Maybe it is the “interim” element of the title that gives Nathan Elvery a touch of impermanence as Croydon’s chief executive, a bit like Rafa Benitez, the unloved and unappreciated “interim” manager at Chelsea football club.
Or maybe, as a former finance director who’s only too aware of the state of the council’s accounts – much of which have been kept in utter secrecy not least because of the mis-firing £450 million URV scheme with Laing’s – Elvery may not want to hang around in the top job for too long.
There’s certainly a sense of doom and gloom in Elvery’s statement to council staff in the latest edition of The Loop (as in “keeping you in the loop”. Seriously), the staff magazine.
Tucked in behind an ad for the Taberner House Weight Watchers group, Elvery’s article says that despite four years of unremitting cut-backs in service levels and staff, there’s worse still to come. Much worse. “No service will be untouched”, Elvery says.
The council staff who have been in fear of redundancy for years must have really been inspired and encouraged by that.
“I want to be really honest and open with you about the challenges ahead,” Elvery writes. “Whilst we have finalised our budget for 2013/14 we still have a little way to go on 2014/15 but the challenges for local government are not getting any easier.
“2015/17 is going to be a particularly challenging period as further government funding reductions are announced. No service will be untouched but we do have time to work together on solutions. You have been incredibly responsive in balancing the challenges of increased demand for our services with our severe financial constraints. If any council team is capable of making it through the next few years then I have every confidence it is this one!”
Elvery’s statement is also somewhat odd in the context of a half-a-billion annual budget local authority which is “in an extremely fragile” state, according to one senior Town Hall figure, who lists the temporary CEO, an acting finance director, no head of human resources, and with the deputy CEO closing in on retirement.
Given the recent hurried but unexplained departure of HR director Pam Parkes, and the suicide of a 33-year-old mother-of-one, Nadine Graham, linked by the coroner’s court to her loss of an appeal against losing her council job, another part of Elvery’s statement can only be read with a large pinch of scepticism.
“I would like to build with you a culture of trust, openness and honesty,” Elvery writes. Apparently without any irony.
“To do this my leadership team and I will be making more time to have conversations with you all to find out how you feel about working at the council, and what would you would like to see changed for the better.”
Some who have worked within the council suggest that this has been the direct opposite of how Elvery has run his own department in the past.
“I want to help us all do our jobs better by making it easier to do business and empowering you to make your own decisions. I would like to see everyone encouraged and trusted to be more innovative, and feel confident in taking risks to improve the way we do things.
“I value everybody’s opinion and appreciate honesty. I am just one officer in the council and I want to give you more of a chance to get involved in our plans and to feel confident you can give your honest views.”
It is easy to be cynical about the true intentions of someone who uses phrases such as “We are currently refreshing our values to bring them to life” (which he does elsewhere in the piece). But it may just be that Elvery’s essay has been written by someone who does not expect to still be working in his current job much beyond 12 months’ time.
- If you are a council employee, contact Inside Croydon and let us know what you think of how the council is being managed.
- What did you make of Elvery’s article?
- How is your work being affected by the move to Bernard Weatherill House?
- Will you be able to cope with the desk-sharing/laptop-sharing plans?
- All correspondence will, if required, be treated in utmost confidence. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon – 267,670 page views (Nov 2012-Apr 2013)
- Croydon council to spend £3m furnishing new HQ instead of using old desks (standard.co.uk)
- Council silent as HR chief Parkes heads for the exit (insidecroydon.com)