Paul Spooner, Croydon’s latest executive director of planning and environment, was paid £28,000 for his first six weeks work at the council, according to the council’s own accounts.
That works out at a rate of £4,666 per week, or
£242,666 per year. Cushty.
Spooner took up his duties at Taberner House on February 18. The draft council accounts cover the period until the end of March.
Spooner is formally an “interim” appointment: that means he has not been confirmed in the role, a bit like Rafa Benitez at Chelsea football club last season. But once his gravy train pay scale gets out, Spooner may come to envy the level of public support that the widely reviled Spanish football manager enjoyed.
Since Spooner joined the council in February, it also means that he may have been the final significant appointment of Jon Rouse, Croydon’s unlamented ex-chief executive, who left his post on March 10.
Even Rouse was not paid at the same rate as Spooner has pocketed: according to the council accounts, Rouse received £221,180 in 2011-2012 (having taken a small cut in salary).
Nathan Elvery, the “interim CEO” who has stepped up to replace Rouse, gets a modest salary in comparison with what Spooner might manage to bank. Including £36,000 in generous employers’ pension contributions, Elvery received £191,000 up to the end of the 2012-2013 financial year.
The next best-paid council executive is Paul Greenhalgh, the “executive director of children, families and learning”, whose package, including lush pension pot, was £169,107.
It could be assumed that Spooner is not a Croydon Council staff member, but he is a long way from being on a zero hours contract, and he looks to have been expensively engaged on a consultancy basis, a favourite ploy under Rouse which kept a number of senior appointees “off the pay-roll”, but ensured that they were rewarded handsomely at the expense of Council Tax-payers.
As Inside Croydon revealed last year, in 2011 Croydon Council spent £20 million on interim staff.
The latest accounts show no employers’ pension contribution for Spooner. The council appointments sub-committee earlier this year which was due to rubber-stamp the selection for this key position – and therefore provide some degree of public scrutiny by our elected representatives – was cancelled, without any explanation ever being offered.
There is something about the temporary nature of Spooner’s role of the council acting in a “holding pattern” ahead of the May 2014 local elections, trying to avoid making any permanent appointments (as is the case of Elvery, for example), so that any new administration is not bound by these key staffing decisions by its predecessors.
This, though, does not explain why Tony Newman and the opposition Labour group on Croydon Council has been quiet about the lack of the appointments meeting and the lavish amounts being paid to Spooner at a time when Croydon Council is running a £1 billion deficit and is hurriedly flogging off public assets all over the place – the Riesco Collection, Queen’s Gardens, Ashburton Library, maybe even the Town Hall itself.
“I’m annoyed that we haven’t made a fuss about the amount being paid to Spooner,” one Labour councillor was frank enough to tell Inside Croydon. “The view is that the council is in such a mess that we need to bite our lips over it for now. I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do.”
Spooner holds a key role in the council’s executive, responsible for smoothing the way for the £1 billion Hammersfield development in North End and delivering more than 10,000 new homes across the borough, while somehow also navigating the secret clauses of the £450 million CURV “partnership” with John Laing.
Croydon Council has a poor track record in making the right appointment for this tough task: including Rouse filling in for periods while replacements were sought, Spooner is the fourth person to hold the post in just two years.
Spooner’s immediate predecessor, Stephen McDonald, was a hurried exit in February last year, after barely six months in office. McDonald left with Rouse’s words on his unexpected departure ringing in his ears: “the scope of the role was not playing to his strengths”, the CEO said, barely disguising the meaning that the man he’d hand-picked for the task was not up to the job.
It has since been suggested that Rouse and other senior figures – such as the leader of our Conservative-run council, Mike Fisher, who greeted McDonald’s appointment by describing him as “exactly the right man to take Croydon forward at this exciting time” – failed to check properly McDonald’s background and references, something which the council has denied, though failing to explain why else “the scope of the role was not playing to his strengths”.
It proved an expensive mistake. Expensive for Croydon’s Council Tax-payers, who had to foot the £46,000 bill for McDonald’s pay-off.
This, at least, was substantially less than the £111,000 pay-out when McDonald’s predecessor, Emma Peters, quit the job, one of a series of high-level staff who reputedly did not see eye-to-eye with their boss, Rouse.
In all, Croydon Council paid out £350,000 in “golden goodbyes” to four departing, disenchanted executives in just one year.
So maybe not taking Spooner on to the council staff straight away might be a shrewd thing to do. That, though, does not explain paying him almost £1,000 per day.
Perhaps, unlike McDonald, Spooner will turn out to be “exactly the right man” for the job. He is certainly expensive enough, and not just in terms of his pay. On his schedule next month is a couple of nights at the £400-a-night Celtic Manor Resort, the swanky Ryder Cup golf and leisure venue in Wales.
Spooner, as a speaker at RESI, a residential property market conference, might get his bed and board paid for by the organisers. But he is also “heading a delegation” with Croydon’s favourite public relations company, Grey Label, all of which will need to be paid for.
“Over the next five years we have more than £3 billion of planned private and public investment in the regeneration of the central area, including the largest new retail, leisure and housing development in the capital by Westfield and Hammerson,” Spooner said through the Grey Label spinners.
“We are attractive because of the local authority’s ‘can-do’ approach…”, Spooner said, prompting some to wonder whether he has confused Croydon with another local authority.
Croydon, according to Spooner, offers “the significant potential for growth, the uplift in residential property values and our developing lifestyle offer, being so accessible to the centre of London.”
Ugh? “Our developing lifestyle offer”? If anyone has any idea what this particular piece of PR bullshit means, answers on a postcard, please, to P Spooner Esq, Taberner House.
“With the imbalance between demand and supply in London, Croydon has the potential to assist London in meeting its needs, and with significant investment in placemaking will become the next major opportunity for investors and first-time buyers.”
Spooner appears to be pitching many of Croydon’s new flats at well-heeled buy-to-let investors, whose purchases tend to fuel house price inflation, a factor widely acknowledged as creating the very housing crisis that Croydon, and London, finds itself in.
Is this the sort of housing policy that Croydon really needs?
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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