairite-run Croydon in 2018. It’s as if the last 10 years never happened…
31Ten’s own website reveals that they have worked on Croydon’s RIF, the Revolving Infrastructure Fund. Basically, CCURV MkII (and we all know how well Mk I worked out…).
“Our clients are the experts in their field but 31Ten Consulting is dedicated to support those clients achieve more with what they have or be better at what they do,” they say.
We sent a series of questions to Chris Shepherd, the 31Ten director shown by the company’s website to be working on Brick by Brick, to get a better idea of exactly what those consultancy services for the house-builder and Croydon Council involve.
- Their website stated that they are seeking commercial partners for Brick by Brick. This is news to anyone who has had to depend on Croydon Council’s public statements. We asked what success 31Ten have had in this quest so far.
- We also asked how many staff and consultants from 31Ten will be attending MIPIM to assist Brick by Brick.
- We asked what is the nature of 31Ten’s on-going commercial arrangement with Croydon Council and Brick by Brick.
- And we asked Shepherd to outline what 31Ten’s expectations might be for a successful attendance at MIPIM on behalf of the Council Tax-payers of Croydon.
The director of a firm which has been paid at least £188,000 by Croydon Council Tax-payers in just 12 months has not yet managed to reply.
Maybe he can compare notes over a beer with Jo Negrini while in Cannes next week?
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