KEN LEE, our Town Hall reporter, discovers that the council has been less-than-forthcoming over the latest appointment to their loss-making house-builder
Brick by Brick has appointed a new company director, in a move that could signal the council-owned house-builder is about to change its flawed and failing business strategy and look to “sell” more of the homes it builds back to Croydon Council.
According to official Companies House records, Julia Pitt was appointed to the board of the troubled Brick by Brick last Friday, May 1.
There has been no announcement of the appointment by the company nor by the propaganda department of the council, which wholly owns Brick by Brick and has borrowed at least £260million to fund its stalled building programme.
And while Brick by Brick is in the midst of a cashflow crisis of its own making, with long-delayed building projects (some more than two years late in completion), and few, if any, buyers for those homes that it has built, hapless chief executive Colm Lacey has turned to someone with no experience whatsoever in the construction industry to try to get them out of their mess.
Pitt, just like Lacey was before he was promoted beyond his abilities, is a member of Croydon Council staff.
Since early 2018, Pitt has been director of the council’s Gateway Services. Therein may lie a clue as to the direction Brick by Brick might be heading.
Pitt’s job at the council has been to find homes for the borough’s homeless or to assist in ensuring Croydon families avoid homelessness. It could just be that many of the homes being built by Brick by Brick but for which there are no buyers could, in future, be “bought” by the council to address its lengthy housing waiting list.
There’s already a precedent for this.
After the gormless Lacey and his rookie team of housing developers had it pointed out to them that they had failed to get Brick by Brick registered as a recognised provider of shared ownership homes, the council stepped in to bail them out (again).
This time, the council bought 24 unsaleable Brick by Brick properties in January and then, in March, agreed to take 119 flats in Longheath Gardens that were originally intended to be sold for shared ownership.
The total value of these little property deals between the council and its wholly-owned and deeply-indebted housing company has never been disclosed but is estimated to be close to £30million.
Brick by Brick delivering council homes, through the council-run vehicle, Croydon Affordable Housing, and effectively abandoning the Blairite myth that it will ever generate any profits to subsidise the council’s balance sheet would be an admission of a significant failure by Lacey, Jo “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini, the council’s chief exec, and council leader, Tony Newman.
But sources on Katharine Street, when told by Inside Croydon of this latest appointment, said, “It is difficult to think of any other reason why someone with the skill set that Julia Pitt has will have been appointed to the company’s board of directors at this point.”
Already on the board of directors is Shifa Mustafa, the council’s “executive director of place”. There has never been an elected representative, a councillor from Labour or the Conservatives, appointed to the Brick by Brick board since it was founded, in 2015.
Pitt has worked at Croydon Council for 10 years. At Gateway Services, she will have worked closely with Alison Butler, the cabinet member for housing and another of the architects of the multi-million-pound shambles that is Brick by Brick.
Pitt has “a wealth of experience, energy and ideas”, according to Butler when she confirmed her promotion to Gateway director status in October 2018.
In that announcement, Butler also said, “We will do everything we can to help our staff achieve their full potential and help them reach new and rewarding positions to make the most of their talents and experiences.”
Like Colm Lacey, for instance?
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