Brick by Brick staff caught breaking Google review policies

EXCLUSIVE: Desperate to salvage the company’s sagging reputation, Brick by Brick employees appear to have been indulging in a bit of online onanism.
By STEVEN DOWNES

Staff at Brick by Brick, the council-owned housebuilder, have been breaking online standards rules by posting favourable reviews for the loss-making company that employs them.

Shut up shop: BxB’s showroom on George Street has been closed since March. Staff are working from home…

There has been a flurry of warm and positive reviews about Brick by Brick posted online in the past three weeks – since about the time that the council’s auditors reported that the house-builders had failed to pay over £110million in interest repayments and promised profits to the council.

Many of the most recent “excellent” reviews – which have contributed to BxB getting a Google rating of 3.9/5 – contrast markedly to others, which are very critical of the company.

Yet despite Google rules that ban this form of online onanism, it is clear that many of the 5-star reviews appear to have been written by Brick by Brick staffers. Others seem to have been posted by contractors who have worked with Brick by Brick. There are others which share a distinctive family name with senior BxB staff.

Over the past week, Brick by Brick has been running an expensive public relations campaign, providing lengthy statements to the construction and housing trade press and putting up the company’s CEO, Colm Lacey, for interview in an attempt to spin the company’s flawed reputation for late-completion of projects, massively expensive cost overruns, and failure to deliver shared ownership homes.

But resorting to “fixing” the company’s Google reviews, as well as being utterly unethical, is also a sign of the increasing desperation at the company.

Since it was founded in 2015, Brick by Brick has received at least £260million in loans from Croydon Council, plus countless millions in secret subsidies through land sales, including six sites sold for just £1 each.

Google reviews are supposed to be objective measures of customer satisfaction, which can be used by companies to help boost their reputation. The global search engine giant says it “has strict guidelines relating to its reviews”.

“Note that Google has numerous methods of tracking your identity via your Google accounts and your IP addresses both at home and at work and we can assure you that it will eventually backfire if you violate any of their guidelines and could seriously harm your Google rankings,” the company’s review guidelines state.

Listed among what they describe as “the most important guidelines which are commonly violated” are “Conflict of interest” and “Impersonation”.

Under the latter, Google warns, “Don’t post reviews on behalf of others or misrepresent your identity or connection with the place you’re reviewing.”

5-star: Akin Lisk-Carew, as he appears on BxB’s website

And they describe the conflict of interest offence thus: “Reviews are most valuable when they are honest and unbiased. If you own or work at a place, please don’t review your own business or employer. Don’t offer or accept money, products, or services to write reviews for a business or to write negative reviews about a competitor.

“If you’re a business owner, don’t set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business.”

It is hard to consider the slew of reviews that have suddenly popped up in connection with Brick by Brick as “honest and unbiased”.

One 5-star review was posted by someone called Akin Lisk-Carew. There’s no comment attached. It is the only review that Google has a record of Lisk-Carew ever posting.

Perhaps it is mere coincidence, but on Brick by Brick’s website, one of its employees is listed as Akin Lisk-Carew, who is an “assistant development manager”. The profile photograph of Lisk-Carew on the Brick by Brick website looks very much like the picture with the Google review of Brick by Brick.

Google reviews are used by the public to try to form an objective view of a company’s performance, and ethics

Then there was another 5-star review, this posted within the last three weeks, and which praises Brick by Brick’s “Professionalism”. This came from someone called “Kat Thomas”.

Funnily enough, at Brick by Brick, there’s a member of staff called Katrina Thomas. She’s listed as a “development manager”. Perhaps it is just a coincidence?

Then there’s another 5-star review which praises the company’s “Professionalism” and “Quality”, and which was also posted within the last three weeks.

This one is attributed to Claudia Evans.

It just so happens that there’s a Claudia Evans working at Brick by Brick, too. She, like Lisk-Carew, is an assistant development manager.

5-star: does BxB’s Katrina post Google reviews as ‘Kat Thomas’?

Of course, this may all be just mere coincidence. Like the glowing reviews of Brick by Brick posted in the last few weeks by Jack Phelps and Emily Phelps. Might they be related to Chloe Phelps, who just happens to be the deputy CEO at Brick by Brick? What are the chances, eh?

The positivity of some of the more recent comments attached to the welter of 5-star reviews that have started to appear about Brick by Brick also echo some of the less-than-honest lines being pushed out by the company’s boss, Lacey, and their spin doctors.

“Excellent developer providing well-designed social housing for people of Croydon, not an easy task to create high quality and affordable homes. Well done Brick by Brick,” wrote one, apparently unaware that BxB has managed to deliver a grand total of three purpose-built council homes since 2015.

Someone calling themselves “Jack Wild” posted this: “Trying to do an almost impossible task, given the situation councils have been left in by the government. Good quality homes and good to see profit going back to the council and not into private developer’s pockets.” Seems that no one advised Wild of the findings of the auditors’ report and Brick by Brick’s failure to turn a single penny profit in five years.

5-star: a Claudia Evans has posted a positive review of BxB on Google

Or this, from “Fraser Wylie”: “Local developer with great understanding of the communities they work within, delivering affordable homes across the borough of Croydon.”

Or this, from “Simon Edwards”: “Excellent local developer bringing much needed affordable homes to Croydon!”

Notably, none of these reviews manage to state whether they are actual customers of Brick by Brick, owners or tenants in some of the homes that the company has managed to complete.

These reviews are all a lot more favourable and gushing in praise for Brick by Brick than the reports that Inside Croydon has received from disappointed customers, some of whom have lost thousands of pounds in legal fees over the company’s shambolic handling of shared-ownership homes, or from the communities who feel ignored and rail-roaded by lip-service consultations over BxB’s planning applications – some of which have also been caught out as being less than trustworthy or frank.

The unfavourable Google reviews posted online are starkly different from most of the more recent postings.

5-star: has Chloe Phelps been getting help from friends and family?

“AWFUL COMPANY!!!” someone called “Anna B” typed with her caps lock on.

“Very pushy and unprofessional sales team. Tried to get us to complete on a purchase at the beginning of lockdown. Thanks to god we were spared from buying from this untrustworthy company. They owe us £500! Bought something better through someone else! Don’t even bother dealing with them. I feel bad for people who have to now…” They gave BxB a 1-star rating.

So did Silke Zetsche. She wrote seven months ago: “I am dealing with BxB at the moment. The process of buying BxB house has been the most defeating and stressful experiences.”

Barry Holman was unimpressed as well. “Do not trust this company. absolutely disgusting service. Paid a deposit on a property which they then sold to someone else. Sales team are clueless.” One star.

There is such a contrast between these customer experiences and some of the reviews that have popped up just recently, it is hard to understand how they can be about the same company.

Who to believe, eh?

Read more: Lacey could lose job over latest pitch to sell Brick by Brick 
Read more: The Audit Report: Brick by Brick has paid nothing to council
Read more: Wood comes knocking with brief to investigate Brick by Brick
Read more: Even Labour councillors are turning on Brick by Brick plans


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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
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11 Responses to Brick by Brick staff caught breaking Google review policies

  1. Moya Gordon says:

    Good work Inside Croydon, for picking up on this kind of thing.

  2. I know it’s against google rules but I can understand the loyalty of staff trying to bolster their company – that creditable in my opinion. Everyone does it. But when I look at the staff who are doing this I see young, ambitious potentially really capable young people and it’s clearer than every what BricjxBrick sorely lacks: a really experienced leadership drawn from the private sector. That’s where this company has gone array.

  3. mikebweb says:

    How interesting, but surely you are wrong THEY could be as stupid as that. At least use another name so it is not quite so obvious.
    May be there is a deeper motive, that hasn’t yet surfaced?

  4. Jodie says:

    Sack them all.
    Bunch of useless staff.They will say anything to save their jobs.

  5. dracardweig says:

    Dreadful. But not surprising, I suppose, considering the corrupt administration that started BrickUpBrick in the first place!

  6. Lewis White says:

    So sad that a good concept has come to this. I have not been inside any Brick by Brick flats or houses, but in my opinion –with some exceptions such as the proposed block dubbed “Stasi HQ” featuted in Inside Croydon and subsequently withdrawn– in general, the designs I have seen look well designed in a contemporary style, and likely to be good to live in.

    In reality, it looks like Brick by Brick should have started off smaller, and done fewer sites at a time.
    Optimism about time from design to selling flats was misplaced. There is a pipeline, and it takes years to get from one end to the other.

    I feel sorry for the normal staff members whose careers will be impacted by this.

    But I have to ask– do councils still have to resort to setting up “arms length” companies in order to carry out development? Could they not have formed a development team in the council?

    In’t “Old days”, every major council had a Borough Architect, a Borough Engineer, and Borough Planning Officer, each of whom had a department, and was trained and qualified in their discipline.

    Is it still down to Mrs T and her disdain for local authorities, which got rid of these ?

  7. Chris Flynn says:

    Interesting. I have some sympathy for these people having the pictures posted in this article, but they must have known their photos were on the BxB website, and then have chosen to leave these ‘reviews’.

    Is it purely just a question of Google rules and ethics? I’m struggling to do my research, but…
    * This article about astroturfing (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7287413.stm) suggests: “From 26 May, any UK firm breaking the rules may face prosecution, stiff fines and possibly even jail terms for its staff.”
    * This article (https://metro.co.uk/2019/12/24/amazon-pledges-to-fight-fake-reviews-as-millions-of-families-are-duped-11955018“) suggests “Fake reviews are illegal in the UK under consumer protection law.”
    So perhaps more serious than a slap p

  8. Mike Jones says:

    What would we do without Inside Croydon?
    Their searching for the truth behind dubious activities connected to Croydon Council and communicating it to the ordinary people of Croydon is first class.

  9. You write here almost with shock and horror at the possibility that reviews found anywhere on Google might be false. People ought not be so gullible, so much of what the internet states is fake, fake news and fake reviews. Word of mouth or personal recommendations from a trusted source is the way forward.
    As for the goings on up at the Town Hall, I’m none too sure that they should be trying to save their jobs, i am shocked and horrified that that many of them still have jobs. But then should I really be surprised, I see that as of yet, Gavin Barwell has yet to give an account of his despicable behaviour over Grenfell.

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