CROYDON IN CRISIS: An investigation by this website has discovered that Colm Lacey set up his own personal consultancy company while he was still a paid employee of the council-owned housing developer.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Colm Lacey registered his own development consultancy business while he was still employed at Brick by Brick, the council-owned housing developer which played a large role in bankrupting the borough.
Senior sources at Croydon Council, including members of the board which is supposed to oversee the operation of Brick by Brick, have said that they were unaware of Lacey ever seeking permission to set up his private company while he was still being paid his handsome salary as managing director – thought to be more than £180,000 per year.
Such a failure to seek permission formally to embark on a private business venture while employed in a senior position at the company would often be viewed as a serious breach of contract.
Inside Croydon reported earlier this week how Lacey had been hired as a three-days-a-week consultant to Coffey Associates, a firm of architects who Brick by Brick, when Lacey was in charge, had signed up for design work on some of its building works.
Lacey’s last day at Brick by Brick was in February. Despite his starring role in wrecking the council’s finances – Brick by Brick under Lacey is a housing company that failed to make a profit even after it paid as little as £1 each for some of the sites it was to develop – no one at the cash-strapped council ever took the decision to fire him.
“We were told that it might have a damaging effect on the morale of the Brick by Brick staff as we undertook the task of winding down the business,” was the lame-sounding explanation offered by one senior Katharine Street figure.
Croydon Council declared itself effectively bankrupt in November 2020, officials citing £36million in unpaid loan repayments, interests and profits from Brick by Brick as being a significant factor in the council’s plight. Lacey was removed from the board of Brick by Brick later that same month, though he continued to collect his generous salary throughout last year and right up to the end of his notice period last month.
Lacey had announced that he was leaving the company on August 31. He was then allowed to serve out his notice period.
But according to Companies House records, it was less than a month later, on September 24 2021, that he registered a new business, Soft Cities Ltd, with himself as its sole director.
Brick by Brick has had two directors, Ian O’Donnell and Duncan Whitfield, senior local government officials and trouble-shooters, who were appointed when Lacey and his chairman, Martyn Evans, were kicked off the board in November 2020. Two more directors were nominated earlier this year.
Under a standard contract of employment, any senior employee, as Lacey was until last month, would normally be expected to report to the board and seek the directors’ permission were they to want to set up a business of their own.
Such niceties are regarded as important over matters such as commercial confidentiality and competition, in efforts to ensure that company property, assets and clients are not abused or misappropriated.
That is certainly a requirement of the code of conduct of council employees, which Lacey used to be before he was promoted beyond his abilities to run Brick by Brick.
The current Brick by Brick directors are supposed to report back to the council’s recently established “Shareholder Cabinet Advisory Board”, whose members include Hamida Ali, the council leader, and cabinet members Stuart King and Callton Young. But sources in Katharine Street are adamant that nothing has ever been mentioned to the advisory board about Lacey’s bit of moonlighting.
That Lacey must have been aware of the flagrant conflicts of interest that he was creating around his position in his last weeks of Brick by Brick employment is perhaps indicated by his lengthy, self-reverential posting to his mates on LinkedIn. He saved the announcement of the formation of Soft Cities until after his final day at Brick by Brick.
Lacey’s LinkedIn posting says, “I’m excited to share that I will be starting my own small consultancy practice Soft Cities. Soft Cities provides a variety of services to help clients design, procure and deliver housing and regeneration initiatives of genuine quality and relevance.
“I intend to use my hard-fought experience of delivering beautifully designed, inclusive development programmes to help clients define their own qualitative aspirations and then actually get them implemented.” Note that: “hard-fought experience”.
“Soft Cities is a practical, approachable and progressive company which aims to make the necessary connections between the worlds of design, planning, construction, property, economics, politics and community to make housing and regeneration programmes work.
“Each client’s needs are distinctly different and we will work flexibly to suit the commission, but some of the more typical services we can provide include: strategic development advice; strategic housing review; design advocacy and leadership; project and development management; professional clienting; tendering advice and procurement strategy guidance.
“I will also be keen to work with organisations to define and articulate their response to emerging and dynamic issues such as ESG, changing urban use patterns, land use valuations etc.
“I’m really excited to be working on the issues that are important to me – namely the promotion of housing standards and development methodologies which stand the best chance of creating transformative social value – and I’m particularly looking forward to working with a range of partners and clients who share this ambition.
“If you want to know more, please do get in touch via Linkedin or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Among the Colm Lacey fan club members who commented their approval of his new venture were Richard Simpson, Croydon’s former finance director and sometime colleague of Lacey in Fisher’s Folly, who was responsible for establishing Brick by Brick, and Paul Scott, the Labour councillor who, as chair of the council’s planning committee, made sure that every application from Brick by Brick was granted permission.
Tonight, an opposition councillor told Inside Croydon, “It’s not the first time Colm Lacey has taken the people of Croydon for mugs.
“It appears obvious that Lacey spent the last four or five months at Brick by Brick doing preparation work of his own company and benefit – and all the while we, the Croydon public, were paying his wages. He really should have been sacked a very long time ago – and long before the council went bust.”
Read more: Lacey to be removed from board of mismanaged Brick by Brick
Read more: Brick by Brick has paid nothing to council
Read more: ‘An accountant could have foreseen this more than a year ago’
Read more: Council forced to declare itself bankrupt
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