Car Parks and Estate Concierges

The paper below from the Chairs and Deputy Chairs of the Barbican Association and the Residents’ Consultation Committee following the City’s proposal to remove all four estate concierges from one car park and two from another.

This has been circulated to RCC representatives who are asked to discuss it with their residents.

They will have an opportunity to ask further questions at the RCC premeet on the 20th and to vote on it at the RCC meeting on the 27th.

This is for your information and we ask you to join in the consultation process with your House Group.

The City’s proposals to remove 6 Estate Concierge positions and the recommendations of the Chairs and Deputy Chairs of the RCC and the BA

This summary is for residents of terrace blocks and their block representatives on the Residents Consultative Committee (RCC) – the tower blocks already pay the full cost of their Lobby Porters. The details behind this summary were given at a BA / RCC meeting.[1] 

This is an urgent and important matter and the RCC asks all representatives to consult quickly and widely with their resident and leaseholder members preferably through open Zoom meetings to allow residents and leaseholders not currently in the Barbican to attend and contribute.

  1. The Barbican’s residential flats, mainly privately owned, sit above car parks owned and managed by the City of London Corporation (the City).
  2. Barbican leaseholders pay a quarterly charge to the City to cover the services we receive from our managing agent, the Barbican Estate Office (BEO).
  3. Part of this service charge pays for 36% of the costs of the Estate Concierges (Concierges) previously called Car Park Attendants. The remaining 64% is paid by the City as their contribution for the work Concierges do managing the car parks.
  4. This percentage split has slowly become more unrealistic as resident usage has increased substantially over the years.  Best recent estimates suggest that residents should now be contributing more like two thirds of Concierges costs if we were to fully pay our share of the 24/7 services we receive.[2]
  5. This year City Budgets have been reduced by 12% in an attempt to rebalance income and expenditure post Covid and the City’s contribution to Barbican car park costs has been reduced by the same amount leaving the car parks unable to pay all Concierges this year.[3]
  6. When budgets were cut a detailed review of individual car park costs and potential new income streams was carried out by the City.  This resulting in four car parks being shortlisted for full or partial Concierge removal – Breton, Bunyan, Defoe and Speed.  The two finally selected (Speed to fully lose Concierges and Defoe at night) were selected on their income/expenditure shortfall and the availability of ‘next-door’ concierge support.
  7. This proposed reduction of Concierge numbers has caused considerable outrage across the estate.  However, the Task and Finish Group investigation showed that this reduction is less to do with City cuts and more to do with the fact that we as leaseholders have not been paying our fair share of Concierge costs. 
  8. Further City budget cuts are almost inevitable in the next few years, the aftermath of Covid and Brexit will change British cities substantially in the next decade and the City of London will potentially be affected more than most.
  9. The consequences are clear – we will either slowly lose more Concierge posts or, if we wish to keep them, leaseholders need to gradually increase our contribution to the car park budget until we pay for our true share of Concierge time.
  10. We have estimated that the current average shortfall per terrace flat is circa £127 per year given the current level of City cuts.  This shortfall will obviously grow in years to come.[4]  Clearly if we agree to pay a surcharge to maintain Concierge levels large flats and houses would pay more and others, e.g. studio flats, would pay less.

A separate but strongly related issue:

  1. Representatives of the RCC and BA had for three months, prior to the Concierge problem surfacing, already been holding discussions with senior officers to work through the potential repercussions of both the Lisvane Report and recently rediscovered commitments made by the City in 2003 to give the RCC a greater say in decisions affecting the management and operations of the residential estate. 
  1. City officers have recently acknowledged that although much of the 2003 document is now out of date the spirit of the 2003 report is still valid and residents should have a more substantial say in how their service money is used.

Taking these related issues together the Chairs and Deputy Chairs of the RCC and BA believe that we do not have enough time before Concierge redundancies are due to take place to consider a number of detailed and, in some cases, complex financial issues.  Not least a detailed examination of the car park accounts and the way changes to resident contributions to the Cities car park account would be handled legally by the City in the longer term.

The interim solution we propose is essentially to buy time (6 to 8 months) by paying a greater share of the Concierge cost for this financial year. An average of £127 per terrace block flat. This is a payment for a service we are already receiving. We propose that we should also, in parallel, use this time to undertake a thorough review of all the services being provided by the BEO to find compensating reductions in these budgets but not in the front line services we receive.  

The alternative is the immediate removal of the Speed Car park Concierges and loss of night time provision in Defoe: other Concierge box closures would surely follow.


[1] A much fuller description of all these matters was given at a meeting on the evening of Thursday the 9th of September for the benefit of both RCC and BA representatives. If you could not attend please debrief a colleague who attended.

[2] The change of the role name from Car Park Attendant flagged to Estate Concierge flagged above shows how we have all long regarded these roles.

[3] This point is vital – this is not like previously suspect car park accounts with contentious figures for return on assets etc.  This is a real reduction in available cash to pay wages.

[4] We would have to pay something in the region of £600 per flat to completely pay for all the Concierge time we use rather than just cover the budget shortfall. Should we want to keep a full 24/7 service the time taken to reach this full payment is a matter of negotiation with the City and probably dependant on how fast other service charges can be reduced – see below.

5 comments

  1. The proposed interim solution sounds imminently sensible.

    Preserving all the amenities of the Car Parks as an integral component of the Barbican Residences is essential, especially with respect to the Terrace Blocks.

    It is critical, however, that a comprehensive long term solution be worked out and agreed to no later than 30th June 2022. This solution should:
    (i) Take into account all future possible uses of parts of the Car Parks for any other purposes (e.g. for facilities related to The Culture Mile);
    (ii) Address the need for improvements to the Car Parks (e.g. access and facilities related to the concierge service, upgraded charging points for electrical vehicles).
    (iii) Not compromise the interests of long-term licensees (owners) of car parking bays; and
    (iv) Include a commitment by the City to abide by the conditions of the agreement for a period of at least 10 years.

  2. Willoughby House car park attendants, now Concierges, have given, indeed are still giving, excellent service to residents and it would be a huge error -not only to the ease of residents living but also to the potential value of the properties – for each flat not to pay for this service. If a review of budgets can keep the charge low, excellent. If not c£600 per year is well worth the service.

  3. We have just moved into a flat in Gilbert House. The Concierge has been immensely helpful in assisting us with our move and inducting us into the the peculiarities of the Barbican. We would fully support the interim solution.

  4. I last contributed to this discussion on 13 August when I offered a critique of the letter which Andrew Carter, the Director of Community Services had circulated to all Barbican residents about the process aspects of the City’s proposals. Significantly, it did not confirm the proposals but resident representatives have seen a report recommending closure of the Speed House car park box and a reduction of hours for staffing the Defoe/Shakespeare box. So, what might be in prospect seems clear.

    Having offered a critique of Andrew Carter’s letter, in fairness I ought to do the same for the statement of the Chairs and Deputy Chairs of the BA and RCC on the BA website here: https://barbicanassociation.co.uk/car-p … oncierges/

    If you haven’t read this I urge you to do so. As the statement makes clear, your views are sought and all terrace block Long Leaseholders have at least £127-worth of interest in expressing a view via your House Group reps.

    And so to the statement on the BA website. In short the “pitch” is that if all terrace block owners agree to pay £127 we can defeat the closure proposals and then negotiate other non-service delivery related cuts which will at least compensate for paying the extra £127.

    To my mind the statement makes some very unhelpful concessions which are at least open to debate (but are presented as “given”). For example:

    “Best recent estimates suggest that residents should now be contributing more like two thirds of Concierges costs if we were to fully pay our share of the 24/7 services we receive.”

    “However, the Task and Finish Group investigation showed that this reduction is less to do with City cuts and more to do with the fact that we as leaseholders have not been paying our fair share of Concierge costs.”

    “Further City budget cuts are almost inevitable in the next few years, the aftermath of Covid and Brexit will change British cities substantially in the next decade and the City of London will potentially be affected more than most.”

    “The consequences are clear – we will either slowly lose more Concierge posts or, if we wish to keep them, leaseholders need to gradually increase our contribution to the car park budget until we pay for our true share of Concierge time.”

    “We would have to pay something in the region of £600 per flat to completely pay for all the Concierge time we use rather than just cover the budget shortfall. Should we want to keep a full 24/7 service the time taken to reach this full payment is a matter of negotiation with the City and probably dependant on how fast other service charges can be reduced.”

    This is all very alarmist – project fear in a new guise as far as I am concerned.

    Firstly, there has been no transparency regarding the data allegedly supporting the respective time allocations. Why not? If we assume 8 hours a day of “night” duties when residents are not having parcels delivered and bearing in mind that the car park attendants are there to honour the 24/7 manned car park security which car park owners pay for (if it wasn’t delivered they would expect a reduction in parking charges) what are residents paying for in the dead of night? As for the other 16 hours per day if the time/cost were shared equally that would provide the one-third share to residents the Lease currently provides for. The status quo position respects what our Lease says – there is no analogy here to ground floor flat owners complaining about paying for lifts.

    Would it concern you that with no transparency or discussion the City Corporation increased this percentage to 36%? This was because of Frobisher Crescent and Blake Tower becoming part of the residential estate. No extra service provision was provided to reflect this, so no extra cost to the Corporation. But the Corporation cleverly realised that as there are now more terrace flats, [despite the word Tower in Blake Tower] the percentage of cost allocated to terrace blocks was increased. The alternative approach of dividing the unchanged cost between more flats, making it less expensive for everyone was not followed here.

    We are told by our senior BA and RCC resident representatives that the real problem is not cuts imposed by the City but that we are not paying our fair share. I don’t feel this (“it’s our own fault”) assertion has been discussed adequately and talked through. Is it true that we don’t pay our fair share? We have to bear in mind that the job descriptions for Tower Lobby Porters and for car park attendants/concierges are different which is why Tower residents pay 100% of the cost. One is not a fair model for the other.

    Does it matter whether the Officers involved in recommending job cuts seriously considered any other ways of reducing costs aside from sacking staff and thereby reducing service delivery to residents? It can be argued that the 36% we pay already represents an excess over our Lease percentages. I think we should be allowed to ask such a question and to expect an answer if we are to take the proposal forward.

    To some it might seem that the City Corporation is using emotional blackmail (opting as a first port of call to sack staff we value) as a way to pressure residents into “volunteering” to pay more now and also to accept that our “concierge services” bill will go up and up. Did Officers hint or even guarantee that the job losses would be scrapped in return for the approx £216k this would raise?

    Has anyone seen the job description for a “concierge” so we know what we are already paying for? Are the full (ie detailed) accounts for the car park account available for public inspection? Have the BA/RCC team seen these?

    What guarantees do we have that there will be any reduction in “administrative” costs for supervision and management – this is not for front line service costs but managers and supervisors. We learned that there was a proposed restructure of the Estate Office to substitute middle managers for front line staff. If our negotiating stance is to volunteer to pay more, what confidence do we have that the City Corporation will deliver compensating cuts in the service charge (which it currently fully recovers from residents). Unsurprisingly we have heard little about this restructure recently.

    What is the evidence for the BA statement to threaten us that unless we agree to continue to feed more of our own money to the City Corporation (by which I mean even more than the £127 proposed which is just a down-payment) the cuts will continue and we will lose more yet more services that we currently enjoy. Has the Corporation threatened our representatives to that effect? We should be told.

    You might feel as I do that the City Corporation should manage the car park account more efficiently than it does at the moment. In the private sector, a car park is a classic cash cow pending far more lucrative redevelopment opportunities. Why is it so hard to run the car parks here at least to break even?

    Does the BA/RCC team believe that the car parks should run at a profit for the Corporation as opposed to breaking even as a service to the residents who have no on street parking option?

    What is the proposed end point for the supporters of this option? Do we accept ever higher “concierge” charges and pray for some relief via a reduction in other costs? Are we really confident that the Corporation can manage efficiencies (as opposed to the easy route of simply cutting services that it has taken here)?

    Is it a good negotiating tactic to offer major concessions up front in return for sitting round a table and talking about jam tomorrow? Will the £127 be refunded if the jam tomorrow doesn’t arrive?

    The Barbican Residential Committee Chairman, Mark Wheatley has responded in a very measured way to residents’ concerns and objections (see examples of his replies in earlier posts). The BA statement said:

    “The alternative [to paying £127] is the immediate removal of the Speed Car park Concierges and loss of night time provision in Defoe: other Concierge box closures would surely follow.”

    What is the basis for this? Has the Corporation said this? If so, it makes the BRC Chairman seem like a very devious person if one compares what he has written to residents compared to the BA’s statement. I don’t believe that Mark Wheatley is devious, contrary to the innuendo in the BA’s statement.

    The BA statement says:

    “This year City Budgets have been reduced by 12% in an attempt to rebalance income and expenditure post Covid and the City’s contribution to Barbican car park costs has been reduced by the same amount leaving the car parks unable to pay all Concierges this year.”

    I believe this misunderstands the position and risks misleading people. While it is true that budgets have been reduced by 12% it is for Chief Officers and Committees to manage their budgets. Firstly I understand that the Community and Childrens Services Committee budget has been allowed some leeway (based on a question Randall Anderson asked in the Resource Allocation Sub-Committee) so that Department might have less than a 12% budget cut. But even if it were 12%, it cannot seriously be suggested that every component part of the overall budget is willy-nilly shrunk by 12%. The overall total may need to shrink, but I believe it is incorrect to say that “the Ciy’s contribution to Barbican car park costs has been reduced by [12%]”. The truth is that the cake might have to shrink but you can choose where the cuts bite. In addition, increased revenue goes towards the 12% saving (if it didn’t offering to pay more wouldn’t help to reduce costs and the BA proposal would be a waste of time).

    As I see it the 12% reduction provided an opportunity to try to impose cuts which some in the BEO have been wanting to impose for some time now – remember we have been in a very similar situation before. As so often in life, there are very few problems which can’t be made to go away (at least for a while) if you throw enough money at them. It is an easy way out.

    I hope my ramblings above help with the discussions to come.

  5. Interesting and valid questions indeed raised by David Greaves but if the revenue derived from the Car Park itself is in decline and the City wants to tighten its belt then cutting staff is an easy target, even if it is used opportunistically. It seems to me that the trend with City residents is away from personal ownership of vehicles so we need to look at how to use the space that is freed up to generate income – like the new storage units installed a few years back – and maybe by renting space as EV charging areas for electric cabs companies or secure in-City parking/drop-off areas for commercial car-sharing schemes? The way I see this is that changes in behaviour as a result of technology, climate change and the pandemic represent opportunities as much as they do threats. I am happy to pay an extra £2.44 a week if it can create the space to get a productive long term solution that benefits residents as much as the BEO

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