Croydon Council has no record of any correspondence from Nathan Elvery, now its chief executive, to show whether he ever sought or obtained permission to form a private consultancy company when he was already working full-time as the borough’s deputy CEO and finance director.
That’s the conclusion of a five-month-long effort to get the council to answer a Freedom of Information request to establish whether the borough’s David Brent-lookalike complied with the requirements of his employment code of conduct.
Elvery was confirmed as Croydon Council’s CEO in July by Labour’s council leader Tony Newman, after the public servant had been working in the role on an interim basis for more than a year. The borough’s most senior post was filled without any debate or discussion over his appointment at the Town Hall. The borough CEO job was never advertised, and it seems doubtful whether the council’s equalities policy was followed in making the appointment, although Elvery’s own department has blocked Town Hall questions on the subject.
As with previous FoI requests about the employment status of the council’s £180,000 per year chief executive, our questions to Croydon Council about Elvery were first ignored, then avoided, with the council blithely breaking Freedom of Information Act laws in the process.
We asked for all correspondence between Elvery and his then boss, Jon Rouse, or with the Borough Solicitor Julie Belvir and the council’s HR department regarding Sundragon Associates from 2009. That was the year that Elvery established the private company with another local government employee, Tracie Evans. They did so, according to Elvery, following an approach “to provide professional services in respect of technical assessments for senior financial appointments across London”.
It took a request from Inside Croydon for an internal review conducted by one of the council’s legal staff before the council was forced to reveal just a handful of brief emails between Elvery and Belvir, from early 2013, on the subject of the private company.
Elvery’s one-line response: “Storm in a teacup” to a request for a meeting about Sundragon indicates how seriously he might regard the issues raised by his moonlighting activities.
According to Croydon Council, outside this brief exchange of one-line emails from 2013, there is no other correspondence on file from Elvery which shows that he sought, or was ever granted, permission to conduct his little private business venture.
It is possible that Elvery may have discussed the matter with Rouse, Belvir or executives within HR, and that such meetings may have been minuted. But it seems extraordinary that the council has no correspondence at all on the matter, for instance to confirm any permission, if given, in writing.
This further reinforces the suspicion that Elvery may have acted in breach of his council contract when setting up Sundragon.
Elvery has always denied any wrong-doing, and maintains that he has always conducted himself according to the council’s requirements. It is just that the council now is unable to provide any evidence that that is the case.
It is a routine condition of most public servants’ employment – especially those responsible for millions of pounds of public finance – that they need to advise their management of any intention to establish a private business, regardless of whether they manage to make that business successful and make them any money. Moonlighting is moonlighting, after all.
Previously, after another FoI request which was much-delayed by the council, Croydon provided a letter of appointment for Elvery from 2008 when he was made Rouse’s deputy CEO.
That letter is unambiguous: “You will be required to comply with the Council’s Code of Conduct”, it says.
The council’s staff code of conduct suggests it would be impossible for Elvery to be involved in any private business venture without being in breach of his contract.
This is the relevant clause from the code of conduct:
2.10 Full-time Service
Your off duty hours are your personal concern but you should not subordinate your duty to your private interests or put yourself in a position where duty and private interests conflict. It is not the intention of the Council to preclude you unreasonably from undertaking additional employment unless that employment conflicts with or detrimentally affects the Council’s interests, in any way weakens public confidence in the conduct of the Council’s business, or in any other way affects your liability to undertake your work. However, staff above Scale 6 (or equivalent) are expected to devote the whole of their service to the work of the Council and shall not engage in any other business or take up any other additional appointment for financial gain without the agreement in advance in writing of their Chief Officer that it does not conflict with their work. Chief Officers must obtain the Chief Executive’s permission and are requested to pay any fees received into the General Fund.
In particular you should not undertake outside work related to any matter which is or could be dealt with by the Council. For example you should not produce plans for building work which could be the subject of a planning or other application to the Council. It is irrelevant whether or not the work is paid.
Sundragon Associates Ltd was formed in 2009 by Elvery together with one co-director, Tracie Evans, who was then finance director at Barking and Dagenham Council. After turning over £50,000 in its first full year of operation, Sundragon was quietly wound-up in April 2012, the business having failed to “mature”, according to Elvery.
Elvery last year told Inside Croydon, “As a consequence of being approached to provide professional services in respect of technical assessments for senior financial appointments across London a company was established to provide such services.
“In the event, the business did not mature, I did not provide any services to the company and I did not receive any financial benefits from the company. The company was dissolved some time ago. There were no conflicts of interest. I have fully complied with the council’s requirements in this regard and have nothing further to add.”
Elvery has never said who it was that approached him and Evans to provide such services, nor how they received nearly £50,000-worth of business in their first full-year of operation.
Elvery maintained that he “fully complied with the council’s requirements”.
Earlier this year, Inside Croydon reported how Tracie Evans, as the co-director of Sundragon, was found guilty of financial misconduct and bringing the accountancy profession into disrepute after she admitted to forging Elvery’s signatures on the company accounts. Despite having been the finance director of a large London borough for several years, Elvery claimed that he was unaware that anyone had been forging his signatures on legally required accounts. And he’s now in charge of Croydon Council.
- Croydon Council still doesn’t get this Freedom of Information lark, do they? Their final emailed response to our latest FoI enquiry carried the heading: “Private and Confidential”. The response arrived from someone working in… Nathan Elvery’s own department.
- Last week, Croydon politicians of all political stripes paid generous tributes to Hannah Miller, who was the other deputy CEO under Jon Rouse. Miller opted to take early retirement from the council rather than apply for the CEO’s job, in a deal which sees Elvery take on elements of her work and a £60,000 cut in the chief executive’s salary.
- Judging from the tributes paid by Newman and leading Tories such as Tim Pollard and Dudley Mead, Croydon appears to be losing a very talented and dedicated public servant in Miller. And in her 25 years working for the council, Hannah Miller never set up her own private business as a potentially lucrative sideline.
- Did CEO Elvery break council code over his private company?
- Labour and the hidden agenda as Elvery is handed top job
- Council CEO’s private company and mystery of £50,000 deal
Coming to Croydon
- David Lean Cinema, ’71, Dec 11
- Mayor of Croydon’s charity Christmas dinner, Dec 12
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- Concert of Christmas music, St Luke’s, Woodside, Dec 13
- Opera Soiree at Whitgift School, Dec 14
- Friends of the Earth Green Beanfeast, Dec 15 (book by Dec 1)
- Croydon Philharmonic Christmas concert, St Matthew’s, Dec 16
- Spread Eagle’s Christmas Improv show, Dec 17
- David Lean Cinema, Northern Soul, Dec 18
- David Lean Cinema, Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief, Dec 29
- David Lean Cinema, The Beat Beneath My Feet, Dec 30
- Norwood Society talk: Penge, the making of a suburb, Jan 15
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
- Norwood Society talk: Crystal Palace and Dulwich, Feb 19
- Norwood Society talk: Charlies Dickens in Norwood, Mar 19
- Norwood Society: Balloons and airships at Crystal Palace, Apr 16
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