The council’s CEO is the third senior executive to announce their departure from Croydon so far this year. WALTER CRONXITE reports
Ambitious for Croydon? Hmm, maybe the allure of the £1 billion Hammersfield development is not so attractive after all: Nathan Elvery, who as financial director, deputy chief executive and latterly as chief executive, has presided over thousands of job cuts at Croydon Council in recent years, is to create the ultimate vacancy by quitting his £180,000-plus CEO’s job.
“Some might say it is a case of the biggest rat jumping ship before telling anyone it is sinking,” another council furry creature – our mole inside the council HQ – said this afternoon.
Elvery is to take up the post of chief executive at West Sussex County Council, a local authority which is itself floundering as a result of Tory mismanagement. Two years ago, they were planning to axe the CEO role altogether. So Elvery’s own particular brand of self-promoting bullshit might be useful there.
Elvery must be one of very few senior members of Croydon Council staff, if not the only one, who has not been forced to re-apply for their own job in the past six years as part of various rounds of service-cutting redundancies which have been conducted on his watch.
In July 2014, he was confirmed as Croydon CEO without that post ever being advertised or subjected to a recruitment process.
At that time, Tony Newman, a month into his role as Labour’s council leader, said that Elvery was confirmed in the post for the sake of “continuity”, and there are many that believe that there has indeed been a continuity of many of the discredited policies which Elvery and his predecessor, Jon Rouse, had put in place under the previous Conservative administration.
Under Rouse and Elvery, Croydon’s disastrous, money-losing property speculation scheme, CCURV, an urban regeneration joint partnership with John Laing, saw the council pay vastly inflated prices for some public building projects, most notably for Fisher’s Folly, the glass palace which serves as the council head offices and had a price tag of £140million – or about £100 million over the market rate, making the office more expensive per square metre of floorspace than The Shard. No one has ever been held responsible for this excessive overspend, and Newman’s promise to “blow open the books” on the CCURV deal remains unfulfilled.
As well as the widespread and ever deeper cuts to council jobs – with senior executive Elvery even known to take time out of his busy schedule to attend some individuals’ Employment Tribunal hearings – his 12 years at Croydon Council have been marked by other controversies.
These have included multiple investigations into the procurement process (over which Elvery presided) of the council-run bus service for the borough’s disabled children, and his own attempt at entrepreneurship in running a private company, Sundragon Associates, offering to sell his “expertise” while supposedly working full-time on a generous local authority salary.
Elvery’s co-director at Sundragon was found guilty of financial misconduct, but Croydon’s Teflon Man escaped any sanctions.
Indeed, with Julie Belvir at his side as Croydon’s Borough Solicitor, Elvery appeared to be immune from disciplinary action over his conduct.
But, more by accident than design, the upper echelons of the Croydon Council are undergoing rapid change. Belvir recently announced her immediate retirement on health grounds, and the underwhelming Paul Greenhalgh, one of two executive directors, is due to retire in a couple of months.
That leaves Jo Negrini as the senior-most council official, and many believe that the woman appointed to help steer the Westfield development safely into Croydon has been exercising increasing, and unchecked, power around the Town Hall for more than a year.
It will be instructive whether, given a second chance to appoint a less reactionary chief officer, Newman and his Labour colleagues seize that opportunity to find someone who does not think that management by PowerPoint is acceptable. The first signs, though, are not promising: Newman was today saying he was “sad” to see Elvery leave and that he had “done a fantastic job”.
Elvery has been out of the office for the past week, not due to return to Monday. But he found time on his holiday to issue a statement which said: “Croydon is a fantastic place, but I feel now is the right time to move on. I committed to changing the organisation and laying down strong foundations for the administrations and I feel this has been achieved.”
With work nowhere near starting on the much-delayed Hammersfield development, the council committed to a multi-million Compulsory Purchase of parts of the site, work on the Taberner House site delayed (again), with the Fairfield Halls about to close for at least two years, and ever greater cuts in Government grants to the council still to come, some might think that Elvery has cut and run before things in Croydon get really messy.
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