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News and Comment March 2019

Index: 2020

28 March (Part 2) - BexleyCo-lapse

BexleyCo is Bexley Council’s wholly owned subsidiary company set up to enable them to do things they could not legally do otherwise; mainly sell public spaces and build on them for a profit. The target is a 7% return to the Council

Soon after it was set up I met someone who had been to a meeting with its management, I have forgotten exactly what was said but I know it was not at all complimentary. The manager at the time, since departed, came in for particular criticism.

Tuesday’s Resources Scrutiny Committee meeting spent 35 minutes proving the forecasts to be true. Deputy Council Leader Louie French said it was all down to “teething issues” and every new company suffered them.

Bexley Council is the sole shareholder in BexleyCo and acts as its banker. There is no other source of funds. The Council has provided working capital of up to £2 million and a loan of up to £200 million. The Finance Director said that only £300,000 of the loan has so far been handed over (the figures below suggest that some of the working capital must have been spent - or rather wasted) and BexleyCo has yet to put “a shovel in the ground” - to quote Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith). He confirmed that the Managing Director position is currently vacant. Cabinet Member Leaf said that another “recruitment process is in place”. A lady Chief Executive has been appointed already.

He went on to say that he wanted the new board to have “expertise” and implied the old one didn’t. Like my ‘someone’ he had been to meetings with BexleyCo and “left more confused than when we went in”.

Cabinet Member French confirmed the gloomy news when he said the new management team “should deliver a better company”. Councillor Cheryl Bacon (Conservative, Sidcup) thought that the management team should be answerable directly to the Resources committee. Her idea was adopted.

It was left to Labour Leader Daniel Francis (Belvedere) to get to the real point. A decision to build on “Old Farm Park was made in May 2017 and only now are we bringing the reserved matters application forward. If it had been a private developer we would be saying why haven’t you got on with it”.

“We brought forward an application on Wilde Road and spent £250,000 of public money on it and refused it.”

“We brought forward an application at Nag’s Head Lane and spent taxpayers’ money on the consultation, the architect, the planning consultants and then withdrew it after submitting the application.”

“We had a Managing Director on a very expensive day rate who left, had an interim Managing Director, one of our own staff, and a new Managing Director and less than a year after his arrival he has left. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money which we have lent the company and not a spade has been put in the ground. Three applications, one refused, one withdrawn, one approved. Not the greatest success rate.”

“The money has been peed up the wall in some respects.”
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Deputy Leader French was right to say it was a good thing that the Planning Committee had been impartial and independent when turning down the application for Wilde Road but quite how that excused BexleyCo’s ineptitude he did not say. The point was not lost on Councillor Francis who referred back to the total waste of money which was Nag’s Head Lane. Nobody knew why BexleyCo had withdrawn its expensive application. Deputy Leader French he could shed no light on the matter because no one on the present Committee was in post when the Nag’s Head decision was taken.


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