Lewis is given another £1.3m to spend on Fairfield Halls

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Somehow, our cash-strapped council has managed to find a spare million to hand to the under-performing operators of the town centre’s arts venue, thanks to the recommendation of a new employee of The Campaign Company. EXCLUSIVE By STEVEN DOWNES

Money no object: Oliver ‘Shitshow’ Lewis has got another £1.3m for BHLive

Passed without much, if any, comment at last week’s council cabinet meeting, just 48 hours before Croydon was hit with a second Report In The Public Interest from their unimpressed auditors, was the decision to spend another £1.291million on the Fairfield Halls.

And this payment is to be made to an organisation who Croydon Council agreed to go into partnership with for the specific reason that they would not be charging anything for managing the town centre’s arts complex.

Coming in the week that Grant Thornton exposed the £67.5million cost to Croydon Council of the bungled refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls, which remains unfinished and incomplete six years after the project began, and this latest seven-figure payment to BHLive may yet prove to be another misjudgement and example of mismanagement by the Town Hall leadership.

That this matter did not cause more of a fuss is undoubtedly because it was seen to merit just a brief, five-line item in a register of “investments” by the council, on a night when councillors were supposed to be wading through nearly 600 pages of reports on the 2022-2023 budget, benefit cuts to the borough’s most vulnerable, and a host of other fine detail matters which really ought to have been discussed over twice or even three times as long as they were granted.

Money for nuffink: the council report last week, which shows Lewis giving BHLive another £1,291,000 – not the £181m mistakenly listed as ‘total aggregated spend’

Item 5.1.1 of the official council report also included a massive error, unspotted and uncorrected, a typo that managed to add £180million to the proposed spend.

That this error slipped through at all is further demonstration that what’s left of the council’s staff are overworked to the point that they cannot perform their duties properly, and further demonstration that cabinet member Oliver “Shitshow” Lewis fails to read, and proofread, council papers that relate to his responsibilities.

The spending item was Lewis’s responsibility as the cabinet member for culture.

Under “Covid recovery for BHLive contract variation”, it provides for £1.3million to be paid to the Fairfield Halls operator. Basically, bailing out BHLive for the losses that they are incurring through only partially reopening the arts venue.

At the core of the fiasco that has been the Fairfield Halls refurbishment according to the RIPI was the decision to put Brick by Brick, a company without any experience or expertise in large-scale refurbishment works, in charge of it.

Likewise, one of the rapidly emerging problems around the management of the Fairfield Halls and its artistic programme has been the decision by Croydon Council to put BHLive, a company which mainly runs swimming pools and leisure centres on the south coast, in charge of it.

Part-closed: The Fairfield Halls was placed under a year-long ‘hibernation’ by order of Jo Negrini, the then council chief executive

When BHLive was awarded the Fairfield Halls management contract, they were the only bidder who promised to take on the task at zero cost to the council, saying that they would generate enough funds from running the shows, bars and restaurants that there would no longer be the need for a council-funded subsidy.

Before the Halls closed for the refurb, the council had been providing around £1million per year in subsidy towards its arts programme.

A rich cultural mix including free lunchtime concerts and community-led arts programmes were promised, but they have failed to materialise in the post-covid Fairfield Halls, where all-in wrestling is back among the often threadbare offerings.

The Halls re-opened after the controversial refurbishment in September 2019, more than a year late. According to the Grant Thornton Report In The Public Interest last week, it was Jo Negrini, the then council chief exec, who in March 2020 ordered BHLive to place the Halls into “hibernation” for a full year.

Inside Croydon has reported numerous times over the past two years how BHLive has gamed the funding regime through the covid crisis, taking furlough payments for staff and Arts Council grants as well as pay-outs from Croydon Council while the venue remained largely closed to the public. BHLive is reported to have made 200 staff redundant across all the arts venues it manages, in Croydon (where there were around 80 full- and part-time staff laid off) and in Bournemouth and Portsmouth.

In one case, BHLive laid off their Halls staff just days after receiving £2.5million grant intended to help keep the venue open.

The Halls have struggled since re-opening. Ticket sales following the  royal gala celebration were dire. Then the artistic director quit.

BHLive refused to respond to questions from Inside Croydon and the theatre trade paper, The Stage, about how they intended to use the millions of pounds they received in covid grants from the Arts Council.

Three’s a crowd: Lewis (left) with Tony Newman and London Mayor Sadiq Khan at the reopening of the Halls in 2019

The Bournemouth-based leisure centre operator reported a £2.5million loss in its annual accounts for 2020-2021, the first year of covid. They say that 10,000 memberships for the swimming pools and gyms that they manage were cancelled or were not renewed during the first covid lockdown.

The accounts showed that their leisure centre income was reduced from an expected £21million to £4million.

In the arts and culture side of the business, including Fairfield Halls, BHLive’s income fell from the anticipated £22.7million to £1.05million.

As Inside Croydon reported exclusively, the problems with the Fairfield Halls refurbishment and delays in its completion saw Croydon Council make compensatory payments to BHLive of more than £1million between 2019 and August 2020.

Now, it appears, “Shitshow” Lewis has got Croydon’s cash-strapped council to hand the swimming pool managers another £1.3million.

Lewis, though, is not always quite so generous when handing out other people’s money.

In another section of last Monday’s marathon cabinet meeting, Lewis – a protégé of disgraced former leader Tony Newman, and sometime acting as his golf caddie – was allowed to demonstrate his utter contempt for large sections of the borough.

In a report under Lewis’s name about the doomed fate of Purley Pool – the only council-run leisure centre in the south of the borough, and the only one not to reopen following the first covid lockdown – it said, “Following the six-week public consultation it is recommended that Purley Leisure Centre closes permanently.”

So much for public consultations, eh?

More than half of respondents – 54per cent, which seems somewhat on the low side – wanted the centre to be reopened.

Utter contempt: under Lewis, the council ignored public views in its consultation

Lewis’s report even conceded, “It is clear from the consultation feedback that resident who live in the area valued Purley Leisure Centre…”, note that devious use of the past tense.

“Although feedback was clear from residents that their preferred options were to invest in new leisure facilities or reopen the pool, given the long-term financial position of Purley Leisure Centre…”, it was part of a cross-subsidy arrangement with operators Greenwich Leisure involving the borough’s other leisure facilities, “… and the capital works required to bring it back to full operation, it is recommended that residents use alternative leisure facilities at Waddon, New Addington, and Monks Hill, as well as other venues across the borough.”

Lewis’s sneering dismissal of the demand for better facilities in Purley and elsewhere has had some consequence.

New job: Lewis changed his public declarations on the council website to show him working for The Campaign Company, the business established by David Evans

Not a single branch Labour Party in the borough considered him good enough to represent them as a candidate in May’s local elections after the New Addington ward he has claimed to represent since 2014 refused even to short-list the cabinet member for their selection meeting.

Lewis has been noticed as playing a prominent part recently with Val Shawcross’s campaign to win election as Croydon’s first elected Mayor, though such a presence risks undermining efforts for any kind of “clean break” with the failed and discredited former Town Hall regime.

Besides, Lewis also has a new job, according to a change of his public declarations made in October.

So his failure to win over local Labour Party members should mean that Lewis, profligate with public money and the closer of public pools, will be able to focus more of his otherwise undiscovered talents on working for The Campaign Company, the strategists and lobbying firm that was set up by David Evans, the less-than-popular General Secretary of the Labour Party. Cosy.

Croydon is London’s Borough of Culture, 2023.

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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 BH Live, Croydon Council, David Evans, Fairfield Halls, Jo Negrini, New Addington, Oliver Lewis, Purley, Purley Pool, RIPI II: Fairfield Halls, Sadiq Khan, Tony Newman, Val Shawcross and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Lewis is given another £1.3m to spend on Fairfield Halls

  1. Lee Malyon says:

    WOW, just WOW, how on earth can this (still) be happening???

    • Micky Davies says:

      Hear, hear. After all that has been read about and exposed in recent days/weeks over this shambolic project, they are still handing over £millions to these clowns who are supposed to be the operators of Fairfield Halls. What the hell is happening at Croydon Council?

  2. David Simons says:

    Wow indeed, I am pissed right off now! Will each of the Mayoral candidates give their response? Given the poverty in our borough and the budget cuts ahead this is in very poor taste. BH have been given millions by the Arts Council, squandered untold amounts of cash handed out by Croydon Council and enjoyed hundreds of thousands in bail outs from Bournemouth & Poole Council. All the time people in Croydon are going without. The arts has a hard enough time convincing people it is a worthy cause for investment without this disgusting display of waste. The Bournemouth swimming pool managers have done nothing for Croydon except cover up for the councils endless cock ups at Fairfield Halls and now the chance to get rid of them when a change of leadership descends on BW House looks highly unlikely given this poorly judged investment. Why on earth did Kerswell advise Lewis that this was the right thing to do? Croydon seems to be going from shit leadership to shit leadership and Mays election, unless a credible independent comes forward looks set to change nothing.

    • David Simons says:

      And utterly amazing that someone puts a thumb down for this comment without posting an actual defence. Come on, defend in the indefensible.

  3. Liz says:

    This really is scandalous. In fact it is absolutely beyond belief.

    With all the allegations/suggestions of fraud flying around over the gigantic overspend of the poor refurbishment of the venue, it does make you wonder whether BHLive know things they are keeping quiet about. What other reason would there be to keep giving these terrible, terrible venue operators millions of pounds that the Council supposedly don’t have?

    Hundreds of good frontline staff have been cast aside, and yet we still see this going on, and in the very week of the RIPI into the shambles of the refurbishment.

    I just do not see how this can still be happening, is there no one/law body that can hold the Council to account for this? There are very good culture people who have been made redundant by the Council who could have been put in to run the venue far better than the swimming pool crowd from Bournemouth, and at a fraction of the cost. Seeing this has actually made me feel quite sick.

  4. Lewis White says:

    The closure of Purley pool is a terrible decision.

  5. Pete Jenkins says:

    The Council can pay the Bournemouth mob even more money relating to Fairfield. For what? More tribute bands? When are the doors going to be open day to day to make it the Community Hub that one-time Manager Neil Chandler gushed praise about?.It is sad to see the doors closed so often, especially in the evenings when the place should be buzzing.
    Is there a new Manager on site at Fairfield who could face the taxpayers and explain what is going on, or rather not going on. And why hasn’t the local MP Sarah Jones made any comments?

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