Sorry saga when asking questions was called ‘troublemaking’

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Those found responsible for the £67.5m shambles of a refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls should not be allowed to get away ‘scot-free’, says ANDREW PELLING

Time for action: the future of the Fairfield Halls needs to be saved by tracking down where the overspend money has gone

Once they are elected on May 5, Croydon’s new executive Mayor needs to recruit forensic accountants to chase down the money lost, and, if necessary, use the law and even the courts to get as much of Croydon Council Tax-payers’ money back as possible.

Brick by Brick, too, needs special attention.

The council report ahead of Thursday’s Extraordinary Meeting at the Town Hall suggests that the council is in dispute with its wholly-owned firm of house-builders over a £600,000 fee.

The report states: “The Council has undertaken an initial analysis of the expenditure by Brick by Brick on the refurbishment work. While it is important to stress that this analysis has not identified any suggestion of fraudulent activity, it has identified an issue that is being more thoroughly reviewed.

The issue relates to charges of £600k made by Brick by Brick to the council in relation to project management fees and charges. This has been highlighted due to the significant issues regarding the project management of the works raised in the auditor’s report and that these fees are approximately double the normal market level of fees.” I have added the italics, for emphasis.

Opening night: Sadiq Khan, right, at the Fairfield Halls reopening in 2019 with ex-council leader Tony Newman. Newman is identified in the RIPI as at fault

“The chief executive has written to the directors of Brick by Brick seeking an explanation and to understand further this expenditure.”

Is there more to learn about the £600,000 fee and the handling of changes to consultants’ contracts?

The investigation on what happened needs to move on further into investigation into councillors. What did the council’s cabinet do in asking questions about the project? First, on what were the risks of the original Brick by Brick licence structure, and second, the Fairfield sleights of hand that proved to be unlawful.

When it was well known in the town that the Fairfield Halls’ renewal was haemorrhaging money what, if any, questions were posed by cabinet members?

There is no evidence that questions were asked.

Cabinet-level councillors should have asked as the shareholder of and banker to Brick by Brick for regular financial performance reports and asked questions about those reports.

All of those in the old cabinet under Tony Newman who are in the current council cabinet and who didn’t ask questions know who they are, and they should stand down.

Those who did or who complained that they were blocked from asking questions should proudly stay.

The changing of the guard was not completed when Newman was forced out.

It would help the campaign of the Labour mayoral candidate, Val Shawcross, if such a proper cleansing took place. I am just amazed that her campaign includes some of the same people who crashed the council.

Throughout this sorry saga, any questioning by me was regarded as “troublemaking”. A Mayoral candidate said of me recently that I exhibited “quirkiness” – but I think it is normal to ask occasional, polite questions.

My prosecution by my party for whistleblowing shows that the culture has not changed.

Yet meanwhile, not charged by my party are those who mislaid £120million of public money.

Both political parties have been felled by arms’ length development companies – Croydon’s Tories had the CCURV, Croydon Urban Regeneration Vehicle – and these council-run businesses should be avoided. Brick by Brick was too ambitious. It might have been successful if it had started as the builder of 30 homes a year.

We should be building council houses instead.

What was clear from the outset was that Brick by Brick were not experts in refurbishing 1960s entertainment complexes. Brick by Brick was mainly staffed by former council housing officers with other skills.

Proper oversight over contracts by the council is needed when the cabinet has failed to ask questions over a four-year period. A weekly contracts committee, mainly held in public, would make sure that contracts are updated to be fit for purpose, contract costs reduced and fraud combatted.

Vitally, officers of the council should be appointed solely on merit and they should not be treated as “friends” of councillors, or vice versa.

And, as regards all that mysteriously lost money, we do not want people to get away scot-free.

Andrew Pelling, pictured, has been a councillor in Croydon over the course of five decades, as well as MP and London Assembly Member.
He has been a Labour councillor for Waddon ward since 2014

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: Negrini and execs ‘failed to ensure council was acting lawfully’
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

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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, Andrew Pelling, Brick by Brick, Croydon Council, Fairfield Halls, Hamida Ali, RIPI II: Fairfield Halls, Tony Newman, Waddon and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Sorry saga when asking questions was called ‘troublemaking’

  1. Peter Gillman says:

    I hope the sleuths turn their attention to the two Steinway grand pianos which disappeared without trace during the Fairfield refurbishment debacle – particularly as local groups who use the concert hall and need a piano have to hire their own (which does not come cheap!).

    • The Steinways were removed *before* the refurbishment began. They were flogged off by the Trust which was previously managing the venue, even though arguably at least one of the instruments was not theirs to sell, as it had been bought by public subscription by the people of Croydon.
      The Trust needed a £1m sub from the council to meet its redundancy obligations. The piano sales also went into the pot to defray debts.
      But no one has ever managed to provide us with definitive details of the amounts raised by the sales. It has been suggested that one Steinway made its way at a very cheap price to one of the borough’s wealthiest independent schools. Mates’ rates…

  2. David Simons says:

    People that worked on the project were silenced in a manner of ways (NDA’s for MICA architects, Vinci, Gleeds, Sound Space Vision – surely in their professional opinion they cant believe the work they did at Fairfield was their finest!) People left and some were bullied out.

    Investigations need to dive deep in to the money given to BH Live (no NDA for them just money to keep them quiet and on board), to the crazy value engineering that took place and to who gave authority to ignore professional advice when it came to seat renewal, lift repairs, security doors and fire alarm functionality – to name but a few items.

    We know that all capital projects require a degree of budget juggling along the way but this seems to have been pure recklessness. An elected Mayor must publicly commit to sorting the mess out.

    Wether you are interested in the arts or not, a significant amount of tax payers money has been wasted and Croydon has become a laughing stock in cultural circles. Officers of the Council and other significant people on this project would’ve been too scared to give Andrew Pelling the truths he needed – and that is a sad fact.

  3. The Labour Party has a problem with whistleblowing. In 2020, it apologised to and compensated seven of its own staff who blew the whistle on its antisemitism.

    That same year, Steve Reed called for a full investigation into allegations made by whistle-blowers that people calling the government’s National Shielding Helpline – at the start of the pandemic lockdown – were mocked.

    Andrew Pelling blew the whistle on malpractice by Croydon Labour and Croydon council, yet it’s him who is being punished.

    Those involved in unlawful practices have been allowed to stay on (Alison Butler), seek re-election (Hamida Ali and Stuart Collins), step down without any disciplinary action (Tony Newman and Simon Hall), get a fat pay off (Jo Negrini) or simply resign and collect their pension pot (Colm Lacey).

    That sends a signal to other councillors and to council officers that if you stick your head above the parapet, you’ll suffer dire consequences.

    Croydon Labour’s hypocrisy in punishing Pelling for talking to Inside Croydon while turning a blind eye to Val Shawcross now writing opinion columns for it speaks volumes about the continuing rot that is yet to be removed.

    • David Simons says:

      Not sure what Shawcross wrote was worthy of being called an opinion! The audacity of someone standing shoulder to shoulder with cabinet members that oversaw the debacle is worthy of Number 10! Croydon needs independent representation – it is a Borough that has always strived for more, always strived to be independent. The poor decisions of the reds and blues cannot be allowed to take our diverse borough in to the future. Shawcross offers more of the same. We need less politics and more professional & experienced leadership.

  4. I’m pretty sure NDAs don’t work when criminal activity is being investigated

  5. Disgraceful of the BBC not to credit Inside Croydon for their coverage of this scandal

  6. Can we not get a campaign going to get Andrew Pelling to stand as an independent mayoral candidate?

  7. Grace Onions says:

    Not to forget the disposal of some of the Riesco China, given to the people of Croydon ….. in perpetuity.

  8. Lancaster says:

    ‘Oversight over contracts’ assumes those buying and overseeing know what they want in the first place. One might argue local and central government have a record of being out of their depth almost every time. So much for the tired old mantra that we need to pay the big salaries to attract the right people.

    • Yes, I think asking what the council actually wants from a contract, especially if the nature of the demand has changed since the previous letting of the contract is good for the council itself as well as financially vital.

      Sadly this is not something the council always does. There are though departments that are very good at this review before re-tender.

  9. Please can someone help me? I am baffled. Where were the others? There are 70 councillors and is Andrew the only one to ask questions? Do we have another political party in Croydon? Is Andrew the opposition leader of Croydon council or is Inside Croydon the opposition party of Croydon? What is the Labour mayoral candidate saying about this? What are the other labour members saying?

  10. Anita Smith says:

    This article made me revisit the 7 Nolan principles, or the Seven Principles of Public Life as it is officially known.

    Item number 4 “Accountability” reads Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

    Item number 5 “Openness” reads “Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.”

    Better not to read number 6 “Honesty” or number 7 “Leadership”.

  11. Draca Dweig says:

    YES! Andrew Pelling HAS to be Mayor! Let’s make it happen!
    Otherwise we’ll be stuck with much the same if we get VS – it was a great relief when she joined the London lot.
    And not only the pianos and Reisco China but also the promised funds for the new Warehouse Theatre.
    First the £1/2 million from Land Securites from years ago was swallowed up, and then the £3million set aside for new building was lost when the funding for the theatre was cut allowing the council to use the money for the disastrous refurb of Fairfield.
    Funding BoxPark puts the cherry on the cake.
    Bring on the Culture celebrations!

  12. Dame Shirley Porter was held to account at Westminster Council – the limp prat, Kit Malthouse, now propping up Boris Johnson, failed to extract as much as he could have done, but she did pay up in exchange for not being prosecuted further.

    Same must now happen in Croydon. The sums of money are too great, and the levels of incompetence are too deep for this not to happen.

    • So much fury. So little attention to detail.
      Shirley Porter was not “held to account at Westminster Council”.

      The District Auditor surcharged her, and after eight years they finally squeezed out of her less than half what was owed.

      The District Auditor is a position swept away by Big Eric Pickles, in his Localism reforms under Cameron. And that, probably, is something which will mean that Newman and his numpties are let off the hook.

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