Council got £70m Fairfield Halls refurb wrong from the start

CROYDON IN CRISIS: It was ‘insane’ to grant a licence to Brick by Brick for the refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls, and that led to the £70m ‘shitshow’. Mayoral candidate VAL SHAWCROSS responds to the auditors’ Report In The Public Interest 

Pricy paint job: There was a lack of project controls and checks on the Fairfield Halls refurbishment

In my years of involvement in the public sector, I’ve come to the conclusion that if a project is to go badly awry – it starts to do so in the first five minutes.

It’s those big early decisions that are taken that lay the groundwork for eventual hard-won success or massive and spectacular failure.

The Fairfield Halls were refurbished, not as well as they could have been, but it was delayed and overspent by £37million. The current council asked for a Value for Money study to be carried out by their auditors. But what has come back in the Report In The Public Interest is a description of a dramatically shoddy process and its complete lack of any competent supervision, management or control by the council.

In this report, it is the abject failure by key senior council officers and an absence of essential and basic internal council systems that shouts most loudly!

Instead of a proper competitive procurement process, the refurbishment was done under a licence by Brick by Brick without a contractual obligation but with an understanding that essentially was based on planning requirements.

Why the council would insanely want to go out of its way to appoint an inexperienced housing developer without a track record to refurbish an iconic arts venue with specialist requirements is never explored in the report.

The risks built upwards from this unconventional and ill-advised approach and the mistakes and failure accumulated.

The auditors carrying out the post mortem RIPI were unable to track down essential legal documents. Essentially the council didn’t have enough control of what was going on because of the lack of a proper procurement process at the outset.

Bad record-keeping was compounded by a lack of effective oversight and reporting back to the council. Only the councillors’ scrutiny committee is named as being active in trying to scrutinise the project, its progress and costs, but reports presented to the committee did not apparently highlight the known increase in costs.

The auditors’ focus is instead on how the council needs to get its basic systems and procedures in place and avoid future “shitshows on grand projects.

The last five minutes is the only hopeful part of the story. At least the council officers responsible have gone, the new council leadership has asked for the painful exposure of these failings and are visibly embracing fixing the system and learning from the failures exposed.

Val Shawcross, pictured right, is a former New Addington councillor, London Assembly Member and deputy mayor of London. She is the Labour Party candidate for Mayor of Croydon in May’s local elections

And check out the Inside Croydon archive for some of our reports over the past three years which found serious failings with Brick by Brick and the Fairfield Halls refurbishment:

Read more: £30m Fairfield Halls project never went to competitive tender
Read more:
Conflicts of interest, incomplete contracts, unlawful payments
Read more: Brick by Brick and the 18 documents officers want kept secret
Read more: Kakistocracy: Butler forced into £6m bail-out of Brick by Brick
Read more: A level of ineptitude which would be tolerated nowhere else

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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
This entry was posted in 2022 Croydon Mayor election, Brick by Brick, Croydon Council, Fairfield Halls, RIPI II: Fairfield Halls, Val Shawcross and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Council got £70m Fairfield Halls refurb wrong from the start

  1. The Council’s Tenders and Contracts Regulations (most recent version adopted July 2019) can be seen on line. Earlier versions are very similar. Adherence to these would have addressed much of the criticism in the report. Either Councillors and all officers involved in the Fairfield Halls refurbishment deliberately chose to ignore these regulations or they were completely incompetent in that they were unaware or unable to follow the simple requirements of the regulations. There can be no other explanation.

  2. Lewis White says:

    Mystic Mogg says – “This is a typical example of what will in the next few days be termed “Downing Street Assumption”, a powerful psychological condition affecting people in higher levels of power who assume that rules made by an organisation for the benefit of its proper regulation, and its adherence with the Law and accepted high standards of conduct, apply only to people at lower positions in the organisation, but not to their own selves and their activities.”

  3. Not so fast, Val. You say it is the abject failure by key senior council officers and an absence of essential and basic internal council systems that shouts most loudly! However, although not named directly, the auditors also level criticism at Alison Butler, Simon Hall and Tony Newman.

    For example, “the then Portfolio Holders for Homes and Gateway Services, for Finance and Resources and the Leader, who were either not briefed by officers and should have requested briefings on the project given what they appeared to know or did not take effective action in response to concerns raised by the officers.”

    That suggests they were either incompetent or negligent.

    This point is made elsewhere.

    “There is an onus on the relevant Portfolio Holders (for Homes and Gateway Services, for Finance and Resources and the Leader) to ask appropriate questions of senior officers and to require clear reporting to Cabinet on the progress of a complex project … In our view these officers and Portfolio Holders failed to exercise their functions and responsibilities adequately”.

    The word “adequately” is an understatement, given the scale of the fiasco.

    Moreover, the auditors say that Negrini, Newman, Hall and Lacey took the view that Brick by Brick should be responsible for cost overruns, ignoring the fact that the company was effectively part of the council. If the case ever goes to court, a plea of guilty but insane might just keep that shower out of jail.

    If there is one crumb of comfort in this for Croydon Labour, it is that the Scrutiny function is recognised for having tried to establish what was going on, but that information was effectively withheld from committee members. That’s Sean Fitzsimons off the hook then.

  4. Agree will all that Val says.

    And I’m glad a senior politician is openly saying the actual refurbishment was not good – Over spending, yes, but to over spend and do a poor refurbishment is unforgivable.

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