Haringey Community Press

Haringey Community Press

Questions over council property deal

Alexandra House was bought for £22.6m after council missed earlier chance to buy it for £10.1m

Hero for Questions over council property deal
Alexandra House in Wood Green (credit Google)

A report into a controversial Haringey Council property deal has been found wanting over a lack of detail.

The report into the £22.6million purchase of Alexandra House in Wood Green – which was bought by the council last year for twice its value – was criticised by councillors looking to find out who was responsible for the overspending. 

Opposition Liberal Democrats slammed the council for “wasting taxpayers' money” when it emerged in March this year that the office building had been bought for double the market rate – after the council missed an earlier opportunity to buy the building for £10.1m.

A report carried out by audit firm Mazars later revealed the governance arrangement to manage the acquisition of Alexandra House was “weak”. It adds: “This led to an ad hoc and largely informal process being adopted and a failure to raise the matter at appropriate fora and with appropriate officers and members at the right time and in the correct way.”

Minesh Jani, the council’s head of audit and risk management, outlined the report’s findings to a meeting of the corporate committee on Tuesday before taking questions from councillors.

Speaking during the meeting, Joseph Ejiofor – who was council leader when the deal took place – asked whether there was “any evidence whatsoever that the chief executive or the leader at the time were ever informed that the property was available to buy”.

Minesh replied that Mazars “found no evidence that the leader or chief executive at the time were aware of the decision not to purchase Alexandra House”.

Under further questioning from Cllr Ejiofor, Minesh said his reading of the report was that there were “references to the purchase of Alexandra House, but they were part of an incidental report which was not really structured in a way that would allow anyone to form a view that we were seriously considering buying this asset”.

He added that there was no business case for purchasing the building, which would be “the route by which anybody […] would establish whether there was a proposal to purchase Alexandra House”.

Mark Blake, a Labour committee member, said the report “feels very opaque in terms of what the priorities are”. He added: “I would like much greater clarity in terms of who is responsible for what and where the buck stops”, warning the document adds to a “fudge” that would be a “feeding fest” for “spurious claims”.

Minesh said the report showed that processes in place at the time did not provide clarity over what should have been done. He added that “accountability essentially rests with management on this”.

But Preston Tabois, another Labour committee member, raised concerns that there had been a failure to follow the procedures. He added: “I think this report is trying to, in my humble opinion, whitewash that fact by saying there were no procedures or the infrastructure was not correct.”

Cllr Tabois said that could not be correct. He added: “To me, it was just a plain case of processes not being followed, and somebody needs to be held responsible.”

Minesh replied that from reading the Mazars report, “there are elements where the process exists” but also “a whole lot of other elements where the process is not very clear”.

Following the debate in public, the committee moved into a private session to discuss the report in further detail.

The council now says it has made improvements in response to the audit report’s findings.