A shock in the car parks

It came as a shock to learn that the the City was planning to remove six of our Concierges (car park attendants). This plan would eliminate the Concierge service from one car park and move another to daytime only.

The fact that residents heard about this from anonymous sources, rather than through the diverse consultation methods used by the City is, writing at my most restrained, very disappointing.

The Residents’ Consultation Committee and the Barbican Association, which always work together closely, flew into gear to save our Concierge service. Whilst it would have been ideal to take a slower and more consultative approach, we needed to deliver results fast to meet the City’s timetable.

My thanks go to all involved in this effort, particularly Mike Cribb who led the residents’ response assisted by Sandra Jenner, Richard Tomkins and Roger Tynan. It soon became clear that the City had backed itself into a financial corner, having agreed to cut costs in nearly every area of its operations, and the only way to keep our Concierges in place was to find a financial solution. 

It also became clear that losing six Concierges was not the end of the matter. The Concierges at two more car parks had been identified as being the next in line to go, so the service residents value greatly was at the top of a slippery slope.

I hope you had the opportunity to make your voice heard on this matter through your representative on the Barbican Residents’ Consultation Committee (RCC) that I chair. Your representatives were invited to two meetings (one jointly with the Barbican Association General Council) to discuss the future of the Concierge service and all were encouraged to garner residents’ views by Zoom, email or as appropriate.

At the RCC meeting on 27 September there was a further hour of debate. The terrace block representatives then unanimously agreed the following Guidelines and Resolution to the Barbican Residential Committee, the relevant decision making body. The representatives from the tower blocks abstained as Concierges provide a service to the terrace blocks, so tower residents are not being asked to pay extra.

Guidelines: that the BRC is asked to consider the following points during subsequent negotiations :

  • Work flexibly and imaginatively and in good faith; i.e. the proper disclosure of service charge accounts with service charge payers and the RCC, to find a longer term solution to this issue within the structure of the current lease and freehold transfers;
  • In carrying out this work, identify specifically what services are provided by the Estate Concierges, how much they cost and who receives them;
  • To assist an RCC Working Party in finding ways to significantly reduce service charges, without materially affecting the level or quality of front-line services offered by the Barbican Estate Office.

Resolution:

RESOLVED, that – The Barbican Residential Committee is asked to note that the terrace block representatives on the Barbican Residents’ Consultation Committee have voted in favour of retaining the current number of Estate Concierges.

‘We will support the City of London Corporation in levying a one-off surcharge on terrace block service charge payers, to cover the pro-rata share (for the remainder of the 2021/2022 financial year) of the direct costs of employment of the six Estate Concierge roles scheduled to be removed, pending more detailed negotiations between service charge payers and the City Corporation. These costs were estimated by the Barbican Estate Office to be approximately £232,000 per year.This is being offered as a matter of goodwill and is not an acceptance that the City Corporation would be entitled to reduce services in this way, or of the calculation of the terrace block car park inputs and outputs used to arrive at service charges. If an agreement is reached with the City Corporation, service charge payers will ask for a commitment (from the City Corporation) to that agreement in writing.In consideration of accepting the one-off surcharge, service charge payers would ask City Officers to work flexibly and imaginatively with the RCC to find a longer term solution to this issue, within the structure of the current lease and freehold transfers, and to assist the RCC Service Charge Working Party in finding ways to significantly reduce service charges, without materially affecting the level or quality of front line services offered by the Barbican Estate Office’.

This Resolution was accepted by the Barbican Residential Committee (BRC), subject to advice from the City Solicitor and consultation with residents. Please take a moment to view the BRC meeting at https://youtu.be/6hFfB_65TDo

In closing, I understand that the future of the BRC – the City being keen on a leaner committee structure – will be decided soon. Whatever decision is taken, my goal is to ensure that promises made to Barbican residents in 2003 regarding a formal consultative mechanism for the management of the Estate, are kept. Whist I do not doubt that the current method of resident consultation can be enhanced, I also know that what we have today is better than that enjoyed by leaseholders elsewhere so it is not to be disregarded lightly.

The next RCC meeting is scheduled for Monday 17 January and I hope you will make time to watch the meeting using the details that will be provided the City of London’s website.

Christopher Makin, Chair, Barbican Estate Residents’ Consultation Committee (RCC) that represents residents in their relationship with the City as their managing agent and landlord.

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.

Published
Categorized as Car parks

Task and Finish Group on the future of the carparks and the concierge service

Terms of Reference for the Task and Finish Group have been agreed as follows:

Terms of Reference for a joint Residents/City Officers Task and Finish Group on the future of the carparks and the concierge service

Purpose

To seek ways of managing the Car Parks in a cost-effective manner whilst maintaining levels of service to residents

Scope

Review

  • Current departmental proposal for Barbican Car Parks
  • Car Park costs and revenues
  • Provision of services provided currently by CPAs
  • Related security

Explore opportunities for reducing costs through technology.

Membership

  • Not more than ten in total.
  • Operationally focused
  • Residents with experience in finance, customer service, HR and general management
  • Officers involved in the management of the estate

Chairmanship

  • Joint officer/resident

Reporting

  • To BA/RCC chairs and Chief Officer/Executive Director Community & Children’s Services

Time scale

  • To start before end of August complete by end of September

Mike Cribb Deputy Chair of RCC will lead the residents team of 4 on the group

Published
Categorized as Car parks