Our housing correspondent BARRATT HOLMES reports that while there continues to be a myriad of problems on sites run by the council-owned house-builders, one thing that they have not been slow to do is empire-building
While cash-strapped Croydon Council may be undergoing a recruitment freeze as it ponders having to make more than 500 staff redundant, there’s no stopping Brick by Brick from taking on new staff on decent salaries – and all with a profit-sharing scheme, too, from a company that has never made any profit!
The profit-share offer in a job ad posted by Brick by Brick over the weekend might also come as a surprise to many residents, and councillors, who have been told repeatedly that the council-owned house-builders will be paying over all their profits back to the council.
Brick by Brick has had loans of at least £260million from Croydon Council since it was formed in 2015, plus it purchased chunks of public property at below-market rates. Yet in the past five years, Brick by Brick has managed to deliver just three purpose-built council homes.
Brick by Brick has recently handed over 24 flats at Longheath Gardens to the council for use as social-rent homes. These had been intended to be sold under a shared-ownership scheme, until Brick by Brick discovered that they had failed to get themselves registered as providers of shared ownership homes, and therefore banks and building societies would not lend to their prospective buyers.
The council bailed out Brick by Brick (again), this time buying the flats it had effectively already paid for, built on land it had recently owned, and all for a cool £6million.
“The more you look at it, the more it begins to resemble a Ponzi scheme,” one disenchanted Katharine Street source said today of the council’s misfiring home-building project.
But cometh the hour, cometh the Customer Care Co-ordinator, another Brick by Brick staffer to add to the 30 already on the books, as former council employee Colm Lacey continues his bit of unaccountable empire-building in his expensively remodelled offices and showroom (cost: at least £1million) on George Street.
For some of the disappointed potential home-owners that have had cause to regret their dealings with Brick by Brick so far, a bit of customer care cannot come a moment too soon.
“The Customer Care Co-ordinator’s role will be to… ensure that the entire customer care process is handled as smoothly and efficiently as possible. You will act as the primary contact for all customers from exchange of contracts through to the end of the defect’s [sic] liability period.” There’s something cheerily reassuring about a company that so misunderstands its own processes that it can, with the sloppy use of a single apostrophe, manage to turn a recruitment ad into an insult to its customers.
“You will have a sound understanding of the sales and aftercare procedures and be able to deliver timely, reliable information and updates to the wider team. Ensuring, always, that our Customer’s requests are dealt with promptly and efficiently.” On this occasion, perhaps the use of the apostrophe – “Customer’s” – is entirely correct, and they really do have just one.
The truly extraordinary thing about this Brick by Brick job ad, beyond the utterly crass insensitivity of it being published in the week when the company’s owners, the council, have started the process of 15 per cent cuts at nearby Fisher’s Folly, is that the employment terms and conditions that it offers are notably superior to anything that council staff might enjoy.
For a 36-hour week, “including some weekend and evening work”, and with more than six weeks’ annual holiday, the salary offered is £30,000 to £35,000 per year, “plus profit share scheme of up to 20 per cent of salary”.
That’s a possible £7,000 annual bonus. Out of the profits that were supposedly going to be paid over to the council. Don’t hold your breath, though: after five years, Brick by Brick has yet to make a penny of profit.
Anyone considering applying for the role, though, might first want to seek out colleagues and former Brick by Brick staffers to get a sense for the morale in the place.
Inside Croydon understands that at least two site managers have downed tools abruptly in recent weeks, a contractor has abandoned one build, possibly in a dispute over payments (another one), while the George Street office might need to have a revolving door fitted, such has been the churn among senior staff. Lacey has had to bid farewell to two heads of development in barely 12 months, one of whom chose to leave after having had 14 years’ service at Croydon Council before transferring to Brick by Brick.
And according to the job spec, Brick by Brick’s new customer care co-ordinator must also be able to demonstrate that they are “Highly organised – must be able to work under pressure and use own initiative, meet deadlines and demonstrate flexibility”. Everything, in fact, that Brick by Brick has been lacking under the leadership of rookie property developer Lacey.
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