Just after 5pm today, proof positive came through that Croydon Council’s press office routinely dissembles, misleads and lies.
Because that is when a press release was issued to confirm that Jon Rouse, Croydon Council’s £248,000 chief executive, had quit his job. He is off to work as “director general of social care, local government and care partnerships” at the Department of Health. You wonder whether the new job title is grand enough for Rouse.
Rumours had been circulating for more than a month that 44-year-old Rouse was about to leave Taberner House. But this was denied when a question was put to Rouse and Hayley Lewis, the professional psychiatrist who works as “head of customer communications and strategy”, by Inside Croydon on November 13:
Jon is not leaving the council.
Either Lewis was deliberately misled by Rouse, or he’s managed to get himself another cushty position very quickly in weeks over the holiday period.
Rouse is not the first “rat to leave the sinking ship”, as one senior council figure described another recent departure. But the question which the news must prompt is: did he jump or was Rouse, finally, pushed?
And he recently showed how the strain is getting to him, having been wheeled out to face the flak on BBC’s Newsnight programme when elected representatives lacked the courage of their decisions to face the cameras over the borough’s B&B scandal. Yet weeks later, Rouse was ordering the press – including this website’s reporter – from a public meeting, claiming he was not accountable.
Even this week, despite running the council’s budget and overseeing its housing department for more than five years, Rouse said, apparently without irony, “There is a housing crisis in Croydon and we’re not going to try and pretend there isn’t.”
Rouse has been wielding the axe with wide-ranging job cuts at Croydon Council almost since he arrived in July 2007, when he said something to the effect then that he would be moving on to bigger, and better things within five years.
Croydon was only ever a stepping stone to Rouse, whose faith in his own abilities was exceeded only by his vain ambition.
His departure leaves a significant power vacuum at the top of the council, because it is almost a year now since the hurried, somewhat embarrassed departure of Stephen McDonald, a Rouse appointment to the job of “executive director of planning and environment”, after only six months in the post. Insiders suggested that McDonald’s references had not been checked thoroughly. No replacement has yet been found for this key position.
McDonald was one of four senior departures in 2011-2012 who between them got £350,000 in golden handshakes. There have been many suggestions from inside the Town Hall that clashes with the CEO were behind some of the senior personnel changes.
Certainly, leading figures at Nestle, who until last year had been the borough’s biggest private-sector employer for nearly half a century, indicated openly that Yorkshireman Rouse’s personal intervention had been crucial in their decision to leave Croydon.
And Rouse’s rule from Taberner House saw large legal bills coming in to the council, as an increasing number of departing council staff sought settlements for unfair dismissal or alleged discrimination and bullying in the workplace.
Councillor Mike Fisher, the leader of the council, put his name to this release that was circulated just as most staff were leaving work for the day (the council’s “helpline” phone bank closes promptly at 5pm these days, another Rouse initiative that has reduced the service level for residents):
It is with regret that I am writing to inform you that the chief executive, Jon Rouse, will be leaving Croydon Council. Jon is taking up a director general role within the Department of Health, and I am sure you will all join me in thanking him for his contribution in leading CMT over the last five years, and wishing him every success in his future career.
Jon’s leaving date is still being finalised, and I am currently working with my leadership team and CMT to agree interim arrangements following his departure.
In his new role, Jon will be the director general of social care, local government and care partnerships, with responsibility for adult social care, the department’s links with local government, mental health, health inequalities and health services for children. I am sure he will excel in his new role.
Jon took on the chief executive role at Croydon in July 2007, and has made an enormous contribution in leading officers through the significant transformation of the council. He has been an outstanding servant of Croydon and during his tenure I have admired his first-rate leadership qualities and his passion for serving the public.
I’d like to personally thank him for the huge contribution he has made over the last five and half years. He has helped transform the council into one of the best performing and most efficient local authorities in the country. Our schools are now achieving above the national average and standards continue to rise, and we have just embarked on the largest swathe of regeneration projects since the 1960s which will transform our town and serve Croydon well for generations to come.
Of his move, Jon said: “Over the last five and half years I have been privileged to serve alongside some very talented and committed colleagues, elected members and residents, who have dedicated themselves to transforming the borough. I have been inspired by their creativity and compassion in addressing some of the challenges we have faced. From a personal perspective, while I am looking forward to taking on this new challenge, the decision to move on has been tremendously difficult. I will be extremely sad to leave but will always have a great affection for Croydon, its staff, and its residents. There are many exciting things happening in Croydon over the coming years and I have full confidence that the management of the authority is in good hands.”
I will advise all staff of the interim arrangements for the chief executive post when they have been agreed.
It seems most likely that Rouse’s deputy, Nathan Elvery will be put in charge, possibly permanently. After all: what senior local council worker with prospects is going to want to clear up the mess that Rouse has made of Croydon?
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