WHO REALLY IS RUNNING CROYDON (Part 94): Croydon Council is spending nearly £8,000 to send three senior members of staff to the South of France next week on a sales trip – to flog flats and property on behalf of the multi-billion developers who are taking over this corner of south London.
Next week sees the staging of the annual developers’ bun-fight, MIPIM, in Cannes, a champagne-fuelled four-day short-break beside the Mediterranean, where deals worth hundreds of millions of pounds are done on “investment” properties and office schemes.
In the past, such spending on the rates has been criticised thus: “It’s a junket on the taxpayers and people don’t want to see highly paid council officials swanning around the French Riviera.”
And flat-broke Croydon Council will be spending thousands of pounds of Council Tax-payers’ cash to be there to help promote Westfield, Hammerson, Laings, Menta, Redrow, Barratts and any other property dealers who have got their claws into the borough, and probably for some who haven’t done so just yet.
Leading the delegation will be Jo Negrini, formerly known as Croydon Council’s executive director, development and environment, but now given the snappy title of “Executive Director, Place”. Answers, on postcards only, please, to N Elvery, c/o Fisher’s Folly, Croydon, if you can explain what this laughably pretentious job title actually stands for.
Negrini will be accompanied on the trip by Colm Lacey, the “director of development”, and Matthew McMillan, the council’s “business and investment executive”. Yes, a London borough that can’t keep its streets clean and is charging children for reading lessons manages to employ a “business and investment executive”, who will be spending much of next week “swanning around the French Riviera”… “on a junket on the taxpayers”.
According to a response to a Freedom of Information request from Inside Croydon, “Jo Negrini approved the Councils participation at MIPIM in September 2014 in her role as Executive Director – Development and Environment”.
The budget allocated for the 2015 junket is £7,800 – considerably less than the £165,000 spent by Croydon Council on a similar jaunt in 2010, but in the same ball-park as has been spent since.
Australian-born Jo Negrini was appointed as Croydon’s head of planning soon after Australia-based developers Westfield rode into town with their £1 billion supermall scheme for the Whitgift Centre. The local government official had previously worked closely with Westfield when they were developing their mall at Stratford.
Last autumn, other Labour-run local authorities decided to boycott MIPIM UK, a previous developer wankfest staged in London. But not Croydon. Negrini was there at Olympia as one of the star speakers.
According to The Guardian, MIPIM UK was a conference where “major property developers, billionaire investors and officials of your local council…” will be discussing “…the sale of public real estate, prime land already owned by you and me, to the private sector.”
The Guardian continued: “The marketing people brand this a property trade show, but let’s drop the euphemisms and call it the sales fair to flog off Britain.”
Inside Croydon asked Croydon Council how it reached the decision to spend nearly £8,000 to send three senior officials to the south of France next week for a similar event. Had the borough’s elected officials been involved in discussions? Had a council official carefully compiled a report weighing up the merits and benefits of spending public money to mix with the developers and property speculators? Was the matter ever discussed at a public council meeting, as in the past?
Apparently not. “No officer report was prepared. The decision was taken in the normal course of The Executive Director’s…” that is, Negrini’s “…duties.”
So, Negrini’s now taking decisions on the spending of public money, according to Croydon Council without any reference to the elected leader of the council, Tony Newman, or the “Labour-run” council’s finance chief, Simon Hall, nor the senior Labour councillor who is supposedly in charge of development policy, Toni Letts.
The FoI told us that no sponsorship money had been sought from commercial sources to defray some of the public cost of Negrini and her mates popping off to the Riviera for MIPIM. “The Council has not approached other companies for sponsorship for MIPIM. As a member of Develop Croydon, the Council has contributed to the costs for the Croydon presence at MIPIM as part of the budget above.”
According to Croydon Council, “The Council, alongside its private sector partners, seeks to deliver 9,500 new home starts and 16,400 new jobs in Croydon over the next five years, as outlined in The Promise (available on our website). Therefore, the Council will be using our presence at MIPIM to promote Croydon as a destination for developers, investors and business occupiers, and supporting professional services providers, seeking to deliver sustainable and affordable developments or invest in new premises on sites across the borough to achieve these targets.”
There may be some within the borough who do not consider that being a developers’ cheerleader-in-chief is a proper role for a local authority.
And to think it is just five years since the following words were uttered about the same conference by a senior Croydon figure: “It’s a junket on the taxpayers and people don’t want to see highly paid council officials swanning around the French Riviera.”
Because, of course, those sentiments opposing the involvement of Croydon Council, and Council Tax-payers’ cash, in attending MIPIM came from none other than… Labour’s Tony Newman, now the leader of the council.
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