Lewisham responses to auditor’s criticisms of Catford centre governance

Catford sign in front of Catford Centre. Pic: @Kevan

Significant changes in the management of  Catford shopping centre have been agreed by  Lewisham Council after an internal audit said that it had no effective system for “governance and accountability”. 

The audit listed five key areas of concern in the management of the centre and found: “At the time of the audit, there were no documented financial regulations in place to provide guidelines relating to financial activities.”

The council bought Catford Centre on Rushey Green in November 2009, forming a private company called the Catford Regeneration Partnership Ltd,  to manage the centre.

CRPL has announced plans to rebuild the area with over 589 new homes as part of a drive to tackle Lewisham’s housing crisis. Catford Centre, Milford Towers, car parks and buildings along Thomas Lane are set to be demolished.

The partnership survives off income from rentals. Last year they made £945k in total, with rentals from the shopping centre bringing in £520k. Market stalls, commercial properties on Catford Broadway and Rushey Green and residential rentals make up the rest.

After meeting earlier this week to discuss the audit, a council statement said:  “As a holding company for assets, the Council’s financial procedures and standing orders are felt to be adequate but will be reviewed depending on any future role the partnership plays in the wider regeneration of Catford Town Centre.”

The council also announed a series of response to key problems found in the audit:  

  • Key Problem– There are no contracts in place with providers of key professional services. Response– Existing contracts have been extended and formal procurements for new contracts will be let by the end of March 2019.
  • Key Problem– There are no documented financial regulations for performing financial transactions. Response – The finance manager monitors spend and reports on finance to the directors at its Board meetings. Budget monitoring has been effective up to date, but will be reviewed to see if it can be improved.
  • Key Problem– There is no effective budgetary control system in place. Response – Its annual budget is approved together with the business plan by Mayor and Cabinet and then Full Council, usually at the start of each financial year. All spend from the budget is monitored by the finance manager and any issues are immediately brought to the attention of the Directors as required.
  • Key Problem- The 2017/ 18 annual budget is not evidenced as approved by the Council. ResponseAn error in the audit led to the belief that the 2017/18 was not approved by the Council. However, the 2017/18 CRPL Business Plan and budget were approved by Mayor and Cabinet and then full Council

One further problem that was not addressed was the meeting quorum not being defined for the Catford Regeneration Partnership Board meetings.

Page three of 2017/18 Final Internal Audit. Pic: Tower Hamlets Council

CRPL has been under scrutiny for their lack of transparency and communication to the public. The 2017/18 Final Internal Audit was published in May 2018 but took over six months to be published on the council website.  

Cheryl Mcleod a campaigner from the group Catford Against Social Cleansing said: “The audit report was buried and it was hard to find it. I had to go through different links to try to find it. Now it’s currently on Lewisham council’s audit website.”

“When I was going through the report I was horrified to find out there were only two directors in place which meant only one person was a decision maker for the purse they were holding. The most astounding thing that stood out to me was that they achieved the lowest governance possible which is level 1.”

“Why are they still holding Tax payers’ money? Four years afterwards with no accountability?”

“This is absolutely astounding. The report happened in 2017 but it was realised in 2018 and took over five or six months to get on the community codes agenda website.”  

However, the audit noted the CPRL succeeded in regularly reporting key activities to the Catford Regeneration Board, a team of councillors with stewardship over the partnership’s direction.

A Lewisham Council spokesperson said: “It is important not to confuse the role of the Catford Regeneration partnership and the Catford Regeneration Programme Board. The partnership is only currently responsible for the Catford Centre with accounts that are independently audited, publicly available and reported to meetings of all councillors.”

The partnership has recently attracted Catford’s first multi-screen cinema for nearly 20 years.”  

The council also has gone through seven different directors since November 2009 with one particular director lasting less than a month in January 2010.  

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