Newham Council's £111m building 'savings' claim mocked

Newham Council offices Critics say the offices resemble a "West End nightclub"

A council's claim to have spent £111m on one office block to "consolidate" other properties under one roof has been called into question after the BBC discovered most of the old buildings are either still in use or lying empty.

In December Newham Council in east London was criticised for spending the nine-figure sum on Building 1000. Bosses paid £1,800 each for five designer lights.

The council said the move would save money because it would enable the organisation to merge staff from 26 buildings under one roof.

Start Quote

The rational for purchasing Building 1000 was financial savings - this information makes a mockery of that claim”

End Quote Mike Law, former councillor

A council spokesman said at the time: "Moving from 26 different locations to one will already have saved us £12m by next March."

Newham Council began moving into Building 1000 in the middle of 2008.

But a senior council officer has now provided the BBC with a list showing that at least 18 of the 26 buildings are either still used by council staff or lying empty, at a cost to the taxpayer.

The council, on which all 60 sitting councillors are Labour members, says selling the buildings now would be unwise given the "depressed" state of the market.

Newham Council, run by directly-elected mayor Sir Robin Wales, has been questioned by the BBC about the continued use of the buildings and has not disputed the accuracy of the list.

Mike Law, a former Labour councillor at the borough who left with concerns as to how it was being governed, said: "The rationale for purchasing Building 1000 was financial savings - this information makes a mockery of that claim.

"The mayor has yet to offer up any evidence of where savings have taken place and how they have been made."

'No improvement'

In November the BBC reported that Newham had outspent every London borough in producing its council-run newspaper and town show, which was rebranded under the mayor's name.

Mr Law, said: "Be it from a glitzy multi-million pound office block or a number of Nissen huts, the council's primary function is to deliver services while spending public funds wisely.

THE 26 'CONSOLIDATED' BUILDINGS

A council officer provided this list showing what happened to some of the 26 buildings Newham Council said it was bringing under one roof:

  • Bridge House - still in use
  • Broadway House - empty
  • Stratford Office Village, several buildings - empty
  • Gable House - empty
  • Forest Gate Housing Office - empty
  • Credon Centre - still in use
  • East Ham Town Hall - still in use
  • Old Town Hall Stratford - still in use
  • Contance Street - still in use
  • Sure Start Offices - still in use
  • Alice Billings House - still in use
  • Cemetery building - still in use by pest control
  • Web Building in Stratford and at the Globe - still in use
  • 5 Beckton Road - still in use
  • April Greenhill Centre - still in use
  • Rawalpindi House - still in use
  • Greengate Lodge - still in use

"There has been no demonstrable improvement in council services during the mayor's eight years in office with the exception of increasingly costly PR events to raise Sir Robin's profile."

Local Government Minister Bob Neill said: "In the interests of transparency, Newham need to come clean about what's happening with these buildings.

"They need to understand that the era of excess in local government is over."

During the last decade Newham Council received a higher grant per head from central government than almost any other authority in the UK, to take into account high levels of deprivation.

The council spent £18.7m refurbishing Building 1000. Mr Neill criticised the outlay, saying the headquarters now resembled a "glitzy West End nightclub".

Newham Council is now considering making 1,600 staff redundant.

Responding to the BBC's questions on Building 1000, a spokesman for Newham Council said: "Staff were previously working in a large number of smaller buildings, some of which were not fit for purpose or expensive to lease.

"Leaving them for a single building and introducing better ways of working has created economies of scale that are saving taxpayers almost £7m per year.

"Financial pressures on the council from the government's spending review means it is now more important than ever to get maximum value from our property assets."

Emirates Stadium For the cost of three Building 1000s you could get an Emirates Stadium

He continued: "We will not sell if values are depressed as clearly this is not a sensible approach in the interests of residents.

"We have a good record of delivering efficiencies in Newham."

A spokesman for commercial property estate agents Noble Harris said that, despite the downturn, well-located office blocks in Newham - which is near Canary Wharf and home to the Olympic Village - could still attract good prices.

The council officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, added that the council spent nearly £5m refurbishing another building, 292 Barking Road, only to move out after two years. The building is currently leased to a college. The council has not commented on this claim.

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