‘Empty promises’ for review as Mustafa sets terms of reference

Housing correspondent BARRATT HOLMES on claims that the report on the council’s loss-making house-builders ‘has been nobbled from the start’

Shifa Mustafa: gets to set the terms of the review of the council’s development company

A pledge by the council leader this week that Brick by Brick would be subject to an independent review has been described as “an empty promise”.

The promise of an independent review of the controversial, council-owned housing firm has been dismissed because the terms of reference for the review are to be set by Shifa Mustafa – Croydon Council’s “executive director place”, who has been in charge of loss-making Brick by Brick since October 2016.

Indeed, until two weeks ago, Mustafa was even on the board of directors of Brick by Brick.

Tony Newman made the promise of an independent review at Monday night’s cabinet meeting to discuss his council’s emergency budget, a set of measures intended to impress Whitehall and so win their permission to allow Croydon to borrow £22million from its capital fund.

Among the measures included in the emergency budget is a strategic review of the council’s various companies.

Paragraph 9 of the emergency budget report states, “A review of all companies that are in the Croydon group and their relationship with the council needs to be understood to ensure they remain fit for purpose and that the risk profile they present for the council is fully understood and acceptable both individually and in total.”

Para 9 of the emergency budget report, which allows Shifa Mustafa to set the terms of reference for the review of her department’s work. Newman will have known that this would prevent anything too compromising from being discovered

The report lists Brick by Brick among those entities up for review.

Just the sort of thing to reassure the mandarins in Whitehall about Croydon’s seriousness in managing its resources. So far, so good, you may think.

Importantly, Para 9.2 of the report also states, “Cabinet is asked to agree that such a review be undertaken and that authority to scope the precise terms of the review is delegated to the executive director of place, with a report to be brought back to Cabinet and Full Council.”

The exec director of place is Mustafa, appointed to her £176,000 per year, four-day-a-week role four years ago by Jo Negrini, who had come up with the Brick by Brick model before being promoted to become the council’s CEO.

Jo Negrini and Colm Lacey, the architects of Croydon’s Brick by Brick house-building strategy

A Katharine Street source said today, “Having Shifa set the terms of reference for the review of Brick by Brick is a classic case of letting her mark her own homework.”

Negrini has been described by council insiders as having been particularly protective against criticism of Brick by Brick and its managing director, another of her appointees, Colm Lacy, a former council director and a colleague of Negrini’s at Lambeth and Newham councils.

Mustafa and Negrini worked closely together on the borough’s regeneration projects, and with Lacey they were frequent attendees at the annual MIPIM “booze and hookerfest” developers’ conference staged in the South of France each March.

But Mustafa’s time in charge has been characterised by the collapse of the Westfield redevelopment in the town centre, the delays and over-budget delivery of the Fairfield Halls refurbishment and the failure to meet the social housing targets set for controversial Brick by Brick.

The council has made loans of £260million to Brick by Brick since it was formed in 2015. To date, it has never made any profits, and by the end of 2019 it had delivered just three purpose-built council flats.

Tony Newman: an expert at vacuousness

“Shifa was a Negrini appointee and has been very closely associated with the whole Brick by Brick experiment from its early days,” said the source.

“It won’t matter how ‘independent’ the review panel might be, if there are things that Shifa doesn’t want to have looked at too closely, she’ll just make sure that the terms of reference avoid them. They’ve nobbled the review before it has even begun.

“Tony Newman knew he was making a vacuous, empty promise when he offered the independent review on Monday. Empty promises are what he’s good at.”

With the emergency budget having been passed by cabinet on Monday, the reviews of the council’s various companies, including Brick by Brick, are expected to report by November.


About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Brick by Brick, Colm Lacey, Croydon Council, Jo Negrini, Shifa Mustafa, Tony Newman. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to ‘Empty promises’ for review as Mustafa sets terms of reference

  1. Moya Gordon says:

    What a joke! That does not sound like an independent review. If Shifa Mustafa is allowed to oversee this review surely most people won’t have confidence in the findings. In which case what’s the point of doing it.

  2. It is no wonder that no one in power wants anyone to have a close look at any aspect of Brick by Brick.

    Like many other similar projects it was badly set up and wrongly financed from the very beginning and doomed, like Hammersfield, to failure.

    Because of the set-up it just cannot really ever make a profit in any true sense of the word. Much of its operation is like a surreal Ponzi scheme: you borrow money from your only investor (LBC) and then, when you cannot sell your offerings on the open market, you sell them to the lender and claim that money as income and thus part of profits. Or am I missing something?

    It really is time the whole sad story is brought to an end and everyone relieved of the necessity to invent or pretend in order to keep going the fiction alive.

    Like the Monty Python blue parrot, the Brick by Brick project is dead. It is an ex-project, really.

  3. Sebastian Tillinger says:

    This will be the first time Ms Mustafa has piped up about anything since arriving at the council three years ago, as far as I can recollect. We’ll all be interested in seeing what her terms of reference are.

    Can I suggest an amendment to paragraph 9 of the emergency budget report as follows:

    “A review of Tony Newman and all the people in the cabinet he pays allowances to and their relationship with the council needs to be understood to ensure they remain fit for purpose and that the risk profile they present for the council is fully understood and acceptable both individually and in total.”

  4. Ian Ross says:

    Nothing less than a full, independent review of Brick by Brick is needed. It has been an abject failure despite several years in existence. It is plainly not (let alone still) fit for purpose and Katherine Kerswell needs to stamp her authority not least to give tax payers some comfort that business as usual won’t do. Aside from the poor financial performance the 100% planning approval shows a clearly dubious process especially when there is little or no public support for their various schemes.

  5. Colin Cooper says:

    Obviously when dealing with Newman and Co, the word ‘independent’ has taken on some alternate meaning that we ignorant masses are unaware of!

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