‘Vanity’ furniture and refurb spending at Enfield Civic Centre slammed

Ex-staffer hits out at Enfield Council after new data reveals how hundreds of thousands of pounds have been splashed on “lavish” upgrades, reports James Cracknell

Enfield Civic Centre with (inset left) one of the £1,100 chairs and (inset right) chief executive Ian Davis
Enfield Civic Centre with (inset left) one of the £1,100 chairs and (inset right) chief executive Ian Davis

A former staff member at Enfield Civic Centre has lambasted the council for spending £632,000 on a “vanity” refurbishment of the chief executive’s office.

Speaking anonymously, the ex-council officer has told the Dispatch about the pressure civic centre staff are being put under by recent cuts, while the council continues to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on fancy furniture and unnecessary refurbishments.

Spending on chief exec Ian Davis’s new “business area” for his staff team at the civic centre includes £52,963 on design costs, £487,963 on construction and £63,545 on new furniture, according to figures released to the ex-staffer under the Freedom of Information Act.

It comes after Enfield Conservatives revealed that the council had spent around £665,000 in total on “lavish” furniture both at the civic centre and at the council’s housing hub in the space of two years – including several £1,100 chairs, £2,200 sofas and a £15,000 boardroom table. The council also spent nearly £400 on a football table.

The ex-staffer said they had decided to speak out on behalf of their former team, who were struggling to cope with workloads previously managed by twice as many people, and that they felt the civic centre had “never been run as badly”.

They said: “The team I left was understaffed. Including me, they had two other previous staff members leave and due to ‘funding issues’ refused to replace them. They now they have a recruitment ban on any further appointments.

“This is causing some real mental health issues within the entire department, which is one of the reasons I left. You have approximately four staff being asked to do eight or nine staff members’ work – and that is the same throughout other departments, either due to staff leaving or excessive pressure.”

The ex-staffer also spoke about cost-cutting measures at the civic centre and said: “Last year they completely locked out nearly 150 staff from a whole half of the floor to try and save money on electricity and heating costs. They asked nearly ten departments with an approximate total of 200 staff members to work in a space made for roughly 100.

“Quite often, I would attend work and was not able to use a desk. On more than ten occasions, I was forced to go home to work. It was mentioned to management but it was dismissed outright.”

Regarding the spending on the chief executive’s new business area, which appears at odds with other attempts to save costs at the civic centre, the ex-staffer said: “All this pressure on the staff, and the chief executive is spending £632k on his own vanity project that wasn’t needed.

“I felt the need to leave for my own mental health. I have never seen it run as badly as it currently is.”

James Hockney, the Conservative group’s shadow member for finance, has also shared data with the Dispatch regarding the council’s spending on new furniture since 2021. The £665,000 total he has calculated – using information released by various members’ requests – includes 16 designer sofas costing £2,231.90 each, ten high-backed chairs worth £1,100 each, 17 “open round booths” bought at £1,170.80 per unit, plus 32 “lounge” chairs priced between £825 and £975.

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The data also reveals the council bought a “football table” in November 2021 priced at £394.90.

Cllr Hockney said: “When the Labour council keeps saying it has no money – but spends money like this – it is quite incredible.

“This money could and should have been invested into frontline services. Such spending on lavish furniture with taxpayer’s money would be an insult and wrong at any time; let alone during cost-of-living crisis when many residents would want to be able to buy new furniture – but are not in a position to.”

Update (16th March)

An Enfield Council spokesperson said: “The council’s build the change programme seeks to reduce the amount of office space used by council employees and the number of buildings it occupies. The programme also looks at under-utilised spaces and explores how to use them more effectively and efficiently.

“In regard to the business area at D Block, four teams as well as admin support – a total of 42 people – have been moved into this previously under-utilised space which was formerly a poorly-used corridor. The majority of the cost, around £490,000, is related to the replacement of the mechanical and electrical building services and the conversion of a gents-only toilet to fully accessible male and female toilets. The heating supply has also been converted to electric, supporting the council’s climate action objectives including the commitment to decarbonise the fossil fuel heating systems.

“Significant running costs have already been saved by the council by closing part of the civic centre to staff. Annual running costs of £153,000 have been avoided by the closure of one area of the first floor. This decision was based on data that showed the number of staff coming into the office has reduced, as more employees decide to work from home.

“In other areas, office space is being transformed into highly collaborative and flexible accommodation that supports the council’s smart working policy. This will reduce the annual running costs of the council’s buildings, and release surplus buildings for disposal that will raise vital capital to support frontline services. Providing appropriate furniture is essential and is an unavoidable expenditure in the collaborative and flexible accommodation set-up. More traditional furniture such as desks exist but they are ten to 20 years old and in poor condition, and most office chairs do not meet current health standards.

“The first two projects in the build the change programme including the housing hub in Edmonton and the children and family services hub in Enfield Town are now complete. The current civic centre refurbishment project is still in its early stages. 

“The mental health and wellbeing of all council staff is of paramount importance to the organisation. Offering a more flexible working environment goes towards our support for employees’ mental health.

“Help and support is always available to all employees.”

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