Julie Belvir, the Borough Solicitor, is to leave her job and the post of most senior legal adviser to the council is to be abolished in a cost-cutting measure. Because it’s not like Croydon Council doesn’t need all the legal help it can get, after all.
It has been an open secret among Katharine Street regulars that Belvir has been on long-term sick leave since November. She is understood to remain seriously ill, with her office colleagues telling members of the public that they do not expect her to return to work.
While there has been legal cover for Belvir in her absence, the timing of her indisposition and departure could not be worse for the council’s legal department, as it ploughs on through the detailed minutiae of the legal work for the Compulsory Purchase Order for the Whitgift Centre. That legal work has become so bogged down that it has been suggested as a contributory factor – if not the main reason – behind work on the £1 billion Hammersfield regeneration scheme being further delayed until 2017, at the earliest.
Belvir, who qualified as a solicitor in 1988, has been an influential figure at Croydon Town Hall for more than a decade. In that time, her department dealt with the legal advice on the CCURV scheme, which has proved to be disastrous for the borough and the details of which has been kept strictly secret, as has the terms of the deal with John Laing for Croydon to pay £140million to build new council offices which might be valued as worth less than £50million.
The council legal team has also presided over a large volume of employment tribunal cases brought by staff forced into redundancy, which many ex-council staffers claim have been pursued with a vicious determination by the council.
Belvir advised the previous Tory administration that its multi-million-pound sale of parts of the borough’s Riesco Collection of rare China porcelain was illegal, but Conservative councilors Tim Pollard and Dudley Mead chose to ignore the advice. Belvir also advised the Tories that no offence had taken place when one of their councillors, Clare Hilley, was offering her services professionally to PR companies when she was a member of the planning committee.
More recently, Belvir’s department will also have overseen the agreements on the £3million council loan to Boxpark, which somehow failed to stipulate what form of business would be operated on the site alongside East Croydon Station.
What has never been revealed is whether the Borough Solicitor, or her staff, ever knew when Mike Fisher, then the Croydon Tories’ leader, put in his claims to bump up his allowances payments – the #WadGate scandal – and why no one blew the whistle on this little wheeze, but instead waited for the payment figures to appear in the annual accounts. Because Fisher must have sought formal approval for the increased payments, and some sort of legal clearance.
The workload of Belvir, one of the council’s most senior executive staff who received a salary of more than £130,000, will now be distributed between Richard Simpson, the assistant chief executive, who is not thought to have any legal expertise, and Gabriel MacGregor, who has deputised for the Borough Solicitor in her absence.
The departure of Belvir and the transfer of some of her responsibilities to the chief executive’s office has the appearance of further concentration of powers in Fisher’s Folly with Nathan Elvery, the council CEO.
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