Croydon BID, the organisation made up of some of the town centre’s biggest businesses, has gone into the covid-19 crisis while looking for someone to chair the organisation.
As predicted by Inside Croydon, the departure from the Fairfield Halls of Neil Chandler, the venue’s artistic director, less than six months after it re-opened, has also forced him to stand down as chair of Croydon BID.
Chandler quit BHLive, the operators appointed by Croydon Council to run the Fairfield, in mid-February.
According to Companies House records, Chandler has yet to resign as chair, but Croydon BID is now recruiting his replacement.
They have opted to use a firm of headhunters, Peridot, who are based not in Croydon, but in Kings Cross.
It does not specify, but the unpaid role would normally be filled by a leading executive of an existing Croydon BID member company, following a ballot of the BID’s 560 member organisations. So the use of an executive recruitment agency might be seen by some to be an unnecessary use of the BID membership’s funds at a time when so many Croydon businesses are closed and enduring existential hardships.
Croydon BID is a business improvement district in which member firms agree to pay a 1per cent levy on top of their business rates, in return for which they are supposed to get improved services, including street cleaning and extra policing. The levy generates an annual budget of around £1million for the BID executives to spend.
It is perhaps noteworthy that the organisation claims it covers an area of approximately 1,500 businesses, meaning that barely one-third have decided to add their names to its membership list – which is bulked out with some local schools and colleges, charities and multiple branches of national businesses.
Formed in 2004, Croydon BID is in its third term, which is due to be completed at the end of March 2022.
BID members will be balloted in October 2021 to seek their agreement to continue with another five-year term. As the recruitment documents advise, “Therefore, the appointment of a new chair will coincide with the ballot timetable with the initial appointment up until and including March 31 2022, with an option to renew for a further two years subject to a successful Croydon BID ballot result in October 2021.”
The consensus to continue with the BID in Croydon was last reached in 2016, when business optimism locally was at a relative high-water mark because of the promise of the £1.4billion Hammersfield regeneration scheme. Croydon BID has long been a cheerleader for the scheme, promised by Hammerson and Westfield.
According to the recruitment advertisement, anyone putting themselves forward for the task of chairing Croydon BID, “… will be required to attend up to six board meetings a year, with wider engagement in line with your chair responsibilities”.
Candidates are also told, “As an organisation that represents 560 of the largest businesses in the town centre, Croydon BID holds itself to the highest standards of accountability and transparency. Croydon BID adheres to a strong set of governance practices of which all directors are subject to.” They even provide a helpful link to the Nolan Principles, the standards by which all those in public office are supposed to be governed.
Among the various responsibilities, the recruiters list, “The chair of the board, working with fellow non-executive directors, is responsible for ensuring complete oversight of the financial performance and financial obligations of Croydon BID with the support of the finance committee and chief executive.”
“The chair, working with the company secretary [Janet Borrow, a local solicitor], non-executive directors and the chief executive has a responsibility to ensure complete transparency, abiding by all legal requirements set for a company limited by guarantee, not for profit.”
In 2018, Croydon BID, together with the council, brokered tens of thousands of pounds of public money to pay for an arts festival organised by a local businessman who was in the process of being made bankrupt.
The onerous duties of the BID’s chair also include: “… to ensure all members of the non-executive board have the opportunity to discuss their views and concerns…” and “… a responsibility to highlight any conflicts of interest at board and executive committee level and to take appropriate action where required to ensure complete transparency.”
This latter requirement might seem to have escaped previous chairs when certain over-dominant influences are considered.
According to Croydon BID’s own website, the current board consists of nine voting members. These include Martin Corney, the chief executive of the Whitgift Foundation, the landowners of the benighted Whitgift Centre, as well as Andrew Bauer (the centre director of the Whitgift Centre), plus Dominic Glanz (the development director of Westfield, the appointed developers of the Whitgift Centre).
It would be hard to suggest that Croydon BID has not, in some manner, had the financial interests of the Whitgift Centre very well-represented on its board.
Also on the board is Jonathan Sharrock the CEO of Coast to Capital.
It is Sharrock’s organisation that gave a grant of £12million of public cash towards the refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls (artistic director: N Chandler), including £3million specifically for the building of an art gallery in the underground car park, a gallery which has never been built… So no conflicts of interest there then, not at all.
The recruitment papers for the BID’s new chair make it clear that the full-time professional chief executive of the BID, Matthew Sims, is the one really running the show.
“Working with the chief executive,” the documents state, the new chair, “must make sure that the non-executive directors and executive committee members of the company receive accurate, timely and clear information on all of the Croydon BID’s activities.”
And they also state, “The chair provides appropriate oversight, scrutiny, challenge and leadership to the Croydon BID company in the pursuit of its aim to provide effective and high-quality services as outlined within the company’s annual business plan and within the company Articles of Association.”
In the midst of the coronavirus emergency, with so many Croydon BID members – the pubs, cafés and retailers – forced to close, it has been Sims who has been front and centre as the face, and voice, of Croydon business, including being handed a leading role on Croydon Council’s “business task force”.
“We are focused on working through the challenges with our partners so that we can represent the current needs you have as businesses,” Sims told BID members last week.
“The fightback against this virus has begun, Croydon BID and our partners are working at an incredible pace to deliver against the needs of our business community.”
It will be interesting to see what’s left of Croydon’s business community survives the demands of this indefinite shutdown, and whether the new Croydon BID chair, once eventually appointed, has any members left to represent.
- To see the BID chair’s duties in full, click here for the pdf
- And click here to see the recruitment ad
Read more on coronavirus in Croydon and how to claim Council Tax relief or business grants:
- Ten top tips to help do your bit during the covid-19 emergency
- Council Tax relief announcement delay nets £20m to Town Hall
- Croydon slips out news that parking charges are suspended
- Council promises to pay business virus grants in seven days
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