Thursday, April 05, 2018

LEWISHAM HOMES HOODWINKS LEASEHOLDERS IN FIRE SAFETY SCANDAL




Leaseholders and taxpayers in London have been hoodwinked into paying thousands of pounds for fire-safety measures that are 'not to the necessary standard'. According to details contained in board minutes of Lewisham Homes at least. A discovery that may see the arms-length management organisation in the dock...again. TheBigRetort exclusive.


In my last post I reported that Andrew Potter CEO of Lewisham Homes was due to decamp to greener pastures at Hastoe Housing Association. Meanwhile... back in concrete city, board papers dated August 2017 reveal that six thousand two hundred composite fire-safety doors recently installed into properties managed by his former south-east London Almo may not be up to the necessary fire safety standard.

The shock finding, unearthed by TheBigRetort, follows threats by Lewisham Homes to prosecute leaseholders if they do not change their own flat entrance doors - which the managing agent has “deemed” unsafe. 

Potter himself was "uncertain" about the legality of this. However, according to board minutes, Lewisham Homes' own fire-safety door debacle assessment is to take 'over a year to complete'.  

So homeowners may be forgiven for not forking out thousands of pounds in pursuit of the Lewisham Homes Standard so readily. A standard the ALMO itself has failed to achieve with its new safety doors. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of pounds spent under Lewisham Homes' thinly disguised vanity venture, many leaseholders are asking if the "improvements" are actually necessary. 

Time alone will tell... but the move may have led to tens of millions of pounds of frivolous overspending of public cash. 

Many of the doors to Lewisham Homes' street property conversions were introduced under the old building control pre-1991 regulations. Then, flat entrance doors were rated between twenty to thirty minutes fire resistance. (FD20 to FD30 in the trade.) Which is still acceptable.

Leaseholders may be surprised to learn that this has been withheld because building control records have been mislaid for many of these former conversions.



Homeowners are encouraged, under the threat of legal sanction, to simply replace doors; whatever the cost... Or else. It “may”. You never know - serve a nasty injunction.

If all of the six thousand two hundred new doors are actually proven to be deficient, the cost of replacement to the taxpayer may end up reaching... over twelve million pounds.


So, what the hell, pass the cost to leaseholders. 

In order to subsidise another mistake, Lewisham Homes, having spent taxpayer funding via its decent homes scheme - somewhere in the hundreds of millions, and counting - will no doubt employ its usual open-palmed approach, and target leaseholders. It is leaseholders who will be forced to pay directly for this largesse. Many are already straining under bloated service charge requests for so-called “repairs”. In the Lewisham Homes lexicon interchangeable with "improvements". 

Some leases allow for improvements: some don't.

Before contacting elected representatives, leaseholders should study the lease. Whilst older leases may not actually allow for improvements to be charged back, others do. Lewisham Homes seems to be unaware of this. Whatever... any lease should ensure that such charges are always "reasonable". The reason why perhaps Lewisham Homes now claims that many of its improvement works are not “repairs” - having presented them under its Decent Homes programme for years, as... improvements. 

Lewisham Homes refuses to respond to requests for further details on its front door debacle. Councillors and MPs have been alerted... but they seem content playing a game of  ping-pong with TheBigRetort.  But the May election is fast approaching....

The Big Retort on doors... Guidance from the Building Control Alliance allows for the retention of FD20 doors. This is widely accepted practice throughout England. Providing a sufficient level of protection to escape routes within dwellings are present. It is also accepted - without objection - from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The government department which oversees Building Regulations. Indeed this has been the case for many years; allowing the use of such doors 'unsupported by fire tests or independent certification'. 

In short: 'reasonable compliance' is all that is required.

That comes in the form of a reasonably robust door. And not necessarily a fire door. 

But it isn't just a gentle tap on that dodgy door you may have to watch out for...  it's smokescreens. 

COMING NEXT...




Monday, March 12, 2018

KEN DODD AND HIS MISSING MILLIONS - THE BIG RETORT



Your intrepid investigative reporter reveals the source of Doddy's Dosh and his missing millions. It was during the Christmas period of 1980/81 at Birmingham's Alexandra theatre. The panto was Dick Whittington. The Big Retort encountered that master of merriment then simply Mister Ken Dodd playing Idle Jack. Also in the cast was Jeffrey Holland, who had recently climbed to fame as Spike in the hit BBC tv comedy series Hi-de- Hi. And of course, somewhat further down the celebrity line-up - in the various guises of Dream People, Sailors, and Moroccan Guards - yours truly. TheBigRetort looks back on the king of comedy's licence to print the millions that the tax man never got his hands on... and reveals where it eventually ended up. 


The panto was a sell-out over its 6 week season. With matinees, the money going in and out of the cash tills was, I reckon,  in the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pounds. However what the tax man didn't know is that an equal amount of money was being secreted out of the stage door into Doddy's jag from the lucrative and not so secret franchise that he was allowed to exploit during each sell-out performance.  Known as Ken's kickback, it was allowed by the company which looked the other way due to the magnitude of its star. 

In addition to his ample wage packet, Dodd, the undisputed star of the show, used direct selling marketing of the paraphernalia surrounding his Diddy Men creations. This franchise amounted to tens of thousands of pounds. 


“Could you ger us a pint, Kid. An' get one for yourself,” he said.

Between acts Doddy liked a pint to quench his thirst. However, because he was so famous, Ken couldn't simply walk into the nearby pub without causing a bit if a sensation.  I used to go for his bevvy regularly. Once off stage I used to pop into the pub in my costume, which caused a bit of a stir. Pints in hand, I would return to the theatre and see Ken sat in his dressing room reading one of the  many books on comedy that he regularly devoured. Or, more usually, counting out the spoils of his Diddy Men franchise. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, tickling sticks, colouring books, dolls of Doddy - you name it - Ken flogged the lot to a legion of fans... and raked in a veritable fortune. 

Ken retained two women who would stand in the foyer taking in thousands of pounds during the interval when the kids were all fired up on Doddy and his jam-butty mines.

Over the run of the show, whenever I would return with his pint, I would regularly see wads of cash stuffed into bags which would later go in the boot of his nearby Jag.

Doing the maths, I reckon Old Ken, who was then in his fifties, was probably pulling in about two thousand quid a day minimum - six days a week. 

And with matinees the takings would leap to phenomenal levels. 

Ken's stipend never went to the production company which looked the other way. They knew that this wasn't really Dick Whittington, but the Ken Dodd Show. 

Dodd was without doubt one of the most thrilling entertainers on the stage and had so much onstage charisma that he could light a city with it. 

However, the mask of comedy slipped on one occasion during that drive back to Liverpool.

The Lift to Knotty Ash

The trains weren't running out of Birmingham. I couldn't get home. However a former Bluebell dancer and singer was also appearing alongside Doddy under the stage name Sybie Jones. “Anne” (her real name) was also Ken's girlfriend. They seemed really close. They had been together for a couple of years. A really nice woman, Anne was then in her late thirties. She came in for a bit of stick due to her being cast in the pantomime as the Fairy of the Bells. But as nice as the fairy in the production she was, Anne was ten times nicer off the stage too... 

When she heard that I couldn't get home for Christmas, she would have none of it... and ordered Ken to give me a lift. 

I didn't hold out much hope because, whilst they lived in the other direction of the M62, my home was closer to the centre and out of their way.

There were also two Kens, the lightning-fast comedian, and the more staid and conservative loner.  

Ken like most stars I had met, was naturally protective of his privacy... and Anne his great and loving protector. However, to my great surprise and relief, Doddy said: “Annie says you need a lift. Ok, kid!” (He used to call me Kid as I was in my early twenties.)


Immediately after the curtain came down the colouring books and tickling sticks had been sold and the cash was firmly in the boot of Ken's Jag. Anne was behind the wheel. Ken had recently been banned from driving due to drink-driving. However, before we headed for the motorway he had arranged to stop off for midnight mass at a nearby church.

No matter where Doddy was appearing he did this every year and it was set-in-stone. Unfortunately lovely Anne got lost in Birmingham's then notorious one-way traffic system and with every turn of the wheel gone was the comic genius - and in his place was a very dark and moody Ken.

And as the clock ticked, and that midnight Christmas mass looked ever doubtful, Ken started to criticise Anne's driving. The king of quaint colloquialisms turned the air blue with four-letter invective

Finally, having enough of this, Anne slammed her foot on the brake. Nearly sending Ken through the windscreen, she stormed off in tears telling him to drive and giving a few expletives back.

Doddy looked at me; What's up with her – daft cow!”

He jumped in the driver's seat and took off after Anne, telling her to get back in the f-ing car. People looking on in amazement mouthing: 'Isn't that..?.'

Coaxed back, Anne remonstrated. She told him he couldn't drive: "You're banned!"

Ken would have none if it... He was headed for midnight mass and nothing was going to stop him.

Unfortunately as he steered this way and that through the city centre he was getting even more lost, and with mounting tight-lipped anger the devil had emerged.

Suddenly Doddy pulled up alongside this man, wound the window down and said “'Scuse me mate, do you know where the church is?”

This guy looks in the window and started to say. “Ermm... ermmm.'  His eyes went wide. He started to stutter: '”Hold on hold you you''re you're - Oh my god. You're you're... you're... hold on..”

--With that Ken floored the accelerator: 'Forget it!”he said. Leaving the man staring open mouthed and thinking.. I'm sure that was Ken Dodd.

When we finally arrived at the church we were late. Ken was really, as he might put it "discomknockerated". 

We rushed into the congregation. 



The Priest was in full flow and blessing his flock. However... murmurs were going all around the church “Doddy!” “It's Doddy!”

The priest, seeing Ken Dodd, stopped making the sign of the cross and rushed down the aisle.  The king of the Diddy Men had blessed one little church with his royal “plumtiousness”.

Doddy knelt. He placed his tongue out, and took holy communion. Ken, who had turned the air in the car blue, now looked as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. He looked incredibly serene. And what was that? There was a halo around his head. It was from the flickering candles. A true master, he had somehow managed to find the limes, even in church. 

Ken Dodd was upstaging God! 


During the journey back to Liverpool, Ken started to have a bit go at my naive ambitions about acting. Anne told him off. But Doddy explained: 'You have to work hard if you want to make a success. That's all I'm saying, kid. It's the non-stop honing of your craft, falling down and' pickin' yerself up, that's the main thing. And even then you have to be lucky. Do that, Kid, and you're set.”

So said the man who had an instinctive timing and stage presence that electrified millions. I wasn't about to disagree.

The drive back to Knotty Ash should have taken just under two and a half hours. However, even though it was in the opposite direction, Doddy, who must have been absolutely knackered after his gargantuan performance and the drive, dropped me near my house. “Toxteth...hmmm OK” he had demurred.

I waived as they headed back to Knotty Ash after telling me where to meet on Boxing Day for the lift back to the show.


It was early morning. As I knocked at my mum's door she was waiting up for me.

"Ken Dodd just dropped me off,” I said chuffed.
"Yeas, sure,” she said. 

She was supposed to say 'Did he?' Then I could respond: 'No Doddy.' 

Mum wasn't falling for that one, "Ken Dodd... in Toxteth?"

But, anyway...

As for that dosh in the back of his car.... where did it end up?

Before his death Ken's house was raided in a search for his missing millions. Three hundred and thirty six thousand pounds was found in a suitcase. The rest was apparently secreted in 20 offshore accounts. 

But TheBigRetort can reveal where Doddy's millions lay buried... in a jam-butty mine in Knotty Ash. 

Kenneth Arthur Dodd OBE was born 8th November 1927. He died on the 11th March 2018, the undisputed King of Comedy. 

How tattyfilarious.



Copyright (c) TheBigRetort

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

THE BIG RETORT EXCLUSIVE: LESLEY MANVILLE LOSES OUT ON MOVIE ROLE DUE TO SOUR FACE

Oscar nominee Lesley Manville, former wife of best actor Oscar winner Gary Oldman, claimed in recent newspaper interviews that she was not at all “sour-faced”. THEBIGRETORT reports on the face that lost THAT big movie role.

The 1990s. Imagine if you will... a five-star hotel... near the heart of Chelsea... England - just off Sloane Square. Originally built in the 1890s the hotel is a small walk from the office of a duo of top movie casting directors. Is it raining? Perhaps. Their international casting call has gone out: MOVIE! MOVIE! MOVIE!

The film was about a bunch of kids listening to US swing music. Banned in Nazi Germany,. It was about right, wrong, and survival. It carried a budget of 12 million dollars, an international cast was slowly being assembled.

Enter.... ME. A devilishly handsome, strapping, six-foot, blond-haired, blue eyed, movie star with... CUT.

Back to reality... I look nothing like the above.

I was the “In house reader” for casting directors who were responsible for scores of top movies. A mostly unemployed (English) actor, I was the foil to the lucky few who would be chosen. It was my job to learn several script characters and read or perform opposite whoever was auditioning. Later these actors would appear alongside the actual stars instead of me; Dustin Hoffman, Christian Slater, Shirley MacLaine, her brother Warren - and a multitude of up and coming 'talent'. However, not only was the job also helpful for honing my audition skills, it sometimes led towards my getting the part instead. The downside... I was usually sat or stood opposite some very stroppy stars, who felt that their reputations, mostly made in England, should have precluded them from auditioning for America (A point on which I agreed with actor Tim Roth.)

One star, of sorts, was the hotel itself. Close to Sloane Square, it was a draw for American film makers as it offered unbridled luxury in a discrete and quiet setting.

Casting had been on-off that day. Only a few actors receiving a 'light-pencil'. A metaphor for 'maybe'.

In some instances, as in my case in one casting 'v/g/use' was written. Causing me to ask: “Who's he?”

That morning various roles were still on offer. Frustration was beginning to mount back in Hollywood. But the mood in the room was mostly light. 

It was approaching lunch time. One role had been reserved... The producer wanted to cast a British actor about whom there was apparently a buzz across the Pond. A stage actor, she was apparently 'quite brilliant' - and there was already a 'light pencil' on her eight by ten.

Diminutive in stature. Born in Brighton. And not in the slightest way approachable. She was seated, her back to me. So I gave a 'Hi!'' I asked if she had had time to go over the sides. She turned and looked at me as if I was responsible for the overthrow of the Mayans.

For a moment I wondered what had gone on... Whenever castings were underway the members of staff were usually good barometers if there were issues. However, in this instance, it was the PA, nicknamed Fatty Bum by the casting director N, who gave the five-yard stare my way.

I should have heeded it...

Instead I carried on some small talk with the 'light pencil'. But the actor in front me would have none of it. She turned away with a look of disgust, refusing to glance at the 'sides' and with a face full of fury.

The term “the sides” is a reference to those sides, pages of the script copied mostly for auditions. Most film-makers did not like the full scripts doing the rounds, and for good reason, so it was part of my job to go over the sides with potential cast members and to literally play the foil to each character for which they auditioned. I played male and female young and old. It called for a lot of chopping and changing and I would often find myself in front of cameras at the main film studios doing a big screen test. (Liz Hurley, do you remember Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves?) 

Heady stuff. Often I would offer suggestions that just might land an actor the role: and in many cases did.

Castings were usually video taped...

So with a team that consisted of a director and producers and writer, plus the video staff, and casting directors, outside the casting room there was naturally a bit of a frisson that could sometimes manifest itself in anger. Perhaps it was this then..?

The 'light pencil' harrumphed. She wasn't going to go over the sides. Certainly not with me, or anybody. End of.

The Draycott had an easy-going staff accomplished in placing most actors who were auditioning at their ease. If this didn't work, I usually took over. I was after all always attending auditions myself, and so I usually knew what was going on in their heads. At castings some actors, experienced or not, would often let nerves get the better of them and so came across as either overtly aggressive or extremely nervous. Myself included. And so, knowing the feelings well, I would try my best to put a fellow actor at ease.

I tried another tack: “Would you like a tea or coffee?”
“'No!” came the abrupt reply.

As I strolled off, I could see the staff nervously chuckling at me. One gave a quick aside. “Bit of a nightmare, that one!”

I pondered this as I entered the room that might set this particular madame on the fast track to Hollywood; rather than the long and twisted road signposted “Next” - and of which I was to become personally accustomed.

AMERICA CALLING

My boss N grabbed me aside in a whisper:. International calls were going on and the Americans were quite excited about the next one.
“Did you go over the sides with her?”
I shook my head.
“Why not?”
“She doesn't want to,” I whispered.
“Really...?” came the intrigued and playful response. “Well tell her she has to!”

N carried the barest hint of a Liverpool lilt. Dulled by years in the south, and from treading the boards himself as an actor, it possessed more than a hint of camp and an acerbic wit when suited. He was, after decades an actor and later a casting director, also proudly and overtly gay, and by nature a gifted raconteur who kept others constantly entertained throughout castings and at dinner parties.


“Can we get Polaroids instead of these!”
The producer, quite a nice chap from Virginia demanded politely. This was the 90s, with several Polaroids pinned to the board, and which surrounded the 8 inch x 10 inch black & white professional portraits forwarded by actors or their agents. These were snapped on the day. A convenient aid memoir for directors and producers who saw teams of actors.

Invariably female actors, besides sending in some very questionable poses from time to time, did not resemble their eight-by-tens in the slightest. These were either soft focus and knocked years of their lives, or were actually taken a decade previously, and which had the soft-focus effect, I guess.

N ordered me to get it done. So I cautiously ambled out of the door dreading what I knew was the Battle of the Polaroid.


“It's just for the board,” I said, perplexed.
“I've told you my agent has already forwarded an eight by ten!” she hissed.
She would not budge, and turned away.

I wondered if she knew that L-E-S-L-E-Y was already written in light pencil on the board of fame.
Both the producer and his wife were theatregoers, and he had practically sold his fellow producers and director on this.

I felt the world around me closing in.


“Where's that Polaroid?” N thundered as I entered the room, again.
“There's... a bit of a problem.”
“Why” N's ears pricked.
“She won't have it taken.”
“Well tell her she has to and then bring her in.”
“She won't.”
“Well tell her to f-off then!”

N could be cutting sometimes; and so I didn't usually follow all of his instructions to the four letter word. However, when I retreated out of the room, and when I walked ever-so gingerly across the eggshells surely littering the Shagpile, I was mindful that the Draycott staff were throwing anxious glances my way.

“Good luck!” Fatty Bum muttered.
“God,”I said in response. With a sigh.


I approached where she was seated. “Er... Erm... I need to take that Polaroid.”
She looked up. Concluding that I was indeed the residue on the end of a nose, which was now making the shape of a pair of Raybans, and she glared back. “I told you!” she hissed, then flicked me away like a gnat.

“It's either that or you you can f-off,” I said.

I guess I think she thought in the great scheme of things that I was pond life. It was a look that I have seen her do so often since that day as I watched her career blossom over the decades and in the stage plays I also saw her in. It made me feel as if a lengthy chasm was opening up beneath my feet into which I thought I was about to be consumed by the furies of hell.

Suddenly she crossed her arms, stared at me and said: “TAKE IT THEN!”

I snapped the Polaroid. Waited for the pic to discharge, looked at it, and said: “Good likeness.”


“Ahh!!!” N said pleased as I returned with the Polaroid. “I see you managed!”
“Yeah... Told her it was either that or she could f-off.”
“What! You didn't?”
“You told me to...”
“Cunt...I didn't mean it,” he said sotto voce.
 He sighed. “You'd better bring her in... But try not to upset her more than you have; otherwise we'll have her agent on the phone.”


When she entered the room walking in front of me the actor who had upset the staff, who refused to read with me, and fought tooth and nail against having her photo taken, suddenly transformed. She was no longer the wicked witch but Cinders.

As she worked the room I could see that there was a two-tier approach being employed in this panto. The world of Hollywood included loves, darlings, and happy kisses, whilst mine met with crossed arms; and a face that looked like it had been slapped with a wet fish.

The producer informed her that he had been following her career. He was excited.
She was excited.
“Have you read the sides? he ventured.
Of course she hadn't. Why not...?

She didn't seem to know but looked at me and so everyone looked at me and N looked at me and ... he hissed the C-word under his breath, again.


A short interval while the actor above actors studied the sides; finally she was ready.
“Your going to be in good hands with one of your finest actors.” The star maker producer had 'bigged' me up...

It was at this point that the actor who had her name written in a light pencil on the board looked up and realised that I was sitting opposite her.

She looked, how do I put this without meaning to sound over-dramatic... thunderstruck.
I looked down at the sides and never looked up. We began.
She stumbled.
We began, again. She stumbled.
Again. She stumbled.
She was clearly very uncomfortable, and I could see as I looked up also now quite vulnerable.
So I started feeding her character with the pauses and nuances I felt she needed. 
Finally, eventually, we worked together.
I could see that she indeed certainly was worthy of more than just that 'light pencil' in which her name had been written.
As I walked her out of the room she apologised. 
I lied and said it was 'fine'.


When I returned everyone in the room was excited. Her Polaroid was placed on the board – the part was hers. Almost...

Later,  we were going over the morning's castings. The star maker and the director were taking soundings from N.
'Got to be her!' the producer said to unanimous agreement. Then he turned to me and said: “Not like you to be silent!” Which was true.
“Yeah... Yeah... I'm sure she'd be... fine.”


 “Take a walk with me. I wanna see some of my old haunts.” As we broke for lunch, I thought I had got myself off the hook. However I was headed out of the casting session when star maker had grabbed me by the arm. Apparently, although from Virginia, he had lived nearby with his ex girlfriend, and so he asked me to tag along to help him find where they both previously lived. At least that was the reason he gave.


Unlike in America, the British casting system was incredibly biased against black actors; in favour of their white counterparts - and probably still is. But even more so against those actors who, like me, had slightly tinted skin. However, seen as neither one way or the other - black or white - N said “Mixed race makes you sound like an f-ing Chinese take-away!" whenever I asked him to use this instead of “coloured”.

He was an unrepentant product of his generation and as an actor who could rarely get cast in the English casting system, due to colour bias, I often asked him to describe me as "dual heritage". But this was immediately rejected as well and 'half caste' was used - which I certainly didn't like.

Whilst on the other hand, the Americans had "open" castings in which any actor, male or female, black, white, pink with yellow spots, could audition - and they were light years ahead in this.

And that is why I personally liked reading for Americans.


The star maker and I were actually the same age, but our lives could not have been more different. We were like chalk and cheese. He was white, born into a Jewish family, and a hugely successful producer. Whilst I was of an Anglo-Irish-African-American and Catholic stock. (He would go on to make many many big movies starring, amongst others, Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks, Christian Bale, Mel Gibson, John Travolta - the list of motion-picture credits was endless, stretched the length and breadth of international television too; and not one of them had my name on it, unfortunately.)


“So, what gives..?”
I didn't see it coming. Star Maker had craftily lulled me into a false sense of security by talking about the flat he and his ex girlfriend lived in. (The wife whom he later divorced went on to marry an Earl; whose godmother was the Queen.)

“You're not usually lost for words,” he said. “So I know something is bothering you. So what is it?”
“I...well...” Damn my mouth, it had let me down when I wasn't even saying anything. But I didn't really fancy dropping an actor in it, however rude. Instead, I employed some of the usual phraseology. “I'm sure she will be fine.”
“Fine...?”
“I mean good.”
"Good...?"

It must have rung hollow. “Look,” he persisted, like a resident of the small shipbuilding town he was from ... “We are going to be shooting in some very difficult locations... if you're holding anything back it's better to tell me now.”
Born a Libran, considerate with a selfless nature. To my Aries, passionate, enthusiastic - and about to drop a fellow actor in it – ways... I smiled, and then spilled the proverbial beans.



When we got back to the hotel the star maker peeled off. “I'll catch up.”

The reception staff. The waiters. The cloak room lady. PA... The star maker moved around the hotel like a man on a mission... whilst back in the room we sat waiting.

Finally the producer appeared through the door. He moved over to the board. He took her Polaroid down - and binned it. 

Apparently I was not alone. Every member of staff he spoke to that day related a similar story.

Although one fine actor lost the role that day, one that that may have set her off on the road to Hollywood stardom at a younger age, another potentially fine actor's Polaroid was pinned to the board in its place.  Her photo contained the heavy stroke of a pen where there was previously only a 'light pencil'. It read “vg/use”.

She looked quite relaxed I thought. Not at all sour faced. 




THEBIGRETORT Copyright (c) 2018

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

LEWISHAM HOMES: LEASEHOLDERS FLEECED IN DECENT HOMES SCANDAL

This week we take a look at the CEO who turned a profit into a surplus at Lewisham Homes. THEBIGRETORT...

The Lewisham Homes Audit and Risk Committee minutes dated 20 June 2017 record that its board members were seemingly taxed... on the subject of profit.

Auditors KPMG informed that it was common 'within the sector' to use surplus instead. However, ignoring the startling fact that board members, after hundreds of millions of pounds of public and leaseholder spend, and after eleven years of a spending - during which it did not know the correct Shamspeak - its members didn't realise that the term allows a not-for-profit organisation such as Lewisham Homes to, well... turn a profit into a surplus. 

Accounts filed at Companies House record that this profit is due... 'primarily to a reduction in the valuation of projects undertaken' – and last year amounted to a cool £2.3 million. 

That new roof that you leaseholders were informed needed doing; and didn't. That fire door you didn't really need. That emergency lighting; not needed. The fire alarms, are not needed. And that scaffolding they would like you to stay off as they ramp up the price - via their preferred bidder... not needed. But it's all for the public good.

Dodgy sealed bids aside... Don't leaseholders find it strange how the PREFERRED BIDDER always manages to undercut the competitions' bids – only to then ramp up the price once the tender is awarded; and when over-priced scaffolding surrounds the building?

Read on...

Did you know that a Lewisham Homes leaseholder is known as a Lewisham Homes “fleeced” holder?

And, athough the following board minutes do not record it, they are most informative on how that fleecing may be taking place.

Increase of turnover from £34 million to £40 million.
Increase of surplus from £0.97 million to £2.30 million reserve balance.
Increase from £8.3 million to £10.6 million.
Increase of assets from £14 million to £21 million.
*Due primarily to a reduction in the valuation of projects undertaken.

The Risk Committee minutes are not clear on why a little asterisk has been placed just before 'due' and with no corresponding asterisk. 

However the accounts record an increased “surplus” of £2.3m – so there is overvaluing going on at Lewisham Homes to be sure, and so this seems a good spot to place it.

In a further example, 9 JULY 2014 Board Papers/13 under its Financial monitoring report, records: 

“Lewisham Homes’ Major Works partnering contractors MITIE and Breyer spent £31.68m in 2013/14. They made decent a total of 1505 properties. This works out at a cost of £21,048 per unit. With an allowance for anticipated Leaseholder recovery included the cost per unit is £19,162.”

LEWISHAM LEASEHOLDERS have, according to the above, been SUBSIDISING the costs of the decent homes programme.. to the tune of £1886 each unit!!!

But first... sack the auditors... £31.68 million divided by 1505 units = “£21,049 per unit (and not £21,048). So where is that extra £1 per unit and which totals £1505? A leaseholder could pay for a new door with that.

In the twisted shamspeak spoken by Lewisham Homes, the “anticipated leaseholder recovery” subsidised each council “unit” by £1886. (Or £1887 if its Board ever finds the missing £1505!) Adding the Lewisham Homes mismanagement fee, at 10% to leaseholders - 5% for council tenanted properties? - then beleaguered Lewisham leaseholders are unwittingly contributing 10% for council tenant improvements - throughout the borough.

Curiously, in that same report, it was determined that leaseholders, amongst a veritable raft of “improvements”, also needed fire doors replacing. Flat entrance doors were not compliant with “current” fire regulations, it was claimed, and a 'gradual repayment scheme would be offered' to leaseholders for what were expensive conversions. 

However, ignoring the fact that the repayment scheme was not offered to leaseholders, the compliance itself is simply a requirement – in other words not proscribed by law. There is no regulation actually stipulating that a door of a dwelling, built before 1991, must be changed to suit present day requirements. Many are already fire-rated, for twenty minutes. 

But why then should leaseholders choose to gradually repay for something that may not actually be needed in the first place? 

Or, if needed, and there is some debate surrounding this, and they do need changing, why have leaseholders been hoodwinked into believing that the costs should be met by them; and not Lewisham Homes? 

THE BOARD MINUTES

“Although the Housing Act and Fire regulations are not clear on this matter regarding responsibilities. The CEO advised that where leaseholders did not comply, they may be prosecuted.”

In other words the CEO of Lewisham Homes, Andrew Potter, although he knows 'regulations are not clear on this matter', is hoodwinking leaseholders into believing it is clear to him. If not simply wishful thinking.

He is aided by former fire officers. Known as Kilden and Brown, the pair formerly worked for the London Fire Brigade for thirty years. This dynamic duo actually describe themselves as Batman and Robin. - one boasting in Inside Housing how he goes 'above and beyond' (and with leaseholder bank balances too). 

LEWISHAM HOMES CONVICTED FOR FIRE DEATHS

In 2016, due to a tragic fire at Marine Tower, which claimed the lives of two women, London Fire Brigade prosecuted Lewisham Homes for its failings. The trial took an... interminably longgggg time to reach Woolwich Crown Court, and led to a quid-quo-pro arrangement where fire brigade officers, prior to the trial, were invited to add interest to their already fat pensions from the fire brigade by loading the cost of replacement of doors and other fire paraphernalia on the backs of Lewisham leaseholders. 

This conflict of interest actually sees the London Fire Brigade undertake to prosecute - or at least threaten to prosecute - any recalcitrant leaseholder who refuses to replace a door, and has become widespread with ALMOs in the London boroughs. Seemingly in the pursuit of fire safety. 

However, following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the fire safety advisers have been making hay through the dense smoke. 

Whilst further down the fire ladder it was noted that people leaving the organisation did so due to poor pay; and which the Lewisham Homes Board hoped to compensate via flexible working. So it is unlikely this is the area where PROFITS have been siphoned. 

FOLLOW THE MONEY£££....

In the last tax year 2016/17, whilst CEO Andrew “THE PROFIT” Potter headed his executive management team, the aggregated emoluments, gross taxable pay plus benefits in kind, recorded in company accounts was £710k - for less than a handful of top earners. But since the CEO can appoint directors and dismiss them, and with an unsavvy board, it is hardly surprising. Save to say that the Board members of Lewisham Homes consists primarily of patsies who receive only minimal expenses: so they should not be blamed. 

Andrew Potter, CEO, the HIGHEST PAID EMPLOYEE of Lewisham Homes commenced in 2007 with a salary at £118k. Following austerity measures, ostensibly aimed at those on struggle street, by the 2016/17 tax year his salary had risen to £161k. 

Having lit the blue touch paper, Potter has resigned in a bit of flurry. The ad he answered for his new job was placed just months ago. But as he heads for that very expensive fire door, he is looking at a weighty pay day. And judging by the convenient tax date that this fat cat chooses for his departure, the next return will no doubt record another great pay day.

In April he is headed towards greener pastures at Hastoe Housing Association where he is taking over from Sue Chalkley and, where one suspects, “asset rich” leaseholders may soon be subsidising his next pay increase. Just bolt the doors...

If not, you should beware the incomer... hunting is banned and there's a fox headed their way. So time to get the socks out.

Following the trail...

Back in concrete city, Lewisham leaseholders will have to pick through the burning embers of a very questionable policy. A policy where service charges have seriously bloated the cash tills at Lewisham Homes. 

But, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said: Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

COMING SOON IN THE BIG RETORT... we lift the lid on price fixing.