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
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.
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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